This Is Us- Chapter 6 ___________________________
Jamie raised his hand poised to knock when an unexpected high pitched squeal of laughter and thumping of feet penetrated through the front door. Suddenly his knees felt weak and, needing to feel some support under him, he quickly turned around to press his back against the door.
“Ah Dhia! She was real!” he thought.
He lowered his head a bit and used his legs to brace his body against the solid wood, counting his inhales and exhales. This was a trick he had learned during cancer treatments. The blackness quickly receded and feeling returned to his fingertips.
He was just about to push off the door and turn to knock when he felt himself falling backwards. He hit the floor with an audible thud. Having no notion of what happened, he just lay still, the breath knocked out of him once more.
His vision was blocked suddenly by a small dog coming in so close to his face his eyes lost focus. A sticky lick– no wait– a kiss?–on his forehead.
This was followed by a hushed, “Boo-boo?”
The body tilted away from him allowing his eyes to focus on the improbable sight of his baby girl, auburn curls in two pigtails, wearing muted pink overalls and carrying a sodden biscuit in one hand, much of it worn on her face (explaining the residue coating his brow).
She waited intently. He remembered to breathe.
Looking into her adorably smeared but worried face, Jamie couldn’t help but smile.
“Aye, lass, but yer kiss made it better. Thank ye!” He assured her and, not wanting to scare her by reaching for her, contented himself with a gesture which looked like the approximation of a courtly bow from his prone position.
“Mama, he’s better!” Faith nodded, head turned to her side, satisfied by the day’s rescue.
Jamie shifted his gaze and found himself looking into whiskey eyes the same shade as his daughter’s.
“Mr. Fraser, I presume?” Curly hair and raised eyebrows.
“God, she is lovely.” The thought came unbidden to his mind and he was startled to realize he wasn’t thinking about Faith.
For a man thrust into fatherhood, Claire marveled at his ease with Faith. He didn’t crowd her or try to win her affections in any obvious way. Instead, he followed Faith’s lead and let her do as she was accustomed, somehow intuiting that the novelty of a new person to talk and play with would naturally draw her to him far more effectively than chasing after her.
Jamie and Faith were sitting on the floor beside the coffee table working on a wooden shape puzzle. Claire watched as her daughter turned into a flirt, something she had never seen her do. Even with Claire’s good friend and a favorite of Faith’s, Joe Abernathy, Faith never played the coquette. Claire was amazed to hear her daughter cooing and watched her batting her eyelashes in his direction.
Claire realized this was no passing fancy when she returned from putting Faith’s backpack in the hall closet to find her reverently placing Jane, her favorite doll, a beautiful Jumeau Bebe given to Claire by Uncle Lamb when she was a child herself, into his outstretched arms. Faith didn’t even let their babysitter Mrs. Crooke touch Jane. A high mark of favor, indeed.
Jamie had been leaning with his back against the couch but sat up straighter intuiting the import of the matter at hand. He gave the doll a serious once over, weighing some significant consideration, Faith, standing up, was almost eye level Jamie and shifted her weight back and forth anxiously awaiting his verdict.
Holding the absurdly feminine toy between his large hands should have made him look silly but didn’t. Claire couldn’t hear what they were saying but picked up the deep rumbling undertones of his verdict followed by Faith’s high pitched squeak of a reply. All of his attention was focused on Faith and his interaction with her was completely genuine.
The exchange was so adorable, she snapped a couple of pictures. Claire added a few more as the afternoon went on, wanting to document Faith’s first time meeting her father. She was touched by the fact that, respectful of her home and Faith’s privacy, Jamie hadn’t so much as asked if he could do so himself.
Now, she watched Jamie building blocks side by side with Faith, Faith reaching over every now and then to take away a block from Jamie’s tower for her own or offer him one of hers.
Jamie was saying mildly, “Ye ken that’s the last of my purple ones. Do ye no’ want to leave me that one?” His eyebrows raised in entreaty.
Faith shook her head, smiling.
“But, lass my tower’s almost done and it was to be my crowning glory.” He said mournfully.
At this Faith giggled, for his tower was already twice as tall as hers and more blocks wouldn’t make much of a difference as far as she could see. Faith could tell Jamie was not convinced, though and she really wanted all the purple blocks. Her eyes narrowed, a look of determination stole over her face.
“Jane says red is better.” She declared.
Faith herself clearly had no use for the red ones, they were stockpiled in the middle between the two of them, mostly untouched.
“She does?” Jamie turned to Jane, sitting up on the coffee table overseeing all the construction. “Mmphm.” Jamie grunted a Scottish noise in response, if not in consent.
“Weel I suppose I could. But do ye no’ think the princess would prefer climbing up a purple spire to go to scout her kingdom?”
Claire watched Jamie watching Faith from the corner of his eye, not directly looking but she knew he was drinking her in. She could feel the way he hummed with quiet delight in spending time with Faith.
Claire felt her face flame bright red as she realized that her long dormant libido had suddenly sprung to life. She was acutely aware of how long she had been celibate - longer than Faith had been alive, in fact. Jamie was striking to look at, an imposing figure but very handsome, so look she did.
However, her eyes were drawn to him for other reasons, too. At one point he caught her staring at him and raised his brow over their daughter’s head in inquiry. She blushed furiously.
“I’m sorry,” she said on a little embarrassed laugh. “I can’t help it. I keep catching a gesture here and there or an expression on your face and all of the sudden I think that you look so much like her….or I guess she looks like you.”
Claire waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. “I expect I’ll get over it soon enough. I just never expected to see it so clearly. Back before…before meeting you, when all I had were pictures online I thought that except for the shape of her eyes, the resemblance wasn’t obvious in the look of her.”
Claire paused, gathering her thoughts. “Now that I see you beside her, it’s clearer. The eyes obviously, a bit in the rest of her facial structure, too, but it’s…more in the way she carries herself.” Claire shrugged a little helplessly fearing she wasn’t making much sense.
Jamie smiled widely, his ears going a little pink at the tips. He’d noticed one or two such things but hadn’t spent nearly enough time with Faith to really see it.
Faith was toddling away from her parents freeing Jamie for the moment. He slowly reached his hand upward to Claire’s which was resting on the edge of the sofa cushion. He gave her time to pull away but she let him take her hand.
“Claire, I canna say how grateful I am to ye.” Jamie stared straight into her eyes.
Had she ever seen eyes that blue before? She could feel a slight tremor running through him.
“I never imagined, I never expected—” suddenly his eyes filled with tears.
Rather than become shy or try and bat them away in an effort to assert some misplaced sense of masculine pride, Jamie let them fall, let her see the depths of his emotions. He was so different from Frank. His willingness to allow her to see his vulnerability only made her more aware of the strength of him.
Jamie appreciated that Claire didn’t rush in to smooth over the awkwardness, nor did she try and pretend he wasn’t baring his soul to her. She simply accepted him, raw emotions and all and that stirred something inside him. Her small hand in his was nevertheless strong and he clung to it like an anchor.
He took in a breath. “When I saw the picture ye sent, I kent her straight away. I brought some pictures of my family, in case ye’d care to see?”
As if she would say no? Claire’s mouth was bone dry.
She knew a bit about his history. When she learned his name, the company had not yet launched so what she could find was rather limited. A report on the auto accident that killed his mother and brothers, his father’s obituary, Jenny and Ian’s wedding announcement. Then a couple articles on the start of Slainte and its relocation of production facilities to Scotland.
Since his product hit big, though, the archives grew and a more details were added, including the cancer treatments he’d undergone, videos of him as young man from all over the world were posted, allowing the public to get some feel for the carefree days of his past, living his life working in bars (no’ living my life behind bars, ye ken, Janet). These were bare facts, dates and events with no connection to the live flesh and blood man holding her hand.
As she nodded, Jamie moved to sit next to her and pulled out the precious package he had so carefully put together and wrapped safely in his pocket earlier in the day. He didn’t want to bore her to death, like looking at someone’s vacation photos and stopped, suddenly uncertain.
Claire squeezed his hand and waited for him to make eye contact.
“Tell me about them, your family,” she urged, touched by the anxious thought behind his hesitation.
He could tell she meant it and he let out a relieved chuckle.
“I’ll no’ go too many generations back, lass, ye needna be worrit,” he assured her.
After making sure Faith was happily entertained watching her favorite show about magical musical toadstools, she and Jamie spent time talking and generally getting to know one another.
Jamie was saddened to learn she was without any family at all, having been orphaned at 5 and losing her only relative a few years ago. Perhaps for that reason, Claire loved the pictures he brought and the stories he told her. When she saw the images of Willie, she gasped out loud.
“Oh, he’s beautiful, I can almost see how Faith will look in a few years’ time!”
Jamie smiled at her genuine response. Willie at ten, defiantly long hair, curly and wild down to his shoulders was indeed a sight to see. He was gratified to know that the strong resemblance he’d seen was undeniable even to Claire who’d never known him in life. Jamie also brought pictures of Ian and Jenny and their children. None had Faith’s gorgeous auburn coloring but all had the cat eyes and those outrageous Fraser lashes.
Faith turned then and smiled, coming to her feet and wandering over to her mother.
Jamie’s stomach growled audibly. He’d barely eaten anything that day, feeling nervous and slightly nauseous.
“Food?” Faith asked, hopefully. Her look of rampant hopefulness making Claire smile.
“Well, sweetness, I guess we know which side of the family you get your appetite from. Two peas in a pod are you and your Daddy!”
“Peas!” Faith demanded. Claire laughed, a high musical sound.
She stood and held her hand out to Faith, “Come darling let’s see what we can find, peas and carrots and maybe some chicken? You’ll join us, Jamie.” Said as a statement of obvious conclusion.
Distracted as she was, Claire didn’t notice as she and Faith wandered to the kitchen Jamie hadn’t moved a muscle, he simply could not. Just like when Claire opened the door on him and sent him reeling, his head was spinning once more.
Since hearing her voice on the other end of the line, he had imagined this going a hundred different ways. He had expected it to be awkward, stilted, uncomfortable, wondering what Faith would make of a 6’3” stranger, would she be scared of him? Would she give him a chance?
He’d had a quick call with Jenny in the morning trying to settle his nerves.
“Do ye think she’ll like me?” He’d asked.
“Of course she’ll like ye, Jamie, all the bairns love their uncle Jamie.” He’d loved the don’t be such an idiot tone of her voice, it was such a normal reaction that he found it oddly comforting. “You’ve a good heart, my dear. They all look up to you. Besides, am I no’ always saying yer just a big kid yourself?”
Jamie was feeling much better.
But then she said, “the person ye should be worrit about is her mother. If you need to impress anyone it’s her.” Though Jenny was, after all, only speaking the truth.
“Aye, I ken that. I hope we can talk a bit, mebbe see what she proposes.” He said.
“Weel, I expect it’ll take a bit of time. She’ll no be used to sharing the lass and given the way her husband treated her, she’s mayhap no’ verra trusting. If ye do run into stormy weather, brother call Gowan & MacKenzie– but ask for Ned, ye ken he’s the more ruthless of the two,” Jenny observed, causing Jamie’s blood to freeze like ice in his veins.
The thought of having to win parental time with Faith in a lawsuit pushed all kinds of buttons. It was the last thing he wanted to do– it had been the furthest thing from his mind. He was tempted to shoot the messenger and tell Jenny exactly what he thought of such a thing but he knew she was only trying to protect him.
“I thank ye, Janet,” unable to keep his tone light, Jamie made an effort to end on a better note, “I am hoping that since she invited me to meet, she likely is prepared to work with me on it. Wish me luck.”
Jamie had done his best to push the thought of custody battles from his mind, yet the implications of it had seeped in and colored his day even as he deliberately refused to dwell on the issue.
Though he took the precaution of coming prepared, anyway, to win Claire over. He wanted to assure her that he posed no threat to Faith, to draw her a picture of his own childhood so she’d know his dreams for Faith’s life, too. Jamie never anticipated how intuitively she’d read him; that a handful of stories from his childhood would allow her to see into his soul.
Somehow, over just an afternoon, Claire understood what it meant to him, having Faith. The grace she’d granted to him just then, her inclusive gesture, of fitting Faith effortlessly in his family line, connecting her to his past and his future with just a handful of words.
He’d felt it all afternoon but now he knew it in his heart, Claire would help him and Faith forge their relationship, as if it was already a foregone conclusion, his place in her life and hers in his, as if it had always been there, and always would be. He knew he’d have no cause to contact Ned or any other lawyer.
The afternoon had been magical. He felt a bone deep happiness, elated in a way he’d never experienced before. Ah Dhia, what had he done to deserve such welcome acceptance from Claire and his daughter? Overwhelmed, Jamie did what came naturally to him and, closing his eyes and sent up a prayer, the Gaelic words spilling quietly from his lips, calming to his racing thoughts.
As Claire came back into the room to see what had been keeping Jamie, she noticed he’d not moved from his place on the couch. He was murmuring something in Gaelic, a language she heard often enough but understood only a little. She didn’t need to know the language to recognize a benediction.
Her heart did a skitter step and her throat closed tight with an answering pull lower down. She’d been trying to ignore her body’s response to him since hearing his lovely deep voice with its rolled “Rs” on the phone.
Claire had spent any number of nights worrying herself about what Faith’s father would be like. The Jamie she read about online and in the archives, at least on the surface, had a lot of appeal. As the mother of a daughter, a surgeon in a male dominated field, she couldn’t help wondering what kind of man he would be and praying he would be a good man, the kind of man who would support a daughter to become anything she dreamed she could be.
His chief chemist, the head of legal and his plant manager were all women, which must have raised some eyebrows, though neither the PR team nor Jamie himself had ever traded on inclusiveness or gender balance as a way to bolster corporate image. That gave her hope that he would raise their daughter to be confident and independent. He was handsome, smart, and had a self-effacing humor in interviews she’d read. In person, he was all of those things and more. Seeing him with Faith had touched her in ways she could never have imagined. He had a good heart, of that she was certain.
Claire had been prepared to make his meeting with Faith a good experience for both of them, she even had a box of Faith’s favorite activities set aside– new picture books, music cued on the stereo, and a train set that Faith loved but had so many pieces it was only brought out on rare days, out of line of sight but nearby just in case a little bribe or distraction had been needed to smooth the way for father and daughter.
The reality was, she needn’t have bothered. Jamie was a natural with kids and she knew he was the kind of adult who was comfortable with them, he wouldn’t need help finding things to do with Faith. Just as importantly, Faith clearly adored him. She wanted to pinch herself.
When he pulled out the photos of his family and told her a little of each one, deliberately minimizing the sorrow of their loss to emphasize the joy they gave to him during their lives, she felt the weight of all of the unknowns and what ifs inside her lift and something else fitted itself into place that lightened her heart. There was a rightness about his being here with Faith and with her that thrilled her and scared her to death.
Claire felt a little lightheaded. Once, in their medical school years, Joe Abernathy, had talked her into bungee jumping at New England Gorge. Crystal blue sky above, roaring river below. They’d strapped her into her harness, metal clips jingling, bound tight with the wide belts digging into her sensitive places, the anticipation of awaiting her turn, hearing the screams of surprise, joy and fear from the rest of the group.
Her hair whipped around her face as she stepped out on the platform, spread her arms and dove graceful as a bird, wind rushing so fast it forced tears from her eyes, the only sound the surge of air in her ears as she dropped weightless, free. The intense snap when she hit the limit of the rope, blood rushing to her head as her heart got caught between water and clouds. The relief, the thrill as her displaced body tumbled end over end sailing through the sky.
She felt exactly like that girl of long ago, giddy foot planted firmly on the ledge looking straight down, with her other foot leaping confidently into the unknown, having no idea of what came next, just standing there watching him express his thankfulness to God for the gift of his daughter. Months later she would come to recognize that this was the moment she fell head over heels in love with Jamie Fraser.
Claire processed information physically, tending to rely on her senses more than her intellect. Seeing him there, she did what came naturally to her. Jamie startled when Claire’s arms came around him. His face was tucked into her chest so he could hear her heartbeat, so his rhythms would slow to match hers. Some unconscious part of him recognized the power of her touch, understood that her intention had been to offer him the tranquility in her heart as a balm to the rawness in his.
After a moment, he brought his arms around her hips, then higher. When she felt his hands splayed across her back, she pulled him into her tightly. With both hands he managed to cover most of her back. Having set out to try and sooth him, she recognized the irony of it. It had been a long time since a man had offered her the simple comfort of a hug and she stayed for several extra heartbeats then pulled away a little, looking down on him.
“Ready to come to the table? I’m not much of a cook but you won’t starve.” She waited patiently for him to open his eyes. When he did, she smiled at him and said, “Pease?”
A lovely rumble of laughter greeted her.
“Aye, I’d love to have dinner with my lasses.”
He’d said it without thought, his expression went from tender to embarrassed in the blink of an eye. She merely tilted her head. Jamie nodded and followed her to the kitchen.