Can we have a third encounter of Frank with the Frasers in Modern Glasgow? Maybe one with the wee bairns so he’ll see what a happy family they all are!
Claire set down the hairbrush and clipped the shiny barrette into Faith’s dark curls.
“There! All done.”
Ten-year-old Faith Fraser turned her head in the mirror, admiring her Mama’s handiwork. And smiled.
“It’s beautiful! Do you think any of the other girls there will have one, too?”
Claire smoothed the shoulders of Faith’s sundress, picking off a few pieces of lint. “Certainly not one like this - Suzette bought it at a special shop in France, remember?”
Faith nodded enthusiastically. “Aye - I ken that. Only…”
Claire sat on the bench in front of her vanity, watching her daughter’s face in the mirror. Patient - as she was with all of her children. From birth she had instilled in all of them the simple fact that Mama and Da would *always* be there, would *always* listen, and *always* love them deeply, no matter what. Simple - and yet, she knew that so many other parents never even hinted as much with their own children.
“Only what, love?”
Faith pursed her lips. “Only - ye ken I dinna much like it when I have to play wi’ children I don’t know, aye?”
Claire smiled and opened her arms. Faith sank into them gladly, settling her face against her Mama’s shoulder.
“I know - and I also know you’re old enough now to understand that sometimes we must do things that make us uncomfortable. Because it’s important to somebody else.”
She sighed, holding her eldest daughter close, relishing their time alone.
“Can I tell you a secret, Faith?”
Faith stood up, straightening her shoulders - proud that Mama was telling her such grown-up things.
“Do you think *I* really want to go to this picnic today? It’s for Da’s job, and I don’t much feel like talking with other ladies that I don’t know. So - you and I are in the same boat, aye?”
Faith nodded, smiling. Good.
“Aye. I understand. I’ll mind Bree and William and Julia, Mama - I dinna want ye to worry.”
Claire’s heart swelled with love for Faith - her miracle child, who had had a rough start in life but who had grown to prove that her heart was more loving and compassionate - and responsible - than any other girl she’d ever known.
“I’ll take care of Julia - but if you could keep an eye on Bree and William, Da and I would be very grateful.” Softly she thumbed her daughter’s cheek, pushing one of Faith’s curls - so much like her own - behind her ear.
“Now - can you help me get everyone else ready?”
Jamie settled a sleepy Julia - clad in a bright blue baby dress - against his shoulder, adjusted her hat to protect her from the afternoon sun, and took a draught from his tumbler of whisky with his other hand, clearly absorbed in conversation with one of his favorite clients.
“And what’s this newest story about then, Ned?”
The elderly man squinted in the sunshine as he looked up at Jamie, cheeks flushed with champagne.
“Ah! Well - you know how my last novel was about an Englishwoman who was captured by Scotland Yard on suspicion of being a spy, even though she said she wasn’t - but she was actually a double agent for the Americans? Well - ”
Claire squeezed Jamie’s shoulder and stepped away, letting the men talk. Jamie and Ned had developed such a lovely relationship over the years - Jamie had always been patient and kind with the brilliant yet scatterbrained retired lawyer turned writer, and in turn Ned had been very loyal to Jamie, insisting he accompany him on his small book tours throughout the UK. Even as Jamie had advanced up the ranks at the publishing company - he was now third in command, and Rupert’s right-hand man - and no longer interacted as much with the authors, there were a few he still insisted on seeing to personally.
The publishing house hosted this summer garden party every year - inviting the employees and their families to attend a lovely afternoon of food, drink, and games for the children. All the authors and their families were also invited to informally mingle with the staff - keeping it casual, but also forging new business relationships.
It was fun to see some of the other spouses - Rupert’s wife Scarlett and their tribe of wee MacKenzies, Willie and Mary - who had scaled back her hours at the hospital once she gave birth to their son Jack - Angus and his latest girlfriend (or at least Claire hoped she was a girlfriend, and not one of those escorts he’d brought to the event last year).
But as it was even at her own work events, it was tiring to make nice and socialize all afternoon, knowing she couldn’t speak as freely as she wanted - mindful of her position as Jamie’s wife, and the need for him to maintain his rock-solid reputation at the company. Which is why she insisted her wee Frasers be on their best behavior - she didn’t want them making a scene, as wee Hamish MacKenzie had last year when he’d pulled down the skirt of one of the author’s wives…
Her eyes scanned the crowd - ah, there was Brianna’s red head, swaying back and forth on the swingset beside Faith and Morag MacKenzie, one of Rupert’s daughters. William was nearby, deep in conversation with one of Morag’s brothers, Jerry.
And to think that Scarlett was pregnant again…quickly she counted up in her head the number of small MacKenzies she’d seen running around this afternoon. Five? Six?
She turned back to the refreshments table - ah. Sangria - perfect.
Claire helped herself and then scanned the table for a napkin -
She almost dropped her glass. That voice - she hadn’t heard it in years, but recognized it instantly.
She swallowed, and turned.
Her right hand clutched the glass - her left dropped to her side, thumb furiously tracing her wedding ring.
He was dressed informally - a button-down shirt open at the neck, jeans, sunglasses hanging from his shirt pocket. Posh. Polished. Smart.
Memory flashed - Frank had always neatly pressed his shirts before folding them and stacking them in his bureau, usually while dictating ideas into a tape recorder.
And then another flash - Jamie desperately rummaging through his closet this afternoon for a suitable shirt after Julia had spit up all over the one he’d picked out.
“I - I didn’t expect to see you here. I know your - husband - is still employed by the publishing house, but as I don’t have any direct dealings with him…”
She pasted on a thin-lipped smile. “We’re here every year - Jamie co-runs the operations side of the business now, with Rupert MacKenzie. Though he still has a small group of writers he’s worked with for a very long time.”
Frank glanced down at his glass of whine - white, his favorite - and shuffled his feet.
Silence bloomed - and Claire groped around in her mind for something to say.
“I understand you’ve become quite the accomplished author yourself - written a series about the ‘45 and such. Jamie tells me it’s been a popular hit.”
Frank nodded absently. “Yes, well. I’m still teaching at Oxford, and I’ve even been on a few television programmes.”
Claire sipped her sangria. “Yes, I know. My son enjoys watching them - he loves his history. Especially Scottish history.”
Frank blinked. “So you’ve a son, then? I knew you had a daughter or two - ”
Claire straightened. “Two sons, actually - the history buff is eight, and we adopted another boy from France. He’s at uni - studying journalism.”
She watched him nod, taking in the news. “Did you ever see yourself with so many children, Claire? It was never something you brought up when we were together.”
“I never really thought about it - but once I met Jamie, I realized that it’s what I want. A family. A big family.”
“Even with your work? Are you still at that hospital?”
She shifted in her sandals, feeling the tops of her feet burning in the bright summer sun. “I am - but I’m not in the ER anymore. I’m a thoracic surgeon.”
Frank sipped his wine. “Impressive.”
Claire smiled, digging in her purse for her sunglasses. “Indeed. Especially since I have four small children at home.”
“Ah! Darling - there you are.”
Claire turned - and watched a slight blonde woman in a long, flowy dress approach Frank and kiss him on the cheek.
Frank backed away from her a bit and gestured toward Claire. “Cara - this is -”
“Dr. Claire Fraser. Pleasure.” She extended her hand. Cara took it - limply.
“Ah! Are you a professor as well?” Cara slung an arm over Frank’s shoulders.
“No, darling - she’s a medical doctor. A surgeon.”
Cara squinted at Claire in the sunshine. “Oh, how interesting! I’m working on my PhD, actually - French history. Frank’s been such a great help over the past few years.”
“I’m sure,” Claire replied drily - biting her tongue.
Two small forms seized her knees. Her heart immediately lifted.
“There you are!” she exclaimed, hiking up her dress so she could crouch down to be at eye level with Faith and William. “Have you been having fun?”
Faith rolled her eyes - but William nodded enthusiastically.
Claire rested a gentle hand on their shoulders and stood. “Frank - Cara - these are two of my children, Faith and William Fraser.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Faith said softly, wondering who these strange people were - and why Mama’s hand was so tense on her shoulder.
Frank nodded - suddenly stiff. It dawned on Claire that he hadn’t mentioned any children of his own.
“The two of you look just like your mother,” he said, voice tight.
“No’ all of us do!” William exclaimed. “My brother Fergus - well he’s French, so he doesna look like Mama or Da, but -”
Faith called to her sister, who was eyeing the dessert table. She glanced up, and happily scampered over to her mother and siblings.
“And this is my daughter Brianna.” Claire lifted her hand from William to draw Bree close - watching her remove her hat and lift her damp red hair, brilliant in the sunshine, from the nape of her neck.
“Hello,” Brianna said politely. “Who are you?”
“This is Professor Randall and - ”
“My friend Cara,” Frank interrupted. “I write history books.”
William gasped. “I’ve seen you on the TV! Murtagh and I watch all of yer programs!”
Frank smiled politely. “Yes - I’ve done a few programs over the years.”
“I loved the one where ye visited Fort William! My da took me and my brother there last year - I kent all about the history already!”
“Indeed. It’s an interesting place.”
He spoke to William as he would to an adult - rather than to an eight-year-old. And then it became quite clear to Claire that Frank never had - and likely never would - spend much time around children.
“Claire’s husband is an - executive - at Leoch Publishing,” Frank belatedly explained to Cara. “And a bit of a history buff, if I understand correctly.”
And then all the tension in Claire’s body slackened with one touch to her side.
“I am. It’s good to see you again, Professor Randall.”
Jamie extended his left hand to shake Frank’s, as Julia was dead asleep against his right shoulder. The wide silver band of his wedding ring glinted in the bright afternoon sunshine.
Frank took the proffered hand and shook it gracefully. “This is Cara - she’s one of my PhD students.”
Jamie nodded politely, then settled his free hand possessively around Claire’s waist. Her right hand snaked around his back, sinking her fingers into the back pocket of his jeans.
Frank’s gaze turned to the sleeping baby. “And this is - ”
“Ah - Julia. Our youngest, just six months old this week.”
Jamie kissed his tiny daughter’s wee forehead. Claire curled her fingers into his pocket - digging into his arse. Faith, Bree, and William stood - bored, yet patient - before them.
“Well then. I won’t take up any more of your time - I’m sure you still have a lot of business to attend to.”
Jamie nodded, politely.
“So nice to meet you and your family,” Cara said softly, eyes already scanning the crowd for the next conversation partner.
“Good to see you, Frank.” Claire smiled, drawing strength from her wee ragtag family.
“And you, Claire. You look happy. It becomes you.”
And with that, he nodded and led Cara away.
Claire waited for twenty seconds - then curled into Jamie’s chest, eyes closed, breathing deeply.
Her mind desperately rooted for something - anything - to anchor her.
Jamie’s solidity. Julia’s softness. Jamie’s scent - and the small patch of hair at the open neck of his shirt.
And his eyes this morning - smiling, half-asleep, and intent on hers as he buried his face between her legs.
“I’m here,” he whispered in her ear. “It’s done now. Do ye want to go home?”
The older children wordlessly hugged their Mama’s middle and knees - not understading, but knowing that she needed support.
She breathed deep, and shook her head. “No. I’m quite alright, actually.” Then she looked up at him, squinting down at her in the sunshine.
“Because I have you. All of you. I’ll always be alright.”
His smile flashed - and then his mouth met hers. Not caring that they were surrounded by so many people.
The wee Frasers, accustomed to the sight, groaned in unison.