Actions

Work Header

the road not taken looks real good now (and it always leads to you)

Chapter Text

Jamie’s eyes fly open at the first intruding tone of the alarm, and her hand shoots out, closing around the phone and swiping to silence it before the even one full repetition of the melodic chime escapes. She’d been skating just under the surface of sleep, her mind a collage of images from the past few days – Dani underneath her, above her, and best of all, beside her again – cut with nightmarish distortions of the days to come – herself alone, cold, empty.

After killing the several backup alarms she’d set as well, eyes screwed against the bright rectangle in the early morning grey, she turns her attention to Dani. Her eyelashes are fluttering lightly, disturbed by the noise and movement but not fully awake. Good. Jamie wants to do this her way.

She rolls to face Dani, who lies still curled tightly around a Jamie-shaped gap created when she dove for the phone. Leaning in close and tossing the sheet up and out of the way to enable full contact, Jamie buries her face into Dani’s naked shoulder, forms her mouth into a kiss while she nuzzles her forehead against warm skin, seeking comfort even as she’s aiming to give pleasure.

When Dani draws in a deeper breath, Jamie flickers her fingers across her abdomen, just firm enough not to tickle. She reaches all the way across Dani, pulls her in close for a beat before setting her hand roaming again. She skates fingertips down Dani’s spine, cresting over a rounded hip and following the curve of it down to brush between her thighs for a moment, one sweet tease of a moment, before flattening her whole hand back on her waist. She knows Dani’s got to be impossibly sore and sleep deprived, isn’t trying to start anything so much as reestablish vital contact with the physicality of Dani: her salty skin; the muscle that hugs her thighs, lax at the moment; the ridges of her ribcage rising and falling as she dozes.

Jamie closes the space between them, a ship come to harbor, before stilling her motions entirely.

“Mmm, morning.” Jamie can hear the smile in Dani’s voice as much as she feels the warmth of her breath on her crown, sure and so alive, so real, that it twists something in Jamie’s chest to the point of an ache. “Why’d you stop?”

“Just saying hi, baby,” Jamie says, and with sleepy eyes once again closed, she rubs her thumb in a small circle where it’s anchoring her against Dani’s shoulder blade.

“Well, then, say hi all the way,” Dani chides her, and Jamie feels Dani shift, feels fingers find her chin and tip her head back. She drifts her eyes open just in time to close them again as Dani sinks into her, soft lips melding down onto her own. She feels Dani’s fingers tangle into her hair, which must be a mess, as Dani’s tongue teases across her bottom lip, the moment balanced precariously at the juncture of softness and heat.

A low moan from Dani is the tipping point, so Jamie lets her hands resume their path, pausing along the way to grip Dani’s biceps, flexed in their own efforts to hold Jamie in close. Morning breath be damned, Jamie parts her lips a bit more and Dani takes ownership of the proffered space masterfully and immediately, licking into Jamie’s mouth with increasing fervor. When Jamie lets still-languid fingers drift in a smile across Dani’s lower abdomen, skirting the triangle of hair there, Dani jerks her body insistently forward and Jamie feels her legs part under the sheet. 

Jamie laughs quietly, “You sure you’re not too sore? Tired? We went…kinda hard last night.”

“Uh uh,” Dani says, shaking her head, a smile playing on her mouth at the memory. Though her eyes are once again lightly shut, she insists: “Not too tired. Not enough time. Not enough of you. Want more.” At the last, her mouth forms into a petulant pout, and between that and the verbal reminder of the precious few grains of sand left in their hourglass, Jamie’s done for.

“Yeah, you’re right,” she teases, sliding her hand between Dani’s legs and pushing slightly to part them a bit more. “Gonna be a long twenty-seven days without this – ” and she dips her index finger down, finding skin so silky and wet and ready that she wonders if Dani’s been turned on all night.

“Umff,” Dani groans into the touch unselfconsciously, arches her back into it, and Jamie feels her own core waken in response. Right on cue, Dani pushes her own hand between them, fingers a sloppy path along Jamie’s center as she looks for a rhythm in Jamie’s lazy morning strokes.

“Go slow with me, baby,” Jamie husks into Dani’s mouth, willing herself to remember every sensation bombarding her right now: Dani’s single finger pushing tantalizingly in and out, Dani’s breasts pressed against her own, a pocket of heat building sure as a summer storm where they touch, Dani’s body rolling and bucking to meet hers despite the instruction.

With her free hand, Jamie brushes a tangle of spun-gold blonde out of Dani’s eyes, locks her own into them. That twist of pain materializes anew in her chest – so antithetical to the pleasure building lower down – at the realization that Dani’s eyes aren’t just glazed with sleep, they’re brimming with tears. Jamie freezes in place.

“Shit, Dani, baby, do you want me to stop?”

“No, no, please just – ” and a sob breaks through Dani’s sentence, but she keeps her own hands in place and rasps out “keep going” as she leans forward to kiss Jamie with trembling lips and through gritted teeth. 

Jamie accepts the kiss but keeps still otherwise, the boundary too unclear to cross until Dani leans back, sniffs, and says, “I’m serious. Please, don’t stop. I need you, Jamie.”

With that she continues, but slower and softer even than before, not fucking Dani so much as caressing her, laying lingering kisses by the dozens across her shoulders, collarbone, breasts. She reaches between them and takes Dani by the wrist, guides her hand out from between her own legs. She brings it instead up to her face, kisses it clean and with intertwined fingers places the palm against her own cheek, where it feels somehow more intimate.

Dani’s whines of pleasure, paired perversely with the silent tears that spill down her cheeks, rend Jamie nearly in half, but she does as she’s asked, keeps up her gentle rhythm until Dani is panting and shaking against her. After she comes, sweet and soft with just one strangled whisper of Jamie’s name – Dani collapses fully into tears in Jamie’s arms.

Jamie hushes her and kisses her forehead, smooths her hair but mostly just gathers her as close as can be, letting Dani tangle their legs together and snake her arms underneath Jamie to hold her in turn.

“I’ve missed you so much, for so long. I can’t believe I have to fucking miss you again now,” Dani murmurs at last.  

“I know,” Jamie says, nuzzling her face into Dani’s hair as she runs comforting strokes down her back. “It feels cosmically fucking unfair.”

Dani sighs, and it feels like she leans more of her weight onto Jamie. “At least we’re talking now,” she laughs a small, mirthless laugh, but she’s not crying anymore, so that’s an improvement, Jamie thinks. “Still not over how much time I wasted being a pretentious asshole.”

“Shh, let’s never speak of how pretentious an asshole you’ve been ever again,” Jamie says, earning her a halfhearted swat from Dani. “And we’re doing a fair bit more than talking, I’d say –” Another swat, this one better aimed.  

“Seriously, though,” Jamie continues. “My life has improved a hundred times over this week. I know I’m gonna miss you something awful, but…I have something to look forward to now, Dani. I didn’t have that before you turned up again.”

Dani tilts her head back to catch Jamie with ice-blue eyes. “You mean it? You’re not…mad that I showed up, blew up your life, and now I’m going back?”

Jamie laughs quietly, smooths Dani’s hair. Take a moment to consider her answer, knows that the question is more important than the lightness Dani’s tried to infuse it with.

“No, not in the least. Like I’ve told you, I love my life here, but you know me, I can be complacent if I’m not careful. Could use a little blowing up from time to time, especially if it’s this variety.” She indicates Dani’s naked body with a quick upward nod of her head.

She can feel that Dani still doesn’t quite believe her. It’s in the way Dani shrinks down instead of coming up to kiss her; in the way she goes quiet rather than teasing back. But there just aren’t words, Jamie thinks, for what she wants to convey. In fact, it’s possible that only with time will the guilt and sadness of all their missed opportunities fully heal, and she imagines the sting will only get worse when they’re apart – the phantom limb of their lost friendship reawakened in a new form, made all the more pitiful by the knowledge of what they have when they’re together and the sickening distance that stands between them.

For now, she comforts Dani as she does herself – by letting the moment be, keeping quiet and still but for her right hand mapping every part of Dani she can reach, memorizing anew the arch of her light eyebrows, reacquainting herself with the constellation of freckles on her right shoulder.

After a while, Dani takes the roaming hand in her own and brings it to her mouth, kisses Jamie’s palm before giving it back to her and sliding out of bed to shuffle to the bathroom.

It’s a pity, Jamie thinks, that she can’t spend the time Dani’s up lolling in bed, dozing contentedly till she returns, or even better, working herself up with her hands so that Dani comes back to find her ready and waiting for her turn. Instead, she rolls out of bed herself and opens the shades on the high window, letting in golden light from the new sun just as Dani emerges back into the room, drawing Jamie’s gaze.

And it’s a real motherfucking goddamn pity, Jamie thinks, that Dani can’t look like this all day. Despite slightly puffy, tear-reddened eyes, Dani is a vision: sleep and sweat have left her hair unruly, with even more wave and volume than usual; the only term for it, Jamie thinks, is sex hair. Her lips are kiss-swollen and pink, settled in a sleepy half-smile still only just tinged with sadness that Jamie knows she could kiss away in an instant if only there were time. If only they didn’t have to wash the sex and salt off their skin. If only they didn’t have to don a single stitch of clothing, if only they could stay in their bubble for another week, another day, twelve more hours, two more.

Instead, they shower. Without words, Jamie offers to wash Dani’s hair for her, and spends several minutes massaging her scalp, eliciting small murmurs of pleasure. They take turns passing soaped up hands over each other’s bodies, pausing frequently to just stand, full-body hugging, in the hot spray.

Jamie takes every available opportunity to lay kisses onto Dani’s wet skin, licking water from her shoulders, the nape of her neck, her jawline. She’s pouring care into Dani’s skin like it’s palpable, adoring every part of her with every minute she has left while she reiterates last night’s promises into the steamy air.

“Call you every day.” (“You promise?” Dani pouts.)

“FaceTime three times a week.” (“At least three times,” Dani corrects.)

“Pictures every time I wear the boxers.” (“And at your discretion, no limit on that, as much as possible,” Dani clarifies with a grin.)

“We’ll get through it one day at a time.” (“One day at a time.”)

-

In a move of poetic symmetry, their last shared meal of the week comes from the same place as their first, if you count coffee as a meal, which Jamie knows Dani does. Blackbird makes sense; it’s on the way to the freeway that will lead them to the airport, it’s decently quick this early in the day, and their bagel sandwiches, though their names are a bit more pun-derived and clever than Jamie deems necessary, are delicious.

It’s too cold to sit outside and too crowded to sit inside, and anyway, Jamie doesn’t think she can bear to be around anyone but Dani right now, so, they hustle back to the pickup, bagel sandwiches and hot drinks in hand. Jamie relinquishes the parallel parking spot she’d scored just outside the coffee shop not so much out of good citizenship as a desire for additional privacy. She steers with one hand on the wheel while balancing her cup gingerly in the other, having removed the lid in order to cool the brew faster.

So focused is she on the tea – some self-protective part of her mind has inflated the issue of its temperature to distract from the actual present crisis of Dani’s impending departure – that she doesn’t realize where she’s navigating until the truck wheels crunch into a graveled parking spot. But sure enough, a right onto Sycamore, a left at the light onto 29th, and a turn up a sloping driveway in need of repaving have brought them to the back entrance of Central High School and into a lot overlooking the Home of the Colts. Just below, the grass of the football field is winter brown, the lights dead, the air silent and empty this off-season Sunday morning. But Jamie can smell the fresh-mown field in October, feel the glare of the lights in her eyes and the crush of the crowd at her back, can feel most of all Dani’s hand pulling her up off cold metal bleachers, forcing her to join in the call and response of the cheerleaders’ rhyme as their middling team takes the field.

She glances over to find Dani looking back at her with a lightly amused look on her face.

“Shit. Didn’t really mean to come here, was just looking for someplace quiet, and – ”

“And it felt right,” Dani finishes for her. She says nothing more, just unbuckles and slides across the seat to tuck herself closer into Jamie, who keeps the engine running for the heat but turns the radio off. No need for anything more in this moment than the sound of Dani’s voice, Dani’s breathing, Dani’s heart beating so close to hers. 

They sit that way for a while, occasionally taking a bite or a sip, but most of all just being close and quiet, absorbing each other’s company. The moment is nearly perfect, Jamie thinks, it would feel content, complete even, if not for the fact that she’s watching the clock on the dash to make sure they stay on track for Dani’s fucking flight. If not for the fact that they won’t get another moment like this, really like this, for at least a few weeks. Maybe not ever, if what’s transpired between them has indeed been magical, a spell cast and conjured by place-bound memory, too fragile to withstand cross-country flight and time-delayed texting as a primary mode of togetherness.

She’s sliding dangerously close to despair again when Dani lifts her head from where it’s rested on Jamie’s shoulder to look her in the face. Jamie expects an expression that matches her own thoughts – sad at a minimum, misery more likely – but once again, she’s caught off-guard in the most delightful way. Because Dani doesn’t look miserable, she looks…mischievous. Sly grin and raised eyebrows are matched with one finger tracing down the collar of Jamie’s flannel, visible underneath her halfway zipped coat, and dipping to trace her collarbone below the fabric.

“You know what I always wanted to do here?” Dani half-whispers up at her.

“I can only imagine.”

“Always wanted to make out under the bleachers,” Dani says, blushes a little and chuckles.

Now this, Jamie can’t believe. Dani was a good girl in high school, but she wasn’t a nun. “Come on, surely you and Eddie made your way down there at some point,” she argues.

“As a matter of fact, no,” Dani says, sassy in a way that makes Jamie want to both kiss her and pull the end of her ponytail, preferably at the same time, now she thinks about it.

“Behind the field house a few times, sure, but never there. Besides, even if we had, I’m not talking in general. I mean…” her voice dips in volume, but also into a lower pitch, her slight embarrassment no match for the heat behind what she’s divulging.

“I mean, I’ve always wanted to make out under the bleachers…with you.” She ducks her head as if to indicate Jamie, to make sure her point is clear, and Jamie’s mouth goes dry.

“Oh? I mean, um,” Jamie splutters. Why is this flustering her so badly? After having Dani in nearly every position imaginable, why is the suggestion of a simple make out doing this to her?

She realizes as her brain replays the statement.

“You…you’ve always? As in, thought about it before now?”

“Yeah,” Dani says. “I mean, always is maybe an overstatement – I’m sure it was somewhere in the back of my mind back then, but as we’ve discussed, I was pretty good at keeping those things buried. But I was definitely jealous of the girls you took under there yourself.”

Jamie gasps. “Who d’you mean? How’d you – ”

Dani shakes her head, chiding. “For one thing, Jamie, you were my best friend, you told me everything, or near enough. You told me about Rebecca, and that girl from the tennis team – was it Janelle?”

Jamie nods, caught – she barely remembers all these girls’ names, much less would expect Dani to. On a roll, though, Dani continues.

“For another, you were my best friend,” she repeats, “so I kept tabs on who you were looking at, even if you were trying to be sneaky. I was always jealous anytime you…had someone, even if I knew I wasn’t allowed to say so. And yes, I’m talking about Megan. I never said anything at the time, because I knew she’d be scared shitless if anyone knew. Actually admired the hell outta you for not telling anyone, even me,” she says with a hand to Jamie’s bicep that starts as an affectionate squeeze but morphs into a punch when she adds, “’cause she was hella hot.”

“Dani!” Jamie shouts in mock protest, but she’s grinning from ear to ear as Dani clears her throat, puts her shoulders back and continues, “So anyway, I think if we have time, if you think maybe, just so I can have it in my head properly now that’s it’s finally my turn…”

“You are unbelievable. And yes. Like you even needed to ask.” Jamie swings herself out of the truck in one motion, turns to pull Dani down after her. They run like they’re being chased, across the asphalt and onto grass crusted with hoarfrost, giggling puffs of visible breath.

Jamie’s feet find a route that is indeed still familiar, if stored in a long-ignored part of her brain. She leads Dani by the hand between the concrete blocks of the concession stand and the bathrooms, to the far left of the stadium to a footpath that cuts down the side of the stands to the track and field below. At the bottom of the hill, she catches hold of the cold metal of one of the bench seats just above her head and uses it to swing them underneath the structure.

It should feel juvenile, it should feel silly, but it doesn’t. Instead, as they pick their way among long-discarded drink cups and scattered cigarette butts to the very back of the bleachers, it’s as though they’re travelling back in time, the stripes of stripes of light and shadow passing beneath their feet the blinking of the seasons running backward.

When they’ve walked far enough to be well and truly under the bleachers, Jamie asks, “So what do we do, in this fantasy of yours?” even as she’s already backing Dani up against the cross bars and nudging at Dani’s neck with her mouth.

“Mmm, well, usually I’m wearing my track uniform, so it’s shorts – ” Dani begins.

“Oh I remember the shorts,” Jamie cuts in, temporarily stalling her progress pressing kisses to the side of Dani’s face, high on her cheekbones. “Bloody distracting those things were, swishing all over the damn place when you walked, never mind ran in them.”

Dani hums into Jamie’s skin with a grin. “Mmm, so you know then, how easy it’d be for you to just….slide your fingers underneath the bottoms of them.” And she nudges one leg up and around Jamie’s hips, teasing, for a few seconds.

Jamie takes the invitation for a moment, nipping at Dani’s ears and timing the flicks of her tongue with whole-handed squeezes of Dani’s ass and thighs through her jeans before breaking away.

“Okay, so, not to quibble, this is your thing we’re doing here,” Jamie says, “but one: this doesn’t sound like a make out, it sounds like we’re about to – not that I’m complaining – hook all the way up. And two: I know exactly how easy it was to touch you in those shorts, or do you not remember how many terrible cramps you had after your meets, you know, that required a little massage?”

“Fuck, I’d hoped you’d forgotten that.”

“Um, never?” Jamie is incredulous. “Bloody loved those nights. Felt a little bad for how much I enjoyed them, but would definitely never forget.”

Anyway.” If Dani is cowed by Jamie’s callout, it’s only in the most temporary sense. “Basically, you just take me down here and kiss me and touch me until…you know.”

“Until…we get caught? Until the bell for the next class?” Jamie asks, feigning obliviousness in an effort to tease Dani into an even more adorably flustered state.

Which fails, because what Dani does instead of blushing and spluttering is roughly hook her fingers into Jamie’s beltloops and pull her closer as she says, “Until I come. You touch me and kiss me until you make me come. In my fantasy, that is. In reality it’s until I make myself come, but that goes without saying I suppose.”

Oh.

“Fuck, Dani, you’ve been using this? You didn’t say it was an active fantasy!” Jamie is looking at her once again, as if with fresh eyes.

“Is that not what a fantasy is?!” Dani blushes to an additional shade of pink, but maintains eye contact. And fuck, this combination of bashful and brazen is working Jamie up far more than she’d planned on being on the literal grounds of a high school this morning.

“So, uh, any other spots I should know about? Places that I’m gonna get jumped to fulfill your teenage fantasies?”

“A couple,” Dani says, sly, winding one of Jamie’s curls around her index finger with a far-off look in her eyes.

Really? Jamie, somehow, still finds herself caught off-guard. “Like where?”

“Mmm, you’ll have to wait and find out,” Dani teases.

“Aw, you’re no fun,” Jamie says, though she knows that the way she’s pressing her hips forward into Dani, not to mention the smirk on her face, are directly contradicting this accusation. “Come on, share the visual!”

“Well…back row of the movie theater’s always a favorite,” Dani says, nonchalantly putting an image in Jamie’s mind that she’ll return to over and over for the next several months. “And oh! The playground at the park over on Franklin Street.”

Jamie can’t help it; she raises her eyebrows at that one. “Dani…you’re a little bit of an exhibitionist, aren’t you?”

 “At night, Jamie! When there’s no one else around!” Dani exclaims, but she bats her eyelashes as she says it.

“Well, all that, guess you’ve got a reason to come back to Davenport after all,” Jamie says.

“Oh, hush, you. I already did,” Dani says. “I always have.” She tosses her head so that her hair falls back from her face and licks her lips, lowering her gaze to catch Jamie’s mouth in a way that makes Jamie’s heart jump like they haven’t been having sex for several days straight, like she’s back to square one, or whichever square it was that she was occupying with low-key misery the night she last walked into Harrington’s.

And Dani must be experiencing much the same, because their game of teasing draws to a close at last when she fists both hands into the canvas of Jamie’s coat near the collar and pulls her in roughly for the long-promised kiss.

They collide like it’s a first time, like they are indeed teenagers skipping class, messy and hungry and racing to beat the clock. Dani’s hands wrapped round her neck are warm and firm, and when one of Dani’s teeth catch Jamie’s lip, the sting shoots directly to her core, stoking a hunger there that’s made all the fiercer by the fact that it can’t be fully sated in this context.

Still, Dani is moaning into Jamie’s kisses louder than she should, and Jamie isn’t being careful at all not to goad her on. Truthfully, she’s doing everything she can to draw more sounds of pleasure from between Dani’s parted, panting lips: she winds her fingers into Dani’s hair and pulls lightly as she switches the angle of their kiss; she rocks her hips into Dani’s, is in fact increasing pressure and speed. Dani is responding in kind, has just replaced her leg around Jamie’s hips, higher and harder this time, and Jamie is wrapping her hand around her thigh, scratching into the denim with short nails, when –

A sharp hollow slap directly above their heads tears them apart. A second, third, and fourth repetition of the sound follow and from where she’s frozen – one hand up Dani’s back and the other holding her thigh in place where it’s still hitched around her – Jamie watches a strip of soccer ball makes its way down the bleachers, followed shortly by loud metallic footsteps. A kid’s voice rings out: “Mom! There’s people under here! And I think they’re kissing!”

Dani’s eyes go wide. “Shit!” she whispers, even as she’s breaking into a smile and a deeper flush. “We gotta get outta here,” she giggles.  

“Shhh.” Jamie holds a finger against Dani’s mouth and slowly lowers her leg to the ground. “C’mon, this way.” She takes Dani’s hand and tugs her toward the opposite end of the bleachers as a second voice – this one from ground level, shrills “You kids come out right now! This is school property, not your bedroom, not that you should be – ”

Jamie doesn’t hear the rest of the diatribe; she’s too focused on dodging in and out of the poles supporting the stands, the only sounds her own hammering heartbeat, Dani’s breathy giggles, and the skitter of gravel under their soles as they run.

As they emerge out of the shadows and into the thin but strengthening midmorning sun, the world tilts, stills somehow. Jamie can’t explain it – can barely perceive it in the moment – but in an instant everything exists simultaneously: the people that she and Dani were when they met, when they truly, if they’re honest, fell in love; the people they’ve become and all the chances and accidents, happy or no, that have led them here; the people they could grow into, together, now that they’ve cleared the rubbish out of the way of their own intertwined paths.

And their paths must be intertwined by design, because a scrappy de facto orphan from a rat’s hole in the north of England has no business being in Iowa this slab-cold morning. Has no business being so encapsulated with family and belonging and purpose and sheer goddamn goodness; most certainly has no business being connected, by hand and by heart, to a girl who’s always outshone the sun above, unless it’s been ordained by Fortune herself.

And so, in this moment, it all coalesces into a solid something that slips under Jamie’s feet, carries her up the patchy-grassed hill on more than her own volition, and lands her back at her truck, panting and laughing and full of the certainty that the transformation of her story with Dani from what might’ve been to what could be is complete, is underway, is always being written and has always been assured.  

All of this melts and swirls within and around Jamie, and before she realizes it, the feelings are becoming thoughts and the thoughts are becoming words and the words are coming out of her mouth –

“God, I love you.”

Followed closely, as she crashes back into linear time, by “Fuck.”

From where she’s leaned against the passenger side door, she looks up at Dani, steeling herself for shock or disgust or at the least, surprise, and maybe if she’s lucky just gentle ridicule for what’s slipped out. But what she finds instead in eyes gone cornflower blue is warmth, knowing, home.

“I – I didn’t mean, I mean, it just – ” she stammers anyway, looks for somewhere else to put her gaze, her hands.

“Shut up. Of course you did,” Dani says. She grabs Jamie’s wrists, pulls her hands out from the pockets where Jamie’s stuffed them and into her own. “I love you, too. I just wasn’t sure we were allowed to say that yet.” She’s smiling, the simplest, most open expression Jamie’s ever seen.

“I, ha,” Jamie breathe-laughs, feels a matching smile bloom across her own face as the sheer relief gives way to something lighter, more unreal. “I didn’t think we were either, but, yeah, guess we are. Apparently.”

“I’m so glad,” Dani says, stroking across the backs of Jamie’s hands with her thumbs, “that we don’t have to wait. I’ve almost said it so many times already.”

“Really?” Jamie asks. “Me too. Like, so many.” Her mind reels thinking of the number of times she’s bitten down on, hushed, swallowed those sweet damning words in the past twenty-four hours alone, and she’d kill to know when Dani’s parallel moments were, if any of them happened in tandem.

“Mmm hmm,” Dani and maybe they’ll discuss that later, because right now she’s leaning in and pressing Jamie back against the truck, pausing just before she kisses her to say, right up against her lips, “I love you, Jamie Taylor. I’ve always loved you, but I love you more now than I ever did before.”

Jamie’s thankful she’s got the truck for support, because her legs go to jelly as she lets herself be swept up in Dani’s lips and tongue and most of all in the meaning of Dani’s words, because she feels the same way: she’s loved Dani for as long as she’s known her, but love is a living thing, as much so as the flowers in her nursery and the trees dancing overhead. Every stage of it is beautiful, but the progression is what makes it interesting, what makes it alive, and for too long her love for Dani has lain dormant, waiting, fallow, for a renewed season of growth.

And so, puritanical housewives be damned, they kiss in the parking lot for long minutes, until the bell from the Methodist church across the street intrudes with its noontime pealing.

“Shit,” Jamie says, turning her head gently and reluctantly to listen. “We have to go. Your flight’s in an hour.”

“No, no, I can miss it,” Dani protests, bites her lip, worry suddenly flooding her face where moments ago there was pure bliss. “Let me call them, I’ll stay another night, another week, I’ll – ”

Jamie is tempted, sorely so, but knows this isn’t the way; that they’ve got to deal with the reality of their situation sooner or later. Another night, another ten nights even, and they’ll be right back where they are now, being pulled apart and left wanting, only then it’ll be with some serious change fees that she knows Dani can’t actually afford on her TA stipend and the stress of several missed days of work for each of them. So, she leans forward to quiet Dani with a kiss and words that she wishes felt just a tad more true.

“No, baby. C’mon. The sooner you get home, the sooner we’re back together. Twenty-seven days.”

Dani’s mouth twists unhappily, but she nods.

“Give you time to get ahead on your work so we can spend more evenings together, too,” Jamie continues. “Plus, we gotta leave now if I’m gonna be able to walk you all the way in.”

The threat of a too-quick curbside drop-off is what finally coaxes Dani into motion. After one last gentle kiss (Jamie closes her eyes and wills her mind to imprint the exact pressure of Dani’s lips against her jawline, their exact temperature) before opening the truck door and climbing in.

-

The crash is tangible. A thick silence engulfs the cab of the truck as Jamie reluctantly turns the key, adjusts the heat settings to account for the loss of Dani on her skin, and navigates toward the highway. She hears Dani sniff once or twice, can’t be totally sure whether from their time spent in the cold or the agony of anticipating their time apart.

The crash is tangible but so is the buoyancy borne of being able to tangle her fingers with Dani’s and say with an impish grin, “Hey. I love you.” And even better, glancing over to see that Dani is smiling ear to ear, eyes crinkled at the corners, tongue poking between her teeth just before she says, “I love you too, dorkface.”

But then, there’s construction on the bridge across the river. Traffic is down to one lane and a line of cars stretches as far as Jamie can see, craning her neck over the steering wheel.

“Fuck,” she says, glancing at the digital clock on the dashboard. “At this rate you just might have to stay another night.”

“Wouldn’t be the worst thing,” Dani says, but Jamie can see that her knee is bouncing with anxiety about missing the flight.

“We’ll get ya there, babe,” she says reassuringly. To make the agonizingly slow crawl seem less so, she makes an effort to strike up real conversation again. “So, what do you think Kristin’s gonna say to all this?”

“Oh, you mean the fact that I not only Operation Ice Creamed you but also that we’ve planned several visits and also that we said I love you?” Dani lists with a shiteating grin that warms Jamie from the abdomen all the way up into her chest. “I think I’d better be prepared for some major teasing about being a big Uhauling lesbian stereotype.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” Jamie agrees, secretly turning somersaults at even the tangential suggestion that one day she and Dani might be driving home together to a home they share.

Ten minutes later, they’ve brainstormed all the things they’ll do when Jamie gets to LA – in a mere twenty-seven days, no less – and have also started to slowly accept that a curbside drop-off is all that’s in the cards today. Jamie has gradually let go of the image she’s been nursing like a wound: herself, standing on tippy toes at the escalator to security, waving until Dani is out of sight, holding back tears until she disappears.

Strange, she thinks, to grieve anticipated grieving this way. Strange that finding so much joy, (no, she remembers with a thrill, she can say it now, so much love) comes paired with so much loss. Bittersweet, she supposes, this is what bittersweet is. It’s not at all unfamiliar to her, but it’s been a while since it rode so close to the surface of her consciousness.  

Taking the final exit to the airport, following the signs to the annoyingly-monikered Kiss n Go Lane at Terminal B, walking around the truck to help Dani with her luggage and kiss her goodbye – their first of many, she thinks – is pure bittersweet.

Amid the car horns and plane engines and general clamor of the post-Christmas airport rush, Jamie sinks into a bubble of muffled quiet with Dani, bumping their noses together, gripping her waist with both hands, holding her close one more time to match their lips together, seeking heat in the cold wind.

One, two, three short kisses, and Jamie fits her hands to Dani’s forearms and decidedly steps back, gives Dani a nod and a final choked “Bye now. Better hurry along.”

Dani steps onto the curb, hoists her backpack onto one shoulder and grips the handle of her rolling suitcase like a lifeline, giving Jamie one more strained glance, jaw jumping and shoulders tense like she’s being held back from rushing right back into Jamie’s arms, and a mouthed Love you before turning on her heel and rushing through the glass doors and away.

-

She makes it home. She makes it back to her little blue house and in the door and to the kitchen before she breaks.  

What does it is Dani’s tea mug, which she’s washed and left in the dish drainer in not at all the spot that Jamie thinks is clearly meant for mugs, but rather canted at an awkward angle in the section where she usually puts the plates.

In an instant, she crumples, sits on the floor with the mug in her lap letting the sobs wrack through her, pushing against the cold linoleum with her knuckles until they ache about a tenth as much as her heart. When she runs out of tears, she sits, chilly despite not having removed her jacket or hat, and looks around her at the too-quiet, too-empty house that barely feels like just hers after a few days of sharing it with Dani.

She considers busying herself, catching up on laundry, even briefly thinks of going to the nursery to burn off some of the feelings lifting bags of heavy compost, but she knows – in fact, she hears Dani’s voice chiding her in her head – that it’s not a good idea for her to drive in this state.

Instead, she takes the Tupperware of cookies remaining from last night into her bedroom. She stands staring at the bed, knows she should change the sheets or at least be disgusted with herself for not doing so, but instead she’s protective of the fact that at least half the stains are from Dani – sweat, tears, and everything else they’ve poured out together over the past hours and days. She curls herself into a nest of the wrecked linens, head on a pillow that somehow smells of Dani’s hair even though she’s been using Jamie’s same shampoo, wraps herself around the unopened cookies, and waits for sleep.

Just as she’s about to drift off, the exhaustion from the late nights and her adrenaline crash doing her the favor of stealing her away from her miserable consciousness, her phone buzzes.

The message is, of course, from Dani (why had Jamie tortured herself by imagining she’d not text her as soon as possible?) and it brings a sunshower of simultaneous joy and agony. There’s a photo first, and Jamie cups the phone in both hands like a relic, gazing at it. Dani sits, tucked into herself in a window seat, clutching an obnoxiously large coffee. Her eyes are sleepy and red from crying, but she’s smiling gently, just the same face she makes at Jamie first thing in the mornings, and Jamie hums aloud at the image, can feel Dani’s soft breath, hear her drowsy laugh.

[Dani]

1:24 pm

Hey babe! Made it to the gate just
in time to get some REAL caffeine 😝

Hope you’re sleeping. We’re about to
take off, so I’ll call from LAX.

I love you 💜

The message makes Jamie all the sleepier herself, lulls her with its warm softness, and she types out her response with eyes half closed, ready now to greet sleep as a friend rather than a necessary evil.  

1:26 pm

I love you too 💚

Fly safe and I’ll talk to you later

Maybe we can finish what we
started under the bleachers? 😏

She assumes Dani’s plane has taken off, that Dani’s put her phone away, and so is surprised – elated, even – to see the three dots pop up once more, quickly followed by:  

I love you so much, Jamie. 

26.5 days. 💜💜