Imagine that Jamie and Claire had only met later in life, when they're both divorced or widowed
Renewed: This is set in, on, or around the 1960′s. Jamie is 40 and Claire is 45.
— – —
She came in everyday, sometimes with a colleague or too, usually alone, but always there. He would sit, his back to the window, disinterested in the random hoipolloi that wandered the streets of Glasgow in the early hours, observing only her.
She was a doctor, he surmised, from the scrubs she occasionally wore. Probably a surgeon. He’d had the unfortunate pleasure of being introduced to some of the staff during some odd printing accidents. The surgeons had worn blue, he’d noticed. She’d only worn them once, but once was enough.
Smart then, he concluded. And beautiful with it.
He’d been coming to this particular cafe ever since his move to the city, two years previous. It was a comfort more than anything, a place that smelt faintly like his sister, Jenny’s, kitchen.
Here he could pretend he wasn’t alone.
The plumes of coffee wafted through the air, filling his senses as he sat and read his crisp newspaper. He’d printed the broadsheet himself, a perk of the job.
He wasn’t sure how long she’d been coming here, but it could have been her sanctuary long before his. Either way, she wore a wedding ring, a large gold band that she twirled unconsciously as she waited in line. It was almost as if she knew he was watching, waiting. A sign that she was not to be touched.
That didn’t stop him from wishing.
Two whole years.
It struck him, in that moment, how perverse it seemed. He hadn’t originally intended to become a voyeur, but loneliness does strange things to a person.
He, himself, had never been married. He’d come close once, but in the end he knew it wasn’t right and had said as much. Jenny had been incredibly angry with him, having worked hard to set up the union, but something inside him had rallied. She was not the girl for him, and he shouldn’t marry her.
And he hadn’t.
Now, at just over forty years of age, he was sure he’d found her. But in a twist of fate, she wasn’t free for him to pursue her.
Karma, he thought, was not his friend.
“Just a shot of espresso, please.” Her voice carried across the mostly deserted cafe, the sweet dulcet tones warming him faster than his steaming drink.
It’s of no matter, he reasoned, most women his age were taken. He shouldn’t have hoped for anything different.
Why she’d chosen that day, she didn’t really know. The ring had been a prop for just over a year, a ploy to keep the handsy male staff members away. If they’d known her and Frank had separated –well, it was an unfortunate fact that the doctors and the surgeons had a pool on the single females members of staff.
She *would not* end up on that list.
Being a tenured MD gave her certain privileges, it meant she worked the shifts she wanted, with the staff *she* requested.
She liked nights, finishing before the sun rose meant she could meander the city whilst most people still slept.
*He* didn’t seem to sleep, she liked that. She liked that he was always sat in the cafe in the wee hours of the morning, nursing his hot chocolate and pouring over the business sections.
But still, she hadn’t built the courage to speak to him. She knew he watched her, that he contemplated talking to her but never had. She knew that was all down to her.
At first *she was* married, but even then, she enjoyed feeling his eyes on her as she waited to order. After her and Frank’s split, she did actively contemplate removing the ring *just for him*. But every morning she chickened out.
Her shift had ended badly. Someone knew, and that someone had announced, loudly, Frank’s *indiscretions* to the entire night staff. She’d been utterly humiliated, and she needed something, *anything* to make her feel good again.
The moment she’d seen him, sat at his usual table by the window, she knew what she wanted to do.
This time she would be brave.
She left, as she always did, just as the sun began to rise, its sharp glow illuminating the sodden streets. He watched as she strode off in the opposite direction from the hospital, eager to be home he suspected.
He should do the same, he normally did. But today his mind was somewhere else entirely. He realised, belatedly, that she hadn’t even touched her left hand. Normally she fiddled with the band, openly adjusting her wedding ring.
Today she hadn’t.
He couldn’t be sure, but he hoped, rather cruelly, that something had changed.
For now he would have to wait. He’d sat for two years, he could wait a day more.
Two days in two years.
She’d never missed a morning at the cafe. But since she was skipping work, she could hardly walk brazenly around the neighbourhood.
Instead, she’d lost herself in daytime television and a rather large bowl of ice cream.
She hadn’t shown the next day.
Or the day after that.
His heart sank deeper into darkness as he trudged home.
Spring was in the air, the damp nights turning warmer, even Scotland had some heat. Still, he pulled his scarf tightly around his neck, hiding himself in it’s thick woollen depths.
Normally he’d go straight home, but today he wasn’t in the mood to be alone. Instead he returned to work.
The steady hum of the printing press, the heavy steps of the day team walking across the wooden boards above him, all of these things kept him focused on anything but the ghosts of his past. They kept him occupied enough that he almost forgot about –her.
On day three she caved, and she returned to the hospital.
Work had been difficult. Most gave her mournful looks, some whispered as she passed them by, and the odd few made cutting comments (almostly silently, discrete enough but still loud enough for her to hear).
*She couldn’t give him children, of course he had to go somewhere else.*
*You know it’s because she works, she spent all that time away and on courses to work her way up the ladder, no wonder he left her.*
*I’m just surprised it took him so long, and to wear that ring for –a year– afterwards!*
She signed herself out and rushed off, holding back her tears. Whatever she felt, she wouldn’t let them see her cry.
Head down, she walked briskly out and away from the hospital, desperate to be anywhere else.
She was so lost in her own thoughts that she failed to notice the tall Scot stood against the side of the building. Crashing directly into him, she jumped as he wrapped his arms around her.
“I’m s-so sorry,” she managed to stutter out, her hands shaking as she held onto him whilst she righted herself, “I wasn’t paying attention.”
“Dinna fash, miss. I’m in the business of rescuing damsels in distress.” His voice sent pleasant shivers down her spine, the deep burr vibrated directly through her chest.
“It’s you,” she knew from the moment he spoke, recognising his voice, “from the coffee shop!” Looking up, she confirmed her suspicions.
“Ye ken me?” He seemed more amused than shocked, his eyes alight with mischief.
“Y-yes, I know you. You’re always there, sat facing away from the window.”
“Ha! Ye even ken where I sit. I am impressed, sassenach.”
He paled, all the colour draining from his face as he said the word. He knew she was English, of course, and it was something he’d called her in his head ever since he’d discovered the fact.
He could tell she hadn’t appreciated it, by the way she pulled herself free of him and wrapped her arms around her middle. Her eyes were red and puffy, he’d been so happy to see her that he hadn’t been paying attention. He’d only closed his eyes for a moment, and the next thing he knew, she was solidly plastered against his chest.
“I’m sorry, I didna mean to upset ye. I’ve been watching ye for so long, and I dinna ken yer name…” he was babbling, nervously attempting to keep her there with him, “I didna mean it in a mean way, I promise.”
He sounded so sincere, she couldn’t help but giggle.
She *had* been insulted, at first. But his abashed ramblings had endeared her.
“Honestly,” she began, placing her hand over his, “don’t worry about it. I’m not offended, and thank you, for holding me up.”
“It’s my pleasure…” he stopped, unsure of how to address her.
“It’s Claire, Claire Beauchamp. Pleased to meet you.” She lent him an olive branch, a small smile breaking through her sorrow.
“Weel, Claire, Claire Beauchamp. I’m Jamie, Jamie Fraser. And I’d love to take ye for a drink, if yer amenable?”
Claire blushed, dipping her head as she licked her lips and nodded.