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Just A Friend

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Sunlight streaming through the shutters wakes me before the alarm. After the previous seventy two hours with too much alcohol, not enough sleep and shared hotel rooms, last night’s sleep was a solid nine and a half hours and I feel so much better for it.

Trying, for a moment at least, to ignore both the demands of my bladder and my desperate need for caffeine, I gaze up at the ceiling and contemplate the surgery ahead of me. Whilst it’s a comparatively routine procedure for me, I always think about the families — parents, grandparents, siblings. It’s an anxious time for them, never routine, a step into the unknown and they are putting their trust in me to look after their precious child. Their faith in me is something I take very seriously.

I have a ritual I follow every time before theatre. I take a few minutes to close my eyes and let the procedure play inside my head, my hands echoing the images in my brain. I trace the path my scalpel will take on the skin; I position, in mid air, the locations of the clamps; I work with my imaginary mallet and chisel honing the bone, the X-ray images clear in my head.

By the time I’ve finished closing the incision, the demands of my bladder can no longer be ignored. That’s my cue to get out of bed and start my day.

***********
Before I put my scrubs on, I pay a visit to the side room where Robbie, my seven year old patient has spent the night. His parents have already given consent for the operation, but I like to go and do a final check.

Robbie is sitting up in bed, a bit subdued but in good health. His mother is sitting expectantly, nervously playing with the skin around her nails. The foldaway bed has already been put away, but, judging by her red rimmed eyes, I don’t think it got much use. Robbie’s father follows me into the room, two coffees in his hands.

“Sorry, Doctor Claire,” he nods at the coffee. “I didna get ye one. D’ye want one?”

I let the doctor reference pass. As a surgeon, my title is no longer doctor. Officially, I am Miss Beauchamp, but prefer my juvenile patients to call me Claire. Quite a lot of the parents seem to call me Doctor Claire. I suppose they like the reassurance that I am actually a proper doctor.

“No, thanks.” I smile. “Are we all set then?”

They nod nervously.

“Aye,” Robbie’s father agrees. “We need tae get it done.”

“How long will it take?” Robbie’s mother looks directly at me, wanting a definitive answer.

I hesitate. I don’t like to give precise times. If the surgery goes longer then parents start to fear the worst, and that’s not always the case. So I give a vague answer. “‘Till lunchtime… you could always go and sit outside in the little garden, it’s a lovely day.”

His mother looks down at her hands and shakes her head. “No, I want tae be right here …”

She doesn’t finish her sentence, but she doesn’t have to. I know exactly what she’s thinking.

I turn to Robbie, blissfully unaware of his parents’ thoughts. He beckons me to him.

“When I wakes up,” he begins in a stage whisper. “Can I have a treat?”

“What sort of treat did you have in mind?”

“Can I have a MacDonald’s? But no’ a kid’s meal. I’ve never had a Big Mac.”

I glance at his parents who nod at me before I whisper back, “Of course you can, but don’t let nurse Geillis see, will you? She can be ever so naughty. She’ll be trying to steal your chips away, if you’re not careful.”

And with that, I stroke Robbie’s little cheek before saying my goodbyes and head out to get changed.

**********
Robbie’s surgery went to plan, no nasty surprises or tricky complications. I call in to check on Robbie’s parents before they head to recovery. They look totally different to when I saw them this morning. Still worn out of course, I don’t think they’ll sleep properly until their little lad is home with them, but their faces shine with sheer relief. I have warned them about the long road ahead, with many hours of physiotherapy and exercises, but, for today, I’ll let them have their moment of pure happiness. Reality will hit them again soon enough.

As I leave the waiting room, making my farewells, Robbie’s dad thanks me once more. I can tell he’s unsure whether hugging me is appropriate or not, so he settles for a handshake. His wife has no such qualms, wrapping me tightly in a hug, whispering her thanks until her husband reminds her that they need to be with their son. I point the way and head down to the nurses station.

Geillis is sitting there, looking very busy on the computer. I pull up a chair and sit next to her. The screen is filled with images of our weekend in Barcelona.

“What?” She looks at me as if I’ve accused her of something. “I’m on ma lunch, aren’t I?”

“How was your night then?”

Geillis beams from ear to ear— she’s like the cat who got the cream. “Nay bad, nay bad at all. After two nights away, Dougal realises what he’s got wi’ me, and he dinna hesitate tae show me, if ye ken what I mean?”

She winks at a poor medical student, who blushes and busies himself with a set of medical notes.

“Geillis,” I warn. “Behave yourself.”

“Anyway, pet, how was yer evening? Another tryst wi’ Professor Randall?” Her face says it all. Geillis thinks about as much of Frank as he does of her. Literally the only thing they have in common is me, and it’s getting pretty wearing.

“No, I was worn out and— oh, that reminds me.” I fumble in my pocket for my phone as I carry on talking. “I’ve got someone else’s suitcase. I hope they’ve got mine.”

I glance at the screen. Two missed calls and one message. All from the same number. All from the number I called last night, the James-Fraser-isn’t-here-don’t-call-again-ever number. Looks like this James Fraser has a jealous or suspicious wife-partner-girlfriend-housekeeper.

“Catch up later, Geillis, I need to deal with this.”

I rush back to my office to try and sort the suitcase problem out.

The message is brief and to the point.

Hi, Jamie Fraser here. I think I have your case too. Can we arrange a swap? I live in Glasgow. Hopefully you too. Where and when? I’m free after 5 today.

After five will work for me too, I just need to pop home and pick up his case. Now, based on his wardrobe choices and his one message to me, he doesn’t actually seem like an axe murderer or sex pervert, but you can’t really tell, so I think about a public location.

How about the benches by the cafe at Kelvingrove Park? 5:30? Claire Beauchamp

A couple of minutes later his reply appears on my screen.

Fine. See you then. I’ll be the one wheeling a black Samsonite. JF

**************

It’s another glorious sunny day here in Glasgow. Just ideal for going for a stroll in the park. I do feel a bit conspicuous with a suitcase trailing along behind me — kind of like an upmarket bag lady.

There are no other suitcases around, so I perch on a bench. I fire a quick message to Geillis, just so that she knows where to direct the police if I disappear and then wait. It’s not too bad waiting. The sun is still warm, so I stretch my legs out trying for a tan. With my eyes closed, I lift my face up to soak up the rays. I may get panda eyes with my sunglasses on, but I don’t really care. The warmth is so good and I can feel myself relaxing totally —

“Ahem.”

I am conscious of a shadow across my face. I open my eyes and quickly stand up.

He’s tall. That’s the first thing I notice. A good few inches taller than me, and I’m 5 feet 9. And broad. Broad enough to block my sun. His hair is red, very red and the sun behind him creates a fiery corona around his head.

He’s a Viking. A Viking in a navy blue suit and a crisp white shirt. How many of those white shirts does he own, I wonder?

“Claire Beauchamp, I presume. I recognise the case. That red ribbon on the handle, such a unique idea.”

He smiles, a lopsided half grin and holds out his hand for me to shake. “Jamie Fraser.”

“Claire Beauchamp,” I say somewhat unnecessarily as we shake hands.

He sits down. “So,” he begins politely. “I hope ye havena come far out of yer way.”

I join him on the bench.

“No,” I gesture vaguely to my right. “I live not too far from here. How about you?”

That lopsided grin appears again. “Nah,” he gestures to his left. “No’ too far at all.”

There’s an awkward moment of silence. We are not really here for small talk, but is it too rude to just dive in and do the swap?

“So,” Jamie breaks the silence. “About the cases…”

Apparently it’s not too rude.

“I ken ye have ma case there, on account of ma contact details being in it, but what about this one? How do I ken this is yers? Black Samsonites with wee red ribbons seem to be awfa common ‘round here. As proof, can ye mebbe tell me something that’s in it? Something identifiable?”

And at this, my mind goes blank, what did I pack?

“Er, denim shorts… black flip flops… white vest—”

“Weel, they’re all verra common. Is there anything a wee bit more… unique?”

Is it my imagination or is there a twinkle in his clear blue eyes as he says this? And then I remember exactly what’s in my case and start to blush.

“There may be some hen party bits and pieces in there too. It was my friend’s hen weekend, so I think there may be some, er, stuff from that, you know, er, handcuffs… shot glasses…”

He puts me out of my misery. “Och, that’s fine. It’s yers, right enough. Here ye go.”

And we do the exchange, just like in the spy movies. Except in those, the cases are filled with bank notes and the top secret blueprints for a submarine base, and not white dress shirts and an assortment of shot glasses shaped like penises.

Our phones beep practically simultaneously. I pull mine out of my pocket. Jamie does the same and glances at his phone.

Mine is a text from Frank confirming tonight’s arrangements “I’d better go. Plans for tonight, you know.”

“Snap. Plans here as well.”

“Goodbye then. I’m not sure whose fault it was, the mixup at the airport. So why don’t we both say sorry, or neither of us?” I suggest as I stand up and smooth the creases from my skirt.

“Sounds good tae me. How about neither?” He smiles again. “Ms Claire Beauchamp, nice to meet you.”

“Mr Jamie Fraser, likewise I’m sure.”

And with that we head off, me to the right and Jamie Fraser to the left.

************

Frank had said 7:30, and, sure enough, at 7:28 my intercom buzzes and I let Frank in. He arrives at my door carrying a large bunch of lilies and roses. No, not a bunch, I can’t describe it as a bunch… carrying a large bouquet of lilies and roses, beautifully arranged and hand-tied. Clearly not a supermarket purchase. Nor is the wine he also hands to me. A chilled bottle of my favourite Sauvignon Blanc, only available from quality wine merchants in the city.

Frank can be incredibly thoughtful and generous, and I am suitably grateful. I pop the flowers into the kitchen sink while I try to locate a vase big enough to hold them. He walks in as I’m scrabbling around on my hands and knees, bum in the air, head buried in the cupboard under the sink.

“So what are we having for dinner?” He asks as he pours the wine. “Are you cooking?”

I emerge victorious, having found the vase wedged between a bottle of sink unblocker and an unused can of spray starch.

“Sorry?”

“Dinner?” He repeats, helping me to my feet.

“I’ve not had a chance to cook. I told you about the suitcase confusion, didn’t I? Well, I had to get that sorted. I thought we could have something delivered. That’s ok, isn’t it?”

“I’m sure that will be fine, darling. What would you like?”

What would I like? What I would really like would be a huge, great pizza full of carbs and grease and pepperoni and cheese that pulls into strands when you try to take a slice. And to sit on the floor with the pizza box between us watching Netflix and drinking beer.

But, that is clearly a rhetorical question.

“Thai?” Frank doesn’t wait for my answer.

Thai is the only acceptable takeaway in Frank’s eyes, eaten at a table, on proper plates. I nod my agreement. After all, he’s brought me wonderful flowers, and a gorgeous bottle of wine. He deserves to have the choice. And I can have pizza with my friends any time.

“You ring the order through then, while I arrange these beautiful flowers.” I say and kiss his cheek.

And that is our evening sorted - takeaway, a couple of glasses of wine, Newsnight on the television and then to bed for a bit of sex.

So, that’s food, drink, mind and body all sorted. I should go to sleep feeling satisfied with everything. I should… shouldn’t I?