Claire sat in the wide bench at the hospital’s
locker room, her ears filled with a high bleeping sound, the voices around her
as distant and foreign as creatures of the bottom of the deepest ocean. Her
eyes were fixed on her silver ring – the flesh underneath it raw and reddened
after hours of nervously twisting it on her finger, akin to a prisoner fighting
a shackle turned life raft.
“What happened to you?” A shadow extended next
to her and she blankly stared above, watching as one of her colleagues, Joe
Abernathy, frowned as he looked at her.
“Nothing.” She croaked, her tongue feeling
ridiculously dry and furred after hours of screams and sobs in the seclusion of
her apartment, followed by a prolonged silence.
“Hmpf.” He vocalized in a doubtful tone. “Ye
look more like everything happened,
than nothing. Do you want to grab a cup of coffee, Fraser? Or a bucket?”
“Don’t call me that!” She hissed, tears
stinging her eyes – Claire tried to keep them forcefully opened, to avoid
overflowing. “Claire. Just Claire.”
“Alright.” He said more softly, sitting next to
her. His dark skin deeply contrasted with her own, made even more marble white
than usual by fatigue and heartbreak.
wasn’t exactly a friend – but he was one of the few colleagues who had shown
her compassion and camaraderie, never taking a chance to shine that implied to
throw another resident under the proverbial bus. He was always nice and they
exchanged pleasantries every time the occasion called for words between them –
but Claire had been too busy daydreaming about Jamie for the past few months,
to really dedicate herself to the task of establishing a fulfilling friendship.
I don’t want you anymore. Claire
mechanically pressed the ring against her raw finger, welcoming the pain that
kept her grounded to the present.
“You know what?” Joe slapped his big hands
against his knees, covered with blue scrubs. “I think I have just the thing you
need. A nasty Whipple procedure in OR two in twenty minutes. What do you say?”
“I can’t take your surgery, Joe. You earned
that with your hard work assisting Doctor Raymond on that hemorrhoidectomy.”
Claire shook her head, crumpling her surgical cap.
“You need to cut, Lady Jane.” He smiled with
kindness. “People can say whatever they want, but I know a surgeon when I see
one – and you’re it. Once you have the blade in your hand, you’ll be able to
forget – or at least to push to the outskirts of your mind – whatever is bothering
you so much. On the off-chance that
doesn’t work, you can always pretend you’re cutting the face of whoever hurt
Claire breathed deeply – the smell of deodorant
and foot powder a soothing presence, reassuring her that some things were still
the same. She had come to the hospital almost in the middle of the night for it
– trying to leave the wreckage of her life behind the closed door of her apartment
- only to discover that the destruction had found a cranny whereby it could
enter her body, taking hold of her like a parasite with an innocent host.
If only she could shed her entire body with its
memories, like a blessed snake, perhaps she could morph into something else.
Freedom. Forgetfulness. Painless
breathing again. But she was only allowed blue scrubs, with matching cap and
mask – they would have to serve that purpose.
“If you’re sure.” She said hesitantly. “I’ll
try not to disturb you too much.”
“Nonsense.” He clapped, ecstatic. You’ll do
just fine. Don’t overthink it.”
“Alright.” Claire raised from the bench to tie
her black sneakers. Make a loop. Tie it
harder. Breathe. As she prepared to walk beside him, she wrinkled her nose
in confusion in his direction. “Who
the hell is Lady Jane?”
Edinburgh, Present day
“You’re awake.” Claire greeted, entering his
room and seeing him half-sited, reclined against a pile of pillows, doing
exercises with his hand. “It’s late, but I was quite busy today – a couple of
patients from the fire needed to be re-interventioned for some complications.”
“That’s alright.” Jamie gave her a shy smile.
“I dinna expect ye to come at all, so it’s a nice surprise.”
“I hear they are offering you a medal for your
brave conduct while on duty.” She said in an attempt of conversational tone,
sitting on a chair by his bed. “Just saw two grown men sobbing their eyes out
while coming here, talking about how Chief Fraser is a goddam hero and saved
“Well,” He replied, slightly shrugging his
shoulders in a blatant sign of discomfort. “I don’t feel like a hero. More like
“Hm.” She snorted in outspoken agreement.
“Can’t really challenge that. How is your hand?”
“Rigid. Tender.” Jamie grimaced, showing her
the bandaged hand with just the tip of the fingers visible. “But hopefully, in
time, I’ll be able to wipe my own arse with it.”
The corners of her mouth almost formed a smile,
but she hurriedly commanded them to stop. Almost.
He used to make her smile all the time, effortlessly - and it seemed like
the wheels and screws of her body still remembered that easy mechanism.
“Claire…” He started in a pleading tone.
“Why do you still wear your wedding ring,
Jamie?” Claire anticipated in a low voice. “We have been divorced for almost
ten years – and you took away its
meaning even before that.”
“Don’t ye know?” He replied in a soft tone, as
his fingers dutifully played with the small exercise rubber ball.
“How would I
know?” She said, anger bringing an edge to her words. “You told me you didn’t want me anymore. That you had someone else
you wanted to be with – I expected to find you remarried with a proper Scottish
wife, a handful of children around your bed. And yet there’s no wife around to
fluff your pillows and put jelly in the mouth of her valiant husband.”
He tilted his head, as if he was embarrassed by
her words. “I had my reasons to say that.”
“Let’s hear them, then.” She crossed her arms
and looked impatiently at him. “I believe you owe me at least the curtsy of the
Jamie nodded and for a moment his eyes seemed
lost in contemplation of something invisible, pages of their story turning
backwards until he could find the appropriate chapter and the words to tell it.
When he talked again, his voice was quick and low, slightly ragged.
“Ye were failing.” He looked at her as if
urging her to understand. “Ye told me that yourself. Everything ye had worked
so hard to accomplish was turning into smoke.” Jamie clenched his jaw. “I knew
it was because of me – my fault. When
ye met me, I changed the course of yer life. Ye were torn – distracted. I had
to do something.”
“What?” Claire whispered, the world slightly
tilting around her like a bizarre attraction in an amusement park. “Tell me,
Jamie – What did you do?”
“How does a man wilfully rip his heart out of
his chest? What madness can drive ye to do such a thing?” He whispered, as if
to himself, before he glanced at her. “Not madness – love. I found I could do it, as long as I knew ye safe and well.”
“I don’t understand.” She babbled - but
realization was slowly dawning on her, brutal and consuming as wildfire,
leaving her shaking like a burnt leaf on the wind.
“I already knew what I needed to do.” Jamie
nodded, immersed on his tale – finally able to share his terrible truth, a numbing
dart to the poisonous beast that sat on his chest. “I made the decision the
night we spoke on the phone – promised to myself I’d do it when I went to visit
ye. But I couldn’t!” He closed his healthy hand on a fist, his body trembling
from strong emotion. “I was weak. I couldna stop myself from loving ye again
and again – knowing I couldna lie to yer body; swearing every time I touched ye
would be the last. One last day of happiness – one last memory I could hold on
Claire was openly crying by then, tears
silently falling across her cheeks, witnesses of two broken hearts bleeding
together into the world.
“I went to see Doctor Raymond one afternoon.”
Jamie gulped. “I was hoping there might be another way. But he confirmed what I
already knew – he told me ye were a natural healer, a potential brilliant
surgeon, if ye were allowed to focus solely on that. He promised he would take
care of you.” He finished softly.
“You told me you didn’t want me!” Claire
repeated, lips quivering, her amber eyes open in shock.
“I thought I’d die from saying it. But
ultimately I would say that and much worse, Claire.” He affirmed, his blue eyes
moist but defiant. “I would deny God himself and Jesus on the cross for yer
sake. I would disown my own heart and lungs. There’s no limit for what I’d do
for ye to have peace, mo nighean donn.”
“It was not your choice to make!” She sobbed,
slightly rocking herself on the chair. “My
life, James Fraser. My fucking life. Our
“Aye.” He rubbed his eyes with the back of his
hand. “It is that. But I canna say I regret it, Claire. Joe told me how many
people you saved just today – how every young surgeon looks up to you now. It
seems to me I made the right choice.”
“You don’t know a thing…” Claire hissed. “About
what I went through. I barely made it…I was barely sane.” Her voice sounded
like a woman drowning even to her own ears. “You wouldn’t even see me to sign
the divorce papers, you sent Ned Gowan in your place…”
“I never said I wasna a coward.” Jamie
admitted, slightly tilting his head. “I dinna trust myself not to fall on my
knees and beg yer forgiveness. To tell ye right there and then of my wicked
ways. To kiss ye and never let go. I hoped…” His voice broke. “You’d never have
to see me again.”
“I thought you were in love with someone else.”
Claire sobbed, closing her eyes to block the sight of his face, grimacing in
pain. “I couldn’t close my eyes without seeing you laying with a faceless
woman, whom you’d say everything you once said to me. Listening all your
promises turning into lies.”
“There was never another woman.” He whispered,
tears falling down his lashes. “There could never be another woman, Claire. I
still wore yer wedding ring because – papers or no – I will forever be married
to ye. I will always love ye, mo
“I could never forgive you for this…” Claire
entwined her hands, like a silent prayer for the ability to retrieve what had
been lost between them. “You took away my choice. You traded our love for
something I never wanted. You decided for us both.”
“Aye.” He swallowed hard – his voice hoarse and
broken beyond repair. “But can ye honestly say I was wrong in thinking that
this is the woman ye were meant to become? That by letting ye go I wasna in
fact loving ye more than I ever could be keeping ye?” Jamie closed his eyes,
whispering. “Mine are the sins of a lover. Ye were given to me, Claire – and I
loved ye well.”