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17 cherry tree lane

Chapter Text

August 1971

“Why’s it so bloody hot?”

“It’s summertime, you fucking turkey.”

“Mum! Dad! Jamie said ‘fuck’!”

“Quiet, all three of you,” Louise Taylor rolled her eyes rather affectionately at her three children as they piled out of the Volkswagen van that had traveled across the ocean with them from England.

“She did say it,” Mikey huffed, lisping over his missing front teeth, “And she called Denny a turkey.”

This was a nightmare.

Dennis rubbed his tired eyes as if to wipe away the bags from underneath them. It had been a long few days since they started driving west from the New York harbor. A long few months, really. Two exhausted, overworked parents with three kids who just couldn’t seem to get along, packing up their lives and moving to America?

Everyone back home called them crazy. But Dennis and Louise hoped that the week-long boat ride followed by the three day road trip would all be worth it. In fact, the only time there was ever peace and quiet on this trip (aside from when they were all asleep) was when the ship pulled into the harbor as Lady Liberty loomed over them in the distance. Ominously welcoming.

“Listen, why don’t you all just go inside and pick out your rooms. Boys, you’ll share just like back home,” their father sighed, offering them something to look forward to. Though, all it got him was a small cheer from their youngest son who idolized his big brother, a string of endless, whining complaints from their eldest, and hearty, teasing laughter from their only daughter.

“Just go,” Louise ushered them along, watching with her husband as their kids raced through the open garage and into the empty house.

Jamie, just eleven, was glad to be away from the girls in their old town. But she had a feeling that the girls here would be just as bad, if not worse. She couldn’t understand why her parents packed them up and moved them across the ocean. To America of all places. She’d sooner move to Antarctica. And the year she and her brothers were all meant to go to different schools, no less. Mikey was going to the elementary school that was apparently just down the road from the campus of the two junior and senior high school buildings where she and Denny would go.

“It’s the land of opportunities,” her father had explained before going on about wanting a better life for them all. So far, the lush, green grass of their lawn was the only improvement. And their house was a much more spacious than their last. But other than that, rural Iowa was no better than rural Lancashire.

Racing her brothers through the house, she rounded a corner into one of the rooms, smiling as she looked out the window. She could already picture how she would set this room up. The twin sized bed that came with the slightly furnished house was against the wall, but she could move it to the corner. And her study desk could go by the window so she could overlook the backyard while she did her homework. And she could put—

“Called it!” Denny interrupted her plans as he came barreling into the room with Mikey in tow.

“What? No, I was in here fir—“

“This room’s bigger than the other one. There’s two of us, we need more room,” the fifteen year old grinned with a smugness that he knew pissed his little sister off, “Besides, this room has a better view.”

“I know, that’s why I wanted it.”

“Let’s put it to a vote, then,” he smirked, winking down at their eight year old brother, “Those in favor of this being Jamie’s room?”

Jamie raised her hand, looking down at Mikey with eyes pleading for mercy. He was on her side sometimes. “Mikey, come on.”

“Those opposed?” Denny raised his hand and nudged the little boy’s arm with his elbow, making him raise his hand with his head hung in shame. He never liked being caught in the middle. “Looks like this room’s ours.”

“You’re such a knob sometimes,” Jamie rolled her eyes at him and gently shoved Mikey’s shoulder on her way out, mumbling a quiet, “Thanks a ton,” on her way out of the room and down the hall.

With the sound of her brothers giddily making plans for their room fading behind her, Jamie pushed open the door to the next room over, squinting in the dusty sunlight that came in through the window. The only window.

Well, it was a little smaller. And it didn’t have a view of the backyard. Instead she had a perfect view of the side of the house next door. Why the hell Americans decided to place their houses so close together was beyond her. If she looked hard enough, she could probably check the time on a wall clock through the window into the next house. With her luck, the person who occupied said room was probably some pervert who’d peep into her window every chance he got.

Gotta remind Mum to patch up my curtains.

With a sigh, Jamie kicked her sneaker against the hardwood, groaning to herself before going to help unpack the van and the trailer hitched to the back. This was her new hell, might as well get cozy in it.

xxx

“Mikey, don’t talk with your mouth full, son,” Dennis chuckled. The youngest of the Taylor family insisted on chattering on about any old thing even when his mouth was stuffed with french fries that Dennis had brought home from the nearest burger joint.

“Mum, you’re gonna start cooking again once we get groceries, right?” Jamie deadpanned, picking the mayonnaise covered tomato off her cheeseburger with a grimace.

Louise just nodded, brushing long auburn hair from her face as she swallowed the bite she had in her mouth. “Yes, we’ll go tomorrow. Denny, I’ll need you to watch your brother and sister while we’re out. And I expect your rooms to be fully unpacked, I don’t want to see any boxes when we come back,” she pointed a finger across the wooden table at her three children with an accusingly raised eyebrow.

“But Mummm!“ Jamie and Denny whined in unison before attempting to talk over one another about how Denny wanted to ride their bike around the neighborhood and how Jamie was too old to be babysat.

“No ‘buts’. Fuck’s sake,” Louise pressed her fingers into her temples before getting up from the table and lighting a cigarette as she leaned against the kitchen counter.

Jamie slid down the wooden booth seat so she was closer to her father, reaching out to hold onto his arm. “Dad, come on, I’ll unpack my stuff tonight. I don’t wanna be babysat by…him” she paused to shoot a look of disgust to her older brother, “I’ll even go to the shop with you!”

“End of discussion, Jamie Louise,” he shot her a serious look, ending her argument before he ruffled her shaggy brown curls affectionately, “You’re gonna have to learn to get along eventually. Who knows, one day Denny might not be around and you’re gonna miss him bossing you around.”

“Yeah right,” she rolled her eyes, slumping back in the booth, picking at her mother’s forgotten fries.

The ring of the doorbell made their heads shoot up before they looked around at each other curiously. Who the hell would be visiting them? They didn’t know anyone here yet.

“I’ll get it,” Jamie jumped out of her seat, her dirty sneakers thumping against the hardwood floors as she ran to the door, swinging it open. She looked up, expecting to see an adult, but instead her eyes trailed down to a girl about her height with pink ribbons holding her blonde pigtails in place, looking nervous as she held something that looked like it came out of a sci-fi movie.

“Uh...hi?”

“Hi,” the girl’s voice trembled a little as she offered a twitchy smile, “Um...m-my mom wanted me to bring this over. It’s a jell-o mold. And she told me to tell you that Mrs. O’Mara from down the street should be bringing over a casserole tomorrow.”

The girl practically shoved the plate with the jiggly green dessert into Jamie’s hands before stepping back under the porch light, running her hands skittishly over the skirt of her floral pink dress. And before Jamie could even utter a semblance of gratitude, the girl was gone, running across the grass and up the steps of the next porch over.

“Who was it, Jamie?” Louise came up behind her, cigarette in hand as she looked around for their mysterious visitor.

“Some girl. She gave me this,” the eleven year old held up the platter, wiping her hands on her overalls once Louise took it from her, “She ran off though. Guess she lives next door.”

“That’s nice. Maybe she’ll be your first friend here.”

Jamie scoffed as she followed her mother back to the kitchen, shaking her head. That girl that was just at her door seemed like everything she hated in the girls back home. Prissy little girls who cared more about looks than anything else. The same girls that would call her trash because she wore her brother’s old hand-me-downs instead of crisp new dresses. Jamie didn’t want friends like that.

“I don’t think so.”

October 1990

With a heavy sigh, Jamie threw her truck in park as she pulled off to the side of the neighborhood street, looking up at the large house that loomed at the top of the small hill. She’d been parking her shitty truck from high school in this same spot for nearly the last decade, but it never ceased to amaze her what money could buy. Especially when that money came from a family inheritance rather than doing the work for it.

Not the time or place to let your true feelings out, Jamie.

Gripping the steering wheel like a vise, the brunette breathed in deeply, urging herself to just let her feelings roll to the side. She’d been doing it for nearly twenty years, she could muster up the strength to do it again now. She could and she did as she hooked the strap of her black leather purse over her shoulder before getting out of the truck, checking for any runs in her black stockings as she straightened out the skirt of her slim black dress.

She took one last cleansing breath before she started up the walkway to the light blue house.

”Light blue? With black shutters and a red door? Really?” his voice echoed in her head so clearly, she had half a mind to check that he hadn’t said it directly into her ear.

”Jamie thought it was pretty. I think it’s a good idea.”

A hint of a smile came to her face when she approached the spacious front porch, peering at the cushioned porch swing from the side of her eye.

”You’ll still come visit, won’t you? I can’t do this without you,” her voice came through her mind again.

”You can,” Jamie remembered chuckling quietly as she pressed closer to her side under the warmth of the blanket as they watched the fireflies dance across the front yard, ”But I will. Promise. City’s only an hour away.”

She tried not to think of how sparse the pinkie promises had become after that. Instead, she straightened her posture, adjusted the black blazer around her torso and poked at the doorbell that caused the familiar chime to ring through the large house. As usual, it didn’t take long for the door to open. But Jamie kept her eyes straight, expecting to see an adult. But instead, her eyes trailed down to find two heads of neatly styled brown hair; One head slightly more blonde than the other.

“Hi, Aunt Jamie,” Miles greeted her a bit solemnly as Flora lunged forward to wrap her arms around Jamie’s waist.

“Hey, you two. How you feeling?” she scooped Flora up, settling the five year old on her hip as she ran a hand smoothly over Miles’s combed hair, not wanting to ruin the neatly combed strands with a ruffling like she normally would. Their lack of response told Jamie all she needed to know. They weren’t doing too well. What kid would be doing well after the death of a parent? Especially on the day of their funeral.

“Hey, you know it’s okay to feel sad, right?” she lead Miles inside, adjusting Flora on her hip. The girl was getting too big to be carried around like a toddler, but Jamie would be damned if she wasn’t going to try to carry her until she went off to college. These kids were getting too old too fast. And worse, that meant she was too.

“I mean it,” she continued, glancing between the five and nine year olds, “Lots of people are gonna be sad today. So...it’s less embarrassing to cry when everyone else is crying with you, yeah?”

“I’ve never seen you cry,” Miles commented, looking up at her with a frown, unshed tears shining in his eyes.

With a sympathetic smile, Jamie set Flora to her feet once more before she crouched in front of both of them. “I cry all the time. All the time. How else do you think I keep all my plants watered, huh?” she gently poked their sides with each of her hands, managing to get a bit of a smile out of them.

“Mummy cries all the time now,” Flora mumbled, looking at her aunt with a sadness that no five year old should have in their eyes.

“Yeah, it uh…it might be like that for a little while, sprout. But I promise, everything’s gonna be all right. You always see the sun after a storm, right?”

“And rainbows,” her niece nodded with a slightly bigger smile, causing Jamie to breathe out a laugh.

“And rainbows,” she nodded in agreement, “Your mum’s just gotta get through the storm before she can see the sunshine and rainbows again.”

She pulled the two kids in for a hug, holding them tight and pressing kisses to both their heads as Karen Clayton stepped into the foyer.

“Hello, Jamie,” she greeted with a hint of a smile, wiping her hands on a dish towel before coming over to greet her with a tight hug of her own.

“Hi, Mrs. Clayton,” the brunette offered the older woman a sympathetic smile. From day one, she had never been Karen’s biggest fan. But she knew how to be civil.

“Jamie, it’s been—“

“Nearly twenty years since we’ve known each other and I can call you ‘Karen’, I know,” she chuckled, getting a bit of one in return. She really needed to stop trying to lighten the mood in this house today. Not everyone coped with humor like she did. “I’ll remember one day.”

The middle aged woman nodded, squeezing her hands with a sigh, “Well...Danielle’s upstairs. We’re going to head to the church in about twenty minutes.”

“Thank you,” she offered her a tight lipped smile, watching as the kids followed their grandmother to the kitchen before starting up the spiral staircase. She knew her way around this house like the back of her hand. It would feel like a crime if she didn’t know her way around backwards, forwards, sideways, and with her eyes closed.

Passing Flora’s room on one side of the hallway and Miles’s right across from it, she passed their shared bathroom and the linen closet before approaching the pristine white wooden door, hesitating in front of it. As many hours as she’d put in mentally preparing for this, it wasn’t nearly enough. She could comfort the kids, sure, she could offer a shoulder for Karen or Judy to cry on. But this…No amount of preparation could ever make her ready to face the woman behind the door.

August 1971

“Fuck,” Jamie muttered, running after her basketball as it rolled into the grass. Her dad had installed the hoop over the garage door earlier that day, apparently picking up on how bored she and her brothers were. Mikey and Denny hogged the ball all day, and now that the sun was going down and it was their night to wash dishes, she had the ball and hoop all to herself.

She jumped up, launching the ball at the hoop again, groaning in frustration when it bounced off the rim again and rolled into the grass. “Go in the hoop you stupid—“ she was muttering quietly to the basketball when the door of the next house swung open with the sound of shouting coming clearly through it until it was closed again.

The same blonde girl that had brought a jell-o mold to their door last night came running down the porch steps, stopping in the grass as she curled into herself, holding her cheek and sobbing quietly.

“You all right?” Jamie found herself asking without even thinking, holding the basketball under her arm as she stepped a bit closer to the shared yard between them. These houses really were entirely too close together.

At the sound of her voice, the girl flinched with a gasp, wiping at her eyes and straightening her posture. Her blonde hair was still neatly curled and adorned with ribbon, but this time it was in a classy half-up style. And Jamie had a feeling that the way the purple bow in her hair perfectly matched her purple dress was no accident.

“Didn’t mean to scare you,” she shrugged, stepping a little closer, burying one hand in the pocket of her jeans, “Parents?”

The blonde nodded after a bit of hesitation, wiping her eyes once more. “My mom,” she muttered, looking down at her shiny black mary-janes, “She...she gets kinda scary when she...um...”

The brunette cocked her head to the side curiously, raising her eyebrows in question, “Drinks?” The pristine looking girl seemed timid in her answer, but she nodded nevertheless, confirming Jamie’s suspicions. “Mine too,” she offered her sympathy through a tight, crooked smile, “Happens more often than I’d like. Sometimes for no reason.”

The girl sniffled and pressed the skin of her reddened cheek with a bit of a hiss. “Sh-she’s never...I don’t…” she practically whimpered as fresh tears started to fall from her eyes again. Jamie could see them clearly in the glow of the streetlights even from about ten feet away.

“Wait here a second,” she dropped her basketball to the grass before running up the porch steps and into her house.

“Hey, what’s the rush?” Dennis chuckled, just nearly missing crashing into his daughter as she zoomed around her family members to get to the refrigerator, “Hey, don’t let those peas thaw, they’re for tomorrow’s dinner!”

“Gotcha, Dad,” Jamie muttered and closed the sliding freezer drawer under the fridge, maneuvering around everyone again with the bag of frozen peas in her hands until she was back out the front door, meeting the sniffling blonde who was now sitting in the grass of their shared front lawn.

“Here,” Jamie sat beside her, surprised at her own willingness to help this stranger. Maybe it was because she felt bad. She knew what it was like to have shitty parents. Or at least regular parents who do shitty things. The least she could do was help someone else out.

“Frozen peas?”

“It’ll help with the swelling. I dunno if your mum gotcha hard enough to leave a bruise, but it’ll help with that too,” the eleven year old shrugged, handing over the bag and watching as the blonde pressed it to her cheek.

“This feels silly,” she mustered up a chuckle, though Jamie could hardly make out a smile around the bag that covered the side of her face.

“Bet you’d feel sillier starting school next week with half a purple face,” the brunette shrugged, letting out a chuckle of her own as the girl turned to face her. Bright blue eyes shined under the orange streetlight and Jamie felt the need to turn her attention to her discarded basketball, suddenly very interested in counting how many dots pebbled the surface.

She could hear the bag rustle beside her before a hand was jutted out in her line of sight, throwing off her count.

“I’m Danielle,” she looked up to see the blonde smiling at her, showing off a row of braces on her top teeth. Maybe it was just from the lighting, but even behind the metal, Danielle had one of the brightest smiles Jamie had ever seen.

“Uh...Jamie,” she gently took her neighbor’s hand with a tight smile, finally letting her own teeth show when Danielle shook her hand enthusiastically.

“What grade are you going into?”

“I guess you’d call it...sixth? I’m eleven.”

“Me too! And Eddie. He’s my best friend. He lives down the street on the corner. Did you move here from Scotland or something?”

“England.”

“Oh, sorry. Yours doesn’t sound like any English accent I’ve ever heard.”

God this girl was chatty.

“I’m from Northern England,” Jamie nodded curtly with her lips pressed into an uncomfortable line.

“What brought you to Iowa?”

“Still not sure,” she snorted, shaking her head, “My dad just keeps saying it’s so we can have a better life. Whatever that means.”

“Well...England’s probably a lot better than here, believe me,” Danielle pulled her knees to her chest after taking another break from pressing the frozen peas to her face.

“S’all right so far.”

“Jamie, Dad says to come inside!” Mikey’s voice interrupted as he poked his head out the front door.

She called back to him, telling him she’d be right in before turning back to Danielle. “My little brother,” she explained as she moved to get up, wiping grass from her jeans as the blonde wiped off her skirt, “You okay to go back home?”

Danielle looked back at her house behind her, lingering a bit before facing her again, “I think I’ll go to Eddie’s for a little bit. But thank you for the uh…” she trailed off, moving to hand the bag of frozen peas back to the brunette.

“Keep it. I fuckin’ hate peas,” she waved a hand, shaking her head as she took a step back. Her neighbor wore a stunned look on her face as she released an uncomfortable chuckle, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Right. Potty mouth. Sorry,” Jamie winced, “Get it from my mum.”

“It’s...it’s okay. Well, um...I guess I’ll see you around, Jamie.”

“Yeah,” the eleven year old watched as the blonde turned in her mary-janes and started down the sidewalk. She couldn’t place the feeling that had made a home in her chest, but it wasn’t entirely unpleasant despite being so foreign.

“Jamie!”

“Fuck off, Mikey, I’m coming!” she groaned, rolling her eyes as she picked up the basketball and made her way back inside.

October 1990

Pressing her forehead to the white door, Jamie sighed and squared her shoulders, picking her head up and turning the silver doorknob. The first thing that greeted her was Wally, a fluffy golden retriever just a few months older than Miles. The dog was part of quite a few fond memories that were lodged in her brain.

“Hey, boy,” she whispered, bending down to scratch his head before watching him make his way back across the room, jumping up on the bed where a lump of black fabric and blonde hair was curled up, facing away from her.

“Dani?”