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17 cherry tree lane

Chapter Text

February 1977

“Have you thought about applying to any colleges yet?”

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“What’s the point?” Jamie rolled her eyes, green irises nearly disappearing in the back of her head as Dani brought up college for the upteenth time. They were still in their junior year of high school, but Dani kept on pressing, telling her that junior year was the most important year of college prep.

The blonde scoffed and looked up from where she was doing her calculus homework against the florist counter, watching her best friend put together an arrangement of pink and red flowers. Valentine’s Day was coming up and the Johnsons had Jamie hard at work with making bouquets and arrangements for special orders. And she had to admit that they couldn’t have picked anyone better for the job. Jamie had a way with plants and flowers; and she certainly had an eye for beauty.

“What do you mean, ‘what’s the point’? It’s college, Jay. It’s…” she trailed off, flicking her tongue out over her lips as she thought deep and hard about what the point of college was. She actually didn’t really know. “Well, isn’t it what we’re supposed to do?”

Jamie looked at her from around the glass vase of carnations, cocking an eyebrow at her. She wasn’t going to get into this again. Dani always did what she thought was supposed to be done, or what other people wanted her to do. It was the reason she started dating Eddie the summer before high school. It was the reason she joined the cheerleading squad.

The only thing in Dani’s life that was just Dani’s was her passion for teaching. And Jamie. According to most people, Jamie was the stick in the bike spokes of Dani Clayton’s life. Everyone always assumed that the British transfer student would lead the neighborhood’s own mini pageant queen down a destructive path. But she hadn’t yet. And even if she did, Dani wouldn’t trade Jamie for anything, no matter what anyone said.

“If it was tradition to jump off a cliff after graduation with a slim chance of survival, would you do it? And can you hand me the card for Mr. Stevens’ order?” Jamie tied a white ribbon into a bow around the neck of the vase and held her hand out for the little personalized card that had been requested with the arrangement. Dani had been writing them for her in between homework assignments. She had better penmanship.

“That’s a little extreme, don’t you think?” the blonde just chuckled lightly and handed her the card, stretching her back a little from where she’d been hunched against the counter. Thankfully the flower shop was pretty dead after school, so the Johnsons didn’t mind that she hung around sometimes.

She didn’t get to see Jamie nearly as often anymore. But she knew that she picked up as many shifts at the florist as possible to avoid going home. And Dani preferred helping out here than going to Eddie’s house after school. He was always trying to get her alone in his room lately.

Jamie shook her head with a hint of a smile as she tucked the plastic rod into the vase, attaching the card to it before fluffing up the white bow. “Look, I’m just saying, college isn’t the only option. People go to college to further their education so they can get a job in a field that they love, doing the things that they love. Why would I put myself in debt when I’ve already got that?”

Dani’s lips curved into a slanted smile as Jamie gestured to the flower arrangement she’d put together so diligently. She had a point. “But you can’t make a living off of $2.50 an hour, Jamie. Not for the rest of your life.”

“S’not always about the money,” she shrugged, frustrating the blonde even more as she started on the next order. They only had about two hours until closing time and the Johnsons were starting to put their foot down when it came to Jamie staying late to do unpaid work. They were good people who didn’t want her to do more work than necessary. They always told her to go home and have dinner with her family. But they didn’t know about Jamie’s current home life. And the brunette refused to tell them. She didn’t want their pity.

At her response, Dani fell quiet, looking down at her homework again as an old song by The Zombies came through the static-y radio behind the counter. “Eddie wants me to go with him to the University of Iowa,” she muttered absentmindedly, dragging her pencil along her notebook paper.

“You gonna?”

“I dunno. I was hoping you’d try to get in too. We could be roommates!” her blue eyes widened with hope, silently pleading with her best friend to consider it. They hadn’t been more than a few miles apart since they were eleven years old.

“Dani—“

“I know you don’t...like the idea of college,” she interrupted, leaning back against the counter, as if her point would be better proven if she got closer, “But I don’t wanna...I don’t know…” Green eyes stared back at her curiously, patient as they ever were when she was at a loss for words. “I just want my best friend there with me. I mean it’s college, Jamie! They say they’re supposed to be the best years of our lives, I don’t wanna live the best years of my life without you.”

The brunette bit the inside of her cheek as she released a huff through her nose. “You’ve got Eddie,” she murmured, turning around to gather the next bunch of flowers so she could trim the stems.

“Eddie’s not my best friend.”

“He used to be.”

“Til you came along.”

“You’re impossible, Poppins,” she rolled her eyes with a playful chuckle.

Dani just grinned at the old nickname that had been gifted to her when they were twelve on a bike ride around town. Back before their world became so complicated. “What kind of flowers did he order for me?”

“I’ve been sworn to secrecy,” Jamie smirked without looking up from her work.

“Red roses again?”

Her best friend looked up at her briefly, pressing her lips into a tight line as she trimmed more stems. “You didn’t hear it from me,” she chuckled at the way Dani groaned and slumped down onto the counter with her head on her arms, “Hey, red roses aren’t bad. At least they’re...fitting with the holiday. As silly of a holiday as I think it is.”

“They’re nice, but they’re not my favorite,” Dani picked her head up, “It’s sad that you know my favorite flower better than my own boyfriend.”

Nodding her head a bit in agreement, the brunette couldn’t help but chuckle internally at the memory of the look on Edmund’s face when she’d given Dani a bouquet of azaleas for her last birthday. Maybe it was petty, but Dani deserved to get her favorite flowers from somebody. Jamie had even arranged them herself. And rung them up at full price at the register. Dani was worth much more than her employee discount.

October 1990

The ride to the church was quiet. Even Miles and Flora, normally so outgoing and playful, were quiet as mice. Jamie hadn’t known those kids to be quiet or sit still for more than a minute since they were newborns. It was such a strange sight to see as she sat in between them in the back seat of Karen’s old station wagon; in the same middle spot she used to sit as a kid when Dani would beg her mother to take Jamie along with her and Eddie to the community pool on hot summer days.

Jamie’s throat bobbed a little as they pulled up to the church. The parking lot was nearly filled. Edmund always was a popular one. Star of the track team, class valedictorian, and one of the most respected optometrists in town. Every pew in the chapel was bound to be filled.

Helping Flora with the seatbelt of her booster seat, the brunette slid out of the back seat with her as Miles got out on the other side. The only person that remained unmoving was Dani in the passenger seat. From what Jamie could see through the windows, the woman was stone still as she stared ahead at the towering church that was littered with funeral-goers dressed in black.

Karen sighed and adjusted her purse strap on her shoulder as she moved to step around to the passenger door. But Jamie held a hand out, taking a few short strides in her black heels to stop her. “I’ll get her,” she insisted with a nod and a reassuring smile. God knows what Karen would say to her daughter to get her out of the car.

The older woman nodded, taking her grandkids’ hands before leading them towards the front steps of the church. Meanwhile, Jamie slowly made her way around the station wagon, opening the passenger door to reveal her very stiff best friend. She sighed, leaning against the open door with her hands in the pockets of her blazer.

Her fingers gripped the nearly empty box of marlboros that she knew she’d need at some point today. She’d smoked three of them just on the hour drive from the city.

Sighing, Jamie pulled the little carton out and fished her lighter from her purse, lighting up the end of a cigarette before taking a long drag and flicking the ashes into the pavement. Dani was still unmoving, simply staring ahead at the church as people started making their way inside.

“Here,” the brunette crouched down a little, offering the cigarette out to her. She knew Dani wasn’t a smoker. But ever since they were teenagers, on occasion, she would snag them from between Jamie’s fingers to take a light puff for herself, claiming it calmed her nerves.

”What do you have to be nervous about?” she remembered asking as they watched a meteor shower together from their spot on a blanket in Dani’s backyard. Being fourteen seemed so terrible at the time, and now she’d give anything to go back and do some things over.

”Watching the stars makes me feel too small,” Dani had coughed a little as she handed the cigarette back to her, folding her arm back behind her head, “Like...there’s so much out there and we’re just...here, y’know? Like grains of sand.”

It got Dani to move her head at least, so she could see the cigarette she was taking. Jamie leaned against the open door of the car with her hands back in her pockets, shaking her head when Dani wordlessly reached over to hand the cigarette back, “Finish it. Think you need it more than me.”

Dani just nodded, bringing her hand back to take another long drag, lowering her head as the smoke passed through her lips. “I have to face all those people,” she spoke so low that Jamie had to crouch down to hear her better, “All those people who are gonna...look at me with so much...pity, so much sorrow…”

She blinked as a single tear fell from her eye, leaving a bit of a dark trail from her mascara that she had so foolishly put on her bottom lashes this morning. “And none of them know,” she breathed a bitter laugh, bringing the cigarette to her lips again, “Nobody knows.”

Jamie stared at her, watching her every move with curious eyes. “Knows what?” she asked after a bit of hesitation.

“That this is all my fault,” the blonde shook her head again, flicking the ashes into the tray between the seats, “That they’re all here because of me.”

Thin brows wrinkled together as Jamie watched Dani at least begin to relax in her bitterness. “What do you mean?”

Tears shined in her blue eyes as she kept them straight ahead at the church, remaining silent until she put the cigarette out in the tray, leaving it with the others that her mother had yet to clean up. “We should head in,” she said quickly, her voice back to normal as if she hadn’t just on the verge of a complete breakdown.

But Jamie just watched her step out of the car, brush out the wrinkles in her dress, and stand tall with a confident smile. Though her smile was clearly fake, Jamie played along anyway, reaching forward to brush the black tear streak from her face with a gentle thumb. “Mascara at a funeral. You never learn, do you, Poppins?”

January 1975

Jamie was leaned back against the tree closest to where the small crowd stood. It was really just her family, Dani, the O’Maras, a few soldiers and a few of Denny’s friends from high school. Hardly a crowd, but a bigger crowd than she’d expected for her arse of a brother. She really didn’t want to be around anyone else, though; Even if they were all huddled together for warmth as her older brother was lowered into the snowy ground.

He’d barely been in Vietnam for a year. Jamie remembered telling him how stupid it was to go over there voluntarily. The draft was long over, they didn’t need him. And to be honest, no one was even sure why they were over there in the first place.

Jamie flinched at the three pops that rang out as the soldiers held their rifles towards the sky. She didn’t know what it meant, but considering her brother died from a gunshot wound, she thought it was in pretty poor taste. But apparently it was tradition. Tradition wasn’t always right, in her mind.

At the sound of her mother’s sobbing, Jamie just leaned her head back against the tree, watching as a blonde in a black peacoat broke away from the small crowd. Jamie had asked for her space when Dani tried to join her at the tree before, but now...yeah, she could use the company. She was surprised that she hadn’t given in sooner, considering Dani kept stealing glances in her direction during the small service.

“Why would you wear mascara to a funeral?” Jamie chuckled quietly enough to not be heard by anyone else. Laughing at a funeral wasn’t exactly polite.

Dani just released a quiet, watery breath of laugher as another black tear slid down her cheek, “I wanted to look nice.”

Jamie just pushed herself off the tree, shaking her head as she swiped her cold fingers across Dani’s flushed cheeks. “You look better when you’re not trying to be Alice Cooper,” she smirked, wiping the last of the tear streaks from her best friend’s face.

Dani just sniffled and ran her hand under her nose, “Who’s she?”

“Never mind,” the fourteen year old shook her head with the tiniest snort of laughter, “Why are you crying anyway? He was always pulling pranks on you.”

“That’s what big brothers do,” Dani shrugged, “I know he wasn’t my big brother, but it was the closest I ever got to having one. Eddie’s older brothers never tease me like they teased him. Denny treated me like he treated you, y’know? Like another sister.”

Jamie was quiet as she leaned back against the tree. Yeah, Denny could be a prick most of the time. Always putting frogs or ice cubes down the back of her shirt and slinging mashed potatoes at her from across the dinner table. But he was the only older brother she had.

Some people, like Dani, didn’t have that person to show them around school on their first day, or teach them how to ride a bike when their parents didn’t have the time. Even through all the countless noogies and wedgies over the course of Jamie’s life, her brother was there for her and protected her.

He was a protector at heart with a playful soul. She never understood why he went to war voluntarily. She thought it was the dumbest thing, risking your life for a country that they didn’t even really like, despite it being their home for the past few years. But thinking back, she knew that it was the defensive nature that he always had that made him want to go. And he wasn’t doing it for the country. He was doing it for their family.

“Jamie?” Dani’s voice brought her out of her thoughts as she flinched at the touch of a cold thumb on her cheek.

Was she…?

No, there was no way. Jamie Taylor was not a cryer. She hadn’t cried since she broke her arm when she was six. And even then, she was a fighter and only shed a few tears. But now, being gently pulled into Dani’s warm embrace, the brunette could feel her walls come crumbling down for the first time in years.

Gripping tightly to her black peacoat, Jamie’s breath hitched with every strained sob from the deepest reaches in her chest, releasing every emotion she felt into Dani’s scarf. She was sad, she was angry. She was so angry. Angry at her parents, angry at Denny, angry at herself. She should have appreciated him more when he was here, and now it was too late.

“It’s okay,” Dani’s voice soothed into her ear, one hand stroking against her synthetic jacket while the other carded through the fine, curly hairs at the base of her scalp. Jamie had been there for her so many times, comforting her through one thing after another. Now it was her turn to do the same.

“It’s okay.”

October 1990

The service was rough. Edmund’s younger brother Carson gave the eulogy. And Jamie, from a few rows behind Dani’s front row pew, was struggling with listening to the cries coming from her best friend. They were quiet. Quieter than most other people in the room. But to Jamie, they were the loudest. Piercing, even, as each one was a direct hit to her chest.

She had never been a big fan of Eddie. For years now, she had watched from afar as he treated Dani with so much less respect and care than she deserved; Or at least what Jamie thought she deserved.

She would be the one Dani called when Eddie forgot their anniversary again, when even Jamie had remembered and sent a card. At times, she would be there with Dani when Eddie would come home late, reeking of stale beer after a spontaneous night out with his friends. And days later, back when she was still living in town, she would see his name on the order form for a bouquet of red roses with an ‘I’m sorry” card attached.

Every. Single. Time.

Dani deserved so much more than that. But Jamie had to push that thought aside each time it popped into her head. Because whenever she thought of the type of person Dani truly deserved, she put herself on that pedestal every time, without fail.

And she couldn’t have that. She couldn’t want that. That was something that just couldn’t happen, no matter how many times the thought crept into her brain while she slept, or while she worked, or while she helped Dani make dinner and put the kids to bed when she would pop by their house to help out.

She was Dani’s best friend. That was all she would ever be. But as much as she found herself wishing that things were different...found herself wondering what would have happened if she hadn’t pushed a drunk Dani away at Ingrid Westfield’s Halloween party when they were sixteen...Jamie knew that being Dani’s friend was better than being nothing to her at all.

And this was the last place that she should be thinking about being anything more.