“Jamie, lad, this arrived for ye from Jared’s office.” Mrs. Fitz, his admin turned toward him as her salt and pepper hair came a little loose from her bun, and handed Jamie a battered, padded manilla envelope upon his return from a late lunch.
It was covered in stamps and dirt. He could see from the cross posting that it had originated in Scotland. He wondered what it was. He didn’t remember ordering anything from Scotland to be sent to Paris and all of his friends and business associates used email or text to communicate.
He absentmindedly set it aside as he dialed the online video conference call number. The brand was moving into more countries in Europe and he had meetings with Unite LQ, one of the largest distributors of liquor from Spain to Greece.
Two hours later, Jamie felt a great sense of satisfaction. The deal was outlined and he and Ian had managed to hammer out the numbers and the production schedule. They’d checked in with Marsali MacKimmie, the foreman of the manufacturing facility, to run the figures by her. He’d meet with Geneva Dunsany in legal in a few days to review the fine details but he couldn’t have been more pleased. Everything was a go.
He and Fergus would need to coordinate with marketing to finalize the PR plan for the continent. He wondered if it would be possible to launch “Operation Lard Head” as Murtagh had begun to call it. That would depend on whether the Angus and Rupert brand of Scottish humor would translate well across cultures. His gut said yes, which would relieve some of the “deer caught in the headlights” feeling that occasionally happened when he was in a public setting with friends and family.
His work life was unfolding well. Personally, he was doing fine but he had yet to meet a woman he was interested in and reluctant to play the field (he hated that euphemism) – that was not what he was looking for. In his twenties he travelled from job to job, so casual was all he could offer.
Now that the business was more stable, he wanted something of substance in his private life as well. As a bartender, he’d spent much of his time observing couples– from first dates to anniversary celebrations; from falling in love to indifference or loathing. He wanted to get it right, hoping for a love like his parents shared. So, for now, Jamie was content to move slow and trust that he would know the girl for him when he found her, as his father promised he would.
Jamie started to pack it in for the day. As he rounded the desk, he absentmindedly grabbed the battered package and tossed it into his messenger bag (no’ a man-purse, thank ye, Janet ). He spent the last of the daylight hours at the gym before grabbing dinner and heading home.
As Jamie let himself into his flat he noticed it was quiet for once. He should not have taken the apartment in this area, but it was close enough to work so he could walk and he was in the heart of downtown. It also, unfortunately, was less than five blocks from the largest hospital serving the metro area.
Most days he could mentally filter the noise of sirens and other street sounds out but tonight he admitted that the rare silence felt soothing. He opened a beer and the box of pizza. He turned on a match for background noise and reached into his bag to jot a note to himself about following up with Marsali on shipping rates and delivery times.
His hand accidentally grazed the package, forgotten in the recesses of the bag and he pulled it out. Jamie turned it over in his hands. Beauchamp it read and the street address was one he knew he’d heard before but couldn’t place.
Jamie thought it must have been sent from one of Jared’s connections since the name on the return address was French. He moved to open the flap and noticed the letter had been forwarded several times, following him around Paris until it landed in Jared’s office and had been sent on from there.
It had made a long round trip, sent from here and returning here months later. He wasn’t surprised at the delay, only that it found him at all. His last six months in Paris had been chaotic. He had moved a few times in quick succession. First, when the building he was living in was badly damaged in a fire, though no one, by the Blessing of St. Florian, had been injured, then to the temporary shelter the landlord had arranged for several weeks, then he finally found a sublet. Jared’s had been his last forwarding address. By the time the letter found Jared, Jamie was already back to Scotland.
Jamie tilted the envelope. A cascade of papers fell into his lap and a glossy photo of a chubby baby with beautiful brown eyes and the most remarkable head of auburn– almost red– curls stared up at him. A stretchy yellow flowered headband held the ringlets in place.
There was something familiar about the picture but he couldn’t think what at the moment. As he organized the papers into some semblance of order, he realized it was a letter addressed to him. A very thick letter of six or so pages.
“Dear Mr. Fraser,” it started, “My name is Claire Beauchamp. Several months ago my ex-husband and I started IVF treatments at Preservation, UK. I am writing to you to let you know that there was a mix up at the lab. ”
All the air whooshed out of his lungs. Jamie reached blindly for the photograph again trying to puzzle it out. Willie, he thought, taking in a desperate breath. That is who it reminded him of, Ah Dhia!. Willie’s hair had been that exact shade- a cross between Jenny’s darkness and his red. The eye color was not Fraser at all. It was a lovely golden whiskey brown; but the cat like shape and the lashes colored dark at the ends then light moving toward the lid were both deeply familiar as he saw the same every morning in the mirror.
His heart was in his throat as he quickly searched in the envelope, rustled through the pages; this was the only picture. He stared hard at it, in wonder and in awe. He lurched for his phone. His hands were shaking so hard that if not for speed dial he might never have been able to make the call.
“How old?” He demanded without preamble.
“How old what?” His sister asked, confused.
“The lassie, the bairn in the story wi’ the clinic, how old would she be?” He couldn’t keep the tremor out of his voice.
“Lassie? I dinna think the paper reported the gender of the babe.” Jenny said doubtfully.
“Never mind that, do ye remember?” Jamie tried to hold it together, wanting to reach through the phone and throttle the information from her.
“Holy Mother of God! Yer no saying—-” Jenny breathed.
“Age. Now, Janet!”
“I guess the babe’d be at least a year and a half, maybe nearer to two. “ Came the response.
“How old when they have their first teeth? The little ones at top and bottom?” Jamie said staring at the photo, his own lips turning up a little as he counted four teeth and took in the cherubic, drooly smile he had missed the first time around.
“Oh, 6 to 8 months or so for our lassies. It depends. Kitty got them late, Maggie early. Tell me what’s happened, brathair.” She demanded.
“I got a package today from Jared,” Jamie began, “sent to me from Scotland by the looks of it some time ago. Just caught up wi’ me now.” Inexplicably he felt his eyes well up. “Jenny,” he said, having to stop to clear the lump in his throat, “it’s Willie to the life, except for the color of the eyes.”
“Oh! Show me,” she begged.
He was confused for a second thinking how to do that but then snapped a quick shot of the photo and texted it while he remained on the phone. He heard the soft ping as it transmitted to her end and then her sharp intake of breath.
“Jesus, Mary and Bride!” Came the quick reply. Then a demand, “What’s her name?”
“I dinna–” Jamie realized he hadn’t even finished reading the first full paragraph. “I havena read the letter that came wi’ it.” He confessed.
Suddenly Jenny was laughing despite the surreal situation.
“Weel, normally I’d ask if ye’d no’ jumped to conclusions then? But I’d ken a Fraser on any street corner anywhere in the world so there isna much room for doubt.” Jenny said.
“Hold on I’ll see if I can—-”Jamie broke off, finding it impossible to read and talk at the same time.
As he was busy skimming the letter for information, Jenny waited patiently, excited by the possibility for she and Jamie cherished family above all else. They had lost so much of it in their lives.
Jamie caught phrases here and there such as “prior to her birth we discovered her blood type was B, my ex and I are both A and we knew he could not have fathered her.” and “I hope I have not made a mistake by reaching out to you in this way. I know it must be a shock. Due to recent events, I find myself on familiar terms with that feeling.” Jamie smiled at that.
Then further in the letter she wrote, “I wanted nothing to do with the lawsuit, I found out about the court case on the same day we left the hospital. Frank filed it on his own and a short time later, he left us.”
Jamie’s heart clenched hard. Her use of “we” and “us” connected deeply within in him –and he felt a sense of sorrow and even anger on her behalf and with it an overwhelming need to provide safety and protection to both mother and child. A confused jumble of emotion he didn’t quite understand.
“When I learned that the clinic never informed you about the baby, I knew that there was one thing that I did want from them, after all. The identity of the father.”
A page later he read, “I am enclosing a picture of her. It’s a little out of date, but one of my favorites….I keep writing this letter, adding pieces of it day by day, putting off having to place it in the envelope because I am not sure I will have the courage to send it.”
Jenny could hear rustling as he turned the pages, and waited in an agony of suspense.
Finally on the bottom of the sixth page he read, “Given the way she came into the world and the fact that both she and I almost did not make it, I named her Faith. Faith Julia Beauchamp…..I did not amend her birth certificate even after learning your identity, not because I was trying to make a statement one way or the other but simply because it felt wrong to do so without knowing what you wanted. So much of what has happened has been without your consent that I believe that the only one who has the right to make that decision is you. It is only a small thing but in this one thing I can offer you a choice. I learned a bit about you (Google is ubiquitous) and I think– I hope at any rate– that you might want to meet your daughter. All you have to do is contact me.”
Jamie forced himself to return to the call with Jenny instead of reading the letter in more detail.
“Faith Julia.” Jamie finally spoke her name aloud.
Jenny let out a small “Oh. Faith Julia Fraser.” Jenny repeated. “Tis a lovely name. She is beautiful, mo chridhe.”
Jamie almost corrected her, almost said not Fraser but she was right. It sounded perfect to him as well.
Jenny did not want to break the connection, she wished she could drop everything and come into the city to be with him, lend him whatever strength she had.
Jenny still remembered the shock of losing their mother, Ellen and their brothers, Willie and Robert, in a car crash. She and Jamie had left the house that morning, Robert too young to go yet and Willie had a morning dental exam . Ellen was planning on dropping him off at school around lunch.
Jenny remembered walking to the principal’s office, Murtagh’s solemn expression as he ushered them into the car. Jamie squeezing her hand so tightly the whole way home; it was bloodless by the time they reached the house.
She thought about sitting with Jamie and her father in the oncologist’s office, waiting with him for the test results that would tell them whether the cancer treatment was working. Jamie held her hand so tight that her fingers ached, but she didn’t ask him to let go.
Then, the time Jamie had burst through the A & E doors after hearing about Brian, it was she who held onto his hand until it lost all feeling. Separated by phone lines, her hands ached in memory wanting to hold his now.
“Jamie—” she started but closed her mouth, overwhelmed and having no idea of what she should say.
“Aye, Jenny, thank you.” Jamie said, knowing her heart to be too full to even make a start, as was his. “I will catch you up, soon as I may.”
“I love you.” Jenny said simply and broke the connection leaving Jamie to contemplate what to do.