The first time Jamie’s mobile phone rang, he couldn’t possibly reach it.
It vibrated in the front pocket of his body warmer, but his worker’s hands were busy milking the cow in front of him. Tillie hadn’t fancied heading into the steel milking pen today. In fact, as Jamie had ushered the herd into the enclosure, she’d made quite a racket and kicked out, her tail whipping this way and that, dangerously.
“Shit,” Jamie muttered under his breath into the fresh air, as his phone stopped ringing for a beat, and then started again.
He gave Tillie’s final udder one last firm squeeze and pull, watching the thin spray of milk hit the metal pail, before wiping his calloused hands, as best he could, on a raggedy square of cloth. Fumble, fumble, fumble, Jamie eventually hit the bright green button on his phone, and brought it up to his ear.
“Mr Fraser. Hello. It’s Laoghaire. Would you be free to come down and have a small chat in the headmaster’s office?”
Oh, how a small, unexpected phone call could completely change Jamie Fraser’s day.
Mobile phone pressed tight to his ear with one hand, Jamie used his right hand to rub his brow bone. Ugh, he stunk of milk. “Aye, aye, after school? Or now?”
“After school,” the girlish sounding receptionist answered. “Half three, if that’s all right with you, Mr Fraser.”
“Aye, that’s fine. Is William all right? What’s he done?”
Tillie the cow, still standing in front of Jamie, shifted her hooves impatiently. Reaching out his other hand, Jamie smoothed his hand down her downy flank.
“Nothing serious. There’s been a small disagreement with another boy in his class, a Fergus Beauchamp. So we’d just like to have a chat with both boys and their parents.”
Fergus Beauchamp? Fergus Beauchamp? Jamie racked his brain for any hint of the boy, but nothing emerged.
“Thank you for your time, Mr Fraser. We’ll be glad to see you at half three.”
I’m sure you will , Jamie mused.
The blonde receptionist at William’s new primary school had been nothing but helpful to Jamie and his son as they enrolled. If anything, she’d been a little bit too helpful for Jamie’s liking.
Worries about William followed Jamie throughout the rest of his day. The receptionist had been purposefully vague about the issue, making Jamie’s anxieties even worse. William couldn’t be hurt; surely, the school would have asked Jamie to pick his only son up if that had been the case. Or called, if the little eejit had caused trouble. Ten year old William wasn’t a bad kid, not by any means. He was boisterous, sharp tongued and adventurous – as were all of the Frasers. He was a carbon copy of his Da. But he wasn’t a mean lad, not prone to lashing out or hitting others, unless prompted, just as his Da had taught him.
What unsettled Jamie more than anything was the fact this was only William’s second week at his brand new school. His second week, and already he was getting called to meet with the headmaster.
Still unfamiliar with the layout of the school, Jamie prayed he was heading in the right direction as he crested a paved hit. A sea of children were exiting the school building from a variety of different doors. The adults stood in clusters, chatting and laughing. A few other people, mainly older siblings, stood off to one side.
Jamie spotted his son immediately. Just like his Da, the bright red hair on top of Willie’s head and his growing height, set him apart from the other boys his age. Jamie was pleased to see William walking out of school with a group of three other boys. They joked with one another, backpacks thumping against their backs, as they walked. Willie called his goodbyes to them as he reached his Da. Jamie watched as the three remaining boys craned their necks up, up, up to see Jamie’s face, before shouting their ‘see you laters’ to Willie.
“We’ve been called to the Headmaster’s office, so ye better tell me what’ve ye done?” Jamie began walking in the direction of the receptionist’s office. Well, at least he hoped this was the direction to the receptionist’s office. The layout of the school was confusing, to say the least.
“I didn’t do anything!” Willie protested.
Peering down at his mini me, Jamie scoffed. “I ken for a fact ye did. Now are ye gannae tell me? Or is the headmaster gannae have to explain it to me?”
William pouted, and for a second Jamie thought his son was going to let anything slip. It wouldn’t be unfamiliar; the Frasers were known to be as stubborn as rocks.
“I was partnered with Fergus,” he began. “He’s English. A Sassenach. When I said he was a Sassenach, he hit me over the head with his ruler, so I hit him back.”
Jamie had to physically stop the corners of his mouth from rising in a smile at the way Willie told the story. He described his actions simply, and at least he’d admitted to hitting his peer in defense.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a Sassenach, Willie. I’ve told ye this before.”
“Aye, Da, but the way Fergus pronounces his vowels is funny.” Willie shrugged. “Everybody says so.”
“Does this Fergus lad have any friends?”
“I’m not sure. He usually sits by himself at lunch, but I don’t think he’s bothered by it.”
“Well.” Jamie pushed the door open, letting Willie duck under his arm and scamper inside. “Perhaps ye should try to befriend the lad. Ye might have things in common.”
Willie opened his mouth to reply, but the blonde haired receptionist beat him to it.
“Mr Fraser! Willie! You’re both right on time! Come on through.” God, Jamie wouldn’t even have an ounce of her energy if he’d downed three cups of espresso.
The two Frasers followed the young woman (if he had to guess, Jamie would have put her at 21, 22 at a push) and her swinging hips, down a short corridor, bypassing four different shut doors, until they reached the one at the end.
She pushed the door open, purposefully standing in the way so young Willie could easily slide past, but Jamie’s body would have to brush against hers. Up this close and personal, Jamie could see the lace of her bra through the thin material of her white blouse. Her perfume was sickly sweet and strong, as if she’d doused herself in it. A couple more minutes in her company, and Jamie was sure he’d have a killer headache.
“William!” Jamie heard the headmaster greet his son. With a small smile to the receptionist, Jamie skedaddled past her as quickly as he could, shutting the office door behind himself.
“And you must be Mr Fraser.” The balding headmaster had stood up, leaning over his desk, and extending his hand out for Jamie to shake.
“I am.” Grasping the gentleman’s hand with a firm grip, Jamie shook twice. “Nice to meet ye.”
“And yourself. Will Mrs Fraser be joining us?”
Willie snorted, his feet swinging above the ground in the seat he currently occupied. Jamie noticed another boy already occupied the other chair. This must be Fergus Beauchamp. From his gangly legs, Jamie could see he was also a tall boy. A shock of thick, black hair covered his head, setting off the pink undertones of his pale skin. Fergus smiled cordially at Jamie when he realised he was being watched. At least the lad had some manners.
“There isn’t a Mrs Fraser unfortunately, Mr…”
“Mr Wellman, if you please.” He supplied. “Well, how about Willie’s mother, then?”
“William’s mother isn’t in the picture either, I’m afraid. It’ll just be myself, Mr Wellman.”
A clever gentleman, Mr Wellman must have heard the final note in Jamie’s voice, for he said nothing else on the matter, but nodded once. “Well, we’re just waiting for Miss Beauchamp to arrive. She shouldn’t be long, should she, Fergus?”
The lad shrugged. “Depends if she’s gotten caught up at work.”
Jamie understood what Willie meant now he’d heard Fergus speak for himself. The lad did indeed sound English, but Jamie’s ear could detect a mixture of dialects hiding underneath the surface. The way Fergus stretched out his ‘o’ in work was definitely Scottish.
Again, Jamie didn’t know that name to put a face too. A new school for William also meant a new environment for Jamie. As busy with work on the farm as he was, five days a week – Monday through Friday – Jamie made it a priority to pick his son up from school. Standing at the gates, he’d greeted a few of the parents and teachers, and noticed a few of the kids in Willie’s class who had exaggerated hairstyles or coloured backpacks. Fergus, nor his Mam had unfortunately not caught Jamie’s eye, until right now.
Minutes passed as everybody waited for Miss Beauchamp to arrive. Fergus had fished a football book from his backpack and begun reading. Willie fiddled with the laces of his trainers. Jamie and Mr Wellman stared out the window at the rolling fields, watching as the steady stream of children and parents walking past, eventually died off.
Where on earth was this woman? Being held up at work was one thing, but this was taking the piss now…
Willie’s stomach would be rumbling any minute now, if it hadn’t already done so. There was some mince left in the fridge, perhaps Jamie could make a Shepard’s pie for their dinner. See if his own Mam, Ellen, had any of her famous apple crumble left over for the boy’s dessert…
Click clack. Click clack. Click clack.
The sound of high heels slapping against the floor could be heard. It got closer and closer, louder and louder, faster and faster, until Jamie was sure whoever they belonged too was running at breakneck speed.
“I’m so sorry I’m late, Mr Wellman!”
At the sound of the Englishwoman’s clear voice, Jamie turned around. He was glad he still had a grip on the back of Willie’s chair, because otherwise he worried his suddenly weak knees would go out.
She was naturally tall, made even taller by the stiletto points of her heels, reaching to just a few inches under Jamie’s great height of 6’4. Her hair was a deep chestnut brown, the natural wave of her strands styled into a 1940s hairdo, which sat over one shoulder. Fergus’ mother wore a light blue blouse; the white buttons holding the blouse closed gleaming from across the room. The material clung to the shape of her breasts, dipping in across her stomach and tucked into a black pencil skirt.
A skintight black pencil skirt.
As surreptitiously as he could, Jamie let his eyes move further down Miss Beauchamp’s body. The stretchy material followed the outward curve of her rounded hips, before straightening out around the tops of her knees. A slit up the back must be used to help her walk easier, but all it did for Jamie was bring to his attention to the curve of her spectacular arse.
Nobody could ever say Jamie Fraser was a breast man over an arse man. He would pick a nice, round arse any day of the week. Right now, specifically Miss Beauchamp’s.
Jamie licked his dry lips, tuning back into the conversation long enough to find William looking up at his Da. With a wink to his son, Jamie realised Miss Beauchamp was asking her son a question. That English voice of hers was hard to miss.
“What have you done, Fergus?” She sighed.
Fergus looked at his Mam, but didn’t answer. She rolled her eyes, looking towards Mr Wellman for an answer.
“There was just a small incident between Fergus, and William here.”
Jamie felt Miss Beauchamp’s eyes bore into him and his son at the sound of an incident. If it was possible, Jamie stood up even taller. He was oddly aware, for the first time all day, of his state of dress. William still looked presentable; school uniform fine except for his jumper, which looked like it had been discarded a couple times throughout the day. But at least Willie was clean, and his hair wasn’t all over the place. Jamie, however, hadn’t given much thought to the clothes he wore. A green jumper to ward off the slight April chill and a pair of holey jeans, that could quite possibly have mud along the hems. The while track of his trainers certainly didn’t look as bright and as shiny as they once had. But hey, ho – the life of a farmer, right?
“Did you start it?” The nut brown haired lassie asked again.
Fergus answered this time around, short and sweet. “Yes, I did.”
“What have I bloody told you?” The woman exclaimed, her own accent standing out against the three other Scots in the room. A small, discreet cough behind his lips stopped Jamie from laughing at her use of such an English turn of phrase. Bloody charming.
“It wasn’t all Fergus,” Mr Wellman waded in. “William here did hit him back, after the name calling, of course.”
Neither Jamie nor Willie disagreed with the Headmaster’s statement. It was true enough, to be fair.
“Say you’re sorry, Fergus.” With Miss Beauchamp’s body turned more towards him, Jamie could see her face as clearly as her body.
She was just as bonny as he knew she would be, although younger looking than Jamie had expected.
“I’m sorry, Willie,” Fergus muttered, but sounding quite sincere.
Jamie hadn’t even gotten the words out of his mouth to prompt Willie, when Willie was already talking back, “I’m sorry, too, for calling ye a Sassenach.” A surge of pride filled Jamie’s heart.
“Well,” Mr Wellman clapped his hands together. “Two fine young boys you both have, hard working and polite with manners. That’s all we can ask for, isn’t it? Thank you for coming in Mr Fraser and you, Miss Beauchamp.”
In response, she nodded once, already picking up Fergus’ backpack for him, and holding onto it tight. When nothing sparkled in the spring sunlight, Jamie realised young Miss Beauchamp wasn’t wearing any type of extravagant ring on her finger.
Jamie and William reached the door first, but as Jamie held it open for his son to pass through, he felt Miss Beauchamp’s presence come up behind him. Unlike the receptionist, her perfume was light, something botanical – camomile perhaps, with a hint of vanilla. It wasn’t too strong, nor too overpowering, yet it still clung to her skin as if Miss Beauchamp had delicately sprayed herself with the scent before she’d entered the meeting.
Miss Beauchamp slipped out of the door, waving over her shoulder at the Headmaster as Fergus ran ahead. If it was possible, her arse seemed even more enticing now she was walking, those long, lean legs of hers strutting away with purpose.
“Thank you,” she called, looking behind herself at Jamie.
Shit. He’d totally been caught staring at her arse…
When Miss Beauchamp didn’t reprimand him for his wandering eyes, Jamie breathed a sigh of relief. He offered her a tight-lipped smile, not daring to open his mouth in case something stupid, or embarrassing, came tumbling out.
Up ahead, Jamie could see Willie hanging from the monkey bars in the school playground. A number of times, throughout the past couple of days, Jamie had been subjugated to listening to his only son, as Willie complained about other children hogging the playground equipment. Now, with no other bairns in sight, Willie appeared to be taking full advantage and having the time of his life.
Fergus and his Mam didn’t stop at the playground, both of them continued on, Fergus running and his Mam eating up the walkway in her heels. Taking a seat on an empty bench, Jamie decided to let his son play for a little while longer, an easy way of burning off some of Willie’s energy. The lad would sleep well tonight.
From this point at the top of the hill, Jamie could just see the car Fergus was heading for. Both figures had become smaller and smaller with the distance, but still, Jamie could see Fergus patiently waiting by the passenger car door for his Mam to unlock it.
“Are we going home now?” Willie had managed to sneak up on his Da with near silent feet.
“Aye,” Jamie ruffled his son’s hair affectionately. Soon, Willie would be too old, too cool for his Da’s touch. For now, Jamie took in as much of this moment as possible. “Do ye want Shepard’s pie for dinner, or chicken fajitas?”
Jamie knew this routine like the back of his hand.
As he kicked off his muddy trainers, leaving them carefully by the door so as to not trek mud everywhere, Willie would be patting each of the 5 horses, before moving towards his own pony, which stood in the final block. Willie would spend hours out there if he could, but with it being a school night, Jamie would need to call his boy in early.
Growing up, Jamie had spent most (if not all) of his time in the great outdoors. His Mam had badgered him about his schoolwork, but Jamie couldn’t have been less bothered. He’d chosen instead to educate himself, by reading outdoors, anything and everything he could get his hands on. When Jamie wasn’t busy reading, playing football or making his older sister’s life a living nightmare, Jamie helped out on his own family farm.
The Lallybroch farm ran for miles upon miles. Even at the age of 29, Jamie wasn’t entirely sure how many acres his family owned in total. All Jamie knew was it had been passed down from generational hand to generational hand, and the current Frasers were determined to keep it that way. Jamie’s own home sat halfway between the forest and the road. A ten minutes walk north, through the cow’s field, a quick detour past the wildflower field, and you would find yourself at the original Lallybroch estate – the one Jamie had grown up in as a young lad. Jamie’s older sister Jenny, her husband, Ian and their three year old son, Wee Jamie (of course, named after his favourite uncle) lived a ten minute walk south of the original estate. It had been an easy, unanimous decision that all of the Fraser’s would stay close together. They were an especially close knit family, after all.
With the pan hot enough, Jamie dumped in his mixture of garlic, and onions to fry off. Willie had eventually decided on chicken fajitas for his dinner, after much humming and harring in the car ride home. The kitchen filled up immediately with the sizzling sound of frying food and a pungent aroma. The diced chicken pieces were added, and a combination of vegetables – including cherry tomatoes, Willie’s new found favourite.
“Willie!” Jamie shouted through the open front door. Little things, like being able to open the door to waft away the food smells without freezing to dead or being up to your waist in snow, were just one of Jamie’s favourite thing about spring.
“Aye?” Willie called back.
“Come and help me with ye dinner!”
By the time Willie made it inside, his hair was as messy as if he’d been dragged backwards through a bush. Jamie wouldn’t be surprised if his son had somehow ended up in one of the bushes dotted around the property.
As per their routine, while Jamie manned the pan, Willie went about finding the wraps in the bread bin and retrieving a pot of salsa and sour cream. The tiny, shrivelled bairn Jamie had once been able to hold in the palm of one hand, was now tall enough to reach the kitchen counter without any needed help of a stool or a chair. He smeared a healthy dose of both condiments onto four different wraps - two for him and two for his Da, before taking their plates over to the oak dining table.
“Can you get some kitchen roll for our fingers, and two glasses of water, please?”
Carefully filling up two empty glasses, Willie sat back down at his favourite spot at the table, just as Jamie was laying the pan down upon a chopping board so as to not burn the table underneath. Using a large wooden spoon, Jamie scooped enough mixture to fill both of Willie’s wraps.
“Thanks, Da.” Willie mumbled around a mouthful of home cooked food.
“Ye’re very welcome, son. Eat up and then we’ll try to tackle your maths homework together.”
“Do we have too?” Willie whined. A typical child.
“Yes, ye do. I’ll see if Granny has any apple crumble left as ye reward if ye get all ten questions done…”
Nothing like a little bit of bribery to help your bairns do their tasks.
“Fine. But tell Granny I deserve extra cream on the side, please. I’ve had a stressful day.”
Jamie couldn’t stop himself from snorting; it was a wonder water didn’t stream out of his nose.
Ye’re telling me, lad…