This is Us- Chapter 7
As they handed off their menus to the waitress, Murtagh waited a little impatiently for her to get out of earshot then turned his gaze to Jamie and leaned in.
Jamie said nothing as he reached across the table and handed Murtagh his phone. Claire texted the pictures from yesterday over to him before he’d even gotten in his own door last night. He knew each one by heart, having looked his fill already.
Jamie watched with anticipation as his godfather patted his pocket to retrieve his glasses, putting them on in preparation to scroll.
With a start he realized he’d never see either parents need to reach for reading glasses. They’d both died before living enough years to have aged into gray hair.
With his daughter lacking grandparents on either side of her family, he found himself doubly grateful for the irascible old bugger.
Theirs had always been an unusual relationship. Jamie was just a lad when his Mam was killed but he remembered enough.
He remembered the way both is Da and Murtagh had looked at Ellen when, for her 30th Birthday Party– a big event held the year before her death, with two hundred guests and fancy tables with flowers from the gardens pouring from urns and a live band set up under a tent on Lallybroch grounds– she’d come down the stairs wearing a formal red dress, silky with a deep décolletage and red high heels. It was like seeing sun coming out after a long, cold winter.
He knew his Da and godfather felt the same way for as he glanced over at them, they wore identical expressions of awe. No one greeted her as she turned the second floor landing and caught sight of the three of them standing there, both men stunned into silence.
That didn’t feel right to Jamie who called up enthusiastically, “Ye look beautiful, Mam!”
His mother blinked, then noticed Jamie decked out in full kilt standing to the side of his Da and smiled in delight.
“Why, thank ye kindly, good sir. Its nice to know ye have such gentlemanly manners, lad. They’ll work wonders for ye when you get out in the world.”
He could feel his face get a little hot. When Jamie was pleased his ears turned a bright pink and a flush rose up across his chest. Same thing happened to his Mam so she gave him an extra smile of recognition.
Jamie saw though that directly after, her eyes strayed back to Brian’s and stayed locked on his as he ascended the last steps to greet her. Their conversation was muffled, but Jamie didn’t want to hear it anyway, it would likely end in the two of them snogging, which was nothing he needed to see, again .
So he turned to Murtgah only to find the man still watching Ellen, his eyes had an expression in them that made his wame feel a bit funny. As an adult Jamie had understood the longing that he’d seen there that day, the futile hunger never quenched.
He also remembered that it was Murtagh in the weeks and months after Ellen’s passing that had kept the remaining Fraser bodies and souls together. Brian had good days and bad ones after but Murtagh always seemed to be there when needed, getting the kids supper, to school and back, the little things here and there that kept the house a home when the grief overwhelmed Da.
In the ensuing years Jamie had wanted to ask his father about the odd relationship he and Murtagh shared, both loving the same woman and yet best friends, but he didn’t dare to do so.
Nor could Jamie speak of such matters to Murtagh, either. One of the solid pillars of the relationship between his father and godfather was that neither man discussed Murtagh’s feelings for Ellen.
How much did Ellen know of Murtagh’s feelings? Clearly Brian not only knew, he’d counted on Murtagh to stand as stalwart guardian over his children to see them safe as he came to terms with the loss.
To surface that thorny topic would cause reverberations that might lead to even more losses for the family. But Jamie had eyes, a heart and sensitive soul that knew what lay beneath the surface nevertheless.
For all the complexities and complications of their family, Murtagh had loved both his parents and in that loving helped he and Jenny keep their memories alive. Having him here to share the surprise of Faith was a deeply satisfying feeling and Jamie eagerly awaited his reaction.
Glasses firmly perched on his nose, Murtagh looked down as Jamie watched his face; he didn’t disappoint. Jamie knew he was looking at:
Jamie straightening Jane’s bonnet as Faith beamed her approval elicited a puzzled expression of inquiry from Murtagh.
The two of them playing side by side, Faith with an animated look of determination and Jamie trying to be subtle about staring at her from the corner of his eye. Both had the same habit of squeezing the right side of their mouths down in identical lines of concentration. Jamie watched as Murtagh registered the fact the picture had captured that unexpected moment of symmetry and his bushy eyebrows rose all the way up into his forehead.
Murtagh scrolled forward and chuckled seeing Faith’s gleeful joy as the tower toppled over, colorful blocks frozen in mid-tumble, Jamie scowling in faux-horror.
He grunted when he saw Faith reaching for a piece of carrot from Jamie’s fork staring hard at the close up image of the girl’s face and lingered over the obvious shape of her eyes.
Jamie couldn’t suppress his grin when he heard a quiet, “Ah!” from his godfather.
Knowing that he had arrived at the picture of Jamie holding Faith in his lap reading her favorite story. Any lingering doubts Murtagh had were dispatched. In that image, looking at them head on, her face directly in front and close to his allowed for easy comparison; the shared Fraser features were unmistakeable.
Murtagh sighed as he looked at the last one, Jamie caught completely unaware tucking his daughter into bed. Not much of her was visible, just her curls exploding on her purple pillow as he kissed her cheek, with her wee hand patting the scruff of his face.
Whatever Murtagh had been expecting, this wasn’t it. Surprise was not quite the word. As he handed Jamie back his phone, Jamie saw Murtagh’s cheeks were damp. But his smile was huge and the delighted twinkle in his eye warmed Jamie’s heart.
Jamie had always been the child of his heart, the one most like Ellen in looks and temperament. Murtagh found himself increasingly grateful as the years passed for the connection.
If Ellen couldn’t give him the one thing he’d wanted from her (the moment her eyes met Brian’s, she longer had it to give), in the end, she’d given him something perhaps even more precious. Murtagh found he didn’t begrudge the trade, for all that he’d had no choice in the matter anyway.
Murtagh looked Jamie over, it was impossible to look into his face and not see Ellen’s eyes staring out at him. But for all that Jamie was his mother’s son, a fair bit of Fraser was in him, too. The reservoir of strength that lay in him, the sense of duty and loyalty that had been shaped by his father.
The sharp jolt of their loss had worn away but Murtagh found it was still with him, perhaps more rather than less as the years passed. He and Brian had managed to bridge the divide that threatened when, as a giddy young man fresh from from his first semester at university, he’d brought Miss Ellen MacKenzie home to Fraser lands to meet his folks during a break at the Edinburgh College of Fine Arts.
They’d been in the same Into to Form class. The first day they’d walked in to discover a nude model standing in the middle of the studio without so much as a by-your-leave. Instructed to find an open canvass and begin, Murtagh had been gobsmacked, trying hard to look at anything other than the model’s puckered nipples, big as shillings, staring straight at him.
He heard a snicker, a little mix of naughty and genuine amusement and raised his head. That’s all it took, one glance at her fiery mane and deep blue eyes, crinkling with embarrassed laughter over the top of a easel. He’d fallen instantly in love.
They’d been seeing one another, but not wanting to appear foolishly impulsive, he’d never told her how he felt. He’d played it cool, casual. The fall break was only a couple of days, too short for her to make the long journey back to the home she shared with her two brothers, so he’d invited her to come home with him. He was excited to show her the glens and hills of Broch Mordha, the color palette that had inspired his artistic roots in the first place.
The crisp fall air beckoned and they’d gone out for a walk over bramble and bush where they’d been spotted by Brian Fraser, out riding to check on the coos in the far field. He cut quite a fine figure, did Mr. Fraser, atop that pure white beast.
Her head came up just as he was about to dismount. Distracted by her arresting looks, he’d been thrown off his horse and dumped unceremoniously into the mud at her feet.
She burst into laughter, but it wasn’t unkind. Brian replayed the last couple of minutes in his own mind knowing full well he’d been showing off, riding Donas to impress and had just made a cake of it. He couldn’t help but join her, his rueful barks of amusement filling the air.
Unfortunately for Murtagh, Ellen had taken one look at Brian’s chagrined smile and fallen instantly in love. The spark between them almost a tangible object spinning through the air.
Murtagh knew it was a wonderfully romantic story, but the pain of it not being about him was an aching wound, even years after her passing.
Brian had proposed to Ellen just before Hogmanay, she was still only 18, marrying him meant leaving University. Yet both Ellen and Brian knew from the second they met nothing else would do.
So they persisted over the vociferous objections of her older brothers and Brian’s father, who (disgustingly) met Ellen and decided he wanted her for himself. Strange man, Simon Lovat.
Brian and Ellen were thus left on their own, no family on either side to smooth the way for the couple. Brian must have had a sense that there would be trouble for them. Perhaps that was why he’d come to see Murtagh before he’d even proposed.
A sign of respect, Murtagh knew, and the only time Brian had ever acknowledged what lay between them.
“I ken I’m asking something of ye that I’m no’ so sure I’d be prepared to give ye had it gone the other way, but would you stand wi’ me, be my best man?”
Torn between wanting to tell him to go fuck himself and fear of what his life might become without Ellen MacKenzie in it, Murtagh took a deep breath and reconciled himself to the inevitable.
It gave him some comfort knowing how deeply Brian had loved her, that and standing godfather to their bairns. A different kind of creation maybe but there was a true artistry in it for all that.
Murtagh was startled out of his reverie by a sharp noise from Jamie, clearly intended as an invitation to be nosy. He waited until their food had been laid before them and started in.
“I take it ye didna know about the wee lassie?” Jamie shook his head. “Did ye date the mother for awhile? Where did the two of you meet?”
Jamie filled him in on the details of his afternoon and evening. He mentioned Claire’s name as often as Faith’s, and Murtagh consciously made an effort to keep a knowing grin off his face.
“What’s to be done then?” He asked and Jamie understood what he meant.
“For now Claire suggested that we no’ make a formal schedule but bid me to come when I can. I’ve offered to walk them over to the daycare at the hospital in the morning so I can meet the staff and have my contact information added to Faith’s file. She, that is Claire, is working late so I can pick Faith up in the afternoon and drop her off at Claire’s and meet her sitter, Mrs. Crooke. This weekend Claire asked if I’d accompany them on a picnic in the park, simple stuff, really. Did I tell ye she can count to twenty?” That set him off again on a litany of Faith-related accomplishments.
Murtagh smiled to himself. He had known the Fraser siblings all their lives. More importantly though, he knew the man and woman that had raised them.
Murtagh took in the body language, recalled the last snap in the series and the look of desperate longing in Jamie’s face as he kissed his bairn good night, the quiet excitement and pulse of energy that thrummed through his body when, like now, he spoke of Faith and of Claire and he understood what Jamie couldn’t yet articulate.
He knew very well that once a Fraser gave his or her heart, it was irrevocable. Brian and Ellen moved mountains and defied both their families to be together. Jenny had known almost from the moment she met Ian that he was hers– no matter that they were bairns themselves.
Whether because of the moral code with which he was raised or due to genuine desire, Jamie Fraser wasn’t about to give up the family he never knew existed, not now. He had found them, and he was going to keep them.