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and she taught me a lesson alright

Chapter Text


Flora looks up at her, eyes determined, jaw set. She nods.

It’s the same jut of the jaw, the same proud chin that Jamie sees every morning when she looks in the mirror, just above the plastic green cup containing two toothbrushes: Flora’s small, pink, hers blue, bristles perpetually worn from a habit of brushing too hard for too long. 

“Ready,” Flora echoes.

“Lunch packed?”

It’s a cheese sandwich, but with some of that cheese Owen had given them, from France, that Flora likes so much. Carrots. Applesauce. Flora’s second favorite water bottle, the one with the cats. A paper napkin, “love you, munchkin” hastily scribbled on it in ink, alongside the quick sketch of a flower.


“Shoes tied?”

“Ti–” This one catches her. Flora says it, glancing down before she even realizes, brow furrowing when she sees the buckles on her shoes, but then she’s looking back up at Jamie and laughing, and it’s full and warm and the best thing Jamie’s ever heard. 

“Gotcha then,” Jamie kneels, reaching out to tuck a strand of Flora’s hair behind her ear. “You sure you’re ready for this?”

Flora sighs, the puff of breath flipping another stray piece of hair up and into her eyes. “I’m ready,” she insists, reassuring. “I promise.”

Jamie sighs too, a smile forcing its way across her face through her apprehension, reaching up to brush Flora’s hair off of her forehead. “I know.” 

It’s always been her and Flora.

For all of her life––all of her life that’s mattered, anyway, Jamie thinks––it’s been the two of them. It doesn’t matter, how Flora came into the world. Doesn’t matter that Jamie hadn’t had her shit together, hadn’t had a support system, had only had one self-destructive spiral after another. Doesn’t matter that Jamie knew what she was, what she wanted, that she was just so tired of hearing that word hurled her way, over and over, waves ceaseless and buffeting along an eroding shoreline. Doesn’t matter that all Jamie had wanted to do was prove them wrong, to say “fuck you, you don’t know me.” Doesn’t matter that all the universe had done in response was stake her bet, careless and nonchalant, and offer a “fuck you” right back.

It doesn’t matter that all of the times Jamie had imagined her life growing up, imagined where she could go despite her circumstances, where she would go in spite of them, this was the last place she ever went. Doesn’t matter that it’s the one place she told herself she couldn’t go, that she wouldn’t. Doesn’t matter that she was Jamie, she had insisted to herself, not Louise, her name a mantra: Jamie. She was Jamie.

None of that matters, because now it’s her and Flora.

Now she gets to make breakfast for two every morning, fried eggs and orange juice and only sometimes burnt toast; never porridge, their disdain vehement and mutual, explicable only by the curious grace of shared lineage.

Now she gets to hunch over their coffee table, dishes from dinner––that night’s and those of the night before––still waiting in the sink, tugging an eraser between her teeth as Flora looks on expectantly, Jamie trying to tease out how to do fractions she’d never properly learned herself.

Now she gets to oversee two baths each night, threading her fingers through Flora’s hair, cautiously teasing out any tangles, scrubbing at the tips of Flora’s fingers with a nail brush and determination she doesn’t even allow her own, underscored with dirt as they are.

Now she gets to duck her head, every night, to press a soft kiss to Flora’s forehead, to pull pink sheets up around her tiny frame, to tuck her in. She gets to linger in the doorway, pausing for moments she never seems to have, watching as Flora’s breaths even out, her face softening, head sinking deeper into her pillow.


Jamie blinks, Flora’s voice bringing her back to the present. Jamie clears her throat and swallows, voice rough. “Right. What’s your teacher’s name again?”

“Miss Clayton.” Flora’s listening, but Jamie catches her eyes flitting to either side, to the other children trekking up the stairs and into the school, dragging their feet, shoulders laden with bookbags. “She’s new, I think,” Flora looks back at Jamie. “I’ve never heard of her, anyway. And I’ve heard of everyone.” 

Flora’s proud, a little smug, and Jamie recognizes that, too.

“Well,” Jamie leans in, dropping a swift kiss to Flora’s forehead before standing back up, “don’t scare her off, yeah? Be good. Wash your hands. Please eat your applesauce this time instead of––”

But Flora’s already off, darting up the stairs, Jamie left, alone, behind her.

Jamie doesn’t hear the end of it for days. 

If it’s not about how friendly Miss Clayton is––how warm she is, how she’d wrapped Flora in the most wonderful hug on the first day, how big she smiles when Flora or her classmates answer a question right, make her laugh, or really seem to do anything at all––it’s about cool she is, how American, and that? That is something Jamie simply cannot abide. 

“I remember when you used to call me cool,” Jamie sighs wistfully, sliding a bowl of ramen in front of Flora before sinking into her seat across from her. “Not some…” She waves a hand, vaguely, crinkling her nose, “American.”

Flora shrugs, shoveling noodles into her mouth, oblivious to the egg slipping out of her spoon. “It’s not just that she’s American. She’s also kind, and funny, and she has the most wonderful laugh,” Flora leans in, eyes wide. “Did I tell you what she said about pants yesterday?”

“Pants, eh?” Jamie takes a slurp of her broth, corners of her eyes crinkling as she watches Flora chatter on happily, divulging in elaborate detail a story about how Miss Clayton, catching Flora kneeling in some dewy grass alongside the playground, had said she’d wet her pants. “Like a baby,” Flora stretches the word out, voice lilting, for emphasis, eyes shining as she laughs, Jamie laughing with her.

Flora takes to people like bees to honey––she’d run around parroting last year’s teacher, Miss Jessel, all summer; had befriended their neighbor, a boy two years her senior, Miles, and his uncle, Henry, after less two days in their new flat––but Flora’s affinity for Miss Clayton is different, Jamie thinks. It’s light-hearted, aspirational. Not the fixated imitation that Flora put on for Miss Jessel, or the stubborn camaraderie she shares with Miles. There’s a curiosity there, an eagerness to share… What, Jamie doesn’t know. 

“I really do, though,” Flora’s saying now, fishing in her bowl for a lone noodle, tongue sticking out as she concentrates.

“Really do what?” Jamie watches, raising her eyebrows pointedly at Flora as Flora drops her spoon, reaches into the broth with her fingers, and plucks out the offending noodle.

Flora only grins up at her. “Think you’d like her, of course!” She pops the noodle into her mouth, slurping.

“I dunno, Flora,” Jamie looks back down at her bowl, eyes twinkling. “If she doesn’t even know what pants are…”

It’s all Jamie can do not to laugh at Flora’s exasperated “she wears them, she just doesn’t know that pants aren’t trousers, I’m telling you––”

“Telling me what?”

But Flora’s distracted, hopping off her seat and running to her backpack, rifling around inside for a moment before coming back up with a purple folder and running back to the table. “Here,” she pulls a piece of paper out, sliding it over to Jamie, minding the broth splattered on the table, “from Miss Clayton.”

Jamie takes the paper carefully, immediately smudging the corner. “What’s this, then?” 

“She’s giving a talk at school, Wednesday night. For the parents.” Flora’s eyes are pleading. “Please say you’ll go?”

Jamie looks at Flora before glancing back down at the paper again, lips pursed. 

It’s not that she doesn’t want to be more involved at Flora’s school. If Jamie’s being honest with herself, there’s nothing she’d like more: a chance, not only to be involved in her daughter’s education beyond homework help of an efficacy questionable at best, but also to recover the space for herself. Jamie doesn’t want to drop her daughter off to reminders of a system that failed her, of an inconstant and lacking education, of the jeers and taunts slung her way. Jamie wants to feel… Well. Lighted-hearted, aspirational. Curious.

“Yeah,” Jamie says, slowly, thoughtfully, to herself at first. “Yeah, I think I could make this.” 

Flora beams, then pulls their tin of cookies, permanently reposed mid-table, towards her, dragging the lid upwards. “You’ll see,” she chirps, promptly shoving a cookie into her mouth.

“Mm,” Jamie reaches across the table, eyes still scanning the paper, fingers fumbling for a cookie of her own. “I’m sure I will.”

If Dani Clayton is anything, it’s prepared.

It’s a trait she’s prided herself on as long as she can remember, from tucking a first aid kit into her bag at Girl Scout camp, pulling it out hastily, earnestly, to smooth a bandage against Wendy Davidson’s tanned knee, fingers shaking (Wendy had been the one bleeding, but it was Dani’s stomach in knots) to leaving for England, recommendations and detailed notes on certification requirements neatly paperclipped together, snug in her bag somewhere between diplomas and sample lesson plans.

She’s prepared as she begins her job search, scouring newspapers, meticulously circling age levels and specialties that might reasonably fit her experience. She’s prepared for her interviews, blouse spotless, smooth. She’s even prepared for getting the job, for finding a flat, for making friends at work (Hannah, in the front office, and Rebecca, who teaches Year Three and insists she’s “only here to wrangle an apprenticeship from one of these stodgy parents” for what Hannah tells Dani is the third year now).

Her mother would tell her it’s anxiety, not preparedness, that drives her. That it’s Dani’s own apprehension, her own personal dread, angry, empty, lonely, lurking at the back of her mind. That it’s a fear of what’s to come, a motley assessment of every “what if” ahead of her, a vain attempt at thwarting the beast of tomorrow by stocking a full arsenal today.

“Which is it, then, mom?” Dani had asked her, voice high and tight, knuckles white around the phone. “Am I scared of tomorrow, or am I here to run away from yesterday?"

She’s just being realistic, Dani tells herself. And so she prepares.

She had been prepared for the blank stares she got from Rebecca and Hannah when she’d brought up back-to-school night, been prepared to pitch the evening talk for parents focusing on the year ahead for their children. She had been prepared for the day of the presentation itself, had packed an extra piece of lasagna for dinner, tucked into the fridge in the teacher’s lounge, had wheeled the school’s garment steamer into her classroom’s coat closet, smoothing hours of dramatic play and the monotony of grading out of her blouse. She’s even prepared for the event itself, chairs lined up in neat rows by a quarter to seven, note cards arranged just so on the podium she’s dragged in from the auditorium.

She hasn’t, however, prepared for this. 

She’s 15 minutes into her presentation, biting back a smile as she glances at the clock, pivoting to social emotional development right on schedule, when the door opens, and Dani stops mid-sentence.

The woman slips in with her head down, pulling the door closed softly behind her, only glancing up at Dani briefly, out of the corner of her eye, as she makes her way to an empty seat in the back of the room. Her well-worn work boots are heavy on the floor, and she’s pulled her oversized coat tight around her thin frame, as if to keep herself in it as much as the cold out. It spills open when she lets herself fall into a chair, legs splayed in front of her, and Dani’s blinking away from her chest, away from the fine line of her collarbone, away from the gold chain that rests there, catching the light.

Dani’s stuttering, stumbling for words, all things social emotional forgotten, and she’s tearing her eyes away from the woman to glance down at her notecards, only to be met with the arch of the woman’s eyebrows when she looks back up. There’s a flush to her cheeks, still adjusting to the temperature inside the classroom, a small smudge––dirt?––along a cheekbone, and her hair is pinned back and out of her face, a single, spiraled curl escaping, and before she can stop herself, Dani’s thinking about how it would feel to tuck it back, to brush her fingers against the woman’s cheek.

The woman clears her throat, inclining her head slightly, and it jerks Dani back to reality, frantically looking around the classroom, at all the parents and guardians looking up at her expectantly.

“I––” Dani’s fingers tap the podium nervously, skirting around its edges, settling along the bottom, drumming softly, then moving again. “I, uh… I was… Excuse me…”

She looks up again, casts out over the orderly rows of parents in front of her, eyes pulled back to the woman before she even realizes it’s happening, their own private gravity rapidly realizing between them. Her eyes are sparkling, Dani thinks, mischievous, and she knows those eyes, knows that look–– “Flora!” she knocks on the podium excitedly, notecards scattering. “You’re Flora’s mom, aren’t you?”

The woman blinks, and her voice is neutral when she speaks, aloof. “That’s me,” she says, pushing her fists further into her pockets. 

Dani stares at her a moment longer, head cocked, thoughtful, and then she’s glancing down at her scattered notecards with a murmured “huh,” fingers tapping aimlessly at the side of the podium again before looking back up, shivering involuntarily, shaking it off. “So,” and wherever she’d gone, she’s back now, “let’s talk about individuation.”

“What do you two know about Flora Taylor?”

They’re in the teacher’s lounge the next day, Dani leaning, scrupulous, over a styrofoam cup, watching a tea bag sink to the bottom, fingers running nervously back and forth over a handful of sugar packets.

“I had her last year,” Rebecca glances back at Dani from the sink, pausing, distracted, at the number of sugar packets in her hand. “Hannah…?”

“Hmm? Oh,” Hannah looks up from the papers spread out in front of her, reaching over to still Dani’s hand. “Just one, dear.” 

Dani scowls, but acquiesces, dropping all but one packet. Hannah still doesn’t remove her hand.

“Not yet,” she says, calm, patient. “Give it another two minutes.”

Dani huffs.

There’s a chuckle from the sink as Rebecca shuts off the water. “She’s perfectly charming,” she crosses to their table, pulling out a chair next to Hannah. “Cleverer than her own good, most likely. Imaginative,” she narrows her eyes thoughtfully, “gets lost in it from time to time. Really draws you in, and I mean really.”

Dani nods, her eyes drifting from Rebecca to the unopened sugar packet in her own hands. Hannah reaches over to tap the back of Dani’s hand, reprimanding.

“It’s some kind of attachment thing,” Rebecca continues. “She fixates on people, properly fixates––”

“She was as good as Rebecca’s shadow last year,” Hannah chimes in, glancing at her watch, shaking her head at Dani.

“––but I’m not sure where it comes from. It’s not her mum’s fault, even if she is alone. Jamie works so hard for Flora, always shows up when it counts––”

“Even if it’s only for parent-teacher conferences,” Hannah interjects blandly.

“Like I said,” Rebecca shoots Hannah a sideways look, “when it counts––”

Dani’s ripping open her sugar, dumping it into her cup while Hannah’s distracted. 

“Anyway,” Rebecca’s turning back to Dani, Dani smiling up at Rebecca from where she’s still watching her tea bag carefully. “I doubt you’ll have any trouble with Flora, she’s––”

“Her mother,” Dani cuts in, Rebecca’s jaw tightening at being interrupted again, “Jamie, you said her name was. What about her?”

Rebecca blinks. “What about her?”

Dani can feel the tips of her ears getting warm, and hopes the two of them don’t notice.

“Just… What–– What do you know about her?”

Rebecca and Hannah exchange a look.

“Okay, look, she came to back-to-school night last night”––Hannah stifles a laugh at the phrase, still––“and she… I…” Dani shrugs, sitting up straighter, pressing her lips together, obstinate. “I just… Wanted to know more is all,” she finishes carefully, folding her hands together in front of her.

“Oh, Dani,” Hannah clicks her tongue, knowing smile flickering across her face. 

Rebecca looks between the two of them, scrutinizing, a grin spreading slowly across her face.

“What?” It’s sharper than Dani means, honed by the blush she can feel spreading up her neck now.

Rebecca, unfazed by the point to Dani’s question, looks at Hannah. “You think Jamie Taylor should be more involved in her daughter’s education.”

It’s not a question, and Hannah only looks evenly back at her, making a noncommittal noise in her throat.

“And you,” Rebecca turns a shrewd eye on Dani now, “you want to…”

Dani can see her searching for the right words, for a delicate way to phrase the flush blazing its way across Dani’s face. “Get to know her,” Dani supplements.

“Get to know her,” Rebecca repeats. “I have to say, I see a pretty clear way forward here.” 

Dani and Hannah glance at each other, then back at Rebecca, waiting.

“Career Day,” Rebecca leans forward, conspiratorial. “Hannah, you’re always looking for someone to take it on for you, and Dani, it’s always the same parents volunteering––look, I’ll even take over that part––so all you’d have to do is outreach to Jamie Taylor. It’s a win-win.” She leans back in her chair, proud, crossing her arms.

It’s a win for Rebecca too, Dani knows, still seeking her pupilage, an opportunity for her to connect with all the parents and guardians who are barristers, or spouses of barristers, tucking herself in close, allying herself with those spouses, their children, leaping over grabbing hands, landing, on her feet, with someone of worth to mentor her.

Hannah narrows her eyes at Rebecca, who shrugs back at her.

Dani thinks about it, biting her lip, staring down at her tea, then back up at the two of them. “Okay,” she finally says. “Okay, I’ll do it.” 

Rebecca grins at her from across the table.

Dani grins back, then leans over to nudge her shoulder against Hannah’s. “C’mon Hannah,” she prods. “What do you say?”

Hannah sighs. “I suppose I wouldn’t say no to a little less work. You can add that sugar now, by the way.”

Dani grins even wider, reaching out for another sugar packet, smug as she empties its contents into her cup.

“You don’t have to look that pleased with yourself,” Hannah goes back to her papers. “It’s just a phone call, after all.”

Jamie’s scrubbing up in the sink when the phone rings, Flora bolting to pick it up. Her “Flora residence!” is cheerful, and Jamie smiles, watching her, but then Flora’s gasping, eyes wide and bright. Jamie cocks her head, scouring between her fingers.

“Miss Clayton,” Flora breathes into the phone, and Jamie scoffs, looking back down at her hands, but then Flora’s stretching the cord across the kitchen, resting the phone against her small shoulder carefully as she brings it over to Jamie. “It’s for you,” she whispers, almost reverential. 

Jamie raises an eyebrow, looking down at Flora expectantly as she shakes her hands dry over the sink.

Flora lifts the phone back to her ear. “One moment please,” she says excitedly, “she’s just drying her hands.”

Jamie squats down as she reaches for a towel, Flora wordlessly slipping the phone between her shoulder and her ear. She rises again, cradling it there as she towels off her hands. “What’s this, then?” Jamie says into the phone, offering Flora a quick wink, Flora biting her lip, hands wringing in apprehension. “I’m not in trouble, am I, Miss Clayton?”

“I–– What? N– No,” and Jamie would know that voice anywhere, even after the short night they’d spent together with the families of twenty-two other children. It’s the Americanness, she tells herself. It’s unequivocal in its audacity. 

Flora’s watching her carefully.

“It’s Dani, by the way. You–– You can call me Dani.”

“Dani,” Jamie echoes. “I’m not in trouble, am I… Dani?”

There’s a strangled noise at the other end of the call, followed by a nervous laugh. “What do you do, Jamie?”

“To get myself in trouble?” Jamie doesn’t bother asking how Dani knows her name, doesn’t mind that she’s skipped the formality of calling her “Miss Taylor,” or, God forbid, “Mrs.” It saves her the trouble, too, spares them both the bumbling vulnerability of forced introductions, the relitigation of trauma required by the rejection of a prefix, lets them play out intimacy as if they’ve both always been there, as if they’d both already met, long before their brief encounter the previous night.

“I–– No.” There’s that nervous laugh again, Jamie thinks. “I mean–– What… What do you do? Day to day.”

“Well Dani Clayton,” Jamie leans back against the sink, switching the receiver to her other ear, into her other hand, and she imagines Dani on the other end, her fingers tangling themselves nervously into the spiral cord, “I’m a single mum. I do a lot day to day. I’m afraid you’re going to have to be more specific.”

There’s a sharp intake of breath on the other end. “I mean… For a job?”

“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Jamie glances down at Flora, still watching her, hanging on her every word.

“I am,” Dani huffs, “now. Look, I–– I’m in charge of organizing this… This Career Day, at school, and…” Jamie makes a face at Flora as she listens, Flora laughing, making one back in response. “I was hoping… I was hoping you’d…” Dani trails off.

“I’m a gardener,” Jamie supplies, voice serious now, pulling her eyes away from Flora and running a hand through her hair. “I… Plant things. Not sure that makes the cut.” 

There’s quiet on the other end for a moment, then: “no, no, I think that’s great. I would–– We, we would love to hear from you. That’s… That's what they need, you know? They don’t want to hear about,” she affects her voice, drawling, “stocks and legal challenges”––she should cringe, Jamie knows, she wants to cringe, but instead all she can do is stifle a laugh––“They’re kids. They want to hear about playing in the dirt. I mean, gosh, I,” Dani’s voice is softer now, almost a whisper when she tacks it on, “I want to hear about it.”

Jamie bites the inside of her cheek, looking up at the ceiling, considering. She’s just starting a major landscaping project, the seasons are about to transition, but… Her eyes fall back to Flora, watching Jamie expectantly, eagerly, breath coming in short, excited bursts through her nose.

“Yeah, alright,” and Flora’s eyes are lighting up at the same time as Dani’s sighing, relieved, on the other end. “Just, uh, let me get down the information?”

Flora’s running for a pen and a notepad before Jamie can even ask.

Back in her flat, on the other end of the call, Dani’s grinning, phone cord twined around her fingers. “I’m excited to see more of you, Jamie Taylor,” she says, confident, nodding to herself, then pauses. “In the classroom, I mean,” she adds, definitively less confidently. “I’m excited to see more of you in the classroom.” It’s a saving grace, she thinks, that Jamie can’t see her blush over the phone.

Jamie only laughs. “Can I pass you off to Flora to say goodbye? I don’t think she’d forgive me if I didn’t.”

“Oh,” Dani pauses. “Of course.” There’s the garble of the phone switching hands, Flora accepting it greedily, pressing it hard against her ear, and Dani’s voice brightens. “Flora!”

Dani can hear Jamie’s footsteps in the background, hears the creak of a cupboard, the metal clang of a pan. She hears Flora take a deep breath, prepared to launch into an elaborate story about the rest of her day, but then––

“Hey, Flora?” It’s muffled, but Jamie’s voice is unmistakable. “Can you tell Miss Clayton I’m excited to see more of her, too?”

Flora parrots the message back, and Dani grins widely, smiling the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

“You’ve… Done this whole Career Day thing, yeah?”

They’re in Jamie’s living room, Flora and Miles stretched across the dull carpet––Jamie makes a note to herself to rent a steamer, eventually, when she finds the time––on their stomachs, feet kicking lazily back and forth above them, Flora dictating to Miles, whispering frantically, Miles dutifully scribbling her words onto one of Henry’s legal pads.

“Every year,” Henry sighs, leaning forward to grab his mug of tea from where it’s resting on the coffee table, “and every year I tell myself it’ll be my last one. Missing a half day of work, answering the same questions over and over again, all to be what? The fourth barrister in a row to do it?” He drinks deeply, then glances over at Jamie. “Why do you ask?”

She ignores Henry’s question, tilting her head to the side, pursing her lips, examining him. “But it’s worth it? For Miles?”

“Oh…” Henry casts his gaze back over to Flora and Miles, whispering excitedly back and forth. “Quite. That’s what keeps me coming back,” his voice is softer now. “There could be 100 barristers and no me, couldn’t there? But then Miles, he… He wouldn’t have a…” Jamie’s watching him closely as he speaks, can see Henry stop, consider, almost say the word. More than anything, Jamie thinks, she can see how badly he wants to say the word, how badly he needs to say it. “But then he wouldn’t have an uncle there,” he says finally instead, and when he smiles at Jamie it’s lukewarm, drawn.

Jamie looks back at him for a moment, holding his eyes, and when she finally leans down to reach for her tea, it’s out of a necessity born not from thirst, but the sudden need to do something, anything with her hands. Idle hands, she thinks to herself, taking care to wrap them around the mug, letting herself feel its warmth against her palms, threading her fingers around the cool handle on the side.

“Miles loves you,” she finally murmurs, watching Flora gesticulate wildly now. “He’s lucky to have an… Uncle like you. More than some of us get at all. Not,” she glances sideways at him, corner of her mouth curling, “that I’m feeling sorry for myself.” 

Henry chuckles. “You?” He leans back into the couch. “Never.”

It’s the territory on which their companionship is built, Jamie and Henry’s shared claim staked out of necessity, out of circumstance, out of Flora, running up to Miles the day she and Jamie had moved in, shoving her hand in his face and politely demanding he play a game with her. “You really needn’t worry,” Flora had reported back to Jamie later, excitement bubbling over, half-ponytail bobbing behind her, “because Miles doesn’t have a dad either, or a mum. Just his Uncle Henry.” She’d sighed, content, flopping backwards onto the couch. “I think we’re going to be best friends.”

Their shared constitution dictates they don’t say it, that they never say it, Jamie and Henry’s terra firma fixed in the shadow of the dark side of Flora and Miles’. They’re not best friends, Jamie and Henry, not bonded by an alignment of difference, of what everyone else seems to tell them are missing parts, of what Jamie and Henry have assured Flora and Miles, always, makes them special. No, Jamie and Henry are so bound by something else: gaseous clouds of guilt and shame condensing together under the gravity of their own self-immolation, of fear and love mingling, coalifying under the strata of constant effort, rigorous and punitive. 

Henry toes the line, looking out for Jamie with an awkward care she’d find off-putting in anyone else; he’d hired her––near right away after their first meeting, Jamie showing up at his door that first day, mud-stained overalls, inquiring after “a small gremlin, this high, propensity for mischief”––to furnish his flat (“could stand a bit more green, to be a bit more... Alive, don’t you think?”) and then his office, had passed her name along to friends, colleagues, barristers and businessmen alike, all with much larger homes. Manors, even, some of them. Jamie had drawn the line, however, staunch and proud, when he offered to have Miles’ au pair look after Flora as well. She could look after her own daughter, Jamie had declared, without the help of some Mary Poppins swooping in on an unruly gust front.

Still… They look out for each other, she and Henry. He’d given her a chance when anyone else would have looked at her that day, would have taken her in, mud stains and a daughter they’d deem too old for her mother’s young face, and sent her on her way, whispering to their son, spurred on by the propriety of their now-closed, now-locked door, to stay away. No, Jamie’s not too proud to be grateful for that. For what it gives Flora.

Jamie shakes her head, sniffing, chuckling too, and pulls a socked foot up onto the couch next to her. “So it’s miserable, then? Career Day?”

“Your word, not mine.” Henry takes another draw of his tea. “Still... “ He glances sideways at her. “You’re not considering it, are you?”

Jamie puffs her cheeks, blowing out a breath. “More than considering. It’s a done deal. Jamie Taylor, gardener. Reckon I’ll fall somewhere between…” She furrows her brow in mock contemplation. “Barristers three and four in the lineup.”

Henry laughs then, really laughs. “Jamie Taylor, gardener. They really don’t know what they’ve got coming, do they?”

Jamie laughs too, and there’s a knock on the door, Flora’s head jerking up, wide smile cracking her face.

“That’ll be Owen,” Jamie leans down to rest her mug on the table, glancing at Flora. “Wanna get the door, sprout?” 

But Flora’s already up and running, rounding the corner, floor shaking under the quick patter of her feet.

“You’re doing Career Day?” Owen is incredulous. “How’d you get roped into that one?”

Henry passes Owen a mug of his own. “I was wondering that myself.”

“Flora’s teacher, Miss Clay–– Dani, she called and asked.” Jamie shrugs. “Flora really loves her, so…” She watches Flora, Flora’s ears perking up at the mention of Dani's name, pausing, shaking her head, then leaning back in towards Miles as he flips, business-like, to the next page of the legal pad. “I want to be there for her. To do that for her. For Flora.” 

“The American?” Owen’s heard Flora talk about Miss Clayton before, about a place she’d told them about called Iowa, and another one that had enraptured Flora––“it’s almost my name,” she’d sighed, dreamy––called Florida. (Jamie had gruffed to Owen later that if Flora actually knew anything about Florida, it’s the last place she’d want to go, and when Owen had countered with a simple “not even Disneyworld?” Jamie had just glared at him.)

Jamie groans. “Oh, God, Owen, you should’ve heard her speak. On a scale of zero to American, she’s…” Jamie trails off, grin spreading, distantly, across her face. 

“American?” Owen supplies, and they laugh.

“Yeah,” Jamie chuckles, reaching for her tea. “Bit of a weirdo, too.”

Owen and Henry watch her, curious, waiting for Jamie to elaborate, for the other penny to drop, but Jamie doesn’t say anything else, brow furrowing slightly as she watches Flora.

“Career Day then,” she finally says, looking back up at them, eyes bright. “What do I wear?”

Henry blinks. “What do you mean?”

“Well, you lot,” Jamie waves her hand at Henry dismissively, “are all going to be wearing your suits and ties. So what am I supposed to wear? To look…” She crinkles her nose. “Nice, I guess. For Flora.”

“Well…” Henry says, careful. “You’re not a barrister, you know––”

“Yeah, I do know, thanks.”

Owen interjects, leaning forward. “If I were going to Career Day,” he tries, “what would you tell me if I tried to wear a suit?”

Jamie barks out a laugh. “You can’t be serious, Owen, you’d wear an––”

“An apron, yeah,” Owen finishes. He looks at her pointedly.

Jamie quiets, sinking back into the couch, further into herself, arms crossing, tight against her chest, eyes focused, determined, on the floor. 

Jamie’s proud, Owen and Henry both know it, too proud, even, but it’s because of that pride that Jamie also knows she’s enough. She insists she’s enough, more than, for Flora, even when it’s to her own disservice: turning down Henry’s au pair offer, rushing, instead, to and from school to drop Flora off and pick Flora up and toil away in flower beds in the in between, a perpetual 15 minutes late; tracking down the massive, ornamented dollhouse Flora had seen a picture of in the papers (Flora gasping, running––“Flora!” Jamie’s arm had shot out, wrapping around Flora’s waist, catching her. “Walk with the bloody scissors, please, yeah?”––to neatly cut it out, to pin it, wanting, to her wall), Jamie forgoing new boots that winter to scrounge together enough money to have it sitting under the tree, wrapped and rewrapped, pristine, on Christmas morning; committing to Flora’s school in a way she never has, showing up on a weeknight for Dani’s presentation, letting Dani talk her into presenting at Career Day, all while starting a new landscaping project, all while the seasons turn, all, she tells herself, for Flora.

To see Jamie like this? This is new.

“I just…” Her voice is low. “I just don’t want those other kids to… I know how mean kids are,” she bites her lip, eyes unfocused now, “and the last thing I want is for Flora to suffer because her mum wears a muddy jumpsuit to work.”

“She won’t.” Henry’s voice is firm, resolute. “She won’t, Jamie.”

“Listen,” Owen leans forward, grabbing a cookie from the plate on the coffee table, offering it to Jamie, mustache twitching as she uncrosses her arms, lifting one to take it wordlessly. “Little boys, children, can be very cruel. I should know,” he shrugs, “I was one. But mud? Children love mud. They don’t want stuffy–– Sorry,” he nods to Henry, who shrugs, unfazed, “but they don’t. They’re going to love you, and love Flora all the more for it.”

“Yeah,” Jamie pops the rest of the cookie into her mouth, swallowing. “That’s what Dani said.” She reaches for another cookie.

“Well, if you refuse to trust the American,” Henry chirps, “I hope you’ll at least trust us.” 

“I do trust her,” Jamie mumbles around a mouthful of crumbs, “I just want to look nice is all. For Flora.”

“Right,” Owen watches her thoughtfully. “You’ve been saying that. For Flora.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” 

“Nothing,” Owen says quickly, “at all. You’ve got crumbs all over your shirt now, though.”

Jamie scowls at him, dusting indifferently at her chest, missing the crumbs entirely.

“So it’s decided then,” Owen continues, unperturbed, “Muddy jumpsuit it is. Anything else… Well it just wouldn’t be suit-able, would it?”

Jamie snorts, smacking at Owen’s arm, Henry rolling his eyes with a “God,” and reaching for his tea.

Flora and Miles watch them, amusement mingling with tepid curiosity, Flora doodling absently on the legal pad now, loops and whorls swirling underneath Miles’ fastidious script.

“Flora?” Miles’ voice is careful, measured.

“Hmm?” She glances up at him, but her eyes are quickly stolen by the plate on the table, and she leans over the pad of paper, fingers just barely managing to wrap around a handful of cookies.

“I think your mum likes Miss Clayton.”

Flora looks at him blandly, crunching into a cookie. “Everyone likes Miss Clayton, Miles,” she says, impatient, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“No, Flora,” Miles leans in closer, whispering. “I think she likes Miss Clayton.”

Flora immediately recoils, eyes wide. She stares at him for a moment, pauses. Considers. Pops another cookie into her mouth.

Miles looks back at her, brow furrowed.

“Miles,” Flora whispers, his name only slightly marred by her mouthful of cookie, “do you think Miss Clayton could… Do you think Miss Clayton might…”

“Well, you said she called your house the other night, didn’t you?”

“Yes, to ask if mum might come to Career Day.” 

“And when has your mum ever done Career Day?” Miles is needling her now, pushing her forward, onward. 

Flora stares at Miles, remaining cookies forgotten. Her eyes shining, she says quietly, excitedly, “Miles… How would you like to play a game?”

This isn’t Dani Clayton’s first rodeo. Career Day. Career Day-rodeo.

She’s hosted them before, back in the States, twenty-five-plus parents packed into her small classroom, pantsuits butting up against egos butting up the wrong father butting up against the wrong nanny. This feels much more her speed, she thinks, looking at the detailed, immaculately organized list Rebecca has prepared for her, all barristers and stockbrokers and propriety.

Dani isn’t one for repression, is vehemently against it, all things considered––she indulges herself briefly, mind racing back to the States, to Eddie, to a personhood interrupted––but when it comes to her classroom? Well, she thinks, looking at her desk, hands on her hips, if it means an easy day, settled in the back corner of the classroom grading times table drills… She supposes she can make peace with repression, even if just for today.

The last name on the list, though, the gardener… Dani’s finger traces her name absently, rolling her bottom lip between her teeth. Her truce, her peace with the quiet restraint she’d known so intimately for so long, would have to end early. She’s willing to grade a few extra multiplication drills at home, if only to hear the lilt of Jamie’s voice, to lose herself in the angle of her hips, her relaxed shoulders, the ease with which she carries herself. With which she might––

Dani stops herself then, absently wrapping a strand of freshly blown-out hair around her finger. She’d woken up early to do it, would be up late grading those final math drills, but… She shakes her head, forcing herself to glance back at the podium, pushed away into the corner, and then back at her desk, sighing, determined. Rolling up the sleeves of her blazer, she sets her jaw, and, wrapping her hands around the lip of the desk, plants her feet and starts to push. Her kitten heels immediately slide on the linoleum, and Dani curses.

“Language, Miss Clayton.”

Dani freezes, fingers tight around her desk, her mouth suddenly dry. 

It’s as if the world is suspended for a moment, Dani clenching her teeth, bent over her desk, immovable, Jamie leaning against the doorframe haphazardly, fingers wrapped around a small ceramic pot, grin all but unstoppable. 

Slowly, painfully, Dani straightens, turning, leaning back against her desk, feigned ease belied by her white knuckles, still gripping the edge. 

Jamie chuckles through her nose, stepping inside. “I, uh,” she pulls the door shut behind her, “know I’m not supposed to be here for another twenty-five minutes, but…” Her jaw tightens, just briefly, and she glances at the floor before looking back up at Dani. “Flora suggested I bring you a… She suggested I bring you something, as a thank you for having me, and her etiquette is already heaps better than mine, so…” She shrugs. “I tend to trust her, wherever it comes from. Besides,” she adds, eyes bright now, “it looks like you could, uh, use some help, yeah?”

Dani can feel her face burning, can feel Jamie waiting, amused, for a response, but all she can do is stare. Jamie’s wearing the same boots and coat as she had last time, but this time she’s wearing a jumpsuit underneath, and it’s a soft beige, zipper pulled down to her chest, t-shirt peeking out, gold chain resting, again, against her breastbone. Dani knows she needs to say something, needs to move, needs to greet Jamie at the very least, but instead, the only thing she can think of is what it would feel like to tug on that zipper, how badly she wants to.

Repression, she reminds herself.

“I-– Yeah,” Dani swallows. “Yeah, thanks. Let me just…” She forces herself to relax, to breathe, loosening her grip on the desk. “I wasn’t expecting… Where’s Flora?” She asks suddenly, glancing nervously around the classroom.

“She’s outside,” Jamie answers patiently, taking another step toward Dani, “on the playground. I think she was happy to ditch me, to be honest.” She winks. “They grow up so fast these days.” A smile plays across Jamie’s face, teasing.

“They, uh…” Dani takes a step forward too, away from the relative safety of her desk. “They sure do. Increased independence and all.”

“Lucky me.” 

Dani’s not sure if Jamie’s being sarcastic. 

“Right, anyway,” and Jamie’s holding out the pot in her hands, “for you.” 

Dani takes it, fingers brushing Jamie’s as they make the exchange. She feels herself flushing again, hopes the quirk of Jamie’s lips isn’t because she notices.

Dani forces her eyes downward, looking at the small bud, still tightly closed, curious. “I’m sorry,” she starts, “I–– I don’t know a lot about plants. What… What is it?”

Jamie only grins at her. “I guess you’ll have to wait and see. Good thing you have a gardener in the queue for Career Day, Miss Clayton,” and Dani feels her stomach surge, reaching over to carefully settle the flowerpot on her desk.

“Do you, uh…” Dani swallows, eyes flitting around the classroom, at anywhere except Jamie. “Do you want to get that off?”

“Blimey,” Jamie ducks her head, glancing back up at Dani through her lashes, lazily watching the blush spread across Dani’s face.

“Oh, God,” Dani rakes a hand through her hair, mortified. “Your coat, I mean. Do you… Want to get your coat off?”

Jamie doesn’t say anything, only watches her, grinning, as she tugs it off.

“Here,” Dani holds out her hand, and Jamie passes it over, Dani brushing against her as she crosses to the coat closet. “Benefits of having a classroom of your own,” she explains, laughing, nervous, “coat closet.” She busies herself with hanging up Jamie’s coat, slow, deliberate in her movements. “Even if it’s a bit small.”

Jamie shrugs. “Benefits of being small,” she gestures to herself, then to Dani, “you can use coat closets meant for eight year-olds.” 

Dani laughs, genuinely laughs, and Jamie smiles warmly. “There we are,” she whispers, almost to herself, then: “now, about that desk…” 

She’s raising an eyebrow when Dani looks back at her, and Dani bites her bottom lip, embarrassed. “I need it against that wall,” she points, then gestures to the podium, “so that can be in the center.”

Jamie’s already crossing to the desk, setting one foot firmly behind the other, balls of her feet pressing into the floor.

It feels futile now, Dani thinks, watching Jamie push her desk against the far wall, forearms tensing, jaw determined, curls flopping into her face. Repressing anything.

And then it’s done, and Jamie’s sliding the podium easily to the front and center of the room, beaming, proud, over at Dani, and Dani knows it is, because Dani wants nothing more than to see that smile again and again and again.

“You’re, uh… You’re last on the list,” she hears herself saying, “to present. So you could… Could go hang out in the teacher’s lounge, or…” She glances to the back of her classroom, to her chair nestled, snug, in the corner. “You could sit in the back with me.” 

Jamie raises an eyebrow. “Last, eh?”

“Oh, you know,” Dani leans in, suddenly serious. “It’s a best practice in early education to save the best for last.” 

Jamie laughs. “And here I thought you just wanted an excuse to sit with me all day. Get the dirt on Flora.” 

Flora. Right. The whole reason, Dani chides herself, Jamie is here.

“I’m kidding, Dani,” Jamie must see the look on her face, voice suddenly reassuring, “c’mon. I’ll watch you… Watch other parents, or whatever else it is you’re gonna be doing all day.” She nudges Dani’s shoulder with her own, crossing towards the back of the room, pausing, looking back over her shoulder, expectant, at Dani.

Dani chews on the inside of her cheek, watching her. 

Jamie watches her right back.

“Okay,” Dani sighs, grabbing a stack of papers from her desk, shuffling her feet as she follows Jamie, “and it’s multiplication tables today. Once you’ve seen one Career Day,” she confides, voice low, “you’ve seen them all.”

Jamie only scoffs. “Not this one, Miss Clayton,” she sinks into the seat next to Dani’s. “Not this one.” 

Dani gets through approximately two and a half multiplication tables, eyes torn, distracted, by Jamie next to her. First it’s the way Jamie plays with the zipper of her jumpsuit, fingers nimble, slow as they drag it, impatient, bored, up and down along its track. Then it’s the way she fiddles with her chain necklace, tired of the zipper, thoughtful, glancing over at Dani out of the corner of her eye. If it’s not that, it’s the way Jamie's eyes dip down to the papers scattered in front of Dani, the way Dani’s sure Jamie notices they’re not any different, any more graded, than they were when she peeked fifteen minutes ago. It’s the way Dani catches Jamie’s tongue peek out to wet her lips, the way she purses them, feigning thoughtfulness as she listens to yet another father talk about yet another legal challenge. It’s the way, Dani thinks, fists clenched in her lap, all pretense of grading abandoned, red pen tucked uselessly behind her ear, Jamie’s legs splay out even further in front of her, the toe of her left foot inching closer and closer to Dani’s.

Is she imagining it? She can’t be imagining it.

Is she crazy?

Her only reprieve is when, suddenly, she’s glancing down at her list, ready to call up the next parent, and Jamie’s name is the only one left. 

Dani glances over at her, and Jamie only grins, arching an eyebrow at Dani, waiting.

“Jamie Taylor,” Dani’s voice is warm, strong, and she hopes Jamie can hear the smile in it when she says “gardener.”

Jamie does hear it, Dani thinks, watching Jamie push herself up, taking her time as she walks to the front of the classroom. She sees the flicker of doubt behind Jamie's eyes, and then it’s extinguished, overtaken by the strong set of Jamie’s jaw, the same one she’s seen, time and time again, in Flora. Dani sees Jamie pass by Flora’s desk, Flora’s knees bouncing, eager, underneath, sees the way Flora looks up at her, adoring. Dani watches as Jamie squeezes Flora’s hand as she passes, standing up a little straighter when Flora wraps her tiny fingers around Jamie’s, squeezing back. 

Dani’s stomach surges again, but it’s different this time. 

Jamie makes her way to the podium, looking out around the room at the children, at their families, at Dani, Jamie toying nervously with her fingers in front of her. 

And then Jamie's eyes find Flora’s, wide and sparkling. Jamie breathes, and her hands still.

“So, uh,” Jamie starts, eyes focused on Flora, smiling up at her like Jamie is the only person in the world, Jamie’s mouth quirking up now, “you all may notice I look a bit different than all the other family members here, yeah?”

She pauses, looking around the room. Flora nods, resolute, and around her, other children follow her lead.

“Yeah,” Jamie smiles wider. “Does, uh, does anyone wanna tell me what’s different?” Her eyes flit over to Dani, quickly, before looking back around the classroom. “You can just shout it out. It’s okay.”

A few faces glance nervously back at Dani, including Flora, imploring, and Dani waves them on. “Go ahead. Ms. Taylor’s rules for the next fifteen minutes, okay?”

Flora grins, and Dani catches Jamie’s nod of thanks, a slight incline of her chin.

The kids are captivated for the next fifteen minutes.

Dani’s captivated, too, eyes glued to Jamie as she moves, the way her eyes glint when she talks to the class, posing a question, playful, the way she grins when they respond, answers shouted in a volley, the way she just calms when her eyes land on Flora, grounded, alight with something Dani’s never seen before, something that goes far deeper than Dani thinks she’d ever dare to go.

It scares her, she realizes, watching them, and before Dani can stop herself, she’s scouring her own mind for memories of her childhood, of her mother, of any sign of something so deep, of any depth at all.

“Miss Clayton?” It’s Jamie’s voice that pulls her back, Dani blinking, seeing her again, her easy smile, her leisurely slouch against the blackboard. “You okay if I…” She gestures at Dani’s desk, at the leafling resting there. 

Dani nods shakily, and Jamie pauses, narrowing her eyes at her. There’s an almost imperceptible tilt of her head, a question. Dani smiles, small, nodding again, surer this time.

Whatever Jamie sees, it’s enough for her, and she nods, satisfied, reaching for the small pot. “Does anyone know what this is?” She glances around the room, skimming over Flora, Flora’s arm raised, reaching, fingers stretching painfully towards the ceiling. “Anyone besides Flora?”

The room is quiet.

“I brought it for Miss Clayton,” Jamie cradles the plant in her hands, fingers wrapped tightly around the pot, perching on the corner of Dani’s desk, and Dani feels her breath catch in her throat. “It’s from a vine, and Flora’s been helping me with it, because it’s… Pretty hard to grow in England. Thank you, Flora”––Flora beams from halfway across the room at her mother––“and it’s, uh… It’s called a moonflower. Does anyone wanna guess why?”

The room is quiet, parents and families listening now too, intent. 

“It only blooms two months a year,” Jamie explains, “and only at night. Each bud only once. Tonight this one may bloom,” she glances up, meeting Dani’s eyes briefly before glancing back down, fondly, at the bud, “and then tomorrow night, new buds, back on the vine, will bloom.” She leaves out the rest, erring on the side of caution. Flora may be more than happy to listen, curious, to Jamie talk about the rampant mortality of moonflowers, but Jamie’s already pushing it, she thinks, here rubbing dirt-ridden elbows with the other families. “In the spring,” she says instead, simply, “I’ll have to plant a whole new moonflower.” 

The room is quiet, until one of Flora’s classmates raises her hand, breaking the silence. “Is it worth it?”

Jamie only grins, setting the moonflower back down on the desk next to her, spreading her hands. “You’ll have to ask Miss Clayton. You’ll tell them, yeah?” Jamie glances back at Dani again. “If it’s worth it?”

Dani blinks, opens her mouth.

The bell rings.

Dani stands quickly, trying to beat the rush before parents sweep out of the room, children in tow. “Loved ones, parents, families, thank you! Kiddos, thank you for working so hard to listen to–– And they’re gone.” She sighs, reaching up to run a hand through her hair, glancing around the room, eyes settling on the moonflower.

“Saved by the bell, huh?” 

Dani jumps, eyes shooting back to the doorway, to where Jamie’s leaning, head cocked, for the second time today.

“I–– I, uh…” 

Jamie just smiles, walking into the classroom, door swinging shut behind her. “Forgot my coat,” she explains, nodding towards the coat closet. “Thought I’d come back to grab it.” 

“Right,” Dani says breathlessly, crossing over to the coat closet to meet her. “Wouldn’t want you to be… Cold.”

Jamie looks at her, brow furrowed, smiling in spite of herself. “Yeah,” she says simply, agreeably, “coats are good for that. Keepin’ you warm.”

“Yeah,” Dani bobs her head, biting her lip, eyes slipping off of Jamie, landing everywhere but Jamie.

“Dani…” Jamie narrows her eyes, thoughtful, taking a step towards Dani, and Dani’s keenly aware of the distance closing between them. “Are you okay? I noticed, earlier, you were a little…” She trails off, eyes searching.

“Yeah, I… Yeah.” Dani smiles, looking at Jamie, offering her a watery smile. “You–– You’re really good with kids, you know? And you… You love Flora. A lot. It’s really clear.”

Jamie looks down, and Dani thinks she seems almost shy. “Nah, I’m… Just a mum.” She shrugs, toe tracing the edges of a tile on the floor. “Nothing special.”

“No,” Dani reaches out, grabbing Jamie’s wrist, and she doesn’t realize she’s done it until she’s squeezing softly, worn fabric soft between her fingers, “no, that’s not true. There are plenty of moms, plenty of parents, who don’t… Who can’t…” She bites her cheek, pursing her lips to the side. “You are special,” she says with finality, almost unaware of her fingers dragging down Jamie’s wrist now, wrapping around her hand. “You”––she feels Jamie’s fingers wrap around hers in response, breathes in sharply––“are special.” 

They stand there for a moment, and before Dani realizes she’s doing it, before she’s conscious of the delicacy with which her thumb is stroking Jamie’s hand, Dani sees it in Jamie’s eyes, hears it in the hitch of her breath. They’re staring at each other, Dani grasps dumbly, and neither of them are moving, but the distance between them seems to be shrinking with every passing moment, Jamie squeezing her fingers softly, their newfound gravity pulling them closer into each other. 

“Mum?” It’s Flora’s voice, door creaking as it swings open. “Are you in here?”

They jump apart, eyes wide, Dani’s fists clenching at her sides as she backs up, bumping into a coat rack, Jamie’s jaw tightening as she grabs for her coat. “I’m, uh, I’m just getting my coat,” her voice is rough as she pulls it on, shoving her arms into the sleeves. 

“Miss Clayton!” Flora grins as her head pops around the corner, finding them both. “Career Day was perfectly splendid today. Thank you.” She pauses, cocking her head, and it reminds Dani of Jamie, and of the way a cat watches a mouse. “What are you doing in the closet?”

“Oh,” Dani forces a nervous smile, “just talkin’ to your mom as she gets her coat. Learning more about that moonflower there.”

Flora smiles again, placated. “I do hope you like it, Miss Clatyon. They really are lovely when they bloom.” She looks up at Jamie, offering her hand, expectant.

“Yeah,” Jamie zips up her coat, glancing over at Dani before taking Flora’s hand. “Make sure you, uh, keep an eye on it tonight. Wouldn’t want to miss out, would you?”

“N–– No,” Dani shakes her head, feels the shake threatening her hands, clenches her fists tighter. “You’re right, I wouldn’t.”

“Right.” Jamie lets Flora lead her out of the classroom, glancing back over her shoulder, giving Dani a smile that’s small, almost bleak. “See you ‘round, Miss Clayton.” 

“See… See you.”

And then they’re gone, and Dani’s alone in the coat closet, with a moonflower waiting to expire.

Chapter Text

Flora’s been asking––begging––since the close of Career Day that afternoon, slipping into the backseat of Jamie’s truck, stars in her eyes, to get to school early. “I want to know,” Flora had been borderline petulant, even then, a mere thirty minutes after the fact, “what she thinks of the moonflower.”

Jamie had lifted her eyes to the rearview mirror, glancing back at her with a murmured “seatbelt on, Flora,” otherwise quiet the rest of the drive home.

Flora’s preoccupation had continued all afternoon, into the evening, the two of them eating takeaway from Flora’s favorite Indian spot, Jamie refusing, stubbornly, to even entertain the idea of cooking. It’s a struggle for her even on a normal night, burned sauce congealed to the sides of a pot left abandoned, soaking, in the sink for two days, let alone one where she’d found herself, fingers tangled with Dani’s in a children’s coat closet–– No, she corrects herself. Let alone one where she could’ve––would’ve––kissed her daughter’s teacher on school property. 

Jamie hasn’t let herself forget it, not driving home, fingers tight around the steering wheel; not grabbing Flora’s pastel pink backpack, slinging it easily over a shoulder, reaching out to run shaking fingers quickly over Flora’s hair as she rushes past her, hurrying to find Miles for their afternoon playdate; not now, at dinner, tearing off a piece of garlic naan, shoving it into her saag paneer, jaw tight, listening to Flora carry on.

“I know it hasn’t bloomed yet,” Flora glances, fidgeting, out the window, “but perhaps it’s starting?”

Jamie looks up, jaw softening as she takes in Flora’s face, all at once eager and apprehensive and wanting, eyes dancing around the kitchen window, flitting along the horizon line. 

She can’t ruin this for Flora, she thinks. She won’t ruin this for Flora.

Flora needs someone like Dani in her life, Jamie knows, a role model, someone she can look up to who’s not Jamie, someone who will keep her curious, challenge her, engage her imagination in all the ways Jamie can’t. Flora needs someone who will balance out Jamie’s rough edges, someone who can show her softness, who can afford vulnerability, the means for which Jamie, devoted wholly and entirely to protecting Flora, to keeping her safe in a world that’s felt so determined for so long to run her ragged, can’t meet.

Flora needs someone to teach her fractions, someone who learned them herself. Someone who had an education that was even the least bit consistent.

Flora needs someone who doesn’t know the difference between pants and trousers, an American maybe, who can pull a subsequent laugh out of Flora when Flora starts to get lost, meandering, in the recesses of her own thoughts. 

Flora needs someone who can see her for so much more than what she is, for the hundreds of thousands of Floras she could be, because as much as Jamie can pour into her all the love and the effort and the nourishment she has, Flora is her daughter. Flora is her daughter, and Jamie is still hung up on her own past, on Jamie, not Louise, on Jamie, not Louise, and now too Flora. Flora needs someone looking out for the Flora to come, Flora for Flora’s sake, whoever she is, ready, waiting with open arms.

Flora needs someone to be cool, effortlessly cool, when Jamie can’t be, when Jamie has to dole out consequences, or broccoli, or when Flora’s seventeen and––Jamie can feel her teeth grinding into each other––dating. 

Scratch that last one, Jamie thinks, because who still talks to their year four teacher when they’re seventeen? Stupid.

Flora’s needed someone like Dani Clayton her whole life, and Jamie isn’t about to ruin it for her.

“Might be just starting,” Jamie offers quietly.

Flora hums to herself, staring out the window a moment more before turning back to her plate, greasy fingers reaching for a samosa.

Jamie hasn’t… Dated really, hasn’t had the time to. Not with Flora, with work... With Flora. Couldn’t spend the night anywhere, doesn’t have anyone to watch Flora for that long, wouldn’t want to, anyway.

People, to Jamie, aren’t worth the effort.

And yet…

She hadn’t even realized it was happening, hadn’t realized she’d been flirting with Dani, had fallen into it so easily, so effortlessly, all at once warm and familiar and safe. Her cheeks flush when she thinks of it, and she feels a small swoop in her stomach when she thinks of the way Dani had looked at her during her failed attempt to sneak, late, into… What was it called? Back-to-school night, of the nervous, roving glances Jamie knows Dani thought she’d missed, all day long, throughout Career Day. 

Coat closet, Jamie reminds herself. Teacher. School property. The same school that she’s finally getting to know, that Flora loves so much. Jamie refuses to let herself sully that.

Flora picks at her samosa for less than a minute before sighing deeply.

Jamie looks up at her, eyebrows raised, lips pressed together.

“It’s just that… Oh, I want to know terribly what she thinks of it.” Flora pauses for a moment, cocks her head at Jamie. “Don’t you?”

Jamie reaches for her napkin, swallowing, buying herself time. “Yeah, I,” she manages, “I'd like to know what she thinks, too.”

That seems to please Flora, and she nods, content, shoving the rest of the samosa into her mouth.

Jamie doesn’t have to wait long, it turns out.

She’s leaning against Flora’s doorframe, brow furrowed and arms crossed as she watches Flora slip into sleep, Jamie’s own breath slowing, calming, as if to match Flora’s, when the phone rings. 

Jamie jumps, managing to slam her elbow against the edge of the doorframe, doing her best to bite back a curse. She glances nervously over at Flora, satisfied to find her curling into her pillow, before scrambling back to the kitchen to grab the phone, and, rubbing her arm sourly, pins the receiver between her ear and her shoulder. “What?”

“Are… Are you okay?”

And here’s Dani Clayton, Jamie thinks, letting herself fall back against the wall, her feet sliding forward in front of her, sinking down. Because of course.


“You just…” There’s a pause, a rustle, then: “Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t realize ‘what?’ was a common way to greet someone in England.”

Jamie laughs, and it’s hollow, Dani notes, but it’s a laugh. She’ll take it.

“Sorry,” Jamie runs a hand through her hair, sighs. “I just got Flora to bed is all. And then I… Banged my bloody elbow on the doorframe coming to get the phone, and…” She trails off, holding up her arm, twisting it around in front of her to try to get a good look at her elbow. 

“Oh no,” and it’s soft, light. “Do you, uh, have a first aid kit?”

“Dani, I have an eight year-old whose best friend’s idea of fun is to jump out of trees. Of course I have a first aid kit.”

Dani chuckles, and Jamie forces herself to focus on the pain ringing through her elbow instead. “Then you have to have an ice pack, right?”

Dani hears Jamie’s silence, hears her stop moving. Can practically hear the gears in Jamie’s head turning, hear her realize.

“Here, go get it right now. I’ll wait.”

There’s a pause, the clatter of Jamie resting the receiver on the table, the sound of footsteps waning, a freezer door opening, closing, footsteps waxing. A rustle, and then Dani can hear Jamie breathing again.

“Ice pack ready?”

“Ice pack ready,” Jamie echoes. 

“Now”––if Jamie were thinking clearly, she might wonder if Flora’s heard this voice in the classroom before, if this is the tone, honey-voiced, that won Flora over, that made Dani Clayton a permanent fixture in the vast halls of her heart––“I need you to promise me something.”

Jamie grunts, noncommittal. 

“I need you to promise me you’re not going to take the ice off. That you’re going to leave it there, no matter how cold it gets.”

“I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself, you know.” 

“Are you?” Jamie can hear the challenge in her voice, playful, can practically see the arch of Dani’s eyebrow.

Jamie doesn’t answer, just sinks back down against the wall, all the way to the floor, pressing the ice pack to her elbow. She inhales sharply, through her teeth, and she swears she can hear Dani chuckle again. “Snot funny,” she breathes out, “Scold.”

“Then it’s going to be cold for fifteen more minutes,” Dani says blandly. “Good thing you have me to keep you company.” 

“I’m beginning to wonder if maybe it isn’t,” Jamie grits her teeth, but stays the ice pack against her skin.

Dani only sniffs, laughing through her nose.

Neither of them says anything, and then Dani’s speaking, quietly: “you... Have to remember to take care of yourself too, you know. And don’t even think about telling me you do,” she adds quickly, “because I just… I just heard you realize the first aid kit you bought for Flora will work just the same on you. And I know it’s easier said than done, but… Look, I... I had someone once tell me that,” Dani’s voice hitches, just a little, “you have to put your own oxygen mask on first. I’m not saying I’m good at it, because I’m not.” Dani laughs nervously. “I’m definitely not. But… It helps? Sometimes.”

“You sure about that?” Jamie’s voice is rougher than she’d like.

Dani laughs. “Try it. I dare you.”

Jamie “mm”s thoughtfully, adjusting the ice pack against her arm. “How, uh, how are you, then?”

“Oh,” Dani sounds surprised. “I’m… I’m good. Grading these, uh… These times tables.”

“You mean the ones you had all day to do?”

Dani can hear the smirk in Jamie’s voice, can feel the flush spreading across her own face. “Maybe you were right,” she tries, defensive, “maybe I hadn’t seen a Career Day like this one before. Those were some very… Informative presentations.”

“Yeah, trade legislation. Riveting stuff.”

“Uh-huh,” Dani clings to the suggestion, overeager.

Jamie pauses. Considers. Decides not to spare her. “Dani,” she says, and Dani can hear the mirth in Jamie’s voice, dreading whatever comes next. “No one talked about trade legislation today.” 

Jamie can hear Dani’s mouth open, close, then open again.

Jamie’s voice is low. “What exactly is it you were doing all day, Miss Clayton?”

Jamie can practically see the way Dani’s mouth curls, caught, and Jamie just knows that, were she there, Dani would bite her lip, glance over at Jamie––

Coat closet. Teacher. School property.

“Fuck,” Jamie breathes out, letting her head fall back against the wall behind her. “Dani…”

“What?” In any other situation, Jamie muses, she would be endeared by how fast Dani goes from comfortable, if nervous, to unmoored. Charmed, even. “Is it your elbow? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I–– My elbow’s fine. Cold as shit, but it’s fine. It’s just…” Her voice is low. “What are we doing, Dani?”


“You, me. Us. This. What happened today, it’s…”

“If you’re talking about… About Flora walking in, you’re right, I’m sorry. It’s–– It’s totally my fault, and it won’t–– Not in school, I won’t––”

“It’s not… Just in school, it’s…” Jamie looks around the kitchen, chest tight. “You’re Flora’s teacher,” she whispers. “And this… Whatever this is, I can’t do it. I can’t put Flora’s education on the line. I’m sorry Dani,” her voice cracks, “but I can’t.” 

“Oh,” Dani’s voice is small. “You’re right, it–– It’s not professional. I shouldn’t have even… I’m sorry.” 

“Yeah,” Jamie’s voice matches hers, “me too.”

They’re quiet again.

“So, uh, why did you call?” Jamie finally asks. “In the first place?” 

Dani stays quiet a little longer, then lets out a breathy sigh. “The… The moonflower,” and there’s a rustle as if Dani is turning, looking over at something, “it bloomed. It bloomed, and I guess I could’ve waited until tomorrow to tell you, but since it… You said it...”

“It’ll be gone by morning, yeah.”

“…I just wanted to make sure I told you when it was still here. It’s beautiful.”

“It’s where all its beauty lies, you know,” Jamie bites the inside of her cheek. “In the mortality of the thing.”

They’re quiet once more, and they stay like that, Jamie’s knees drawn tight to her chest, leaning back against the wall, ice still pressed to her elbow, and Dani sitting, cross-legged, in bed, staring over at the dying bud, opening, finally, on her windowsill. 

Jamie’s late.

Jamie’s late, which means Flora’s late, and late is the last thing Flora had wanted to be.

Flora’s rushing her from the start, scrambling into Jamie’s room before she’s even awake, tugging at her shoulder. “Come on,” she’d insisted, fingers wrapping around the sleeve of Jamie’s pajama top, “we have to get moving if I’m going to be there with enough time to talk to Miss Clayton.”

Jamie only rolls over, a “Flora, please,” groaned into her pillow. 

She isn’t sure what time she went to sleep last night, doesn’t know how long she and Dani had stayed there like that, silent, waiting, on the line. Jamie doesn’t know for what, and she doesn’t expect Dani does either; all she knows is that when she’d finally risen to her feet, legs stiff, ice pack long thawed, to hang the phone on the receiver, she’d taken care to avert her eyes from the clock hanging next to it.

She’d avoided the alarm clock beside her bed, too, second hand an easy metronome to the sleepless symphony playing out in her head as she lay there, staring up at the ceiling. Jamie wants to tell herself it wasn’t anything, an almost at best, to remind herself that whatever she and Dani were––weren’t––it had spanned the hefty eon of one back-to-school night and a Career Day. 

On some level, Jamie knows, it’s an unfair assessment. She knows there’s a reason it’s so easy with Dani, that she falls into step with her, slips so freely into flirtation without even realizing it, that, with Dani, putting in effort doesn’t feel like effort at all.

One back-to-school night, a Career Day, and an almost kiss. A kiss that would’ve happened, infallible if not for Flora.

But for Jamie, everything else is fallible when it comes to Flora. 

Her sleep, even, is fallible: Flora, spurred on by Jamie’s nonresponse, dips her fingers carefully in the glass of water on Jamie’s nightstand, and, biting her lip, lifts her fingers slowly, carefully.

Jamie’s awakened by a sudden influx of water in her ear, leaping up with an “oi! Flora!”

Flora jumps back, hands clutched to her chest, giggling. 

Jamie narrows her eyes at her, catching her breath. “I’m gonna get you one of these days, Flora Taylor.”

Flora raises her eyebrows, eyes wide, unmoving, meeting Jamie’s.

The two of them are still, staring.

And then the ball of Flora’s foot squeaks softly against the floor and she’s turning, running, and Jamie’s throwing her covers off, chasing her down the hall and towards the bathroom, bearing down on her, one arm sweeping under her legs to scoop her up. Flora screams, giggles, and Jamie laughs, tickling her.

When Jamie finally sets Flora down just inside the bathroom door, Flora’s beaming up at her.

Jamie beams back, reaches for their toothbrush cup, passes Flora hers wordlessly, watching as Flora fastidiously squeezes a pea-sized dollop of toothpaste in the middle of her toothbrush before holding the toothpaste out to Jamie. 

Jamie watches their reflection in the mirror, the two of them brushing their teeth together, glancing at each other, nodding, switching sides, Flora leaning forward against the sink to get a closer look.

It’s the two of them, Jamie thinks. Everything else is fallible.

Because Flora’s late, Jamie has to do what she’s branded her own personal walk of shame, something that’s so frequent an occurrence its steps are second nature to her now.

She parks her truck, pulling self-consciously into a space marked “parent parking.”

She grabs Flora’s hand.

She walks her to the front office.

She signs her in with one of the administrators there, apologizing profusely as they smile up at her, knowing, expectant.

She bends down to wrap her arms around Flora, hugging her tight, Flora burying her face in Jamie’s hair. 

Flora gets walked to her classroom, Jamie incurring another minute of her own tardiness to watch her go, before rushing, hastily back to her truck.

Today though?

Jamie’s pushing open the heavy doors to the front office, leaning her weight against them, Flora trailing, pouting, sullen, at Jamie’s complete lack of punctuality.

There’s Hannah, at the front desk, and Jamie’s already crossing to her, automatic, when––

“Miss Clayton!” Flora’s dropping Jamie’s hand, sprinting the rest of the distance to Hannah’s desk.

Dani’s leaning against it, arms crossed, and the crease between her brow melts, her face breaking into a grin when she sees Flora, Flora crashing into Dani’s waist, wrapping her arms around her tightly. “Flora!”

“The moonflower,” Flora breathes into Dani’s t-shirt, “did it open? What did you think?”

“It was beautiful.” Dani extricates herself from Flora’s arms, dropping to one knee in front of her. “Thank you, Flora. For such a lovely gift.”

“You must thank my mum, too,” Flora says seriously, glancing back at Jamie, frozen halfway to Hannah’s desk, hands hanging uselessly at her sides. “It was from the both of us.”

Dani’s grin softens, and she reaches up to brush a strand of Flora’s hair back behind an ear. “You’re right,” she says, voice quiet, and glances, finally, over at Jamie.

Jamie shoves her hands into her coat pockets, staring stubbornly at her boots. 

“Thank you, Jamie,” Dani says, slow, deliberate. “It was beautiful.”

Jamie’s eyes drag, in spite of herself, over to Dani. She swallows, nods.

“Flora,” Hannah’s standing up behind her desk, glancing from Flora to Dani to Jamie and back down to Flora again, “why don’t I walk you to class, hmm?”

“But I want to stay with Miss Clayton.”

Dani’s eyes flit back to Flora, and she’s smiling again. “The rest of the class is in art right now. And,” she raises her eyebrows at Flora, leaning in, “I heard a rumor they’re doing crayon rubbings today. Would be a shame,” Dani stands up, brushing off her skirt, careful in her nonchalance, tracking the glint in Flora’s eyes, “if you missed it.”

Flora looks up at Dani, furrowing her brow.

“Flora’s been talking about crayon rubbings for a while now,” Dani explains, looking at Jamie, inclining her head ever so slightly. 

Jamie twigs. “Ah, you can’t miss that then, can ya, Flora?” She raises her eyebrows at Flora. 

Flora bites the inside of her cheek. “No,” she looks at the ground, “I suppose not.”

Flora glances back at Jamie, who raises an eyebrow, holding out Flora’s backpack. 

“I’m still cross with you,” Flora says, making her way back to Jamie, slipping her backpack over her shoulders, Dani and Hannah glancing at each other, amused. “But I do love you, you know.”

Jamie swallows, pressing her lips together. “I love you too, sprout.” 

Flora smiles, eyes twinkling, leaning in to hug Jamie, quickly, before looking, expectant, at Hannah.

The two are making their way out, Flora just getting started, animatedly describing crayon rubbings to Hannah, when Flora pauses, one last time, glancing back at Dani. “Oh, Miss Clayton,” she sighs. “Let me do one for you. I’ll do it in blue, to match your eyes. It will be splendid.”

Dani laughs. “Okay.”

“Don’t you think,” Flora looks back at Jamie, eyes sparkling, “that her eyes are splendid?” Then Flora’s turning, following Hannah out the door and around the corner.

Jamie scoffs, incredulous, staring after her.

Dani chuckles. “It… It’s okay,” she says when Jamie finally turns back around, shaking her head. “You don’t have to say anything. But,” she lights on the corner of Hannah’s desk, “you do need to fill out the sign-in sheet.” She grabs a clipboard from the desk, holding it out to Jamie, eyes glancing around the office, at anywhere but Jamie. 

Jamie accepts it from her, reaching out carefully, keeping her distance––more for her own sake, she thinks, than Dani’s––as she balances the clipboard on her knee, scribbling Flora’s name, the time, her signature. 

She can hear Dani’s fingers, tapping, nervous, along the edge of Hannah’s desk.

“Right then,” Jamie looks back up, holding the clipboard back out to Dani.

Dani takes it, biting her lip, reticent. 

Jamie sighs, glances around the office. “What’s up?” She asks lowly.

“It’s not––” Dani glances around too. “It’s nothing… Like that. It’s, uh,” she sighs. “Look, I’m sorry to ask this after…” She widens her eyes at Jamie, and Jamie nods, knowing. “But Hannah was just telling me we… We need more parents this year. For field trips?”

Jamie sighs, pressing her fingers into her brow. “Dani…”

“I know,” Dani glances around the office again, sliding off of Hannah’s desk and crossing closer to Jamie, and Jamie feels her whole body tense, forcing herself to stay still, upright, even though all she wants to do is lean forward. “And I’ll respect that,” Dani whispers, “promise. But just… Think about it? It’s for field trips, so we’d be busy, and there’d be kids, other chaperones, around the whole time, so…”

Jamie’s quiet, lips pursed, thinking. “Other chaperones…” She finally says, corner of her mouth twisting up in a nascent grin, “for the kids?” 

Dani laughs, backing up to lean against Hannah’s desk again. The only response Jamie gets is a raise of her eyebrows, Dani’s blue eyes twinkling.

Jamie knows how much back-to-school day had meant to Flora. Knows how much Career Day had meant, too. If she’s doing... Whatever it is she’s definitely not doing with Dani for Flora, it makes sense that she do this for Flora, too. Besides, Jamie scuffs her boot lightly against the carpet, thoughtful, she had wanted to get more involved at Flora’s school. Here was an opportunity, an open invitation, fallen right into her lap.

“Send Flora home with the dates, then?”

Dani beams at her from her perch on Hannah’s desk. “You bet.”

Jamie nods, pursing her lips again. She lets her eyes linger for a moment before tearing them away from Dani’s. “Right. Thanks,” she turns to the door, pauses. Turns back. “Flora’s, uh, right, you know.”

“About what?”

But then Jamie’s cringing, visibly tensing, and, offering a small wave of her fingers, slips out the door. 

Dani sighs, slouching back on Hannah’s desk, deflating.

“You know she was referring to what Flora said,” Rebecca’s voice chirps from the Xerox machine in the back of the office, quiet up until this moment. “That bit about your eyes.”

Dani can only groan.

They work, the field trips. 

They work for Jamie, reveling in the opportunity to spend more time with Flora in a new space, her school space. She gets to see the way Flora interacts with her classmates, gets to meet Flora’s friends, gets to see that smile from Dani that Flora talks about so much, the one that Flora alone seems to be able to unearth. She gets to meet other classroom parents, bolstered by the way they laud her Career Day presentation, shaking their hands with firm confidence, a grin, a twinkle in her eyes. And when they all want to hire her for their elaborate gardening projects? Well, Jamie thinks, that’s icing on the cake. Most of all though, the field trips are worth it for Flora, tangling her fingers with Jamie’s, or scrambling up onto Jamie’s shoulders, beaming, as they journey through zoos and museums and whatever other places the trips take them.

They work for Dani, relieved to have an extra pair of hands to wrangle wandering eight year-olds––Jamie’s good at wrangling––and handle quick headcounts on the bus, giving Dani time to check in with the bus driver, to thank a tour guide, to actually grade multiplication drills on the bus. (Mostly grade, if she’s being honest with herself.) Having Jamie there also gives Flora ample distraction; as much as Dani loves her, wants to spend all the time in the world with her, endlessly fascinated by her imagined stories and overly-dramatized accounts, Flora’s presence is exuberant and demanding, and Dani’s responsible for twenty-two other students, twenty-two other students with demands of their own to meet. A little extra help, Dani thinks, in the form of Jamie, leaning down to scoop Flora up, effortless and practiced, forearms flexing, at the end of a particularly grueling field trip to a nature reserve, is more than welcome.

They work, most of all, for Flora. Flora, who insists on clutching Jamie’s hand in one of hers, holding Dani’s, adamant, whenever possible, in the other. Flora gets to spend time with her two most favorite people in the world, Jamie, firm, brusque and funny and staunch in her love, and Dani, light, warm and silly and with kindness unending. Flora’s especially delighted when she insists on sitting in the back of the bus, head tucked and giggling with one of her friends, watching Jamie and Dani look at each other out of the corner of her eye, Dani biting her lip, Jamie shrugging, the two of them sliding into a seat next to each other. She’s even more so when she falls asleep during a late presentation at the nature reserve, waking up halfway through the night ride back, tucked under a blanket in the chilly bus, spread out across her own seat. Across from her are Jamie and Dani, snug under blankets of their own, angled into each other, heads ducked, close. Flora can’t make out their murmurs, but they’re close, so close, and even though her mum’s back is to her, she catches the nervous bounce of her toe on the rubber mat of the bus, can see Miss Clayton’s eyes, heavy-lidded, taking in as much of Jamie as possible. Flora smiles and closes her eyes again, surrendering herself to a bus ride of dream-hopping. 

“Miles, I’m serious,” she whispers, intent, to him later, sitting at the top of a climber on the playground, feet dangling over the edge, surveying Jamie and Henry, sitting on the benches resting alongside railroad tile-bound wood chips. “It really is working, I think.”

“It should be,” Miles says, bored. “Your… Field trips. They’re like dates, aren’t they?”

Flora crinkles her nose. “What do you mean, dates? They’re watching over all of us children.”

“Yes, but what are they doing while they manage all of you? Going to the zoo, the museum…”

Flora cocks her head at him, thoughtful. “But they don’t have time for them,” she says finally. “They don’t have time away from all of us.”

“Parent-teacher conferences are coming up, aren’t they?” Miles picks at a fingernail. “Maybe something will happen then.”

“I thought Miss Clayton would have called again by now,” Flora continues, distracted. “I wonder why she hasn’t.”

“Maybe she has, and you haven’t been awake.”

Flora’s quiet again, pensive. “Just think about it, Miles. Having Miss Clayton as a mother.” 

“You already have a mother.”

“Yes, but that’s the whole point. I could have two.” Flora sighs wistfully, staring out over the playground, kicking her feet in the open air below her.

Miles sighs too, decisively less wistful. He’s starting to regret ever saying anything.

Parent-teacher conferences are not Dani’s forte. 

Back-to-school night she can do. Career Day she can do (this year’s, she insists stubbornly to herself, is an exception). Parent-teacher conferences, however?

Classroom management is hard for her as is. Twenty-two students is less than the twenty-five she’d had back in the States, certainly, but… Tack twenty-two families onto that? There’s still too many of them, Dani thinks, and too little of her.

She prepares, of course she prepares, pages of detailed notes carefully typed out and highlighted, organized, sorted into alphabetical order by last name, grouped with workbooks and classroom artwork. She memorizes family dynamics, even asks Rebecca for the latest in the realm of parent gossip, much to Hannah’s chagrin.

It doesn’t help that the conferences are only ten minutes each, families moving through her classroom as if through a revolving door, with barely enough time for pleasantries. Dani goes through each set of conference notes meticulously, charting out different paths each conference could take, preparing herself to pivot based on whatever parental affinities she meets.

(There are some paths, for Flora’s conference specifically, she markedly does not consider.)

Dani never once stops to consider that maybe her mother was right, maybe she is anxious.

She makes it through all but the last two conferences of the day without incident, maintaining her wide, easy smile, notes efficient, productive, swapping stories with families about their students. She even, quite proudly, lands a few jokes, makes a few parents laugh.

It all comes to a screeching halt, however, with Isabel Lloyd’s mother.

At first, Dani tries to see the good in her, tries to spin it: she loves her daughter, Dani tells herself, she loves her daughter so much, and is willing to do anything for her. Unfortunately for Dani, “anything” turns out to include Mrs. Lloyd shoving her finger in her daughter’s teacher’s face, yelling at her from across the desk, and, ultimately, storming out, feet dragging across the linoleum, leaving scuff marks, when Dani tells her she can’t provide Isabel with any further individualized attention, that she’s spread too thin.

So Dani cries. 

She buries her head in hands and she cries, shoulders shaking, tears hot, over her desk.

“Hey, I’m a little early, but the door was open, so I thought I’d–– Dani? You all right?”

Dani freezes. 

She hears the soft click of the door closing, the squeak of Jamie’s sneakers on the tile, rubbing out the scuff marks as she goes, the drag of a chair being pulled, pulled around her desk and next to her own. 

She feels Jamie tense, hesitating, and then she feels Jamie’s hand on her back.

“Is this okay?”

Dani nods, hiccups.

Jamie’s hand starts to move, slowly, gently, rubbing wide circles against her sweater. “You wanna talk about it?”

Dani sniffs, lifting her head, turning puffy eyes to Jamie. “This is so embarrassing,” she finally mumbles, reaching for a tissue.

“Nothing embarrassing about a few tears,” Jamie shrugs. “I cry three, maybe four times a day,” she pauses, pursing her lips, “five, if I’m really being honest with myself. How else do you think I keep all those fucking plants watered?”

Dani laughs, finally, rubbing at her eyes. 

“With my endless well of deep, inconsolable tears,” Jamie continues, grinning now, waggling an eyebrow at Dani, “that’s how.”

“Still,” Dani’s stubborn, despite the smile stretching slowly across her face, “it’s unprofessional.”

Jamie ducks her head, laughs. “I think me and you have run the gamut of unprofessional, Miss Clayton. I mean, look at me, I’m––” She looks at her hand on Dani’s back, realizes. “Shit.” She pulls her hand away, but it’s slow, almost apologetic, and she pretends not to notice the way Dani shivers as she does. 

Dani closes her eyes, shakes her head. “Do you… Do you wanna start this over?”

“Please,” Jamie pushes herself up out of her seat, drags it back around to the opposite side of Dani’s desk. “Let me just…” She winks at Dani, and then she’s walking backwards, retracing her steps back out of the classroom, and around the corner.

This time, Jamie knocks. “You decent?” Her voice is lilting, teasing.

Dani laughs again, presses her fingers to her temples, then smiles. “Come in.” 

The rest of the conference goes off seamlessly, Jamie listening, attentive, as Dani details Flora’s academic progress, her social emotional growth, her love, particularly, of dramatic play.

“Ah, yeah,” Jamie nods knowingly, “story time.”

“Story time?”

“Yeah, she does this thing…” Jamie’s brow crinkles, “Story time. She’ll get into the makeup, come up with these rhymes, these riddles, act it all out… Can I be honest with you about something?” 

Dani blinks, nods. “Of course.”

Jamie leans in, voice low, conspiratorial. “I don’t really like story time.”

Dani laughs. 

“Seriously, Dani, you have no idea,” Jamie leans back in her seat, shrugs. “Takes a couple glasses of red wine to get me through it. One day,” Jamie grins to herself, “when she’s not expecting it, I’m going to sit down and tell Flora a story of my own. And it’s gonna be so long,” she pulls her hands out of her pockets, holds her arms out for emphasis. “See how she likes story time then.”

Dani shakes her head, grinning, at Jamie. “I see where Flora gets it from.”

“Gets what from?”

Dani raises her eyebrows, pressing her lips together in a vain attempt to hold back a smirk.

Jamie narrows her eyes at her.

Dani’s timer goes off. 

Jamie blinks. “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Dani shrugs. “Ten whole minutes,” she adds bitterly, “all to cover half a year’s development.”

Jamie laughs, standing. “Tell me how you really feel.”

Dani gives her a dark look, slipping her notes into her desk drawer, standing too. “If you wanna talk more about Flora…”

“Nah,” Jamie waves a vague hand at Dani. “I trust you. Look,” she adds, leveling her eyes to Dani’s, suddenly serious, “you’re doing great. You’re doing great.”

Dani ducks her head. “Thank you,” she says softly. “Do you, uh,” she pulls on her jacket, “wanna walk out together? You’re my last conference of the day.”

“Lucky me.”

Not sarcastic this time, Dani thinks. Definitely not sarcastic. 

Dani flicks off the lights, locking the door behind her, as Jamie follows her, a half step behind, to the entrance. 

“Well,” Jamie says, glancing around, doors to the school slamming shut behind them, “I think we did it.”

“Did what?” Dani falls in step with Jamie as they walk towards the parking lot, Jamie making her way to her truck, neatly parked in a parent parking space towards the front.

“Managed a whole night together,” Jamie digs her keys out of her pocket, “just the two of us. No chaperones.” 

Dani laughs. “Managed ten minutes together, just the two of us.” Her feet come to a halt, shuffling, just across from Jamie.

“Come on now,” Jamie unlocks her car door, turning back to Dani, “give us some credit. It was thirteen minutes at least, when you count that bit where, uh, you were acting mental and I had to talk you down.”

Dani laughs, stepping in closer to Jamie. “How could I forget?” She asks wryly.

“Dunno,” Jamie shrugs, stepping in too, “feels like a pretty big oversight, that.” 

“Wouldn’t want to short our ability to keep it professional,” Dani’s fists clench and unclench at her sides.

“Definitely not,” Jamie agrees, eyes dipping down to Dani’s lips, “definitely wouldn’t want to do that.”

And then they’re kissing. 

They’re kissing, colliding, both unsure of who’d moved first, the only surety in Dani’s hands, finding Jamie’s face, and Jamie’s arms, wrapping around Dani. It’s hard and desperate, the pinnacle of something buried, pushed down across time and telephone lines and bus rides, rising back up to the surface, breaking ground, finally, in the cool night air.

They kiss as long as they can, lips insistent, their hands heavy, each of them dragging the other closer, deeper, into her. When they finally part it’s out of necessity, Dani’s chest heaving, Jamie’s head falling forward, forehead resting against Dani’s.

“We, uh,” Jamie struggles to catch her breath, can’t seem to find a rhythm, hands squeezing Dani’s shoulders, “can’t do that again.”

“No,” Dani agrees, and Jamie can feel Dani’s breath on her lips, one of Dani’s hands sliding around to the back of Jamie’s neck, “we can’t.”

Their second kiss is softer, careful, their lips moving slowly against each other’s. One of Jamie’s hands finds its way into Dani’s hair, cradling the back of her head carefully, Dani shuffling in closer, closer still, until even their legs are touching, sighing into the kiss, can feel Jamie smiling against her lips in response.

It’s the smile that did it, Dani will think later, that goddamn curl at the corners of Jamie’s mouth that she could feel against her own. 

Dani drags her tongue along Jamie’s bottom lip, slow, deliberate, and when Jamie gasps, Dani grins, proud, against her mouth. Jamie retaliates, tugging Dani forward, letting herself fall back against the car door, and Dani moans when Jamie’s tongue sweeps into her mouth, sliding against hers.

Their kiss is heavy now, and Dani’s hands are wandering, one coming to lean against the door of Jamie’s truck, supporting her as she presses herself into Jamie, the other skimming around Jamie’s coat, slipping into her pockets, finding the zipper, tugging at it. Jamie feels Dani’s free hand slip inside her coat, feels Dani’s hand, warm, splay against her sternum, lets her own hands slide to Dani’s lower back, pulling her in.

When they finally pull apart, Dani presses her body into Jamie’s, leaning forward, resting her head against the cool metal of the truck door, Jamie’s arms snaking around her waist even as she whispers, “I need to go.”

They’re still for a moment, and then Dani’s pulling away from the truck, hesitating. “Should we…”

“Probably, yeah,” Jamie swallows, her thumbs tracing soft circles against Dani’s back, Dani shivering as they dip lower, “but Henry’s been entertaining Flora far longer than anyone ought to––”

Dani’s lips press against hers again, and Jamie hums into the kiss.

“I’ll call you,” Dani murmurs against her lips when they pull apart again, “later, once she’s in bed.”

“Yeah,” Jamie murmurs back dumbly, “okay.”

She feels Dani smile against her lips again, taking her time as she pulls away, pausing, to zip Jamie’s coat back up. “Wouldn’t want you to catch a chill,” she whispers, stepping back. “Goodnight, Jamie Taylor.”

Jamie purses her lips, considering.

Fuck it, she finally thinks. She’s already fucked it up this much. 

She reaches out, grabs Dani’s hand, pulls her in one last time. “Goodnight,” Jamie whispers into the kiss, “Dani Clayton.”

Chapter Text

“Well?” Flora’s eyes are wide, imploring, as Jamie gathers Flora’s papers, inundated with colorful scribbles, shuffling them together, sliding them into her backpack. “What happened?”

“How do you mean?” Jamie zips Flora’s backpack shut with a flourish, slings it over her shoulder, smiles. “We talked about you, munchkin.”

Jamie calls Flora a lot of things––sprout, gremlin, even named her after the flowers she loves so much (“it’s Latin,” Flora had explained, grave, to Miles once, “a dead language. It’s funny though,” she’d mused, pursing her lips, “that some people still know it, even if it is dead. It must not really be gone then, because it’s living right here, in me”)––but munchkin, Flora knows, is something her mum only calls her when she’s feeling particularly sentimental. She and Miles exchange a look.

“What about me?” Flora asks, trying to sound as incurious as possible as Jamie’s hand presses softly against her back, steering her towards the door, Jamie nodding gratefully at Henry as they leave. 

“We talked about your maths,” they slip into the hallway, walking towards their flat, “and your English,” Flora tries not to look bored, “and your friends. I told Miss Clayton about story time,” Jamie adds, a slight shiver running through her, even though her coat is zipped up.

“Was there anything else, though?” Flora looks up at Jamie hopefully as Jamie slips her key into the lock on the door to their flat. “Please, you must tell me.”

Jamie holds the door open for Flora, looking down at her, bemused. “I ‘must’ do nothing, Flora Taylor. You’re lucky I even told you as much as I did. Parent-teacher conferences,” she reaches down, tweaks Flora’s nose, “are meant to be confidential.”

“Confidential,” Flora breathes out. 

“Now,” Jamie hangs Flora’s backpack on a hook by the door, grinning down at her. “What do you say we order dinner tonight? Your choice.” 

Flora cocks her head at her. “Anything?”

“Yeah. Anything.” Jamie reaches for the zipper of her coat, pauses, face softening as her fingers glance briefly across it before tugging downward and slipping her coat off, hanging it next to Flora’s backpack.

“Even if it’s something dreadful?” Flora’s pressing, curious, to see how far Jamie’s burgeoning benevolence will reach.

“You trying to tell me you’ve suddenly started liking porridge?” Jamie raises an eyebrow.

“Porridge,” Flora says dismissively, “is a breakfast food.” She crinkles her nose, sighs. “You’re quite sure you can’t tell me anything else about the conference?”

“Sure as a sunflower.”

Flora cocks her head again, tilting it the other way. “How are sunflowers sure?” 

Jamie only shrugs, still grinning. “Anything you want, munchkin,” she says, and sweeps into the kitchen.

Despite the insistence of Flora’s curiosity, she falls asleep quickly, worn out by her own unending questioning, incessant through dinner, dessert (even if Jamie is stubborn in her refusal to divulge anything about Flora’s parent-teacher conference, she’s completely unsubtle in her offer to make Flora an ice cream sundae with extra whipped cream for absolutely no reason), and one bubble bath––extra bubbles included.

Jamie spends the rest of the evening tucked into the corner of the window seat in her room, one leg dangling off the edge, the other nestled up against her chest, alternating between glancing across her room at the phone, silent, on her bedside table and leaning out of her open window into chilled air, lifting a cigarette to her lips. She hasn’t smoked, not really, since Flora, but she can’t sit still, wasn’t able to through her drive home, through dinner and the accompanying glass of wine, through her own ice cream sundae, through a shower, scalding, after Flora’s bath. Jamie needs something, she thinks, anything to take the edge off, to stop the nerves from vibrating under her skin.

The cigarette doesn’t help.

When her phone finally does ring, for all her nervous energy, Jamie’s smooth, across the room in a flash, dragging the receiver with her back to the window seat, cord stretching, taut, across the room. “Hello?” Her voice is hoarse, hopeful.

There’s a pause, that nervous intake of breath that Jamie knows so well after a few phone calls and so many bus rides spent sharing a seat, knees brushing against each other’s with borderline intention, and then––

“Here’s the thing,” Dani’s determined, plowing forward in spite of the waver in her voice and Jamie knows immediately she’s been practicing this, mouthing the words to herself over and over, since her drive home, “I like you. I–– I like you, and I think… I think you like me, too. I think we both have… For a while now. And I know––I know––you don’t want to risk it for Flora, and I don’t either, but Jamie…” When she says Jamie’s name again, it’s a two-syllable sigh falling, shaking, from her lips, “Jamie…” 

Jamie swallows, tips her head back against the wall, presses her eyes shut.

“I… I want to pursue this. I think we owe it to ourselves to try. And… And I’ll respect you, okay? Whatever you want to do, whatever rules you want to set, but Jamie…”

Christ, Jamie thinks, the way Dani says her name. 

“Dani,” Jamie’s voice is low when she finally speaks, rough, and Dani’s so determined to keep talking, to keep moving forward, that she doesn’t hear it at first. “Dani,” Jamie says again, louder, “I… Want this too.” She swallows. “Want it a lot, actually.”

It’s a new feeling for Jamie, whose entire life the last eight years has been for Flora, every choice painstakingly calculated––if messily executed, jobs double- or triple-booked, Owen or Henry swooping in to pick Flora up from school at least a few times a month––with Flora’s best interests at heart. It’s easier to not let herself want things, to spare herself the anger and the grief Jamie knows will come with her own inevitable forced forbearance. Besides, wanting things, wanting anything, has never served her, even before Flora.

It must be easy, Jamie thinks, to want things when you know you can have them, with the security of privilege and stakes nonexistent. She’s often wondered if it could even be called wanting, then; if that, solid and sure, wasn’t just assurance. To let yourself want something, really want something, to give yourself over to it wholly and completely even when you know it may not come to pass––especially when you know it may not come to pass––requires a level of vulnerability Jamie has long since renounced. It’s futile to Jamie, inviting that kind of pain onto yourself solely for the sake of feeling.

And so wanting something, when she knows she’s going to choose Flora every time? Wanting something is not an option for Jamie.

But God, she wants.

She hears Dani’s small gasp, can practically see her fingers tightening around the receiver, drawing it closer to her lips, and it feels like their breaths are commingled even now, miles away.

“This is new to me,” Jamie says, “wanting things. Letting… Myself want things.”

“Me too,” Dani breathes.

They’re quiet for a minute, so close for all of their distance.

“I feel like I want and I want,” Dani whispers, “and I want so much and… It never happens.” Her voice cracks, and Jamie can feel something in her cracking with it.

Jamie swallows. “Doesn’t feel like something we should let go to waste then, does it?” 

Jamie can hear Dani smile against the receiver, can hear her giddy exhalation, can feel her own smile spreading, slow, across her face. Jamie sinks further back into the wall behind her, their silence comfortable.

“I wish you were here right now,” Dani finally says.

“Yeah, me too.”

Dani sighs.

“I’d…” Jamie chews on the inside of her cheek, brow furrowing, softening. “Kiss ya again, if I could. If I were.”

When Dani replies, it’s cool, the most self-assured she’s sounded all night. “Who says I wouldn’t be kissing you already?” 

“Miss Clayton, you flirt.”

Dani only laughs.

“We should, uh, probably talk about that, though.”

“Me kissing you?”

Jesus, Dani is going to be the death of her.

“Rules,” Jamie draws out the word, an (unwanted, necessary) attempt at redirection, “for us. For this.”

“Oh,” Dani laughs, nervous, again, “right.”

In the end, it’s decided: Flora cannot know (“we’d never hear the bloody end of it”), things will remain strictly platonic at school (“even in the coat closet?” Dani had asked, tone just joking enough to undercut her very real, very hopeful attempt at finding a loophole), and under no circumstances can anyone ever spend the night (“awful presumptuous of you to suggest, Miss Clayton,” to which Dani had replied, blandly, innocently, “I’m only being realistic”).

They’re quiet again after that, Jamie leaning against the wall behind her, staring, thoughtful, out the window, Dani splayed out on her bed, fingers twining once, twice, three times around her phone cord, staring up at the ceiling. This time it doesn’t feel like they’re waiting for anything.

Jamie glances back over at the other end of the window seat, at the pots nestled there, smiles. “Hey,” she says softly.


“Remember that last phone conversation we had?”

“The one where we decided this was never gonna happen?” Dani’s voice is amused, playful.

“The one,” Jamie continues pointedly, ignoring her, “where you told me about the moonflower. How beautiful it was.”

“Of course I remember.”

“I repotted one of the last blossoms from that vine, one that hadn’t bloomed yet.” 


“Yeah. And it…” Jamie bites her lip, smiles wider. “It’s blooming. Right now.”

Dani laughs, awed. “Well would you look at that?”

Jamie does, watches the bud opening, alive, in the night air.

For all their rules, their careful planning, nothing seems to change.

Dani sees Jamie at drop off, at pick up, the two of them grinning at each other from across the hallway, Dani tugging her lip between her teeth while Jamie ducks her head, Flora watching them both curiously. (Rebecca does too, from her classroom down the hall, eyebrows raised, preparing a list of mental notes to debrief with Hannah over lunch while Dani’s distracted, trying––failing––to figure out the electric kettle.)

They call each other after Flora’s asleep, talking, laughing, sitting in amiable silence. Dani wishes they could do it together, for once regretful field trips are over for the semester, savoring the feeling of leaning, snug, surreptitious, into Jamie on the bus; better yet, she wishes they could do it somewhere she could lean in and press her lips to Jamie’s, lose herself in Jamie’s arms and Jamie’s mouth and everything that comes after. She says as much sometimes, Jamie agreeing, their voices low, venturing cautiously, further with every passing call, out onto thin ice neither of them ever seems to break.

They fall asleep sometimes too, Jamie sitting up in her window seat, knees pulled tightly to her chest, head resting, cradling the receiver, on her shoulder as she sleeps, Dani curled around the base of the phone in her bed, cupping the receiver to her face, snoring softly.

Dani’s overwhelmed by end-of-semester grading, combing through assessment after assessment, and knows Jamie is too, working to close contracts before the new year, knows their late-night phone calls are already more than either of them can afford right now, but still… With every whispered admission, every flirtatious provocation, every laden silence, Dani feels something growing, that same something that had blossomed with their kiss, reaching, stretching, towards the sun.

Something, Dani thinks, has to give. Eventually. 

It’s the last day of the semester, and Dani’s classroom holiday party is in full swing, Dani de-escalating a squabble at the cookie decorating station, doing her best to avoid the wrathful eye of Isabel Lloyd’s mother, overseeing the craft corner across the classroom. Dani hears the classroom door open, hears Flora’s telltale squeal of delight, and feels herself smiling before she even looks up, eyes bright, to find Jamie, grinning over at her from the doorway, arms wrapped around an oversized poinsettia with a gold bow tied laboriously around the pot.

They look away at the same time, Dani pulled back down by sticky hands tugging at her sweater, Jamie by Flora, skidding to a stop in front of her, holding up a puzzle piece wreath proudly. Flora’s attention span is short, hampered by the peppermint and hot chocolate staining her lips and coursing through her system, and as soon as she receives a grin and an impressed eyebrow raise from Jamie, she’s off, running back to her friends and green paint and more sugar. 

Dani slips away at the same time Flora takes back off, easing tensions at the cookie table with an offering of a fifth bowl of icing, this one light blue, glancing around the room at the other class parents, adequately distracted, as she makes her way over to Jamie.

Jamie’s waiting, watching her as she does, eyes twinkling.

“Hi,” Dani bites her lip, smiling widely.

“Heya,” Jamie shifts her weight, balancing the poinsettia on a hip, and when her eyes rake up and down, quickly, over Dani, Dani feels her mouth go dry.

“That’s a… A nice poinsettia you got there.”

Jamie raises her eyebrows. “And you told me you didn’t know flowers.”

Dani only laughs. “I’m a Midwesterner in December, Jamie,” she says. “I know what a poinsettia is.”

“You know I don’t know what that means,” Jamie crinkles her nose. “American culture and all that.”

“Who’s the one who doesn’t know things now?” Dani arches an eyebrow at her, mischievous. 

“You’re the teacher, aren’t you?”


“So teach me.”

Their eyes meet, and Dani can only hold Jamie’s for a second before she has to look away. “Why don’t you put it down? We can… We can hang up your coat.”

Jamie narrows her eyes at her, the corner of her mouth quirking up as she sets the pot carefully along the wall, tugging off her coat and offering it to Dani. Dani takes it, slipping into the coat closet and busying herself with a hanger, wrestling the other parents’ coats into a corner to make room for Jamie’s.

“You have something on your face, y’know, Miss Clayton.” 

Dani gasps, jumps, drops Jamie’s coat, scrambles for it. “I–– What?”

“On your face.” Jamie smirks, poking her head into the coat closet, leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed. “Right about… Here.” She taps at her own face, alongside the corner of her mouth.

“Oh,” Dani grabs Jamie’s coat, righting herself again, hanging it. They’re following the rules, she thinks, barely, and if Jamie’s willing to toe the line so precariously… Well. That gives her permission to do the same, doesn’t it? 

Dani leans in towards Jamie, bracing herself against the coat closet wall. “Frosting emergency,” she explains, furtive. “Very serious business.” 

“Ah,” Dani watches Jamie’s eyes drift to her lips, “and is this… Frosting emergency taken care of?”

Dani lets her hang for a moment, waiting, before pulling away abruptly. “Not sure,” she offers cheerfully. “Let’s go check, shall w––”

Jamie’s grabbing her hand, stopping her, fingers wrapping softly around her wrist.

Something, Dani had thought, has to give.

“I–– I thought we said…”

Jamie leans back, glancing out the door, around the corner at the classroom, and leans back in. “We did,” she murmurs, “and we’re not.” Her eyes dip back down to Dani’s lips, and she drags her fingers up Dani’s arm, ghosting them across her collarbone, along the column of her neck. Jamie takes her time in spite of the circumstances, savoring the feeling of Dani’s skin, soft, flushed, underneath her touch. “I’m providing emergency aid. Special circumstances. Considerin’,” she lowers her voice, “there’s an icing emergency and all.”

Frosting emergen––” Dani starts to correct her, her challenge dissolving into a shaky breath as Jamie’s fingers, trembling, sweep across her lips, her thumb sliding to the corner of Dani’s mouth, brushing off the glaze there. Dani’s eyes flutter closed.

Jamie’s fingers are gone before Dani opens her eyes again, Jamie rocking back on her heels and out of the coat closet. “Frosting,” she mutters, smirking, shaking her head as she makes her way across the classroom to Flora. 

Dani follows her, dazed, feet dragging as she makes her way back to the cookie decorating station.

The rest of the party is spent, for Dani, balancing twenty-three sugar highs and their subsequent crashes, stealing sideways glances at Jamie as she scrubs at the frosting condensing on the desks in front of her. Jamie’s with Flora in the craft corner, diligently twisting pipe cleaner snowflakes, passing them off to Flora, who slides beads onto them in a pattern that only the two of them seem to understand. Every so often, Jamie pauses her mechanics, peering over at Flora, assessing, and turns to the pile of beads in front of them, picking out a handful and depositing them in a small pile next to Flora. Flora doesn’t look at them, doesn’t need to, just continues beading, happily, Jamie grinning over at her as she goes back to coiling pipe cleaners around each other. 

Something in Dani coils too, and she’s reminded of that feeling she’d had watching Flora and Jamie during Career Day, those depths that she couldn’t fathom, the fear she’d felt at what she’d known was lurking there, just out of sight. It’s blurred though, her fear vague, iced over by the way Dani’s eyes hone in on Jamie’s hands, flexing, the way her fingers deftly wrap one pipe cleaner around the next, curling, efficient. 

Flora tugs on Jamie’s sleeve, pointing to the pile of beads, searching, Jamie fumbling the snowflake in hands as she turns to look. Dani can see the muttered curse fall from her lips as it happens, and bites back a laugh as Isabel Lloyd’s mother scowls at Jamie from across the table, Jamie only shrugging, laughing, in response.

The party starts to wind down, families thanking Dani for the semester, children wrapping sugar-caked, glitter-streaked arms around Dani’s waist, wishing her a happy new year. Isabel and her mother are two of the last to go, Isabel beaming up at Dani with a wistful “I’ll miss you terribly,” Dani stroking her hair, biting back a grin as her mother waits impatiently by the door. Only Jamie and Flora are left after that, perched next to each other atop a desk, feet swinging lazily in the space underneath them. Jamie grins, nudges Flora’s foot with hers; Flora grins surreptitiously back, knocks her toe against Jamie’s. 

Dani turns to them once Isabel and her mother are gone, hands finding her hips. “Now what are you two still doing here?”

Jamie turns to look at Flora, who looks to Dani, then back at Jamie. Flora leans in, whispers “you ask her,” offers only a nod when Jamie raises an eyebrow in response. Jamie shrugs, whispers back, “right then,” and turns to Dani as a grin stretches across Flora’s face next to her.

“Can we, uh, help you tidy up?”

Dani raises her eyebrows.

“I heard there was a frosting emergency, after all.” Jamie’s eyes are twinkling, and Dani can feel a smirk tugging at the corners of her mouth.

Flora nods. “We’re serious, Miss Clayton. Do let us help.”

“Yeah, Miss Clayton,” Jamie glances over at Flora again, then back to Dani. “Put us to it.”

Flora elects to tidy the craft corner, sorting beads and pipe cleaners, insisting Jamie help Dani with the dishes. “It’s really such a difficult job,” she’d told them, wringing her hands behind her back, “and there was so much icing.”

Flora isn’t wrong. The problem, Dani thinks, distracted, is that the classroom sink is also child-sized, the two of them pressed together at the hip, bare forearms brushing against bare forearms beneath rolled up sleeves as Dani scrubs, determined, passing dishes off to Jamie, painfully aware of the way the outsides of their thighs brush every time Jamie turns, resting something in the drying rack.


Jamie’s peering, eyes narrowed, at one of the dishes Dani’s passed her.

“Jamie, what?”

Jamie tugs the corner of her lip between her teeth, looking askance at Dani. “It’s just…”

Dani looks at her, eyes wide, expectant, daring her to continue.

“Do you wanna switch?”

“Excuse me?”

“Do you wanna switch? Let me do the washing up?”


“Well…” Jamie tilts her head, and her eyes would be apologetic if not for the way they way they’re glinting, playful, “you’re kinda shit at it, aren’t you?”

Dani stares at her, agape, Jamie leaning fully into the accusation now, grinning back at her.

They’re both laughing, splashing dish water at each other, dishes forgotten, when Miles pokes his head into the classroom. “Flora?”


Dani takes the opportunity, quickly, to bump her hip up against Jamie’s, knocking her softly to the side, claiming a minor victory cemented by an indignant “oi!” from Jamie. Dani bites her lip, flashes her an innocent grin, and then she and Jamie are both glancing over at the door, smiling, tips of Dani’s hair dripping, soap bubbles smudged on Jamie’s cheek. 

Henry’s close behind Miles, glancing around the classroom as he follows him in, smiling warmly at Flora, brows raising, curious, if unsurprised, when he sees Jamie, huddled with Dani at the sink.

“What’re you lot still doing here?” Jamie takes them in, and Dani feels her body tense, preparing itself for the sudden absence of Jamie’s next to her as Jamie shakes her hands dry, but it never comes. Jamie stays, waiting.

“We just finished up a holiday party of our own,” Henry’s hands find Miles’ shoulders, Miles beaming underneath them, “and Miles thought to ask Flora if she might want to come over for a playdate.”

The look on Flora’s face isn’t one Dani’s seen on her before, not in the classroom, but it’s one she’s seen on Jamie, smug, almost scheming. Dani follows Flora’s gaze to Miles, who’s giving Flora a calm, knowing look back, turning to smile placidly over at Dani when he realizes she’s watching him. “Miss Clayton,” he nods politely.

Flora turns, excited, to Jamie. “Can I?”

“I don’t see why not,” Jamie shrugs, “as long as Miles’ Uncle Henry is okay with it.” She looks at him, and he smiles, nodding.

“You’re welcome to join us, Jamie. The two of you are welcome to stay for dinner, if you want.” 

Flora and Miles’ heads snap around to look at each other, panicked, as Jamie opens her mouth to accept––Henry knows she’s a rampant opportunist when it comes to avoiding cooking at all costs––and Dani split, half-watches the children, curious, other half of her focused on leaning her hip, ever so slightly, into Jamie’s, just enough for Jamie to know, to feel it, without getting detected by Henry or the children.

“No!” Flora’s interjecting before Jamie has the chance to speak. “No, we musn’t–– You musn’t.” Flora looks at Henry, then over at Jamie, forehead furrowed.

“Flora…” There’s a warning in Jamie’s voice, even as Jamie leans back into Dani, just enough, and Dani’s eyes snap up from her hips to her face.

“I don’t mean to be rude, really,” Flora’s speaking quickly, looking to Miles for reassurance, “but I just… I think…”

“Flora was telling me you never have a night off,” Miles supplies. “You’ve been working so hard, and helping in the classroom. What if,” he turns, smiling up at Henry behind him, “Flora comes over for a playdate, and for dinner, and Jamie picks her up later?”

Henry blinks, looking from Miles to Flora. “Well that’s… That’s not a bad idea.” He smiles warmly over at Jamie. “What do you say? How would you like a night off?”

Jamie crosses her arms, brows pinched together. “I say it doesn’t really feel like I have any say in the matter.”

“But you would like it, wouldn’t you?” Flora looks to Dani now. “Don’t you think she deserves it, Miss Clayton?” 

Dani blinks, thrown. “I, uh… Yeah. Yeah,” she smiles widely over at Jamie, “if–– If that’s what she wants.” 

Jamie narrows her eyes at Dani. “Traitor,” she murmurs, but there’s a grin playing at the corners of her mouth. “Okay,” she turns back to Flora, “sure. You sure you’re okay with this?” She looks back at Henry. “The sugar consumption today…”

“Is under control,” Henry assures her, smiling. “We’ve had quite a bit ourselves.”

Jamie stares at him a moment longer, looks at Flora. “Alright then,” she sighs. “C’mere, Flora.” 

Flora crosses over to the sink, beaming, and when she goes to wrap an arm around Jamie’s waist, she hesitates, then wraps one around Dani’s too, burying her face in Jamie’s torso as she does.

Dani squeaks.

“Maybe,” Flora looks up at Jamie, chin resting comfortably against her sternum, “you and Miss Clayton could have a night off together.”

Jamie looks back at Flora, keeping her face carefully neutral. 

“I only say it,” Flora offers sweetly, “because I know you two got along so well on our field trips.”

“Dunno what you were paying attention to on those field trips,” Jamie quirks an eyebrow at her, “because last I checked, they were about animals and art, not me and Miss Clayton.”

Henry watches Miles watching Flora with the two women, finds himself musing that Jamie and Miss Clayton don’t seem to be at all uncomfortable at the way Flora’s squeezing them together; that they don’t bat an eye, that they simply lean into each other; that Jamie seems entirely comfortable, despite being quite possibly the most prickly person he’s ever met.

Flora hums, giving them both one more squeeze before pulling away. “Just think about it,” she chirps before crossing the room, disappearing into the coat closet, reappearing a moment later, coat zipped, bookbag slung over her shoulders. “I hope you have a wonderful holiday, Miss Clayton,” she beams over at Dani, then looks at Jamie.

Jamie looks evenly back. “See you at home then?”

Flora nods cordially. “See you at home.”

Then Jamie’s laughing, dropping to a knee, and Flora’s bounding over to give her one last hug, burying her face in Jamie’s hair.

“I love you, munchkin. Be good for Uncle Henry, yeah? Don’t eat all his cookies again.”

Flora only giggles. “I’ll do my best.”

“Good enough for me.” Jamie pulls away, standing, then scoops Flora up, kissing her nose. “Have fun.” Flora nods, smiles one last time, and then Jamie’s setting her down and she’s out the door in a flash, Miles close behind. 

Henry lingers a moment, smiles. “Have fun you two. Take care.” He nods, and Jamie nods back at him, and then Henry’s gone too.

Dani tenses, biting her lip, turning her head to look over at Jamie, who only laughs. “Here we are again, Miss Clayton,” Jamie turns, leaning back against the counter, crossing her arms, “you, me, and no chaperones in sight.”

Dani shakes her head, smiling, reaching up to thumb the soap off of Jamie’s face. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they were trying to get us alone.”

“The eternal mysteries of Flora,” Jamie sighs, pursing her lips, thoughtful.

Dani watches her, eyes slipping across Jamie’s face, eyes to brows to lips to the perfect tip of her nose and back again. “So what do you say?”


“What do say we do it?” 

“Do… What?” Jamie looks at her, quizzical. 

“Get out of here,” Dani waves her hand vaguely around the classroom. “Go somewhere…” She swallows, takes a breath. Looks sideways at Jamie. “Alone.”


“Look, I have to… I have to take this poinsettia home, right?”


“And… I mean–– What do I know about taking care of it, really? What do I know about… About where to put it, or sunlight, or when to water it––”

“I thought you were from the Middle West,” Jamie raises an eyebrow, and Dani tries not to grin, enamored by her gaffe. “Thought you knew all about what a poinsettia is. Thought I was the one who didn’t know things.” Her tone is sharp, pointed, but it’s playful too, and Dani bites her lip, caught, glancing at Jamie as she turns too, leaning back against the counter next to her.


They stare at each other, Dani’s eyes wide, hungry, Jamie’s breath catching in her throat, eyes dipping down to Dani’s lips.

Dani lets a hand slide across the counter behind her, lets it nudge against Jamie’s waist, lets a finger tangle itself into a belt loop. Tugs softly.

“Yeah,” Jamie reaches up, runs a hand through her hair, “yeah, okay.” 

They finish the rest of the dishes quickly, in relative silence, wiping down the rest of the classroom, Jamie hefting the poinsettia as Dani surveys the room one last time, switching off the lights and pulling the door shut behind them, locking it. 

If Hannah Grose, locking up the front office for winter break, sees them crossing the parking lot together, sees Jamie Taylor’s truck follow Dani’s car out of the car park… Well, she thinks, fingers finding the cross resting against her chest, wouldn’t that be a Christmas miracle? 

Jamie’s patient, arms wrapped around the poinsettia pot, staring, concentrating, at her toes as Dani fumbles for her keys, a mumbled “goddamnit” as she misses the lock. “You, uh… You good there, Miss Clayton?”

Dani looks back over her shoulder with a nervous laugh. “Ye–– Yeah,” she says, “great, actually. Just great. Just give me one second…” 

Her keys turn in the lock, the door pushes open, and Dani reaches back for Jamie’s hand.

“Giant flower pot,” Jamie reminds her.

“Right,” Dani shakes her head. “Right.” She stands aside, flipping on the light and holding the door open for Jamie. “Welcome to Chez Dani,” she grins, chuckling to herself, Jamie rolling her eyes as she crosses the threshold. “It’s, uh… It’s not much,” Dani adds, voice smaller, still proud, “but it’s home.”

Jamie rests the poinsettia on a table near the door while Dani busies herself with the lock. “It’s nice,” Jamie says, looking around, taking in the scattered stacks of papers (it’s always the multiplication drills, she notes wryly, making a mental note to tease Dani later), the pile of freshly laundered sweaters, resting, half-folded, on the coffee table, the Audrey Hepburn poster on the wall next to the collection of neatly framed travel brochures from across Europe. She can make out a stack of cookbooks in the kitchen, yellowed recipe cards peeking out from between dog-eared pages, and beyond that, a collection of mismatched magnets is scattered across the refrigerator, though, Jamie notices, they’re not holding anything up. “Could use more plants,” she grins, “but we’ll work on that.”

“It was a joke,” she adds hastily when she doesn’t get a response from Dani, turning around to face her, “really, Dani, it’s––”

Dani’s staring at her, determined crease between her brow, eyelids heavy, fists clenched at her sides, and Jamie’s realizing in this moment, all the moments they’ve shared together over last four months careening through her mind, every accidental flirtation, every guarded disclosure, every deliberate accidental touch, that she would do anything for this woman. She would slay the dragons of Flora’s story time for Dani Clayton, would brave haunted houses and exorcise ghosts. She would stomach even the most mundane, the most outrageous American traditions, would learn how to drive on what is, definitively, the wrong side of the road for her. She would join the bloody PTA if it would make Dani Clayton happy. (Probably, a part of Jamie’s mind thinks absently, it would.)

She would let herself want, finally, after all these years.

And God, Jamie wants.

The two of them crash into each other, Jamie’s hands finding Dani’s face, holding her close, as Dani grabs at Jamie’s open coat, pulling her in, flush, against her body. Their kiss is urgent and wanting and Dani’s tugging Jamie backwards as soon as their bodies are pressed together, pulling her with her, stumbling over the coffee table, knocking over the sweaters stacked there. Dani laughs when it happens, wide and full, into Jamie’s mouth, and then Jamie’s laughing with her, the two of them giggling into each other as Dani pivots, glancing behind her, guiding Jamie backwards, wrapping her fingers into Jamie’s jacket, pulling her closer still as she does.

“Sorry,” Dani breathes into Jamie’s mouth, and Jamie only shakes her head, surging forward into her, murmuring a “s’okay,” against her lips, one hand wrapping around the back of Dani’s head, fingers threading into her hair. Dani’s back hits the doorframe behind her, and she pulls Jamie tighter against her, threads her arms around Jamie’s waist under her jacket, fingers digging into her back, holding her there.

Jamie arches into Dani at her touch, hears Dani’s sharp intake of breath as she does, and, grinning, sucks Dani’s bottom lip into her mouth. Dani moans––it might be the best sound she’s ever heard, Jamie thinks, distantly––but then Dani’s sliding her tongue against Jamie’s and Jamie’s fingers are sliding down, finding one of Dani’s arms, tugging it up, tighter around her.

“Coat,” Dani’s breaking their kiss, leaning her full weight lazily back against the door, hands sliding back around to Jamie's front, up to her shoulders, pushing stubbornly at her coat, “off, now.”

Jamie grins, slipping her coat back off her shoulders and down her arms. “Got a coat closet around, Miss Clayton?”

Dani only rolls her eyes, wrapping her arms back around Jamie’s neck, pulling her back in. “Less joking,” she huffs into Jamie’s mouth, dragging her tongue across Jamie’s bottom lip, “more kissing.”

Jamie hums in acquiescence, shaking her coat free from wrists, letting it drop to the floor as her fingers find Dani’s, fumbling with the toggles. “Stupid…” She mumbles between kisses, dropping her head, lips finding the smooth column of Dani’s neck, “American coat––”

Dani chuckles lowly, and Jamie can feel it against her lips, Dani’s fingers finding hers, wrapping around them, guiding them as she finishes undoing the remaining toggles. Jamie’s glad her face is buried between Dani’s neck and collarbone, glad Dani can’t see the way she flushes as Dani’s fingers guide hers.

Dani’s coat falls to the floor as Dani pulls Jamie back up, pressing her lips against Jamie’s once, twice, three times, before resting her forehead against Jamie’s, nuzzling their noses together. “Bedroom?” She whispers, voice small, hopeful, and Jamie can feel the puffs of Dani’s breath against her lips. 

Jamie wants.

She nods, throat tight, hoping the way her hands wrap around Dani’s waist, the way her thumbs press into Dani’s hips, are affirmation enough, and they must be, Jamie thinks, because Dani’s grinning, hand sliding behind her, seeking out the doorknob, and then the two of them are stumbling back into Dani’s room.

They stare at each other for a moment, Jamie taking in Dani’s face, her beautiful, perfect face that Jamie’s spent too long pretending not to stare at, Dani’s eyes, searching, mapping out every dip and angle of Jamie’s features, finally staring, uninhibited, taking her in.

It happens so fast from there, four months of wanting boiling over, spilling into Dani’s hands, grabbing for Jamie’s flannel, tugging it up and over her head; spilling into Jamie’s, too, pulling at Dani’s sweater, casting it aside. Dani doesn’t stop, only tugs Jamie in closer by her belt loops again, fingers stumbling over the button there, Jamie doing the same for her, sliding Dani’s pants down and off her hips, kicking her own off as she does. 

Dani’s hands find Jamie’s hips, and only then does she hesitate, fingers tracing Jamie’s hip bones, distracted, breathing out softly, as if in awe.

Jamie stands there, head ducked against Dani’s, and with anyone else she would be self-conscious, she thinks, but not here, with her. Not with Dani Clayton, who’s invited her––dirty jumpsuit and all––to Career Day, who’s walked her through basic first aid, who’s heard her cry, really cry, for the first time in years, on the phone.

Jamie’s fingers find Dani’s chin, wrapping around it softly, tilting her face back up, and Jamie’s kissing her again, tender, deliberate. 

“Jamie,” Dani whimpers, and Jamie can feel goosebumps erupt across her arms.

Jamie walks them backwards, towards Dani’s bed––there are more half-folded clothes spread messily across it, and Dani groans when they get there, reaching backwards without breaking their kiss, shoving them half-heartedly towards the floor––and they fall back onto it, together, Dani’s arms wrapping around Jamie, holding onto her as they fall.

It’s a quick recovery, Dani flipping them over and straddling Jamie’s hips, leaning down to kiss her hard, their tongues tangling together. Jamie slides her hands up and along Dani’s thighs, wrapping them around her waist, squeezing gently, and Dani’s rolling her hips, grinding down into Jamie before she realizes it, and they’re breaking their kiss, Dani moaning, Jamie’s breath catching, gasping.

“I... “ Dani’s breath hitches, “I don’t usually… Do this,” she grinds down again, nuzzling her face into Jamie’s neck, “on first dates.”

Jamie swallows, trying to steady her breathing. “I don’t,” her nails drag up Dani’s back, fingers digging into Dani’s shoulder blades as Dani rolls her hips, “usually have first dates.”

Jamie’s hips arch up into Dani’s, meeting her as she grinds down, and Dani whines into her neck.

“Does this even count,” Jamie gasps as Dani’s teeth drag against a pulse point, tongue flattening against it, soothing, “as a date?”

Dani pulls away, face flushed, cocking her head at Jamie, thoughtful, as her hands come to rest on Jamie’s chest. “To be honest,” she reaches up, pushing a sweaty strand of hair up and out of her face, “I… I’ve only ever been on one other first date. I didn’t want to do this, though,” and she’s ghosting her fingers down Jamie’s chest, dipping them into Jamie’s bra, breathing in shakily, delighted, as her fingers brush across taut nipples.

Jamie gasps, arching into Dani’s touch.

Dani grins down at her, pushing Jamie’s bra to the side, sucking a nipple into her mouth. “I want this so bad, Jamie,” she whispers against Jamie’s chest when she finally pulls away, “I want,” she mouths across Jamie’s chest, swirling her tongue around Jamie's other nipple now, “and I want,” she rolls her hips against Jamie’s again, “and I want so much.”

Jamie tugs at her, pulling Dani back up, hands cradling her cheeks, chest heaving as she leans forward, pressing their foreheads together. “Thank fuck,” she whispers, and then she’s closing the gap between them, kissing Dani again, heavy and wanting. Their hands are scrambling as they kiss, tugging at bra clasps and straps until they’re abandoned, tossed to the side, bare chest pressing against bare chest, gasping into each other’s mouths between shared breaths, Dani grinding down, hard, Jamie rolling her hips up to meet her.

Dani’s whimpering into Jamie’s mouth, needs more, and Jamie can only nod, fingers dragging down her side, slipping under the waistband of her underwear. “Okay?” She whispers, voice rough, and Dani can only nod, her fingers finding Jamie’s underwear too, tugging softly, as if in question. “Yeah,” Jamie says, and they’re pulling at each other’s underwear, kicking it down and off, and Dani’s kissing Jamie one last time, pulling away to sit up and bite her lip, looking down at Jamie, taking her in. 

Jamie does the same, eyes raking over the curve of Dani’s hips, her breasts, the freckles splayed across her chest, the flush emblazoned there.



Dani’s voice is quiet. “I’ve never done this before.”

Jamie props herself up, leaning back on her elbows, watching Dani’s face closely. “I haven’t in a long time. Nine years at least.”

“Are you nervous?” Dani’s quiet, her voice small, but she’s still so sure, her fingers finding their way to Jamie’s, tangling together.

Jamie watches her for a moment, soaking up the warmth of Dani’s openness, her honesty, unapologetic and unselfconscious. “Yeah,” she finally says, squeezing Dani’s hand. “Yeah, I am.”

Dani stares at her for a minute, thoughtful, bottom lip resolute between her teeth. 

Jamie stares back, patient.

“Come here,” Dani finally whispers, and tugs Jamie up into a sitting position, straddling her lap now.

Jamie nods, lets Dani guide her, and they’re close again, so close, and Dani’s finally leaning in, closing the gap between them, kissing Jamie softly, slowly.

Jamie kisses her back, slowly at first, matching the pace Dani’s set, fingers still tangled together, squeezing, as their kiss intensifies.

Dani’s tongue sweeps into Jamie’s mouth, and then Dani’s grinding down again, slower this time, and Jamie can feel how wet she is, moans into Dani’s mouth when she feels Dani slide against her legs.

Dani whines in response, and it’s all the invitation Jamie needs, free hand slipping down between Dani’s legs, and before Jamie can find Dani’s center, can dip her fingers lower, Dani’s fingers are nudging Jamie’s thighs apart too, her lips making their way over to Jamie’s ear, to murmur a breathy “together,” and then Jamie’s gasping, Dani’s fingers sliding through her folds.

“Fuck,” Jamie breathes, Dani’s fingers exploratory, dragging back up to circle her clit, and Jamie remembers with a jolt to move her hand, breathing in shakily as her fingers slide easily down, through silky wetness, pressing softly into Dani, teasing, before she slides them back up, thumb grazing Dani's clit.

Dani gasps, hips bucking into Jamie, and Jamie can only grin, urged onward, thumb circling Dani’s clit slowly, Dani mirroring her, deft fingers doing the same for Jamie. It’s not long before Jamie’s hips are jerking too, her breath heavy, and she leans forward, pressing her forehead to Dani’s, two of her fingers dipping back down.

“Is this okay?” Jamie asks, voice hoarse, and Dani’s already nodding, Jamie biting her lip, sliding two fingers slowly, carefully, into Dani, savoring every moment of Dani’s low, shaky breath as she does.

Jamie pauses, giving her a moment to adjust, and Dani only swallows, pressing her eyes closed. “Can… Can I… Do you want?” Dani’s voice is rough, her fingers paused, and there’s a strangled noise in Jamie’s throat as she nods.

Dani bites her lip, dragging two fingers down through Jamie, murmuring an awed “you’re so wet,” as she goes, gasping when she finally––finally, Jamie thinks––presses her fingers into Jamie, Jamie’s head slipping down, moaning lowly into Dani’s shoulder.

It’s Dani who starts moving, Jamie’s breath catching, quick to follow her, and it’s clumsy at first, their wrists pumping, bumping into each other, but then they’re finding a pace, rolling their hips into each other's, their free hands still tangled together, Jamie breathing hard into Dani’s shoulder, Dani moaning softly in Jamie’s ear. 

Jamie feels it first, Dani tightening around her, her free hand squeezing Jamie’s, the roll of her hips faster, more erratic. Jamie presses a kiss to Dani’s shoulder, curls her fingers, and then Dani’s whimpering into her ear, and it’s her stuttered, drawn out “Ja-mie” that pushes Jamie over the edge too, Jamie rolling her hips into Dani’s fingers, faster, harder, pressing desperately into her.

“Jamie,” Dani’s breath is high, tight, against Jamie’s ear, “kissing. Please.”

“Dani,” Jamie’s not sure she could say anything else, dragging her teeth across Dani’s shoulder one more time, stomach coiling, taut, as she lifts her head back to Dani’s. 

Their kiss is hot and sloppy, their hips frantic, and then Dani’s coming, hard and fast against Jamie’s fingers, moaning Jamie’s name into her mouth, and Jamie’s coming with her, gasping, shuddering.

They ride out their orgasms together, heavy breaths commingling in the close air between them, and when they finally collapse, falling back onto Dani’s bed, Dani nuzzles into Jamie’s chest, Jamie’s arm wrapping lazily around her, fingers dragging up her spine. Dani shivers, smiles, ducks her head, embellishing Jamie’s chest with kisses.

“Fuck,” Jamie finally manages, fingers threading through Dani’s hair. “That was… Fuck.”

“Yeah,” Dani giggles against Jamie’s chest, then props her chin up on it, grinning up at her. “I liked it, though.”

“Yeah,” Jamie reaches up with her free hand, runs it through her hair, “I could tell.”

Dani grins up at her through her lashes, and Jamie laughs, tugging her up, closer to her, back against her lips.

“I liked it too,” Jamie murmurs, “would like to do it again.”

Dani hums. “Maybe sooner than a semester next time?”

“Definitely sooner.”

They kiss again, and there’s no rush now, the two of them taking their time, their kiss gentle.

“Can… Can I ask you something?” Dani asks when they part, eyes twinkling.


“When we… When we would be on the phone.. Especially when we’d––” Dani flushes, eyes darting around the room before landing back on Jamie. “When we’d talk about… Wanting to be together? Would you ever…” She purses her lips to the side. “Would you ever touch yourself? After?”

Jamie raises her eyebrows. “Is this an admission, Dani Clayton?”

Dani flushes. “I asked you first.”

“It is!” Jamie’s grinning now, gleeful. “You did, didn’t you?”

“Of course I did,” Dani finally says, blandly. “Don’t tell me you didn’t.”

“Oh, I absolutely did,” Jamie laughs, tightening her arms around Dani. “How could I go for hours listening to that bloody accent and not?”

Dani swats at Jamie’s arm, but Jamie’s laughing, and then Dani’s laughing too, nuzzling into Jamie’s neck, slinging an arm across her waist.

They lie there together, content, breathing each other in, and Dani thinks Jamie might have fallen asleep, starts puzzling out how to wake her, when: “Dani?”


“We broke almost all of our rules today.”

Dani laughs. “How do you figure?”

“Flora definitely knows, and you couldn’t keep your hands off me in the classroom.”

“I couldn’t keep my hands off you?” Dani scoffs. “You couldn’t keep your hands off me.”

“That was an icing emergency,” Jamie shrugs. “I had to act.”

“A frosting emergency, and you did not.”

“But you wanted me to.”

Dani can’t argue with that.

“I, uh,” Jamie’s voice is hesitant now, regretful, “I can’t break the third one, though.”

Dani nuzzles deeper into Jamie, inhaling deeply. “I know.”

Jamie turns, curling into Dani, burying her face in her hair. “I want to stay, you know.”

“I know.” Jamie feels Dani’s lips, soft, against her neck.

“There are…” Jamie drags her fingers softly down Dani’s back, “other nights.” She presses a kiss to the top of her head, sliding her hands around, squeezing Dani’s waist, “and there will be other nights.”

Dani’s hands find Jamie’s, pulling them away from her hips, threading their fingers together. “You promise?” She pulls her head away from Jamie’s neck, looks up at her, eyes wide, hopeful.

Jamie ducks her head towards her in answer, presses her lips to Dani’s.


Chapter Text

Dani’s making pancakes.

It’s Saturday afternoon, and Dani’s making pancakes, and Jamie may not have woken up next to her, she thinks, may have been yanked enthusiastically into Dani’s apartment at 11:00 am, having bid goodbye to Flora, leaving her at home under Owen’s watchful eye, but this is pretty damn close.

Saturday afternoons would be theirs, they’d decided, the great dearth that was Flora’s winter break yawning out before them. It’s a concession to her time with Flora that Jamie had found herself newly willing to make, creating space for her own want in her life, creating a life that was no longer only Flora, but Jamie too, and with that, Dani.

Jamie, she’s been insisting to herself for years now, she was Jamie. She was Jamie, is Jamie, and she’s learning that for all her mistakes, all her lost years, all the love she has, holed up inside, for Flora, she’s allowed to live for Jamie, too.

(Besides, Flora had been ecstatic over the news, immediately listing off all of the different culinary fusions she had been wanting to set Owen onto for so long. They’re not bad ideas, Jamie had mused, not a one. She’d found herself, like Flora, particularly intrigued by the idea of a macaroni and cheese sandwich, offering her own spin on it with a well-received “maybe add a wee bit of brisket in there, yeah?”)

Now it’s Saturday afternoon, and it’s theirs, and Dani’s making pancakes.

Dani’s making pancakes in her underwear.

It’s not something Jamie would have expected at first, not from the flighty, stuttering woman rendered speechless at the podium the first time Jamie had walked into her classroom, but Jamie’s learning that it’s often the things that scare Dani the most that she leans into fullest, unabashed and determined. It’s not Dani’s innate Americanness that makes her so audacious, Jamie’s learned; instead, it’s just… Dani.

It’s Dani.

It’s Dani, who upon learning Jamie had never had Mickey Mouse pancakes, had leapt out of bed, laughing and insistent, grabbing, indiscriminate, for the first pieces of clothing she could find.

Dani glances back at Jamie, perched lazily on the counter behind her, watching, leaning back on her arms. Dani bites her lip. “What’re you, uh, lookin’ at?”

“Mm,” Jamie hums, tilts her head appraisingly. “You.”

Dani flushes, and Jamie watches it spread, uninhibited, across her shoulders, up the back of her neck, creeping towards the tips of her ears.

Jamie swings her legs underneath her, bumping them against the counter softly, and lets her eyes drag down Dani’s frame and back up, taking her time, making sure Dani sees her doing it.

Dani’s flush only deepens. “Jamie,” she whispers.

Jamie raises her eyebrows at her, corner of her mouth quirking up into a lopsided grin. “Yeah, Miss Clayton?”

Dani wets her lips, eyes dipping down to the hem of Jamie’s tank top, to where it stops, just shy of the waistband of Jamie’s underwear, to the strip of bare skin there.

Jamie slides her palms backwards along the counter and leans back further, stretching.

Dani’s eyelids flutter once, twice, but then she’s remembering herself with a start, turning back around and fumbling for her spatula, gripping it, knuckles white. 

She’s concentrating, lips pursed as she meticulously flips Mickey Mouse after Mickey Mouse (they’d been lying in Dani’s bed, fingers tangled and staring at the ceiling, Dani’s head resting comfortably on Jamie’s stomach; had gone from “Iowa, sure, but why were you talking about Florida to a gaggle of British eight-year olds, anyway?” to “you wouldn’t even take her to Disneyworld?” to “what’s a Mickey Mouse pancake?”), when she hears the low squeak of Jamie’s skin sliding against the counter, the soft landing of her feet on the floor.

The next thing Dani knows, Jamie’s arms are sliding around her waist and Jamie’s tugging her backwards, pressing them into each other. There’s a pancake balanced, precarious, on Dani’s spatula, but suddenly all she can focus on is the way she can feel everything through Jamie’s thin tank top, the way Jamie’s front is pressing against her back, the way Jamie’s curls graze her skin as Jamie ducks her head, her lips finding Dani’s neck.

Dani closes her eyes, takes a shaky breath. 

“Those aren’t even pancakes,” Jamie murmurs into the crook of Dani’s neck, her fingers looping into the waistband of Dani’s underwear.

Dani whines, leaning back further into Jamie, Jamie’s linguistic slight the furthest thing from her mind.

Jamie only chuckles in response, nipping at Dani’s collarbone before pulling her lips away abruptly, Dani huffing at the loss of contact.

“That’s a pan… Muffin,” Jamie declares, resting her chin on Dani’s shoulder, looking down at the pan on the stove. “Not a bloody pancake.”

Dani scoffs, flipping the vaguely Mickey Mouse-shaped pancake. It lands perfectly, face-down on the pan, and she grins, pressing the spatula against it proudly.

The pancake sizzles, and Jamie raises her eyebrows. “Sounds like you, that. All it takes is a little…” Jamie slips her hand lower into Dani’s underwear and Dani jumps, squeals.

Jamie only laughs.

“You’ll see,” Dani turns her head, pressing a kiss to Jamie’s temple, “you’ll see, and you’ll like it.”

Dani’s right.

Dani, much to Jamie’s syrup-stained chagrin, is right. 

Jamie won’t admit it, would never admit it, but Dani’s watching her, eyebrow raised, as Jamie devours her third Mickey Mouse-shaped pancake. (Panmuffin, she corrects herself stubbornly.) Dani’s watching her, and Dani knows, and Jamie knows that Dani knows. 

They’re settled on Dani’s couch, Dani sitting cross-legged with her plate on her lap, Jamie with one knee tucked up, the other dangling off the couch, plate balanced atop it.

“You like it.” It feels like a happy accusation the way Dani says it, failing spectacularly at hiding a proud grin.

“I just don’t understand why you have to call it a pancake,” Jamie says, mouth full. “We have pancakes,” she swallows, “and these are not them. I dunno, Dani. First Flora tells me you don’t know the difference between trousers and pants, and now these… Panmuffins. Are you sure you’re fit to be teaching our next generation?”

Dani crinkles her nose, kicking a foot out at Jamie playfully.

“How about this?” Jamie sits up straighter, eyes sparkling. “Next Saturday, I take you to get pancakes. Proper ones.” 

Dani’s smile widens around her fork. “I’d like that,” she leans over to the coffee table, sets her plate down on top of it, “but also…” She crawls back across the couch to hover across from Jamie.

Jamie raises an eyebrow at her. Shoves another forkful of pancake into her mouth. 

Dani watches Jamie chew blandly, eyes drifting to Jamie’s folded knee, Dani’s fingers dragging up Jamie’s shin, lighting there.

Jamie shivers in spite of herself.

“I want to get proper pancakes”––Jamie rolls her eyes at Dani’s drawn out pronunciation––“with you, I really do. But…” Dani looks away, biting her lip, fingers drumming lightly on Jamie’s knee. “I also… I also kinda just like being here. With you,” she looks at Jamie, wide-eyed, imploring. “And I have all these… These dates I want to go on with you, so many things I want to do, but then I––” Dani pauses, purses her lips to the side, looks at Jamie long and hard. “I just want to touch you,” she admits finally, her words spilling out all at once, “all the time. And I can’t touch you at… At a pancake breakfast. Not… The way I want to.” 

Jamie’s staring at her, lips parted, pancakes forgotten. 

“Jamie?” Dani glances down at the plate balanced on Jamie’s other leg and busies herself with it, relocating it quickly next to hers on the coffee table, a soft crease etched between her brows. “Please say something.” 

It feels like she’s a teenager again, Jamie thinks, or maybe like she’s a teenager for the first time, her own arrested development finally gaining momentum. She knows Dani’s is too, having been launched suddenly, forcefully, out of stasis the second Jamie had slunk, late, into her classroom on back-to-school night.

Adolescence, Jamie thinks further, is shit. She’s glad she doesn’t have to go through it––or whatever this adolescent adjacence is––again alone: this time she has Dani, the two of them bound to each other’s orbit by their shared gravity, careening forward through space together, lives, wants, entire personhoods that had gone so long interrupted finally given air to breathe again, this time in concert with each other.

Jamie gets it now, finally, with Dani. Jamie gets what it feels like to wait, desperate, by the phone, on the edge of her seat, to clutch the receiver to her face when it finally rings, refusing to hang up, heavy eyes and nodding head be damned. She gets what it feels like to want so badly, to be willing to tear herself into tiny pieces if only for a conversation, a glance, an opportunity to inch the toe of her Doc Marten that much closer to Dani’s Reeboks under their shared seat. 

And, Jamie knows, Dani gets it too. Dani gets how it feels to need someone so desperately she can’t concentrate, can’t even speak, for the thought of Jamie’s lips, smirking, against hers. Dani gets what it feels like, finally, for the person she wants so bad to actually want her back, to kiss her in a parking lot against her truck, to spend the first six days of every week looking forward to the seventh, to warm laughter giving way to soft moans and afternoons spent lost in each other, learning, together.

“I want to touch you all the time too,” Jamie breathes lowly, grinning, one of her hands finding Dani’s and tangling their fingers together, tugging her forward. “Want to touch you right now, in fact.” 

Dani giggles nervously into Jamie’s mouth. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Jamie’s eyes are closing, her free arm wrapping up and around Dani’s neck.

She can feel the grin spread across Dani’s lips. “Liked the pancakes that much, huh?”

“It’s so nice to be spending more time with you, Owen.” Flora beams up at him, swinging their clasped hands back and forth.

“The feeling is mutual, miss.” Owen smiles back at her, drops their hands. “Now, how do you feel about an afternoon croissant? Some hot chocolate?” 

Flora only smiles wider. “That would be splendid.” She nods, cementing her point. 

“After you, then.” Owen reaches forward, pulling open the door to the café in front of them.

He expects Flora to run up to the pastry case, to press her hands against the glass, to take in the myriad of patisserie there, perhaps deciding on a pain au chocolat instead, begging Owen to order for her, hanging on his every French syllable. 

Instead, she makes it halfway to the pastry case and stops. Flora does a double take at someone sitting in a chair by the window, snug in a burgundy turtleneck with a cup of tea resting in front of her.

Owen blinks.

“Mrs. Grose!” 

The woman looks up, Flora waving excitedly, and Owen watches a warm smile spread across her face. 

“Flora!” she says, glancing around. “How are you, dear?” Her brow furrows slightly. “Is your mum here?”

Flora looks back at Owen with a start, his presence momentarily forgotten in her excitement. “No,” she reaches for Owen’s hand and leads him over to Hannah’s table. “But this is Owen, and he is. We have regular tea dates every Saturday now,” she explains proudly, looking pointedly at the empty seats across from Hannah, “when I’m not at Miles’, anyway. May we sit?”

Hannah, bemused, looks from Flora to Owen, fingers floating to the necklace resting softly against her collarbone. “I don’t see why not.”

Flora’s sitting immediately, excitedly, scrambling up onto one of the chairs. She looks expectantly up at Owen, who hesitates, hand resting on the back of the empty seat next to her. 

“Uh, Owen Sharma,” he says, tentative, holding out his hand to Hannah, smile soft. “It’s so nice to meet you.”

Hannah looks up at him for a moment, thoughtful, a moment passing before she takes his hand with both of hers. “Hannah Grose. It’s a pleasure. Please,” she waves a hand at the empty seat across from her, “do.” 

Owen sits, smiling still. “You two seem to be old friends,” he glances over at Flora, “for all of this one’s many years, anyway.” 

Flora’s interjecting before Hannah can speak. “I know Mrs. Grose from school,” she says matter-of-factly, smiling over at Hannah. “She walks me to class whenever mum drops me off late.” 

“I’ve been missing her lately,” Hannah supplies, smiling back at Flora, “and not just because of winter break. We’re much more punctual these days,” she explains, glancing over at Owen. 

“Ah,” Owen raises his eyebrows knowingly, and Hannah tilts her head, curious, in response.

“What?” Flora’s watching them both closely.

“Nothing,” Hannah and Owen respond at the same time, their eyes finding each other’s across the table. Hannah ducks her head, laughing, and Owen chuckles with her.

Flora narrows her eyes at them, shrewd. “It is nice,” she says finally, carefully, “mum and Miss Clayton seeing each other at drop-off.”

“What makes you say that, Flora?” Hannah’s laugh tapers off and she glances at Owen again before her eyes slide back to Flora.

“Well,” Flora explains simply, “I love them both very much is all. It’s nice to see them enjoying each other’s company.” She leans in, peering at Hannah closely. “You’re friends with Miss Clayton, right, Mrs. Grose?”


“Does seeing my mum make her as happy as seeing her makes my mum?”

Hannah doesn’t even blink, only cooly repeats her last question, again, to Flora. “What makes you ask that, dear?”

Flora’s brow furrows as she searches for a response––something Owen knows, all too well after years of friendship with Jamie, to be a warning sign––and Owen takes the opportunity to scrounge in his pockets for his wallet. “Flora,” he interjects, “are you up for a challenge?”

Flora’s head whips back to Owen, shoulders thrown back, her forehead suddenly smooth, affront forgotten.

“Can you,” he lowers his voice, holding out his wallet, “make your way up to the front counter and put in our order? Avoiding, of course,” he lowers his voice even further, “detection by any malicious actors?”

“Malicious… Actors?”

“Ghost, ghouls, possessed teapots, bedeviled egg sandwiches. You know the type.” He winks.

Flora giggles.

“What do you think?”

“I think I can do it.” Flora’s laughter fades, and she nods, suddenly serious. “But Owen?”


“What sort of café has… Ghosts? I don’t see any. How do you know they’re here?”

Owen puffs out his cheeks, glancing over at Hannah, then back to Flora. “I know they’re here,” he intones, “because you can’t spell haunted without a little tea.” 

“Oh, Owen!” Flora’s giggling again, grabbing Owen’s wallet out of his hand, and then she’s gone, dashing up to the front of the café.

Now, Owen thinks, she’ll be pressed against the pastry case, but at least this time his rusty French will get a reprieve. He turns back to Hannah.

“That was terrible, you know,” her delivery is calm, deadpan even, but the lines around her mouth, the crinkling at the corners of her eyes, belie her words.

“Oh, just you wait,” Owen grins back at her. “There’ll be worse.”

Hannah laughs, glancing down at her tea. “I look forward to it, then.” 

The corner of Owen’s mustache twitches and he watches her for a moment, then: “so you know Jamie.”

Hannah looks back up, interest piqued. “I do,” she folds her hands carefully in her lap, “but not as well as I know Dani Clayton.”

Owen raises his eyebrows, leans forward. “And do you know about Dani Clayton what I know about Jamie Taylor?”

Hannah’s hand finds her necklace again. “I’m no gossip, Owen,” she glances around the café, leans in closer across the table, “but if I were, and if I did, it would only be because the two of them aren’t nearly as subtle as they think they are.” Her eyes drift back to Flora, happily rifling through Owen’s wallet at the register, and she scoffs, waving a hand in Flora’s direction. “Even Flora knows.”

Owen laughs. “I think Flora’s been pushing for it, to be honest. But I only ask,” he glances back, makes sure Flora is still waiting patiently by the counter for their order, “because Jamie spends so much of her life making sure Flora’s is perfect. It’s like she’s…” He pushes his glasses up, thoughtful. “It’s like she’s trying to make sure Flora gets this idyllic childhood––as idyllic as possible, anyway––that she never had. But doing that…” He shrugs. “Well, it feels like she’s letting what’s left of her own life slip away a bit, doesn’t it?”

Hannah hums. “Dani’s the same way, you know. Throwing herself into her classroom, her work. Planning all of these new events with terrible names… I mean, back-to-school night, can you imagine?” She laughs. “And then she… She pours herself into the students who need her the most, the ones who…” She sighs, looks back over at Owen, hesitating. “I was glad,” she says finally, decidedly, “when I saw them leaving together after Dani’s class holiday party.” She keeps her face indifferent, reaches for her tea, sips deeply.

Owen raises his eyebrows, choosing to err on the side of propriety, if only for Hannah’s sake. “Jamie won’t tell me much of anything about it,” he says, “but what I do know is that she deserves something… Good. And this Dani Clayton, she seems like a good thing.” He looks back at Hannah, grins. “I mean, Jamie actually laughs at my jokes these days. Normally she just… Scowls.” 

Hannah laughs. “I know we’ve only just met,” she says lightly, “but I’m not so sure that’s a good barometer.”

Owen laughs too, and Flora’s shuffling back to the table, carrying a carefully balanced tray with her. “Two hot chocolates and three croissants,” she slides three croissant-laden plates painstakingly off the tray. “I took the liberty of getting you one, Mrs. Grose,” she smiles up at them both innocently. “Owen’s treat.”

Owen and Hannah glance from Flora to each other, Hannah ducking her head as their eyes meet, a flush rising to Owen’s cheeks.

Flora, Owen finds himself considering, is onto more than they give her credit for.

Jamie’s running late again.

She’s running late and she knows no one else is surprised: not Owen, back home with Flora, Owen who’s probably planned for it, happily explaining to Flora the merits of a ratatouille as she takes in the sheer amount of vegetables, dubious, and certainly not Dani, her head propped up on her elbow, watching tenderly as Jamie untangles herself from Dani’s sheets, pausing as she slides out of bed to lean back in, pressing a quick kiss to the corner of Dani’s mouth.

Jamie slips into Dani’s bathroom, rushing, cursing when she steps into the shower without testing the water first, droplets scalding her skin. She’s adjusting soon enough, lathering shampoo into her curls, rushing to grab Dani’s loofah, the locations of Dani’s sponge and lavender body wash second nature to her by now, Jamie grabbing them easily, even with closed eyes, rinsing her hair.

She doesn’t hear Dani’s footsteps, doesn’t hear Dani pulling the shower curtain aside behind her, too preoccupied with getting herself as clean as she can as quickly as possible. Jamie only notices, breath catching in her throat, when Dani’s hands slide around her waist, thumbs coming to rest along the ridge of her hips, Dani ducking her head to Jamie’s neck. 

“Dani,” Jamie tries, failingly, to keep her voice steady. 

Dani hums into Jamie’s shoulder, teeth scraping softly against her skin.

“I have to get back,” Jamie’s dropped the loofah, her hands finding Dani’s, covering them, her thumbs tracing Dani’s knuckles.

“You said Owen’s got it, didn’t you?” Dani tilts her head, mouthing her way up Jamie’s neck, letting one hand slip down, lower. “Said he was making dinner tonight anyways.”

Jamie groans, leaning back into Dani, hand wrapping around Dani’s wrist as it drops below Jamie’s hips.

“What’s a few more minutes, hmm?” Dani’s teeth tug at Jamie’s earlobe, and when Jamie doesn’t respond, Dani’s hand stills. “If you need to go,” she says, voice low, serious now, “I’ll stop. Just say the word.”

Jamie only shakes her head, and, tightening her fingers around Dani’s wrist, tugs it down between her legs, Dani sucking in a breath as her fingers slip between Jamie’s folds, and Jamie’s head falls back against Dani’s shoulder.

“You’re positively glowing, Dani,” Rebecca pulls away from their hug, holding Dani’s hands loosely, eyeing her, appraising.

Dani ducks her head, laughs nervously. “Thanks,” she says shyly, reaching up to run a hand through her hair, suddenly self-conscious. “It’s good to see you, Rebecca. You too, Mrs. Grose,” she smiles over at Hannah. “I’m glad we could do this. See each other outside of school, I mean. Sorry I’m late,” she adds quickly, sinking down into a chair, fingers clenching in her lap. 

“Oh, it’s no worry at all.” Hannah waves a hand at her, nonchalant, settling into a seat across from her. “Gave us time to catch up. Order you some tea.” Hannah and Rebecca glance at each other, and Hannah slides a cup across the table towards Dani.

Dani eyes it warily, nose crinkled.

Hannah laughs, sliding a handful of sugar packets across the table too, and Dani’s face immediately relaxes, relieved. 

“How–– How’s the start of your semester been?” Dani’s excited to see Hannah and Rebecca, excited to catch up with them.

Winter break had passed in a whorl of snow and skin and Jamie, and Dani hadn’t had time to think about much else, hadn’t wanted to. It had been her own fault when she’d had to spend the entirety of their most recent Saturday together grading, hair falling in a curtain around her face as she hunched over her coffee table, red pen dancing over one worksheet after another, Jamie stretched out along the sofa behind her, hands wrapped around a mug of tea, watching, fond.

Dani hasn’t seen Rebecca and Hannah since school’s started again either, not outside quick Xerox runs, opting to skip the teacher’s lounge for lunch, sneaking out to the parking lot instead, to Jamie’s truck, waiting, idling, in parent parking. 

Rebecca and Hannah glance at each other again.

“Hannah,” Rebecca grins at Hannah, then over at Dani, “seems to have had a good holiday, haven’t you, Hannah?”

“Rebecca…” Hannah’s voice is warning, if affectionate, her brow furrowing, distracted, as Dani rips open two sugar packets at once.

“This will be of interest to you, actually, I think,” Rebecca leans forward, raising her eyebrows at Dani.

Dani raises her eyebrows back, waiting.

Hannah only scoffs.

“Our dear Hannah,” Rebecca continues, eyes crinkling, “seems to have taken up with a good friend of your Jamie Taylor’s.” Rebecca doesn’t know much about Hannah and Owen’s meeting, about their subsequent conversations, though it’s not for lack of wanting: Hannah has refused, polite, adamant, to divulge anything, holding her budding friendship––“friendship, Hannah, really?”––with Owen close to the vest. Rebecca doesn’t need to know that much, though, she thinks, not for what she’s doing here, now.

“My… Jamie Taylor?” Dani hopes her face stays composed, plain, fists clenching in her lap.

“How did that ever go, by the way, after Career Day, those field trips?” Rebecca presses. “Getting to… What was it? Know her?”

Dani swallows. “It went…” She feels herself flush, searching for the right words. “Fine.” 

Rebecca narrows her eyes at her, scrupulous, grin playing at the corners of her mouth. “You know,” she finally says, “if Jamie ever needs anyone to babysit Flora, I’d be happy to help out.” And if Jamie wants to put her in touch with any of the parents whose properties she’s working on, Rebecca adds to herself, help her find that elusive pupilage… Well, she wouldn’t complain about that, either.

“I do,” Rebecca adds, her voice softening, “miss our games, Flora’s and mine.”

“Yeah, I’ll… I’ll tell her,” Dani says absently, picking at a third sugar packet now. “I think Jamie’s friend Owen has it covered, though,” she adds, glancing up, pausing, wide eyed, realizing she’s been caught.

Rebecca smirks, leaning back into her seat, but Hannah… Hannah ducks her head, smiles softly. 

Dani blinks. Realizes.

“Owen,” she says, smiling widely. “You met Owen.”

They’ve actually made it out of Dani’s flat this time.

“It’s not a proper date,” Jamie had mused, glancing over at Dani shyly, smile soft, “but I figured… You’ve had me in your space plenty of times, so why not show you mine?”

Dani had only wrapped both her hands around one of Jamie’s in response, leaning into her. “Give yourself some credit,” she’d murmured as they crossed into the greenhouse where Jamie leases workspace, Dani’s feet coming to a halt as her eyes had widened, taking in the greenery around her. “It’s perfect,” she’d breathed.

Jamie had given her a tour of the greenhouse, the corners for this succulent and that vine, the nooks for her different shade plants. (“Violets,” she’d nodded down at the delicate purple flowers nestled together, “I always like to keep some growing. They’re Flora’s favorite,” she’d explained, voice quiet, unguarded.) She’d kept her hand firm in Dani’s the whole time, leading her down row after row, divulging each plant’s personality, their secrets, likes and dislikes. “They’re like people,” she’d explained, “except I find if I don’t like one, one looks at me kind of funny, I can always just… You know.” She’d dragged her free thumb across her neck, made a choking sound, beaming, proud, at the way Dani had giggled. 

It makes sense now, Dani thinks, perched atop a worktable in the greenhouse, ankles crossed, watching Jamie water a fern as rain begins to fall outside, pattering against the glass walls of the greenhouse. It makes sense now how attentive Jamie is, how thoughtful, despite her careful introversion. Dani had chalked it up just to Flora at first, to the unconditional love there, to the need to know another person so intimately, inside and out, for their own mutual, entangled survival, but it’s more than that. Watching Jamie in the greenhouse, Jamie dipping her fingers into soft loam, Jamie pruning spent petals, unaware of her own quiet apologies, murmured, to the stems between her fingers, Dani realizes that it’s because Jamie cares. Jamie cares a lot. About everyone.

Jamie, Dani realizes, can’t put her oxygen mask on first for the same reason Dani can’t: she loves too deeply, too much, watering everyone else––Flora, Owen, Miles and Henry, her plants… (Dani stops herself there, cheeks warm)––with so much love she hasn’t thought to save any for herself. Hasn’t realized she even could. 

“What’s kicking around in there?” Jamie’s slipping her pruning shears into a toolbox, tossing her gloves onto the table next to Dani, hands sliding up Dani’s legs, coming to rest, comfortable, familiar, on her thighs.

“Hmm? Oh,” Dani looks at her, smiles. “Thinkin’ ‘bout you.”

“Me?” Jamie raises her eyebrows, leaning in, Dani spreading her legs so that Jamie can step in closer, her arms wrapping loosely around Dani’s waist.

“Mmhm,” Dani wraps her hands around Jamie’s arms, squeezing. “I like getting to know you.”

“I’d hope so,” Jamie laughs, “we’ve been doing it for a while now.”

Dani scoffs, smiles. “I mean it,” she says, eyes finding Jamie’s. “Seeing you in your space, it’s… Different. Special.” She flushes. “I–– I know you, and I know I know you, but…” She frowns, eyes darting around the greenhouse, searching for the right words. “I feel like I can see you more clearly now. See your life. See more of it, anyway.”

Jamie feels her stomach flutter.. “Yeah, I…” She swallows. “I don’t let many people see that, huh?”

“Nope,” Dani ducks her head, finding Jamie’s eyes, her voice soft. “You don’t.”

Jamie leans in, brushes her nose against Dani’s. “I wish you could see the rest of it,” she whispers, “wish you could stay for dinner, for the night.” When she laughs next, it’s quiet, an exhale against Dani’s lips. “Wish you could make Flora pick up her dolls. I’m rubbish at that bit.” She closes her eyes, leans in closer. “Wish I could wake up next to you.”

Dani likes a lot of things about Jamie––her insatiable sweet tooth, particularly when it comes to baked goods, the same one she sees echoed in Flora every day during snack; the way her eyes glint, mischievous, when she’s come up with a particularly devastating blow to Dani’s effortfully cool demeanor; her fingers, always, whether coiling pipe cleaners or pruning roses or curling, tireless, into Dani––but this, she thinks, the way Jamie sinks, out of nowhere, into her, surrendering herself and laying down her arms, might be her favorite. 

Jamie, as a rule, had never done intimacy, vulnerability. That was another, unspoken rule Jamie had broken, telling her as much up front, huddled together on a school bus, Flora asleep under a blanket across the aisle. Dani thinks back to that bus ride, to the way Jamie had so deliberately paced herself, voice low as she told Dani about her parents, her brothers. It had almost imploded then, Dani unable to help herself, the edge of her pinkie finger grazing Jamie’s under her blanket, but then Flora had stirred across from them, and Dani had frozen, Jamie’s foot bouncing, nervous, underneath the seat. 

Dani wonders sometimes if, on some level, they had meant for it all to implode then, if every field trip hadn’t been another almost, Flora’s parent-teacher conference an eleventh-hour inevitability.

This is new, though.

Dani has always known their third rule was bound to break eventually, Jamie having promised her as much that first day, lying, spent, in Dani’s bed, but Jamie has always taken care to keep Dani and Flora separate outside of the classroom, two neatly portioned halves of her life kept apart by the grace of Saturday afternoons, Dani’s flat, and the generosity of Jamie’s friends, of their boundless love for Flora. 

It’s been the defining factor this whole time, the boundaries Jamie has demarcated for Flora, incontestable lines in the sand, and as much as Dani has wanted to daydream, has wanted to imagine her and Jamie sitting down, curling into each other on the couch, passing a glass of wine back and forth, listening, smiling, to Flora present story time––

Dani bites her lip, closes her eyes too, pressing them shut, her fingers squeezing Jamie’s arms tight, tighter. “I’d like that.”

Jamie’s lips are gentle on Dani’s when she closes the distance between them, but there’s a desperation there too, a want deeper than the ones to which Jamie’s given credence thus far.

Dani can sense it, feels it too for herself, and she loops her heels around the backs of Jamie’s legs as she kisses her back, drawing her in closer, arms sliding up and around Jamie’s neck. 

“Dani…” Jamie kisses her harder, her voice hoarse, tugging Dani to the edge of the table, pulling Dani’s body into hers.

“I know,” Dani whispers back, tilting her head to accommodate Jamie’s roving lips, surrendering, hitching her legs up around Jamie’s waist as the rain picks up outside, loud against glass panes of the greenhouse, “I know.”

Henry’s happy to take on Flora one Saturday afternoon at the last minute, Jamie calling on a Thursday night to ask, bemoaning Owen’s newfound unavailability. “Dunno who he thinks he is, in sudden possession of a life outside of my kitchen,” she grumbles. “Who’s he suddenly hanging out with who’s better than Flora?”

Henry only mildly succeeds at biting his tongue. “Seems like everybody’s in possession of a life these days, doesn’t it?”


“I’d be happy to watch Flora,” Henry clears his throat, course correcting. “You know she’s always welcome, Jamie. You too.” 

Jamie does know, and when Henry greets Flora late Saturday morning with a hug and a promise of cinnamon rolls, the offer stands for Jamie, too.

It’s a testament, Henry thinks, to the depth of Jamie’s feelings for Dani Clayton that she doesn’t even hesitate. “Sorry boss,” Jamie spreads her hands and shrugs, grinning apologetically. “But send one home with Flora later, yeah?” 

Jamie hasn’t told him it’s Dani she’s seeing on Saturday afternoons, but Henry knows it’s been brewing, from Jamie’s sudden presence at––and uncharacteristic bewilderment over––Career Day to her exponential involvement in Flora’s classroom. Seeing the two of them drawn together, Jamie comfortable, finally, for what may have very well been the first time in her life, after Flora’s class holiday party had only served to confirm what he already knew.

What remains, Henry thinks, bemused, is whether or not Jamie and Flora know what the other is doing, the two of them so in sync and unsubtle in their machinations to everyone but each other.

“Your mother seems… Happier,” Henry muses aloud, Flora reaching across the table for a cinnamon roll, fingers sinking into the icing as she grabs for the middlemost bun, tearing it away from the others around it.

Miles crinkles his nose, gives Flora a look. “You’re touching all of them.”

“I’m not,” Flora takes out nearly half of the roll in one bite, protesting around a mouthful of cinnamon and baked dough. “I only took the one I wanted.” She wipes her fingers, futile, on a napkin, turning back to Henry. “She is, I think. I’m not late to school anymore, and she doesn’t seem to get as cross when I leave my dolls out.” 

Henry smiles, thoughtful. 



“Do you think my mum is in love?”

Henry blinks. “I… Beg your pardon?”

Flora’s face is neutral as she reaches for another cinnamon roll, looking askance at Miles as she grabs one, this time, from the edge of the tray. 

Miles, however, has moved on from Flora’s decidedly poor cinnamon roll etiquette, tapping his hands along the edge of the table, impatient, already exhausted by Flora’s endless goings on about her mum and Miss Clayton.

“I only ask,” Flora drags her finger through the icing atop her second cinnamon roll, “because she and Miss Clayton spent the evening together, I think, after our holiday party. You remember,” she adds, and Henry’s momentarily sidetracked by the way Flora seems to be drawing a flower in the glaze. “And now I have Saturday dates with Owen, or with you and Miles, which are perfectly splendid, and they seem to be for her too, because she’s always smiling when she gets home. And she’s smiling every morning, too, when she drops me off at school. But,” Flora’s brows furrow, her words slowing, more thoughtful now, “I’m afraid I only know love, romantic love, from stories. I don’t know what it actually looks like to be in love. And I think she is…” Flora loses focus, gaze slipping, staring off somewhere between Henry and the wallpaper behind him, “I hope she is. But I’m afraid I don’t know.”

Henry watches her for a moment, eyes soft, and when he finally speaks, his voice is gentle. “I can’t speak for your mother, Flora. She’d probably…” He trails off, laughs. “She’d probably have my head if I tried to.”

“You’re probably right.” Flora says cheerfully, ripping off a piece of cinnamon roll and popping it into her mouth. 

Henry thinks he should be unnerved by the cheery sincerity in Flora’s words, but he shakes it off, continues. “I think you have to wait this one out, I’m afraid. Let your mother tell you in her own time.”

Flora sighs and, crossing her arms, leans back in her seat. She looks so much like Jamie in that moment, Henry thinks. “I was afraid you’d say that.”

“You know what I do know, though?”

“What’s that?”

“I don’t think love... “ Henry pauses, tries again. “I’m no expert, mind you. But I don’t think love has to look like any one thing. It can change, grow. Just like you change and grow.”

“Like growing up?” Flora cocks her head, eyes bright.

“Yes, like growing up. You’re never too old to grow up, you know, Flora. And love is like that, too. It may look like one thing one day, and… Something else entirely the next.”

Flora tilts her head the other way now. “Like… One day it may look like a flower, and the next day it may look like an ice cream sundae.”

“Yes,” Henry laughs, “a bit like that.”

“Or a warm blanket,” Flora continues, excited now, “or a delicious breakfast, or perhaps some shepherd’s pie.”

“Perhaps,” Henry smiles warmly at her. “But you know, Flora,” he says, judicious now, folding his hands in front of him, “someone once told me that there’s a lot more to it than love, too. A lot more to it.”

Miles glances up at his uncle, tilting his head.

Flora, however, doesn’t bite. “Maybe so,” she reaches for a third cinnamon roll, pauses, looks at Henry, only plucking it out of the tray once he’s nodded. “But,” she takes a bite before she’s even set the bun down on her plate, “sometimes the whole of it, love and everything else there is, can all work out, don’t you think?”

Henry, for all his years, all his schooling, all his oratory, isn’t sure he can argue with her there.

It’s a Friday night when Jamie finally breaks.

Maybe it’s the wine she’d had with dinner, maybe it’s the way Dani had smiled at her at pick-up, wide and knowing and with so much affection it had made Jamie feel like she was staring at the sun. Maybe it’s the way they’d kissed in Jamie’s car at lunch, fervent and fast and wanting so much more than the twenty minutes they’d had between Jamie’s midday break and Dani’s lunch bell, the single sleep standing between them and another Saturday as good as an eternity.

Maybe, Jamie thinks, it’s that this is all she’s been able to think about for weeks now, her mind consumed by thoughts of Dani wrapped up in her sheets, Dani’s hands scrambling, gripping her headboard; of Dani, snug between her legs on the window seat, Jamie’s arms wrapped around her, bare skin leaning back into bare skin as the two of them stare out at the sky; of waking up next to Dani, breathing her in, their mumbled “good mornings” paving the way for soft kisses in the early sunlight.

Of Flora’s face, beaming, as Dani tucks her warmly into bed, pulling Flora’s favorite unicorn sheets up and around her chin, Jamie watching, leaning against the doorframe, tugging Dani around the corner as soon as Flora’s light is off, kissing her against the wall, urgent and adoring.

She couldn’t ruin this for Flora, she’d thought. She wouldn’t ruin this for Flora.

But Flora…

Flora needs someone like Dani in her life, someone with an imagination to rival her own, mind fast and reaching and eager, to dive headfirst with her into her dollhouse, tidily keeping track of different dolls and their elaborate histories in a way Jamie can’t, doesn’t have the temperance for. Flora needs someone who will curl up on her other side in bed, stroke her hair softly, easing her into sleep as Jamie fumbles with her battered copy of Frankenstein, turning the pages as she reads aloud.

Jamie needs someone who can explain to her why, developmentally, her eight year-old picked Frankenstein as a bedtime story in the first place.

Flora needs someone who knows, even a little bit, how to cook, to bridge the gap between Jamie and Owen, between too much takeaway and what might as well be haute cuisine. Someone who can make Flora panmuffins, even if that someone can’t do the dishes.

Jamie needs someone who will keep her company as she does them instead, smiling, laughing, listening to her gripe about which suppliers are backordered and which client doesn’t understand the limitations of climate zones.

Flora needs someone who still, Jamie suspects, doesn’t know the difference between pants and trousers, an expert on American travel destinations, accent offensive and so, so perfect it can blur the hard edge of Flora’s burgeoning frustration when it comes, can smooth it over into a laugh instead.

Jamie needs someone who can do the same for her, can take up her anger in familiar hands, can let it breathe, holding her until it passes.

Flora needs someone who can see her for her, for all the Floras she is throughout the day, who loves her for every single one of them. Flora needs someone who loves Flora for Flora’s sake, who chooses to love her, who will continue to love her, professional responsibility or no. Flora needs someone who loves her not because of Jamie, but who loved her already, someone with a smile that Flora can’t stop talking about, one that she seems to save specifically for Flora.

Jamie needs someone who loves her for her too.

And, Jamie thinks, she’d been right before, the whole time.

Flora does need someone to be cool, effortlessly cool, when Jamie can’t be, when Jamie has to dole out consequences, or broccoli, or when Flora’s seventeen and––Jamie still grinds her teeth at the thought––dating. 

It hits Jamie with a jolt, something she’d known the whole time, the last bit of what she’d buried, forced down for Flora, finally breaking ground, opening, in the moonlight.

Who still talks to their year four teacher when they’re seventeen? Jamie had asked herself, and the answer, she finally permits herself to admit, is, she hopes, Flora. 

Jamie needs Dani there when Flora’s seventeen.

Jamie needs Dani there every day, for every birthday, every holiday, every passing moment, even the boring ones. Especially the boring ones. 

Flora’s needed someone like Dani Clayton her whole life, and, Jamie finally admits to herself, she has too.

And so Jamie breaks, picking up the phone as soon as Flora’s asleep, fingers dialing Dani’s number without thought.

“Dani?” Jamie’s voice is hoarse, abrupt, when Dani answers the phone.

“Hey,” Jamie can practically see the furrow of Dani’s forehead, the concern etched around her mouth, “everything okay?”

“Yeah,” Jamie closes her eyes, presses her fingers to the crease between her brows. “Yeah, it’s… What are you doing right now?”

“Well, uh… Not too much, I just–– Just on the sofa. Watchin’ TV. Jamie, are you sure everything’s okay?”

Jamie doesn’t answer the question, doesn’t hesitate. “Do you want to come over?”


“Do you want to come over? Here,” Jamie clears her throat, voice small. “Now.”

“Jamie…” Dani’s hopeful, Jamie can hear it, Dani wants to.

“To stay,” Jamie clarifies, “with me.”

“Yeah,” Dani breathes out immediately, before she pauses, thinking. “Are you… Are you sure?” She doesn’t say the rest, doesn’t need to.

“Yes,” Jamie’s response is instant. “Yes, Dani. Please.”

Dani’s already up when Jamie says it, is already throwing her closet door open, stretching up onto her tiptoes, scrambling for her backpack. “Okay,” she whispers, tugging it down, crossing to her dresser, voice steadier than Jamie thinks she’s maybe ever heard it. “I’m coming.”

When Dani gets there, however, teeth tugging at her bottom lip, glancing up and down the corridor as she checks the numbers on the doors, following them to Jamie’s, she finds Jamie waiting in her doorway, jaw clenched. She’s clenching it, Dani notices with a drop in her stomach, the way she does when she’s upset, when she has to step back, breathe, take a break from the world.

“Hey,” Dani slides her hands into Jamie’s slowly, carefully, tangling their fingers together, her voice low. “You okay?”

“Fuck, Dani,” Jamie’s body goes slack as soon as Dani’s hands find hers, deflating, leaning over against the doorframe. “I didn’t… It wasn’t supposed to be like this, I’m so sorry, I…” She trails off, looking for the right words.

“What’s going on? Jamie, talk to me.” Dani steps in closer, steeling herself, thumbs tracing soft circles into Jamie’s hands.

“It’s Flora,” Jamie sighs, eyes finding Dani’s. “Right after we hung up, she came into my room, and I… Think she’s come down with something. She’s fine,” she adds quickly, Dani’s hands tightening around hers, brows pinching together in concern, “and she’s sleeping now, but…” Jamie sighs, apologetic. “I’m sorry, Dani. I was really hoping…” She shakes her head. “I was really hoping this night would go differently.”

Dani’s face only softens, lips pressing together, resolute. “What can I do?”

Of course, Jamie thinks, that’s her response.

“You don’t… You don’t have to do anything, Dani. I’m just sorry you came all this way, and…” 

“What if I stayed anyway?” Dani asks suddenly, her eyes bright, determined.


“Yeah,” Dani says, voice wavering, but somehow surer, “tonight.”

Jamie looks down, grin breaking across her face in spite of herself. “I dunno, Dani. I dunno, you––” 

Dani shakes her head, squeezes Jamie’s hands, and Jamie finds her eyes again. “Let me help you,” Dani says, and Jamie’s eyes are fixed on Dani, Jamie hanging on her every word. “You shouldn’t have to be up all night checking up on her, anyway.” Dani takes a small step closer, smiling, hopeful, brows raised.

Jamie takes a deep breath. “Dani…” 

“We–– We don’t have to,” Dani’s eyes flit, nervous, around them, “do anything, I can just… Stay over? And we could just… Sleep, if you want. If that’s okay with you, I mean. Between taking turns, checking up on Flora?” She pauses, eyes finding Jamie’s before glancing nervously down again. “I think,” Dani says, voice low, “you and I both know this… Me staying, I mean… Is–– Is more than just about… That.”

She hears Jamie sigh, Jamie’s fingers tightening around hers, pulling her in closer. “It’s about a lot more than that,” she whispers, and Dani looks back up at her, eyes wide.

They’re quiet for a minute, staring at each other, Dani’s thumbs tracing lazy circles against Jamie’s hands, and then Dani’s leaning in, bumping her nose against Jamie’s, whispering. “Can I come in?”

“You’re sure, for real? I wouldn’t want you to get sick––”

Jamie can feel the soft rumble of Dani’s laugh before she hears it. “I’ve been a teacher for nine years now,” she replies easily, “I think my immune system will be okay.”

Jamie’s hesitating, still, even as Dani leans in, brushing her lips against Jamie’s. 

“Hey,” Dani murmurs, sliding a hand up to cup Jamie’s face, running her thumb along Jamie’s cheekbone, “let me help you. Let someone take care of you for a change, okay?”

Jamie only stares at her, long and hard and absolutely melting, and then she’s leaning back in, pressing their lips together again and pulling Dani inside with her, kicking the door shut quietly behind them.

Chapter Text

“I’ll, uh,” Jamie presses one more quick kiss to Dani’s lips once they’re inside, tangles their fingers together, “give you a tour later, yeah? Flora has this habit, sometimes, of wandering at night–– It’s completely harmless,” she adds quickly, “got it checked out and everything. Usually it’s just that she needs… Water, or…” She realizes Dani’s staring at her, trails off. She swallows, mouth dry. “You good?”

Dani stares at her a moment longer, soft, unblinking, head tilted, a smile playing at the corners of her lips.

She’s here, she thinks dumbly. Every moment she’s spent wanting, drafting immaculately constructed imagined futures, losing herself to elaborate daydreams has led her to this moment, here, standing just inside the door to Jamie’s apartment.

“Yeah,” Dani whispers, and her voice makes Jamie shiver. “Real good.”

Jamie grins widely, glancing down at their feet, biting the inside of her cheek. “Stop making me want to kiss ya, Miss Clayton,” she says, voice low, before glancing back up, her eyes shining underneath her lashes. “I won’t be able to stop.”

Dani bites her lip, lets out a nervous chuckle. “Sorry,” she whispers back, eyes big and blue and innocent.

Jamie knows she isn’t sorry at all.

Jamie rolls her eyes and, with a murmured “c’mon,” tugs Dani through her darkened flat towards the hallway, Dani stumbling as she toes off her shoes by the door, quick to follow.

Dani’s eyes flit around Jamie’s flat as she lets Jamie lead her, Dani eagerly taking in as much of the space as she can in the dark. It’s not much, what she’s able to see, eyes only beginning to adjust by the time Jamie’s pulled her into the hallway, and Dani can make out a degree of comfortable clutter, a space that she can tell Jamie does her best to keep clean, orderly, controlled, and that the rest of the universe––notably one Flora Taylor––has distinctly other plans for. Dani thinks she can make out plants: ferns atop bookshelves and cabinets; violets for Flora hidden in shaded corners; one of those tree things she’d once called a “swiss cheese plant” in passing, only to receive an immediate glower from Jamie.

The hallway, Dani observes as they cross through it, is lined with frames, but for all her labored squinting, Dani can’t make out what they are. Jamie’s giving her hand one, two extra squeezes soon enough anyway, and, pressing a finger to her lips, nods at a cracked door as they pass, warm glow from a night light spilling out into the hallway. Dani understands, biting back the impulse to glance inward, poke her head through the door, get a glimpse of Flora, fast asleep, in what is just as much her own space as it is Jamie’s.

Dani wonders, briefly, if Flora looks like Jamie when she sleeps, remembering the afternoons Jamie’s fallen asleep in her bed, on her couch, brow smooth, one hand curled in a loose fist up alongside her head––

And then they’re in Jamie’s bedroom.

Without the overt influence of Flora, Dani notes, it’s the tidiest room in the house, but she can sense Flora everywhere all the same. She’s there in the tiny jumpers, folded, stacked neatly in a laundry basket along Jamie’s window seat, in the elaborate crayon drawing––a portrait of the two of them, Jamie and Flora, waving with stick hands––taped in the corner of Jamie’s mirror, in the doll propped up against a lamp on Jamie’s nightstand, legs splayed out in a sitting position, scraggly hair painstakingly wrapped in a scrap of bandana. 

Jamie’s everywhere, too.

She’s there in the tiny ceramic pots, scattered around the room, succulents and sprouts poking up out of rocks and soft dirt; in the mugs, the only bit of clutter Jamie seems to allow, accenting Jamie’s nightstand, her dresser, the window seat; in the books, well-read and worn, stacked on every possible surface, the modest wooden bookshelf against the far wall, across from Jamie’s bed, overwhelmed.

Dani’s eyeing the pile of books on Jamie’s nightstand, tilting her head to read their spines, has only just made out Frankenstein at the top, when she sees it.

Just along the edge of Jamie’s nightstand, easily, she thinks, within reach of her bed, is a pinecone. It’s small and round and it makes Dani’s heart, just for a moment, stop.

It’d been nighttime, sky long dark as Dani had shepherded her class off of the bus after their field trip to the nature reserve, watching over them as they sleepily dragged their feet, meeting parents and families, remainders of brown bag dinners clutched, crinkled, in their hands. Jamie had waited with her, Flora fast asleep in her arms, Jamie cradling her to her chest, as Dani had seen everyone off.

“You don’t have to wait, you know,” she’d murmured, voice low, waving cheerfully to Isabel and a scowling Mrs. Lloyd. 

“It’s no trouble,” Jamie had said easily, contradicted by the rustle of her jacket, shifting her weight back and forth as she’d held Flora carefully to her.

Trouble or not, Jamie had stayed true to her word, waiting with Dani until the last child had been picked up, her curls blowing, softly, with every breath, every fall of Flora’s chest.

“Thanks,” Dani had turned to her, shy smile giving way to staring, Jamie staring back.

“Thank you,” Jamie had finally replied, coming to as Flora had squirmed a little in her arms, adjusting, “for... “ She’d paused, biting her cheek.

Dani had known what she’d wanted to say, the feeling of her pinkie finger against Jamie’s etched in her memory, right there next to Jamie’s own history, quiet, murmured, their foreheads all but touching in the darkness of the bus.

“Yeah,” Dani had jumped in, swallowing, nodding. “Yeah, of course. And thank you,” she’d added again, quickly, “Jamie.”

Jamie had nodded, turning towards her truck with a “g’night, then,” and Dani had watched her go, just for a moment, before remembering, with a start, what was in her bag.

“Jamie!” Dani had chased after her, rifling through her bag as she caught up, digging out a plump, perfect pinecone and holding it out to Jamie, grinning.

It had been the goofiest, most beautiful grin Jamie had ever seen. 

“I… I found it,” Dani had explained quickly, “when we were walking… Back at the site? And I–– I thought you might like it.” She’d nodded, certain, before supplementing an “I know it’s not a flower” with the tiniest shake of her head, “but…” 

Jamie had only bitten her lip, wide smile breaking through anyway, eyes alight under the streetlamp above them. “It’s perfect, Dani,” she’d said, voice rough when she’d added a quiet “thank you.”

Somehow, impossibly, Dani had only grinned wider.

“I can’t, uh, grab it though,” Jamie had shrugged her shoulders, arms still looped around Flora. “D’you wanna, maybe…” And she’d angled her body, lifting Flora’s legs a little higher, opening up a pocket to Dani’s reach. 

Dani had frozen, hesitating before stepping closer, slowly, her eyes wide, and, slipping her hand into Jamie’s pocket, dropped the pinecone there. If she had slid her hand against Jamie’s waist as she did so, heard Jamie’s breath hitch, felt her body tense, savored––briefly––the warmth she felt there, through Jamie’s jacket…

It wasn’t, Dani had thought then, the coat closet at least. 

Every field trip another almost.

Dani turns around, finds Jamie. Beams. “I’m here,” she whispers, awe seeping into her voice.

“Yeah,” Jamie’s been watching her from the doorway. Pulling the door shut softly behind her, she crosses towards Dani, closing the distance between them. “You’re here.”

Dani’s eyes flutter closed and she leans in to kiss Jamie, arms sliding around her waist, sighing into her mouth. 

Their kiss is gentle, languid, one of Jamie’s hands reaching up to cup Dani’s cheek, Dani pulling Jamie in closer as Jamie hums happily against her lips. Dani’s hands slip underneath the back of Jamie’s t-shirt, fingers skimming over the smooth skin and lean muscle there, and Jamie shivers. It’s familiar to her now, the way Dani’s fingers, seeking out skin every time, glide over her body, the goosebumps she leaves in her wake, but here, now, in Jamie’s bedroom?

Jamie pulls away, presses her forehead against Dani’s, breathless and dizzy. 

It’s nothing like Jamie ever thought she’d have, let herself think about at all, really, until Dani. Dani, who’d found her way into Jamie’s bedroom first in the form of a pinecone––not quite a seed, Jamie knows, but close enough for her to chide the universe’s sudden and complete lack of subtlety––and now, here, hands sliding into the back pockets of her jeans.

It all feels so new that Jamie doesn’t know what to do next, feels young and small all over again.

She doesn’t need to say it, though, not to Dani. Dani, who knows her inside and out by now, knows how to interpret the timbre of her breath, the tiny part of her lips, the way Jamie’s hand trembles, sliding against the back of Dani’s head.

“What do you say we get our pajamas on?” Dani reaches up, tucks one of Jamie’s curls up out of her face and behind an ear, and Jamie thinks, distantly, that this must be the way Dani talks to her students. It’s not patronizing, though; if anything, to Jamie, it’s grounding, offering one solid step after another, a clear path forward through uncharted waters. 

Jamie swallows, nods. “Do you need to borrow a pair?” She asks, voice smaller than she’d like.

Dani’s completely forgotten her backpack, dropped unceremoniously by Jamie’s bedroom door and haphazardly packed as she'd rushed out of her apartment and over to Jamie’s. She’d brought her own pajamas, has them in there, is fully prepared, but––

To hell with preparedness. Anxiety. Whatever her mother would call it.

Dani ditches the plan.

“Yeah,” her hands knot and unknot in the hem of Jamie’s t-shirt. “If… If that’s okay.”

“More than okay.”

Neither of them move, lingering, instead, with their eyes fixed on each other’s, Dani’s fingers keeping time, tangling in and out of Jamie’s shirt. 

“Right then,” Jamie finally tugs herself away, Dani watching her as she crosses to her dresser, rifling through it. Jamie seems more collected already, made calmer by the gift of purpose as she reemerges with a neatly folded matched set, deep red with white piping, holding them up for appraisal. “What do you think?”

Dani tilts her head, mouth quirking up to the side. “I like them––”

Jamie cocks hers back at her. “But?” She asks, eyebrows raised.

Dani flushes. “Do you… Maybe…” She bites her lip, her own nerves eking out as Jamie’s lessen, a scale balancing, rebalancing. Dani’s eyes dart around the room before she forces them back to Jamie, holding her gaze steady. “Which pajamas have you been wearing?”

Jamie knows what she’s asking, understands.

She stares at her a moment, brows still raised, gaze soft, a smile playing at the corners of her lips. “Under the pillow,” she nods over at the bed, “help yourself.”

Dani’s relief is visible, her face relaxing into a smile, and she turns to Jamie’s bed, reaching under her pillow, coming up with a crumpled, oversized t-shirt and shorts. She presses the shirt to her face, breathes in. 

“Y’know, anyone else might find it creepy,” Dani looks over to find Jamie shimmying out of her jeans, grinning over at her, teasing, “you doing that.”

“Good thing you’re not anyone else” is all Dani says, placid, dropping Jamie’s pajamas back on the bed and turning back to her, Dani giving Jamie her full attention as Jamie tugs her t-shirt up over her head, tossing it into the hamper alongside her dresser. 

“Good thing,” Jamie agrees, reaching back to unhook her bra and sliding the straps down her shoulders. She glances over at Dani as she does, lips quirking up when she sees Dani, gaze heavy, still watching her. She leans over, tossing her bra in the hamper, too. 

“I’m not sorry for wanting to be close to you,” Dani eventually says, eyes trailing down Jamie’s legs as Jamie––finally, some corner of Dani’s mind whispers to herself––slides her underwear off. “For wanting to be so wrapped up in you,” she breathes.

“Didn’t say you should be,” Jamie shakes out the folded pajama set, slipping into the shorts, pausing. “I like it, you know,” she adds, and then she’s pulling the shirt down over her head, mussing her hair.

Dani hums thoughtfully, her brows pinching together as Jamie’s pajama top glides down over her breasts, her torso, her toned stomach.

“Sorry to disappoint, Miss Clayton, but…” Jamie raises her eyebrows, jerks a head to the door. “Eight year-old prone to wandering and all.” She runs a hand over her front, smoothing the creases out of her pajamas. “However,” she steps back in towards Dani, closer, waggling her eyebrows, “if you want to cop a feel once we’re in bed…” 

Dani laughs, her face scrunching up. “Deal.”

“Now…” Jamie drags her eyes up Dani’s figure, nods at the pajamas crumpled on the bed. “I think it’s your turn.”

It’s easy, actually, Jamie thinks, having Dani in her space, in Flora’s. She hadn’t known how to do it, have another person there, not at first, but with Dani? With Dani it's natural. Right.

“Only if you can help me get these off,” Dani’s eyes are playful, dancing in the low light as she looks down at her clothes.

Leave it to Dani Clayton to surprise her like this, in the throes of what Jamie senses to be Dani's own burgeoning anxiety.

“Blimey,” Jamie raises her eyebrows, clears her throat, but she’s already taking another step towards Dani, reaching out to tug at the zipper of her sweatshirt.

Jamie’s hands are careful, deliberate as they slip Dani’s sweatshirt back off of her shoulders, tug her purple t-shirt out of the waistband of her jeans. They wrap around Dani’s ribcage, squeezing softly as Jamie pushes Dani’s shirt up, and when Jamie turns her attention to Dani’s bra, the silk of Jamie’s pajama top brushing against Dani’s breasts as it slips off, Dani gasps, pressing, without realizing, into Jamie. 

Jamie can’t help but smirk, and, pressing a soft kiss to the corner of Dani’s mouth, sets to work on her jeans, sliding them down Dani’s legs, lowering herself to her knees as she does, gingerly lifting each of Dani’s feet, pulling them free. She presses a kiss to one of Dani’s knees, too, rising back up, and reaches over for the pajama top on the bed, pulling it softly over Dani’s head, one hand taking care to mind her ponytail. 

It’s so much, Dani thinks, so much.

Dani sighs, breathing in the shirt as Jamie slips it over her head, reveling in the feeling of Jamie falling all around her, and then Jamie’s on her knees again, slipping Dani’s underwear off, chastely maneuvering her, one leg at a time, into her sleep shorts.

Dani had meant to take care of Jamie, to end the night wrapped around Jamie in her bed, pressing easy kisses to her temples, her eyelids, the corners of her mouth, arms looped around her waist, nuzzling deeper into each other between checks on Flora.

“There we go,” Jamie’s voice is hoarse when she’s back on her feet, eyes trained on Dani’s. “How’s that?”

But here Jamie is, taking care of her.

“It’s perfect,” Dani tangles her fingers with Jamie’s, holding fast.

“I’m… Gonna go check on Flora,” Jamie smiles, apologetic again, and pulls her in, kissing her gently, “and then I’ll be back. You wanna get comfortable in the meantime?”

Dani glances over at Jamie’s bed, swaying on her feet.

Here Jamie is, taking care of her, and now Flora too.

What can I do? Dani had asked, her habitual deep dive into selflessness.

Dani’s fingers tighten around Jamie’s.

“It’s just a bed, Dani,” Jamie squeezes her hand reassuringly, thumbs stroking Dani’s knuckles, “yeah?”

Dani’s not sure when it happened, when the shifting balance between them had so drastically realized itself, but she’s nervous, so nervous, and Jamie is confident and cool and meeting Dani exactly where she needs her. 

Dani bites her lip, nods. 

“Here,” Jamie drops her hand, reaches over to pull her sheets back, fluff her pillow. Her hands, steady, find Dani’s hips, ease her downward onto the mattress. “How’s that?”

Dani’s quiet for a moment, unmoving, and then she’s turning onto her side, legs burrowing deeper under the covers, nuzzling into Jamie’s pillow experimentally, inhaling deeply. She sighs happily. “It’s good,” she beams up at Jamie, her smile spreading slowly, as if from behind a passing stormcloud. “Can’t wait to have you here, though.”

Jamie chuckles, watching her. “You’re a weirdo, Dani Clayton, you know that?”

Dani only smiles dreamily up at her, eyes shining.

Jamie bends down, kissing Dani one more time. “Can’t wait to be here,” she murmurs against her lips, “then you can smell me all you like.”

Dani giggles, shoving at her, and Jamie’s grinning, stepping backwards, watching Dani all the way out of the room.

It’s something else, Jamie thinks, making her way back into her room, seeing Dani Clayton waiting for her in her bed, hair splayed out in a golden halo around her head as Dani smiles over at her. It’s something else, and she already knows it’s the kind of something else she wants to see again, and again and again and again.

“How is she?” Dani breathes, Jamie nudging the door shut behind her with her toe, making her way over to the bed. Jamie doesn’t answer immediately, only watches Dani’s face as she slides one knee up alongside Dani’s hips, swinging her other leg up and over to straddle her.

“She’s good,” Jamie leans down, ghosting her lips along Dani’s jawline. “Fast asleep. No fever. I think,” she ducks her head, nosing her way between Dani’s neck and shoulder, “she should be good for the night.”

“Yeah?” Dani giggles, Jamie’s lips tickling the sensitive skin underneath her ear. 

“Yeah,” Jamie grins, chuckling as Dani twists her hips, rolling Jamie to the side, the two of them facing each other as Jamie’s eyes soften. “Hey.” 

“Hiya,” Dani smiles shyly back at her, hands seeking out Jamie’s under the covers.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Jamie whispers, eyes finding Dani’s.

“I’m so glad…” Dani’s voice catches, wavers, and she burrows closer into Jamie, tucking her head underneath her chin, “I stayed.” 

Jamie nestles her face into Dani’s hair, breathes in. “I am too.”

They stay like that, quiet, comfortable, and Dani’s starting to drift off when she feels Jamie chuckling again. 

“What?” Her voice is heavy, syrupy.

“I know I said you could cop a feel, Miss Clayton,” Jamie’s voice is too, and wry even so, “but it seems you’re falling asleep.”

“You are too,” Dani’s protest is mumbled, her lips stumbling as they mouth the words against Jamie’s neck, but her fingers wrap around Jamie’s pajama top, pulling her in closer.

“Dunno what you’re talking about,” Jamie’s voice is lilting, drifting, “but I’m positively rarin’ to go.”

Dani wants to laugh, but the best she can muster is her breath, warm against Jamie’s throat, and she feels Jamie smile, wide, sleepy, into her hair.

The next thing Dani’s conscious of is stirring, the sound of Jamie’s voice, warm and soft, whispering, her lips curling around Dani’s ear. “I’m gonna turn over, okay? Not goin’ anywhere, promise.”

Dani nods sleepily into the crook of Jamie’s neck, and then Jamie’s turning, Dani’s arms wrapping around her middle, even through the haze of sleep. Dani sighs, pulling Jamie back, tight, against her.

It’s the last thing Jamie feels as she dozes back off, sliding her hand over Dani’s, Dani leaning forward, her lips, pressed, against Jamie’s shoulder.

Dani Clayton wakes up before the sun for the first time in her life.

She’s slow to come to, her eyes heavy as they take in Jamie in front of her, glassy as they drag up her back, detour to her shoulder, come to land on bed-ruffled curls. She lifts her head, fingertips dragging lightly across Jamie’s stomach through her pajama top, her eyes drifting back to Jamie’s shoulder. She leans in, kissing Jamie’s scar, and Jamie stirs softly, snuggling deeper into her pillow. 

Dani can’t remember the last time she’s slept this well, and perhaps, she thinks, she never has.

She falls back onto her pillow, playing with Jamie’s fingers absently. She wants to stay there longer, to savor the feeling of Jamie in her arms, to pepper her neck and shoulders with kisses, but… 

For all her peace, all her contentment, now that she’s awake, there’s a restlessness there, a feeling Dani can’t shake, of standing on the edge of some unfathomable depth.

She cranes her head over Jamie, glances at the clock on Jamie’s nightstand. It’s early.

Too early, definitely, for an eight year-old.

Dani drops another kiss to Jamie’s shoulder before she sits up, swinging her legs over the side of Jamie’s bed, making her way towards the door quietly. She glances back again, one last time, smiling to herself at the image of Jamie, one leg hitched up along the bed, breathing softly, a stray curl flopped into her face.

Poking her head into the hallway, Dani warily glances left, then right. The glow from the nightlight is still shining out of Flora’s room in the predawn shadows, Flora’s door cracked, seemingly untouched since Jamie had checked on her the night before. Dani holds her breath as she slips past, walking on tiptoes the rest of the way to Jamie’s kitchen, peering curiously around dim corners, her knowledge of Jamie and Flora’s flat reserved to what she had seen the night before, Jamie leading her forward through the darkness.

Dani finds a light in the kitchen and flips it on, blinking quickly, her eyes adjusting to the sudden influx of light. Awake and restless and freshly determined to take care of Jamie, her previous night’s convictions flooding back to her, Dani sets herself to finding Jamie’s kettle.

She may not have it entirely figured out yet, but Dani’s resolved to make Jamie tea.

Jamie’s been pushing herself, Dani knows, opening up her life and her home to Dani, breaking all of her rules, accelerating full speed into something that terrifies her so much and Dani… 

Dani’s been here. Dani’s been here, with her, the whole time, wanting and wanting and wanting and so desperate for whatever Jamie has been willing to give that she hasn’t even stopped to think, to wonder that maybe, finally, what they want and what they’re both willing and able to give have finally aligned. 

That now, all of Dani’s wanting, all of her imagined futures, every self-indulgent daydream, is possible, tangible.

And with that… 

Which is it, then, mom? Dani had asked her mother on the phone all those months ago. Am I scared of tomorrow, or am I here to run away from yesterday?

Dani finds Jamie’s kettle, hands starting to shake as she fills it with water, forcing herself to think of something, anything else.

She turns her eyes to the sink in front of her, watches the water level in the kettle rise, bubbles skirting to its walls in the rush from the faucet, leaning forward, transfixed, torso pressing against the edge of the sink.

She focuses on the water, the kettle filling up, up, up.

It’s there now, though. That thing. Dani feels it. 

It’s not going away.

The splash of water on her hands jerks Dani back to herself, out of her own head, and she’s scrambling for the knobs, hands shaking as she twists, turning off the faucet, tilting the kettle to drain some of the overflow. 

She’s just set it on the stovetop, is leaning down to peer, confused, at Jamie’s gas range, when––

“Miss Clayton?”

Dani freezes.

There’s a pause. The sound of feet padding against the floor. Another pause, tentative, hesitant.

“It is you, isn’t it?”

Dani turns, tempers her voice. Hopes.

“Flora,” and her voice only wavers a little bit, “hi.”

Flora’s eyes are bright, wide, and there’s a smile spreading across her face like wildfire.

“What’re you, uh… What’re you doin’ up?” It’s normal, Dani thinks, it feels too normal, they’re acting too normal.

“I’m… Not quite sure,” Flora shrugs, continuing, refusing to let herself get distracted. “But I’m up, and I saw the kitchen light, and I thought to come see if my mum was up, but instead it’s you.” Flora doesn’t question it, doesn’t question Dani’s sudden presence in her kitchen at five in the morning, only throws her arms around Dani’s waist, pressing her cheek into Dani’s stomach. “It’s you and you’re here and it’s perfect.”

Dani forces her hands out of tight fists and lights them, shaking, along Flora’s shoulders, her eyes darting wildly around the kitchen, landing on the refrigerator. Flora’s report card is there, Dani’s handwriting a flourish, a small heart tacked on next to her comments, penciled in after the fact, an attempt at avoiding the undeniable indelibility of carbonless copy paper.

Dani breathes.

“I sure am,” it sounds like news to Dani, the way she says it, “but, I… I also know it’s me and I’m here, but it’s too early for you to be, so can I… Will you let me… Take you back to bed?”

Flora stares up at her, hands wrapping themselves in Dani’s pajama top.

She pauses.

Flora’s brow furrows, and she pulls away, eyes narrowed. Somewhere in Dani’s head, it registers that this is the same face Flora makes when she’s working with fractions, or that Jamie makes whenever Dani does something particularly bold.

“Miss Clayton,” Flora says again, voice thin, strained from contained excitement, “why are you wearing my mum’s pajamas?”

Jamie’s half-asleep when she hears Dani slipping back into her room, and Jamie smiles, stretching out under the covers, arching her back. “I was wondering where you were,” she mumbles into her pillow, corner of her mouth quirking up as she adds a playful, “you snore, Miss Clayton.”

She doesn’t get a response though, only quick, shuffling footsteps, and then she feels Dani sink down onto the bed, feels her shaking, hears a shuddered “Jamie…” 

Jamie pushes herself up immediately, shoving off her sheets, arms finding Dani’s shoulders without thought. “Dani,” she leans in, eyes scouring Dani’s face, suddenly wide awake, “Dani, what’s wrong?”

“I… I…” Dani hiccups, “I saw… I saw Flora,” she turns to Jamie, eyes wide. “I saw Flora, and…” Her eyes search Jamie’s, waiting, anticipating her reaction. “Jamie…”

Jamie’s voice is smooth, even. “Where’s Flora now?”

“I… I tucked her back… Back into her bed,” Dani gulps, fingers fumbling, gripping at the bedsheets underneath her.

If the circumstances were different, Jamie thinks, she would kiss Dani. Right there.

“How did she…” Jamie purses her lips, thoughtful. “How did she seem?”

“Excited,” Dani whispers, “happy. She said it was perfect.”

Jamie sighs, letting her forehead fall forward against Dani’s. “Well, we were gonna tell her eventually, yeah? It’s not ideal,” her hands find Dani’s, covering them, stilling them, “but…”

“You’re not… You’re not mad?”

“Why would I be mad?” Jamie pulls away, then pauses, changing her mind, and leans back in, bumping her nose gently against Dani’s. “Dani, why would I be mad?”

Dani only shakes her head, eyes threatening to spill over. 

“Listen,” Jamie’s hands squeeze Dani’s, “your… Girlfriend’s daughter just found out her mum is dating you, her teacher, and she’s over the moon about it. Said it was perfect, in fact. Doesn’t at all seem like a reason to be mad, or upset, or…” 

Jamie trails off, Dani shaking her head again, dogged, tears beginning to fall, hiccuping harder.

It’s all Dani can think of, the way Flora had smiled happily up at her, slid her fingers between Dani’s, let Dani lead her back through the kitchen, the hallway, into Flora’s room.

The way the memories had played on a loop in Dani’s head: Career Day, Dani, for the first time, watching Jamie and Flora look at each other, really see each other, an impenetrable solace between the two of them that had terrified Dani.

The way Flora had slid into her bed, looking expectantly up at Dani from the refuge of pink-spangled unicorn sheets, eyes starry, watching a fairy tale play out in real time.

The way Dani’s stomach, if glazed over by saccharinity and frosting, had coiled, watching Flora and Jamie thread unspoken patterns into pipe cleaner snowflakes, a silent synchrony Dani couldn’t perceive even as she’d watched, transfixed.

The way Dani had managed a fluttered “what, uh, what does your mom usually do to help you fall back asleep?” and the way Flora had pursed her lips, said “she usually tells me stories, but… I quite think this is better than any one of them could be,” sighing happily when Dani had tucked her hair behind her ears, pulled her covers up, and cupped her cheek, leaning over to switch off Flora's lamp with a watery smile and a “goodnight… Sweet girl.”

The way the last time Dani had spoken to her own mother was that phone conversation, hadn’t thought to call her since, hadn’t wanted to. The way, for all her lurking dread, angry and lonely, for all her wanting, over the years, part of her doesn’t want to talk to her mother ever again.

The way Jamie and Flora, more than anything, need sureness to tether themselves to, a shared orbit, incorruptible for all the emptiness of space.

“Hey,” Jamie leans in, brushes her lips against one of Dani’s tears, “talk to me, Dani. I’m right here.”

Dani’s hands clench underneath Jamie’s, chest heaving, unsteady.

“I’m scared, Jamie,” she finally says, looking up, eyes finding Jamie’s. “I’m so scared.”

Jamie reaches up, stroking Dani’s hair.

“This is… This is everything I’ve ever wanted, but…” 

“But what?” Jamie’s voice is soft, soothing, and Dani leans into her touch.

“What if I ruin it?” 

“Ruin it? Dani, you couldn’t––”

“You’re careful, so careful with Flora, and I… I don’t have a dad. Don’t really have a mom.” Dani swallows, her voice matter-of-fact. “And the mom thing, the goddamned mom thing… You two have it. You have it and I… I don’t, I couldn’t.”

Jamie watches her, lets her speak.

“It scares me,” Dani whispers, “because I don’t have it, but… Instead… Instead… There’s this thing hidden here, Jamie,” Dani looks up, eyes combing the ceiling, searching for the right words, “and it’s just out of sight, but I can feel it. I know it’s there, and–– It’s waiting. We’re going to be good, perfect even…”

She sees Flora’s face in the kitchen, her smile, the way her eyes had lit up as she’d said the word. Perfect.

“And then… At some point… I’ll do something wrong, I’ll hurt you, I won’t… Know any better, know how to do… All this.”

It’s all Dani can do to hold herself together, her body rigid, trembling.

“When I first had Flora,” Jamie finally says, slowly, carefully, “I didn’t have it, either. Didn’t have it for a few years. She’d cry and cry, and I… Had no idea what to do.” Jamie stares concentratedly at the floor, offering Dani a reprieve from her gaze. “All I knew about how to take care of a kid was from…” Her breath hitches, and she swallows, pivots. “You know how old I was when I went into the system. I didn’t have parents either, didn’t have anyone showing me the ropes. But Flora and I… We figured it out.”

Dani sniffs.

“That mum thing… We built it together, Dani, Flora and me. And not right away. It changed, so much. We built it and broke it and rebuilt it… Breaking it again right now, in fact.” She chances a glance at Dani, raises her eyebrows. “What it looks like now… Isn’t what it looked like when she was five, and isn’t what it’s going to look like when she’s twelve. It changes. Grows.” She bumps a shoulder against Dani’s. “You don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen in the future,” Jamie’s voice is lower now, “because the future is already going to be something different. Always is. It’s a fact.”

Dani’s eyes find Jamie’s. “How… With Flora, I mean, how do you… Look out for her like that? When you don’t know?” 

Jamie shrugs. “You take it one day at a time. One day at a time is what we’ve got.”

Dani doesn’t say anything, but she shifts along Jamie’s mattress, leaning into her, threading their fingers together.

“It’s what everybody’s got when you get down to it,” Jamie says gently, thoughtfully, “and we’ve already been doing it, Dani, you and me. Breaking it down, building it back up. Stumblin’ through all this together.”

Dani has it in her, at least, to raise her eyebrows.

Jamie grins, continues. “Besides, you know more than you think you do. Have help even for when you don’t.”

Dani sniffs again, hums.

“You’ve been teaching kids for nine years,” Jamie laughs, outright, at the idea, “have a little girl in your life who adores you, looks at you like you’ve hung the stars, and her mum who…” Jamie stops, swallows, her eyes finding Dani’s, suddenly serious again. “Her mum who loves you very much. Who wants you around. To stay.”

There’s a sharp intake of breath from Dani, and, Jamie thinks, the next few seconds feel like forever.

Then Dani’s lips are on hers, and she’s crying again, crying and kissing her, fervid and needy, and Jamie’s hands are finding her face, holding her, whispering the words over and over again.

They drift in and out of sleep over the next couple of hours, Dani nuzzled into Jamie, snoring, breath evening back out, soft against Jamie's neck, Jamie’s hands gentle as she strokes Dani’s hair, pressing sure kisses to the top of her head. 

Jamie holds her, watches her sleep, Dani’s lips parted, her brow smooth. If she’s being honest with herself, Jamie thinks, it’s probably a wonder that this hadn’t happened sooner, that Dani had lasted this long.

Jamie reaches up, tracing the line of Dani’s brow, fingers feather-light.

Dani’s spent so long forgoing her own needs, Jamie realizes, giving herself over, wholly and completely, to Jamie and to Flora, that she hadn’t even stopped to think about her own, even as she was chiding Jamie for doing the same thing. Dani has been bearing the brunt of so much for so long.

Jamie’s fingers slide down the angle of Dani’s nose.

It crinkles, Dani giggling in her sleep.

“Yeah?” It’s whispered, Jamie dragging her fingers the rest of the way down, brushing them softly across Dani’s lips.

Dani makes a contented noise, deep in her throat. “You could put your lips there instead,” she murmurs against Jamie’s fingertips.

Jamie laughs. “Really?”

Dani squirms closer, sliding a leg between Jamie’s and nods, lips curling up, mischievous.

“You’re feeling better, then?”

There’s a pause, and then Dani’s leaning back, hair tousled as she pulls herself out from underneath Jamie’s chin. She looks at Jamie, eyes clear, and Jamie thinks she must have been awake for a while.

Jamie raises her eyebrows.

“I’m still scared,” Dani admits, pursing her lips, “but I think... I think you’re right.”

Jamie’s eyes sparkle in the early sunlight. “Can I get that one in writing? You telling me I’m right?”

Dani rolls her eyes. “I think you’re right,” she continues pointedly, “because I do know how to do this. Am learning how to do this. There was one thing, though.” 

Dani’s eyes are bright, smug, and Jamie has no idea what’s about to come out of her mouth.

“This little girl,” Dani says, eyes flitting down to the sheets wrapped around their waists, their legs tangled together, and back up again. “You said her mom loves me very much.” She flushes. “Said it several times, actually.” 

Jamie swallows. “I did.”

Dani does her best to bite back a grin, fails. “About that.”

“About that,” Jamie echoes, and there’s that gravity again, pulling her deeper into Dani’s orbit.

“I love that little girl,” Dani’s hand finds Jamie’s, “and I love her mom, too. I love her mom a lot.”

It reminds Jamie so much of that day in the coat closet, their hands wrapped around each other's, the steady stroke of Dani’s thumb, the way they’re staring, gazes heavy, pulled slowly into each other, the way––


The way the door’s swinging open, Flora poking her head inside.

Dani gasps, a giggle bubbling up as she ducks her head, taking cover behind Jamie as Jamie rolls over, grins. “Hey, munchkin.”

Flora’s eyes dart from Jamie to what little of Dani she can see and back again. “Miss Clayton’s still here?” Her voice is breathy, hopeful.

“Hey, Flora,” Dani smiles widely, sheepish, voice uneven as she pops up from behind Jamie, “how, uh, how was the rest of your sleep?”

“Good,” Flora chirps, uncharacteristically brief, still looking between the two of them, eyes bright.

“Miss Clayton, uh,” Jamie glances back at Dani, turns back to Flora, “stayed the night last night.”

Flora’s eyes are wider, brighter, if it’s possible. “Do you think she might… Do you think she could…”

Behind Jamie, Dani cocks her head, scratching her fingernails lightly along Jamie’s back, just out of sight.

Jamie watches Flora, face neutral, patient.

Flora swallows, then charges forward, determined. “Would she stay another night?” She looks from Jamie to Dani. “Would you, Miss Clayton?”

“I… Well,” Dani flushes, biting her lip, and looks down at Jamie. “That’s a question for your mom, I think.”

Jamie raises her eyebrows, craning her head back to look at Dani. 

“I’d like to,” Dani says expressly, raising an eyebrow back, “but it’s not my apartment.”

“Apartment,” Flora echoes, giggling, and Jamie giggles with her.

Dani only presses her lips together, doing her best not to smile, to laugh along with them.

“I dunno,” Jamie muses, pursing her lips, looking back to Flora. “What do you think, Flora?”

“Yes,” Flora breathes, grinning widely. “A sleepover. That would be splendid.”

“Splendid, eh?” Jamie turns again, grinning back at Dani, her eyes glinting. “You hear that? It’d be splendid.” 

Dani bites her lip, the corner of her mouth quirking up, but before she can say anything, Flora’s launching herself forward, hurtling across Jamie’s room, skidding into her bed.

It pushes Dani back, the force of her, and the wind out of Jamie, caught between them.

“Yes,” Flora clambers up on top of Jamie, grinning down at her mother. “Let’s stay up all night. This is all so exciting. We’re going to stay up all night long and it’s going to be perfectly––” She squeals, interrupted by Jamie, finally catching her breath, hands finding their way to Flora’s ribs, tickling.

“Before all that,” Jamie scoops Flora up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed, “we have a whole Saturday to get through.”

“Am I still going to have a date with Owen?” Jamie sets Flora down carefully on the floor, Flora looking up at her as Jamie does the same, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, too. “Seeing as Miss Clayton’s already here?”

Jamie has to bite the inside of her cheek, knows that if she turns around, Dani will be the same red color as the sleep shirt she’s wearing, can practically feel the flush radiating off of her. “Flora…” She says slowly, “what do you mean?”

Flora frowns, tilting her head as she continues to look up at Jamie. “You two go on dates,” she says simply, “when I have my dates with Owen, or with Miles and Henry. You have for a while.”

Jamie’s brow furrows, and, Dani thinks, if she wasn’t overwhelmed by the sheer mortification of the situation, she would probably feel a swoop in her stomach at the way Jamie and Flora are staring at each other, Flora up and Jamie down, their heads cocked, the same suspicious expression on their faces.

“Flora,” Jamie says again, “how do you….”

“I think,” Flora continues, matter-of-fact, “you two are in love. I’ve thought so for a while, but Henry told me to wait until you told me yourself. In your own time.” Flora crinkles her nose. “But now I’ve gone and said it, haven’t I?”

Jamie stares at her.

Flora glances back at Dani, who’s staring at her too, mouth agape.

“I’m right, aren’t I?” Flora sighs, wistful, and then she’s perking back up, looking at Jamie. “Can we have breakfast now? I’m positively famished.” She pauses, looks at Dani again. “You’re joining us for breakfast, right, Miss Clayton? Please say you are.”

Dani’s eyes find Jamie’s, and in that moment, she’s never been more sure of anything in her life.

“Yeah,” she looks back to Flora, grin wide. “Yeah, I am.”

Chapter Text

It’s a daily routine now.

For Jamie, it starts with her usual morning scramble: roll out of bed. Brush teeth. Get dressed. Check on Flora. Pack two lunches, one of which comes with a handwritten note––“love you, sprout” with the messy sketch of a dandelion or a tulip or a lily or whatever else pops into Jamie’s head the morning––the other of which, bound to go hastily eaten between breaks, is for Jamie, her usual lunch break forgone in favor of whatever parent parking dalliance the day brings. Check on Flora again. Start eggs. Start toast. Pack Flora’s bag while breakfast cooks. Plate eggs. Save toast (barely) from burning.

For Flora, it starts as such: wake up, giggling happily into kisses from Jamie, peppered all over her face. Nuzzle deeper into her sheets. Wonder, happily, if Miss Clayton will be waiting for her in the kitchen. Daydream about it. Imagine Miss Clayton, greeting her with that smile, wrapping an arm around her shoulders, voice chirping–– Get woken up again, Jamie all but tugging her out of bed this time. Check on her dolls. Get dressed. Wish her dolls a good day. Cross her fingers behind her back. Meander into the kitchen. Find only Jamie, cursing softly as she drops toast onto a plate, shaking out burnt fingers. Inquire, politely: “mum?”

Receive a chipper “Flora?” in return.

“When will Miss Clayton come to breakfast again?”

Get a sighed––wistful, though, Flora thinks, or at least as wistful as her mum can get––“Flora…” back.

“I’m only asking,” hop up onto a chair, “because it seemed to make you oh so happy.”

Earn a rueful smile. “Seemed to make you awful happy, too.” A pause, pursed lips. “It did, you know, Flora. Make me happy.”

Smile. Through a mouthful of toast and strawberry jam, chirp: “I know.”

Jamie’s day continues, par for the course: dump dirty dishes in the sink. Grab her coat. Tell Flora to put on hers. Grab her own bag. Grab Flora’s bag. Tell Flora to put on her coat again. Rush out the door. Drive to school. Park. Grab Flora’s hand. Walk her most of the way inside. Steel herself, biting her lip, doing everything to hold back a grin too wide for drop-off. Walk Flora the rest of the way inside. See Dani Clayton, see a smile break like dawn across her face––

For Flora: lick jam off her fingers. Nod when Jamie tells her to put her coat on. Stare out the window, instead, at a cloud. Wonder how a cloud can look so much like a butterfly one minute and a swallow the next. Turn back to Jamie. Put on her coat. Follow Jamie dutifully out the door. Grin, wider and wider, throughout the drive to school. Slip her hand into Jamie’s when they get there. Glance up at her. Make her way into the building, excitement bubbling, glancing, more and more frequently, up at her mother. Round the corner. Watch the way Miss Clayton beams when she sees them. Feel the way her mum’s hand relaxes in her own. Look back and forth between the two, tugging her hand free. Hug her mother. Tell her “I love you.” Smile innocently up at Miss Clayton. Slip into the classroom.

Some parts of the daily routine, though, are still expanding, inhaling, breathing new possibilities into each day.

For Jamie, it’s lunch: pull into parent parking. Watch the school doors carefully. Grin when she sees Dani slip out, gait quick and, somehow still, restrained as she makes her way down to Jamie’s truck. Kiss her. Kiss her again. Kiss her again and again–– Force herself to pull away. Drive somewhere else. Park somewhere else. Wrap her arms around Dani’s waist, grin against her mouth, as Dani scrambles over from the passenger seat and onto her lap.

Or: kiss her. Raise her eyebrows when Dani pulls away, hair soft and teased and falling back, Dani exhausted, against the headrest. Murmur a “kids. Run you ragged.” Reach over. Slide her fingers between Dani’s. Listen to Dani detail the day’s escapades, the classroom civil wars brewing in the name of who used whose scissors without asking, Isabel Lloyd’s belligerence at not being chosen to write on the blackboard. Squeeze Dani’s hand. Make her laugh. Lean over. Press a kiss to the corner of her mouth. Savor the feeling of Dani’s flush against her lips.

Then: kiss her goodbye. Murmur “I love you,” Jamie suddenly shy for all her bravado. Grin, ducking her head when Dani says it back, brave for all her shyness. Revel in it. 

For Flora, it’s bedtime: bath, bubbles preferred. Brush her teeth. Snuggle into bed. Stare, starry-eyed, up at Jamie as she pulls Flora’s blankets up, tucking her in. Lean into her mother as she reads to her. 

Or: stare, starry-eyed, up at Jamie as she pulls Flora’s blankets up, tucking her in. Furrow her brow, thoughtful. Ask: “mum?”


Nestle into her hand as Jamie reaches up, tucks a strand of hair out of her face. Continue. “What is it like? Being in love?”

Watch Jamie’s jaw tighten, hold, relax. Listen to her sigh, the same one, Flora remembers, she’d heard at breakfast. Lean into her mother as Jamie relaxes, furrowing her own brow, thinking.

Then: drift asleep to the lilt of Jamie’s voice. Dream.

Dream of biscuits and butterflies and having two mums to curl up between at night. 

Jamie’s always liked routine. Liked her life boring. Predictable. It gives her a sense of control, a belated stability she’s craved her entire life. It keeps her grounded, calm, prevents her from spinning out, gaining irreversible momentum. 

Jamie has long decided she’s spun out enough in her life already.

Flora often exists in direct opposition to Jamie’s preferred monotony. She complicates it, certainly, a lace-clad wrinkle in Jamie’s otherwise neatly compartmentalized, quotidian existence. (Even that’s an incongruity, Jamie thinks, the rare divergence between their intertwined affinities, Jamie swathing herself in flannel and denim, Flora branching sharply towards lilacs and lace every time.)

Every time Jamie finishes tidying, sliding books neatly into place on their shelves, it’s undone by early evening, Flora settled carefully cross-legged in the middle of the floor, piles of books strewn in a sloppy circle around her, squinting, largely unknowing, at the worn pages of one of Jamie’s hardcovers, already calling out for Jamie to add it to their bedtime stack, to gently tuck her away into the worlds of the Brontës, the lyrics of Dickinson.

Every time Jamie tries to settle in early, coercing Flora into a bath by the gold-laden light of the afternoon, it’s undone by grass stains, streaked across Flora’s elbows, or watercolors, brazen against her pale cheek, after a twilight playdate with Miles, a futile attempt at securing Jamie an evening––if only a fraction of one––to herself.

Every time Jamie thinks she knows what she’s in for, has contented herself to Flora’s expectations and requirements of her, has achieved a state of restfulness within Flora’s restlessness, Flora throws a wrench into it all. Presents Jamie, Flora breathless, pleading, with a flyer, “back-to-school night” emblazoned across the front.

If boring keeps Jamie stable, prevents another spiral down, deep, into the cracks and fissures of the earth, Flora keeps her alive, prevents her from stagnating, hardening into something old and lifeless under the pressure.

It’s a balance, Jamie thinks.

Build. Break. Rebuild.

One day at a time, savoring all the boredom, all the moments––Flora, curled up peacefully in her lap, the smell of fresh peat moss after a rain, the feeling of Dani’s skin underneath her fingers, Jamie idly tracing constellations in the freckles across her chest––in between. Living, determined, through it all. 

Jamie’s scrubbing up when the phone rings, a week later. She and Flora both bolt for it without thought, Jamie’s hands dripping, sink running, Flora’s coloring book left, abandoned, on the kitchen table. 

Flora gets there first, flashing a toothy grin at Jamie.

Six months ago, Jamie thinks, Flora would have waited, held back, wringing her hands in front of her, staring, beseeching, at Jamie, waiting for her go-ahead.

Then again, six months ago, Jamie wouldn’t have thought twice about a ringing phone, wouldn’t have blinked, would have happily blown it off. 

They’re both changing, Jamie recognizes. Growing. Together and apart. 

The realization hits her with a pang to her heart, and she clambers back towards back-to-school night, forcing herself to look past memories of Dani’s fingers, lithe, thrumming nervously along the side of the podium, scrambling around the weight of Dani’s gaze, curious, familiar, wanting already so palpable and mutual, even if Jamie had refused to look it in the eye. What was it Dani had called it?


Jamie, not Louise.

Jamie, not Louise, and now too––

“Flora residence!”

Jamie hears Dani’s voice, bright, warm, on the other end of the receiver. “Flora!”

Flora for Flora’s sake.

Jamie watches, arms hanging loosely at her sides, as Flora beams into the phone, launching into an excited diatribe, chattering on happily about the rest of her Friday.

Jamie’s back at the sink, has drifted back to the dishes, lips pursed, pensive, as she scrubs at a plate. 

It’s like a garden, she thinks, toweling off a plate, three vines growing, climbing, on their own and intertwined, supporting each other as they reach higher, blooming both together and apart. Blossoming, together, into something beautiful, made all the more so by their own variations, blending, for all their subtle differences, into oneness.

Her thoughts are interrupted by small fingers, reaching up and wrapping around the towel in her hand, tugging, Flora looking seriously up at her, proffering Jamie the receiver with her other hand. “It’s Miss Clayton,” she says, passing the phone to Jamie, abrupt, as she steps up onto the footstool in front of their sink and begins toweling off the rest of the dishes, glancing slyly over at Jamie between plates. Something, Jamie observes, is simmering there, biding its time before it boils over.

Jamie furrows her brow at Flora, but takes the phone, lips quirking up when she hears Dani’s breath, even now, wavering on the other end of the line. Jamie pauses, voice slow when she finally speaks, deliberate. “I’m not in trouble, am I, Miss Clayton?”

Dani’s breath hitches.

Jamie winks at Flora, and Flora bites the inside of her cheek, focusing, intent, on the dishes in front of her as Jamie slips out of the kitchen, through the living room, coming to lean against a doorframe in the hallway.

“Dani…” she says again, voice low, echoing, “I’m not in trouble, am I, Dani?”

“Keep talking like that and you might be,” Dani breathes, “with the way I know Flora’s listening.”

“Flora’s in the other room,” Jamie murmurs. “Not listening. Got us a cordless phone for Christmas,” she announces, proud, her voice smug.

There’s something that sounds like surprise in the back of Dani’s throat.

“You know,” the words spill out of Dani then, “the first… The first time I… Called, and you said that…”


“I––” Jamie can practically see the way Dani sets her jaw, determined, the way her eyes flutter, “haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Since, I mean. Still. Even… Even now.”

“Yeah?” Jamie’s voice is smooth, encouraging.

“Yeah,” Dani whispers, “especially now.”

“Why now?” Jamie’s voice is barely more than a whisper too.

“Jamie…” Dani sighs her name, and Jamie can hear a rustle on the other end of the line, a pause.

“Yeah?” Jamie sinks back, lower, against the doorframe behind her.

“Fuck,” Dani’s quiet for a minute, Jamie reveling in the way the curse, one Dani saves just for Jamie, intimate in its divulgement, falls from her lips, and then Dani’s voice is back to her usual volume, scolding. “You’re distracting me!”

Dani can practically see the way Jamie’s brows fly up, playful and aghast. “Distracting? Me?”

“Yes,” and Jamie can hear her pout, “you.”

“Mm.” Jamie lets her hang for a moment. “Guess I really am in trouble, then.”

“Jamie!” Dani’s giggle is loud, enamored and exasperated all at once, and Jamie can’t help the smile she feels stretching across her face.

Jamie laughs. “Sorry.”

“You’re not,” Dani accuses.

“I’m not,” Jamie agrees, laughing again, “but tell me anyway. What’s up, Dani Clayton?”

“I’m still mad at you,” Dani’s voice tells her the exact opposite, “but…” 

“But?” Jamie can’t help how smug she sounds, knows Dani loves it anyway.

“But I was calling,” Dani takes a deep breath, “to… To see if… If you’d like to go on a date. With me.”

Whatever Jamie had been expecting, it wasn’t that.

“With you, huh?” Jamie reaches up, scratching her forehead, grinning all the same.

“Yeah,” Dani sounds pleased with herself, “with me.” She affects her voice, drawing out her characteristically short vowels, putting on that thing Jamie can’t even entertain calling an accent, but loves all the same. “A proper first date.”

“A proper first date,” Jamie echoes, “because everything we’ve been doing so far has been… What? Improper?” Her voice drops again. “I’ve quite liked improper.”

Dani chuckles, huffed, and Jamie doesn’t need to see her to know there’s a flush spreading, crawling up her neck, cresting at the tops of her ears, warming her cheeks. “I mean,” she presses, relatively serious, “an actual date. Now that everything’s… On the table. You know?”

Jamie does. “I’d like that,” she says, her mouth dry.

“And, uh,” Dani sounds nervous again, barreling forward, “there’s–– There’s something else, too.”


“Well, two things, really.”

Jamie arches her eyebrow, waits.

“You should know”––there’s a rustle from the living room, and Jamie glances down the hall, catches a glimpse of a bubblegum pink hem disappearing, pulling back around a corner––“I, uh, I asked Flora. If it was okay,” she clarifies, “that I… That I was going to ask… Ask you out.”

Jamie glances back down the hallway again, pushing off of the doorframe, slinking slowly along the wall. “You did?” She raises her voice a little, lets it drift towards the living room. “And what did Flora say?”

“She said it’d be perfect,” and it’s a wonder, Jamie thinks, that she can make out Dani’s words around the width of her smile, “perfectly splendid.”

“Perfectly splendid, eh?” Jamie creeps closer towards the living room, can make out a breathy, nervous giggle just around the corner. “And what was the other thing?”

“Well,” Dani’s voice is cool again, the way it is when the stakes are highest, brazen in the face of risk, “I know you said to take things one day at a time…” 

Jamie pauses, knows that, whatever Dani is about to say, she’s pushing herself.

“…but I took the liberty of planning two days.”

“Two days?”

“Mmhmm,” Dani’s breath quickens, “two days, and two first dates.”

“Dani, how many first dates are we going to have?”

We,” Dani says pointedly, measured, “are going to have one.” She pauses, Jamie hanging on her every word, Dani’s voice softening. “And then you, me, and Flora are going to have another.”

Jamie’s glad she’s leaning against the wall when Dani says it, because she’s pretty sure her legs would give out otherwise.


Jamie can’t say anything, doesn’t know what she would say if she could.

“Is that–– Did I––”

“Dani,” Jamie finally manages, hoarse, if only to assuage Dani’s rising panic. “Dani, I––”

Flora bursts around the corner, unable to wait any longer, throwing her arms around Jamie’s waist and burying her face in Jamie’s torso, voice muffled by Jamie’s sweatshirt. “Did she ask you?”

Jamie nods, one hand still clutching the phone to her ear, the other finding Flora’s shoulder, squeezing.

Flora twines her arms tighter around Jamie’s waist in response, squeezing her back, urging.

“Yeah,” Jamie finally says, voice cracking, pinning the phone between her ear and her shoulder to reach up, brushing the back of her hand across her eyes, “yeah, it’s a date. Two dates.”

A garden, she’d thought, three vines blossoming, together, into something beautiful. 

She looks down at Flora, staring up at her, wide-eyed and elated, and laughs. “I love you,” Jamie says, to each of them and to both of them, her eyes sparkling, “I love you so much.”

Owen gets to Jamie’s flat first on Saturday, arriving promptly at 6:45, Hannah Grose in tow.

Flora’s delighted to see Owen, even more delighted to see Hannah, and she greets the both of them at the door like a tornado, two quick, tight hugs and a wide smile for them both before rushing back towards Jamie’s bedroom, a rapid-fire “have to finish helping my mum get ready” all she has to offer by way of explanation before disappearing again.

Hannah raises her eyebrows at Owen, and he ducks his head with a chuckle, looking back up at her, eyes twinkling. 

It’s permission, given silently, easily, and Hannah accepts it graciously, letting herself chuckle with him.

“Welcome to the Thunderdome,” he quips, glancing back at Hannah as he makes his way into the kitchen, dropping his grocery bags on the table, lowering his voice conspiratorially, dramatically, “and this one's Taylor-made.”

Hannah groans, swats at him, but she’s smiling as she sets to emptying the bags, pulling out fresh sourdough and macaroni, Owen busying himself with an insulated lunchbox, peeking at the slow-cooked brisket he’s stowed inside.

“Flora,” he announces proudly, “is going to love this.”

“Love what?” Flora’s back, popping her head into the kitchen. 

“I think,” Owen leans back against the counter, raising his eyebrows at Flora, “it’s high time I made you that macaroni and cheese brisket sandwich.”

Flora’s mouth drops open, but whatever exaltation she’s about to make is drowned out by a knock at the door and immediately forgotten.

“Mum! She’s here!” Flora exclaims, turning on her heel and bolting towards the front door. She pulls it open, looking Dani up and down, beaming, taking in her lavender sweater and blown out hair and wide, perfect smile, and then Flora’s grabbing Dani’s hand, tugging her inside, Dani laughing as she pulls the door shut behind them. “She’s here,” Flora shouts down the hallway again, “and she’s even prettier than I imagined!”

Dani laughs again, letting Flora lead her into the living room. “You know what I look like, Flora.”

“Yes,” Flora looks up at her seriously, fingers still wrapped around Dani’s, “but this is a date.”

Dani flushes.

“This is the famous Dani Clayton?” Owen crosses into the living room from the kitchen, slipping an apron over his head as he goes. “I’ve heard an awful lot about you, Miss Clayton.”

Dani bites her lip, smiling shyly. “And you must be Owen.”

“The one and only,” he bows, grinning. 

“I’ve heard a lot about you, too–– Mrs. Grose!”

Hannah leans against the kitchen entryway, her smile serene, hands clasped in front of her. “Good evening, Dani.”

“It sure is,” Dani chirps, glancing around nervously, flush deepening. “I didn’t realize how many, uh… How many people would be here tonight.”

“Don’t worry,” Jamie’s voice rings out from the hallway and Dani’s head jerks up, grin spreading across her face. “They’re only here for the munchkin.”

“Oh!” Dani gasps, the others forgotten. “You look…”

Jamie ducks her head, grins. “I can scrub up when I need to.”

Dani’s eyes rake up and down over Jamie, the wide flare of her plaid pants, the snug fit of her turtleneck, the grace, she thinks, with which her suspenders rest along her chest.

Hannah clears her throat from her perch near the kitchen. “She's right. You go and enjoy yourselves.” She nods over towards Owen.

“We have things handled here,” he continues, supplemented by a soft “yes” from Hannah as Jamie makes her way towards Dani, grinning too, crossing into the living room. “Any nightmares, bogeymen, or monsters under the bed will be dealt with swiftly and fairly,” he continues, “in an impartial court.”

Jamie slides her fingers into Dani’s free hand and Dani leans into her immediately, hesitating before turning her head to nuzzle into Jamie’s cheek, pressing a kiss to her temple.

Jamie and Flora, still on Dani’s other side, clutching her other hand, sigh at the same time.

Across the room, Hannah and Owen exchange a look, then a small smile.

“Flora,” Hannah says, holding a hand out, “why don’t you say goodbye to your mum and Miss Clayton and come help me start the mash?”

Flora huffs but acquiesces, turning to look up at Dani and Jamie. “I hope you have a lovely date,” she says, sincere, pulling her hand out of Dani’s to wrap both arms around her, hugging her tightly.

“Thanks, sweetheart,” Dani drops to one knee, hugging her back. “And thanks,” she pulls away, leveling Flora with a serious look, “for trusting me. With your mom.”

Flora matches her seriousness, nodding. “Thank you,” she says in turn, “for trusting me.”

Dani stares at her, long and hard, then pulls her in for another hug. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Start thinking about what you want to do.” 

Flora hugs her back, nodding, eventually pulling away to look up at Jamie.

Jamie looks evenly back down at her, and then they’re both grinning, Jamie whooping and scooping Flora up, Flora squealing as she does.

“I love you, Flora,” Jamie says, settling Flora on her hip, Dani watching her closely as she does. “Be good for Hannah and Owen tonight, yeah? No funny business.”

Flora loops her arms up around Jamie’s neck. “I’ll do my best,” she promises, “and I love you too, you know.” 

Jamie laughs. “Yeah, I think I know.”

“You be good too,” Flora adds, voice a stage whisper as she leans in closer to Jamie, “to Miss Clayton. Make sure to hold the door for her, and ask her what kind of dessert she would like, and you must, absolutely must, remember to kiss her goodnight. If she wants you to, anyway,” Flora glances over at Dani, then back to Jamie. “You have to promise me.”

Jamie’s eyes twinkle, the corner of her mouth quirking up, but she doesn’t laugh. “I promise,” she says seriously, nodding to Flora. Flora stares at her a moment longer, then nods too, contented, and Jamie presses another kiss to her forehead as Flora squirms out of her arms, dropping to the ground. 

Flora’s halfway to the kitchen when she pauses, turning, taking one last look at the two of them, eyes sparkling, and then she’s hurrying off after Hannah, vanishing around the corner.

Dani’s climbing to her feet, she and Jamie already leaning into each other again, and Owen’s voice is apologetic when he interrupts, catching the two of them. “Just… Before you go,” he says without pretense, his voice gentle, “I know what you’re probably going to say, but… Henry said Flora could stay over tonight. We’d be happy to take her over. If you two want.”

Jamie, keeping her arm slung firmly around Dani’s waist, turns to Owen, eyebrows raised. “You talkin’ to Henry about my dating life, Owen?”

Owen shrugs. “You’re not exactly subtle, Jamie.”

Jamie scowls, Dani giggling next to her.

“I’m just saying,” Owen holds his hands up, “the offer’s there.”

“I know,” Jamie says, sighing, “and I do appreciate it, Owen. But…” She pauses, pursing her lips, thinking. It’s not that Flora isn’t ready for it, Jamie thinks, and it’s certainly not that she and Dani aren’t, either. Instead, it’s something else. It’s… “I don’t think we need it anymore,” she says, wondering, “you know?”

They’re not the words she wants to say, the three of them somehow long past that point, even only a week after Dani had first stayed over, tucked Flora back into bed at five in the morning, delighting her, hours later, with what Jamie had insisted were “panmuffins,” Dani laughing, countering with a smear of batter first to Jamie’s cheek and then to Flora’s nose, pouring what was left onto the skillet in neat, Mickey Mouse shapes, proclaiming, grin proud, “for Flora-da.”

No, Jamie thinks, they’ve sidestepped it in their ascent up the trellis. There’s another word for what they are now, Dani’s arm slung around her waist too, what they were that morning, and what they will be tomorrow, Flora skipping happily between them, one hand snug in Jamie’s, the other wrapped, devoted, around Dani’s. 

Jamie had always thought she’d understood Henry’s fear. Had thought she’d understood the weighty silence that follows “Miles’” and precedes “uncle” every time he says it, even after the two of them have had three years together, had thought she’d understood Henry’s hesitation, his contemplation, his reticence to shatter the fragile relation that’s served them for so long in the name of a mere possibility.

But now?

Jamie’s not sure she understands it anymore. Doesn’t, in fact, if she’s being honest with herself.

How could it not be worth it, she wonders, taking on the burden of growing pains when they mean growth, stretching, climbing, towards the sun? 

Build. Break. Rebuild.

“I’m not sure I do,” Owen says carefully, kindly, “but I’m not sure I could, anyway. Either way,” he clasps his hands together, smiling warmly, “have a smashing night out, and don’t you dare even think about us back here.”

Jamie grins. “Only if you promise to save me a macaroni and cheese brisket sandwich.”

“Can’t promise that.” Owen grins back, winks. “They’re gonna be unbe-beef-able.”

Dani laughs, bright and brilliant, and Jamie groans––“even for you, Owen”––and tugs Dani towards the door.  

Owen laughs too, watching them go, grin fading, fondly, into a smile.

“That was kinda hot,” he hears Dani murmur, her hand running up Jamie’s arm and squeezing as they slip out the door, “watching you hold Flora like that for so long. You’re strong.”

Owen doesn’t wait to hear Jamie’s response, opting to turn away the second he sees the smirk spreading across her face, shaking his head and crossing towards the kitchen. “Right then,” his hands find his hips and he cocks his head at Flora. “What do you say we get started?”

Jamie fulfills her promises to Flora.

They don’t have to drive––“I know you like to keep things proper borin’,” Dani had grinned wickedly, Jamie doing her best to bite back a laugh, “so I figured we could walk? To that pub, the one up the street. I’m a connoisseur in boring, you know,” she’d added furtively, tugging Jamie along, “just ask my kids during math”––so the only other door Jamie has to open is the one at the pub, ushering Dani in with a proud flourish.

“So chivalrous,” Dani muses, grinning at Jamie as she slips inside. 

“Oh yeah,” Jamie quips in response, “all about courtly love, me.” She follows Dani inside, lighting a hand along her lower back as they make their way to the bar.

Dani insists on paying, informing the bartender, plainly, effectively, that she isn’t allowed to take any of Jamie’s money.

(“I’m the one who asked you out,” Dani’s voice would be patronizing if it wasn’t so soothing, Jamie thinks, and maybe that’s Dani’s trick, “that’s how it works.”

“Not quite sure that is how it works, actually,” Jamie demurs, watching as Dani takes both of their glasses in her hands and sweeps away from the bar, Dani biting her lip, delighted with herself at what she’s gotten away with.)

“If you have to pay for my drink,” Jamie trails Dani as she weaves through the crowded pub, “at least make sure to tell Flora that bit about me holding the door for you. She’ll never let me hear the end of it otherwise.”

“And here I thought,” Dani slides into a booth near the back, setting their glasses down on the table before glancing around and, satisfied with the relative privacy of the corner, reaching out for Jamie’s hand, drawing her in next to her, “you were just being polite.”

“Not me,” Jamie reaches for her drink, fingers slipping in the condensation around the glass as she feels Dani’s hand slide against her leg under the table, “I’m never polite.”

“Mm,” Dani hums, bringing her glass to her lips, thumb tracing lazy circles along Jamie’s knee, “you’re a regular scoundrel.”

“Thank you,” Jamie says, bowing her head, eyes twinkling.

“A regular scoundrel,” Dani continues, voice low, mischievous, “who named her eight year-old daughter ‘flower’ and can’t even pick up her beer because a pretty girl has her hand on her leg.”

Jamie looks askance at Dani, pursing her lips.

Dani raises her eyebrows back at her.

“Firstly,” Jamie says, finally, definitively, “Flora’s name isn’t just ‘flower,’ it’s Latin, and you know that. And, secondly…” 

Dani drags blunt nails along the seam of Jamie’s pants, watching as Jamie bites the inside of her cheek.


“Secondly?” Dani asks innocently.

Jamie furrows her brow, scratching her forehead, thinking.

Dani can all but see the lightbulb when it finally goes off.

“Secondly,” Jamie continues, smug now, “no one can just… Pick up beer. Not with their hands. It’s a liquid. So it’s not the pretty girl stopping me,” she declares, triumphant, “it’s the state of matter. You're a teacher,” she adds, accusing, “you should know.”

Dani stares at her, enamored and flabbergasted all at once.

“She is pretty though,” Jamie ducks her head, looking up at Dani through her lashes, biting her lip, “the girl. Not sure how I got so lucky to be here with her now.”

“You keep talking like that,” Dani’s voice is soft, wavering, hand stilling along Jamie’s thigh, “and this might be the shortest first date in history.”

“Would that be such a bad thing?”

Dani laughs and, glancing around them again, leans in, pressing a quick kiss to the corner of Jamie’s mouth. “With you? Never.”

Jamie’s second promise to Flora is harder to keep, but she asks Dani anyway. 

They’re a couple drinks in, cozy and surreptitious in their back corner, Dani flush against Jamie, their legs pressed together under the table, Jamie’s arm slung low, out of sight, around Dani’s waist, Dani’s hand, maddening, tracing long strokes up and down the inside of Jamie’s thigh.

If they were at a restaurant, Jamie figures, this is about the time when they’d be asking about dessert.

(Or the check, she adds to herself, if she’s being real, but she’s not about to break a promise to her eight year-old.)

“You, uh,” she knits her thumb into the hem of Dani’s sweater, watches the way Dani laughs, a small, hushed exhale through her nose, “want to get some dessert?”

A crease springs up between Dani’s eyebrows, and she whips her head around, looking for any sign the pub they’re in has suddenly, inexplicably, started serving dessert.

Jamie expects a pout when Dani realizes it hasn’t, expects it to take everything Jamie has in her after two pints not to lean in and kiss it off her face, to slide a hand around the back of Dani’s head and run her tongue across her bottom lip, but instead, Dani turns back to Jamie, slowly, narrowing her eyes, playful in her suspicion. “Was that a line?”


“Was that a line,” Dani repeats, leaning in closer––dangerously so––and raising her eyebrows at Jamie. “‘You, uh, want to get some dessert, Dani?’ ‘Oh, gosh, I would love that!’ And then you’d… You’d grin that… That stupid grin of yours and say ‘I’m right here, then, aren’t I?’ and I’d… I’d…” 

Jamie raises her eyebrows back, amused, eyes darting down to Dani’s lips and back up again. “You’d what?” 

Dani stares at her, and for a moment Jamie’s sure, really sure, they’re going to kiss, but then Dani’s pulling away, shrugging. “I’d be disappointed, I guess.”

“Disappointed!” Jamie feigns hurt, leaning back, pressing a hand to her chest. Dani laughs and Jamie pauses, leaning back in after a moment, brows furrowed, the sudden smallness of her voice belying her bravado. “You really think my grin’s stupid?” 

Dani’s face softens, the corners of her mouth curling up into a smile, a private one, just for Jamie. “Stupid how much I wanna kiss it,” she murmurs, and Jamie marvels at how, for all the changes that have been wrought over the last week, over, even, the months they’ve had together, some things––this, this pull between them, immediate and suddenly realized, exploding into existence as Dani had stumbled through back-to-school night––haven’t changed at all. 

It’s one day at a time, Jamie knows, and she’s not about to coerce Dani into anything more, knows she’ll never have to, if she’s being honest with herself, but still…

Gravity, she thinks, gravity could be forever.

“I know you were teasing,” Jamie whispers, falling back against the door to her flat, tugging Dani with her by her coat, “but it really wasn’t a line.”

Dani chuckles, letting Jamie pull her in, nuzzling into her neck. “To be fair,” she kisses Jamie’s pulse point through her turtleneck, “you didn’t know where I was taking you when you promised Flora you’d ask me about dessert.”

Jamie’s arms wind around Dani’s waist, pulling her in closer.

“It sure is convenient, though,” Dani nips at Jamie’s earlobe, and Jamie gasps, “that you just happen to have dessert here.”

Jamie arches underneath her, groaning. “It’s Flora. Can’t not have sweets.”

“Mm,” Dani kisses her way down Jamie’s jawline, finding her lips, “just Flora, huh?”

Jamie starts to kiss her back, but Dani’s pulling away.

“That’s a double negative, by the way,” she whispers, leaning in to press a quick peck to Jamie’s cheek.

Jamie huffs. “Now you’re gonna be a teacher again?”

Dani only smiles plainly back at her, leaning back even as Jamie tugs, insistent, at her coat. “C’mon,” she says, “I was promised dessert.”

Jamie watches her for a minute, grinning, catching her breath, and then she’s pushing herself back off the door. “C’mon, then, Miss Clayton,” she slides a hand into her pocket, digging for her keys, “let’s get you that dessert.”

Owen grins up at them from the couch when they slip inside, pulling the door shut softly behind them, Hannah curled up, fast asleep, on his shoulder. 

It’s been an easy night, he assures them, Flora having happily devoured her dinner, fallen asleep quickly by the heavy virtue of carbohydrates and cheese, but not until after cheerfully forecasting all of the different possibilities for their date the next day. (“She did pick a winner,” Owen discloses mysteriously, “but you’ll have to find out what it is tomorrow.”)

Owen and Hannah take their leave shortly after that, bidding Dani and Jamie a good night, Dani and Jamie thanking them profusely, the four of them exchanging hugs and cheek kisses, and when Hannah wraps her hands around Owen’s arm as they make their way out to his car, Jamie and Dani exchange a glance, a small smile, and then Jamie’s closing the door, locking it, and they’re alone again.

They make their way to the kitchen, Dani hopping up onto the counter, swinging her legs, ankles crossed, watching curiously as Jamie opens the fridge and, poking her head in, curses softly.

“Twat,” Jamie pulls her head back out, scowling. “He didn’t save me a sandwich.”

Dani laughs, stretching out a leg and pointing her toes, nudging Jamie gently. “Next time.”

“Yeah,” Jamie’s face softens at the prospect, beaming over at Dani, “next time.” Jamie swings the fridge door shut, then reaches up, on her tiptoes, to grab a cookie tin sitting atop it, wrestling it open. 

Dani watches her, watches the flex of Jamie’s fingers as she tugs the lid off, the way they wrap around a cookie, her breath hitching when Jamie turns around, and, setting the tin down on the counter, steps in closer to her, lifting the cookie to Dani’s lips.

“I know it’s nothin’ fancy,” Jamie murmurs, “but I figured this was quicker, maybe, easier, maybe, than an ice cream sundae.”

Dani takes the cookie between her lips gingerly, chewing, swallowing, Jamie’s fingers catching and dragging on her bottom lip, and Dani feels a swoop, low, in her stomach. “And why”––she breathes, glancing down at Jamie’s hands, sliding up her legs––“do you need something quicker?”

Jamie grins. “Might have post-dessert plans,” she murmurs, dragging her hands around the swell of Dani’s thighs, “if you’re interested.” 


“Mmhm,” Jamie squeezes softly, pulling Dani forward, “heaps of ‘em.” She leans in, lips tracing the shell of Dani’s ear, “for you,” her lips ghost down Dani’s neck and she nips at the base of it, Dani turning her head, gasping, muffled, into Jamie, “and me,” she presses her fingers into the backs of Dani’s thighs again, lifting them up, wrapping them around her waist, “and us.”

Dani groans, crossing her ankles tighter against Jamie’s back, shifting closer, her arms winding around Jamie’s neck, fingers curling into her hair.

“But,” Jamie drags her nose back up along the line of Dani’s neck, her jaw, pulling away at the part of Dani’s lips, expression impish, “if you’d rather have an ice cream sundae…” 

Dani doesn’t even humor her, just pulls her back in roughly, kissing her hard, heels pressing into the small of Jamie’s back, urging her forward.

Jamie meets her, matching her, burning as her teeth graze Dani’s lower lip, then pull it back in, tugging, as Dani moans into Jamie’s mouth, fingers tightening in her hair.

It’s a kiss made needier, harder, more desperate, a corner of Dani’s brain recognizes, not only by the tension that’s been coiling all night, the two of them leaning deeper and deeper into each other in a booth in the back of the pub up the road, but also by the anticipation, the fact that she’s been in Jamie’s flat before, been tangled with Jamie in her bed before, but not like this, not yet, and after so long, so much build-up, so many interruptions, she wants nothing more than to––


Dani forces herself to pull away, one of her hands, firm, finding Jamie’s shoulder. “Flora,” she manages, breathless, “Flora wanders.” 

“Fuck,” Jamie swallows, nodding, glancing around with a chuckle, “fuck, you’re right.” She closes her eyes, catching her breath as Dani’s free hand makes its way back to Jamie’s hair, absentmindedly smoothing mussed curls, Dani’s breath slowly evening.

“These plans,” Dani purses her lips, satisfied with her adjustments to Jamie’s hair, sliding a hand down to cup her cheek, “do they happen to involve your bedroom?”

Jamie takes a step backwards, grinning as Dani slides clumsily off of the countertop, following her. “As a matter of fact,” she reaches out, taking one of Dani’s hands between her own, “they do.”

They make it down the hallway with exceptional composure, delayed only when Jamie glances back at Dani as they pass Flora’s room. Jamie sees the look on Dani’s face, the love there, and can’t help but pull Dani into her, can’t help but cradle Dani’s face in her hands, can’t help but kiss Dani fast and deep before she’s pulling away again, her eyes hard, heavy on Dani’s. Jamie’s eyes are dark and deep and more serious than Dani’s ever seen them, but they’re wanting, too, and so open, Jamie’s fingers flexing gently, firmly, spread against Dani’s cheeks, and Dani feels like she’s sinking, thinks this must be it, that she must be here, immersed in the depths that had scared her for so long.

She’s here, she realizes, and all she wants to do is dive deeper.

Dani looks at her a moment longer, then surges forward, kissing Jamie back, urgent and vehement, her hands finding Jamie’s hips, walking her backwards towards her door, and then they’re stumbling into Jamie’s room, Dani, with all the self-control she can muster, toeing the door shut quietly behind her.

They part once they’re in Jamie’s room, catching their breath, Dani’s hands drifting to Jamie’s, Jamie leaning in towards Dani, her hips angled forward, eyes bright and expectant.

“Rules?” Dani breathes, and Jamie can see Dani’s self-control, desperate and begrudging, beginning to wane, can tell how hard Dani’s working to hold herself back, Dani’s fingers dancing across Jamie’s knuckles, impossible to still, Dani’s eyes flitting, restless, across Jamie’s face.

It, if anything, makes it harder for Jamie, her mind straying from guidelines and towards the line, instead, of her window seat against the far wall, how Dani’s back would look, arched, against it. 


Build. Break. Rebuild.

“Right,” Jamie’s eyes snap back to Dani’s, “rules.”

It’s a successful parlay, Jamie thinks, falling back onto her bed, by multiple standards.

It had started simply enough, Jamie pursing her lips, considering. “One,” she’d said, holding up a finger, Dani’s hand dropping from hers to wrap around one of Jamie’s suspenders, “no sex outside the bedroom.”

“No sex outside the bedroom,” Dani had repeated, nodding, hand looping itself further into Jamie’s suspender, tugging, pulling her in closer.

“Two,” Jamie had continued, holding up a second finger, Dani’s eyes sinking down to the pensive curl of Jamie’s lips, “pajamas––or clothes, I guess––have to be worn outside of the bedroom at all times.”

“Pajamas outside the bedroom at all times,” Dani had parroted back, eyelids heavy, stepping closer, her free hand dropping Jamie’s to float to her other wrist, the one Jamie had been holding up.

The little self-control Dani had had left, Jamie’d found herself thinking, Dani’s fingers wrapping around her wrist, had come untethered, a rope unravelled, sending Dani drifting, spinning, out to sea. 

“And probably,” Jamie had forced herself to continue, apologetic, holding up a third finger, “probably when we’re sleeping too. In case she comes in, like she did the other––” Jamie had gasped, breath ragged, cut off by Dani pulling Jamie’s wrist to her mouth, by Dani’s lips wrapping around her outstretched fingers.

“Pajamas when we’re sleeping too,” Dani had murmured around Jamie’s fingers, swirling her tongue around Jamie’s fingertips, looking steadily at Jamie as she had sucked her fingers deeper into her mouth.

“Fuck, Dani…” Dani does this, Jamie had reminded herself, Dani’s eyes finding hers as she’d grazed her teeth softly across Jamie’s knuckles. Dani holds herself to a crushing standard of restraint, indulgence spilling over, inescapably, in small amounts––a lingering glance, a brush of her hand, a kiss, stolen, from around a corner––until she doesn’t, until she can’t anymore, a deluge of wanting cresting, dragging Jamie into the undertow.

And Jamie lets her. 

Dani had slid Jamie’s fingers out of her mouth with a quiet pop, dropping Jamie’s wrist to slide her hand underneath Jamie’s other suspender, slipping it, effortlessly, off of Jamie’s shoulder. “Any more rules?” Dani had slowly, methodically freed her fist from Jamie’s first suspender, her voice breathy, tugging it gently, letting Jamie’s suspender snap against her skin before sliding her hand back underneath it, pressing, soothing, before slipping it off, too.

“Rule four––” Jamie had taken a steadying breath, treading water, been interrupted by Dani again, this time wrenching Jamie’s turtleneck up and over her head, then her own sweater, smiling sweetly at Jamie as she’d let them drop to the floor with a shrug and an explanatory “we’re not sleeping or outside of the bedroom,” before going to work on the zipper of Jamie’s pants.

Jamie had almost lost herself to Dani’s riptide then. Had wanted, so badly, to let it carry her away.

But Dani hadn’t let her. “Rule four?” She’d prodded encouragingly, conversationally, as if she hadn’t been shoving Jamie’s pants down her waist, her hips, before moving to her underwear.

“Rule four,” Jamie had husked, Dani’s breath catching, sharp, as Jamie had yanked her in by her belt loops, busying herself with the button of Dani’s jeans and pushing Dani’s underwear down with her pants, “stay quiet.”

Dani’s hands had frozen then, stilling against the arc of Jamie’s back, Jamie’s bra half unclasped.

“Oh,” Jamie had grinned slowly, realization setting in, pooling, low in her stomach, “Miss Clayton.”

Dani had swallowed, Jamie stepping in closer, grin still spreading across her face, reaching behind her back to wrap her fingers around Dani’s.

“Is rule four,” Jamie had guided Dani’s fingers, the two of them unclasping her bra together before Jamie had refocused her attention on Dani’s, unclasping it, too, letting her fingers drag down Dani’s spine as her bra had fallen to the floor, “going to be a problem for you?” 

Dani had stared at her, hands grasping, trembling, in empty fists at her sides, pupils blown.

Jamie, for all her presumed smugness, had only managed to raise an eyebrow, her breath heavy in her chest.

“No,” Dani had finally said, matter-of-fact, jaw clenched stubbornly, hands moving again, reaching out to grab Jamie’s waist, walking her backward, closing the distance between them and the bed.

So yeah, Jamie thinks as her back hits the mattress, Dani quick to follow, straddling her, definitely a successful parlay.

Then Dani’s lips are finding hers, needy and insistent, and Jamie’s not thinking much of anything.

Jamie’s arms wrap up and around Dani’s neck, pulling her in closer, gasping softly into Dani’s mouth, and Dani exploits the opportunity, sliding her tongue against Jamie’s, Jamie moaning as Dani flicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth.

Dani grins against Jamie’s lips, murmuring a “quiet, baby,” between kisses, and drags her fingers up, ghosting them along Jamie’s ribs. Jamie groans against Dani, shivering, pressing herself up into Dani’s touch, and Dani kisses her harder, Jamie groaning again as Dani grinds down, wet, against her.

“Hard to be quiet,” Jamie presses her forehead against Dani’s, pushing herself, further, up into her, “when you feel like that.”

Dani hums, rocking her hips, and Jamie’s fingers knot in Dani’s hair as her hips jerk in response, Dani laughing, breathy and full, into Jamie’s mouth, rolling hers again.

Jamie lets go, surrenders herself to the currents of Dani’s want.

She meets Dani’s hips this time, and the two of them find an easy rhythm, Dani smiling, wide and wanton, against Jamie’s mouth, Jamie’s arms tightening around Dani’s neck, bringing her in closer to bury her face in Dani’s shoulder, whimpering softly as her hips rock to meet Dani’s. Dani’s face is pressed into Jamie’s neck, moans muffled, hot against her skin, and she rakes her nails back down Jamie’s side, Jamie gasping, back arcing up off the bed.

“Christ, Dani,” Jamie rasps, pulling away from Dani’s shoulder, nudging Dani’s head up too, their foreheads falling, resting, against each other’s. Dani’s lips are swollen, flushed, and Jamie cranes her neck to look, peering between their bodies, down her torso. It’s slick from Dani’s ministrations, shining in the light from Jamie’s window, and Jamie’s hips surge upward again, involuntarily, at the sight.

“Looks like rule four isn’t going to be a problem at all,” Dani’s whisper is challenging, smug, and when Jamie’s eyes find hers, Dani’s have that cool assurance that accompanies only her most nerve-wracked acts.

Jamie loves when Dani gets like this, emboldened by slick and sweat and the feeling of Jamie’s body underneath hers.


Dani leans down, pressing a kiss, bruising and sudden, to Jamie’s lips, and then she’s pushing herself back up, looking down at Jamie, taking her in. Jamie’s tense, her stomach taut, hips trembling underneath Dani, anticipating, and Dani rolls her hips again, harder this time, raising her eyebrows when Jamie has to press the back of her hand to her mouth to cover a groan. 

“Yeah?” Dani rolls her hips again, reaching her hands up to run through her hair, pushing it back out of her face as she grinds against Jamie, cheeks flushed.

Jamie’s biting down on her hand underneath her, hips meeting Dani’s harder, faster.

“Who’s having trouble with rule four now?” Jamie’s abandon, her willingness to submit to Dani’s want, the way it knots, so easily, with Jamie’s own buoys Dani. She’s pleased with herself, proud, sliding a hand down to Jamie’s stomach, her palm spreading, flat, against Jamie, pressing with each thrust.

Jamie loves when Dani gets like this, but there’s something else Jamie loves more.

Jamie pulls her hand away from her mouth, biting the inside of her cheek in its stead, and slides her hands up Dani’s thighs, slipping her left hand up further, wrapping it around Dani’s waist, Jamie’s grip steady.

“I dunno,” Jamie looks up at her, mischievous, her stomach tight under Dani’s palm, Jamie’s right hand skimming across Dani’s thigh, nudging between her legs, sliding between wet folds, “you tell me.”

Jamie sinks two fingers, easily, into Dani.

Dani gasps, arching, pushing herself down onto Jamie’s fingers. “Jamie––” Her voice shakes as she rolls her hips again, harder, Jamie’s other hand flexing, fingers digging into Dani's hip.

Jamie allows Dani a few more rolls of her hips before she starts pumping her fingers upwards, slowly at first, angling them deeper into Dani.

Dani’s free hand finds her hair again, tangling itself in a mess of tousled blonde, her other pulling away from Jamie’s stomach to find Jamie’s atop her hip, threading their fingers together. Jamie watches her, all of Dani’s smugness lost, as if by transference, to Jamie, as Dani rides her fingers, hips bucking, a low whine building in her throat.

“Jamie,” Dani’s voice is tight, strained, and Jamie knows it’s from trying to be quiet as much as it is the slow build in the pit of Dani’s stomach.

Dani’s pressing her eyes closed, a crease etched, gently, between her brows. Her flush has spread across the bridge of her nose, and her lips are parted, soft, gasping with each surge of her hips.

“Dani,” Jamie rocks her hips with her fingers this time, using the momentum to thrust harder into Dani. “You’re beautiful,” she whispers, almost reverential, her breath heavy.

Dani manages a smile, eyes fluttering open to drift down to Jamie, and then Dani’s murmuring a strangled “more?” and Jamie has no choice, she thinks, but to oblige, sliding a third finger into Dani, groaning, catching herself, at the way she feels Dani stretching around her, the way Dani’s hand squeezes hers, hard, along her hip.

Dani rolls her hips harder, faster, and Jamie’s three knuckles deep into Dani, Dani’s knuckles white in her hair.

Jamie can feel Dani getting tighter around her, her fingers starting to lose their rhythm as Dani's hips grow more erratic, jerking, fast and hard, against Jamie. Another jerk and Dani falls forward, holding herself up on hands, her hair tumbling down around their heads, hips frantic, moaning lowly into Jamie's shoulder at the new angle.

Jamie’s not sure she’s ever seen Dani so desperate. It’s heady, her neediness, and Jamie feels like there’s a fire spreading under her skin as Dani grinds down harder, fucking herself on Jamie’s fingers.

“Tell me what you need,” Jamie whispers, breath hot, panting, against Dani's ear, “anything.”

“Jamie,” Dani lifts her her head, presses her forehead to Jamie’s, whimpering, and it’s a wonder, Jamie thinks, she can say anything at all, “please. Fuck me, please, make me––” She hisses, the angle of Jamie’s fingers shifting, “Jamie…”

“I've got you,” Jamie's lips find Dani's once, twice, “I've got you,” and then she’s curling her fingers into her next thrust and Dani’s crying out, Jamie’s free hand flying up to cover Dani’s mouth as she comes, shuddering, moaning, into Jamie’s hand. 

Jamie coaxes Dani through her orgasm, fingers slowing with Dani’s hips, Jamie leaning up to press easy kisses to Dani’s forehead, her nose, her cheeks, waiting to pull her hand away from Dani’s mouth, to take Dani’s lips between hers, until Dani’s hips have slowed, collapsing, spent, against Jamie’s.

“Jesus, Dani,” Jamie whispers finally, sliding her fingers out from between Dani’s legs and her hand away from Dani’s mouth, “you…” 

Dani bites her lip, grinning bashfully up at Jamie from where her head is resting on her chest.

Jamie laughs, reaching down to run a hand through Dani’s hair. “Now you’re quiet, huh?”

“Just catching my breath,” Dani hums, nuzzling into Jamie’s chest. 

“Catching your breath, huh?” 

“Mmhmm.” One of Dani’s fingers wanders across Jamie’s chest, dragging down between her breasts, over, up, around a nipple.

“And just what is it,” Jamie’s breath hitches, Dani’s eyes glinting as she traces Jamie’s nipple again, watching it harden under her fingertip, “that you’re catching your breath for?”

“Mm,” Dani ducks her head, kissing Jamie’s chest now, lips following a haphazard trail of freckles down Jamie’s sternum, “might have some plans of my own.”


Dani nips at one of Jamie’s hipbones in response, and Jamie gasps.

Dani pauses. Looks up at Jamie. “Are you sure,” she whispers, teasing, eyes shining in the dim light, arms wrapping around Jamie’s thighs, pulling them up around her head, “you can be quiet?”

One of Jamie’s hands drops to the top of Dani’s head, threading her fingers into Dani’s hair. “If I don’t”––there’s a grin spreading across her face, interrupted by Dani’s tongue, dragging, suddenly, down between her legs––“if I don’t,” she gasps, “will I…” Dani’s tongue slides lower, circling her entrance, dipping into Jamie. “Will I be in trouble?”

She feels Dani grin too, against her, feels the outbreath of a chuckle, but the only answers she gets are Dani’s fingernails, digging into her thighs, Dani’s tongue, thrusting deeper into Jamie, and one of Dani’s hands, snaking up her hip to find Jamie’s own, lacing their fingers together.

Jamie gets another answer later, their pajamas pulled hastily on, curling into Dani, still catching her breath as Dani’s fingers trace looping circles under Jamie's shirt.

“You probably should be in trouble,” Dani muses aloud, apropos of nothing, “but you know what?”

“Mm?” Jamie pulls her head out of the crook of Dani’s shoulder, looking up at her.

“I think I might like you too much to hold you to it.”

“Mm,” Jamie nuzzles into Dani’s cheek, “you say that now.”

“I do,” Dani says, stubborn. “I do say it now.”

“Just wait,” Jamie murmurs sleepily, lips finding Dani’s jaw next, “until I do something really bad.”

“Like what?”

But Jamie doesn’t answer, only smiles at her sleepily, mysteriously, and then she’s leaning in, pressing her lips to Dani’s. “My last promise to Flora,” she murmurs, “kissing you goodnight.”

Dani smiles drowsily. “And here I was worried you’d forgotten.”

“Never,” Jamie says, serious, leaning down, kissing Dani again, softer, longer.

“That one’s just because,” she mumbles after she pulls away, nestling back into Dani, finding one of Dani’s hands with her own, eyes drifting closed, voice, for all its fatigue, lilting, “courtly love and all.”

Dani's laugh drifts, sleepy.

They're quiet after that, the moon shining in through Jamie's window.

And then they build a new routine.

Then: “I love you, Dani Clayton.”

And: “I love you, Jamie Taylor.”

Chapter Text

It’s easy, learning how to be a family.

It’s always been easy with Dani, effortless, warm and familiar and safe despite the pretense, despite the strangling standards Jamie had imposed on herself, rigid and unyielding, despite the fear of it all. The fear of wanting, of letting herself give in, of opening herself up to pain, lasting, enduring, if only for a semblance of feeling, fleeting.

But Dani Clayton isn’t fleeting. Dani Clayton is steady, assured, even in her most paralyzing moments, even when she forces herself to look ahead––to breakfast, having held herself, fraying, together, if only to tuck Flora gently back into bed, if only to fall apart at the seams moments later in Jamie’s arms; to two days of dates, the prospect of one, saturated as it was with the promise of everything on the table, the promise of an unspoken future, daunting enough on its own; to a night, bound to come, if still a ways away, when she knows she’ll fall asleep in her apartment, notably lacking in chaos and flora of all forms, for the last time––beyond her curated discrepancy of “what if”s, to face her beast of tomorrow head on.

It’s that, Jamie’s realized, will think years later, it’s always been that.

It’s Dani Clayton, graciously accepting, clinging to, Jamie’s pledge of “one day at a time,” but peering, determined, through the jungle anyway, daring to stray from the narrow path winding out in front of her, placing one foot, resolute, in front of the other, bearing the overgrowth, the darkness, if only to spare a glance at her waiting tomorrow. For a single shot at it.

For Jamie.

For Flora.

Dani Clayton is the bravest person Jamie’s ever known.

It’s Dani’s promise, brave, unflappable in spite of the clamor of her nerves, of constancy; her commitment to stumbling through her jungle; her trust in Jamie, unwavering and immediate, to keep her company there, to catch her when Dani’s own foot catches on a root, the jutting vestige of Dani’s own family tree. 

And so it’s Jamie, too, laying down her arms, surrendering the guard that’s protected her, protected Flora, for so long, so that she and Dani may take each other’s hand, so that each may catch the other when she stumbles, so that they may face the future, head-on, together, with Flora.

It’s always been easy with Dani, safe, because it’s what they’ve been doing from the beginning: Dani, feeling the weight of the gaze of a future just out of sight, had invited Jamie into her classroom, and the invitation had, between a muddy jumpsuit and a moonflower, been accepted.


Jamie has two pairs of eyes on her this year, one brown, bright, excited, coupled with a determined nod, the other blue, wide, warm, scheming, somehow, Jamie thinks, already, anticipating the afternoon bell and the ride home and everything that comes after.

“Ready,” Flora and Dani echo.

“Lunches packed?”

It’s lasagna, and though Jamie can’t take credit for much, having spent her Sunday evening next to the stove, leaning backwards against the counter, watching Dani and waiting for her request for a wooden spoon, or the bowl of onions, diced, painstakingly, earlier, or the wide, flat noodles––“wait until they’re fully drained this time, Jamie, don’t let the colander drip onto the floor”––she can take credit for the bay leaves, the thyme, the oregano, even the tomatoes, all grown carefully, lovingly, in the garden outside their kitchen window. She can take credit for packing it, too, two tins of lasagna, shut neatly, each nestled in its own bag. There’s carrots, also, and an apple for each of them. Flora’s first favorite water bottle, the one with the unicorns, and one Flora had picked out for Dani, lilac, ivy crawling up the sides. A paper napkin in each, one bearing the words “love you, munchkin,” the other with a “meet me in the coat closet after school?” and a heart, both accompanied by the lanky sketch of a sunflower in full bloom.


“Shoes tied?”

“Uh-uh,” Dani shakes her head, her lips pursed. “Flora warned me about this one. You’re not getting me.”

“No?” Jamie raises her eyebrows.

“No,” Dani says cooly, confident. “No, I’m wearing my––” She pauses, looks down. Stares. Looks over at Flora, mouth agape. “You said the shoe one is always a trick!”

“I did,” Flora giggles, “but I’m usually wearing shoes with buckles.”

This year, Flora is wearing brand new Reeboks, white, clean, meticulously laced and velcroed across the top, just like Dani’s.

“Gotcha, Miss Clayton,” Jamie flashes a triumphant grin at Dani, Dani smiling placidly, narrowing her eyes at Jamie in return. It’s a promise of retaliation if Jamie’s ever seen one, and it makes Jamie grin wider. “You two sure you’re ready?”

It’s not out of apprehension, this time, out of worry, out of Jamie pressing, dropping Flora somewhere she couldn’t help her, somewhere Jamie hadn’t been able to help herself, her hackles up.

Now it’s just… Routine.

Flora glances up at Dani, beaming, grabbing her hand, and then looks back to Jamie. “Ready,” she says, head bobbing, “promise.”

Dani smiles down at Flora, squeezing her hand. “Me too.”

It’s the three of them now. 

Now Dani makes breakfast every morning, fried eggs and orange juice and perfect toast and pancakes––“panmuffins, Dani, sweet Christ”––on special occasions; never tea, Jamie adamant that, for all of Flora’s patient lessons, all of Dani’s undivided attention, Dani is forbidden to touch the kettle. (“Your tea,” Jamie had declared one morning, staring down at the cup in her hands, “might be worse than porridge.” Dani had only blinked, confused: “wait, what’s so bad about porridge?”)

Now they hunch over the coffee table together, Jamie stretched out, book in hand, across the couch behind them, Dani combing, red pen in hand, through worksheets about circuits and the Stone Age, Flora beside her, puzzling her way through percentages, Dani pausing every now and then to glance over at Flora, check in with her, remind her gently, “they’re just fractions, really, and you’re pretty good at those.”

Now Jamie still oversees two baths each night––one bath and a shower, if she’s holding herself to specificity––Dani cultivating a habit of, once Flora’s asleep, slipping into the shower behind Jamie, pressing a kiss to her shoulder as she leans across her, reaching for the loofah. Dani reminds Jamie, too, readily, to scrub at her own fingers with the nail brush as much as she does Flora’s. “More, even,” she adds one day, buffing at Jamie’s nails herself, glancing up at her, grin goofy and crafty all at once.

Now they get two goodnight kisses, all three of them, Flora’s pressed to her forehead after a half hour curled between Dani and Jamie, the cadence of Jamie’s voice and the calm stroke of Dani’s hand along her hair easing her into sleep, tucked cozily away underneath her pink quilt. Dani and Jamie’s come first, then, from Flora, and second from each other, Dani’s arm wrapped, certain and safe, around Jamie, Jamie leaning up to brush her lips against Dani’s, their kiss punctuated by murmured “I love you”s.

She and Dani would have been infallible if not for Flora, Jamie had thought once, that everything was fallible when it came to Flora. 

She realizes now that she was wrong, that she and Dani are infallible because of Flora.

“Right then,” Jamie clears her throat, looking from Dani to Flora. “Have a good first day, yeah? Wash your hands. Finish your carrots. Be good,” she glances from Flora to Dani, “both of you.”

Flora giggles, and Jamie bends down, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “Love you, munchkin.”

Flora nods, distracted, watching Henry’s car pull up to the curb, Miles slipping out and sprinting up the stairs across from them.

Dani glances at Jamie, who nods, and then down to Flora, squeezing her hand again. “Go ahead,” she says, smiling when Flora glances, impatient, up at her, “see you later, sweet thing.”

Flora bolts, and then it’s just the two of them and everyone else, fading into the background.  

They keep their Saturdays.

Even past their rules about sleeping over, about Flora finding out, even spending as many days as they do together––they go from “no school nights, yeah?” to “well, maybe if I just… Kept some extra clothes here?” after four school nights apart––they keep their Saturdays.

“You’re always here,” Dani murmurs into Jamie’s skin one afternoon, “and I know you’re always here, and I feel you touching me, but it’s nice to know… It’s nice to know we always have this. Here,” she ghosts her lips across Jamie’s chest, “together.”

“You’re here too,” Jamie’s whisper is hoarse, one of her hands finding Dani’s, threading their fingers together, “with me.”

“Yeah,” Dani rests her chin on Jamie’s chest, smiling up at her, “I’m here.”

Sometimes they spend their Saturdays at Dani’s apartment, stretched, tangled up in each other, across the couch, rented VHS playing on the TV all but forgotten, the tape wound to the end. Sometimes they’re in Dani’s kitchen, making chili one minute (“Why’s it called Southwestern style? What’s it southwest of?”), Jamie bending Dani over the counter the next, Jamie’s lips gliding over a shoulder blade, sliding her fingers up between Dani’s legs, pressing into her. Sometimes they’re in Dani’s bed, Jamie’s head resting on Dani’s stomach, Dani’s fingers twirling absently around Jamie’s curls, running softly through them, listening to Jamie talk, or sometimes read.

“You’ve never read The Secret Garden?” Jamie asks, incredulous, one day, scrambling to sit up. “It’s my favorite book,” she elaborates, eyes bright, and she looks so much like Flora in a way Dani, watching, enamored, has never seen before, “the very first one I ever read to Flora.”

“So read it to me, too.”

Dani’s not sure she’s ever seen Jamie, usually so effortlessly cool, so excited.

Jamie’s throwing on Dani’s pale pink sweatpants, sweatshirt, uncaring, running out to her car and returning, moments later, with a love-worn copy. “Keep it in my glove compartment,” she’d explained, grinning, proud, and as much as Dani wants to start listening right away, to share something so precious to Jamie with Jamie, all she can do first is tug her back into bed, strip her of that sweatsuit, that goddamn, blushing sweatsuit, and kiss her.

Sometimes they spend their Saturdays outside of either of their homes, on dates in the outside world, spending the afternoon at the movies, Jamie loading them up at the concession stand, hauling a tub of popcorn and a jumbo soda––“we only need one straw, Dani,” and, lowering her voice, “my tongue’s gonna be in your mouth later anyway, yeah?”––into The Princess Bride. (They take turns flattering each other, each lauding the other with a simpering “as you wish” every chance they get for weeks after.) Sometimes they meander aimlessly around the mall until Dani inevitably yanks Jamie into the arcade, making a beeline for the pinball machines, explaining, breathless, sheepish, around a wide grin, “back home, sometimes… They’d–– They’d call me a pinball wizard,” and when Dani wins enough tickets to claim the biggest stuffed animal behind the glass counter, a giraffe they name Luna, Jamie selfishly keeps Luna for herself, wrapping herself around the giraffe the nights Dani isn’t with her in her bed. Sometimes they go out to eat, Jamie dragging Dani to brunch, informing their waiter that she’s there to show Dani, “an American,” disclosed with a sad shake of the head, what real pancakes are.

“Those are just crepes,” Dani says blandly, when their pancakes arrive, unimpressed, much to the horror of both Jamie and their waiter.

“I,” Jamie declares later, crawling atop Dani in the backseat of Dani’s car, “can’t take you anywhere.”

Dani only smiles up at her innocently, her arms sliding around Jamie’s neck with a cheerful “you can take me home.”

Sometimes they spend their Saturdays at Jamie and Flora’s flat, taking the time away from Flora, the relative peace it brings, to clean, Dani happily organizing Jamie’s fridge (“I’ve been wanting to do this for ages,” she admits) while Jamie finally––finally––steam cleans her carpets, washing away mud and melted crayon. Sometimes they’re curled together on Jamie’s window seat, staring out at the shifting clouds, Jamie’s arms wrapped around Dani, Dani playing absently with Jamie’s fingers as she tells her about Iowa, how big the sky is there, and recounts a life that used to be hers. Sometimes they’re in Jamie’s bed, Flora at Miles’ and Henry’s flat for the night, and when Dani’s hands grasp, clamoring, at the sheets, or the headboard, or Jamie’s shoulders, Jamie doesn’t have to clap a hand to Dani’s mouth, doesn’t have to pull her in, smothering Dani’s moans with frantic kisses.

She had been right, Jamie knows, when she had told Owen they had somehow surpassed the need for Flora to stay elsewhere on date nights. There are plenty of nights, in fact, when Flora doesn’t, and those are some of their favorites, Dani cooking dinner for the three of them, followed up by a game or a movie, Flora’s choice, or the occasional story time before bed.

(Dani’s ecstatic for her first story time, and while Jamie is decidedly less so, she is charmed by Dani’s feet, incapable of staying still for all their excited tapping against the floor, Dani’s eager participation, her exclamation of “go Flora!” adorable if ill-informed, and Dani’s hand, finding Jamie’s without Dani taking her eyes off of Flora, following Flora’s every couplet.)

There is, however, Jamie accepts, something to having the flat to themselves. With all her newness to wanting, it follows, she presumes, that she would have had––probably still has, if she’s being honest with herself––trouble differentiating “want” from “need,” and, compounded by the staunchness of her pride, that she had refused Henry’s initial offer, delivered by Owen, to have Flora stay over.

It had been Dani who’d finally convinced her, the tender curl of Dani’s bottom lip, the watery shine of her eyes.

It’s easier, Jamie thinks, to admit that Dani Clayton is right when Jamie’s head is between her legs, Dani’s heel pressing sharply into her shoulder, and Dani is gasping, her pitch climbing higher and higher, a garble of “please” and “more” and “fuck, yeah, don’t stop,” coming, hard, Jamie’s name a shameless moan on her lips.

They keep their Saturdays, even, when they don’t have to alternate between two flats anymore.

They keep their Saturdays through it all.

After a year and a half, they buy a house.

“It’s because of you, you know,” Jamie nudges her shoulder against Dani’s, contracts, scratch paper, ledgers, spread across the table in front of them, calculator and pencil shoved finally, victoriously, to the side.

“How d’you figure?”

“Well,” Jamie says slowly, patiently, “all this extra money I have saved? Some of it’s gone to save for Flora, right, but the rest of it, what we’re putting into the down payment?”

“Yeah,” Dani’s eyes track back over their figures as Jamie walks through them again, pointing each one out with her pencil.

“It’s from all those deals I got after you invited me to Career Day. All those loaded families looking for landscaping, gardening. Some of them aren’t even closed yet. I mean,” she leans in, gesturing at a sheet of her accounts with a pencil, “that Lloyd woman? These people have manors , Dani. Between all that upkeep and Henry’s contacts…” She puffs out her cheeks, exhaling.

Dani watches her, smiling, for a moment. “I don’t think that’s because of me at all,” she finally says, meeting Jamie’s raised eyebrows with her own, “I think that’s all you. You impressed them. You and that moonflower of yours.”

Jamie grins, setting her pencil down and turning, fully, to face Dani. “Yeah?”

Dani nods. “Mmhmm.”

“Impressed you too with it, I hope.”

Dani only smiles wider.

Jamie grins, goading.

“Maybe,” Dani admits, “just a little.”

“A little!” Jamie laughs, disbelieving. “So little,” she leans in, “you almost kissed me in a children’s coat closet after.”

Dani hums, Jamie’s lips close, so close, to her own. “Good thing,” she murmurs, “we’ll have a whole house to kiss in soon.”

Flora insists on helping them with the process from the start.

They tour different houses together, Flora appraising their options with a keen eye and ready critiques: “this bedroom is too small, I think, for all my dolls,” she says of one, asking “but how will Dani cook for us in such a small kitchen?” of another.

She has a hand in packing, too, reveling in the opportunity to visit Dani’s apartment for the first and last time, and unpacking, once their move is complete. She busies herself with Dani’s suitcases first, while Jamie keeps Dani occupied downstairs––kissing her, exultant, against every counter in their new kitchen––and when Dani finally makes her way upstairs, face flushed and sweater rumpled, Flora’s kneeling, beaming at her from in front of an emptied suitcase.

It’s the same beam Dani’s seen on Jamie, the same one Jamie had boasted after rearranging Dani’s desk, the podium, on Career Day, the same one that Dani had wanted nothing more than to see again and again and again.

She does see it again, when Jamie promises, beaming, to get started on putting together their new bed, Flora swearing to help, beaming too, while Dani is at the grocery store.

It’s gone, however, when Dani gets home, arms overrun with grocery bags, to find Jamie and Flora in the middle of the empty living room floor on their stomachs, feet kicking lazily in the air, enmeshed in a coloring book.

“It’s Care Bears,” Jamie grins up at her, “we found it in one of the boxes.”

Dani glances over at the jumble of half-open boxes in the corner. “Nice,” she says, disappearing into the kitchen to unpack the groceries, poking her head back into the living room a few minutes later. “Jamie,” she says, voice tight, and Jamie’s head shoots up, “can I talk to you upstairs?”

“Upstairs?” Jamie repeats dully, getting to her feet, glancing down at Flora.

“Upstairs,” Dani repeats, “in our bedroom.”

Jamie grins at that, glancing down at Flora again before crossing to the stairs, hopping, taking them two at a time.

They almost pacify Dani, the words “our bedroom,” her heart in her throat as she climbs the stairs, the phrase ringing in her head.


Jamie’s waiting patiently, nervously, for her on the landing, watching Dani closely as Dani sweeps past her, crossing into their room with a flourish.

“What happened,” Dani rounds on Jamie, “to ‘I’ll get started on the bed, Dani’?”

Jamie reaches for Dani’s waist, voice low, mollifying, “I’m still gonna do it, baby, but Flora found––”

“Flora,” Dani waves her arms at their mattress resting against the wall, “has a bed already. We don’t.”

Jamie grins then, and Dani knows, even as she manages a gasping “you… You finally… You really are in trouble now,” Jamie pushing her into their mattress, Jamie murmuring a “s’never stopped us before” against the soft underside of Dani’s jaw, that her annoyance is fleeting, fizzling out under the pressure of Jamie’s lips, Jamie’s hands, Jamie’s arms, guiding her, gently, to the floor.

Jamie’s beaming again, that same, proud beam, when they make it back downstairs, their fingers tangled together, Dani biting her lip, glancing back over her shoulder at Jamie. Flora’s in the kitchen, has moved on from Care Bears and coloring, her hands on her hips, having a stare down with the refrigerator.

“Flora,” Jamie ventures, stepping around Dani, “what’s up?”

“Dani has so many magnets,” Flora squints at the fridge, then over at a box on the counter next to her, “and nothing for them to hang up.”

“Ah,” Jamie says, sliding her hands into her back pockets, leaning back, assessing the fridge.

Dani glances between the two of them, Flora and Jamie taking in the fridge in easy silence, eyes darting back to the box of magnets on the counter, souvenirs, mostly, from her travels across Europe, from a life in transition. 

A transition, she thinks, to her presence here, now, to this. To Jamie and Flora and their shared refrigerator in their new house. 

She turns abruptly on her heel and crosses out of the kitchen, Jamie and Flora turning too, blinking after her.

Dani’s gone for a moment, and then she’s back in the kitchen, backpack in tow, dropping it at her feet. Dani still doesn’t speak, dropping down, rifling through it, and Jamie and Flora glance at each other, turning back to Dani, fascinated, as Dani pulls out a pink folder, a flower sticker stuck firmly to the corner.

“So,” Dani finally says, scouring through the folder, thumbing, searching, past papers, “we start hanging things.” She finds what she’s looking for, and, pulling it out of her folder carefully, crosses to the fridge and grabs a magnet out of the box, hanging the page in the middle of one of the refrigerator doors.

She takes a step back, standing between Jamie and Flora.

Dani has always had magnets, has never used them to actually hang anything. She’d never had anything to hang before, she figures, and in her last apartment, her magnets had been prizes enough in themselves, spoils from a journey up and out of an underworld she hadn’t wanted to memorialize.

But now… 

Where she’s been, Dani thinks, the journey she’s made… It’s led her here. Why shouldn’t the tokens of her pilgrimage uphold the sanctity of her new, glorious afterlife?

“That reminds me,” Jamie wraps her arm around Dani’s waist, the three of them surveying Dani’s work, Flora’s blue crayon rubbing from art class, carefully stowed away for a year and a half, now adorning their refrigerator door, “they are splendid, your eyes. Could get lost in ‘em every day. Do, even.”

“Finally,” Flora breathes, wrapping, for her part, her arms around the two of them, and they three stay there for a long time, holding each other.

They have a housewarming, Flora and Miles running circles around their guests, Flora done up in her favorite floral vest, Miles with a bow tie knotted snug around his neck that’s hanging, undone, after an hour. Hannah and Rebecca are settled together on the couch, Rebecca prodding Hannah for updates on her former students, Hannah gracefully avoiding anything that could be construed as gossip, redirecting, asking Rebecca how her long-sought pupilage is going, what it’s like to work with Henry. Henry, who’s there too, leaning against the far wall, pulling Jamie into a tight hug. 

“It’s a great, good place,” he whispers, clasping Jamie’s shoulders, “you should be proud.”

Jamie sniffs, nonchalant. “Don’t go soft on me now, Henry.”

He laughs, dropping his hands. “On you? I wouldn’t dare.”

Jamie looks at him for a moment, long, hard, and then she laughs too, pulling him back into another hug. “Thank you,” she says, and when her voice cracks, neither of them acknowledge it, “for everything.”

Dani, meanwhile, is in the kitchen with Owen, the two of them peering, vigilant, into the oven.

“You should go,” Owen urges her, knocking his elbow gently against hers, “it’s your party. I’ll hold down the fort here.”

Dani’s expression is horrified. “No,” she protests, the single syllable short and brash, “you’re my guest.”

“Your guest,” Owen ducks his head in a mock bow, “and resident pastry expert.”

“And I,” Dani plants herself firmly in front of the oven, sitting, crossing her legs, in front of it, “am the resident pigs in a blanket expert.”

Owen chuckles, sinking to the ground next to her, pulling his knees to his chest and resting his arms across them. “Jamie’s already let you have it over the proper definition of ‘pigs in a blanket,’ hasn’t she?”

“She has,” Dani’s jaw is stubborn, her eyes sparkling, “but I know pigs in a blanket. And these,” she waves her hand at the oven, “are some damn good ones.”

Later, Flora, under the influence of two mugs of hot chocolate, four pigs in a blanket, and what Dani suspects to be half a tin of cookies (“a respectable amount,” Jamie determines, absolutely no help at all), insists on giving everyone a tour of the house.

Each room, she declares, leading her audience, captive, from the foyer to the kitchen and up the stairs to Jamie and Dani’s room and then her own, is perfectly splendid. There’s a notable exception between the kitchen and the stairs––the small room they’ve fashioned into an office, for drafting garden layouts or grading homework or completing assignments, depending on the occupant––which Flora deems to be “quite boring,” flitting quickly away to continue the tour elsewhere.

(The office, in time, proves to be a source of consternation for Dani, too, retreating into it to work through the tedium of grading multiplication drills. She struggles with times tables, still, to Jamie’s endless amusement, distracted by the way Jamie’s cropped shirt rides up along the plane of her stomach as she reaches for a mug, or the sound of Jamie’s laugh from the living room, joyous and rough, as she listens to Flora’s latest regalement.)

Rules still change, over the years, even as they live together, are broken, rebuilt.

Dani is, eventually, allowed to touch the kettle, though, Jamie teases, she insists on supervising her at all times.

Jamie is the one who breaks their “no sex outside the bedroom” rule one day, Flora away from home, visiting Miles and Henry. She’s watching Dani load the dryer when the concept of their separate, downstairs laundry room––a place near which Flora doesn’t dare venture for fear of the basement––snaps clearly into place, and the next thing either of them know, Jamie’s lifting Dani onto the dryer, rucking her skirt up around her hips.

Her life, Jamie marvels, would feel constant, routine, birthdays and holidays and boring moments passing by to be reveled in with no consequence otherwise, the world outside a blur and the earth’s tilt lazy on its axis, if not for Flora.

And she loves it, Flora’s restlessness, the life she gives Jamie.

The life she’s given Jamie.

This, though… This is something altogether different.

Jamie knows it’s the way of the world, that everything yields to time.

It would be so easy, she thinks, so easy to fall into the warmth of their small existence, of story times and Saturdays, to carve out a life there together, forever.

But: the days turn to months, the months to more. Years pass. And with every trip around the sun, Flora grows.

Flora grows, and with her, her dolls fade to diaries, her bedtime to a curfew, and a phone, clear and plastic, comes to reside on her nightstand.

Everything, Jamie thinks, watching the smile break across Dani’s face at the dinner table when Flora, sixteen, tells her that she’s decided to get a Bachelor of Education degree, that she wants to be a primary school teacher, too, yields to time.

When Flora gets married, she asks them both to walk her down the aisle. 

It’s with the caveat that Dani doesn’t have to––“I know,” Flora assures her, “you have your own… Stuff with big weddings, and I know,” she looks at Jamie, at her ring, “you two are married in all the ways that matter, but… If it’s too hard, I do understand”––but Dani only shakes her head and wraps her arms around Flora, swallowing, blinking back tears, holding her tight.

Jamie, meanwhile, is rubbish at planning. Always has been. It’s no shock to her, then, when Flora doesn’t ask her for help planning her wedding, but it does come as a surprise, Jamie wandering down the stairs one morning, when she finds Dani at their kitchen table on the phone, notepad in front of her, patiently talking Flora through which questions to ask of which venues and which considerations to make when she’s getting her dress tailored (“hair up or down,” Dani offers, smiling to herself, “open shoulder or no”).

“You know you don’t have to do all that,” Jamie says later, staring up at Dani from where she’s laying in her lap, Dani’s hands gliding easily through her straightened hair, “if it’s too hard.”

“No, it’s… It’s not hard,” Dani purses her lips thoughtfully, “and it’s been so long now that… That…” Her hand stills, and she looks suddenly down at Jamie. “I’d do it anyway,” she says, voice stubborn, determined, “even if it was.”

Jamie smiles, reaching for her hand. “I know, love,” she tangles their fingers together, pulls Dani down to kiss her, “I know.”

Owen speaks at the rehearsal dinner, Hannah settled in the seat next to his, smiling up at him, laughing, melodic, at every single one of his jokes, even the worst ones.

Miles and Henry laugh too, across the table, Miles watching Owen closely, thoughtfully, thinking ahead to his own speech––“why can’t I have a best man?” Flora had asked him one night, brow furrowed, over a glass of wine––the following night. 

Rebecca’s there too, fresh off a win, and when she shakes Flora’s fiancé’s hand, her grip is the firmest of all.

(“It was harder,” he tells Flora later, only mildly shaken, “than your mom’s.”

“Which one?” Flora’s distracted, laying out the butterfly clip she’ll be wearing in her hair the next day.

“You know which one,” he’d said, leveling her with a serious look, and Flora had only laughed, turning, cupping his face in hers.)

The night starts to wind down eventually, everyone having retired, inside, to comfort and cocktails around the fireplace, laughing, swapping stories. 

Someone asks Flora how she and her fiancé met, and she indulges them, happily, with the tale. 

“Don’t forget that you’re responsible for this, too,” Owen quips from across the room, chuckling, Hannah nestled snugly against him on the couch. 

Flora’s fiancé looks questioningly at Flora, and she laughs, reaching up to scratch at her forehead. “I’d… Forgotten about that,” she chuckles, ducking her head, looking back at Owen. “Tell us the story?”

He obliges, embellishing his closing as the story concludes: “and ever since meeting this woman, right here,” he leans his head against Hannah’s and she shakes hers, dreading, relishing, what’s coming next, “I haven’t been cross -ant a day since.” 

They fall into an easy silence after that, companionable, and Flora’s getting ready to excuse herself, to adjourn for the night, when––

“I have a story.”

Jamie glances up at Dani, standing, leaning against the back of her chair, before she says it, her eyes gleaming, and it floods back to Dani: 

Her classroom.

Jamie’s grin.

The way Jamie had pulled her hands out of her pockets, held her arms out for emphasis.

“One day, when she’s not expecting it,” Jamie had said, “I’m going to sit down and tell Flora a story of my own. And it’s gonna be so long. See how she likes story time then.”

Dani bites her lip, grinning, and squeezes Jamie’s shoulder as Jamie begins to talk, the gold of her ring gleaming softly in the firelight.

The year is 1988. 

They are in Jamie and Flora’s flat.

Flora is eight.

Jamie is trailing behind Dani, her hands pressed over Dani’s eyes at Flora’s insistence, Flora trailing ahead, her small hand wrapped, firm, around Dani’s. Dani shuffles along between them, chuckling, nervous, as she lets herself be led down the hallway.

“Where, uh… Where are we goin’?”

“If we told ya,” Jamie grins up at Flora, who pauses her even steps to glance back at the two of them, “then it wouldn’t be a surprise now, would it?”

Dani’s brow creases underneath Jamie’s hands, but she smiles too, toothy and wide, the perfect union of charm and befuddlement one she’s come to know intimately between her months in the classroom, with Flora, and her months with Jamie, outside of it. “Well,” she says, Flora’s steps resuming, leading her carefully around a corner, “I guess you got me there.”

“Don’t worry, Miss Clayton,” Flora stops, dropping her hand, “we’re here now.”

“Can you tell that to your mom?” Dani reaches behind her, feeling for Jamie, her fingertips tugging at the silk of her pajama top. “Her hands are still over my eyes.”

Jamie clicks her tongue disapprovingly behind her. “Patience, Miss Clayton,” she chides, and Dani tugs again, harder, at her pajama top.

Flora turns, fixing Jamie with a pleading look, and Jamie laughs. “Far be it from me,” she drops her hands, “to embarrass you in front of Miss Clayton.”

“You could never,” Dani’s hand finds Flora’s head, stroking her hair softly, even as her eyes adjust to the light, flickering around her, taking in the clean tile and succulent-adorned shelves of the bathroom, “embarrass Flora. Yourself, on the other hand…” Dani cranes her head back, raising her eyebrows at Jamie.

Jamie shakes her head, eyes bright, smirking ruefully, and she’s opening her mouth to respond, but Flora’s clearing her throat, Dani and Jamie both turning, looking back down to her.

“Miss Clayton,” Flora says, excited, earnest, reaching out to take Dani’s hand again, “now that you’ll be staying over more, having sleepovers, my mum and I thought––”

“Hey,” Jamie’s voice is gentle, even as she interjects, encouraging, “give yourself some credit, yeah, Flora? I,” she says, boastful for all of Flora’s forethought and none of her own, “had nothing to do with this.”

Flora looks up at Jamie, biting the inside of her cheek, thinking. She nods. “I thought,” she says, “it might be helpful if you had a toothbrush here. One of your very own. That way,” she smiles sweetly, whispering now, “you don’t have to keep carrying yours around in that backpack of yours.”

Dani bites her lip, squeezing Flora’s hand, Jamie’s coming to rest, soft, reassuring, against her lower back.

“We usually brush together,” Flora explains, “right next to each other, in fact. Morning and night,” she chimes, “two minutes each. Thirty seconds for each quadrant.”

“Quadrant,” Jamie scoffs, shaking her head, “that’s one I know she didn’t get from me.”

“I got it from Miss Clayton,” Flora says simply, smiling up at Dani. “It’s a math word.”

Dani beams. She can’t remember the last time she felt like this. She’s not even sure what this is, her brain wracking to quantify it, a tangle of belonging, wantedness, and warmth, bound together by a home, by love, unabashed.

There is a word for it, she thinks, but it’s never been like this for her before. Never been this easy.

Could it be?

“Mum let me pick it out for you,” Flora’s plowing forward, holding her and Jamie’s toothbrush cup out to Dani, a fresh purple toothbrush, pristine, clattering to the side as Flora proffers the cup. “I picked purple,” she says proudly, “because I think––and mum said I was right––it’s your favorite color. And because,” she passes Jamie her toothbrush, then grabs her own, reaching for the toothpaste, “mine is pink and mum’s is blue. And purple,” she squeezes a small dollop of toothpaste onto Dani’s toothbrush, then Jamie’s, and, finally, her own, “is a perfect combination of the two.”

Flora slips in front of them without waiting for a response, and as they brush their teeth, Dani takes in the sight of them: Flora, stretching up onto her tiptoes, squinting into the mirror as she brushes, and she and Jamie behind her, leaning easily into each other as they do, Dani swallowed up by Jamie’s oversized pajama top, Jamie’s curls wild, her eyes misty. Happy, all three of them.

Maybe, Dani realizes, it is this easy.

Jamie sends Flora to her room to get dressed, and before Dani knows it, she’s back in Jamie’s bed, pressed into the mattress, giggling, Jamie’s lips traversing their way down her neck.

“What,” Dani manages, trying, failing, to catch her breath, “about Flora?”

“Eh,” Jamie shrugs, moves to the other side of Dani’s neck, “she has to wish all of her dolls a good morning before she does anything else. Seriously, greets them all one by one. Has a whole conversation.”

Dani’s giggles turn into laughs, wide and full, as she slides her palms underneath Jamie’s pajama top, against her back, pulling her closer.

“Besides,” Jamie continues, nipping at Dani’s pulse point, eliciting a gasp, “she won’t start getting ready until I go in a second time, anyway. Remind her.”

“Mm,” Dani hums, angling her head back deeper into the pillow, giving Jamie easier access to the base of her neck, her collarbone, “sounds like you both could use some discipline to me.”

Jamie only nips at Dani’s skin again, harder, in response, and Dani gasps again, fingernails digging crescent moons into Jamie’s back.

“I’ll show you discipline,” Jamie mumbles against Dani’s skin, “discipline enough to stop kissing you.”

“Oh yeah?” Dani breathes, unimpressed, cynical, Jamie’s tongue soothing against the hollow of her neck.

Jamie pulls away, scowling, petulant, and Dani can’t help but giggle again. 


“Nothing,” Dani’s giggles fade into a soft smile, and she reaches up to cup Jamie’s face. “You’re cute.”


“Mmhmm,” Dani’s eyes flit across Jamie’s face, taking her in, her thumb stroking the line of Jamie’s cheekbone.

“Dunno how I feel about cute.”

“You like it.”

Jamie’s lips quirk. “I like it,” she concedes, and Dani laughs again, pulling Jamie down next to her.

“Last night was nice,” she murmurs, nuzzling into Jamie’s cheek.

“It was,” Jamie wraps an arm around Dani, tangles their legs together, “but,” she lowers her voice, whispering, “I thought you didn’t usually do that on first dates.”

Dani narrows her eyes at her, challenging. “And here I thought you didn’t usually have first dates.”

Jamie shrugs, nonchalant. “I’m full of surprises, Miss Clayton. Have a…” She purses her lips, thinking, “Third? First date scheduled today. Right now, in fact.” 

Dani arches an eyebrow. “Right now? Don’t you think you’re a little late?” 

“No one else seems to be ready. Don’t see any reason not to enjoy myself a little while longer, at least. Besides,” Jamie’s voice catches, softens, “after all that…” She swallows, eyes finding Dani’s, “I know it’s just… Brushing our teeth, but…” Jamie tugs the corner of her lip between her teeth, smiling shyly across the pillow at Dani. “I couldn’t not kiss ya again.”

Dani’s eyelids flutter once, twice, and she’s whispering, teasing, even as she leans in, smiling back, “that’s another double negative.”

“I stand by it,” Jamie whispers, lips brushing against Dani’s as she does, “don’t care what the teacher says. Some rules,” she kisses Dani then, gentle and long, “are meant to be broken.”

They meet in the kitchen a half hour later, Dani having checked on Flora, having found her, still in her pajamas, a doll in each hand, cooing between them. All it had taken was Dani’s hands on her hips and the arch of her eyebrow––the same one she gives Jamie––and Flora had started, wide-eyed, recoiling from her dollhouse.

(Jamie had kissed her again for that one, ready, waiting just around the corner.)

“Mrs. Grose helped me figure it out,” Flora announces, hands clasped in front of her, glancing between Jamie and Dani, seated at the table, in front of her, “last night. Would you mind,” she cocks her head at them both, “a bit of a drive?”

It’s not a school bus, Flora thinks, pushing forward against her seatbelt, resting her chin on the shoulder of the passenger seat, looking between her mum and Miss Clayton, it’s better. 

It’s better, Flora leaning her head against the headrest, watching her mum and Miss Clayton’s fingers lace together over Dani’s gear shift, watching the way Dani smiles, glancing over at Jamie as Dani’s thumb traces hers, watching the way the corners of Jamie’s mouth quirk up at the feeling of Dani’s thumb, delicate against her skin.

It’s better, listening to Dani talk about the nature reserve, all the things she hadn’t been able to say on their field trip, drowned out by twenty-two other voices, listening to the way Dani says “conifer,” her nasal “o,” the lilt of her “i,” listening to the way Jamie’s breath catches when Dani says it, Jamie’s soft chuckle.

It’s better, Flora wrapping one gloved hand around Jamie’s, firm, safe, as they cross the car park, wrapping her other hand around Dani’s, light, assured, as they choose a walking trail.

“It’s probably best to pick the shortest one,” Flora offers, looking up at the map, appraising, “since it is a bit cold.”

“Yeah, about that,” Jamie looks askance at Flora, “you, uh, picked a choice location for February, munchkin.”

Flora shrugs, smiling, wide-eyed, innocent, up at her. “It was Mrs. Grose who reminded me about the nature reserve. She thought we three might like to come back. Together.”

“How does Hannah know about the bloody––”

“I simply told her,” Flora’s pleased with herself, the jut of her jaw Jamie Taylor smug, “I wanted to go somewhere special, and Mrs. Grose asked if there was anywhere the three of us had gone yet, together, that might be special, could become specialer.”

Dani and Jamie glance at each other, Dani’s cheeks flushed, Jamie’s smile softening.

“I reckon this is a good choice, then, Flora.”

“I know,” Flora chirps happily, swinging their hands as they start walking. “I saw you two, you know,” she glances up at Jamie, at Dani, “on the bus.”

“You–– What?” Dani blinks at Flora, glances over at Jamie.

“You were just talking,” Flora pauses, squinting through the trees at a bird before resuming her steps, “and I’d seen you together before, in the classroom or the front office or on our other field trips, but it was the first time, after everything, that you got time together alone, really alone. You seemed happy.” She shrugs, continuing on.

“What do you… What do you mean, Flora?” Dani’s voice wavers, curious. “What do you mean, you’d seen us together?”

Flora fixes her with a look, straightforward and unapologetic. “I mean I’d seen you together,” she says simply, obviously. “Always… Looking at each other. Trying not to look at each other. Smiling. Trying not to smile. Miles said the field trips were like dates, but,” she crinkles her nose, “I disagreed. You can’t go on dates, proper dates, when you have a classroom of children to look after, can you?”

“Miles… Said…” Dani’s face is a deep red now, embarrassment overlaying her February flush.

“You were talking to Miles about us?” There’s an edge to Jamie’s voice, and Flora’s glance shoots over to her.

“Yes…” Flora says slowly, carefully, her gait mirroring her tone, stepping cautiously over a puddle, iced, in the middle of the path. “But only because he noticed it first!” She supplements quickly, imploring.

“Noticed what first?”

Flora bits her lip.

“Flora,” Jamie’s voice is patient, if insistent, “noticed what first?”

“That you… You…” Flora glances over at Dani, then up at Jamie. “That you liked–– That you like Miss Clayton.”

It’s Dani who stops walking, eyes wide, bright, staring over at Jamie, her lips pressed tightly closed, desperately trying to hold back the smile threatening to overtake her face.

“I–– What?” Jamie frowns, bluffing, but it’s belied by the small quirk at the corner of her lips.

Flora, vindicated, looks over at Dani, tugging softly at her hand, pulling her forward. “She was terribly worried about what to wear to Career Day, Miss Clayton,” she whispers, “terribly worried. Because, I think, she wanted to impress you.”

The thing with Flora, Jamie thinks now, has never had to think before, is that, for all of Jamie’s ministrations, all of her sacrifices, all of the neat divisions she’s made in her life, Flora is an extension of her.

She’s been an extension of Jamie from the beginning, grizzling, endless, and they’re the same, were even then, restless in all their idleness, Flora’s infantile and Jamie’s nescient, with nothing to give Flora save herself. That’s how it had started, Jamie recognizes, Jamie giving and giving and Flora growing and growing.

Except that now, Jamie’s growing too.

Jamie’s growing too, and Flora sees it, and because they’re the same, Flora Jamie’s proudest propagate, Flora knows. Has always known, even if she can’t understand the nuances, the depths of Jamie’s feelings, feelings relegated, for Flora, to fairy tales both real and imagined. Flora knows, and has known since she’d watched her mum’s face light up at her suggestion of bringing Miss Clayton a flower, Jamie’s eyes sparkling as she proposed a bud from the moonflower they’d been tending, on Career Day. Flora has known since Jamie had made her an ice cream sundae, elated after Flora’s parent-teacher conference, had poured extra bubbles into her bubble bath, had stayed awake, all night, on the phone, Flora’s ear pressed to Jamie’s door, able only to make out the soft murmur of her mum’s voice. Flora has known since seeing the way Jamie’s blanket, warm, comforting, had spread, just so, over Dani’s that night on the bus, their arms resting, tense, just beneath the overlap.

Flora had known, watching Jamie sink into their couch, grumbling over appropriate Career Day attire, arms crossed, stubborn, over her chest.

Flora, Jamie realizes, had known before she had. Or, she tells herself, at least before she had been ready to name it, to admit that all she wanted, jumpsuit or not, was for Dani to look at her like she had at back-to-school night, blue eyes unashamed, uncompromising, all awe and curiosity and want. 

Dani gives in, grinning widely, resuming their easy pace. “Yeah?” She looks down at Flora, eyebrows raised, focusing, determined, on Flora, on looking anywhere but over at Jamie.

“Yes.” Flora nods, grave. “She was asking Henry and Owen for all sorts of advice. She said she wanted to look nice.”

Dani’s eyebrows raise even higher. “Can I tell you a secret?”

Flora nods, ardent.

“I thought your mom was the best dressed presenter at Career Day,” Dani’s voice is sincere, bursting. “I thought she looked strong, and committed. Unafraid. Alive.”

Dani doesn't say the rest of it, that she had wanted to look nice for Jamie too, that she had woken up early––too early, she’d bemoaned then, shuffling sleepily to her coffee maker––to blow her hair out. Dani had wondered then if Jamie had known, sliding into her seat next to Dani in the back of the classroom, Jamie’s eyes never leaving Dani as she’d grinned, murmured a low “I like the hair, by the way,” and stretched out her legs, one foot lazily coming to rest the leg of Dani’s chair.

She must know now, though, Dani thinks, finally glancing over at Jamie, Jamie’s smile wide, stretching across flushed cheeks.

“Can’t have looked better than the teacher,” Jamie says quietly, and that’s all the answer Dani needs.

The silence they fall into as they walk is easy, natural, Flora pointing out the occasional bird, Jamie pointing out a flower, or a tree. Dani supplements their knowledge with hers, Flora’s hand steadfast in hers, filling in their blanks with facts about ecosystems, or the seasons. 

They fit.

They’ve reached the end of the loop, and Jamie and Flora are prepared to circle back, to start the walk back down the trail and towards Dani’s car, but Dani stops, pulling gently on Flora’s hand. 

They pause, turning back, looking at her, curious, the same furrowed brow, the same tilt of the head.

If Dani Clayton is anything, she’s prepared.

She’s a former Girl Scout after all, has a backpack fully stocked, first aid kit included. 

She jerks her head towards the trees, takes a step off the path. “Can we keep walking?”

Flora and Jamie glance at each other. Jamie nods.

It’s better, Flora had thought, than a school bus, a field trip. But it might even, she thinks now, the three of them reaching an overlook, Dani crouching, unzipping her backpack to pull out a picnic blanket, shaking it out before smoothing it across smooth earth, be the best.

“It’s the best view,” Dani explains, grinning, pulling more blankets out of her backpack, passing one to Flora, one to Jamie, before wrapping a third around her own shoulders, “the tour guide, back… Back last term told me about it, and I… Well, you have to go off the trail a little bit, wander through some trees, but… Gosh, you can just see everything,” she breathes, “everything for miles. I always wanted to come back and see it.” She glances over at Jamie who bites her lip, inclines her head, and Dani shivers, not from the cold, before reaching into her backpack again, pulling out a thermos, unscrewing the lid, and passing it to Flora.

“Hot chocolate!” Flora squeals. “Miss Clayton, you shouldn’t have!”

Dani’s voice is soft, her eyes still on Jamie, when she responds. “I couldn’t not.”

It’s definitely the best, Flora amends to herself later, leaning into Dani, happy, sated, letting her head fall onto Dani’s shoulder. 

Dani’s head drifts, resting on top of Flora’s, and there’s a crinkle of blankets as Jamie scoots in closer, slinging an arm around their shoulders.

“You really can see everything,” Flora breathes, squeezing Dani’s hand, “for forever, almost.”

“You can,” Dani says, and she smiles, her eyes sliding from the view over to Jamie, to Flora’s hand, wrapped around hers. “Isn’t it beautiful?”