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17 cherry tree lane

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June 2000

Kisses, familiar and warm, were being pecked across Jamie’s face and along the curve of her neck. She wasn’t sure when she’d fallen asleep, but Dani was certainly persistent last night. Neither of them were getting any younger, but Jamie still had fairly decent stamina. Even now, on the first day of her fortieth year.

With a grumble and a stretch of her limbs, Jamie could feel Dani’s lips curl into a smile against hers as they made their way from her neck back up to her lips.

“Morning, birthday girl,” the blonde mumbled into the kiss, giggling when her wife gave a simple, deadpan hum in response.

“Don’t remind me,” she groaned, scrunching her nose at the comment.

Picking her head up, Dani hovered over her, smiling as green eyes blinked open to greet her for the day, “You don’t look a day over twenty-five.”

“Now I know you’re lying to me,” Jamie snorted, “I might as well start getting ready for the nursing home.”

“Oh, come on, you’re only forty,” she murmured between kisses to Jamie’s lips.

“You’ll be eating your words in September. Then again, no one can even tell you’re gonna be forty. If you even have any greys, they all blend in with your hair. Whereas mine are in stark fucking contrast with mine.”

Dani smirked, kissing the corner of her lips as delicate fingers trailed down Jamie’s bare, freckled torso, “I like yours. I told you, you look very distinguished. Very se—“

Jamie grabbed Dani’s wandering hand and quickly rolled her over until she was pinned beneath her, leaving her hunched over on her elbows with a devilish grin. “Easy, tiger. What, five times wasn’t enough for you last night?” she chuckled with a few lingering kisses to her jawline.

“Was it five? I lost count.”

“Must be hard to keep count when you’re nearly passing out after each one,” the brunette chuckled, keeping a smug grin on her face.


“But not wrong.”

“Round six, then?” the younger woman asked expectantly with eagerness in her bright blue eyes.

Jamie snorted and ducked her head into the warm crook of her neck, breathing in the soothing scent of her; strawberry shampoo at all. “I’d say yes if Flora wasn’t going to be home soon.”

“Surely, you’re not talking about our daughter who would sleep until three in the afternoon if no one told her to get up any earlier. That girl hasn’t been an early riser since she started high school,” a thin brow rose on Dani’s forehead, “It’s seven in the morning. We could probably go five more rounds, shower separately, and eat breakfast before she even leaves her friend’s house.”

Jamie chuckled into Dani’s neck, shaking her head a bit before picking it up to meet her eyes again, “One more round. Slow one. Wanna take my time with you,” she grazed her teeth against her jaw, earning an appreciative hum in response.

“It’s your birthday, I should be taking my time with you,” Dani huffed weakly as her hands snaked their way up Jamie’s bare back.

Jamie just smirked against her skin and let her hands roam up and down the soft, warm curves of Dani’s sides. It was pure bliss. The last decade had been, for the most part, pure bliss for them. There were rough patches, of course. Especially in the beginning when the wound of Eddie’s death was still open and fresh. Time, of course, heals all wounds, but not without leaving a scar behind.

There were days when Dani still missed her lifelong friend. Whether she was attracted to him or not, she did love Eddie; Just not in the way everyone thought she should. But regardless of what he was to her, he was still a huge part of her life. He was her best friend and the father of her kids. Even now, nearly ten years since his passing, Dani sometimes still felt an ache in her heart when he came up in conversation.

The only other unhappy times between them came from the stress of work. Jamie was making commutes to Vermont every few weeks to make sure the store was running smoothly. In 1995 she opened a sixth store in Sioux City, and another in Chicago last year; And she already had plans for another in Springfield.

She was in no rush for the Springfield location, though. Her hands had been full enough with all the stores she had under her belt; Full enough that, for a while, she was away from home much more than she wanted to be. All it took for her to delegate some of her responsibilities as the owner of the chain of Leaflings was the single tear that slipped down Dani’s cheek when Jamie had come home late five nights in a row (after calling, of course); and the way she slept turned away from her, not immediately spooning Jamie from behind when she crawled into bed.

After that, things changed. Jamie got her priorities back in order. Dani and the kids always came first to her, but she realized that she had been putting them first the same way Eddie would: by working her ass off to provide for them rather than being there with them. As nice as it felt to be successful, she could never enjoy it knowing that it was tearing her from her family.

Even after all this time, it didn’t feel real, calling Dani and the kids her family. They had always been her family, but now it was more traditional. She wasn’t the cool, fun aunt who stopped by to babysit and let the kids stay up late while their parents weren’t home. Instead she was the parent. Blood related or not, she was a parent to Miles and Flora. She patched up cuts and scrapes with bandages and kisses, she tucked them in with stories read from books or retold from her memories with their mother, she made them dinner and took them to their Saturday activities; Things she’d always done. Only now she was a much more constant fixture in their lives, there every day and night.

Now the kids she once knew and helped raise were practically grown up. Miles, turning twenty later in the year, just finished his sophomore year at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, majoring in computer science. After his moody teen years, he’d mellowed out quite a bit, and now he was thriving at his out-of-state school. Meanwhile Flora, recently fifteen, was learning how to drive, becoming an independent and opinionated young woman. When she was young, she often acted like a tiny fifteen year old while maintaining her youthful innocence. Now that she was fifteen, she was certainly a smart-mouthed teenager, still with a youthful innocence, but with the wisdom and maturity of a woman twice her age. Jamie had never been more proud to call them her kids. Though, claiming them as her own took some time, considering she didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes by doing so.

After nearly ten years with so much changing, Jamie was still amazed at just how little had changed. Even since they were kids, nothing had changed between her and Dani. The transition between friends to lovers had been smooth; Almost too smooth. To a point that they both wondered if they were even dating properly. That line between friendship and romance was so blurry that it hardly felt like a leap from one stage to the next. Similarly with Jamie’s relationship with the kids. Nothing was different, aside from her title. Becoming “Mum” to Miles and Flora, while it felt amazing, didn’t seem to make any difference. She’d always been like a mother to them, already.

“Are you sure it’s okay that I invited my mom to your party?” Dani asked suddenly, pushing Jamie back by her collarbone as she caught her breath.

“Odd time to bring up Karen Clayton,” Jamie chuckled, flicking her tongue over her lips as she refilled her own aching lungs, “It’s fine. Don’t think she hates me nearly as much as she used to anymore.”

“But do you hate her as much as you used to?” a small grin spread on Dani’s face. It was no secret that Jamie and Karen weren’t each other’s biggest fans. They’d become civil (at best) over the years. That was enough. Jamie always said that she didn’t care if Karen liked her or not; Her main concern was how she treated Dani and the kids.

“I think I can put up with her for a few hours,” the brunette chuckled, leaning down to kiss her again, “Just don’t bring her up while you’re naked underneath me again. It’s kind of a mood killer.”

Dani giggled out an apology as her arms wrapped around Jamie’s neck, pulling her in closer.

November 1991

It was a rather solemn holiday for the second year in a row. Dani knew that holidays would never be the same again; Not without Eddie. That didn’t mean that they couldn’t be good or happy, they just wouldn’t be the same. She’d spent every Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, New Years (and so on) with the O’Maras for thirty years; Sometimes with Eddie attached to her hip, sometimes with Jamie attached to the other. But up until last year, she was never without Eddie.

Judy still got sad sometimes. She and Carson were the only O’Maras who ever really showed real emotion about what happened with Eddie. Kevin, Kyle, and Mike were always more stoic, believing that emotions equated to weakness; Something that Dani, regrettably, let Eddie pass down to Miles. It was no different this year, watching the three oldest O’Maras pretend that everything was fine over glasses of bourbon. Meanwhile, Carson and Jamie entertained all the kids upstairs, Bobby mingled with Kyle and Kevin’s wives in the dining room, and Dani was helping Judy prepare Thanksgiving dinner for everyone. Every year prior, Karen would be here with them, rolling the puppy chow around in powdered sugar or sipping her fifth glass of wine in the corner. But Karen’s absence (as peaceful as it may have been) was just another missing piece to Dani’s typical Thanksgiving.

“Dani? Can you pass me the turkey baster, sweetheart?” Judy offered Dani a kind smile, snapping her out of her thoughts as she mashed cranberries on the counter beside the sink.

“Oh, yeah, I-I’m sorry,” the blonde nodded frantically and reached for the baster with suddenly trembling fingers, quickly wiping away the tear she didn’t realize was making a slow trail down her cheek, “I’m sorry.”

Judy just sent her a tight-lipped smile, taking the turkey baster from her hands before giving her a gentle shoulder squeeze; knowing what she was thinking. “It’s okay to be upset that she’s not here, sweetie.”

Dani shook her head and turned back to the mashed cranberries, “I just…I wish she wouldn’t take her anger at me out on the kids. They didn’t do anything wrong. They’re used to seeing her at least once a week and now…they’re lucky if they get to see her once a month.”

“No, she’s lucky if she gets to see them,” Judy corrected her with a soft firmness that Dani almost never heard, “Miles and Flora are her only grandchildren. And you’re her only child. She should feel lucky that you want to keep her in your lives after the fit she threw at Flora’s party.”

Dani swallowed thickly, remembering how her mother was not only awful to her and Jamie at Flora’s birthday party back in May, but she was awful to Judy, to Carson, and she didn’t even say goodbye to the kids before storming out and heading home to likely drink herself into a stupor. There were times when Dani wondered why she was crying about her at all.

“Listen, I know I’m not your mother. I would have loved to have a daughter like you, Dani, and I’m so glad that you and Edmund were so close. Even if you…didn’t feel that way about him, you always were, and always will be my daughter-in-law,” Judy brushed some stray hairs from Dani’s ponytail back from her shoulder, “You, Jamie, the kids…you’re always welcome here. Nothing will ever change that.”

Dani nodded again, wiping a few more tears with the back of her hand before the older woman pulled her into a tight hug. Judy sighed a few words of reassurance in her ear as she rubbed her back and kissed her temple. “I just can’t believe that…that after everything, of all people, you still accept me just the same as always. I mean if it weren’t for me—“

“You were honest with yourself and with him,” Judy pulled back to look into her eyes seriously, “What happened wasn’t your fault. I would never blame you for that, and you need to stop blaming yourself as well.”

“Jamie says the same thing. All the time,” the blonde sniffled with a watery burst of soft laughter.

“She’s always been a smart girl,” Judy grinned, “And she loves you very much. If Edmund couldn’t be what you needed…I’m happy you have her.”

Nodding again, Dani wiped at her eyes and smiled at the kiss that was pressed to her forehead.

“Everything okay in here?” Jamie came through the kitchen doorway, looking between the two women curiously.

“Fine,” Judy widened her grin and squeezed Dani’s shoulder once more before the doorbell rang through the house, “I’ll go get that.”

Jamie smiled at Judy as she left the kitchen with an affectionate squeeze to her own shoulder before looking back at Dani, watching as she quickly composed herself. “You all right, Poppins?”

“Mmhm,” she nodded in return, smiling contently when Jamie came closer and wrapped her in a hug with a kiss to the side of her neck, “Just a hard day, that’s all.”

“Well, let me know if you need to sneak away for a minute,” the brunette smirked, “Could use a smoke break, myself.”

Dani released a gentle puff of laughter and shook her head, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Hello, Danielle,” a familiar voice broke the brief silence that followed, causing them both to turn and face the source of the noise.

“Mom?” the blonde pulled away from Jamie instinctively in the presence of her mother in the doorway, “What are you—“

“I…brought buckeyes and puppy chow,” she offered, holding up the serving bowls topped with cling wrap, clearing her throat as she straightened her posture, “Judy said I was welcome as long as you were all right with it.”

Dani could see that her mother was a bit offended that her invitation to Thanksgiving dinner at her friend’s house was left in her daughter’s hands. Karen never liked to give Dani options or power of any kind. And now here she was at her daughter’s mercy. Looking at Jamie beside her, Dani silently asked what her girlfriend thought. The look in her eyes told her that the decision was in her hands; that she didn’t mind either way.

“I…I guess you can stay, but…I want you to spend time with Miles and Flora,” she squared her shoulders bravely as she turned back to face Karen, “To…make up for some of the time that you haven’t seen them.”

Karen nodded slowly as Judy grinned proudly at Dani from behind her, “Of course.”

“And I’d like you to apologize to Jamie,” the younger woman crossed her arms defensively over her chest, “I think she deserves at least that much from you after how…horribly you’ve treated her. Not just recently, but since we were kids.”

Jamie ducked her head beside her, hiding her amused grin so Karen couldn’t see how she was silently cheering Dani on.

“Anything else, Danielle?” Karen tightened her jaw.

Biting the inside of her cheek, she wondered what else she could request. A small part of her wanted to test just how desperate her mother was to be here. But she wasn’t vengeful. She just wanted justice for the people in her life that Karen had hurt in the past. As much as she wanted an apology from her mother for herself, she knew that it would just fall on her own deaf ears. However there was one more thing…

“Please stop calling me Danielle. Nobody calls me that anymore besides you. It’s ‘Dani’. Danielle…doesn’t feel like me, it never has,” her request came out in an exasperated sigh, like a breath she’d been holding in for half her life.

“Dani,” the older woman tested it out on her tongue before she nodded curtly with a deep inhale, “All right.”

Nodding back, Dani allowed a small grin to cross her face as she stepped forward to take the serving bowls from her mother’s hands to set them on the kitchen counter.

“Well,” Judy piped up with her usual cheerful grin, “Dinner will be ready in about an hour. Karen, Miles and Flora are upstairs with the other kids, I’m sure they’d love to see you.”

“Thank you, Judy,” the older blonde gave her a small, polite smile before turning to leave the kitchen, giving her daughter and Jamie one last glance before she did.

June 2000

“I feel bloody useless, let me help,” Jamie huffed, crossing her arms over her chest as she watched Dani vacuum under her legs that were propped up on the square coffee table in the middle of the sunken living room.

“Nope, sorry. No cleaning on your birthday,” Dani shook her head, speaking loud enough to hear over the loud hum of the vacuum suction and giggling at the pout on her wife’s face. “Hey, no pouting on your birthday either,” she scolded gently after switching the machine off. After wrapping up the cord, she put the vacuum aside and perched herself on Jamie’s lap, sighing contently when the brunette wrapped her arms around her waist and held her close.

“Love you, y’know,” she smirked, leaning up to kiss her slowly, “You’re much too good to me.”

“You’re my wife, it’s my job,” Dani giggled against her lips. There was nothing ‘official’ about their marriage. There was no legal documentation, there was no ceremony of any kind to show their relationship off to their friends and family. It was just them and a pair of Claddagh rings over the last five years, and the rest fell into place naturally. “You’re too good to me, too,” she hummed, resting against her forehead.

“Treat you the way you deserve to be treated,” Jamie smirked, “No such thing as ‘too good’ for you.”

“Well, maybe I feel the same way about you. And that means not letting you clean on your birthday,” Dani pecked her lips playfully before climbing off her lap to put the vacuum away.

Jamie rolled her eyes and watched her round the corner to the hall closet. “House is clean, get back in here and lay with me before people start showing up,” she called, already laying down on the couch cushions.

“And you call me clingy,” Dani came back into the living room with a sly grin before draping herself comfortably over Jamie with a sigh of contentment.

“Cause you are.”

Dani lightly slapped her shoulder, earning a hearty laugh in response before she tucked herself into Jamie’s neck and curled against her. Sometimes, like now, it hit her out of nowhere that this was what she wanted. This house, this unconditional love, this closeness; It was all she’d ever wanted, and it was all hers. It was overwhelming, knowing that she was part of the rare few that were actually happy with their lives. Sure, there were things she still wanted. She wanted to be able to hold hands with Jamie at the mall or kiss her whenever she felt like it in public. She wanted the pang of guilt and grief she still felt every October to finally fade. She also wanted to retile their bathroom and get new patio furniture for the backyard. But she doubted that any of those things would make her any happier than she already was. She had everything she needed.

“What do you think you’d be doing right now if anything had happened differently?” she asked quietly, running her thumb across Jamie’s collarbone over the V-neck of her t-shirt

“Depends on what happened differently,” Jamie shrugged, reaching a hand up to run her fingers through the long blonde hair against Dani’s back, “No point in thinking about though, is there? What’s happened has happened, and we’re here now. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Picking her head up, Dani grinned softly down at her, running a fingertip over the bridge of her freckled nose. “You wouldn’t change anything?”

“I’d probably eat more damn carrots as a kid if it would save me from having to wear reading glasses,” she offered, “I’d have spent more time with Mikey while I could and tried to keep him out of trouble. Wish the kids didn’t have to lose their dad in order for us to be together, but…can’t change the past.”

“Do you think we’d end up here no matter what?”

“Like to think we would. I knew you’d end up here, in this house.”

“How did you know?”

“Just knew,” she shrugged, “You seemed so sure of it that I started to believe it too. Told you, I’d make it happen for you if it came down to it.”

Dani’s lips curled into a warm smile before she melded them against Jamie’s, feeling her heart grow another few sizes to accommodate the growing amounts of that love she harbored for her.

July 1993

Jamie huffed as she brought in another box, dropping it carefully onto the kitchen counter before wiping the sweat from her brow. Along with a few other fragile boxes of dishes and trinkets, she had brought a few things from the apartment across town in her truck, not trusting the movers with Dani’s grandmother’s fine china that never got used.

This was it. They were officially moved into their new and improved house at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Dani’s apartment that she’d lived in with the kids for two years was emptied out. Jamie’s apartment in the city had been emptied out and sold as well. All her furniture and belongings that they didn’t need duplicates of at the house were moved into the space above the original Leafling for Mikey when he’d been released from prison, giving him a space of his own where he could learn to stand on his own two feet and support himself.

“Think that’s all of it,” Jamie brushed the dirt from her hands with a successful huff, looking around the open living space of the first floor while the kids unpacked their rooms upstairs. “Dani?” she called out, wondering where her girlfriend had disappeared to. She had been putting throw pillows on the box sofa in the sunken conversation pit in the living room last she saw her.

“Over here,” the blonde called out, sounding nearly blissful.

Rounding the kitchen island, Jamie stepped from tile to carpet as she moved to the living room to follow Dani’s voice. Peering over the back of the couch, she found the blonde lying on her back, spread out and practically making snow angels in the ivory shag carpet. “What are you doing?” she chuckled, climbing over the back of the couch. The conversation pit had a small set of stairs, but Jamie couldn’t be bothered to use them when slinking onto the couch from the back was so much faster.

“It’s real, Jamie. The house is…it’s real. It’s here and it’s ours,” Dani breathed, staring up at the ceiling in awe. It reminded Jamie so much of when they were kids, lying on the grass in her backyard, staring into the vast endlessness of space over their heads.

Lowering herself to the floor beside her, Jamie just smiled warmly down at her girlfriend. This was the reason she had the house rebuilt. The look of absolute disbelief on Dani’s face, like it was all too good to be true, that was what Jamie loved to see. She loved seeing her best friend so happy that she bordered on skeptical. “Appears to be,” she mumbled quietly, sinking down to lay beside her with her head propped up by her elbow.

Dani, not caring that Jamie was a sweaty mess from moving boxes in the mid-summer heat, rolled onto her side as well, reaching across the short distance for an eager kiss. “I love you,” she breathed against her lips, squeezing her hand against the taut muscles of her shoulder.

“Love you, too,” Jamie bit her lip shyly, “Quite a bit, in fact.”

“I would assume so, after you managed to do all this. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this was all just a really elaborate plan to get in my pants.”

The brunette released a raspy laugh and kissed down to her chin and jaw, “You caught me.” Dani’s breath tickled her ear when she giggled and tucked her face into the curve of her neck. “So,” she pulled back with a kiss between her eyes, “What’s your next goal? Now that you’ve seen the ocean and gotten your dream house.”

Humming in thought, Dani laid back down to stare up at the ceiling as if it had the answers written down for her. “I still wanna finish school and get my degree. I’d still love to be an elementary school teacher. Not that I don’t love the kids I work with now,” she sighed as Jamie nodded in understanding, “I wanna take the kids to Disney World. I always wanted to go when I was a kid. My dad never got to go Disneyland. He wanted to take me to Disney World when he heard about it being built in Florida.”

Jamie swallowed the lump in her throat that always seemed to rise up when Dani talked about her dad. She couldn’t help but wonder what Dani’s life would be like if her dad hadn’t died. Jamie never knew him, but from Dani’s stories, she knew he was the best father a kid could ask for. One of the first things Dani did when they got the keys to the house was place a photo of her father right in the center of the mantle. This was his house too, and they wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him.

“That can be arranged, I think,” the brunette smiled, “What else?”

“Those are my big two,” Dani shrugged before lulling her head to the side to face her, “What about you?”

Jamie twisted her lips a bit as she thought. She hated this kind of question. She hated it when she was little, being asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She hated being asked what she wanted for her future when she was a teenager. The vine of moonflowers on her bicep were symbolic of her ‘live for today because tomorrow isn’t promised’ mindset. Even in college, when she’d decided to major in business, she never planned for the life she had now.

“Sorry, I know you don’t like talking about the future,” Dani shook her head as her smile faltered.

“No, I’m just thinking,” Jamie reassured her gently, “Not really used to thinking too hard about it. I don’t really have goals, just…things I want. And if they happen, then they happen. And if not, then…they don’t.”

“So what do you want?”

She shrugged a shoulder, pursing her lips together in the most nonchalant ‘Jamie’ fashion, “Wanna open some more stores, I guess. Maybe one in Chicago or St. Louis. Wanna see you get your degree and take the kids to Disney.”

Dani laughed and rolled to face her again, “You can’t steal my goals and turn them into yours,” she inched forward and placed herself above her girlfriend so blonde hair covered them like a curtain as she laid kiss after giggling kiss around her face.

“I wanna marry you,” Jamie blurted between kisses, feeling Dani freeze above her before pulling herself back far enough to meet her eyes.


“Not…anytime soon, obviously. I mean, unless the government gets its shite together and stops acting like gay people are some kind of alien race tomorrow, but if it’s ever lega—“ her rambling was cut off by soft but eager lips covering hers once more as Dani cupped the side of her face in one hand, keeping her close with the stroke of her thumb against her cheek.

“You mean that?” she asked in a whisper, breathless after the seemingly endless kisses that came after Jamie’s confession.

Jamie flicked her tongue across her lips and nodded slowly, “Yeah, I do. Like I said, I’d marry you tomorrow if I could.”

Perpetually pink cheeks flushed a deeper shade at Jamie’s words as Dani failed to hide her smile, “Me too.”



“Good to know,” she smirked, leaning up to kiss her again, “But I think for now, we should focus on getting this place set—”

“Wally, no! That’s mine! Mummy, Wally took Blueberry!” Flora cried frantically just as the golden retriever came barreling down the floating staircase and crashed into a stack of boxes full of linens, knocking them over as he ran to his bed in the corner of the corner of the living room with the old blue teddy bear in his mouth.

“You sure you wanna live with us in this chaos?” Dani giggled, looking back at Jamie as Flora came running down the stairs yelling for someone to save her beloved bear.

“It’s a little late to turn back now, isn’t it?” Jamie chuckled, laughing harder when she earned herself a playful punch to the shoulder before Dani got up from the floor to calm her daughter down.

June 2000

“Mikey should be here soon,” Dani smiled up at Jamie from where they were reclining together on the couch.

“Greeeattttt,” the older woman rolled her eyes.

“Hey, he’s your little brother, be nice,” she slapped gently at Jamie’s collarbone, “Be lucky you have siblings at all.”

Jamie just chuckled and shook her head, taking a deep breath that sent Dani slowly up and down on her chest. Mikey was always the annoying little brother she never wanted, but she’d never admit out loud that she appreciated him. He was thirty-seven years old, but he kept her young, bringing her back to childhood every time they were together by acting like the annoying eight year old he once was.

He was a grown man, living his own life (the life of a bachelor, apparently since he showed no interest in settling down with any of the girlfriends he’d had over the years). He worked at The Leafling for years after he was released from prison back in 1992; But since then, he’d followed his dream path and gotten a job at the planetarium in Des Moines. It wasn’t NASA, but he got to spend his days looking at stars and planets; a hobby that he’d been robbed of for years in his time behind bars. It wasn’t the best job, he wasn’t the most successful man in his group of friends, but he loved it. That was what mattered. And Jamie was so proud of him (not that she would ever admit it to him in those exact words).

“God, he’s here,” Jamie groaned and moved to sit up, taking Dani up with her.

“I still don’t understand how you can tell. Is that like a sibling thing? Luke and Nellie do that too, but they’re twins.”

“Yeah, I get nausea and a sense of impending doom when he’s nearby,” Jamie managed to say with a straight face after hearing a car door closing in their driveway.

The front door opened moments later. “I hope you’re both fully clothed this time,” Mikey came through the front door with a hand over his eyes, carrying a large wrapped box under his other arm.

“Wouldn’t be an issue for you in the first place if you would learn to knock before coming in,” Jamie rolled her eyes as her brother let himself into the house, “That key’s for emergencies.”

“This is an emergency, I need a wee.”


“I always try to be,” he set her gift down as the two women got up from the couch to greet him properly. “Hi, Dani,” he hugged his sister-in-law with a smile, resting his chin on the top of her head.

“Hey, how’ve you been? I feel like we haven’t seen you in forever,” she grinned up at him after squeezing him tightly around his middle.

“Been all right. Work, mostly,” he answered with a shrug before turning his hug onto Jamie, “How’s being old feel?”

The brunette punched him in the gut without a moment of hesitation, smirking when he let out an undignified yelp upon impact. “Feels the same as it does every year you ask me that,” she murmured, squirming away from the brotherly kisses he was attempting to smother her with, “Get the fuck off of me. Christ, you make me miss Denny and his birthday wedgies. Didn’t you need to pee?”

“Right. Be right back,” he took off towards the bathroom around the corner, leaving the two women standing in the entryway.

“Put the seat down when you’re done!” Jamie snorted and shook her head, though, not without an affectionate smile, “Two years til he’s forty and he still acts like a teenage boy. No wonder he can’t keep a girlfriend.”

“Be nice,” Dani smacked her arm gently with a giggle, “You couldn’t keep a girlfriend either.”

“I didn’t want a girlfriend. Big difference,” Jamie corrected her smugly as Dani draped her arms over her shoulders, connecting them behind her neck, “Only girl I was willing to do the ‘girlfriend’ thing with was taken.”

“Shame,” the younger woman pouted teasingly, “Cause you make a pretty great girlfriend.”

Made,” Jamie corrected her again as she reached back for her left hand to toy with the ring around her finger, reminding her that she wasn’t her girlfriend anymore. In the eyes of the law, maybe that’s all they were, but in their eyes, they were just as happily married as anyone else, if not more.

“You’re right, I’m sorry, you made a great girlfriend. You make an even better wife,” Dani hummed through a giggle before kissing Jamie’s smiling lips.

“Not so bad yourself,” the brunette chuckled into the kiss and pulled her closer by the bend of her hips. But, of course…

A dramatic retching noise had them instinctively pulling apart, flushed from the embarrassment of being caught like a pair of rebellious teenagers. “Just once, I wanna walk into a room and not catch you two snogging,” Mikey came back out from the hallway.

“You are such a pain in my ass, why did you invite him?” Jamie pinched the bridge of her nose and shook her head as she turned to Dani.

“Because he’s family.”

“Not by choice,” she mumbled under her breath, practically pouting on her way back to the couch, climbing over the back like she’d been doing since their first day in this house (despite Dani’s protests).

“Whoa, careful,” Mikey held a hand out towards her with a sly smirk, “Don’t need you breaking a hip— Ah!” He was cut off by a decorative throw pillow flying towards his face, causing him to laugh as he dodged the next one and the next.

“Jamie, I just cleaned, go pick those up!” Dani scolded, pointing to the throw pillows that now scattered the floor by Mikey’s feet.

“Yeah, Jamie, pick those up,” Mikey chuckled.

“I’m gonna kill him, I swear to god,” Jamie sucked in a deep, cleansing breath through her nose as she got up.

Dani shook her head and rolled her eyes, standing with her hands firmly on her hips. “Pick up the pillows. Mikey, stop teasing your sister. You two are worse than Miles and Flora.”

January 1993

Jamie had a temper. She was very easily frustrated. It was of the unfortunate traits she’d inherited from both her parents. She could keep it at bay for certain people. When Miles and Flora were working her last nerve with their constant bickering, she could keep her mouth shut. When Dani overwatered her plants again, she could bite her tongue. But when her not-so-little brother was struggling to learn how to use the cash register behind the counter at The Leafling (despite being told over and over how to use it), she could feel herself starting to lose her cool.

“Which button is it again?” Mikey asked, bringing a hand up to rake frustratedly over his curly hair.

“The green one,” the older Taylor sibling huffed. She was grateful that it was a Sunday when they were closed to the public. Training Mikey on the cash register was turning out to be much more frustrating than she’d expected. “And which button adds in the sales tax?”

Mikey stared down at the register, making it very obvious that he was thinking hard about it. His jaw was visibly clenching and the vein in his temple was rising under his flushed skin. “I don’t…I don’t know,” he shook his head.

“Mate, we’ve been over this so many times,” Jamie pinched the bridge of her nose, feeling her blood pressure rising. Mikey was smart, she knew he was; And she knew that he struggled with learning since he was little. She just never knew how to help him. She was training him the same way she trained anyone else on the cash register, but he was the only one who just couldn’t grasp it.

“Can’t I just stick to sweeping up and cleaning like I did yesterday? I’m not gonna get this. And you’re clearly ready to kill me for not getting it.”

“No. You can do this, I know you can. You could run this whole place, but you have to focus!”

“I am focusing!”

“Obviously not if you still can’t remember what button opens the fucking register!”

“I’m trying, Jamie!”

“Try harder, then!”

“Hey,” a gentle voice joined the mix with the jingle of the bell over the door. Somehow, not even the sight of Dani coming towards them with two steaming styrofoam cups of tea could calm Jamie down completely, “What’s going on?” She greeted Jamie with a kiss and rounded the corner to hug Mikey. Along with the tense looks on their faces, the silence that followed was enough to tell her what she needed to know.

She had a feeling that training Mikey on the register today wasn’t going to go very well. As the person who used to always help him with his homework, Dani knew from experience how Mikey struggled to learn and retain new information. And learning how to run a cash register, mixing math, unfamiliar technology, and customer service, was an extremely underappreciated skill.

“Mikey, why don’t you go take a break. I think you both need to cool off. Come back in about an hour, okay?” Dani rubbed his back over his flannel shirt, smiling when he nodded and brushed past his sister to escape to the apartment above the flower shop, thanking Dani for the tea on his way.

Jamie was glad that she’d decided to keep the living space above them that she once called home. It was perfect for her brother to learn how to live on his own and take care of himself as an adult; All while still being close enough for Jamie to keep an eye on him and help him if he needed it. And she loved that she was able to help him get back on his feet after finally being released from prison last month.

When the back door closed firmly behind her brother, Jamie slumped down against the counter with her head in her hands as Dani shed her winter coat. “I can’t do this, I can’t teach him how to do this.”


“He’s smart, he’s so fucking smart, Dani—“

“I know—“

“—But he just doesn’t get shit sometimes. How is he supposed to survive on his own without knowing how to do something as simple as operating a cash register?”

“Hey,” Dani rounded the counter again to pull her girlfriend into her arms, soothing her quietly, “You struggled at first too, remember?”

“Yeah, but I was fifteen. He’s in his thirties.”

“This is still his first job, Jay,” Dani spoke gently, trying to reason with her.

Jamie pulled back and shook her head, raking her fingers through the curls that were falling over her face, “I know, I know, I just…I want him to succeed, y’know? I don’t want the fact that he spent years in prison to be what keeps him from having a good future.”

“He needs your support more than anything.”

“I gave him a job and put a roof over his head—“

“You know what I mean. He needs your patience and understanding, Jamie,” Dani shook her head, her face and tone turning more serious through the softness, “He needs you to be his sister, not his social worker or his manager.”

Jamie tapped her fingers anxiously on the counter, thinking over Dani’s words before the blonde wrapped her twitching fingers comfortingly in her own.

“I know it’s hard. I tutored him all the time, remember?” she offered a slight smile, “You might just have to try a different technique.”

Jamie sighed and nodded before she turned to face her, defeated, “Any ideas?”

Dani leaned over to kiss her slowly, “I’ll ask my mom to keep the kids a little longer so I can stay and help. Or at least play peacekeeper between you two.”

“Anyone ever tell you you’re an angel?” Jamie chuckled against her lips, grateful that the shades on the door and windows were pulled to shield them from the world outside.

“A few times.”

“Good, cause it’s true,” Jamie kissed her again.

June 2000

“I’m home!” Flora called out over the jingling of her loaded keyring. Apparently having more fluffy and beaded keychains than keys was the coolest new thing. She was such a typical teenager. Sassy and quick-witted with a bit of a wild streak. She craved individuality while still wanting to fit in with her peers. She loved the Spice Girls and Sabrina the Teenage Witch like her friends, but she also loved ABBA and Blondie and curling up with her moms for old reruns of Three’s Company. Without even being biased, Dani and Jamie thought she was the most interesting teenager either of them had ever met. Combined with her charisma and talent, they were sure that Flora was going to be famous one day.

“Uncle Mikey!” she gasped and dropped her backpack, racing towards the living room to run and hug her uncle who stood up to greet her.

“Hey, kid. Swear, you get taller every time I see you,” he ruffled the crown of her wavy hair before sitting back down, “Almost taller than your mums now, yeah?”

“Almost,” she giggled up at him.

“Better stay that way, too,” Jamie grumbled.

“How was the slumber party?” Dani asked with a grin, keeping her head propped on her arm against the back cushion of the couch.

Flora shrugged, muttering, “It was okay,” before plopping down on the couch between Dani and Jamie just as she always had. “Happy birthday, Mum,” the fifteen year old wrapped an arm around Jamie in a tight hug, smiling against her shoulder.

Jamie just grinned and thanked her quietly as she pulled back, peering down at the familiar t-shirt she was wearing. Debbie Harry’s face was faded on her torso and the sleeves no longer fell to her elbows. It was crazy to think that there was once a time that Flora could wear the “magic shirt” as a dress. “You stealing my clothes again? You’re as bad as your mother, I’ll have you know.”

“It’s my favorite. And my friends all think it’s cool and vintage!”

Shaking her head with a snort, Jamie peered around her daughter towards Dani, “You hear that, Poppins? The band we loved in high school is considered ‘vintage’. Anyone else wanna call me old today?”

“You’re not old, Mum. Nana says you’re only as old as you feel,” Flora smiled up at her.

“In that case, I’m in my nineties,” the brunette snorted out a laugh and poked Flora’s side before listening to her talk about the slumber party she’d gone to the night before. Sometimes she couldn’t believe that the little girl she’d once considered to be her niece was now her daughter. Flora had always been incredibly smart. Even at six years old, when she first started calling Jamie “Mum”, she was smart enough to understand that her ‘aunt’ could be another mother to her. She wasn’t as confused as they assumed most kids would be in her position.

“I love you like I love Mummy and Daddy,” Flora had stated clearly after the first time “Mum” had fallen purposefully from her lips. Jamie had told her right then and there that Flora didn’t have to call her that if she didn’t want to. She was perfectly fine with still being her “Aunt Jamie”. But Flora already had her mind made up, and Jamie had been “Mum” to her ever since.

Miles hadn’t been so quick to stop calling her “Aunt Jamie”, which the brunette didn’t mind. She knew that, being older, he had more on his mind and more critical thinking skills than his sister. He had more guilt and more empathy; More fear of how it would make others feel if he started referring to Jamie as a mom. He didn’t want to let his dad down, he didn’t want to upset Judy or Mike by claiming another parent in Eddie’s place. Despite how many times he’d been told, by multiple people, that he didn’t need to feel pressured into anything, it seemed that he struggled the most with himself. He internalized a lot of his feelings, which Jamie was very familiar with; especially as a young teenager. So, she never pushed him to call her anything. As long as he was fine with having her around, that was all she needed.

September 1994

“All right, you two know the drill, go wash your hands and start your homework,” Jamie sighed as she opened the door from the garage.

She’d just picked the kids up from their after school activities after dropping Dani off at the community college. Now that she was taking night classes to finally complete her degree, Jamie was left in charge of the kids a few nights a week. She didn’t mind. Even before they all lived together, Jamie knew all about their routines, their temperaments, the foods they didn’t like and what desserts to offer in exchange for eating them. Some afternoons were easier than others. Most of the time, Miles and Flora got right to work on their homework, ate their dinner without much of a fight, and were fast asleep in bed by the time Dani was dropped off back at home by one of her classmates.

They were making it all work, as inconvenient as some of it may have been. Dani hated not getting to tuck her kids in and kiss them goodnight, but she trusted Jamie to make sure they were taken care of.

“Can we have brownies after dinner?” Flora asked, already headed towards the floating staircase after dropping her backpack by the door.

Jamie chuckled and shook her head, “We’ll see. You’ve gotta eat all your broccoli first.”

“Broccoli?” the fourth grader pulled a face, “But, Mum—“

“No ‘but mum’s, go on,” Jamie kissed the top of her head, sending her up the stairs before turning to Miles. His nose was still buried in his Gameboy as it had been the whole car ride home. “Hey,” she called gently, “Save your game and start your homework, c’mon.”

“One minute.”

“No, this minute,” Jamie corrected him firmly, taking the Gameboy from his hands, “I’ll save it for you. Go wash your hands and then come back down and start your homework.”

With a roll of his blue eyes, the thirteen year old huffed and started for the stairs, grumbling out a sarcastic “yes, Mum,” on his way.

Jamie shook her head with a hidden amused grin. It wasn’t the first time he’d called her that with sarcasm. In fact, on the handful of occasions he’d called her “mum”, it was always with sarcasm after she bossed him around. She was used to it by now.

Saving his game for him, she turned the handheld console off and placed it in the kitchen junk drawer before starting on dinner. Dani had a very specific menu set for every night of week, and tonight’s dinner was baked chicken with broccoli and rice. Thankfully, not too complicated. Jamie was so used to cooking for herself for so long, cooking for four took some time to adjust to.

The kids came down soon to work on their homework at the kitchen table. Thankfully, they were both great at math, so they didn’t need help with that. Jamie may have been a business owner who had to take several math classes in college, but she still felt her skin crawl at the very idea of the algebra Miles was learning or Flora’s fractions and long division.

Covering the broccoli to let it steam, Jamie checked on the chicken and sighed before fluffing up the rice.

“Mum, can you read this and make sure it sounds okay?” Miles came into the kitchen, holding a paper close to his chest.

Jamie turned to him, leaning back against the counter with her arms crossed and suspicion on her face. “You trying to prank me or something?” she asked, turning her eyes to accusingly thin slits.

“No…I just wanna make sure it sounds okay,” he shrugged, “It’s part of my book report on Lord Of The Flies.”

Jamie was usually good at reading body language. She’d known Miles since before he could even hold his own head up. Since he started going through the curse of puberty, he’d gotten a bit better at hiding his feelings. She could still read him pretty easily, but the fact that he called her “Mum” so genuinely without a hint of sarcasm or mischief had thrown her off guard.

“Okay,” she crossed the space between them and gently took the paper from his hands, briefly looking up at him from his scratchy handwriting. He averted his eyes to the floor like he was embarrassed, nervous about her reaction to him calling her “mum” genuinely for the first time.

“I’ll let you know what I think,” she told him gently, ruffling his hair with a smile, “Go do the rest of your homework.”

“Okay,” he nodded, hesitating to step back towards the table. She’s never seen him look so nervous in his life.

“Hey, look at me,” she placed a hand on his shoulder, lowering herself to meet his eyes, “It’s all good. Okay? It’s all good.”

He nodded again, letting her squeeze his shoulder before he went back to the kitchen table.

June 2000

Dani ran her hand gently up and down Jamie’s forearm as she held her hand, curled up beside her on the couch as she had a chat with her brother. Jamie and Mikey reminded her so much of Miles and Flora. They got on each other's nerves and bickered constantly, but there was a fierce level of love and protection that Dani never had as a child. Tagging along with Eddie or Jamie in their families wasn’t quite the same as having real siblings, but she loved all of them as if they were really her brothers.

“We just got new equipment for the theater,” Mikey continued after the conversation had transitioned into their work from whatever it was before. Dani had been a little too lost in thought to pay attention, but she smiled at the younger Taylor sibling, knowing how proudly he spoke of his job at the planetarium in the city, “The picture is so much clearer, it makes what we had before look awful. And to think, we used to have the latest technology.”

“You still putting people to sleep with your presentations?” Jamie reached a foot over to gently kick his shin, making him roll his eyes.

“That happened one time. And she was in her eighties, that doesn’t count,” he kicked her back.

Jingling keys got their attention again as Miles came through the door with the mail between his teeth. “Hey,” he greeted the three of them after putting the mail on the table in the entryway.

“Thanks for slobbering all over my birthday cards, mate,” Jamie chuckled as she got up to greet him, hugging him tightly around the shoulders. She hadn’t made peace with the fact that he towered over her now, but she’d accepted it enough to not feel the need to mention it every time she saw him now.

“Happy birthday, Mum,” rolled his eyes and set his suitcase aside before greeting his uncle and hugging Dani tightly

“Hi, baby. I thought Rachel was coming with you,” Dani hugged him back before pulling back with curiously knit brows. She actually really liked Miles’s girlfriend. Flora adored and looked up to her ever since Miles first brought her home during their junior year of high school.

“She said ‘happy birthday’, but she went to visit her grandma in Virginia. I guess she’s not doing so well. I might send her some flowers.”

“Of course, just let me know what she likes,” Jamie pat his shoulder with a nod.

“Where’s Rachel?” Flora came down the stairs with an orange tabby cat in her arms.

“In Virginia. Nice to see you too, Flora,” Miles waved at her with a roll of his eyes.

“Hey, stink face,” she deadpanned, disappointed that her brother’s girlfriend hadn’t come with him.

“Getting a little old for name-calling, aren’t you, booger breath?” the nineteen year old scoffed at his sister with a smirk.

Dani sighed and shook her head, “Be nice, both of you.”

Miles stiffened quickly when the cat jumped from Flora’s arms and approached him to rub against his legs. Daisy had always been affectionate with him despite his obvious distaste for her. He wasn’t exactly a cat person, it turned out. Even now that Daisy was the only pet he had, he still wouldn’t warm up to her. Wally had been put down a few years ago not long after Flora’s twelfth birthday. It devastated everyone, but Miles had taken it the hardest.

“I still don’t understand why she likes you so much,” Flora said with a huff as she crossed her arms over her chest, “I always took the best care of her when we got her.”

“Probably because you’re overbearing and you smother her.”

“I do not!”

“You definitely do.”

“Okay, we’re not starting this already,” Dani got between them with a chuckle, “Miles go put your things in your bedroom. Flora, please take Daisy upstairs, Grandma will be here soon, and you know she’s allergic.”

Miles nodded and wheeled his suitcase towards the stairs as Flora picked the cat up again, muttering about how she would’ve named her Daffodil if she had known that Miles wouldn’t want anything to do with her.

May 1994

“We have one more present for you,” Dani couldn’t hold back the intense smile that spread to her ears as she led her daughter down the hall to her and Jamie’s bedroom. The newly nine year old’s party had ended not too long ago. The last of their guests (a few of Flora’s friends from school and a few members of their family) had left after helping to clean up around the spacious backyard and pool behind the house; And now that the little family of four was finally alone again, Dani and Jamie were ready to give Flora her last gift of the day.

“How come I don’t even know what it is yet?” Miles tagged along behind where Dani was guiding Flora by the shoulders as she covered her eyes.

“Cause it’s a present for you too, munchkin,” Jamie poked his back with the tip of her finger, chuckling when the thirteen year old squirmed away from her. He nearly stepped on Wally’s paw as he pranced alongside him; apparently also eager to see what the mysterious present was. Though, the golden retriever already knew what it was.

“It’s a present for all of us,” Dani corrected her with a smile over her shoulder as they approached the master bedroom door. “Eyes closed, come on,” she instructed her son, giggling when Jamie reached around to cover his eyes for him.

When the door was opened, the kids were shuffled in and sat down on the window seat with their eyes still firmly shut. Jamie stayed with them to assure that their eyes remained closed while Dani retrieved the anticipated gift from their bathroom, telling Flora to hold her hands out. And the little girl quickly burst into tears when she opened her eyes to see the tiny orange kitten that had been placed in her arms.

“A kitten?! Really?!” she blubbered, unable to believe that something she’d wanted her whole life was laying in her arms, tiny and cute with big blue eyes.

“Really,” Dani nodded, “But remember she’s a present for all of us. So we all have to help take care of her, okay?”

Flora nodded, cuddling the kitten closely as Jamie wiped the tears from her damp cheeks for her, “What’s her name?” she sniffled, giggling as Wally came over to sniff at the new addition to their family, panting with a happily wagging tail.

“She doesn’t have one yet,” the older brunette knelt in front of her, scratching under the kitten’s small, fuzzy chin, “You’re both gonna have to come up with one that fits.”

“I want to name her after a flower. Like Daffodil or Buttercup,” Flora beamed up at Dani, in hopes that she would approve of the names she picked out.

Miles shook his head with obvious disapproval on his face, “No way, we should name her something cool like after a video game character.”

“No, Miles, she’s a girl kitten!”

“There’s girl video game characters!”

“Like who?”

“Like Sonya Blade from Mortal Kombat or Amy Rose from Sonic!”

“But I want to name her after a flower!” Flora fought back, clutching the kitten to her chest.

“Rose is a flower!”

“Mummy, I don’t want to name her Amy Rose! There’s a girl in my class named Amy and she’s not nice!” Flora turned to her mother with wide eyes, hoping that she wouldn’t make her settle on that compromise.

Dani and Jamie looked at each other. Both of them knew that this would happen. Dani held onto a bit of wishful thinking that her kids would come to an agreement easily, but Jamie, who spent her whole childhood bickering with her brothers, knew that it wouldn’t happen.

“What about Daisy?” the older woman suggested, trying to put an end to the chaos between the kids as she looked between them, “That’s a pretty flower, right? And she’s a princess in your Mario game, right, Miles?”

The kids fell silent at the suggestion, thinking it over. It didn’t receive immediate criticism, which was a good sign. “I like daisies,” Flora sniffled.

“Does Daisy work for you, Miles?” Dani knelt beside Jamie in front of them, “You love that game.”

“I guess so,” he shrugged.

The two women breathed subtle sighs of relief, grateful that the fight between the kids hadn’t completely escalated. Instead, the room fell silent, save for Flora’s sniffles. “Do you wanna hold her?” Jamie turned to the thirteen year old, but he shook his head quickly, clearly not wanting anything to do with the kitten in his sister’s arms.

“Can she sleep in my room?” the little girl asked hopefully, stroking Daisy’s soft, orange fur until she began to pur, content in her arms.

“Not yet, baby,” Dani shook her head with sympathy in her expression, “She’s still really little, so we’re gonna keep her in here for a bit. Just until she’s a little bigger.”

“Then when she’s bigger she can sleep in my room?”

“We’ll see,” the blonde giggled and leaned up to kiss her forehead, “For now, you’re both in charge of helping us feed her and clean her litter box, okay?”

“Okay,” they both nodded, though Miles looked significantly less enthusiastic about it than his sister. He showed a lot of hesitance around the little kitten, which only seemed to entice her more, as she climbed out of Flora’s arms and settled contently into his lap to both their dismay.

June 2000

Happy birthday, dear Jamie
Happy birthday to you!

Jamie bit her bottom lip to suppress her grin. feeling the tingle in her cheeks as they turned a deep shade of pink. She’d never been big on birthday parties, or birthdays in general. When they were kids, she loved going to the roller disco with Dani. As an adult, she didn’t mind a low-key dinner out, usually to her favorite diner in Ferguson. Since dating Dani, Jamie celebrated her birthdays by taking the kids somewhere fun like the putt-putt course or the bowling alley; Anywhere where it felt like a celebration to them, but Jamie never needed a celebration.

Judy (upon her arrival to the house with Mike, Karen, Carson, and Bobby) had mentioned that she was surprised that Dani was letting Jamie get away with a simple get-together with the family for such a milestone of a birthday. But this was the most Jamie had wanted, and Dani respected that. The blonde remembered being married to Eddie and being thrown a “surprise” party every year for her own birthday. She hated it. She hated mingling with strangers Eddie invited from his work when all she wanted was something small. She didn’t want to subject Jamie to anything she didn’t want, even for her 40th birthday.

“Make a wish,” Owen grinned from under his mustache, adjusting the bright blue party hat on his head as Hannah pointed her video camera at Jamie, ready to capture the moment she blew out her candles.

Closing her eyes, Jamie thought long and hard about her wish, finding that she’d begun to take them much more seriously over the years. Maybe it was Dani’s influence, maybe it was Flora’s. Regardless, she put much more thought into her birthday wishes now than she ever had as a kid. She didn’t know what she could possibly wish for. She had everything she ever wanted and more. What do you wish for when you have it all?

With a deep breath, she blew out the candles on her cake that Judy had made before the silence around her turned to a quiet round of applause. Dani’s arms wrapped around her shoulders from behind and a kiss was pressed to her cheek before the blonde began to cut the cake into slices for everyone, giving Jamie the first one.

“What’d you wish for?” Carson asked, leaning his elbows against the table.

“She can’t tell you, it won’t come true,” Flora shook her head at her uncle from across the table, thanking Dani for the slice of cake that was placed in front of her. Sometimes Jamie wondered how Flora could possibly believe in such nonsense at fifteen, but she remembered quickly who her mother was. Dani, who would be forty in three months, still believed in wishing on birthday candles, shooting stars, and pennies tossed into fountains.

She loved that Flora still had such a youthful mindset. When Jamie was fifteen, she was forced to grow up more than she already had, abandoned by her mother, outed and ostracized at school, separated from her family, and forced into the system with abusive foster parents. Aside from the death of her father and having to lie to strangers about the relationship of her moms, Flora had a pretty easy life; And Jamie was over the moon that she could help provide that for her and Miles.

“Mom, for your birthday, you should wish for us to go to Disney World again,” Flora grinned at her mother.

“Oh yeah? Why’s that?” Dani smiled back at her as she passed the cake slices around to everyone.

“Because we haven’t been since I was eleven, that was forever ago!”

Miles scraped the frosting off his slice and piled it onto Flora’s plate beside his, “It was only four years ago.”

“Oh, can I show everyone my favorite picture from when we went? Please?” The fifteen year old didn’t wait for approval before she was already out of her seat and headed for the bookshelf full of photo albums, picking out a red one that had “Disney ‘96” on the spine.

“Oi, it better not be the one I think it is!” Jamie called after her, watching her daughter come back to the table giggling mischievously as she flipped through the pages.

“This one,” Flora slid the photo out of the sleeve and held it up, laughing when everyone (everyone but Jamie, who hid her face in shame) reacted to the photo in her hands, “Mum was freezing because she didn’t pack anything warm to wear.”

Jamie shook her head, knowing that Flora was holding up the photo of her bundled up in one of Dani’s pink sweatshirts with a Minnie Mouse ear headband on top of her head, looking grumpy and miserable from the cold. “Even if it’s December, who goes to Florida and expects it to be cold?” she picked her head up from her hands with a puff of laughter; Meanwhile, Dani sat down and rubbed her back reassuringly despite her amused grin.

“Well, I’m sure if you ever go to Florida in the winter again, you’ll pack something to keep you warm once the sun goes down,” Karen chuckled over her glass of wine.

“Or you can just keep wearing mine,” Dani suggested, only half joking, “You look cute in pink.”

December 1996

There was a good and bad side to every situation; Just like how there were two sides to every coin. Being in the most magical place on earth was no exception. With the dim light from the Main Street USA street lamps, the surprisingly frigid Florida weather, and the large crowd of tourists filing out of the amusement park with them, Dani was able to walk close to her wife and hold her hand as they followed the crowd towards the exit now that the park was closing for the night. However, with the same overwhelming crowd and dim lighting, it made it difficult for her to keep an eye on her kids. Flora was propped up on her brother’s back as he carried her just a few feet ahead. And the chill was making Jamie very grumpy.

“Are you sure you don’t wanna stop at the gift shop for another sweatshirt?” Dani giggled, amused at how pouty her wife looked bundled up in her pink Minnie Mouse sweatshirt.

“Shouldn’t have to buy a sweatshirt in bloody Florida,” the brunette grumbled.

“We wouldn’t have to if you had packed one.”

“I didn’t think I would need one in Florida!

Dani tried her hardest to suppress her laughter. Jamie hated the cold. Ever since they were kids, Jamie dreaded winters in Iowa. It was a miracle if Dani could get her out of her bed to build snowmen with her on snow days. Unfortunately, Jamie had been expecting some kind of tropical getaway when they planned to take the kids to Disney World as an early Christmas gift, so her sweatshirts were left at home (despite multiple warnings from Dani that it might be cold).

“Miles, stay where we can see you!” Dani called ahead in the crowd to her son who seemed to be pushing through the crowd faster than they could keep up. Sighing when he did as she said, the blonde laid her head on Jamie’s shoulder. “I wish you could see just how cute you look right now,” she scrunched her nose up playfully, “Your grumpy, pink face matches the sweatshirt. And the Minnie ears—“

“That you made me get,” she cut in with a breathy chuckle, reaching up to adjust the plastic ears on her head.

“Well, they look cute on you,” Dani continued, kissing her shoulder before laying her head back down as the crowd around them moved like a slow herd of cattle. “Do you think they had fun today? I know Miles is a little old for all this, but I wanted to at least take Flora before she got too old for it too.”

The older woman snorted and shook her head, “Don’t think I’ve ever seen’em happier in my life. Didn’t think Miles would like it as much as he seemed to.”

It had been a pretty great day. Dani got enough pictures to fill a whole album, and it was only their second day here. Flora already had plans to move into Minnie Mouse’s house over in Toontown. Miles nearly gave their phone number to the poor girl in the Cinderella costume. And Jamie ate her weight in turkey legs and churros, which turned out to be the worst thing to do before letting your sixteen year old control how fast your teacup spins on the Mad Tea Party. All in all, it was turning out to be a pretty perfect vacation so far;
The kind that Jamie only dreamed of as a kid, but accepted that she would never get. Even if she never got it as a kid, she was glad that she could help Dani do this for Miles and Flora.

“Did you have fun?” Jamie asked quietly, placing a subtle peck to the top of Dani’s head around her own pair of mouse ears.

She nodded against her shoulder with a hum of approval. “It was exhausting, but I loved seeing them so happy. I mean look at them, they’re actually getting along for once,” she smiled, nodding towards where Flora was laughing from her perch on her brother’s back.

“Seems this place really is magical.”

“Mmhm,” Dani nodded again before picking her head up to look at her, “What about you? Did you have fun?”

“Aside from the cold, yeah,” Jamie smiled, “Exhausting, like you said, but…worth it to see you and them having such a good time.”

Dani grinned and squeezed her hand tightly, “Think you’ll make it the rest of the week?”

“Maybe if we go back to the hotel before sunset every day,” she shivered again at the mention of the cold air around them.

“And miss the fireworks? No way, we’re getting you a nice, big, cozy sweatshirt with Grumpy on it.”

“Still don’t think I should need a sweatshirt in Florida,” Jamie grumbled, huddling deeper into the warmth of Dani’s pink Minnie Mouse crewneck.

“It’s December, baby. And it’s Florida, not the Caribbean,” Dani giggled, “Besides, it’s only like, fifty degrees out.”

“And somehow you’re not freezing your tits off?”

“Jamie, did you forget that this daytime fall weather in Iowa?”

“Not the same when the sun’s down,” she shivered again.

“I think you’re just cold-blooded,” Dani rubbed her free hand up and down Jamie’s arm through the pink sleeve, “All the more reason for me to cuddle with you when we get back to the hotel.”

“Can think of a better w—“

“Absolutely not.”

“Oh, come on, we got a suite for a reason,” Jamie chuckled, keeping her voice low enough that only Dani could hear it over the low hum of the crowd.

“It’s hard enough when they’re right down the hall at home. But in the next room? Not gonna happen.”

“Fine, let me freeze to death,” the brunette huffed jokingly.

“You won’t freeze to death, you big baby. Cause we’re gonna get you that Grumpy sweatshirt from the hotel gift shop and then cuddle up in bed,” Dani grinned in innocent victory.

“You’re an awful tease, Poppins.”

June 2000

While Dani showered in the en suite after their guests had left, Jamie zipped up her suitcase after a quick double check that she had everything she needed for the long weekend. They would only be in Vermont for a few days. Honestly, she wasn’t even sure they would be leaving the cabin enough to even need a few days worth of clothes, but knowing how much Dani loved to explore Burlington, she packed accordingly anyway.

“Mum?” Flora’s quiet voice came with a gentle knock on the open door, alerting Jamie to the fact that she was no longer alone in her and Dani’s large bedroom. “Can we come in?” she asked, already stepping into the room with her older brother trailing behind her.

Jamie nodded with a smile, “Of course.” She beckoned them in and set her suitcase on the floor as Flora plopped herself down on the foot of the bed; Miles, on the cushioned bench seat under the windows. “What’s up?”

The kids looked across the room at each other, something obviously on both their minds. Though, she wasn’t too concerned, considering they both had a hint of a smile on their faces

“Are you and Mom gonna get married when you’re in Vermont?” Miles gently chuckled out the question that was on both their minds. Thankfully, the shower was still running in the next room, so Dani wouldn’t be able to hear their conversation

Jamie ducked her head as she placed her suitcase by the bedroom door before crossing the room to sit on the bed with Flora. “We’re already married, silly.”

“You know what we mean,” Flora commented with poorly contained excitement, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, “Really married.” She was clearly buzzing, anxious to hear the answer as she squirmed in her spot at the edge of the floral duvet.

“Yeah, legally,” Miles added.

“S’not a legal marriage, but…technically, yeah,” Jamie tried to hide her smile, “If she wants to, that is.”

The younger pair both scoffed and rolled their eyes, shaking their heads with simultaneous comments of “are you crazy?” and “of course she does!”. Flora had always been supportive of their relationship, ever since she was six years old and still believed that cotton candy was made by unicorns and fairies. With Miles, however, even after years of learning to fully accept their relationship, it still felt a little extra special when he showed his support. Jamie still remembered the days when he would misbehave and give her nothing but an attitude when he felt like accepting her as his mother’s girlfriend was a betrayal to his father. Thankfully, over time, he learned that he could accept Jamie as his mother’s girlfriend (and later, as a second mother) without feeling like his dad wouldn’t love him anymore as a result.

“Well, if things go the way I hope they will…” she sighed, shrugging her shoulders, “Then yeah. And you two will be the first to know.”

“It’s not fair,” Flora slumped with a pout, “I miss everyone’s weddings. I didn’t get to go to Mom and Dad’s, I wasn’t there when you and Mom got married the first time, and I won’t get to be there this time.”

“Neither was I, you don’t see me crying about it,” Miles snorted and leaned back against the pillows on the bench.

“Yeah-huh, you were at Mom and Dad’s wedding, you just didn’t know it because you weren’t born yet!”

“That doesn’t count!”

“Does too!”

“Does not!”

Jamie just chuckled at the way her kids bickered like they were little. Despite Flora being fifteen and Miles being a sophomore in college, they still acted like they were nine and fourteen again. “Hey, shh,” the brunette held her hands up after hearing the shower stop running in the en suite, lowering her voice just enough once the kids stopped going back and forth, “Maybe the next one, sprout.”

Flora nodded, reassured, albeit still slightly upset. She was turning into quite the mature young lady, but she had her moments when she was still the same little girl Jamie always knew her to be.

The three of them turned to face the bathroom door as Dani came out in a large t-shirt and pajama pants, toweling off her wet hair. “What are you guys doing up?” she smiled, greeting all three of them with kisses to their foreheads.

“Mom, it’s only eleven o’clock,” Miles snorted.

“Well, once upon a time, your bedtime was at eight,” she sat beside Miles on the bench, “While we’re gone, I still want you guys to go to bed at a reasonable hour. I know it’s summer, but you need your sleep.”

“Yeah, no wild parties either,” Jamie added, only half joking. The kids were responsible, but even if they weren’t, they knew that their moms would hear about it when they came home. “And no joyriding in the car without your license,” she pointed to Flora accusingly.

“Can Miles take me out to practice?”

“Only if you take his car,” Dani nodded.

Miles just groaned, tossing his head back, “Why do I have to sacrifice my car?”

“Would you rather pay for any potential damages on one of our cars?” Jamie lifted an eyebrow in his direction, knowing that the costs of fixing his car (which was just Dani’s old one) would be much cheaper than fixing either of their newer ones.

She got the answer she expected when he folded his arms across his chest, accepting his defeat with a huff and a quiet, “no,”.

“Glad you two still act like kids. It keeps me and your mum young,” Dani chuckled, reaching over to ruffle her son’s hair, “Really, though, please be good while we’re gone. I’d hate to have to call Nana to come babysit you.”

“We will,” they mumbled together before Flora spoke again.

“So, what are you gonna do in Burlington?” she asked innocently, like she didn’t know about Jamie’s plan. She’d always been surprisingly good at keeping secrets.

“We’ll probably just check in at the shop and do some sight-seeing, right?” Dani turned to Jamie with an excited grin, completely unaware of the conversation that had taken place in the room before she came in,

Jamie just looked across the room at the woman she already considered to be her wife, taking in the subtle, knowing smiles from their kids along the way.


February 1995

Jamie rubbed her temples as she hunched over her desk in the office of her hometown Leafling. It had been a long week and she was ready to put it all to rest for the weekend. Valentine’s Day was yesterday, but Dani was at her night class and Jamie wasn’t a huge fan of Valentine’s day anyway, so they had plans to go out for dinner tonight while Judy and Mike babysat the kids. She just had to get through the rest of her day first. And she had a lot of tallying to do after the holiday rush.

“Hi,” a soft voice met her ears. Dani, herself, was making her way through the office door, closing it behind her with a tight, uncomfortable smile and a—

“Christ, what happened?” Jamie asked with a horrified chuckle as she took off her reading glasses and stood from her chair, rounding her desk to meet Dani halfway.

The blonde laughed nervously as she looked down at the potted plant in her hands. The philodendron was weeping, fallen over the edges of the painted terracotta pot. “I-I dropped the kids off at Judy’s and she asked me to bring this to you. Wanted to see if you could save it,” she held up the old, white painted pot covered in different colored handprints from herself, Jamie, and the kids.

Jamie looked at the houseplant in amused horror, gently stroking the browned leaves before taking the pot from her girlfriend’s hands. “Give it here, then,” she sighed, bringing the pot to the small work table she kept in the corner, already starting to gently sift through the soil as she mumbled comments of curiosity to herself.

“Ah, well, there’s the problem,” she said a bit louder, not taking her eyes off the plant as she carefully cleared the soil, “The roots have been—“ She stopped suddenly as a glimmer of gold caught her eye. With furrowed brows, she carefully pulled the foreign object from the surrounding roots, wiping dirt away to reveal the rest of it.

A ring?

A Claddagh ring, to be exact. She’d learned about them through different means of literature and international studies in school. But she wasn’t quite sure what it was doing in the soil of Judy O’Mara’s philodendron.

“Dani, why is there a—“ Jamie turned and stared at her, confused as she held the ring delicately between her fingers, watching Dani take a few steps closer.

“When, um…when I was little, Eddie and I used to play this game called treasure hunt. It was basically hide and seek, but you go find buried treasure instead,” Dani released a tense breath through her apprehensive smile, “One day, we decided to use real treasure. So, we raided Judy’s jewelry box, and…I found one of those. It’s a Claddagh ring. It’s a traditional Irish thing. I know I’m not Irish and neither are you, but…the meaning behind it has always stuck with me since Judy told me about it.”

Jamie stayed quiet, finally blinking after feeling like she hadn’t for hours. Her heart leapt into her throat as Dani stepped even closer and reached up to brush a bit more soil off the gold band.

“She told me that the hands symbolize friendship. The heart is for love, and the crown is loyalty,” Dani continued, tracing the design of the ring with her fingertip, “And you…are all of those things to me. You’re my best friend, and the love of my life. You’ve been with me through everything. When we first met, I felt like…like I could trust you with anything. And you’ve stuck by my side even when I didn’t deserve it, and when you deserved so much better.”

Dani’s breathing was uneven and shaky as adrenaline coursed through her veins, drying out her throat and making her palms clammy. “I know that we can’t technically get married…but I also don’t really care. We can wear the rings and we’ll know. And…that’s enough for me…” she finally raised her gaze to meet Jamie’s; blue eyes filling quickly with tears, “…if it’s enough for you.”

Jamie felt her heart begin to race faster than it had been since she first found the ring. She didn’t know much right now, with her head so cloudy, but she knew what her answer was. “I reckon that’s enough for me, yeah,” she breathed a laugh of complete disbelief, wondering if she was going to wake up from this dream any second. And it only felt more unbelievable when Dani pulled a second ring from her pocket. “How should I, uh…how should I wear it? Different ways to wear it, aren’t there?”

Dani nodded with flushed cheeks, letting out a small giggle, “Yeah. Right hand with the point of the heart facing you means you’re in a relationship. Left hand with the point facing outward means you’re engaged and…left hand with the point facing in means you’re married. So…however you wanna wear it…” She chewed the inside of her cheek as Jamie absorbed the information, though she nearly burst into tears again when she watched the gold band slide onto Jamie’s left ring finger with the point of the heart facing in.

The brunette could taste the tears on Dani’s lips when she kissed her, gentle and slow as she tried to savor the moment between them. “I love you,” she whispered between kisses, sniffling as overwhelming tears of affection made damp stripes down her own cheeks.

“I love you, too,” Dani whispered with a watery laugh, making Jamie laugh into their kisses as well. They were married; As married as they could be. They knew it in their hearts, and no one could tell them otherwise.

“Tell me one thing,” Jamie pulled back, combing her fingertips through the ends of Dani’s ponytail, “Did you tell Judy to purposefully neglect her philodendron so you could do this?”

Dani’s cheeks flushed a deep, guilty shade of pink before she leaned forward to capture Jamie’s lips in hers again, hoping to distract her from the obvious truth with the feeling of the tip of her tongue grazing her bottom lip.

“You’re a monster,” Jamie hummed with a bit of amused laughter, pulling her new wife closer.

June 2000

Jamie plopped face down on the queen-sized mattress of their little log cabin on the outskirts of Burlington. In the winter, this place was a dream, something straight out of a winter fairytale. It was nice in the summer as well, but not nearly as magical or aesthetically pleasing. Though, Jamie was happy to be there, regardless. She loved Vermont, no matter what season, and the fact that she was here with Dani on a short getaway for her birthday made it even better.

“I’m gonna call the kids and let them know we made it here,” Dani set her suitcase by the foot of the bed with an amused giggle, making a beeline for the phone that was hung up on the wall in the kitchen just outside the door as Jamie turned onto her back.

She stared up at the knotted pine ceiling, swallowing thickly to ease the dryness in her throat from the plane ride here. She could hear Dani talking on the phone in the next room as she struggled to understand why she was so nervous. This wasn’t that big of a deal. She and Dani considered themselves to be married already; There was no need to worry that Dani would reject her proposal. But she just couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that this wouldn’t go as planned. Not that she had a plan to begin with.

Even if Dani said no, it wouldn’t change anything. They were head over heels in love with each other. On the rare chance that Dani didn’t want to make anything more official between them, that love between them wasn’t going to just fizzle out like an old candle. That wouldn’t happen; It couldn’t. Hannah had turned down several of Owen’s marriage proposals despite them seeming like an old married couple already, but the love between them hadn’t faded a bit over the years. Hannah did end up saying yes eventually, once she’d gotten to a point where she was happy and secure in her career, and Owen still loved her endlessly and respected her for her decision.

“The kids said goodnight, they love you, and they hope we have a good time,” Dani’s voice pierced through the quiet of the warm, dim light in the bedroom, making Jamie wonder just how long she had been pondering silently to herself.

“Think we left’em enough for takeout?'' The brunette leaned up on her elbows, sitting up as her wife bracketed her hips with her knees and wrapped her arms around her shoulders.

Dani nodded and pressed her forehead to hers, “If $60 doesn’t cover them for the whole weekend, Miles can use his own money to cover his appetite,” she giggled, kissing her slowly as Jamie’s arms wrapped a bit tighter around her waist. She released a sighing hum against her lips, pressing a bit more firmly into her lap before gently pushing her back until Jamie was flat against the mattress again. “I love you,” came from her throat in a light, airy breath as she hovered over her with blonde hair hanging down around both their faces.

“Marry me then,” Jamie blurted without a second of hesitation as if she hadn’t been overthinking it just moments ago.

“What?” Dani asked through a gentle laugh, picking her head up to peer down at her wife like she’d grown two extra heads.

Flicking her tongue out across her lips, the brunette sat up, keeping Dani in her lap as she did so. “Just…was thinking we could go down to city hall tomorrow…apply for that whole…civil union thing?”

“Is that why you wanted to come to Vermont?” Dani twirled what was left of Jamie’s natural ringlets around her finger at the nape of her neck.

Jamie gave a simple shrug, tilting her head down a bit, muttering out a soft, “Kinda,” before Dani’s lips were on hers again; gentle, but sound.

“You know we don’t need to, right?” she asked quietly with palms against Jamie’s collarbones through her t-shirt. “Not that I don’t want to, but…just like these…“ she reached for Jamie’s left hand, running the pad of her thumb over the design of her ring, “…they don’t prove anything. We don’t need rings and a certificate or a big white wedding to prove that you and I are married.”

“What proves it, then?” Jamie smirked a bit in her question.

“The fact that after ten years together we still come home to each other every day and are actually interested to hear about each other’s day, even if it’s the same thing every time. The fact that you became an expert at packing lunches and checking homework and chiming in at PTA meetings for the kids,” Dani spoke seriously, with her tone still light, “The fact that you’re always willing to put up with me when I’m being unreasonable and I’m always happy to help you when you’re grumpy and need to be cheered up. And the fact that even after almost thirty years of knowing you, you somehow manage to make me love you more and more every day, even when I don’t think it’s possible to love you more than I already do. How many couples that are legally married can say all that?”

“With the divorce rate nowadays, I’d assume not too many,” Jamie chuckled low in her throat and shrugged again before sucking in a slow, deep breath, “That a ‘no’, then?”

Dani shook her head quickly with furrowed brows, “Of course not. I just wanted to make sure that you didn’t feel like we had to…y’know, now that it’s an option. But I want to.”

“You scared me there, Poppins,” the older woman ran her palms up and down the thighs of Dani’s jeans.

“I’m sorry, baby. Did you really think I’d say no?” she bit her lip to hold back her laughter when Jamie nodded, “I would never. You never get all nervous and flustered around me anymore, this brings me back.”

“To better times?” Jamie asked, chuckling at the stern look on Dani’s face that came after her question.

“To different times,” she corrected her, wrapping her arms around her neck, “But I missed being able to make you squirm.”

“Can’t say the same, since I still manage to make you squirm,” Jamie grinned slyly before flipping Dani back onto the mattress, making the blonde let out a giggling squeal as she pinned her down below her.

“Can you blame me?” Dani asked breathlessly.

Jamie shook her head, chuckling. “Not one bit,” she murmured through the series of kisses she was peppering along the line of her jaw. “So,” she pulled back a bit to see the blue eyes she’d adored since she was eleven years old, “You and I are making our union civil tomorrow, then?”

“It’s a date.”

“Bet the queue’s gonna be shite. Queue’s always shite at fucking city hall.”

“Mm, but won’t it be worth it?” Dani’s eyes fell to her lips as she squeezed Jamie’s triceps.

Jamie just smiled and captured her lips with her own, nodding into the deepening kiss with a hum. “I’d wait there all day for you. Camp out overnight if I had to,” She felt Dani’s lips curl up into a bigger grin as a giggle breezed between them.

Jamie always thought that she was one of those people who just didn’t have happiness in their cards. Even if she were, for a while, she didn’t even think she deserved it. As much as she wanted to believe that she was worthy and capable of finding true happiness for herself, too much had happened that left her feeling like it just wasn’t for her.

But even through her darkest days, Dani was always there to either pick her back up. Even on the days that Jamie was immovable, Dani was more than happy to keep her company in her misery; At least so she wouldn’t be alone. Because Dani knew what loneliness felt like. She knew what it was like to feel like you had no one, even in a room full of people. Since they were eleven years old, that’s what they were to each other. They were each other's person to run to when they needed to feel understood. Despite Jamie’s reluctance to let Dani in, the blonde persisted and never gave up on her even when Jamie felt like she should have; And she knew that Dani felt the same about her.

It was hard to believe that they’d been in each other’s lives for nearly thirty years. She knew that next year on the 20th of August, just like for the last two decades, Dani would be asking her what her favorite part of the last ten years have been; And as always, Jamie would have way too many to choose from. There was the moment Dani first proposed to her in the back room of The Leafling. The day they first saw the inside of their finished house was one of her favorites as well. Dani was so overwhelmed with joy that she was brought to tears without even stepping over the threshold. That was a memory Jamie kept in the forefront of her mind.

She was sure that the moment they picked up their certificate from city hall would be another great memory to savor; Another big milestone to treasure until they reached the next one. They would marry again when they could. But until that day came, Jamie was content in the knowledge that she had Dani by her side at all; Hopefully until the end of her days.

Like she could read her thoughts, Dani swallowed breathlessly after pulling back from the fervent kiss, holding her hand up between them with her pinkie finger extended; Like she was offering the promise of an inevitable forever. She’d keep Jamie for as long as she could, and she hoped that Jamie would want to keep her too.

Without a word, Jamie’s face warmed with a gentle smile as she raised her hand to meet Dani’s, linking their pinkies together like they’d been doing since they were kids; Back when Jamie would climb through Dani’s window in the middle of the night to keep her company when she was afraid or lonely. And just like she did on countless other occasions of juvenile pinkie promises between them, Jamie brought Dani’s knuckles to her lips, sealing that silent promise with a kiss.