Family crests and ballet lessons, a perfume your grandmother picks for you. Black coffee in Paris at 7 in the morning, champagne in New York in the evening. Cashmere sweaters, turtlenecks and high waisted skirts. Heavy diamonds and chins held high. Upper east side, Monaco, shopping in Brussels. Lying through clenched teeth. Northern lights. Hiding pain and using people. Contradictions. Daisychains. Richard Siken. Glitter socks. Learning French. Louboutins. Traditions and secrets. Green and Silver.
Hands on fire, bandaids and ginger ale. Treehouses and make believe. The kissing of wounds to soothe the pain. Stardust, bruised knees, pinky swears. Sunflowers and David Bowie. Lightning, thunderstorms, tornadoes. Too much energy; too much caffeine. The smell of a bonfire, the crunch of first snow, laughter resonating through crisp winter air. Fingers intertwining and whispered gossip followed by giggles. Supernovae. The roar of a sportscar's engine. Truth or dare. Courage and morals. The knight in rusty armor who forgot his horse at home. Red and gold.
Kneesocks, Sylvia Plath and the dusty smell of books. Paint drying on fingertips and hair in every colour of the rainbow. Oxford dictionary, the louvre, shadowpuppets. Dancing in the rain, overthinking, posters and empty canvases filling dorm rooms and adorning bedroom walls. The first touch of a paintbrush, forget-me-nots, hunger for knowledge. Metaphors. Fanfiction. Black boots and leather jackets. John Lennon sunglasses. Tartan. Poetry. Blue hair and black lipstick. Creativity and curiosity. Blue and silver.
Promises and shooting stars. Giggles, goosebumps. Stolen kisses behind the quidditch field. Bumblebees and libraries, fiery hair and squad goals. Shared breakfast, tutoring. Growing. Security. Those friends you can tell everything, and they will never judge. Libraries and open fields. Golden retrievers, the smell of sawdust and hay, horse riding. Roadtrips. Study groups. Ivy League. Scholarships. Humble, soft, friendly. Loyal and smart. Stubborn and accepting. Yellow and black.
I opened the door of my surgery and came face to face with Leoch’s midwife, the very person I’d been working up the courage to seek out for the last two weeks. She was a tiny little thing, the top of her head barely came up to my chest, and much younger than I had envisioned. I felt a measure of relief as I noticed her bandaged hand and knew she wasn’t here to discuss my pregnancy.
“I dinna wish to trouble ye, Mistress Claire-”
“No, not at all,” I interrupted her, “please come in.”
She dutifully followed me to my work table, where I had plenty of light to inspect her wound. The cut wasn’t very large, spanning her right, index distal phalanx, but it was deep enough to need stitching.
It was still bleeding, and I instructed her on how to better stem the flow before walking away to gather my necessary items. We spoke of the unseasonably warm weather and other trivialities as I moved about the room, the normality of the situation lulling me into a quiet calm.
Was this was the opportunity I needed?
I returned with an easier heart, and was pleased to find the bleeding had slowed, revealing a relatively clean wound. Nature had done most of the work for me and the blood flow had rid the gash of any debris. It would only need a few swabs of the alcohol before I stitched it closed. The task was done before I was ready and I fiddled with the bandage as I tried to think of a way to broach the subject.
“Out with it, lass,” she admonished, “or ‘twill swallow ye whole.”
I started, pulling the wrapping tighter than I intended and she winced.
“Sorry,” I murmured as I quickly finished. My hands left hers, instinctively hovering over the swell I knew she couldn’t see. I hadn’t a clue what to say to break the awkward silence that fell.
“I think… I mean, I don’t know, exactly, but I…” I trailed off, staring stupidly at my lap. “I think I’m bigger than I should be.”
Completely nonplussed, she asked, “Would ye have me take a look, then?”
I hesitantly nodded and she patted my arm.
“Dinna fash,” she assured me as we crossed the room, heading towards the small cot that often served as my examination table. She perched on the edge of the bed like a songbird taking roost, “I’ve seen just about everythin’ an’ what I havena seen, I’ve felt myself, birthin’ four bairns o’ my own.”
I felt more than a little self-conscious as I lifted my skirts, and she squeezed my hand reassuringly before beginning to examine me. Her eyes slid shut in concentration, her head tilting to one side while her hands did the work. The bandaged digit was held aloft, sticking it out to avoid unwanted jostling.
“How far along are ye?” She inquired.
“About three months.”
Three months, two weeks, and, give or take, four days.
Her brows furrowed as her hands stilled, “Are ye sure of your dates?”
“Yes,” I replied, a little too quickly. She gazed down at me with an amused smirk, and I felt my face flame as I stammered, “I, ah, was married the eleventh of June.”
The smile blossomed into a full grin as she tipped her head back and laughed.
“Oh, aye? Then ye’ve given your lad a mighty fine wedding gift, to be sure.”
“Jamie?” I called cautiously into the dim interior of the stables.
The walk here had hardly given me a chance to gather my thoughts. One moment, I was sure I had them neatly in a row, each emotion identified and acknowledged; the next, they shot off every which way, leaving me in a jumbled mess of tears, fears, and hormones.
“Here, Sassenach,” was his reply.
I stepped in, pausing a moment to allow my eyes to adjust before heading towards the sound of his voice. It was surprisingly cool within, and I breathed a sigh of relief as the familiar scents of hay, horses, and leather did nothing to make my stomach heave. I could hear Jamie speaking Gaelic in hushed tones, and it had very much the same calming effect on me as it did the horse he was working on.
“Hello,” I greeted him softly, standing at the entrance of the stall he was in.
He gave me a warm smile in return, moving from behind the mare to place a gentle kiss on my temple, “Hello to ye, mo nighean donn.”
“I met the midwife,” I whispered as I leaned into him, unsure if we had an audience.
“Oh, aye?” His arms encircled me in an embrace that melted me to my very core. “Did ye ask her?”
I simply nodded, unsure of how to continue now that I’d begun the conversation.
“Is she sure?” a tremulous qualm ran thru me at his question and I felt his heartbeat race against my cheek, the thundering echo reminding me that I wasn’t alone in any of this.
Alone. I would never, truly, be alone again, would I? Not while life grew within me, not while I could cradle such a love close to me in my arms.
“A dhia, Claire,” I clung to him as he breathlessly spoke aloud the word I had been treasuring in my heart,