I scrutinized my reflection in the antique glass. The local hairdresser had collected my curls atop my head in way that both tamed and embellished them, braiding in tendrils of lily of the valley to create an unmerited halo.
Jenny’s double joined me in the mirror, holding a strand of seed pearls. She carefully lifted them over my head and fidgeted with the clasp.
“These belonged to our Mam, given tae her on her weddin’ day. I ken she would want ye tae wear them.”
“Jenny,” I breathed, fighting back tears. “I’d be honoured.”
With a curt nod that indicated her limit for sentimentalism had been reached, my soon-to-be sister-in-law returned to her usual businesslike manner.
“They’re all set outside. Are ye ready, Claire?”
I took one last glance in the mirror and a sanguine woman looked back. I’d never been more certain or ready for anything in my life.
“Absolutely. Let’s do this.”
With the proceeds from the sale of Ginger Snap and by combining our life savings, Jenny, Ian, Jamie and I managed to purchase Lallybroch from their uncle six months ago. Since then, Jamie spent the workweek in the Highlands, investing sweat equity into the massive endeavour of converting the eighteenth century manor and its outbuildings into a hotel, spa and gourmet restaurant. On the weekends he joined me in Edinburgh, physically exhausted but blissfully happy.
One such weekend, we had been walking hand-in-hand down Grassmarket when Jamie pulled me towards a nearby shop.
“Are you thinking of getting a tattoo?” I asked when he didn’t immediately explain our unexpected halt. He was looking intently through the window, but I got the impression he wasn’t really seeing the designs and various body jewelry on display.
“Aye,” he started out slowly. “In fact, I was thinkin’ perhaps we both might. As a symbol, if ye will, of who we are tae one ano’er.”
I’d never before considered getting a tattoo and was tempted to dismiss the idea out of hand, but something about Jamie’s seriousness tempered my response.
“That’s a mighty permanent symbol, Fraser.” His cobalt eyes sparkled when he looked at me.
“Aye, tis. What dae ye say, Arsonist? Are ye ready tae belong tae each other, under our skin like blood and bone, until our lives be done?”
Which was how I became engaged to Jamie in the most unconventional way imaginable, standing in front of a display of Celtic knots and navel rings with tears in my eyes.
Downstairs, Lallybroch was a mess of step-ladders, idle carpentry tools and drop clothes. I stepped around a bucket of half-solidified plaster on my path to the front door.
This hadn’t been the plan. I was meant to finish my three year contract as a surgeon at the Royal Edinburgh, Jamie was going to oversee the restoration and opening of Lallybroch, and only then were we going to get married.
Somewhere along the line, we got a bit ahead of ourselves. I rested my hand against the tiniest hardening of my lower abdomen. Roughly twelve weeks ahead of ourselves, and counting.
Ironically, it was Jamie who insisted we move up the wedding. Apparently the few traditional scruples he maintained all converged around our child being born out of wedlock.
I stood on the steps of the Lallybroch courtyard under a lapis blue sky, staring down an improvised aisle of borrowed chairs and white muslin. Common wisdom held that it was the bride who was the centrepiece of a wedding, but Jamie took my breath away. He wore his Fraser tartan, a brilliant white shirt and tweed vest, his hair a sea of burnt sugar waves. His already lean physique now had the consistency of marble, brought about by long days of hard labour. He stood tall and proud, a lighthouse calling me home to port.
No family accompanied me on my short march to his side. No violins trilled a romantic tune. To my left, an arched gateway was clad in ugly scaffolding.
But it was perfect. Perfect, because I moved forward of my own volition. Perfect, because the song love sang in my heart was endless. And perfect, because the man I approached had reminded me to see past the surface of things, to the strength and beauty that lay within.
Jamie greeted me with a watery smile and an outstretched hand. Where his cuff lifted, I could make out the text of his tattoo, written in my own hand. He’d chosen his inner wrist, so that he could always see it as he worked. The words were from his invocation, spoken in a Leith storeroom so many months ago.
Come, set my life on fire.
I’d given my own tattoo a great deal of thought, that giddy day in Grassmarket. As a doctor, I didn’t feel comfortable having it visible while I worked. The text was still more important than the location, and I considered and discarded several options before settling on one that encapsulated the essence of our relationship. Whispering the words in Jamie’s ear so that he could write them out in his slanted script, his gratified look told me he appreciated their meaning.
That tattoo was on display to our entire acquaintance as we recited the vows that were both mere formality and eternal promise. Just above the ivory back of my dress, between my scapulae, where wings would grow if I was able to fly.
Hold a space for me to be free.