Brian and Ellen Fraser had been long-time friends with Quentin Lambert Beauchamp, an accomplished archaeologist and historian. They met in the mid-80s in Hurghada, Egypt, while the Frasers were on honeymoon and Quentin on a break from a field survey in Mt Sinai. It all had started in a quaint traditional Egyptian coffee shop in the old town of El Dahar when Quentin offered the couple seats at his table as the locale had been bursting at the seams. What was supposed to be only a brief encounter, had turned into a very close friendship after Brian and Quentin discovered that they shared the same passion for history, Egyptology and scuba diving.
Over the next few years, the friends religiously kept in touch. As Quentin never married, the Frasers embraced him as part of the family and was often invited to their home in Lallybroch whenever he took a break from fieldworks or was in the UK. When Quentin's brother and sister-in-law, Henry and Julia died in a horrific car accident, Brian and Ellen immediately went to Oxford to be with their friend and to offer their support in any way they could. It was there the Frasers learned that the tragic couple left behind a five-year-old daughter, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, leaving Quentin as the child's sole living relative.
Ellen instantly fell in love with young Claire and was captivated with the child's unusual, amber eyes which were almost too big for her cherubic face, framed with short chocolate brown curls. Devastated already for Quentin's lose, her heart broke furthermore when the child pointed at her parents' coffins. "Mummy an' Daddy are in there," she had said, as she tugged at Ellen's coat.
The Frasers knew there was no way that Quentin could single-handedly raise Claire and still do the job he passionately loved. After the funeral, Brian and Ellen sat Quentin down and offered to take care of the child while he was away at work, or until Claire was old enough to attend a boarding school. Ellen thought it was the most sensible plan for a young child to grow up in a loving family and she couldn't bear the thought of Claire, young as she was, not having a mother figure so early in her life. The Frasers already having three children of their own, supposed another one in their big household in Lallybroch shouldn't be an issue.
At first, Quentin was speechless as he could never take advantage of such generosity, let alone their friendship. It never even crossed his mind to leave his niece in the care of anyone. But the Frasers weren't just anyone. To him, they were family, but still, he knew he couldn't impose. He was already of the mindset of changing his job, maybe taking a post offered to him a few months back before the tragedy struck. Quentin had always taken comfort in knowing he would always have a place at Oxford University - it was his fallback plan. Selfish as it was even to contemplate the Frasers'offer, he knew working as a professor wouldn't be as thrilling as visiting ancient sites and being hands-on with surveying and excavating. On the other hand, he knew he was clueless when it comes to raising a child, and he couldn't deny Claire a normal childhood the Frasers were offering.
And so it was decided after a lot of discussions and deliberations that Claire would stay with the Frasers while Quentin was away at work. And in summer, Claire would go with his uncle to visit sites he was working on or go on holidays with him to faraway exotic places. The Fraser children, William, Jenny and Jamie, embraced Claire as part of the family and loved her as any brother or sister could love a sibling. There was enough money in the trust fund left behind for Claire that would ensure a secure future, but the Frasers never concerned having an extra mouth to feed as they ran a successful family-owned hotel business. It wasn't until Quentin died in a crossfire in a war in Congo, the Frasers became Claire's official foster family at the tender age of ten.
17-year-old James Fraser had debated all day whether he ought to go to the school dance or not. Having no interest in dancing whatsoever, it should have been a straightforward choice. Not even the bonniest of girls from school who asked him out made the decision any easier. After a lot of weighing, Jamie decided to go in the end, convincing himself it would be something to do on a Friday night and all his mates would be in attendance. And so that night, he went alone, arriving two hours late to the dance.
Inconspicuously, he had entered the dance hall and leaned against the wall, watching his 15-year-old foster sister, Claire from the shadows. She stood with four other girls eagerly anticipating to be asked for a dance, as she tucked a non-existent stray curl behind an ear and straightened her eyeglasses for the hundredth time. His best friend, Frank Randall, had promised Claire to take her to the school dance in return for writing his essay on Egypt for a school project. But like a cad that he was, Frank bailed out the last minute and decided not to hold his side of the bargain. Despite the humiliation, Claire held her head up high and insisted on attending on her own, with hopes Frank would at least ask her once for a dance.
Looking at the time, Jamie knew it was nearly coming to an end. There were only two dances left, and soon it would be over. He could see Claire was starting to fret by the way she fidgeted nervously with her hands. Damn ye, Frank, damn ye to hell! But why should he even care when he had warned her so many times about his friend that behind the charming facade was a very selfish, insensitive person. She was an intelligent enough lass, and Claire had her outstanding grades to prove that, but when it came to Frank, her better judgement seemed to dissipate.
As the last dance for the evening was announced, he noticed the other four girls that stood next to her were already on the dance floor with their respective partners, leaving Claire on her own. Jamie knew any minute now she will grab her coat and run out upset. He had hoped it wouldn't come to this and that some lad would come and ask her to dance. But nobody came. Oh to hell with it! Before he could change his mind, Jamie quickly walked over to her.
"Sassenach, ye fancy a dance with me?"
"Oh, it's you! Hi Jamie!" Claire smiled feebly. He knew she had been silently praying for a miracle that Frank would appear.
"No' the greeting I was hoping for," Jamie teased softly, offering his hand for a dance.
Claire took his hand, and this time, she smiled warmly. "You're always coming to my rescue, and you know fine, I'll be alright."
"Aye, ah ken." He guided her to the dancefloor and twirled her awkwardly before taking her into his arms. Jamie was glad it was a slow dance as he would have felt dumb swaying to fast music on his own. Claire giggled as they nearly bumped into another couple, her forehead colliding against his chin.
"You know what Jamie, other girls are dying to dance with you. And besides, what are you doing here? You don't like to dance at all."
Jamie looked down at her, and he could see himself in her eyeglasses. And when she smiled, the disco light above them reflected on her braces. He tried not to chuckle. "No, I dinna care really for dancing that's why I came late. After the dance, I'll be going out with the lads."
"Oh! Is one of the lads, Frank?" Claire asked earnestly, her face flushing.
Jamie had always known about Claire's infatuation with his friend. It had all began in school when Frank picked up the books she dropped. As he handed them back, he had winked at her. For young Claire, she thought that was the most romantic gesture, and ever since then, Frank became an obsession.
"Aye, Frank is one of the lads," Jamie admitted, his jaw tightening. "Will ye be alright later, Sassenach? I can take ye home after the dance if ye wish." He tried to ascertain what she was thinking, but her glasses were obscuring her eyes and noted they needed polishing.
Claire's chin wobbled a bit as she smiled, and Jamie knew she was trying her best not to cry. "I'll be alright, Jamie. You go and have fun with your friends. Willie will be picking me up anytime soon."
Friend or not, Jamie wanted to throttle Frank for using Claire, enticing her with a promise of taking her to the dance and then backing out last minute. "I tell ye what Sassenach, how 'bout I take ye fishing tomorrow? Just the two us. Will that cheer ye up?"
"Jamie, you don't need to do that! Honestly! I'm fine! You're always so sweet to me, and I know you'd rather be hanging out with Laoghaire," Claire pressed gently, giving him a reassuring smile.
"Laoghaire? What makes ye think that?" Jamie was surprised at Claire's response. Laoghaire MacKenzie was a popular girl in school who liked to make an impression on everyone that she was his girl after he took her out once at an icecream bar. It had only been one time as he found her crying one afternoon after breaking up with a boyfriend. Feeling sorry for the lass, he thought icecream would cheer her up.
"Well, I've seen you talk to her, and you look at her as if she's the most gorgeous girl in the world. Sometimes I wonder how it would be like to be chased by the boys. I feel invisible at times, and it doesn't matter what I wear, do or say, I'll always be a Sassenach. It's not fair...Frank is English like me and yet he's so well-liked at school."
Jamie's arms froze around her. "Claire...I'm so sorry...does it offend ye that I..."
"No, not you, Jamie. You don't say Sassenach in a mean way like the others. Like what I said earlier, you're always so sweet. I couldn't have asked for a better brother." Claire stood on tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek. "Right... dance is over... you go and have fun with your friends. Willie is probably waiting outside already. And I promise I feel loads better already because of you."
Funny that Jamie didn't realise the music had stopped when he usually would have counted the seconds until the dance was over. But before Claire could turn around and go, he grabbed her arm. "I'm taking ye fishin' tomorrow and make sure ye pack some crisps and sandwiches...alright?"
This time, Claire's smile reached her eyes, her braces twinkling under the disco light. "Okie-Dokie! I'm looking forward to it. And now go! Have fun with the lads and see you in the morning."
Jamie watched her walk away as Frank, and the rest of his mates approached him. "Little sister sorted then?" Frank asked mockingly as he put a hand on his shoulder.
She's not my sister! Jamie wanted to punch his friend on the face for hurting Claire's feelings, but instead, he mentally counted to three and breathed deeply. "Aye, my brother has come to pick her up."
What can he say? They didn't know her as he did and what she had been through. In the eyes of those who knew Jamie in school, he was just like Frank; a popular guy, great in sports and hanged out with the right people and went out with pretty girls. And as for Claire, she was just a Sassenach; unconventional, highly intelligent, nerd and the ugly orphaned child taken in by the Frasers. Jamie thought of what Claire had said of him looking at Laoghaire like she was the most gorgeous girl in the world. What she didn't realise was, it was Claire he was looking at. She had taken off her glasses that day and was cleaning it with a piece of cloth, and her poor eyesight must have made her believed that Laoghaire was the subject of his admiration. Oh, how his friends would jibe and taunt if they knew, him, James Fraser, one of the popular guys in school was madly in love with his foster sister, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, braces, eyeglasses, wild hair and all.