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Poetry Love

Chapter Text

Tuesday morning. Small droplets of water drip onto the bathroom floor. Roger never turns off the tap properly. 23-year-old James Fraser gets up lazily. Half-awake. Half asleep. Stumbled over a pair of sneakers in the hall. He opened the bathroom door and ran into something.

"What the hell, man?" Roger exclaimed, putting his little friend inside his pants and flushing.

James, now fully awake but with narrowed eyes.

"Sorry, dude. Thought you left the thing open again. "

"Thought you left the thing open again." Roger lampooned his voice. "Get the hell out, I need to shower."

James left the bathroom without saying anything and went back to his bed.

The ceiling in the room looked pretty interesting now. His new roommate was very closed off. The two never really talked much. It would be much easier to arrive in a new city and find someone nice to live with, but the reality was far from being so. James had been to London only once. In 2011, with his uncle Dougal, on a business trip; Uncle Dougal had taken care of James since he lost his parents in a terrible car accident. The old uncle owned a farm in Inverness, where James was born and raised. 

He had never really left the farm until now. He was on his own, alone, to study and take care of himself for the first time in his life. 

"Don't you have a job or something?" Roger poked his head into the room, he was now fully dressed.

"I do. It starts at nine-thirty and it's seven now." James pointed.

"Yeah, mister. But it takes thirty minutes to get there, remember? It's only your second week, don't mess up." Roger left the room and James jumped out of bed. "Good luck!"

Roger shouted and James heard the sound of the door slamming. The idea of working in a place close to the university was brilliant. On Tuesdays, he needed to work until 6:30 pm and then he was free for the Literature class, which started at seven sharp. James and Roger shared an apartment practically across town, he had no interest in living on campus.

 


Little London Café

James worked in a coffee shop. Since the first time he visited the place, he was completely enchanted by the charm of the establishment. There were two floors: on the top floor, a lounge with sofas, and cushions on the rugs and some bookshelves with books and tables for using the computer, below was the cafeteria with several tables and delicious foods. As a student of literature, James was responsible for the local book collection. He spent most of his time fixing, cleaning, and choosing books.

The best part was when someone asked him to refer a book to read. Well, it was his second week working there, only two people had asked that, but it had definitely been the best part. Perfect job. In some not-so-perfect moments, such as when a child started to mess up all the pillows on the carpet and the parents pretended not to notice. On that particular day, Tuesday, the afternoon was quieter than usual. Perhaps due to the light rain that fell and wet the cars parked on the other side of the corner. The previous week had been super busy, with several people coming and going. But not this Tuesday.

He even had time to sit on the couch and enjoy. He closed his eyes for just a second and heard someone clearing their throat.

"Excuse me?" a woman looked at him impatiently. James got up.

"Yes? I'm sorry. May I help you?" He felt like kicking himself in the head.

"Yes, you may. I was wondering why one of my employees is taking a nap during his shift."

Shit. 

Mrs Murray, the owner of the place.

That had been travelling to Japan. A long and relaxing trip, according to the manager. Well, apparently, neither one nor the other.

"I wasn't- I- Sorry, Mrs Murray. Not gonna happen again."

Mrs Murray extended a hand.

"Call me Jenny, please. Nice to meet you, James."

"Nice meeting you too." His hands were shaking and sweaty.

"I like people who work hard and make it worth. I'm not a monster, but if I see what I just saw, again, you'll be out of here. Got it?" she opened a wide smile, which made James even more nervous.

"Got it." he nodded and watched her go towards the stairs that give access to the floor below.

"I have two boxes of new books in stock that arrived right now. I need you to put store tags on everything, please," she asked without turning to him and waved her hand.

James immediately went down behind her. He noticed a woman sitting at the table by the window and cocked an eyebrow. Mrs Murray, or rather Jenny , stopped in front of the table and the two hugged each other tightly. Friends? The woman was actually his new literature teacher, Mrs Beauchamp. James hurried to leave the hall towards the stock, at the back of the shop. The two boxes of books are actually seven. Seven large boxes containing several books.

Another boring part of his job.

. . .

 

It turns out that putting labels on seventy-two books alone takes longer than it might seem. First, he checked the number of books in each box. Then he added each new book to the store's system. Then he printed the labels. Then he pasted each label into each book. And he still needed to take them to the shelves. Up there. Upstairs.

It was already five forty in the afternoon when he emerged from the depths of the stock back to humanity. He passed the kitchen and entered the hall. He passed the cashier and the pie display. He realized that in the same spot, Mrs Beauchamp was still there. She typed on the laptop and had a cup of coffee in the corner of the table. James felt a tremor run through his body. The temperature had definitely dropped and he remembered that he hadn't brought an overcoat.

Just his old wool coat. He tried to pass unnoticed by the teacher and went up the first two steps.

"Hello there." He froze and slowly turns his head.

Mrs Beauchamp takes a sip of the substance from the cup and raises her eyebrows.

"Oh, hi, um, Mrs Beauchamp."

"You're one of my students, right? Anglophone Poetry class?" she asked quite uncertain.

"Yep." he pursed his lips.

"Remind me again of your name, please?"

"James."

"Ah! Yes, that’s right. I wasn't sure I got the right name on my mind." she smiled, but James thought she said it just to be polite.

"See you in a few hours, right? You're not skipping any classes today." she joked. James is frozen.

"Sure. See ya." he turned again and breathed.

The comment about missing classes, he thought. James had missed the last two classes. It was surprising that she remembered his face. It was definitely not the best impression to let your teacher have from you.

 


Anglophone Poetry class

Walking around campus, James realized he didn't remember exactly where his classroom was. What an idiot, he thought. He was five minutes late and Mrs Beauchamp had probably started the class already. James went to the main hall in the university's first building. there was a large mural in the centre with several things written on it.

Rooms, numbers, classes, etc. Few students huddled in front, classes had started three weeks ago. He was the only idiot who didn't remember where to go. He and another girl in front of the mural. James frowned. She was in a wheelchair. The boy approached slowly and searched his room among the countless information contained there. He realized that the classroom was at the top of the third column.

Building C, room 304. Great. When he turned to leave, he heard the girl speak.

"Would you mind checking where my class is?" she looked at James expectantly.

"No problem. Which-" he was interrupted.

"It's Anglophone poetry. Mrs Beauchamp," she said checking on a piece of paper.

"Oh, nice. I'm heading that way." he smiled and extended a hand to the girl. "I'm James Fraser." The girl shook his hand and smiled sheepishly.

"I'm Brianna MacKenzie. Mind taking me there?" she grinned.

"Let's go." he turned back to the girl and started pushing the chair.

. . .

 

Five more minutes and they arrived in the room. All the faces turned to look at the intruders at the door. James sent an apologetic look towards Mrs Beauchamp and she smiled. Brianna thanked him and parked her chair next to the teacher's, in the left corner of the room. James sat behind her.

“Night. Sorry. I’m Brianna.” the red-haired shook the teacher’s hand. 

"Well, as I was saying, our big project will be by the end of the semester and I'd like you all to start preparing yourselves now." Mrs Beauchamp stops for effect. "As you already know, I like to start the class by reading a short piece of poetry, since our class is Anglophone Poetry. The author I chose to speak today is Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Have any of you heard of him?"

Some shake their heads positively, others do not. James had heard of that name, but he never deepened his knowledge on the author. Even less did he remember any of his poetry.

"Well, he was a Devonshire-born poet. Considered one of the greatest figures of English romanticism. He published his first poems in mid-1796. He was the first in England to make literary criticisms based on the philosophy of German idealism and elements of English Platonism. His work Biographia Literaria is fantastic. One of the greatest works of English literary criticism." she would constantly gesture with her hands. "Mr Coleridge saw the poem as a dynamic and continuous process. Coleridge's poetry ranges from revolutionary rhetoric to ethereal musicality "The old sailor" is such a masterpiece! If you have not read it yet, you definitely should. It draws a parallel between the inner states of the sailor and the forces of nature. He's definitely one of my favourite poets."

Everyone in the room was watching her in awe and James was completely absorbed by the passionate way she talked.

With subtlety and lightness. With love and knowledge.

Mrs Beauchamp smiled as she looked at the faces in the room and continued.

"The poem I chose today is called Frost at Midnight. It's a bit long, so I'll just read the first few paragraphs:

The frost performs its secret ministry, Unhelped by any wind.

The owlet's cry, Came loud- and hark, again! loud as before... "

The class went on for another hour and twenty minutes. Mrs Beauchamp commanded the room in a fascinating way. The importance of the subject was notorious for her. She was also a woman full of style and presence. She wore very elegant clothes: a white silk blouse, her dark brown overcoat was under the chair, teal linen pants and black ankle boots. The hair was black and short, chin-length in a channel cut. 

Her skin was smooth and light and her mouth were reddish. She certainly shouldn't have been more than forty years old. James more than once lost his attention on the subject because he was watching her too much. But it was quite charming. And almost intimidating. At the end of class, he offered help to Brianna again, but the wild-haired girl refused with a smile. James was one of the last to leave the room. And couldn't wait for the next class.

Chapter Text

Late afternoon. Monday. James had to work until 7:30 pm that day. He didn’t have classes on Mondays, thank God. It’d been a month since he’s first started to work there. His shifts were a little crazy, but he liked the atmosphere of the place and obviously needed the money. The movement inside the store was growing exponentially in the past two days. More students showed up and what he believed to be teachers as well. 

His teacher, Mrs Beauchamp was always there at the same table, arriving around 3 pm and leaving at 5-ish. They didn't talk much. In fact, James didn't even dare go downstairs, unless someone called to him. In the past few days, he had only waved back to her when she’d saw him and then return immediately to his duty.

Yes, it was kind of ridiculous to act that way, but he felt strangely uncomfortable talking to his professor outside the university. Even more, because she was, eh, attractive? The woman should not have been more than thirty-five years old and was always dressed in the most elegant way possible. 

He always liked poetry and even wrote some terrible lines but somehow it was growing within him. And, although he did not want to admit it, it was because of Mrs Beauchamp. The way she spoke. The way she gestured. The way she was so passionate about it. How she licked her upper lip and took a deep breath when someone said something stupidly stupid and she sure held herself up so she wouldn't punch them in the face.

Ah, those were actually James's feelings. Mrs Beauchamp would be too polite for that. Nevermind.

. . .

He went down the stairs because he knew she wouldn't be there anymore at that time. However, in the corner of the room, at one of the last tables, was Brianna, his classmate. The boy waved and walked towards her.

"Hey there. What are you up to?"

James smoothed the hair that scratched the base of his neck. It was definitely time to have a haircut.

"Not much. Nobody likes to read around here." he joked.

She made a face.

"I'd go up if I could. You should definitely talk to your boss about it, by the way. There should be something to help people with special needs around, you know?"

James felt surprised, and then upset because he had never thought of it.

"Damn it. I'm sorry. I'll talk to her about it."

Brianna ate another piece of the pie. There was a little whipped cream in the corner of her mouth. James weirdly stood in front of her. She gestured for him to seat and he looked around to see if Jenny was anywhere near them.

He sat down.

"So," she chewed "have you done the research for tomorrow?" she glanced at James sideways while eating some more. She smiled crookedly when she realized he got gobsmacked. "You know, the research. You're supposed to choose an author from the period between 1700 to 1900, talk about their life, choose one of their poems and analyze it."

James had completely forgotten. Why was it so easy to remember all the details related to the teacher, but not what the teacher actually said?

"Of course. The damn research."

"Of course." she laughed. "Ya know, it's just the beginning of the semester, for Christ's sake."

He snorted.

"Exactly, right? Our teacher shouldn’t be so demanding."

Brianna rolled her eyes and bumped his shoulder.

“She’s paid to do just that, asshole.”

James shook his head.

“Hey!”

James stood up and ran his index finger over the whipped cream on the pie. Brianna's eyes widened and she tried to hold his hand but he licked his finger and took two steps back.

"So, this is the kind of service you guys offer around here?!" she exclaimed a little too loud.

He gestured for her to shut up and walked away smirking.

"Jamie?" Brianna called out before he could turn on the corner.

"What?"

"It can be done in pairs." She pointed out reasonably.

James raised an eyebrow.

"Really?"

Brianna snorted.

"Yes, please be on time tomorrow so we can rehearse what we are going to do."

"Oh, so turns out you're a good person."

"Turns out you're a dick."

He pretended to be shocked.

"Meet you here tomorrow at six? "

She nodded.

James turned and went back up the stairs to his position as Laird of Books.


The apartment James and Roger shared were unique, to say the least. Roger had a very peculiar taste for decoration. It had been a complete shock when James first arrived. The pictures on the internet were different. He hadn't told his uncle about it, of course.

The apartment looked like a sanctuary. Each room had images related to biblical characters and there was an altar as well. James had no problem with religion, after all, he had grown up being taught on the basis of the Bible, but going to bathe with the image of the Virgin Mary staring at him was a bit too much. According to Roger, the apartment belonged to his late adopted father, Reverend Reginald. And he was too lazy to change it all.

Another thing was the fact that there was never anything in the fridge. Except for water and soda, of course. The two spent most of their time outside the house.

That night James was especially tired. The trip home was very stressful. Crowded subway.

They ordered pizza and watched Friends. Roger thought it was hilarious, James not so much.

"Another one?" James asked as he wiped his fingers on a napkin.

"Aye." Roger took another slice of mozzarella pizza and stuck it in his mouth.

They continued to watch TV for a few more minutes until James broke the silence. 

"How long have you lived here?"

Roger wiped his fingers on the same dirty napkin that James had used.

"My whole life.” Roger gave a short answer so maybe he wasn’t in the mood for talking. 

“Hm…”

“I’ve never really met my parents. I’ve lived with the Reverend since he adopted me, when I was three and until he died, four years ago."

Damn. No the kind of conversation James was expecting.

"Is that why you never changed the design of this place?"

Roger turned to face James and gave a tired smile.

"I am lazy and disorganized." Oh really? "But I also care about little things. This apartment was his, every single thing inside belongs to him. I have no family. Nowhere. I decided to leave everything the way he left it. These walls prevented many people from renting the room, you know? So I put different photos in the ad. I wanted them to come here and be scared."

"And you’ve succeeded."

"But you rented the room.” Roger laughed.

"Just because there was no other option,” he joked. James laced his fingers and analyzed what he was about to say. “I also don't have my parents anymore. I lost them when I was fourteen.” 

“We’re both orphans then, cheers!” Rogers raised an imaginary glass and pretended to toast. “Sucks, eh?”

“Yup. I also had a brother, William, who died from smallpox when I was six…” Roger scrunched his face. “We were very poor and used to live in a cottage in the country. After that, my father went to work on my mother's brother's farm, uncle Dougal and we went to live there... Dougal raised me and took care of me after everything, but...”

Roger sat up straight and stared at James.

“What?”

“He’s a handful.” he scoffed. “He has a temper, ya know? We’re too much alike and he hated when I told him what I would apply to study.”

"Shit, mate."

It’s a disgrace for this family, yer mother would kill ya.” the boy tried to imitate his uncle's speech as best he could.

Roger chuckled.

“He is a farmer and never had kids so he wanted me to take care of Lallybroch and keep it in the family tradition.”

“Lallybroch?” Roger raised an eyebrow.

“Aye. My great-great-great-great grandfather chose the name. It means ‘the north-facing tower’.” he said full of pride. 

It was nice to have someone to talk to. Roger studied History and got instantly interested in James' family history, so realizing that they were forming a friendship was cool. They spent hours talking about their childhoods and sharing experiences that had been important to them.  


The next day, James was talking to a customer about one of the books on the shelf. The girl was looking for science fiction books and he was very excited, as it was his favourite literary genre. Mrs Murray was watching him from a distance, sitting on the couch and he noticed. He remembered the conversation with Brianna the day before and decided to talk to her about it. He excused himself and walked towards his boss.

"Mrs Murray, I would like to talk to you, if you have time now."

She crossed her legs.

"I'm all ears."

"Well," he cleared his throat. "I was talking to a customer yesterday, she is my classmate and she was a kind of upset because she can't come up here to read books or anything. She uses a wheelchair."

"Ah yes, I think I saw her yesterday. She’s always around..."

"Yeah, so, uh… What can we do to help?"

James said tentatively.

Jenny put a hand on her chin and looked quite thoughtful as he spoke.

"The point is that we would have only two options: to build a ramp, which we have no space to do or to transform the stairway behind the last bookcase, into an elevator, which, at the moment, we have no money to do so. But thank you, James, I’ll definitely think about something." She stood up and reached out to squeeze the boy's shoulder. "If your friend shows up here today, call me at my office, I would love to talk to her."

James pursed his lips in a small smile.

"Sure."

"Hi, darling." James saw Jenny walk past him with a wide smile and did not have to turn to know that the voice was Mrs Beauchamp's.

The boy fiddled with his hands non-stop and turned to go towards the shelves. He saw Mrs Beauchamp smiling at him and responded with a tight smile.

He hid behind a bookcase and took out one of the books to look at the super boring cover. He almost fell backwards when he noticed that Mrs Beauchamp was coming towards him.

"Are you ready for today's presentation?" she asked from the other side of the bookcase. James crouched down and picked up another book from the last session.

"Kinda. I hope so. Unless you are too demanding." His playful tone made her smirk.

“Not much. Just enough.”

That sent a shiver through his spine.

James remained silent and crouched, looked to the side and saw a pair of brown Oxford shoes. He got up quickly and placed the book in some empty space he found.

"I'm not sure if Jenny told you, but I'm the one who chooses the book catalogue that is part of this collection." The woman crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. That image didn't help at all and would be sure stuck on his head later.

But it got him interested.

"Really? Ah! So you’re the one responsible for the fifteen books that I had to carry yesterday."

She laughed and held out her arms.

"Guilty!"

James relaxed a little.

"Um, where are you from? If you don't mind answering." the teacher inquired.

"I’m from Inverness, Scotland. I used to live on a farm."

Her eyebrows shot up in surprise. 

“Ah! Farmboy.” 

A corner of his mouth lifted.

"The accent doesn't deny it." She teased, then looked at the clock and pushed herself away from the wall.

"See you in the classroom!" Mrs Beauchamp smiled and walked towards the stairs. James walked slowly behind her and watched her from the balcony.

Brianna had just entered and Mrs Beauchamp greeted her.

The girl looked up and showed James the middle finger.


Mrs Beauchamp asked all students to sit in circles. She positioned her chair in front of the board, in the middle, to have a wide view of everyone. She started the class again by choosing a poem, this time by the poet Walt Whitman.

"This one is called 'Whoever you are holding me now in hand'. When I first read it, I must confess that it was one of the poems that most caught my attention. It's a poem in which the reader actively participates, if I may say so. It's something very sensual and personal, between the poet and the reader. I'll read a short excerpt and we'll discuss it right after:

"Or, if you will, thrusting me beneath your clothing,

Where I may feel the throbs of your heart or rest  upon your hip,

Carry me when you go forth over land or sea;

For thus, merely touching you, is enough—is best,

And thus, touching you, would I silently sleep and be

carried eternally."

 

Damnit. Mrs Beauchamp's raspy voice combined with the excerpt she's just read was too much for him to handle.

The teacher looked at the students again after finishing the quick reading and asked them their opinions regarding the excerpt from the book. It was important for her that each of them expressed themselves.

"Mr Fraser, what do you think?" she crossed her legs and turned towards him.

Shit.

James scratched the back of his neck.

"Well, it seems very intimate. As you said before, it's a relationship between him and the reader."

She bit her bottom lip.

"Yes, and what else have you been able to observe? Besides what is obvious?"

James stopped shaking his leg for a moment and frowned thoughtfully.

"He seems to focus a lot on this body issue, perhaps because of the stigma of the time when this piece was written, but I think it is something deeper than that. It is like camouflage to undo the most significant meaning of the text."

Mrs Beauchamp crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair.

"Please continue." she opened an inviting smile.

James swallowed.

"I don't know, I may be talking nonsense, but I also believe that there is a whole context behind everything," he explained. James felt completely at ease looking at the older woman now, she didn't make him feel stupid, quite the opposite in fact. And the way she was looking at him...

Before he could go on, one of the students interrupted.

"Seems like he wanted to be worshipped and in control." the girl in the back said. He wondered if her name was Lauren or something like that.

Mrs Beauchamp cocked an eyebrow.

"That's interesting, Lisa."

Ah, Lisa!

"Sorry, mate." she apologized smiling.

James shook his head.

"Um, okay, along with what Lisa said, and I do agree with her, I'd say that Whitman," he continued, "was said to be gay, so perhaps a difficulty in giving himself over to love and the turmoil of having someone who was able to understand him that way."

She nodded.

"Thank you for your contribution to our debate..." she turned to the other students. "... the best thing about art is that we all have different interpretations in relation to what we read, what we see, what we hear, and so on." she tried to make eye contact with every student in the room at a time. "Each of us carries a unique and special experience and this will always influence our analysis..." she ran skinny fingers through her black hair. "...I don't want to say who is right or wrong, I want you to reflect and discuss your opinions. I'm here to present the facts, the context, the historical side of each poem, each author, but I want you all to be independent and thinking minds."

The teacher stood up and walked across the room to turn off the lights. Then she asked the class to start the presentations. Everyone started preparing for the seminar. Brianna had a piece of paper in her hand with some information in case she forgot something important.

"You are not as dumb as you look." She pointed to James.

"I would kick you in the stomach if you weren't a girl," he said, shrugging. "Lucky you."

Brianna's eyes widened dramatically.

"Would you really hit a girl in a wheelchair?"

"I said: if you were not a girl." He explained. He wondered what had happened to her.

"Ah, so if it was a boy in a wheelchair, fine." Brianna teased.

James ruffled her hair and she squeaked.

"You know what I meant."

The presentations took place according to plan. Two pairs did not present anything because they had neither studied nor researched the subject. James was lucky as hell, as he had memorized all the material Brianna had given him and combined it with his prior knowledge of the content. They didn't get the highest score, but it was more than they thought they deserved. At the end of class, James was one of the last in the room next to Brianna, he had promised to accompany her to the exit where she would take a cab.

Mrs Beauchamp had a bag in one arm and on the other was trying to balance four large books and some works written by the students. James offered to help her and she accepted with a smile. Or rather, he placed the materials on Brianna's lap. While pushing the wheelchair, the three of them were walking towards where her car was parked, on the other side of the street.

When they got to the car, Brianna handed James the books and him to Mrs Beauchamp. The teacher gave him a smile on the corner of her mouth. He couldn't contain the twist in his stomach.

He felt like a kid with a crush. 


It was Saturday night. Roger had the brilliant idea of them going to a bar downtown. It was a themed bar, a typical Irish pub. The music was very different from the ones he would listen to. The place was crowded and dark, people gathered at tables, loud waves of laughter, a strong smell of fried food and the sounds of glasses toasting. There was no table available for the two of them, but Roger found some of his friends from college sitting by the bar. James stood watching people, was starving and had no interest in getting drunk.

After twenty minutes, they ended up ordering some burgers.

When the boy had to go to the bathroom, he crossed the room towards a narrow corridor leading to the bathroom and saw some couples enjoying the proximity of the walls. 

James made it to the bathroom, but almost pissed his pants when he saw a familiar face in the queue for the ladies' room. Very tight leather pants, he could tell, a red silk shirt and a jacket.

Was that Mrs Beauchamp?

Chapter Text

The teacher stood for a while in front of the huge mirror in the carpeted corridor inside her apartment. The flat was so big that it could easily be called home. The decor of the living room was very sophisticated, with light woody furniture and imported from southern California.

A huge glass window surrounded the apartment and took the viewer to a privileged view of the Big Ben. She lived on top of one of the most sought after apartments in the prestigious St James neighbourhood.

She had moved there after splitting from her ex-husband, Frank Randall, a typical Londoner who loved to walk around the park and never had time for anything. The marriage lasted only three years. The apartment, in fact, belonged to her uncle, the famous archaeologist Quentin Lambert Beauchamp, who had retired a few years ago and gave her the keys to the place.

As a teacher, she had met Jenny, the owner of the café on the street next to the University, and her - at the time - boyfriend Ian Murray, the two girls became friends almost instantly. With the years passing by, she got used to living alone and restricting herself to any attempt at romantic relationships after her failed marriage. The truth is, Frank had cheated on her with his secretary.

After finally deciding on the navy blue linen shirt, she took the overcoat and the car keys and went out the front door.


At three twenty in the afternoon, Claire parked the car in her privileged spot in front of the Little London Café, left her materials in the back seat and entered the establishment. She always liked to stay there, because the atmosphere was pleasant and cosy and even more because she had her best friend as the owner of the place.

Free food.

As the woman passed through the long mahogany door, she looked up and quickly noticed a figure passing by what would certainly be her student, James.

The fact was, an interest had piqued her; every time she talked to the boy at the café he seemed strangely nervous and awkward, and that, she thought, was very cute.

What was wrong with teasing a student?

. . .

 

She climbed the dark oak stairs, her right hand sliding under the rail. When she reached the top, she saw the student and Jenny smiled at her.

"Hi darling!" she said to her friend.

Jenny gave her a hug and apologized, as she needed to go down to her office.

She noticed that James went to a bookcase and walked slowly towards the furniture. He was on the other side and would seem to be searching for something.

"Are you ready for your presentation?" she teased, containing a smile even though he couldn't see.

"Kinda. I hope so. Unless you're too demanding." she heard his joke and chuckled.

"Not much. Just enough."

The boy was silent for a few seconds and she frowned. She couldn't see him very well, so walked over to the wall and leaned against it, now having a wide view of the crouching boy. She noticed that he turned his head to his side, was he looking at her legs?

"I'm not sure if Jenny told you, but I'm the one who chooses the book catalogue that is part of this collection." Claire crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. She observed him attentively.

He raised an eyebrow.

"Seriously? Ah! So you are the one responsible for the fifteen books that I had to carry yesterday."

She laughed and held out her arms.

"Guilty!" and paused before asking, "Um, where are you from? If you don't mind answering."

"I’m from Inverness, Scotland. I used to live on a farm."

Her eyebrows shot up in surprise. 

“Ah! Farmboy.” 

She saw the corner of his mouth lifted.

The two talked a little more until she realized the time and said goodbye. The teacher found the way he acted amusing and had heard stories from students interested in her. Claire couldn't deny her self-confidence.

Claire found the way James acted in the classroom even more curious. It was as if they had never seen each other outside the college walls. He was more reserved and restrained, gave strong opinions, but only when she asked him. Unlike other students who spoke even when they shouldn't.

Many liked to talk a lot to emphasize their previous knowledge on the subject, but he was quiet, with a hand on his chin, occasionally scratching the back of his neck and listening carefully to everything she said.

She also liked the fact that he tried to include Brianna in everything he did, she had seen them talking at the café a few times. That night, he and Brianna helped her take her books to the car and she realized how chatty the girl was.


 

"You're not really thinking of going out wearing this teacher's uniform, are you?" Jenny inquired, not at all impressed by Claire's choice.

"What's wrong with my clothes?" Claire turned again to the long mirror in the centre of her room as she turned and studied herself, running her thin hands over the fabric of the material that surrounded her body.

"Unless someone at the bar has some mysterious fetish for poetry teachers." Jenny laughed loudly.

The two of them were supposed to go out that night to an Irish pub at Soho square to meet some of their friends. 

"What do you want me to wear?" she turned to her friend lying on her bed and Jenny clapped her hands happily, getting up and heading towards the closet.

She returned with leather pants and a red silk shirt.

Claire looked at herself in the mirror again and raised her eyebrow. Maybe she wouldn't be alone tonight, after all.

“What about Ian?” the teacher asked as she looked at herself once more. 

Jenny groaned.

“At the café. Seems like he loves his job more than me sometimes.”


 

Later that night, the two were sitting at one of the tables at the back of the pub; Geillis, a friend of them, and Julio, a Jamaican, were talking happily and seemed to want to tear each other's clothes off at any time.  Julio had invited a friend who was travelling with him, Matías, and now Claire was caught up in an uninteresting conversation about Carnivorous Plants; apparently the guy was a big enthusiast in the area.

Jenny wasn’t really in the mood for talking, since she’s had an argument with Ian when they got there. 

Nice.

Between conversation, Claire sighed tragically and tried to keep a fake smile on her lips. Until she decided to get up to go to the bathroom. The pub was even more crowded than when they’d arrived and she crossed the sea of people with some difficulty. She went down the hall and noticed the queue of the ladies' room, almost thought about giving up but remembered what was waiting for her at the table and grunted.

While waiting for her turn frustrated, she looked around but ended up noticing a familiar face.

She was mortified.

The boy looked as tormented to see her as she was. The room was relatively dark, but she was sure he was blushing. Claire didn't quite know what to do. Should I say hello? Should I pretend I hadn't seen him? Should I pass in front of everyone and hide in the bathroom?

The last option seemed to be the best.

James approached her tentatively, scratching the back of his neck and with a shy smile on his side.

"Hello, Mrs Beauchamp."

She snorted.

"For God's sake, do not call me that here, let alone by my last name,"

He chuckled.

"Came to have fun?" she asked curiously.

"Not quite." confessed. "At least the food here is good."

There was a smile on the corner of her lips.

Looking better at the younger boy, she could see the striped shirt he wore, that hugged his muscles. The first open buttons invited her to admire his collarbones. His hair was natural: large curly reddish strands drooping to the side. He was a handsome young man.

Suddenly, someone passing by bumped into him, which caused him to collide with Claire head-on. She was taken completely by surprise and lasted only a few seconds, but it was enough to smell the boy's scent.

She was going mad!

But, damn it, James Fraser was extremely attractive.

She excused herself and finally went into the bathroom, now she was sweating like crazy. The woman went to the bathroom sink and turned on the tap, washed her hands well and rubbed the back of her neck. What was happening to her? This was totally inappropriate. She took a few deep breaths and left the bathroom, went down the hall and headed for her table. She noticed that James was standing on the other side of the bar, with some colleagues, and he looked bored as hell, fiddling with the French fries on his plate.

Claire approached her table and saw Jenny walking out the front door. She grunted again and sighed, realized that her cell phone was vibrating in the pocket of her leather jacket and picked it up.

[Jen — 10:24]: Ian’s waiting for me outside….. Gotta go, talk to you later xx 

Oh, awesome! 

Matías was still sitting at the table, but, thank God, there was a girl beside him strangely excited by what he was talking about. Claire hopefully chose to believe it wasn't about carnivorous plants. Geillis asked if she was okay which Claire nodded.

It was getting late, but honestly, she didn't feel like going home nor did she feel like sitting with them again. She walked to the bar and sat down on the empty seat. The bartender promptly came to meet her.

"What can I do for you today, baby?" the grey-haired man smiled and Claire raised her eyebrows, trying to contain a laugh.

"Just a glass of wine, please." she nodded. 

. . .

Fifteen minutes and four glasses later...

She turned to the left, even with so many people in the room, Claire managed to see James was on his feet and that his friend was pushing him forward, the boy insisted that he should do something, which Claire didn't know exactly what, but she quickly turned away when James turned his face towards her. She texted a uber driver and waited.

Claire brought her finger to her lips, biting the tip of her nail. She did want to talk to him but the whole situation was uncomfortable. A million thoughts ran through her mind and none of them made sense. She shook her head trying to clear her thoughts. Nothing had happened! And it wouldn't ever happen! What did she expect to happen? 

Yes, it was pretty weird to meet a student at a bar on Saturday night, but would she have been so nervous if she had met any other students? Mrs MacKenzie, for example? Or maybe Mr Thomas? So what's the reason for all that nervousness?

Someone sat beside her. 

"Are you following me, boy?" she joked.

James shook his head with a smile.

"I got here first." He observed.

She raised her eyebrows.

"But it does support my statement: you saw me when I got here, then you’re following me."

She cursed herself. She was teasing him again. She wasn’t thinking clearly. She should stand up and leave.

"Can I ask you something?" 

But she talked instead.

He looked surprised but nodded.

"It's just that… sometimes it seems that, while I'm at the café, you don't like talking to me much." 

Damn. Her mouth didn't seem to want to obey her brain.

"What? That’s ridiculous." 

Claire smiled.

“Are you sure? Do not lie to your teacher.”

It was not possible that only three glasses of wine left her like this. Had the bartender put something else on it? On second thought, it didn't even taste like wine that much...

James grunted and narrowed his eyes.

"Nevermind," she chuckled.

"You're not drunk, are you?" he frowned. 

"No, of course not. Just a little bit out of orbit." 

She saw him roll his eyes.

"You probably won't remember this conversation then." 

"Do not underestimate me, Mr James Fraser!" she exclaimed.

. . . 

 

The bartender was talking in a strange language. Was she really that drunk? What kind of thing was that? Oddly enough, her student was now talking to him in the same weird dialect. She’s sure she’s heard it before. 

“What’s that?” she asked a bit too loud.

James turned his head to her. 

“Scottish Gaelic. I’m not a pro, but understand a few bits.” 

She was really surprised.

“That’s very interesting. Could you show me anything?” She turned to him and tilted her head to support it in the hand that was resting on the table.

James talked to the man behind the counter and he handed him some items. A piece of paper and a pen.

“This is inappropriate,” she whispered to herself and wasn’t sure if he listened.

James placed the paper on the wooden counter and swung the pen between his fingers.

"So?"

The boy started writing, she leaned closer to peek over his hand, but he folded the paper. 

She felt her cell phone vibrating inside her pocket and saw a text from the driver. 

“I’m leaving now. Hope you enjoy the rest of your night.” She got down from the seat and James handed over the jacket that was on the counter.

"Answering your first question… It's because you- you’re very young for a teacher. I mean, the ones I had were much older than you.” he burbled. 

“Uh, so you don’t like talking to me because I’m young? Oh boy, I’m thirty-three.”

“No! That’s not- I think you’re a beautiful woman but you already know that."

She got caught off guard but quickly composed herself.

“Ah, so you don’t like talking to beautiful women?” she inquired.

He shook his head and chuckled.

“Not quite like that. You’re just intimidating,” he confessed.

Claire raised her eyebrows considering what he had said. And then remembered that her driver was waiting outside and that, again!, the man in front of her was actually her student, so she left, giving him a small smile before turning.


 

The next morning, Claire woke up on the living room sofa, fully dressed and with matted hair. She stretched and snapped her fingers, with a long yawn following. The teacher took off her leather jacket and noticed something in the outside pocket. A folded piece of paper. She opened it because did not remember seeing it before.

 

"Bidh tu m’ aisling anns an oidhche… 

Is anns a’ mhadainn bidh mi ‘gad fhaighneachd"

 

Her forehead creased. She had no idea what the heck that meant.

Chapter Text

As James walked towards the cafeteria, he continued to think about Saturday night's events. It was certainly something to reflect on for hours and hours at a time. Roger had pressured him to go to her, his friend had noticed that James kept looking at the beautiful woman sitting alone, but, of course, James hadn't told him that she was actually his teacher.

He didn't expect to find her there. Not even in her biggest dreams, and even more "out of orbit" as she had referred to.

On top of that, it was a fast-growing experience for him. Yes, he found the teacher attractive, but no, obviously there was no chance of anything happening between them. But at the same time that James vehemently shook his head, he also remembered the way she looked at him and talked to him. Always trying to tease him somehow. Maybe he was overthinking. Maybe it was just part of her personality. Maybe she did the same with other students...

Upon entering the café, he quickly forgot, even if momentarily, those insistent thoughts, as there was much work to be done; more boxes of books had arrived and he would need to arrange them all in their proper places. As he finally finished packing the last row of books, one work caught his eye: Collected Poems by Carol Ann Duffy, a Scottish poet. He smiled longingly because he missed his home.  

And once again it all came back to him. He remembered mainly what he had written on the paper and left inside the teacher's jacket. It had really been a bold move. Too much. She could get it totally wrong. 

It was an 18th-century Gaelic song/poem that he knew well, as he remembered the old ladies in the village singing it frequently and later he was introduced to what the lyrics said.

The part he had written on the paper said:

“Bidh tu m’ aisling anns an oidhche / Is anns a ’mhadainn bidh mi‘ gad fhaighneachd...”

(You are in my dreams at night / And in the morning I ask for you).

And he cursed himself. Perhaps it was the worst part of the song to show a Gaelic excerpt to the teacher,  the one who he thought was beautiful. And said so in her face. 

Shit. He messed up. 

 . . . 

 

When the end of the afternoon approached, he decided to go down the long winding stairs and go to the bottom of the cafeteria to see if Brianna was there that day. As he walked between the tables, he ended up running into one of the waiters, in his shirt got completely wet with soup. The problem was that the soup was hot as hell and he let out a scream of pain. Everyone in the establishment turned their eyes to him and James tried his best to get the shirt out of his body, his skin was burning. 

He left for the bathroom and the manager, Mr Ian Murray asked him to wait. James did not hear the conversation well, but it seemed that Kevin, the waiter, was being yelled at.

“I'm glad it wasn't a customer!” Mr Murray screamed.

The liquid dripped onto the dark oak floor and James blew on his chest. Mr Murray took him by the arm to Jenny's office, who had gone out to buy some fruit for the fridge.

"I must have a shirt or two here somewhere." the boy watched as the manager opened the drawers of the white cabinet next to the desk in the centre. 

"Here," he handed two long-sleeved striped woollen shirts; one green and white and the other light blue with rosé stripes. “One of these must serve you. Are you in any pain?”

James took off his shirt and consequently ended up dirtying the top of his hair a little and the liquid dripped on the floor. His belly was wet and red.

Mr Murray turned again to find something in the closet and took out a white towel.

"Take a shower, cold water, that should be enough." he handed over the towel and went out the door.

James sat on the leather sofa in front of the desk and took off his shoes and socks. Then he went into the bathroom and removed the rest of his clothes for a quick shower.

Luckily there was liquid soap and shampoo. He tried not to rub the area and the water was already making the sting pass.

 . . . 

After taking a shower, he left the bathroom barefoot with his pants on, used the towel to dry his hair a little more and prevent it from dripping on the wooden floor. He went back into the bathroom and took some toilet paper to clean the floor. Then he went to the table to choose which shirt to wear. The two options didn't exactly match his clothing style, but it was better than nothing. 

And, of course, they seemed to be twice his size.

While he was with his back to the door, he heard the noise of its opening and turned to see Claire standing with wide eyes.

“Oh! I'm sorry,” she said startled, “I don’t even want to know whatever is the reason you are shirtless inside my friend’s office.” 

James chuckled.

“There was a little accident in the hall, didn't you notice?” the boy pointed out. He also observed that she was trying not to maintain eye contact. "Kevin spilt the hot soup on my chest," he passed the towel lightly over his belly and Claire lowered her eyes to look at the small reddish stain on the surface. “So I had to come to take a shower and Mr Murray lent me these two,” he gestured to the shirts, “pieces of clothing to wear.”

Claire closed the door and approached the student. She looked closely at the redness in his stomach and bit her lip. Couldn't help but notice his shape. Then their eyes met.

"Is it blazing?" she asked worriedly.

“Just a bit. The cold water helped a lot.” he passed the towel over the place again and she scolded him, giving his hand a light slap.

"Stop it, it will hurt your skin."

He nodded, folded the towel, and went to the bathroom to put it under the toilet.

"Maybe this one?" he came back to find her with the white shirt with green stripes stretched out. He took it from her and put it on. Yeah, it was loose, but it would be enough.

"Thank you for your help." he smiled sheepishly. 

The student checked her out and she looked absurdly beautiful as usual. She wore a white sleeveless linen shirt and skinny twill pants in green. When he looked at her face again, she tried to contain a smile and he blushed. The teacher took her thin fingers through her hair and sighed, taking a step back and turning to the front shelf.

"Did you get home well on Saturday?" he asked.

She wasn’t looking at him and he was grateful for it.

"Why wouldn't I?" asked the older woman.

James played with the few wet strands that fell on his eyes and murmured positively.

"It reminds me of," she said as she ran her index finger over the books on the shelf, "a friend of mine, that said something curious..."

"Okay?" he frowned without understanding.

“She said she got home late on Saturday night. Slept on the couch and in the morning, she couldn’t remember much from the night before. But she found a piece of paper on her jacket.”

James raised an eyebrow.

“Oh was that so? Was it folded?” he put his hands in his jeans pockets.

"Oh my, you're very intuitive." Claire turned her face quickly to look at him.

"Just a lucky guess." he shrugged. 

He didn't know where she was going with that story, but he was willing to find out.

“This friend of mine, she was wondering if she’ll ever find out the one person who wrote it.” she turned around.

It was his turn to look away.

“Ah, I don’t think so. But did your friend like it? The poem?”

The teacher grinned.

"I do not remember mentioning a poem."

Oh, shit.

“Ah, I'm very intuitive as you pointed you,” he blinked.

She rolled her eyes with a smile and headed for the door.

“She felt ridiculous,” she leaned on the door before continuing, “because, like me, she’s a teacher,” she cleared her throat and avert her eyes from James, who was trying to control a smile that was ready to open, “and she couldn’t recognize the piece she’s had on her hands. She had to google it!”

James let out a small laugh.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Claire told him.

"Aye." the boy scratched the back of his neck and rested his body on the desk.

When she was almost out of the room, Claire turned her head to say one last thing.

“She did. My friend. She liked it very much.”


 

After finishing packing some more books on the shelf, James watched his boss, Jenny, go up the stairs and walk towards him. He wiped the dust off his hands on the bottom of his jeans and waited to see what she wanted to say.

The short woman had her black locks in a bun on top of her head. She wore a dress shirt with the coffee shop logo and an apron wrapped around her waist. She walked between the shelves as if looking for something, which puzzled James since he could help her.

Finally, the woman cleared her throat and spoke.

"How are you feeling today, boy?"

"Very well, madam."

She nodded.

“Do you remember what we talked about? About the ramp?”

"Yes, of course, of course."

Jenny crossed her arms and sighed.

“I talked a lot with Mr Murray about this. We had an excellent idea, but I will need your help to carry it out and thus raise funds.”

James raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"Whatever you need!"

The boss gave a satisfied smile.

"Great. To begin with, your part of helping… Do you have a suit?”

He frowned.

"Yes, I do have a suit."

She clapped her hands.

"Great! Bring it tomorrow. You will go with me somewhere. ”

The woman turned to go down the stairs not minding the confusion on the boy's face.

 . . .

 

As the class time approached and his work shift was drawing to a close, James received a text message from his colleague Brianna, asking him to meet her at the university library before class. She was already there waiting for him.

He went down the stairs and walked to the bottom of the establishment, next to the stock were the staff lockers and there he put on his apron inside his. He walked back and looked at the clock next to the pie counter, it was 6:15 pm and Mrs Beauchamp had not yet shown up at the cafeteria that day, but as he thought of it, the teacher hurried through the large wooden doors.

James watched the teacher approach him, who stood by the counter and she talked to Tim, ordering a cappuccino with whipped cream to go. She was almost out of breath. James felt the phone vibrate on his back pocket and it was Brianna calling. He cancelled the call and sent a message that he was on his way.

The teacher noticed that the boy was beside her and turned to him with a small smile. It was nice that she wasn’t acting weird because of the poem. It was a great relief.

"Hey!" she said as she took the cappuccino in her hands. “See you soon!” she winked at him and left. James followed behind her but keeping a healthy distance.

He didn’t want to look like a creepy guy, so he crossed the street and continued walking towards the university. Occasionally he would look the other way and notice the teacher talking to someone on her cell phone. She looked very upset.

When he finally reached the huge library, he found Brianna by the counter. And a stack of books.

"Thank you so much for coming, bud!" the red-haired girl smiled.

"So that's why you wanted to see me." James studied sarcastically, resting his elbow on the books on the counter.

Brianna shrugged.

"No problem, kiddo," he said picking them up. 

The two walked to the outside area, with some stone benches and tables. Brianna was very agile with her wheelchair and soon positioned herself next to James, who sat on the bench.

"How was your weekend? What did you do on Saturday?" she asked, but the girl's expression was bored.

James's eyes widened. 

Did she know anything? Why was she asking about that? Should he tell her about it? Okay, James, stop freaking out! She's asking about the teacher's class because, in case you haven't noticed, you two will see her in twenty minutes!

"Yes." he finally said.

"What?" the girl made a face.

“Um, I mean, I- it was good. I went to a pub with some friends.” He scratched the back of his head.

Brianna watched the birds scratching on the floor.

“What about you?”

The girl snorted.

"What?"

She looked at him as if it were obvious.

“It is very difficult for me to leave the house. It is a blessing that my parents let me come to the Uni."

James frowned.

"Because of the wheelchair?"

She sighed.

“Wanna know a secret?” the girl whispered.

James narrowed his eyes but came closer.

“I can walk.” 

He moved away quickly, completely shocked.

"Okay, calm down!" the girl hurried to say, “Yes, I can walk, but it’s not like other people. I have a problem with my legs, right here...” she lifted the hem of her pants on both legs and he could see that the shin on both her legs were quite thin had a dozen scars. “...and when I walked with crutches, it was horrible, I hated it. Now I use the damn wheelchair, which isn't much better, but at least I never have a problem finding a place to sit!” she chuckled at her own joke. 

“How did that happened? Were you born with it?”

“When I was five I fell down off a horse and it kind of like stepped on me.”

James winced.

“Jesus Christ!” He exclaimed. 

But the girl didn’t seem to mind.

“It’s all right.”

The conversation continued without the two realizing that the class had already started. When they did realize, James had a brilliant idea.

"Ok, brace yourself." he leaned over to speak in the girl's ear. She looked up and saw a malicious smile.

“I don’t wanna die!” she exclaimed but it was too late.

The boy held on tightly to the handles of the chair as he pushed more quickly and the two of them went on in the hallways like crazy, while James dodged the people and the girl held on to the edges of the chair as she could. Within five minutes, they were arriving at the front of the class. James was out of breath and tired and Brianna was on the verge of a heart attack, but they both laughed.

When they entered the classroom, the teacher was standing, reading, walking between the rows with a book in her hand. James took Brianna to their usual place and they both sat out of breath and trying to contain their laughter. Claire shot them a sharp look and the two stopped. The teacher continued to read the poem and asked students who had heard about it some questions. Soon after, she continued:

"... and this one now is called Hope Is A Thing With Feathers by poet Emily Dickinson, which you certainly know," Brianna squealed on her wheelchair. “And says the following:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all…” 

She tried to fix her eyes on the page, but every now and then she’d look up at James, who was looking at her in delight.

“...And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -

And sore must be the storm -

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -

And on the strangest Sea -

Yet - never - in Extremity,

It asked a crumb - of me…”

She closed the book and placed it on the table, walked over to her chair in front of the board and sat down.

"Ms MacKenzie, what do you think about what I just read?"

James watched Brianna straighten up in her chair and take a deep breath. It was cute.

"Well, it's Dickinson's, so it's an epigram..." she started.

The teacher crossed her legs and leaned in her chair.

"Okay… and what’s an epigram, Ms MacKenzie?"

Brianna closed her eyes trying to find the right words.

"It’s like a short satirical poem with a single thought..."

Claire smiled.

“You’re correct but remember that it is a rhetorical device so it may also occur in other forms of writing. It is something brief, memorable and it expresses the idea, as you said, in a clever, amusing, satirical way…” she looked around the room. “Could any of you give me an example of another epigram?”

A boy in the back raised his hand and she nodded.

There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about… from The Picture of Dorian Gray. I love this quote.”

“Perfect example, Mr Thomas. Thank you. Anyone else wants to comment?”

A brown-haired girl raised her hand and the teacher nodded.

“We should be careful about what we hope for,” she contributed.

“Indeed,” the teacher agreed.

“But, as it says,” James pointed at the book on the table, “the bird always sings even when times get tough, so… No matter the circumstance, hope is an essential thing in human life.”

“So, you’d say we should always have hope? Even if the thing you’re wishing for is quite impossible to happen?” 

The teacher was watching him closely. Unknown to the other students, there seemed to be something unsaid between the two.

“Yes, I’d say so. Like a bird. Flying no matter the weather." 

Chapter Text

When he got home that day, James felt physically exhausted and mentally ready to burn. It was kind of hard to figure out what was going on between him and Mrs Beauchamp but at the same time, things were pretty exciting.

Barefoot, he walked on the cold tiled floor and went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Roger was sitting on the floor watching television and with some books scattered on the mattress. James watched his friend and thought about telling him about his teacher. Another opinion would help, right?

James approached his friend slowly, holding the glass in his hand and taking a few sips. Roger looked up and squinted.

 "What?" he asked, lowering his head again and fixing his eyes on a book to his right.

 James sighed and sat down next to him on the floor.

 "I'm kinda confused about something."

 "About what?" Roger sounded bored.

 James leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes.

 “Okay, so, I don’t even know where to begin…”

 "Maybe from the start?"

 James’s mouth twitched.

“It’s like, it didn’t even start yet and I mean, it’s crazy to think it’ll ever happen, but…”

 "Mate." Roger glared at him.

James winced. 

 “Ok, so… my teacher? We’re like, I don’t know?”

 “What? You two are having sex?”

 James almost choked. 

 “What? No! Of course not!”

 “Then what the hell are you saying?”

 The boy scratched his neck.

“Ok!” he tried, “Mrs Beauchamp… she’s- she’s beautiful and it seems like we’ve, I’ve been… She’s been... looking at me differently? And sometimes it seems like we’re kind of flirting...”

 Roger’s mouth curved into a smile.

 “What? In the class? Y'all nasty!” he laughed.

“No, nope. In the classroom, we just… We look at each other, it’s our thing…” Roger scoffed. “She’s best friends with my boss, Jenny. So, she’s always there at the café and that’s where it started. Talking to me, smiling and… I don’t know.”

 “Ok, and? You’re saying that your teacher’s smiling at you? How unusual.”

 James strained himself. 

“Ok, remember the woman I kept looking at on Saturday? When we were at the pub? That was her.  

Roger’s eyes widened.

“Holy shit! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It’s fine! We talked and she was kinda tipsy and flirty again…” he signed. 

 “Did you kiss her?”

 “Nope.”

 “Boring.”

 James sighed.

Roger looked back at the books in front of him and James again leaned against the wall, facing the wall in front of him and thinking about all the possibilities that could happen. It was like a movie playing in his head. He just didn't want it to turn in a terror on.


 

On Wednesday morning, the poetry teacher was hunched over the bed, wrapped in the thick layers of wool of her blanket. She stared at the bedroom ceiling while contemplating her life. And the events of the past week.

It was certain that everything was going in an unknown way. It's dangerous. With absolute certainty, her student felt something for her. It was good to feel wanted, but not in a situation like that. Years ago, Claire had been a great adventurer, regardless of what others thought or what she was doing - until she met Frank.

From that, came the great disappointment. She planned to build a family and everything had come crashing down. Yes, she had some romantic encounters right after the breakup, but all the guys she met just wanted one thing, which involved her soft bed.

Now, thinking about James, it was totally absurd. And of course, it was better to put an end to that now that it was in the beginning. I mean, she would end something that hadn't even started.

Perhaps she was being hasty. He was probably just being kind.

He was being kind to say she was beautiful. He was being kind in writing love poetry in an unknown language. He was being kind to look at her the way that he did.

Yes, those were normal things. She was not naive in thinking that other people didn't stare at her. But… When it came to James, the conversations between them, when they were alone, were different. And she couldn't allow...

Her phone vibrated on the nightstand beside the bed. Lazily, she rolled off the blanket and sat down before picking up the device.

Jenny: Good morning, miss!

Claire: Morning, Jen. 

Jenny: How are you? I’ve some things I want to discuss…  

 Claire: Me too… 

Claire bit her lip. 

Jenny: You go first! 

The teacher signed deeply. 

Claire: I forgot to mention some things that happened on Saturday… 

 Jenny: Okay? Hooked up with someone? 

Claire: God, no! But… okay, your employee was there. Why? I don’t know.

Jenny: Which one?  

Claire: Mr Fraser.

Jenny: Okay…? I’m sure he’s allowed to go out to pubs, ye know. 

Claire: He- We talked. I was tipsy and...

 Jenny: Dear Mother Mary. Did you two have sex?

Claire: No! Why would I? 

Jenny: Then what’s the point of this? 

Claire: We talked… I’ve been, you know, myself… and he’s… he said that I was beautiful. And he managed to put a note inside my jacket which I saw the morning after. 

 Jenny: Blimey!  

Claire: It was quite beautiful actually… It’s a Scottish poem, it was written in Gaelic even… a poem by-

 Jenny: AND? 

Claire: It is a love poem. It said, “ You are in my dreams at night and in the morning I ask for you.”

Jenny: Oh my, he’s a romantic man! 

Claire: Jenny. 

Jenny: So?

Claire: Yesterday…? I saw him in your office, after, um, he took a shower… 

 Jenny: So you had sex then?  

 Claire: Oh, bloody hell, Jenny, no! Nope! We didn’t have sex! We just-

 Jenny: Ok, ok. He’s definitely got a crush on you, right? 

 Claire: I- Yes, I think so. 

 Jenny: So what’re you gonna do? 

Claire: Tell him that it can’t happen! Tell him I’m his teacher…

Jenny: As if he didn’t know that!

Claire: ...and maybe stop showing up at the Café, I don’t know!

Jenny: Are you out of your bloody mind? What? Are you going to stop being his teacher as well? You’re skipping classes from now on, aren’t ya?

Claire: I don’t know what to do!

Jenny: Dear, just leave it! It will go away, okay? Relax! Now, my turn...  

. . .

 

At 3 pm, she put on her silk robe and walked down the hall towards the large kitchen. The cabinets went up to the ceiling and were all white. There was a large island in the centre with a white marble top with grey streaks, and it was a huge kitchen for just one person. Fifteen people could easily fit there. The whole place was open concept and, from the kitchen island, she could see the living room and the landscape through the wide “glass wall” that surrounded the room.

It was a wonderful apartment, but lonely.

That Wednesday, she and Jenny were going to a birthday party at the home of a friend, Geillis Duncan. And it wouldn't be an intimate party. Geillis was famous for throwing big parties, no matter what day of the week it was.

In particular, Jenny had told her about her proposal to raise funds to build an access ramp for the disabled in the cafeteria. Claire had offered to pay for the renovation, but her friend declined. Jenny was quite proud in that sense; she liked to get things done by her own means of work.

The proposal was a cultural gathering, with presentations of art, dance and, of course, poetry. Claire was very excited about the idea and was already thinking of several ways to involve her students in this great project. That's why Jenny really wanted them to go to Geillis’ party so that they could call as many people as possible, so they could be there that day and contribute financially.

However… Jenny had asked James to go too. James and Rupert, another employee. Of course, she had spoken to him before Claire told him about what was going on between them. Claire hadn't been thrilled about it, but thinking about the project, it would be nice to have them there to help. Jenny was already thinking about everything, and she had asked the boys to make several pamphlets so they could spread it around the city. She was thinking about using the rear parking space to be able to host about two hundred people.

. . .

 

When the clock struck seven-thirty in the evening, the woman ran across the room looking for the other pair of shoes. Finished putting on makeup, and aligning the dress on her body. It was long, with a slit at the thigh, and tightened its curves well. Jenny, for some reason, had persistently insisted that she wear that dress.

She took a small handbag, went down the elevator and greeted Gustav, the doorman. An extremely nice 64-year-old Swedish man who was always so very kind to her. He smiled warmly when he saw her and she walked up to him.

"You look stunning, madam!" he exclaimed.

 Claire’s mouth turned into a grin.

 "Thank you, Gustav." she hugged him. “See you later!”

The teacher left for the street and a taxi was waiting for her. The teacher would go straight to Geillis' house and meet the other guests there. She knew that everyone would be extremely well dressed and she was left wondering what outfit James would wear. She didn't want him to feel bad there.

. . .

While she talked animatedly with Geillis about the festival that would take place, the tall, red-haired woman already had several ideas in her head. Geillis was a big fan of the Jacobite movement. Claire was distracted for a moment and noticed that Jenny was entering the room at that moment.

And that's when she saw James Fraser. The boy was wearing a dark linen suit, perhaps navy blue, a white dress shirt on the inside and pants the same colour as the suit. She had never seen him look so elegant. 


 

James felt totally out of place there. Jenny was talking to someone in the corner and Claire had met some friends and they were talking by the fireplace in the living room. He had already distributed all the pamphlets available in his hands. Worse, Rupert was talking to a girl!

The house was packed, but it wasn't a party like the ones James had already been to. People were not only older but also wealthy. There was a band playing live music and the guests were drinking champagne, for Heaven's sake!

James kept going around with a glass of soda in his hand and found an empty spot outside, a huge balcony. He leaned over and was dazzled by the view from below. It was stunning. 


 

Claire continued talking for a few more minutes with two longtime friends. While talking about decorating, she looked around the living room and couldn't find James in any of the faces she was looking at. She got up and walked over to Jenny, who was laughing sterically at something that Geillis had said.

"Have you seen James?" the woman asked her best friend.

Jenny looked around and gave him an apologetic smile.

“Oh, is it the red-haired lad? I’m sure I’ve seen him before.” Geillis asked sipping on her champagne.

Jenny rolled her eyes.

“She’s been nuts about him,” Jenny said and looked at Claire pointedly. 

Claire cleared her throat.

“Oh?”

Geillis laughed.

“He’s gorgeous!” the party hostess declared.

“Yes, darling, and you’re drunk!” Claire pointed out. “I’ll go find him,” she said to Jenny and left. 

Claire walked around the room and looked for the boy even in the kitchen, but without success. Then she returned to the living room and decided to go on the balcony, at the back of the living room and opened the wide glass doors. There were many people out there too, scattered and sitting on the long sofas. Leaning against the left corner was James, holding a glass. Claire walked over to him, who didn't notice the teacher's movement.

"I was looking for you." she sounded wary. 

James turned to look at her and raised his eyebrows, nodding.

“Hi..."

She moved closer.

"What are you doing here all by yourself?"

“Just enjoying the scenery.”

She nodded. 

“Excited about the project? I mean, it is brilliant.” 

He agreed.

“I can’t wait until I tell Brianna, she’s gonna be gobsmacked!”

They were silent for a few seconds and James looked back at the busy streets of London.

"I must say, this look suits you." Claire broke the silence and moved closer to the boy, her shoulders almost touching his.

James snorted and gave a half-smile.

“My mom would be proud if she saw me like this. It's the first time I wear it.” he ran his fingers over the buttons on the suit.

Claire raised her eyebrows, taking another sip of the liquid in the cup she held.

"You should wear it more often... You look very elegant," she spoke carefully.

He gave a small smile. His heart pounding in his chest. 

“You don’t look so bad yourself,” 

She laughed and nodded. 

"Well, thank you, I tried my best."

Both turned their faces to look at each other and remained silent, the open smiles became timider and the teacher was the first to give up the contest. She started to feel incredibly nervous and her stomach was trembling down. She wanted to talk, to ask him about things but she was afraid that he would get it all wrong. She did not want to raise false hopes inside his mind if that was really the case. 

“So… where are you from again?” she tried. 

James kept looking ahead and internally thought, she is trying to keep the conversation going.

"Inverness. Farm Boy, remember?"

“Ah! Yes. Used to take care of the chickens?" she drank the remain of liquid on the glass and turned, waving to the waiter.

“Aye. All the nasty stuff.” 

Claire raised an eyebrow and offered him a sip. He shook his head and leaned over the balcony again.

"Why did you want to leave?" The teacher was quite interested now. 

The boy sighed and shrugged.

“I always liked to live in the country, but when my parents died, I moved in with my uncle and things weren’t easy anymore. He took care of me, but he was also too strict and didn't understand the things I liked. So... I decided to venture out and come to the big city. I thought about going to Glasgow, but I liked the university program here.”

“Do you think about going back? Someday?”

“Someday, yes. Have my own farm. A couple of horses. So much grass. I miss the breeze and the calmness of it.”

She smiled at the way his eyes sparkled and she found his accent so charming. 

"Ah yes," she took another sip. “What do you plan to do when you finish college?” She turned to him, one elbow on the balcony and the other hand holding the glass. 

The boy scratched the back of his neck.

“I honestly don't know yet. I just know that I like to write.” he shrugged.

That caught her attention even more. He was full of surprises.

“Oh, so do you write? What do you usually write about?"

"Well… usually short poems, really bad ones." He chuckled. "I’ve been trying to write a fictional story, seems like I can’t ever get past chapter one."

"Wow! What’s the story about? And your poems? Would you recite any of them?"

He glanced down to the floor. 

"Definitely not." 

She opened her mouth offended.

"Why the bloody hell not?"

He scoffed.

"Because, well… It’s you! I'm not gonna show it to you." he reasoned.

"Excuse me? What’s wrong with me?” she smirked.

"Well, you're my teacher..." he said the last word almost in a whisper and Claire threw back her head with a laugh. "...and for some other reasons… I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so."

She bit her bottom lip. 

"What other reasons?" 

He rolled his eyes.

"Um, the obvious." 

"What’s obvious?" she teased.

He let out a grunt and she laughed again, sipping her drink.

"You know, you’re incredibly intelligent and articulate. When you recite a poem by heart, it's fascinating. I’m not sure I could ever do it the way you do."

 Claire couldn't contain the smile on her face, let alone the redness on her cheeks.

"There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing," she said proudly. 

"Ah! See! Who’s this from?”

"Robert Burns. Have you not been to my classes?"

He chuckled.

Once again the two stared at each other for a few seconds and Claire heard a soft melody coming from the living room. She took a long drink from the cup and left it on the side table. James was watching her closely, which filled her with confidence and shyness at the same time if it was possible to feel them both. Her brain was going mad. Maybe she could have some fun, right? What was wrong with that? 

The boy seemed to feel the same way, as his next move took her by surprise.

"Let’s try it?" he held out his hand to her, who was slightly surprised.

"Do you dance?" she asked, running her fingers over the palm of his hand and feeling electric impulses through her body. The boy took her fingers and pulled her closer.

"I learned in the church. You won't even wanna know how it went," he said with humour and then put his other hand under her waist. She realized that he was nervous and got close enough, leaving her cheek against his.

Now that she was so close, she felt the smell of his hair. Claire tilted her face slightly and pressed her nose against the brown strands that brushed her cheek. The smell was incredibly good. It was going against all her thoughts. She shouldn't give the boy any more hope! But on second thought, maybe he was just kind, remember? He was being kind to ask her to dance... A slow song...

With one hand holding his, the other hovered under the boy's broad shoulders. And the two engaged in a slow dance, sometimes barely following the background melody, dancing at their own pace and chuckled occasionally at their moves. 

Everything felt good until Claire saw a familiar face approach and turned away from James. The boy was confused and turned to see what had startled her.

"Funny to see you here." a man came closer to the two and had a ridiculous smile on his face.

"Not funny at all to see you here," Claire replied dryly.

"Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?" he emphasized the last word. Claire rolled her eyes, but he reached out to James and smiled. "Hello, I'm Frank Randall."

Chapter Text

James frowned at the hand in front of him but squeezed it. The man, Frank Randall, had a slight air of superiority. It made him uncomfortable, especially when he noticed how agitated his teacher was.

"James." the boy introduced himself.

"Where do you guys know each other from?" Frank asked looking at their faces.

Claire feigned a laugh.

"It's definitely none of your business."

Frank's forehead wrinkled, and he ran his pale fingers through the combed strands of hair.

“Don't do that, dear. Don't be rude in front of your guest.”

James was very uncomfortable.

“You are right, dear. Let me be rude to you elsewhere.” the woman replied.

James watched her pull the man by the arm and take him to another corner, leaving him completely confused. They seemed to know each other very well. The boy shrugged and sat on one couch nearby. The night was getting colder, but it didn't seem to inhibit the party guests.

He continued to watch Claire from a distance while she was talking to Frank. She had her back to James and he could see the man now and then looking at him with a sarcastic smile. They looked like a couple having an argument. Wait, were they an actual couple? Was he jealous that they were dancing?

Okay, the dance had definitely been something spontaneous that he had done. He didn't even know where all the courage had come from. Was it too stupid to imagine that, maybe...?

Someone sat next to him. James had been so lost in thought he only realized when she, the woman beside him, cleared her throat.

"Oh, hi." he pursed his lips in a polite smile.

The redhead was the hostess of the party and he tried to sit up straighter.

"Hello! I'm sure I've seen you before…” she said, narrowing her eyes.

"At Jenny's Café?" he suggested.

She shook her head and snapped all sudden.

“Oh, yes, I remember. At the pub! You were the one sitting with Claire!”

She seemed very proud to have found that out on her own.

"Aye, yes, I-I was there."

The woman crossed her legs and turned to him.

"What’s your name again?" she took a sip from her glass.

"It’s James..."

She murmured and smiled.

"So, you and my friend Claire, seem close to each other."

He opened his eyes wide and shook his head.

"No," he chuckled. "We ..."

He didn't finish what he would say, because his teacher came walking towards them. She looked a little furious.

"Why?" she asked the redhead.

James watched the interaction between the two as a mere spectator watching a soap opera.

"What?" the redhead again took a sip of champagne and looked very calm.

Claire rolled her eyes and snorted.

"Geillis, why did you invite Frank?"

James swallowed and tried to divert his attention elsewhere. His eyes scanned the living room, but his ears were attentive...

"Oh, is that what you're talking about?" she sounded so sarcastic.

"Yes." the teacher seemed to control herself as much as possible.

"What's wrong with inviting him?"

"Are you kidding me?" the teacher shrieked. "What's wrong with inviting your friend's ex-husband to your birthday party?"

James opened his eyes wide. He felt guilty for listening to that conversation. So the man, Frank Randall, was Mrs Beauchamp's ex-husband!

Someone else approached. This time it was his boss, Jenny, and he got up, returning to the place where he was before with Claire.


 

The woman was furious at seeing Frank Randall after so long at that party. Worse, he saw her dancing with James. Okay, she owed him no satisfaction... but she felt that she was doing something wrong. Dancing with a student at a party.

Seeing Frank's judgmental look, even if he didn't know the situation, it was enough to make her annoyed.

"What’s going on?" Jenny asked as she approached the two women.

“Well, Frank is here. Isn’t that wonderful? ” she snapped.

Jenny raised her eyebrows in surprise and turned to look around.

“Bloody hell. Did you invite him?” Jenny asked Geillis, and the woman rolled her eyes.

“Yes, I did! It's been a long time! And I always liked Frank! He told me he wanted to talk to you… I really didn't want to make you feel this way, argh bollocks!” Geillis sounded so innocent, at least she tried.

Claire sighed and shook her head. It wasn't worth it.

"Did he say anything that upset you?" Jenny patted Claire's shoulder, and she sighed again.

"Well, that he wasn’t expecting to see me hanging out with teenagers." she looked back and saw James and Rupert talking. "And that I was making a fool of myself."

Jenny grunted.

“We should go home.”

Geillis stood up, protesting.

“What? But it is still too early to leave!”

Jenny laughed.

"We have to work tomorrow, dear."

Geillis grimaced and ran towards the waiter who served canapés.

Claire sat on the couch and rubbed her forehead. A slight headache appeared. Jenny sat next to her and the two of them watched the two boys talking.

"What else?" the brunette started.

“He saw me dancing with James. He made some other foolish comments, but they are making me reflect a lot... Not that he has any right to intrude in my life.”

Jenny's eyebrows shot up.

“Wait... Dancing? What happened to that “keep your distance” thing?”

Claire narrowed her eyes.

"I mean, it just… Happened! I think I'll talk to him later, in a way that he understands..." she leaned back on the couch. "He is such a jerk!" She snarled.

“James?!” Jenny exclaimed.

“No, Frank!”

. . .

 

The two women were in front of the building waiting for the taxi. Rupert would walk to the bus stop and James had stayed with them so they wouldn't wait alone. Jenny remembered that she had left something in the apartment, so she went upstairs to pick it up. Leaving James and Claire alone on the sidewalk.

The boy had his hands in his pants pockets and was balancing his body weight from one foot to the other. Claire thought a few times about what and how she would say what she had to say.

“So, um, thank you for helping tonight… And I'm sorry for the things you might have heard.” she smiled kindly, which the boy responded to.

"Glad to help."

"Me too. You're a good helper. And a good friend." she watched the reactions run across James' face.

"Thank you, Mrs Beauchamp." he pursed his lips in a smile that didn't reach his eyes.

The two remained silent until Jenny went down again to find them on the sidewalk. The two women waved at the taxi and walked alone to the nearest bus stop. Claire felt something was bothering her deep in her throat.


 

On Thursdays, James had a Creative Writing class with Professor Ned Gowan. Mr Gowan was a retired writer and lawyer, who had a grand passion for writing. He enjoyed helping students gain a taste for this art. In this class, the students had an extensive project to present at the end of the semester.  They should present the first part in two weeks. "An original production of a brief story..." the teacher had said. Which they were to show him the first two chapters and the complete production by the end of the semester.

The problem was that James had been absent for the past two weeks. Most of the time he felt exhausted from work. He was super late on the material deadline to deliver. He could not write over five pages and was already getting distressed.

James had always liked to write since he was a child. It was a way of escaping from all the hurtful things that happened around him. So he would create an alternative universe where he could immerse himself and forget about his own reality. It was much easier when he was twelve. There was no need to worry about grammar rules and punctuations. There were no paragraphs or exclamations. They were a bunch of words that came out without a break and adorned the dirty sheet of paper he had in his hands.

After fifteen it became much more difficult. He had to work on his uncle's farm. But when the sun would set, it was his moment of joy.  And he would take refuge in his room with a sheet of a notebook. He wrote about dragons and distant legends... About spells and saviours, about soldiers at the front of the battle... Now he felt like a failure who couldn't form over two sentences in a row.

. . .

 

By the end of the class, he could not finish writing. It looked like a cloud on a rainy day that refuses to budge. His ideas made little sense and everything he thought looked like an absurd cliché.

“How you doin’, lad?” the teacher moved closer to him while the other students went out the door at the end of the class. "Haven’t seen you for the last two weeks, eh? And these project of yours..."

James' face flushed.

"Aye, sorry about that. I’ve been trying to write for weeks but… There’s too much in my head. How- How do you block yourself from the outside and… put everything you want on the paper? It’s frustrating."

Mr Gowan chuckled and scratched his beard.

"What are you writing about?" he asked

"It takes place in 1746, it's about a young Scotsman who is fighting in the battle of Culloden."

The professor looked surprised and lined up his glasses with his index finger.

"Tell me more about it."

James snorted.

“That’s it. I’ve nothing else. The idea is in my head but I can’t-” he grunted.

He felt a pat on the shoulder.

"It will come. Naturally… But if there’s anything you need..." he started, and the boy smiled.

"There’s one thing, actually!" James leaned over to grab something from his bag: a pamphlet of the cultural event.

Mr Gowan took it in his hands and read the information.

"Ah! Next week? Count on me!" he smiled at the boy after going on, "Is this not the place where you are working?"

"Aye, it's a nice place. Brilliant books, sir."

"Ah! I've been working here for five years and I should only have been there three times.”. The professor turned to his desk and seemed to collect some books. It was time for James to excuse himself and leave the room.


 

“Well, that was quite disappointing,” Brianna confessed, reaching into the bag of popcorn.

James had the brilliant idea of inviting Brianna to the cinema. According to her, it had been a battle at home to convince the girl's parents. But they had agreed when they found out about the cultural gathering and what James was doing to help her. Speaking of which, it had been the first time that he had seen the girl shy. She was always uninhibited, not mincing her words, but when he had told her what they would do... She had been speechless.

That Saturday, the cinema showed old French films, besides the usual releases of the week.

They ended up choosing without even reading the synopsis.

"Yeah?" the boy didn't quite know what to say.

“They didn’t even kiss!” she complained, and he laughed.

Yeah, they hadn't even kissed…

The movie they had watched was La Belle Personne, starring Léa Seydoux and Louis Garrel. The film told the story of a girl who had moved in after her mother's death and started studying at a new school. Okay, fine, it happens. The problem is that she fell in love with her teacher. And he fell for her. Tragic, isn't it?

Brianna murmured her questions about the movie while the two were sitting in the food court. James couldn't stop thinking about the unfortunate coincidences. Now he was more than certain that this was not normal. And he had a massive issue with that.

“Is it,” he interrupted the girl's daydreams, “okay to think a lot about someone ye don’t have any relationship with?”

Brianna was not the best person to help you answer that.

The girl raised a red eyebrow and put her hand on her chin.

"What are you talking about?"

James shook his head as he drummed his fingers on the table.

"I'm just thinking about the movie..."

Brianna narrowed her eyes and murmured.

"You know," she leaned back, "in my experience in that area..." and she crossed her fingers, looked at him like a doctor explaining to a patient the prescription they had just prescribed, "... if the person gives you hope but doesn't want to assume that, that's because he or she is not a good person."

James frowned.

“But she is a nice person, maybe I’m the one who’s making a mess out of it.”

She nodded.

"Oh, so we're not talking about the movie." and smirked.

"Nope."

She watched him and once again reached into the popcorn bag.

"Have you talked to her about this yet?"

And James threw his head back, laughing.

"Um, she said she’s glad we’re friends, ” he spoke as if it were obvious.

“Oh, boy. What’s going on between you two?”

He chose the words he was about to say.

"She... She's a little older than me... And... Well, she's in a superior position too..."

"What do you mean? A superior work or something?" she interrupted him.

He tilted his head to the sides.

"Yeah, let's say yes... She has a very important job and... Well, we both never really had anything, but..."

Brianna’s mouth tilted in a tiny smile.

"And suddenly you look like a ten-year-old boy."

He blushed.

"You have a crush, mate. Not gonna kill ya."

“I just feel so stupid...” he buried his head in his hands

"Have you kissed her yet?"

“Nope. But we danced!” and Wednesday night came up, the scenes shown as a movie. He was sitting in the cinema seats, admiring the way Mrs Beauchamp put the strands of black hair behind her ear and smiled shyly...

Brianna snapped her fingers in front of him, and the boy woke up.

"Who knew you are a romantic."

He laughed.

“You know little about me then.” jokes.

“But… do I know her?” her left brow rose.

James bit his lower lip.

“Yes.”

 


 

"I know that I shall meet my fate; Somewhere among the clouds above…"

James focussed on his Anglophone Poetry teacher, as she walked around the room enchanting the students. Her velvety voice filled the room while reading another poem at the end of the class. He hadn't seen her in two days. She had gone to the cafeteria on Thursday, stayed for a while in Mrs Murray's office and left an hour later. Yes, he had noticed the time.

Then she didn't show up again on Friday or Saturday. On Sunday morning, very early, she bought a croissant and a glass of hot chocolate. He had watched her from above the mezzanine, resting on the wooden railing and they had not spoken. It was strange, because she, somehow, always went up to talk to him, to discuss something, to make small talk. It had been the first time that she had gone so long without going there and without them talking.

"...Those that I fight I do not hate, Those that I guard I do not love…"

He had been more anxious about that class than usual. After talking to Brianna, he wondered if the girl could see for herself who he was talking about. Perhaps it had been too obvious. Or not.

“...My country is Kiltartan Cross, My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor, No likely end could bring them loss Or leave them happier than before…”

She went on, licking her lips between words, scratching her nose and lining up the collar of her shirt as she walked. She couldn't keep quiet and he thought it was amusing. He opened a smirk momentarily until he realized that it would seem odd because of the poem she was reading.

“...Nor law, nor duty bade me fight, nor public man, nor cheering crowds…”

He looked around the room to see if any colleagues had noticed. Thank goodness, no one seemed too stupid to look at him when they had someone much more interesting to watch. Brianna was not in class that day, and he celebrated silently, as she would have noticed.

“...A lonely impulse of delight Drove to this tumult in the clouds…”

James was nervous. He usually had a bit of sweat on his hands when he was around the older woman... but this time his stomach was about to jump out if it were possible. Had she realized what was going on in his head and wanted to be away from him? Perhaps the dance had been a little much. Was he making her feel uncomfortable? 

“...I balanced all, brought all to mind, the years to come seemed a waste of breath…”

He crossed his arms and leaned his head against the wall. The teacher looked over the paper that covered the view of her face, and their eyes met. He held his breath and let it out slowly while the teacher again read the poem.

“A waste of breath the years behind, in balance with this life, this death.” she closed the book in her hands and watched her students with a slight smile on the corner of her lips. James opened the book he had and went through the pages looking for the poem she had read. 'An Irish Airman Foresees His Death' written by W. B. Yeats. He frowned while paying attention to the text. The teacher said something in the background but he lost himself analyzing the poem.

He only realized that the teacher had dismissed the students when he heard desks scratching the floor.

He read the text again and looked at the passage. It was perfect. He remembered the story he was trying to write and read the poem again. He thought about so much during class that... He had not noticed how much that poem in question seemed to align with his story. And it was very gratifying to have that insight during the class of someone who made him lose his attention.

The sound of high heels woke him, and James raised his head to face Mrs Beauchamp. She was balancing some books between her thin arms. He hurried to put his stuff in his backpack and gestured to take the books from her.

The teacher handed them over and headed towards the door with the boy prodding behind.

"You didn't seem very attentive to today's class." she pointed as she looked ahead.

James's eyes almost popped out. Had she noticed?

"I paid attention, I was watching everything..." he defended himself and frowned when he heard her laugh.

"Yes, you are always watching me, but is it for the same reasons as your colleagues? Seems like you're far away sometimes."

He stopped halfway.

She looked back and raised her eyebrows, spreading her arms.

"I- I don't ... I always pay attention to what you teach." he countered.

The two continued walking down the corridors towards the university parking lot.

“Is that so? Um… what did I say about the Harlem Renaissance? ”

He frowned and tilted his head, trying to remember.

"Um, was it an event in the 1920s? New York?"

She sighed in boredom.

"Besides the obvious?"

He chuckled.

"You talked about a poem, 'The Weary Blues'... Er... Black authors sought to give voice to African-American identity through their literary works."

She grinned.

"Well…?" he asked as they reached the parking lot and the teacher set the car alarm to unlock it.

"Thank you, Mr Fraser." she took the books from his arms and placed them on the back seat of the car.

James put his hands in his jean pockets and watched the wind blow through the woman's hair.

"I know that I shall meet my fate somewhere among the clouds above..." he quoted the poem and she crossed her arms, trying to contain her smile and not wanting to give in. “I do pay attention to you. Good night."

And he said to her before turning around and walking away, leaving the woman speechless.

Chapter Text

Over the next few days, things in the cafeteria seemed to happen in timelapse. The relatively large rear parking area began to receive decorative objects. The employees were divided into shifts to clean the place, removing the old boxes and discarded materials so that the partner companies could set up the stands that decorated the place.

Mrs Murray had been really excited about it. The event would be bigger than they had initially thought and it would only benefit everyone.

Several university students had become involved with the event, thanks to Mrs Beauchamp who asked teachers of other subjects to encourage students to attend the cultural event and many of them even created projects for students to present there on the day.

The Anglophone Poetry class should present poetry and Literature students would stage a Shakespeare play! And there would also be a band to play live music! James couldn't contain his excitement for Saturday to come.

A few kilometres away, the poetry teacher received a call that made her more angry than usual. Again her ex-husband had looked for her so they could talk. Claire had to admit, yes, it had made her a little swayed, but she wouldn't be stupid to resume her marriage to someone who had made her suffer so much.

Three years ago she had decided: to focus on work. It was the only thing that, yet, could not disappoint her and novels were disposable things.

But not everything in life happened the way she expected...


 

At five-thirty in the afternoon, Ian Murray finished setting the tables in the parking lot while several employees ran back and forth arranging the last details. They scheduled the event for 6 PM and some people were already starting to show up. There was a wooden stage in the centre of the parking lot, where the band was preparing instruments and several stalls of food, drinks and items from the coffee shop to sell. 

. . .

 

"Wow, look at this place!" Claire Beauchamp exclaimed anesthetically while trying to observe all the details that adorned the place, crowded with people. Her friend Jenny could barely contain her emotion.

"I never imagined seeing so many people here... This is something we can do again, right? But dear God, just imagine how much we'll end up cleaning up tomorrow..." the short brunette commented while wiping her hands on her apron. Her friend noticed the gesture and opened her eyes wide.

“Shh, you don't have to worry about the future if we're in the present, okay? Now take these off! Go change your clothes!” she put her hands on Jenny's shoulder and directed her to the door that led to the inside of the coffee shop. Jenny rolled her eyes, but let her friend take her to her office.

The two went down the hall and noticed the movement coming from Jenny's office. The door was ajar, and a little light came out through the crack.

“It must be the boys,” Jenny commented as the crease on Claire's forehead formed, “I asked them to wear typical costumes. James made a brilliant suggestion.” Jenny smiled at Claire.

The teacher hadn't understood until they finally entered the door.

Rupert, Tim, Lewis and James dressed in typical Scottish clothes. The meant that everyone was wearing a kilt.

"Who knew you could wear a skirt better than me!" the teacher commented with humour clear in the speech. The boys laughed, and one by one left the office.

"I highly doubt it," James mumbled enough that only Claire, and consequently Jenny, would listen.

Claire didn't even try to hide her indiscreet gaze towards James. Jenny enjoyed the interaction between the two.

"How long will you continue with this?" asked the woman when the two were alone.

"What?" she tried to sound innocent, but Jenny just twisted her mouth.

"You should allow yourself some fun."

Claire snorted and sat on the leather sofa.

"No one will need to know but you," Jenny suggested while picking up a T-shirt from the closet.

Claire leaned her head against the wall and rested an arm over her forehead.

"This is crazy..."

"It is crazy to be staring at the boy the way you do and not even allowing yourself a kiss..."

“Jenny, he's twenty-three years old. He's almost a child!” she exclaimed.

Now it was Jenny's turn to snort as she took off her apron and exchanged one shirt for another.

"He is young, yes, but it is not the first time that you would be with a younger man..." she pointed smartly.

Claire bit her bottom lip.

"Jen, you know I could harm myself a lot, and-"

Jenny interrupted her.

"Shhh, you don't have to worry about the future if we're in the present, right?"

. . .

 

James was feeling closer to home in that outfit. He had always seen his Uncle Dougal wearing those outfits for special celebrations around the village and he himself had worn one, at eighteen. Now as he walked through the courtyard and noticed the looks in his direction, he could understand what the men of the village always said. Women love men in a kilt.

He positioned himself in front of one stand and the queue in front of him formed. He and the other boys would be the models to take pictures with the public, charging 3 pounds. All for a good cause.

It turns out that the line in front of James's booth had grown absurdly! All the women present were there, and it embarrassed the boy. One by one, he joined the women and smiled at the photo.

"Excuse me, I have priority here..." he heard a familiar voice and turned to greet Brianna. The women behind her complained. "Shh, calm down!"

"Hey there, I'm glad you came!" he leaned over and reached out to fluff her redhead.

“But of course, Jamie! I couldn't let this opportunity pass! You're wearing a skirt, are you aware of that?” the girl tried to control her laughter and James shook his head.

"Shut up and smile, dumbie." he turned her chair over and bent down to match the girl.

As he continued taking pictures and pictures, James waved to Roger who had just arrived. Then he asked Brianna to stay with him while he ended the session. The girl grunted since she didn't know the other guy, but she did as asked.

. . .

 

Claire had a package of chips and enjoyed the live music that rocked the night. Ian's idea of bringing a band to play was fantastic. She was thrilled to see that people had joined the idea and came to take part in the meeting. Some students in the Literature class now took the centre of the patio, and the spectators made room for them to perform. Claire found her friend, Professor Gowan and joined him to watch.

“I’ll follow thee and make a heaven of hell, To die upon the hand I love so well.” said a young woman as she and the group performed a stretch of Midsummer Night's Dreams.

On the other side, Claire spotted her student watching the play with Brianna and another tall boy who was laughing with them. She couldn't deny how sexy James was in that outfit. Beyond the physical aspect that made her admire him, she wanted to be close to him to talk, to tease him and to observe the expressions on the boy's face, the smile he sketched for anything... 

Everyone applauded and shouted for encouragement as the presentation ended and the students thanked in the centre of the room. Unnoticed by Claire was the look that came from across the room, from James who couldn't help but smile when he saw the teacher so cheerful and excited. She was especially beautiful that night, it was the first time that he had seen her dressed so divest; jeans and, shockingly, sneakers! He liked to see her in the fine clothes she would usually wear in the classroom, but now seeing her so comfortable in more ordinary clothes made her even more attractive

. . .

 

Jenny had the brilliant idea of dressing them in character: Scottish clothes. And James had proposed that they also act out something. Rupert and Tim thought about dancing and Lewis had a bagpipe in his hands. It would be ridiculous, but at least it would bring a good laugh to everybody. James sang the poem he knew well in Scots and his mates danced.

The audience clapped their hands and could not contain their laughter because the show was too comical and James also did not know what to do besides laughing with his companions. They came down from the stage so that the real entertainers could return to their posts.

The boy went back to the front of the stand to take more pictures with the women and children who were in line.

"Great song that you sang, Mr Fraser."

He smiled awkwardly at the teacher and gestured for her to come beside him to take a photo. While the photographer fiddled with the camera, the woman settled next to James, but without touching the boy. The photographer moved the hand that didn't hold the camera so that the woman would get closer to him and then James pulled her around the waist and held her tight by his side. Claire held her breath, and the two looked at each other while the flash sounded in the background.

They kept looking at each other until the next person in line grunted and Claire cleared her throat, walking awkwardly away to the opposite direction.

. . .

 

"So what period of history would you go back to if you could travel back in time?" Brianna asked, and James watched Roger scratch his beard, searching for an answer. He felt like a mere spectator in the conversation between the two.

“Um… perhaps the period of formation of the nation, in the beginning, with Vikings and Saxons. It would be very interesting to see how the story began.”

Brianna snorted.

"You would be dead on the same day."

"You are probably right." Roger laughed.

Jenny came over and greeted everyone, especially Brianna. She took advantage of the moment and hugged James, thanking him for all the help the boy was giving and congratulating him. When she walked away, Brianna was looking at the boy with wide eyes when she noticed James's flushed expression.

“Shit, it's her! Your boss!” she almost screamed.

James grimaced without understanding.

"She’s the woman you’re in love, right? Look at you! Oh man!" she whispered as if it was obvious.

James shook his head and burst out laughing. Roger beside him also laughed.

"What?!" Brianna was angry now. She hated being the only one not to know.

“It’s not his boss, it’s his teacher, her friend!” Roger teased the girl and almost fell backwards with the slap James gave him on the head.

"SHUT UP!"

Some people behind them looked astonished.

Brianna frowned momentarily until her expression changed.

"What?" Roger asked the boy, massaging his forehead.

"She’s my classmate!" he gritted his teeth.

Roger noticed what he had done while Brianna raised her eyebrows and her mouth formed an "o".

"Shit!" at last she let it out and James buried his head in his hands.

“Shit! Shit! Shit! Are you serious?” the girl covered her mouth with her hands and looked at the two boys in front of her.

"Aye," James said with his mouth muffled by his hands.

"Mrs Beauch-"

“Do not!” he glared at her and she looked at Roger, who was now trying hard not to laugh.

. . .

 

The event was closing around ten o'clock at night and the courtyard was a colossal mess, but little of that mattered while Ian, Claire and Jenny counted the money raised inside the office. The teacher had contributed five hundred euros, even under Jenny's protests, and they estimated that they had raised more than enough to renovate the place. Some employees had already left and all would meet the next day to clean the place. Few people, including Roger, James and Brianna, were in the courtyard waiting for the band to finish playing the last song.

Roger had offered to escort Brianna to the taxi and help her, which made James keen to tease him, but Brianna shut the boy up by passing the wheel of her chair over his foot before he could say anything. The two boys agreed to meet in front of the cafeteria again later.

The boy went into the cafeteria towards the lockers to change clothes. He said goodbye to the other employees and went down the hall, noticing the light coming from the office. Upon arriving at the salon, he noticed two customers who were buying the latest sweets available at the counter and also Mrs Beauchamp sitting at the table by the window, fiddling with her cell phone.

He swallowed and kept walking. Should I say something? She looked up suddenly and noticed his arrival.

"Going home?" she asked getting up and picking up the bag.

"Yes."

"So you won't mind walking me to my car, right?" she said so subtly that it left him speechless. The teacher smiled and James pushed the door for her to pass through.

The two walked in silence, James remembered Mrs Beachamp's car well but it looked nowhere close to sight. Then he noticed that they were walking around the block. He knew where that path was going.

"Kind of distant to park the car, isn't it?" he commented.

She smirked.

"Yeah, it was a little crowded."

The boy tightened his arms at his side when a chilly wind blew and the teacher instinctively did the same. Luckily for her, she was wearing a long overcoat.

"Quite cold tonight, isn't it?" the woman commented as she watched the boy from the corner of her eye.

"Too bad I left the fancy coat at the shop..." James moaned. He was just wearing a knit shirt and sweater over it. It was not enough to contain the cold.

"Maybe it was a terrible idea to ask you to join me, then." Claire suddenly stopped, and the corners of her mouth fell.

The two stopped under a magazine stand as they felt the first drops of rain, approached each other closer to the centre.

"Damn it!" the boy complained.

Claire felt terrible for the disastrous idea she had. The intention was that the two talked a little more along the way, but that would not be the case.

"I'm really sorry." the teacher regretted as she leaned closer to the boy when she felt the wind bringing rain towards her.

James switched places, now standing in front of her and consequently blocking the rain.

"Come here or it will soak you!" exclaimed the woman.

He smiled and crossed his arms tight.

"What have you been reading lately?" he asked as he noticed the confusion on the woman's face.

"What?"

"I asked what have you been reading lately?" he spoke again.

She shook her head.

"I... Uh... Yeah, well, always good old R. Burns."

James raised his eyebrows interested.

"I honestly have read little of his works..."

"And I am to blame for that since I am your teacher." she pointed, which made him laugh and shiver because of the wind.

Claire put a hand on the boy's muscular arms and pulled him further under the cover. Which left them almost face to face.

"So, what are you reading?" the calm way he was acting left her baffled.

"Ah... many things... you should look for some of his poems, they are fascinating." the teacher buried her hands inside her coat and watched the movement of cars on the streets, while she felt the boy's eyes on her.

"I bet they are, but I never remember at the right time."

She looked at him again, and the boy looked genuinely curious.

"Well, Now's the day and now's the hour... " she said and saw the boy open a huge grin.

"I know that part for sure!" he said proudly.

"Well, thank God!"

The teacher smiled and looked away again, noting that the rain seemed to break. She didn't know how much more time she could take with the student so close to her.

"It's gone." he noticed looking back.

Claire smiled and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath.

"Are you all right?"

She opened her eye again and smirked.

“I love that smell. It’s petrichor.”

He looked confused and made a face.

"In other words... the smell of the rain."

He nodded in fascination and left under the shelter. The two walked back down the street and continued to talk about poems, books... James loved to see her talking about something that made her so excited and to watch the expressions she made. Then they turned left, where James spotted the teacher's car near the back entrance to the cafeteria. He shook his head with a smile.

When they finally got to the car, the teacher set the alarm, and he opened the driver's door for her to get in, which made her smirk.

"Do you want a ride home?" asked the woman, leaning against the car.

"Thanks, but I'm going home with a friend who lives with me."

She murmured and nodded.

"You know you could have just walked out onto the shop's back patio, without us going around the block, don't you?"

Claire remembered Jenny's words and felt strangely ashamed, but also full of confidence at the same time.

"Oh really? I didn't realize it." she played, and the boy scratched the back of his neck.

Suddenly they had nothing to say.

"Thank you, Mr Fraser."

James frowned.

"Can I ask you something that is bothering me?"

Surprise took her, but she nodded.

"Now's the day and now's the hour..." he whispered to himself before saying out loud, "I don’t get you."

"Excuse me?"

"I don’t understand... With all due respect, Mrs Beauchamp, but one minute you hardly speak to me and the next, you ask me to take you to your car."

"But I talked to you the whole night..."

“I mean, over the past week… Well, you know. I'm not creating these things in my head, I know that you know what I'm talking about, and it's killing me.”

Claire sighed and felt the confusion she was causing the boy. She didn't know what to say because she didn't know what to call what was happening.

"I'm sorry, James, I don't know what's going on with me..."

Her honesty made him felt even more inclined towards her. James noticed that there was hardly anyone else on the street, so he moved closer to her.

"Would you like help to find out?"

The woman licked her lower lip and closed her eyes, before tilting her head and gently pressing her lips to the boy's cheek. Her left hand quickly caressed his neck, making him shiver.

"Yes... Good night, James."

She glanced at his face, with his closed eyes and parted lips. All of her self-control at that moment helped her to get in the car and go.

Chapter Text

For someone who is liking someone else, a kiss is always a kiss, no matter the context of the place. Then when Claire pressed her lips gently against James' cheek, they both felt the same electrical impulse responsible for their fast-paced hearts.

For some, a kiss on the cheek would be of little importance... but for them, it was very significant. For James, it was a sign that everything - or almost everything - that he had been feeling for the past few weeks was being matched, and for Claire, it was a sign that she was embarking on an unknown journey that she didn't quite know where she was going but was eager to find out.

There were many risks, that was a fact. But life itself was full of them, wasn't it?

Many things floated in Claire's mind as she drove home that night; how crazy she was to have done that, that she would probably be fired anytime soon if someone had seen it, and especially how much she wanted to have moved her mouth... just a little... further to the left, and...

Across the city, James sighed contentedly as Roger babbled about Brianna. It seems that that night both had won.

. . .

On Sunday morning, James woke up very early to go to the café and help the other employees with the worst part of the event so far: cleaning. It looked like there had been a hurricane over there and everything was out of place and scattered around. The band members also showed up to uninstall the rest of the equipment and remove the stage. The best thing was to know that he wouldn't have to work on Monday and that was very comforting at that moment, because, at 2 pm, his back was already throbbing.


 

It was two long days without them seeing each other or talking and that only increased the feeling of anticipation for what the next meeting would be like. Claire knew she would meet him on Tuesday anyway because at seven in the evening the boy would surely be in the classroom with a crooked smile in the corner of his mouth. And she was corroding inside of wanting to see him, but she didn't want to admit it to herself.

The teacher usually showed up at the café just before her working hours, but, especially that day, she had gone at 11 am without notice. It surprised Jenny to see her friend come in through her office door, but given the current situation, it was expected.

"To what do I owe the reason for this visit?"

Claire threw herself on the leather sofa and settled down with a smile.

"I just couldn't wait to see you." the teacher replied sarcastically, making her friend in front of her snapped her lips.

"Oh, yes, sure. It's me you want to see."

"I'm just following your advice!" she exclaimed.

Jenny closed the laptop on the desk and clasped her hands over her crossed legs, leaning back in the chair.

"I know, honey, I just don't want you to—"

"And that's why I came to ask you a favour!" Claire interrupted her, leaning forward, teeth bared.

Jenny sighed.

"I'm not gonna lie, I am afraid of your next words..."

The teacher rolled her eyes and stood up, approaching the desk and fiddling with objects over the table, Jenny lovingly held her hand so she would stop fiddling with the pictures.

"I wanted to… Well, I—" she regretted.

The friend got up from the armchair and crossed the desk to find her.

"Can I invite him to lunch?"

Jenny snorted.

"And am I his mother? Do you need my permission?"

"Okay, but you're his boss! I mean, I need to talk to him and—"

"All right, all right! Just don't draw too much attention..." she murmured. Claire knew that Jenny was rigid with work."... bring him back at 2 pm, okay?"

The teacher smiled and kissed the shortest friend on the forehead. She picked up the bag beside the sofa and headed for the door.

"Claire, please… Take it easy."

She nodded and left.

. . .

 

Climbing the wooden stairs, Claire felt her heartbeat inside her chest and her hands strangely wetter than usual. She hadn't felt that way in a long time, the first time had been in sixth grade when Ed Philip had given her half of his ham sandwich, and the last one she remembered was a few years ago, a week before she found out of Frank's cheating lifestyle and had met him from a trip at the airport.

Now she had that feeling again as she walked towards her student, who had his back to her pointing a book at a grey-haired man. She sat down on one bench by a window and watched him for a few moments, not wanting to disturb him.

The way he helped the man on his side and the way he was so considerate... it was probably the first time she noticed it and looked at him with fresh eyes. Before, she liked to look at, say, the boy's physical appearance, but now everything felt different.

When the man left, James headed for the last few shelves and Claire followed him to the back of the room. Unnoticed by the boy, Claire watched him from one corner while he was in the other corner of the bookcase, humming a song and putting some books back in their places.

He noticed that someone was watching him, turned his face to the side and when realized who it was, he dropped a book on the floor, over his foot.

"Ah! Shit!" he groaned and bent down to grab the book to the floor.

Claire approached the boy with a frown.

"Are you all right?"

He put the book back in place.

"I will probably have to amputate it, but I will survive," he said referring to the foot, making the teacher roll her eyes and laugh.

The two were silent for a few seconds while looking at each other and trying to contain their smile. Claire ran her fingers through the strands of hair and James could barely control himself at the scene.

"So... I heard you had a day off yesterday, huh." she teased him.

"Aye. I needed to rest. My back still hurts." he stretched and Claire raised her eyebrows. "Did you come here yesterday?"

"No, but—"

Jenny interrupted Claire, appearing behind the two with her hands on her hips.

"You two are still here?"

Claire turned to look at her.

"I'm sorry but where else should we be?" The boy asked confused.

Claire pursed her lips.

"Well, she wants to ask you out to lunch, so hurry and come back at 2 pm!"

The woman left, aware of the two people gaping at her.

. . .

 

Claire tried to act in as natural as possible, but she was extremely nervous and wanted to get away from the vicinity of the university as soon as possible. James, likewise, tried to appear super calm while sitting in the passenger seat in the teacher's car. He felt almost on the run from a crime scene, no one could see them or know where they were going.

The teacher turned on the radio and it surprised Jamie to find that she liked to listen to rock music. He chuckled, and she smiled back.

"So… where are you taking me?"

She rested her right arm on the partition between the two seats and peeked at him.

"What would you like to eat?"

"Honestly, I'm not hungry," he confessed shyly and watched her bite the corner of his mouth.

"Oh, would you like to go back?"

He almost shouted, "What? No! If you’re hungry then I’ll watch you eat," and suggested. 

She chuckled.

"I’ve eaten already…"

James rolled his eyes.

"Well, then I know the perfect place."

. . .

In about fifteen minutes the two arrived at a park. Walking through the park might not be the best thing for someone who didn't want anyone to see them together, but Claire loved that kind of activity and hadn't thought of anything else. The park was not crowded and Claire silently thanked for that coincidence.

As the two walked, a light breeze blew over them and it was possible to hear some birds singing as they flew over there. Claire tried to ignore the times when their hands touched, for the proximity with which they walked, and how it felt so natural and comfortable.

"I really love walking in parks," she broke the silence, sighing contentedly as she looked at the swing of the trees ahead. "It is like a little refuge within the city."

James nodded, he himself also enjoyed any kind of contact with nature.

"It reminds me a lot of a poem I read recently..." she put strands of hair behind her ear, trying to stop them from flying all over the place. "Sorry, but do I bore you with all this talk?"

James shook his head.

"I love hearing you talk about poetry."

Claire kept her eyes fixed on the landscape in front of her, trying somehow not to blush.

"So my classes are really serving their fundamental purpose…"

"For sure. But, I must admit, sometimes it's difficult to pay attention."

She looked at him trying to control her smile and pushed his shoulder, but it was in vain because the boy barely moved.

"And all that talk about 'I do pay attention'...?" she mocked.

The boy wiggled his eyebrows and shrugged.

"It’s not my fault! Miss, you're a very distracting woman."

Her desire to smile was growing more and the woman had to bite her lip to keep it from opening. James gestured for them both to sit on a wooden bench in front of a lake at the end of the path they were passing. When they got there, they both sat down and enjoyed seeing some geese floating on the water.

"So, the poem?" he asked and when he noticed the confusion on her face, he clarified: "you said that this reminded you of a poem."

He reached over the back of the bench so it touched the teacher's back gently. She instinctively leaned against him.

"Ah, yes," she chuckled, "this will sound like a lecture… It’s from Christina Rossetti, she was one of the Victorian age’s finest poets." she cleared her throat before looking at him and reciting:

"Who has seen the wind? 

Neither I nor you: 

But when the leaves hang trembling, 

The wind is passing through.’ 

I honestly love the ones that involve nature and things of the sort."

James made sure his mouth was closed, otherwise he would certainly be drooling. He left his fingers roaming the pale skin that was within reach. The two enjoy the comfortable silence and Claire leaned again closer to the boy who let his hand stroke the teacher's arm and brought her closer.

If they could stay at that place for the rest of the day, it would be more than enough but he would have to get back to work.

"This is cool."

She gazed at the boy so relaxed and comfortable and naturally felt at ease.

James turned and looked at the teacher's face with a smile. It was silly, but he felt so happy about being there with her. A few weeks ago he didn't think it was possible.

"Do you wanna talk?"

She looked at the hands clasped in her lap.

"I- Yes. We should talk. I- Well, it seems like we have a lot to talk, don’t you think?"

He scratched the back of his neck and ran his fingers over the fabric of her shirt.

"What would you like to talk about?"

She felt nervous again and sighed a few times, she couldn't stop wiggling her fingers.

"Well, I—"

"Mrs Beauchamp," he started and put a hand over hers. She immediately looked at him and found a kind look.

"Please don’t call me that..." she laughed. "Call me by my name."

He chuckled.

"Okay then, Claire," and it was the first time she heard him say her name, and it made her take a deep breath. She felt his finger trace some lines now on her back and it was sending chills all over her body… The boy shook his head and laughed again. "I don’t know what to say. I'm just glad I'm here with you."

"Me too and that's not like the usual me," she responded to the caresses he was doing in her hand, playing with his fingers. "You need to understand that this is something completely unusual for me and I have done nothing like this before."

"If it's any consolation, me either."

She grinned and he moved closer to her. They both looked at their clasped hands.

"Mrs Beauchamp—” and he rolled his eyes, "Claire, I really want t—"

"Let’s just — Let’s just see how it goes, shall we? And enjoy whatever happens. ” she offered. The boy nodded. "But, please, do not tell anyone about this..." she pleaded, and the two looked at each other. James realized that she was nervous, and he didn't dare say anything. He just nodded again and squeezed her shoulder.

"I— Claire, I would be very much like to kiss you. May I?"

The teacher tilted her face towards his and pulled a lock of hair back. The boy brought his nose and lips close to her cheek and stroked her face, running his nose down her ear until it reached the side of her neck, while Claire held her breath, closing his lips on the woman's neck and giving a kiss behind her ear.

Claire turned the body over and dug her nails into the muscles in his arm. James thought he was about to explode.

"We’re still in a public place, remember, boy?"

He pulled back just far enough to look her in the eye and watched the woman's smirk.

"Aye. I didn’t intend to—"

"Shh."

She interrupted him by holding both sides of his face in her hands and gently gave him a kiss. She sucked his lower lip to herself lightly and felt both of the boy's hands move over her back. His lips were soft against hers and it felt like they had done that a thousand times before.

 

“Who has seen the wind? 

Neither you nor I: 

But when the trees bow down their heads, 

The wind is passing by.”


 

While the teacher explained about the Victorian age and made some notes on the board, Brianna continued to look at James with a very mocking expression.

"Stop it!" the boy snarled making the redhead laugh.

He looked ahead again and tried to copy whatever Claire, actually Mrs Beauchamp, was writing on the board.

"I just can't keep a straight face anymore knowing—" she lowered her voice. "—That you have a crush on her!"

James rolled his eyes.

"It's not a big deal, okay?" He lied.

Brianna snorted.

"I mean it! I bet half the room thinks that too…" he continued writing in the notebook and Brianna frowned. He didn't look like the same boy who had confessed all those things at the mall. "I just realized it's stupid," he added.

"Could some of you tell me some other author from the Victorian era? Besides these," the professor's voice sounded in the room as she pointed to the board, "that I already wrote?" and there were about twenty names written there.

The students whispered among themselves trying to remember one, but James immediately raised his hand.

"Yes, Mr Fraser?" Claire glanced at him.

"Christina Rossetti, Mrs Beauchamp." he showed.

The teacher raised her eyebrows and suppressed the smile.

"Oh, Christina Rossetti! Do you know anything about her?" she asked as she turned to the board to write the poet's name. What seemed like a normal question to others, to James it sounded sarcastic and he smirked.

"Uh, yes, actually..."

"Um... Please, do tell us about her." she murmured.

"With pleasure. She was an English poet who wrote romantic, devotional, and some children's poems as well. She started in 1842, mostly imitating her favourite poets. Her first two poems came around 1848 when she was 18. There’s this particular poem called ‘Who Has Seen the Wind’ that makes us think about the fact that the things we’re unable to see, still impact us."

She was a bit shocked, to be honest. And she felt an urge to cross the room and kiss him fiercely.

"Well, thank you, Mr Fraser, for your very elucidating contribution."

He beamed and nodded.

The teacher heard other suggestions around the room, but everything turned into the background while Brianna was still staring at the boy with some confusion. She would definitely ask Roger what had happened. Yes, because now she had his number. Which meant nothing, of course. Having someone's number was totally normal.

. . .

 

At the end of the class, Brianna was waiting for her classmate outside when everyone had already left the room, because, according to him, he had forgotten his pen somewhere.

James stuck his head in and the teacher, who was sitting behind the desk reading a survey, raised her head in confusion to look at who was there. She bit her lip when she saw him and gestured for him to leave.

"Just wanted to say goodbye," he confessed.

She leaned in the chair.

"You play dirty, Mr Fraser."

He laughed.

"See ya tomorrow, Mrs Beauchamp."

Chapter Text

Books were funny things. Few pages could have an invaluable power over the reader who flipped through them. Few lines could have an adverse effect on the original purpose, and a story could transform a person's life. That was why James was so fascinated by that universe and had always enjoyed writing and reading so much.

Working in a place with so many books had its benefits, as, for example, on Tuesday, right after the teacher had left him in the back parking lot of the café, he had sought information about the poet she had spoken about and, thanks to the weak movement in that part of the shop, he had read a little about the woman.

That Thursday morning, James put some books that customers had left out of place. He couldn't understand how difficult it was to pick up something and put it back in its original place after using it. The day was passing so slowly, perhaps because he was looking forward to the end of the afternoon...

"Excuse me, would you help me find a book?" a voice came from behind the boy and he turned to greet the customer.

It wasn't quite who he expected to find.

"Ah! I think I remember your face," the man commented as he put a hand on his chin. "I remember seeing you dancing with my ex-wife," he added with a smile that furrowed his cheeks, but there was no kindness on his face. "So that’s where you two know each other from."

James swallowed and squeezed his right hand tightly.

"Um, aye, sir. But how can I help you today?" the boy asked as he gestured to the bookcase.

"I was wondering if there'd be a copy of this work here," and handed James a piece of paper written Egyptian Religious Practices and Their Relation to French Philosophy. The boy frowned and excused himself to look for it.

He went to the back shelf, running his index finger across the wooden surface while looking closely at book by book, catalogued in alphabetical order until he found the one requested by the man.

James raised his eyebrows in surprise as he held the object in his hands. The thick, brown-toned cover had illustrations of hieroglyphs on the front and, further down, the names of Frank Randall and Quentin Beauchamp, the authors.

James turned the book over and on the back were two images: the first of Frank Randall, sitting behind a desk, fingers crossed over it and a grin on his face. On the side, a brief summary of his career and academic achievements. The boy was impressed.

 

 

Frank Randall is a historian, writer and professor at Harvard University. He gained notorious prominence after the publication of his first book, The English Officer, telling the story of Jonathan Randall, his ancestor, who was involved in the Jacobite Uprising of 1745.

 

Below was a picture of a man with grey hair, tiny glasses and a hat on his head. He had a friendly smile that reached his ears. He was standing in front of a bookcase. James read what it said next to his image:

 

 

Quentin Beauchamp is a famous archaeologist, historian, writer and was a professor at Harvard University for 15 years. He travelled the world in the course of his research, from South America to the Middle East. He was among the archaeologists who found the Dead Sea Scrolls and published the journey to find them in the book Finding The Scripture.



The surname was the same as Claire's, so were they related? Was he the teacher's father? James also noted that it was a 2011 book, exactly five years ago. So this was Claire's ex-husband. A writer, historian and teacher. A successful man, with a brilliant career. And on top of that, he had written a book with, possibly, the teacher's father. So their family must be very close.

He couldn't help feeling the insecurity flooding his thoughts. And barely realized that it had taken so long to return until the man appeared from the other side of the bookcase.

James walked over to him and handed over the book, "I'm sorry. Here it is!"

Frank held the book in his hands with affection and James saw pride in his eyes.

"Have you read it?" he asked suddenly.

"Not really." the boy answered awkwardly.

"Ah! You definitely should. It was a best-seller... Fantastic work!" He said without taking his eyes off the cover of the book. The man looked back at the boy in front of him and scanned him. "Thank you, kid. I'll buy this one." Frank said with the same smile again, jaw locked and eyes cold.

James nodded and watched the man walk towards the staircase.

. . .

 

Around four in the afternoon, the boy went downstairs to the floor below and found Professor Ned Gowan at a small table near the pie counter. The man waved excitedly when he saw the boy and James went to meet him.

"Jamie! I was wondering if you wouldn't be here today," he started. The professor had a few piles of papers lying on the table and a cup of tea.

"I usually stay up there, sir."

The old man looked over his glasses with his mouth half open and nodded.

"Ah, I'm excited to see the collection you have here," the professor commented taking the cup of coffee between his thin fingers and almost spilling a few drops on the paper. “I’ve heard it’s been updated.”

James sighed with relief when the professor pushed the cup away from the objects on the table.

"Mrs Beauchamp is the one responsible for selecting the books that we are selling here, sir," he informed and immediately realized that fact.

Yes, Claire was responsible for the books. She knew all the books that got there. So she was also responsible for selecting her ex-husband's book. She had chosen that specific book to be made available in the store.

Okay, okay, James was freaking out. As Frank himself said, that book was a best-seller, wasn't it? So it was perfectly normal to be sold in any bookstore.

"Speaking of which," Professor Gowan nodded towards the door and James turned to see his teacher entering. Professor Gowan waved at her, too, and the woman smiled when she saw him. James took a step back. "Hello, my darling."

Claire gave Ned a kiss on the cheek and sat on the couch next to him.

"Good afternoon, Mr Fraser," the teacher said with a smile and a wink.

"Afternoon, Madam. " The boy greeted her and left his two teachers talking animatedly as he headed for the stock in the back.

 

. . .

 

While talking to Professor Ned Gowan about the book collection, Claire could barely contain the desire for that conversation to end soon so she could go upstairs to meet her favourite student.

Ned had a reputation for enjoying long conversations and she had known him for a long time, as he was a professor who had worked at the university for years and knew her uncle. He, Ned, had deep respect and admiration for the Beauchamp family and had even been at the wedding ceremony of Claire and Frank Randall. But that was not a memory she liked to keep in mind.

"I’ll be leaving now, my dear, have to set up some things in class today. Special guest tonight..." the teacher announced quickly, collecting the stacks of papers on the table and putting them in his gag. He took the last sip of the second cup of tea he had ordered and kissed the teacher's hand.

Claire spotted Jenny leaving behind the counter and the brunette came towards her.

"You look tired, babe!" Claire commented when noticing the expression lines on her friend's face.

Jenny grunted with regret.

"I've been feeling awful since I woke up this morning at four." she groaned.

Claire frowned and stood up, "what’s wrong? Did something happen?"

The other woman shook her head and patted her friend's shoulder.

"Nope, just my stomach... Heading upstairs?" she had a knowing look.

Claire smirked before nodding.

"Good. Just keep it PG-13!" Jenny whispered and left Claire with a mocking laugh.

The teacher soon went up the stairs and spotted some customers between the bookshelves and sitting on the couch. She went through five shelves until she found James, standing in front of the last row of books. She approached him and observed that there was no one around, so she leaned over to kiss him on the back of the neck and the boy was immediately startled, relieving himself after seeing who it was.

"Hello." She grinned.

The boy gave a small smile and crossed his arms against his chest. Before he could even answer, a client came up behind the teacher and called him. James passed the older woman, making sure his hands touched hers quickly.

Claire sighed and was alone for a moment while she waited for him to return. The teacher had waited anxiously for the moment when she would see the boy again and felt like a fifteen-year-old girl waiting for the first date. She knew that this was not the best place for them to talk, as the conversation would be extremely formal and quick but it was all that they had at the moment, so be it!

She needed to remind herself constantly that she should take it easy, have some fun and be careful.

When James finally returned, she noticed that he was a little too quiet.

"How was your day?" she asked as she pretended to leaf through a book she had just picked up from the shelf.

James leaned against the bookcase and shrugged.

"Ordinary. Yours?"

"Good! I walked around the park in the morning, did some exercises. I hadn't done that in a while," she commented and noticed his eyebrows rise. "What?"

"I'm just picturing you wearing glued gym clothes," he had a sly intonation.

Claire smirked and slapped him on the shoulder with the book she was holding. The two broke in a small laugh and looked at each other, the teacher licked her bottom lip before biting it and put the book back in place. The desire they both were feeling was almost palpable and they were having such a hard time trying to control it. How much they wanted to be somewhere else, far away, where they could finally feel their bodies pressed...

"Stop doing that," the boy scolded her in a whisper.

"Doing what?" the innocent tone of voice did not trick the boy and he grunted when she again bit her lip while looking at him.

James looked through the books on the bookshelf and, when he realized there was no one around, turned around suddenly and kissed the teacher on the mouth. The kiss lasted only a few seconds and then the boy walked away as if nothing had happened, leaving the woman behind, wiping the corners of her mouth.


 

While waiting for the Creative Writing class to begin, James exchanged messages with Brianna on his cell phone. The girl had, even if momentarily, forgotten about his crush on the teacher - which left him relieved - and was now desperate because Roger had asked her out. James, of course, already expected that to happen, since the two had not stopped talking since the day of the party at the café.

The boy was happy for both of them and had had a long conversation with Roger the night before about how he should act around Brianna and that, under no circumstances, he should talk to her about Mrs Beauchamp.

“Good evening, my fellow students,”

James heard the professor's voice and sent one last message to Brianna before locking the cell phone screen, putting it in his pocket and looking up.

Shit. The boy's face went pale.

Frank Randall was standing next to Professor Gowan with the same smile on his face and the book, his book, held close to his chest. Professor Gowan introduced him to the class with great satisfaction; he was a great friend, alumni of the university and was there today for a chat with the class about his writing process for the book Egyptian Religious Practices and Their Relation to French Philosophy. So he was a favourite of Professor Gowan too.

Frank Randall made a point of looking at James from time to time while talking about how it was the process of writing a book with someone else's collaboration, how it worked, what were the setbacks and tribulations...

It had been surprising for Frank to find the young man in that class. It meant that he was also a student at the university and, possibly, if he was in Creative Writing class, he was also one of Claire's students. Interesting.

At the end of the meeting, while James listened to the historian talking about his first book and quoting his ancestor, Jonathan Randall, the gleam in Frank's eyes became almost sickly. He spoke so brightly about the soldier that ‘would eliminate anyone who stood in front of him ’ and some students were radiant with all the soldier's war stories... but for James, it was quite disturbing.


 

What was to be jealous besides wanting what someone else has?

At that moment James deeply envied Brianna for she had Roger's cell phone number and talked to him so freely. Not necessarily because of that, but the fact that she had the number of the person she was getting involved with. Maybe Claire didn't want them to have that kind of contact.

He watched her typing on her cell phone while sipping a strawberry milkshake and smiling sweetly. That was a very unusual scene.

 

Brianna: You’re looking like a psycho!

 

James saw the message on his cell phone and walked towards the girl's table.

"What’s up, freaky?" she mocked.

“You were almost drooling at the table, you know? It's pretty disgusting!” he countered.

She squinted and smiled knowingly.

"You're jealous, James Fraser!" she stated matter-of-factly.

He opened his eyes in horror.

“What? Of you? ”

The girl licked the straw, covered with whipped cream.

"Not of me, of course, unless you have a secret crush on redheads..." she teased and the boy snorted. "You are jealous because…" and lowered her voice with her eyes knowing everything again, "you can't text a certain hot teacher." and she laughed.

How could she know he was thinking about it?

The boy's expression hardened and he said, between his teeth, "that’s ridiculous! And, uh, she’s not even all that hot." He lied.

"Mm-hmm, you keep telling yourself that, but you don’t fool me," she had a smile to some extent, something behind James made her sit up straighter and murmur, "bloody hell!"

The boy's eyebrows came together on his forehead and he felt a soft hand stroke his back. All the colour on her face was gone when he realized that Mrs Beauchamp was now standing beside him.

"Good morning, Miss MacKenzie." her kind voice left the two students petrified. The girl was only able to give a tight smile and nod. Claire found it amusing, but odd. She turned to James and asked, "Mr Fraser, could you help me with some new books that arrived at the store? They're back in the stock. I want to make sure that the order arrived in perfect condition."

The boy looked at Brianna and back at their teacher and nodded, following right after her.

. . .

 

"Such a funny girl, that one," the teacher said as they headed for the stockroom in the back of the store.

James followed behind her and was nervous that the teacher had been within seconds of listening to their conversation. That would have been terrible. But he frowned as he remembered that, "there is no book delivery scheduled for today." 

"I know." The teacher answered the moment she opened a door next door and pulled the boy next to her into the tiny cleaning products room.

The movement was so sudden that James ended up hitting his forehead on a shelf and then groaning in pain. Claire brought her hand up to the boy's forehead and ran the ring finger gently over his skin.

"Sorry."

"It's okay."

The room was pretty tiny, they were glued together, there was no ventilation and it was dark. James groped the wall for the switch, but he couldn't concentrate when he felt Claire's body so close to his. The woman was trying to control her breathing while she stroked the boy's forehead. She was satisfied with the lack of light in the room, otherwise, she might not have had the courage to do that.

"How was your day?" the boy asked in a shaky voice and she chuckled.

"Do you really want to talk right now?" the teacher's lips were rubbing against the boy's neck and he felt his pants getting too tight.

So they go from just two strangers to teacher-student, to the student with a crush on the teacher, to the teacher who also feels attracted to the student, to teacher-student who finally give in to temptation, to two people squeezing each other within a tiny space. 

"I, uh, yes, I’d like to—" he tried to continue as he felt hot kisses on his neck and rested his hands on the wall behind the woman.

Claire suddenly stopped and looked away, "am I making you uncomfortable? Oh my, yes, I am, "she took her hands off his body, but there was no way around, "s-sorry!" she stammered.

The idea of making him uncomfortable in some way had made her very concerned and was the last of the woman's intentions.

James carefully felt the teacher's body with his right hand until he found hers and intertwined their fingers.

"You’re not. I swear. I just—" he cleared his throat. The woman must be thinking he was a twat, but his head was full of doubts. "I don't feel quite confident right now." He confessed and, even without seeing her, he seemed to feel the expression of sympathy on the woman's face.

She leaned over to kiss him on the lips, but ended up kissing his nose instead, then dropped her mouth to hit the initial target.

"Am I making you feel that way?"

"No!" he rushed, "not you. Just— people."

"James, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent . Yes, I'm quoting Eleanor Roosevelt right now because I just can’t control myself," the boy chuckled. "There is no reason for you to feel like this... Okay?"

"Okay," he nodded and knew he was being an idiot.

"Now, boy," she whispered, "do you wanna kiss me or not?"

She didn't have to ask twice. James attacked the woman's mouth in a fierce kiss and let his hands run down the woman's back until one hand passed under the shirt's material and found the velvety skin within reach. Claire shivered at the boy's touch and, in response, pulled his bottom lip between her teeth. Their tongues struggled to command the kiss, and as a result, Claire found herself opening the first buttons of the boy's shirt. James murmured and moved his head away slightly, making her moan, which was silenced when he felt the boy's lips on hers once again. He held the woman's hands close to his chest.

Knock, knock.

Both stopped their movements and felt as if their hearts were going to come out of their mouths.

Chapter Text

The moment the two heard the first knock on the door, they were paralyzed and did not dare say anything and did not even want to move. Claire realized at once that she had acted stupidly and shame was beginning to invade her mind. While James hardly knew what to think.

The woman squeezed her eyes shut as she felt James's steady hand on hers.

A few seconds later they heard the noise again at the door.

“Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, I know you're in there! Get out now!" Jenny's whispered voice brought both relief and fear at the same time. Relief because, thank God, it wasn't someone who could ruin their life at that moment, but in the meantime, it was Jenny. Oh, blimey, it was Jenny on the other side of the door!

Claire took a deep breath and whispered something like "it's okay" to James who, the moment he heard his boss's voice, shuddered.

The doorknob was turned slowly and Jenny was waiting outside with her hands on her hips. Claire just stuck her head out to make sure there was only her short friend waiting for them. When she confirmed that, she left the small cubicle followed by James.

Jenny kept her expression contained, took a deep breath and her whole face was red. Claire knew what was coming.

"Jenny, I—"

The brunette held out her hand for her to shut up and looked directly at James.

"Back to work." she spat out the words and the boy looked like a dog that had been kicked out of a car.

Claire saw him walking down the corridor until he was out of sight and fixed her eyes on her friend, who still wasn't looking at her. Finally, Jenny cleared her throat and grunted.

“Just go to my office. I’ll meet you there!” to which Claire nodded and obeyed. 

 

. . .

 

Claire felt like she was in the third grade when she had stuck gum in one of the unbearable girls in her class and her uncle, Uncle Lamb, Quentin Beauchamp, had been called to the principal's office to sit next to her and they both heard a thirty-minute sermon by the principal and her teacher. Now, sitting on the sofa in Jenny's living room, she wanted to laugh at the memory but tried to contain herself.

“Oh, really? Because that’s the perfect time for laughing?” Jenny crossed her arms over her chest as she leaned back on the desk.

Claire burst out laughing but shook her head.

"Sorry! I’m thinking of something else entirely, I promise! ”

Jenny rolled her eyes and took a deep breath.

"Claire..."

"I know, I know!" The teacher winced and tried to find the right words to say while straightening her hair with her hands. "I know I shouldn't have done that, not here, anyway..."

Jenny sighed and moved to sit next to her friend. Her frowning face now gave way to a more sympathetic expression.

“Having sex on his workplace isn’t the best way to go, eh?” she said sarcastically.

"It was my fault. I called him on the excuse of going to help me check out some books and, well, you know."

“I know, James is way too innocent to do something like that!”

Claire scratched her head and leaned back on the couch. Now thinking about what she had done, she had been foolish. If Jenny weren’t, well, Jenny, she would have put his work at risk and, consequently, hers as well. It always seemed that when Claire was near him, she was unable to measure the consequences that her actions could cause.

"Besides, I wasn't trying to have sex with him there, I promise!" she hurried to clarify, but Jenny didn't seem to believe it very well.

"His shirt was unbuttoned, Claire."

The teacher cocked her head to the side.

"I mean, yes, but—” she signed, “I think I pushed the bar a little bit with him," she grunted as she looked quickly at her friend and saw her grin. "I have to remember that he is only twenty-three years old, and I am already a woman with..."

"What? More experience?” Jenny offered.

“Yes, I mean… I don’t even know what I’m doing...” And she buried her head in her hands. "He must think I'm a pervert."

“And aren’t you?”

"Jenny!" and she hit her friend's arm in shock.

"Ok, now listen: you're my best friend, and that's why I'm not acting as tough as I should because I know you and I also know that you're completely out of your normal state... But, please," she spoke seriously and Claire held her hands, nodding vehemently.

"I'm really ashamed," she confessed to her friend who had now stood up.

"And you really should be," replied Jenny, with a smile. "Anyways, I was going to tell you about the renovation we are going to start here next week."

“Really? So soon?!” she beamed.

Jenny nodded and went on, “yes, we already had everything planned, just the money was missing.”

"That’s such great news, Jenny!"

Jenny smiled, “Well, I have to get back to work now. See you later!"

"Wait!" the teacher hurried before Jenny left the room, "uh, would you give me his number?"

The other woman frowned.

“What? You don’t have his number?”

"No…"

“And you’re asking me? Why don’t you ask him yourself?”

Claire sighed, "I can't look at him right now..."

The shorter woman shook her head and pointed to the notebook on the table before leaving the office. Claire got up and flipped through the pages until she reached the contacts that started with the letter J and there was "James", which made her smile. She took out her cell phone and wrote down the boy's number, saving it simply as a... Farmboy.

Claire seemed to be asking herself that question quite often these days. What's happening to me? She thought, again and again, but without finding an answer that would satisfy her. She had always criticized the fact that, in her past encounters, the men she'd been always wanted to satisfy themselves sexually and it bothered her a lot... but then why was she so eager to take off James' clothes?

Maybe because if they were busy taking each other's clothes off, they wouldn't have time to discuss the future or what they were feeling.

 

. . .

 

James walked on shaky legs towards the main hall, without going unnoticed by Brianna, who whistled to caught his attention. His forehead glistened with sweat. Brianna had a cheeky smile on her lips.

"What happened?"

James sighed and scratched his neck.

"Absolutely nothing."

Brianna knew that something did happen. The boy's face gave the whole situation away.

"Jamie, your hands are shaking." she pointed out.

He stared at the hands that moved against his will and then back to his friend, "yes?"

"Unless you have Parkinson's disease, you are shaking for some reason..." she observed him and then made a funny face. "Maybe you're just nervous?" and the malicious smile came without surprise.

"Huh?"

"Nervous because you were close to a certain teacher?" 

If she knew the truth about the situation, she wouldn't be making fun of him now. Or maybe not, it's Brianna, maybe she would be laughing out loud. 

"I'm just a little - I was..."

She rested her head in her hands on the table and her eyes sparkled.

"Just confess at once."

James looked away when he realized that Jenny returned and passed staring at him. He swallowed and wiped his hands on his apron.

"Gotta go!"

And so he hurried up the stairs. Luckily for him, there was no customer up there and he breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, really, that had been stupid, but… Knowing that his teacher had all that desire for the boy made him feel more confident after the previous meeting with her ex-husband.

 


 

Throughout Sunday night, the teacher walked in circles around the apartment with her cell phone in hand, not knowing what to do with the number saved in it. Would it be too inconvenient to call him? Well, earlier that day they were kissing, so maybe it wasn't... But to say what? Yes, she had to apologise. But how?

The teacher grunted alone in the living room, enjoying the view and for the first time in a long time, she longed for a company on that cold, foggy night. Maybe it was too much to ask him to go to her apartment? She suddenly felt insecure and she started to sweat. It was unacceptable.

I am a strong and independent woman and I will not let that intimidate me , so she unlocked her cell phone screen and searched for the Farmboy contact while her heart was beating violently in her chest.

Hello, James

And she erased it soon after. Let’s try again, Claire.

James, I'm terrible sor

This is ridiculous! And she deleted the message again. The teacher sat on the long white leather sofa and sighed in frustration. Okay.  Don’t be a wanker.

I'm sorry for today

Hope to see you again soon

And clicked send without even thinking twice. She squeezed her eyes shut and tossed the cell phone across the couch. She curled up on it and reached for the remote to turn on the television. Before she could choose the channel, the phone rang to signal a new message.

She hurried to pick it up and on the display was written:

Farmboy:

Who’s this?

She frowned in confusion, but then she cursed herself because of course, he didn’t know who it was! Claire typed her answer:

 

Your teacher.

And she had a smirked on her lips before hitting the send button again. Ten seconds later there was a new message. 

Farmboy:

Mr Gowan? Is that you?

It’s quite all right, sir. My head is okay.

 

The teacher grunted again and pressed the button to call. She only stopped to reason when it was too late.

James: Hello? Mr Gowan?

Claire: It is not Mr Gowan, James.

James: Oh. 

Claire: Yes.

James: Uh, hi. 

And she took another breath, letting it out slowly and calming her heart. A teacher must master the art of making sentences and be very communicative so that her students can understand what she wants to convey. But at that moment, that seemed an overly difficult task for Claire.

James: Mrs Beauchamp?

Claire: Haven’t I asked you not to call me that?

James: Sorry. 

Why was she being so hard on him? Wasn't the purpose of that conversation apologizing, after all?

Claire: No, I’m sorry… I’m sorry for today as well. 

James: What are you sorry for? 

Claire: You know. 

James: Aye. But are you sorry for, uh, you know…?

Claire: What?

Across town, James was sitting on the bed in the darkroom, only lit by moonlight. He was grateful to be alone that night, as Roger had told him that he would be late from work.

James: Kissing me? 

He heard a noise that sounded like a giggle on the other end of the line. Claire lay down on the couch and put her arm over her forehead.

Claire: I’m sorry for causing you trouble at work. 

James: It’s okay. 

Claire: No, it’s not. And it won’t happen again… I- I don’t know what’s gotten into me. 

James: So it won’t happen again? 

Claire: Not at your workplace, no. 

James: But at other places?

The woman tried to contain her smile as if the boy could see it from the other side.

Claire: At other places, it may happen, yes. 

James: Good. 

And she could almost see his crooked smile appearing in the corner of his mouth.

Claire: Uh, why did you think it was Mr Gowan on the phone?

James crossed his legs on the bed and leaned against the wall.

James: We got in a little accident today and he ended up hitting me with his backpack right in the head.

Claire let out a chuckled.

Claire: Such a clumsy boy, you are. 

James: It wasn’t my fault, I—

Claire: Uh-huh, I’m sure it wasn’t Mr Gowan’s fault… 

The boy raised his eyebrows and felt an enormous desire to shut her up with his lips. After that, they were both silents for a few seconds, both not quite sure what they could say to make the conversation last a few more hours, but there was also a feeling of comfort in knowing that the other person was on the other end of the line. Claire was the first to break the barrier of silence.

Claire: So, yes, I think— I think that’s it. 

James: Do you wanna hang up? 

Claire: Do you want me to?

And the boy now buried his face in the pillow.

James: No.

But the noise was muffled and the teacher did not understand.

Claire: Say it again?

James: No, I don’t want you to hang up… Let’s talk.

Claire: Okay… Uh, did you do the activity that I gave last class?

Now she heard his laughter loud and clear.

Claire: Excuse me?

James: Are you serious? Yer asking me about homework.

The teacher cursed herself and smacked a pillow beside her.

Claire: Yes… Well, I’m your teacher after all… Don’t think you’re going to stop doing activities just because…

James: Just because of what, Mrs Beauchamp?

And the sly way the boy responded sent a shiver through her body.

Claire: Just because we’re, uh, we’re, well… Bloody hell, I’m terrible at this. Small talk.

She heard James laugh on the other end of the phone and allowed herself to laugh too.

James: Even though it ended up going wrong, I... I enjoyed being with you today.

Claire: Yes, I'm sure you did.

James: I wish I could…

Was it embarrassing for a woman in her thirties not to know how to act with a much younger man? It was not a lack of confidence, because she had plenty of it, and it had never been a problem when she had had some affairs with other guys, but... But for some reason, she felt like he could see right through her.

Claire: Yes, James?

James: Feel you close. 

The boy said tentatively as he squinted and suppressed the scream by biting his hand. Why was it so hard to talk on the phone? Brianna made it seem so easy and fun...

Claire: Just come over.

The invitation made the boy consider the idea, but it was late and he didn't even know how to get there.

James: Will I see you soon? Tomorrow?

She sighed.

Claire: Don’t think so... I prefer to go a while without going to the cafeteria. And besides, the renovation will start this week and I'm allergic to dust, so...

James: So… Tuesday?

Claire: Tuesday.

 


 

Brianna moved the wheelchair in front of the whiteboard. The students were lined up with their sketches in their hands waiting patiently for the girl's introduction.

If there was one thing she hated, it was being the centre of attention and realizing that all eyes were on her. Gradually, over time, she began to realize that it was going to happen one way or another and had to adapt. But knowing that didn't make her any less nervous. Not even with James' reassuring smile coming her way.

Students had, throughout the week, recite a poem that agreed with something that they went through during the week and present it in the room, emphasizing its context, the relationship with the poem and brief analysis of the content of the play.

So the girl chose one that talked about the anxiety she felt all week because of that performance. Actually, who did she want to deceive? She had spent the whole week exchanging messages with Roger and had forgotten to do the damn thing.

"That was..." James started.

"Piss off!" the girl grunted as she rubbed her hands on the supports.

"James, your turn," a boy beside him indicated. The boy nodded and got up from his chair, holding the piece of paper in his hand. Claire watched each of his movements.

They had not seen each other on Monday and all day on that Tuesday, until the class time arrived and the boy entered the room, exhausted because of his day. Some students had already started their presentations and he had stayed to be one of the last to present the poem.

The teacher, at the beginning of the class, had emphasized how that textual genre was able to radiate our most hidden feelings.

James positioned himself, looking down at the verses of the poem he had chosen and glancing up at the teacher, who was distracted talking to a student sitting next to her. The boy cleared his throat and the two looked ahead, Claire whispered a "sorry" with a small smile and crossed her legs, putting her hands on her knee and straightening up on the chair.

The boy took a deep breath and started reading,

“If I had but two little wings

And were a little feathery bird,

To you I'd fly, my dear!

But thoughts like these are idle things,

And I stay here.

But in my sleep to you I fly: 

I'm always with you in my sleep...”

So this was how he felt? Was this how James felt when she read a verse during class? With the heart-pounding and the blood running wild in the veins? But… why did he choose that part of the poem? Well, considering the first poem he had written for her when they had met at the bar... The boy was a hopeless romantic, wasn't he? And there he was now, reciting a love poem. This was perhaps going down a path she had not foreseen. Or maybe she was just freaking out for no reason.

“The world is all one's own. 

But then one wakes, and where am I? 

All, all alone.” 

He peeked at her and she felt the air drain from her lungs. She licked her lips and flexed her fingers, before running them between the strands of hair, trying to maintain her composure.

"Thank you, Mr Fraser-" she interrupted.

"I haven't finished reading yet," he protested.

The teacher cleared her throat a few times and ran a hand over her neck.

"Well, we're running out of time... And there are still some presentations to come," she explained when she saw the disappointed expression on the boy's face. "So, why did you choose this poem?" And she was afraid of the answer.

"It is not obvious?" a girl at the back of the room spoke and some students laughed softly.

James opened his eyes wide and noticed Brianna’s cheeky smile staring back.

"I— Well, it's... It's just about wanting to be close to someone at some point and not being able to." he commented.

The corners of the teacher's mouth moved slightly, but she looked down again and seemed to write something on the paper. James then quickly explained some ideas about the poem and the author while the teacher wrote everything.  

 

. . .

 

At the end of the class, the teacher was one of the first to leave the room and James found it curious. He and Brianna packed their things in the backpack and headed outside.

"Dude... I thought my presentation was terrible, but yours?" she snorted.

"What? Mine was pretty good." he defended himself while the girl rolled her eyes without him being able to see.

"Seriously? ‘I’m always with you in my sleep’? What kind of shittery is that?"

He gave a slight slap on the top of her head making her yelp.

"It's not my fault that Roger isn't romantic with you." he teased and the redhead was petrified.

"Who’s— Who’s even— What's Roger has to do with this? Huh?" she drowned in the reply, which only made James laugh.

“Aye, right. Still, I'm sorry for you." He mocked.

"Well," she changed the tone of her voice, "at least I get to talk to him and flirt and all that. Unlike you with your-"

James stopped in the middle of the sidewalk behind her and the girl turned her head at a weird angle to look at him. He took two steps back and smirked, Brianna's eyes widened and she saw the boy walking away more and more.

“James! You bloody bastard!” the girl screamed as people on the street passed by without understanding.

"You can wait for your dad on your own!" He shouted back. “Better yet, text Roger!” and he laughed before turning and walking to the bus stop alone. While he waited for the bus sitting on the bench at the bus stop, he took out his cell phone and typed a message for CB.

sorry if it made you feel idk uncomfortable 

It took a while before he got a message back, and the boy felt his cell phone vibrate when he was already getting off the bus near home. He walked quickly and opened the gate. He went through the door and up the stairs until he found Roger sleeping on the living room floor, with some open books and a bucket of popcorn on the side.

He had found him like that a few times and the other boy hated to be woken up, so James went right into his room and closed the door.

CB

What? And what does ‘idk’ means?

Farmboy: 

I don’t know.

CB:

Then why are you using it?

Farmboy:

What?

CB:

What what?

James moaned in frustration and dialled the teacher's number, waiting patiently for her to answer the call.

Claire: Yes?

James: ‘IDK’ means I don’t know.

Claire: Oh. That makes sense.

The boy cough. 

Claire: You didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. 

James. Okay then.

Claire: It was… childish, but very natural of you, Mr Fraser.

She teased him and he lay down on the bed, taking the phone out of his ear quickly to clumsily remove his shirt.

Claire: What’s that?

James: Just taking my shirt off. 

Claire: Oh, are we on that already?

James was shocked.

James: What?

Claire: What?

She laughed out loud on the other side. 

Claire: See you later tonight…

James: What? 

Claire: Sweet dreams, Jamie. 

Chapter Text

James was falling asleep, he knew that, and, frighteningly, he couldn't move or speak. He felt breathless, but in reality, the air came in and out of his lungs normally, he just couldn't see it.

He felt his face against a cold, gelatinous substance, the smell was not very good either. He frowned and felt his fingers touch something that felt like... grass? The eyes opened in shock and scanned the place. The sound of things exploding, people screaming and running was almost deafening. He moved to a more comfortable position and sat on the muddy grass that surrounded him. A drop of blood fell on the back of his hand and he raised the hand to his forehead only to realize that it was bleeding. What happened? And more importantly, where was he?

It didn't take long for the boy to realize that this was a fantasy. Or was it real? People, more specifically men, were dressed in dirty and torn clothes and fighting other men, these dressed in red uniforms. James looked down so he could analyze his clothes and he was wearing a white shirt and half pants, it was torn everywhere. 

He looked around again and noticed how different the scenery looked. It was as if he had been transported elsewhere. Or rather, another time. What year was that?

He had to get up quickly when he realized that a runaway horse was coming towards him. The boy's foot was soaked in mud and he had never been so dirty in his life, not even when he was cleaning the corral in Uncle Dougal's old house. What a strange thing that was.

"Are you not goin' help us?" he heard a shout in his direction and turned to the side to see Rupert, yes, his co-worker at the cafeteria, fighting a red-clothed soldier. Rupert managed to dodge the soldier's attack and stuck a sword in his belly.

James opened his eyes wide and froze. Again he heard a scream and turned away to find a pair of blue eyes so familiar to him. She was wearing a white dress, her hair was flying everywhere and her face was red from crying.

"Jamie!" The teacher screamed at the top of her lungs as she was dragged around the waist by yet another soldier in red clothes whose hair was tied by a rubber band. This soldier's face did not appear.

James immediately ran to try to save her, but it was as if he couldn't get out of place. He was stuck in the mud and had started to sink. He tried anyway to get rid of the pasty mixture, but it was impossible. In the background, Claire was still screaming for him, and suddenly the soldier had turned his face. It was Frank Randall, or at least he looked like him. His hair was longer and he wasn't wearing glasses.

Everything now seemed to move in slow motion and across the field, in the background, in the middle of the battle that was fought in the centre, James could see Professor Ned Gowan with a cup of coffee in his hands, sitting on a wooden chair and smiling at him.

"Aren’t you going to write that, lad?" the teacher said to James' astonishment. How was it possible? He was meters away, how could the boy see him so clearly? The teacher laughed when he saw the confusion on James' face and clarified, "write it on your book."

A few words echoed in his head, it was Claire's voice saying "Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths, Enwrought with golden and silver light," and the sound was getting louder and louder but it didn't make any sense.

Again the boy's attention turned to Claire. It was her, it could only be her. He needed to get out of there and save her. As the teacher continued to call out his name, the soldier now walked towards James, leaving the woman lying on the floor. The boy took a closer look at the soldier's face covered in dirt and blood.

"Frank," the boy whispered weakly, while the mud covered him at the waist.

“I’m not Frank”, the man, who looked a lot like Frank, spat out the words. "And why are you on my story?"

"Your story?"

“Yes. I'm The English Soldier. This is my story. ” he smiled wickedly and pointed at the woman screaming on the floor. "And that is my prey." He licked his lips and his dark eyes stared at James.

Sinking in the mud, the last thing he could hear was Claire's cry that cried out, "Jamie!"

“Jamie!” 

The boy woke up frightened and panting to find Roger standing by the bed. The friend had a worried expression on his face and rested his hand on James' shoulder.

“You okay? You’re screaming in your sleep.”

James shook his head and swallowed. The dream scenes still disturbed his mind, but he nodded and his roommate was satisfied and left his room. James knew he wouldn't be able to go back to sleep that easily, although he needed a good night's sleep. He glanced at the clock on the bedroom wall and it said 5:15 in the morning.

The boy then decided to get up and do what professor Gowan had said.

 


 

Over the next two weeks, the atmosphere at Little London Café has changed dramatically. There was a sign at the entrance that the place was undergoing renovations and was only open for home deliveries. The rest of the staff needed to be there anyway, to help deliver food nearby. 

The dream still disturbed his mind, but it had served as a great inspiration for what he was writing for the Creative Writing class. It had been very timely. 

Weeks ago, when he had met Frank Randall in the cafeteria and then in the classroom, he had been intimidated by him and that was undeniable. Because Randall was a successful man and perhaps a bit of jealousy that he was already married to Claire. But after that day, he had researched the book the man had brought to class.

Not the one he wrote with Claire's uncle, but that one that narrated the story of his ancestor, Jonathan Randall. The way the man had spoken so proudly of someone who, according to other historians, had been a cruel and bloodthirsty man, had left a bad impression on James.

It was curious that, even without having met, the two had completely different ideas about what they considered as an example of a hero. Frank had written a book, which James had never heard of before, about his hero. While James had started writing paragraphs about an ordinary man in 1746 who would fight at the Battle of Culloden. Both stories took place at the same time. An intriguing fact.

Professor Gowan was looking forward to James' early writings and had been excited to know that he was getting inspiration to write.

What was bothering James was the fact that he hadn't seen his poetry teacher for exactly two weeks. Her classes had been cancelled because she was having an allergic attack, which James later discovered was caused by dust in the café. She had gone there quickly on Saturday afternoon to meet Jenny and to breathe in all that polluted air had hurt her.

They even exchanged messages occasionally, but it wasn't the same thing and James feared that distance might impact what was starting to happen. Or at least he hoped it was. Until he decided to do something.

He and his boss, Jenny, didn't talk about Claire. At all. Just about the job and James was still extremely embarrassed about that thing. But the boy had to take courage for what he wanted to do.

"Mr Murray?" he called and the blond-haired man came out from behind the counter.

"Aye, Jamie?"

The boy cleared his throat, "where’s Mrs Murray? Is she in the office? Can I talk to her?"

Ian Murray laughed awkwardly and scratched his forehead.

"She's already gone, boy. She wasn't feeling very well... Can I help ye?"

The expression of disappointment was evident and Ian frowned.

"Is everything all right?"

"Yes, I just... I needed to..." he shook his head.

"Say it, Jamie." Ian's friendly smile made the boy more comfortable.

"I wanted to ask her about Mrs Beauchamp."

Ian waggled his eyebrows and James was taken aback.

"It's all right, boy. What do you need to know? Heard she’s been feeling bad lately."

"Yes, that's it. I… I wanted to know… You know what? Nevermind."

Ian Murray tapped the wooden counter lightly.

"Stop going around, boy. If it's any consolation, I know a little bit about—" he tilted his head forward and whispered, "you and your teacher."

James opened his eyes wide but nodded. Well, he was Jenny's husband so it would be almost impossible not to know about it.

"Fine. I would like to have her address and go check on her."

Ian smirked and took out a pen and paper and wrote it down quickly, handing the paper over to the boy next.

"Have fun!" he said before turning his back and leaving for the kitchen.

 

. . .

 

It took the boy fifteen minutes to get there. He walked towards the address that was in his hand. It was a neighbourhood located in the heart of London, close to Buckingham Palace and many other important landmarks in the city. He imagined that the teacher lived in such a place, judging by the luxury car she drove. A bit of insecurity washed over him again, but it was too late to give up.

James went up the stairs and found a little man watching the street while holding a newspaper.

"Good evening, sir." the boy greeted the gentleman, who looked at him with narrowed eyes.

"Evening, lad." He looked over his glasses. "Need help?"

"Uh, yes. I— I'm here to visit someone. Mrs Claire Beauchamp."

The old man raised a thick, furry eyebrow in suspicion.

"Mrs Beauchamp? What do you want with her?"

"Just wanted to see if she’s feeling better." he clarified.

He crossed his arms and scratched his moustache.

"I'm going to call the apartment to see if she knows about the visit. Your name?"

"James Fraser."

James grunted to himself. He preferred it to be a surprise. But, on second thought... It was better this way than causing a nuisance.

He hung up the phone and, still grumpy, pointed to the elevator.

James nodded and walked across the white marble floor towards the elevator. Upon entering the equipment, he realized how nervous and sweating he was. Maybe it was a bad idea, but if she didn't want to see him, she could just pretend she wasn't at home, right? And why did they have to have so many floors in that condo?

The door was open. James tentatively entered the Penthouse, leaving his backpack on the floor, next to a door on the left. He walked down the corridor until he had a wide view of the huge space in front of him. The place was stunning. He tried not to look so stupid, but, damn, it was probably the most luxurious surrounding he has ever been to. It was quite sophisticated, with lots of wood tones throughout.

"Hello."

He twisted his neck in the direction of the voice and found the teacher standing behind the kitchen island.

James walked over to her and stopped just a few steps away.

"Hi... How are you?"

The teacher drank some water from the cup in her hand and then left it in the sink. She crossed her arms against her body and smiled slightly.

"Getting better."

The boy returned the smile and took the opportunity to admire the woman in front of him. She was wearing an almost transparent white silk robe that showed the nightgown underneath; her hair was behind her ears, wet… So she had just taken a shower. The nose and eyes were red. He felt the urge to hug her immediately.

"To what do I owe the honour of your visit?"

"I just— I wanted to see if you're okay."

Her smile was a little bigger now and Claire walked towards the boy, passing through the island, meeting him beside the column in front of her. She didn't want to admit it, she would rather die than admit it, but she felt so much comfort in knowing that he was worried about her.

"Thank you."

They both looked at each other and James reached out to stroke the woman's arm, reaching down to her waist and pulling her towards him. Claire let herself go voluntarily, longing for contact and affection. 

They were facing each other, with bodies glued together, lips parted and hearts racing. Claire tried to control her breathing, but it was inevitable. James tilted his head gently, resting his forehead over hers and taking a deep breath, drawing the scent into his nostrils and getting drunk on the aroma that combined soap, shampoo and something he could already distinguish as Claire's unique scent.

The teacher felt her stomach churn. That touch was soft, it was delicate, and totally off the list of things she could take. Maybe that's why, right after that, she attacked the boy's lips in a fierce kiss, holding his face in her hands and taking him completely by surprise. She could take someone wanting to undress her without wanting to know her name, she could take the wild kisses inside a closet... but the gentle way he caressed her hand was too much.

But the kiss was interrupted by a… sneeze. Claire moved away from the boy before sneezing again and gestured for him to wait there as she walked down a corridor until she was out of sight.

James frowned but remembered that the teacher had a dust allergy problem and he had spent the whole day in the café and surely his clothes were dusty and that could make her situation worse. It had been a bad idea to have gone there. Or, at least, he could have been smart and showered and changed clothes before visiting. The boy walked back to where he had left his backpack and removed his coat, placing it inside the backpack. Maybe it would be better to go.

"James?" he heard the woman's voice ringing through space and found her near the sofa.

"I'm sorry, it was stupid to come here in the same clothes..."

The teacher held out a hand that held a white towel.

James cooked an eyebrow.

"Why don't you take a shower?" she suggested, with that smile, it was almost impossible to deny.

"I… I don't know, my clothes are dusty anyway. And I just came to know how you are… And you look… well?" he replied uncertainly.

She shook her head, "I have some clothes that can fit you. They are clean and besides, I... I don't want you to leave. You just got here..."

James considered it for a moment. He also didn't want to leave. So he walked over to her, playing to keep a distance and reaching for the towel. The teacher laughed and indicated where the guest bathroom was at the end of the hall. He walked the long, narrow path until he reached the end, turning left and entering the bathroom.

If this was just the guest bathroom, he couldn't even imagine what the main bathroom would be like.

 

. . . 

 

It had been a big surprise for Claire to have James at her house, but unfortunately, the smell of dust was affecting her more than it should have, so the idea of the bath was very timely. She waited until the boy appeared again. James's hair was darker due to the water and was wearing a white T-shirt and sweatpants that were a little bigger than his size, but still looked stupidly attractive to Claire. He walked awkwardly to the sofa and sat down next to the woman, who thought it was all strangely familiar but tried to ward off inconvenient thoughts.

"These are my uncle’s," the woman explained, putting her feet on the sofa and hugging her knees.

James looked at her again and she looked almost like someone else. Stripped of chic clothes and without makeup, the natural version of her was even more beautiful than he could have imagined. She was relaxed, carefree, comfortable and didn't seem as intimidating as she used to.

"Quentin Beauchamp?"

The teacher's eyes shone and the corners of her mouth curved in a smile.

"Yes, that’s him. Do you know him?" she asked confused.

The boy shook his head and leaned against the couch.

"Yes and no," seeing the frowns in front of him, he tried to explain. "I've seen some of his books… You know we sell them at the café."

Claire propped her elbow on the back of the sofa and turned the body over to the boy, resting her head on her hand and letting her eyes absorb the boy's features next to her.

"Hm... Which one did you see in particular?"

James bit his lip and looked away at the fireplace just behind the other huge sofa that stood in front of them as if the boy was trying to remember the title of the book, but in fact, he already had it in his mind by heart.

"Uh, something related to Egyptian practices and French philosophy..." he dismissed. The images of the dream he had had that morning came like a hurricane in his mind.

Claire bit her lip as she watched him and had a wicked smile on her lips.

“Egyptian Religious Practices and Their Relation to French Philosophy,” the woman corrected him and he looked at her at the same moment. "Which he wrote with my ex-husband." she pointed out as if she didn't suspect that he knew that fact.

"Aye. That one. Sounds pretty interesting."

She smirked and looked at James, who was starting to blush. She reached out with her free hand and pulled him closer. The boy's body came awkwardly and ended up stopping his head on the back of the sofa, next to her arm that was supported there. He looked up, a few inches from her pink chin, and noticed the woman's face still twitching in a smile. The pairs of blue eyes met, but not for long, as their lips craved contact and their eyelids closed as their mouths came together again.

 

. . . 

 

James had arrived at Claire's house around eight in the evening, now it was after ten and it didn't look like he was going to his own home anytime soon. The two had left the living room and decided to sit outside on the long terrace that had a spectacular view. The truth was that the night was being wonderful.

The two of them spent most of the time exchanging caresses, only interrupted when Claire heard the boy's stomach growl, which, at that point, would be able to wake the entire building. They then decided to order Chinese food. James had never tasted it, in fact, he thought it looked weird, unpleasant and was afraid to try it. However, he was already beginning to realize that there was nothing the teacher asked smilingly that he refused to do next.

Chinese food was not as bad as he thought after all.

Being there with her, in her domain, at her home, enjoying little moments, made him think that they were becoming closer and closer, and creating imaginary scenarios in his head was his speciality. He was fantasizing if the two could be something else... But actually, they did not know much about each other, they only knew each other superficially and, perhaps, if it were not for the evident physical attraction they felt, they would not have had contact. Or would they?

"Do you want to know a secret?" the teacher asked while she picked up another sushi and shrewdly balanced it with the chopsticks and brought it to her mouth. James watched in fascination, but he had no skill at all and preferred to use a normal fork. "Be right back!" and she dropped the chopsticks on the table and disappeared down the hall.

The teacher entered her room and opened the first drawer of the nightstand. In her hands, she held a small notebook, ten centimetres high and eight centimetres wide. She grinned in anticipation and walked back, finding the boy trying to hold the sushi using the chopsticks and failing miserably.

"Let me," and she positioned herself beside him, momentarily forgetting the notebook on the table and holding the sticks between her fingers, showing him the correct way to use them. James watched closely and tried to imitate her at all costs. Claire laughed softly and took the boy's hands. "Look. Place the first toothpick between your palm and the base of your thumb like this," she indicated to her hand, "using your ring finger you will support it like this and then squeeze it down while the other finger push upwards, that way you’ll stabilize it."

James grimaced and dropped the toothpick on the floor.

"That sounds worse than Maths." he bent down to pick up the toothpick and left it on the corner of the table. "What were you going to show me?"

The teacher raised her eyebrows and took the notebook, handing it to the boy and watching him expectantly.

James took the object suspiciously, but he had a smile on his lips that matched the person in front of him. He opened the notebook and started flipping through it, going from page to page, and when he realized what it was about, he started laughing.

"So is this what I think it is?" he asked as he continued to scan the pages.

The teacher nodded sheepishly, "How else did you think I could memorize all those poems?"

James frowned when he found the following verses there: "Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths, enwrought with golden and silver light..." and the rest of the poem continued in the following lines.

"What is it that you found?" the teacher tilted her head to examine the paper and smiled. "Ah! Butler Yeats. Do you like it?"

James nodded, "I guess so," and handed the notebook back to her.

The teacher watched him with interest, trying to decipher what was going on in that little head.

"And then? Is the magic over?" she teased him.

James shook his head and rolled his eyes, taking another piece of sushi and stuffing it in his mouth. Claire observed everything quietly. "You are not as perfect as I thought..." she snorted and shook her head. The eyes were still shining. "But somehow, it makes you even better."

James noticed, perhaps for the first time, that pale cheeks were turning pink and the lady so confident and intimidating was now red with embarrassment. This was a scene that he would not soon forget.

"Well, thank you." she put a hair behind her ear and cleared her throat.

The boy got off the stool and arranged the food baskets, leaving them piled on the table. Claire took them to the kitchen trash, balancing them in her shaking hands. The boy followed behind and took the opportunity to wash his hands at the island sink. He turned to her before saying.

"I think I’ll head home now."

"Or you could always sleep in the guest bedroom," she suggested to the boy's surprise and herself.

"I don't want to disturb you or..."

Claire walked closer and leaned on the bench, "I mean it. It’s late and it wouldn’t be a good idea to wander around the city."

 

. . .

 

The teacher walked from side to side inside the guest room, removing and replacing pillows and blankets, while the boy stood by the door. She even bumped on him awkwardly while she went to get something from the laundry. James watches her movements with a perky expression. The woman couldn't stand still, but when she entered the room again, James had to stop her.

"Everything is great as it is. I just need a bed and a blanket." he simplified and the woman smiled in relief.

"Ok, then good night."

"Good night."

The two looked at each other quickly with some expectation, both not knowing what to do. Should they kiss? Should they hug? Should they shake hands? While the teacher watched the wallpaper behind him, the boy walked deeper into the room and sat on the soft bed. She smiled in his direction and walked out of the room. James watched the light rain begin to fall through the window and, seconds later, Claire, who appeared again at the bedroom door.

"If you need anything…"

He chuckled.

"I call you immediately."

"That’s correct." she agreed while biting her bottom lip.

The boy stood up and took a few steps towards her. The teacher cleared her throat and averted her blue eyes as if there was something more interesting to look at. James tilted his head and gave her a long kiss on the cheek, which made her smile and turn her head so that their lips met in a gentle kiss.

This was quite different from what she expected from their relationship. And while it was against those mental rules that she initially stipulated, it was better than she could have predicted.

The two said goodbye and the woman closed the bedroom door, leaving the sleepy boy to finally sleep.

 

. . .

 

There was sunshine. The environment was clear and the warm wind was blowing slowly. The boy tilted his head to the floor and felt the sand wrap around his feet. In the background, the sound of rebellious waves crashing against each other and triggering on the shore. The place was deserted, there was no sign of living beings except for a figure he saw in the distance while walking on the shore.

James walked quickly to catch up with her and a voice in the background sounded like pure melody in his ears.

“Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths, Enwrought with golden and silver light…”

As he approached he realized that it was Claire who was there. The teacher wore a long dress and a coat over it, her hair was tied with an elastic band and she was barefoot feeling the cold water wet her feet.

“The blue and the dim and the dark cloths, of night and light and the half-light,”

He was trying to get her to look at him, but it was as if the boy was unable to be seen. He watched the woman bend down to pick up a wet stone and gently hold it between her hands. He noticed the ring on her fingers and tried to get closer.

“I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams;”

Suddenly, the woman looked him straight in the eye and smiled and the boy started running after her, while she laughed and tried to escape. He tried to grab her with his arms, but it appeared to be impossible and the woman seemed to find the scene amusing.

She looked at him again and finally, the last verse sounded.

“I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

 

The boy woke up in a flash, noticing the lightning bolt that passed through the crack in the window. He closed his eyes again, trying to remember the dream and smiled as he retrieved some images. He got out of bed and opened the door, trying to make as little noise as possible. He walked over to what he thought was the teacher's room and let the parts he remembered from the dream ring in his head.

The real image was even more ravishing. The room was poorly lit, but he could make out the silhouette of the teacher curled between the covers and the hair spread over the pillow.

The boy closed the door gently, still smiling, but something made his chest tighten.

I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

He realized at that moment. And the realization of the fact made him swallow hard. He was in love with the woman who slept a few feet from him and it was so terrifying as it felt good. Was that really how someone felt when they were in love?

He tried to deflect his thoughts and slowly walked around the room, stopping near the front door where he had left his things. The boy changed his clothes right there and when he returned to the living room, he took a piece of paper from inside the teacher's notebook, without failing to read the poem written there again.

He wrote:

 

Thank you for yesterday. May your day be as dazzling as you are while you sleep.

James.

Chapter Text

Those covers were quite cosy. Claire sighed sleepily on the bed as she curled up lazily. She loved Saturday mornings. The calm and the immense possibilities of doing absolutely nothing. She opened an eye to look at the clock under the nightstand and buried her face in the pillow again. Seven-thirty.  What a wonderful day to stay in bed and…

Suddenly the woman remembered that she had not slept alone. Well, of course, there was no one in her bed but her, but there was a special guest in the next room. She got up quickly, but before opening the bedroom door, she turned and went into the master bathroom to pee. Priorities. After that, she brushed her teeth quickly and ran her fingers through her hair. 

Gracefully, the teacher opened the bedroom door and walked towards the guest room. She opened it a crack and put her head into the room, but everything was neatly arranged and it didn't even look like anyone had slept there. Had she imagined everything? Of course not! What nonsense.  But everything was so quiet...

Claire walked down the hall until she reached the open concept room and there was no sign of James around. She noticed a paper on the table and read it, feeling her heartbeat quicken.

 

. . .

 

On the other side of town, James was climbing the access stairs to his apartment and his brow furrowed as he heard laughter resounding from inside the place. He took the keys from his pocket and carefully turned them in the lock.

The boy almost fell backwards when he saw a sea of red hair in the living room.

"Oh, so you're alive after all," Brianna said as she took an innocent bite of the apple.

"What the hell," James couldn't hide his expression of surprise at seeing her there.

Roger appeared next, with a towel on his back and his black hair wet. James raised his eyebrows at the other man but received a frown back.

"We thought something had happened to you," the roommate complained. "Why didn't you check the texts I sent to you?"

James frowned and turned slightly so he could get his phone out of his backpack. It was unloaded. And yes, he had been a little irresponsible, perhaps, because he had not even remembered to tell Roger that he would not sleep at home... everything had happened so quickly that it had not even crossed his mind that his friend would be worried.

"Aye, sorry." he pursed his lips and left the backpack beside the table. Brianna continued to stare at him with that cheeky smile. "What?" he asked the girl.

"Where were you?" 

James rolled his eyes.

"None of your business."

"Hey!"

Brianna feigned a shocked expression and Roger shot James a reproachful look, then said, "Be nice!"

"What are you doing here anyway?" the boy asked as he entered the small kitchen to look for who knows what inside. There was orange juice, which was a miracle, so he took the opportunity to help himself a little.

"We were, uh, watching movies... And it was late, so she ended up sleeping here." Roger explained, looking away from his friend and walking back down the hall towards his room.

"What about your parents?" James asked Brianna, sitting at the table with the glass of juice and some cookies.

"They think I'm sleeping at a friend's house," she replied, pushing her wheelchair close to the boy. "Now, between us, where did you sleep?"

James considered the question for a few seconds while he chewed the cookies. Brianna already knew about his interest in the teacher, she was his friend and maybe it was safe to tell her... Maybe.

"I... I slept with someone." he looked at the white wall in front of him.

“Who? I mean, sorry to intrude, but— I hope it’s not Emily, from our class, that girl is hella weird, she’s got a— ”she chattered.

"I didn't necessarily sleep with this person, I just slept at their house." He clarified.

Brianna closed her eyes.

“Okay then… I'm happy you're hanging out with other people. It’s better than fantasizing about someone, right?” She hit her lashes with a sweet smile on her lips.

Spooky.

"I'm actually missing Mrs Beauchamp, her classes…"

The boy agreed while taking a sip of the juice, "aye, I guess she'll be with us on Tuesday, she's feeling better."

Brianna cocked an eyebrow and there it was, that smile again.

"Is she?"

James opened his eyes wide and suddenly the plate full of cookies seemed to be the most interesting thing at that moment.

"Aye," he cleared his throat. "Jenny said so anyway."

"Okay..."

James grimaced and returned to concentrating on his breakfast.

. . .

 

"So you two did nothing all night," Jenny concluded after hearing her friend speak while she sat on the couch in front of the one she was sitting on.

Claire threw a pillow at her.

"We ate sushi!"

Jenny cocked an eyebrow, “ah! Sushi! What an extraordinary thing!” she poked.

Claire bit her lip.

"I mean it, it was nice... we talked, we ate sushi, we talked a bit more... we hugged outside by the fireplace... so it was, it was really nice." she had a gleam in her eyes that did not go unnoticed.

Jenny looked at her friend in joy.

"Claire, you like him."

The teacher snorted.

"Well, I wouldn’t kiss someone I hate."

"You know what I mean. You like him. You like James."

Claire looked away and anxious eyebrows were furrowed on her forehead. Of course, she liked him! As she said, she wouldn't kiss anyone she hated. No one in their perfect mind would do anything like that. But she also knew how her friend was talking... inside her restless mind, no one could hear her thoughts and that comforted her. Her feelings were trapped in a part of her chest that she did not allow herself to touch, but it might be necessary to let someone have access to it eventually.

“Claire—”

The woman interrupted Jenny before she could formulate the phrase, “I guess I do. I do like him. I like him a bit!” she confessed with certain desperation in her voice.

Jenny stood up and moved to sit beside the bed, stroking her bent knees fondly.

"Ok, now let me ask you the important question," to which the friend next door opened her eyes wide. "Your birthday is coming!"

Claire laughed and threw herself on the back of the sofa.

"I don't even want to think about it. I'm getting older!"

"But it’s next Thursday! I will not allow you to just—"

"I don't want to throw a party. Maybe a small gathering with some close friends and, oh!" she got up suddenly, with a great deal of excitement. "Yes, how could I have forgotten!"

"What is it?"

"My uncle! He'll be in town! Okay, maybe it's a great idea to get everyone together here."

Jenny clapped her hands vigorously and nodded.

"See! A little bit of food, a few drinks, hundreds of balloons..."

"No balloons!"

"... a strawberry cake, some tables outside..."

"Jenny! It’s a small gathering, remember?"

"Shh! And, who knows, a sushi man right there." the brunette pointed to the kitchen with a thoughtful look as the owner of the house twisted her mouth.

"Okay, calm down."

"Are you going to invite him? Jamie?" she suddenly turned around, catching Claire off guard.

"Should I? I mean… I don’t know?" She brought her index finger to her mouth to nibble on the corner of her nail.

Jenny shrugged, “I think you know.”

“But if I do that he’ll probably think that…”

“Yes?”

“That we have something, you know. That it’s official… My uncle is gonna be here, and...!” She buried her head in her hands.

“So? Isn’t that what you want? What you really want?”

Claire sighed and walked around the living room. She was tired of giving reason so much vent. Having fun and making out with the handsome guy was one thing, right? Inviting him to her birthday and, somehow, introducing him to his closest friends and family was quite another? And she didn't know if she was willing to do that. Being with him was good, she felt good, everything was good, but... Would it be worth it? Perhaps it was silly to think so much about something so simple, but the teacher was in the habit of overthinking about simple things lately.

"I'm not sure! I don't know which way to go... I don't know if this is the right thing to do and if it isn't, the ending can be disastrous."

Jenny tried to reassure her., holding her shoulders. "Don't let anxiety take over... surrender to what you are feeling and trust your heart."

 


Anglophone Poetry class 

 

That day had been cold and cloudy, as usual. The new heaters in the cafeteria had worked at full steam, since the day before the store opened again, with only a few details missing to complete the work. There was now a ramp on the side, not too steep, and it gave access to the top floor, appearing behind the last bookshelves. The place had also gained new benches and tables and the decor was also different. Little by little the customers were showing up to check on the renovation and, of course, to simply be there.

James had met Brianna earlier that day, the girl was excited about the new ramp and couldn't wait to piss him off more often, now at his place of work. The boy had a lot of work to do, so they said goodbye after the exchanged teasing and agreed to meet tomorrow since she wouldn't attend the class that night. He wanted to finish everything he had to do and leave early, to meet his teacher in the classroom before the other students arrived.

And his plan worked.

At six-twenty, he saw the teacher sitting in the chair behind the wooden table, through the glass at the top of the door, and she had a tiny glasses on the tip of her nose, analyzing something written on some sheets of paper. The boy opened and closed the door gently, not wanting to disturb her. The woman only noticed when he was already nicely close to the table.

"Good evening, Mrs Beauchamp."

The woman removed her glasses and left them on the table, opening a small smile at the corner of her lips.

"Evening, Mr Fraser... It’s early for you to be here." she pointed to the curious fact, watching the boy take a chair and bring it to sit next to her.

"Aye. I know… I just really wanted to see you."

She smirked.

"Oh, missed me?"

"Quite."

Claire looked at the young boy in front of her, his face was flushed from the fog outside. His appearance was even sexier than days before with the stubble appearing on his cheeks. Had she missed him? Perhaps. Of course. Chatting via text messages was not enough. It seemed that their thoughts floated around the same topic, and they felt that uneasy feeling in their fingertips and the pit of their stomach. The fingers yearned to touch the soft skin on the side, to just touch a bit... Just to trace the skin... And so she did, under the table, running her finger throughout his hand. 

For James that kind of sensation was new, having fallen in love only once in his life, when he was a teenager, with the daughter of a local farmer who had a big smile and bright green eyes. Her name was Laoghaire MacKimmie, a little unusual for most people, but for young Jamie, at that time, it was the sweetest and simplest name in the world.

The boy had been strongly affected, but with his first love came his first disappointment. It turned out that the girl came from a vast lineage of gold-diggers and crookers. She was cunning and the greed and love for money made James develop a feeling of disgust. Some said the girl had never recovered from that.

Now, however, it would be different. Right? Realizing that he was in love with the woman in front of him was like keeping a little secret deep in his heart. And he didn't want to screw it up by letting that secret wander around.

"Do you know what day it is on Thursday?" she asked, pretending disinterest, moving her other hand and sliding her index finger over the uneven surface of the wooden table.

 The boy tilted his head to the side thoughtfully.

"Twentieth of October?"

So he had no idea what it was about. Of course, how could he? The teacher felt foolish for overthinking that situation. For what reason, sake or circumstance was it so difficult to make a simple invitation? It would have been easier over the phone, she thought. She loved to tease him over the phone, it was the easiest way to do it since now she seemed to feel shy every time she spoke to him. Face to face, she felt irritatingly cornered and surrendered to boy charms and reasoning was no longer her thing.

The door opened again and two students walked through it, offering their greetings and sitting at the back of the room. James and Claire looked at each other and the teacher gave him a tight smile before the boy got up and moved the chair back into place.

. . .

 

"Miss Brown, would you please—?" the teacher indicated to the front of the room and the girl prepared for her presentation.

The girl with curly hair and olive skin cleared her throat and straightened the collar of her shirt. James thought it was cute and regretted Brianna not being there with him that night, but he would never tell her that, otherwise the girl would brag about it for the rest of her life.

"I chose to talk about the poem 'The Road Not Taken' written by Robert Frost," the teacher nodded with interest, she knew that poem but hasn't heard it in a while. The girl continued.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveller, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;”

 

The teacher felt her chest contract and involuntarily looked away from to boy sitting next to her.

“Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,”

Was that a message from the above? She remembered the poem, yes, of course, but she had never read it with that connotation. Why did those words have such a different effect now?

“And both that morning equally lay

In leaves, no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

 

The other students applauded the presentation and the teacher joined them after a moment of reverie.

"Uh, Miss Brown, thank you for your presentation. Why did you choose this particular piece?"

"I made an important decision over the past week and I believe that this poem reflects just that."

The teacher swallowed and nodded, raised her eyebrows encouragingly. "Please, go on." And she was afraid of what she would hear, as the poetry echoed in her head and her situation seemed to be reflected in the verses.

"This poem is a little bit ambiguous, isn't it, Emily?" James asked the girl and Claire took a deep breath.

"Yes, I think so. It allows the reader to think a little bit about the decisions you have to make throughout your life."

The teacher agreed and went back to watching the boy who had a thoughtful expression. Was he also thinking about the same things as her? Taking into account that life is generally metaphorized in poems as if it were a path, a journey… Then the author indicated, through his verses, that he made bold decisions throughout his life… And she did not dare to voice her thoughts out loud.

While the girl continued talking, the teacher just nodded, lost in thought and with anxiety evident through the quick movements of her crossed feet. But a final part caught her attention:

"... he also wrote this poem because of a friend, didn't he?" James again opened his mouth to speak when he was not called. Claire glared at him, while Emily smiled sweetly and nodded.

"So what's the final verdict, Miss Brown?" the teacher asked impatiently.

"Uh, I guess… James? Would you please help me out?"

No, he may not!

“It’s your presentation, miss—”

“I think the regret of not taking the road that might have offered the best opportunities, despite it being an unknown, is worse than just choosing for the safe path.” 

Claire held her breath and now looked straight at James, who had that cheeky smile on his lips and made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

"I couldn't have said it better!" Miss Brown clapped and the students giggled.

"But how can you know that this is the road of the best possibilities?" the teacher countered shrewdly.

The boy twisted his mouth and his expression softened, to that face he'd made just before giving her a kiss. Without knowing it, he was silencing the unease of her thoughts. The connection she didn't know she could find.

"You can’t foresee it. You have to be bold to find out." 

Chapter Text

The end of October was approaching. James was trying to fulfil all the deadlines he had in the Creative Writing class; writing the first chapter of its history was tiring and challenging. Mainly because his reality was directly influencing the story, something he didn't want to happen.

Yes, he was writing about the Scottish man who was about to fight at the Battle of Culloden, and, after the dream he had weeks ago, he started to imagine himself as the character he was writing, consequently adding a female figure to the story. Yes, he had to do that, but it would be too much to put her there as a teacher too, right? So he chose to disguise her as a simple healer, a woman who’d help the wounded soldiers.

Perhaps for the first time in his life, things seemed to gain an encouraging purpose; he was managing to write, which in itself was a miracle, and, of course, he had a chance to kiss the woman he was in love with whenever possible. Nothing could go wrong at that moment.

 

. . .

 

“Mr Fraser?” 

James turned to find his boss standing in front of one of the bookshelves. He wiped his hands on the back of his apron and nodded.

"Did Claire talk to you?" Jenny said with an anxious look.

“About what?”

The woman sighed and looked very thoughtful.

"She's stubborn, you know? Well, today is her birthday." James couldn't contain his surprise at the revelation he would expect something else. So the teacher had her birthday that Thursday. "And we'll have a little party at her apartment, which you know very well, by the way."

There was a different tone to Mrs Murray's voice... which she'd never use when talking to James. Was she being nice?

"Right."

Jenny rolled her eyes and almost slapped the boy on the forehead for being so lazy.

“You should come to the party. Be with her. All the stuff you guys do, I don’t know!”

If she wanted him to go, wouldn't she have invited him herself? Or at least said it was her birthday? And then he remembered Tuesday's class… the teacher had asked if he knew what day it was Thursday… did she expect him to know that already? But how could he know?

"James?"

"I don’t— I don’t know… She didn’t—"

Jenny grunted and the boy's eyes widened in fright.

"For God's sake, James! Go home, wear nice clothes, put on perfume and go to her house!" she gestured her hands as if she were a flight attendant giving instructions before the flight took off. "Besides, I need you to take some things there before the guests arrive, so..." the boy didn't move and that made her very angry. "Now, James!"

And he nodded, hurriedly moving down the stairs, untying the tie that held the apron around his waist and placing it over his arm.

Wait, it's a birthday, I can't be there without a gift!

And he turned around, smiling awkwardly at the woman.

"I… What am I supposed to buy her? What would she like to buy?"

Momentarily the brunette's face softened and gave way to a sweet expression.

"She doesn't care about presents... sometimes I feel like strangling her because she has the same thankful face when I give her a small card and when I give her an expensive Chanel perfume," he commented. "But, if you want to know... I think she would like to get something with a special meaning."

"Aye," his face lit up. "Thank you."

"James," she called when the boy turned again. "I'm telling you this because I know Claire well and, working with you now, I know you're a good man She wouldn't be with you if she didn't really like you… so keep that in mind."

James made sure to leave a message for Professor Gowan that he couldn't go to class that day, but that he would try to send him a new piece of the manuscript during the next week.

 


 

Claire had sent a message to James inviting him to her party. Something very simple, in fact, and super easy to understand.

Come to my house tonight at 6

But what really happened was that she had not verified that the message had been sent and, with so many things to prepare for that day, she ended up putting it aside and worrying about other matters. Like, for example, her uncle arriving in the city the night before. Quentin Beauchamp had stayed at a hotel near the apartment, which, for Claire, was ridiculous since the apartment was his.

She loved her dear uncle, being the person who had cared for her most of her life, after her father died of a massive heart attack and her mother developed a deep depression, having to spend the rest of the days in a nursing home. She spent most of the time doped due to the effects of strong medication, until one day she committed suicide.

The two had a deep bond, Quentin being a great encourager of the girl in everything he set out to do. Seeing her marriage had been one of his greatest joys, as he was the one responsible for introducing Frank to Claire. Frank had been one of his students and later co-workers, and Quentin regarded him almost as a son, nurtured great affection and admiration for the promising young man.

When, suddenly, the two separated, Frank had begged Claire not to tell him the real reason for the divorce, so that her uncle would not feel sadder and that their bond would not be broken, so the woman agreed. But whenever she'd meet with her uncle, it was difficult to hear him talk about Frank.

"I don't understand the reason for staying in a hotel when you have a massive flat right next door," the girl complained as her uncle sipped another cup of coffee while they talked in the hotel's restaurant.

"I just don't want to bother you with dirty clothes and my messes," he clarified. "Besides, I'm afraid I'll be leaving tomorrow around noon,” and seeing his niece's expression of sadness, he hurried, “but I'll try to get back as soon as I can. I need to resolve some things. It reminds me that…"

He stuffed a plump hand into the pocket of his thick brown wool coat and handed it over to Claire with anticipation.

"Your birthday present, of course."

She smiled and shook her head.

"You know you already gave me more than I needed."

The uncle twisted his mouth and stretched out his hand on the table, with a closed fist, watching his niece's face light up, as she did when she was a child and he showed up with ice cream at lunch.

He opened it and in the palm of his hand was a key.

"What is this?"

“A key, of course.”

She rolled her eyes smiling, "yes, but what is it for?"

"To open something, of course."

He loved to play those little games.

"Uncle!"

He had his lips parted in a smile that took over his face.

"This," and he held the object between his fingers, "is the key to the country house that Papa, your dear grandfather, always took us, me and your father, in the summer when we were children… I tried to have it back a long time ago, but I have only managed to buy it recently and now it's yours."

Claire's eyes widened. Your uncle used to give you extravagant gifts, but a summer house was too much! She didn't even consider herself the owner of the apartment she lived in...

"Uncle, that’s— That’s nonsense!"

He laughed, throwing his head back.

"I knew you would have a reaction like that because you have the same spirit as my dear brother, but think about it… it is a property that I want to remain in our family, and, my dear, I'm an old man... It's important to me that you keep this. Maybe you can go there this weekend, take a look at everything..."

He spoke with such affection and care that it made Claire's mission to reject the gift impossible. She nodded and took the key from her uncle's hands, placing it inside her handbag and laughing when she saw him beaming.

"And how's old Ned Gowan? Ah! I would like to meet him later," he commented, sticking the fork in a piece of carrot cake. "I heard that we are having a party tonight,"

"Ah, you know how Jenny is, besides..." the man looked at her with interest and she looked away at the beautiful strawberry pie on the table. "There is someone I want to introduce you to."

 


 

James had rummaged through the file boxes that were in the café's stock for the gift he had in mind for Claire. He couldn't afford anything, and honestly, he still didn't know the teacher well enough to learn more about her tastes. Except, of course, poetry.

At that moment, as he rode the elevator to the Penthouse, he felt more confident, unlike the last time. The door was open. It was four-thirty in the afternoon, Jenny had released him earlier from work and, judging by the silence, there was no one there but Claire.

The Penthouse was almost the same as he had seen it the last time he was there, except for a few blue balloons hanging everywhere and several boxes of food in the kitchen. He looked for the teacher there and did not find her, but he heard a noise coming from the corridor and found the courage to go there.

The boy gave two anxious knocks on Claire's door. While waiting for some sign of life on the other side, he took the opportunity to check if he smelled good, maybe a little late for that. A voice came in the background, it was Claire permitting the person behind to enter. James cautiously opened the door to find her, and so he saw her: turned on her back, with a white towel wrapped around her curves, her hair wet and her feet bare on the Persian rug.

The boy started to sweat.

"Jen?" the woman asked before turning around.

"It’s not— It’s me, Jamie." he offered, bland and making a face.

The woman's back became rigid and her legs shook. Calmly, she turned her face back, her eyebrows raised.

"Oh, I thought it was Jenny. She told me she'd come early to help me."

James cursed himself silently.

"Yeah, well, she can't come right now... there were some... things... things to do in the café... at least that's what she said." he stammered as the teacher smiled that didn't help the situation.

“Of course she said that.” 

He gestured to the back door and said, "I'm going to wait outside, I'm sorry..."

"Nonsense. Just—" and she raised her index finger so he would wait there and disappeared through a door that would probably be the bathroom.

The boy sighed and allowed himself to observe the woman's room. Was it an exaggeration to say that it was probably the size of the flat he shared with Roger? The bed was massive with hundreds of pillows on the soft surface. In the centre of the space, there was a landscape photograph on the wall just above, and a  freaking fireplace on the other side! The decor was quite minimalistic but elegant. Pastel colours and a lot of greys around. He spotted a few frames on the nightstand and walked over to be able to see closer.

In the first, on the left, there was a little girl with black hair and bangs, which was certainly Claire, next to a man who was like her male version. The same twinkle in the eyes and same grin. In the middle was a picture of little Claire holding a statue beside her uncle, Quentin Beauchamp, who had a joyful smile. And the last photo, on the right, Claire was next to a woman, who would probably be her mother, or would be...

The teacher cleared her throat behind him and the boy turned in the same second as if he had been caught doing something wrong.

"Would you please…?" she turned on her back and James had a wide view of the naked back. The teacher had a smirk on her lips, which the boy couldn't see and she knew perfectly well the effect she was having on him.

James walked over to her, put his fingers on the zipper, but without moving them yet. He let his eyes roam over the exposed skin, every spot that was possible to perceive, every detail and even a scar, almost unnoticeable, in the middle of her back. The dress was very tight, so he gently zipped it up, stopping it just below the scar and gently running his index finger over the mark. He heard the teacher held her breath and felt pleased. He was not the only one who was being affected by that interaction.

He pulled her closer through the zipper and brought his lips close to the woman's ear.

"You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?"

The woman chuckled and turned to face him, dropping her head on the boy's shoulder. James wrapped both hands around her body and whispered over her lips. "Happy birthday."

Before their lips actually touched, the boy gently pulled away, lifted the zipper at once and took a few steps back, leaving the teacher with her brows drawn together in confusion.

"What ...?" the woman murmured with her eyes still closed, before turning and realizing that the boy had sat on the bed. She laughed.

"Pardon?" he replied innocently, while the teacher looked his way.

Claire stopped in front of him, her legs brushing the boy's knees and his face level with her belly. She took one hand through his hair, running her fingers through the reddish strands and the other over his cheek, feeling the stubble on her palm.

If at any time during those last few months she had thought about giving up and hesitating to that feeling, now looking into the deep blue eyes, the teacher was sure that it was real. And that it was something she wanted. She wanted so much.

"I like you." The abrupt and absurdly honest way in which she confessed, left the boy in a daze. Was that too much?

"Good because I like you too." He managed to say. 

The boy leaned with one hand on the bed and with the other pulled her on top of him, with a gallant smile and she let herself go, falling on the bed and nestling her body on his. The kiss began shortly thereafter, with their tongues circling each other, and light bites on each other's lips that were becoming more urgent as the movements increased.

James's hands were still in the safe territory, tracing the woman's back over him with his fingertips, however, the teacher murmured when she felt something touching her at the thigh. She felt uncertain to ask what it was about.

"Shit." James broke the kiss by squinting and listening to her chuckle.

"Is there something in your pocket or is it—"

The boy blushed immediately trying to control his laughter and rolled over, "it's your birthday present." He took a small checkered leather box from his pocket.

The expression the teacher made next should have been framed.

"What’s...?"

James handed her the box and Claire watched it fearfully.

"Open it." she looked away from the box and noticed his eyes, insecurity washing over his face.

What could it be? Claire then untied the leather loop carefully and what was inside made her heart almost jump out of her chest. It was a small photo of the two, taken on the day of the cultural event at the café. Claire remembered that moment; several women in line waiting for their chance to take a picture with the Scotsman dressed in the kilt and her, wisely, passed in front of them and positioned herself next to her student.

James had his hand around her waist, but the two did not smile at the photo, instead, they were lost in their world, with their eyes locked on each other.

Claire held the small polaroid image between her fingers and noticed that there was something written in refined and very small handwriting, to fit the space:

somewhere I have never travelled, 

gladly beyond any experience

your eyes have their silence: 

in your most frail gesture

 are things which enclose me

James

The boy was watching her closely, drinking from every little smile or change of face she reproduced. Claire was flattered and didn't even know what to say. It was a simple gift, but of great significance, which she would certainly keep in a special place. Who knew she would spend her birthday with him? And now they were there, the two of them, lying on her bed, exchanging caresses and laughing for no reason.

"Where did you find this?" she asked not taking her eyes from the photo.

James kept his head held up by his hand, "the photo or the poem?"

"The photo, of course."

"Well, you remember that day, don't you? I ended up finding it in one of the boxes in the stock. I knew Jenny had put it there somewhere."

She murmured sweetly, turning to caress the boy's face and making him lean over again to kiss her on the lips.

"Thank you," she said over his lips, eyes open and bright. "I loved it."

"Oh, for Heaven’s sake!" Jenny's voice came across the room and the two jerked away.

"You are making a habit of interrupting us, aren't you?" Claire commented, stifling a laugh. James got out of bed quickly, to their amusement.

"I will— I'll be outside." he hurriedly left the room, and Jenny was very amused to antagonize the boy.

"Come on, get ready quickly, some people are already arriving!" the friend demanded.

. . .

Claire's idea was to have a small reunion, and with Jenny organizing everything that part was accomplished. What would not happen if, for example, Geillis was responsible for inviting people; there would certainly be about two hundred guests there, of which Claire would not even know the half. Luckily for her, Jenny was very reserved and organized, so nothing could go wrong that night.

However, the short friend had not left the balloons aside. There were hundreds of them all over the place and plenty of food to feed an army.

Claire was careful to invite only close friends, putting aside her co-workers, so that there was no possibility of anyone from the university to know that James was there. She also didn't bother to introduce him to anyone else, after all, it was none of their business and she didn't want the news to spread. The only person who would be worth introducing him to was her uncle, who was talking animatedly with Jenny in the corner of the living room.

James, near the kitchen, tried again in vain, balancing sushi using the chopsticks and that amused her a lot.

"Hey," she called the boy, who gave up using the chopsticks and stuck the piece of food in his mouth with his fingertips. "I want you to meet someone."

"Right." answered shortly, she realized he was nervous and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze.

She looked at Jenny, with a slight inclination of her head, asking her friend to move and leave the three alone.

"Yes, my dear?" Quentin drank a sip of orange juice.

"Uncle, I would like you to meet James," she looked at the boy who gave a tight smile and held out his hand to Quentin.

Claire's uncle watched him with a raised eyebrow but shook his hand fervently.

"And who would you be, my boy?"

Before he could say anything, Claire stepped forward. "He's my—" and she looked at James, confused, unsure how to classify that. What were they from each other? "He’s a... He’s James." He offered, his eyes bulging and a nervous smile.

Quentin nodded but was not truly satisfied.

"I'm James!" the boy gave a playful smile.

"All right," Quentin replied, still confused, not understanding the need for it.

“We’re—” she froze again. "We’re together."

"Oh, okay?" The uncle looked genuinely surprised and James wanted to stick his head somewhere.

Claire swallowed and cleared her throat, trying to appear as calm and peaceful as possible.

"He likes your books," Claire commented, not knowing what to say, squeezing James' shoulder and the boy giving him a desperate look.

"Oh, really? What is your favourite, my boy?"

"He likes Finding The Scripture," Claire replied right away and Quentin watched the interaction with amusement.

"Is there any other book that piques your interest?" He inquired, running his eyes between the two in front of him.

"Ah... Well, there's the one about— About those things... About your archaeological discoveries," the boy offered doubtfully.

Claire squeezed his hand behind his back and he looked at her with a distress plea on his face.

Quentin laughed softly and squeezed the boy's shoulder, "Let's go outside and talk a little, what do you think?"

"Excellent idea!" Claire cheered, while James was not at all pleased, but he was taken away.

 

. . .

 

Everything was going very well. Claire's closest friends were at the party, there was soft music playing in the background, there were enough food and drink for everyone and they seemed to have a lot of fun. At one point, James had retired to go to the bathroom and the teacher was sitting in the living room talking to Geillis and a few other people when she saw an unwanted figure. She immediately faced her redheaded friend at her side.

"What's it? It's not my fault this time!" Geillis hurried to speak, while Claire ran to the front door to stop the intruder from walking further.

Frank was dressed very elegantly, which was his trademark. He had a bouquet of orchids in his hands - Claire's favourites - and a charming smile on his face or so he wanted it to seem. How did he know about the party? And why was he there, if he already knew he was not welcome?

"Claire," he greeted. "These flowers are for you, your favourites..." he tried to hand them over, but the woman took a step back.

"You're not invited, you shouldn't be here." the teacher replied dryly, but the man smiled in return.

"That's where you're wrong, my dear."

The woman's forehead creased in doubt. Jenny would never have done that. So, who…?

"Happy birthday, Claire." he tried to get closer again and the woman did not step back this time, measuring how far he would try to go. "I hope that in this new cycle that begins, you can find a place back for me."

Claire broke down laughing, so much so that she ended up drawing the attention of some people who were nearby. Frank's face darkened, his jaw clenched and the flowers held upside down, leaving his zeal aside.

"Don't you dare do that, you should be grateful to me! I helped you build your career, I— Claire, please—" He whispered, trying to keep that conversation between them and hold the woman's arm. She broke away abruptly.

James noticed an unusual movement, but Jenny prevented him from going towards Claire and asked him to stay in her room. He obeyed, understanding that maybe he shouldn't be watching whatever was going on.

“When are you going to understand that it's over? I don't want you in my life, I don't want your presence around me..." she was furious. "I despise you in a way I've never felt before, Frank."

"Don’t do this, Claire. You that what we’ve had was real."

"Go away. I don't know how many times I will have to repeat this, but I don't want anything to do with you at all."

Some of her friends, who were listening to the conversation in the background, started to shout in encouragement and Frank felt withering, with the veins jumping out of the forehead. Quentin appeared at last, behind the girl, with raised eyebrows and some agitation.

"Claire, my dear, I'm afraid—" he started, but the girl had understood by then. She sighed and nodded, giving Frank one last look before turning and walking back into the living room.

Quentin squeezed the man's shoulders, leading him to the exit and walking with him to the elevator. The two entered the equipment together and disappeared from view.

 

. . .

 

After the tragic scene, the woman apologized to the guests and excused herself shortly after, striding towards her room. Her nerves on edge, barely able to control her breathing.

"What happened?" James was in there, she had forgotten about him in such agitation. He seemed quite apprehensive. "Claire?"

She sighed and sat on the bed, James knelt in front of her, analyzing her features and waiting patiently.

"It was my ex-husband," he shuddered at the mention of the man. "I'm sorry about this. He… He's already gone and this time I hope he finally understands his place."

James nodded in sympathy, it was certainly a very difficult situation for her. He couldn't even imagine the problems that involved a marriage.

"May I ask... Why did you get divorced?"

Claire scratched her head and threw herself on the bed, one hand on her forehead and her eyes closed. James got up and sat next to her.

"Right," she sighed before continuing. “He cheated on me, for months and months… he cheated on me and gave ridiculous excuses on why he couldn't sleep at home sometimes, but I was too in love to notice. During one occasion the woman even came to dinner with us, according to him, the two had worked hard in the office all day…"

"What a bloody bastard!"

She laughed coldly.

"I felt like garbage when I found out. He initially said that she satisfied him better than I did... then packed his stuff on his own and left the house. Two weeks later he came back, crying, begging... it was a very difficult time, you know..."

"I'm sorry for all of this, Claire," she opened her eyes and offered him a small smile. "I can't imagine how anyone could ever want someone else, having you as their wife."

He leaned over and laid his head next to her. The eyes could not deviate from the other, both of them locked in that moment and enveloped in a unique feeling, which they still did not have the guts to admit.

"You are an incredible woman, I told you that before. I'm glad I'm able to do this," and he pressed his lips gently against hers, feeling the woman's smile open.

"Thank you."

Two slams of the door made them get up smirking, and Claire murmured for the person to enter. It was Jenny and Ian, they both walked through the door.

"To change the mood a bit, we came to give your gift," Ian spoke, giving the young man a wink.

Jenny handed Claire an envelope and the teacher took it suspiciously. When she opened it, her entire face lit up, filled with an emotion she could barely contain. It was an ultrasound scan, the profile of the fetus well traced and what appeared to be a little hand waving. Underneath it was written:

  Happy birthday, auntie Claire!

Chapter Text

Waking up for the second day in a row as a thirty-four-year-old woman had a massive impact on Claire. The events of the previous night still shook her thoughts, stubbornly and insistently. Uncle Quentin had confessed to having invited Frank, because, of course, he thought it would not be a big problem to have him around at the party, since, according to Claire herself, they had ended on “good terms” and maintained a good friendship.

She knew she was suffering the consequences of her own lie, but she had been too exhausted to clarify anything and just avoided talking about a subject that was causing her so much trouble. But Quentin had promised that Frank was aware now that the two of them had no return and that it was final. Well, she was glad for that.

James had stayed by her side until the party was over, helping Ian and Jenny clean up, half the mess that was her living room before they left. She really wanted him to stay there for another night, but she also knew that she needed time alone to think.

Introducing him to her uncle had been an important step, right? Now it was official. And she had also told him that she liked him, and somehow speaking out loud made it even more real. Was she prepared for that? When anxiety started to bother her, Claire tried to chase her thoughts away.

An important thing was that she had invited James to go with her to explore her uncle's country house, her birthday present. Claire didn't want the boy to feel intimidated or anything, so she ended up asking Jenny and Ian to tag along. Maybe James would feel comfortable with other people around, right? Or maybe she'd feel like that? Or, possibly, she was an idiot who had misinterpreted it?

Last option.

Then, at the end of that Friday, everyone would meet in front of the cafeteria and set off to meet the stranger.

. . .

"Okay... but where are you going anyways?" Roger asked suspiciously as he took a sip of the watery coffee. He regretted having put too much water in the pot and now he had nothing else to drink.

"I'm not sure where it is," the boy started, bringing the bag with some changes of clothes and placing it on the living room floor. "It's somewhere in the north maybe, something like that..."

Roger nodded. He and James hadn't been very close at first, he knew, but over time the two had developed a friendship and, thanks to him, he had met Brianna, after all. However, in recent weeks the other man seemed more reserved, as if he were hiding something or as if he simply did not want to talk to him.

Brianna had been thinking the same. Maybe Jamie didn't like their relationship? Or was he feeling some kind of envy or jealousy? Whatever it was, Roger didn't want it to ruin their friendship.

"Jamie," he called and the boy looked up. "It may seem like I'm exaggerating here, but I have noticed something different about you. Is it because of Brianna? Aren't you happy with our relationship?"

The boy looked incredulous.

"What? This is absurd, Roger." He did. "Of course I'm happy for you both!"

The other man sighed with relief.

"So what is it?"

James looked away again and crouched down as if looking for something in the bag.

"It's all on your head, my friend!"

"Must be."

"I need to go, see you on Sunday night!"

And he darted out the door to go to work, without another word.

. . .

As the boy picked up some books that were on the tables near the windows, he heard a noise coming from the ramp at the bottom and could already imagine who it was. Although, since the opening of the ramp, other people with mobility problems had used it to access books. However, somehow, he was always able to recognize when it was Brianna.

He approached the last bookcase, leaning against the wall that was right next to the ramp and waited for the red hurricane to come.

"Wow, that was tiring." She complained, wiping an imperceptible drop of sweat on her forehead.

"Your wheelchair is motorized," James commented as he checked the number on the spine of the book to deposit it in the correct section, so he didn't see the expression the girl sketched.

"Even so, it was tiring."

"Right."

The girl followed behind him as James walked back to the main space close to the sofa.

"What is it that you want?"

She squirted, "I thought we were mates, you know..."

"Aren’t we?" He rolled his eyes, twisting his mouth.

"Well, friends tell each other everything!" She blurted out.

James turned again to another bookcase, picking up some books here and there and putting them back in place, while green eyes bored on his back.

"Jamie!"

"What?"

"You’re being weird! I meant it. Full of secrets and shit."

He sighed and scratched his head as he faced his friend in front of him. Should he tell her? What harm would it do, in fact? Jenny knew because she was Claire's best friend, so maybe it wouldn't be a bad thing to tell Brianna, right? Perhaps he could tell a half-truth, omitting the most important facts.

"I would like to know whose brilliant idea it was to build this damn ramp, now I have to put up with you here..." He said full of sarcasm and the redhead grinned. "Ok, listen… I’ve been seeing someone."

"As if I didn't know that already, asshole."

"You’re so sweet!" he pointed. "Ok, so... I'll be with her this weekend. Just the two of us… And that’s all you're getting."

He said simply, knowing that the girl would not be satisfied with such information.

"I got it. You just don’t want to tell us who she is."

Well, she’s right there , he thought as he spotted the teacher walking up the stairs and walking towards them. She had bright eyes and a smile at the corner of her mouth that he knew all too well. Brianna noticed the boy's unease and stifled a laugh when she realized who it was.

"Hello, you two." Claire greeted them.

"Mrs Beauchamp," Brianna smiled as she looked between her and James to stare at the boy.

"Hi!" he raised his hand awkwardly and had a dumb look on his face.

"Mr Fraser, could you bring me this book, please?" she handed him a sheet of paper and winked at the boy, who nodded and disappeared between the bookshelves.

Brianna watched the teacher with curious eyes as she waited for her friend to return.

"How are you doing, Miss MacKenzie?" the lady asked with a friendly smile, which was returned by the redhead.

"Perfectly fine. Just messing up with Jamie a bit," she replied with amusement, making the teacher chuckle.

"You two are quite a pair, aren't you?"

Brianna made a face and snapped her lips.

"More like he’s a dick and I stick around for pity— Fuck, excuse my language, I mean—"

Mrs Beauchamp gave a small smiled and dismissed with a hand.

"It’s fine, dear."

James appeared next, with two large books in his hands and raised eyebrows.

"Is she bothering you, Mrs Beauchamp?" to which Brianna rolled her eyes. He looked at the two books in his hands and then looked back at the teacher. "Do you want me to take them down there for you? They're heavy." James suggested gently and, definitely, if they were alone, Claire would have caressed him at that moment.

But they were not alone. And the third person made a mocking noise when she heard the boy's phrase, which made him glare in her direction. Claire watched the interaction of the two with curious eyes.

"That won’t be necessary, Mr Fraser, but thank you. Good-bye!" she smiled at the two students and went down the wooden stairs towards the hall.

James watched her movements with the same smile as always, which was reserved only for her. Brianna watched him with some sympathy. He seemed completely disillusioned, poor thing!

"Damn it, mate. You got it bad!" she pointed with a sympathetic expression. "Your girlfriend is gonna be jealous! It’s getting embarrassing!" she teased as James rubbed the girl's hair with a laugh. Poor thing, she had no idea!

 


 

It was after three in the afternoon and the departure time was approaching, James hurried to keep his workplace tidy and with all the books back in their respective places on the shelves. Claire was downstairs, behind the candy counter, next to Jenny, watching the costumes and her friend was devouring a juicy strawberry pie. Claire was truly happy to know that Jenny would be a mom.

The two were waiting for Ian to return from the market so they could start their trip; Jenny had insisted on buying the groceries to the place they were going. They intended to leave at four in the afternoon and arrive at the cottage at seven at night. Was it too crazy to travel to a place they didn't know well at night? Yes, but according to Ian Murray, he knew the road like the back of his hand and there would be no problem. At least that was what he tried to assure. 

The cottage was situated in Derbyshire, so they would have approximately three and a half hours' drive up the hills and mountains in the area and would split into two cars; Ian thought it unnecessary, but Jenny gave him a shove in the shoulder and whispered in his ear. Wasn't it obvious that Claire and Jamie wanted to enjoy the trip together a little?

. . .

They ended up being a little late leaving the café, Jenny and Ian got the car parked in the front and Claire was waiting for James in the car parked in the back. The boy felt strangely nervous, unaware that this was the same feeling as the woman sitting next to him was feeling while driving. The arrival forecast was now around eight at night, if all went well. Jenny and Ian drove in the front car and constantly kept in touch with the car that followed them behind.

The teacher left the radio on at almost full volume and excitedly hummed the 80's songs that were playing. From The Cure to Duran Duran. Oh how she loved songs from the 80s. Yes, she felt a little old to know them so well, but she was starting to forget her insecurities about age a little. James clearly didn't seem to care about that, so it was best for her to relax.

James was amused and tried accompanying her when a better-known song came up. It seemed that the two had been doing it forever because it was evident how they connected. Being silly next to the person you like just to make them laugh. It was comforting for him to watch Claire feeling so free and willing like that, that gave him great confidence; it was good to know that she felt so at ease in his company.

"May I ask you something?" she spoke suddenly, after about 30 minutes of singing and playing. The serious tone took him by surprise.

"Yes, you may..."

"Did you— I mean, were you upset because I invited Jenny and Ian to come along with us?"

He frowned and shrugged.

"Honestly, I didn't even think about it..." he lied. "I'm glad you asked me to come too," she smiled at the answer and reached out a hand to caress the boy's face quickly.

"And are you prepared for more than two and a half hours of travel? By my side? And listening to my singing?" asked the woman, fixing her eyes on the road, but in a teasing voice.

The boy grimaced, "Is there still time to switch places with Jenny?" he joked and dodged the slap on the shoulder that came his way as he could while laughing.

. . .

The trip continued uneventful for a few more minutes, the stunning sunset on the horizon behind them and the landscape full of valleys and vast vegetation on all sides. It was around six in the afternoon and they had been on the road for about an hour and a half. James had offered to drive the rest of the route, as Claire complained of shoulder pain, but the teacher declined the offer immediately.

The lad tried to convince her, after all, he had experience driving trucks and tractors on the farm, but the teacher would never let him touch the leather steering wheel of the Volvo XC90. Jamie then massaged the woman's left shoulder, running his fingers over her neck and making her squirm and let out a few squeals when she felt the tickle. 

It was already dark on the road when the accident happened. Jenny and Ian's car was moving ahead, and suddenly Claire and Jamie heard a crash and spotted their friends' car drifting uncontrollably toward the lane. Claire immediately braked her car when she noticed the other car in the front standing a few feet ahead. She and Jamie hurried out, the boy going in front of her, with a protective hand keeping her behind him and quickly went to see what had happened.

Even in the darkness, they could see the trail of blood on the road and Claire's heart shrunk in her chest, ignoring Jamie's voice "I think you better wait in the car" and continuing behind. Ian and Jenny had also gotten out of the car, the woman had a firm hand against her chest, taking deep breaths and Claire ran to comfort her. James walked in the other direction, stopping beside Ian and both looking at the car's windshield: completely destroyed. Also, there was a dead animal on the track, a huge deer.

"We are going to have to get it out of there or it will cause another accident," Ian spoke as he looked closely at the animal lying on the concrete.

James approached the dead animal, he was used to seeing animals in those situations, being a person who lived his whole life on a farm and had already witnessed all kinds of events involving animals. He crouched down in front of the animal and put his hand on his chest. He was definitely dead. Poor little thing.

Ian walked over and crouched down in front of James, the deer lying between the two of them, and then they both caught the animal, balancing it between their hands, trying to keep it away from the body so they wouldn't get dirty and lay it on the other side from their cars, on the layby. Anyway, the two ended up with hands and arms stained with blood, which gushed out of the animal. There were a few bottles of water in the car, so they used it to wash their hands in the best way they could.

"What should we do now?" Claire asked, crossing her arms around her body to protect herself from the cold wind. It was so odd how they were alone in the middle of nowhere and no cars had appeared yet.

"There is no way to proceed with the windshield like that." Jenny mourned.

"Yes, it would be dangerous and a serious recklessness." Claire agreed, not knowing what to do. The trip was ruined.

"What we can do is go to an inn nearby and wait for dawn to get help. I didn't see any mechanic stations on our way... We can use your car, Claire," Ian suggested, drying his wet hands in his jeans pockets. "And we must leave our car here parked. It's the only option." he addressed Jenny.

. . .

Everyone agreed and, after getting things out of Ian and Jenny's car and putting it in Claire's trunk, they went inside the teacher's car and went on. Ian and Jenny in the backseat, intertwined, the woman was still shaking a little at the fright. Claire drove for about 10 minutes until she found a small village, Lower Hartshay, in the Amber Valley district.

James was delighted with the little red-brick houses, the poorly lit streets and the smell that reminded him of his homeland. They found a place to stay on the main street: Mrs Stratford B&B said the sign and there they decided to spend the night. From the outside the place looked abandoned; the grass was high and the wooden fence didn't look protective at all.

A small bell rang when they opened the door, and the look inside was perhaps even less inviting. There was a yellowish light coming from the ceiling, trying to illuminate the room. It was a small reception and the four had to squeeze themselves in front of the counter. The decoration consisted of old wallpaper with images of Dachshund dogs covering the walls. Jenny couldn't hide her horrifying expression.

Claire rang the bell impatiently on the counter; she was already in agony and swore she saw a huge spider on the ceiling above. Or was it just dirt?

After a few minutes, a grey-haired lady appeared behind the purple curtain. She had a friendly smile and round glasses that covered her face.

"Oh, what a lovely surprise to have guests here."

Claire cleared her throat and conducted, "good evening, madam. We would like to stay here tonight."

"Of course, of course," the lady said, licking her index finger before using it to flip through the pages of a large logbook on the counter. There were two rooms available, apparently, although they could not hear any noise from the other rooms.

The two bedrooms were next to each other, upstairs. The place was quite dusty, but everyone was too tired to care. Claire and James' room had only one bed and the teacher would be lying if she said she hadn't blushed because of that fact. James offered to sleep on the floor, but she obviously refused.

So James went to take a shower first, he needed to get rid of those dead-smelling clothes and yearned for the hot water in the shower. Well, the water was a bit cold to tell the truth, but it was enough and he hurried over to make sure it was still left for Claire.

The teacher was not so excited about going into that bathroom. It seemed that the entire room was covered with cobwebs and the smell was not very pleasant either. Inside there was no curtain or bathtub. Okay, that will have to do , she thought.

As she foamed her body with liquid soap, the woman's muscles tightened the moment she thought she heard a noise. She opened only one eye and scanned the place until she hovered her eyes on the floor, more precisely a hole on the wall, beside the door.

And the cry came out of her throat at the same second.

James sped around the room, his hair still wet and not even wearing a shirt yet. He didn't think twice and opened the bathroom door. The following scene would remain in his memory for the rest of his life.

The teacher was naked, of course, and covered her private parts quickly with the towel hanging beside her. James was astounded and felt his entire body ablaze.

"Jamie!" the woman yelled, waking him out of his daze and making him look into her eyes, instead of the rest of her body.

"Shit! I'm sorry! What is it? Why did you scream?"

"There’s a— There’s something! Over there!" But she was unable to point to the spot using her hands, and indicated with her head, having no effect. "There’s a hole in the wall! I'm pretty sure I saw a mouse right there!"

James frowned, turning to inspect the hole in the wall. There was no sign of rodents at the site at that time.

"Are you sure?" he asked, then regretted when he heard her grunt. "Maybe you scared it with your scream," he was laughing softly.

The boy turned again and held his breath. How could a human being be so stunning? The woman shared his thoughts, running her eyes over his body, admiring his defined abdomen and physical appearance. She could feel the effects of being naked just inches from James Fraser and there was only one desire in her mind.

"Jamie," she called, the name dancing on her lips. The problem was momentarily forgotten. "Come here."

Once again he was left without a reaction, feeling his mouth dry and the blood pounding strongly in his veins.

"Uh, I’m." he had a roguish smile, which didn't help her at all.

"Closer." she insisted, pressing her hands against the soft fabric of the towel.

The boy took another step forward, positioning himself very close to her. He had a bold, confident look. Claire took him by the chin and pulled the boy's face, touching his lips gently with hers. The other hand yearned to touch him too, so she finally ran her fingers over his defined abdomen, feeling him tremble at her touch. She remembered the first time she had seen him shirtless; in the cafeteria, also after taking a shower. But at that time the woman could not do what she was doing now.

"I think I'm gonna need another shower," she said between his lips, feeling him smile and walk away gently. "I'm making you uncomfortable." And that wasn’t a question.

"It’s not that," he hurried to guarantee. “It’s embarrassing, maybe, but…”

"Jamie," she looked deep into blue eyes. "I'm a woman."

"Thanks, I hadn't noticed yet," he offered playfully.

She rolled her eyes.

"I have some, uh, needs... If you know what I mean." She felt her whole face ignite, but she needed to say it. The woman did not know where she had gotten the boldness to say that, but since she was the oldest in the relationship, she needed to take charge of the situation.

She needed him. She wanted him so bad. It was making her body go wild. The relationship had to go to a new stage, or she would die of desire. Yes, Claire Beauchamp had never wanted a person so much the way she wanted him.

She felt the boy's lips again on hers and his hands too close to her buttocks, but not in the necessary place.

"Do you really want to do it here?" It was an honest question and had she perhaps imagined a little hesitation in his tone?

She wanted to kick her own head. He was a young man, he was 23 years old, maybe he was not as desperate for sex as she and she was playing a ridiculous role for a woman of 34. Or not? Ugh! Screw it! But, maybe the case was that he didn't want to do that there. In that disgusting bathroom of some inn.

She shook her head with a smile.

"I'm just gonna finish my bath and then lay down with you." Claire offered, her pupils dilated and her hands shaking. Jamie gave her one last kiss before walking out the door.

. . .

The bed was also not so good and creaked as they moved in it and there were some slopes in the mattress. But it would have to do, too. Claire had suggested for him to remain shirtless, being a beautiful sight amid the horrendous wallpaper of the place, which made him snort. It was a good distraction after all.

The two of them lay on the hard bed, Jamie's body serving as a mattress for the teacher to curl up in his lap. They were very tired, but nobody wanted to give in and be the first to fall asleep.

"Do you want to talk about that?" the teacher asked without needing to explain what it was about.

Jamie twisted his mouth and groaned.

"I don’t want y-you to think— I’m—" he stammered and Claire leaned on his chest to look him in the eye. "It may sound stupid but I was raised on a farm, as you know… There weren't many girls around, of course, only cows and chickens and horses, so…" he made funny expressions while talking about the animals and the woman tried hard not to laugh.

"Are you saying that…?"

"I’ve never—" and he winced as the teacher's eyebrows shot up.

So he was a virgin.

"Oh."

“I’m sorry to disappoint.”

Claire sat on the bed, making it creak violently with the movement and they both smirked.

"I’m not. I'm not disappointed, Jamie," she moved her right hand to the boy's face. "If anything, I feel horrible for trying to take advantage of you!"

He snorted.

"You didn’t." and he put a hand behind the girl's neck, pulling her slowly to kiss her again. "It’s just that— I was raised differently… And, even after my parent’s death, I don’t want to change what they’ve taught me. I don’t want to have sex just for the sake of it. I remember my mother’s words saying…" and he couldn’t finish talking. Claire interrupted him with a kiss, it was not full of desire or sexual appetite, not just that. As his hands caressed her legs, the woman felt that that kiss was filled with something totally different, a four-letter-word feeling.

"This is nice," he reflected, making her laugh.

"Is it? Just imagine when—"

And there was a knock on the door.

"I’ll kill Jenny if it’s her."

Jamie got up from the bed and pulled on the shirt before opening the door.

It was definitely not who he was expecting.

It was Mrs Stratford, with a tray full of cookies in her hands. She had an enigmatic expression on her face, which Jamie could not decipher.

"May I help you, madam?" the boy asked.

"Aye," she held out the cookie tray and Jamie held it in her hands.

"Thank you."

The woman tilted her face a bit to peek inside the room, but Jamie blocked the view completely. Her eyes turned to the redhead again.

She moved an inch forward before whispering, “is olc an ghaoth nach séideann do dhuine éigin.”

Jamie frowned, not understanding a thing. It was definitely Gaelic, he recognized some words, but not the entire sentence. And why was she saying that to him? Was it a joke? It didn't make sense!

"Excuse me, what?"

The old lady giggled, her plump face contorted. She repeated the words again as if trying to help him understand.

"Just a piece of advice. Good night!" 

He stood there, the tray of cookies in hand, a look of confusion flooding his face. Is olc an ghaoth nach séideann do dhuine éigin , he repeated mentally. What did that mean? He was sure he had heard that before.

Is olc an ghaoth nach séideann do dhuine éigin.

He walked back to the bedroom, leaving the tray on the bed and Claire looked at him with concern. He held out his hand and left again, hurried after the lady.

He found her at the edge of the stairs and almost fell backwards, as she seemed to have waited for him there.

"Um, Mrs Stratford, I’m sorry but what does it mean? I’m Scottish," he scratched his head, embarrassed. "But my gaelic isn’t that good."

She smiled.

"Is olc an ghaoth nach séideann do dhuine éigin means that no matter how bad something that happens, someone will benefit from it." 

"Right. But why did you say it to me?"

"Well, my boy, I just looked you right in the eye and knew you needed to hear this... Good evening."

And she disappeared into the darkness of the hall, leaving him even more confused than before.

Chapter Text

James was the first to wake up on Saturday morning. The icy breeze penetrated the room, completely ignoring the presence of the heater, which looked more like an ornament. Wearing shorts and a shirt had also been a bad idea after all. Claire had clung to his body all night, Jamie's strong arms were around her to protect her from the cold and to provide comfort. He knew in his heart that he was in love with her, he knew it was real as he watched her sleep.

He had been extremely nervous last night. Yes, James was a 23-year-old boy in his prime. Commonly, people around his age have a sexual appetite surging as they grow up and reach maturity. However, that wasn’t the case. Honestly, he had never really thought much about sex. His life had been pretty rough and full of complicated and complex moments, which usually made his head heavy and conflicting thoughts surrounded his mind.

He didn't have many friends, he lived far from the city, on a farm and all the other kids loved to make fun of him. The girls in the nearest town found him attractive, but he was too clumsy around them. By the age of seventeen, he had acquired more, say, experience and the girls at school adored him, but his Uncle Dougal was extremely strict and he needed to spend most of his free time on the farm working.

Sometimes he felt ridiculous when compared to other boys because he was still a virgin and had no idea what to do. He had even tried to watch some movies... well... adult films, so to speak, but the scenes were too comical and, honestly, they didn't help him at all.

He obviously knew how the thing worked. After all, he had seen it thousands of times among farm animals. And yes, he knew it wasn't exactly the same, but still…

James had grown up in a very humble and traditional family. Since he was a child he used to go to services and pray before sleep. His mother had taught him everything that a "good boy" should do, she said, to win over a "good woman" and get married. It might sound totally out of style to the people of the city, but in his village, even in those days, it was perfectly acceptable.

So he didn't want to take off Claire's clothes and have sex with her right away. He was in love with her and wanted to make sure it was something important and special when it happened. More than that, he wanted to make sure she felt the same way.

 

. . .

So Ian and Jenny decided to stay at the inn waiting for a mechanic who Mrs Stratford knew and lived in the area. The couple insisted that Jamie and Claire make the trip to the cottage by themselves, and if the car was fixed quickly (which was pretty much out of the question) they would meet him there on Sunday morning.

Claire was a bit reluctant at first, if they had arranged the trip together, they should arrive at the final destination together as well, but then she agreed and went on the way with James that morning before 9 am to get there early.

Upon arriving at the cottage, they were both surprised. It was at the end of a slope. The location was smaller and simpler than they had imagined. James was almost sure he would find an aristocratic mansion and Claire had not thought of anything very different. But the cottage was small and quite modest. There was a stone path that cut through the grass and allowed them to walk to the front door. It was a small property with 3 bedrooms and two bathrooms. The whole house was made of dark stones and the French doors gave it a special charm.

Inside the cottage, the wooden floor stretched across the interior, but little furniture adorned the place. Just a small sofa in the corner by the window, the old fireplace in the centre of the wall and a coffee table. The exposed oak beams on the ceiling were really stunning. Claire twisted her mouth at the hideous carpet in the master bedroom but was pleased to learn that it was a suite room and there was a bathtub. The kitchen had a small 1950s stove, an equally old refrigerator, and a few worn cabinets.

After exploring the inside, they both discovered the best part of the house: the backyard. The grass was well cut and there were some trees and a small garden beside it with some lilies and orchids. It was massive. There was also a lake some distance away, behind the white fence that marked the property. Birds flew here and there, their singing was audible and made the surroundings even more serene. It was cosy, despite the intense cold.

It was peaceful and quiet. And there they stayed, enjoying the cool shade. Around one o'clock in the afternoon, they ate some sandwiches that Mrs Stratford had prepared for them. James had not told what had happened the night before, but couldn't stop thinking about it.

"I can actually imagine papa and uncle running around here," Claire commented as she leaned over his body and relaxed.

Jamie had a smile, "I’d live here." he stated, laughing as he watched the shocked expression on the woman's face. "What? This is perfect, Claire. There is peace, birds singing, a lake right there... Perfect, really."

"I also think it's an incredible place," she looked around thoughtfully. "But I don't know if I could live so far from the city."

"Never say never," he closed his eyes and leaned back against the tree, resting his head and holding her close in his arms, closing his eyes to enjoy that feeling of pure contentment.

The woman admired him with a grin, recalling a few moments in her head and thinking how far they had come. Both ended up lying on the grass, Jamie's belly as a pillow as Claire watched the clear sky above.

"Ned told me that you have been doing very well in Creative Writing classes," she commented.

Jamie was surprised, "Oh. You've been asking Professor Gowan about me?"

There was a teasing tone in his voice, she knew he was satisfied with that.

"Not really. He came to tell me, the other day, about how well you write ..." she sighed and nudged the boy's belly. "Will you ever show me?"

He squirmed.

"It’s not finished, so..." and she sighed. "It's a story about a young Scotsman," he ignored the woman's giggle and went on. "It takes place in 1775. It is a war story. You wouldn't be interested..."

"Well, you don’t know me, young man!"

"It makes me think... How did you— Or rather, when did you find out you like poetry?" He asked linking his fingers through the dark strands of the woman's hair.

She sighed and closed her eyes, trying to go back to that memory of the first moment.

"Well, it wasn't magical at all, you know… Dad used to read me some stories, but I vaguely remember. I have a very specific memory, which I don't even know if it's real, of the two of us sitting in a rocking chair and an open book in my lap… But that doesn't answer your question, does it?"

"Not really. But thank you for sharing."

"It just came through my mind. Well, I remember the first poem I read. Do you want to know what it is?" and she turned to look at him, now sitting, pulling her legs up next to her. He nodded. "I hold it dearly in my heart. I don't even know the reason for that if you want to know, but it brings me tremendous peace. Perhaps because it's a heavenly feeling, which I think I never really felt."

James was also sitting now, with his legs stretched out and his arms supporting him. He was curious to learn more about her and everything that involved her. What was that feeling that she had never really felt?

"It's called Answer To A Child’s Question . I remember reading it out loud for the first time, without even understanding what it said. I was in the middle of a literature class and my teacher had asked if anyone knew any Coleridge poems or if we knew who the heck he was, and, of course, I raised my hand...”

He grinned.

"...but the thing is, I didn't know anything about him!" the boy feigned a shocked expression and made her laugh. "Yes, believe me. I found the poem and read, and then simply forgot. Sometime later I found it again while reading an article... And then I actually read it, really, for the first time."

“Such mystery!”

She looked around, the wind gently blowing the strands of hair from her face.

"Do you ask what the birds say?"

Jamie frowned and asked, "Excuse me?" Making her open a grin.

“That’s how it starts…” she pointed out with a knowing smile. 

He nodded feeling like an idiot.

Do you ask what the birds say? The sparrow, the dove,

The linnet, and thrush say, 'I love and I love! '”

He was watching her closely and with the same look of admiration on his face. She didn't look at him, however, her face was a little flushed and her eyes were on the surrounding landscape.

“...In the winter they're silent, the wind is so strong;

What it says I don't know, but it sings a loud song.

But green leaves and blossoms, and sunny warm weather,

And singing, and loving, all come back together…”

And she twinkled, her eyes full of joy, and went back to the boy beside her.

“Then the lark is so brimful of gladness and love,

The green fields below him, the blue sky above,

That he sings, and he sings, and forever sings he--”

And she stopped short while Jamie looked at her with evident expectation in his eyes. The teacher had a raised eyebrow and her lips parted slightly in surprise. The air slowly came in and out of her nostrils as she contemplated the fact that she had quoted that poem hundreds of times, but for some reason, she couldn't finish it. Not with Jamie as a special spectator at that moment.

Didn't she really know why she couldn't say the last words of that poem?

“What? Is it over?”

Claire cleared her throat and lined in to touch his lips with hers with a smile. 

“No.”

“And how does it ends?”

“You can find out later.”

 . . .

 

The rest of the day was better than either could have imagined. After a while, when the temperature started to drop, they left the yard and went to get warm inside. Maybe that's why they seemed to cling to each other every chance they got. Their hands moved in sync; they were unable to stay away from the other's body for a long time and the light and tender touches often happened. It was always intentional. The need to say yes, they were together, they could touch each other. Nobody could see them.

When dinner time came, Claire Beauchamp was surprised by the delicious vegetable soup prepared by the boy. Certain ingredients were missing, but the soup was delicious nonetheless. They had the groceries that Ian had bought the day before.

The night was colder than the previous one, but thankfully the bed was softer and warmer. There were thick woollen blankets in the cupboards and they took refuge there on the bed, as there was no heater in the cottage and the fireplace was not working. Claire slept happily, feeling safe and completely satisfied with how things were going. It was terrifying, but everything she ever wanted.

. . . 

 

Jenny and Ian had met the mechanic, but the car would not be ready until Monday, even if the man worked all Sunday. So Claire and Jamie came back early the next morning to meet them at the inn. Mrs Stratford was waiting for them at the door, the same sneaky look and plump cheeks.

To top it off, Jenny had felt unwell that morning, apparently, Mrs Stratford's dumplings hadn't done very well for the baby...

As a father for the first time, Ian had been extremely concerned and then arranged for car insurance to pick them up immediately that day. Luckily for him, they would be able to get there around four in the afternoon, so everyone would be waiting at the inn until the winch arrived.

"What an awful day," Jenny complained, stuffing a bunch of blueberries in her mouth, without any ceremony.

Claire watched with a smile as the men chatted on the opposite side, in the small living room at the inn.

"So how was the night?" the brunette asked, looking away from the fruits and moving her eyes to where her friend was looking at.

Claire woke from her daydreams and shook her head when Jenny wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.

"Nothing happened…"

"Oh, dear. At least one of us had sex last night..."

Claire's eyes widened in disbelief.

“Seriously?”

“Yes.”

“On that bed?”

“Hell yes.”

“With those cobwebs on the wall?” 

“Babe, I had my eyes closed all the—”

Claire snorted and crossed her arms, leaning forward and closer to her friend.

"He’s... He’s virgin." she whispered, ignoring Jenny's expression. "Do not—"

"Bloody mother of—”

"Stop it, Jenny!" the woman grunted, while Jamie turned quickly to look at them, but went back to talking animatedly about horses. "To be quite honest, I've been going crazy in want, but... with him it is..."

“Yes?”

“Different. Better.” 

 


 

Getting back to a normal routine had been a blow to the stomach for Jamie. The weekend had been wondrous, but the reality of Monday was frightening, especially with such special costumers that day: Roger and Brianna were having lunch there that day. Jamie had arrived late on Sunday and Roger wasn't home for some reason.

The two were sitting at a table, at Brianna's usual table, in the most hidden part of the cafe.

"Oh look who's back from God knows where," Brianna greeted him, teasingly.

"Shouldn’t you be at work, mate?" James asked Roger as the boy took a sip of strong coffee.

"There was infiltration in the ceiling and the office room flooded, so I only need to be there this afternoon."

Jamie nodded.

"And you, what are you doing here?" Now the question was addressed to Brianna.

She grinned.

"Having lunch, of course. And it's never too early to annoy you." he rolled his eyes and rested his hands on the chair in front of him. "So… how was your weekend?"

"Great!" he couldn't contain the smile and the sparkle in his eyes. "It really was."

"So who’s the mystery girl?" Roger asked.

Jamie took a deep breath and leaned forward, looking seriously at both of them.

"Okay, I will tell you, but you must promise me that—"

. . .

 

Claire's heart was beating fast in her chest. Her hands were cold and shaky, sweat clung to her hair at the back of her neck. She was walking quickly toward the café, knowing that eventually, she would find Jamie there, but it was the only place she felt safe and needed to speak to Jenny with some urgency.

She entered the place, bumping into a waiter and almost knocking the tray on the floor. Ian, behind the counter, realized there was something wrong with the woman and found her halfway, pointing to the back of so she could find Jenny in her office. Claire noticed Jamie in the background, talking to Brianna and another guy and passed them quickly, like lightning streaking across the sky on a rainy night. Jamie had seen her as well and felt the urge to talk to her right away. 

She went into her friend's office, Jenny was on the phone and held out her hand for her to wait for a second, but when she saw the desperate expression on the woman's face, she hung up.

"Jen,"

"What happened?" she got up from the chair and moved around the table to find the woman by the door.

"It’s just-It’s… He called me… I mean, I was called earlier today… T-today at the university, by the University council of the Literature program. Mr Harold was there…" the words came out wildly, she was panting and felt like she was going to faint.

Jenny took her to the couch, but Claire didn't want to sit.

"Jen, there was an anonymous complaint." 

The brunette's heart shrunk in her chest. She feared for the next words.

"What do you mean by that? What kind of complaint? ”

"He didn't explain it properly, he said that I will have to go there again tomorrow, as there was an unexpected incident..." she took a deep breath before telling. "Someone reported me to the coordination office. They said… that I have been behaving inappropriately with a certain student."




Chapter Text

Claire had slowly opened her eyes that Monday morning.  The tiredness of the ride home was still heavy on her shoulders and the bed was too comfortable for her to dare to get up.  But she had to do it because the next day she had Anglophone Poetry class and needed to prepare some things for the students.

She went on her morning routine.  She took a long relaxing bath enjoying the hot water and wishing for the presence of a certain Scots there at that moment.  The smile was involuntary every time she thought about him.

Claire got dressed and walked to her office which had a bookcase filled with old books and CDs.  Most of the books were from her uncle. And, she thought, Uncle Quentin owed her good explanations. She was excited to tell him about the trip and to ask him about the old cabin.  But it would have to wait a while.

The teacher's cell phone rang.  She looked around and realized that it was not there instead she had left it in the room and ran to pick it up.

"Miss Beauchamp?"

"Yes?"

"Hello, Claire. It's me, Leonard Harold," the woman raised her eyebrows in surprise; Mr Harold was the head of the department of the university's Literature course and of course a very busy man.

"Mr Harold!  What a pleasure!  How are you doing sir? " She asked politely wondering what that call was going to handle.

"Well, I'm fine.  I mean, I was until... You know I have a great appreciation for your uncle;  Quentin is an extraordinary man and, out of respect for him, I would like to talk to you about some issues that came up this morning ."

Claire swallowed and her forehead wrinkled in confusion.

"Of course.  But pardon me what is it about?  Should I be worried? " She asked using a tone of humour to soften the conversation.

"Well, we’ll see.  Please do come by. I’ll be waiting."

. . .

Claire's hands were shaking. She remained seated in the leather chair opposite Leonard Harold, while the man informed her of the details he had come to know. The woman's legs dangled frantically in a clear sign of anxiety and she felt extremely ashamed of being in such a situation, which she had been dreading from the beginning.

"... Maintaining any kind of inappropriate relationship with students is absolutely outside the rules pre-established by this institution. And it can destroy the career of any teacher who is involved in it."

"I know that, sir... So," she cleared her throat. "...you are not sure where the complaint came from?" 

Mr Harold leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, his expression was irreducible.

"That's all the ombudsman told us," he shifted and leaned forward, resting his arms on the oak table, filled with papers. "Miss Beauchamp, between us, if there's anything you want to tell me... say it now."

Claire considered the option. She had been foolish enough to even think about what it would be like if she said yes, it was all true ... But rationality spoke louder.

"I have nothing to say, Mr Harold! I’d never—" she hurried on, gesticulating her hands quickly.

The man pursed his lips and nodded.

 


 

James had noticed Claire walking next to the table where they were. He couldn't contain his anxiety to know what was going on and would have gone after her if Brianna and Roger hadn't been there. He had briefly forgotten what he was about to say, but Brianna made a point of remembering.

"So… who’s the girl?" the green eyes shone with anticipation.

James blinked twice before shaking his head a little.

"I - I just remembered that I forgot something important up there... I'll talk to you later!"

He left quickly and went up the stairs to the bookshelves. A mother and a little girl were walking through the corridors and he helped them find what they were looking for. Soon after, he took his phone out of his pocket and realized that there was a message from Claire.

I need to talk to you. It’s urgent. Come to Jenny’s office.

He couldn't understand what could it be and it left him with a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. He wanted to talk to her right away, but a few more customers showed up one after the other in the next few minutes and he had no way of meeting her at that moment.

Only after an hour or so did the boy get a break and went down the ramp that would take him faster to his boss's office. He knocked on the door twice and Claire opened it. Mrs Murray was not there, just the teacher and she was paler than usual.

"What happened?"

"There was an anonymous complaint." Claire's breath came out irregularly.

James' eyes widened and his brain seemed to process the news bit by bit, so he just managed to stammer a "what?" as an answer.

The woman took a deep breath and leaned back on the desk, crossing her arms against her chest and keeping some distance.

"Someone reported me to the Ombudsman of the Literature program. That person knows that I have had inappropriate behaviour with a certain student."

James was speechless. He didn’t see that coming. He took a few steps towards her but her face didn’t change. She was nervous but was acting like it was nothing.

"And I need to ask you," she looked deep into his eyes, searching for something, anything that could lighten the situation. "Did you tell anyone about this? About— About us?"

"No! I didn’t—" the answer came faster than he wanted, but the teacher cut him off.

"Right. That's what I wanted to know..." she walked over to the couch to get her stuff and clarified, "I need to go now. I have some suspicions and I need to know who did this and why."

"Sure. Do you need any help?"

She smiled politely.

"Not really, but thank you."

And she just walked past him and out the door. She had some suspicions and Frank was among them, but he wouldn't be capable of doing something like that. Would he? And besides, he had no way of knowing about them... he had only met Jamie once, at Geilis' party.

This was not a good thing, James knew it, and mostly because of the way she was acting. But he didn't want to worry about that now... Who could have done this? He hadn't told anyone about it. Not to Roger or Brianna. They just knew that...

And James felt the air catch in his lungs. He took the phone out of his back pocket and dialled Brianna's number.

Brianna: Jamie?

James: Hey! I need to talk to you.

Brianna: We’re talking, weirdo.

He rolled his eyes and bit his lip. 

James: Right. Uh, I need to ask you something.

She murmured in response.

James: Brianna, well, you know... about that thing about our teacher...

Brianna: Uh? Please be more specific?

He cursed himself and ran a hand through his reddish hair.

James: Did you tell anyone about this?

Brianna: What?

He grunted and heard a laugh on the other end of the phone.

James: Brianna, this is serious! I need to know—

Brianna: Why are you whispering?

James: Because I'm inside my boss's office!

Brianna: Oh! Okay… and what was the question?

James took a deep breath again and got to the point.

James: Did you tell anyone about what I... what I think about Mrs Beauchamp?

Brianna: Oh, that! That you have a deep crush? And that you look like a complete idiot when she comes around?

James: Yes! That! Did you?

Brianna: Why are you asking me that? 

James: Because… Brianna, listen carefully. Someone reported Clai—Mrs Beauchamp to our course ombudsman. They said that she is getting involved with a student, the student in question is me!

Brianna: Holy shit! What? Ok, I may have said something, but—

James's eyes almost popped out.

James: WHAT DID YOU SAY? 

Brianna: Dude, relax! I was talking to the girls the other day, you know, Emily, Susan… about our teachers, more like our hot teachers, so to speak. Mr Evans who is quite handsome for his age, Mrs Smith who—

James: Straight to the point, Brianna! 

Brianna: Ok, ok! Well… we were talking about Mrs Beauchamp and how she’s, you know, her. She’s just gorgeous and elegant and all the stuff you already know about…  And that everyone was drooling over her and I said that you were crazy about her and had a huge crush!

She giggled, which only made the situation worse. So had the problem started there? James was silent for a few seconds, analyzing what she had said.

Brianna: Jamie? Shit! I’m sorry! I didn’t think it would cause any harm! It was just a stupid conversation; we were having fun, laughing, you know… people talking to me and making me feel included but, yes, I shouldn’t have said something that’s so… personal about you since you weren't there. I’m sorry. 

That was probably the first time he had heard her speak so sincerely in that way. He could feel the honesty in the girl's tone; she was sorry.

James: I— It’s fine. Just… It’s a mess! 

Brianna: But, like, relax! You just have to deny the whole thing! It won't cause her any more harm and we can tell you exactly how that rumour started... If it's not true, anyway, you can go there and just...

He was silent again. Would it be that easy to solve? Just deny everything and that's it?

Brianna: Jamie?

James: That’s the thing, Brianna… 

Brianna: What?

He hesitated for a few seconds. It might not be the best time to tell her that, but he needed to share the secret with someone.

James: It’s true. It’s not a rumour. 

Brianna: What? Are you high or something?

James: I mean it. She’s… she’s the woman I’ve been seeing. I spent the weekend with her, and…

Brianna: JAMES ARE YOU SERIOUS? OH, MY G—

James: How will I deny it? I don’t—

Brianna: OK CHILL OUT REAL QUICK! 

He took a breath and sat on the sofa. 

Brianna: You’re being serious?

James: Yes.

Brianna: You two? You and Mrs Beauchamp?

James: Yes.

Brianna: Are you sure? Because, you know, well… She’s way out of your league, mate, and—

James: It’s true! I mean it! It is! 

Brianna: Fuck! Right. Ok. Let’s see… You’re gonna have to deny it, mate.

James: But—

Brianna: You have to! You have to tell them that it was a stupid rumour some idiot spread! The idiot being me! And I could go with you and confirm it since I was the one that started it! 

James: No, I mean, that would—

Brianna: Jamie, that’s what we’re going to do! And it’s settled! 

James still felt uncertain about what they were going to do. But it seemed, after all, to be the only solution. He had no idea of the consequences that the problem could cause and the bad feeling in his stomach didn't seem to be going away anytime soon.

 


 

Claire Beauchamp paced the apartment. It was after seven-thirty at night and she still couldn't do anything about the dilemma. At least she knew James hadn't told anyone about the relationship they were having, and now... thinking about that word to refer to what they had made her even tenser.

Who could have done that? Had they been too careless? She tried to remember every little detail of when they were together and couldn't picture how anyone from the university could have seen them.

James was going up the elevator and she knew it because she had asked Gustav to let her know if the boy decided to show up.

Claire remembered the day of the cultural event at the cafeteria, with James taking her to her car and she kissing him on the cheek before leaving. Could it have been at that moment? But if so, why would anyone wait so long before communicating to the coordination? Her head was about to explode.

"Good evening," the boy's thick voice echoed around the room and the woman greeted him with a small smile, which did not disguise her concern at all.

She sat on the sofa, her legs drawn up and close to her body, and James remained standing.

"Are you feeling better?" he asked, wiggling his fingers.

The teacher shook her head but smiled again when she saw him approach and crouch in front of her. The boy sat on the floor, legs bent; a look that asked for a million things. Claire felt her chest tighten and her hands mirrored the boy's movements.

"We need to talk, James, I need to—"

He held out his hands and interrupted, "Okay, but first, let me tell you what I found out and how we are going to resolve this situation."

The woman raised an eyebrow and nodded for him to proceed.

"Well, it seems, we know what originated the complaint, we don't know who did it, but we have a good idea of what started the rumour, and..."

"Excuse me, did you say us? Us as you and…?"

"Oh, Brianna, of course." he clarified and the woman felt the blood pulse faster through her veins.

"All right. And how did Ms McKenzie become a part of this story?" she had a smile that showed no joy, it was pure sarcasm.

James frowned.

"Ah, well... Brianna knew what I felt... for you... and ended up talking about it to some students the other day, and..." he moved back because the woman got up and walked to the kitchen, taking a glass cup and filling it with water. "And we think that someone from that group either made the complaint or spread the story and..."

James turned his face away and noticed that Claire had her head down, one hand resting on the marble counter and the other holding the glass.

"What's it?" he got up and stopped in front of the island.

She smiled, the same smile again.

"I'm sorry, but I stopped listening when you said 'Brianna knew about...' and I'm just wondering why the bloody hell you told her."

James did not hesitate, "she is my friend. She would know somehow."

Claire took a deep breath, placing the glass cup carefully on the counter; with that amount of anger she was feeling, she wanted to break something to relieve that stress.

"I asked you one thing! A single request when we started this: don't tell anyone. And what did you do?" she was furious now, glaring and her voice was louder and more steady.

James tried to get closer to the woman, but maybe it was a bad idea, judging by the way her hands were shaking and the vein in her neck was jumping.

"You don't even want to hear—"

"You were so immature! But, of course, I should've expected it already, after all, you—"

"Hey!" the boy interrupted, taking a step forward and positioning himself in front of her; his face was frowning and disappointed. "Why are you talking to me like that? I am trying-"

"And of course, telling your friend was the best thing you could have done, right? What a great idea!..." she couldn't stand still; she gestured and walked around the kitchen, with an accusing finger pointed at the James. "And what did your friend, equally immature, does? She opens her mouth and tells other people!"

"It wasn’t like that! Will you please let me finish?" he almost screamed, but it didn't seem to scare her at all. He shook his head. "We can resolve this situation! Didn't you hear me? We had an idea! You don't have to be so upset! Besides, you’re getting it all wrong… Let me— let me clarify it for you."

She laughed coldly.

"Oh, really? You and the girl who spread the story? Did you find a solution?" she laughed again and ran her fingers through the strands of hair, catching her breath. "But of course I am upset, Fraser! It's my job at stake! Do you have any idea what it means to me?" and then she dismissed it with one hand. "Of course, you don't know, you're just a boy who's lived on a farm. Your life is starting now."

James's face fell. It hurt him deeply.

"... but my life is already half done, right? You didn't even care about that!" she raised her hands. "I don't care what you have to clarify, I don't want to know! And this job is all I got! I fought so hard to get it! And now everything is ruined because you couldn't keep a secret!"

He didn't even try to clarify the situation.

"Your job isn't all you got." It was the only thing he said in response and Claire, who at that moment was not even looking at him, moved her eyes to his and closed her hands in a fist, squeezing as hard as she could to stop herself from doing what she really wanted to do. Go to him.

That went too far.

"I'm sorry, James... I - I'm the one to blame for this story." She softened her tone. He felt unable to think clearly and Claire hurried to help him understand: "I agreed with this. I started this. I was extremely reckless."

James shook his head, hardly believing what he was hearing.

"Where are you going with this talk, Claire?"

He asked, already knowing the answer. Now he seemed to understand why he had been feeling so bad the whole day. 

"It ends here. What we... What happened between us. It ends here. It's like the poet said,” and she gave a defeated laugh, "never give all the heart."

“But I want to! And… this? Is that how we're calling it? Our moments together? Are they simply this?"

She averted her eyes again, turning around so as not to face him. Claire was mad with herself now, for letting it affect her so much. She hated what her body was doing; there was a lump in her throat and her eyes stung. James needed to leave and soon, she didn't want it to get any worse.

He walked over to her, against the very pride he was feeling and cautiously squeezed her shoulder. The teacher shuddered at the boy's touch.

"I know you feel the same as me, it's called love, but you don't want to admit it..." Claire heard the boy's voice with her eyes closed, trying her hardest to avoid the crying stuck in her throat that yearned for freedom. "...I don't care if you don't want to say anything now, but we can work this out together."

She shook her head.

"I can’t lose my job, James."

"But you can lose me?"

She didn't answer the question and he took a step back, interpreting the woman's silence as an affirmation.

He walked away from her, determined to leave, but lastly, he had to say something.

"I hope that one day you find what you are looking for. And when you find it, let it fill your heart so deeply, in a way that you won't be afraid to admit what you feel anymore."

Tears flooded the woman's face; she could no longer contain them and her hand covered her mouth to try to stifle her crying. The only noise came from her throat and she knew she was alone now. A soft cry escaped and her hands came up on the counter to support her. Sadness clouded her features and her chest ached.

James went down the elevator, his eyes watery and his speech choked. He had arrived there that night hopeful, certain that things would work out… and now it was over. There was nothing else to do.

He went on his way home, crestfallen, unaware of the cries of sadness that came from the flat above. He had never thought that one's silence could hurt so much, but since he arrived in that city he learned new things every day. 


Never give all the heart, for love

Will hardly seem worth thinking of

To passionate women if it seem

Certain, and they never dream

That it fades out from kiss to kiss;

For everything that's lovely is

But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.

O never give the heart outright,

For they, for all smooth lips can say,

Have given their hearts up to the play.

And who could play it well enough

If deaf and dumb and blind with love?

He that made this knows all the cost,

For he gave all his heart and lost.

 

Chapter Text

Going home after their argument had been difficult for James; the thoughts came and went from his mind and he hadn't slept through the night, unable to rest. He hadn't been dreaming at night for some time, or at least he couldn't remember, but when it happened, it always had a very special guest.

He didn't want that to happen that night. It was conflicting; he didn't want to think about what had happened, but thinking about it was all he could do.

Had it all really happened or was it his imagination? How could something, which seemed so deep to him, just end like this in a flash?

Those questions had been around his mind all night but later on, he managed to fall asleep. When he woke up, he realized that it was already close to nine in the morning and Roger had already left. What he did not know was that a few kilometres away, a certain poetry teacher had also not slept all night.

Shit!

James texted Roger as he walked towards work, asking why his roommate hadn't woken him up; well, Roger that day had left earlier and did not imagine that his friend was going to be late.

He ended up arriving at eleven in the morning, much later than he wanted to because he missed the first bus and waited about 30 minutes for the next one. Jenny Murray had looked at him from behind the counter when he appeared through the front wooden doors and he went over to apologize.

"Did you change your schedule for the afternoon shift without telling me?" Jenny pointed, making the boy shudder without noticing the humour in her tone.

"I'm sorry, Mrs Murray, I couldn't sleep last night and then..." 

Jenny shot him a sympathetic look and tilted her head to the side, gesturing for him to follow her to the corner of the room.

"Claire is my best friend. I believe that… that whatever happened between you two will be resolved." Declared the woman, much to James' surprise. "Now back to work!" and she clapped her hands as if waking him out of a trance and left for the office, leaving him musing for the rest of the day.

. . .

Claire Beauchamp used to say that she was a plucky woman; she had grown up with her uncle after her parents passed away and had travelled the world enjoying countless adventures. She wasn't afraid of anything, except at that moment. Courage drained.

After a long sleepless night, the woman had made a decision: she needed to apologize to James for the way she had treated him. Although she was right, in her view, she should not have expressed herself the way she did.

She could have simply chosen to leave everything as it was, but she knew that - still - she would have to face him eventually during poetry classes and that was already too unsettling an idea to stick to.

Another decision that she had made was that her visits to the establishment would decrease considerably; if the rumour was hanging around the university, she wasn’t willing to give one more reason for people to talk about it. But that Tuesday afternoon she had to go there. At five in the afternoon.

First, she talked to Jenny for a few minutes in the office; she needed the warmth and soundness that her best friend could convey. Then she climbed the stairs anxiously; the sound of her high heels against the wooden floor seemed deafening.

“Mr Fraser?” the voice called out behind him and he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. She hasn’t called him that in a while.

He had been working for hours non-stop, not wanting to be left with nothing to do because that would bring back the stubborn thoughts about the incident. When he turned around he found blue eyes staring back at him; her face was calm but she couldn’t contain the jitters. 

“Do you have a minute?” she asked to which he nodded uncertainty. Both felt insecure and out of their comfort zone. Their hands mirrored each other; fingers laced together, playing with its thumbs. The woman cleared her throat before proceeding, “I’d like to apologize for the things I said last night,”

His eyebrows shot up. 

“I shouldn’t— I, yes, I was mad at you,” she reasoned, averting her eyes and admiring the books on the shelf beside them. “I still am, by the way, but I shouldn’t have used the words which I chose. I’m deeply sorry for being so rude.” 

Claire looked at him suddenly and gave a polite smile which didn’t reach her eyes. Looking attentively, James thought they were quite reddish and she had dark spots under them, which she probably had tried to cover up with the makeup. Either way, he didn’t utter an answer and she got impatient. 

She was apologizing for the way she acted, which was good, but would that actually change things? He didn’t think so. James also didn’t know how hard it had been for Claire to come to the café that day; she would rather stay in bed and weep until she had to work. 

“Jamie?” 

“Aye. It’s fine. Dinna fash yourself.” His jaw clenched and she nodded, before turning and descending the stairs. 

Just like that their interaction ended. They were back to the old days, except in those said old days they would flirt and exchange smiled and teasing looks. Now all was left was an uneasy feeling and anxiety. 

 


 

James and Brianna had arranged to meet before class at the university office to talk to Leonard Harold. They had arranged a time to talk to him but they both had no idea if that was going to work. Even though it all seemed over, James didn't want Claire to suffer in the work that was so valuable to her.

The two waited outside the room; the secretary had informed them that Mr Harold was on an important call and would be talking to them soon, so they just waited, their nerves on edge.

James's restless hand drummed on his leg and it made Briana deeply irritated. The girl was distracted by the cell phone while the boy did not know what to do, so they remained silent for a few minutes. How could she be so calm?

"We talked today," the boy said quietly as the redhead continued to type something.

"Yeah? Who?"

"You know who! She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named," he chuckled, looking away from the secretary who seemed quite interested in what they both whispered.

The girl snorted, then giggled.

"Oh," she turned to look at him with happy eyes. "So Lord Voldemort showed up at the cafeteria this afternoon? What a thing! I wouldn't judge him like a book lover,"

James rolled his eyes but returned the smile.

"So what did he or rather she said?"

"Well, she apologized for last night. And that was that." The boy's expression fell and Brianna felt deeply guilty for all the confusion. She reached out to shake his hand and offered a sympathetic expression.

"It’s good, right? I mean, it's better than nothing." she shrugged, but Jamie didn't look so sure.

The two were interrupted by Mr Harold's door opening and he appeared, gesturing for the students to enter.

"So, my friends, did you want to talk to me?" He asked, walking around the long table and sitting behind it in the leather chair.

James and Brianna looked at each other and the redhead nodded, swallowing hard before starting.

"Uh, yes, sir. There’s been a misunderstanding."

Harold crossed his fingers on the table and his features showed surprise.

"Please, do proceed, miss...?"

"MacKenzie, sir. Brianna MacKenzie and this is my friend, James Fraser."

The man looked at James with sparkling eyes and a smile on the corner of his lips.

“As I was saying, there was a mistake… well, straight to the point: the truth is that Professor Beauchamp is excellent and has never had any kind of relationship with any student, everything came about due to gossip," it rushed out breathlessly. "Basically." and added, her eyes running between James and the man ahead.

Leonard Harold looked at them curiously, his lips seemed petrified in the corner of his face, with a smile that never stopped and that bothered them in a way; they didn't know if he was being kind or arrogant.

"Very interesting... and what kind of gossip would that be, my dear?"

Brianna cleared her throat, "I was talking to some friends and we talked about how all the students, er, in the class, think Mrs Beauchamp is a very beautiful woman, and… Well, someone must have got it all wrong and ended up doing what they did."

"And are you sure that is what gave rise to the complaint?"

The girl nodded and Mr Harold leaned back in his chair, revelling in the softness of the material.

"Honestly, Miss MacKenzie, it seems to me to be something too naive, don't you think?"

The girl did not know what to say.

"I am curious, though, if this is really the case: how did you lot know about it?" he chuckled. "We were very careful to prevent it from leaking."

James felt his stomach churn, but he knew he needed to say something when he noticed the desperate look that Brianna shot at him.

"That would be my fault, sir."

He seemed intrigued and attentive to everything the boy said.

"I work nearby and Mrs Beauchamp was there yesterday because she’s friends with my boss…" he chose his words with care, trying to tell a plausible story and not opening up any doubts. "And I heard her talking to her. I felt terrible knowing that my name got involved in this and, above all, knowing that a teacher could be punished for something that’s—" he cleared his throat and took a deep breath. "Not true. I… I always found her to be, uh, you know, a very beautiful woman but, obviously, my friends got the wrong impression." 

James paused for effect and waited for the man in front of him to absorb the words. "I have nothing but respect and admiration towards her." He added at last.

Mr Harold narrowed his eyes, seeming to study every word he had heard from James; Brianna felt like she was about to have a heart attack and couldn't wait to get out of there. Leonard looked at his watch and finally said: "I think it's time for your class to start and I don't want to be the reason for your delay," he got up to greet them, shaking hands. "Thank you for coming here today. Have a good class." He gestured to the door and the two went out through it.

. . . 

"So, what do you think?" the redhead asked as James pushed the wheelchair towards the classroom.

"Not sure. But it’s all done."

"Yeah. It sucks though."

James stopped the chair at the front of the room and looked through the glass at the top of the door, having a wide view of the woman sitting behind the table; the tiny glasses helped her to read a small booklet in her hands. The clock on the wall said 18:50 and there were five students in the room. Luckily for James, she didn't notice that he was watching her.

"We have a few more weeks of class," he commented, sitting on the floor beside the wheelchair. Brianna murmured in response. "Do you know what you're gonna do for Christmas?"

The girl shrugged. "It's quite early to think about it, don't you think?"

James snorted, thinking about the Christmas decorations that were now appearing in every corner of the city, including the university where they were.

"A few more days and it's November," he commented, trying to get to the subject he wanted to talk about. "I'm going to spend Christmas at home. In Scotland."

She tilted her head to look at him.

"Ah, it sounds cool. I will probably do something boring with my family," The girl complained, not very excited. "Unless, of course, I manage to do something with Roger somewhere."

"Good luck!" he looked at her. "I think - I think I won't be coming back after that."

The girl's face contorted in shock.

"What? Are you crazy? Are you going to drop out?"

He sighed and leaned his head against the wall.

"Not exactly. But I know I don't want to stay here. The truth is that I've been missing home and I know that my uncle needs me there, and…"

"Cut the crap!" the girl exclaimed. "You weren't thinking about it before! If that's because of what happened…"

"It’s not!" he got angry and got up from the floor. "I just— I'll think about it and talk to you later. I just thought it would be important to tell you. Roger already knows."

She was horrified. So it was for real.

“And he didn’t tell me? What the—”

“See you later!”

“Hey! You’re going home?”

He grabbed the backpack straps and nodded.

"Jamie!" Brianna didn't like how things were going but before she could elaborate further... Claire Beauchamp appeared, poking her head out of the room.

"But what a noise it is— Ah!" Claire realized who it was and cleared her throat. "The class is about to start."

James nodded to Brianna and turned, hearing a murmur behind him.

"Won’t you join us, Mr Fraser?" the teacher asked tentatively, her lower lip caught between her teeth.

"Not really. Brianna's gonna help me out later."

Claire opened the way for the girl to enter the room, taking a few steps towards the boy.

"James, I hope that—" but something made her hesitate and change her mind. "Nevermind. Have a good night." She spoke in a low voice, arms crossed over her chest.

He nodded.

“You too.” 

“Okay.”

“All right.”

“Goodbye.”

 


 

Claire felt oddly insecure; everything was out of its natural order, as it used to be. Going to the classroom and interacting with students was one of her favourite activities, but now the teacher was barely able to look them in the eye. She had the strange impression that people were talking about her and that they were looking at her differently.

She took the marker and stopped in front of the board, watching the students; particularly, on her left side, Brianna gave her a comforting look in some way, although the woman did not want to admit it.

"Finally, let's discuss a little about the period between 1901 and 1914 of British Literature. Does anyone have any idea what it's called?"

There was silence in the room and some students laughed softly. One of them, in the background, raised his hand and Claire nodded gratefully.

"It’s the Edwardian Period, professor."

"Thank you, Mr Thomas," she smiled at him, but then stifled herself, frowning, "This period is named after King Edward VII and covers the period between Queen Victoria’s death and the outbreak of World War I." She wrote down the information on the board. "Although it is a short period - just fourteen years, and some go back to 1918 - we had several well-known names that emerged at that time: Edith Wharton, HG Wells, Henry James, Bernard Shaw and, of course, WB Yeats, among some others."

The woman walked to the table and picked up a booklet that contained hundreds of poems from the time.

"This period was marked by the luxury and ostentation of the rich and a great change in social thoughts, such as female suffrage for example…"

And she looked through the pages of the book, stroking her temples and looking at the students. "What would you like to hear tonight?"

To her surprise, she heard several requests, but as she scanned the pages, something caught her eye: She could not take her eyes away and read the first paragraph before looking back at the students, with the words surrounding her mind. The teacher chose a short poem by Edith Wharton and read it to them before they left at the end of the class.

Claire remained there, sitting behind the desk, with the book open. And she returned to the page that had initially caught her attention. Why didn't she choose that poem to read to students? Why, somehow, it touched her inwardly and seemed too personal, as if opening the woman's heart on the table and examining it in detail.

Have you ever had that feeling?

That you are completely lost.

Your mind and senses reeling,

As in a dark foreboding frost.

She kept her fist clenched over her mouth, absorbing the words in her mind and letting Bernard Shaw's words take their course.

Nothing but nothing is as it seems,

Words like phantoms come and go.

It is as if all the bizarre dreams,

Have turned your brain to snow.

If everything had been a big mistake, from the beginning… she shouldn’t feel the way she did, right? 

The ticking of the mantelpiece clock,

Cuts the silence like a knife.

Your mind is in a mysterious block,

You ask yourself is this my life.

She tried to quickly wipe away a small stubborn tear that dared fall out of the corner of her eye.

Perhaps I am just getting old,

Brain and body gone to pot,

Where are the times that I was bold,

And my brain could solve every plot.

She sighed, finishing reading and sympathizing on each word. Claire felt like the worst poetry teacher in the world; she was great at talking about the feelings that other people wrote on paper, but she sucked when it came to her own.  

Chapter Text

The weeks flew by like a wind on a stormy day, and before they knew it, the last days of the semester arrived. As a child, Claire had learned to love Christmas, even in the midst of life's misfortunes, as Uncle Quentin always made sure that she had a special surprise for her every time. It had been a tradition and escape valve after the death of her parents.

Each year the young Beauchamp looked forward to the next Christmas surprise and decorating the entire house was her favourite activity; it was mostly the two of them since Unclue Lamb had never gotten married. She remembered leaving the boarding school in the south of France and returning to her hometown to meet her uncle, year after year, enjoying the cosiness and safeness of that day. 

In her college days, Claire met some friends and had fun that day, really forgetting the purpose. Over time, the excitement has waned considerably; it no longer had the same magic as when she was a little girl, but it was still a date that brought her nostalgia and a good feeling in her heart. On some occasions, she had spent Christmas with Jenny's family and later, when Jenny had married Ian. In any case, it was a period that always brought good memories and she kept the Christmas poem — that her Uncle Quentin had written to her inside a book she had won once — as a reminder:

"...put up your little arms

and I'll give them all to you to hold

every finger shall have its ring

and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy."

That year, however, the teacher was not so excited about the festivities and much of it was related to the man she was facing now. Even when she had parted ways with Frank, Claire hadn't felt that bad after that. With Frank, she had felt profound disappointment and all confidence in herself had run out. She felt humiliation and regret. But now... It was something else entirely. 

Claire was sitting in her usual place at the Little London cafeteria, tasting a delicious frappuccino and keeping a frozen smile in the corner of her face while pretending to pay attention to the conversation going on around her.

The reality was that she felt mad with the fact that the boy, in the past 5 weeks, had appeared in just one class.

She knew why he was doing that and, somehow, that information made her extra furious. How could he let his personal problems affect his studies? How stupid did he have to be to let that happen?

The questions pressed into the woman's head as she watched James Fraser talk to Ian Murray over the pie counter. She hadn't seen him in weeks, and, for that reason, on that Saturday night, she had decided to go there. To talk to him? Complain? Sit like nothing was bothering her? God only knows!

Of course, she was also there that night because it was Jenny's baby shower. Well, that was the main reason. Jenny Murray had waited a few weeks before having the baby shower due to her history of miscarriages, so the woman wanted to make sure beforehand that everything would be all right this time.

A small meeting between family and friends was taking place at that moment; the café was decorated with lots of little blue balloons — because Jenny really loved balloons, Claire knew — plenty of food and other cutesy things you usually find in baby showers. They were having a boy! It was so exciting to see Jenny and Ian so happy, but deep, deep down Claire felt miserable. She longed for that kind of happiness in her heart.

In the past few weeks, Mr Harold had not called her again and she then acted as if nothing had happened, but somehow it also bothered her. It was just too weird all of a sudden, on one side, and so bad on the other.

. . .

For James, being there that night was important, even though he knew he would meet Claire eventually. He needed the extra money and, after all, he had served as a waiter before, so it was nothing extraordinary. Avoiding poetry classes had become a routine for the boy; despite knowing that his best friend did not agree at all with the attitude, she still delivered the activities he did to the teacher.

Honestly, he knew that Claire wouldn't let him fail the Poetry class. It would be a difficult and low blow, so the boy took advantage of this to escape the last classes and not have to meet her since she was not even going to the café either.

What a strange feeling it was to want someone, to have them and then suddenly lose them. Perhaps that really proved that it shouldn't have happened.

As the boy poured some drinks for the guests and Jenny and Ian received some gifts and greetings in the background, James seemed to sense that someone, with piercing blue eyes, was watching him from a distance.

Claire tried to control herself as much as possible; she shouldn't act stupidly — again — and simply let go of her feelings, but that task seemed too hard to accomplish and her instinct spoke louder.

She approached the wooden table decorated with sweets and cupcakes, which had been set up for that occasion, while James replaced some sweets on the tray. And before she could say anything, the boy suddenly turned and ran into her; sweets flying all over the place.

“Oi!”

Luckily for the woman, her clothing remained intact. The boy bent down quickly to try to clean up the mess, while some faces had turned in their direction and Jenny shot a curious look at her friend. Claire tried to help him, but he scolded her and headed for the kitchen; the party returning to its normalcy.

The teacher, after a few minutes, walked towards the kitchen too but felt her friend's loving hand on her shoulder interrupt her steps.

"What are you trying to do? Scare him off?"

Claire twisted her mouth and sighed.

"I have no idea what I'm trying to do, but I want to talk to him."

Jenny raised a sneaky eyebrow.

"About what exactly?"

Claire sighed and locked her fingers into a fist.

"I just—"

"Go ahead. Just don't make a mess." 

The woman nodded and walked towards the kitchen; Jamie was there, he had dumped the candy that fell on the floor in the trash. The boy stopped his movements when he saw the woman approach.

"I'm sorry."

Jamie frowned but nodded.

"Because you dropped the food, of course," the woman clarified and intertwined her fingers, keeping them close to her body.

"Right"

The woman again felt stupid and too uncertain about what to say or do. She felt like she was stepping on eggshells and causing havoc wherever she went.

"I really don't know what to say. I— you haven't been to my classes and I feel guilty about it."

James let out a deep sigh and turned again to wash his hands at the sink, wiping them on the back of his dark apron. Claire couldn't help but notice it. Nothing, in particular, caught her eye, or perhaps everything caught her eye. But it was him, and his face, and his curly hair and his eyes.

"I don't think you should go and just give up on whatever it was that made you come here, in the first place. I don't want to be self-centred enough to feel like you're doing this because of me, but if it is, as I believe it might be, you shouldn't—"

"How is it that you…?"

Well, in one of the Poetry class the boy had missed, tousled red hair filled Claire's vision at the end of the class. Brianna didn't know what else to do to get Jamie to change his mind, so her last option was to turn to Claire, even though, in her own words, "you hate me, miss, and think I'm the worst person in the world because of what I've done."

"Your friend really talks a lot."

Jamie rolled his eyes. Brianna, of course.

"Thank you, I guess, but it’s my decision to make and it has nothing to do with you."

Claire had probably never heard him speak to her like that, and the woman felt so bad about the whole situation that she could barely assimilate what was happening. She was right to be upset, correct? She was right to end the relationship, wasn't she? It had been totally unwise for her to be with a student, had it? So why did it hurt so much to be treated with such indifference?

He passed her, their shoulders touching each other gently, and the tremors ran through both bodies.

"I'm sorry. I didn't— I didn't think we would end up like this."

James nodded, corresponding to the same thought.

"Sometimes, being apart is the best way to end things."

 


 

For James, packing was an awfully easy task; pick up the personal effects and throw it in the suitcase. What was simple had become difficult, not because of the nature of the situation, but because Brianna MacKenzie was in his room at that moment, making his job too complex.

"I think this case is too small, you know, or maybe you should just take some clothes and leave the others—"

The boy crossed the room towards the small wardrobe and picked up the remaining clothes. Roger had his arms crossed, leaning against the door. In just over five months he had lived with James long enough to know that when something crossed his mind, it was final and nothing would change his mind.

The boy stopped in the middle of the room, reaching into his pocket with a frown.

“Where’s my ticket?”

Brianna's face was too comical and he had to laugh. The redhead reached out with a grin and handed him the paper. James took a quick look at the two friends and didn't let that image get in the way of his goal.

And in a few more minutes the three were heading towards the airport. James had insisted that he could do it himself, but Roger and Brianna stubbornly declined the "offer" and followed him at all times.

. . .

On the way to the airport, everyone remained silent. James was evaluating his last months there and how his life had turned upside down. The initial idea was that he would stay until he was able to complete the Literature program, but what no one else knew was that the boy was now almost broke. The money he earned at the café was no longer enough to stay in London and study. His uncle Dougal had stopped sending money months ago; apparently, on the farm, things were not going very well either.

So it was a delicate topic to say. James didn't felt at easy to tell his friends that the real reason he was leaving was that he didn't have any more money to support himself. It was embarrassing for the boy, honestly, but he also felt stupid because it was also because of Claire.

Anyway, his last few weeks hadn't been totally depressing. Professor Ned Gowan had said things that sparked a spark of hope in the boy's heart.

"I believe your story is really worth telling," the professor had said, analyzing the material he had in hand; James failed to meet the requirement of the class, but his first chapter had been so good that the professor had given him the highest score.

"I'm not sure about that, Mr Gowan. I don't know how to continue." The boy had declared that Thursday night. Yes, because at Creative Writing classes he was attending normally. Which made a certain teacher furious.

"Jamie, believe me, I already read hundreds of chapters in this very classroom. Semester after semester I read such crap you wouldn't know… and that's why I know how to value it when I see something excellent. Your story is great and I see a bright future for you. Raw talent right there."

James had considered the professor's words at that time. It seemed incredible to be able to dream about it, but how, in fact, could it come true?

"I only have a few suggestions, if I may..." he remembered the professor saying. "I believe that the woman in the story should be named, who appears at the end of the chapter. I was very curious about your report on the scene; her being taken by a soldier who was fighting in the war. In the next chapter you could…"

And James remembered every word from the professor, and he wrote down in his notebook every suggestion, every comma, every important point that Ned Gowan had said. The boy did not know what he would find when he arrived at his uncle's farm, much less whether he would have time to write again, but perhaps that would be important in the future.

The airport was packed; thousands of people coming and going because of the special date and Brianna silently wished that the flight to Scotland was cancelled in some way. She didn't know, but deep down James longed for the same thing. Or rather, for anything that kept him from going. He knew that his friends wanted him to stay, and maybe he was having a "childish" and "immature" attitude... and he was shaking his head every time he thought of those words, as they led him to the discussion with Claire.

Claire.

Maybe all he wanted was for her to find him there and ask him to stay.

But life differs from dreams, and he knew how fertile his imagination could be, so he tried to ward off stubborn thoughts. Roger patted the boy's shoulder and the three friends walked towards the departure area. James looked at them both and felt his heart contracting against his chest. Brianna was trying to look tough and sarcastic, but he knew how she really felt.

The first hug was in Roger, the thanks for having been his companion for all those months was implicit in the strong grip that James had given him. The boy, without a moment, ducked down beside the wheelchair.

"Bloody hell! Do not be a dick making me fuc— I’m not—"

Yes, she was crying and James laughed as he rocked her in an awkward hug. Then he felt Roger's arms over them both and finally felt at ease knowing that, even though he left with a broken heart, he had found friends there.

 


 

It was Christmas Eve. Claire watched the city below; the colourful lights and decorations that brought so much joy to people. She loved the view that apartment had. It was truly a stunning sight. But she was not happy. In fact, he felt an overwhelming desire to burst into tears that night. Jenny had warned her when James had resigned and he had left town two days ago.

She remembered him in that apartment. Eating sushi trying to balance the sticks between his fingers. She remembered the two of them lying on the patio, watching the moon as his arms encircled her with affection. She remembered waking up with his face next to hers and smiled when the image came to her mind; the man's lips parted in a sweet smile as he slept soundly.

Claire was interrupted when her uncle walked around the room; she already knew he was on his way to spend Christmas together. Quentin settled her in his arms in a tight hug, not to mention the gift boxes left at the door. Claire shook her head, but she loved being spoiled by her uncle, and there were many gifts for wee Ian Murray as well.

The two enjoyed the night together, but she couldn't hide what was bothering her so much.

"Where's your friend? James, isn't it?" he asked, taking another sip from the cup.

The teacher's eyes almost popped out.

"Oh, well, we... we're not together anymore."

Noticing the young woman's saddened tone, Quentin approached her and held her hands. Claire considered what she would say next. She loved her uncle, but she was afraid that he would see her differently.

"I think I made a lot of mistakes, and..." Before she continued to speak, tears flooded the woman's face and her shoulders were shaking.

"Claire, my dear, tell me what happened!" Quentin couldn't remember the last time he saw his niece act like that.

She took a deep breath, still weeping, and looked into her uncle's tender eyes.

"James was... My God, this is so difficult!" she ran her fingers through her hair. "Uncle, James was my student, but—"

Quentin's eyes widened instantly. After all, he was an old man of a certain age and it was still too complicated for him to adapt to the modern-day.

"Dear God, Claire!"

"I know, I know! But he’s an adult, you see, he’s twenty-three and we kept it as a secret… no one knew about it."

She found herself thinking about it briefly; Was she really defending her relationship with James to her uncle?

“No one? But he was here at your birthday party…”

“Well, yes, but they didn’t know that I was his teacher.” she forced a smile and Quentin winced, rubbing his forehead with the back of his hand. "I can see your disappointment."

"Claire, I'm sorry, dear… this is all very different to me. But we are not going to talk about me now. Why are you so sad? What happened?"

The woman leaned against the sofa and intertwined her legs.

"Nobody knew about us... except Jenny, of course, that was what I thought, but ..."

"Oh, I see."

"What?"

Claire's frown indicated the confusion in her head.

"Well, tell me what happened first."

"Someone reported me to the Literature program and it was a big mess. I ended my relationship and now I feel miserable."

"Do you have any idea who might have done this?" the old man scratched his head.

The woman got up from the sofa.

"Apparently it was Jamie's friend; she talked to other people about it and it started a gossip. But I'm not so sure anymore."

"I'm glad."

"What?"

Quentin once again scratched his forehead, sweat marks were beginning to appear.

"It's silly but there's something else... You wouldn't think that... Frank could do something like this, would you?"

Claire found the question odd and sat down again, thoughtfully.

"He would have no way of knowing."

Now it was Quentin's turn to stand up and pace, before turning to her.

"But, dear, I told him."

Chapter Text

A wound is a fire 

sinking into itself. The tinder serves

only so long, the log holds on

and still it gives up, collapses

into its bed of ashes and sand.

 


 

There was a small hole in the ceiling of James' room. The size was enough for rain droplets to fall on the floor and the boy had to resort to a bucket to prevent the wooden floor from getting soaked. He was mad; his uncle Dougal had not fixed the crack in the ceiling and now he had to sleep with that unbearable noise in the room.

Coming home had been more difficult than he had imagined, not only for what he left behind but for what was waiting for him. He lived on a farm and the people around were of simple origin and did not have many aspirations in life; all they wanted was a good harvest of whatever they planted and earn money from the animals they raised.

At his family's farm, it wasn't that different. So when someone would leave that place to go to the big city, the expectations were very high and James didn't want to be seen as a failure.

The place was still the same: it didn’t feel like home. His old home. But he got used to it and it was all that he had. He missed the chickens, the horses and the cows. Old Bearded Collier Jackie, who always tried to steal a piece of meat from his dinner. Even from Mrs FitzGibbons, the housekeeper, who always treated him with affection and care, despite ear tugs — literally — when he did something wrong.

Despite his insecurities, he had been greeted with joy by everyone; the Christmas atmosphere had infected the region and he loved that feeling. Mrs FitzGibbons made sure that the boy's belly was completely full before he retired to sleep. But he couldn't sleep. And it was not because of the hole in the ceiling. If he told anyone in that place, would they believe he had an affair with his teacher? Mrs FitzGibbons would certainly be horrified.

Brianna MacKenzie had sent loads of emails earlier, but the boy was barely able to answer because the hard work had returned. Dougal did not give the boy a rest, saying: “If you came back, then you will have to work. Don't think that things have changed."

So that's how his few days there had been: going up and down and even delivering vegetables to neighbouring homes, including a rich estate a few miles away: the home of the Dulsany, who now bought the fresh produce offered on the Fraser farm.

 


 

Would it be an exaggeration to suppose that the floor of the apartment's living room would be giving way, due to the number of times that its owner went around in circles? There would certainly be a hole in the ground at some point and soon they would pay a visit to the residents downstairs. Quentin Beauchamp knew he was playing with fire because he had such humorous thoughts during a situation like that and soon returned to focus.

"You told him?" Claire asked, incredulous. "Blimey. What exactly did you say?"

Quentin sighed. As much as he was fond of Frank, he sensed something bad.

“Look, on your birthday, when I took him out… We chatted a bit. Frank was quite upset that night,” Claire snorted but he proceeded. "I told him that you had moved on, you were dating a guy and that it was better that way."

“And you said his name.” It wasn’t a question, he knew. 

“I’m afraid I did, my dear.” 

Claire frowned and finally sat on the couch. Quentin knew her well enough to know that the woman wanted to be alone, so he walked to the kitchen to fill a glass of water; his throat was dry.

"But it doesn’t— How could he know that James was my student?"

“I can't answer that."

“But he can," and she stood up again, determined. "I need to tell you a few things about Frank."

Quentin walked over to his niece, looking uneasy.

"Things?"

"Well, he's not as perfect as you think." Upon noticing her uncle's frown, Claire took a deep breath to tell him what she should have said a long time ago.

 


 

It was the coldest day of the year; the temperature was 0º, but Jamie didn't need a thermometer to know that. People who lived nearby seemed to have their own way of knowing about the weather. At that moment he was certain it was below zero, judging by the way his chin moved and his hands felt petrified, even inside the thick wool coat.

The boy walked through the pasture, watching the highland cattles that fed there and he was one of the few brave people who dared to walk in that strong fog. A storm was approaching, but Jamie wanted to distract himself outside, watching the mountains and streams below.

"Wee Jamie, come inside!" He heard Mrs FitzGibbons shout from inside the house, because of course, to her, he was a wee boy.

In the background, he could see his uncle's old pickup truck approaching, Murtagh FitzGibbons at the wheel and two or three employees sitting in the back. Things on the farm looked better than his uncle had informed him and it left Jamie with a strange feeling. But in any case, even if he had money, would he have stayed in London? Or was the lack of money a great excuse to leave?

“What yer doin’ up here, lad?” Murtagh asked after parking the car and walking towards the boy, mirroring his movements and resting his arms on the wooden fence. “Aren’t ye cold?” 

Jamie pressed his coat against him straight away, making the man laugh.

"Aren't you used to the highland cold anymore?"

The youngest shook his head.

"I could never forget."

The man stared at him as Jamie returned to observing the animals in the distance. Murtagh was Mrs. FitzGibbons' nephew and knew James even before he was born, never having lived far from the farm's surroundings. He had grown up around, being a friend of his parents and family. 

“I'm happy to see you again here, boy. How was it in the big city?”

James shrugged; he longed for someone to talk to, but at the same time, he was afraid to talk about his feelings.

“It was good, I think. A good experience.”

Murtagh knew that he was hiding something, but, whatever it was, it would have to wait, as Dougal appeared behind the two and called them inside.

"Dinna mind your uncle," he whispered in Jamie's ear, making him jump. "It's always good to have an extra hand to carry the horses' hay, isn't it?" Murtagh patted the boy's shoulder.

The long wooden table in the dining room was filled with food and drinks; some farmworkers were warming up inside and enjoying the dinner. Jamie did not feel hungry and preferred to go up to his room. His uncle Dougal remained as arrogant as ever, and he had made a point to say how the boy had spent so little time in the city until "something went wrong and he had to go back with his tail wagging", to which Jamie said, "If you had sent me more money, maybe I could stay there." which almost started a fierce fight, interrupted by Mrs. FitzGibbons.

He found himself leaning against the bedroom window, the light rain falling on the grass and the landscape in the background almost imperceptible. Jamie closed his eyes tightly, the feeling deep in his chest made him want to groan. He loved her. He felt like shit. He was so anxious and stressed out about everything. All he wanted was to sit down and talk to her, hear her smooth voice saying something smart and poetic - not pun intended - or just kiss her lips and think about anything else.

The moment he arrived at the farm, he had realized that the financial situation was not as bad as he had imagined. So why did your uncle stop sending you money? From that moment on he knew it had been a bad idea, but he would have to start making money on his own. Somehow. He needed to find some purpose, in the midst of chaos, to make sense of his life again.

Maybe when the new year starts , he thought. Maybe later .

 


 

Heavy rain drenched the cobblestones; pedestrians ran to find shelter somewhere safe and dry. Claire was sitting in her usual place at the Little London café; it was still unnatural to be there and not find James Fraser and she couldn't help going to the top, walking between the bookshelves and hoping that somehow, magically the boy would show up there wearing his black apron, his hair falling down the sides of his face and the shy smile.

Those thoughts had been invading her mind more heavily in the past few days, especially after the conversation with Uncle Quentin.

Quentin had told Frank about her being with Jamie, and deep down she knew that Frank could have done something about it. What was not clear was how he knew James was a student at the university. Maybe that was not so hard to imagine, after all, the café was near enough to the place, but... She needed to be sure.

And that was why she had made an appointment with Frank Randall that night of December 29th. The year was about to end and she couldn't wait another minute to resolve what bothered her so much. She was said, over and over, that she might think too much about the subject because she knew she would have done wrong to Jamie, and even though she apologized, it didn't seem like enough.

But it was quite clear that this was just another way for Claire to try to fool herself. She knew what she felt. She knew how to call it. 

The woman's hands were cold and her chin locked at the sight of the man's icy smile coming towards her. Frank, as usual, was impeccably dressed; a light gray suit, a dark overcoat on top, shoes shining and the strong perfume that certainly marked his territory.

The man sat across from her, leaning on the table; the smug smile was starting to piss her off.

"So, you wanted to see me."

Claire rolled her eyes due to the connotation that gave her the last word.

"I wanted to talk to you," she corrected.

"We could talk over the phone, don't you think?"

The teacher gave a fake smile and took a deep breath.

"Let's get straight to the point."

She had memorized exactly what she was going to say, several times over the past few days. Had Frank not been the person to file the complaint, she would not know how to proceed. But something told her that she was right to be suspicious of the disgusting man who kept smiling.

"Please Claire, I'm eager to hear whatever it is you want to say."

"Did you do it?" Noticing the raised eyebrows, she clarified: “Frank, someone reported me to the university's ombudsman. I had an appointment with Mr Harold and,”

“Ah! Harold! What a great man!” he knew exactly what he was doing. “Great golf player.” 

The woman felt her whole body on fire but was careful not to shake.

"So did you?"

“Excuse me, Claire, but what was the content of the complaint? What did you do wrong, young lady?" And he let out a low chuckle, running his thin fingers through his straight hair back.

"Frank!" Claire was angry. "I'm pretty sure it was you, really. My uncle told me that, on my birthday night, the two of you talked and he ended up saying that…"

“That you were in a relationship with a boy half your age? Oh yes, he said that… With great displeasure, I may add.”

The woman laughed and some customers quickly turned their heads to watch and whisper.

“Honestly, Frank, don't be ridiculous!" the man did not smile now; his face was serious and his eyebrows together. “You are judging me for something you did as well! Or did you forget?”

“And did that give you any right to try to do the same? Just like a payback?”

The laughter came out involuntarily and she tried to control the volume of her laughter.

"Do you really think this has anything to do with you?"

The man leaned forward, hands holding the ends of the table.

“I have no doubts! You’ve been acting deranged, you’re no longer the woman I met.”

"So you're more of a prick than I thought because, surprise! That's me!" she countered. “But I’m curious, though, how did you know? That I was his teacher?”

“Seems like you two didn’t talk much,” he was full of sarcasm. “If so, you’d know that I was there one night, with Ned, talking to the students about my book and… What a surprise it was, to recognize a face I had seen at a party.” 

Claire frowned trying to assimilate the man's speech; so he had been to Jamie's class once? Creative Writing with Ned Gowan? And how did she not know that? And yes, they had met once, at Geillis' parties, but at that moment, Claire and Jamie weren't even involved and...

“But it’s done. And, as it seems, it worked.” He said harshly. “The kid is gone, isn’t he? And we’re, once again, on our own. Claire, you see, this is a pattern and it keeps—”

“I can't believe it! Frank, did you lose your mind? I mean, of course, after what you did. I don't understand. You cheated on me ages ago, you humiliated me but you just can't let me be happy with who I want? You're a bloody prick!"

“Oh, Claire, please! Don't tell me you were happy living a teenage adventure with a twenty-something-boy.”

"Twenty-three,” she corrected. “And you had no right to meddle.”

“Either way, you did something bad. You broke a rule.” he pointed, astute. “You know that your career is ruined, if this story spreads. And all because of a doomed relationship.”

In a fraction of a second, all the moments that Claire and Jamie had spent together surfaced like a lightning bolt across the sky and the teacher felt her chest tighten. No, it wasn't just moments of teenage adventure. It was obviously something else. Something much bigger than she had imagined feeling. But it was real. And it was worth it. Each second. She knew it now, maybe she always had, but now she finally had the courage to admit it.

“It’s fine. I’ll take it, because it was worth it and much better than whatever we had. It was special and good. And made me feel myself.”

The woman got up and tried to leave, but Frank took her by the arm, getting up too.

"I never imagined you'd sink so low, acting like a bitch."

The woman did not have to answer. Frank felt someone nudge his shoulder, and when he turned to see who it was, he immediately fell over the table in shock. The punch came so fast that he didn't have time to dodge. Claire was astonished but happy, fully jolly, and she couldn't help but grin when she saw her Uncle Quentin massaging his right hand.

"Now I know I should’ve done this a long time ago," Quentin confessed, disappointment and disgust on his face.

The shop customers stood up in surprise and Jenny soon appeared to calm the mood.

"It's okay, people, there's nothing to see here." she addressed the customers, gesturing. “You, get the hell out of here and don't come back. Try something against my friend again and you will regret it. Do not mess with a pregnant woman.” She had an intimidating finger pointed at Frank's face. 

Frank stood up, ashamed of his humiliation, hurriedly left the place with his head down.

It seemed like a small victory; similar to when you get a scratch and take something to relieve the pain, but the wound is still there and far from healing. Claire knew it didn't solve everything, in fact, maybe it didn't solve anything, after all, the damage had already been done and Jamie was already gone.

While Quentin and Ian talked in the background; the old man with an ice bag in his hand and Jenny said things that Claire was not paying attention to, the teacher fixed on one or two things about the conversation with Frank.

So, yes, he had made the complaint and, it seemed, had spoken directly to Mr Harold. Claire had made a fool of herself by going to him to deny it. Even worse, Miss MacKenzie and Jamie too. But then why hadn't he said something? Maybe it was just part of - whatever the type - the plan Frank had set up. Anyway, she couldn't go on like that.

And it would be the next thing she would do now: go to Leonard Harold's office and talk to him. And then sort out everything that was missing, and that included Jamie. She looked at her cell phone and ran her fingers over the name Farmboy .

Chapter Text

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,   

an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.   

I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,   

only the things I didn’t do  

 crackle after the blazing dies .


December 2016

 

“Ew. That’s awful! How can you handle it? ” Brianna MacKenzie winced when she saw the view through the cell phone screen. Finally, she had managed to talk to Jamie through the video call, since the signal in the area where he lived was terrible and he rarely answered all the messages she sent.

Well, the thing was that for every ten messages from Brianna, he answered two and the girl sent ten more in reply.

"Piss off! This place is beautiful." Jamie countered.

Brianna chuckled.

"I'm not talking about the place, but your face that is getting in the way."

He rolled his eyes but also smiled. He missed the way she’d always mock him. Next to her was Roger, pride evident in his eyes.

"How're doing mate?" Roger asked as he and Brianna squished their faces against each other to fit in the screen. 

"All good!" He lied, biting his lower lip and scratching the back of his neck. It was a bit rushed and it didn’t seem to please his friends. "I mean it, it's good to be back home. Still getting used to it."

There was a slight flaw in the connection, so the boy reached out, pointing the phone upward as if it would help in some way, while he walked across the grass behind the house.

"How is it to live disconnected from the world?" Brianna looked quite shocked. "After all, what hole do you live in?"

"Be nice! And I'm working on it, maybe I can get something next week." he cleared his throat for the next question. "Uh, have you been to the café lately?"

The connection failed again and Brianna's smile froze on the screen. He rolled his eyes because, of course, the screen would have to freeze with that mocking grin.

"Not really, not much."

“What are you gonna do tomorrow? New Year’s Eve?” Roger asked, noticing the boy’s expression.

Jamie continued walking higher up the mountain region, his outstretched arm was already starting to bother him.

“Well, last year we had a big party around here. Generally, farmers in the region come together and—”

As he walked up the hill with his eyes on the screen and without checking where he was stepping on, the conversation suddenly stopped because Jamie caught his foot in a hole and ended up falling. His cell phone flew in the air and fell to the ground. 

The clothes were now dirty with grass and mud and the cell phone had rolled to the beginning of the route. Jamie went down carefully this time, watching each step, but the view was not encouraging: the cell phone screen was ruined and probably the entire device.

He gave a loud growl of rage and walked back home. The screen was cracked in several parts and he couldn't see anything else. Now, without internet and cell phone, he felt like he was living in another time.

When he got to his room, he found Murtagh sitting on his bed with an open notebook.

"Murtagh? What are you doing?”

The man closed the notebook and stood up, like a child being caught doing something wrong.

"I was repairing your roof and I had to move the bed to that side... That's when I found this." The man reached out and handed the notebook back to the boy. "Did you write it?"

Jamie looked at his notebook, where he had written several ideas and excerpts from the chapter he had used in the Creative Writing class. The boy looked at Murtagh for a few seconds later and felt at ease.

"Yes, I used it this semester. A professor requested us to write a few chapters of an original story…"

Murtagh seemed quite impressed.

"That's brilliant! I didn't know you liked writing that much. Looks quite impressive."

The redhead took the notebook and kept it in the dresser under the window.

"Thank you, Murtagh, but it's not a big deal now."

Murtagh's forehead wrinkled.

"This seemed very important to you. Don't let it go.” He crossed the room and stopped at the door. "Now get ready, we'll be going down to the square in a little while carrying some goodies..."

 

. . .

 

There was a huge fire pit in the centre while some people ate, danced and had fun around it. All the residents of the village were enjoying the party in the square since it was close to midnight. There was a local band playing some typical songs, but people didn't seem to care that much.

Jamie was sitting on a stone bench, watching Murtagh dance with Mrs FitzGibbons, stepping on the lady's foot now and then and getting laughter from the others who watched. There were some young people in the square too, some of whom he knew from the neighbourhood. Most of the people there were very humble and didn't have much money, so he didn't feel so weird about not having a cell phone in his hand.

He was delighted with a meat pie and ate quickly when he saw his uncle Dougal beside Mr Dunsany, walking towards him.

"Jamie ! How ye doin’ lad?” Mr William Dunsany said, smiling, shaking the boy's shoulder. "Ah, thank ye for stopping by, the other day, and delivering the shopping."

Dougal replied before Jamie could speak and gave him a suggestive look, "thanks for shopping with us, my friend!"

William Dunsany was one of the few wealthy men in the region. The man was married to Mrs Louisa Dunsany and father of two daughters: Isobel and Geneva, the last of which Jamie vaguely remembered, as she left very early to study abroad. The youngest daughter, Isobel, was seven and also spent long periods away, studying in the capital, but now everyone was in town to celebrate the festivities.

"I heard that Isobel has a new best friend?" He asked, sympathetically. Both men sat next to Jamie, each on their side, which left the boy squeezed in the middle.

He smiled as he remembered the little girl talking about how she liked to ride a horse and run around the house, "Aye! She’s a funny one!"

Mr Dunsany shared some stories of the young lady while Dougal pretended to laugh at each one, which made Jamie extremely uncomfortable. With a few minutes to go before New Year, Mr Dunsany excused himself and went to join his family. He was a very simple man, despite his wealth. Or so it seemed.

"Yer doin’ great, Jamie," Dougal celebrated as he rubbed his hands together to ward off the cold. "That is one nice family."

The boy frowned, not understanding.

"What do you mean by that?"

"The more they like us, the more they buy from us. Isn’t it?"

Jamie shook his head before murmuring.

"Sure."

"And you need to do your part since you dropped out of school and returned home." The man complained, making Jamie go mad.

"What? Wait— You didn't even want me to leave in the first place! And you stopped sending me money! How should I support myself in London?"

Dougal snorted, standing up and tilting his head to face him.

"Jamie, yer a man. I have no obligation to financially support you."

The voices in the background shouted the countdown while the redhead stared at his enraged uncle; Dougal acted as if nothing had happened and patted him on the shoulder.

"Happy new year, Jamie!"

The boy nodded, watching his uncle walk away and greet other people. Jamie took a sip of the hot drink, smiling here and there at someone coming towards him to greet him too. He wondered what his friends were doing at that moment; what would it be like to be with Brianna and Roger in the new year? Was Brianna screaming like crazy during the countdown? That was a certainty that didn't even need confirmation.

But a bittersweet taste remained in his mouth, and not because of the drink. His thoughts wandered off to Claire. Where was she? What was she doing now? Who was she with? Was she at a party or her home? What was she wearing? Was she having fun? Was she thinking about him? Probably not . And with that, he went to Murtagh, who looked at him with open arms and a wide smile.

“Cheer up, lad!” 


Jenny cradled her friend in a tight hug, which would have been more comfortable had it not been for the baby bump. Jenny and Ian were having the party that year with several friends and family. Everyone was gathered in the café parking lot, where the cultural event had taken place, months ago.

After the events of the past few days - the conversation with Frank, especially - Claire had made an important decision, that would come true come when the university returned to normal functioning, which would only happen after the parties. Meanwhile, the woman took advantage of her cold drink, loud music and the company of her uncle and friends to distract herself from the stubborn thoughts that did not want to leave her head.

Jamie. 

Jamie. 

"What’s wrong?" Jenny asked, noticing her friend's furrowed brow and distant look.

Claire shook her head, caressing the pregnant woman's belly. "I can't hide anything from you, can I?"

"No, you can’t."

The teacher sighed, crossing her legs and leaning back in her chair.

"I can’t— I cannot stop thinking about him."

The statement sounded so honest that even though Jenny was already hoping for something like that, she was still surprised.

“I was such a fool, Jenny! Totally,” she left the glass on the table and ran her fingers through the strands of hair. “Not because I got involved with him, but rather— I don't know! I just let him go. And now I'm here! I am unhappy! All because of my stubbornness!”

Jenny came closer, taking both of Claire's hands in hers.

"Claire, don’t be so hard on yourself! This will only bring you more distress. I believe that, at that moment, you were not ready to admit your feelings yet and some things needed to happen for you to wake up and have the courage that you now have."

Claire gave a cold laugh.

"So I needed to lose him to understand that—"

"To understand that...?"

"That I'm in love with him. I love him."

The teacher's eyes were watery and Jenny smiled, finally seeing her friend surrender to a real feeling. She leaned over to hug her again, "Oh, darling, I know."

"What do I do now? I’m struggling with this feeling."

"What do you want to do?"

Claire sighed, looking around as she thought. “I know I need to talk to him, even if it comes to nothing. I need to put this out."

"Okay, then do it!" Jenny clapped her hands, getting up from the chair and giving Claire a pointed look.

Claire took a deep breath again; it was after one in the morning, but people were out on the streets celebrating the new year and, certainly, she guessed, Jamie would be doing the same.

She knew almost nothing about where he lived, only that he lived on a farm near Inverness, but the region, in particular, was unknown to her. Yes, because she had done a lot of research on that in the past few days. There were some farms in the area, but which one was his exactly, the teacher couldn't say.

Anyway, she walked into the café, bumping into Ian on the way and headed to Jenny's office. The woman's heart was racing, her hands were wet with sweat, even though the temperature was close to 0 degrees. She dialled the number, using the correct code and waited a few seconds on the line.

She knew that it would be almost impossible to reach him, after all, it was New Year; the number of calls always increased significantly and the telephone lines became congested. But it wouldn't hurt to try.

She couldn’t connect. She tried five times straight. 

The call did not complete and she became more and more desperate. Maybe it wasn't meant to be. Or maybe she had to wait. Or maybe…

When the phone finally called, it went straight to voicemail. The teacher was silent for a few seconds, knowing that the call was being recorded.

She took a few deep breaths before saying,

" Hello. Uh, Hello, Jamie, it’s me, Claire. I…  Well, I just… For God’s Sake. Uh, okay, I hope you get this message and call me back. Please. Please call me back. I… I’m sorry you had to leave. I’m sorry for you having to quit school and… I’m sorry for being a coward. For not saying what I had to. For not being brave enough and… I’m so, so sorry. I know that now and maybe it’s too late, which I hope not, but maybe it is and… And I am truly sorry. I miss you and I miss being with you and for me saying that, well, it’s unusual to admit something like this. But I do. I miss you. You cared for me and you didn’t want to rush things which were so… So different than the other men I’ve been with. And I… Oh, Gosh, I love you. I love you, Jamie. I feel such peace saying it now, out loud, it’s a liberating feeling, really. But I wish I said this before, looking at you and kissing you right after. I’m sorry for putting my work first but you have to understand that it was something that made me feel alive, made me feel myself, made me feel safe and worthy. What I didn’t understand, until now, was that with you I felt the same. I felt alive, I felt myself, I felt safe and I felt worthy. So, please, when you hear this, if I still have a chance with you, call me back. If there’s any chance you’d still... Call me back if you’re willing to forgive me… Because I’m sure we can make it work. And I’ll wait. Happy new year."


February 2017

 

He never called back. Claire had waited for a month. Every day waiting for a call, a message, that never came. She had been sad, cried a few times, but she knew that she needed to face the whole situation as an experience so that it would not happen again in the future. So she would never let an opportunity pass by again.

The day she met the chatty redhead at the cafeteria, the teacher felt inclined to talk to her and find out how Jamie was doing. But, of course, considering that Brianna was not to blame for the complaint, Claire felt deeply ashamed. So she had timidly approached the girl, surprising her, as Brianna stuffed a chocolate muffin in her mouth. The scene was as follows: Brianna, with the muffin half an inch from her mouth and eyes wide, staring at the teacher.

"Hello, Miss MacKenzie." Claire greeted, awkwardly.

Brianna closed her mouth and put the sweet back on the plate. It looked so tasty and juicy, but it would have to wait.

"Mrs Beauchamp,"

Claire forced a smile to the corner of her mouth, "it’s been a while! How have you been?"

"Uh, good, I reckon. How are you, miss?"

Claire contemplated the girl's expression; she was as uncertain as Claire was about that interaction between the two.

"Splendid." The teacher sighed and pulled up the chair to sit down. "Miss MacKenzie, have you— Have you talked to James lately?"

Brianna raised a perfect red eyebrow, "uh, we didn't talk much last month, but he got in touch recently, so... Yeah, yeah." She noticed that the teacher was waiting for her to elaborate on that and made a face. "It's complicated sometimes, coz he has to work and…"

"I see," the teacher folded her hands. "But you two talked, didn't you?"

The redhead frowned, nodding thoughtfully.

"And he’s all right?"

She nodded again.

Claire got up from the table, forcing a smile again and thanking the student for the information. It had been a painful blow; Jamie was still talking to her friend, but she hadn't responded to Claire's message. Well, maybe not answering was the answer.

Anyway, the teacher didn't let that change her decision about what she was going to do that day.

The teacher had an appointment with Mr Leonard Harold. As she walked through the halls of the university, Claire remembered her uncle's words: "I am proud of what you are doing and I know that everything will be alright. You are an extremely capable woman, you will find a new place."

So that also gave her the courage she needed to go into Mr Harold's office and resign.

"Are you sure about that, Mrs Beauchamp?" the man asked, finally looking gutted. "I think we both know what happened..."

"Yes, Mr Harold, we both know who did it."

He suppressed a smirk.

"And do you think this is the best solution? Honestly, Claire, I never intended to fire you, but you did not comply with the rules of that institution."

"I know."

Harold scratched his wrinkled forehead and nodded. There was not much to say and the details would now be taken care of by the administrative side.

She had to take care of some things regarding her work contract, but she knew she was doing the right thing. Now Claire would go in search of a new place, a new destination, a new journey.


April 2017

 

"That’s not working," Dougal said, wiping sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand and standing up. The cow grunted in pain while the men on their feet did not know what else they could do to assist in the birth. “Jamie… Jamie! Go to the Dunsany house and call for the eldest daughter, she can help.”

"Excuse me, but how?"

"Just do what I say!"

Murtagh squeezed the boy's shoulder and went ahead, "stay here and wait, I'll go there myself."

While they waited for the miraculous woman, Dougal went out to wash his arms and Jamie remained in the stable watching the scene; The poor cow moaned in pain, longing for the calf to come out anyway. The boy leaned against the wooden partition; it was the fourth month of the year and he had done nothing but look after the animals and deliver food. 

There was no problem doing that and it was a decent job, like any other, but he had always thought he would have other aspirations in life. He missed studying, reading, writing.

But he had to take care of cows, horses, cut the grass and deliver vegetables.

In any case, at least now his uncle Dougal was paying him a pittance. He was keeping the money under lock and key, in the bedroom closet, to buy a new cell phone for his birthday. The internet problem was already solved, so he was able to chat with Brianna and Roger a few times using the laptop. Small victories. 

Fifteen minutes of waiting and Murtagh came, accompanied by young Miss Dunsany. The girl was well dressed for a place like this and Jamie instantly felt uncomfortable because he was sweaty and dirty. The woman wore brown boots and tight pants that left nothing to the imagination. She approached the boys and shook her head.

"How long has she been like this?" asked the young woman, removing her coat and crouching beside the animal.

"For about three hours, I reckon," Jamie was unsure.

"And didn't you think you should call someone?" the girl protested, taking a chain out of the white suitcase. Jamie frowned.

Geneva Dunsany approached the cow; two paws were out, so she attached the chains, very skillfully. "Okay, now pull hard." She commanded, positioning herself in front of Jamie and passing a chain end for him to pull.

The boy pulled with all his strength and ended up falling to the ground, with the woman sitting on top of him. Jamie rolled to the side quickly, embarrassedly, while Dougal laughed in the background.

Geneva stood up again, “can anyone else do it? This kid isn’t much of help.,” she mocked, making the other men grin.

Jamie was shocked, but it made him grab the chain again and give it a big tug. The poor cow grunted in pain as the calf left completely and Miss Dunsany ran to check if the animal was alive. She took care of it for a few seconds, checking the temperature and, soon after, ran to its mother, to ensure that she was also well.

Dougal brought a bucket of water so that the woman could wash her hands. The boys watched in awe, while Jamie put the little calf close to its mother.

"Keep him warm and make sure he is well-fed." Geneva guided, looking directly at Dougal, who nodded.

"Thanks for the help, Miss Dunsany. He will take you home." Dougal nodded at Jamie.

"Sure. Cheers."

Jamie took the keys to the old white truck and waited for the girl to get in the car to start. He vaguely remembered the girl. The Dunsany estate was known in the region; although they were from the capital, Mr Dunsany had bought the farm a few years ago to spend the holidays with his family.

"Thanks for the ride," the girl thanked, looking at him.

Jamie kept his eyes on the road, "no problem. Thank you for helping the poor cow."

Geneva laughed.

"To be honest, it was the first time I did that."

Jamie looked away quickly, disbelieving.

"Well, you seemed very sure of what you were doing."

"I love watching veterinary medicine shows," she confessed. "And not just because I'm one," she clarified. “But I rarely work with these cases. My father doesn't like me to deal with bigger animals if you know what I mean.”

Jamie frowned.

"But you own a farm. There is no way for you not to deal with them."

She chuckled.

"Exactly. But he thinks, as a young lady, I should only treat puppies, small birds, things of the sort."

The man snorted but didn’t add anything else.

The road was smooth and soon Jamie entered the property to drop her off in front of the huge house. After getting out of the car and closing the door, Geneva leaned over the glass and stuck her head inside.

"Hey, would you like to hang out sometimes? There aren’t many people around to talk to, besides my little sister," to which she rolled her eyes. "Heard you’ve been to London? How was it?"

Jamie raised his eyebrows and confirmed.

"Ah, it was nice. I… I studied for a period but had to come back."

"I see… Anyways, show up sometime. Not just to deliver groceries." The girl raised her eyebrow slightly, her lips had a provocative smile and her cat's eyes looked at him intently.

Jamie was gobsmacked.

"Sure... sure."

"Cheers."

"Bye."

On the way back to the farm, the boy was thoughtful. Was the girl hitting on him? Well, that was what it looked like, wasn't it? How did he feel about that? Well, he was young and single. It was about time to mull over memories that were worthless, right? And make space for other people to enter.

Chapter Text

there’s a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I’m too clever, I only let him out

at night sometimes

when everybody’s asleep.

I say, I know that you’re there,

so don’t be

sad.


April 2017

 

Buying baby clothes didn't seem like an easy task. Although the miniature clothes were adorable, Claire had no idea how to help Jenny. The expectant mother, who was already in her seven months of pregnancy, was choosing some items to complete the layette.

It was quite fun for Claire to watch. They were both in a store on sale, there were several other moms around and there was an internal dispute over who could choose the best things.

“It’d be so much easier if you had just asked the doctor to tell you if you’re having a boy or a girl…” Claire said, taking two pieces of clothes from a rack and handing them to Jenny.

“But that wouldn’t be much fun!” protested the brunette, looking at the two clothes with disgust. “You’re just picking clothes with dead tones. How about a bit of colour?” she picked up an orange shirt with an image of a lion. “Perfect!”

Claire suppressed the smile.

“What does Ian's family think about it, anyway?”

“They hate it. They are very outdated. You know… the kind that says: ‘blue is for boys and pink is for girls’. Well, my son will wear pink and my daughter will wear blue.”

The two left the first store in the direction of the next. Jenny was more swollen and had put on a few pounds, which was normal for any pregnant woman, so she also needed new and comfortable clothes. Claire sat on the bench patiently while her friend tried on dresses and pants, while she chattered nonstop.

“... but, anyway, what are you going to do now?” she asked suddenly.

“Now? Well, I'll wait for you to finish and…”

“No,” Jenny put her face out of the changing room. “I mean, what are you going to do now, with your life? Will you rest for a while and then look for something else?”

That was the million-dollar question. The teacher, honestly, was not at all concerned about that now. She was the type of person who could afford to take time off work and think about what to do next. One thing was certain: she needed to stay away from universities for now.

Talking about Jamie had become a bittersweet affair, so she preferred to avoid it. Claire had thought of going after him. Embody Bridget Jones herself and go to Scotland. But how would she do that? She had no idea where he lived. In the café records, there was only his old address, in London, of the flat he had shared with his roommate, Roger. And that was all.

She knew, however, that it was the boy's birthday next month. But there was nothing she could do. He hadn't called her back, much less tried to keep in touch. Maybe she would send a birthday message, but her pride was hurt, even though she thought she was reaping what she saw . What does around, comes around. Murphy’s law. So Claire, in her heart, knew that she had hurt him so much and that it was better to leave him alone.

“I think I will settle down for a while.”

“Ah,” Jenny lamented.” But you know you can always work with me as long as you want."

“With you, it’s never just work , my dear… I must say something, though,”

“Yes?”

“I will be out of town for a while”

Jenny opened the dressing room curtains, appearing fully dressed; a jumpsuit that hugged her pregnant curves well.

“Where are you going?”


May 2017

 

Deep eyes looked at him. There was a sweet scent in the air of perfume and soap, a smell reminiscent of the wind blowing green grass and field flowers. He felt soft hands caressing his bare chest; soft lips kissed the back of his neck and the boy's entire body was crawling.

"Wake up," she said, in the same velvet voice. "Wake up, birthday boy," while filling his face with wet kisses.

Was that real? He was afraid to find the answer, so he just kept enjoying it while it lasted. Jamie's hands found the smooth surface at his side and he brought the body closer, pulling it by the thighs.

“Jamie,” he heard her moan on his ears, her lips pressing gently the skin.

“Claire,” the name left his lips with desire and passion.

“Do you think he’s awake?” 

 

“If he wasn’t, he’s sure to be there in a few seconds, with you poking him like that.” 

Jamie frowned. Those voices were too familiar and different from what he had experienced during his dream. Shit, he was having a dream about... C— He should get himself together quickly before getting up.

The boy opened an eye to scan the place and was shocked to see bright green eyes and red hair flying everywhere.

“Ta-da! There he is!” Roger celebrated, crossing his arms, satisfied.

Jamie leaned on his shoulders, not understanding their presence in his room.

“What the? What? ”

“Happy birthday!” Brianna screamed, sitting next to him on the bed, throwing her arms over the boy's shoulders. He noticed that there was no wheelchair there.

“I mean— I can't come up with anything coherent at this point. I’m completely at a loss for what to say.” 

“Then, partner, mission accomplished!” and then Brianna and Roger bumped their fists. 

“How are you two here? How is that even—”

“Well, you sent us your address... what did you expect?” Brianna replied.

“Aye, because you said you’d like to send me gifts.”

“We are the bloody gifts, you wanker!” The girl protested, punching the boy's shoulder hard. “It's been a freaking nightmare to get in here. You need to get off here, mate. We’re like the Wesley siblings on the mission to rescue James-Fraser-Potter...” he snorted. “This place is shite, no offence.”

“Oi!” Murtagh complained, in the background, clearing his throat. “I'm sure the young lady is not used to life on the farm, but I can assure you that you’ll enjoy your stay here very much.”

Jamie took notice of their interaction even more confused. “How long are you staying in here?”

“Just for the weekend, mate. We’ll be off by Sunday morning. ” Roger clarified.

Jamie nodded.

“It reminds me of your birthday present,” Murtagh handed the boy a box that wasn't even wrapped, giving Jamie a sample of his gift. “Happy birthday, lad!”

“Murtagh-” Jamie looked at the box in his hands: it was a new cell phone. A new model and probably Murtagh had spent a lot of money on it. “No way. I can’t take this. ”

“You sure can!” Brianna said instead, being shushed by Roger right after.

“That’s right,” he pointed at Brianna, with a gentle smile. She nodded, proudly. “You keep it,” he now pointed at James. “You two, my lovely aunt, Mrs FitzGibbons, has already tidied up the room you will be staying in. Make yourself at home.”

Murtagh walked towards the door, but Jamie hurriedly got up from the bed, preventing him from leaving.

“What about Dougal? Is he okay with this?” the boy said in a low voice.

“Dinna fash.”

Jamie then watched the man walk down the hall and looked back at his friends, the smile almost didn't fit on his face.

“Ready to explore Lallybroch?”

. . .

 

The house where Jamie lived certainly referred to ancient fairy tales; the wooden structure built on a foundation of stones. It looked a little worn and “ old-fashioned, ” in Brianna's opinion, but it was “ quite tough, ” Jamie said and had been in the family for centuries.

Walking through the farm was quite an adventure for newcomers from the city. Roger carried Brianna on his back everywhere and the girl was loving it. Brianna had never seen a Highland cattle before, so she was ecstatic to see the animal with long horns and furry coat. Although she was loving seeing so many animals, the redhead did not want to approach the horses.

Shortly afterwards, Jamie would have to proceed with some deliveries, and that included the Dunsany home, being the last property. Roger and Brianna tagged along; the redhead was waiting for the right moment to talk to him about a certain teacher. Which didn’t seem to be his favourite topic, at that time?

When they arrived at the property, Jamie got out of the vehicle to pick up some vegetables in the back, gently declining Roger's assistance. One of the staff ran to pick up the bags, while a graceful figure appeared through the front door.

“Morning, Jamie!” Geneva waved to the boy, who waved back. “How are you doing today?”

“Fantastic,” he scratched his head, walking toward the bottom of the stairs. “It’s my birthday.”

“Oh!” Geneva exclaimed, walking down the steps gracefully. “Happy birthday!”

“Aye, thanks.”

The young woman noticed two shadows inside the car watching each of her movements and Jamie followed the course of her eyes. Brianna's mouth twisted.

“These are Brianna and Roger, my friends from London,” he clarified. Geneva approached the car and greeted them.

“So, how are you going to celebrate today?” Miss Dunsany asked.

“Uh, just dinner, I guess. You can come along if you want. It’s not gonna be a big deal, but Mrs FitzGibbons insisted.”

Her entire face lit up.

“I'll be there.”

James heard a snort coming from inside the car and already knew the one who did it.

“Right. Bye!”

And he went back to the car. He turned the key and the engine roared fiercely. As he drove off the property, Jamie tried not to mind the pair of eyes that shot him.

“What was that?” Brianna asked as Roger suppressed a laugh.

“What was what?” 

“That girl. She was drooling over you.”

Now Roger was laughing.

“I mean, she’s nice. What’s your point?” 

Brianna rolled her eyes.

“I mean, there's nothing wrong ... I just thought you—" and Roger nudged her. "I mean. Nothing.”

“Don’t mind her,” Roger pleaded. 

Jamie narrowed his eyes but did not continue the conversation as they made their way home.

. . .

 

As in any evening, there was always a huge fire pit to warm people and enrich the landscape. Brianna and Roger were fascinated by the beauty of the area, which made Jamie very happy to know. He was also delighted to see his two friends getting closer and closer together; when he met Brianna, the girl barely left home and didn't have many friends.

Now she was dating and travelling out of London. She was also using crutches, which had been a surprise; the girl was almost his height and that made her super excited. Now and then, she’d balance herself to mess up his hair again and again.

Dougal was at his best; extremely kind to the guests and that was certainly a pleasant birthday surprise.

Mrs FitzGibbons had prepared a real feast, so the few guests would have to eat up everything, which didn't seem to be a problem. Shortly thereafter, Geneva appeared with little Isobel Dunsany, who ran up to Jamie to congratulate him.

Jamie liked the girl. The older sister. She seemed to be someone nice and kind. Nothing else. Like her, he longed for someone to talk to - someone his age - while living there.

“How old are you now?” the little girl had asked, quite curious.

“Uh, twenty-four.”

“That’s a lot!” 

“It sure is.” 

He put her back on the floor and took the opportunity to chat with Geneva for a few moments.

Brianna watched them from a distance and called out quickly, heading for the kitchen. Roger remained seated, tasting all the delicious things that Mrs FitzGibbons had prepared. The redhead had been restless all night, always with an expression of disgust every time Jamie talked to Geneva.

When they arrived in the kitchen, the girl blurted out:

“Jamie, I know you asked me not to mention this anymore, but…”

The boy leaned against the wooden table.

“I saw Mrs Beauchamp last month, at the café.”

Jamie's body stiffened; he tried to appear neutral, but his face gave away high interest in knowing more about it.

“Sit, I have so much to tell you!” the girl moved vigorously, pulling a chair with her right hand to sit, and resting her crutches on the table. “Apparently she won't be working at the university anymore.”

The boy's eyebrows went up quickly.

“What do you mean?”

“She’s not teaching there anymore.”

“Shit!” he lamented. “Did they fire her? They waited for the year to end to fire her then.”

“Yes, that's what I think too,” she pouted. “What a cock-up!”

Jamie sat opposite the girl, his head in his hand. So, as they imagined it could happen, Claire had lost her job because of the relationship between the two.  Claire lost her job because of gossip - which was true - but gossip, nonetheless.

“I don't understand,” he started. “We went over there and explained what happened. And it still didn't work.”

Brianna sighed - she felt deeply guilty.

“Well, I have two theories: they either did it to control the damage or they somehow found it to be true.”

That hypothesis was not even in Jamie's mind, so he preferred to continue with the first option.

“Anything else?”

“Yes, well, like I said... I met her at the cafeteria and she asked about you.”

Brianna could swear that she saw his eyes sparkling but he tried to sound quite indifferent.

“What?”

The redhead intertwined her fingers on the table, her eyes narrowed to observe the boy's features. “She wanted to know if we had spoken recently.”

“Okay. What did you say?”

“That we did, sometimes, you know…”

“Did she look mad?”

“Why would she be mad?"

“Well, maybe because she got fired?” the boy's voice took on a mocking tone.

“Well, no,” the girl tried to remember. “Maybe she hates my guts but didn’t let it show.”

Jamie was lost in thought. Claire had been fired, no longer worked as a professor at the university, and was probably very disappointed in the situation. Brianna noticed the expression of sadness flying over the boy's face and tried to lighten his mood.

“She wanted to know how you were doing…”

“And what did you say?”

“How are you?”

“Fine?”

“That’s what I said.”

“Great.”

“Yeah.”

It didn’t work. 

The two continued in silence for a few more seconds, without much to say about that subject, until Brianna asked:

“Do you loathe me?”

Jamie smiled, “no, I don’t.”

He reached out and squeezed the redhead's pale fingers. The two were interrupted, however, by a visitor who was surprised to see the scene.

“Oh, sorry.” Geneva apologized.

Brianna rolled her eyes and looked directly at her friend, whispering, “we’ll talk about this later.”

And by this she meant Geneva.

Brianna stood up, leaning on her crutches and staring at Jamie again, hoping he understood what her scowling face meant. Then she left the kitchen, leaving the two alone.

“Sorry to interrupt you two,” the girl looked embarrassed.

“It's fine, we were just talking.”

Geneva shook her head, casting a mocking look.

“I think your girlfriend doesn’t like me.”

James snorted, holding out a laugh. It was absurd to think of Brianna as anything but a best friend.

“She's my friend, that's all,” he clarified. “Don't tell her that, but I missed her.”

The woman took a few steps until she was positioned beside the table, close enough to where Jamie was sitting. They were both quiet. Jamie didn't quite know where to look, so he fixed his eyes on the irregular patterns on the wooden table. He knew that blue eyes looked at him intently.

“It’s a nice party…”

“Yup!”

He knew he was charming and handsome; “Your mother's beauty,” Mrs FitzGibbons loved to say. The point was, he didn't quite know what he was supposed to do at that moment. But his fling with Claire was over, he would probably never see her again and it was out of his plans to go back to London, let alone go after the teacher. 

She was certainly even more frustrated after losing her job. That was it. 

Before the boy could do anything, he felt Geneva's hand on his chin, lifting it and realized the girl's face close enough to then kiss him.


June 2017

 

Claire had spent some time away from the city; the agitation and noise began to bother her too much. Was she entering menopause? She said to himself  “ it will only be for a while ”, but here she was, already two months away from home and away from the big city.

But that’s where she found herself. Her old uncle’s cabin. That cabin she’d been with Jamie.

She knew she was walking a dangerous path; isolating herself from others and trying to find peace in being alone - which was not uncommon - but it was still unhealthy. She also knew that she would have to return to the city eventually since Jenny was about to have the baby and would need her best friend by her side.

Her days, in the past month, had consisted of reading, eating and sleeping. Occasional walks in the garden and the woods near the cabin. She felt miserable: what should she do with her life? It seemed that all the sad poetry that had ever been written invaded her reading list and the woman found herself scanning, more than once, something depressing.

There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out...

She knew she was the only one suffering; Jamie was young and full of wonderful things ahead. His life would certainly be amazing. However, she did not know what else could happen to her. It seemed that everything that all the good, exciting, happy moments had already happened and would never return. Would she be able to feel it all again, at some point?

When she decided it was time to return to London, it was a beautiful Sunday morning, strangely warm and pleasant; without a cloud hovering in the sky and the sun, timidly creeping up. The woman decided that she should go to the nearby village, Lower Hartshay, before following the route.

She parked the car in front of Mrs Stratford B&B. There was a new wooden fence and the grass was well-cut. She did not know why, but she was inclined to enter the place.

And so she did.

The bell rang over the door the moment she entered. Ah, the weird wallpaper was still the same.

Mrs Stratford was taking some notes and looked up to see who was there. She frowned, as if trying to remember the face, and then smiled.

“Good morning, my dear, how are you?”

“Very well, thank you. Do you remember me?”

Mrs Stratford adjusted the small glasses over her nose, “but of course!” She passed behind the counter and walked over to Claire. “I hope your last time here was so good that you decided to come back.”

The woman smiled. And then remembered something.

“Do you— Uh, Mrs Stratford, the last time I was here, with some friends… do you happen to remember them?”

“Yes!”

“It may sound silly but I can't stop thinking about something... Do you remember the guy who was with me? A tall redhead?”

She wiggled her eyebrows.

“Such a handsome chap he was!”

Claire nodded, with a weak smile on her face.

“Again, it may sound silly but I remember that one time when he left the room and you two were talking... He came back and, uh,” she squinted, a headache seemed to crackle. “He got very thoughtful. A bit distressed… So whatever you two talked…”

“Ah,”

The brunette waited patiently until the lady answered the question. Mrs Stratford gestured for them to go to the living room, just to the left. Claire sat on the sofa; she couldn't contain the chill in her belly and the anxiety in her chest.

“The fence is very beautiful,” she commented, trying to sound unassuming.

Mrs Stratford smiled, offering her some cookies and a cup of tea, which the woman declined.

“Well, what would you like to know?”

Claire took a deep breath. Yes, it looked stupid.

“What did you say to him that night?”

“Well,” she walked around the room as if she were doing something very important between arranging cushions and switching its places. “I told him an old saying. I always do that to my guests.”

“What kind of saying? What did it say?”

Is olc an ghaoth nach séideann do dhuine éigin.

The woman raised her eyebrows, “I’m sorry I don’t—”

“It means that no matter how bad something that happens, someone will benefit from it.”

Now it was Claire's turn to be thoughtful, carefully analyzing what the woman had just said. No matter how bad something that happens... someone will benefit from it.

“And why did you say that to him? Not me? Not any of my friends?”

“Who knows,” she said, finally sitting down. “But that lad seemed like he needed something like that.”

“I still don’t understand.”

“Did something bad happen between you?” the question was so honest and full of tenderness, which caught Claire off guard. “Oh, I’m sorry, deary.”

“Perhaps.”

“Well, someone always benefits from adversity.” She said matter of fact and stood up again. “Are you coming or leaving?”

“I'm afraid I'm leaving, but I intend to be back soon. I have a cabin near here.”

“Wonderful!” the lady accompanied her to the front door but gestured for Claire to wait a few moments and went to get something from the counter. She returned a few minutes later, with a pamphlet in her hands. “Would you know, then, if anyone would be interested? It's a good offer. If you know, contact us.”

The pamphlet read: 

Looking for a high school children's Literature teacher to teach in Ripley, Derbyshire.

Claire folded it up and put it in her coat pocket, saying goodbye and walking back to the car.

Chapter Text

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.


August 2017

Claire looked tenderly at the small face on her lap; Little Ian Murray was adorable, with his rosy cheeks and fine copper hair that filled his head. Jenny had been a true warrior; twelve hours of labour - poor Ian sir - and a lot of cursing directed at anyone who would come across saying “ calm down, everything will be fine ”. She just wanted the damn child to come out at once.

Now, at one-month-old, the baby made everyone sigh of happiness around him.

Claire handed him back to his mother, carefully placing the boy on her friend's lap. He was hungry, Jenny could tell, judging by the way he started crying.

“How did you know he was hungry?” Claire asked while Jenny directed the young man to the private food source.

“I’ve been getting good at it. It's thinner and more annoying, I'd say,” she laughed softly, moving her fingers around the pale face. “But it feels so wonderful.”

Claire sat in the armchair facing Jenny, in the living room; Ian was at the cafe taking care of everything while Jenny was still at home with the baby. Of course, she had been trying to get back to work after the first week. Unsuccessfully.

“Are you really going back to the forest?”

Claire laughed.

“I guess so!”

“Who knew... you’ve always been such a city lover.”

“Right? I can hardly believe myself but I sort of like being there. It’s the peaceful atmosphere I need right now.”

Jenny looked up to watch Claire; she didn't want her friend to leave and, deep down, Jenny didn't even believe it could be anything definitive, but...

“Claire is that because of—”

“No! It’s because of me. Only me.”

“All right.”

The woman leaned back in her chair, “there is something to tell you, by the way.”

Jenny raised her eyebrows, curious.

“I will go to a job interview, in a small town near the cabin. I haven't officially applied yet, but I'll do it soon, as soon as I move out.”

“Oh? So this is official, then.”

“I guess.”

Claire had a slight smile on her lips, hardly believing it would have come to that. Working with children had never been her will, but perhaps it was something that fate was preparing for.


Brianna

YOU DID WHAT?

Brianna was quite shocked - and disappointed - to learn that Jamie, in the past few weeks, had met the Dunsany girl and well... done things besides talking. Much more than just talking. She felt terrible and knew why: she had ruined his relationship with the teacher and knew how much he had been in love with her. Somehow Brianna felt that it should not have ended that way.

Maybe she was stupid to think like that. It was none of her business, after all, and Mrs Beauchamp had probably moved on too, didn't she…? Ugh. Anyway, Geneva Dunsany didn't seem to be the best choice for Jamie and, as his best friend, Brianna would make sure he stayed with the right person.

Jamie

She’s nice 

Brianna

So ur kissin a gurl just bc she’s nice?

Jamie

Yes? How’s Roger anyway? Can you please send me his number 

Jamie was finally using his new mobile phone, but getting the old number back would be too much of trouble and he didn't want to have to go to the city just to work it out with the wireless carrier, so the simplest solution was to get a new number. His old cell phone was still in storage, though, waiting to be fixed someday.

Brianna

Shit! I forgot to tell you… I think I don’t know, it looks like he’s going to propose

Jamie

What? U sure? That’s great news but kind of idk

Brianna

I mean  I’m like 22 it’s idk I’m too young for that

Jamie

Ur scared?

Brianna

Of course !!!

Jamie

U love him?

Brianna

Yeah, I do, it’s a lot

Jamie

Then wait, see what happens and talk to him. It will be fine

Jamie felt something bittersweet in his chest, if possible. He was happy for his friends if that happened and Roger really wanted to marry Brianna, but... he couldn't help feeling a little resentful for what they had. He had felt this way before, while he was secretly being with Claire.

It was funny to remember that, on the same night when Claire had kissed him on the cheek, the day of the cultural event at the café, Brianna and Roger had met and today they even talked about marriage.

While Jamie and Claire hadn't spoken in eight months.

Eight months.

The boy lay in bed, it was after ten at night, but he wouldn't be sleeping anytime soon. What a strange thing that was, getting involved with someone and suddenly just being a stranger. He had no idea how she was, what she was doing and how her life was. Only that she no longer worked at the university, which was a shame.

His cell phone vibrated again. He knew who it was. They usually met at that time.

Geneva.

Most nights, the girl drove to his house and the two of them spent the night... well, "talking". With her parents out of town and just her little sister and the staff at home, young Miss Dunsany felt free to do whatever she wanted. She was a funny and charming woman, she loved to talk about her experiences travelling in Europe and how she liked to take care of animals. Jamie enjoyed that and, most of the time just listened. It was better than staying at home thinking about nonsense.

Especially that night, Geneva took him back to her house. Isobel had been sleeping heavily for a few hours, having played chasing chickens all day. The two tiptoed as they climbed the stairs to the older sister's room, shortly after Geneva offered him something to drink.

Jamie had never been there; it was a very sophisticated room even, with a big television in the centre and an iMac on the desk. The decor was quite peculiar: there were some prints of, well, cows! All over!

Jamie scowled.

“Weird, uh?”

The boy shook his head, not wanting to make her feel embarrassed. 

“No, I mean... just peculiar.”

The girl sat on the bed, her legs perfectly crossed and her dress rising over her thighs.

“My tastes are very unique. You wouldn't understand.”

He snorted.

The woman continued to stare at him; she had an air of tease and innocence at the same time, if possible. The boy suddenly felt hyperventilating, on a cold night. He noticed the shelf in the corner of the wall and went to look at her collection. It was mostly from the veterinary field, nothing he could understand.

“No literature books?”

“I don't really like reading novels,” the girl confessed. “Poetry and love stories are not really my type. I honestly find it boring.”

Jamie continued to scan the book covers to see if anything would catch his eye.

“Ah,” the boy sounded disappointed. "I also didn't like poetry very much, to be honest, until..."

“Yes?”

“Until I took some classes last year,” he cleared his throat. “You should try to read, once in a while, it's really…”

The boy felt his chest tighten. In addition to feeling something inexplicable inside him, he missed the literary universe and always having books surrounding him.

“Maybe... when I need something to help me sleep.”

Jamie chuckled.

“You worked in a bookstore, didn't you?”

“That's right,” his eyes were distant. 

“Remember that day, when you told me about the woman you met… in London?” 

Why the heck was she asking him about that? He had mentioned it briefly because she asked if he’d dated anyone there. Why bring that up? Well, maybe because she doesn’t know that it affects me.  

“Yes? What about her?” Jamie turned around, walking around the room and fixing — or trying — his attention on some pictures hanging on a corkboard.

“What was she like?” Her tone was curious, but there was something beyond that Jamie couldn't quite define.

“Uh, older…”

“Oh? That’s interesting. How old was she?”

He turned and noticed that she had removed her coat.

“Why are talking about her?”

“I’m just curious I guess, sorry. But…”

“Uh?”

“Did you two… ever…?”

Jamie scratched the back of his neck and felt his body stiffen.

“Nope.”

E isso o incomodou muito. Ele tinha em mente, na época, que ele e Claire teriam mais tempo juntos e poderiam ter uma noite especial, como ele imaginava.

“Oh. I see. It must have been a while, I mean, since you—”

Jamie cleared his throat and his face twisted in a frown. That topic wasn't really interesting to talk about, right? 

Geneva shook her head and threw herself on the bed, hands on her face.

"I must be looking crazy."

Jamie approached the bed and sat down beside the girl.

“A bit, yeah. I don’t know what you’re trying to say.”

The woman opened her eyes again and looked at him intently.

"Come here. Let me clarify.”

Jamie wasn't stupid, he knew what could happen... or what was about to happen. He had two alternatives: to continue acting like a bairn, feeling like a fool for still being a virgin and regretting not having taken the chance he had with Claire, or...

. . .

Having sex with Geneva was not part of his plans. It hadn't crossed his mind at all, so how did that happen? He wanted it to be something important and special, as he once said, but he ended up with a girl he didn't love and had no intention of being together.

Well, it happened. But it was not as expected. It wasn't the girl's fault, of course, she had nothing to do with it. It was his fault because of all the expectations he had about it: what will it be like the first time I go to bed with a woman?

Luckily for him, Geneva had not slept and even suggested taking him back to the farm. My God, how strange he felt! Getting dressed in a hurry was just the icing on the cake for that awkward moment, but Geneva would not let the situation stay that way.

“Ok, all right, stop it!” she ordered while Jamie buttoned his trousers. “You’re not looking at me and that’s quite—”

Jamie knew he had messed up, was being an idiot, and even if he didn't love her, he should treat her better.

“I’m sorry, I’m just— I’m sorry, Geneva.”

“Hold on… Were you, like, a virgin?” she crossed her arms, but her face remained calm and not irritated.

“Pfff, of course not.” He lied, not looking at her again.

“It’s fine, Jamie, we don’t have to… Ye know. Just be cool!” she turned to button her blouse and walked over to the drawer to pick up sweatpants.

“Aye! I'm cool...”

“Relax. We’re friends, we’re not gonna get married or something. This is not the eighteenth century.”

The girl laughed, it was comical to see him so nervous that way.


 

“All done!” Quentin pushed the last cardboard box around the living room, while his niece said goodbye to the employees responsible for helping them with the move. The room looked even smaller now, with so many receptacles scattered and piled everywhere.

Claire walked back through the garden and entered the front door, her forehead wet with sweat and her cheeks flushed with colour that indicated the effort the woman had made. The discouragement was immediate when she noticed that the work was far from being completed.

“Shall we..?” Quentin asked, not getting up from the newly installed chair.

Claire joined him, sitting on the sofa in front of the fireplace.

“I think we deserve a break.”

“Agreed.”

The woman observed the surroundings that were now her home. Of course, she would not continue with the same old and mouldy furniture she had found the first time she went there, so the woman had to buy some new things.

Sadly, she had been unable to get almost anything from her apartment; after all the furniture was huge and would not fit in the small cabin. She was happy, however, to give her personal touch to each corner of the property, filling it with minimalist paintings and some books on the shelves. The cabin, at least, looked much more attractive and cosy now, and that would definitely help her feel truly at home.

Claire would be lying if she said that moving to a new place didn't scare her a bit. Mainly because it is a place so far from the city and without anyone she knew living close by. But it was an exciting challenge, and in this new phase of life, she wanted to be brave and determined, like never before.

Uncle Quentin could not stay there for so long, he would need to return to London to continue his new curatorial work at Oxford University. If he had ever thought of retiring, that thought was quickly gone.

He looked at his niece who rested her head on the back of the sofa and knew: she would be fine.

. . .

Monday morning came quickly. Claire was quite tense; she would have an interview in a few moments and that terrified her a bit. She had never considered working with children; her passion had always been to teach in universities, after all, she did not know if she would have the patience to deal with small beings, as she called them. 

In the past week, her uncle Quentin had called the school in question to inquire about the vacancy for a teacher and to nominate his niece. Well, Claire couldn't help enjoying her privileged position as the niece of a great writer and archaeologist.

So here she was now, walking through corridors towards the secretariat. The school was large and well-distributed, students in black uniforms and striped ties. She went through a door after turning left and found the room; a wooden counter hid the girl seated behind, typing quickly on the computer.

"Hello, good day." Claire walked timidly, resting her hands on the furniture. "I'm Claire Beauchamp, I'm here for—"

“Of course,” the young blonde came out from behind the counter with a wide smile. "We were waiting for you."

The woman forced a smile on her face to try to hide her anxiety and was guided by the young woman to a room, where a man was sitting behind. Principal said the plaque.

"Good morning, Mrs Beauchamp," he stood up to greet her. Claire held the man's hand firmly before sitting down in one of the chairs in front. “I'm Joseph Abernathy, but you can call me Joe. I am the school principal and also the biology teacher. ”

“Nice to meet you, Joe,” the woman smiled back. 

“I must say, it was a pleasant surprise to receive the call from your uncle. I am a huge admirer of his work,” she nodded. “But honestly, I was wondering what brought you here. This city is nowhere near London.”

“Well,” she fiddled with her fingers constantly. “I wanted to get away from the city a bit. Having a calmer life is what I'm looking for now.”

“And,” he started. “Is working in a school, teaching elementary school children, in your plans?” 

“It will be a challenge, there is no doubt about it, but—”

Joe leaned back in his chair, relaxed. His face was lit by a smile and conveyed a lot of calm. He did not have a threatening or rigid pose, but he seemed to be quite kind.

“Mrs Beauchamp, when I got the call and was able to read your résumé , I took the liberty of making some calls. After all, it is important to know what they think about you.”

Claire felt the air drain from her lungs. She was freezing now. Of course, the woman knew it could happen, but... How could she simply say that she left her last job because she had a relationship with a student?

“Of course. And what did they say?” she tried to appear calm through her voice, although her legs were trembling.

Joe offered him a reassuring smile, “only good things, of course.”

She did not fail to show surprise at the answer.

“Which should come as no surprise, since you seem to be highly competent. I'm excited to have you on our team and I hope you enjoy this new challenge, as you put it.” Joe got up from the chair, making the teacher mirror his movements. "Come with me? I would like to show you your new room.”

The woman's entire face lit up with joy. Had it been that easy? She accompanied him, leaving the office. Passing through the corridors, some students watched the two and whispered, certainly trying to guess who that woman was.

When she got to the classroom, she noticed the items that decorated the walls and stepped forward to the bookcase to inspect the available issues.

“There are some very interesting books here, I am happy that students have free access to these copies.”

“Some of these items are from our former teacher, Mr Williams, who had to leave for family reasons... but kindly left them for our use,” Joe asserted, while Claire seemed in a different world, running her eyes from book to book. “But, of course, tomorrow you can bring your personal effects and change the room as you wish.”

It seemed to wake her up.

“Tomorrow?”

“Yes, since we are in the last week of August and our classes start next month.”

“Sure.”

“Well, you can stay here as long as you want.”

He smiled before leaving and closing the door. 


 

September 2017

Claire Beauchamp was unmotivated. It was the second week of classes and the students showed no interest in what she said. She was still beginning to meet them and adapt to the new routine of teaching 14-year-olds, but she felt like running away through the corridors.

They hated her. She was sure.

Even more, they hated to read.

Well, there was a girl who had suggested for the teacher to include Fifty Shades of Gray in the curriculum, which was a great affront to Claire. But she would try again that day. From the beginning, since some new students had appeared.

She liked the new room: there were no desks, just two big sofas, bookcases, the picture on the wall and a rug in the centre with some pillows. It was a calm and welcoming environment for children to come and have fun.

Or just try not to sleep after lunch.

The teacher walked with a plastic box, collecting cell phones and ignoring the murmurs of complaints.

"Who remembers what I talked about last class?"

The teacher went to the bookcase while the students tried to formulate a coherent answer. A young boy was elaborating on the emergence of writing, the first peoples to enter the territory — which would later be called British — and the other students listened attentively. Or were they sleeping? She didn’t want to find out.

Claire noticed a book on the shelf that caught her eye: it was a collection of poems by Emily Dickinson. The students were elaborating answers and she encouraged them, without taking their eyes off the book. The woman leafed through some pages and stopped in a very famous poem. She knew it by heart.

But a voice came to mind like lightning. A moment in the past.

“But, as it says,” James pointed at the book on the table, “the bird always sings even when times get tough, so… No matter the circumstance, hope is an essential thing in human life.”

“So, you’d say we should always have hope? Even if the thing you’re wishing for is quite impossible to happen?” 

She remembered watching him closely. Unknown to the other students, there seemed to be something unsaid between the two. She knew that now. What it was.

“Yes, I’d say so. Like a bird. Flying no matter the weather." 


 

All people make bad decisions. At some point in life, this always happens, because it is human nature to make mistakes. It is part of the DNA. What you cannot do is repeat the error. So was it for that reason that, after the night they became close, Geneva had not sought him out anymore?

Well, it was an exaggeration to say that they hadn't spoken in the past few weeks, but the girl had exponentially lessened their interaction. Jamie felt horrible: had it… been that bad? Ugh. If he hadn't been thinking about someone else so much, maybe ... Okay. That wasn't the kind of thinking the boy should have there, in that place.

That beautiful morning, Mrs Fitzgibbons had asked him to accompany her to church. So there he was, sitting on the wooden bench, with Mrs Fitzgibbons on one side and Murtagh on the other. The church was small and he knew almost everyone who was there.

The cell phone in his pocket kept vibrating but the pastor was speaking the message and he did not want to be impolite. He couldn't even pretend to be paying attention.

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow .”

That made him look directly at the pulpit.

“Where is this passage from?” the boy whispered to Murtagh.

“I think it was Philippian's something,” the man replied.

Mrs Fitz Gibbons snorted beside her, which made Jamie turn his face away.

"It's in the book of Ecclesiastes," the lady corrected. "Frankly you two!" she complained in an unfriendly tone.

Jamie apologized, but still puzzled, opened the Bible in the book and searched for that passage.

That verse was quite impactful and real. He took the opportunity to leaf through the other verses in the book of Ecclesiastes before the pastor said goodbye.

Leaving the church, he finally checked his cell phone and saw three calls from Geneva in addition to hundreds of messages. Well, that was unsettling. The boy felt a tingle at the back of his neck and dialled the girl's number, while Murtagh and Mrs Fitz greeted some acquaintances.

Fuck. Where are you?

I— Sorry? What happened?

He heard the girl breathing.

“Can we talk? Face to face?”

The boy frowned.

Later. Now I have to go to town with Murtagh to buy some things and—

“I think I'm pregnant.”

There was silence. Jamie felt like his brain stopped working.

“I mean, no, I’m sure I’m. I'm pregnant!”

There was a desperate tone in her voice and that made it impossible for him to even come up with an answer.

“Jamie?”

He made an incoherent noise in response.

I’m telling you this because you’re obviously the—

Am I?

Now he sounded as desperate as she was.

Of course you are. Unless you think I slept with someone else, that would be—

No— I don’t— I don’t know what to think right now.

He heard Geneva’s breathing on the other end of the line and tried to do the same. It felt like he could hear a familiar voice in his head saying how irresponsible and immature he had been.

Are you certain?

Yes ! “Yes! I did two tests: one yesterday and one this morning. Both positive."

His heart was beating so hard in his chest that he was almost sure she could hear it. What a mess. It couldn't be real. All he wanted was for her to say, ' hey, I'm just playing with you '.

I— I’ve got to go. I’ll call you again tonight.

Jamie—

And he hung up.

Jamie felt his chest tight and his breathing laboured. He needed to get out of there and fast. Luckily for him, Murtagh appeared and gestured to the truck so they could go to town. Mrs FitzGibbons would come home later.

He remained silent for some time, could barely move. A million thoughts went through his head and all were negative. How could he be so stupid? His life was now ruined. He didn't have a job. How would he support a child? A child!

Murtagh watched him from the corner of his eye.

“What's the matter with you?”

Jamie took a deep breath and said, “I'm going to be a father...”

The car stopped abruptly, the sudden braking making them both go and come back.

“Yer joking right,” he warned the boy beside him.

Jamie shook his head.

“I wish I was…”

“No, Jamie, I… Jamie? Are you serious?”

The boy looked at him tentatively. There was no need to say a word, Murtagh recognized that look. The same child, “ Jamie, were you the one who broke that vase?

“You… Bloody… Dunderheid !” 

He winced.

“Who’s the lass?” 

Jamie swallowed. His mouth was dry and he urgently needed a litre of water to drink.

“Miss… Dunsany.”

Murtagh ran his hands over his face.

“Dear God, Jamie… What were ye thinking?”

“I wasn’t! I clearly wasn’t.” 

“Yer aff yer heid, lad,” he said. Jamie knew he was angry, but the man turned to him with a face full of compassion. “What are you going to do now?”

“I have no idea…”

Murtagh squeezed the boy's shoulder.

“Murtagh, this is a disaster! I don't— I can't be one— I can't even—”

Wheesht ! You’ll figure it out.”

He laughed.

“Figure out? Murtagh, I don’t know what to do!” he exclaimed. “I cannot be a father! I barely have money for myself! I dropped out of school because I had no money! I can not…”

“What does the girl think of doing?”

“I don't know, I hung up the phone.”

Murtagh murmured and shook his head.

“Jamie, look at me!” 

The boy turned his face away. They were both in the car, in the middle of the busy road. For the first time in a while, the boy felt like crying. He was terrified. Murtagh took his face in his hands. To someone who saw the scene in the distance, without understanding the context, it’d seem quite odd.

“You’ll be fine.”

The boy shook his head in denial, but Murtagh did not let go.

“You’ll be a good dad, lad. I know that.”

“How can you know that? How can you be so sure?”

“Because I know ye .” The speech was so honest and true that it made the redhead let a stubborn tear trickle down his cheek. “I saw you grow up. I know who you are."

“I hope you’re right.”

Murtagh started the car again but spun the wheel around.

“Hey? We’re not going to town any more?”

“You need to be with her now. Help the girl.”

Chapter Text

It takes a village to raise a child


September 2017

 

Jamie and Murtagh talked while they worked in the barn, while the younger boy fed the cattle. Murtagh had made a point of saying, over and over, how irresponsible and, yes, stupid, the boy had been. Jamie knew that and felt alarmed; it was as if, in his life, every moment of calm and tranquillity preceded another moment of chaos and disorder.

“Does her father already know?”

Jamie wiped his hands and walked to the front to pick up the brushes and comb the horses.

“Yes and he's furious, according to what she said," he commented, shaking his head. "I might be dead by the end of the day.”

Murtagh chuckled softly.

“What a mess, Jamie. What a mess.”

What they didn't know, however, was that the rumour had already spread, and with that, Dougal suddenly appeared in the barn, a smile that barely fit his face.

“Ah, Jamie!” he opened his arms. “I knew ye would still make our family beam with pride.”

The younger man rolled his eyes.

“Is that because he got a woman pregnant?”.

Dougal looked offended, so he replied: “It's not just a woman, a nobody, she's a Dunsany!”

Jamie rolled his eyes. Of course, Dougal would be delighted with the news. He felt his uncle approach and squeeze his shoulder.

“Big boy!” Dougal cheered. “Do you know when you will move into the mansion?”

“Move to the mansion? What are you talking about?”

It hadn't even crossed his mind. It was out of the question.

“Don't you dare let this opportunity pass,” now Dougal sounded serious, with a finger pointed at the boy's chest. “Come on, Jamie! It is great news!”

And the man left the place smiling just as he had entered. Jamie got quite thoughtful and Murtagh noticed his tension.

“Do you like her?”

“What?”

“The lass, the Dunsany girl, do you like her?”

Throughout Jamie's expression, Murtagh knew the answer by then. He knew that it wasn’t the case, but deep down the man had a hint of hope that, who knows, maybe Jamie liked the girl and it made things easier.

“So you two are not together?”

Jamie tried to concentrate on the horse in front of him, brushing through the soft hair.

“We never were, to tell you the truth... It was just, I don't know, it was just…”

“Oh, Jamie!” the man lamented.

The boy suddenly turned.

“Murtagh, I ken yer disappointed. I'm too. I can barely recognize myself… I don't know what came over me, maybe I felt stupid for being—”

Murtagh approached him and ran a hand over the horse's mane.

“Listen, lad, never do anything out of pressure or fear of what others will think. Ye will now have a different life ahead… So that’s what ye must teach your bairn.”

Jamie gave him a grateful smile and went on with his task.

. . .

 

Geneva was pacing the living room. Her father, Mr Dunsany, was talking to Jamie in the next room and she couldn't understand anything. There had been not a single person who didn't feel disappointed with their attitude. William Dunsany boasted for raising his daughters in the best schools and for having a daughter trained in medicine - even if it was veterinary medicine - in the family.

Now, he was afraid that his reputation would be thrown in the nearest rubbish and would not let a person like Jamie - no matter if he was a good man - let his daughter raise the child alone, although he did not think Jamie would ever let them by themselves.

The woman, from the beginning, was opposed to the idea of having the child and, certainly, if she were alone in that situation, she knew what she would do. But Jamie was there to make sure the baby came into the world in the best possible way. So he accepted Mr Dunsany's proposal, to be with them when the baby was born. Deep down he hoped that Geneva would develop affection and care for the child.

It was quite odd; if they were a couple he would certainly try to make the situation more comfortable for her, giving her love and whatever else the woman needed. But to be honest, all attempts by Geneva to repeat the night of pleasure they had were denied by him, with the excuse that it would be too strange with the baby there. 

Geneva then realized that she was in a terrible situation, from her point of view: with a baby on the way and being a single mom. She knew that Jamie would be by her side, but... She felt like the child was going to ruin her life and that everything she had planned for herself was now lost. 

She knew that when the baby was born, the two of them would stay together in Glasgow to help her look after the child. Her father had promised Jamie to help him find a better job in the city when that time came. 


November 2017 

 

Claire Beauchamp walked through the corridors towards the classroom with a stack of books balanced between her thin, pale arms. An old habit that had not been lost. This time she did not have the help of a tall Scotsman to carry the objects, but instead, a little 13-year-old boy offered help.

“Oh, dear boy, thank you, Mr Claudel,” the teacher handed him three books and the two went through the halls.

“No problem, milady . I like helping."

Little Fergus Claudel was quite skinny and short for his age, with long curls covering his head. The smallest student in the class, but Claire suspected that that was not the only reason he was teased by classmates.

The two entered the room, Fergus put the books on the table and walked over to the bookshelf to get another one.

“What about lunchtime? There are fifteen minutes until we—” Claire asked.

The boy shook his head and sat on the couch holding a Stephen King volume.

“Do you want me to leave, miss?” he looked up with puppy eyes. 

“You can stay, of course,” she approached the boy, looking at the book cover. “Do you like mysteries?”

“Yes, madam, but this one didn't make me feel scared or anything,” he sneered, showing her the title. It was The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon .

Claire was surprised, as she had not yet read that copy. The little boy then began to explain the story to her, “ about a girl who got lost in the woods after going for a walk in a park with her family ”. Fergus enthusiastically recounted the moments of tension in the story, and the teacher was deeply touched to see him so happy, which did not happen in class. He usually sat on the floor and was extremely quiet.

Some students started to enter after the bell rang and Fergus ran to put the book back on the shelf and sit on his usual spot.

Claire went to the board to propose something different to the students: she and the drama teacher would like to encourage them to read, so they would have to stage a book chosen by the group at the end of the school year. First, they despaired, but then they got excited and decided to choose the last Harry Potter book. Claire was gutted: she hoped the boys would choose Hemingway, Shakespeare or even Golding.

But okay, J.K Rowling was better than nothing.

As she made some notes about the roles that each would play in the play, she noticed that the group of boys had already chosen their own Harry Potter and made fun of Fergus, saying that he would be the wand. The teacher made a decision and communicated to the class:

“Mr Claudel will be the main character and you,” she indicated the boys who were making a mess in the background. “You will be the Death Eater.”

They protested and one complained: “I thought you didn't know Harry Potter.”

“Well, I'm the Literature teacher, after all.”

. . . 

 

As time went by, things on the farm changed too. Jamie was no longer doing the heavy lifting of feeding animals and delivering. Dougal had released him from the job, as the Dunsany family was buying “large quantities” of food thanks to his “help”.

Jamie didn't want to do anything, either, so he often went out with Murtagh to buy supplies in the city, when he wasn't with Geneva at her house.

The girl's pregnancy was being terrible: she was constantly feeling sick and irritated. For more than one opportunity Jamie had to help her in the bathroom and that was embarrassing for both of them. But, as Murtagh had said, “ you are bearing the consequences of your actions ” and that was a fact.

The baby bump was growing bigger, with only four months of gestation and Mrs FitzGibbons was sure that it would be a boy.

Now that Jamie had some free time — between vomiting and going to the supermarket to buy the crazy things Geneva asked for — the boy had resumed his old passion: writing.

Sometimes, the words were meaningless and that original story of violence and blood would no longer make much sense. But he knew which path he wanted to follow. 

. . .

 

Jamie knew he was only screwing up lately, but not telling Brianna about the "newness" was on the Worst Things Not To Do With Your Best Friend list.

It was late at night, the boy was finally in bed, at his house, waiting for her to answer, on the other end of the phone.

“Can you repeat that, please?”

“Geneva is pregnant. I’m the father.”

“Holy shit! How did you let that happen?”

That was the one million dollar question.

“Well, ya ken, we…”

“Do not! Bloody hell, Jamie, I can’t believe it…”

“Tell me about it…”

“But it is a baby and you will need to take care of it."

“I know.”

“How are you going to take care of him?”

“Uh, giving food? Bathing? Changing the diaper?”

“Shit. I can barely imagine you changing diapers.”

The boy sighed as he walked into the room. Now, standing looking out the window, he tried to imagine what his future would be like in the face of so many events.

“Look… I know it must be difficult for you… so I'm not going to kill you now. But honestly, the urge to punch you in the nose is almost impossible—”

“Thank God I'm in Scotland then!”

“So is it a boy or a girl?”

“Boy! Ha!”

“Oh man, a wee Jamie? Seriously?”

Brianna didn't need to be in front of him to know that he had a proud smile on his face.  

“How are classes at the university?”

“Well, the same thing as always: some are annoyingly boring and some are incredible.”

“I bet. I'll call Roger tomorrow, not just to tell him the news—”

“He certainly won't be as furious as I am. I bet he will laugh—”

“...but to ask for help with some things.”

“What things?”

“Research. I need to know about some things.”

“Which things?”

“I know the context because I studied it, but I wanted him to help me with the Battle of Culloden. For the book, I'm writing.”

“What? A book? You’re writing a freaking book? Jamie! That’s brilliant!”

“I mean, it’s mostly for myself, right now. I'm just following my intuition and a bit of advice.”


April 2018

 

Claire ate quietly in the teachers' room during lunch hours. With the summer vacation at the end of July, the teacher returned to the mental planning she had done about what she would do in the coming months. Jenny and Ian Jr would come to visit, which would be wonderful. The last time she had seen them was out on Christmas when Claire returned to London to see her uncle and her friends.

Her face radiated joy every time she saw her 'nephew'; so small and handsome. She looked at Jenny and admired her a lot, as she never really imagined herself being a mother.

Claire was now 35. Most co-workers, her age, were already married and had children. Perhaps it was not the best working environment to seek comparison, but the students also imagined the same about her. However, the woman knew that it would not happen shortly.

Working in that place was great for her. Of course, much of what she knew was overhauled, as the dynamics of working at a school were different than working at a university, dealing with adults. Sometimes she missed the autonomy that her former students had, going to the front and discussing the poetry that she brought so that they could analyze it.

But being with children had also helped her to see a world with more love and care. She had come to notice and care about things that, in another context, she would not notice. As, for example, what was happening with one of her students.

Perhaps it was her sense of justice, something that had not been touched on previously, but the woman was uncomfortable with the way the boy was treated by other children and tried to find out why.

“I know some kids are just a pain in the ass, excuse me, but I still don't understand why they treat Fergus that way,” she had commented to Joe.

Joe was a pleasant surprise. The school principal and teacher had become a good friend, always ready to help her with whatever she needed. And with a great sense of humour as well.

“It is a curious story, in fact, but I think I am largely responsible for it.”

It puzzled her.

“Well, let me explain… Young Fergus Claudel is the son of a well-known homeless person in that region. For a few years, the boy has lived in the shelter here in Ripley and, when I heard the story, I decided to give him a chance to study here.”

“Joe, that was fantastic of you!” she exclaimed. “So, the kids here do it just because—”

“The boy, before going to the shelter, worked hard at a coal plant. It's a sad story, really, but… We are doing our best to make him have a better childhood.”

Claire nodded. The boy's face came to mind and she couldn't imagine what he could feel.

“He's been enjoying your classes a lot," Joe took a sip of his coke on the table trying to hide his smile. “All children, by the way. It was not very common to see them reading in the halls. You have made a real revolution.”


June 2018

 

William Dunsany Fraser.

While Jamie held the newborn in extreme care, across the room, the baby's mother slept soundly.

The past few months had been full of baby clothes and baby stuff. The two had been in Glasgow for a month for the baby's birth. Most of the time Jamie felt like a puppet, doing everything Mr Dunsany asked and trying to ensure that Geneva felt good. Having the baby in the capital had been the Dunsany family's idea since that was where the best doctors and hospitals were.

They had both learned to deal with each other's presence; right at the beginning, when they met, it was all very fun and peaceful. But now: two people who ended up having a child together. And they needed to get used to it.

Jamie couldn't argue about that, after all, he couldn't deny all the care they were taking with his son. He often felt inferior, but remembered that ‘ no one can make you feel inferior without your consent ’.

Dougal still had some hope that the two families would be able to come together through marriage, but Murtagh himself had made him realize that it was not going to happen. Unless Jamie and Geneva wanted to, which was not the case.

“But, I don't understand,” he had said. “You two are young! And good-looking, I mean! Ya lot would make quite a couple, don't you think?”

“I don't know how I can bear to be with Jamie by my side for more than fifteen minutes,” Geneva had joked, in a rare moment of fun. “Fifteen minutes. Does that remind you of anything, Jamie?”

“Dear God! Fifteen minutes, Jamie? Ye can only be kidding!” Dougal looked taken aback. “I will have to show you how to really…” and he would gesture indiscreetly.

“No, thanks! She’s just trying to make fun of me, right?” he glared at her.

The woman raised her hands, surrendering.

Most of the time in the past few days they had had company; sometimes Geneva's parents and young Isobel, and, on rare occasions, Murtagh brought Mrs Fitz Gibbons to spend the afternoon. Now the two were alone. With a baby.

Geneva had shown apathy and irritability since the moment William was born. She spent most of her time in bed, without appetite and rarely held the baby. It lit a warning signal in Jamie's head.

He didn't want that for the bairn. His son. And he also didn't want Geneva to have such feelings.

During the night when the baby was crying and he needed to wake up to feed him, he knew he was in the right place. As strange as it seemed.

During pregnancy, he had written a lot, with more time to do that in the mornings. Jamie didn't know what else to do to make a living: he liked to write and, because of his upbringing, he enjoyed being with animals. But only one of those options could help him make money. 

During those nights, Jamie took a long time to go back to sleep because he'd write while the baby was by his side. Geneva didn't mind, she was quite grateful for his work and she couldn't wait for the child to grow up soon. 

Jamie went back to writing like the year before. He wrote two, three, ten, fifteen, thirty chapters. Most of the time, while writing, it was clear who he was thinking about. But that would be his little secret.

. . .

 

At the end of the quarter and, just before the holidays, students, staff and parents huddled in the auditorium to watch the play. Claire was overjoyed to see all the work for a period ending. Her first year as a school teacher had been better than she imagined - and perhaps better than she thought she deserved.

But things were quite different now. She felt confident again. The students' excitement had grown considerably in the past few months and, as a result, classes were much better and more fun.

She was sitting in the front seat, next to Joe and the other teachers, watching the presentation begin. The students were dressed in uniforms waging an imaginary battle with the other students on the stage, dressed in black and all wore sticks of sticks painted in black.

The feeling of pride filled the woman's chest.

. . .

 

Claire felt exhausted when she got home that night. It was almost midnight and taking that route every day was quite tiring. But it was worth it. She felt so proud of herself for the work she had done that first year of work.

“Thank you, milady. It was the best night of all nights!”

The woman removed her shoes and went straight to the bedroom. She was so tired that she just wanted to throw herself on the bed and sleep, but she changed her mind and prepared the bathtub to try to relax. When her cell phone connected to the cabin's WI-FI, a notification popped up in her inbox. She noticed the name Ned Gowan in the title and frowned.

Weird. She hadn't spoken to Mr Gowan in a long time.

The teacher preferred to open the laptop to check the content of the e-mail and felt her heart pounding hard as she read the message.

 

Dear Claire,

I am writing you this email to ask you how you are doing.

I knew some time ago that you would no longer be with us at the university and, forgive me for not having contacted you earlier to find out why. But I'm afraid it's none of my business.

Luckily for me, I met Quentin recently at Oxford, and he informed me how you were and where you were working now. I am very happy and I hope you enjoy this new moment in your life.

In reality, the real reason for this message is that I need your help.  I have been very busy in the last few months, if you don't know, now I am also teaching the Anglophone Poetry class.

To my surprise, a student contacted me to help him publish his book. Which is not unusual since it happens frequently because of my profession. However, what surprised me was that our former student - who is also no longer living here - James Fraser sent me a volume of almost five hundred pages the night before.

I had already mentioned to you, a while back, how talented he was. I started reading some excerpts today and, I can safely tell you: it seems to be a formidable work!

That's why I decided to talk to you.

Well, I'm going on too long. My dear friend, as he is also a former student of yours, I imagine that you would like to help me with revising this work. So, would you accept this invitation?

Do you agree to help me review the work 'The Scottish Warrior' by our student James Fraser?

Kind regards,

Ned Gowan

Chapter Text

July 2018

Claire had agreed with Professor Ned Gowan's proposal. But with one condition: that he did not tell the young writer that she would be helping to revise the book, because, according to herself, she would tell him that at the end of the process, personally. Claire wasn't sure if she was really going to do that. But what she did know was that she was extremely curious to read the manuscript as soon as possible.

Jamie hadn't answered her call. And he had never sought to know anything about her again, which indicated that it was over for him. But she felt like she needed to help him, somehow. She wasn’t sure if he would like it if he were to find out, but she didn’t think too much.

So she accepted. And opened the file which contained the manuscript.

And that was what the teacher had done in the past three days. She read without stopping. She had read the summary that Jamie had directed to Ned; the story centred around a boy who grew up to become a warrior at the Battle of Culloden. The intention was that it was a book for children and teenagers.

In the first pages, the teacher made very few corrections. And it was a very… curious process. The woman edited the file, made some observations and sent it back to Professor Ned, who, in turn, sent it to Jamie, signalling the changes his friend had made.

Claire had been positively surprised by Jamie's writing and the way he was leading the story, making a point of introducing the characters who would be important later.

She would be lying if she denied what she felt every time she devoured every word, every paragraph, every comma. She felt so close to him just by reading what was written. It was like snooping around in something hidden. Claire didn't want to sound self-centred, but she could have sworn that the woman portrayed in the book reminded her of someone...

Claire had been thinking about him a lot in the past few days. She was sure it was because of the book. She hadn't even pronounced his name for so long, despite thinking about him from time to time, while doing trivial things and wondering what it would be like to talk to him again. Now, as if by a choice of fate, she had his future in her hands.

And that is why she was not surprised one night when she dreamed...

She was standing in front of the board. But it wasn't in the old university room where she worked. It was the school's Literature classroom. Claire wrote  on the board and then tilted her head to the open book in her hands, saying:

“Aleck Malcolm was a very fearless and courageous boy for his age, except when it came to going into the forest to pick up wood — which he was often asked to do — and he didn't—

“Why are you reading my book?

“I have been reading your book a lot in the last few days...

“And what do you think about my book so far? he got up and walked over to her.

She shook her head, trying to contain the smile growing at the corner of her lips.

“I won't tell you.

He moved closer, leaving only a speck of air separating his mouth from hers.

“Are you sure? I think you owe me some answers. And he held her in his arms.

And she was happy to be there again. If only.


Jamie was fully satisfied for the first time in a long time. In the past few months, until the baby was born, he had written the book's manuscript day and night, at any spare time he had.

At first, he thought it was crap.

But somehow, knowing that he now had a son and that the child would one day read that work motivated him to send the work to his former teacher, Mr Ned Gowan. Professor Gowan had once said that he had a talent for writing and he would make the most of it. It was all he had left.

What still didn't make his situation any better was the fact that he had to live with Geneva every day. The two had been sharing an apartment in Glasgow for some time now, and it wasn't because Jamie didn't like her, but because she wasn't feeling well and he knew it. He needed to do something to help her, after all, she was William's mother. And he wanted her to be the best mother she could be.

Both of them being so young it was difficult to predict the future, but he preferred to remain optimistic about what was to come. Jamie hoped the book would work, something told him that over and over in his heart. For Willie, it would be worth it.

As he watched the baby sleeping quietly in his crib, he looked at Geneva from the corner of his eye, as she appeared in the room. The woman's own eyes were watery.

“I think we need to talk,” he suggested.

The woman sighed and struggled to walk to the chair. Jamie crouched down beside her and watched her. She was just a shadow of the smiling girl he had known long ago.

“Geneva, I think... I think you need help.”

She turned her head towards the crib.

“What kind of help?”

“Of any kind. I think you need to talk to someone about how you feel and—”

“How do I feel?” she interrupted him. “I feel like my life is over.”

Jamie frowned and pursed his lips.

“But it isn’t!” he held the woman's hands. She moved her head to look him in the eye. “I know you've been feeling terrible. You barely hold William and this is not normal...”

“I can’t do this, Jamie!” she stood up suddenly, hands shaking. “I can't be a mum. I had a whole life ahead of me! I had many plans! And I blew it! Just because I wanted to have a night with you!”

Jamie didn't know what to say.

“And we're not even together.”

“But we are together!” he countered. “Just not as a couple.”

“It doesn't make the situation any easier.”

“Geneva, do you love me?” he asked frankly. The girl twisted her face as if it were absurd, which only helped to reaffirm what he meant. “Do you?”

“Not really.” she threw her hands up.

“So what profit would we have together? None.”

“You’re right.”

“I like being your friend and I believe you can get through whatever is happening inside your head... Look,” Jamie sighed. “I was also scared, right at the beginning. And I know that your family... was not so understandable. But, look where we are. Or rather, your father left you an apartment so that you could take care of your son.”

“I don’t know…”

“Come here,” he held out his hand to the girl and she came closer to the crib. “Look at him. What a bonnie lad.”

She smirked and rested her head on his shoulder.

“It will be fine, you’ll see. And he’ll be proud of both of us.”


August 2018

 

Ned Gowan adjusted his glasses and enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate while he waited for Jamie to arrive at the restaurant where they had scheduled to meet. It had been almost three months since the student sent the manuscript and the professor had contacted Claire Beauchamp to help him proofread the work.

Mrs Beauchamp had been a great help, having reviewed the entire book in a month and a half, which was formidable. Now the book was complete and Ned was excited for them to take it further.

He always knew the boy was talented. And now he was ready for the next step.

Jamie entered the restaurant feeling extremely nervous, but still confident. He found Professor Gowan sitting by the window and greeted him as he approached. The two talked for a while about how life had been in the past few months, Jamie, for some reason, chose to omit the information about being a dad.

“Well, I must tell you, my dear boy, I never doubted you,” Mr Gowan commented, changing the subject. “Your book is fantastic and will be a success!”

Jamie shook his head, smiling.

“Do you really think so, sir? Honestly, I put all of myself into that book.”

“I could tell!” he confirmed. “You didn't disappoint me… I confess that, during classes, I imagined that your book was for adults, but being a story for teenagers was the right way. Its main character has so much courage and was well built, nothing too heavy for the young audience.”

“Did you like the touches of mythology I put on? It has always fascinated me. It's something about Scottish culture that I love.”

“Definitely,” Gowan took his last sip of coffee. “Monsters and time travel. It is an excellent combination.”

Jamie could hardly believe it was real. He had written a book — his first book — and it seemed to be good enough for...

“We want to publish it, Jamie.”

“You— I mean, are you sure? Sir—”

Ned laughed.

“But of course! A friend, who helped me with the review, indicated the book to a publisher and, well, we will do that. Soon. If you accept.”

It was as if things were moving in slow motion. He knew his life could change forever, depending on the decision and he was more than ready for it.

“Yes! Of course! I can’t— I can’t believe it, that’s a dream coming true.”


“Could someone please tell me a bit about Charlotte Brontë?” Claire asked as she handed the pairs of students a book each.

“Uh, is she the author of this boring book?” a boy indicated to the object that the teacher had delivered and some laughed softly.

Claire took a deep breath and tried not to roll her eyes.

“Miss MacKimmie?” she asked a blonde girl with an upturned nose.

The girl straightened her braids.

“Well, she is the author of this book, which is not boring at all, Jane Eyre, and—”

“But of course she already read it!“ the same boy mocked. Claire just gave him a threatening look and he fell silent immediately.

“And of course you haven't read it! I am surprised that you're even here,” Marsali MacKimmie countered, and the teacher tried to contain a smirk. “As I was saying, she was one of the Brontë sisters, famous for the published stories...”

“Thank you for mentioning them, Marsali. Did you know that, at the time, they used a pseudonym?”

“What the hell is a pseudonym?” another child asked.

Fergus raised his hand and Claire nodded.

“Well, I think... it's like... it is a different name adopted by an author, musician, things like that, to hide his real name.”

“Thank you, Fergus. You’re correct!”

“But why did she have to hide her name?” another fourteen-year-old kid asked.

Claire sat in a chair in front of the board to look at the students.

“Because it was the 19th century, of course... Women's writings were heavily criticized at that time.”

They then began to discuss a little about female authors at that specific time and how their stories were less well known and notorious as those written by male authors. Claire tried to instigate students into the debate, even reaching the book she chose to work on: Jane Eyre. They had a mission home, to research what Bildungsroman was and to find other works that followed this line, which for them, sounded terrible.

She ended the class with a poem.

Life, believe, is not a dream

So dark as sages say;

Oft a little morning rain

Foretells a pleasant day.

Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,

But these are transient all;

If the shower will make the roses bloom,

O why lament its fall?

Oh, how deep she felt those words in her chest.

“Any opinions you want to share?”

“Rains are good,“ one of the boys at the bottom offered, making the other classmates laugh.

“I'm sure you can do much better than that, Timothy.”

“I guess…” he cleared his throat and Fergus turned his head to look at him. “I think— I— Uh, good things can happen? Even when everything looks bad?”

“It's a nice observation, thank you.”


October 2018

 

It turns out that the process of publishing a book was more complicated than Jamie had imagined. There was the entire review process and, right after the meeting with Ned Gowan, the following steps would begin. Jamie signed a contract with a publisher appointed by the professor and had frequent meetings with them during the week.

In the meantime, he was finally able to look for his apartment to be close to William — and his mother — while in town. Geneva finally seemed to find the right path and was attending sessions with a therapist every Wednesday.

Jamie felt calmer now, knowing that the woman would finally develop a relationship with the baby and William would be fine. He would guarantee that.

Murtagh had been the first one he called to tell him about the book — Brianna being soon after — and they were both extremely happy and excited. Who had also liked the idea had been Mr Dunsany, at least now — it seemed — his grandson's father would have a job and earn money. At least it was what he expected.

The most exciting part of publishing the book, at least for him, had been the graphics. The publisher called a designer to draw the cover and make the illustrations contained in the issue. Jamie wanted a summary with images of the main characters, the mystical animals and maps of the cities explored. He was sure the kids would love that part while they were reading.

Then the process continued until the end of October: Original> Edition> Preparation> Layout> 1st proof review> Layout / correction> 2nd proof review> Layout / correction> 3rd proof generation (or as many proofs as necessary)> Printing.

And finally, the book had been released for the last stage.

The day he held the volume in his hands had been unforgettable. It was a Wednesday morning when the director of the printing press had called and Jamie went over there to check the final result. The book was thick, with a hardcover. It was green, with shiny gold details and the name The Scottish Warrior shone at the top.


Ned Gowan had sent Claire an image that had made her heart skip in the middle of class: the cover of Jamie's book was finished and the book would soon be available. What Jamie did not know, however, was that the woman had helped in almost every part and — perhaps, of course — if she had not participated, his book would take longer to be published.

It was clear that Claire had several contacts in publishers and bookstores, and most of all, her uncle knew a lot of people. She had called him one night so he could help it and, Quentin knowing everything that had happened between them and — especially — his talent, he decided to help too.

She was pretty sure Jamie didn't know that. She had made sure that people didn't make a fuss about it, and she always passed the right contacts on to Ned.

Claire had also told Jenny about what she was doing; the friend deep down knew that there was still a feeling in store, but she didn't want to get into an argument.

“So, I wanted to talk to you about something... ” the teacher had said to her friend while having lunch in the teachers' room.

“Did you call me to ask for a favour?" Jenny joked. “Not to know how I'm doing? Or how your nephew is doing?

Claire smirked as she chewed a piece of fish.

“How are you? How is my nephew doing?

Jenny groaned.

“He's the absolute worst but also adorably cute.

“Ah! I miss you two!

“Right! Now, please, do ask the favour. Whatever it is…

Claire took a deep breath and buried her fork in the fish. She looked straight ahead.

“Can I still give, uh, directions to the next book catalogues in the bookstore?“

“Oh, God… here we go…

“Hey! What does that mean?”

“Nothing! Please go on…”

“To the point… I think you should order from the publisher and purchase, uh, some books— The Scottish Warrior. Really. It's a great book.”

“Claire.”

“Yes?”

“Okay."

“Okay? Just like that?”

“I trust you. If you’re saying it’s a good book, then it’s a good book. You’re not crazy enough to make me lose money.”

The teacher gave a nervous laugh.

“By the way, don't forget that you promised to be here next week and also—

The bell rang and the teacher was startled.

“Sorry babe, talk to you later!

. . .

Jenny Murray was a determined person. Strong, independent and also very stubborn. So when the woman on the other end of the phone told her that it would not be possible to send Mr Fraser's private number to her, she was furious. Of course, she had tried to call his number, which was on employee records, but it didn't work.

She had made the damned request that Claire had indicated. She knew that her friend had helped revise the work and that she wouldn't have made that suggestion if she didn't believe that the book was a good one. Jenny was happy for her former employee; Jamie had always worked hard and she knew he was a good guy. He deserved that.

But she had an idea.

It was too stupid of Claire — in her opinion — not to have told Jamie that she was responsible for much of the book publishing process. And, of course, Jenny needed to do something.

Was it too much of a coincidence that, while she brooded about it in the café, a young woman with red hair was enjoying a milkshake? She knew the girl, maybe she was the biggest regular at the establishment, and even better: she was friends with Fraser. Or at least she used to be... Anyway, she had to try.

“Good evening!” she greeted the customers. The redhead was sitting next to a bearded man.

“Uh, hi!” 

“Evening!“ 

Jenny rocked her body between her legs and took a deep breath. She needed to get to the point.

“Are you still friends with James Fraser? Do you have his contact?”

The redhead looked at her companion and they both looked extremely confused. The redhead had a suspicious look.

“Yes, I do. Why do you ask?” 

“I heard about his book, so… I wanted to talk to him about— Well, I don't have his cell number anymore, from when he worked here.”

“Oh, Jamie's book? Wow, are people already commenting? It just had a print run with a few copies in a Scottish bookstore and—” the bearded man chattered.

“How do you know about it?” the redhead interrupted him, looking at her.

Jenny was nervous. And that rarely happened.

“I own a bookstore, right? So I know. About books.”

The redhead squinted.

“Well, he was my employee and I wanted to congratulate him on that.”

“Right. Okay.”

The redhead took a piece of paper from the backpack and wrote the number, handing it to the woman next.

“Thank you, miss…?”

“Brianna.”

“Thank you, Brianna.”

“And Roger!”

“And Roger.”

She headed to the office knowing full well what she was going to do.


The light rain was falling outside, the city was grey again and the clouds didn't seem to want to move anytime soon. Jamie silently mourned as he watched the sky from the window. He wanted to go for a walk with Willie that day, through the park in front of the apartment where Geneva was staying. But the plans had taken a different turn.

Jamie felt like a rock star in his first interview. Okay, it was an interview for a newspaper, it wouldn't be something for television, but it was still an interview. And for Scotland's best-selling newspaper.

The first edition of books that the publisher had made available, had sold out in a few days, which was a pleasant surprise. Ned had referred him to some fellow journalists from The Herald and now they were all sitting in Jamie's little apartment.

There was a photographer, who took some pictures of him and a journalist, who asked him some questions like “how did the idea for the book come about?“ and “when did you start writing?“ and more “is there a reason for your character to fall in love with the woman in the end?“ and things like that.

At the end of the interview, that would be published the next day — which is why they had to run to send the information before the material went out for printing — Jamie's cell phone vibrated violently on the table. He said goodbye to the two men and ran to answer it, frowning for not identifying the number that appeared.

He answered anyway.

“Hello?”

“Hi! James Fraser? Is that you?”

He recognized the voice.

“Mrs Murray?“

“Yes! Hello James, how are you?”

He was still slightly confused.

“Very well! Congratulations, by the way! I’m so happy for you!”

“Thank you?”

“I’ve been trying to talk to you for a few days, actually—”

“Oh? Was that so?”

“—because I wanted to formally invite you to come to our Library.” 

He paused for a minute.

“Because of your book, of course. It will be in our catalogue and we intend to launch it next week when the complete order arrives.”

He was speechless. 

“James?”

“So—Sorry. I’m— Thank you. I don’t know what to say! I hope you like it!”

“A person who has read it told me that it is very good…”

He was beaming.

“I’m so glad! That’s—”

“But I’m also calling you to formally invite you to be here, next week, we would like to do an autograph session and things like that.”

“Autograph session? At Little London?”

“It seems that soon you will have to participate in several sessions like this…”

That was something he couldn't even assimilate. Now he knew that Professor Ned was right: he needed help, a PR agent perhaps. Next week he would have some book publishing commitments — all suggested by Ned, of course — and the only free day would be ...

“I have a busy week, but I think I can be there on Thursday.”

“Thursday night would be a great day for a launch. I need to hang up now, little Ian just woke up... but I'll contact you later to confirm, okay?”

“Okay.”

After hanging up the phone, he felt very excited and soon thought about sending a message to his friends to tell them that he would soon be back in the British capital, but... something made him stop his movements and wonder. Wonder about whether Jenny's best friend knew about that.

Chapter Text

That it will never come again

Is what makes life so sweet.

Believing what we don’t believe

Does not exhilarate.

That if it be, it be at best

An ablative estate —

This instigates an appetite

Precisely opposite.


Jamie looked forward to the idea: what would it be like to return to London, now with a book published? He also wondered if Claire knew about it. Claire and Jenny were friends, so... Did she? Did she know? He couldn't stop thinking about it, even though it had been months since he last saw her. He fantasized about what it would be like to see her in front of him again. What it would be like to feel her presence so close. He didn't even know if it was going to happen, but...

Anyway, things were different now than when he left London. It was true that he still had no real money, but if all went well with the book, in time he would have enough cash to stand alone and never have to depend on Uncle Dougal again.

Speaking of which, Jamie already expected that Dougal wouldn't care much about it. He really only cared about one thing: the benefits that something could bring him. And for him, a book wouldn't do any good, and honestly, he thought Jamie's idea of writing and thinking he "would make a living out of it" was stupid. But Jamie didn't even feel uncomfortable, to tell the truth, after all his uncle was deeply ignorant when it came to these issues.

Jamie had sent two copies of the book to Murtagh: the first for the man to read [and, consequently, tell Mrs Fitz Gibbons, since she could not read herself] and the second copy for little Isobel Dunsany, who had returned to the family farm - against her will - before returning to boarding school.

For the Dunsany family, they were quite excited about it all, especially Mr Dunsany. Being a rich and educated man, he enjoyed good books and it was much better to say that his daughter had become involved with a writer than with a simple farmer. Geneva had been feeling better for the past few days; the treatment seemed to affect and — during Jamie's visits to baby Willie — the young mother appeared calm and serene, which was unusual for her a while ago.

He always went to the Geneva apartment to spend more time with the baby and the best feeling so far was when Willie's plump fingers held his hand, with all the strength that a baby has. He would smile at the little boy and felt the best dad he could be.

On Saturday night, he and Professor Ned Gowan chatted via Skype with the owner of the publisher who was publishing Jamie's book; Gowan was already back in the Queen's land and would have no way of going to Scotland to deal with some matters. The publisher's owner was very excited about Jamie's book and, having heard such good recommendations from some "acquaintances", he was pinning all his hopes in the book's sales. And until then he was not disappointed.

The first shipment had been launched in the last week and sold out almost all copies in the bookstore. Now the publisher had received a request for a new shipment to a bookstore in London, which Jamie knew very well, and they would make a good deal. The young writer was very excited about it - nervous, but excited.


Claire got completely distracted. She was reading an interview on her cell phone, sitting behind the desk, while students entered the room at the sound of the doorbell. The noise of the conversation between the children was enormous, but the teacher could not take her eyes off the electronic device while reading:

James Fraser has always enjoyed reading and making up stories, but he never thought that his fantasy creations could ever come true. Now, at the age of twenty-six, the young writer releases his first book: The Scottish Warrior.

The book tells the story of young Aleck Malcolm, an extremely—

“Mrs Beauchamp?”

Miss MacKimmie's voice took her out of the reading and the woman managed not to snort at being interrupted. Claire forced a smile, but her eyes widened when she realized that the room was already full of students and she was the one who was “late”.

“I apologize, guys, but let's not lose any more time... We can start with the research I told you about last week, right?”

She noticed that some students had it completely forgotten and smirked.

“Can anyone tell me the meaning of Bildungsroman ?” she spoke perfect German.

In literary criticism, it is a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood, in which character change is important. The term comes from the German words Bildung means education and Roman means novel,” a girl read a piece of paper in her hand, proud of herself and beaming when she noticed the teacher nodding at her.

“And what examples of works that follow this model can you quote?”

“Jane Eyre?” the boy in the back suggested.

Claire grinned.

“Yes, it is correct. Anything else? There are several out there.”

Marsali raised his hand, next to Fergus, that bumped her shoulder.

“The most famous ones that I managed to find - and that I have even read - are: Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, Emma, To Kill A Mockingbird…”

“Thank you, Marsali. Surely all these works are great classics of literature and all are within this literary genre of construction of the character, isn’t it? Before we start talking more about Jane Eyre, does anyone want to contribute with anything else…”

“Oh, yes, I read something yesterday on the internet, actually,” another girl said. “While I was doing this research, I looked up some recent books within this genre and found one that has just been released!”

Claire walked to the table to take a sip of water while the little girl chatted. 

“It's an adventure book! I'm very excited to read it and the person who wrote the review said that the book tells the story from the childhood of the character until adulthood, showing all the background issues he went through…” 

Claire murmured, “so I think it fits in. What is the book called?”

The woman had been so oblivious to the reality that it hadn't even crossed her mind...

“The Scottish Warrior! I think you'll like it,” the girl said to the boy next to her as the teacher choked on the water. “It's a book about a little boy who becomes a warrior in Scotland and also has mystical creatures!”

“Like the Loch Ness Monster?”

“I think so!”

“Wicked!”

While the students were talking about the damn book, Claire circled the table looking for a dry towel to clean the shirt that was now wet with water. 

For Heaven's Sake!


Jamie had felt apprehensive about going to London; not because of his initial nervousness, but because he didn't want to leave the boy. He knew that — now — Willie was in good hands and that he would be fine, but it was still strange to travel and leave his son “alone”. 

Geneva's mother would stay with the woman and baby for the next few weeks, helping out with whatever she needed, knowing that now Jamie's schedule was a little busy. 

But Jamie would have company for the trip: Murtagh!

The man had been very happy with Jamie’s invitation; it had been almost ten years since he had last travelled to London and it would certainly be an excellent ride this time. 

It was funny, however, to see the man holding firm in his seat, his eyes wide-open, on Wednesday morning, while the plane shook and took off. 

. . .

 

Miles away from there, already at the end of the day, Claire organized the last items in the bag to travel early on Thursday morning to her hometown. She would stay in her apartment — and her uncle's — for the next four days and would return early Sunday since on Monday she would have to work normally. Jenny was a little too excited for her friend's visit, which was a bit above normal. 

But the woman did not suspect anything at all. She wanted to spend the weekend with her friend to relax, enjoy her baby nephew for a while and change the focus of her thoughts. 

. . .

 

“I think you two can share the room,” Roger pointed to Jamie's old room, which now had a bunk bed, so he and Murtagh could sleep.

“This will be more than enough, my boy,” Murtagh replied, taking the suitcases to the bedroom and leaving the two friends alone. 

“...unless you’d rather a five-star hotel, Mr Writer!” 

Jamie punched his shoulder with a smile and threw himself on the couch, because yes, now there was a couch in the living room. 

“Did they pay you anything?” Roger asked curiously. 

Jamie shook his head. 

“I'm entitled to 45% of the revenue obtained with the sales — which is a lot — and, surprisingly, I haven't paid anything for the publication. It was kind of... crazy, all this, because it’s of general knowledge that it’s not very easy to be chosen by a publisher when you’re an unknown author and, even worse, launching the first book... Professor Gowan was taking care of everything…” He frowned.  

Roger didn't seem to care much about it. 

“Well, I think they really liked what they read!”

“I guess,” 

“And what about the wee lad?” Roger grinned. He and Brianna were crazy to meet him, but it would be impossible to bring the baby with Jamie. 

“Ah! So big, I swear he gets bigger every time I see him.”

“I can’t believe you’re a dad!”

“Aye, I’m chuffed to bits,” he sent him a grateful look. 

Murtagh interrupted them both appearing again in the room with sunglasses. 

“So, are you ready?”

The two young men looked at each other without understanding.

“Do you lot think I came here to stay inside this flat? Let's explore the city!”


Claire had received some calls from Professor Gowan, but she hadn't answered any. He was probably going to say something about Jamie or the book, but that weekend she wanted to take her mind off everything and focus on herself. 

The road trip was relatively quiet, she left the cottage early on Thursday morning and followed the trip back to London by the busy road. Jenny called her along the way, asking her to go to the café only at night. According to her, there was an event at the place and during the afternoon they would arrange some things. 

Claire didn't care much for that, because when she arrived at the flat her only desire was to sleep for some long hours. She had missed the comfort of the place, but now that she lived in a small cottage, the woman was beginning to think that the place was too spacious for her. 

Being in town now was so different... She had never imagined she would get used to that environment in almost two years away.

Jamie looked at himself in the mirror of the bedroom as he finished getting ready. Professor Ned Gowan was already at the Little London Café and had told him that several students and professors from the university would also be there to attend the event. He felt anxious... 

He hurried alongside Murtagh, taking a cab in front of the house while he had gone out in front to meet Brianna before they headed for the autograph night

It was near six in the afternoon, the street was quite busy, and when he arrived near the bookstore, Jamie had been surprised by the images that appeared glued to the glass: it was a huge poster with the cover of the book stamped and underneath “autograph night with author James Fraser”. His chest was filled with pride and, beside him, Murtagh felt the same. 

When he entered the café, he was greeted by some teachers and students; Roger and Brianna were in the background, the redhead squeezed his friend hard the moment he approached. James also thanked Jenny for the invitation and everything she was doing; for him, it was beyond belief to return to the place he used to work to now present his book. 

Jenny guided him to the top floor of the bookstore, where he used to stand in the middle of the bookshelves. There was a table near the wall and a chair for him to sit on; there were several volumes of his book spread all over the place. The idea was that people would come upstairs to meet him there.

There was also a small cocktail, waiters serving drinks and canapés. Jamie had the impression of seeing Claire's redheaded friend somewhere. 

Claire . She wasn't there. At least nowhere he could see.

. . .

 

What Jamie didn't know was that the woman was furious! That Thursday, she had lunch with her uncle in the apartment, relaxed during the afternoon and received a hundred messages from Jenny asking if she would still go to the café, to which the teacher answered positively.

Until she discovered everything. 

Ned had called her once again, as he had assumed she already knew what was going to happen that night since her BEST FRIEND was organizing. 

Oh, bloody hell, Jenny!

From that moment on the woman wanted to run away from the city immediately. But first, she needed to order a murder. 

How could she!

She didn't want to go there. She could hardly believe it was happening! Did Jenny really think Claire wouldn't find out anything? Just so she’d walk into the coffee shop and run into Jamie? 

Oh God, Jamie was there!

She felt the anxiety making her, heartthrob in her chest and her hands get wet. 

But then she felt ridiculous for acting like that! She was a grown woman. And, of course, she would go to her friend's bookstore to talk to her and then kill her! Well, at least she thought that would be so. And of course, she would enter from the back! And that was it!

So she did.

Ian sir, for her luck, was in the parking lot with baby Ian when she showed up. He welcomed her as soon as she got out of her car. The woman then took the child in her arms to smash his cheeks with a bunch of kisses.

“Where's Mum?” she asked the boy, intoning her voice softly. 

The little boy pointed to the door, “there!”

“Thank you, my love.”

She handed him back to his father and Ian gave her an apologetic look.

“I tried to stop her,” he confessed.

“I'm sure you did!” Claire answered, over her shoulder, but smiled at him and went into the back of the café. 

The teacher could notice that the place was quite packed with the noise of conversations and laughter she heard, even between the corridors of the stock. She didn't dare to go to the main hall, rather she decided to walk to her friend's office, but it was locked.

Claire grunted in anger; it seemed as if Jenny had anticipated the whole situation. But maybe he wasn't there. Maybe she wouldn't need to face him, maybe he wouldn't notice her presence there. Maybe... But first, she had to find Jenny somehow.  

She walked down the corridor towards the hall; the noise kept getting louder and louder. As she tried to pass the counter, she ran into a tall, strong man who looked more like a war tank. 

“Oh! I'm sorry!” she excused herself and then noticed the long queue that, by the looks of it, was heading toward the stairs. “Is this queue for...?”

“It goes all the way up there! The autograph session.” the man answered. 

“Thank you,” she said, observing the movement, with her forehead frowning. “Who is the author?”

She asked tentatively, fearing the answer. 

“James Fraser,” the name sent an electrical discharge through her body. The man opened a broad smile. “Have you heard of him?” he asked as he took a sip of the dark liquid in the glass. 

Claire swallowed dry, trying to change the subject.

“Not really. How long is he staying here?” 

The man shrugged, but before he could talk, he was interrupted. 

“Mrs Beauchamp?” Brianna couldn't hide the expression of complete surprise when she saw her former teacher there. 

Bloody hell, Claire muttered under her breath. 

The redhead balanced herself with the crutches under her arms and Roger was beside her. 

“Hello, Miss MacKenzie,” Claire greeted, uncomfortable. 

She needed to get out of there.

“You're here,” Brianna noted, to which the teacher nodded. 

“Claire!” behind the couple Jenny's voice resonated and Claire felt both relieved and mad at the same time if at all possible. 

She excused herself and grabbed the brunette by the arm towards the corridor. She could hardly breathe.

“Are you insane? Seriously!”

Jenny raised her hands, “You were the one who started all of this, now finish it!”

“What? What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean,” she was dead serious now. “Go.”

“Jen, I—”

Her friend shook her head.

“Claire, you don't think I'll leave you hiding in my office until he leaves, do you?”

Oh no, how did she find out? 

“You're right. To hell with it!” 

Jenny pointed to the access ramp and the teacher took the shortest route. 

. . .

 

The woman stood still, motionless, with her breath stuck in her chest. Jamie kept writing the dedication on the back cover of the book and, in the end, smiled at the girl to whom he gave it. Claire prepared for the moment to come: he would raise his head and look at her. In slow motion, the moment happened before her eyes. 

He raised his head and looked forward. To where she was. He looked at her.

He blinked quickly as if trying to adjust his vision. As if he didn't believe what his eyes were seeing. 

“You’re in the queue?” a girl asked, but seemed to recognize her and Claire had seemed to remember her face as well. 

“Mrs Beauchamp! It's me, Emily, from Anglophone Poetry class…”

The teacher averted Jamie's eyes again and smiled at the girl.

“Of course! How are you?”

“Ace!”

Someone behind the girl cleared her throat and the teacher smiled at the student again, turning to the author .

“Hello,” she said watching his face. His hair was a little shorter, but the reddish locks were still shiny. He was wearing a dark brown jacket over a white wool shirt. 

“Hi,” he said.

Jamie also couldn't look away from the sight he had ahead; her hair was longer than the last time he had seen her... the locks fell at shoulder height. She wore a green linen blouse and brown tailoring pants. 

“Uh, where's your book?” he asked, making her frown without understanding. “The book, for me to sign.” 

“Oh,” she seemed to wake up from a trance. “I don't have a book.” 

Someone cleared their throat behind her and the woman came closer to the table and Claire felt nervous again — what she didn't know, though, was that he felt the same — and didn't know what to say. 

“Sorry for not bringing a book,” she shook her head with a smile, speaking softly for him to hear. “After all, that's the main reason why people are queueing.”

Jamie took one of the display books under the table and opened the cover, writing something inside and giving it to her. The teacher shook her head, unwillingly accepting, but the boy gave her a penetrating look that made her nod. He then smiled. 

And she walked to the side, giving way to the next person. 

. . . 

 

Claire was sitting near the counter, with the book closed facing her, while the people around continued the lively conversation. Jenny was wandering somewhere and she swore she could feel the eyes of Brianna MacKenzie piercing her back. She had met some former students and former work colleagues from the university, all mourning her departure and asking how her life was now. 

But that wasn’t important.

She opened the book and read what was written.

To Claire

I hope you like it 

She shook her head. How oblivious he was.

“Ah, look who's here!” Claire turned to find Professor Gowan, with an open smile. Next to him, Jamie. “But of course you'd be here, right? Have you told him?”

For the second time on the day, Claire felt like killing someone.

“Oh, I mean…”

Jamie looked at her slightly confused.

Ned seemed to perceive the woman's expression of distress and simply left, leaving the two alone. 

“What do you have to tell me?”

She was petrified. 

“It’s nothing, I—” she turned and picked up the book on the counter. She needed to think fast. “Congratulations on your book... I'm very happy for you.”

He looked at her, truly looked at her, noticing the strand of hair stubbornly falling over her eyes and controlled himself so as not to put it behind her ear. 

“Are you?”

The tone of doubt made her disappointed.

“But of course! Of course, I am,” she snapped back. “Why wouldn't I be?”

They both had a whirlwind of thoughts at the time: Jamie remembered how they had ended and that she had never looked for him again. Claire remembered the message she had sent him and that he had never answered. 

They both thought they were stupid and wondered why the other person still affected them so much...

So they didn't know what to say. But they wanted to keep talking. They were curious to know how the other's life was. 

“Would you... like to go for a walk?” Claire asked tentatively.

“Honestly I'd like to eat something,” he confessed.

“Let's go then, anywhere you—”

“I'm not sure if you'd enjoy where I'm thinking to go,”

“It's okay. I'm not hungry.”

He looked at her in wonder.

“Let's go then.”

Chapter Text

There is a place in the heart that

will never be filled

 

a space

 

and even during the

best moments

and

the greatest times

times

 

we will know it

 

we will know it

more than

ever

 

there is a place in the heart that

will never be filled

and

 

we will wait

and

wait

 

in that space.


 

Before leaving for the place where Jamie wanted to go, they were interrupted by Murtagh, who was looking at Claire curiously.

“So now you've been introduced,” he commented, squeezing Jamie's shoulder.

The boy didn't understand what he meant. Claire swallowed.

“Do you two know each other?” Jamie asked, looking from one to the other.

Murtagh nodded, giving the woman the best smile he had.

“The beautiful lass asked me earlier today who was the author of the book! Well, he's here.”

Claire pressed her lips together in what appeared to be a sympathetic expression, but in reality, she just wanted to get out of there.

“Oh, I see,” Jamie remarked, bringing his hand to his chin. “I’m James Fraser, author of The Scottish Warrior,” he held out another hand for Claire to greet.

The woman rolled her eyes but touched his hand gently.

“And what's your name, miss? I must say, with all due respect that—”

Jamie squirmed beside the man and Claire grinned at the sight of his grimace.

“Dear God, Murtagh!" he exclaimed. “This is Claire, a— She was— She’s—”

He looked at the woman confused as if she could help him find a way out. What should I say? Is this Claire, my ex-girlfriend? Is this Claire, my former teacher? This is Claire, my—

“I’m simply Claire, thank you, Mr Fraser.” 

She nodded to Murtagh, who now had a pink colour to his cheeks.

“I'll be back in an hour, all right? Roger and Brianna are around here somewhere, so—”

“Where are you going?”

Jamie looked at Claire again.

“I am starving!”

Murtagh snorted angrily.

“Jamie,” he pulled the boy closer, giving the woman an awkward smile. “There are a lot of important people here, I think it would be good for you to talk to them and—”

“It’s fine, relax,” Jamie assured him. “I will be back soon.”

The man nodded and looked back at Claire, “so, would you like to talk more about—”

Claire smirked.

“I’d love to but I’m going with him.”

Jamie looked at Murtagh with tight lips trying not to laugh.

“Murtagh, I know her,” he clarified when he noticed the frustration on his friend's face. “From when I lived here... Do you understand what I mean?”

The man then raised his eyebrows.

“Ah! You didn't tell me that,”

“There are many things that I forgot to mention…”

. . . 

 

The two walked in silence until James pointed out where he wanted to eat. He had been there the night before with Murtagh, Roger and Brianna and that place served the best Sushi he had ever eaten.

Claire had raised her eyebrows in surprise at his suggestion; she just remembered the time the two of them had eaten the meal in her apartment and JAMIE could barely balance the raw fish between the sticks.

It seemed then that things had changed a lot. Well, that was obvious since they hadn't seen each other in a while. But the two wanted to ask several questions, they just didn't know where to start.

The restaurant was relatively empty for that day and time, so James didn't think it would be a bad idea to eat right there instead of just ordering a takeaway. Claire wasn't hungry anyway, she just wanted to talk. 

“Are you sure you won't be eating anything?” He asked politely; Jamie would occasionally drop the sushi on his plate from time to time, but it was something much better than she remembered.

The teacher shook her head.

“So why did you... For what reason did you want to 'go for a walk' with me?”

Claire bit her bottom lip not knowing what to elaborate in response.

“I— Well, it's been a while.”

“Yes, it's been a while.” he agreed, hiding his smile as he ate again. “You still look the same,” he pointed out, making her blush. “Don't you care about someone seeing us here?”

Claire frowned, “why should I? You’re not my student anymore and I’m not—”

“About that—” he interrupted, remembering what Brianna had told him. “I'm sorry that you lost your job because, well, of what happened.”

Claire propped her elbows on the table, leaning forward and crossing her fingers.

“It wasn't your fault Jamie, or your friend's, by the way... I quit.”

“Oh,” he wasn’t expecting that. “Did you?”

She nodded and knew that she needed to clarify a few things. Claire then told him what she found out later, that her uncle had told Frank — unintentionally — that she and Jamie were in a relationship and that her ex-husband then contacted the university to tell his friend Leonard Harold what was going on. Of course, Frank didn't care about rules of conduct, he just wanted to hurt Claire in some way.

Jamie had been relatively surprised; he had never liked Frank since the first moment he saw him, which—

“Why didn't you tell me that you met him there, that time? At the University?” the woman asked curiously.

Jamie frowned and then remembered the meeting.

“I don't know, I think—” He looked away from the woman and looked at the salmon slices on the plate. “I think I just didn't want to make you feel worried about it. I didn't want that—”

“Yes?”

“I didn't want it to become a problem. It seemed stupid.”

She chuckled.

“But it did. It did become a problem.”

He nodded, analyzing all the new information. But something made him suspicious.

“Do you think... I don't know, now knowing all of this... Ned was the one who invited Frank to go to the class. Do you think that…?”

Claire didn't seem to follow his reasoning.

“I don't know,” he shook his head. “Professor Gowan is working with me now, he helped me a lot with publishing the book, you have no idea—”

“Oh, I can only imagine…”

“Should I suspect anything about him?”

Claire smiled, wondering what was being formulated on his mind. Jamie's forehead wrinkled and his eyes looked at her for an answer that could calm him down. Ned was not the type to get into things like that and he seemed genuinely interested in helping the boy, so much so that Frank Randall's scamming was probably not even known to him.

“Ned is a saint, you can trust him.”

“Okay.”

He replied, still looking at her.

The conversation stopped. There was music playing in the background, the kind of music you hear in the elevator while waiting for it to stop on the right floor. Claire now rested her chin on her hand, while trying not to stare at the man who was also looking at her. She could have sworn she saw a small smile break out of the corner of his lips, but as quickly as it appeared, it was suddenly gone.

“You’re staring,”

“So are you.”

She didn't know what else to say and it was her turn to smile. The unspoken words seemed to resonate in the room and the atmosphere was getting exponentially warmer than when they arrived. Jamie finally shifted his greenish eyes back to the sushi plate, which now contained only one last piece. 

She wondered if he was happy with how things were now. Seeing that they - distant - had achieved different goals, but to Claire, it seemed as if something was still missing. She preferred to believe that what was missing was talking, as mature people, about what had happened between them.

“Stop staring at me,” she warned playfully.

“All right, then,” he looked out the window. “So, what have you been doing? Still teaching somewhere else?”

She rolled her eyes but answered.

“Yes, actually,”

His eyes widened and he looked at her again, “really? Near here?”

Claire shook her head.

“I am no longer living here, in the city. To tell you the truth, and I think you will not quite believe me, I'm—” she grinned.

“It's not in Scotland, is it?”

That made her laugh.

“No. I'm living in my uncle's cabin and teaching at a school in a small town near there.”

Jamie was really surprised. That conversation seemed to bring a whirlwind of new information every moment. Claire's new lifestyle seemed quite distinct from what he had expected to hear and the most surprising point was to know that now she no longer lived in the luxury apartment he had gone to a few times.

“I'm having a hard time adapting to this,” he laughed. “And, yes, I can hardly believe that you now live in that cabin! You said yourself—”

“I know! Well, never say never, right?” she quoted what he had said once and he seemed to remember. 

“Do you live there alone? How long has it been?” he leaned over the table, deeply interested in knowing.

“Alone, yes. At first, it was quite terrifying, but now I'm used to my own company, and there’s no help for that.”

Jamie nodded, opening his mouth slightly — as he often did — with his eyes lost somewhere, thinking. But they were interrupted by Jamie's cell phone that rang at full volume. The boy excused himself and got up to answer the call. It was Murtagh wanting to know when he was coming back, but Jamie said he would be back soon.

He went back to the table and left his cell phone on top of it. Claire looked at the device and felt like asking.

“It's crazy how life changes suddenly, don't you think?” Jamie spoke first, inquiring thoughtfully. “Our lives are very different from when... when we last saw each other.”

She looked at him; there was something she couldn't decipher, but she was deeply interested in knowing. His eyes, his hair, his— A light rain started to fall and Claire noticed him looking through the window, probably wondering what she was doing: how they would return without getting wet.

There was so much that they both felt like asking, but they didn't want to cross the line between being kind and civilized. But for how long?

 . . .

 

“How is your life as a successful writer now?” she was teasing him; there was that smile in the corner of her mouth, lips between teeth, things he remembered from the first conversations between bookshelves. “Not a farm boy anymore, I assume.”

They had left the restaurant but stopped under a newspaper stand to protect themselves from the rain. They both felt a sense of dèjavú as they looked at each other.

“The last few months for me have been—” he stopped and looked at her, as if unsure of how to complete the sentence. “—Chaotic, to be honest. Many things to do with the book and everything, and also—”

“Can I ask you something?”

The teacher put her hand out of the cover and realized that the drizzle had already subsided, the two then started walking. Claire needed to speak. She needed to get it out of her chest or she would go insane. Even more so because Jamie looked so calm and collected.

“Please, don’t get me wrong, I know that I— I know that we didn’t—” she cursed herself and didn’t have to look at him to know that he was smirking. “I'm just curious to know something.”

“Okay?”

“Do you hate me? I mean, after everything, I'm surprised that we’re having such— such nice conversation and—”

Jamie stopped walking, finding the question absurd. Well, he didn't hate her, of course. What he had felt for a long time was resentment, heartbreak and things like that.

“That’s ridiculous,” he shook his head. “I mean, we did have something and it ended because you didn’t want it to go forward and you were upset, which I understand completely, besides—”

“And you clearly didn't want to give it another go, which I also fully understand—”

“What are you talking about?”

“I'm not—” she growled, exasperated. She didn't want to sound ridiculous. “I'm not trying to put it on you, you didn't owe me anything. I just— I'm glad we can have this conversation now.”

Jamie nodded in agreement, but he still had lines on his forehead.

“What did you mean by giving it another go?”

Claire chuckled and ran her fingers through her hair. The two walked slowly down the sidewalk again, side by side.

“Don't be so daft, you know what I'm talking about.”

He stopped in front of her, holding out his hands for her to stop.

“I'm not sure,”

Claire rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.

“You could at least have been polite, I mean, I could've just replied ' all right, Claire, sorry, but no ',” she said, but tried to keep her voice soft so as not to let the annoyance show.

She dodged him and kept walking, leaving him behind and hurrying his steps to catch up with her.

“Claire, what the bloody hell are you talking about? What message?”

She stopped walking again, sighing.

“Jamie, listen, I'm not— I don't even know what I'm doing,” the two looked at each other for a few seconds before the woman looked away again because she found the same understanding look that she saw several times before. “Maybe you were angry and that is why you didn't want to keep in touch anymore, and that's okay, you had all the reasons to—”

“Wait a minute! Yes, I know, I didn't look for you anymore, but neither did you! So why is this falling on me when— ”

She was getting nervous. And mad. But she didn't want to make a scene in the middle of the street.

“But of course, I wouldn't go after you! You didn't answer my call! I figured you didn't want anything with me anymore, and, look,” she said through her teeth, trying to control herself. “It's all right. I don't even know why the bloody shitty reason I touched this subject.”

Jamie held up his hands, frustrated, “What call are you talking about? What message? Claire, I honestly didn't get any of it.”

She looked at him intently, the way his lips were parted and his cheeks were pink.

“The voice message I sent in the New Year. Almost two years ago.” She pointed, letting out a sarcastic laugh.

Jamie frowned and stopped walking again. They were already close to the café, but he was trying hard to understand what she was talking about; a cell phone message almost two years ago? In the new year?

“That's funny,” he opened a smile but realized that her expression was not cheerful at all. “Claire, I spent the new year without a cell phone. It had fallen and broken. I only got a new one on my birthday, which is in May, by the way, so can you imagine…”

Claire was speechless. But luckily, her response was delayed by Jamie's cell phone ringing again.

“Ah! It's Murtagh, I need to get back soon,” he lamented and started to walk once again, but noticed her standing in the same place. “Coming?”

“Uh, yes, let’s—” 

They turned the corner and saw the café lights lighting up the street. It was close to eight-thirty at night, but the place was still as crowded as when they left. Jamie was in a little hurry, so he stepped in front of the woman to push the door, but stopped abruptly, causing her to bump into him and squeak.

“We can continue the conversation later if you want…”

They were a little too close for her to think coherently, so the woman took a step back, nodding, which Jamie smiled at and went into the café.

. . . 

 

Jamie was surrounded by people, Ian Murray was part of the group and they seemed quite excited about the conversation. Claire tried not to stand still looking at him every five seconds, and often their eyes would meet. For Heaven’s Sake! She felt easily agitated, with a stomach crunch and all those signs she knew what it meant.

So he hadn't heard the message. Could he be lying? She honestly wasn't so sure what to think. Maybe he was trying to be kind and not say to her face that—

“How did you and Jamie meet?” Murtagh asked. Claire was sitting next to Ned Gowan and Jamie's friend had shown up shortly after. “If you don't mind me asking, I imagine everyone should—”

Claire cleared her throat, “from University, of course.”

She was getting quite uncomfortable. The woman looked at Ned and he smiled, totally unaware of the internal situation going on in the teacher's head.

“But you two—”

“Murtagh, that's your name, isn't it?” she interrupted, eyes almost popping. “Are you Mr Fraser's uncle? Do you live with him on the farm?”

It seemed to distract him momentarily.

“Yes, since he was a wee lad until he came to live here,” he sounded very proud. “But not for now, because of the baby, you know? Jamie is in the big city, Glasgow, and also, of course, to sort out the issues in the book.”

She was grateful that he started to chatter.

“Oh, a baby? Do you have kids?”

He snorted.

“Of course not!” and it seemed comical to him until he got quiet all of sudden.

“Young Billy, right?” Ned suggested to Murtagh. “What a cute little chap!”

Willie,” Murtagh amended.

“Ah, yes, Willie, how old is he now again?”

“Four months!”

Claire was quite confused so she interrupted:

“Excuse me, but who is Billy Willie?” 

Ned chuckled.

“Jamie's son! I thought you already knew about him,” he clarified.

The woman's expression registered immense astonishment. She froze, but managed to ask again: “I don't think I understand you right, Billy is Jamie’s son?”

Willie,”

“Right, Willie!”

Murtagh nodded, a broad smile on his lips. He then took his cell phone out of his coat pocket to show her a picture.

Claire looked uncertain: Murtagh appeared with the baby on her lap; the child was wrapped in a blue blanket and had large greenish eyes. She couldn't help noticing Jamie's striking features in the baby, besides, of course, to the red wool that covered his head.

Ned came over too, delighting himself seeing the small child and remarking on the similarity between Willie and his father. Claire felt herself in slow motion staring at that picture and couldn't help thinking about who the boy's mum was.

“What are you lot doing?” Jamie came up asking, with a wide smile seeing the three ahead.

“Seeing pictures of baby Willie, of course!” Ned replied and Claire noticed that Jamie's grin was gone.

“Oh, baby Willie,” the boy looked directly at Claire, silently trying to have a conversation with her. “Uh, Mrs Beauchamp,” he called her out, “could you come with me for a moment? I forgot to show you, uh, something?”

She stood up, a little upset - for no reason, she told herself - but couldn’t contain the smirk looking at him acting so awkwardly. She escorted him deeper into the café, entering the corridor that led to the staff lockers and stocks. They both knew that place very well.

“Yes, Mr Fraser?” she crossed her arms, trying to intimidate him.

 He swallowed.

“Yeah, well, I forgot to mention—”

“It's none of my business, Jamie, you don't have to explain anything.”

He said, “Yes, I know, but I don't want you to get the wrong impression of me.”

“I’m not!”

“Claire…”

“I'm not, I swear!”

He murmured, scratching his head.

“I still want to know about the message you spoke about and, well, I think our conversation is far from over... I don't— I don't want to end it here like this.”

“I know,” she agreed and without thinking twice, suggested: “after this event is over, we can continue... away from here.”

“Sounds better.”

“Do you still remember how to get to my flat?” and there was the teasing tone again.

“By heart.”

Chapter Text

your life is your life

don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.

be on the watch.

there are ways out.

there is light somewhere.

it may not be much light but

it beats the darkness.

be on the watch.

the gods will offer you chances.

know them.

take them.

you can’t beat death but

you can beat death in life, sometimes.

and the more often you learn to do it,

the more light there will be.

your life is your life.

know it while you have it.

you are marvelous

the gods wait to delight

in you.


It seemed that the two had their thoughts intertwined; both counted the hours so they could continue the conversation and be alone. It was a confusing feeling; wanting to be around someone you haven't seen in a long time, but also feeling deeply anxious and afraid.

It was embarrassing, they thought, the two of them sitting in the car while Claire drove towards the apartment and they talked about the weather . The teacher had tried to block Jenny's malicious comments and the woman's "know-it-all" stance entirely; Jamie had to deal with Brianna's infamous smile when he told her where he was going at the end of the night.

It was pretty late, Jamie felt tired and he was pretty sure she felt it too but neither dared to put on anything that might prevent that night from going on. And there was that old feeling of déjavù again. It felt awkward. It definitely did. But it also felt familiar. And comfortable.

Claire took off her shoes and left them in the hall, walking the path barefoot on the wooden floor as Jamie went behind her. Everything looked more or less the same, except for some furniture, he was not so sure. Claire had offered him something to drink, but he was tired of eating or drinking because he had been doing it all night. And, of course, small talk. Oh, the small talk.

“How's your uncle doing?” he asked as he watched her remove some takeout packages from the table.

“He's here, actually,” when she noticed the boy's surprised expression, she clarified: “he's probably downstairs, judging by the time and this note,” she waved the piece of paper between her fingers. “The apartment below also belongs to him, it is where he usually keeps the collection of books, artefacts, works of art and things of the sort.”

He nodded, astonished.

“Please have a seat,” Claire pointed to the couch. “You don't have to stand like a tree.”

She disappeared quickly down the hall, which, as Jamie remembered, led to her room. What he didn't know, however, was that she ran to the bathroom to look in the mirror for a few seconds and take a deep breath. It was a bit tough to control her emotions and understand what was going on, but the woman knew that she finally needed to get a lot of things out of her chest.

Claire walked back to the living room, apologizing to Jamie for being away for a while.

“Are you sure you don't want anything—”

“No, I'm fine,” he interrupted, raising his hand. “The decor is a little... different, isn't it?” he looked around, unsure how to start the conversation they should have.

“Yes, a little. I took some things to the cabin: some pictures, the lamp that was there—” she pointed to the left corner of the room that had a new lamp on top of a side table and a leather chair. “I couldn't take any more, because, you know, it's such a small space, and—”

“I hope you have remodelled the kitchen,” he said with a smirk.

She finally sat on the other end of the sofa, keeping a healthy distance between them. She obviously could have sat on the front couch, but—

“I certainly did!” she grinned. “Now it is much more modern and functional and did it in some other parts of the house as well... I left the fireplace the way we found it that first time, however, because I decided to keep a more rustic decor in the room, and…”

She cursed herself. That matter was not going anywhere. She didn't know what to say, she hardly knew where to put her own hands. And Jamie seemed to be fighting a silent fight with himself too.

 “Anyways, I—”

“Yes?”

She shook her head, “I don’t know what to say.”

He smiled, sharing the feeling.

“So, yes, I have a son.”

Jamie dropped the bomb abruptly and took it startled her. Claire's face seemed petrified in that expression and she broke the ice with a laugh. She was quite uncomfortable with that, she didn't know why. Perhaps because her heart was still beating too fast to be close to him and also because... he had been with someone else.

“His name is William— Willie, of course.” The boy had a smile in the corner of his mouth and his eyes lit up when referring to his son, which, in a way, warmed Claire's heart. “He didn't come out as expected or planned, but... well, he was born and he's everything to me.”

“I can only imagine,”


She couldn't judge him for that, she tried to be consistent with herself. Jamie was a free man and would have every right to move on... but still, she felt strange about it. He, sleeping with someone else, whereas it didn't happen to them. It shouldn't bother her so much.

She tried to ward off feelings of discouragement; it was not the time to think about it, not in the middle of the conversation and it would be ridiculous to cause a scene. Jamie, on the other hand, felt more comfortable talking about Willie. He still didn't want Claire to have the wrong impression of him... but maybe that would be for later.

“He's the main reason that made me write, you know?” he reported. “I dropped out of university, and—”

“Which was something quite stupid—” she interrupted, still upset by the hasty decision he had made.

Jamie sighed, leaning down to prop his elbows on his legs.

“Honestly? I wouldn't be able to stay here for that long,” he confessed. “I was, well, I had little money— Having to depend on my uncle was no easy task, and—”

“Jamie,” she turned her body completely towards him, curling her legs up on the couch. “You could have told me! I could have done something, money was never an issue for me—”

He snorted.

“I’d never—”

“You see? Now I'm really upset to hear that you dropped out of school because of that!”

Jamie shook his head, “it doesn't really matter now, does it?”

“No,” Claire lamented. “But you could have told me.”

“Well, we weren’t exactly friends at that time, so…”

She grunted, “still…”

“Right.”

“Okay.”

The two were silent for a few moments; both were a little frustrated, not knowing what to expect from that conversation. Would it be worth it?

“So, you were talking about your son…”

A small smile appeared on his mouth. Jamie reached into the pocket behind his pants to remove the wallet and open it, revealing a 3x4 photo of the baby. He liked the old-fashioned air of having a picture in his wallet, although there were several others in the cell phone gallery.

Claire leaned over to look at the photo directed at her; the red pad that covered baby Willie's head, his eyes wide open, frightened, his mouth in a thin line and his nose rounded. He was certainly a mix between Jamie and whoever his mom was.

“He's a handsome boy,” she commented, watching the man filled with pride. “Of course, there's a lot of his mother in his features.”

Jamie snorted, closing his wallet and putting it back in his pocket, making the woman laugh.

“It was very difficult, you know? Geneva, his mother... she couldn't connect with the baby at first and it was a really bad time.”

Jamie was thoughtful remembering the difficult times he had during pregnancy and just when Willie was born. Claire was stunned by his revelation, but she also felt sympathy.

“I'm so sorry about that,”

“Aye, but it's okay now,” he smiled again, his green eyes sparkling. “We’re not... together, but we are good friends,” he said quickly, letting the message sink in. “Now, please, about you …” he indicated. “How is the life of a school teacher?”

Both felt more at ease with the sudden change of subject. Claire still reflecting, even if quickly, on the new information.

Your life is your life don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission! It's a wild adventure, however—”

“Ah, I missed that,” Jamie interrupted. She stopped in the middle of the sentence without understanding and the boy clarified. “You, quoting poetry, in the middle of a conversation. Sounding absurdly smart as always,”

The woman's face turned into a perfect tomato and she had to clear her throat and lower her face to hide her smile.

“As I was saying…”

“Yes, please,”

“Dealing with children is... distinctive. In the first few weeks, I was ready to run away, I was going mad!”

"Too much noise in the room?"

“They didn't stop talking! And, of course, the vast majority hated to read. So, yes, it was a challenge. But I am surviving...”

“I'm glad,”

She looked at him with a smile, “a girl mentioned your book during class, Jamie.”

His eyes widened.

“I mean it! It was funny, I must confess it took me completely by surprise,” she said laughing, remembering the moment. “But now I must get used to it, right? After all, you will become a famous writer, and—”

“Ah, stop it!” he was trying to hide his smile. “But— Have you? Read it?”

They were both mesmerized by the deep eyes that stare so intently into their own. Claire swallowed hard as she thought about what to say. She didn't know how he would react if he knew what she did; would Jamie be mad? She felt insecurity crackle through the veins up to the back of her neck.

Jamie kept looking at her trying to decipher what was going on in the woman's head. Perhaps she was ashamed to say that she had not yet read the issue? Maybe she read it and didn't like it?

“Are you interested in hearing my opinion on the book?”

Jamie nodded.

“Well, you were my teacher, Mrs Beauchamp ,” and now he was successfully teasing her. “It is important for me to know your honest opinion.”

“Oh, no,” she narrowed her eyes and shook her head. “Can we please not refer to each other as teacher-student?”

He grinned.

“If you haven't read it, no problem, there is still time…” he suggested, with a gallant smile that she could barely resist. “And, well, if you read it and didn't like it—”

“I read the book and yes, I liked it. I must say that it is not my favourite genre if you want to know, but... I liked the way you built the story.”

“You're not just saying that to please me, are you?”

“Why would I ever want to do that?” She smirked. “I mean it, and, speaking of which… it reminded me of something…”

“What?”

“You used an excerpt early on, from a Yeats poem, but it was born long after the story told in your book… I understood the meaning of the poem there, with the story as a whole, I just— I was just curious to understand how and why you chose it.”

Jamie looked at her and seemed to go back in time, during poetry classes, with the woman looking at him with a hand on her chin deeply focused on what he was going to say next.

“Dear God, am I going to have to explain this to you?” he laughed nervously. “What if I miss something?”

She laughed too.

“I do not want to intimidate you—”

“But you are very intimidating, miss—”

He smirked, pausing in the middle of the sentence; the atmosphere made the mood a little more provocative and a little seductive. Claire swallowed, trying to understand the mixed thoughts that surrounded her head. Is he flirting with me?  

It had been so long that honestly, she wasn't sure if he was really doing that or just being… kind?

“Uh, I'm just curious to know.”

“I know I shall meet my fate, somewhere among the clouds above,” he mentioned the passage from the poem written in the book. “The first time I heard this poem was during one of your classes, to be honest. The instant I heard it, I knew it would make a lot of sense with how little I imagined about the story I wanted to write.”

Claire had read so many poems in class that she did not remember that specific moment, but she was glad to know that - even without meaning to - she had helped him with the book in another way as well, besides the revision work.

“Does that answer satisfy you?”

“Yes, very much, thank you,” she replied with a smile, much to his delight. The teacher got up from the sofa and took a few steps towards the glass door that led to the long outdoor area. “Well, I need to tell you something…”

“Okay?”

“Ned, some time ago, asked me—" she took a deep, deep breath. "—to help him proofread your book. He sent me a copy of the manuscript and—”

He stood up too.

“What?”

“I helped him.”

She simply said, without looking at him, opening the glass door and allowing the icy breeze to penetrate the warm environment. That was an invitation for the boy to follow her and so he did.

“What do you mean by that? Did you review the book? Like—?”

“Yes, I— Well, I helped Ned with most of the work. I made some corrections in all the chapters, added some things, deleted some, and… You know, it's the job of a reviewer.”

His face showed no expression, which baffled her.

“I read the material and knew its potential, so I decided to help,” she added.

“But didn't you want me to know?”

She looked away from the landscape of buildings ahead and looked at him.

“No, not really. I just—”

“I think I need time to process that…”

The fact that she had reviewed all of his work on the book, read the pages long ago and knew intimately about it made him a bit uncomfortable. Maybe he wasn't being mature enough to face it, but knowing that the ex-girlfriend he hadn't spoken to in months had helped to publish the book was a bit much. So he just wanted to analyze the information well before saying anything.

“It’s late. I should—”

“You’re mad at me.”

“No, I just—”

Claire sighed, shrugging her shoulders and turning again to watch the street.

“I'm having a hard time to figure out why you would do that. I mean, we ended things in such…”

“I think the last memory you have of me is terrible; me being stupid right there, in that kitchen, saying a lot of things that, honestly, at that moment seemed right, but—”

“But?”

“It was a hard decision for me to make; my last impression of you didn't make me so happy either.”

He moved closer to her, making her look him in the eye. He looked more relaxed, which was good. Claire wore only a long-sleeved cotton shirt and felt a shiver through her body due to the temperature. At least, that was what she preferred to believe.

Jamie knew she was cold and he felt like, perhaps, gently rubbing the woman's arms and running his hands up her neck. But instead, he frowned trying to understand, and soon came up with a hypothesis:

“The message? What was that again?”

“I think it was my most vulnerable moment,” she confessed, but smiled, trying to calm the mood. “I spent a lot of time believing that I had hurt you too much and that, therefore, you chose not to respond and move on, which you did—”

“Yes, you did hurt me a lot,” he agreed, but his voice was calm. “But it seems that not getting an answer from me was a punishment good enough to balance things out.”

He had a full grin on his lips and she raised her shocked eyebrow.

“I think I'm not so sure now whether you really didn't hear it or not,” she teased.

His face took on a more serious expression, “could you tell me what you said? It seems to have been something very important and—”

“Maybe at another time, I think we talked too much for today,” she tried to contain the yawn, but it ended up coming out anyway, which made Jamie yawn next.

The two looked at each other at the same time and laughed. Jamie reached out to touch her arm, giving the muscle a gentle squeeze. She watched the movements of his tongue, moistening his lower lip and again felt a chill on the back of his neck.

Claire felt inclined to get closer to him, but when she finally tried, the man smiled and walked away, giving the impression of going back to the living room.

“It was nice to see you today, thanks for going there and… thanks for everything.” he looked at her sincerely.

She accompanied him to the door, feeling tightness in her chest and the uneasy feeling became more and more suffocating. Claire felt suffocated, she couldn't sketch more than a smile and a wave. For Jamie, that was odd, but maybe the woman was just really tired. 

While in the elevator, he regretted not asking for her phone number. The entire conversation had been better than he imagined it could be and he just wanted to have one more chance to see her before returning to Scotland in two days.

Claire sat on the couch for a while, hands over her face. She knew what that unsettling feeling meant.

Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!

The woman put on the slippers in the hall and ran towards the elevator. It felt like forever, but it lasted a minute. Luckily for her, the elevator didn't stop on any floor before reaching the ground floor. She ran to the reception - empty - and found Gustav near the entrance. He was almost asleep standing up.

The woman cleared her throat and he looked as if he had received an electric shock.

“My lady?”

“Did you see where the man who accompanied me went? In which direction? Do you know if he took a taxi or something?”

“Err, well,” Gustav still seemed to be half asleep, as he just shook his head, murmuring.

Claire snorted and left the building, walking down the street with no sign of any living soul in the lane. She even went towards the two alleys ahead that led to the main avenue but gave up. The woman sighed looking at the cold, empty scene and regretted her lack of courage in not having acted before.

She turned to walk back home and frowned when she noticed a figure leaning against another building next to hers, in a distance. She took a few more steps forward and noticed the clothes. It was Jamie, those were his clothes. He looked up and saw her, mirroring her expression of surprise and confusion, even though it was a little far away.

He pushed himself off the wall and walked over to her, his face now fully illuminated, passing through the parked cars to meet Claire in the middle of the street.

“Claire? What are you doing here... wearing slippers ?” The raised eyebrow was a sign of the contradictory scene.

“I was looking for you, I thought you were already gone,” she said honestly, which caught him off guard. Jamie moved closer. “What were you doing there?”

“I was thinking of going up again to talk to you,”

Now it was her turn to be nonreactive, but she managed to elaborate: “Good, that’s good to hear,” sighing in relief.

This was not the time to lose more chances. And she knew that, perhaps, he thought the same way, judging by the way he looked at her that night. Jamie raised a hand to touch her face as if asking for silent permission for what the two had waited for two years to happen.

Their lips finally met, both chilly with cold, but desperate. Jamie broke contact first, muttering “sorry, I can do better than that,” to which Claire simply ignored while taking his lips again. Both hands went up to touch the reddish strands, which were now damp from the thin rain that fell. The bodies adjusted perfectly together, like a frame designed to fit. 

He would have to go back to Scotland, she would have to go back to the cabin outside the city. Jamie pulled her closer, hugging her waist and pinning her against him. At that moment, it didn't matter. It didn't matter at all.

Chapter Text

lady, I will touch you with my mind.

touch you and touch and touch

until you give

me suddenly a smile, shyly obscene

 

(lady I will

touch you with my mind.) Touch

you, that is all,


They looked at each other for a few moments, their bodies still glued and their lips reddened.

“It’s late,” Claire observed.

Jamie sighed, noticing the empty street and knowing that there was really nothing else to do.

“Oh, yes, then I should probably—”

“Go upstairs with me.”

It was not an invitation. It was not a suggestion. It was an order. Jamie knew that, so he just raised an eyebrow, still surprised by the direct message she had given him.

Claire's heart was pounding violently against her chest as they both squeezed into themselves in the elevator; it wasn't as if the place was full of people or too small, but they just didn't want to get away from each other for fear that the moment would end.

There was that lingering question floating in the air without either of them actually uttering the word: would they? 

The moment they entered the flat again, Claire felt a slight feeling of anxiety and shyness as she walked in front of him. These feelings, however, disappeared the instant they looked at each other again.

“Are you—”

“Why did you—”

“Yes?”

She shook her head with a grin. 

“Please, go first.” 

“Ignore it. Just my brain messing around.”

She took some steps into the living room, him following right behind. The woman removed her thin silk coat and put it on the sofa. 

“Come with me?” 

She held out a hand that Jamie held gently, walking down the hall towards the bedroom. The man looked around and noticed that the room did not resemble the place where he had been previously; without portraits or paintings on the walls. But still, somehow, it had her essence. It smelled like her.

He couldn't analyze much; the dim light made the room intimate and unknown, but never scary. He felt amply comfortable in there, there, with her... it was familiar and cosy. Despite being nervous as heck.

“There isn’t much here anymore, I’m not sure if you—”

“Aye. I know.”

They met in the centre of the room; Claire had a smile on the corner of her mouth that reflected the shyness and insecurity she still felt. Jamie looked at her, really looked at her and saw again what he had been missing lately. He kissed her again, taking her lips gently between his. He could hear the woman sigh after the first contact and felt more confident to touch her, pulling her body against his.

Claire put her hands together on his chest, letting her fingers run free over the material on his shirt and pushing his coat out. The next step would be to remove the bottom item, but before she could think of how to do it, she felt his hands tracing dangerous paths on her lower back. 

She felt like screaming, but all she could manage was a muffled sound from her mouth. Jamie pulled her linen shirt out of her pants and she quickly helped him unbutton the garment. She directed him to the bed and pushed him over, making him fall on his back and laugh. She took the shirt over her shoulders and dropped it on the floor. The woman's breathing was very fast, her chest rose and fell. She moved closer to him, getting caught between the man's legs and couldn’t believe her eyes. It was Jamie. 

The ambiguous intensity of looking him in the eye, which made her feel both invasive and vulnerable at the same time. The thing she did not know was that he felt the same. Jamie felt that unsettling awareness of how much he wanted that. 

“You’re beautiful, you know that, right?”

She was grateful for the low lighting in the room, or else he would see her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. She put her fingers over the man's lips, making a gesture for him to shut up and ended up with her fingers caught between his teeth. Claire leaned over to kiss him, taking his face in her hands and sitting on his lap. The kiss was only interrupted by the movement of pulling his shirt up, which she was eager to do. Now she could stroke the man's muscular chest with freedom and feel it shiver as well. 

Jamie let his lips go down to Claire's neck, breathing in the scent that came from there and taking light bites on her shoulder. He was actually struggling with the bra strap, trying unsuccessfully to open it and that made Claire break down laughing.

“I thought you’d be more agile with your hands, Mr Fraser,” she teased him. 

He gave up on the task completely and lowered his fingers to open the buttons on the woman's pants; she raised her eyebrow in response, but let him continue and rose on the bed to let the material slide down her legs, counting on the man's help to steady herself. He lay down on the soft mattress and she sat on his stomach, looking down at his face barely lit.

“Do not underestimate me, Mrs Beauchamp,” 

Jamie leaned on his shoulders to lift and reach for her lips again, now gripping her thighs tightly and making her moan. In a subtle movement, he laid her on the bed and got on his knees between her legs. He had probably the most privileged sight at that moment, nothing could beat that. 

“Turn your back to me, please,” his husky voice sent shivers throughout her body and the woman looked gobsmacked at the request. He smiled.

“What?”

He leaned forward to slid a hand over her stomach, “turn around, Claire,”

Well, she wasn't expecting it, and Jamie Fraser certainly looked confident in what he was doing. Then she complied with the request and turned around. She heard the movements of whatever he was doing, it now seemed that he was removing his belt from his pants and unzipping it. She shivered again. He was right behind her and put a hand underneath to pull her up; now they were both on their knees on the bed.

The man then let one hand on her stomach and with the other, he finally released the bra.

“Oh,” she felt him kiss her neck and turned to meet his lips. 

“Better?” he asked, holding the handles of the bra and going through her arms, removing it completely. 

The hand he kept on her stomach came up to her panties and a cheeky finger almost went under the material. Claire felt her breath catch. His body was glued to hers and she noticed that he was already undressed, or else only a thin material covered him since she could feel the volume—

“Much. Now, please,”

“Yes?” he sounded so innocent but she knew he was just messing with her. 

She broke contact and turned again to lie on the bed. Now Jamie had a vision of the woman's naked torso, with only one last piece to complete the scene. She noticed that he was still in his underwear, but the material did an insignificant job of trying to contain his erection. She gestured for him to approach and removed her panties, without taking her eyes off the man, who looked in a trance state.

“Come here, farm boy,”

Her provocative smile and the scene itself almost brought him to a climax, but he restrained himself and bent down to give her exactly what she needed. Jamie then leaned over, still looking at her as her chest rose and stuck his tongue out to trace her calf with the tip and up to the inside of her thigh; the woman squirmed, longing for him to get where she wanted him most. And so he did. 

. . .

 

Jamie felt something nudge his back, then realized that it was soft caresses from thin fingers full of affection. When the woman realized he was waking up, she laid her head on his back and let her hands find his.

“Morning,”

He grunted in response, turning to look at her. Claire was wearing a transparent silk robe and seemed to have been awake for a long time.

“You took up the entire bed space,” she commented.

“Sorry," he said, his voice still quite husky and his eyes half-open. “What time is it?”

She got up and walked over to the fireplace in the bedroom, where she had placed her cell phone on a shelf above. Jamie opened his eyes to appreciate Claire's naked body. She unlocked the screen and checked the time (and noticed several messages from Jenny Murray, of course).

“Nine forty-five,”

That seemed to alert him as he jumped out of bed, "bloody hell!" stopping halfway on realizing the state he was in. She laughed when she realized that he was trying to cover himself.

“I'm sure I've seen it before,” she teased.

Jamie grinned, walking over to kiss her.

“Have you seen my phone?”

She rested her hands on his shoulders, “probably in your pants, on the floor.”

“Ah!” 

He sat on the bed and picked up his pants from the floor, finding the device in his pocket. There were several messages from Brianna and Murtagh. He called the older man quickly, hearing a barrage of questions when he answered.

“Murtagh— Okay, listen— Murtagh! I know, I’m gonna be there soon… Can you please, uh, take a shirt… the purple one, yes, that, I'll be there in an hour or so. I will not be late— See you later!”

He disconnected the call and ran his fingers over his hair, looking for his underwear on the floor. Claire stopped in front of him, which made him lookup. She maintained her teacher's posture, with her arms crossed.

“So no breakfast, then?”

He pursed his lips in an apologetic smile, “I'm sorry. I had forgotten that I was going to have an interview this morning.”

She nodded, walking over to him the moment he reached out.

“A shower, perhaps?” Jamie suggested. “And could you go with me there too?”

“The interview?”

“Aye, unless you have something else to do.”

She looked up with a playful expression as if trying to think of something.

“Yeah, well, I think I have some free time on my schedule today.”

He grabbed her by the ass, pushing her closer and rested his chin on the woman's stomach, opening the robe and letting his lips touch the pale skin. She was really enjoying this new version of him.

“Good. I do need more time with you.”


 

Claire had accompanied Jamie during the interview, sitting next to Murtagh while he answered the reporter's questions about the story, the creative process and so on. It would be huge for Jamie because it was The Telegraph. And, surprisingly, Claire hadn't done anything to make it happen.

They still had a few things to talk about, they knew that, but they both didn't want to bring it up at that moment. Amid a few glances, they remembered the night before and couldn't wait to be together again. Shortly after the interview, Claire suggested that they look for a place to eat nearby, but Jamie indicated that they would wait there until Roger and Brianna appeared to join them.

Then the three sat on a few stools under a tree, with Tower Bridge in the background. It was full of tourists, especially that Friday. Murtagh motioned for him and Jamie to come close to the protective barrier and smiled gently at Claire.

The woman didn't care, she wanted a moment alone to be able to talk to Jenny or the brunette would find her and force her to speak. Then she quickly called her friend while the two men talked.

“I didn’t know that you were, uh, into older women, Jamie,” Murtagh sounded uncomfortable and it made Jamie laugh. 

“I’m not— I’m not into older women, Murtagh,” and when he saw the eyebrows joined in doubt on his friend's face, he clarified. “I’m into her. It is her.”

“And what are you going to do about it now?”

Jamie turned his head to look at the woman, who was talking animatedly on the phone.

“I don't know,” he said sincerely. “I just don't want to miss it again.”

Murtagh squeezed his shoulder, following the boy's gaze.

“Your heart, now, must be your guide— Oh, there they are!” he pointed to Roger, who was pushing Brianna in the wheelchair and the two approached them, Claire passing by totally unnoticed.

“So you're alive, at last!” Roger joked, resting his elbows on the iron bar while raising his eyebrows when he noticed the spectator sitting a few steps away. “Is that—”

“Yes, I'm alive, thank you.” Jamie bumped his shoulder and looked at him funny.

“Ah, that smug grin says a lot,” Brianna said between coughs. “You smug motherf—”

“Oi!”

“I can’t believe you lot—”

Jamie crossed his arms still smiling, "well, you can ask her to confirm that."

"What?"

He waggled his eyebrows and looked behind the ginger, making her turn her neck and look up, finding Professor Beauchamp's face staring at her.

Brianna looked back at him, moving the wheelchair to the side and whispering something not very pleasant to her friend. 

“Mrs Beauchamp, how are you?” she said on her best behaviour. Jamie snorted and Roger nudged his stomach. 

“I’m very well, Miss MacKenzie, thank you. But— please, call me Claire,”

Brianna’s face was pure surprise and Jamie watched the interaction with the corners of his mouth curved.

“Uh, sure, Claire,” she said uncertainly, as Roger patted the girl's shoulder. “Fuck, that’s weird.”

But the ginger left that aside for a moment and she and Roger moved to the front of the group, about to make a statement.

“All right,” Roger started, looking at Brianna for safety. “Uh, we decided to meet here today because, well, me and Brianna— We’re—”

The girl rolled her eyes and squeezed his hand, rubbing her nose with the back of her hand, “we’re getting married today.”

The witnesses' expressions were priceless! Jamie could hardly believe it and Claire felt like she was breaking into a private meeting.

“What? Are you— Are you serious?”

“Totally! Why wait, uh?” Roger replied. “Although it is a bad day and I will eventually have to kiss Brianna, even though she has the flu.”

The girl took the opportunity to move the wheel of the chair and pass it over his foot.

“Ouch!” 

“But where will this take place?” Claire asked, curious to find out the answer. Jamie pulled her to his side and wrapped a hand around her waist. She looked at the man's face and returned his smile.

“And are you going to get married like that?” Jamie joked, teasing his friend who was wearing jeans, a plaid shirt and Vans.

“Ha! That's all I need! Now we have a wedding dress inspector here, Roger,” she countered, nudging her Soon-To-Be-Husband.

Jamie took the opportunity to rub her hair, knowing that the girl would be furious, but Claire prevented him from causing further damage and won a “high five” from Brianna when she pulled his arm.

Soon they all walked on to a registry office near where they were; Roger and Brianna led the way, the man pushing her chair and doing different manoeuvres. The perfect mix. Jamie watched the two friends with a warm heart; he was there, walking beside Claire, not afraid that someone might see them, heading to his best friends' wedding.

When they arrived at the registry office, they saw some very well-dressed couples, taking pictures in front of the place and meeting with some friends and family. Brianna's parents were there, Jamie remembered them; Brianna's mother carried an expression that mixed deep joy and despair, saying things like “ couldn't you have worn that dress I left on the bed? ” and “ did you take the medicine I left in the kitchen? ” Her father, however, was calmer and had a camera on his hand, taking pictures of his little girl.

When the couple was called, everyone came in to watch and Jamie and Claire signed the role as witnesses; the teacher felt deeply honoured by that, shamefully remembering the thoughts she had about her former student when, previously, she thought the girl had spread the rumour. For Brianna that decision had been well thought out, knowing that now the two of them were finally together again.

. . .

 

They ended up at Little London; it seemed hard to imagine a few days ago that they would all be there, sitting together, Claire and Jamie side by side, laughing at something funny that Murtagh had said.

When Jamie had to get up to take a call from Geneva, it was then that Claire felt like reality was coming up again; he still had a son, he still lived in another country and he would still have to leave the next day. That reality had been forgotten, even if only momentarily, because of the previous night's moments. But now it was starting to scare her a little.

Claire got up too and excused herself to meet Jenny at her office. The brunette was excited to know all the details of the long-awaited night but ended up calming her friend.

“Claire, sit down and listen,” she said in the best boss voice. “You are my best friend, so I have complete freedom to tell you: stop freaking out!”

The teacher crossed her arms and took a deep breath. She was counting on Jenny to get real.

“I've seen this scene a million times before... you, collywobbles in my office, because you fancy him so much, you can't even— And don't even try to interrupt me! Listen, it's finally happening! If you allow yourself that happiness, forget what happened in the past and please don't think about the damn future!”

“I'm really happy now,” she confessed. “I think that everything that happened served me as a learning experience,”

Jenny sat next to her on the leather sofa, “I know it's scary, but at least it's exciting, too. Life consists of that.”

Claire smiled at her, really over the moon, “so…”

“Back to business! Tell me everything and do not dare yourself to hide the best part!”

“What exactly would you like to know?”

“Was he—?”

“Yes?”

“You know!”

“Massive!”

“Bloody— Dear Mother, I can’t take this conversation knowing it’s Jamie!”

Claire snorted.

“He’s far more skilled than I imagined, you see…”

“Did he—?”

“Yes?!”

“How many—”

“The whole night, of course!”

“And this is all because of me! You can thank me later!”

Between laughter, the conversation continued until they were interrupted by the main topic of their conversation.

“What are you so excited about?” Jamie asked, just with his head into the office. Jenny was red.

“Nothing, babes. Just Jenny telling me about motherhood!” Claire replied, her mouth trying to contain her smile as she looked at him.

“Dull as a dishwasher!” the brunette completed while getting up. “Please remember that this is a family place!” she joked as she passed Jamie and left the office.

Jamie came into the office and looked around, “...some memories from here.”

“And we can make some new ones,” the teacher raised an eyebrow and uncrossed her legs, calling him with her index finger. The boy chuckled, but approached her and sat next to her, corresponding to the kiss the moment it started. "Oh, what was the call about?" she asked, trying not to sound invasive.

“Willie hasn't been feeling very well in the last few days, Geneva thinks it's due to the weather or something. He went to the doctor this morning and has already been medicated.”

The teacher sat up straighter, concerned.

“And are you okay?”

“Aye, he’s strong. He’ll be fine.”

She smiled at his confident tone.

“Brianna and Roger are gone,” he commented. “She was feeling tired and maybe with a slight fever…” He sighed. “I'm truly happy for them.”

“Me too,” 

And for us, they both thought. Claire rested her head on the boy's shoulder and he laced their fingers over his lap.

“Will you be with me tonight?”

He answered by kissing her again. 

. . .

 

It was two in the morning. Jamie's flight would leave at noon.

Claire smoothed the red strands of his hair while he lay his head on her belly. They had made love all night; discovering new points of pleasure, savouring each other entirely, recounting the spots that each one had on their skin as if they needed to memorize those paths to keep them safe for the next time.

With many kisses, there was little conversation. Neither of them wanting to talk much. But now, at that moment, at two in the morning, it felt like the feeling was changing.

“Your birthday is near, isn't it?” the boy asked with a muffled sound due to the proximity of his mouth to the skin.

She murmured the reply, remembering that the event would take place in two weeks. He lifted his head, positioning his body between her bare legs.

“You know, there are so many things I'd like— I'd like to say to you,”

She smiled, stroking his face tenderly.

“Me too…”

“So this is the moment when you quote some poetry to me, I get amazed and we—,”

She laughed and pulled his face up; the man went up, laying his body on hers and kissing her on the lips.

“It's a bad time, I can't think of anything smart to say,” she said between his lips, nibbling on the tip. “Maybe we should switch roles, at least once,”

Should she say? Should he say? The four-letter word that had been choking for some time and eagerly asked to be spoken?

“If I were to recite a poem for you, you will probably kick me out of here,”

The woman put her hands behind her head, “do your best and you’ll get a reward.”

Jamie propped his elbows on the bed thoughtfully as she continued to smooth the stubble on the man's face.

“I like Cummings,”

Claire laughed, “hmm, yes, of course. You wrote his poem once, on my birthday... ”

He shook his head, “of course,” he repeated. “Well, I think, there's something I read a while ago…”

“Right,”

He laid his head on the curve of the woman's neck, she moved her arms around his broad shoulders.

“I guess I’m really nervous now,”

“Because I'm intimidating?”

“Yes and also because you are naked under me,” the woman wrapped her legs around him. “This is not helping…”

The woman laughed and realized that he was getting more shy than usual, “it's okay, Jamie.”

“I can’t possibly be romantic now, you’re not helping,” he chuckled. 

“Oh, what else can you do?” she raised an eyebrow.

He lifted his head and looked at her deeply, running his fingertips gently over her thighs, “Lady, I will touch you... with my mind…” he whispered over her lips, “ touch you and touch and touch until you give me…” she tried to shut him up with her mouth, but he'd always tilted his head back, not allowing contact. “...suddenly a smile, shyly obscene—That’s the part where you smile,” he whispered playfully, making the woman laugh and at the same time burn with desire. He leaned in again, brushing his lips over her face and positioning himself between the woman's legs to gain access to his favourite path, “touch you that is all…

Claire moaned when she felt filled and dug her nails into the man's back, while she felt him thrust with strength in the right measure, with movements full of passion. They enjoyed the last few moments before saying goodbye, with the promise that that would not be the last time.

 

lightly and you utterly will become

with infinite care

the poem which I do not write.

Chapter Text

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?”

She grinned.

“Your secret is safe with me, Fergus.”

He celebrated.

“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!”

“How so?”

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.”

“Your mother?”

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.

Damn.

“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.”

He grinned.

“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.

Frank Randall. 

Yes, he had been a little shocked to find the message in his mailbox.

Hello.

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.

“Hello?”

Hi, is this Claire?

The teacher did not recognize the voice but responded affirmatively.

Hello Claire, I'm Geneva, Jamie's—

"Oh,"

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—

“What happened?”

Silence again.

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.

“Hey,”

“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.