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one day at a time

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..

It’s only one week into quarantine by the time they finally meet. Jamie is sitting with her legs kicked up on the railing, smoking a cigarette and trying to read a book. Below, the city streets are eerily quiet. Any time a car rumbles past, it makes her jump and crane her neck to look at it down below. 

If the intensity of her boredom after only six days is anything to go by, the rest of her self-isolation is going to be a treat. The first few days had been spent in a near-constant state of panic, constantly updating her phone and leaving the news on, watching as the numbers spiked across nearly every country on the continent. She’d fielded panicked calls from Owen and Hannah, making sure they were alright in Paris and answered emails to her boss at the flower shop regarding time-away pay and her own safety and health. 

Now, she’s almost entirely run out of things to do.

She’s just contemplating the merits of tossing herself over the edge of the balcony when the door to the balcony just beside her own opens and a woman comes out. At first, Jamie can’t see much of anything save for her profile. It’s evening and the sun is beginning to set, which means that the buildings surrounding their apartment complex are casting deep shadows on just about everything in sight. 

Jamie realizes briefly that she’s seen this woman before, in the time that she’s lived in her apartment. Down by the mailboxes, in the hallways. They might have even shared the elevator once or twice. But she must not have ever gotten a good enough look because she’s certain she would remember if she had.

When the woman sits down at a small table she has on her balcony, she turns and Jamie can see her face more clearly which is—

Wow. 

Even with the pale of her cheeks and the dark shadow she’s sitting in, she somehow looks like one of those old Hollywood starlets. The kind that are usually only seen in black and white. Her blonde hair is tied away from her face messily, leaving a few strands around her ears, her blue eyes are blinking back tears, too, and it’s like it doesn’t even matter to Jamie’s poor heart. Not with how hard it is to look at the pink shape of this other woman’s mouth and the soft column of her neck.

Quick as she can remember to, Jamie looks away, focusing instead on taking a long pull from her cigarette. On her exhale, she punches the smoke through her parted lips, sending it up into the air in a messy circle.

“Hey,” the softest voice she’s ever heard says after a little while. 

When she looks up, the woman is watching her. Their balconies are close—technically connected—which means they’re a little less than ten feet away from one another. Any closer and Jamie would need to run inside and grab one of the masks Hannah sent her right at the start of the whole thing.

“Hey,” she returns.

The woman looks like she’s maybe ten seconds away from openly sobbing, but she maintains a kind of gentle stoicism. “You can totally say no,” she begins, “because of everything going on and germs and stuff but...Could I maybe bum one of those off of you?”

As enchanted as Jamie is by her surprisingly pleasant American accent, it takes her a moment to realize what’s been requested of her. By the time she does, the woman looks like she’s setting herself up for rejection. She hurries to answer.

“Yeah!” she says, and then realizes that she practically yelled it and winces at herself. “Sorry, just...yeah, of course. Let me…”

The woman’s tense expression begins to melt into something vaguely charmed. Jamie tries not to read too much into it. She reaches for her pack, resting beneath her chair beside her water bottle and then thinks better of it. Gets to her feet. Stubs out her cigarette in the ashtray on the TV tray table she’d brought out from her living room.

“Actually, give me a sec.”

She darts inside her apartment before the other woman can ask why.

Inside, she goes to the drawer in her kitchen that’s filled with nothing but spare change, batteries, and a few extra packs of Benson & Hedges. She grabs for one and then blindly fumbles through the cabinet above to pull out a pack of disinfectant wipes, which she tucks under her arm as she goes back outside.

Quick as she can, she takes out a wipe and swipes it over the pack thoroughly before reaching down and sliding it across the cool, tile flooring of their balconies. It slides a few feet, coming to rest just in front of the woman’s shoes.

“Oh my god, you’re the best,” she says, picking it up and ripping it open.

“Do you need a…?” Jamie trails off, plucking the lighter from her pocket and waving it in the air. When she gets a nod, she uses the wipe to clean it, too, and then slides it over. The woman lights a cigarette, setting it between her pretty lips and, when she offers to slide the lighter back, Jamie shakes her head in response. “You can keep it,” she says and the woman looks like she’s gonna cry all over again.

They sit in silence for a little while, silently smoking and looking at anything but the empty city below. Eventually, Jamie musters up the courage to say something along the lines of, “Rough day?”

Fortunately, the woman doesn’t seem to mind how cheesy that sounds. She nods. “What day isn’t lately?” she asks. Then, “I’m...Dani.”

Jamie smiles, saying the name over and over in her head. “Jamie,” she returns. “I’d shake your hand, but—”

Dani laughs. “Fair enough.” She takes a long drag from the cigarette and then meets Jamie’s eyes again. “My, um...My mom just tested positive so I’m...yeah.”

“Oh,” Jamie breathes. “Oh, I’m really sorry.”

“Yeah.”

“Is she…?” 

She’s not really sure what that question is going to turn into, but she doesn’t necessarily have to worry about then when Dani jumps in.

“She’s back in America and I’m…well…” She gestures vaguely to the city around her.

“Right,” Jamie says. “I’m sorry. That must be really rough.”

“Yeah.” Dani is silent again for a long moment. “ I’m sorry. You don’t even know me and here I am—”

This time, it’s Jamie’s turn to cut in.

“No, it’s...It’s okay,” she says. “You can...I’ve been told I’m a good listener.”

Dani stares at her, eyes narrowed, looking her over. “I can see that.”

Jamie’s not really sure what she’s supposed to say to that.

“I just realized that this is the first time I’ve actually spoken to someone in person in almost fifteen days,” Dani admits. She looks more than a little surprised at this revelation.

Jamie thinks over her time in quarantine. Remembers Owen’s grainy, pixelated face on Zoom. Hannah’s voice catching on the slow internet connection.

“Me, too,” she says. “Huh.”

They sit there in the ever-darkening spring evening, still and unmoving as the world continues to spin.

_______

Dani’s already outside the next evening when Jamie goes out. She’s brought a laptop with her and she has her headphones in, but she takes them out when she sees Jamie, giving her a glowing smile.

“Hey,” she greets.

“Hey,” Jamie says. “Mind if I join ya’?”

“Of course not,” Dani says.

She ends up setting her laptop up on her table, angling it so they can both see it, subtitles on and huge at the bottom of the screen. Jamie doesn’t really need them, anyway. She’s certainly seen the movie enough times. She’s far more interested in hearing Dani’s sporadic comments about a young Sigourney Weaver and the safety of the poor, space-bound cat than she is in the movie anyway.

_______

It becomes a thing after that. Every evening, like clockwork, they’ll both wind up on their balconies and watch a movie or just sit and talk. Jamie learns that Dani is terrified of the ocean, that her favorite smoothie flavor is mango, and that she's absolutely shit at making tea—though Jamie has not had proof of that one.

She talks about her job at a private school in the city, how nervous she is for all of her kids. Complains about virtual learning and being technologically impaired.

In turn, Jamie talks about Owen and Hannah, her boss, and her obsession with American cooking shows. 

They laugh a lot, which is nice. Really nice. The news gets scarier every day, but at least—amongst all the other people they may have, however inaccessible they may be—they have each other.

_______

“I don’t get it,” Dani says on the first night of their third week of isolation. “Saving her from the...evil demigod doesn’t change the fact that he was super creepy at the beginning.”

Jamie laughs from her perch on her own balcony as Dani turns to her with wide, frantic eyes—the credits to Ghostbusters playing behind her head. “Sigourney does deserve better,” she agrees.

“I just don’t understand that,” Dani says.

“Understand what? Being attracted to Bill Murray? Cause I’m with ya’ there.”

She’s blessed with the sound of that laugh Dani only releases for Jamie’s best jokes. Or her worst ones. She’s not really sure. What matters is the way Dani’s nose scrunches up and how she tosses her head back into it each time.

“No, no,” she says, then frowns. “I mean, yeah, but...settling like that. For something she clearly didn’t want at the beginning.”

It’s the way she says it that gives her away; there’s something going unsaid here. Something from Dani’s past that they’re not quite good enough friends for Jamie to ask about. They don’t know each other. Not really. And remembering that feels like a cold glass of water being poured over her head.

They’re just two people who hang out in the evenings because they can’t see anyone else right now.

So she settles for the easy way out. She doesn’t say anything about her parents or herself or all that mess with Rebecca and Peter. Instead she says, “Well, if it makes you feel any better, I’m pretty sure she dumps him between this one and the sequel.”

That serious look drains away from Dani’s expression. 

“Really?” she asks, almost too eager.

Jamie laughs. “Pretty sure.”

“Good for her.”

“But...I think they might get back together at the end.”

Dani gives a dramatic groan and flops back onto her chair and Jamie can’t stop grinning for the longest time.

_______

The sequel really is unbearable, and Dani throws popcorn at her own laptop halfway through, so they turn it off. Relax back. Watch the sunset over the buildings and talk about all the things they want to do once this is over. 

“I always wanted to go rock climbing,” Dani says. 

Jamie tries to imagine that. “Really?” she asks.

“Well...at one of those indoor places.”

Complete silence follows this. It’s something they can do, apparently—sitting in silence without it being strained or forced. Jamie’s never had that with anyone before.

“I’d like to go ghost hunting I think,” Jamie says eventually.

Dani whips her head around to look at her. “Really?” she asks. “Where?”

Jamie shrugs. “Someplace old. A castle or a house that no one lives in anymore. Not that I reckon anything’d happen.” When she looks over, Dani is watching her wide eyes, listening to what she’s saying with more intent than Jamie thought possible for anyone. “But it might be nice. Pretty, even. Just being in a place where so many folks lived their lives or passed through. I don’t know if I believe in ghosts but I believe in that.”

“In what?” Dani prods.

“Marks. Impressions,” Jamie says. “Left by the memory of someone. Some emotion they felt during an experience. Some piece of who they are. I think...if it was really strong...you can feel it. Even the bad stuff.”

It strikes Jamie that she’s never said that aloud to anyone. She thinks Dani might know that, too. She adjusts her feet where they’re propped up on the railing and bites at her lip, waiting. Birds fly past in the sky. Somewhere in the distance, she can hear someone playing the piano. A TV turned up too loud. 

Life, she thinks. Moving on. Even in the narrow confines of isolation.

“You,” Dani begins, voice soft as she points an accusatory finger Jamie’s way, “are a romantic.” She drops her hand and grabs a piece of popcorn, placing it daintily between her lips and nodding, like she’s trying to reinforce what she’s just said. She must be able to tell that Jamie has at least part of an argument forming in her mind, because she rushes on to cut her off. “No! You are . And it’s incredibly…”

“Incredibly what?”

Dani frowns for a moment. “Sweet,” she says.

Jamie narrows her eyes. “What were you going to say?”

“What I said: sweet .”

“No, that’s not it.”

“What? Does that ruin your...rough-and-tumble charm?”

“My what ?” Jamie asks, a laugh held in the back of her throat, quirking her head to one side.

Dani wags her finger like some kind of school marm. “Don’t play dumb,” she says. She takes another crunching bite of her popcorn and, around it, says, “I was going to say cute , okay? Happy now?”

“Oh.” Her surprise drips from the word. 

“I’m allowed to think you’re cute, you know,” Dani says and she sounds so steady, but the flush of her cheeks catches in the fading evening light. She might be trembling a little. “You’re not the boss of me.”

“’Course you are,” Jamie says, tapping an erratic rhythm on her leg with her fingers. “Never said you weren’t.”

“You okay?” Dani asks. 

She sounds amused now and certainly less nervous. Jamie wishes she knew what that was like.

Jamie nods. “Sure.” She glances over at Dani and then quickly away, shaking her head. “Just...who the hell knew?”

Two meters never felt so far.

_______

The next one up is Galaxy Quest , which Dani claims to have seen at least a dozen times.

At some point, Jamie catches the way that Dani is mouthing the dialogue along with every scene, and she’s already a goner but this makes it so much worse. These simple, silly things that slot together to make this other woman make her feel weak and giddy. 

It’s a hot summer evening and Jamie’s shirt is sticking to the small of her back with sweat, and her apartment is right there —cool and air-conditioned and inviting. But she thinks she’d sit out in the middle of the storm if it meant Dani was there with her, laughing the whole time.

“Sorry if you hated it.”

Jamie realizes that the movie is over and that Dani is watching her with a forlorn expression at the same time. “What?” she says. “I didn’t hate it.”

“You were zoning pretty hard.” 

“Right, yeah. Um...just stuff...on my mind. That’s all.” She rubs her palm at the back of her sweaty neck. “It’s a good movie.”

Dani smiles, turning in her seat so they’re facing one another a little across all that distance. “Have you seen her pumpkin pictures?” 

Jamie blinks. A laugh rumbles through her chest and out her throat. “Pumpkin pictures?” she asks.

“Oh, my god,” Dani breathes, fumbling her phone from the pocket of her shorts. “You have to see them.” She frowns in concentration as she types something and then scrolls, the blue light making her squint and it’s so ridiculously cute and Jamie is wildly charmed by that fact—

“Aha!” 

Dani lifts her phone a little and shakes it triumphantly. She turns it and holds it up for Jamie to look at, but Jamie it’s too far for her to really see much of anything.

“The pumpkin pictures!” Dani exclaims. “They’re incredible.”

Jamie shakes her head. “I can’t see them,” she says. 

“You can’t…?” Dani frowns and turns her phone around to look at it for herself. “Do you want me to…?” She makes a strange gesture then, possibly miming sliding her phone over for Jamie to look at, but Jamie shakes her head.

“Just...You can text them to me, if you like,” she says.

“Then you’ll have them forever.” Dani smiles. “What’s your number?”

It isn’t until she asks that Jamie realizes what she’s offering here. She clears her throat and then rattles her number off, watching as Dani types it into her phone. A minute later, her phone buzzes on her lap and, when she opens it, she’s greeted with two pictures of Sigourney Weaver lying on a couch, posing with a pumpkin. 

She breathes out a surprised laugh and shakes her head. “Wow,” she says. “These are—”

“I strive to be so bold some day.” 

The way Dani says it makes Jamie feel even more endeared. Despite the tremble of the world around them with each passing moment, she can still smile and laugh. It strikes Jamie then that she wants to kiss her, which surprises her even though it isn’t necessarily surprising. Dani has warm, blue eyes and a smile to match. 

It’s honestly a crime that someone isn’t kissing her at all times.

Under normal circumstances, Jamie thinks she might have more game. She might express interest and ask Dani if she’d like to go get a drink or a meal. They would go and she would pull out Dani’s chair for her, foot the bill, walk her home and it would maybe be perfect. But all she can do right now is sit on her porch at least two meters away and pine from afar. Saying anything could risk the only in-person relationship she has right now and wouldn’t that make everything just that much lonelier? 

Jamie doesn’t want what they have to end.

So she doesn’t say anything.

She just saves Dani’s number in her phone and then says something in return that requires almost no thought. No planning. When Dani tosses her head back in a laugh, Jamie longs to reach out and touch her, cup her cheeks and her jaw, run her fingers through those blonde waves. 

There are things she tells herself.

Things like: some day.

And: she’s your friend.

And: it’s just a crush calm down calm down.

She doesn’t listen to any of them, of course, but it’s the thought that counts.

_______

Dani texts her the next morning, bright and early, making Jamie’s phone buzz on the mattress beside her bed. It’s a picture of a television, a movie she recognizes pulled up on Netflix. Beneath it is the question:

Cabin in the Woods tonight?

Jamie sits up in bed, back against her headboard and sheets tangled around her feet, so she can consider what to reply. She’s quite the sight, sitting there with her hair sticking up in the back, her sleep shirt twisted a little on her torso, cradling her phone like it’s fit to break any moment.

It’s a horror movie. You do okay with those?  she replies and then waits.

Watches as a read receipt pops up below the message and then those three bubbles appear, lingering for a moment.

Finally: Yep! As long as someone’s there to protect me.

Jamie’s brain has a bit of a time trying to figure that out. After a handful of seconds, another message appears below it, only making things that much worse.

It’s a simple thing, really, that Dani has sent. A winking emoji. 

Jamie is a well-adjusted adult. She handles the shock of it just fine.

_______

Around noon, it starts storming and by the time they usually meet out on their balconies, it still hasn’t let up. Jamie stands by the doors looking out on the city, watching the rain lash down angrily. As she’s standing there, she receives two text messages from Dani.

The first is just a row of frowning emojis and the second says, Raincheck? 

Jamie stares at the message just long enough for another one to appear.

No pun intended .

She laughs, thinking—

( really like you really really really like you )

—of Owen’s similar jokes and types back, Sure. You can watch it on your own if you’d like, too.

Drifting over to her sofa, Jamie sits down and folds her legs up, trying her damndest not to feel so lonely. She imagines Dani sitting in her apartment with the lights low, watching the movie with wide, frightened eyes, then imagines that she’s there too—one arm around the back of the couch and Dani’s cheek pressed into her shoulder as she clutches closer.

Her phone buzzes. 

Are you sure?

Jamie nods to no one. Types, I’ve seen it before. A few times really.

There’s a long pause before Dani’s next message. While it passes, Jamie pulls a blanket over her lap and pulls up her own Netflix account, typing the movie’s name in the search bar. She’s just barely hit play when she gets another text, this time simply reading:

Okay .

_______

Halfway through, her phone starts vibrating again, but longer this time. Sustained. It’s Dani, calling her, and Jamie answers a little too quickly. Breathes out an awed, “Hey,” that she hopes won’t give her away too much.

“You didn’t tell me this movie was this scary,” Dani says.

Jamie blinks, baffled. “It isn’t.”

“Yes, it is . Oh, my god, Jamie. The...The fucking, like...zombie guy and his—” 

“It’s never scared me. I’m sorry. I would have warned you if I’d known.” Jamie tries her best not to laugh at the note of startled panic in Dani’s voice. “You said you were okay with horror movies.”

“I lied!” she says. “I hate them, okay? But it’s...Sigourney and I thought you were going to be watching it with me, so I didn’t think…” 

Something about what Dani is saying makes Jamie’s heart feel full to the brim. “Turn it off, then,” she says. “We can finish it together.”

On her television screen, Chris Hemsworth revs his motorcycle and prepares to jump across a ravine. Jamie’s eyes go right past it, too busy listening to the way Dani is breathing on the other line.

“I’m already invested. And I’m not a quitter.” Dani laughs at herself a little, then groans. “God, why can’t you just come over here?”

Breath sharp in her throat, Jamie stiffens, trying and failing to not read too much into what’s just been said. The problem is that she’s picturing it now, going over to Dani’s. Hopping the little railing between their balconies and knocking on the double doors until Dani answers, greets her with that bright smile that makes Jamie’s knees feel a little weak. Touching the soft skin of Dani’s cheek and then leaning in to kiss her, feeling Dani’s hands on her, tugging at her clothes, pulling her back into the flat and kicking the doors shut behind them.

“I mean,” she begins, licking her lips and then clearing her throat, “I could, but…”

Dani inhales sharply. “Right,” she says. “ But .” 

Somehow, there’s tension in the room despite Dani not being physically present. It’s thick and heavy and Jamie can only imagine how terribly alive it would seem if they could see one another right now.

Outside, lightning flashes, followed by a loud peal of thunder a handful of seconds later.

“Could you just...stay on the phone with me?” Dani asks next. “You probably think I’m being so silly—”

“’Course I can.” Jamie doesn’t have to be able to see Dani to know that she’s holding her breath, waiting for an answer. “What part are you at?”

“Um...they’re in the RV and—” A surprised noise cuts off Dani’s speech and Jamie knows right where she is. She has to resist the urge to laugh a little. 

She spends the rest of the night sitting on her couch, phone pressed so tightly to her ear that it aches, and thinks she should try not to wish for things she may not get. But she can’t help it. Dani makes herself so easy to want .

_______

Jamie greets the fourth week of isolation alone in her apartment as rain pounds against her windows for the third day in a row. Given everything else, she spends a lot of her time trying to follow Owen’s emailed recipes with the groceries he and Hannah keep ordering for her. Most of the time, what she’s cooking ends up burnt, but at least it’s something to pass the time. On the rare occasion the meal ends up looking decent, she sends pictures of it to Dani just for some reassurance.

She’s been telling herself to be more careful about the whole thing, but she has yet to manage it. And, anyway, it’s nice to hear Dani’s thoughts on it—nice to have someone a wall away who’s just as desperate for human contact as she is. 

Sometimes, Dani will call her instead of texting and then Jamie will eat at her kitchen counter with Dani on speakerphone, pretending that they’re closer than they’re allowed to be. 

They learn things about one another, faster than Jamie’s usual friendships do, and the weight they carry is a wild range that can’t be predicted.

“You’ll have to give me lessons when this is all over,” Dani will say.

Or: “The Alien movies really went downhill, didn’t they?”

Or: “My mom’s doing a lot better. I’m...It’s...She’s doing a lot better.”

On the afternoon of the fourth day without seeing one another, Dani says something that plays on an endless loop in Jamie’s mind for hours after.

“I realized earlier that it’s been over a month since anyone’s touched me.”

And she probably means for it to sound perfectly innocent, but, well.

Jamie can’t help how she hears it.

_______

“I’m an idiot,” Dani states later that night when she calls in response to a picture of Jamie’s chicken and rice skillet. 

“What? No, you’re not.”

A sigh. “I am. All I have in my cupboard is applesauce.”

Jamie wrinkles her nose. “Gross.” 

“Not a fan, I take it.”

“Not really.” Jamie leans back against her counter and looks over at her balcony doors. Outside, the sky is an angry gray, frothy clouds drifting in the sky as rain puddles on the divots in the balcony’s flooring. “You don’t have anything ?”

“No, I don’t. I was putting it off as long as possible,” Dani answers. “Guess I’ll have to brave the outside world tomorrow.”

A thought occurs to Jamie. She turns around and grabs another bowl from her cupboard, setting it down on the counter and scooping several spoonfuls of food from her pan into it. One-handed, she finds the aluminum foil in a drawer and manages to pull and tear it, placing it awkwardly on the top of the bowl. 

“Go out to your balcony in a minute,” she says and Dani is silent on the other line for a moment.

“It’s raining,” she says, as if Jamie doesn’t know.

“I’ll be quick. Wear a mask.”

Another pause. “Okay.”

As soon as she hangs up, Jamie scrubs her hands in the sink and runs a disinfectant wipe over the outside of the bowl. She grabs one of her masks from the table by her door and slips it on before grabbing the bowl and crossing her flat in a few easy strides. Taking a deep breath, she pulls the hood of her sweater up over her head and steps outside. As heavy as the rain is, she’s fit to be soaked within minutes.

Fortunately, Dani is outside already, a purple face mask pulled up over her mouth and nose. From the crinkle in the corners of her eyes, Jamie can tell she’s smiling. She steps toward the railing keeping them separated and holds out the bowl for Dani to take. 

“What’s this?” Dani asks as she steps forward. Her voice is muffled a little from the mask, but this is the closest they’ve ever been—less than a meter of space between them—so it doesn’t feel right to complain.

“Food,” Jamie says. “Can’t let you starve.”

And Dani’s expression softens. 

“You didn’t have to—”

“I know,” Jamie cuts in. She shakes the bowl a little. “Take it.”

Dani does, and it’s a simple enough task, taking the bowl from Jamie, but their fingers brush together in the pass-off and Jamie can’t breathe. It’s the first time they’ve ever touched one another, she realizes, and it does something funny to her pulse.

There’s a curious sort of understanding in Dani’s eyes that seems to say that she’s realized the same thing. With one hand, she curls the bowl to her chest and, with the other, she reaches out to slide her fingers around Jamie’s hand, cradling it gently. The touch sparks like a live wire between them and Jamie breathes in sharply. She curls her fingers around Dani’s, stroking her thumb along her soft skin, wishing she could feel more. Wishing, impossibly, for so many things.

The rain splatters around them, slicking Dani’s hair to her forehead, making Jamie feel cold to the marrow of her bones, but neither of them makes any move to pull away. Dani takes a step forward and Jamie does the same, not stopping until the railing presses into her hips. With so little space between them, she finally has a chance to take in the sight of Dani up close—what she can see of her, anyway. Her eyes are a cool blue, her eyebrows blonde, expression open and honest. Waiting. The lines beneath her eyes make Jamie’s throat feel tight. 

She shivers from more than just the cold. “Hi,” she says softly.

Bravely, she reaches out her other hand and pushes some of Dani’s wet hair from her face, thumbing the other woman’s sharp cheekbone just above the mask. Her skin is warm against Jamie’s chilled, wet hand and she bites at her own lower lip behind her mask, wanting nothing more than to press in closer. 

“Hi,” Dani murmurs. 

“You’re warm,” Jamie says.

“I wasn’t,” Dani tells her, “Before, I mean.”

Oh.

Bravely, Jamie curls her fingers around the hinge of Dani’s jaw, drawing her earlobe between her forefinger and middle finger. The fabric of her mask pushes up against the base of Jamie’s palm and she realizes rather suddenly that it’s Dani’s lips making it move. 

“Now it hasn’t been a month,” Jamie says and Dani chuckles, squeezing Jamie’s fingers with her own. “You should go inside before the food gets cold.”

“You should, too,” Dani tells her.

Jamie hums in agreement, but makes no move to pull away. Watery light cascades from between the clouds, lighting up Dani’s face with a baptismal glow. She brushes raindrops from the height of Dani’s cheeks and imagines leaning in, pressing their cloth-covered mouths together and closing her eyes. 

Pretending.

Having

If only for a moment.

_______

There are a number of ways to move on from here, Jamie realizes, but all of them involve sharing the same space physically. 

The desire to draw Dani into her arms and kiss her breathless, touch her and learn her and know her , is almost strong enough to fill Jamie’s chest with the drowning of a rushing tide. She shivers in dry clothes on her couch as she eats alone, remembering the curve of Dani’s cheek in her hand and the way her bony fingers felt pressing against Jamie’s own. 

Dani texts her to thank her about twenty minutes after they part and then all communication goes dark between them for the rest of the day. Jamie fills her time with washing her dishes, vacuuming her carpets, scrubbing her bathroom sink. She changes the sheets on her bed just for the hell of it and pauses at the head of her bed, pressing her hand to the wall above her headboard.

The wall she shares with Dani. 

On the other side is what she assumes to be Dani’s bedroom, given that her flat is just a mirror of Jamie’s. She tries to imagine what it might look like but can’t get past the mental image of Dani lying on her bed, tucked beneath the covers. What she’d look like if Jamie were to crawl up her body and sink down to kiss her, to press the length of their bodies together.

She tells herself to relax and tries to force the images from her mind.

It doesn’t really work.

_______

The noises start that night, subtle at first. Jamie chalks it up to the fact that she’s only just realized that they share a bedroom wall when she first hears something coming from the other side. Lying in her bed, she pauses her game of Sudoku on her app and listens intently for a long moment.

There are footsteps coming from Dani’s side. The rustling sound of movement. Bed springs creaking and then—

Something else she can’t qualify. A buzzing, maybe. The murmur of Dani’s voice. 

Curiosity digs into her ribs, but Jamie stops listening, admonishing herself for doing it in the first place. The walls are thinner than she thought they were. It’s a wonder that this is the first time she’s really hearing Dani at all in the time that they’ve been living next door to one another. 

Maybe she hadn’t known what to listen for.

She turns the oscillating fan by her bed on and lets the sound of it drown out anything coming from Dani’s side of the wall. Even so, she doesn’t stop thinking about it until she eventually falls asleep.

_______

When it stops raining, they watch Working Girl and then Avatar . Most of the second one is spent remarking on how unremarkable the plot is. Dani admits to having seen it in theaters, but remembering almost none of it. Jamie admits to having forgotten Sigourney Weaver was even in it.

They don’t talk about what happened on the balcony, and Jamie spends the weeks that follow trying to figure out why that is. What she knows about Dani’s dating history is fairly scarce, but she knows there was a boyfriend some time ago. At least one. 

Normally a confession like that would make Jamie back down a little, at least until the other girl shows a serious sign of interest. But with Dani, she doesn’t feel like she could even if she tried. Her heart is a little too dead-set for that already.

She considers asking Owen about it, but he’s been with Hannah a touch too long to have any real advice. And she would go to Hannah, but that would be about as good as going to Owen. 

Sitting out on their balconies watching Holes, Jamie eyes Dani’s profile, trying to figure it out. After so many days spent together, she has it memorized but she doesn’t think she’ll ever get tired of looking at her. There’s still a reasonable amount of space between them, but it’s less than it was before. A meter and a half, maybe. Like they’re slowly drifting together, orbiting around one another, on a collision course and the thought makes Jamie feel like she could vibrate out of her own skin.

“God, she’s unfair,” Dani breathes as Sigourney Weaver steps out of her car and into the desert to the sound of Moby’s Honey . She tilts her head back to find Jamie watching her and flushes. “Sorry.” 

Jamie blinks. “Why?” She glances at the laptop screen. “You’re right.”

“Sorry, yeah. I’m just not used to—” 

And the way she eyes Jamie says it all, even if she doesn’t quite finish the thought.

Just like that, Jamie gets it.

“You’re really pretty when you get all flustered like that,” Jamie says, telling herself to be brave and hold Dani’s gaze.

“Oh, um—” Dani says, looking even more blustered now and it has nothing to do with the movie.

It’s not just her, then. The realization sings inside her, looping and endless. 

If things were different, she thinks. 

Then: another time, maybe .

_______

The noises continue. Jamie starts leaving her fan on to drown them out. Once or twice, she thinks she hears what sounds like a gasp, and considers texting Dani to see if she’s alright. 

In the past, Dani has confessed to being clumsy and Jamie can only imagine that she’s running into things or knocking things over. Hopes she isn’t hurting herself too terribly.

Doesn’t text. Thinks it’s probably better that she does not say anything at all.

_______

Six weeks in, Jamie makes Dani more food and meets her on the balcony. It’s almost exactly as it was that first time, save for the fact that it isn’t raining. They stand closer than they usually are, each of them trying to pretend they’re not taking in the sight of one another, basking in the rare nearness.

Dani takes the aluminum-foil-covered plate thankfully. “You don’t have to do this, you know,” she says, and Jamie shrugs.

“Can’t have my movie buddy going hungry.”

Something new passes over Dani’s face and it makes her blood race quickly in her veins, makes her heart stutter in anticipation. A strange intensity fills Dani’s eyes as she stares Jamie down, like she’s trying to convey something without speaking or calling attention to it. She’s just about to ask if everything is alright when Dani finally breaks the silence with something truly surprising.

“You’re the nicest person I’ve ever met.”

The confession sits heavy on the tension between them. There are a lot of things Jamie could say to that, but none of them seem good enough. Carefully, she reaches out and brushes her fingers against the side of Dani’s face again, tucking some of her hair behind her ear. 

This time, Dani leans into the touch, her expression still full of wonder and hope for something Jamie knows she is wishing for too. It would be so easy, she thinks, to finally say something. To bring this feeling, this thing , into existence between them for the first time, but she hesitates.

She’s not sure why, but she does.

“Anything for you,” she says, and it’s not precisely what she wants to say, but it is true all the same. “You know that.”

Dani lifts her own hand and covers Jamie’s on her cheek. “Yeah,” she says. “I do.”

_______

That night, Jamie lies in her own bed and stares up at her dark ceiling, hands folded on her stomach. Her blankets press down on her legs oppressively, so she kicks them down to the end of the bed. And she’s telling herself to close her eyes, to try and calm down enough that maybe sleep will come—steal away some of the drumming heat between her legs that’s been there since the balcony; since Dani’s heavy gaze and flushed cheeks—when the buzzing starts up again.

It’s faint at first and she knows she should get up and turn on her fan to keep from eavesdropping, but curiosity nips angrily at her stomach and she hesitates. It’s a strange noise—high-pitched and eager. Like an electric toothbrush or something, but it’s almost one in the morning, so that wouldn’t make much sense.

Something thunks against the wall, making Jamie jump and sit up in her bed. The buzzing continues and then she can’t help it anymore; she leans in and presses her ear to the cool of the wall and tries to listen. Tries to hear .

And the walls aren’t particularly thin, but they aren’t thick either and she thinks—she’s pretty sure—she can hear movement like she has in the past. Something else. A voice. Dani’s, perhaps. Jamie closes her eyes and presses closer, pushing down the feeling of shame blossoming beneath her skin at what she’s doing.

It’s because she’s worried. That’s what she tells herself. These noises are strange and persistent. She wants to make sure her friend is alright.

And that excuse works for exactly as long as it takes her to decipher what it is she’s listening to, to hear a moan and a gasp and then—

Jamie , oh, my god.”

Jamie tugs back from the wall like she’s been burned, surprise cutting neatly into her thumping heart. That heat flares between her legs, twisting in her stomach and making her tremble as images flash through her mind of Dani lying in bed, head thrown back, spine arched, hand between her legs, gripping a vibrator and—

Panting through parted lips, Jamie turns her head and presses her hand to the wall. She closes her eyes and pricks her ears again until she hears another moan. Louder this time. Something else that sounds like a curse mixed with her name again. 

“Fuck, Dani,” she says and then drops her forehead forward against the wall. 

In the dark, though, she miscalculates the distance and pain lances behind her eyes at the loud thunk of her bone hitting it. She rears back, reaching up to rub at the sore spot and curses too loud. It isn’t until the pain ebbs a little that she realizes what’s just happened and drops back against the mattress, screwing her eyes up and resisting the urge to scream.

The buzzing on the other side of the wall has stopped now. In its place is a silence so brutal that Jamie is certain she can hear the fervent beating of her own heart.

If she could hear Dani, then that means Dani can hear her, and she’s just starting to figure out what she’s supposed to do with that when her bed starts vibrating. 

It’s her phone.

Her phone is ringing. 

On the screen is that picture of Sigourney with her pumpkin, Dani’s name at the very top, and Jamie tries to weigh her options only to realize she doesn’t have any. 

Or rather, she has one: answer it.

So she does, pulling the charging cable out of it and sending it falling to the floor. She holds the phone up and breathes, unsure of what to say. She’s met by the sound of Dani’s breathing, sharp and high and unhinged. It sends a sharp bolt of something straight through Jamie’s spine and she closes her eyes.

Says, “Dani?”

A moment later, Dani’s voice comes through, a little breathy. “Jamie,” she says, “can you…? I thought I heard—”

She knows what the question is without Dani ever having to finish it. “No, I can’t...um…” The lie tastes bitter on her tongue, and, anyway, there’s no way she’d be able to answer without clarification if it was true anyway. 

Be brave , she thinks, then says, “Y-yes. I-I mean...I heard—”

Silence, then. The sound of rustling on the other end of the line. “I-I’m so sorry. I...I didn’t think about it when I—”

She’s embarrassed, Jamie realizes. She’s embarrassed that Jamie heard her, that the walls are thin and that she couldn’t help herself, and that means she has no idea of the effect it’s having on Jamie. She has no clue that Jamie is flexing her thighs and pressing them together, biting her lip to keep from saying something truly stupid.

“Can we just...rewind?” Dani asks. “Pretend this never happened? I’m so embarrassed.”

Part of Jamie wants to agree, if only because Dani sounds so torn up over it, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t want to, is the issue. Going back to a world where she hasn’t heard those noises, heard her name fall from between Dani’s perfect lips as she—

“No,” she says, and Dani’s breath hitches. She can hear it. “I can’t do that. This whole time you’ve been…”

“What do you—?”

“You...You were saying my name.” 

And be brave indeed. 

Dani doesn’t answer. Jamie can’t blame her.

“I...fuck, Dani, you said my name while you’re—”

She’s expecting an apology or some other flummoxed response, but it never comes. Whatever courage is settling into her bones must be spreading through the walls to where Dani is, too, and thank god for it because—

Something rustles on Dani’s sides. The sheets.

“Have you been imagining it’s...it’s me? Touching you? All this time?”

“Would it be okay if I said yes?” She sounds a little more sure, but still unsteady. Her answer goes right through Jamie’s chest.

“Jesus, Dani, yes. More than okay, I—”

Dani lets out a little gasp and it’s different hearing it so near now rather than through the wall. Jamie swallows thickly. “It...It is?” she stammers. “G-good. Because I...I can’t stop thinking about earlier...on the balcony and all those times you— I couldn’t help myself, I just…”

Leaning back against the headboard, Jamie trails a hand up her bare thigh, pinching the hem of her t-shirt between her fingers while Dani breathes into her ear. “Are you...Are you still—?”

Yes ,” Dani hisses, and Jamie imagines she can hear it—the slick sound of Dani’s fingers sliding in and out and around.

She curses. “What are you...Where are your hands?” she asks, needing to know. She slips her own hand under her shirt and rests it flat on her stomach, trembling from the effort to keep it from moving around too much. “What are you doing to yourself?”

“I’m...I’m rubbing my clit. I…”

Heat explodes up the back of Jamie’s neck, flushing across her face and ears. “Are you wet?” she asks, fingertips slipping below the waistband of her own shorts. “Are you wet for me?”

Yes. I’ve never been so— God, Jamie.”

As if everything else wasn’t already bad enough, this confession is what breaks what little remains of Jamie’s restraint. She slides her hand beneath her shorts and into her panties, immediately finding what she’s looking for and moaning into her phone as she circles her fingers around it. 

“Christ, Dani, me too. I’m so wet.”

Dani gasps a little, sounding surprised for more than one reason. “You’re...Are you…?”

“Yeah, I can’t...I couldn’t not —”

“No, that’s...You’re so unbelievably sexy, Jay, holy shit.”

The ease with which the nickname falls from Dani’s lips sends another thrill of liquid heat through Jamie’s veins. She’s so wet that she can hear herself as she slips her fingers down lower, bending her knees to give herself more room, pressing her head back into her pillow. Dani makes this little whimpering noise and Jamie curses again, slams her eyes shut.

“Fuck yourself, Dani. Please ,” Jamie instructs on an exhale. “Fuck yourself and imagine it’s me. That it’s my fingers in you. My mouth. God, I want to... taste you.”

Jay —”

“Two fingers. Hard . Don’t stop.”

Now it’s not just her own noises she hears. The slick movement of Dani’s fingers inside herself washes through Jamie’s head, making her feel dizzy and floating. Slipping away. She slides her own fingers down and in, trying to match the pace she can hear coming from Dani’s line. 

Yes , Jamie, god— It feels s-so...good. You feel so good .”

In her mind, she’s somewhere else—in Dani’s bed, pressing her down into the mattress and kissing her neck and chest, pulling her nipples between her lips, sucking and licking while she fucks Dani down into the mattress. Legs hiked up against her hips, fingernails scraping down her back, and, oh, how she’d look lying there like that, taking Jamie’s fingers into herself so perfectly—

It’s no trouble to slip a third finger inside herself, curl all three of them upward. She gasps at the sensation. Says, “Jesus, Dani, yeah , so do you. Another finger. Please .”

Given the moan that follows, Dani must obey almost immediately.

“Are you...Are you…?” Dani gasps next, trailing off, lost to herself and the heat of the moment. On the other side of the wall, Jamie hears a loud, low moan in the shape of her name and she drops the phone to her pillow, lifting her hand to press it against the wall between them. Those few inches of plaster and paint keeping them apart. 

“Yeah,” she breathes. “Fuck, I want you to come for me, Dani. I want you to come around your fingers.”

Dani moans, the sound torn and raw. “I want to, baby,” she says and there’s that twisting in Jamie’s stomach again at the nickname. “I’m so close, I’m—”

“God, listen to yourself. You’re perfect— Shit— ” Jamie bumps against her clit with the palm of her hand, curling her fingers inside herself again and closing her eyes to Dani’s high-pitched whimpers, coming from both the phone and the other side of the wall. “Just like that, doll, come on.”

Dani whimpers and Jamie can hear her teeth clack together a little. “I’m close, I’m right there, please just—”

Jamie slips her fingers up again and presses down hard against her own clit. “Say my name again,” she pants. “Jesus fucking Christ, say my name when you come.” 

Her muscles tremble throughout her entire body and her eyes are shut so tightly it hurts , but Jamie doesn’t stop. Fucks herself right through it, listens to Dani’s panting breath in her ear, through the wall, those moans and gasps and whimpers that make her feel like she’s falling apart, like she’s never been whole until this moment.

“I’m–” Dani gasps. “I’m coming. Oh, my god, Jamie !”

And then it happens. 

Jamie listens through the wall, feels her own orgasm slamming into her at the sound of it. She gasps out a litany of things, the words pouring out of her as the tension breaks inside of her—

( Christ fuck Dani oh god yes yes )

—pleasure exploding behind her eyes and between her legs, in her lungs and heart and stomach. More than anything, she wishes Dani were beside her, that she could press a kiss to her mouth and hold her, feel Dani shaking against her as she, too, fell off the edge.

What follows is the sound of her own uneven breathing, Dani catching her breath on the other line, too. Silence pressing down against her chest and eyelids, rain dripping across her window on the other side of the room. 

“Jamie?” 

Dani’s voice comes ringing out after what feels like forever, scratchy and tired.

“Yeah?” Jamie asks, feeling a thread of exhaustion pulling through her bones, tugging her eyelids closed as it seeps through her body. 

“We, um…” 

Whatever she wants to say never comes. Jamie considers everything that should be said: what this means, how long she’s wanted it, how incredible Dani is. 

In the end, though, she doesn’t get the chance. 

Because Dani says, “Goodnight,” and waits just long enough for Jamie to say it back before hanging up.

..