It’s 2am and I’m wide awake. I know that my insomnia has nothing to do with the fact that I’ve had a long nap after spending all morning and afternoon driving around the city, shopping for the last pieces of decorations for my new house. It’s been almost three weeks since I’ve moved in here, and I can finally say this place is ready for living.
It’s the same dream that makes me wake up every damn night. And It’s about him . As I sit on the bed with my knees pressed against my chest and my arms wrapped around them, I can’t help but overthink it over and over, until I drive myself crazy. Who said it was easy to let go anyways?
Was I right when I ran away from him that day in London and then changed my phone number, so he wouldn’t be able to reach me? When I moved out from my old apartment, did I do the right thing, not leaving any sign of my current location? Did I do the right thing buying this house at all?
My bedroom has turned into a perfect place to cry, and so I do. Suddenly, the air gets hot and heavy, so I get up to open the window to let in some fresh air. As I look out the window, I notice the thin layer of the first snow, glistening as it falls, and suddenly it occurs to me, it’s already winter. December has come unexpectedly.
I get back to bed and close my eyes, hoping I would fall asleep, hoping I wouldn’t dream about him again. But who am I kidding? I can’t control that. I wish I could stop torturing myself, guessing if he still thinks about me. Or trying to convince myself that he gave up and found peace and happiness with his wife.
The next day, Geillis picked me up at 1pm, and we went to have lunch. She sounded so excited on the phone, and I couldn’t wait to hear the news she got for me this time. I could use some distraction and positive thoughts after another sleepless night.
“I got us tickets to the Annual Masquerade Ball!” My friend squeals as soon as we have made our orders, and I begin to put the blanket on my lap. “It’s next Saturday, we are going together. And I’m not taking ‘ no’ as an answer, aye?”
I look at Geillis and my lips curve into a smile. Her big green eyes shine with excitement as she’s searching my face, waiting for reaction. We missed the ball last year, and she knew how much I wanted to go. Turns out, when she said there was no way we would miss it the next year, she wasn’t lying.
“Come on, lass, say something. I ken how much ye wanted to go last year. I played hell getting those tickets for the two of us. Are ye happy?”
“I am!” I blurt, blinking. “Thank you, Geillis. I’m very happy, and I really can’t wait to go,” I add, trying to sound as enthusiastic as possible. A lot has changed over the past year. I’m not the same person anymore.
“Alright, I believe ye, Claire,” my friend says quietly, narrowing her eyes at me. “I see something is bothering ye again. Another sleepless night?” She asks, carefully.
I nod and purse my lips. “Yes. And the same dreams again… About him. I wake up covered in cold sweat and my pillow is soaked wet with my tears. I don’t know how to stop this. Maybe I need help.”
“Aye, maybe...” Geillis mumbles, vaguely. “But, yer moving on, right?” She suddenly asks me when our meal arrives, and we start eating. “Ye said ye didna want to see him anymore, right?”
“Yes, right. And I’m trying not to want to see him anymore. I am trying to move on. But… Every night I wake up and feel so lonely in my own house, I start doubting and asking myself if I did the right thing buying it, you know?”
“Do ye mean ye want to return to yer old apartment?” Geillis raises her eyebrows, chewing on her sandwich.
“No, of course not.”
“Do ye mean to say it was a spontaneous purchase?” Another question.
“I don’t know. No. No, it wasn’t. I needed a place of my own, so...”
“And now ye have it! So, dinna question yerself or any of yer decisions anymore. Ye did the right thing.”
I nod again, emotionlessly, poking a fork into the pasta. “Tell me more about the ball,” I decided to change the subject.
“Well, since it’s a masquerade, ye have to be in a mask. It will take place at the Principal Hotel, and is promised to be the most elegant ball of the year. All the elite of the city will gather there.” Geillis answers with a profound excitement shining in her emerald eyes.
“That’s...lovely,” I say, genuinely smiling. At this point, I don’t even know if I am really excited about that event, or I simply want to escape reality, and feel something else beside pain and constant regrets.
“Ye will love it there, trust me.”
We keep eating when I notice Geillis become distant, lost in her thoughts, and she avoids looking me in the eyes. I tense.
“Fine, now, you tell me what it is that you are keeping from me.”
“I’m not keeping anything from ye.” She replies quickly and hides behind her big coffee cup.
“Hey, you can talk to me, too. You know, sometimes I think that I’m the only one talking about my problems here, but we’re each other's best friends, and I want you to trust me the same way I trust you, alright?”
Geillis puts the cup on the table and takes a deep breath. “I saw him last week. My ex-husband and the woman he left me for. With a kid.”
“Oh, Geillis,” I whisper. My heart aches for her. “What...what did you do?”
“Nothing. I just crossed the street? But I keep thinking about it. I mean, they looked so happy. Made me realize that…,” she pauses and takes another sip of coffee. “Aye, nevermind. Thank ye for listening.”
“Of course. I’m sorry, Gee.” I gently squeeze her hand. I know how hard it is for her to talk to me about this heartbreaking experience in her life, knowing I was that woman, too. But I’m glad she told me. I don’t ask any more questions, and we continue with our meals.
The next day, it occurred to me that I no longer notice how fast the days pass. I wake up and do my usual morning routine, make myself breakfast, then read or go shopping. Some days, when Geillis is not with her boyfriend, I pick her up after work, and we go to movies, expositions, restaurants and so on. Each time there’s a different activity.
I know that some people may think I’m happy and free, and such a way of living may seem carefree and nonchalant. But, little do they know that when I come home where no one is waiting for me, I get this tightening pain in my chest that makes me want to run and hide in a corner where I won’t have to feel.
Saturday came quickly. And, here I am, standing in front of the mirror in a new bare-back black velvet dress and dark red lipstick. My hair is put into a small and cute bun, with a single curl framing each side of my face. When I put on my coat, I hear the sound of the car approaching the house. I grab my purse, the keys and get out of the house. I hope Geillis didn’t forget our masks.
The hotel where the ball is taking place is big and simply gorgeous, I’ve never been here before. There’s already a queue of guests gathering near the entrance, and the host bows and motions for everyone to come in. I’m slightly nervous. The atmosphere feels magical, I can hear the sounds of laughter and chatter coming from the main hall.
“I don’t even know what people usually do at such events,” I admit, looking at Geillis through my black mask decorated with golden sequins.
“They just have fun, drink and eat, dance, talk to each other. If ye want, we can take pictures in a photo-booth. Relax, Claire. It’s a charity ball, not a Vanity Fair Oscar after party, aye?”
“Aye,” I nod and smile widely, finally relaxing and immersing myself in this festive atmosphere. The ballroom is so magical and captivating, I’ve almost forgotten I didn’t want to be here in the first place.
“The fire show starts in twenty minutes. We dinna want to miss it!” My friend exclaims and takes my hand. “Let’s go take the best seats!”
I quickly grab the glass of champagne from the waiter, and follow my friend into the special room. We listen to the opening speech made by the main host, before the show starts. The artists perform an extremely dangerous but also absolutely exciting and thrilling show.
It lasts for forty minutes, and as soon as it ends I realize I need to visit the ladies room. I get up from my chair, when I notice a familiar figure standing near the entrance. A tall man with red hair and a petite woman, with long curls, hand in hand, are smiling and posing for the photographers.
Suddenly, the blood rushes to my head. I take Geillis by the elbow. “Did you know that he would be here?” I ask, my voice shaking.
“You know, who. Jamie. He is here. With his wife. What the hell, Geillis?” I ask, losing my temper.
“Claire… He’s...he’s one of the main sponsors,” she finally says. “Look, I kent that if I told ye he would probably be there, ye wouldna want to come! I thought that ye wouldna even meet or recognize each other if we all wore masks…”
“And I’m supposed to buy this?” I gasp, my hand still holding her arm.
“Ye hurt me, Claire, please dinna be mad and let go of my arm. And why does it bother ye so much? Ye said yer moving on, aren’t ye?”
I take a step back, shaking my head. “Yes. Sorry, I didn’t mean to...”
“Good. Now, please, can I go? I need to have some sort of casual conversation with that lady...” She says and motions with her chin to the woman in a red dress, standing near the tables with snacks.
“Sure.” I say and excuse myself, before disappearing into the crowd. Quickly I find the bathroom where I try to collect myself. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I’m mad at Geillis, but more than that I’m mad at myself for acting like that, for snapping at her, for being so ungrateful.
In ten minutes I return to the main hall and stand near the table, taking a glass of champagne, and before I know it, I feel a tight grip on my elbow, and a low, thick voice hisses into my ear.
“What do ye think yer doing?”
A shiver runs down my spine. I flinch and drop the glass with my drink on the floor. Thank god, no one pays attention as the music is too loud and everybody is busy laughing, dancing and talking to each other. My knees buckle and for a moment I think I might faint. Suddenly, the thought of going back home becomes very appealing.
“What do you think you are doing?” I hiss back, looking over my shoulder. “Your wife is here. Take your hands off me, Jamie.”
He hesitates a little before loosening his grip, but his fingers still rest on my skin now covered with goosebumps. I let out a sharp breath, terrified to turn around and meet his ocean blue gaze.
“Please, Sassenach, can we talk? I---”
I scoff. “About what?”
“Please, can we have just five minutes? I just wanted to ken how ye are… Christ, to hear yer voice again, I thought I would never...”
“I am great, Jamie. What else do you want to hear? Where is your wife? What if she sees us? How will you explain this to her?” I keep asking questions incoherently, fiddling with the edges of my short dress. My knees are still trembling, I want to scream. Put yourself back together, Beauchamp.
I grab another glass of champagne and pour it down my throat in one go, when I hear his voice behind my back again.
I can feel his hot breath in my ear, and it immediately takes me back to our hot nights.
“I really don’t know what you want to talk about again after everything that happened!” With this, I quickly turn around and see him. His face, his lips are now less than five inches away from my own, and my breathing hitches. Geillis was wrong when she said I wouldn’t recognize Jamie Fraser if we wore the masks. I would have recognized this man even if he had a plastic bag on his head.
“You have to leave me alone, do you hear me? Don’t make me scream.” I try to step back and push him aside.
“Leave ye? Leave ye alone?” Jamie raises his voice, and before I know it, he grabs my arm again and drags me around the corner and down the long hallway.
“What the hell are you doing? Let go off me, you fucking bastard!” I scream at him, as finally there are no people around us. But he is not listening, he lifts me up and throws me over his shoulder, as he keeps walking, not saying a word. And then, he finally stops and opens the door with his foot and puts me onto the floor. In one swift movement, he pushes me inside the dark room and closes the door behind our backs.
I take off my mask and try to look around myself to get any glimpse of the place we are at now. Jamie begins to pace back and forth while I catch my breath and my heart feels like it’s about to beat right out of my chest.
“Why did ye leave like that, Claire?” Jamie finally asks, taking off his black mask. “I was looking for ye… I hired a detective, because ye vanished without a trace, I couldna sleep for weeks because I couldna stop worrying about ye!”
“You are still with your wife, Jamie, still married,” I mumble, throwing a quick glance at his ring finger. “And she is here, she is probably looking for you right now.” I add, my voice is shaking again.
“Why did ye leave, Sassenach? Did ye really move on and forget everything we had?”
"You have to stop following me and leave me alone,” I ignore his question, and turn around to reach out for the doorknob and run away, but he grabs me by the shoulder.
"Where do ye live now?
“That’s not your bloody business!"
“What the hell happened that day in London? Why did ye drop everything in the blink of an eye?” He asks again, and his hand touches my flushed cheek. “Christ, a nighean...”
I force his hand away and wrap my arms around my waist. I’m shaking, finding it hard to pick up the words that could explain at least a half of what I feel. Finally, I realize that this room is a storage for old furniture and other useless stuff. There are two broken chairs, a table with three legs and a big old couch, covered in dust.
“That day, in London...” I begin as I stop pacing and stare at the wall. “That day when we last saw each other… I was standing there, looking at you, when suddenly I realized that I had enough. I was so done with you, Jamie. I was so stressed, tired and angry. When you told me you still didn’t talk to her about us, but wanted to continue this affair with me…so unapologetically. And it just clicked. It occurred to me that this turned into a vicious circle, but I deserved better than that. And then... I just asked myself what the fuck am I doing?”
I don’t even know if I should tell him that I thought he got me pregnant. I’m not even sure if there’s a point in it now. I take a deep breath.
“That was when ye realized ye didna love me anymore, lass?” His voice makes me shudder. I turn to him and our eyes meet again in the darkness. “Ye decided for both of us that we were over. But I didna decide that!”
“Jamie… You’re still married.”
“Ye ken, I was looking for ye, Claire, I was desperate, I didna ken if ye were even alive. And then yer friend told me ye didna want to see me anymore, and---”
“What?” I gasp. “Wait a minute. What are you saying? You talked to Geillis? When?”
“Two weeks ago or something, she didna tell ye?”
“No...” I whisper and shake my head. I can’t believe she would do that to me. I’ll deal with her later.
“And then I...” Jamie continues.
“You what? You gave up?” I whisper as I try to finish the sentence for him, feeling my lips tremble and tears start to form in my eyes. I am such an idiot. If I didn’t push him away like that, things could have been so different by now.
“I realized ye didna want me anymore. And then I realized that ye had all rights for that, I broke yer heart. I am a coward. And I’m sorry. Ye left, and I deserved it.” His last words come out as a silent whisper. He runs his fingers through his hair and his eyes start to water.
“And what did you do, then?” I whisper, too.
“I realized I had to try to make my marriage work!” Jamie raises his voice again, making me jump. “Anna is a good lass. But, she doesna drive me crazy, she doesna make my stomach flip when I look at her, she doesna take my breath away. She isna ye, Claire, and never will be. I try to make this marriage work, but deep inside I ken that ye and I canna be done like that. I ken that ye still love me.”
“Why are you always so bloody sure of yourself? Why are you always taking advantage of the fact that you know how to get me? Just a touch, a smile, or another sorry and my world starts to revolve around you again! Damn it, I am a smart woman, but every time it comes to you... I don’t know why I become so stupid and forget that there will always be the consequences if I get back to you!”
“What are ye trying to say?” His voice gets lower.
“I’m not trying to say anything. Let me go, Jamie.” I beg. “Please.”
“Aye. Ye can go. But first, look me in the eye, Claire. Look me in the eye and tell me ye dinna love me anymore. Look me in the eye and tell me ye forgot everything we had together. Tell me how ye forgot the night we met. Or that night after yer birthday when ye called me at 2am, crying, asking me to come to ye, and we fucked till dawn, because ye kent that I would do everything for ye.”
“Tell me ye forgot how I kissed ye all the time because I couldna help myself, and ye always kissed me back. How you laughed at my jokes. How I took care of ye. Tell me ye forgot how I always made ye come and ye screamed out my name because ye couldna take it anymore.”
“Please, stop,” I keep begging. Bloody Scot.
“I’m no stupid, I ken that beside all that you will never forget how I hurt ye, how I jumped into a marriage because I was an idiot, and it broke yer heart. But, Claire, look me in the eye and tell me ye dinna want me anymore. And… And ye dinna lay in yer bed every night and touch yerself thinking about me.”
My head starts to spin, and I lean on the wall to support myself. I freeze, unable to say a word. One part of me wants to jump at him and get lost in his embrace. And the other part wants to punch him in the face, make him suffer. He walks closer to me and his body is right next to mine. The heat coming from it is driving me insane. Looking down, I just want to cry. Hot, angry, stinging tears.
I didn’t forget anything. I didn’t forget how he always made me feel like I was coming home, how I always felt wanted and hot with him. How wild he was and how wild he made me. I still think about the time we spent together, how we loved to make each other scream. But now, there is nothing but silence. And he is bloody right, it’s his name I moan every night when I touch myself.
“I hate you.” I utter and my cheeks flush pink.
“Why? Because I am right?”
I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong anymore. The next moment I know I push him with my hands until the back of his knees touch the dusty couch, and he falls onto it, not quite understanding what’s going on. I look at him, biting my lower lip. Slowly, my hands start to trail over the curves of my shape, before I pull my dress up to my waist, and my fingers hook underneath the fabric of my panties. The sensation creates a tingling feeling between my legs, and the need to touch myself right in front of him and make him watch becomes overwhelming.
Gathering my courage, I slowly tug my underwear down my legs until it eventually hits the floor. I kick my panties aside and walk to Jamie, my breath shortens and my pulse quickens. I climb over him, hovering each side of his thighs with my legs spread wide. He swallows hard and his Adam’s apple bops, eyes glued to mine. I lean closer and the next thing I feel is his hardness pressing against my inner thigh.
“Yer a mad woman,” he groans. And before he could say anything else, I hover his mouth with my left palm. He freezes and swallows again. My right hand starts to travel down my body, over my breasts and to my stomach. And then it finally reaches its destination.
I resist the urge to moan out loud when the tips of my fingers graze over my already aching clit. I feel the wetness immediately cover my fingers as I start to move them up and down, my eyes never leaving his. Jamie seems to have forgotten how to breathe and move as he silently watches me pleasure myself. I can only tell he is enjoying the scene.
The scent of my arousal fills the room as I start rubbing and massaging my swollen nub, increasing pressure with my fingers, thrusting my hips against his. Finally, I find and hit that sensitive spot as I plunge two fingers inside me. So warm, so wet, so right. And I’m getting close. So close. Imagining his fingers do wonders to my depths, I start to whimper and bite my bottom lip. And then his hands fall on my hips, and he gently strokes them back and forth, adding it to the pleasure.
And here it goes, I arch my back as my orgasm rips through me. I don’t stop my fingers while my body jerks and I moan loudly, gasping for air, as I ride my climax until the very end. My face contorts in pleasure, but I keep my eyes open to look at Jamie as I come. And then, I unconsciously fall onto his warm chest, breathing heavily. I’ve never done this before with anybody in my whole life. I don’t even know how I should feel at this very moment - ashamed or pleased with myself.
I take my hand off his mouth, and a quiet “Christ ” immediately escapes his throat. At the same time I remove my other hand from between my legs. My orgasm is still ringing in my ears and I can see the stars. I don’t remember ever coming this hard from fingering myself. Before I start to move, Jamie grabs me by the wrist, and his next words make me lose my mind all over again.
“Let me taste.”
I could come once more just from hearing him say that. He pulls my hand up to his mouth and lets his lips linger over my wet fingers for a short moment, before he parts his lips and pushes my fingers inside his mouth. I feel his tongue swirl around my fingers, taking in the taste of me. His darkened eyes never leave mine as he holds my hand, leaving me absolutely speechless.
As soon as he releases my hand with a satisfied look, I get off his lap and start to look for my panties. I realize I left my purse on the table in the ballroom, before Jamie dragged me here.
“Oh...shit!” I cry out, desperately.
“What happened?” He asks as he walks towards me, fixing his suit.
“I left my purse on the table. And I can’t find my panties! For Christ’s sake, why do you always have to appear out of nowhere and cause me problems?”
Jamie scoffs. “What just happened here doesna look like it was a problem , Sassenach,” he says, swallowing hard again.
I shake my head and slowly walk to the door, when I hear Jamie speak again.
“So what, Claire?”
“What do you mean?” I ask, not looking at him.
“Yer gonna leave without answering me?” I feel him come up closer to me, but my hand is already turning the doorknob.
I take a deep breath and turn around.
“Even if my heart will be shattered in pieces, I will still love you with every single piece.”
With that, I walk out and slam the door shut.
On shaking legs, fighting back the tears, I come back to the ballroom and look around to find my friend. At one of the tables I get myself another glass of champagne, wishing it was something stronger. Finally, I see Geillis talking to someone and holding my purse. She notices me and walks up to me.
“Here ye are! I was calling ye, and then I found yer purse on the table. Where the heck have ye been?” She asks, staring at me. “Yer cheeks are red. Where’s yer mask? Have ye been crying? Are ye alright?”
“I… Umm...can we go home?” I ask and take my purse from her hands.
“I’m not done with this night yet, lass, I stay til the end, and---” she begins, but I interrupt her.
“Fine, then I’m going alone. No problem, please enjoy your night. Thank you for everything.”
I turn on my heels and rush to the exit, bumping into a tiny girl with long dark curls.
Later on my way back home, I realized I bumped into Jamie’s wife.