Fanfiction - A Lifetime of Her (Part V)
Part V – “But we’re still sleeping like we’re lovers”
I stood there, transfixed by the overwhelming feeling of her in my arms, unbelievingly real against the paleness of my tired memories. I didn’t know what had happened to her – clearly something had happened – but was only glad I had found her, right in the moment when my arms seemed to be so needed to hold her.
“Will ye tell me?” I murmured against her hair – fragrant like a freshly squeezed lemon, like a garden after pouring rain -, my hands rubbing her back in soothing circles. “What happened?”
“I will.” She tilted her chin, allowing our eyes to meet – hers were dry but glassy, as if her body was wrecked with fever. “I want to tell you.”
“Good.” I attempted a calming smile, but felt the muscles of my face stiff from concern. “Do ye want to sit down?”
“We can’t talk here.” Claire told me, finally stepping back, away from the comfort of my body – I felt the loss of her warmth as acutely as I would miss a limb. Phantom pain, permanent and excruciating, constructed by the mind to deal with unbearable loss. “This is Geillis place – she is a close friend – and she’ll be arriving shortly from work. I thought she had forgotten her keys when you knocked.”
“Ye can come to my house.” I offered, almost biting my tongue in eagerness. The image of Claire in my home - the tips of her fingers brushing the book spines in the shelf, her lips drinking from one of my glasses - a kiss shared through the marks we’d both leave there – made my heart swell to the point of bursting. “I mean, we can have a conversation there without being disturbed or interrupted.” I babbled, struggling to explain myself over a bout of flushing cheeks.
“Alright.” She nodded in agreement – trusting me implicitly. Naturally. “Let me just feed Adso and grab my coat.” The feline meowed in agreement and rubbed against Claire’s legs, sleek and charming, as if he had been waiting to be acknowledged.
We made our way through the pleasant streets of Edinburgh, headed towards my house, located just a few blocks away. We traded some words, but were mostly immersed in our thoughts – preparing what we would say and do, when we finally could expose ourselves in a safe haven. As we walked, we didn’t touch – not even our arms bumped into each other, in that casual way of shared movement. We were both consciously avoiding to touch, keeping a safe distance, even if acutely aware of each other.
“It isna a big house.” I apologized in a jumbled way as we entered my apartment, collecting unmatched socks and forgotten papers along the way.
“I love it!” Claire smiled in a reassuring way, admiring the big flat screen and black speakers. Her butterscotch eyes covered my pictures and books, the quilt thrown over the back of the sofa, the magazines and pamphlets I had sorted inside a little basket next to the bookcase. “I can tell you live here – it’s warm and alive. It’s a real home.”
I grinned in content – almost purring in satisfaction -, as she took off her coat. She wandered around, touching objects with a respectful hand and clicking her tongue in appreciation of my book collection. Eventually she talked again, her back turned to me.
“Where is your bedroom?” She asked in a rough voice, unhinged – and then, predicting my puzzlement, she added in a low and hesitant tone, as if talking to herself. “I haven’t been sleeping much – I didn’t want to close my eyes and let my mind roam freely. I can barely stand on my feet, to be honest. Besides,” Claire turned and glanced at me, fumbling again with her sleeves. “I think it would be easier to talk if we touched.”
“Aye.” I breathed deeply, walking towards my room. “Whatever ye need.”
I watched as she laid down on my bed, above the plaid that meant home to me – taking off her boots and socks in the process. Her movements were slow and calculated, as if she wished to cause minimal impact with her presence, so that I would carry on with my life after her departure. Claire rolled to her side, curled like an unborn child, safe and peaceful in the womb.
I came around the bed and managed to lay down – silent and precise as a thief in the night -, leaving an empty space between us, as I faced her. She seemed tired beyond her years and utterly broken.
Without a word she slid her hand to the middle of the bed, where I could reach out and touch it – I did so, softly playing with her fingers until she relaxed and our hands were entwined.
“Why are ye here?” I asked, my voice husky. Her face was a duality of shadows and bursts of light, coming from the window to dance on her features. “In Scotland?”
“I had to come.” Claire adjusted her face on the pillow, caressing the nail of my thumb with her fingers, her golden wedding ring cold like a fetch between us. “I couldn’t be in Boston right now – I needed time to think. This is the one place that has been home to me.”
“Are ye still married?” I risked, watching in anguish as she winced in pain. She sighed – but the movements of my hand in hers seemed to calm her enough to go on.
“Separated.” She licked her quivering bottom lip, avoiding my eyes. “It turns out Frank wasn’t the man I thought he was. He wanted to own me.” Claire pursed her lips in anger. “And when he couldn’t own me, I wasn’t enough. Everyday became a war between us. A long and tiresome war.”
I gulped, taking in the shrapnel of her destruction. With a swift movement of my spare hand, I rolled up the sleeve of her sweater, revealing bruises the colour of mustard and moss, screaming against her marble white skin – marks of resentful fingers, forceful enough to break vessels and spirits. A lonely tear streamed down her cheek.
“He hurt ye!” I hissed furiously between clenched teeth, fighting the urge to maim the husband who had so recklessly broke the vow to protect her – to love her. She needed my restraint and I could offer it to her – not another display of bad temper by a man she had trusted. I hesitantly touched the bruises, wishing to erase them with kisses, to heal them with the adoration I would bestow upon her.
“I hurt him back.” Claire assured me, a look of shame crossing her face – as if I could pay witness to the degradations inflicted by both during their marriage. “He didn’t want me to leave. Frank said he still loves me.”
“Does he?” I asked with gentleness, battling the urge to ask her if she still loved him.
“I don’t know.” The tear track on her face glistened like a dry river, leaving thirst in its wake. “His love didn’t hurt like this, before.”
I wanted to ask her details on her failed marriage – her unhappiness was patent and unbearable – but restrained myself. She must have spent hours replaying the film of her derailed life, echoing words meant to harm – there was no cure to be found in saying them once more. I wished only to placate her pain – to take it all into myself, if I could. I longed to be the bringer of her smiles and not of her tears.
“I called ye.” I suddenly revealed, half embarrassed. “I waited too long – ye were gone by then. Maybe if I did…things would have been different.”
“Perhaps.” Claire agreed, haltingly. “But you were right – I shouldn’t have settled for less.”
I risked to brush her hair – silky and curly, so elementally Claire that took my breath away – and she closed her eyes in enjoyment of the intimate touch.
“What will ye do?” I asked, so afraid of the answer I could die. I wished for nothing more than to have her in my bed, lying so close to me as I memorized her, for the rest of my days. And yet I knew I had no guarantee of intimacy, of another conversation, of another touch – I savoured them all as a gift, for they were precious and not promised.
“I have to go back to Boston.” Claire explained, gripping my hand with strength. “I have a life there – a nursing job, medical school, friends and - .” She stopped, her eyes wide open.
“Frank.” I swallowed hard, fighting against myself to offer her an encouraging smile. “Ye are still married to him.”
“Yes.” She closed her eyes, almost sobbing. I brought her hand closer to my mouth and kissed her knuckles.
“I won’t tell ye what to do – that is for ye to decide, mo nighean donn. But I need ye to know something, Claire.” I touched her chin with tenderness, urging her to open her eyes. “Ye alone hold all my heart – even before I knew yer name, ye meant light to me. I’ll wait for ye my whole live – and gladly so, even if it means that I’ll watch ye from afar, happy and fulfilled with another man, worthy of ye.”
“Jamie, I – “ Claire started, but I kissed her hand again and brought her against my chest, where my heart kept pounding, speaking enough to silence her.
“I’d rather ye dinna make promises ye may not wish to keep afterwards, when yer heart is less sore. When – if - ye mean them, I’ll be here.” I pleaded, staring into her eyes – she held my gaze for a while and nodded back. “Rest now, mo nighean donn. Let me watch over ye as ye sleep. Let me see ye safe.”
“I’m always safe with you.” She whispered.
I cherished her and held her hand until she fell asleep – finding new reasons to love her while she dreamt. She felt safe and protected with me – and, for that moment, it was enough.
Even when night came and we were left in complete darkness, I listened to her breathing, absorbing the symphony of the lover I craved. Once in a while I closed my eyes, making sure I could remember her perfectly – opening them again to correct a small detail, to drink another drop of her, afraid I would forget. Tormented I wouldn’t.
In the wee hours of night, I fought against sleep. I felt raw and tender, heart and body aching, calling me irresistibly to slumber.
I must have surrendered at some point. I had the vague recollection of a chaste kiss against my lips – timid, yet burning.
In the morning, she was gone.