Rain lashed violently at the bedroom window and Brianna observed each drop on the glass racing downwards against each other, leaving crystal clear tracks behind. In the distance, lightning illuminated the mountain peaks, and thunder galloped fast towards Inverness, though she barely noticed.
Having given up on sleep for now, she sat cross legged in the middle of the bed in one of the guestrooms of the late minister’s house. The sheets and covers were spread far and wide around her, telling a crumpled tale of the tossing and turning she had done to escape the rampant thoughts inside her mind. On her lap was a stuffed Aberdeen Scottie, once well-loved by Roger, and she absently stroked its worn-out black fur.
Tomorrow, her mother’s story would conclude in this time. A story that disrupted Brianna’s preconceived notions of logic, and forced her to adapt to a reality that existed outside the boundaries of reason. In a few hours, her mother would leave, would travel back centuries. Though Brianna made a genuine effort to support that decision, she had not yet made peace with it.
Her thoughts remained somewhat self-centered, driven by a sense of abandonment that sat heavy on her chest. And amidst the selfishness that corroded her heart, reason was almost completely shoved aside by jealousy, though she did have the decency to feel ashamed enough to not mention it, not even to Roger. The truth was, Brianna felt jealous of a man she did not know, her father, her real father, because in a few hours he would have her mother all to himself.
Not even Roger’s words from earlier, filled with both sense and empathy, had been enough to completely settle the imminent collision between reason and heart. There were still far too many doubts in her mind.
His voice filled the silence of the room, and it was as if her mind had materialized him. His voice sliced through the privacy of her thoughts with that Scottish brogue, warm and smooth, and for a split-second, Brianna wondered how she could go back home, go on without hearing that melodious lilt calling her name every day.
Roger was leaning against the doorframe, staring through the partly open door. There was a look of concern across his face. His eyes, clear and alert even in the dim light of the bedside lamp, seemed to ask a myriad of questions, to which she had no clear answers. Are you alright? Certainly not. Will you ever be? No guarantees.
“Come in,” she said, “I can’t sleep anyway.”
Roger was still dressed in the clothes he’d worn all day, not having bothered to go to bed yet despite the late hour. She wondered if he, too, was having trouble digesting the choices made by her mother and all they encompassed.
He sat at the foot of the bed, the wooden bed frame creaking under his weight.
“Anything else on your mind?” he asked.
Brianna was immediately glad he asked, not sure how she would be able to tell him otherwise.
“Mama is about to leave. I think she still has doubts. Maybe because of me. It’s visible all over her face.”
Brianna had learned over the years to read the emotions on her mother’s face, fleeting glimpses of feelings she rarely voiced. Her mother’s face amplified all her thoughts, and ever since they discovered that Jamie had survived, it reflected a conflict far too great to deal with without pain. She had been confronted with the horrible truth that whatever, and whoever, she chose, she would be giving up on the other, and losing one part of her heart in the process.
“That makes sense.” Roger said, calmly. “No matter how much she wants to see Jamie again, she’s leaving her daughter behind. I canna imagine how torn she must feel.”
Brianna sighed, feeling limp and resigned. “You were right earlier. I need her, I always will, but I’m not a child anymore.” Her hand reached for his, seeking the comfort she had not allowed herself to enjoy earlier. “And I’m not alone either.”
He did not speak, but instead held her hand firmly, squeezing it back in reassurance.
“But what if she doesn’t go?” Brianna asked, her voice a whisper, finally letting out the one question that had been circling her brain for a long while, a record spinning endlessly.
“If she does not go, it will be because she wants to be here for ye. And that’ll be her choice.”
“She has to go-- it can’t just be over for them, not now, after we’ve found him. She needs to be with him and I can’t be the reason they remain apart. I can’t be that selfish,” she hissed under her breath, looking down at her lap while she picked at Uncle Angus’ ratty plaid bonnet.
The bed creaked again as Roger slid toward her, pulling her into an embrace. His arm circled her shoulders, and she leaned on him willingly. Warmth radiated from his body and steadied her. Maybe it should bother her how easily he reached for her these days, but the truth was that she craved his touch just as much, despite the multiple warnings her mind produced. Too much. Too fast. Too soon.
“You know, I could never figure out how much I was like Daddy. It was never the mannerisms, and certainly not the hair.” She chuckled, but there was no hint of humor in her voice. “Now I know I could never be exactly like him, no matter how much I loved him, not even if I followed in his footsteps.”
He turned to look at her, but she averted her eyes. She spoke again, this time with only a slight tremble to her words.
“That man, Jamie, my father,” her voice caught on the word, “has spent his life wondering if his wife and child made it safely through the stones. He deserves to know, Roger. And if Mama can’t make that decision, I will make it for her. I owe it to myself to know where I came from, too.” Her voice had become stronger as she spoke, though it was not the longing for a father that moved her. No, she had known a father’s love all her life and was glad for it. She was moved instead by the curiosity to know the man who captured her mother’s heart completely, and a strange sense of duty to tell him they were alive.
“What d’ye mean by that?” he asked. And as close as they were, she felt his heartbeat quicken under his woolen sweater.
She went on after a moment of silence, her tone close to a whisper, determined. “I’ll go through the stones myself to find him.”
His reaction was immediate. He stood up from the bed quickly and looked down at her, green eyes wide open in shock and anger. Maybe fear. “No Bree, ye canna do that.”
“Why not? We both know that I could do it.”
“We also know it’s dangerous!” he nearly shouted.
“It’s dangerous for me, but not for my mother? What kind of double standard is that, Roger?” Her voice rose to match his, defiant and aflame with irritation. She had been prepared to be met with resistance, but had not anticipated the strength of his reaction, how it would feel.
“That’s not what I meant.” His hands came up in the air in frustration as he started pacing the room.
Brianna swung her long legs from the bed in an elegant move for someone so tall, and her bare feet landed on the floor with a soft thud. She crossed the distance between them in a single stride and pulled him to face her. Her face glowed with barely contained anger, turning into a brilliant red that masked the freckles across her cheeks.
“Then what?” she roared.
His hands closed around her upper arms with such desperation that she had to bite her lower lip not to yelp from both pain and surprise. She was rooted in place by his firm grip, forced to look at the fire that burned freely in his eyes, and she observed, completely fascinated, how that desperation had transformed his usually soft expression. His jaw was clenched, and even his olive skin, not usually prone to flushes, had acquired a faint red hue.
“Yer mother has done it before! She is going back to find the love of her life and I canna-“
Lose mine, her mind completed. The thought caught her off guard. It seemed too soon for such an assumption, even though she could not deny the tenderness growing between them, beyond mere friendship, an attraction that kept pulling them slowly towards each other.
“You can’t what?” she demanded through gritted teeth, daring him. There was a side of her that wanted to probe his veiled words and touches, to truly know what feelings lay underneath. Her question echoed on the walls and came back to her ears sounding desperate for confirmation.
His mouth opened, though no sound came out, and for the first time since they met, she saw him at a loss for words. Roger attempted several times over, failing each time. Eventually, he sighed and gave up, his feelings not yet ready to be acknowledged.
Perhaps he sensed that she wasn’t ready, either.
They breathed together for a moment, his grip on her arms loosening as they both became aware of how close they stood. How, with a slight shift of their heads, they just might…
“Look, Bree,” he said, his voice quiet as he started to let her go, “this is not a decision ye can make on impulse. Ye should get some rest, and we’ll talk about it in the morning, aye?”
Her eyes flashed. “This isn’t just a whim, Roger. If my mother doesn’t go, I will go to Edinburgh to find my father, whether you want me to or not. He deserves to know.”
Brianna loosened her arms from him and moved across the floor to the bed again. She took a moment to arrange the sheet and blankets around her neatly, though she watched him from the corner of her eye. He walked towards the door, shaking his head as he went.
“Will you come with me?"
It was her unfiltered, irrational side that spoke as she decided to test his limits, to understand how far he was willing to go for her.
Roger froze at the door, his stillness betraying the energy from the charged question, and for a moment, the room remained silent. But the answer was there, while thunder roared in the sky above their heads.
Roger froze at the door, quite involuntarily. Her question fell upon him like a rush of cold water, immobilizing his muscles and making it difficult to breathe, let alone for his heart to keep beating.
“To the stones, I mean.” Brianna elaborated further.
Even with his back turned to her, he could detect the faint pang of regret in her voice, and he wondered briefly if she had meant to ask if he would go through the stones with her. Blood started to flow in his body again, encouraged by the quickening of his heart.
Throughout the whole ordeal, from discovering the stones had otherworldly, time traveling properties, to learning Claire’s story, finding Jamie alive, and then realizing he too had the ability to go back in time, Roger had thought of the possibilities. He entertained the idea of running as fast as he could towards the tallest stone on Craigh na Dun, hoping not to slam against the hard surface, but to be transported to a reality he only knew from his studies. And in the first second after her question had floated unanswered in the space between them, he contemplated again leaving his life behind, the stuffy rooms and old books, and seeing history with his own eyes. There was a part of him that resisted the passive life of a professor. Being an observer of events instead of an active player had been the path of least resistance. There was nothing holding him here, in this time, and this life. He had no living kin and only a handful of friends to miss him. Besides, how could a historian deny the chance to see the past when it was only a touch on a stone away?
He turned around finally, and his eyes landed on her, sitting on the bed. Her face was stripped of the layers she always crafted so masterfully to conceal her thoughts. Her features were now soft, giving her a childlike air. Her vulnerability lay bare with no pretense whatsoever, trusting him wholeheartedly, and fear floated on the bottomless pool of her blue eyes, inviting him to dive in.
She looked small in her dark blue pajamas, despite the imposing six feet of height. Strands of red hair were loose from the long braid she wore over her shoulder, and he wanted nothing more than to brush them aside and allow the tips of his fingers to linger on the skin of her cheek.
“Will you see me off, at least?” she pressed, the gentle tone of her voice summoning him back to reality.
“Ye really are going through with it, aren’t you?”
She nodded. “It wouldn’t be forever. I just have to find Jamie, and then I’ll come back.”
If only it were that simple. But life had taught him, quite early and unexpectedly, that the most carefully laid plans had a way of going astray very fast, and often with severe consequences. Perhaps it was a byproduct of her young age, but naïveté was shining through the cracks of what she clearly thought was a reasonable plan.
“It’s not like going on a vacation to the other side of the Atlantic, Bree.” Again, he felt the irresistible gravitation towards her, an invisible energy that seemed to magnetically control his body, and he moved to sit on the bed in front of her again.
“No, it’s not. But I’m a very capable woman, Roger. If Mama doesn’t go, I have to.”
He smiled at her confidence and strength, incredibly vivid in each word.
“I have no doubt in my mind that you can, but we’re talking about a time that was not kind to women, particularly those that travel alone. And God knows what those stones can do to a person.”
A single ruddy eyebrow suddenly lifted. “Has any time been kind to women?”
She said the words in jest, but they held a truth known, and shared, by every woman, one he could not deny. “Ach, no. But still, I can’t let ye go…”
“Roger,” she said, with finality in her voice that gave no space for further argument.
He could sit there all night, list all the possible dangers she might face, and even then, he knew Brianna would not budge; her decision had been made. To an extent, he admired that side of her, impulsive and stubborn to a fault, but determined nonetheless. Roger already knew she would always carry out her will, one way or another, and that it would, more often than not, be useless to oppose her. With an aching heart, he silenced all his arguments, and resigned himself to her choice.
His hand covered hers on top of the blanket, and he gently laced their fingers together. “I’ll take ye to the stones, if that’s what ye decide to do. The least I can do is to be there beside ye if you go.”
“Thank you.” She leaned forward and placed a kiss on his cheek, brief and sweet, catching him by surprise.
“Claire will leave early in the morning,” he said as an afterthought.
Her eyes opened wide, and a sudden flash of hurt crossed through dark blue, as she realized that her mother would leave earlier than expected, to avoid the hurtful goodbye that neither mother, nor daughter, were truly ready for.
Brianna pulled her hand away from his, crossed the bed on hands and knees to the other side, and leaned over to retrieve something from under the bed. Her arse was suddenly pointing slightly upwards, round and incredibly tempting. He clutched his fingers together in his lap, least an errant hand took on a life of its own and he made a fool of himself.
Once she came back up again, her hands were holding what appeared to be a dress in 18thcentury fashion, of the most horrific green lime color he had ever seen. It even had stones, shining disturbingly all over the front, and far too unnatural for today’s standards, let alone for Georgian era fashion.
She had a guilty look on her face, and he immediately realized she had been planning it for a while, without telling either him or her mother. Her premeditation disconcerted him slightly. Roger stared at the dress, briefly imagining Brianna, too tall even for today’s standards, and attracting both curious and unwanted attention in the past.
As selfish as it was, he hoped he could count on Claire going through the stones herself so Brianna would not have to. Roger did not feel ashamed by the thought, for it was only a natural yearning, growing stronger by the day, to want to protect her, to take care of her.
He sighed and rose from the bed. At a loss for words, he simply leaned down, and this time, it was he who placed a lingering kiss upon her forehead. “We better be ready before sunrise. If anything, at least ye’ll have a proper farewell.”
Brianna felt a sort of nervous energy coursing through her veins as her feet moved, quite reluctantly, up the hill. The laces on the bodice she wore were pulled tightly, noticing it too late, and her breaths became increasingly shallow, while her heart beat strongly to be free of such a tight cage. Roger was beside her, a constant reassuring presence ever since they had met, and her hand found his easily, as if he were already expecting it. They reached the circle of stones together, and were immediately hit by the echoes of the past, present, and future, blending together in an incomprehensible, haunting call from within.
She took one step forward, and then another, Roger following her stride, until they reached the central stone and stopped. The buzzing was overwhelming, and even with the nauseating feeling rising in her stomach, she still had the presence of mind to hold onto both his hands with a strength that forced him to stand his ground. His face had gone pale, and she knew he was fighting the same impulse. Brianna stood there for a brief moment, wondering if she just moved forward and crossed the cleft in the middle of the stone, would she be able to let go of his hand, or would she pull him to the past with her?
Footsteps caught her attention and she turned towards the sound. Her mother was coming up the hill, already speechless and astonished to see her there. And Brianna knew with certainty that before the sun completely rose above the horizon, one of two things would happen: either she’d lose her mother to the past forever, or she’d make the leap herself. Roger suddenly tightened his grip, sensing her on the cusp of a decision. Their eyes locked and she nodded. Not yet, she thought. There was still a little time.