“Sassenach?” Jamie called, his tone perplexed while he stared at an open drawer full of Claire’s luxurious undergarments.
“What is it?” she asked from the bathroom, moisturising her face. They hadn’t left her room for the last two days, too busy with each other to wander around sightseeing. Today, however, they had decided to go out and explore the Highlands; Jamie was all too happy to play the tour guide for her.
“Why do ye have so much underwear packed?” He raised his eyebrows, pulling out a garter belt and biting his lip.
“Why on earth are you fidgeting in my drawers?” she asked amused, leaning against the doorframe.
He turned around, “I was lookin’ for my — “ Letting the rest of his sentence die, he took her in the vision of her.
Claire looked down at herself wearing his tartan shirt, a few buttons left open and tucked into some vintage dark-washed Levi’s.
His eyes grew wide, his lip flicking up, “Nevermind, I think I found it.”
Looking back up, she walked over to him and wrapped her arms around his neck, “Don’t you think it suits me?”
“It suits ye better than it suits me, aye.” He held her close, kissing the tip of his nose. “‘Tis no’ fair.”
“I actually loved it on you,” she admitted, stroking his cheek. “But I’m keeping it,” she added, kissing him before going to grab her phone that had started ringing.
Chuckling, Jamie watched her and shook his head. He grabbed a towel and went to the bathroom, “I’ll get in the shower while ye take that.”
“Do that,” she smiled, sitting on the bed. She watched as he winked at her — or tried to — and closed the door.
Claire looked down at her phone, the screen flashing with a selfie of the girls.
Before becoming a mother, she wasn’t sure she had had the proper instincts. She wasn’t even sure she actually wanted children while trying to pursue a career. But then, the idea started to form in her mind, and the need grew stronger and stronger. It took so long to get pregnant, she had been close to throwing away the idea more times than one; becoming frustrated by negative tests, heartbroken by a miscarriage...
Now, looking at her daughters, she had absolutely no regrets — except maybe not having more children.
“Claire Beauchamp speaking?” She answered the phone in her business voice, prompting giggles on the other side of the line.
“Hello, Mum!” Lily said first.
“Morning!” Sarah added over her sister’s shoulder.
“Good morning, my darlings.” Her smile grew. Her daughters' voices always made her heart grow twice its size whenever she heard them.
“How is everything? Are you back in London yet?”
“Not yet, we’re about to leave for the station in a minute,” Lily explained, always the one in charge. “We’ll be home before noon!”
“Did you have a good time?” she asked, not that she didn’t already know the answer.
Whenever they visited, Uncle Lambert made a point to take them to museums, out for book shopping, and to eat at their favourite place. It was like a vacation, where being spoiled was the primary activity.
“We did! Uncle Lambert took us to the library at Oxford,” Sarah explained, buzzing. “We want to study there, Mum!”
“Keep up those good grades and you will, my love,” Claire smiled fondly, glad that her daughters didn’t seem to share her reluctance to a university education.
“Don’t worry, we will!” She could hear the smirk in her daughters’ voices, and it only made her smile even more at their determination.
“How are you, Mum? Are you having fun?” Sarah changed the subject, her curiosity rising in her tone.
“How was the shoot?”
“I’m having lots of fun,” Claire leaned back, her eyes on the bathroom’s door. “The shoot went well. I can’t wait to show you the pictures, darlings.”
“We can’t wait to see!” They exclaimed happily. The only people more obsessed with the inner workings of a photoshoot than Claire were her daughters.
“I can’t wait to get home and see you two,” Claire added, feeling a tug at her heart thinking about how she’d soon have to leave the bubble she created with Jamie here. They had shared four perfect days, and she was starting to like him far more than she had expected, but it would soon be time to go back to reality.
How would he fit into it? She didn’t know.
— all she knew was that she wanted him to be a part of it.
“You sound happy, Mum.”
Lily’s statement rolled so easily off her tongue, yet to Claire, it was like a gut punch. At that moment, Jamie walked out of the bathroom freshly showered and smiled at her tenderly.
Claire had realised that something had switched in her over the past few days, but she had not been able to pinpoint exactly what it had been. As it turned out, it was simpler than she had expected. A newfound lightness was back, blossoming inside her chest.
“I am, darling,” she smiled, looking at Jamie dressing. “The fresh air of the Highlands has been very good to me.”
“That’s good, Mum.” Claire heard the smile in her daughter’s voice, picturing it on her sweet face.
“How is Margaret doing? I hope Uncle Lambert is behaving himself,” Claire grinned, changing the subject. Jamie gave her an inquisitive look full of amused curiosity. It was well known in the family that Maggie and Quentin liked to pretend to not get along.
Maggie didn’t approve of his frivolous ways, while he didn’t approve of her strict way of thinking. If any pair were polar opposites, it was them.
“They seem to get along, they have actually barely argued while we’ve been here.” One of her daughters paused before continuing, “I know, odd but true.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear. I can’t wait for you all to tell me all about your time in Oxford when I get home.”
“All right, Mum,” Sarah interjected. “See you tomorrow, we love you!”
“See you, my crumpets. I love you too,” Claire smiled, her heart squeezing again, a bittersweet happiness taking over — regarding both her upcoming reunion with her girls and her imminent departure from Scotland.
Jamie was now dressed, having relocated some of his clothes to her room last night. He wore a green turtleneck, burgundy corduroy trousers and his (she now knew) favourite pair of converse. He leaned against the door, observing her with a tender smile that beamed all over his gorgeous face. He hadn’t shaved for days, and stroking the auburn scruff on his chin was quickly becoming a favourite occupation of hers.
“Are we ready to go?” she asked, putting her phone aside and getting up.
“Aye, I’m ready when ye are, Sassenach,” Jamie walked over to her, putting on his Barbour jacket — the one and only item of clothing their wardrobe had in common.
Claire kissed his cheek and put her own jacket on, “I can’t wait to see what you have in store for me.”
“Hopefully ye like the itinerary.” He leaned down to kiss her softly, resting his hand on her lower back. “And motorcycle rides.”
Pulling back, her brown drew together in a frown, “Motorcycle rides, uh?”
“Aye,” his smirk grew. “Hopefully yer curls will fit into the helmet.”
“Don’t be so sure about that,” she laughed, pulling him out of the room.
Claire held onto his waist, resting her cheek against his back and enjoying the wind against the porcelain skin on her face.
The sights around them took her breath away. The shades of green and yellow melting together — it felt like being in the middle of a painting. The day was exactly how she prefered; gloomy and grey, with mist hiding the tops of the mountains and the promise of rain falling at any second. The air smelled muggy, mixed with Jamie’s muskiness, and it felt like a memory she wanted to bottle.
They had been riding for slightly over an hour when they finally arrived in a village. It was tiny, with a fountain, a pub, a general store, and a church decorating the square. The place seemed frozen in time — it could have been the 60s or the 1800s (if the cars disappeared) and Claire wouldn’t have known any different.
Once the engine was off, Jamie turned around and looked at her with a smile, “Welcome to Aberdeen, mo ghraidh.”
“I hope ye are hungry,” he added, brushing his lips against hers.
“I’m famished,” she whispered, deepening the kiss for a few seconds longer.
Claire had forgotten what infatuation felt like. The giddy feeling, the weak knees, the giggles rooted in the back of her throat, ready to come out at any time. The constant need to have his lips in between her own. It had been so long since a reckless innocence had taken over her this way.
“What do ye fancy?” he asked, removing the helmet off her head, the curls cascading over her shoulders; freed.
“Fish and chips.” She kissed him again, getting off the motorcycle. “With a beer.”
“Seems like we have more in common than we thought, Sassenach.” Grinning, Jamie brought her hand to his lips and led her towards the pub.
Claire looked around the almost empty place, unable to prevent a smile. The interior had probably not changed since the seventies, the wallpaper tacky and brightly coloured, the mismatched furniture and a jukebox in a corner.
“Did you decorate this place?” she teased, sitting down in a booth with him.
“Nay, but I’m available to redo yer house if need be,” he chuckled, kissing her hand.
“Do you come here often?” She looked around, holding his hand in hers.
“Nay, I haven’t been here in a long time, but I can guarantee ye’ll never find better food than at this place.”
“That is a very bold statement to make, my ginger biscuit.” She cupped his cheeks, pulling his face close to hers.
“I’m verra bold, both in my statements and my clothing, and ye ken that.” He sealed their lips, his mischievous tone making her giggle. “Dinna move, Sassenach, I’ll go get us some drinks and order the food.”
Claire leaned back and watched him for a moment, her eyes following him. Her attention was broken off by the sound of her phone ringing, alerting her that she had a new text. She had done a good job avoiding work and life for the past couple of days, but she couldn’t keep doing this forever.
The text came from Sally — and like any text coming from her, it was short and straight to the point:
“Your divorce papers are ready to be signed when you get back.”
The relief must have dominated her face, because when Jamie came back with the drinks, he looked at her suspiciously.
“Everythin’ okay, Sassenach?” he smiled, sitting down.
Looking up, she put the phone away and returned the smile, “Yes, I just got a text from my lawyer, everything’s fine.”
Jamie handed her a beer, “Glad to hear it. I was afraid yer ex was causin’ ye trouble.”
“Thomas?” She frowned, taking a sip of it. “Oh no, he’s been anything but cooperative with things. I mean, he did ask for the divorce, so it would be bizarre if he tried to go against it after all.”
“Did he?” Jamie’s red eyebrows went up in surprise. “Oh…”
“Fish and chips for the lovebirds!” An elderly woman announced happily, placing the plates in front of them. “Enjoy, dearies,” she winked and disappeared just as quickly as she had arrived.
“Why do you look so surprised?” She took a fry and ate it.
“Weel, he didn’t seem too pleased to see us on the balcony at the party.” His lip flicked up into a grin at the memory. “No’ pleased at all.”
“Looked like he wanted to punch me,” his grin only grew.
“You actually seem happy about that?” she chuckled, shaking her head. She did recall Thomas’s reaction and the conversation in the car...she couldn’t deny that it felt like he was jealous, but she wouldn’t go as far as to say that it felt like he wanted to backtrack on the divorce.
Or did it?
“Nay, but I can understand the lad,” he started to eat. “I wouldna be happy to see my ex-wife in the arms of a dashin’ Scotsman who dresses heavenly and who’s so charmin’.”
“Too bad that this isn’t about what pleases him or not. I pleased him long enough, and it still didn’t work out,” she held up her beer and took a sip.
“Can I ask ye somethin’?”
The vulnerability in his eyes disarmed her. He seemed to be...afraid. Scared of whatever he was going to ask; or more so, the answer to his question.
Nodding, she put the glass down and waited for it to come. “Go on.”
“Would ye ever go back to him?” His voice was low, barely recognizable from the one she was getting accustomed to.
“I don’t think my lawyer, who is also my best friend, would let me do that,” she joked, but quickly erased the teasing smile on her face at the look he was giving her.
Claire reached for his hand and squeezed it, “Look, I thought about it at first...I even think about it sometimes when I see him with our daughters. But I don’t think it would be wise of us to get back together for the sake of how things were when they were good.”
“I did love him very much. I still do in a way, because he’s the father of my children and someone I shared so many years with, but I don’t love him enough anymore to justify making each other miserable.” she continued. Jamie squeezed her hand as his eyes softened.
“Twenty years is a long time to be with someone...to build a life and memories. We were so young when we got together, we barely knew who we were, and at the end of the day, it came back to bite us in a way neither of us would have imagined. Back then, we thought we were what the other was supposed to be looking for, and it was true for a while. However, things and people change, and it’s fine.”
“Maybe Thomas believes he made a mistake asking for a divorce. Maybe he doesn’t like seeing me with another man or moving on. At the end of the day, I’m not his wife anymore and what I do with my life doesn’t concern him unless the girls are involved.”
“So,” she moved closer to him, cupping his cheek. “No, I don’t think about going back to him.”
“To be fair,” she kissed his lips tenderly, tasting the salt on them. “I quite enjoy spending my time with you. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”
“Ye dinna ken how happy I am to hear so, a nighean.” He stroked her cheek, smiling tenderly. The light in the pub was dim, so she wasn’t quite sure, but she almost swore his eyes were shimmering with emotion.
“Does that mean we can have another date then?” Jamie kissed the tip of her nose. “Because I have an exhibition in Oxford in two weeks, and I’d be verra happy if you could attend...and we could spend the weekend there? Together. Unless ye have the girls —”
“Actually, they’ll be at their father’s,” she smiled, leaning closer.
“Or if ye’re busy wi’ work.” He pressed her closer, his hand resting on her back.
“Wild horses couldn’t keep me away,” she whispered against his lips before stamping them with hers.