The ceramic bowl sat in the middle of the refrigerator. Covered with aluminium foil there was a small note affixed to the side.
- 1 cup in the microwave for 2 minutes
- Stir gently
- Sprinkle brown sugar on top
Filled with curiosity Claire peeled back the foil to reveal a large quantity of porridge; easily enough to last the rest of the week. Smiling at Jamie’s foresight and thoughtfulness she carefully followed the instructions and presented the results to Fergus. Prodding it cautiously with his spoon, he regarded it suspiciously; understandable given Claire’s previous culinary offerings. Thinking of the food tasters in Ancient Rome who would sample the Caesar’s meal to confirm there was no poison, she dipped her spoon into the bowl, eating a mouthful in front of the boy in a show of good faith. To her relief it worked and Fergus finally tucked in enthusiastically. Considering the farce at breakfast day the before, the doctor was elated.
Jamie arrived soon after, looking far too bright eyed and bushy-tailed for an early winter’s morning. As he now had his own key, he greeted them in the kitchen.
“Bonjour! Good morning!”
Both parent and child were much pleased to see him again. A subtle energy shift had occurred after only a day and like the third leg on a stool there was a stability in the house that had been absent previously. Claire thanked him for the porridge, pointing to Fergus’ empty bowl as testament to its success. The tips of his ears pinking slightly, the Manny shrugged modestly.
“I hope ye both slept well?”
Without thinking, Claire checked her hair in the reflection from the toaster, cursing herself immediately. What did it matter how she looked in front of Jamie? Still using the reflection, she switched her gaze to covertly watch him while he chatted with Fergus. Wearing a fitted navy jumper, it accentuated his muscular form to full advantage. Sleeves pushed up to his elbows, the sinews of his forearms radiated strength. She told herself that it was the plastic surgeon in her that was automatically evaluating from a physical point of view, but that didn’t account for the way her eyes lingered on his jaw, or followed the bob of his Adam’s apple as he spoke. Was his Scottish accent this smooth yesterday?
The toast popping up broke her trance and Claire became very focussed on buttering it to distract herself from inappropriate thoughts about the man hired to take care of her new son. Silently chewing her toast, she watched Jamie take coloured paper and black markers from his bag.
“Planning a craft project?”
“Kind of - with yer permission, I thought we could make some signs to put up around the house: names of things in both English and French to help you and the lad with your language skills”
Such a simple idea, but perfect. Claire nodded enthusiastically.
“Excellent, we’ll get started today”
Turning to an intrigued Fergus, he relayed the idea, speaking first in French and then slowly repeating it in English. The boy looked reasonably interested, but not super excited. That was until Jamie reached into his bag and pulled out a box of crayons, glitter and a jar of colourful buttons. Eyes wide, Fergus shook the jar with glee.
“Pouvons-nous commencer maintenant?”
“No, we canna start now - someone has to get ready for school!”
It wasn’t until mid afternoon, after a hectic run of back-to-back consultations that Joe caught up with Claire to ask how it’d gone with the Manny. Detailing the successful afternoon Jamie and Fergus had had together as well as the delicious stew, she was pleased to report the Scot had accepted the position.
“Well that explains your cat-that-got-the-cream smile today! Can I see a picture of this guy?”
“Why would I even have one?”
Just as Claire spoke, her phone vibrated with an incoming message from Jamie. Attached was a picture of him and Fergus sitting at the kitchen table. Green crayon in hand, the boy was smiling as he coloured, surrounded by an array of paper and glue. Joe peered over her shoulder to take a look at the happy image.
“Oh la la; you might have mentioned you’d hired an Adonis!”
“Joe, for the last time, he’s there to take care of Fergus. Nothing more”
As soon as Claire got home from work Fergus grabbed her hand, insisting on a tour of the house to show her all the new signs. Each had the English and French words neatly printed by Jamie and were decorated by the young lad, who was adorably pleased with his artwork.
“Salle de bains, la baignoire, les brosses à dents ...bathroom, bathtub, toothbrushes!” He proudly announced. “Pouvez-vous le dire aussi?”
Slowly and rather awkwardly, Claire sounded out the words. Her attempt earned a giggle from Fergus, but he seemed genuinely chuffed that she’d tried and that was the most important thing. It wasn’t until later that night that she realised the other purpose for Jamie’s project. By putting something that was uniquely Fergus’ up on the walls, he’d started to help the boy feel like the house wasn’t just somewhere he was now living, but his home. Claire was impressed with his strategy, feeing slightly guilty that up until yesterday she’d assumed nannying was just glorified babysitting. Damn, you are good Fraser she thought as she prepared for bed.
Over the next month the trio built a routine. During the week, Jamie would arrive at breakfast time, helping Fergus get ready and then walking with him to school. In the afternoons the two would hang out before the Scot prepared dinner, having it ready to serve when Claire arrived home from work.
Fergus was a charming little boy and under Jamie’s care he slowly but surely began to come out of his shell. The Manny had a huge number of activities in his repertoire and their afternoons were spent doing anything from walks in the park, to baking, reading, and creative art projects. The lad’s sadness over losing his mother still lingered, but there were smiles and laughter each day, too.
As Fergus’ comfort with his new London home began to improve, so too did his relationship with Claire. Gone were the silent evenings spent sullenly staring at iPads and phones, replaced instead with watching a movie (of the boy’s choosing) or playing a board game. There was still a lot for the doctor to learn about parenting, but Jamie was a good teacher, offering her tips and advice in a way that never left her feeling inadequate. Like the day he patiently knelt by the bath, offering guidance to Claire as she practised shampooing Fergus’ hair; his smile of encouragement warming her insides.
With spring fast approaching there was an increase in patients at Claire’s clinic, requiring her to put in extra long hours. Jamie was able to help there, too: washing Fergus’ clothes, assisting with any homework and - most importantly - checking the boy’s school bag to make sure no pieces of fruit had been forgotten and left to rot in the bottom.
It was inevitable with all the time he spent at the house, that Claire got to know Jamie better. As the weeks went by they often found themselves sharing a cup of tea after Fergus had gone to bed, chatting about their respective days and sharing information about themselves. From this Claire learned Jamie had grown up in a small village outside Inverness before attending university in Glasgow. Five years ago he’d come to the capital in search of better job opportunities. Intrigued by a career path that was so different from her own, she was keen to understand what motivated a man like him:
“You don’t feel out of place in a profession that’s mainly dominated by the opposite sex?”
“Why don’t you tell me; many fellow female plastic surgeons practising on Harley street are there?”
Eyes narrowing, Claire was unable to stop her lips from curving upward.
“You’re making fun of me again, aren’t you?”
“Sorry, I can’t help it - ye’re just so earnest Sassenach!”
Flustered, Jamie gaped liked a fish as he scrambled for the right words, much to her amusement. With a smirk, she pressed her advantage.
“Any other insulting names you’ve got for me that I should know about?”
The Manny rubbed the back of his neck, cheeks colouring slightly. Collecting himself he leaned forwards, his hand resting a hair’s breath from Claire’s.
“It can be an insult, but I see it more as a person who’s a bit different from the norm, in an engrossing and fascinating kinda way. You’re like a Rubik’s Cube; damn near impossible to navigate unless someone’s got the way of ye.”
His cheeky smile faded to one of shyness before he added:
“If it bothers ye though, I wilna use it again”
It didn’t bother Claire; in fact she got a little thrill out of the idea that he had spent time appraising her character.
“I quite like it actually”
Jamie’s eyes sparkled as he grinned; clearly this was something he was happy to hear.
At first the doctor told herself the extra time she sought out with Jamie was merely to be updated on Fergus’ day. Whilst this was partly true, it wasn’t hearing what the boy had had for afternoon tea that made her heart skip when she looked at the Scot. Trying to to brush it off as merely admiring his looks, a dazzling smile was no match for a kind heart and gentle teasing that always made her laugh. Their conversation flowed so naturally - or so it seemed to Claire - and after spending all day in ‘serious doctor mode’ it was liberating to come home to someone she could let her guard down around.
Amidst stories about his travels or growing up in Scotland, she noticed that Jamie never mentioned a girlfriend or partner and she couldn’t quite bring herself to ask if there was someone special in his life. The question itself wouldn’t have been too difficult, but as time went on Claire found her reluctance to enquire was more to do with being afraid of an answer in the affirmative.
Aside from trying to pass off any increased interest in Jamie as friendship-only, Claire set herself the task of learning French. Fergus’ English was coming along in leaps and bounds but she wanted to be able converse with him in his native tongue so he’d know that she appreciated how important his Gallic origins were. Downloading the language app French For Beginners, she spent her commute each day conjugating verbs and reciting useful phrases. After a few weeks she decided to try out her newly acquired skills with Fergus:
“Veux-tu regarder un film ce soir? Nous pourrions aussi avoir due pop-corn?”
The boy was delighted — and not just at the prospect of watching a film and eating a salty treat.
“Oui s’il vous plaît; j’adorerais!”
It warmed Claire’s heart immeasurably to be able to have a conversation with Fergus like this; he needn’t know she’d been practising the simple exchange all week to make sure she didn’t mix up her verb forms and word order. Side-by-side in the kitchen, they made the popcorn together, Fergus giggling as the popping grew in crescendo until it sounded like hailstones on a tin roof. Their snack buttered and salted, they made their way into the living room to watch the LEGO movie. Navigating the onscreen menu, Claire set it up to play in French with English subtitles; rewarded with adorable ‘oh’ in surprise from Fergus. It was the doctor’s turn to be surprised next; on all previous occasions, they’d sat at opposite ends of the couch or on seperate armchairs, but that night Fergus came and snuggled right into Claire’s side. Wrapping a tentative arm around his shoulders, she spent most of the film smiling at him, her heart blooming at the fact that such a simple action could mean so much.
Emboldened by her success, Claire decided to try her beginner’s Français on Jamie. One evening after Fergus had gone to bed, she mustered her best French accent and offered the Scot a cup of tea (as had been their usual practise on several occasions previously). Not having rehearsed the conversation as well as she had with the lad, she couldn’t remember the words for peppermint tea so went with the word for drink instead, hoping the meaning wouldn’t be lost.
“Veux-tu venir prendre un verre chez moi ce soir?”
Her eager smile quickly faded when Jamie’s eyes went wide as saucers. Confused at his response, Claire opened the language app on her phone, scrolling through to try and find where she’d gone wrong, but found noting that would suggest an error. It all seemed fine? Looking back up at Jamie she saw his lips were pursed as he tried to hold back a laugh.
“What’s the matter? Should I have used the formal object pronoun instead?”
Bewilderment turned to embarrassment as the Scot let out a snort of laughter.
“What’s so funny? I was trying to ask if you’d like a cup of tea; I don’t see where—“
“Sassenach, the words ye used were fine, it’s just...have ye heard of the expression Netflix and Chill?”
“Yes, but what’s that got to do with anything?”
“Well what ye just asked me; would I like to come to your place for a drink - is pretty much the French equivalent...”
The doctor’s shocked expression broke the dam on Jamie’s attempt to contain his mirth and he doubled over the kitchen table laughing. Claire felt her face go as red as a tomato. Oh the humiliation of inadvertently propositioning the Manny! Running hands through her hair she started at the floor, willing it to open up and swallow her. No such luck, Jamie’s sniggering echoed throughout the room. Countenance eventually retuning to normal, he wiped a couple of tears from the corner of his eyes.
“Och, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass ye. Your French is really coming along well”
“You call that coming along well?” Claire huffed incredulously.
“It was a simple mistake, anyone could’ve made it”
Still feeling mortified, she turned way from the Scot, pretending to rummage through the pantry by way of escape. Jamie came up behind her, placing his palms tentatively on her shoulders.
“Sassenach, learning a new language is never easy, ye canna be expected to know every expression right at the start”
“Can we please just pretend this whole thing never happened?”
“I’m sorry for laughing. Please dinna be uncomfortable because of me, I think what ye’re doing for the lad is amazing”
Claire turned around to see an expression of real contrition on Jamie’s face. He squeezed her shoulders lightly before dropping his hands to his sides.
“Well if it was you I’d probably have laughed too”
“If the offer of a cuppa’s still there, I’d love one”
With a watery smile she put the kettle on.
Lying in bed that night, Claire stared at the ceiling, the events from earlier still bothering her. She and the Scot had chatted congenially after her gaffe grande but an uncomfortable feeling had settled in the pit of her stomach. What was it that was bothering her so much? It was an honest mistake that could’ve happened to anyone, Jamie had apologised and they’d moved on. Flipping onto her front then rolling onto her side, Claire struggled to find a comfortable position, the nagging feeling of uneasiness refusing to leave.
Like a flash of lighting it suddenly came to her — she had a crush. A heartbeat-raising, blushing-in-his-presence, can’t-stop-smiling-when-I-think-about-you, crush. The truth of her feelings admitted, she recalled the way butterflies would build up in her stomach on the way home from work, nervous anticipation giving way to a giddy warmth when she saw him. Or the way the smooth lilt of his voice drew her in whatever the topic of conversation. And his hands - how long had she spent watching them and wondering what they’d feel like caressing her skin?
A further thought then struck - she’d made an amorous suggestion to Jamie (albeit unintentionally) and his immediate response had been to laugh in her face. Clapping a hand over her eyes as though it would shield her, Claire cringed. Jamie’s eight years younger and employed to take care of Fergus for god’s sake! She knew it was stupid to think that he’d have ever taken her seriously, but his reaction confirmed that her feelings were decidedly one-sided. Perhaps it was foolish, but knowing it’d never be reciprocated made her sadder than she thought it would.
“Right that’s it” she said into the darkness. Jamie was there because it was his job to be. Entertaining anything further was a fool’s errand and it was time to burst the bubble of denial before her feelings went past the point of no return.
Decision made, she closed her eyes full of resolution, but as she drifted towards slumber her subconscious had other ideas. Pressing her shoulder against the pillow she recalled the feel of Jamie’s warm hands as he stood behind her in the kitchen. It was the closest they’d ever been, the gentle puff of his breath ticking the fine hairs on the back of her neck and making her shiver with desire. When she’d turned around to look at him his deep blue eyes had bored into her with an intensity that made her body tingle from scalp to toes. Replaying the scene she imagined it ending differently, this time with Jamie leaning down and kissing her, his arms wrapping around and pulling her close. Enjoying these fantasies far more than she wanted to Claire gave up trying to regulate her thoughts, promising:
“I’ll stop my crush first thing tomorrow.”