After Claire’s voicemail on Saturday night, Jamie’s first impulse was to jump in a taxi and head straight to her house. Sprinting up the front steps, he’d pull her into his arms and kiss her until there was no air left in his lungs. Laughing at how quickly he’d let his thoughts spin into an overblown fantasy, he put down his phone and took a deep breath. Much as he wanted to open his heart to his Sassenach, he could tell from her tone that she needed a bit more time to sit with her thoughts and, not wanting to overwhelm her, opted instead for a text.
I’ve been thinking about you all day Sassenach & want you to know I really liked kissing you too. Chat Monday xx
He didn’t think he’d written something so syrupy since he was a teenager but to his delight Dr Beauchamp replied immediately.
Looking forward to it x
He fell asleep staring at the kiss at the end of her message, dreaming of when he could again experience the real thing.
Monday morning and the Scot was at sixes and sevens. Alarm set for 5.30PM instead of AM (causing him to oversleep and panic that he’d missed work), iron on the wrong temperature (leaving an unsightly singe mark on his shirt) and his wallet seemingly stolen overnight by pixies (resulting in a frenetic 20 minute search of his flat, only to find it was by the front door the whole time). After much chaos and calamity (and a fresh shirt) he was at last on his way to Claire’s.
The feeling in his stomach as he stood in the crowded Tube carriage reminded him of final school exams mixed with a first date and a dash of childhood birthdays. Ridiculous he thought to himself. We’re just talking. If the doctor had meant to shut him down completely she would have already. To alleviate his nerves he listened to the voicemail one more time, the sound of Claire’s voice making him smile from ear to ear.
Arriving at the Beauchamp house in the mornings, Jamie was typically greeted with the sound of Fergus’ excited chatter and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Today however, it was chilly and unusually quiet; something was definitely amiss. No one in the kitchen, the living room or the laundry; the dining room, garden and study all deserted. What was going on? Fearing there’d been a gas leak, or worse, he raced upstairs, bounding up the steps two at a time. The lad’s room was first, the Manny rushing in ready to administer CPR. Still wearing his pyjamas, Fergus was sprawled out on the rug playing with his toy trucks as though he hadn’t a care in the world. Noticing Jamie enter, he looked up with a smile.
“Jesus laddie, ye nearly gave me a heart attack! Has Maman Claire not told ye to start getting ready for school?”
She’s sleeping? A shiver ran down Jamie’s spine. Dr Beauchamp was not one for spontaneous weekday lie-ins; had something happened that the boy had mistaken for her being asleep? Moving slowly to avoid causing alarm, he backed out of Fergus’ bedroom and headed straight for the Claire’s. Door closed, he knocked softly.
“Sassenach? Are ye awake?”
No answer. Ordinarily he’d never think of entering uninvited, but Fergus’ words had him rattled. Adrenaline pumping, he pushed aside his fears and went in; the bed was empty. Where the hell was she? Light from the en suite flooded the dimly lit room, its door ajar. Jamie approached with caution, walking a fine line between potentially giving lifesaving first-aid and not wanting to be the creep who sneaks up on women while showering.
Rounding the door he saw a mass of chocolate curls and flannelette huddled on the floor. In a flash he was beside her, crouching down as he frantically ran his hands over her to check for any signs of injury. To his immense relief she didn’t appear hurt.
“A nighean what’s wrong?”
She gave a little moan of discomfort.
“Just a touch—” Coughing loudly, her whole body shook with the force of it. “— a touch of the sniffles”
His hand on her forehand told a different story. Blazing hot and clammy with sweat, she was clearly running a fever. On a hunch he gently pressed his fingers just below her jaw, feeling for her lymph nodes. As suspected, they were swollen. Years of taking care of children meant the Manny could spot the ‘flu at fifty paces and based on Claire’s symptoms he was in no doubt. Giving a silent prayer of thanks that she wasn’t in any immediate danger, he rubbed her arm soothingly.
“Let’s get ye back into bed, aye?”
As Claire moaned again, he lifted her carefully and carried her into the bedroom. Pulling the blankets up over her, he knelt down beside the bed, running his knuckles across her flushed cheek.
“Ye gave me a bit of a scare there, lass”
Unable to hide the tremble in his voice, Jamie smiled at her tenderly. Eyes glassy and unfocused, the doctor tried to get up, struggling with the sheets tucked around her.
“I need to make Fergus’ breakfast… Do you want a coffee? I can get you one… will just jump in the shower…will be up and about in no ti—”
Her words were lost to another bout of heavy coughing.
“You’re unwell Sassenach, all ye need to do is rest. Let me take care of everything else”
Dashing down to the kitchen, he quickly returned with ibuprofen, a cold compress and a glass of water. When Claire had taken the pills, he placed the cool cloth over her forehead and smoothed the bedding around her once more.
“Would ye like me to call a doctor?”
“I am a doctor.” she bristled.
Jamie bit back a smile as she burrowed into the pillow like an angry cat. Leaning close, he stroked her hair.
“I’m gonna go see to the lad, but I’ll be back as soon as I can. Will ye promise me you’ll stay in bed and try and get some sleep?”
Claire sighed and nodded.
With a calmness that belied his concern, the Manny worked quickly to get Fergus dressed and ready for the day. Fortunately the boy didn’t seem to have any signs of illness himself, so after checking in on the patient - who was thankfully now sleeping - they left for school. An hour or so later the Scot returned to the house, having stopped at few places on the way to stock up on supplies. Claire hadn’t asked him to take care of her, in fact she was the kind of person who’d never ask - but there wasn’t a doubt in Jamie’s mind he would be there in her time of need.
Carrying a tray into the doctor’s room felt like stepping into a sauna. The cause soon became apparent; clutched in her hand was the remote control for the thermostat and despite the tropical temperature, she still shivered as she slept. Heart squeezing at the sight, Jamie set the tray down on the bedside table before carefully slipping the control from her grip, adjusting the settings then opening a window to get some fresh air circulating. Perching next to Claire on the bed he observed her carefully; lips chapped and brow furrowed, there were dark circles under her eyes as well as strands of sweat-dampened hair plastered to her temples. Normally radiating strength, it was strange to see her in such a position of vulnerability and the urge to protect her swelled large in Jamie’s chest. Has this been coming on for a while and I was too caught up in my own feelings to notice? Taking her small hand in his, he rubbed the back with his thumb, silently promising her that he’d do whatever it took to see her well.
An hour or so later, the Manny had just put the washing machine on when he heard Claire coughing and rushed back upstairs to check on her. She groaned when he entered the room, pulling the blankets over her head.
“Sassenach, are ye all right?”
“I’m fine; you can go”
A little confused, he sat down on the edge of the bed, gently squeezing her shoulder.
“I think we both know ye aren’t”
“It’s really not necessary for you to stay, I’m perfectly capable of handling things from here”
She sneezed loudly but stubbornly remained under the covers.
“What’s the matter? Is it so hard to believe I want to take care of ye?”
“I have a little bit of pride left, you know.”
Her voice, already muffled by the blankets, dropped even lower as she said quietly:
“I know it sounds vain, but I don’t want you to see me like this…”
She trailed off. The Manny, having already decided that Claire was the most stunning woman he’d ever seen, had not considered for a moment that anything could be altered by her having the flu. He realised now, however that she didn’t see it that way. Worming his hand beneath the duvet, he interlaced her fingers with his.
“I ken we were going to discuss things today; you being unwell doesn’t change me wanting to do that. But it can wait, I’m not going anywhere and I hope ye aren’t either?”
Claire gently squeezed Jamie’s hand, making his heart leap.
“And for the record, I think ye look beautiful”
“You’re a terrible liar”
“I’m not. Although if ye want to see someone looking truly awful when they’re sick I’ll have my Mam send some pictures of me when I had the mumps”
Claire’s rosy-cheeked face popped up from under the sheets, eyes narrowing.
“The mumps? Do you not have vaccinations in Scotland?”
“Aye, we do” Jamie said with a laugh. “But it’s still possible to get it and believe me, I looked hideous”
He puffed out his cheeks in an impression of himself with mumps, earning a laugh from the doctor.
“Now, will ye have some water? Please?”
He poured her a glass, smiling when she sighed gratefully as the cool liquid trickled down her throat. Claire’s eyes moved to the tray by the bed. On it were tissues, cough medicine, paracetamol, lip balm, throat lozenges, some chopped fruit, a teacup, thermos of hot water and a selection of teabags.
“What’s all this?”
Jamie blushed, worried he’d gone a bit overboard.
“Och, well I just wanted ye to have everything ye might need close to hand so ye wouldn’t have to get up unnecessarily…”
The doctor’s eyes watered and she sniffed loudly.
“You did that just for me?”
“Of course Sassenach, I’d do anything to help ye be well”
The Manny felt the tips of his ears grow warm from the smile Claire gave him. Not trusting himself not to blurt out something he oughtn’t to - like I love you - he stood up and took a pace back.
“I’ll leave ye to your rest and be back with some lunch a bit later. If ye need anything before then though, I’ll be right here”
“Thank you Jamie”
Looking more relaxed than she had all morning, Claire slid back under the covers, eyes already heavy lidded. Smiling at her her, the Scot tiptoed out of the room.
At midday he returned with a bowl of chicken soup - made according to his Mam’s recipe - which Claire was thankfully well enough to eat some of. Throughout the afternoon he pottered about the house, periodically popping upstairs to check on the doctor, refill her water jug or see if there was anything else he might do to make her more comfortable. What really struck him was how natural it all felt; like this was exactly where he was supposed to be. Was it just because he had feelings for his Sassenach? No, it was more than that. Throughout his career he’d spent a lot of time in other people’s houses, but never before had one felt as much like home as this one did. Fergus and Claire…they’d started to feel like family. The idea should have frightened him, instead it felt like the quiet acceptance of an incontrovertible truth. But there was such a long way between thoughts of that kind and where he was currently; how to bridge the gap? A little germ of an idea began to sprout, but he filed it away for now.
The afternoon and evening were relatively normal; picking Fergus up from school, kicking the football around together in the back garden, dinner then bath time. He’d explained to the lad that Claire was unwell and would be staying in bed and so at Fergus’ insistence they’d made ‘Get Well Soon’ cards, presenting them to Maman Claire just before bedtime. After Fergus was asleep, Jamie returned to check on his patient one last time before heading home. Sitting up in bed, she’d tied her hair in a messy bun and put on her her glasses as she annotated a large pile of case notes. He was about to tell her that she was too unwell to be doing work, but thought she might think him impertinent and held his tongue.
“I brought ye a mug of hot honey and lemon; with a dash of whisky too. Should help ye sleep”
“You’re spoiling me”
The Manny shrugged modestly as Claire accepted the mug and took a sip as though it contained the elixir of life.
“Fergus get to sleep ok?”
“Aye, out light a light”
“Thank you again for all the extra work you’ve done today; I really appreciate it”
Again the urge to tell her he loved her bubbled up inside him, threatening to spill over. It was as if in delaying their planned discussion of the events of Friday night, his feelings had distilled, becoming more potent by the minute. Not that he minded delaying that conversation, he’d have endured anything to see his Sassenach healthy and safe, but - he reflected forlornly - if he was more than Fergus’ nanny, he could be climbing into bed with her right now, rather than getting ready to go home alone to his cold flat. The sting of separation felt all the more acute today.
Looking at the doctor, he wondered if it would be appropriate to kiss her goodnight, at least on the cheek. As he watched her, she licked her lips, brow furrowed.
“I ah…I don’t suppose you’d like to stay for a little bit? We could watch a movie?”
Jamie stared at her dumbly, convinced he must have misheard.
“Oh god, no of course you wouldn’t; you’ve been here for more than twelve hours! Not to mention I look like death warmed up and sound like I’ve got a clothes peg on my nose!”
Claire’s words rushed out so quickly she began to cough from the effort. Blushing fiercely, she pulled the covers up over herself protectively, looking anywhere but at the Manny. Knowing the self-defensive body language meant she was unlikely to be listening properly if he spoke to to the contrary, Jamie let his actions do the talking for him. Walking around to the other side of the bed, he toed off his shoes and stretched out on the duvet, back against the headboard.
“What movie have ye chosen?”
Despite her pallor, when the doctor smiled, Jamie didn’t think she’d ever looked so lovely and were he not worried about cutting off her air supply (on account of her nose being blocked from her cold) he’d have wound his arms around her waist and kissed her. He settled instead for tapping his shoulder in invitation, rewarded with Claire’s contented sigh when she rested her head there.
“We’re watching National Lampoon’s European Vacation, have you seen it?”
“Only about a hundred times”
“That’s a relief, I’d hate to have to find Fergus a new nanny”
Giggling against his shoulder, she was asleep within minutes.
Relieved that Claire was getting some much needed rest but loathe to yet part from her, Jamie promised himself he’d leave as soon at the film finished. He’d of course grossly underestimated his own level of tiredness, the soft bed and darkened room doing nothing to help matters. Intending only to rest his eyes it wasn’t long before his head began to nod and he joined his lass in slumber.
Jerking awake, Jamie was momentarily confused about where he was; the press of Claire’s soft breasts against his chest soon reminded him. They’d both slipped down the bed while sleeping and his Sassenach - now tucked into his side - had a hand splayed possessively across his sternum. Were it not for the fact that they were both still dressed, he’d have sworn he had died and gone to heaven. A quick glance at his watch told him he should have gone home hours ago, so despite it going against every instinct he had, he began inching across the bed to leave. He’d barely moved when the doctor’s hand tightened on his shirt.
Voice roughened from sleep and illness, Jamie wondered if she was even fully awake.
“Sassenach, it’s 1:00am; I need to get going”
“Are ye sure?”
Humming her assent as she nestled closer, Claire’s breathing soon shifted into the cadence of deep sleep. Exhausted himself, it wasn’t hard for Jamie to rationalise that remaining where he was was the right thing to do; after all if Fergus should need anything during the night the doctor wasn’t really in a position to assist… Decision made, a sense of calmness washed over him. Sliding under the blankets, he wrapped himself around the doctor protectively, inhaling the scent of her hair. Perhaps it was the late hour or the fact that nothing of a sexual nature was on the cards, but lying with her in his arms there was a level of safety and comfort that he’d never felt with anyone else before.
The next time he woke, Claire was doubled over on the edge of the bed coughing, the husky sound interspersed with frustrated swearing. Blinking in the semi-darkness of the early morning, he flicked on the lamp before reaching over to rub slow circles on her back.
“Ye all right?”
“Fucking ‘flu! I can’t be sick, I need to get back to work!”
Nose beginning to run, she sniffed and swiped at it angrily.
“And I need to take care of Fergus, he’s my responsibility, I need him to know I’m not going to let him down”
“Lass it’s only been a day, ye need to give your body a chance to recover”
Big golden eyes stared at him, chin beginning to wobble.
“Fergus knows you’re there for him. And he and I both - we just want ye to get better”
The pure kindness in his voice was the straw that broke the camel’s back and Claire burst into tears. Without hesitation, Jamie pulled her into his arms; for a moment she tried to pull away, but at his gentle shushing, melted into his embrace.
“God, I’m such a mess”
“Ye aren’t a mess; you’re unwell. Maybe cut yourself a wee break, aye?”
For the next few minutes the Manny just held her, running a gentle hand though her hair as she wept. Tears finally abating he kept his arms around her; hoping it provided reassurance that everything would be ok. As he did so, something he’d been thinking about since the day before came into crystal clear focus.
“When’s the last time ye went on a holiday?”
Confused by the apparent non sequitur, the doctor pulled back. Grabbing a tissue, she dabbed at her eyes.
“Um…Joe and I went to a medical conference in Madrid last summer, does that count? Why do you ask?”
“I don’t wish to speak out of turn, but it’s pretty clear you’re burning yourself out. It’s Easter at the end of next week, what do ye think about getting away for a few days?”
“I appreciate what you’re saying, but I just don’t have time to be planning a trip. Besides, I’m sure anywhere worth going is booked up already; the last thing I want to do is take Fergus somewhere he wouldn’t enjoy himself.”
“My family has a holiday house in the Scottish Borders. We go every Easter, have done since before I was born. A big whitewashed stone cottage right on the water, ’tis a lovely place”
“Oh - you’d like time off? Of course, I’m sorry we haven’t even spoken yet about when you’d want to take holidays”
“Well yes, I would like some time off, but—”
Jamie nervously cleared his throat in anticipation of what he was about to propose.
“Will ye come with me; you and the lad?”
“On your family holiday? Good heavens no, we couldn’t possibly impose like that.”
Her answer was so quintessentially English that he couldn’t help but smile.
“Ye really wouldn’t be. It’ll just be my sister and her husband and their kids. Low key and a chance for you to relax. Jenny’s bairns are about Fergus’ age so he wouldn’t be short of company.”
Biting her bottom lip, he could see the cogs turning in Claire’s head.
“It does sound nice. Are you sure your family wouldn’t mind a couple of extras they haven’t met before?”
“Of course not, ye’d both be very welcome”
“What um…what would that mean for you and me? We still haven’t talked about Friday night and I do want to I— Ah-choo!”
Sneezing repeatedly, she then loudly blew her nose and sighed.
“Sassenach, perhaps we save that conversation ’til you’re feeling better? If you come to the beach we’ll have plenty of time and space to talk about anything we need to. Not with any agenda, but I’d really like to spend some time with ye, away from the pressures of work and the city. What do ye say?”
Cheeks blotchy and red from her tears, Claire tenderly cupped his face with her hands. The Manny held his breath, heart hammering in his chest.
“I don’t know what Fergus and I have done to deserve you Jamie, but I’m grateful every day that you came to us. I’d love to come to Scotland with you”