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17 cherry tree lane

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June 1976

Dani stood in front of the large split level house, gripping nervously to the straps of her backpack as she looked around, wondering if she had the right address.

217 W Broad Street

The address matched the one Eddie had gotten for her from Judy. But the house was nothing like Jamie had described. It wasn’t a big white house with a spacious yard in a nice neighborhood. It was...well, just the opposite. The chain link fence that surrounded the property was falling apart, the grass in the yard was yellowed, and the shutters were just barely holding on by their hinges. It almost looked like the abandoned houses in the neighborhood where her dream house was.

But either way, she hadn’t seen or heard from Jamie in days. They’d gone roller skating for her birthday earlier in the month like they did every year. But that was the last time she’d seen her. She knew that she started a new job working at the Johnson’s flower shop, but every time she stopped by, her shift had already ended.

With a huff of determination and squared shoulders, she stepped around the cracked pavement and walked through the gate, making her way up the walkway to the rickety wooden porch. The boards, covered in chipped paint, squeaked under her tennis shoes as she raised her hand to knock on the door (which was equally covered in chipped and peeling paint).

She heard a bit of commotion coming from inside. A string of curse words came from the cracked window to her right. From what she could hear, a man was angrily demanding to know who in the house had invited company over, going on about how they know better. Within seconds, Dani could hear heavy footsteps coming from behind the door, getting closer and closer until it was nearly ripped open; And she came immediately face to face with a tall, lanky man with a scruffy beard, a pot belly peeking out between his stained sweatpants and tank top, and a cigarette hanging carelessly from his mouth.

She definitely had the wrong house.

“What?” he asked after Dani spent a few seconds just staring in disbelief.

“I-I’m sorry, I’m looking for someone and I-I don’t think she’s—“

“She’s just here to walk me to work,” Jamie appeared suddenly, sliding out from around the man in the doorway as she pulled the sleeves of a chambray button down over her faded grey tank top.

“You’re not supposed to work today,” the man looked down at the teenage brunette suspiciously.

“I forgot, they wanted me to come in for a meeting,” Jamie said quickly, “Something about a shipment of summer flowers coming in. I was supposed to be there earlier, but I forgot.”

Dani glanced back and forth between Jamie and the man in the doorway, wondering what was going on. This couldn’t have been the foster dad Jamie had been raving to her about after she’d first moved in.

Before anything else could be said, the man turned to her, eyeing her up and down in a way that made her skin crawl. “She’s pretty,” he smirked, taking the cigarette from his lips after pulling a drag from it and blowing smoke into the air in front of them, “She your little girlfriend?”

Dani hardly had time to even wave the smoke from in front of her face before Jamie was tugging her by the elbow and down the front steps. She lead her through the gate as she tried to ignore the man calling after them with gross comments about how he prefered blondes and that Dani was welcome back anytime.

“Who was that?” Dani asked as Jamie kept tugging her so briskly up the road that she could barely keep up.

“What the hell are you doing here?” the brunette hissed once they had gotten far enough away from the house.

The fifteen year old’s jaw slacked a bit as she looked at her; confusion evident in her expression, “I-I wanted to see you, we haven’t spent any time together since—“

“You can’t come here. You shouldn’t have come here! Do you have any idea what could’ve happened? What he could’ve—“

Dani just watched as she stopped herself from saying anything further, a bit too stunned to move from her spot on the broken pavement of the run-down neighborhood.

“Jamie…?”

“Dani, just...don’t come here again, okay? Please,” her voice came out rather harsh and snippy, but she didn’t look angry. She looked scared. Terrified, even. And Dani would have dropped it with no further questions if it weren’t for her shirt slipping off her shoulder, revealing a dark bruise near her collarbone.

“Jamie, what happened?!” she gasped, reaching to move the strap of her tank top aside so she could see the extent of the bruise. She was no stranger to bruises herself, and she knew Jamie was no stranger to them either. But those were always from her parents or a rowdy fight with her brothers. She was in a new home now, a nice home with nice people. At least that’s what she’d told Dani.

“It’s nothing,” Jamie shoved her hands away, covering her shoulder and buttoning the shirt so it wouldn’t slip again.

But Dani wasn’t buying it. Even when they were kids, Jamie was honest with her and would tell her exactly where a new bruise had popped up from. And she knew that she did it so Dani would never feel too scared or ashamed to tell her about her own.

“Jamie...who was that guy?” she asked again, quieter this time; More gentle.

But averted green eyes filled to the brim with unshed tears as the tip of Jamie’s nose turned a bright shade of pink. And Dani could only watch as her best friend hunched her shoulders in a desperate attempt to hold herself together.

“That…” she started, her voice quiet but thick, “Would be David.”

“But...that can’t be David. You said David was this really nice guy with a great job who always looked annoyingly put together...that guy was...not,” Dani gestured back down the street, “And the house isn’t...isn’t anything like you said it was, I—“

“How did you get the address? I never gave it to you,” Jamie’s jaw was tight as she folded her arms defensively over her chest, eyes still shining with the tears she was holding back.

“E-Eddie gave it to me. He said his parents had it because they’re still listed as your emergency contact for school...”

Jamie just blinked and tilted her head back with a groan, bringing the heels of her palms to her face like she wanted to press the tears back down behind her eyes. “Dani—“

“I’m sorry, I was just...I miss you, and I haven’t seen you in…” her voice faded as she took in how Jamie looked. She appeared a bit rough with cuts and scrapes on her legs under her shorts, she had tired bags under her eyes, and she was pale like she’d hardly seen the sunlight in months. “Jamie why did you lie to me?”

“I didn’t.”

“Jamie, nothing about that place is at all like what you told me before.”

“It’s none of your business.”

“It is my business! If it concerns you, it concerns me. That’s how it’s always been with us.” Jamie was quiet as she looked down at her tattered shoes, the trash littered on the side of the road, the leafy trees that hung over their heads; Anywhere but at Dani. “Please, Jamie…” the blonde whispered, reaching up to catch the single stubborn tear that had fallen from Jamie’s eye.

“I didn’t want you to worry,” she muttered, kicking broken pieces of pavement around her feet, “I just...wanted you to think that everything was okay and had worked out for the better; That I was with this great new family, in a great new house, living a great new life.”

Dani was quiet as she watched her, giving her time to let everything out before she said anything.

“I’d rather I’m there than Mikey,” she wiped under her nose with a sniffle and a shrug of her shoulders, “His situation’s not ideal either, from what he’s told me, but it’s better than mine.”

With tears in her own eyes, Dani just nodded, feeling dreadful in the knowledge that she couldn’t do anything to help. She didn’t know the details of Jamie’s new home life, but she knew that it wasn’t a place where Jamie was safe.

With a few gentle sniffles, she reached between the two of them to slowly slip the button-down and tank top aside again, assessing the bruise that looked fresh on her skin. “Did he do that?” she asked, carefully running her fingers over the discoloration as Jamie nodded and tensed up under her touch, “What happened?”

Jamie breathed a bitter puff of air, shaking her head as she eased Dani’s fingers off her skin, “You don’t wanna know.”

“Jamie…”

For the first time in what felt like hours, green eyes gazed up into her own, looking nowhere near as vibrant and bright as they used to. And it sent a chill down Dani’s spine as she assumed the worst for her best friend.

“He’s...he’s just not a good guy, okay? He and Suzanne are just a couple of lazy fucks, making a living on taking in the local trash. Suzanne’s a bitch who uses us as nothing but free labor. David’s a creep and a pervert and he thinks he can...fix me,” the brunette bit the inside of her cheek as she spoke quietly in a voice that was mixed with anger and shame, “And he doesn’t like it when I fight back.”

“Can’t you...can’t you tell someone?” Dani asked with a thickness in her voice, feeling anguish rise in her chest when Jamie simply shook her head, “Jamie you can’t stay there. No one should stay there, you have to get ou—“

“If I find a way out, they’re just gonna give my bed to someone else. And I’ll probably end up somewhere out of town with someone worse,” she stated firmly, staring intensely into Dani’s eyes to prove she was serious, “The system is way more fucked up than they want you to believe.”

“But Jamie, I don’t—“

“It’s only two more years if this place sticks,” Jamie interrupted again, shaking her head with stiff shoulders, “And I’ve got the Johnsons to keep me busy and out of the house before school starts back up. It’ll be fine. Just...just don’t come back here. Please. I don’t want him anywhere near you. Okay?”

It was easy for Dani to just nod and agree to it.

“Promise me.”

That was where it got difficult. Dani had never broken a promise to Jamie before. And by promising to never come back to her new house, it meant that she could never come check on her. Even if she disappeared for days, she couldn’t come back.

But Dani wiped at her eyes as Jamie raised her hand between them with an extended pinky. She hated this. How was she supposed to believe that everything would be fine? Two years seemed so long from now. Jamie had only just turned sixteen. So much could happen between now and her eighteenth birthday. She just wished that there was something, anything, she could do to help. But for now, all Jamie wanted was a promise. She could give her that much.

“I promise,” she nodded, sniffling quietly as she linked their pinkies together, holding onto hers tightly as Jamie dropped a predictable (but no less appreciated) kiss to her knuckles.

November 1990

“Uh...Hey,” Jamie greeted her rather awkwardly, succumbing to the fact that Dani was brushing past her and into the apartment without a word. She took note of the backpack she had slung over her shoulder, wondering what exactly was going on, “Look Dani, I—“

“No,” the blonde turned to her just as sharply as she spoke, stepping closer to her with determined, heavy steps that were bound to piss off her downstairs neighbor, “No, you don’t get to talk right now. Not after you’ve been refusing to talk to me all week.”

The way she was looking at her, fire burning behind the sea of blue in her eyes, Jamie had never seen her like this before. The most angry she’d ever seen Dani was when they were in high school. Sophomore year, to be exact, not long after Jamie had been outed to just about the entire school. That was really the only time she’d ever seen Dani truly lose her cool.

“So...so I’m gonna talk. A-and you’re gonna listen...Okay?” Dani squared her shoulders with a bit of hesitant determination, feigning confidence as it began to fade after seeing the guilty look on the brunette’s face. She’d never really spoken to Jamie with anger before. But she’d never been this angry with her before either; She hardly ever got mad at Jamie. And on the rare occasion that she did, it was never this bad.

Jamie just slid her hands behind her back, tucking her fingers into the back pockets of her jeans, standing awkwardly in the open doorway of her apartment while Dani glared daggers at her from less than three feet away. “Okay,” she ducked her head with a slight nod, finally closing and locking the door after Dani turned back around, dropping her backpack in the living room with a thud.

She followed her, keeping her distance for a few reasons. For starters, the last time she saw Dani this pissed off, the blonde had lunged at Lisa Peterson, ready to rip the hair from her scalp for taking a few digs at Jamie. And Jamie wasn’t interested in being on the receiving end of Dani’s wrath, if that was where this was going (not that she expected it to).

Secondly, she’d put so much of a distance between herself and Dani already over the last week. Who knew if Dani even wanted her any closer? And Jamie was terrified of the very idea of Dani moving away if she took even a single step towards her. Even though she had been the one who selfishly (and immaturely) avoided her all week, she couldn’t bear the thought of Dani avoiding her; Even if it was just her refusing to let Jamie closer than a few feet.

And third, she was starving. The stir fry on the stove was calling her name. She knew the closer she got to Dani, there was a higher chance that she would hear the violent growling of her stomach. And if she knew Dani (which she definitely did), she would hold off from yelling at her until she had some food in her. And Jamie would rather just get this over with.

She watched as Dani paced the living room, walking back and forth in front of the coffee table, from one end of the couch to the other. “I...” she started before taking a deep breath, “I didn’t think of what I was gonna say before I drove over here.” She let out a frustrated huff, clenching her fists by her sides.

Maybe it was the purple sweater that was a size or two too big, or maybe it was the juvenile, bright blue scrunchie that had come just loose enough in her hair that blonde strands started to fall in her face. Whatever it was, Jamie couldn’t help but notice how small Dani looked right now, despite how big she was trying to make herself seem.

“You...you can’t just…” the younger woman stopped pacing, turning to face the brunette with an anger that was slowly dissolving into hurt, “You can’t just do that, Jamie. Not with me. We’ve been through too much for you to just…”

Jamie remained still, feeling every word pelting her like snowballs. And not the soft, powdery snowballs either. The kind of snowballs that Denny used to collect and store in the ice box, waiting until they were as hard as baseballs before attacking her with them during their next snowball fight that winter.

“You just left,” Dani’s voice reached a lower decibel as she gestured to the door with an extended arm, “You left and I didn’t hear from you for a week. And...who knows when I would have heard from you again if I hadn’t come here?”

Jamie wanted to make a joke and lighten the mood like she always did. She hated tense situations like this that left her stiff as a board, standing in place like she was now. But she had a feeling that chuckling out a comment about the Taylor women having a habit of disappearing wasn’t going to help her case at all.

“We don’t do that, Jamie, that’s not us,” Dani continued, crossing her arms over her chest. The red hot anger that was radiating off of her was quickly faltering, turning more into a solemn blue sadness, “I know you needed space, but you could have just told me that instead of leaving me wondering if you were done with me! You didn’t even call to let me know you got home okay like you always do, I was worried about you!”

Closing her eyes, Jamie tried to rein in any shreds of placidity she could find within her. She’d never had the most even temper, and it was notorious for getting worse when she was hungry. Along with the hunger, she was exhausted from a long day of negotiations and drawing up numbers at work. And now Dani was here, ripping into her about avoidance and friendship as if she’d never made a mistake in the last nineteen years.

“So you neglecting to call me after the accident was...what?” she crossed her own arms over her black t-shirt. If she were in a more level headspace, the regret of what she said would have hit her much sooner (or she wouldn’t have said it at all). “I mean, I had to hear about that from your mum, of all people. And you didn’t even want me to know! You were just gonna let me carry on with my weekend, oblivious to all of it, and then what? I’d just find out the next time I came back to town?”

Blue eyes widened as her jaw slacked, clearly at a loss for words. “I...th-that’s different…”

“How?” Jamie hated herself more and more with each syllable that made its way out of her mouth. Dani was right. It was different. She was grieving her husband. Not to mention, they’d already talked about it. Dani had apologized and Jamie had brushed it off. But as much as she wanted to believe it when she told herself that it was no big deal, she just couldn’t.

“It’s not the same, but it’s not different, Dani,” she kept going, “You keep telling me that what I did isn’t right, that it’s not us; It’s not what best friends do. But that? How is that any better?”

“I wasn’t in the right state of mind,” the blonde mumbled quickly, shaking her head with intensity in her eyes.

“Well, I haven’t been either this week,” Jamie shot back just as fast, “I’m not saying what I did was right...or even justified, but...you weren’t even going to tell me about Eddie. Just because I didn’t know about it, and wasn’t constantly worrying if you were okay all week doesn’t mean that what you did was any different.”

“It was!” Dani’s voice cracked over the last syllable as tears of frustration shined in the dim living room light, “You had me wondering for days if you were okay, or if you’d ever speak to me again!”

“Well, I had a fucking bomb dropped on me hearing that you spent a whole week alone! And I had to live with the fact that I could’ve come and help with the kids and just been there for you and I didn’t because you didn’t want me there!”

“It’s not that I didn’t want you there, Jamie! I wanted you there more than anything!

“Then why didn’t you call me?!”

“Because you shouldn’t always have to save me! You shouldn’t always have to comfort me and make me feel better!”

Jamie just scoffed, feeling the heat of her own anger trickling from her head to her toes more and more as the conversation went on. “But I’m just supposed to let you kiss me whenever you’re drunk and lonely,” she stated; not finding it necessary to ask a question she already knew the answer to.

Dani stilled; much like she did last week when Jamie accused her of just wanting to experiment. Her fists remained clenched at her sides as her bottom lip trembled. “Jamie…” her voice was barely audible even in the dead silence of the room, “It’s not…”

It was amazing how quickly Jamie’s anger could melt. She’d been mad at plenty of people before, and it always seemed like it would take three to five business days for her to calm down. She’d never been angry with Dani before. Not like this.

The worst fight they’d ever had before this was when they were twelve and Dani had lost Jamie’s favorite book after borrowing it. She hadn’t been mad for long. It wasn’t like it was the only first edition copy of Charlotte’s Web on the planet.

After that, the only time Jamie could remember being truly angry with Dani was when she’d shown up on the doorstep of her foster home uninvited. And even then, she wasn’t angry for long. And she wasn’t really angry at all. Just scared. Because after she showed up, Jamie told Dani the truth about what living there was really like, debunking the lies that she had been telling prevent her from worrying.

But now, even when Jamie was climbing to a level of anger that she’d never reached with Dani before, the fire within her died down immediately when she saw her face crumple with despair before she slumped down onto the couch; body trembling as she hunched over and cried into her hands.

“Dani…” the brunette sighed, running a hand through her hair. This had gotten out of control. Dani was right when she said that this wasn’t like them, but there was a first for everything. Stepping closer, she approached her timidly, hating that she felt timid around Dani at all.

She sat on the edge of the coffee table, flicking her tongue over her dry lips with a tight jaw. She wasn’t used to this. She wasn’t used to not knowing what to do, or what to say. But after everything, she knew that Dani wasn’t thinking correctly. She was confused, lonely, grieving, and Jamie knew all that. She could sympathize with it. But she didn’t want to make anything worse for her in the long run. So she offered the best she could, which was a pair of hands on Dani’s denim-clad knees right in front of her own.

“I hate this,” the blonde picked her head up, revealing the blotchy pink that covered her face and the red tint in her eyes, “I ruined everything. You won’t even come near me anymore.”

Eyebrows knit together as Jamie resisted the strongest urges within her to wipe the endless tear tracks from Dani’s cheeks. “I’m right here,” she whispered and pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, chewing gently as she watched Dani shake her head quickly.

“No. No, this...” she paused, gripping onto the tops of Jamie’s hands that rested atop her knees, “This isn’t what you do, Jamie. I know I tell you all the time that you don’t always have to comfort me and make me feel better, but you’ve never let that stop you before. And now that I—“

“It’s just...complicated,” Jamie interrupted her, turning her palms up under hers until their fingers tangled together. And she hated that something as simple as that—something she wouldn’t have even thought twice about before last week—made her feel like she was crossing a line.

But Dani just sniffled as she squeezed her hands gently, running her thumbs over the sides of hers, “I should have called you after the accident,” her voice quivered through her whispering, “I’m so sorry.”

With a hint of a warm smile, Jamie just squeezed her hands back and nodded, letting her know that she accepted her apology. “And I was a massive prat for avoiding you, so...I’m sorry too.”

She barely saw Dani nod before she was being pulled into a vice grip of a hug, nearly getting choked out by arms covered in purple crochet. It took more strength than it should have, but she managed to wrap her arms around Dani’s waist, realizing how much she missed the feeling of having her in her arms, even if it was just a friendly hug.

They could go back to normal. She knew they could. She was used to having unrequited feelings. She’d made her peace with them, oddly enough. It was Dani’s feelings that she was worried about. And as much as she would love to hash everything out now, she was fucking starving.

“You hungry?” the brunette asked as she pulled back, letting herself reach up to brush away the tears that were still falling from her glassy blue eyes. And after a silent nod of confirmation, Jamie stood up, going to the kitchen to throw two plates of stir fry together. Her wine from earlier was still dripping from the counter to the floor since she never got it properly wiped up, but she could tend to it later. She would have poured herself another glass, or even a glass for both of them like she normally would, but after last week, she figured wine wasn’t the best option.

Rounding the bar counter that separated the kitchen and the living room, Jamie handed Dani a plate and set a glass of water on the coffee table that was littered with water rings. No matter how many coaster sets she’d received for Christmases or birthdays, she never used them.

“Rehydrate, Poppins,” she offered her a lighthearted smile before plopping down on the couch beside her. She unconsciously kept a whole cushion of distance between them as she leaned against the arm with her knees bent up, sighing delightedly as she finally got to eat.

“Can I ask what’s in the backpack? You’re my best friend and all, but if it’s full of weapons you were gonna use to murder me, I might have to call the cops on you,” she teased a bit, extending a leg across the cushions to nudge her with a socked foot. And she was pleased to see that it managed to get even the slightest bit of laughter out of Dani.

“It’s just an overnight bag,” she admitted after a sip of water, “I was planning on staying til we worked everything out, even if it took all weekend.”

“Determined. Don’t know why I’m surprised,” Jamie snorted before taking a sip of her own, “No kids this weekend, then?”

“They’re with Judy.”

“Bloody cruel of you to have Flora leave me a voicemail, by the way,” she smirked, chuckling at the way Dani blushed and tried to hide her guilty smile, “She mad at me?”

“She was a little upset that you weren’t there in the morning like she thought you’d be, but she’s fine. You know she bounces back quick,” the blonde shook her head, gently poking at the vegetables on her plate, “And she made me order your favorite last night just in case you showed up, so there’s a box of barbecue chicken pizza in my fridge with your name on it.”

Jamie nodded with a hidden grin of her own. “Damn, if you had told me that before I would have called you back sooner,” she barely got all the words out before Dani was reaching across the length of the sofa to smack one of Jamie’s shins, scrunching up her face with playful anger.

Slowly but surely, the pieces were falling back into their rightful places.

“So,” Jamie cleared her throat after the laughter of the moment had died down, sitting up a little straighter against the arm of the sofa, “You still planning on spending the night?”

Dani flicked her tongue over her bottom lip and shrugged her shoulders, “If that’s okay.”

The brunette thought it over. They could talk some more, set some boundaries. Dani could take her bed and she could sleep on the couch. She knew Dani would fight it, maybe even get upset at the proposition. Jamie wasn’t too pleased with the idea either, but...they needed boundaries. They’d spent too much of their lives without any, and with everything that had happened recently, she knew that it was the right thing to do. Even if it killed her.

“Of course it is.”