You can't leave Vietnam AU like that, we need to know the resst ;)
“This is the day the Lord has made,” Murtagh FitzGibbons Fraser intoned from the lectern of St. Bride Church. “Let us rejoice and be glad.”
Jamie sat up a bit straighter at the end of the front pew, twining his fingers through Claire’s, exchanging a small smile with his godfather.
For as long as anyone could remember, every Sunday morning the Fraser-Murray clan had attended eight o’clock Mass at the church their forefathers had built at the turn of the nineteenth century. Just a ten minute drive from the Big House, it had originally served just the family and tenants of the Fraser estate. Jamie, Jenny, and Murtagh were the only Frasers remaining in the area – most of the extended family had moved to Asheville or Raleigh after World War II – but those three stubborn Frasers had held strong.
Jamie and Jenny’s parents had been married at St. Bride’s. The three Fraser children – including the eldest child, Willie, who had died of smallpox when Jamie was small – had been baptized there. Murtagh – who lived in his own cottage on the estate with his wife Suzette, who he had brought home from France after landing on the beaches of Normandy – ran the lector program. Jenny and Ian had been married there, and Young Jamie and Maggie in turn had been baptized there.
And as Claire rose with Jamie, watching Father Kenneth kiss the Word of God, smile out at the congregation, and begin reading from the Gospel of Luke – she saw herself and Jamie standing before the priest at the altar. And standing off to the side below the gorgeous stained glass window of Michael the Archangel, just behind the baptismal font, gently holding a fussy newborn while reciting the baptismal promises. And exchanging proud smiles with Jamie as a beautiful red-haired girl received her First Communion. And holding Jamie’s trembling hand as they watched a handsome red-haired boy be confirmed.
This was her place. He was her place.
“Thanks be to God,” she whispered. Serene.
“I was thinking of taking Claire up the mountain – to the old cabin. I can check on it, and maybe bring back a bottle or two for dinner?”
Murtagh chewed thoughtfully on his pancakes. “I haven’t been up there since the fall – would be good to make sure it’s gone through the winter without any major damage. Take note of what would need a repair, all right?”
Claire nodded her thanks as Suzette poured another cup of steaming coffee. “What’s the old cabin?”
“It’s the house that was built before this one – on the highest part of the Ridge.” Jenny wiped maple syrup off Young Jamie’s face with the corner of her blue-and-white striped napkin. “It’s just a few rooms – we haven’t updated it much over the years, except added a generator for electricity.”
“We stay there overnight sometimes when there’s a lot to do in the whisky caves,” Jamie added, serving Claire another slice of Mrs. Crook’s excellent bacon before nibbling on one himself. “It’s where we let the bottles age. We only take them out once a year, to sell them to the restaurants and bars in town – but I want to find a good one for us to enjoy tonight.”
“And why’s that?”
“Because you’ve got Jamie smiling again, Claire,” Ian said quietly from across the table. “And Lord knows, Jenny and Murtagh and Suzette and I have been trying to do that since he got back from ‘Nam.”
Claire dropped her eyes to her lap, cheeks flaming. Under the table, Jamie lay a gentle hand on her knee, squeezing softly.
“Well then. Can you pass the strawberry jam please, my dear nephew-in-law? These bannocks won’t eat themselves.”
Fresh air. Pine. The soft, damp smell of decaying leaves. Flashes of green as the first grasses and flowers shot up from the forest floor.
And Jamie – solid and quiet beside her, never letting go of her hand, silently savoring the stillness.
It had been about two hours since they’d left the house – Jamie toting a backpack full of snacks from Mrs. Crook, Claire wearing Jenny’s pre-pregnancy jeans and hiking boots. They hadn’t spoken very much on their journey – both lost in their thoughts, both afraid to pierce the quiet with the sound of their voices.
“It’s just up over the crest of this hill,” he said softly, after a while.
“How can you even tell where we are? It’s just trees and more trees,” she teased.
He flashed a brilliant smile. “My father started taking Jenny and Willie and I hiking in these woods as soon as I could walk. He’d take me up to the caves and let me play with the spare pieces of wood while he and Murtagh and my grandfather Simon sorted the bottles. Believe it or not, there are plenty of landmarks along the way – trees and rocks that you’ll recognize in time.”
For Claire would be coming back.
They hadn’t talked about it – hadn’t even broached the topic. But it was Sunday afternoon, and Claire’s plane ticket back to Boston was for tomorrow morning.
Jamie – ever perceptive – stopped as they crested the hill.
There it was – a small cabin, simply shingled and with just a few windows. It was immediately clear why the first Frasers had chosen to build there – for the ground in front of the cabin gently sloped into a grassy clearing.
“There used to be a barn here as well, but it was gone even before my grandfather was a boy. This place – it’s always been a refuge. A – well. I knew a guy in the Marines whose parents were German, and he told me of something called a ‘fridstool.’ A private place where you can be alone with your thoughts.”
Claire turned to meet Jamie’s eyes. The one-o-clock sun streamed on his face, sparking his hair like fire.
“And you’re OK taking me here? To your private place?”
He sighed and settled his hands on her hips, turning her to face him. Licked his lips, and burned his eyes into hers.
“I want to share *everything* with you, Claire. Here – in my most private place. Where we can pretend we are the only man and woman in the world.”
Another surge – but this time of love. And want.
“Yes,” she replied to his unspoken question. “Of course. Yes.”
He swallowed, and smiled, and gently led her down the hill.