“And how are you at making coffee?” Terrible. Astoundingly terrible.
“And tea?” So much worse. Genuinely so much worse. Always too much milk or not enough time stewing or so she thinks. She doesn’t actually know. Not knowing how to fix it was half the problem sometimes – for tea and… everything else in her life.
“Well, you sound too good to be true,“ she was literally lying about the basics, “but you’re also the only person who applied and I was told to fill the position by the end of today so the job’s yours if you want it?” That made more sense, but Dani really wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“That’s- thank you! That’s amazing.” She wouldn’t happy dance in the seat. She’d save that for when she was safely back in her car and not making an increasingly bad impression.
“Congratulations. Welcome to Espresso Yourself.”
Dani takes the apron handed to her. “I won’t let you down.”
“It makes no difference to me, you’re my replacement. I have a feeling Owen’s going to love you though.” The woman eyes her for a moment. For the third time that meeting she wonders if she should’ve worn something else. “You seem like you might actually laugh at his jokes.”
This was going to be great. Dani could finally get out on her own two feet and find her place in this new town (and apparently make a new friend whose jokes seemed to insight fear).
It was going to be great...
It was not starting out to be a great day.
It turns out the espresso machine was even more complicated than it looked and there were a thousand tiny changes between different orders of coffee that honestly seemed so inconsequential in the scheme of things, but were apparently very essential, and she’d burned her fingers on the milk steamer three times already.
(She’d been there for thirty minutes).
It was not starting out to be a great day, but at least the tiny café was tucked away in a side-street, overshadowed by the coffee giants stationed on the main road that left her relatively unbusy. It gave her time to practise under the helpful but amused eye of Owen who was busy baking away in the kitchen (frankly his chocolate chip cookies alone should’ve meant Dani was rushed off her feet).
She barely hears the tinkle of the bell behind her head as she curses herself under her breath for having made another latte when she was really trying to make it a cappuccino – honestly who really needed that much foam anyway, it was just ridiculous. She does hear the gentle but amused clearing of a throat just over her shoulder, however.
She burns herself on the milk steamer a fourth time when she turns around and finds the single prettiest woman she’s ever seen. She stands in ripped jeans and a soft t-shirt with hard boots, a slight gathering of soil beneath her fingernails that looks like she’d tried to clean it but eventually just resigned herself to the fact that it was part of her.
Her grin is a little like a smirk and her eyes are guarded but light and Dani has never felt more like she’d already met a person in her life. Her heart stops to wave hello and it doesn’t feel new, it feels like it had been waiting for the chance to do so again for the longest time.
But Dani would recognise that face. It wasn’t a face you’d forget so easily.
“Are you trying to read my mind to guess what I want?”
Say something funny, or charming, or eloquent. Something like- “Huh?”
The woman’s smile wobbles a little like she’s trying to stop it from growing any wider. “The intense eye contact - I thought maybe it was a trick.”
“Oh, no, I’m just a little distracted. I’m new.”
“Hi, new. I’m Jamie.” It’s a stupid joke. Jamie seems to think as much because she rolls her eyes at herself, avoiding eye contact for an added moment until a snort bursts from Dani – completely undignified and totally unattractive and the exact kind of laugh she tried to reserve for the third date (she’d never actually gotten to a third date before – not one that she counted as real anyway).
“New was my father’s name. Please, call me Dani.” She sticks her hand out, out of habit. She’s met with a cocked brow and a warm hand. It makes her suddenly aware of the chill that’s been sitting in her bones for what she thinks must’ve been her whole life. The chill that fades just like that - with one gentle shake of a work calloused hand in her own.
“Well, Dani, could I maybe grab a tea?”
“Oh, yeah, of course. Sorry, I should’ve asked.”
“No trouble.” Dani pulls herself away from Jamie’s smile to turn to the counter. Tea. Tea. She could make tea, it was simple enough – tea bag, water, milk, a shake of a head to the question of sugar and voila. She hands it over in trepidation. Jamie seems to sense that she’s supposed to take her first sip at the counter with Dani.
Her poker face is pretty good.
It’s not quite good enough.
“It’s terrible isn’t it?”
“It needs a little work. Luckily for you I come here pretty much every day, so you’ve got plenty of time to try and get it right.” Lucky Dani indeed.
“I’ll start practicing in the meantime.” Jamie nods at the promise before heading out with a small wave. Dani watches her take another sip outside before promptly dropping her cup into the bin outside the window. Jamie doesn’t even look embarrassed when she catches Dani’s eyes as the cup falls in seeming slow-motion into the trash – she just winks, and grins, and Dani can’t find it in herself to care at all that her hard work was dropped just like that.
(Not when it was dropped from such pretty hands).
She’s getting better with foam she thinks. Although, it was often hard to tell when you found yourself in the politest town in the world. A town in which everyone just sipped the drink with blank faces and then came back the next day like she hadn’t almost poisoned them.
Everyone that was, except Jamie.
Jamie who was always brutally honest in a way that didn’t really feel brutal at all – but maybe that was just because Dani couldn’t find it in herself to be offended by someone’s whose face was that pretty. Like that pretty. Sometimes she was astounded at how long she’d convinced herself she could actually be straight when she was this useless about the first smiling face she found here.
The highly amused, smiling face that she thinks she should’ve noticed as the precursor to the words that come next, but she was a little distracted. “I think you’re getting worse.”
“But I did everything the way you told me!” Dani argues. She did it exactly the way Jamie said, step by stupidly specific step - half of which she was sure Jamie was making up on the spot just to see how far she could push Dani’s good nature.
(Dani would let her push it way further).
“It’s your American hands, they’re tainted.”
“It wouldn’t be so bad if you’d just order coffee once in a while. I swear I’m getting so much better at it - I know all the names and everything.” Her foam blobs were even starting to resemble actual shapes, although, half of them looked more like genitals that she quickly had to scramble before someone called her out on her promiscuous brews.
“Why would I want to drink hot bean juice?”
“But hot leaf juice is just fine?”
Jamie fake gasps, pointing at her accusingly. “That disrespect right there is exactly why you can’t get it right.”
“I think you’re just a tea snob,” Dani taunts. She’d tasted her tea and it seemed just fine to her, so what if it maybe erred slightly on the slightly too pale side. “Everyone else drinks my tea just fine.”
Jamie scoffs. “That’s because most of the new customers around here only come in to see your face anyway. They don’t care what horrific creations those hands make so long as they get to look at those hands.” Dani looks down at them, turns them this way and that, frees them from the confines of the sweater threatening to swallow them.
“Why would they…”
“I presume you own a mirror.” Dani nods. Jamie regards her complete confusion for a beat. Dani feels herself blush beneath the scrutiny – heat rushing through her cheeks and down her neck, spreading across her chest. Heat touching her in place of Jamie’s hands which remain steadfast on the counter, tapping gently. Jamie takes pity as she breaks her own tension, adding, “You should look in it when you get home.”
“I don’t have the time,” Dani jokes. “Too busy trying to make the perfect cup of tea.”
“Why? I thought everyone else drank it just fine?”
“I don’t really care about everyone else.” Honesty was the best policy, or so she told all the kids back home. Honesty was apparently also the best way to get Jamie to stop in her tracks, for her smirk to slip into a slackened jaw, even if only for a moment before she composes herself.
Jamie clears her throat, pointedly pushing her almost completely untouched cup back towards Dani. Dani briefly wonders where she actually gets her tea from after their meetings – if she just slips back home to a well-used kettle and a familiar favourite blend and laughs about the dopey American who can’t figure out how long to let a teabag steep without help.
(Dani would take the laughter if it meant Jamie thought about her when she wasn’t there.
She was already so hopelessly useless for her).
“Well keep brewing then and I’ll be back tomorrow morning to inspect your progress.”
“Looking forward to it.” It’s the best part of my day. That’s the part Dani doesn’t say because honesty was only the best policy to a certain degree and there was only so many times you should probably expose yourself to cute brunettes in a fifteen minute period (she’s already exceeded said limit about two minutes in).
“My taste buds certainly aren’t,” Jamie says but there’s no real bite to the words, just a wink, a parting wave and the gentle floral scent that always seems to follow her around. The one Dani knew she’d gladly spend the rest of her life memorising – even if that was a little too soon to say.
(Dani loved this tiny town).
Life’s been pretty kind to Dani as of late. Her mother didn’t sound as judgemental on the phone anymore, she liked working in the café, she liked even more the people who came into the café every day (or, like, one person more so than the others).
She was settling in and making friends and she hadn’t burned herself on the espresso machine at all yet this week, which was a new record, even if it was only Tuesday.
Life had been pretty kind. She probably should’ve expected the other shoe to drop. Except it’s not just a shoe that drops and is instead her entire body as she essentially launches herself onto the floor behind the counter when Jamie is only partially through her ‘hello’.
(And, yes, she looks entirely too pretty for a random trip to a random coffee shop on a random Tuesday. And yes, Dani had been staring at the clock willing time to move faster until Jamie might walk through the door. And yes, Dani’s heart had maybe skipped a couple of beats when the bell jingled, and she saw Jamie’s overall clad body sweeping through the door. And yes, she was useless).
Jamie leans over the counter until she can catch sight of Dani, lying face up on the ground, looking a little as though she was willing it to open up and swallow her. She was. “Dani, what’re you-“
“You never saw me!” She whisper shouts. Jamie barely holds back her laughter, as she drops back to her side of the counter. Dani watches her legs cross at the ankles as she leans into the counter as someone starts talking to her. Someone Dani had really thought she’d escaped.
“Any chance you’ve seen a woman around.”
“I’ve seen plenty of women, mate.”
“She’s blonde with blue eyes. Beautiful. Her name’s Danielle. Someone said they saw her working in here.” That was a lie - Dani knew her mother had been the one to let it slip – and he’d never been very good at lying. Not from the second she’d met him, when he had fallen over and scuffed his jeans, promising he was fine when he looked like he was about to cry. Dani had been a good enough liar for the both of them – good enough to pretend she loved him in the way he wanted, good enough to pretend she was the way everyone wanted her to be.
(Or maybe it was more that no one wanted to see what was right in front of them).
“I’m sorry but I’m here every day and I’ve never seen anyone fitting that description,” Jamie lies smoothly. Dani almost believes it herself. “I wish I had though – sounds like the kind of woman I’d stalk around town too.” She smothers her smile with her hand at Jamie’s words. The barely concealed accusation and the amusement running through it all.
“I’m not stalking her, I just- I just want to talk.”
“Well if I meet a blonde-haired Danielle around, I’ll be sure to point her your way…” she trails off expectantly.
“Eddie,” he fills in and Dani can almost feel the warmth she used to when she heard it. Back when it was okay that they were just best friends, back before he started asking her to marry him, and running miles ahead of anything she could ever plan in her own head. “Thank you.”
There’s quiet for a moment. Receding footsteps and the familiar jingle of the bell above the door once again. Dani lets out a sigh of relief at the same time there’s a little grunt of effort as Jamie’s head pops back over to smile down at her. “I think you’re safe for now.”
Dani pushes up from the ground, dusting off her jeans. “Thank you for not ratting me out.”
“Of course. I mean, he looked terrifying, I’d avoid him too or else I’m sure he’d probably break my kneecaps with those noodle arms.”
Dani laughs, “He’s not-“ she stops. Maybe she should just rip the band-aid off. Just be bold and brave and see where it left them afterwards, before her hopes got too high that maybe this joking repartee meant more than it did (not that they weren’t already). “We were engaged. I sort of disappeared and left nothing but a letter?”
Jamie’s eyebrow cocks up. “Was that a question?”
“No, I think I just realised in the middle of the sentence how bad it sounded. I did try to do it to his face, but I couldn’t get the words out, it was too hard to say-“
“You don’t need to explain yourself to me.” No but she wanted to. She didn’t want Jamie thinking she was a bitch. Or that she made a habit of getting engaged to men or dating men at all. But just like when she tried to tell Eddie she couldn’t marry him, she was finding it a little hard to say,
“I’m a lesbian!” …and she just shouted it instead.
There’s a clatter in the kitchen followed by shushed laughter and an odd look from the woman drinking coffee in the corner, who stares at her like Dani was personally responsible for her having been stuck on the same page of her book for an hour, instead of her fascination with watching people out the window.
And Jamie, holding in laughter at the display. “That’s what I wrote in the letter. The things I couldn’t convince myself to say to his face. That I was sorry, and I tried but I just couldn’t love him the way he loved me because I’m a lesbian.” Two times out loud in one day. It felt pretty great saying it to someone other than her reflection in the mirror.
“And then you ran away here?” Jamie asks.
“Lucky me then.”
Dani grins, then sweeps her arm grandly over the window display she’d been hiding behind only moments before. “Pick a treat, on me, for saving me.”
“I wouldn’t say no to a blueberry muffin.” That seemed fitting. Sweet, arguably at least a little bit good for you, and something that, when Dani was ten, she shoved into her mouth in one bite because she was scared one of her friends might ask for half.
“Say no more,” Dani says, pulling it from the display and slipping it into a bag. Jamie’s hand grazes her when she takes it and Dani thinks it has to have been on purpose – the bag a little too big for error, her grin a little too aware, her eyes a little too wild.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Danielle. Unless you hide behind the counter from me that is.” Danielle. Dani had always hated that name. Had. Until about ten seconds ago when she decided maybe it wasn’t so bad when it was spoken from gently mocking English lips.
“I’d never do that.” The words are said in earnest. They have Jamie faltering in whatever joke she might have planned to say next, instead offering Dani a soft smile and an even softer parting. It’s not until she’s gone that Dani realises, she didn’t even make her a drink.
(She feels like she’s floating for the rest of the day.
Even when she notices her back is damp with spilled coffee).
Dani’s halfway through cheating a crossword heavy in British references when Owen appears with a pleading smile and a hot to-go cup. “I need you to make a special delivery. I’d do it myself but-“
“Hannah’s due to come by soon,” Dani cuts in. She wasn’t blind. She knew something was going on, knew that Owen saved his best puns for Hannah and that, though she always rolled her eyes at them, she also smiled like it was the highlight of her day (seeing them circle around one another, too afraid to step closer was often the highlight of Dani’s). “I didn’t realise we did deliveries here.”
“Only to the special few. The true loyalists of Espresso Yourself.” It wasn’t exactly a long list. There was the old couple who always came in at exactly seven on the dot for Owen’s freshly made scones. The PhD student who got by on half-cold black coffee and free Wi-Fi but still always seemed to drop a tip in the otherwise perpetually empty pot. The man who bought all of his online dates to the same place and almost always ended the dates with a slap (it was a car pileup that Dani couldn’t stop watching). The girl writing her novel, the man who met his kids and…
“What exactly is the order?”
“I believe the exact words were - just a tea please but don’t let Dani make it.” So definitely not the quiet girl speed typing her book then.
“I’m getting better!”
“I’m sure you are, love. But I made it for you this time – here’s the address.” Owen says it so casually – the address. Like it wasn’t Jamie’s address. Her address that seemed to be right around the corner. Around the corner that Dani thinks she had probably walked by on her way to work so many times. Around the corner where a beautiful looking flower shop stands.
‘The Leafling’ it reads above the door. The door that holds in vibrant colours and fresh smells and a sense of something unadulterated – no gimmicks or pretence, just well understood flowers and a gentle adoration of the warmth they offer. It made sense. The door that holds Jamie, smirking at her frozen body through the glass until Dani remembers she should probably push her way inside.
“Almost thought you weren’t going to come in then.”
“Had to make sure this was the right place. It seemed a little too happy for your grumpy butt."
Jamie huffs, “I’m not grumpy.”
“You’re kind of grumpy.” And Dani was kind of, totally, into it.
“May I have some tea with these insults please?” Dani chuckles and hands it over alongside the warm chocolate chip cookie she swiped straight out of the oven. Jamie eyes the cup, barren of any of Dani’s usual penmanship and doodling. “You didn’t make it did you?”
“You told me I was getting better!”
s“Better doesn’t mean good though, love. You have a steep mountain to climb.” Jamie punctuates the sentence with a wince like she knows the pun she accidentally slipped into that, like she’s mentally berating herself for letting Owen get into her head like that.
“Owen made it,” Dani confesses. Jamie grins before taking a sip and sighing happily. It’s kind of adorable. Dani kind of wants to get back to the café and make tea all day until she can cause Jamie to have that reaction with her own work. Until she can see that happy little content smile pull at the side of her mouth at something she did.
“Thanks for delivering it. I’m swamped preparing for a wedding.”
The uniform bouquets spread around made a little more sense. “Oh, I should get out of your hair.”
“No, that’s- I could use at least a momentary distraction before I pull my hair out in frustration at Bridezilla’s demands.” Jamie pulls the cookie from the bag and takes a tired bite, smiling around the melting chocolate chips as she seemingly has war flashbacks.
“Okay.” Dani smiles, lets her fingers dance across petals by her hand. “How about you tell me which of these plants I would be the least likely to kill?”
“You’re a plant killer?”
“Not on purpose?” Dani grimaces. “I always follow the care instructions and they always immediately wither like they’re trying to get away from me.” It was probably that Dani cared too much, panicked a little too much, and thus inevitably watered them a little too much. She was thinking about getting a succulent – she thinks she could probably handle that.
“I can’t imagine anything trying to get away from you.” Jamie has a habit of saying things like this – simple ways of dropping a pile of bricks onto Dani’s chest. Simple honesty that would feel like a line if it was someone else, but Jamie doesn’t seem the type for lines, doesn’t really seem like she would ever have a need for them. “Give me a couple days and I’ll have the perfect plant for you and your murderous ways. I will have to come check up on it though to make sure you’re treating it right.”
“You’re more than welcome.” Maybe it would convince Dani to actually move her stuff out of boxes and into her apartment.
“So, you murder plants and make a bloody terrible brew. What are you actually good at?” Dani swats Jamie’s chest across the counter. Jamie barely bites back her laughter.
“I was an elementary school teacher before I moved. I was good at that I think – at least no parent ever punched me like they did another woman in the faculty.” Dani was pretty sure she was having an affair with the woman’s husband though so maybe that was to be expected.
“You and tiny gremlins?” Jamie asks, checking her out. “Yeah, that makes perfect sense, Poppins.”
Dani looks down at herself, pastel clothes and all. She wonders what Jamie sees when she looks at her. If she sees jeans well-loved over the years, nervous hands, and almost constantly shuffling feet. She wonders if she likes it beyond a passing fancy. “I loved it actually. I just needed a break from it all for a bit.”
“So, you came to terrorise the village one hot drink at a time?”
“Let me live. I told you I’m good at coffee now. I can even do little shapes in the foam.” (She’d perfected the heart first, just in case Jamie ever did have the sense to change her drink order).
“Maybe I’ll let you wow me one day.”
“I’m gonna wow you so hard.” It doesn’t sound wrong, until it does, and then Dani can’t stop blushing and Jamie’s cheeks look a little red too even as she powers through with a smirk.
“You’re such a flirt, Poppins.”
The door cuts her off as it flies open. “Jamie, we need to completely change the arrangements, or the wedding is going to be a complete disaster.” Jamie mouths Bridezilla at her before turning to the customer to smile calmly. Dani smothers her laughter behind her hand.
“I’ll leave you to it,” she says, sending a comforting smile to the newly entered woman who looks like she’s one bad interaction away from crying (Dani doesn’t envy her – she remembers how stressful this whole thing was and she wasn’t even invested in it going well). “Bye, Jamie.” Her second smile is a little more personal.
One that she hopes says, I wish we could’ve talked longer. One that she hopes says, thank you for letting me see you a little more clearly. One that she knows says, I like you.
(She hopes Jamie’s listening closely).
Flora spends way too much time unattended in the coffee shop for a child of eight years old. She spends most of that time trying to convince Dani she should be able to try coffee when she clearly had enough energy already or making pretty impressive little dolls of the customers who pass through the door or just being nosy.
Being nosy was definitely her favourite pastime.
“Why do you keep watching the door?”
“I don’t,” Dani answers reflexively. Flora looks right through her.
“You do. You look every fifty-six seconds – I counted.”
“That’s not true.” Dani looks again. Flora smiles as she pointedly looks at the clock behind Dani’s head. She really had no business being this snarky and aware at eight years old. Dani didn’t need any more comments from the people around her about her very obvious, very big crush. She had plans. She was going to follow those plans. She just needed a spoonful of time (and a heap of confidence).
“Is it the woman Owen keeps teasing you about?” The only real luck Dani currently had was that Jamie and Flora’s visits had oddly never coincided. She’d been saved from any awkward disclosing of her information from a child’s inherently loose lips. She had.
But luck had always thrived on getting to enjoy a little misfortune. Though Dani can’t claim to feel very unfortunate when Jamie steps into the café and wraps her in a warm smile.
“I knew it!” Flora exclaims as her eyes dart from Dani to Jamie excitedly. Dani knows she meant for it to be under her breath. It’s decidedly not under her breath.
“Got a mini-me now, Poppins?” Jamie jokes as she steps up beside Flora at the counter, though her eyes remain fixed on Flora and the stall that’s missing from it’s usual table, dragged until it can rest next to the counter, beside Dani.
“I don’t look anything like, Dani,” Flora counters. “She has blonde hair.”
Jamie chuckles. “You got me there, kid.”
“I’m Flora.” Sticks her hand out, tiny, and adorable and polite to a fault. Jamie meets it incredibly seriously even though her eyes are clearly shining with unshed laughter.
“It’s nice to have a name to fit Owen’s teasing.” Oh god. How was this eight-year-old going to expose her like this? This eloquently? This abruptly? Who raised her to be like this – the most poised version of savage someone could be?
“Who has Owen been teasing now?” Jamie asks.
“Dani because she has a crush on you, but Owen calls it a budding romance and something about Dani thinking about you every daisy.” Dani groans as she drops her face into her hands on the counter. She’d give money to be struck by lightning.
Except… Jamie’s laughing – her usual, perfect low chuckle that makes Dani feel like treacle is trickling down her spine and pooling in her shoes, sticking her to the floor until she can’t help but stop stock still at the sound.
“Thanks for the insider information,” Jamie says and then whispers, without a hint of attempting to be quiet, “Don’t tell her but I fancy her too.” Dani snaps her neck up and finds Jamie looking straight at her, mouth set in a smirk but eyes soft. Honest.
“Well that’s perfectly splendid. I’ll go tell Owen.” Dani vaguely thinks she should probably stop Flora from doing just that, from parading her business around with the nosiest people she’s ever met (also some of the most wonderful). But she finds she can’t really convince herself to do anything other than keep looking at Jamie. Jamie who hasn’t taken her eyes off her either.
“A customer said that earlier and now she won’t stop,” Dani says, to fill the silence that feels like a greying sky. Clouds oversaturated with water and just waiting to explode. Dani feels like she’s seconds away from releasing the rainstorm of thoughts she’s been keeping in since the first time she saw Jamie’s face. For the first time she’s sure Jamie wouldn’t mind the deluge.
“A customer said they have a huge, gay crush on me?” Jamie jokes in that same deadpan way she always does. The kind that makes her eyes sparkle more than usual.
Dani grins, “Oh yeah, that’s actually the most frequent thing said in this café. You’d think it would be ‘coffee please’ but no.”
“What can I say-“ Jamie shrugs- “I’m incredibly charming and attractive.”
“You are,” Dani says with a sincerity that she means wholeheartedly, even if she didn’t quite mean to actually say it out loud. It makes Jamie pause. It makes Jamie’s mouth pause in its usual laughing smile, it makes Jamie’s chest pause in its usual calming rhythm, it makes her hands pause in their tapping on the counter (makes Dani aware of how close their hands rest).
Jamie starts again with a gentle shake of her head. “You really know how to throw a girl off her game, Poppins.”
“I’m just being honest.” Dani thinks maybe she quite likes this honesty thing, quite likes saying the first thought that comes to her mind, quite likes that saying those things to Jamie makes her feel as invigorated as it does nervous. “Pretty girls make my filter forget how to work.” One pretty girl really. One insanely beautiful English girl to be even more exact.
“Pretty girls make me willing to try god awful tea.” Dani almost forgot about the tester pot she’d brewed that morning. Her hands too excited to stay still as she stared at the door for Jamie to arrive. She’d definitely offered Flora one too many cups that morning – come to think of it, she should probably take a little bit of the blame for the over-caffeinated behaviour.
“Okay but I really do think I’ve got it down this time,” Dani says as she pours a steaming cup and slides it across the counter. Jamie eyes it cautiously before picking it up and giving it a sniff as though Dani might actually be poisoning her this time.
“If you’re lying to me, you’re going to have to apologise by agreeing to go on a date with me,” Jamie hedges, her eyes not giving much away. Dani grins widely, bites on her lip to smother it back down to a respectable level for this hour on a random rainy morning.
“I can agree to that.”
Jamie nods, taking a tentative sip, followed by a low sigh. She puts the cup down on the counter, face blank and unreadable. “I want to tell you it sucks because I have a lot on the line here but honestly that’s cracking, Poppins.”
“Yeah?” Dani asks, a little more excited than she should realistically be but come on, she was practically a native now. Jamie nods, a small smile on her lips. “Well I think that’s reason to celebrate so I should probably still let you take me on that date.”
“Good thinking. I can pick you up at the end of your shift?” Jamie offers, and then, in an uncharacteristic turn of events, it’s her who gets nervous for once. “Unless that’s really soon and weird or you just really don’t want to be on your feet any more at the end of a long day. Both of which would be totally fine.”
“I finish at six,” Dani says simply.
Jamie shakes her head at herself. “I’ll be here.”
“I should probably get back to work now though because there’s a woman tapping her foot behind you in the queue.”
“Hello, ma’am,” Jamie says as she spins, charming grin on her face and a confident tip to her shoulders. “You should try the tea, it’s perfectly splendid.” She throws a wink to a recently returned and lingering Flora and a smile to Dani, alongside a tap of her fingers on the counter, just an inch away from Dani’s own and then she’s gone.
Dani kind of immediately misses her.
(She stares at the clock all day).
Jamie walks back in at five minutes to six with a soft smile that’s far too pretty for Dani to be able to focus any longer. She spends the next five minutes messing up her last orders and pretending to reorganise the teabags just to settle the shake in her hands.
Because Jamie was here. For their date. She was here for their date, wearing a button up shirt and painted on trousers and lace up boots that apparently Dani had a thing for. She was here to rock back and forth on her feet and have her own staring contest with the clock and Dani wants nothing more than to be on the other side of the counter with her.
“If you’d stop staring for two seconds, you’d notice the clock has struck midnight, Cinderella,” Owen jokes, Dani jumps out of her shoes.
“What is it with you people and comparing me to Disney characters?” She didn’t hate it per se. She especially didn’t hate it when it was Jamie. She’d listen to her say words in that voice with that accent all day, no matter what the words were (though Dani was of the opinion that Poppins was definitely up there as one of the best words in existence).
Owen shrugs, eyeing her with complete seriousness. “You just have that air about you, like you could convince a flock of birds to follow you around.”
“I hate birds.”
“You held a spider last week, but you hate birds?” Owen asks incredulously.
“They’re violent for animals with hollow bones.” She was viciously attacked by a bird when she was five. She’s never forgiven them for ruining her favourite pink shorts and frankly she never planned to – she’d made it this far in life hating them, she could keep going.
“Trying to steal my date, Owen?” Jamie. Dani feels her face threaten to split with the grin that spreads across it as she turns to find Jamie smirking at the two of them. Hands pushed into the pockets of her trousers and mouth pushing its way into Dani’s mind – in that unforgettable corner of her brain dedicated to parts of Jamie.
“Never, love,” Owen says, pushing Dani out from behind the counter. “You two have fun.”
Dani laughs, swatting away Owen’s hands, and turning to look at Jamie, gently resting her hand on her wrist in reassurance. “I just need to grab my bag and I’m all yours.”
“I like the sound of that,” Jamie says lowly and Dani almost trips on her own feet as she walks off blushing. She switches her apron for her bag in her locker and then spends three minutes frantically checking herself in the mirror. She reapplies lip-gloss with speed and precision built from applying makeup in a moving vehicle. She gives herself a mini pep-talk, fixes a few stray hairs hanging around her face, checks her teeth for anything she ate at lunch.
Dani spends three minutes frantically checking herself in the mirror and she almost doesn’t recognise the face staring back at her – the excitement it holds beneath the surface.
She’d never seen this face staring back at her when she was dating Eddie, back then it had been awkwardness and panic. Panic that she’d accidentally flirt and Eddie would take that as a queue, panic that she wouldn’t fake it enough and he’d see right through her guise, realise what she’d been hiding from everyone including herself.
She felt a little panic now, but it was the good kind of panic – sweaty palms and racing heart and everything she thinks she was supposed to feel before.
Jamie’s rolling her eyes at something Owen says when Dani reappears. Her face shifts to something softer as Dani approaches and she cuts off her conversation with Owen abruptly in favour of offering Dani a slip of paper.
“What’s this?” Dani unfolds it. ‘IOU’.
“I made a bouquet, but I thought it might be a little annoying to carry around so that’s for you to claim at the end of the night.” The end of the night. The end of the night.
“Clever ploy to get me back to your place there.”
“I do my best,” Jamie jokes. “But you’re also more than welcome to claim them tomorrow in the light of day – but I do warn you that I’m even more irresistibly attractive in the light.”
“Well that I know.” Dani also knows that it’s true Jamie would never pressure her into anything else, would let her set the pace, take her queues from Dani effortlessly. Dani knows they could end the night with a maybe awkward kiss and a promise to see each other soon.
Dani doesn’t want that though. She wants the more. Craves the more. Feels herself aching for the more throughout the evening.
She aches when Jamie holds her hand under the pretence of leading her without breaking conversation. She aches when Jamie’s hand lingers on her lower back to guide in a different way. She aches when Jamie laughs and when she asks questions with utmost sincerity and listens like she cares for nothing more in the world than what Dani’s answer is. She aches when Jamie opens up her life to her. She aches when Jamie licks sauce from her lips. She aches when Jamie tells her she can pay next time. She aches when she thinks about next time.
She aches. She aches. She aches.
“I had a nice time, Poppins,” Jamie says when they’re standing outside of the restaurant, when Dani’s aching to reach out and pull her in by the lapel of her jacket. Jamie sways like she’s debating moving closer too. Dani takes the step for the both of them.
“You’re talking like the nights over. I believe I’m still owed some flowers.”
“I believe you are.” Jamie takes her hand and leads her towards The Leafling. The flowers are beautiful. They’re really beautiful and Jamie is too, and Dani doesn’t want to ache anymore. Jamie is mid speaking, mid explaining the bouquet when Dani darts forward and cuts her off with a kiss.
She means to kiss Jamie like a question. She means to kiss her in a way that says do you want this like I want this? She means to kiss Jamie like an introduction. A small hello, a passing greeting. She means to keep it light and simple and gentle. But the thing is, Dani feels none of those things. She feels deep and complicated and hard. She’s never felt anything so hard.
She kisses Jamie hard. She kisses Jamie with desperate lips and a searching tongue. Jamie meets every stride with wanting, wandering hands and soft presses. It’s intoxicating. She’s intoxicating and Dani can barely breathe for a woman who feels like this is the first time she’s ever truly inhaled without hinderance in her life.
“Do those stairs lead where I think they lead?” Dani asks boldly, as Jamie takes the opportunity to trail her lips down her neck.
“They do,” Jamie answers slowly, pausing her lips in their journey to raise her head back up to catch Dani’s eyes. “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely.” Jamie grins, tugs her upstairs.
Dani leaves the next morning with her bouquet in one hand and Jamie’s hand in the other. This time, when she makes her tea, Jamie kisses Dani in thanks before she leaves, putting her middle finger up at Owen’s proud dad gasp. Dani laughs brightly.
It was starting out to be a great day.
(A really fucking great day).