It had started in Professor Randall’s history class as they had discussed the 1745 Jacobite Rising in Scotland.
He’d seen her on the first day and thought she was pretty, but he hadn’t gotten close enough to get a proper look until that day.
She smelled of herbs and tea. She asked intelligent questions, though it was obvious that history was not her passion. She had clever, long-fingered hands. Her hair seemed never to stay properly restrained. She had looping, lovely handwriting.
He knew he was sunk if he was swooning over her handwriting, and Jamie swore to himself that he would get to know the girl with the whiskey-coloured eyes.
Claire Beauchamp, he remembered from the first day’s roll call.
Fool that he was, however, he didn’t ask her out that day. Nor the next. Nor any of the following days until the class was over and they had all scattered to the four winds.
Jamie became a research assistant for Professor Randall and he had heard that Claire had gone one to pursue a course of study as a nurse.
One day, he walked into Randall’s office to find the curly-haired student nurse and the professor snogging.
From then on, Jamie treated her with a sneering indifference that regularly crossed the line into sheer rudeness. Randall dismissed him as a research assistant the first time he made Claire cry. Jamie apologized, knowing that if he did not keep his position, he’d never see her again, and he couldn’t stand the thought.
That was how he came to be at their wedding. It was how he came to hire a band and a singer to play her favorite song. It was how he came to see, for the first time, what her eyes looked like clouded by happy tears.
It was how he came to fall even harder.
He wouldn’t have done it if he hadn’t found her crying in the university hallway almost a year later near Christmas.
“Erm…. Mrs. Randall? Should… do you need me to call the Professor?”
She’d given a strangled laugh.
“No, I don’t want to see him.”
Jamie had been keeping his distance. If she walked into Randall’s office, Jamie walked out. If he was invited out with the other students, he would check whether she had been invited and never went when she did.
It hurt too much.
He couldn’t walk away from her then, however.
“Should I… er… get you a cup of tea or something?”
“Christmas should have children, shouldn’t it, Jamie?”
Jamie blinked. He thought of his own home and his sister’s noisy, happy, wonderful brood, and how alive it made Christmas seem.
“Well… aye, it should, I suppose.”
“Well I don’t have children, and I want them.”
“But… Professor Randall doesn’t?” Jamie asked, not sure what was going on.
“No, he does, but we don’t seem to be having any luck so… I asked him about adoption. And he will not. He’d rather not have children than adopt and I… I don’t know that I ever will!”
Jamie wanted to weep with her. This woman deserved to be a mother, and it was cruel of the professor to keep her from it.
He reached over and patted her shoulder clumsily.
“Christ, Jamie, I’m sorry. I know you must want to be anywhere else in the world. Just… I’m fine. Go on then.”
He did, but he couldn’t help looking back and seeing her there looking so lost and sad.
They got caught under the mistletoe at the university holiday party and they had both had enough to drink that they kissed to the hooting cheers of their colleagues.
Then they kept kissing.
Then Professor Randall pulled his wife away and punched Jamie.
“You don’t like me,” Claire said later, after things had calmed down. “You can’t stand me.”
“It’s… more a defense mechanism than anything.”
“So you kissed….”
“Look, if you can’t be honest at Christmas, when can you be? Claire Beauchamp Randall, my wasted heart will love you until you look like one of your husband’s Egyptian mummies. I’m sorry. I canna help it.”
And then she kissed him again.