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17 cherry tree lane

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September 1971

There she was just walkin’ down the street singin’
Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do
Tappin’ her fingers and shufflin’ her feet singin’
Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do

Jamie grumbled at her desk, hunched over her math homework. She hated fractions. She hated homework. She hated teachers that assigned homework on the first day of school. And she hated noisy neighbors whose bedroom windows were ten feet from hers.

She looked good
She looked fine

The singing, slightly off-key and pitchy, continued to come through her window along with the music. If she didn’t get her homework done by dinner, she was toast. Getting up, she practically stomped to the window, tearing the ratty curtain (with the holes that her mother kept forgetting to patch up) the side, nearly blinding herself with the incoming sunlight.

Now we’re together nearly every single day singin’
Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do

“Hey!” she called loudly across the short distance between her house and the next, unable to help the slight chuckle that bubbled from her chest when she saw Danielle through the next window. The blonde nearly jumped out of her skin with a yelp as her body went rigid and a blush became clear on her face, making it obvious that she wasn’t aware that she had an audience.

“First of all, it’s ‘snapping her fingers’. Not ‘tapping’. Second, I’m trying to do my math homework.”

“Sorry,” Danielle offered her a slight smile, her face still beet red from embarrassment. Even darker than her deep rose colored dress. Why did this girl always dress like a member of The Brady Bunch?

It was a pleasant surprise when Jamie had learned that the window across from hers actually wasn’t to the bedroom of a creepy old man. Maybe if she had paid a little more attention, she would’ve realized that the adjacent room was all pinks and purples a lot sooner than just a few days after moving in.

Nodding curtly, Jamie just moved to close her window, willing to put up with the stuffy summer heat over the distractions from outside. But with her fingers on the wooden frame, she hesitated, seeing her neighbor sit on the edge of her bed after turning down the volume on her portable record player. Jamie hadn’t really seen much of her around, not that she cared. Since they met in their conjoined front yards, this was the first time she’d said more than two words to her outside of Mrs. Vaughn’s science class today. And even then, it was just to ask for a pencil.

“You okay?” she asked, unable to stop herself, “I mean after...y’know...last week?” It was weird to think that they’d only lived in this house for a week. It felt like forever, and not in a good way.

Danielle just nodded, picking at the dried skin of her lower lip as she glanced between Jamie and her own lap, “Yeah. The, uh...the peas...they really helped.”

Jamie watched as the girl from her science class flashed her big metal-filled smile at her, and found herself smiling back. “Well, good,” she gave a single nod, her hands still up on the wooden frame of the window, ready to pull the pane down, “See you tomorrow, I guess. Mum’s gonna flip if I don’t get these fractions done.”

“Wait, do you need any help? I love math!”

The brunette made a face at that. Who loves math? Science, maybe. Maybe even history, but math? “You any good at fractions, then?”

“Oh, those are easy.”

“Easy?” eyebrows raised in disbelief, “You sound awfully sure of yourself.”

“Well, I’m gonna be a teacher when I grow up. I kinda have to be good at math in order to teach others how to do it,” Danielle chuckled, wringing her fingers nervously, “I can teach you if you want.”

Jamie looked up at her own hands, gripping tightly to the window pane. She could easily just close it and shove the curtain back into place. Maybe it was rude, but she wasn’t interested in making any friends. And she certainly wasn’t interested in owing anyone any favors. But looking back at her neighbor, watching the way she looked so eager to help as she caught her bottom lip under braces-covered teeth, Jamie couldn’t help but sigh and nod her head again. “Guess that would be okay.”

October 1990

“Dani?”

The lump hardly moved. Jamie knew her too well. Dani would become an unmoving blob on her bed at the most minor inconveniences. She got a B on a chemistry test in 10th grade and hardly moved from her bed the whole afternoon after coming home from school.

But this wasn’t a B on a test when she expected an A. This was the death of her husband. In the near-twenty years that Jamie had known her, she’d never had to see Dani through something like this. The only death Dani had ever really had to deal with personally in the last two decades was from her pet goldfish. And even in eighth grade, Jamie was there to help her through it.

With a deep breath, Jamie followed Wally towards the bed, following him up onto the mattress. “Hey, stranger,” she mumbled and pressed against her best friend’s back, wrapping an arm around her to spoon her from behind as she placed a kiss to the back of her head. “What, no hello?” she added lightly, following the silence.

You’re the stranger,” the blonde mumbled, moving into the warmth of Jamie against her back despite her dismissive response.

Jamie released the slightest scoff, still holding her best friend close, linking Dani’s cold fingers in her warm ones. “Come on, it’s only been a month since I’ve been back.”

She would’ve been back in town sooner if Dani or anyone had called her when the accident happened. She didn’t even hear about it from Dani. She had been sitting in her office in downtown Des Moines, getting ready to head back to her apartment for the night, when her assistant had patched Karen Clayton through to her desk phone.

Yesterday, she heard about the accident that happened a week ago. And she was furious. Knowing Dani, considering her current state after a week of being a widow, she was in no condition to call her. Jamie didn’t hold that against her. Judy O’Mara would’ve been the next person on the phone tree that Jamie would have assumed would give her a call. But the woman’s son died. She didn’t hold that against her either.

But Karen? They were civil with each other, but they’d never been each other’s biggest fans. But to keep Jamie in the dark for nearly a week over something like this? That was worse than any low blow she’d expect from Karen Clayton. And the performance the brunette had put on for her just minutes ago downstairs was Oscar-worthy, if she did say so herself, considering how pissed she was at the woman.

Breathing in the strawberry shampoo (typical Dani), Jamie just tightened her fingers around the blonde’s, feeling the way they began to tremble with the rest of Dani’s body as the sound of sniffles filled her ears.

”You could’ve called me. Why didn’t you call me?” was on the tip of Jamie’s tongue. She wanted to ask so badly. Why had she only just heard about this yesterday? She would have rescheduled her meetings. She would have been here as soon as she could. She would have watched the kids, helped get the house ready for guests, whatever Dani needed. She’d always done whatever Dani needed. She’d always been there when she needed her most. And Dani was there for her too. That was how their friendship worked. Even before they really became friends.

September 1971

“So from here, you just cross multiply,” Jamie watched as Danielle leaned over her desk as they shared her wooden chair. Though, the brunette was pushed nearly all the way to the side of the seat, unconsciously making more room for her classmate. Just being polite.

She watched as the pencil dragged across the paper, connecting the numbers in penmanship that was impressive for an eleven year old. Danielle’s words were really going in one ear and out the other. Jamie would never understand fractions. She was better with words than numbers.

“See?” the blonde smiled, handing the pencil back over to her, “Think you can do the next one on your own?”

“God, you even sound like a teacher,” Jamie chuckled, shaking her head as she attempted to solve the next problem from their textbook, “I don’t think you look like one, though.”

“I shouldn’t, I’m only eleven. Well, almost,” Dani giggled, “Besides, how do you look like a teacher?”

“I mean, have you seen our teachers? I don’t think you’re gonna look like that when you grow up. All…” she shook her head, searching for the words as blue eyes stared intently at her, “...I dunno, old and frumpy. Plus, your name’s Danielle. Teachers are all called things like…Mavis and Bertram.”

The blonde laughed at the names Jamie had picked out, and laughed even harder at the face she made as the names left her mouth. “Well, you don’t call...teachers by their first names,” she said breathlessly through her laughter.

“No, but still!” Jamie found herself laughing along with her. And she didn’t hate it. “Danielle is a cool name. Too cool for a teacher,” she told her genuinely after the laughter had faded, turning back to her homework.

But Danielle just shook her head and tucked her perfectly curled hair behind her ear, “I hate it. I never felt like a ‘Danielle’.”

“At least you weren’t given a boy’s name,” Jamie rolled her eyes.

“I’m sure there’s plenty of girl Jamies out there.”

“You ever met one?”

“Of course I have.”

“When?”

“Last week,” Danielle started laughing again, “There’s a girl Jamie sitting right next to me.”

“I meant besides me,” the eleven year old rolled her eyes with a chuckle, shaking her head, “So what do you wanna be called? Since you hate your name?”

“I dunno,” she shrugged in response, “My dad used to call me Dani. I really liked that. No one else calls me that, though. Even when I ask.”

“I could call you that,” Jamie offered, searching her blue eyes briefly, “If you want me to, that is. Though, I think it’s pretty silly that you want a boy’s name.”

“It’s not a boy’s name. It’s spelled D-A-N-I. Like that,” Dani explained as she wrote it out on the side margin of Jamie’s homework in swirly letters, dotting the ‘I’ with a little flower.

The brunette looked over the name, committing it to memory. “Dani it is, then,” she nodded, offering her a bit of a smile, “No more Danielle.”

October 1990

Crawling over Dani, Jamie climbed down to the floor, kneeling in front of where she was lying practically on the edge of the bed, finally seeing her face for the first time since her 30th birthday last month. Even with puffy eyes and a blotchy face, she was still her same beautiful Dani. Just much more broken than she’d ever seen her.

Actually that was a lie. She’d seen Dani more distraught than this. But she didn’t like to think about that. That was fourteen years ago. And it was the worst night of her life.

“Hey,” she whispered, brushing strands of blonde back from her face, looking into the blue eyes that were nowhere near as bright as she was used to, “You remember when we were like, thirteen? And Judy took us all to the drive-in to see Robin Hood?”

Dani nodded her head, still solemn, but confused as to why it was being brought up.

“Remember how you and I went to the concession stand and snuck over to the other side of the field where The Exorcist was showing?”

“Yeah,” she whispered with a sniffle, still confused, “I didn’t think I would ever sleep again.”

Jamie’s lips curled into a slight nostalgic grin, “But you slept. Eventually.”

“Yeah, cause I’d make you come through my window and keep me company,” Dani rolled her eyes with a scoff of laughter. Jamie recalled many nights between them in those years, sneaking out of their own beds to join the other in theirs. Being more of a risk-taker, Jamie was often the one who would sneak out in the middle of the night, grab the wooden ladder that was always laid down in the grass against the side of Dani’s house, and climb up to her window.

They faced the same consequences from their parents. Corporal punishment wasn’t something uncommon between their households. But Jamie was much more used to it than Dani. She could take a hit without crying. And she’d much rather get herself in trouble for sneaking out than have Dani face the wrath of Karen.

“But you still slept. You got over that fear eventually, right?” she continued, cocking her head to the side as she continued to rake fingers through her long, blonde hair. “I know it’s a stupid comparison. Linda Blair projectile vomiting pea soup is a cake-walk compared to this, but—“

Dani’s eyes squeezed shut as more tears fell from behind the lightly shadowed lids. But she laughed. And the sound was something that Jamie had never been happier to hear. She’d heard Dani laugh plenty of times. She was the person who could make Dani laugh the hardest, and she loved to gloat about it. But in a moment like this, knowing that her best friend was so heartbroken, Jamie couldn’t stop the tear of relief that fell from her own eye as she laughed with her.

“I mean it,” she cupped Dani’s flushed cheek, looking into the eyes that still shined with tears despite the laughter that had taken over her for the brief moment, “Sleeping after seeing that movie was something you thought would be impossible. And I know you think it’s impossible that you’ll ever feel okay again after this.”

“How do you know?”

“Cause you’re my best friend. Known you just about my whole life, haven’t I? We’ve been neighbors, lab partners, roommates, co-workers...Hell, I’m the godmother to your kids, Dani. That’s all gotta count for something.”

With a hint of a smile, Dani sniffled as she reached up for the hand that was running through her hair, linking her fingers with Jamie’s affectionately and holding on tight. “I’m so sorry, Jamie,” she mumbled in a barely audible whisper, averting her eyes.

“For what?”

A tongue peaked out to run over her painted pink lips before her mouth opened to speak.

“Danielle?” Karen came into the room as she knocked, “It’s time to head out, sweetheart. Jamie, are you going to follow us there? You remember the way, I’m sure.”

“Yeah, I’ll—“

“No, she can ride with us,” Dani sat up wiping gently under her eyes, turning to Jamie with a sure look, “You’re riding with us. Please?”

The look in Dani’s eyes was something Jamie was so familiar with. It was pleading, it was desperate. And she’d seen that look so many times. For instance, in times when Dani would silently beg her to tell Karen that they spent the night studying when they’d really been at a party. She’d seen that look when Dani needed her. When she needed her to lie for her, because she was incapable of lying to her mother, or when she needed Jamie to invite her over for dinner so she didn’t have to be home alone with whatever boyfriend her mom had that week.

“Yeah,” she nodded as she straightened her knees and stood up straight from where she was crouched, “Yeah, I’ll ride along.”

“Well...the kids are putting their jackets on, so please don’t be long.”

“Yes ma’am,” the brunette nodded politely, holding her hands at her hips as the door closed behind her best friend’s mother again. “You ready?” she asked gently, combing her fingers through Dani’s loose hair, fixing it up from where it had gone flat from the pillow under her head.

“No,” Dani’s shoulders slumped after a deep breath, looking up from where they were standing nearly toe-to-toe.

“Hey,” Jamie whispered, holding a hand up between them with her pinkie extended, “It’s gonna be all right, Poppins. Promise.”

Dani pressed her lips into a tight line and nodded, linking her own pinkie finger tightly with hers before Jamie leaned down to press a lingering kiss to her knuckles.

June 1973

A light was flashing in her eyes.

Again.

For the fourth night in a row, to be exact. Rubbing her eyes, Jamie groaned and sat up, squinting in the bright light that was coming through her window. Getting up, she trudged to the window in her long sleep shirt and sleep shorts, yawning as she opened it.

“Again?” she whispered across the space between their houses. Thankfully it was summer vacation and they didn’t have to be up for school. Otherwise these past few days would’ve been hell. After being woken up four nights in a row by Dani shining her flashlight into her bedroom window to wake her up, Jamie was sure that she’d be cranky enough to cuss out a teacher if she had to go to school.

“Please?”

That was all Dani ever had to say to get her way from Jamie. And she knew that. But that didn’t stop her from widening her bright blue eyes and poking out her lower lip in a pout sometimes. That face was Jamie’s kryptonite.

Sighing, the brunette reached for the rope she’d made of old shirts and towels, skillfully knotted and roped together and tied around the leg of the radiator, and threw it out the window before bravely climbing out and down the side of her house. She grabbed the wooden ladder that always laid in the grass on the side of Dani’s house and lifted it with a bit of effort. She was a lot stronger now, at thirteen, than she was last year when she started climbing up to Dani’s room when she needed company.

Climbing the ladder once it was securely leaned against the house, Jamie made her way up to Dani’s room, ducking into the window before being pulled into a tight hug. Just like every other night this week.

“You’re exhausting me,” she chuckled playfully, keeping her voice down. Karen’s door was just down the hall.

”You dragged me away from the concession stand to watch part of that stupid scary movie. It’s your fault I can’t sleep anymore,” Dani lisped around her retainer as she crossed her arms over her long pink nightgown, double checking that her door was locked before guiding Jamie to her canopy bed.

Rolling her eyes, the brunette just climbed under the covers, attempting to get comfy. She really hated Dani’s mattress. It was so stiff just like everything else in that house. “You see your own mother before she has her coffee every morning and the movie is what you’re afraid of?” she whispered, raising an eyebrow in question at her best friend.

Dani just laughed quietly, shoving her shoulder as she lowered herself onto one of the pillows, “My mom can be pretty scary, but at least her head can’t turn a full 360 degrees.”

“That you know of.”

Shaking her head at her, Dani just snorted another laugh before letting out a yawn. “Thank you,” she mumbled sleepily, “For always coming to my rescue. Eddie would never sneak out to come through my window like you do.”

“Lucky bastard doesn’t live where you can shine a flashlight through his window and ask him to,” Jamie smirked, chuckling when Dani smacked her arm over her oversized t-shirt. “Hey, it’s my pleasure,” she sighed after coming down from her laughter, “What are best friends for?”

“We’ll always be best friends, right?”

“Long as I can help it.”

“Promise?”

Jamie’s lips curled into a smile when Dani held her pinkie out to her, looking for reassurance that she’d always be with her. Jamie knew she couldn’t promise anything. She knew that anything could happen that would separate them. But even when they grew up, and Dani no longer lived in the house next door, Jamie knew that she would always try.

And she would try. She couldn’t guarantee tomorrow. But she could guarantee that regardless of what tomorrow and every following day brought, she would try to make sure that their friendship withstood the test of time. She’d never met anyone like Dani before. And there were times when she didn’t think she needed to meet anyone else ever again. The pigtailed girl that handed her a jell-o mold on her front porch two years ago had become her most important person.

Curling her little finger around Dani’s, she smiled warmly before leaning down to press a kiss to her friend’s pale knuckles.

“Promise.”