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The Ties That Bind

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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. -Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Now, whilst not exactly in possession of ‘a good fortune,’ Jamie Fraser certainly had reached (at the age of thirty two) a point in his life where he was what people refer to as comfortable - good job as Chief Financial Officer in the family’s long established distillery business, his own home in a smart but not too elite suburb of Glasgow, new car every three years, with enough spare cash to enjoy both summer sun and winter skiing holidays.

Not that he was complacent. He worked hard and enjoyed the benefits. It was just… not as satisfying as it once had been.

******

Jamie woke at his usual time, even though it was Saturday morning and a three day bank holiday weekend stretched out in front of him. He showered quickly, wrapped the towel neatly round his torso and made his way to the kitchen, picking up the newspaper from the front door en route.

Armed with a cafetière of strong coffee, orange juice, a pen and his newspaper, Jamie made his way into the conservatory that looked onto his back garden. Already, at 8 am, the sunshine streamed into the room, a promising start for Rupert and Fiona’s wedding day. He sank down into his favourite chair, old and well-worn, sipped his coffee and turned to the crossword, enjoying a few minutes of peace and quiet before the frantic activities of the day.

The clatter of the letterbox disturbed the contemplation of 13 across (River, run - 4 letters). Depositing his coffee cup in the dishwasher, Jamie picked up the post, quickly sorting through the pile- broadband deals and ‘epic’ coach holidays straight into recycling, brown envelopes set aside for perusal later and one thick, cream envelope opened immediately.

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Duthie request the pleasure of your company at the wedding of their daughter Kirsty Ann to Mr. Angus Mackenzie...

Another raucous stag weekend beforehand no doubt. Jamie chuckled, thinking of the five (five, really?!) weddings he had been to in the last eighteen months. With most of his close friends settled, that left, well, him in the minority, unattached, unhindered, not tied down, fancy free, uninvolved… on his own. Realistically, Jamie knew he could ‘get a girlfriend,’ that wasn’t the problem. Wanting to keep said girlfriend, now that tended to be the issue.

But I’m no thinking on that today, he told himself. Jes’ focus on the job at hand and get a move on afore Jenny starts mitherin’ to see where I am.

And with that, he headed upstairs, mentally preparing for the duties expected of him that afternoon.

******

From his vantage point at the front of the church, Jamie had a good view of the wedding guests. All the usual suspects of course, his friends scrubbed up nicely, all wearing their dress kilts, their wives and girlfriends sporting a complicated array of hats and, what did Jenny call the wee, poofy ones? Aye, fascinators that was it. The only fascinating thing about them, Jamie mused, was why the hell anyone would want to wear some of them in the first place.

Jamie turned his attention to Rupert, who was standing next to him. The pale green of Rupert’s face matched nicely with the floral arrangements strewn around the church. Jamie noticed he was sweating profusely.

“Dinna fash,” he said, trying to be comforting. “Ye ken she’ll turn up. ‘S’all part of the ritual, turning up late.”

Rupert gave a hesitant grin. “Aye, but what if she changed her mind? What if she’s driving ‘round now thinking of the quickest way tae the airport? I dinna ken…”

Jamie interrupted. “Now why would she do that? She kens exactly what she’s getting into. Remember she was the one who cleaned you up after the projectile vomiting incident of 2016. She kens not tae talk tae ye fer twelve hours after a Scottish rugby defeat, she puts up wi’ yer snorin’ and fartin’ in bed, and she knows when ye say ye’re off tae the gym, you’re really headin’ out fer coffee and doughnuts. Nah, she’ll be here.”

Rupert smiled. “Aye, reckon ye’re right. I got meself a good one. I canna tell ye what she means tae me. What would I do wi’out her?”

And as the organ started up the opening bars of Trumpet Voluntary, Jamie watched Rupert discretely wipe his eyes and move to take his place at the altar.

******

Several hours and several whiskies later, Jamie felt himself start to relax. The reception was now in full swing, the hotel function room full of wedding guests becoming noisier as the alcohol flowed. In the corner he could see the DJ setting up for the evening disco. He wandered from group to group, accepting praise for his best man speech.

“Och, I never kent it was Rupert who painted the neighbours’ dog that time...”

“Weel, now I know how he got that crescent scar on his hand...”

“Good job, Jamie. I guess it must be yer turn soon. Are you no’ courting jes’ now?”

Jamie smiled and shook his head, politely extricating himself from the group of Rupert’s elderly relatives. He started to cross to his sister Jenny who was sitting, no doubt with her shoes already off, a bowl of trifle balanced on her seven month pregnant belly. Beside her, wee Jamie, red faced and sweating, gulped at his lemonade. Jamie’s heart swelled with pride at the sight of his wee nephew and namesake. He thought that…

“Hello there. Good to see you. Nice speech you did there”

Jamie turned slightly to the woman who had just spoken. “Geneva! How are ye doin’? Enjoyin’ yerself? Ye’re looking well.”

Not just idle pleasantries, Jamie thought she was looking well, not to say glamorous. Geneva had always managed to maintain a well-groomed air, her sleek black hair never out of place, even when throwing the television remote control at his head, never breaking into a sweat even as she paced frantically round his living room listing some of his many apparent shortcomings.

“Yes, well, it’s nice to have something to dress up for. And you, you’re looking, er, well too. That kilt always suited you.” Her hand brushed the tartan fabric, so lightly that Jamie wasn’t sure whether he had imagined it.

“Aye, thanks. So, er, well…so, how long has it been since I’ve seen ye?”

“Seven months,” Geneva replied, not missing a beat. “Seven months since you, er, that is, we broke up.”

Jamie felt his ears start to flush at the memory. “Geneva, I…”

“No, it’s fine. For the best. We did have some good times though. Remember that huge slide at the water park?”

“Oh aye,” Jamie grinned at the memory. “That was such a good day. Apart from the wee bit of nausea on…”

“...The lazy river ride,” Geneva laughed.

“Well…” Jamie hesitated as he felt a sharp tug on the sleeve of his jacket. He looked down to see his nephew smiling up at him.

“Unca,” his nephew began, still pulling at his sleeve. “Unca, I need pee, now.”

Jamie shrugged apologetically at Geneva. “Can yer Da not take ye?”

“Nah, Unca, Mam says ye do it. Do it now!”

Wee Jamie’s hand snaked into his uncle’s large hand as he forcibly pulled Jamie out of the function room and into the hallway beyond.

As soon as Jamie was through the door, another hand tightly grabbed his elbow and pulled him into the wooden panelling. For all that she was tiny and seven months pregnant, Jamie knew that Jenny was a veritable force of nature, and from the look on her face, she was gearing up to give him a piece of her mind.

Her face softened briefly as she looked down at Wee Jamie, still holding his uncle’s hand. “Thank ye, mo bhailach beag, now go tae yer Da. He’s right over there. And walk, don’t run.” She called after her over excited son.

“I dare say Wee Jamie will be keeping ye up tonight. He’s that excited…” Jamie started.

Jenny stared at him. “And what do ye think ye were doin’ in there? Just now?”

“In celebrity circles, do they no’ call it ‘working the room’?” Jamie tried, but Jenny was not in the mood for levity.

“You ken fine well what I mean, bràthair. I have eyes, I could see ye laughin’ and jokin’ with Geneva. And she lookin’ at ye like ye were a tall glass of water in the desert. Ye’re a catch and she means to reel ye in again.”

Jamie shook his head. “Nah, ’twas just being friendly. We’ve no’ seen each other fer seven months, since we broke up.”

“And remember, there was a reason YOU broke up with her,” said Jenny, jabbing her finger into his chest. “What was it ye told me, about the clinginess, the snobbishness, the, and I quote ye, the inane drivel that comes out of her mouth?”

“Perhaps I was a bit harsh in my opinions, Jenny, she’s no’ a bad lass really.”

“Aye, and a crocodile’s no’ a mean spirited killing machine, either. I warn ye, Jamie Fraser, dinna go down that road again. Remember ye had reasons to break it off with Geneva.”

“But did I?” Jamie looked directly at Jenny. “Did I really? Or did I no’ give it a chance? Did I just run when the first little thing pissed me off? Is that what I do? Was she just frustrated with me, no’ trying to make it work?” Jamie sighed. “Jenny, look around, look at all our friends, look at ye and Ian. Ye’re all complete. Ye’ve all found yer other halves. And I havena … Or what if I have, and I just havena recognised it.”

Jenny reached up to stroke Jamie’s cheek gently. “Believe me, ye’d recognise it.” she said softly. “It’s out there fer ye. Ye just need tae find it.”

Jamie sniffed and kissed his sister’s cheek. “And on that note, I think it’s time fer a piss, meself”.

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

Claire Beauchamp certainly appreciated the sentiment behind the birthday gift from her closest friend, Geillis - a relaxing night away at a hotel and spa, leisurely dinner, couple of drinks in the hotel bar followed by a day of pampering treatments seemed ideal. Claire had, as usual, been working far too hard at the hospital and, in Geillis’s opinion, Claire’s ‘me-time’ was in seriously short supply.

On paper, the hotel looked great. The spa facilities were excellent and Claire could not remember the last time she had tasted such wonderful food. Now, sitting in a leather chair in the traditionally styled hotel bar with Geillis, sampling some of the hotel’s wide range of whiskies, the downside was clearly apparent - the wedding that the hotel was hosting.

The plan had been to spend the evening in the bar, watching the flames in the huge stone fireplace, the only noises a calming murmur of voices and the tinkle of drinks being poured. The reality was that the overspill from the nuptial celebrations resulted in numerous male guests taking root at the bar recounting, in loud voices, tales of rugby hangovers from hell, Calcutta Cup matches through the ages or the questionable songs wedding DJs seem to play (“C’mon, man, gi’e us a wee bit of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, no this disco shite!”).

Geillis touched Claire’s arm to attract her attention.

“Claire, ye have tae admit, there is something about a man in a kilt. Is that no’ one of yer reasons for staying up here even when Frank moved back tae England?” She nodded her head in the direction of the group of kilted men propping the bar up and laughed. “And what better reason could there be? Best way tae get over a man is tae get under a new one, ye ken.”

Claire looked around the bar and laughed. “Well, G, about the kilt situation, I’m not convinced in all cases, but…” Through the door into the foyer, her eye was caught by the rather striking rear view of a tall, broad, red haired Viking stooping down to kiss the cheek of a petite brunette “...there are certain attractions to it, I dare say. About the Frank situation, I’m over him, just not sure I’m ready for a new relationship yet.”

“Who mentioned a relationship?” Geillis winked. “No’ me…just a wee bit o’ fun. And speakin’ o’ fun, I’ll be getting us two more whiskies, then.” Geillis rose and headed for the bar, firmly wedging herself between two of the burliest men there.

Claire smiled and shook her head at her friend. She looked back to where that Viking had been standing but he was gone.

For the rest of their time in the bar, Claire kept a surreptitious look out for ‘her’ Viking . She chose not to mention it to Geillis - much as she loved her, Geillis would have boldly dragged Claire straight into the wedding party making her walk past every guest until she found him. Geillis had many endearing qualities, but discretion was not one of them.

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

It was reaching that time of the night. The more elderly guests and the children had already retired to their beds (Wee Jamie included, protesting loudly all the way), and the alcohol imbibed by the remaining guests ensured that everything was lit by that rosy glow of sentimentality. Rupert and his bride stood together in the middle of the dance floor, swaying gently to the music.

“And now,” the DJ’s muffled announcement came through the speakers. “all you lovers out there, it’s time for the last song, so come and join Rupert and Fiona on the dance floor with ‘I Will Always Love You.’”

As the opening bars of the Whitney Houston rendition sounded, Jamie became aware of Geneva approaching. She held out her hand to him. “Come on Jamie, for old time’s sake, yes?”

Jamie took her hand and together they walked to the dance floor. As they started moving in time to the music, Jamie could feel Geneva’s hands on his shoulders, her fingers lightly stroking his neck, her chest pressed tightly against him, her hair tickling his nose as he breathed. God, she smelt lovely. He closed his eyes and thought about his conversation with Jenny. Perhaps he had been a wee bit hasty seven months ago… perhaps he needed to put more work into a relationship… perhaps he should try again with Geneva. He wrapped his arms around her, his hands resting at the base of her spine, pulling her closer still.

The music died away and the harsh overhead lights switched on, abruptly ending the cosy intimacy of the wedding party. Laughing and shouting (dubious) words of encouragement, everyone followed Rupert and Fiona out to the grand staircase, sending them on their way to the bridal suite.

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

Claire heard the whoops and shouts from inside the now peaceful bar. Once they had died down, she stood up. “I think that's our cue for bed, need to get our money’s worth in the spa tomorrow.”

Together, Claire and Geillis headed up the grand staircase to their rooms.

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

Geneva stood in front of Jamie in the foyer. Tentatively, she took a step towards him tilted her head up to his, lightly running her tongue over her lips. “I guess you’re staying here tonight, aren’t you?”

Jamie nodded.

“I wasn’t planning to,” she continued. “But I could be persuaded…”

“Best not, lass. We’ve both had too much tae drink tae be making wise choices. I still have yer mobile number. I’ll give ye a call.”

Wrinkling her nose up in mock annoyance, Geneva pulled his head down to hers. Jamie closed his eyes as Geneva pressed her lips to his, her tongue gently sliding into his mouth. As she lengthened the kiss, moaning slightly, Jamie opened one eye.

Over Geneva’s shoulder he caught a glimpse of a woman ascending the stairs. Wild brown curls cascaded over her shoulders and onto her back. Her long, shapely legs, clad in blue jeans, looked amazing and the way her hips rolled with each step seemed to ignite a spark within him. He broke away from the kiss as the vision disappeared from view.