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suddenly i took the chance (when i kissed the teacher)

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Jamie never planned on being a parent, had never really thought there was a hope in hell it would be on the cards for her. She was happy with her life the way it was, happy with her experience of children being the odd bit of babysitting here and there, being the cool big sister who could always be fun and never have to offer any real sort of discipline.

Jamie never planned on being a parent and neither did, at least in her opinion, her own parents. They didn’t care enough, weren’t present enough – a little too broken and a little too unwilling to fix the ever-forming cracks in their relationships with each other and their kids.

Jamie never planned on being a parent and yet, here she was, sitting her freshly bathed little brother at the table and handing him over one of the three meals she’d managed to figure out how to cook and that he was willing to eat that wasn’t just a plate of nuggets, chips and beans.

“How was your day today?” She probes as Mikey swings his legs on the seat, his feet not quite scraping the floor just yet.

“I got a new teacher,” he supplies with a grin.

“And what’re they like?”

“She’s really pretty.”

“Oh yeah?” Jamie asks, not quite so convinced it can be true when she considers that Mikey also has an obvious crush on the yellow dinosaur on Barney. She’s not sure she really wants to know what kind of human being he would consider pretty off the back of that.

“Yeah and she has a funny accent. She said it’s because she’s from America.”

“An American in Bly?” Okay, that was even less realistic in Jamie’s book. She had to be some kind of mythical beast. Mikey nods in response, not quite seeming to latch on to the disbelief in her tone, too young to have yet realised that Bly isn’t a very exciting place once you’re too big for parks and too old for jumping in the never ending puddles that materialise overnight.

“She’s so much nicer than Mr Quint.”

“Well that’s not exactly hard,” Jamie mumbles. The man was, for lack of a better word, a wanker. She’s not exactly sure how he got the job in the first place, she’s less unsure about how he got fired considering the punch-up he tried to have with Owen in the carpark after he claimed he was flirting with one of the other teachers, Miss Jessel. A punch-up, Jamie should note, that happened in front of all the kids and parents during pick-up time.

It was kind of amazing.

Jamie had not outwardly shown that opinion as she pulled Mikey away and made her most formal complaint to the headteacher the next day. Thankfully, their complaints had been successful and now Mikey was grinning around her, less than successful, attempt at cooking dinner all because he had a new crush. An actual human crush. He was kind of adorable.

(If she had to be a parent, she was glad it was to him).

Jamie can’t say she’s ever tried to pick a mum up in the drop-off zone before. It wasn’t the usual way she enjoyed spending her mornings before work. She mostly just attempted to draw Hannah into gossip until she gave up on her half-hearted chastising and joined in like she always wanted to.

But Hannah was nowhere to be found this morning, undoubtedly wherever Owen (Mr Sharma she should probably say) was – pretending she wasn’t fliting but, once again, undoubtedly flirting – and Jamie was looking at what maybe was the prettiest woman she’d ever seen.

A pretty woman who she isn’t ashamed to admit she scanned the left hand of and found ringless. A pretty, ringless woman tucking her chin into an oversized lilac jumper and a far too thick scarf. A pretty, ringless, jumper-clad woman whose laugh reminds Jamie of the first time Mikey used the child’s xylophone she frantically purchased on the first Christmas she spent being something more than his slightly absent older sister.

She’s not said a word and Jamie already finds her charming. There’s something enchanting about her blonde haired pulled back to reveal a gentle jaw, something oddly endearing about the curve of her smile, something incredibly bewitching about the greying blue of her eyes. The same eyes that Jamie realises have turned to look at her curiously.

Jamie can’t even figure out how long she’s been staring.

She asks the first question she can think of. “Which one of the little gremlins is yours?”

“All of them,” she responds with a small chuckle and an accent that stands out amongst the rest of the playground. Oh. Oh, Mikey was right. Much prettier than a yellow felt triceratops.

“So, you’re the revered Miss Clayton?”

“Oh, I don’t- I wouldn’t know about-“ she stumbles over the compliment. Jamie grins at the display, at the ever so softly growing redness on her cheeks, not just from the cold anymore. She clears her throat, working her eyes back up to meet Jamie’s. “I only just started.”

“And you’re already the talk of the town,” Jamie jokes, though it doesn’t feel like much of a stretch. She’d definitely thought there were more dads around today. She didn’t exactly blame them. “Mikey wouldn’t stop talking about you last night.”

“Oh, you’re Mikey’s mom? That makes sense – he’s such a sweetheart.” Miss Clayton looks over to where Jamie left Mikey last, zooming around in a battered cosy coupe with another kid hanging onto the top of it for dear life. One of them should arguably step in. Neither of them move.

“Definitely not his mum, unless immaculate conception really is a thing. I’m his sister, though I am the most mum like thing he has so maybe I should’ve just said yes.” She knows exactly why she didn’t though. She knows what her words will hint to, how they’ll make Miss Clayton’s eyes drop to her own bare ring finger in question, how they’ll make her think. She wants her to think.

“He has your eyes.”

Jamie shrugs, turning her eyes to Mikey laughing with his friends. He smiled the way she remembered her dad used to before everything went to complete and utter shit. “He pulled a few good genes out of the dysfunctional lucky dip.”

“I suppose you’d already snatched up the best ones.” Jamie turns back to find Miss Clayton already looking at her. Lip caught between her teeth, eyes glittering a little mischievously, a little nervously – teetering on the edge between confident and disbelieving that she actually just said that. Jamie can’t quite believe it either (it being her luck).

“Careful, Miss Clayton, or the gossip mums might think you’re flirting with me.” They already spent far too much time watching Jamie. Jamie who was one of the only people in this god forsaken town that wasn’t born and raised in it. Jamie who wasn’t married and wore dirt covered overalls all day and refused to be the chaperone on school trips – one child was enough for her, three tops if the other two were Flora and Miles Wingrave.

“Well if there are going to be rumours circulating about us, you should probably know my name’s Dani,” she jokes easily. Without question.

“Jamie,” she offers in return, sticking her hand out casually towards Dani who pulls free of her pocket and meets Jamie in the middle. Her hand is clad in a purple mitten that’s an eerily perfect match to her jumper and, if it were anyone else, Jamie thinks she would’ve made a joke. Any joke. Multiple jokes about an adult in mittens.

If it were anyone else but a cold bitten blonde with warm hands and a warmer smile. But it wasn’t. So instead she holds onto her hand for a beat too long until a bell rings and Mikey is running over to grab his bag from her and head inside.

“That’s my queue,” Dani says. She doesn’t move quite yet, and it takes Jamie a second to realise she’s still gripping her hand.

She drops it as casually as she can, tucks it into her pocket to savour the warmth for as long as she possibly can in the chill of the Monday morning. “Have a good day, Miss Clayton.”

“You too, Miss Taylor,” Dani emphasises and Jamie chuckles as she disappears into the cluster of excited children spilling into the building. She won’t deny that she stays a beat longer than usual staring at the generally unexciting structure of brick.

She won’t deny that it’s not the brick at all she’s really looking at, or that it takes her a beat too long to realise Mikey is offering her one final wave before heading inside. She won’t deny that Dani’s final smile before she switches into her teacher grin sits like a burning coal in the pit of her stomach for the rest of the day – it would be a useless lie and Jamie thinks she quite missed feeling like this.

(She’s not actually sure she’s ever felt like this before).

“Jamie! Jamie!” She’s glad to have a little warning before a tiny body barrels into her. It gives her a second to not have her legs taken out from under her as Mikey wraps his arms around her waist, still bouncing on his toes and staring up at her excitedly.

She grins down at him. “Alright there, little man?”

“Come see my painting.” Well that explained the mess on his shirt and the colour he was definitely smearing onto her clothes and hands as he grabs her fingers and tries to pull her inside. Jamie plants her feet firmly. She’s going to give in. Eventually.

His eyes are too wide and hopeful (and she’s maybe a little hopeful herself that a certain blonde-haired, blue-eyed flirt might be found inside the building with the paintings). But she is his older sister at the end of the day, so she has to make him sweat at least a little bit.

She puts her hands on her hips, tilts her head thoughtfully. “What’s in it for me?”

“I painted you.”

“Appealing to my ego? Smart move,” she says appreciatively. “Come on then, show me how you incorporated so much blue paint into a picture of me.” He cheers and drags her in. She jokingly clips his heels a couple times on the way in to make him almost trip until he giggles and pushes her, begging for her to stop. She feigns ignorance as she ruffles his hair and looks around the deserted hallways. “Are we actually allowed in here, Mikey?”

“Didn’t peg you as a rule follower,” comes the joking voice to her side. Jamie spins to find Dani leaning in the doorway to her classroom. Her name is emblazoned on the wood by her head as she smiles, comfortable and teasing and incredibly attractive in her checked pencil skirt and tight black jumper, tucked in. “I said he could bring you in to show you. It wasn’t dry enough to take home yet because we got a little excited with the paint didn’t we, buddy?”

Mikey nods solemnly. “I have to ask for help getting paint next time.” Jamie laughs as Dani mimes ‘it was so bad’ over his unknowing head, too busy searching for his painting on the drying rack.

Jamie takes his distraction as an excuse to relax next to Dani at her desk and really allow her eyes to do the roam of Dani that they want to. “How exactly do you have no paint on you? I was coated in about five seconds.” She could feel the paint drying and cracking on her hands already.

“It’s a superpower,” Dani shrugs.

“You got a tight-fitting suit to go along with that?”

Dani’s eyes dart to Mikey briefly before meeting Jamie’s again. Her throat bobs in a harsh swallow and low words follow, “Not one appropriate for the classroom.” Jamie blinks. Swallows. Coughs. Blinks again and tries to think of how to respond.

She doesn’t get very far. “Jamie, look!” Jamie knows Mikey practically shouts the words in excitement, but they hit her like she’s underwater. Muffled and distant and almost not real.

She tears her eyes away from Dani to look down at his smiling face and the photo he holds up. My Hero it reads in handwriting that definitely isn’t his – all swirling and bold and clean – and a painting underneath that was indefinitely done by his hand. She supposes it’s obvious it’s her, even if it’s pretty much just a stick man with curly hair, covered in flowers.

Her heart feels a little like it might burst out of her chest. “Your hero, huh?”

“Miss Clayton said we should pick someone who always has our back,” Mikey says matter-of-factly, looking over to Dani for confirmation he’s saying the right thing.

“And you picked me over Mr Pickle? I’m honoured.”

“Mr Pickle is a bear, Jamie. That would be stupid.”

“You’re right, my bad,” Jamie says as sincerely as she can. She raises an eyebrow at Dani who stifles her laughter behind her hand. “What do we think then, Miss Clayton?” She asks as she lifts it up and does her best impression of the face painted on the paper. “Does it look just like me?”

“It’s uncanny,” she says to Jamie with a wink, bending down to Mikey who’s looking up at the both of them expectantly. “The hair is particularly good, Mikey, I think you got the texture just right.” He grins, a missing tooth grin. He really was cute.

Jamie has no idea how she managed to raise him to be so cute with her brash ways and own experiences with adults in childhood. She considered it a god damn miracle.

“Can we have pizza for dinner?”

“The true endgame emerges,” she teases, ruffling his hair. “But sure, any excuse to not have to try and decipher another recipe book.” There were only so many times in one week you could half burn a dish and pretend that was exactly what it was supposed to be like.

“Not great at cooking?” Dani asks.

“Understatement, but you don’t need to hear about that, we’ve taken up enough of your time. Goodbye-“ Jamie covers Mikey’s ears, so he laughs and swats at her- “Dani.” It’s worth the elbow Mikey delivers to her spleen to see Dani smile one last time.

“Bye, Jamie,” she says softly. Jamie rides on it the rest of the evening.

Mikey runs towards her the next day with his painting and a tupperware pot that requires both his hands and all his concentration if the tongue poking out the side of his mouth is anything to go by.

“What’ve you got there?”

“Mac and cheese,” he says, handing it to her carefully. “Miss Clayton said it’s a secret family recipe but she’s trusting us enough to try some since you can’t boil water without issue,” Mikey repeats like he’s quoting the exact words. Jamie looks up to find the source of them, finds Dani eyes across a bunch of tiny heads – full of light that brightens further as she smiles and waves, Jamie lifts the box in what she hopes looks like thanks.

Dani’s smile widens impossibly, and Jamie’s ribs widen in response to fit her ever growing heart like she was the fucking Grinch or something. She shakes her head at herself, shouldering Mikey’s bag. “Come on then, we better get home so we can try this world-famous mac and cheese.”

“She never said it was world-famous, Jamie.”

“You’re too smart for your own good.” Mikey grins and Jamie goes back to trying to trip him up on the way to the car. She takes the picture of her from him first for safe keeping. She wasn’t going to be so haphazard with their new fridge centrepiece.

(The mac and cheese is insanely delicious.

Jamie fills the container with shop bought cookies before she gets Mikey to bring it back).

“Yeah I can save this.”  

“I don’t think it’s that bad, Miss Taylor.”

“The fact that you think that only makes it worse. I can get started on Friday if you have no issues with the plans I sent over?”

He hadn’t. In fact, he’d seemed pretty ecstatic about them - not that Jamie had expected any less, she knew her plans for the school garden were amazing. Not to toot her own horn but she was pretty good at her job and she liked it. She liked the feeling of soil on her fingertips, and the sight of a bloom she started from its infancy, and the smell of dozens of flowers mixing in the breeze.

She liked the calm it brought her, the calm it had brought her since she was first forced onto some weird anger management course at school for clocking a girl who called her mum a whore. She liked the sense of accomplishment, and the pride of something coming together just like she planned, and the way it always made women smile the kind of smile that came from something beautiful.

Something beautiful like the woman coming towards her with two steaming cups, a grin and a voice that is pretty much the only sound Jamie would say was nice to listen to before the sun was fully up. “I was beginning to think you didn’t actually have a job.”

“You could’ve just asked, Poppins.” Jamie takes the mug from her hand, raises it in thanks and takes a soothing sip, or a sip she hoped would be soothing, but instead finds to be overtly sugary and erring on the side of warm milk subtly flavoured with tea leaves. She takes another sip regardless as Dani watches clearly hoping it’s an alright brew (it was fine, she could spill the rest of it in the soil when she wasn’t looking at her all pretty and hopeful).

“I’m usually pretty distracted,” Dani says, eyeing Jamie’s smile momentarily before her own turns a little mischievous. “You know, by all the children in my care.”

“Of course, the children,” Jamie agrees, her smile threatening to spill over the edge. “Well I’m sure you’re pleased to find out I do, in fact, have a job.” A job she was pretty bloody proud of too. She’s still not entirely sure how she managed to build her own landscaping business, but she does know it involved a lot of blood, sweat and shoving back against sexism.

“It definitely makes your overalls collection make more sense.”

“You don’t like my overalls?” Jamie asks, tugging at the straps and posing slightly. Dani’s eyes roam slowly down her body and snap up rapidly as though she remembers herself in the middle of the act. Her face reddens. Jamie wills her to keep looking. She’s never wanted to be seen so much in her life.

“No, I- I like them-“ Dani clears her throat- “You wear them very well.”

“They’re pretty good when you spent all days on your knees in filth.” Jamie knows exactly what she’s saying, Dani does too if the way she chokes on nothing but air is anything to go by.

“You enjoy making me blush too much,” she accuses without a lick of real heat.

“Too much seems subjective. I think I enjoy it a completely reasonable amount – you look very good in red.” Jamie can’t imagine there’s anything Dani would look bad in, she thinks she’d probably look quite spectacular in nothing too. But maybe that wasn’t the thought to be having in plain sight of the morning birds and meandering teachers dragging themselves into the building.

“Tell me about your vision?”

Jamie watches the genuine interest bloom across Dani’s face. The kind that says I’m not just asking to be polite, the kind that says I actually care what you have to say. Jamie wouldn’t really expect anything less from Dani - she seemed like the kind of person who would never understand the English convention of saying ‘you alright’ and not really expecting an answer.

“Help me prepare the soil for these and I’ll talk you through it all?”

“I’m at your disposal for the next forty minutes before drop off, boss.” Dani salutes and Jamie wondered when she started fancying nerds.

She looks down at her watch. “Do you always get here this early?”

It’s a simple question, one that demands a simple and quick answer. Only, for some reason, it makes Dani look a little shy and a little less forthcoming. “Not usually.”

“And today is different because…”

“No real reason,” she says too quickly, too avoidantly. Jamie grins.

“So, you just happened to come in early on the day I started work in the garden with a perfectly timed cup of tea and an almost too pretty smile?”

“You think my smile is pretty?” The pretty smile widens and Jamie wonders if she could ask Dani to come and stand out here on cloudy days just to hand the plants a little sunshine. She can’t imagine anything managing to fight against growth under her warmth.

“You’re dodging the question,” Jamie says.

“So are you,” Dani throws back.

And Jamie, well Jamie never quite liked losing, or being on the backfoot. “I think everything about you is pretty, Poppins. I don’t just talk to any women on the playground you know.”

“And I don’t wake up extra early for just any woman either.”

“So, this was a nefarious ploy. I see right through you, Miss Clayton.”

“Alright, detective,” Dani laughs. “Tell me about your garden.” Jamie smirks before she can catch her dirty mind sprinting into the gutter. Dani hides her blush in her hands. “The literal garden, Jamie-“ she looks up, pushes Jamie when she spots her laughing eyes. “Stop looking at me like that when I have to teach six-year olds for the next six hours.”

“Like what? This is my normal face,” Jamie teases. She can’t remember the last time her voice sounded so light. She’d missed it.

“You know what you’re doing.” The words are stern for a literal sunflower and they shoot through Jamie’s body before it can even think about not making this weird.

“Is that your teacher voice? You better stop using that, or my plants will see me blush and I don’t want them to think I have any weaknesses. They need to know who’s in charge.” Dani pushes her again and Jamie hops precariously to dodge the flower bed, looking at Dani aghast. “Do you teach that violence to your kids?”

Dani smothers her smile under her faux stern look. “Just tell me about the flowers, please.”

“The plan is…“ Jamie tells her all of it. From start to finish, exactly how she wants everything to turn out and Dani nods, and grins, and asks genuine questions that make Jamie want to do something cringey like hold her hand or some shit.

She finds herself a little sad when Dani disappears to do her actual job, but she always seems to appear again at break times and lunch, bringing Jamie suspiciously better tea and talking to her before the bell drags her away again.

It’s kind of a great day.

Even when a kid runs over her newly planted roses.

(She’d kill him on a day when she felt a little less light).

There are some things in life Jamie had decided she should always say no to – the one strangely tactile woman she always sees at the park near her house who definitely wants to cheat on her husband, Mikey when he asks if he can have a second scoop of ice cream when he’s already vibrating from the first, landscaping jobs where the husband is suspiciously present a lot while she’s doing her work and, usually, Hannah when she asks if Jamie will chaperone a school event.


Not this time. This time she’s saying yes before she can even remember all the reasons she generally said no – like she couldn’t stand to listen to the never ending cycle of Cha Cha Slide, Saturday Night and Baby Shark remixes that made her want to tear her hair out.

This time she’s saying yes before she can remember that the last time she said yes to a school sanctioned event, a child vomited on the mini-bus and she was forced to clean it up. This time she’s saying yes before she can remember all the amazing reasons to say no because Hannah had said someone dropped out last minute and caught her in the middle of her ‘no’ with an added Miss Clayton is going to be there.

Hannah had said it so smugly, so matter-of-factly, and so sure that she was going to get the response she wanted off the back of it. She had been right, of course, but that didn’t make Jamie resent her tone any less – though she pulled back on the part of herself that wanted to call Hannah an idiot because she was aware that the only idiot there was her for immediately caving.

Which landed her where she was now. Three days later, making sure Mikey had his sweet money tucked safely into his tiny waistcoat pocket and watching him disappear into the thrall of children wondering how she’d also caved on him insisting they wear matching outfits. Waistcoats, shirts, burgundy bowties, and converse to match.

She’d never wanted to be the kind of person that wore matching clothes with their kid. She loved to ridicule the kinds of people that wore matching clothes to their kid. She supposed it was true what they say – you either die cool or live long enough to see yourself become a gigantic loser (or something along those lines).

Death might have been coming for Jamie sooner rather than later though. Sooner like imminently. Sooner like she’s pretty sure she’s stopped breathing. Sooner like her heart hasn’t been pumping blood in its normal rhythm since the second Dani stepped into her line of sight in a black cocktail dress with a messy bun and a pristine red lip.

“Jamie, you look-“

Jamie cuts in with a shrug. “I have my moments. But you, Poppins…” Jamie whistles in place of actually saying the words. Mostly because she can’t trust her mouth to not spill profanities the second she tries to put into words how insane Dani looks right now. All gentle curves and sharp collarbones and soft expanse of neck that she frankly wants to sink her teeth into.

Dani looks down at herself with far too little self-belief as she tugs down the hem in an adorable jiggle. “I wasn’t sure about the dress honestly but it’s all I had.”

“Well if you’re trying to start a chaperone brawl over who gets to pretend to ask you about their kid first, you’re well on your way.” Jamie could see them gearing themselves up in the corner, thanking the heavens that their wives signed them up and preparing their caring dad routine. She’d have to laugh if she didn’t also have to respect their audacity.

“Oh yeah?” Dani laughs. “Are you going to fight for my honour?”

“I don’t usually like to get involved in the school drama.” That didn’t mean she didn’t sit back from a distance and watch everything unfurl real time – she wasn’t interested in being in the middle of any of it but she was more than happy to sit at the side with popcorn and barely concealed laughter.

“I had noticed,” Dani says, leading her over to the drinks table and eyeing Jamie out the corner of her eye as she pours them both a cup of inevitably way too weak apple and blackcurrant. “People have been whispering about you agreeing to do this all week.”

“People?” Jamie presses.

“You’re the talk of the staff room,” Dani jokes, only Jamie imagines it isn’t really much of a joke at all.  She’s by no means absent. She drops Mikey off and picks him up every day. She always comes to see him dressed up as a sheep for the nativity play and hasn’t missed a parents evening since she was deemed to be the ‘parent’. But she wasn’t generally one to be roped into much more. Once again, see: vomit gate. “I don’t really get it though – you’re nothing like they all seem to make out.”

Jamie cocks a brow, twisting her mouth into a smirk. “You mean they don’t all sing my praises and talk about my dashing good looks?”

“They definitely think you’re hot, but cold and aloof were also thrown out a few times. I told them they were being ridiculous, that you were the first parent to really welcome me to the school, but they looked at me like I’d grown a second head – or like they’d let me try to make the tea again and discovered I can’t make a ‘brew’ to save my life.”

“But they do think I’m hot so I’m winning.” Dani laughs, pushing her. Jamie uses the return motion to stand slightly closer to her than she was before. Dani looks down briefly like she knows they’re closer, like she can feel the heat of Jamie that slight bit more, but she doesn’t comment.

“You don’t have to fish, Jamie. Just ask and I’ll tell you, you look very dashing in your waistcoat. Almost as adorable as your counterpart.”

“Almost?” Jamie asks, faux affronted. “And to think I was going to share my contraband alcohol with you.” Jamie finishes off her drink (she was right, way too weak) and refills her cup with a little liquid from the flask she’d slipped into her pocket before leaving that evening. Not much but a little something to take the edge off Janine, the overbearing parent chaperone, in the corner.

Dani scoffs at the display. “We both know you’re still going to so pony up and then come dance with me so I can listen to the kids’ conversations without being too obvious."

“You’re very bossy tonight, Miss Clayton.”

“Don’t act like you don’t like it.” Jamie’s eyebrows reach her hairline.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Jamie says sincerely, or as sincerely as one can when their throat feels thick with tension. She takes out a little flask and pours some into Dani’s drink before slipping it back into her pocket. “Lead the way then, Poppins. Let’s get the snitch behaviour over and done with.”

“It’s not snitching, Jamie,” she says and then downs her drink impressively. Jamie isn’t ashamed to say it makes her look even more attractive. “It’s called doing my job.”

“Dancing with me is going to feel like hard work,” Jamie jokes, offering her hand out to Dani who takes it and follows the twirl that Jamie leads her into immediately.

She’s laughing when they crash back together – chest to chest, the chuckles puffing against Jamie’s cheek before her own cheek comes to rest against it instead. Her arms drape casually around Jamie’s neck and Jamie follows by resting hers around her waist, acutely aware of the thin material that is the only barrier between her and skin.

“You’re a liar, Jamie Taylor,” Dani says after a moment. Jamie pulls back a touch to meet her eye in question. “You dance perfectly well.”

The tension dissipates from Jamie’s chest as she rolls her eyes at the dramatics and pulls Dani in closer again. “Have to keep expectations low so I can wow you with mediocrity.”

“Nothing about you is mediocre,” Dani whispers and Jamie’s thankful she’s no longer forced to look her in the eye. Doesn’t need to see the sincerity in her irises, it takes her breath away enough just hearing it roll from her tongue. Jamie thinks it’s rather fitting they’re in a school hall because she’s not felt this much like a child dealing with a crush in a while.

“You haven’t seen all of me yet.” All of the worst parts. All of the darkness and loss and confusion. All of the past that made her present and would change her future.

“Well I’m excited to,” Dani replies without pause and Jamie thinks she could kiss her. She thinks she could probably kiss her. But she also thinks she can hear a kid screaming, and another one laughing as coke comes out of his nose, and her feet are sticking slightly to the floor, and her little brother is like ten steps away. This isn’t the place, isn’t the time, isn’t the moment.

She thinks something so important should have a moment.

“You should get a leash on those suggestive words before someone overhears.”

Dani chuckles, low and warm, like the first spark of a flame igniting beneath Jamie’s feet and licking at her ankles in warning that she should step away. She doesn’t. She won’t. Not yet. “Maybe I want them to hear the suggestion. I don’t want to have to deal with more than three disinterested dads hoping I’ll still be wearing this dress.”

“Ah so you are aware that you’re scandalising the whole school with this ensemble.”

“I can’t say the whole school was on my mind when I put it on.”

Jamie groans under her breath. “You’re killing me here.”

“I-“ Jamie never does get to hear what Dani has to say because she’s cut off by a kid running over, calling her name, and practically dragging her off to another corner of the room. Danu smiles a little ruefully, a little apologetically and Jamie can’t even be mad when she looks so cute dancing with kid after kid on her toes – especially when it’s Mikey (flushed and grinning and adorably fancying the same woman that she did).

Jamie should probably do something about the smiles Dani sends her way all night. She thinks she probably will. Who was she to deny a pretty woman who had somehow decided she was the cream of the incestuous small-town crop?

Food shopping in the phantom zone between the time the shop really should have closed and the time the capitalists finally let the workers leave was always a strange thing. The store was still as bright as in the day, workers still loitered about stacking shelves, people still picked up at least three bell peppers before they decided they’d found the perfect one for the price.

But there was something eerie about the whole thing.

She’d left Mikey with Hannah because he was a bad influence in the shop but frankly, as she pushes the trolley around bored, she kind of misses his infectious excitement down the cereal aisle.

Maybe she would swing back and pick up the branded honey loops instead.

Even his constant begging would have been better than the silence of trolleys rolling. She even kind of missed that weird hardware store soundtrack of people singing top forty songs because they steadfastly refused to pay for the radio license.

She’s half staring at the random American confectionary section and wondering if Dani actually eats half this shit when her trolley smashes into something. Hard.

“Could you possibly have any more apples?” Speak of the angel looking devil. And, in Jamie’s defence, it was the only fruit or vegetable Mikey would willingly eat at the moment and she was going to ride that horse into the ground.

Jamie looks into Dani’s trolley, practically empty except for- “All you have is ice cream.”

“And?” Dani dares with a shrug, not looking the slightest bit embarrassed by her current choices.

“Fair enough,” Jamie chuckles. There’s a moment of pause where Jamie would feel weird for staring if Dani wasn’t staring right back, where Jamie tries to think of some excuse or reason for them to stay together for a little while longer. “I was actually just picking up a couple last things and then heading for the counter if you were…” Jamie trails off and wills Dani to pick it up.

Just like everything, she does it perfectly. “Yeah, I’m pretty much done. We could finish together?”

“Out of respect for the world food aisle I won’t touch that joke.”

Dani snorts at the faux sincerity on Jamie’s face. “You’re incorrigible.”

“Not the worst thing that’s been said about me.” In fact, Jamie quite liked the way Dani said it – with a roll of her eyes and a fond smile that makes Jamie stand up a little taller, pleased at herself for being the reason for her joy.

Jamie’s not really sure what they talk about as they wander down the last few aisles, or what the conversation is on as they stand at the checkout and meander into the carpark. She knows that she likes the sound of Dani’s voice and the way her accent wraps around words so familiar to Jamie but unfamiliar to her. She knows that she likes the column of her throat when she throws her head back in a laugh and the crinkle of her cheeks when she grins.

She knows she’s a little bit in trouble.

But Jamie and trouble were old friends.

Jamie walks Dani to her car, leans against her trolley as casually as possible as Dani packs her bags into her boot slower than Jamie thinks is probably necessary, her shoulders rising every few seconds in a breath like she’s readying herself to speak before she stops herself.

There’s a moment of quiet when Dani’s done, and Jamie tries to think of a cool way to say goodbye before Dani finds words to beat her to the punch.

“Would you like to go out sometime?” She asks and then rushes to continue before Jamie’s smile can even fully form. “Away from any place where screaming kids might appear at any second and where I can kiss you without feeling like I’m going to traumatise a child.”

Jamie’s smile is definitely in full force by that point. Her lean becomes a little cockier, a little more trusting in the shoddy metal on wheels to hold her up. “Planning to kiss me, Poppins?”

“Since the second you tried to hit on me,” Dani says without an ounce of humour, without a lick of a lie, without a seed of shame. Jamie doesn’t remember the last time she felt so wanted (she’s half sure it’s because it’s hard to remember something that hasn’t happened).

“That doesn’t sound like something I’d do,” she jokes past the lump in her throat.

Which one of the little gremlins is yours?” Dani does her best approximation of Jamie’s accent. It’s fucking terrible. She barely stifles her laughter. It’s harder as she takes in Dani’s own visible grimace at the attempt.

“Mock me all you want; he has your eyes.” Jamie pulls off the American accent far better. In her opinion at least. Dani doesn’t do so well in holding in her giggles.

“Is that a yes though?” Dani fiddles with her thumbs. “There’s a pub near my flat – it’s quiet, and comfortable, and I’ve never seen anyone younger than fifty walk through the doors.”

“Near your flat? Poppins, you really are full of surprises.” Less surprising is the way that Jamie’s mind wanders. The way it takes a side street to Dani’s shining eyes under a stray streetlight. The way it slides down a dark alley to a timid question and a less timid acceptance. The way it cuts across the field at the back of her house to just what might be inside Dani’s flat, just what might happen – the heat of her skin, the warmth of her touch, the burn of her lips.

“You haven’t seen anything yet.” Her mind stops in its tracks.

The comment is barely in the air for a second before Jamie asks, “Tomorrow?”

“Eager,” Dani chuckles, revelling in the upper hand. Jamie doesn’t mind so long as that upper hand rests on her body at some time in the near future.

“I spent my patience a while ago – back when you were asking about my garden.”

“Well, you know what they say, show, don’t tell.”

Jamie clenches her jaw to stop the groan that threatens to spill out. She wasn’t so used to getting as good as she gave. She wasn’t so used to feeling so out of control. “I have to go pick Mikey up, otherwise know you’d have more than ice cream melting in your car.”

Dani swallows harshly. “Tomorrow, right?”

“Not to sound like some hallmark cliché, but I can’t wait.”

“Me either.” Dani grins – unabashed and wide.

Jamie nods, a meek attempt to shake her brain into working normally again as she smiles and starts to push her trolley away before she can do something dumb, like kiss Dani when she doesn’t have the time to do it properly. “I’ll see you at drop-off, Miss Clayton.”

“That you will, Miss Taylor.”

Jamie’s never looked forward to being surrounded by screaming kids so much in her life.

Jamie always thought it was a little weird in films when characters saw their love interest across the road and literally stopped in their tracks. Thought. Past tense.

It suddenly makes perfect sense when she makes her way to the second Red Lion pub in town, hands tucked into her pockets for warmth and finds Dani waiting for her outside. A puff of cold air slips from her lips every few seconds, a visible tremble runs through her bones and a sharp red paints her nose and cheekbones. It doesn’t take a genius to see she’s cold, but she waits patiently through it for Jamie anyway – with a furrowed brow and a twisted lip like she has far too much on her mind.

Jamie stops for a moment because she can’t believe something so perfect exists. She stops because she can’t remember the last time she was so excited and nervous at once. She stops because she’s had a thousand beautiful things taken away from her and she’s moved on from every single one, but she doesn’t think she can move on from this.

She starts again because she doesn’t have the patience of a saint.

She thinks she isn’t the only one because she’s only halfway through a greeting when she finds lips pressed against hers. Lips that skip past a greeting, that curve round timid, that jump over casual and head straight to a level of desperation Jamie didn’t even realise was coursing through her veins until she meets it touch for touch, until she’s gripping at Dani’s jacket as recklessly as Dani grabs at hers.

It stops as abruptly as it starts, with Dani sharply pulling back and managing to look at Jamie cautiously even through the haze of her slow blinks.

Laughter trickles out of Jamie, her body swaying forward subconsciously as Dani sways back into her own space. “I’m not complaining. At all. But what was that for?”

Dani’s hands release their grip on her jacket, but they don’t stray too far, instead she drops her right one to gently run her thumb across the back of Jamie’s hand. Jamie stares down at it like she’d forgotten she even had a hand in the first place.

“I was going to wait until the end. I was going to be calm and collected and smooth about it, asking you to walk me home and kissing you politely on the doorstep, but, while something about you makes my soul feel calmer than it ever has, you don’t make me feel collected and smooth. You make me feel messy-“ Dani takes a breath- “And I really just wanted to kiss you.”

She’s still staring at Jamie’s lips. Staring at them and telling her just how much she wanted to kiss her, and all Jamie really wants is to kiss her again. All she can really think about is kissing her again.

“We could not go inside,” she hedges.

Dani’s eyes go a little wide, her thumb trips in its steady rhythm. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have-“

“Chill out, Poppins. I just meant… pubs are overrated anyway – so we could just skip it altogether if you wanted. Then, you see, I could walk you home now and politely kiss you on the doorstep, and maybe you could invite me up so that I can show you how to make a proper cuppa without five teaspoons of sugar and we could look for some sweetness in something else.”

“Like the lemon cake I made because I couldn’t sit still waiting for this evening?” Dani jokes, or half jokes, Jamie supposes. She knows there’s no part of Dani lying about that actually having happened. She seemed like the exact kind of person to stress bake. Jamie smoked.

Jamie hums. “Lemon cake is definitely one idea.”

“Okay,” Dani says. Then straightens up, slips on a polite smile, and adds, “I had a lovely evening. Would you mind walking me home? It’s not far.”

“It would be my pleasure.”

They don’t get round to the lemon cake until they’re both tucked under the covers and Dani’s placing it on Jamie’s tongue from sticky fingers.

She leaves before she’s gone so long that Hannah’s eyes will be knowing when she picks Mikey up to take him home and tuck him up in bed. She leaves with a promise that next time she’ll stay until the morning – until American pancakes and way too much bacon and Dani’s voice coated in honied sleep and the husk of a throat too well used.

Hannah still looks knowing when she picks a half-slumbering Mikey into her arms. But in the end its not her that breaks the dam. In the end, it’s a small, tired voice with far too much awareness for its young years. “I told you Miss Clayton was really pretty.”

“Don’t be a little shit.”


“Mikey, you know you’re allowed to call me Dani when we’re at your house right?”

“But I heard Jamie call you Miss Clayton last night and you were all giggly, so I thought you liked it better.”