Jamie dropped his keys on the kitchen table and took a turn around the flat, the light sound of his footsteps echoing on the naked walls. It felt strange coming back to an empty home—empty of furniture, empty of her. Most of their belongings were stored in boxes piled in the living room, they hadn’t come around to building that massive IKEA wardrobe, and the luxury mattress they’d ordered online still hadn’t been shipped, and yet... Only two weeks after the move, the flat already felt like home—at least when she was there.
No lights in the bedroom. Feeling weary, he stripped off his working clothes infused with the smell of hay-smoked meat and leek and tatties soup, summoning just enough energy to drop them in the laundry basket. A quick glance at his watch— 11:13pm. From the last-minute girls night to the hideous medical emergency, a list of scenarios ran through his mind as his heart irrationally thumped in his chest. He was about to call her when he saw the yellow sticky note, impossible to miss on the stark whiteness on his pillow.
Went to the roof.
With a relieved sigh, he grabbed a sweater and a pair of jeans, and headed towards the bathroom for a quick shower. The past few days had been surprisingly dry and sunny; rather than opening a few more boxes of winter clothes and kitchen utensils, they had spent a whole Sunday on the building’s roof garden, starting Claire’s wee vegetable patch before the first frost. It had made his heart soar to see her so animated, so much like herself again—since they’d come back, a cloud seemed to hang over her every now and then, making her retreat within herself. Sometimes, he wished the Nubian desert wasn’t that far away, for he knew the need for a place after the death of a parent—a quiet refuge to feel their presence in the middle of silence. But perhaps Claire had made her own on the roof of their tenement.
Feeling refreshed, he made a short detour to the kitchen and rummaged through the top cupboard—the one he knew the wee vixen couldn’t reach. Feeling his way against the wall with his right hand, he pushed a salad spinner, one or two bags of flour, and let out a small, content noise as his fingers finally closed on a thick paper bag. Now was the time to open it.
Locking the flat’s door behind him, Jamie made his way to the building’s rooftop and found his Sassenach in the middle of a small square of turf and gravel, sitting on that ridiculous little wooden bench. They had placed it next to a bush of Ellen’s roses, so that it would face the streets of Pollokshields below. Tightly wrapped in a thick tartan blanket, Claire was motionless, except for the hand holding a cup of tea, which rose to her lips every now and then. Moving silently in the dark, he slid next to her on the bench, putting an arm around her and planting a kiss on that holy place in the curve of her neck.
“Waiting for yon cushie friends to return, a nighean ?”
She let out a little gasp as his lips brushed her skin, and smiled, still looking at the sky. It had become a game between them—every time they saw a flock of pigeons, they would imagine that the birds were just passing by, starting their long journey to the land of minarets and golden light after a short Scottish holiday.
“I think they’re all asleep, by now.” She leaned against him, listening to his strong heartbeat as he repositioned the blanket around them. “How was tonight’s service?”
“Good. Well, the bloody dishwasher broke down again,” he sighed. “But ye should have seen the crowd. I was so deep in the weeds that I didna have time to eat.”
She made a low, sympathetic noise, and put down her cup.
“Let’s go back downstairs, then. I think we still have some leftover chicken, or...”
“Aye, in a minute.” He bit her earlobe playfully, and placed the bag on her lap. “We can start wi’ this, if ye’d like.”
Claire's grin widened, and she cocked one eyebrow in appreciation, the paper rustling softly as she peered inside.
“A freshly-showered Scot carrying a stack of food... I guess my life is compl—”
She stopped abruptly and turned her face towards him, with a look of shock mixed with delight.
Carefully, almost religiously, she unwrapped the contents of the paper bag with little sounds of pleasure that filled him with love and made his stomach flip. One massive packet of cheese-flavoured crisps, biscuits filled with date paste, a selection of various industrial croissants, and…
The chef shrugged in disbelief, shaking his head at the pile of Egyptian junk food, but another part of him couldn’t help but smile and feel foolishly pleased with himself.
“Where on earth did you find these?”
She pulled him closer and kissed him.
“Let’s just say I have connections in high places,” he laughed, kissing her back. “These are the ones, aye?”
“Yes! I can’t believe this!”
Already, she was tearing the wrapping with her teeth and offering him one of the thin biscuity caramel bars—the ones she used to buy at the local kiosk when she was a child, and gobble before they had time to melt.
“If ye still had any doubt that I love ye, Claire , I hope that settles it,” he grimaced. “I’ve never tasted anything so revolting in my entire life.”
“Oh my God! Why do you Scots always have to be such drama queens?” she snorted, taking another bite.
“I’m no’ even joking. It tastes like…”
“...like the fruit of one torrid night of lovemaking between a Dairy Milk and a Twix bar? Absolutely.”
He turned to face her, doing his best to look offended.
“...I was going to say ‘shite’, actually.”
“You don’t know what’s good for you, but thank you ,” she laughed, scooting closer. “What's the occasion for such a heavenly feast?”
“Well…” Jamie sobered up, shooting another glance at his watch. “’Tis past midnight, aye?”
“Hmm-hmm.” She was licking her fingers one by one, the greedy wee thing; getting ready to dig into the red Chibsy bag. “So?”
“So…” He slipped his hand through her hair, tangling his fingers in the locks that hung over her shoulder. “It means ’tis officially yer birthday.”
She stopped chewing, and her eyes opened wide. For a minute, everything was silent, except for the leaves of the trees below and a lonely car passing on Leslie Street.
“Bloody hell,” she whispered, as realisation dawned. “...you’re right. I’m thirty-one. How did you even remember?”
“Well, ye told me,” he answered matter-of-factly, tilting his head towards the snacks. “Are ye sure that’s all there is in there?”
Claire shot him a strange look and slowly emptied the contents of the bag on the bench. There it was—a small cloth pouch, so light he’d inspected it three times to make sure it wasn’t empty. She tipped it carefully out into the palm of her hand, revealing a delicate golden bracelet with a row of three faceted gemstone beads, glowing softly in the dim light.
“Oh, Jamie.” She sounded a little breathless, and her voice was so low he had to lean close to hear her. “Is that…?”
She pointed at the first bead, with its unmistakable rich blue colour.
“Lapis lazuli, aye,” he whispered, helping her fasten it. “For Lamb.”
He traced the thin chain against her wrist, feeling her pulse under his thumb. “English amber, for yer parents.” He moved on to the third bead and kissed the inside of her wrist. “And Cairngorm quartz...”
“For us.” She raised her head in astonishment and stared open-mouthed at him—the tears in her golden eyes threatening to spill over—then suddenly let out a small, breathless laugh. “Oh, Jamie.”
“I ken this isna much.” He swallowed, gathering her hair in his right hand, winding her curls between his fingers. “But—”
“Shut up.” Her hands were wrapped around his nape, pulling him closer, and she kissed him, whispering against his mouth. “I love it.” She pulled back and searched his face once more. “I love you.”
Holy God, the feel of her in his arms. With a thudding heart, he brought her up tight against him, deepening the kiss, until the blanket softly slid down their shoulders and to their feet. In a gush of air, the cold of the night struck them, making Claire shiver against him.
“Let's go to bed, Sassenach.” Her lips tasted of caramel and salty tears. “Let’s go home.”