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17 cherry tree lane

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August 1971

“Why’s it so bloody hot?”

“It’s summertime, you fucking turkey.”

“Mum! Dad! Jamie said ‘fuck’!”

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

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

This was a nightmare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What? No, I was in here fir—“

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

“I know, that’s why I wanted it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gotta remind Mum to patch up my curtains.

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

xxx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh...hi?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t think so.”

October 1990

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jamie, it’s been—“

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

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

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

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

August 1971

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Frozen peas?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What grade are you going into?”

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

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

“England.”

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

God this girl was chatty.

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

“What brought you to Iowa?”

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

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

“S’all right so far.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jamie!”

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

October 1990

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

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

“Dani?”

Chapter Text

September 1971

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

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

She looked good
She looked fine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, those are easy.”

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

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

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

October 1990

“Dani?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 1971

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You ever met one?”

“Of course I have.”

“When?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 1990

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you know?”

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

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

“For what?”

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

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

“Yeah, I’ll—“

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 1973

A light was flashing in her eyes.

Again.

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

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

“Please?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That you know of.”

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

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

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

“Long as I can help it.”

“Promise?”

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

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

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

“Promise.”

Chapter Text

February 1977

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

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You gonna?”

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

“Dani—“

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

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

“Eddie’s not my best friend.”

“He used to be.”

“Til you came along.”

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

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

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

“Red roses again?”

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

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

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

October 1990

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 1975

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was she…?

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

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

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

“It’s okay.”

October 1990

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

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

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

Every. Single. Time.

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

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

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

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

Chapter Text

June 1972

Jamie groaned as she felt the edge of her bed dip. She didn’t have to open her eyes to know that it was way too early to be awake. And on the first Monday of summer vacation, no less. Who in the world would have the audacity to—

“Jaaamie,” came a sing-song voice that only made her groan more.

Of course.

“Come on, wake up,” Dani shook her arm.

The brunette, newly twelve, just pulled her pillow over her head. “Who let you in?” her voice was muffled under the lump of goose feathers, and she fought to keep her head covered when Dani tugged at the pillow.

“Mikey did. Y’know, you really should tell him not to open the door without asking who’s there. My mom said there’s a crime wave going on.”

“Not in this shitty town,” Jamie snorted, giving in to Dani tugging her pillow.

“Well, I wanna show you something in this shitty town. Or...near it, anyway. So get up,” a blush came to Dani’s cheeks, despite the word coming from her lips so effortlessly. It was the first time Jamie had ever heard her use such an un-ladylike word.

Sitting up, the twelve year old attempted to flatten her wild curls, “Dani Clayton saying ‘shit’. Must be serious,” her eyes widened as she released a sarcastic puff of air before she took in Dani’s outfit.

With a yellow ribbon holding half her hair up, long blonde tendrils fell over her shoulders that were left uncovered by her yellow tank top that was tucked into a pair of white, high-waisted shorts. She looked like the human embodiment of a daisy. Which reminded Jamie, she needed to ask Louise to help her start a little garden plot in the backyard for the summer.

“It is serious, so get up. Get dressed and brush your teeth. I’m packing you a pop tart and you can eat it when we get there,” Dani just giggled quietly, flashing the braces she was due to get off at the end of the summer. Jamie had never seen her without them before, so she was eager to see what her real teeth looked like.

She watched as she left the room, wondering what the hell Dani could be waking her up for at— she glanced at her alarm clock and groaned again— eight in the morning. But she got up anyway, trudging to her closet to pull out an old olive green t-shirt (that was a little too small, as she was apparently hitting her growth spurt), and a pair of black piped sweat shorts.

She neglected the training bra that her mother insisted she start wearing and threw on the clothes before brushing her teeth in the bathroom she shared with her brothers. And once her hair was combed well enough and her face was washed, she slid dirt-covered sneakers on over her socks and made her way down the stairs, still curious about where Dani was planning on taking her so damn early.

“Third grade sounds so exciting! What else did you like to do in school?” she heard Dani’s voice as she nearly tripped down the stairs over her untied shoelaces. But she stopped to tie them once she saw Dani sitting at the kitchen table, talking to Mikey as he played with a few action figures.

“We learned about the planets. I quite liked that,” he smiled, shyly nodding his head. Jamie knew that her little brother liked when Dani would come over. She would help him with his homework sometimes after school and even make ants on a log for everyone to snack on before Dennis and Louise returned home from work.

Jamie learned that the oddly named snack was peanut butter spread into the curve of a celery stick with raisins lined up on top like actual ants on a log. Jamie hated raisins, and she still hadn’t mentioned that to Dani. But she ate them every time.

“Oi, don’t get him talking about space or we’ll never get to leave,” the brunette chuckled quietly, playfully sticking her tongue out at Mikey after he did it to her first. “Mikey here’s gonna be an astronaut, aren’t you?”

“Yep!” he grinned proudly, “I’d like to go to Jupiter. That’s the biggest planet.”

“That’s right, smarty pants,” Dani smiled, ruffling his hair before looking up at his sister, “You ready?”

Jamie just nodded her head with her lips pressed into a tight line. She hadn’t really hung out with Dani alone too many times before. Usually when they were together, it was at school. When it wasn’t at school, it was at Jamie’s house or the O’Mara’s with Eddie. She had still never been inside Dani’s house.

Eddie was around most of the time. But Eddie was at Boy Scout camp for the next month and a half, and Jamie had to admit, she was looking forward to not having to share Dani’s attention for a while. She knew once he came back, things would go back to normal.

“Be good for Denny, okay? Mum and Dad will have a cow if you nearly break a window again,” she pointed a finger at Mikey as Dani got up from the table.

“Where is Denny anyway?”

“In the attic,” Jamie rolled her eyes, “Dad gave him permission to move all his stuff up there and turn it into his new bedroom. So he’s fixing it up.”

“So now I have the big room all to myself,” Mikey beamed from the table.

“Yeah, and it was supposed to be my room until you lot stole it from me.”

Dani just smiled at their brief banter before shrugging her shoulders as she held onto the straps of her backpack, “Worked out better for me, I guess. I’d rather have you across from my window than two boys.”

“Don’t blame you,” Jamie snorted before leading Dani out to the garage where they kept the only bike they had to split between the three of them. Denny was hoping to get a job to afford his own soon, but that meant he’d be taking the bike to get to work until he could save up enough for a car.

“So where are we going, exactly?” she asked, wheeling her dad’s old bicycle towards where Dani was straddling her pink one on the sidewalk. It was so Dani, a pink bike with a white basket in the front and colorful streamers hanging from the handles. It was so typical, in fact, that Jamie didn’t even seem surprised the first time she saw it.

“You’ll see when we get there,” the younger girl sat on the leather seat and took off down the sidewalk, beckoning for Jamie to follow.

Jamie kept up, whether it was right behind her or right beside her as they rode together out of their neighborhood and onto the street. It was a small town and they didn’t live near the busiest part of it, so cars weren’t really an issue. Plus, all the grownups were already at work for the day. Or headed there, at this hour.

“Dani, seriously, where are we going?” Jamie looked from where she was biking beside her. They’d been riding for nearly thirty minutes and they’d just passed the town line.

“I told you, you’ll see,” she replied almost blissfully, laughing a little as the summer sun hit her skin and the wind blew through her hair.

Jamie had never seen her so carefree before. She actually had half a mind to question whether their sleepy little town was under a spell that kept Dani so rigid. Because the second they crossed the town line, the blonde had nearly become an entirely different person.

“This way,” about ten minutes later, Dani took a turn to the left into a neighborhood that looked questionable, even by Jamie’s standards.

It wasn’t a development like their own. The houses were far apart; Some big, some small. Like it was built back when people had originality and weren’t so desperate to fit in with everyone else. But it was like a ghost town. All the houses had overgrown dead grass in the yards, boarded up windows, crooked shutters, and empty canopy garages. Like no one had lived there for years.

“Dani…”

“We’re almost there,” the blonde pulled her bike into a turn down the next street.

Cherry Tree Lane

Jamie read the faded street sign as her eyebrows knit together in confusion, still following Dani up the road that was void of just about anything but houses that stood alone. They must have been nice in their prime, but whenever they were abandoned, the elements had certainly left their effect on them.

When they reached the end of the dead end street, Dani pulled her bike to a slow stop, looking up at the house in front of them. It was cute. A light shade of blue. Black shutters, red door, black shingles. Nothing really special about it. It was even average in size. And it was definitely deserted like the rest of them.

“This is it,” Dani nodded towards the house in front of them, dismounting from her bike and dropping the kick stand while Jamie, with no kick stand, let her bike fall to the cracked pavement without care.

“Okay…” she looked to her friend, still a bit confused about why she’d woken her up at eight in the morning to bring her to an abandoned house.

But Dani just cocked her head in the direction of the mailbox as they stepped a little closer, “Look at the number.”

The brunette squinted her eyes in the sun, stepping closer to the mailbox to look at the number on the dirt-covered side. “Seventeen?”

“Mmhm.”

“What’s so special about the number seve—“ she stopped to connect the dots in her head as the name of the street flew to the front of her brain. “Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane. Like in Mary Poppins?”

“Yep,” Dani grinned proudly, rocking back and forth on her feet as she clung to her backpack straps.

Jamie just nodded, a slight chuckle escaping her throat as she shrugged her shoulders, stepping back towards the blonde. “Okay, I guess that’s pretty neat. What, did you take me here cause I’m British or something?”

”No,” Dani rolled her eyes and took her hand, leading her up the long driveway towards the rusted canopy garage. “Mary Poppins is my favorite movie. This house was built in 1960, the year I was born,” she started to explain as they moved past the garage and towards the back yard.

“Okay?”

Dani stopped walking, turning towards Jamie and letting go of her hand, suddenly embarrassed. “I know it’s silly, but...I dunno, I feel like I’m meant to live here, y’know?”

“Not silly,” Jamie shook her head, “Odd coincidence, but not a silly one. How’d you find this place anyway?”

“My dad actually grew up on Sycamore, the next street over. That’s where my grandparents lived, but they died before I was born,” Dani kept walking, twiddling with her own fingers instead of holding onto Jamie’s hand again, “He actually wanted to buy this house after the movie came out in ‘64. My mom says he thought it was a good investment, buying a house with a famous street name and number. Thought it would sell for a lot after a few years.”

“He didn’t know about the books?” Jamie snorted quietly and shook her head.

“I guess not,” Dani muttered, giving a rather glum smile down to her shoes instead of laughing.

Jamie just nodded, stepping through the tangled grass beside her as they reached the back yard where an empty in-ground pool was surrounded by a brick patio. She could only imagine the people who lived here before and what kind of parties they must have been throwing with a backyard like this. “Well, clearly there’s a ‘but’ coming, since you don’t live here now.”

Dani just breathed a light laugh as she moved to sit on the edge, dangling her legs into the empty pool. “But…” she continued as Jamie had suspected, reaching into her backpack for the napkin-wrapped pop tarts she’d toasted for Jamie’s breakfast back at the house, “Mom said some company came in and bought the whole neighborhood. I guess they were planning on building a shopping plaza or something.”

“Another ‘but’ coming,” Jamie chuckled, taking the pop tart from her with a quiet “thank you”.

But, then the US started getting more involved in the war...and...I dunno, I guess money got to be an issue for whatever company it was. They bought all these people out of their homes for nothing. And now the houses are just...here. Empty. My mom thinks they’ve been trying to sell the whole property, but no one’s wanted to buy it.”

The brunette shook her head with another incredulous snort as she bit into the strawberry-filled pastry. “Should just let people buy the houses instead of trying to sell the whole chunk of land.”

“That’s what I’m hoping for,” Dani nodded, swinging her legs so the backs of her white sandals tapped against the edge of the concrete pool, “This house even has a conversation pit in the living room. I think those are so cool.”

“You can see inside?”

“My dad took me inside when I was eight,” she smiled at the memory, “One day over the summer, he told my mom he was taking me to get ice cream. But instead he brought me here, picked the lock on the back door and we explored the whole house. We even made plans for where all the furniture would go if we ever got to move in.”

“Sounds like a cool guy. No offense, but he looks like a stiff. Never took him for the type to pick a lock,” Jamie shrugged, dusting the crumbs off her fingers.

“Huh?”

“What?”

“Who are you talking about?”

“Your dad. The guy that lives in your house that seems to always have a tie on...?”

“Oh that…” Dani breathed a bit of a laugh, “That’s not my dad, that’s Tom. He’s...well, my mom wants me to call him ‘dad’. But he’s just her boyfriend. He moved in last summer a little before you got here.”

Jamie’s eyebrows raised a bit in surprise. The way Dani spoke so fondly of her dad, it made more sense to Jamie now why she had never met the man who was living next door. She’d known Dani for almost a year, but she had only been to her house once for her birthday party last September. And that was just in the backyard.

“He died,” Dani’s shoulders hunched a bit as she wrung her fingers over her white shorts, looking down at her lap, “My dad, I mean...almost three years ago.”

The brunette was quiet for a few beats, wondering what to say. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled after a while, squeezing her eyes shut and wishing she had something better to offer than a simple apology, “Was it, uh...was it in Nam?”

“No, he was just sick for a while. Too sick to get drafted, even. Something to do with his heart, I never really understood what it was. And my mom won’t talk about it,” Dani shook her head, gazing down into the empty pool.

They sat in silence for a while after that, neither of them really sure of what to say. But the silence wasn’t entirely uncomfortable. The birds were chirping in the trees as the morning breeze blew through the overgrown grass. It was a peaceful silence; One that neither of them would mind staying in for a while.

“Well, hey,” Jamie rested her hands on her bare knees, looking over at the eleven year old beside her, “Maybe when we’re older, the company that bought this place will have pulled the stick out their arse and you can buy it and make it yours. Decorate it the way you and your dad talked about, even.”

Dani gave a bit of a toothy grin as she tucked her hair behind her ear, “Yeah, maybe.”

“I mean it. Who knows, maybe when we’re old...like thirty, you’ll be living a practically perfect life here, Poppins. Like you said, you’re meant to live here.”

A heavy blush took over Dani’s face as blue eyes turned to face her. “You really think so?” she asked with a shy grin, surprisingly not appalled by the nickname.

“I’m sure of it.”

October 1990

Jamie found it hard to stick by Dani’s side all morning. Not for lack of trying, of course. She’d been seated so far from her at the funeral service. And Dani was surrounded by people at all times, singing their praises about her marriage and offering their deepest condolences. It was nearly impossible to get to her; Even just to check to make sure she was still breathing regularly.

She held her arms around Flora in the back seat of Karen’s car pretty much the whole ride back to the house. Miles was keeping his chin up like his dad always taught him to. Eddie was always on some ‘boys don’t cry’ shit with his son, and it pissed Jamie off more than anything.

But at least she could offer some comfort to Flora, who held onto her aunt (the closest thing she had to one, anyway) for dear life from her little booster seat. The side of her blazer was probably covered in snot and tears, but Jamie didn’t really care. Years of babysitting Flora, she’d gotten a lot worse on her. She could handle a few boogers. And she certainly wasn’t going to let them stop her from comforting the little girl.

They pulled up to the house where cars started to line up around the cul de sac and rolled slowly into the garage. “Kids, why don’t you go get washed up,” Karen unbuckled her seatbelt and looked into the backseat, smiling proudly when Miles immediately got out of the car without a word.

“Go on, sprout, do as Grandma says, all right?” Jamie whispered down to Flora as Karen opened the door for them so Flora could slide out.

“Danielle, please go fix your makeup before you start greeting the guests,” the older woman spoke to her daughter up in the passenger seat from where she stood by the open door of the back seat, moving so Jamie could get out. And just like at the church earlier this morning, Dani sat still in her seat, unwilling to get out of the car just yet.

“I’ve got her, Mrs. C,” Jamie muttered quietly with another reassuring smile, sensing Karen’s frustration with Dani, not that she thought it was at all justified. The woman just nodded and sighed, disappearing into the house before Jamie walked around the station wagon to open the passenger side door again.

“Can we go?” Dani’s voice came through the open door the second Jamie got it open, not giving the brunette a chance to say anything first.

“What?”

“Can we just go there? Just for...a few minutes?”

Jamie knew what she was talking about. But...she couldn’t understand why Dani would want to go now. What was the point? They hadn’t been there in years.

“Dani...you’ve got a house full of people…”

“Just for a little bit, Jamie, just for—“

“It’s across town. It’s a twenty minute drive. Your mum’s gonna go ballistic.”

“Jamie, please,” Dani’s eyes, usually a bright blue, were like a shade of grey; like she’d lost all the light inside her that made them so bright. And she knew that bringing Dani there would only make them darker.

Jamie just stared into the deep irises. Dani’s eyes were puffy and red from crying, her face was blotchy and pink, showing even underneath her makeup, and mascara tear tracks still stained her cheeks from the weight of the morning. She looked so desperate that Jamie could practically feel her heart cracking at the sight.

“Come on, then,” she sighed, helping Dani out of the car and onto her feet, shutting the door behind her. Dani wasted no time taking off her heels and dropping them to the concrete garage floor before starting a brisk walk towards Jamie’s truck, brushing past everyone who dared try to stop and talk to her. Karen was definitely going to be pissed about this, but this was what Dani wanted to do. And Jamie always did what Dani needed.

She followed her down to her green 1969 Ford F100, watching as the blonde climbed into the passenger seat (apparently remembering that the passenger door had a faulty lock). She ignored the whispers of “where is she going?” and “what is she doing?” from the crowd of people that saw Dani practically sprint to the sidewalk, focusing on just getting on the road and getting her best friend away from all this.

And once the engine was on, she was taking off down the street. She could feel Dani exhale in the seat beside her the second they left the neighborhood and pulled onto the main road. About fifteen minutes from now, they would pass their former neighborhood. And five minutes from that point, they would reach the edge of town.

“Thank you,” the blonde released a breath as if she’d been holding it all day, letting her hair down from where it was tied back with a black scrunchie.

“Karen’s gonna kill me, I’ll have you know,” Jamie chuckled now that the mood was a little lighter, “Gonna have to sleep with one eye open tonight and make sure she doesn’t poison my breakfast in the morning.”

“You’re still staying over?” Dani turned to her with what looked like relief.

“Course I am. Said I would, didn’t I?”

“You did, I just...with it being such short notice, I didn’t know if it would stay that way...y’know with your work and everything.”

Jamie glanced between her and the road ahead, hating to see her look so down. She knew when Dani was feeling guilty for something. She’d given her a vague apology this morning, and then at the church she mentioned Edmund’s death being her fault. It was pure guilt and she knew it.

At this point, she was sure she knew Dani better than she knew herself. She could pick up on her moods as if Dani had written them out for her in big block letters and underlined them three times. She just wished she had the ability to read her mind so she could find out why she felt that way.

“Some things are more important than work, Poppins,” she reached over for her hand, running her thumb delicately over her cold knuckles.

She drove the familiar path down the road, passing the town limit sign and taking a sharp left onto Maple Avenue. After she drove down the deserted street past Pine Street and Sycamore Road, Jamie uselessly put on her directional to take the familiar right onto Cherry Tree Lane.

If this place seemed lifeless twenty years ago, it was even worse now. Every house in the neighborhood had all been bulldozed to the ground back in ‘79. It was as if the people who owned the property had waited specifically for Dani to leave for college so they could destroy one of her dreams for the future.

Even without the dream of owning the practically perfect house at number seventeen, it had been Dani’s place. It was where she went to calm down when she felt overwhelmed. It was where she went to feel close to her dad again. The house gave her hope. And though the house she lived in now had been painted to look just like it (Jamie’s idea), it still wasn’t the same.

And now, the two women stared ahead at the vacant property as Jamie parked the truck, facing where the house used to sit. The concrete driveway lead to nothing but a pile of old wood that they didn’t even bother to discard. What hurt the most was that the houses were all torn down for nothing. Whatever plans they had that required them to be removed had fallen through yet again. And the carcasses of what once stood had been left to rot for the last eleven years.

Dani was quiet as she stared at the wood pile, her throat bobbing as she tried to keep her emotions at bay. She hadn’t been to this spot in a while. She only came back every now and then; And only with Jamie.

”Y’know, I’ve never even taken Eddie here?” she remembered the blonde looking up from her copy of ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ while they sat by the empty pool doing their homework. Back when being fourteen was both the best and worst thing in the world.

”Why not?”

”I dunno. I never felt like he would understand.”

”And you thought I would?”

”Don’t you?”

Somehow, every trip back since her special place was destroyed, it still came as a surprise to see the rubble of what could have been. Each time, it was as if Dani just convinced herself that the last time she’d been there was just a dream, and the house would still be standing when she arrived. And each time was a let-down.

“C’mere,” Jamie sighed with remorse, pulling Dani across the leather bench seat until she was flush to her side, draping an arm around her shoulders to hold her close. She still didn’t know what the point of coming here was. She knew it would only upset Dani more. But apparently it was what Dani needed.

And Jamie always did what Dani needed.

Chapter Text

October 1990

It was ridiculous, really, being thirty years old and treated as if you were twelve again. When Jamie said she’d give anything to go back, she didn’t mean this. It felt like she was being punished. And maybe she was. It was what she deserved for stealing Dani away from her own post-funeral reception. At least that’s what Karen believed happened, because that’s what Jamie told her.

When they returned to the house, Karen had been quick to meet them at the door, chastising them just like she had when Jamie had brought Dani home nearly covered in mud from a rainy walk home from school. Jamie learned then that Karen Clayton wasn’t a listener. She didn’t want to hear any excuses or explanations from her daughter. If Dani didn’t look or act the way that was expected, she was punished. Period.

That day after school, Dani tried to tell her mother that they’d missed the bus and walked home after an unexpected rainstorm, and that she’d avoided the muddy puddles on the side of the road as best she could. But Karen just tugged her arm to pull her into the house, leaving Jamie alone on the front porch. And Dani went to school the next few days in long sleeves despite the late spring heat.

From that day forward, Jamie took the blame for everything.

Jamie took the blame for Dani being home past curfew, even though Dani was the one who wanted to stay out longer. Jamie told Karen that she was the one who scratched her Lawrence Welk record, even though it was Dani who forgot to lift the needle before taking it off the living room turntable.

She never felt pressured to take the blame. If anything, Dani always tried to stop her before she could even get the words “It’s my fault, Mrs. C,” out of her mouth. But she wasn’t Karen’s kid. She couldn’t punish Jamie like she punished Dani. So even if it lead to a grounding or night with no dinner after Karen ratted her out to her own parents, it was worth it to know that Dani was all right.

And while the older blonde was unlikely to hit Dani now like she did when they were children, her tongue lashings were still just as intense as they always had been. The woman practically hissed at them like a snake with fire in her eyes, even after Jamie had taken the blame for taking Dani out of town.

As always, Dani tried to stop her, and Jamie wouldn’t let it happen. Just like each time, they talked over each other in a messy fashion until Dani eventually gave up on trying to stop her best friend from taking the fall for her.

And now, after an uncomfortable luncheon surrounded by Eddie’s friends and family, and an even more uncomfortable dinner with Karen, Dani, and the kids, Jamie had been practically ordered by Karen to sleep in the rumpus room Eddie had set up in the basement where the pull-out sofa was.

Normally when she stayed over, she slept in the guest room. But Karen had claimed that while she was here. There were times when she’d be close to falling asleep in Dani’s bed with her on nights when Eddie would come home late.

“Don’t you think you’re getting too old for sleepovers?” she remembered Eddie slurring with unabashed judgement written all over his face.

Jamie would always hold her tongue as she brushed past him through the door and made her way to the guest room that was unfortunately right beside theirs. And she would hold her tongue the mornings after, not daring to comment on how it made her sick to her stomach to hear the sounds of bed springs and Eddie’s drunken grunting through the shared wall.

With a heavy sigh, the brunette sat up against the back of the couch and turned on the lamp beside it, deciding to grab her work binder out of her suitcase instead. There were a few things she needed to work on before the deadlines passed. Might as well do them now instead of wasting her time tossing and turning.

According to her watch it was nearing 10pm. Much earlier than she was used to going to bed, despite having a 9am start every day. No one said being the owner and CEO of a growing company was easy, but it was all worth it.

By 11:00, she managed to put some numbers together, do some budgeting for her newest project, and now she was hunched over her sketchbook, attempting to draw up a floor plan as her reading glasses fell down her nose for the thousandth time. She hated that she needed reading glasses in the first place, but she’d be lying if she said they weren’t a lifesaver.

The sound of the basement door opening at the top of the carpeted stairs came as a bit of a surprise. Though, the sight of her best friend making her way down the steps wasn’t. The kids were probably fast asleep and Karen had no reason to come down here.

“Bit late for you to be up, isn’t it?” Jamie muttered and looked up from her sketchbook with a slight smirk, watching Dani toy nervously with the long skirt of her flannel nightgown as she worked her way around the pool table and towards the old mattress.

“Could say the same for you,” she muttered, climbing under the covers and propping herself up against the back of the couch with Jamie, snuggling up to her side, “I couldn’t sleep. That bed’s just…” she trailed off, but Jamie knew what she was trying to say. The bed was too big, too empty, too lonely. Likely stuffed with reminders of her husband.

“What are you doing?” she quickly changed the subject. Tired blue eyes danced across the pile of notebooks and binders around the bed before she picked one up to flip through it.

The brunette shook her head with another slight shrug, tapping the eraser of her pencil against the sketchbook page, mumbling, “Just work stuff.”

“Jamie Taylor, suddenly so good with numbers,” Dani breathed a gentle, laugh as she flipped through her budgeting pages.

“Had a good teacher.”

September 1971

Stepping up the little staircase of the school bus, Jamie had her lip pulled tightly between her teeth, attempting to hide her giant grin as she gripped onto her backpack straps. She never left school with a smile. Sure, it was only the third week, and getting out of school was her favorite part of the day, but in those three weeks, she’d never been more excited to get on the bus.

“Hey, Jamie,” Dani smiled at her from her seat by the window. Eddie always sat with her, so Jamie claimed the seat across from theirs today, even though Eddie hadn’t boarded yet.

“Hey,” the brunette smiled back, already unzipping her backpack to fish out the paper she’d been dying to show her since her math class after lunch, “Look.”

Dani reached over to take the paper, glancing over it curiously as Jamie watched with bated breath. She wasn’t sure why she cared so much what Dani thought about her grade, but she’d helped her get it. “You got an A on your fractions test?” she gasped, looking between her neighbor and the bright red letter and smiley face at the top of the paper.

“Sure did.”

“Jamie, that’s incredible!” the blonde grinned widely, standing from her seat to cross the space between them, giving Jamie the tightest hug she’d ever gotten in her whole life. “You caught on quickly, so I’m not surprised,” she giggled as she pulled back, tucking a strand of blonde behind her ear.

A blush (a fucking blush) rose to the older girl’s cheeks as she pulled back from the hug, wiping her suddenly clammy palms against her jeans with as much subtlety as she could get away with. “Still hate fractions more than anything, but...thanks...y’know, for your help.”

Dani just nodded with pride in her bright blue eyes as she sat back in her seat, “You’re—“

“Hey, Metal Mouth,” a boy with rather long, unkempt hair leaned over the back of Dani’s bench seat, poking and shoving at her shoulder repeatedly as she attempted to ignore him, “Where’s your little boyfriend Four Eyes today?”

“Maybe his glasses fell off and he got lost,” another boy joined him, making each other laugh as Dani kept her head down. Jamie’s eyebrows knit together, watching as the two older boys poked at the blonde and tugged the ribbon out of her hair.

The bus revved to life as the doors closed up front. There was still no sign of Eddie. So with a deep breath, Jamie hooked her blue backpack over her shoulder and crossed to the next seat over, leaning back against the bench in front of them so she could face the two boys. “There a problem here?”

“Nothing that concerns you, Frizzy,” one of the boys sneered, looking her up and down.

“Yeah, why don’t you go back to Ireland or whatever,” the other one chuckled, as he twirled Dani’s ribbon between his grubby fingers.

“It concerns my friend, so I’d say it concerns me enough,” she crossed her arms defensively over her chest as Dani remained quiet beside her.

The boys just scoffed, and rolled their eyes, “What’re you gonna do about it?”

“Well, I’d sock you, but I don’t wanna get the grease from your face on my hands,” she shrugged at the one who asked, “Honestly, mate, when’s the last time either of you had a shower?”

It felt good to hear Dani snort a near-silent laugh at that.

“Oh, and next time you wanna make fun of someone for having braces on their teeth, you might wanna make sure you’ve at least brushed yours first. Cause I could go on for days about you, Cheddar Mouth,” she eyed one of the boys with a quirked eyebrow, grinning smugly to herself when he closed his mouth to cover his yellowed teeth before turning to the next one.

“And you…Pizza Face,” she chuckled spitefully, “I don’t think anyone with as many zits as you should be brave enough to talk shite about anyone else’s looks. Maybe some Ice-O-Derm will help clear all that up.”

The boys looked at each other and scoffed in her direction before shaking their heads and heading back towards the seats they came from, muttering, “Bitch,” on their way just loud enough for her to hear.

“Yeah, and don’t you forget it!” she called after them, rolling her eyes before spinning around and plopping down on the bench beside her neighbor; Her neighbor that she didn’t notice had been staring at her. “I dunno who those two blokes are, but I feel like I need a shower just from having a chat with’em.”

She offered Dani a reassuring smile, though, the blonde just sat silently staring back at her. Judging by the slight smile on her face, Dani seemed grateful that Jamie had stood up for her. That was a good sign at least. But the silence wasn’t making the eleven year old feel very comfortable.

“Well, I’ll uh…” she thumbed back across the bus towards the empty seat she’d been sitting in before. With an awkward puff of breath through her lips, she grabbed her backpack again and stood up, ready to cross the aisle again. But a warm hand on her forearm stopped her with a quiet, “wait,”.

“Do you wanna come to my birthday party on Saturday?” Dani tugged her back down to sit, her eyes wide, blue, and hopeful, “You can bring your brothers...i-if you want to. Eddie’s mom is making the cake and she makes the best cakes.”

Jamie’s eyes shifted between the hand on her arm and the eyes that were piercing into her like daggers; Gentle daggers, if that was at all possible. She hadn’t said anything to those boys expecting anything in return. The only outcome she wanted was for them to leave Dani alone. She got that, and she didn’t expect anything else.

“Will you come? Please?” blue eyes pleaded with her, as if Dani wasn’t sure how she’d manage to live on if Jamie said no.

“Uh…” the young brunette ran a hand through her shaggy curls, brushing them back from where they’d fallen in her face, “What time?”

October 1990

Jamie smiled and turned to place an affectionate kiss to the top of Dani’s head, lingering for a moment just to breathe in the familiar strawberry scent she’d always known before turning back to her work. She could feel Dani take in a deep breath beside her before hearing the hum of contentment as she let it go.

“Didn’t know drawing came with the job description,” the blonde mumbled, looking at the sketchbook.

“Usually doesn’t. Hannah’s in charge of the floor plans. And she’s gonna kill me for trying to do her job for her again,” she chuckled, hoping that Dani remembered the woman who’d been helping Jamie with floor plans and interior designs for years now. Jamie had known her a bit longer, but only because Hannah had become her new roommate their senior year of college.

“But uh…” Jamie trailed off, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, “I’ve actually got some plans to expand the chain a little more. Out of state, this time.”

Dani picked her head up with a hint of a smile on her face, watching the way her best friend of nineteen years blushed with a shy grin of her own that she was trying to hold back. “Jamie, that’s amazing. You never told me that,” she said with pride dripping from her voice as she reached to push the glasses up the bridge of Jamie’s nose. An unconscious habit from growing up with Eddie for years.

“Nothing’s set in stone,” the brunette quirked her lips to the side, “But figured...store number five...might as well do something a little bigger with it.”

“Where are you thinking?”

“Dunno. I’ve got a few options. Thought New England might be nice. Maybe Vermont or New Hampshire. Wanted to expand a little farther than Iowa,” she sighed. She’d always wanted to go to Vermont.

“Well, set in stone or not, I’m really proud of you,” Dani wrapped an arm around Jamie’s torso, squeezing her into as tight of a hug as she could muster before resting her chin on her shoulder and looking up at the side of her face, “The Johnsons would be proud of you too, y’know.”

“Yeah right,” she snorted, letting it turn into a deep chuckle, “Every day in my office, I can practically hear Phil yelling over my shoulder about how I’m wasting money and running his business into the ground.”

As much of a hard ass as he could be, Jamie really did appreciate Phil Johnson. The first few months she worked at the flower shop just off the main street of town, he was constantly on her for something. Whether she neglected to wipe down the glass on the front doors the night before, or she miscounted a few pennies in the till. There was always something. And she hated it. But it was better than being at home, so she toughed it out.

But at the same time, she strived to make him proud. And eventually, somewhere down the line, he started looking at her with appreciation. He reminded her of her grandfather. Both him and Gladys were like surrogate grandparents to her after a while. They made sure she was fed, told her stories about building their little flower shop from the ground up, slipped a few dollars into her pocket on occasion when they had it to spare, and always offered some of the best hugs. They had no children or grandchildren of their own, so their staff was the closest they could get.

When the little business began to suffer during the spring before Jamie left for college, she did all she could. She helped them brainstorm ideas that would hopefully keep the doors open. She worked tirelessly over that summer. She would ride her skateboard to the little building, help with new, imaginative arrangements, cut out paper loyalty cards, and (with Dani’s help) even gave the place a much needed paint job.

And after seeing how rewarding it all was, watching the little business become more popular than it ever had been before, Jamie decided she wanted to major in business. She could be good at it, and maybe even own a business of her own someday.

When Gladys died just after Jamie got her Bachelor’s degree, she spent a long time with Phil, helping him keep the place afloat while he let her live in the little studio on the second floor. His age played a big role in his growing inability to run numbers and keep track of their finances, but the grief from losing his wife of over fifty years played an even bigger one.

”This place was our leafling,” he had muttered to her, shaky hands with paper-thin skin holding tightly to hers over the front counter, “We planted the seed and watched it grow from the little patch of land. And now, thanks to you, it’s…everything Gladys and I had ever hoped it would be.”

After that, he told her that he was retiring and leaving the business to her. Jamie had become a small business owner just shy of her 23rd birthday. And not long after that, Mr. Johnson passed.

Despite the previous owners being gone and feeling like she was stepping on the toes of their spirits with every business decision she made, Jamie managed. She changed the name from “Johnson Florist” to “The Leafling”, in honor of what Phil had told her before he announced his retirement.

She hired competent staff, offered fair enough benefits and pay for the workload as well as a great work environment (from what she’d been told), and by the time she was nearing her 25th birthday, she had opened her first brand new store in the chain of Leaflings that she ran today. And like her lucky charm, Dani had been there for the grand opening of each one. And they were all going strong.

May 1985

“Would you go sit down? You’re gonna hurt yourself. Give me that,” Jamie rolled her eyes as she took a vase full of brightly colored flowers from Dani; Dani who was eight and a half months pregnant and shouldn’t have been carrying anything; Dani who definitely should not have made the drive into Des Moines to help with opening day.

But she’d showed up, waving at Jamie through the glass of the front doors bright and early, much to the brunette’s surprise. Miles had been dropped off at her mother’s and Eddie was at work. And she didn’t want to miss out on Jamie’s big day.

“I’m pregnant, Jay, I’m not useless,” the blonde rolled her eyes, “At least let me do something. I can double check to make sure the register is stocked right, I can get the order forms ready…Hell, at least let me pass out the complimentary flowers to people when you open the doors,” she gestured to the buckets of daffodils by the door, ready to spread the knowledge that they symbolize new beginnings and rebirth to every customer that walked in.

“You can go sit down in the back room and relax with your feet up,” Jamie pointed towards the back room door with a chuckle. She had to admit she was glad Dani was here. She had plenty of experience from helping her at the Johnson’s flower shop since they were fifteen. Most of the business policies and practices were still the same, and Dani could easily follow along.

But the woman was nearly ready to pop with her second child. Jamie hadn’t even expected her to be here today, she definitely didn’t require her help. Especially not with lifting anything, even though Dani insisted on proving that she could. “Seriously, Dani, knowing you’re here is help enough. Go sit down.”

“Let me check the till first and I will,” she crossed her arms defiantly, resting them on the top of her swollen belly with a challenging look on her face, “Otherwise I’m passing out the daffodils.”

“God, you’re a pain in my ass,” she shook her head with a breath of airy laughter, watching as Dani’s face lit up victoriously, “Fine. It should be stocked with $100 with an extra hundred underneath. And once it’s counted, I want you to—“

“I know, I know, I’ll go sit down when I’m done,” blue eyes rolled sarcastically, pressing a playful kiss to Jamie’s cheek before walking (hobbling) to the service counter. “They’d be really proud of you, y’know,” she smiled over at Jamie as she opened the register, gesturing towards the black and white photo of Phil and Gladys that hung on the wall behind her. The couple looked younger than Jamie had ever imagined them to be as they stood proudly in front of the shop back home on the day of their own grand opening.

“Don’t get cheesy on me now, Poppins,” the brunette snorted before walking away, doing a triple check with her staff. After months of prep, they would be opening the doors in an hour. And Jamie was surprisingly calm, taking the day with ease.

Or she was until she heard the sound of quarters scattering to the tile floor from behind her.

xxx

The last hour and a half had been just a hazy blur of memories. Jamie was honestly surprised that she didn’t crash her truck on the drive to the hospital. She remembered rushing over to Dani, who was hunched over the counter in pain. She remembered nearly falling on her ass after slipping in the mess Dani left on the floor from her water breaking.

Jamie remembered telling her staff to handle everything. She trusted them enough. She’d rather let them take control than disappointing the awaiting public by postponing opening day. And she remembered Dani crying, both from the pain and the guilt. Even when they were pulling up to the hospital, the blonde was determined to walk in on her own so Jamie could go back to the flower shop for the grand opening.

She remembered Dani begging her through tears to come with her into the delivery room, claiming she couldn’t do it alone. She remembered a sobbed “please” leaving her best friend’s lips with desperation in her eyes. She remembered Dani yelling. She remembered Dani screaming as she clutched onto her hand so tightly it nearly broke every bone.

And she remembered hearing the first strained cries of the newborn baby girl that was now swaddled in Dani’s arms, sleeping peacefully in the quiet hospital room.

“Dunno how Eddie managed to stay conscious when Miles was born,” Jamie chuckled, whispering quietly to not disturb the baby, “The man passed out in biology class the second he cut into a frog. Dunno how he could’ve possibly handled this well.”

“He was touch and go for a while from what he told me,” Dani whispered back with a smile, “You can come over here, you know.”

Jamie just shook her head, offering a tight, crooked smile, “I don’t wanna wake her.”

But Dani shifted across the hospital bed, holding the pink bundle in one arm as she used the other to move herself over to make room for Jamie. “Come hold her, it’s okay,” she beckoned, “If she’s anything like Miles, she’ll fall right back asleep with that trick you showed me.”

Jamie bit her lip and thought about it before standing up, not giving Dani the time to “please” her way into getting her to come over. She knew that it was only a matter of time before Eddie arrived. And christ, once Karen got here, who knew when she would get a chance to hold the baby again?

Settling comfortably against her side, she took the baby girl from the blonde when she carefully handed her over, reclining back with her against the elevated mattress. “Tiny little thing, isn’t she?” Jamie smiled down at her niece.

“Yeah, nothing like her ten pound brother,” Dani huffed a bit of a laugh and laid her head on Jamie’s shoulder, resting her eyes.

They sat in comfortable silence for a while, though, Dani kept making sure to deliver whispers of apologetic gratitude to her best friend. ”I’m sorry you missed your first grand opening, but I’m so glad you were here with me,” she whispered in different variations over the short span of time. And each time Jamie told her not to worry about it. There would be other grand openings, she was sure of it.

“Still planning on calling her Abigail?” Jamie kissed the top of Dani’s head gently, wondering if she’d fallen asleep after a few minutes of silence.

The blonde just hummed as she picked her head up, looking down at the infant’s chubby pink face as she slept, “I’m not sure if Abigail really suits her.”

“Well, she’s already here. Better think of a new name before you take her home,” Jamie whispered, playfully nudging her with her shoulder.

“What about Flora?” a bit of a smile came to Dani’s face as she thought it over, “It means ‘flower’ in Latin. And she shares a birthday with your flower shop.” Her nose scrunched up as a frisky look came over her face, “She can be a fun little reminder of how I ruined your big day.”

“You didn’t ruin anything, stop that,” Jamie rolled her eyes, “Flora sounds nice, though. Y’think Eddie will approve?”

“He’s gonna have to.”

Chapter Text

October 1990

The lamp had been turned off eventually. Notebooks, binders, and sketchbooks had been put back into Jamie’s small suitcase. Reading glasses had been removed, and now the two women were lying on their sides, talking quietly like they were thirteen with Karen right down the hall again.

“I just don’t get why you won’t buy a new truck, Jamie, it’s not like you can’t afford it,” Dani’s fingers toyed with a loose thread from the pillowcase under her head, “I can probably get you a good deal at Sal’s. Maybe we can get away for a little bit tomorrow and go look—“

“Mm-mm,” the brunette shook her head with a hint of laughter behind it, “I worked too hard for that truck, I’m driving it til it finally gives out on me.”

“Jamie, it overheats and the passenger door doesn’t even lock. You’ve had it since before Miles was even born. I mean, it’s from the sixties.”

“Speaking of which, what does he want for his birthday?” she rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling through the darkness. Meanwhile, Dani just turned onto her stomach and leaned up on her elbows, staring her best friend down from beside her with a quirked eyebrow. Without even looking, Jamie knew that Dani was giving her the infamous Clayton stare. She still didn’t have the heart to tell her that it was starting to look just like Karen’s.

“What?” she asked instead, turning her head to peer over at her.

“Jamie, you live in the city. I don’t like knowing that you’re driving something so unsafe when you live an hour away from me,” the blonde huffed, hating that she had to use her teacher voice on a thirty year old, “You at least need to get the lock fixed. What are you gonna do if it gets stolen?”

“It’s been broken for only three of the six years I’ve lived in the city, and it hasn’t been stolen yet. Think people take one look at it and can easily figure out that it’s not worth stealing.”

“Jamie.”

Rolling back onto her side, Jamie propped her head up on her elbow, looking across the bit of space at Dani’s expression. “What does Miles want for his birthday?” she asked again, challenging her with a raised eyebrow of her own. Only hers was accompanied by a smug grin, rather than a tight jaw.

After a few moments of silent staring, both challenging each other to back down, Dani’s face softened as she averted her eyes with a defeated sigh. “We got him a Gameboy,” she muttered, looking down at the striped pillowcase below her. “But...he’s been acting out in school and not doing his homework, and I told Eddie that, but he...he insisted on getting it for him anyway. I guess he figured that if Miles acts up, he could just take it away for a little while. Y’know as punishment.”

Jamie watched as her friend’s demeanor seemed to shift at the mention of her husband. Her husband that she’d only just buried this morning, no less. Talking to her over the last hour, if she didn’t know any better, she would have never guessed that Dani was even the least bit sad about it. She’d been acting just like she always had. But Jamie knew that other shoe had to drop eventually.

“So, if you wanna get him a game or two, I’m sure he’d love it. I’m just…” Dani trailed off, “He was already struggling and getting into trouble. And now this has happened...I’m just going to have to...try to limit how much he can use it, I guess.” She seemed so nervous about the fact.

“Well…” Jamie laid her head back down on her pillow, squishing the brown curls under her head, “Maybe I’ll get him some flash cards or something to go with a game or two.”

Dani breathed the lightest puff of laughter through her nose before her face fell again. She slowly lowered herself to lay back down, following Jamie’s lead as she swallowed the thick lump in her throat. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”

Jamie’s brows knit together at her whisper, but she instinctively reached over to rub her arm over the sleeve of her navy blue nightgown, sensing the sudden decline in her mood.

“Eddie was tougher on the kids than I ever was,” Dani’s voice began to tremble with every syllable, “He always told me I’m too soft with them and that I spoil them, but...I just never…” She took in a choppy bit of breath, her eyes starting to shine with tears that were clear as day to Jamie, even through the darkness. “I never, ever want them to feel like I did. My mom never listened to me, y’know? It was always punishment first and maybe talk later.”

Jamie nodded, squeezing her arm gently to let her know that she was still there and she understood. She knew that Eddie never physically punished the kids. And Eddie knew that if he ever laid a disciplinary hand on the kids or Dani, Jamie would hear about it. And she wouldn’t hesitate to come over and “rip his spine clean out his asshole” (as she had so delicately put it when she gave her maid of honor speech at their wedding).

“How am I supposed to do this, Jamie?” Dani sniffled in the darkened room, bringing her hands up to cover her face and muffle her crying, “I can’t raise two kids on my own. I can’t even get Flora to eat her broccoli lately, how am I supposed to help Miles through these next few years? He gets more and more of an attitude every day and he’s not even in middle school yet.”

The brunette didn’t know what to say; And she hated that. She hated not being able to help. “You’re not on your own, though,” she started, flicking her tongue over her lips in an attempt to start saying something. But Dani’s body became wracked with more and more tremors by the second, “You’re not. Dani…”

She shifted closer, pulling the blonde into the best hug she could manage with them both laying on their sides. “You’re not alone, okay?,” she whispered, running her fingers through the mane of her ponytail, “You’ve got Judy, your neighbors, your mum...Even though I know you know that I don’t think she’s the glittering example of good parenting.”

That got a bit of a wet laugh out of her at least.

“You’ve got me too,” she kissed the top of her shoulder after Dani had fallen back into her sniffles, “I know the drive’s a little bit longer, but I’m always a phone call away. Just say the word and you know I’ll be here.”

Dani tensed in her arms before she pulled back, wiping at her tired eyes. “I couldn’t ask you to do that. Even if I could, it’s a much longer drive here from Vermont than Des Moines.” Blue eyes were solemn, despite the small but warm smile on Dani’s face, and a gentle hand came up to meet Jamie’s cheek, “And you, Jamie Taylor, have a lot more important things to worry about than saving me from failing at parenting.”

Bringing her own hand up to cover the slightly shaky one against her cheek, Jamie just breathed a light laugh as she shook her head, turning to kiss the palm of Dani’s hand. She could never help but laugh when Dani doubted herself so openly. Simply because the very idea of Dani failing at anything was ludicrous.

March 1980

Jamie unlocked the door to the dorm room, running a finger through her wild curly hair that had been assaulted by the cold wind outside. She was glad that she had seen an ad for these fucking things in a magazine otherwise she’d be forcing Dani into her truck to take her to Planned Parenthood.

“I got it,” she tossed her keys onto the small desk by the door, watching the blonde sit up in her bed. It was nearly 12:30 in the afternoon and her hair was still a mess from sleep. She hadn’t even bothered to change out of her pajamas. That was how Jamie knew that Dani was not okay.

“God, thank you,” Dani sniffled, pulling down her sleep shirt to cover her bare thighs as she got up to meet Jamie by the door, “How does it work?” Her eyebrows furrowed as she studied the box of the pregnancy test, looking at it as if the information was written in an entirely different language.

“Pharmacist wouldn’t tell me,” green eyes nearly rolled into the back of Jamie’s head as she brought her to sit down on her bed so they could read the instructions, “Just gave me that ‘you’re going straight to hell’ look and took my money anyway.”

It was a good thing Dani hadn’t come with her. She’d never really done well with judgement from others, even if they were strangers. And even though they were miles from home, the blonde was still paranoid that word about her buying a pregnancy test at nineteen would somehow get back to her mother.

But Jamie was always the more outgoing one between them. She didn’t care who saw or what they said if they thought she was buying it for herself. They were in the middle of a nationwide women’s liberation movement, for christ’s sake. If she wanted to buy a pregnancy test at nineteen years old, she could. There was no one back home for word to get back to anyway.

“I’m sorry. Thank you for going, though. How much do I owe you?” Dani asked as she attempted to open the box delicately. But Jamie just shook her head, telling her not to worry about it. If things didn’t go the way they were hoping, Dani would have much more to worry about than paying her back.

Jamie pulled out the instruction packet while Dani inspected the clear rectangular box that she’d removed from the packaging, turning it around in her hands as if it were a rubix cube she was too stumped to solve.

“Uh, we’re gonna have to head down to the bathrooms for this,” Jamie breathed a light chuckle as she read through the instructions. And after a bit of coaxing after Dani’s reluctance to take the test, Jamie ended up with her back against the locked door of the communal bathroom at the end of the dormitory hallway while Dani was locked in one of the stalls.

“You have the eye dropper?” she called into the otherwise empty bathroom, waiting for Dani’s confirmation before she read from the instructions, “Says to use that to put three drops of piss into the test tube.”

“Do you have to call it piss?” Dani asked from the stall. Jamie could just picture her rolling her eyes.

“It’s piss, Dani, what else do you want me to call it? The word ‘pee’ makes my skin crawl,” she shot back before eyeing the instructions again, giving the paper an incredulous look, “Why three drops? What, like four drops of piss is gonna throw the whole test off?”

“Can you just call it ‘urine’ or something?” Dani’s voice came from the stall peppered with light laughter, “And stop making me laugh, I’m trying to concentrate.”

“Sorry, concentrate on urinating,” Jamie winced, reading through the instructions as she waited for Dani to tell her she was ready for the next step. “Okay, add the contents of the plastic vial to the test tube, shake it for ten seconds and put the test tube into the holder.”

“Done,” Dani announced after a few seconds.

“Okay, so now you just have to leave it undisturbed for...jesus, two hours?”

“What?!”

“Apparently you can’t touch it for two hours. And if a ring shows up, then it’s positive, but if no ring shows up, it’s negative.”

“Shows up in what?!”

“In the piss, or something, I don’t fuckin’ know!”

Dani groaned as she came out of the stall, setting the clear box with the test tube inside on the edge of the sink as she washed her hands. “Seriously, two hours? That’s what it says?”

“Says so right here,” she held the instruction packet up, pushing herself off the wooden door to make her way over to where Dani was drying her hands. “Guess we can leave it in the dorm and go get lunch or something.”

“I don’t think I can eat when I’m this nervous. And I already threw up twice this morning.”

“We could go catch a movie...?”

“No, we have a lot of studying to do for midterms,” Dani shook her head, leaning against the sink.

“Well, you’re not gonna get much studying done with that...” she gestured to the pregnancy test, “...in the same room. So I’ve gotta take you out somewhere, Poppins.”

As a compromise to Jamie’s hunger and Dani’s need to study, they left the test in their dorm, grabbed their books after Dani got dressed, and headed down to the nearest diner, studying for their exams as they split a breakfast platter (that wasn’t intended to be split, but Dani had started picking off Jamie’s plate anyway). And two hours later, they were sitting on the edge of Dani’s bed, inspecting the test tube that was sitting in the clear box.

“Do you see a ring?” Jamie asked as she squinted at the small print of the instructions. It was silent for a few moments, save for the rustling of the paper as she kept trying to read it better. “Dani?”

The blonde beside her was quiet as she stared down into the box with a blank expression. She wasn’t falling back on her bed with relief. She wasn’t getting up and doing the silly little ‘Happy Dani’ dance she always did when things went her way. Jamie knew, from that, that she didn’t even need to ask again.

“Do you see one?” But she did ask, just in case. This time earning a slow, ominous nod as a response

Shit.

She took the test into her own hands, peering into it to see for herself. There was always the chance that Dani was just seeing things, right? But there it was, a dark circle, clear as day. It may as well have just said the word ‘PREGNANT’ in big block letters.

“Okay, well—“ she started just as Dani’s breathing began to pick up. “Dani, hey,” she set the test on the nightstand and turned to face her best friend, taking her hands into her own and squeezing tightly, “Hey, listen to me—“

“My mom is gonna kill me,” Dani interrupted, her eyes wide and worried as her whole body shook with fear and she went pale as a ghost, “Eddie’s gonna kill me, Jamie, I’m gonna have to drop out of school. I can’t—“

“Mm-mm, no,” Jamie shook her head, taking Dani’s face into her hands. It broke her to see her best friend looking so terrified. And it hurt even more to know that this wasn’t something that she could save her from. Jamie couldn’t tell Karen that this was all her fault like she used to when they were kids. If she could take the blame, she would.

“Listen to me,” she held her eyes as best she could, feeling her trembling jaw under her palms, “We’re gonna take this one day at a time. We’ll go get it checked out, tell whoever you wanna tell...and it’ll be fine. Okay?”

She winced a bit as she heard herself using the word ‘we’, as if she were biologically involved. But Dani was her friend. Her best friend. Just like she’d told the greasy bullies on the school bus back when they were eleven, if it involved her friend, it involved her too. That’s what they did, that was how their friendship worked. Everything together. She wouldn’t be living in this dorm room with a future of student loan debt ahead of her if that wasn’t how things worked between them.

“It’s gonna be okay,” Jamie brushed the tears from Dani’s cheeks with her thumb, pulling her into a reassuring hug. She just hated that it was all she had to offer her.

“Promise,” Dani breathed against her neck, “Promise me, Jay.” She needed to know that everything would be okay. She had such a strong faith in Jamie’s promises, because after eight and a half years of friendship, even when Jamie made promises that she couldn’t keep, she’d never been wrong.

Moving a hand off Dani’s back, the brunette reached for one of her quivering hands, linking their pinkies together like she had been for years, sealing the unspoken promise with a kiss to her knuckles.

October 1990

Dani had calmed down. Slightly. Every now and then through their chats, she would get a bit sad. She was tired and Jamie knew it. The clock in the corner was nearing 1am, but Dani insisted on staying up talking, no matter how many times Jamie insisted that she sleep. They didn’t get to do this often anymore, and she wanted to cherish it for as long as she could.

“Still can’t believe that kid’s gonna be ten. That makes me feel so old,” Jamie made a face with the word that elicited a tired laugh out of the blonde, “Seriously, how has it been that long? Feels like he was just last week that he learned to walk.”

“Tell me about it,” Dani shook her head, curled into herself as she laid facing her, “Pretty soon he’s gonna be graduating from college while Flora’s just starting...And we’re gonna be forty.”

“Shut up, I’m already struggling enough being thirty,” Jamie rolled onto her back, covering her face and muffling the groan that came from her throat. But her arms dropped dramatically to her sides before she turned back to Dani with a bit of a grin, “Still can’t believe it was twenty years ago that we were his age. A whole two decades.”

Dani just smiled and nestled into the pillow, stifling a yawn as she rubbed her tired eyes. “I know. Almost makes me feel bad. Miles hasn’t found his forever friend yet. I want him to have someone that he can reminisce with when he’s thirty, y’know?”

“Yeah, but you never know when someone’s your forever friend until a few years have passed. Besides, he still has another year til he’s eleven. Seemed to be the lucky number for us.”

“True. I hope he finds someone soon. Middle school’s hard enough, but when you don’t have a friend? I don’t think I would’ve made it without you there with me.”

“You had Eddie,” Jamie offered, feeling like she was walking on eggshells just saying his name.

“Eddie wouldn’t have loaned me the jeans he was wearing so that I didn’t embarrass myself with a blood stain on mine,” Dani raised an eyebrow at her with a smirk, thankfully too entertained by the memory of that day in eighth grade to let her late husband’s name send her into a fit of tears.

“Hey, it was worth the dress code write-up,” Jamie chuckled, remembering how she’d worn her dad’s old Rolling Stones t-shirt as a short dress for the rest of the school day after they’d thrown Dani’s white jeans in the trash of the second floor girl’s bathroom.

Dani just smiled and shifted a bit closer so that Jamie’s face was just a breath away from hers, closing her eyes as the urge to sleep finally started to win her over. “You’ve always had to save me. S’not fair,” she mumbled and turned over so she could press her back to Jamie’s front, pulling the brunette’s arm over her side and holding it close.

“You’ve come to my rescue plenty of times too,” Jamie got comfortable, sighing deeply into the thick blonde ponytail against her face. Dani’s breathing evened out quickly, though she still clung to Jamie’s arm in her sleep.

Part of Jamie felt foolish for encouraging Dani to go to sleep earlier. Because now, she just wanted to wake her up and keep her talking. She missed this kind of thing too much to let it go so soon. They didn’t see each other nearly as often as they used to, now that they lived an hour apart. Things were so much easier when they were preteens, when Jamie could just crawl through Dani’s bedroom window when she needed company at night.

She wasn’t sure how long she was staying in town; and she hated not knowing whether or not this would be the last time they got to spend time together like this for a while. So she cherished it as if it were the last, dropping a lingering kiss to the back of Dani’s shoulder before letting herself succumb to sleep alongside her.

July 1975

Dani placed a kiss to Eddie’s cheek after he dropped her off on her front porch. They’d just gotten back from the town’s annual Fourth of July carnival in the park, but they would be returning later on in the evening for the fireworks.

She hoped Jamie was still planning on joining them for that. She’d missed out on the carnival. But Dani understood that the whole idea of jolly patriotism didn’t really sit right with her best friend. Especially since her brother had died in the war earlier this year. And Jamie was still pretty hurt by the fact that the war had ended just a few months after he was killed.

She’d gotten to see Mikey and Mr. Taylor at the carnival at least. They had always been nice to her. Mrs. Taylor wasn’t with them though. But like her daughter, Dani assumed that she was back at home, not really wanting to be around so much merriment. According to Jamie, her mom hadn’t been doing so well since Denny died.

But she brought home a hot dog for each of them, wrapped in aluminum foil. And thankfully, they stayed warm with the heat of mid-summer. After Eddie started walking down the sidewalk to his house, Dani straightened out the wrinkled skirt of her white sundress and walked in the opposite direction, across the grass and onto the Taylor’s front porch.

After cradling both wrapped hot dogs in one arm, she raised her hand to press the doorbell, but a sound from their backyard stopped her before she could. It was unfamiliar, like frustrated grunts and groans. But it sounded like Jamie. With a wrinkled brow, she stepped off the porch and rounded the house, hearing the sounds and Jamie’s frustrated cursing as she got closer to the back yard. Concerned, she walked a little faster through the grass between their houses, dropping the hot dogs from her hands when she found her.

Jamie was on the ground, knees practically buried in the dirt as she ripped up flowers, plants, and vegetables from the garden she’d started with her mom the summer after sixth grade.

“Jamie?” Dani ran over, knowing that something had to be seriously wrong. Jamie loved her garden more than just about anything. From her own kitchen window next door, she had always watched it grow from the little patch of soil to a flourishing green space that Jamie just kept adding to. Dani knew more about flowers now than she ever did before because Jamie had taken up such an interest in gardening. She even managed to keep it lively through the harsh winters. Why would she want to destroy it?

“Jamie. Jamie, hey,” her voice was low, but panicked as she ran to her, dropping to her knees beside the brunette as she ripped up leaves and tossed dirt around. Dani couldn’t care less about the grass and dirt stains forming on her white dress. She didn’t even notice them. “Jamie, stop, what’s wrong?”

She’d never seen her like this before. She saw her cry for the first time in January at Denny’s funeral, and she’d seen her shed a few tears every now and then ever since. But this was completely different. She could see the tears on Jamie’s bright red face, she could feel the tremble of her muscles under her skin. This wasn’t like anything she’d seen from Jamie before.

Arms fumbled as the fifteen year old attempted to break out of Dani’s grasp, desperate to rip up every shred that was left of her garden for reasons that Dani had yet to understand. But she tried to calm her down as best she could, fighting against her if she needed to as her best friend kept trying to destroy the beautiful thing she’d created any more than she already had.

It seemed like forever before she stopped, sitting back in the grass with her head leaned down against her knees. Dani could feel every heavy sob that came from deep in Jamie’s chest as they left her with hoarse, strained cries. But she stayed knelt beside her with her arms wrapped around her body in an attempt to calm her down, rubbing her back and soothing her quietly as she slowly calmed down.

She didn’t push her to talk. She knew that Jamie would tell her eventually. For now she was just fine with being there for her. And she was grateful that Jamie let her.

“Sh-sh-she…” Jamie’s voice was quiet, trembling as her body kept vibrating as she fell back into her deep and heavy crying. And Dani still didn’t push. She waited as patiently as ever for her to try again. Her heart was pounding in her ears from the adrenaline of finding her best friend in such a state of distress. It was scary, especially when she wasn’t sure why or what to do about it.

“She l-left,” Jamie managed, letting out a strained noise as she attempted to catch her breath. Her throat was on fire.

Dani pulled back enough to see Jamie’s face as she picked it up from her knees, gently brushing the dirt and tears from her cheeks as best she could. “Who did?” she asked as calmly as possible, shedding a tear of her own at how distraught Jamie looked.

It took a while for Jamie to answer, as every time she tried, she would break down again. But eventually, everyone ran out of tears. And Jamie was no exception. When she ran out, she simply let her legs stretch out in the grass in front of her as she leaned, exhausted, into her best friend, reduced to just a few sniffles and tears as her body dealt with the painful aftermath.

“My m-mum,” she hiccuped after a few moments of catching her breath. Her body still shook almost violently in Dani’s embrace and she had a splitting headache. But she could talk. She could explain. And she knew Dani would sit with her and listen for as long as she needed her to. “Sh-she...she just left.”

“What do you...what do you mean she left? Where did she go?” Dani asked quietly, keeping her voice as calm as possible as she ran her hand up and down Jamie’s arm, still holding her close.

“I don’t kn-know, sh-she didn’t...didn’t know I was h-home. A-and I came d-downstairs and she was l-leaving with a s-suitcase,” Jamie’s voice was heartbreakingly shaky, but Dani listened, waiting as Jamie got the rest of the story out. And from what she could gather, it was pretty simple.

Louise had called a cab, ready to leave when she assumed no one was home to stop her. Jamie caught her right as she was walking out the door. And after a shouting match on the front porch, Louise left, having the audacity to ask Jamie to take care of what remained of their family, leaving her with more questions than answers.

Which then lead to Jamie tearing up the garden they’d created together years ago. Louise loved the garden just as much. And Jamie felt like destroying it would somehow hurt her mother; An act of revenge for what she’d done not long before Dani had arrived back in the neighborhood.

Dani felt guilt deep in her chest, feeling like if she had only been home sooner, she could’ve somehow prevented it. She may not have been able to prevent Jamie’s mom from leaving, but she could’ve prevented Jamie from ripping up the garden that she loved so much and put so much work into.

“Now I’ve gotta start this whole thing over,” the brunette snorted bitterly and shook her head, ashamed at her own reckless behavior as she brushed the dirt off her knees and flicked torn up leaves and petals away from her.

Dani bit her lip, looking around the destroyed garden. But like a coincidental beacon of hope, a single yellow daffodil stood alone towards the back, miraculously missed during Jamie’s rampage. “So you’ll start it over. Not a big deal,” she shrugged, “Daffodils symbolize new beginnings, right?”

Jamie nodded, sniffling despite the slight twinge of happiness she felt in her chest that Dani had remembered that. She followed the blonde’s line of sight to the lonely yellow flower at the back of the garden plot and managed to crack a bit of a smile, glad to see that she hadn’t destroyed everything. One daffodil in her garden was better than nothing.

“Will you...help me?” she asked quietly, squinting in the sunlight as she turned to face the blonde beside her, “Start it over, I mean?”

Jamie never asked for help. Dani knew that. There were plenty of times that she needed help, and Dani was just smart enough to pick up on it. Whether it was help with her homework or if she was attempting to make dinner for everyone while her parents were working late. But this was the first time that Jamie had ever asked before Dani could offer.

“Yeah,” she nodded, biting her lip to stop her smile from spreading too wide, “Of course I will.”

And she did. Starting right then, actually. She stayed knelt in the grass, helping Jamie clean up the debris, saving a few bunches of flower petals so she could repurpose them into a summery potpourri.

She missed the fireworks that night. Eddie had been a little disappointed when he’d found her, ready to pick her up so they could head back to the park. But she’d brushed the dirt off her formerly pristine white dress and simply explained to him that Jamie needed her. She’d seen the fireworks every year for her whole life. She wasn’t missing anything new. Plus, she wanted to make sure that she was there when Mr. Taylor and Mikey got back so Jamie didn’t have to tell them about what happened all on her own.

For the rest of the summer, that was their thing. They worked tirelessly on the garden in Jamie’s backyard, hoping to make it even better than it was before. Especially since Louise never came back, it made Jamie happy to know that the garden wasn’t hers and her mother’s anymore. It was hers and Dani’s now.

But what they didn’t know at the time, was that by the next summer, the little garden they’d worked so hard on together would be just another memory; Something for them to reminisce over in the years to come.

Chapter Text

October 1990

Tired green eyes blinked open in the darkness. Jamie had no idea what time it was, but it wouldn’t surprise her if it was just about sunrise. She couldn’t remember the last time she actually slept past dawn. Or at least not woken up before it. There were several times she’d woken up with the sun and gone back to sleep within minutes. But her body’s internal alarm clock always rang early lately, regardless of what time she went to bed the night before.

The weight of an arm on her hip wasn’t unexpected. She never understood how, but she always ended up wrapped in Dani’s embrace somewhere in the night, even if they fell asleep in the completely opposite position. Jamie tossed and turned in her sleep. She always had. But Dani always seemed to reach for her to bring her back and hold her steady, even if it was an unconscious act in her sleep.

It was nice to think about, if she were honest; Knowing that Dani wanted to keep her close and secure. But of course, the intrusive thought of her just being a clingy sleeper entered her mind, as well as the thought of her doing the same with Edmund.

Edmund, who was just buried nearly twenty-four hours ago. Edmund, her best friend’s childhood sweetheart. Edmund, who, as much as she hated to admit it, treated Dani well when he wasn’t being a forgetful ass or coming home late without any hint or warning.

Sure, Dani’s smile didn’t reach her eyes when she looked at him like it did when she looked at Jamie. And maybe Dani always cuddled up to Jamie’s side instead of his when they would watch movies together throughout their school years. But Dani loved him. She wouldn’t have married him if she didn’t. Right?

Too early to be thinking like this, Jamie. And too soon.

Her thoughts screamed around in her brain, fighting and contradicting each other to get their points across. And those thoughts mixed with the feeling of Dani’s chest rising and falling against her back...it was a deadly combination. If she didn’t get out soon, she knew that her rational thoughts would be on the losing end of the battle in her mind.

Slowly removing herself from her best friend’s embrace, she slipped out of the bed, quietly making her way to her suitcase to throw on some sweatpants and a grey crew neck from high school. Maybe a jog would clear her mind. It usually helped when she was stressed out. She had a treadmill put in her office for that exact reason.

With the bit of fresh sunlight coming through the small cellar window, Jamie took one glance back at Dani. She fixed the blankets that had fallen, moving them a bit higher up to her shoulders as she slept peacefully, resisting the urge to lean down and kiss her temple. And as she made her way up the carpeted basement steps, Jamie tried her hardest to push down the thoughts of what it would be like to wake up with Dani every morning.

She managed a smile as Wally came prancing up to her from his bed in the living room with an eagerly wagging tail, kneeling down to scratch around his neck and ears. His fluffy, golden fur had lightened a bit with age. He was only about a month older than Miles, according to his previous owner he’d been adopted from.

“What’dya say to going on a run with me, huh?” she whispered, nuzzling his nose with her own before he spun in circles, already headed for the front door, “All right, lemme leave a note. Don’t want anyone thinking either of us got kidnapped.”

With a quiet chuckle, she stood back up, leaving a quick note on the kitchen counter with the pad of paper from beside the answering machine. And once Wally’s leash was securely fastened to his collar and her messy hair was tied up into a ponytail, they were out the door and jogging down the sidewalk.

Jamie was grateful for the crisp autumn air. The cold against her face gave her something else to focus on. Same with the summer when it was much too hot to even be outside for a jog. She was able to focus more on the temperature and the feeling of the sun against her back than anything else. And she really needed to run from her thoughts this morning. Or at least straighten them out.

Eddie had just died. They’d never been close, she and him. Not for lack of trying on her part, but he’d made it clear from the beginning that they weren’t fit for friendship if Dani wasn’t standing between them. She didn’t blame him, really. After years of thinking back on it, she did basically steal his best friend from him. Not that becoming close with Dani was something she’d ever planned to do after they’d first met.

But Jamie had to admit, if she had a best friend she’d known since she was in diapers, she’d be pretty pissed off too if someone else came swooping in out of nowhere and taking up their attention.

Okay, maybe there had been times when Jamie had been a little jealous of him too. But those all came after Dani started dating him. The summer before ninth grade changed a lot of things.

”I asked Eddie to be my boyfriend,” she could hear Dani’s voice clear as day in her mind. Along with the obnoxious creak of the swingset at the park as she swung back and forth.

”Why?” Jamie had asked, flopped over the next swing on her stomach, twisting the chain around so she’d spin in circles once she lifted her feet off the ground.

”Cause Linda Horowitz said that starting high school with a boyfriend is a good idea. It makes you look...cooler, I guess. She said everyone does it.”

”Well, Linda Horowitz is also repeating the 10th grade this year,” Jamie remembered rolling her eyes as a discomfort settled in her stomach. And it wasn’t from dizzying herself on the swing, ”Wouldn’t really take anything she says to heart.”

She played pretend a lot back then. She pretended that her stomach didn’t churn every time she saw Dani and Eddie at the bus stop holding hands. She pretended that her gagging noises were purely joking and playful when they would kiss anywhere near her. And after a while, she got so used to pretending, that she wasn’t sure what her true feelings were anymore. She put on fake smiles so often, she didn’t know what a real one felt like for a while.

As she got older, she knew that it was jealousy that had been plaguing her. Not just because Eddie had found a way to take up more of Dani’s time again, but because he got to do all the things that Jamie hadn’t even known she wanted to do with her. He got to hold her hand at school or at the mall and carry her books. He got to take her out on dates and give her flowers (red roses, of course).

Jamie knew she could do some of those things with Dani, too. And the thing about being Dani’s best friend, the person she told everything to, was that she could do those things better.

She could get Dani her favorite flowers when Eddie stuck with his usual, even after being told that they weren’t her favorites. She could take Dani to the roller disco for a friend date after hearing her talk about being bored with going to the same restaurant with him every Friday night.

It wasn’t that she was trying to one-up Eddie. Not always, at least. It was just that she knew what Dani wanted. And Eddie almost always stuck with what he was familiar with even if Dani told him that she wanted to try switching things up. Jamie was just being a good friend.

At least that’s what she always told herself.

December 1984

Knocking on the red door of the big blue house on the edge of her hometown, Jamie rocked back and forth in her snow boots, looking around nervously. She should turn back. This was way over the line. It was crazy. It was—

“Hey!” Dani greeted her with a cheery smile, running a hand through her tousled blonde hair before pulling Jamie into a tight hug; Or as tight as she could manage around her barely swollen stomach. The brunette could already tell that this pregnancy was treating Dani better than her first. Then again, the last time Dani was four months pregnant, she was dealing with the stress of living back at her mom’s, planning a wedding, and working out how to transfer her university credits to the nearest community college.

Now the biggest source of Dani’s stress was running over to hug Jamie’s leg in the doorway.

“Happy early Christmas,” the slightly older woman smiled and kissed her cheek before crouching down to lift Miles into her arms, blowing a raspberry on his cheek to make him laugh.

“You’re here early, where’s your stuff?” the blonde peeked around her, not seeing her suitcase sitting behind her on the front porch like she normally did when she came to visit from the city.

“It’s uh, back in the truck. Got a few presents to bring in, too,” she smiled a bit nervously, “Figured I’d let you know I was here before I started lugging everything in.”

“Are you all right?” Dani’s eyebrows wrinkled together, reaching out for her shoulder as she examined her nervous demeanor.

But Jamie just nodded and placed the four year old down to his feet, telling him to go play before she stood back upright. She was going to open her mouth to speak again, but Eddie appeared behind Dani, towering over them both with a cordial smile on his lips.

“Hey, Jamie. Welcome back.”

“Eddie, good to see you,” she nodded back with a tight-lipped smile, “How’s that, uh...eye doctor thing going?”

“Pretty well. Only another two years of the program before I’m licensed,” he grinned proudly.

Back when Dani had found out she was pregnant with Miles, Jamie honestly never thought that they would make it to where they were now, living in an impressively large house (that they’d bought with inheritance money from when Eddie’s grandfather died), with their son and another baby on the way. Dani was working as a preschool teacher at the nursery school Miles attended, hoping to work her way into teaching elementary school soon. And Eddie was working on completing his optometry program at one of the nearby colleges while holding a job at the local eye doctor.

It wasn’t ideal in Jamie’s eyes, but it was...normal. And after she gave them (Dani) their (her) Christmas gift, they would be one white picket fence away from being the perfect little suburban family that everyone else expected them to be.

“Good for you, mate, sounds like you’re really on your way,” she breathed, turning back to the blonde who was still smiling in her direction, excited to see her for the first time since Thanksgiving a few weeks ago.

“Eddie, can you put your shoes on and help her bring her stuff in?” Dani turned to her husband, but Jamie quickly (and rather loudly, she’d admit) cut in, insisting that she could get everything on her own.

The man just chuckled, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose and shaking his head as he turned back into the house, “You always were a modern woman, Jamie.”

“Are you sure?” Dani offered gently, still a bit put off by Jamie’s fidgety and nervous behavior.

“Mmhm,” the brunette nodded, holding her hands tightly in her jacket pockets, “I’ll uh, be right in. Go back inside, it’s bloody cold out here.”

She didn’t wait for Dani to do as she suggested before she turned in her boots and headed down the walkway to her truck to grab her backpack full of clothes and toiletries. She wasn’t staying very long. She had deadlines to meet back in the city for the grand opening of her first store next year. But she’d be damned if she missed a Christmas with Dani. She hadn’t missed one in thirteen years. Even when they were eleven, Dani had come over to the Taylor house to drop off handmade gifts on Christmas Day.

With her backpack on her shoulders, a big bag of presents hooked in one hand, and a bright red leash in the other, Jamie took the deepest breath, filling her lungs as if she were about to dive into the deep end of the swimming pool.

It was crazy to get your best friend a dog for Christmas, right? Especially without consulting her about it first. Or her husband. And yet, despite knowing that, here Jamie was, leading the obedient golden retriever up the walkway towards the light blue house that would hopefully be his new home from now on.

The scent of warm vanilla cinnamon and gingerbread in the house calmed her down a bit once she stepped in, placing her backpack and the bag of gifts by the door in the foyer. She could hear Dani and Eddie talking in the kitchen. But the pitter-patter of approaching little feet gave her hardly any time to realize that her surprise was about to be ruined.

“A doggy!” Miles shrieked, running over to pet the dog that Jamie had brought inside. So much for backing out at the last minute.

“Miles, wha—“ Dani padded into the foyer through the kitchen doorway, her eyes widening as she saw exactly what her son had been yelling about. But to Jamie’s relief, those blue eyes softened quickly as Dani made her way over to them, kneeling down by the dog to scratch behind his ears, “Who’s this? I never took you for a dog person, Jay.”

“His name’s Wally,” Jamie found herself smiling as she knelt beside Dani, running a hand over the golden retriever’s back, “My, uh...my neighbors were moving out of the country and couldn’t take him along. So, I said I’d find him a nice home…if you want him, that is.”

“Well, that was really nice of you to—“ Dani stopped, her hands stilling where they were scratching around the dog’s collar, “What do you mean if I want him?”

Jamie’s throat went dry again. She knew Dani had always wanted a dog. Karen never allowed her to have anything more than a goldfish. But Jamie just showing up with a dog for her out of the blue was starting to feel like a worse idea than before.

“Got him for you,” she offered with an attempted smile, watching Dani’s face for any signs of disapproval, “I know it’s...not my place, but I knew you always wanted one and he needed a home and—“

“What’s going on out—“ Eddie came in from the kitchen, stopping dead in his tracks when he saw the dog in his foyer, “Jamie you got a dog?”

“She got a dog for us, isn’t he cute?” Dani’s smile returned as she continued to scratch behind Wally’s ears, cooing at him and laughing when he licked the side of her face.

Jamie bravely dared to look at Eddie, already sensing his discomfort. And by the look on his face, she could tell that he wanted an explanation. So with a sigh, she stood up, leaving Dani and Miles with Wally before following Eddie into the kitchen.

“Look, I know it’s a big decision and it wasn’t my place to get a pet for you, but—“

“Yeah, I wish you would’ve asked someone first. Me, especially. I don’t want a dog.”

“Dani’s always wanted one. Ever since we were kids, you know that.”

“Well, Miles might be allergic. Or the new baby could be.”

“Miles seems to be doing all right so far. Dogs are pretty good for the immune system, y’know. Plus, the kid’s gonna need a playmate when the new baby comes.”

“When are you gonna stop doing this, Jamie?”

Her eyebrows knit together at that, “Doing what, exactly?” she crossed her arms over her chest.

Eddie gestured back towards the foyer, waving his hand around a bit, “This. It’s like you’re trying to win Dani over or something. You’ve always done this. Like you’re always trying to one-up me.”

“Okay, I have no idea what you’re talking about. She’s my best friend, sue me for knowing what she likes and getting her things she actually wants,” she scoffed as her jaw tensed, tightening her arms across her chest as she started to build up her defense wall, “Wouldn’t kill you do the same. I mean, you got her a DustBuster for Christmas last year, mate.”

“I’m not as stupid as you seem to think I am, Jamie. You’ve been doing this since ninth grade. You think I don’t see that you—“

“Everything okay in here?” Dani came into the room, holding Wally by the leash with a happy flush in her cheeks.

Jamie just looked back to Eddie with a raised eyebrow, almost daring him to tell his wife that they couldn’t keep the dog. At first she’d been a little hesitant, even scared to step on his toes by bringing in a dog as a Christmas gift. But now after he talked to her so accusingly, yeah, she was feeling a little petty.

“Yeah, I was just…” he trailed off, looking at how happy Dani looked. He didn’t see her smile like that often. When he got smiles from Dani, sure, sometimes they were big and bright, but they didn’t light up her entire being like now. And he hated that Jamie could always bring that full body smile out of her when he couldn’t. “Just asking Jamie if he’s had all his shots.”

“Really?!” the blonde gasped as big, hormone-induced tears came instantly to her eyes when he nodded, “Eddie, thank you!”

Jamie watched as Dani wrapped her arms around his middle, letting her little crying spell out against his sweater. She was frustrated with Eddie, especially now that he’d called her out on something that she already knew deep down. But what he didn’t understand was that no matter how many gifts she gave Dani, no matter how many fun and interesting places she took her to, he would always be the winner of this little game they’d been playing since high school. Because at the end of the day, he had her.

October 1990

A bit winded from the brisk jog, Jamie wiped her feet on the doormat to Dani’s house and opened the door, letting Wally run free into the foyer. The house was much more lively than when she’d left. Karen was making breakfast in the kitchen and Flora was chatting away as usual, shrieking at her brother to give a toy back to her.

To Jamie, it felt so normal. Like nothing had even prompted her coming back into town. Like it was just another weekend visit. She had half a mind to wonder if the funeral was just a fever dream. But then she remembered that Dani came from a family where emotions were kept in, and never shown to others, even if they were your own family.

“Aunt Jamie, tell Miles to give me my Barbie back, please!” Flora whined when she saw her aunt enter the living room.

“Miles give it back,” she deadpanned, flopping down between them on the sofa, “Where’s your mum?”

Flora shrugged, continuing to brush her doll’s hair after Miles tossed it back into her lap. “She wasn’t in her bed. And Wally wasn’t in his bed. I thought she took him out for a walk. But that was you.”

“It was,” the brunette chuckled with a bit of a nod at Flora’s observant comment. Dani must have still been sleeping. She didn’t blame her. They’d been up talking until about 1:30, and she’d had such a long day. A long week, Jamie had no doubt.

But right on cue, Dani arrived in the living room from behind the basement door, rubbing her eyes as she yawned before combing her fingers through the hair she’d let out of her ruined ponytail.

“Mummy, did you sleep in the basement with Aunt Jamie?” Flora’s eyebrows knit together, watching her mother from over the back of the couch.

“Mmhm,” Dani hummed as she approached, dropping a sleepy kiss to all three of their heads before walking towards the armchair.

Flora pouted, looking hurt as she crossed her arms over her chest, “You had a sleepover without me.”

“You were already asleep, baby, I’m sorry,” Dani leaned tiredly against the armrest, pulling her legs up so she could curl up on the cushion of the chair.

Jamie lifted the five year old into her lap, bouncing her a bit on her knee to cheer her up, “Hey, I’m here another two nights. Why don’t we have another one tonight?”

“That’s a good idea,” Dani smiled before turning to her son, “You wanna join, Miles?”

The near-ten year old scowled at her in response, not amused by her offer. “Why would I wanna join a stupid girly sleepover?”

“Oi,” Jamie nudged him with her elbow after Dani’s face seemed to fall at the sound of his attitude, “I think a simple ‘yes please, Mum,’ or ‘no thank you, Mum,’ would work just fine.”

He leaned back against the couch cushions with his arms crossed, mumbling out a quick, “no thank you, Mom,” with a not-so-subtle roll of his eyes that neither of them missed.

Dani, a bit crestfallen, just sent an apologetic but grateful look in Jamie’s direction as the room fell silent. Though, the episode of DuckTales on the tv offered a bit of a distraction from the awkward silence.

“Aunt Jamie, will you take us trick-or-treating next Friday night?” Flora looked up at her aunt with a pleading look that was always just as effective as her mother’s.

“Flora, Aunt Jamie has to get back home. She’s got a lot of work to do,” Dani chimed in with a hint of remorse in her voice. Jamie had been a lot busier lately. Now that she had four stores open, including the original one here in town, she had a lot more on her plate than she used to.

But the brunette shook her head in her direction, adjusting Flora in her lap. “I can come back next weekend,” she offered before turning back to her niece, “My trick-or-treating skills are a little rusty, though, so you’re gonna have to remind me how it works.”

“Don’t you have work? Or plans?” Dani winced, feeling guilty, “Not that I don’t want you to come back home, but—“

“No work I have to do,” Jamie shrugged with her lips pursed, “And I’m thirty years old with no kids, what plans would I have on Halloween?”

Instead of answering, the blonde just sent a bit of a smile in her best friend’s direction, letting her know that her presence would be more than welcome.

“I love Halloween,” Flora let out a dreamy sigh before looking up at Jamie again, “Don’t you love Halloween, Aunt Jamie?”

She glanced back at Dani, who had turned her attention to the TV, swallowing the lump in her throat before nodding down at the little girl in her lap. “Yeah,” she let out a breath, “Yeah, it’s the best.”

October 1976

The party was loud. And it was crowded. Jamie was ducked in the corner of Ingrid Westfield’s living room with a cup of poorly mixed vodka punch, watching her classmates make complete fools of themselves around her. She’d never been a big fan of parties. Sure, she would go, she would drink and smoke a little. But she could never imagine getting so wasted that you were falling all over yourself or puking on someone’s front lawn.

Speaking of wasted…

“Hey, rebel rebel,” a drunken slur came from beside her as Dani approached, looking painfully cute dressed as Raggedy Ann with an old frumpy blue dress and her face painted to look like a doll, “Y’know painting a lightning bolt on your face and putting on a blazer doesn’t make it a Bowie costume.”

Jamie just chuckled quietly to herself as Dani came closer, her breath hitching a bit in her throat as the blonde’s finger sloppily traced the red lightning bolt that donned Jamie’s fair skin.

“You do look good, though.”

“How much have you had to drink?” the older girl breathed out a laugh as her best friend wrapped her arms around her neck, hanging off of her like the rag doll she was appropriately dressed as, “And where’s Raggedy Andy?”

“Raggedy Andy is being boring with the track team in the kitchen,” Dani huffed against her neck, breathing in the familiar hint of menthol on her skin as she ignored her first question, “Missed you.”

Jamie let her arms loop around Dani’s waist protectively. Dani had been to parties with her, but she’d never gotten this drunk before. Whoever mixed the punch either had no idea what they were doing or knew exactly what they were doing. “You wanna go sit down?” she offered, ignoring the way her heart was beating faster with each puff of warm breath Dani left on her skin.

“Mm-mm,” she shook her head, ribboned pigtails hitting Jamie in the face in the process, “Wanna dance, c’mon.” Dani took a big sip from Jamie’s cup and tried to lead her out to where everyone else was dancing to an ABBA song that was playing loudly through Ingrid’s new stereo system.

“Don’t fancy making a fool of myself, thanks,” Jamie stood her ground against the wall, making Dani stumble back as she was still holding her hand.

“But I love this song,” the blonde whined. And Jamie knew what was coming. “Please, Jamie?” Dani knew damn well by now, after five years of friendship, that Jamie couldn’t resist her pouty blue eyes and desperate voice.

And like every time, Jamie rolled her eyes with an affectionate smile as Dani grinned victoriously. She downed the last of her drink and tossed the cup into a random pile of trash on the floor before letting her best friend lead her out into the crowded center of the living room.

Jamie wasn’t too worried about anyone thinking anything of it. A majority of the school had already found out about her alignment (as the school counselor that she was now being forced to see had put it). She refused to sleep with Evelyn Williams late last school year, which then prompted the girl to tell everyone that Jamie had tried to touch her in the locker room after gym class as some twisted act of revenge.

Between Denny being killed in Vietnam, her mother abandoning their family, her father being arrested, and being separated from Mikey in foster care, being outed really was the cherry on top of her fifteenth year.

It was water under the bridge, at this point, though. She could live her truth now, not that she ever really flaunted anything. She’d lost a few acquaintances (No friends. Never friends except Dani) along the way who acted like they’d catch something if they got too close to her. And at the same time, she became the dirty little secret of a few girls around town. But other than that, it made people leave her alone, and that was how she liked it.

Dani, however…

Dani couldn’t be bothered after finding out about Jamie’s secret from some random girl on the cheerleading squad. Sure, she was hurt that her best friend never told her, but she understood that Jamie only kept it from her so it didn’t make her uncomfortable or ruin their friendship.

”You’re my best friend. We promised we’d never let anything come between us,” Dani had told her as they sat on her front porch one night just before summer vacation, “As long as you’re still Jamie, that’s all that matters to me.”

Dani didn’t seem too worried about what people thought. Aside from a few outspoken bullies, no one really even thought about the possibility of her being into anyone but Eddie anyway, considering they were one of the most popular couples in school. But everyone that knew them knew that Jamie had been attached to Dani’s hip since middle school. They were like a package deal.

But if Dani was ever going to start worrying about people thinking she was gay, it certainly wasn’t now. Considering the way she hung drunkenly against her, Jamie had a feeling that Dani didn’t have anything on her mind but finding the rhythm to dance to “Honey, Honey”.

“Think you should stick to water for the rest of the night,” Jamie chuckled in her ear over the music.

“Mmhm,” the blonde nodded, pulling back a little so she could dance. It wasn’t an easy song to keep up with when she had god knows how many drinks in her. Every time she stumbled over her own feet, Jamie was there to catch her around the waist, hoisting her back upright. “Feel fuzzy,” she mumbled, her eyes closed as she kept attempting to dance on beat.

“Let’s just go sit down, Poppins. There’s plenty of time for dancing once you’ve sobered up a little,” Jamie took her hand after a while, gently tugging it to get her to head back to her corner of the room.

To her surprise, the typically stubborn-drunk blonde nodded her head with a huff, holding tight to Jamie’s hand as they weaved back through the crowd to the corner. Lowering Dani into a chair, Jamie bent down in front of her, brushing a few loose strands of hair from her face, “I’m gonna go get you some water. Just stay put, okay?”

Dani just nodded and let out a content hum when Jamie pressed a kiss to her forehead, only letting go of her hand when she’d walked too far for her to hold on.

Jamie spotted Eddie in the kitchen, chugging beers with the boys from the track team with no concern as to his drunk girlfriend’s whereabouts, apparently. But she had Dani under control anyway. She ran cold tap water into a cup and made her way back through the crowd of teenagers, kneeling by Dani who was slumped back in her chair, complaining about the room spinning.

They sat quietly in the corner of the room, watching the party from the sidelines as Dani slowly sipped at her water. She’d steal glances at Jamie every now and then, just looking her over while she wasn’t paying attention. But her reaction time was still a bit slow, because every time Jamie would glance back at her, she couldn’t look away fast enough. Watching Jamie laugh at their classmates dance to Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me” was far more entertaining anyway.

“Can we go somewhere more quiet?” Dani leaned into her ear to ask over the music, “My head hurts.”

With a simple nod, Jamie helped her up, steadying her on her feet before she took the cup of water from her, not trusting that it wouldn’t get spilled on the way to wherever they were headed. Upstairs seemed like a good idea, but Jamie had a feeling that every possible room would be occupied. Same with the bathrooms. They probably wouldn’t get any peace and quiet in the bathrooms anyway with how much people were drinking at this party.

Outside seemed to be the best of their options. It was chilly, considering it was a late autumn night, but it was quiet. Plus, the cold would probably help sober Dani up a little.

With Dani’s hand still firmly grasped in her own, Jamie lead her out the front door, bypassing the front porch to take her to sit on the edge of the concrete sidewalk by the driveway. Dani just leaned against the wooden post of the mailbox with an exhausted huff when she sat down, taking the cup of water back from Jamie with one hand while still holding her fingers tightly in her other; not wanting to let go just yet.

“This quiet enough for you?” Jamie sighed, bending her knees up to lean against them. They could still hear the muffled commotion from the house, but it was much more quiet where they sat.

“Mmhm. Just cold,” Dani nodded over her cup before taking a slow sip, humming a bit more contentedly.

Without a second of thought, Jamie slid her arms out of the blazer, leaving herself in a rather gaudy button down shirt as she helped Dani’s floppy arms into the blazer instead. And despite her protests, claiming that she didn’t want Jamie to be cold, Dani still slid her arms into the sleeves and curled into the warmth her best friend had left in the stitches, mumbling out a barely audible “thank you” before leaning into Jamie’s side instead of against the mailbox.

The brunette wrapped an arm around her, rubbing against the sleeve of her blazer to keep the warmth in and pressing a kiss to the top of her head. She could feel Dani tense up under her touch through the polyester. But she just chalked it up to the cold, considering the trembling shivers she felt after the brief tense of her muscles.

“M’glad you moved in next door,” Dani hummed with her head leaned down on Jamie’s shoulder.

“I don’t live next door anymore, remember? I know you’re not that drunk,” Jamie let out a light breath of laughter as Dani picked her head up, turning to face her.

“No, but you did,” she mumbled, still a bit fuzzy from the alcohol that was swimming through her veins, “N’it was the best thing that ever happened t’me.”

Jamie rolled her eyes, playfully of course, as she shook her head, trying to pretend that Dani’s vodka punch scented words didn’t send a tingle of warmth through her entire body. “Yeah, well...I guess moving here wasn’t so bad after all,” she admitted quietly with a small crooked smile. Jamie had been through a load of shit in the last five years, but she didn’t know how she could have possibly survived any of it without Dani right next door.

“M’being serious, Jamie,” Dani’s voice was stern, despite the drunken slur. And her blue eyes were unyielding behind the glassy haze, “I’d never met anyone like you before. Everyone here has always been so…” she stopped to wave her hands around, spilling a bit of her water from the cup as she thought of the words, “...stiff. And so careful. Your family wasn’t like that.”

The brunette snorted, “Yeah, definitely doesn’t sound like the Taylors. We definitely weren’t anything to admire.”

“I did, though,” Dani mumbled quietly, “You guys weren’t perfect—“

“Understatement of the century.”

“—But you were real, y’know? You guys never tried to be anything you weren’t just to fit in with everyone else. My...my mom and I could never be like that.”

“Hey, I think you’re a lot less like everyone else than you think,” Jamie nudged her gently with her shoulder, wrapping her arm back arm back around her, “Give yourself more credit, Poppins.”

“Only cause of you.”

“No, I knew you were different. Maybe not from the moment I met you, but I figured out that you weren’t what I thought you’d be.”

“I don’t feel different from everyone else. I wear the same clothes as the other girls, I style my hair the same way. I’m a cheerleader for god’s sake,” Dani shook her head with a breath of bitter laughter at her own expense.

“You do those things cause your mum would probably wring your neck if you didn’t,” Jamie reminded her gently.

“I’m dating Eddie,” Dani mumbled almost darkly as she stared ahead at the pavement as the air around them grew silent, lacking a response from the older girl.

But eventually Jamie cleared her throat, putting her own feelings aside to be the good friend she needed to be right now. “Yeah, see?” she forced a bit of a smile onto her face, “That’s something for you, right? Something you wanted.”

“Is it?”

Jamie’s eyes shifted towards her, watching as Dani turned to face her with a look of resent and remorse on her painted face. “What do you—“

“I started dating him cause Linda Horowitz told me I needed a boyfriend to survive high school, Jay. I just…used him. For my own...stupid, selfish reasons.”

“Okay, but...I mean, you like him now...right?” Jamie offered with a shrug of her shoulders, “Just took you a little bit to get used to him as a boyfriend instead of seeing him as a best friend, y’know? That’s normal.”

Dani was quiet for a while, finishing her water as Jamie stayed by her side, unsure of what to say. The brunette could practically see the cogs turning in Dani’s head, and she could tell that she was stressed by the way she bit at her thumbnail and picked at the grass by the mailbox.

“Hey, you want me to take you home? I don’t think the party’s gonna be much fun anymore,” Jamie offered, running a hand up and down her friend’s back over the blazer that she was holding tightly against herself, “I can just go tell Eddie and we can head—“

Red painted lips were on hers before she could finish her sentence, warm and soft like in the dreams that popped into her head at night. She knew she should pull back. She willed herself to. But she couldn’t resist the way Dani clutched her linen shirt in weak fists, trying to bring her closer.

Jamie kissed her back slowly, gently, like she had been wanting to for years. The taste of vodka punch lingered between them, tangy and bitter, but no less addicting to either one of them. And Jamie felt like her head would explode at any minute with the way Dani let out a desperate whimper into the kiss and melted into Jamie’s warm, delicate fingers against her cheek.

But of course, one of them had to be rational. And Jamie was getting real sick of having to be rational.

“Wait,“ she pulled back slowly, letting herself be weak for one last momentary peck when Dani’s lips chased hers. “We...we can’t. You’re—“

“M’not drunk,” Dani cut her off, knowing what she was going to say.

“You are. And you have a boyfriend. And you’re...you’re my best friend, Dani, we can’t,” every one of her own words was like a sharp dagger to her heart, but she knew that this couldn’t happen. She’d rather be in Dani’s life as just her friend than not be in it at all. And if they kept this up, she knew that Dani would regret it in the morning. Or worse, she’d become Dani’s dirty little secret. And for some reason, the thought of that hurt more than anything else.

“Exactly, we’re best friends, so we...we can,” the blonde mumbled, humming as she caught her breath and pressed her forehead to hers, still clutching onto her shirt to ground herself.

Safe to say, this wasn’t how Jamie saw tonight going. And she was dreading every second of it now. They’d always been affectionate with each other. Jamie had never really had a close friend before, but it came so naturally with Dani ever since they were kids, that she thought that was just what friends did. Whether it was cuddling together in a single chair when there was only one available, sleeping in the same bed, or the countless cheek, forehead, knuckle (the list could go on for a while) kisses shared between them, it was always platonic.

Even as they got older and Jamie began to realize that maybe she felt more for her best friend than she should, she maintained as many emotional boundaries as she could, knowing that there was no way that Dani could feel the same way about her.

And now she didn’t know what to think.

“That doesn’t...make any sense—“

“Please, Jamie?”

She should have known that was coming. Dani had been pulling the ‘please’ trick on her since they were twelve. She knew that Jamie could never resist. And it was even harder for the brunette now, hearing the sheer desperate sadness in Dani’s voice as it cracked around the single syllable. But she reined in every ounce of strength she had in her and managed to shake her head, holding Dani’s solemn gaze with her own.

“We just...we can’t, okay? You don’t want to do this.”

Blue eyes misted in front of her as Dani stared her down. She looked...almost offended. Not that Jamie had denied her, but that Jamie had made the decision for her, telling her what she wanted (or didn’t want, in this instance). And Jamie knew that Dani was sick of everyone telling her what she wanted.

Pulling her best friend into a tight hug, Jamie squeezed her eyes tightly shut at the feeling of Dani trembling in her arms. It hurt now. But if it didn’t hurt now, she knew that it would hurt a lot more later. And she cherished their bond too much to let something like this ruin the friendship they’d built together.

Jamie walked her home a little later that night, sneaking her quietly into her house and up to her bedroom, miraculously not waking Karen in the process. She unbuckled the mary-jane clogs from her feet and took the ribbons from her hair while Dani wiped her face paint off with a damp cloth. She hadn’t spoken a word since she pleaded with Jamie on the sidewalk. It didn’t take a genius to know that Dani was upset, but she would get over it. Jamie knew she would.

Just like she would get over Jamie politely refusing to stay the night like she was supposed to. Dani knew how much Jamie hated sleeping at her new house with her foster family. But Jamie knew that Dani needed time to be alone and think to herself.

After that night, they never spoke of it. Jamie never knew if Dani really didn’t remember, or if she truly just wanted to put it behind them. Either way, nothing changed between them. They were just as close friends as they always had been. But it hurt Jamie even more now to see Dani throw herself into Eddie’s arms at every opportunity. Like she was trying to prove to herself or Jamie that the girl in the Raggedy Ann costume with drunken words on her lips wasn’t who she really was.

Though she would never let it get in the way of their friendship, Jamie would regret pushing her away every single day. And she would spend every day and night wondering what things would be like if she hadn’t decided to be the responsible one. And as much as she wondered what could have happened if things had gone differently, she knew that she’d done the right thing.

Jamie always did what Dani needed. But this time, she just couldn’t do what Dani wanted.

Chapter Text

September 1971

“I dunno, Dani…”

“It’ll just be for a minute, I promise.”

“I can wait out here…”

“It’s raining, Jamie. Come on, the O’Maras are nothing to be scared of. Judy probably even has cookies for us.”

Jamie looked up at the O’Mara house, feeling a little embarrassed by the fact that she was wearing her same old sneakers and a large sweatshirt on top of her overalls. She didn’t have a raincoat with a matching hat and boots like Dani did. Though, the blonde had been kind enough to share her umbrella on the walk home from the bus stop.

But before they could head home, Dani needed to drop off the homework Eddie had missed in his classes today while he was getting his tonsils out.

For the first time in a while, Jamie was feeling oddly self-conscious. She knew she didn’t have nice things like everyone else in their neighborhood. Hell, she didn’t even know how they could afford to live in this neighborhood in the first place. The houses weren’t exactly mansions, but they were definitely a bit larger and more well put-together than where they used to live in England.

She’d only known Dani for about a month. But she never felt out of place with her. If anything, she was starting to feel more at home around her than anywhere else, not that she’d admit it out loud.

But there was something about going to the O’Mara house that struck a nerve in Jamie. She had never met any of them, besides Eddie. She could only imagine what they were like. Probably stuck up and snotty. The mother would probably take one glance at her dirty wet sneakers and forbid her from coming into the—

“I thought I heard voices out here,” a woman opened the front door, dressed in a classy floral dress and kitten heels. That was the first thing Jamie noted before she took in the woman’s kind eyes and bright smile.

“Hi, Mrs. O’Mara,” Dani waved up at the woman with a cheery smile of her own, “This is Jamie. We’re just dropping off Eddie’s homework that he missed today.”

“Oh, of course, come on in. It’s lovely to meet you, Jamie,” the woman with auburn hair like her mothers grinned down at her, making the eleven year old feel surprisingly comfortable as she ushered them in by their shoulders, “Where’s your raincoat, sweetheart, aren’t you cold?”

“I, uh...I forgot it at home today. Was in a rush to catch the bus this morning,” Jamie lied with a tight-lipped smile as she and Dani removed their wet shoes. The last thing she wanted was this woman’s pity.

“Oh. Well, Danielle, you go on upstairs and give Edmund his homework. Jamie, why don’t you come with me and I’ll see if we have anything to loan you for the walk home.”

After Dani started up the staircase, Jamie shook her head almost immediately, feeling a few cold, wet curls brush against her neck. “No, ma’am, it’s okay. I only live down the st—“

“Sweetheart, I can’t in good conscience let you go back out there without a raincoat,” Judy beckoned her to follow her through the house; And Jamie obeyed, not wanting to seem rude. Her parents would openly describe her to anybody as a little hellien, but she still had manners.

Mrs. O’Mara lead her to a little coat closet by the kitchen. Jamie couldn’t help but note the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies coming from the next room. This house was built exactly the same as her own, but it just felt so different. It was welcoming and homey while still being clean from the baseboards to the ceiling. And Judy, so far, was nothing like she thought she would be. But people always surprised her, so she didn’t expect to be impressed with the woman for very long.

“Danielle told us you moved here from England,” Judy smiled as she sifted through the rack of coats and jackets, “And you have two brothers?”

“Yes ma’am,” the eleven year old nodded, rocking back and forth in her white socks, “One older, one younger.”

“Eddie’s the same, except he has two older brothers. I grew up with all sisters, but raising four boys, I can imagine how difficult it must be, being the only girl.”

Yeah, I’m basically the second mother of the house.

“It’s not so bad,” she shook her head stiffly, watching as Judy pulled out an olive green coat, holding it up to compare it to Jamie’s height before offering it to her. But Jamie just looked at the coat and shook her head again, “I really couldn’t…”

“Please, no one wears it. You can return it whenever you’d like. Or even keep it, if you like it better than the one you have at home,” the woman’s smile was warm and genuine as she held the coat open for her to step into; Something Jamie couldn’t even remember her own mother doing for her.

Biting her lip, she stepped a little closer, tucking her arms into the green coat and allowing Judy to zip it up for her when she turned around. The small maternal act made the young brunette feel an ache in her chest; Like she was longing for something she didn’t know she had been missing. Louise was never very affectionate with her or her brothers.

“Looks like a good fit,” Judy grinned before standing back upright, “Would you like a cookie while you wait for Danielle to come back downstairs?”

Fresh baked cookies were another thing Jamie couldn’t remember experiencing, if she ever had. Louise was never a master when it came to baking. Last time she ever saw her mother bake anything, she nearly lit their house on fire trying to make Mikey’s first birthday cake back in England. So the eleven year old was sure that any cookies she’d ever had, they were store bought. She may have had homemade ones from someone at some point. But never fresh from the oven like the ones Judy was offering to her on a porcelain platter right now.

Jamie thanked her with a small grin, feeling the overwhelming urge to lunge forward and give her a hug. She had no idea where this sudden craving for maternal affection was coming from, but she pushed the feeling down as best she could.

“Here, let me wrap some up for you to take home to your family,” Judy set the platter down as Jamie bit into the warm cookie. Jamie was going to protest, but the woman was back in front of her with a bundle of cookies wrapped in a beeswax cloth, putting them into one of the pockets of the green jacket before she could say anything.

“Mrs. O’Mara, how long are Eddie’s cheeks gonna be puffy like that?” Dani’s giggling voice filled the room as she skipped down the stairs, thanking Judy for the cookie she was handed when she came to stand beside Jamie.

“A few days at least,” Judy chuckled, starting to lead them back towards the front door, “Why don’t you girls run on home before this storm gets any worse. And Jamie, you’re welcome here any time, sweetheart. Any friend of Danielle’s is a friend of ours, okay?”

The eleven year old just nodded her head with a shy smile and thanked her for the offer, the jacket, and the cookies before she went back out into the rain with Dani, feeling a bit silly that she had been afraid to step into that house in the first place.

October 1990

After breakfast, a much needed shower, and a fresh change of clothes, Jamie was laying on the living room floor with Flora, acting out whatever scenario the five year old had thought up for her outrageous collection of dolls.

“Aunt Jamie, now you’re going to come to the door with the pizza boxes,” Flora handed her a doll with long blonde hair in a pizza delivery uniform.

“Am I gonna get an extra tip for delivering pizza in high heels?” the brunette snorted, though her comment went unnoticed by the five year old. Coincidentally, just as Jamie pressed her doll’s hand to the dollhouse doorbell, the one for the actual house rang out as well.

“Nana’s here!” Flora jumped up to her feet and ran to the door, jumping into Judy’s arms as she came through the front door.

Jamie watched from her spot in the living room as the older woman with auburn hair greeted the kids, as well as Dani and Karen who came into the foyer to greet her from the kitchen. Lips quirked to the side at the sight of them all together like the blended family they were. And she had to go say hello, as much as she didn’t want to intrude.

“Jamie, good to see you again, sweetheart. I hardly saw you yesterday,” Judy beamed as much as a newly grieving mother could when she saw the brunette come in from the living room, pulling her into a tight hug.

“Yeah, sorry. Figured I’d be better off keeping the kids entertained for the afternoon,” she offered a bit of a smile. She’d greeted Judy at the church and again back at the house for the reception, but couldn’t bear to stick around her much. Judy was like a second mother to her, and seeing her so broken-hearted hurt almost as much as Dani.

“Lunch is almost done, we’ll let you know when it’s ready,” Karen offered a smile to her friend and took Dani back into the kitchen before Judy could offer to help.

The women and two kids went back to the living room, but Judy lead Jamie to sit on the sofa, turning to face her with the same motherly smile she’d always worn; just with a few more lines that had come with age. “So, what have you been up to, stranger? Is business still going well?”

Jamie just chuckled at being called a stranger, yet again. She was only gone a few weeks. She never went too long without coming back home. But then again, her idea of a long time was probably different to people who were used to seeing each other several times a week.

“Going pretty great, actually,” she nodded, “Yeah, we’re working on plans for another new store.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful. I know the Johnsons would be so proud of you. You’ve done such a terrific job, you always have.”

Jamie just smiled through a shrug. Everyone always told her that, but she always had a hard time believing it. It was nice to hear it from Judy, though. Judy had always been nice to her.

Jamie and Eddie had never been close. Even when they were kids, the only time they were ever together was when Dani was with them; With the exception of the one time Jamie got paired with him to take care of a flour sack baby for health class. And even then, Dani was usually with them anyway. Judy probably knew how Eddie felt about Jamie, too. He’d never been very subtle about it. And now that she was older, Jamie didn’t blame him for being upset about her taking some of Dani’s attention away.

But Judy never treated her any differently. She treated her just the same as she treated Dani: like a daughter. She made sure she was fed, she offered Jamie an ear when she needed an adult to talk to, she let her stay for dinner more times than she could count. It was nice that she didn’t let her son’s opinion influence her own. Judy understood that Jamie was just a girl who happened to make a new friend who already had a best friend.

“Jamie, I hope you know how much you mean to Danielle,” the auburn haired woman grinned at her with a bit of sadness behind her eyes, “You’ve always been such a great friend to her. I always worried, you know, that Danielle would be left without a best friend to talk to if she and Eddie ever got together. She had no siblings or anyone close to her that she could really talk to, so I’m grateful that you came into the picture and stuck around for her. Girls need friends to talk to when their boyfriends are being...well, boys.”

The woman laughed gently, making Jamie do the same. But the brunette hoped her discomfort didn’t show. She knew Judy didn’t hate her, but sometimes she couldn’t help but think that she should.

“She’s very lucky to have you, and I know she knows that. I just hope you do too. And I hope you find a way to come home more often,” the woman’s kind eyes and smile were like a knife to her gut, “Not to guilt trip you or anything of the sort, I just know that she’d love to see you more often. I remember how distraught she was when you moved out of the neighborhood...“

Didn’t exactly move out by choice. You know that.

“And now with you living out in the city, you know we’re all so proud of you. Just...don’t be a stranger. Please. I know she needs support now more than ever. And she’s just not as close with her neighbors and coworkers from the school as she ever was with you.”

Jamie just pursed her lips together and nodded. She had to admit she didn’t come home as often as she could. She came back least once a month, but in comparison to the nine years she spent seeing Dani just about every day, a few weeks apart really did feel like an eternity.

“Yeah, I’ll, uh…I’ll talk to her about it.”

“I know she’d love it. And I know the kids would love to see you more often too. Every time they come to stay with me, they always talk about how much they miss you.” Judy trailed off before leaning in to hug the brunette tightly, gushing about how good it was to see her and hear that she’s doing well. She knew how much Jamie struggled growing up, and she was proud to see her overcome it all.

“So, are you seeing anyone?” she pulled back, her voice more chipper than it had been just a moment ago, “I’m sure there’s a much wider selection of women in the city than there is here.”

That always came as a surprise, how accepting Judy was of Jamie’s sexuality. She’d found out with the rest of the town after Evelyn Williams spread that rumor about her back in tenth grade.

And Judy, the saint that she was, was no less accepting of her than she ever had been before. She even scolded her eldest sons when they would make snide remarks about her following the rumors they’d heard at school, claiming that she didn’t raise them that way. In the worst time of Jamie’s life, that support was really what she needed to get by.

And all that support just made it harder for Jamie to understand why Eddie’s younger brother Carson still hadn’t come out to them yet. Jamie was the only person who knew about his boyfriend despite her reassurance that they would accept him just like they’d accepted her.

“Nah, haven’t found the one just yet,” Jamie chuckled, “Haven’t really had the time to look.”

“Well, she’ll come along when you least expect it. All the best ones do. But until she does, don’t forget about your family here back home,” the older woman teased, poking Jamie’s arm through her flannel shirt.

May 1976

If Jamie had to pick a safe space, it would be here in the O’Mara’s living room. Her own house didn’t feel like home. Especially not since Denny died and her mother left. Dani’s house wasn’t very homey either. If anything, she felt like she was in danger of getting thrown out just setting foot into that house. But it was strange to think that Edmund O’Mara’s house was where she felt the safest.

But how could she not when it all felt so normal? Judy was making dinner in the kitchen, Carson was up in his room with a Spider Man comic book. Eddie’s older twin brothers were in the backyard tossing a football back and forth, and Mr. O’Mara was due to be home any minute now from his job in the city. It was everything Jamie thought a normal family would feel like without feeling forced.

And she, Dani, and Eddie were all currently parked on the floor around the coffee table, studying for a big English test that was rapidly approaching. Soon they’d be studying for their final exams; and after that, they would be free for the summer. And Jamie, turning sixteen next month, was planning on trying to get a job and save up for a car so she could drive as far out of this town as she could whenever she wanted. But for now, she was content on the O’Mara’s living room rug. If she ever wanted to get out, she needed to pass these damn tests.

“What’d you get for number five?” she asked across the small table to Dani.

“Umm…” Dani squinted as she looked over her papers, “D. All of the above.”

Jamie nodded down at her practice test, feeling confident in her own answer if Dani had gotten the same. She was about to compare another answer when a heavy knock on the door nearly made them all jump out of their skin.

“I’ll get it,” Judy came from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel as she made her way to the front door. And the three teenagers just watched instead of turning their noses back into their practice tests, too curious about who was at the door. “Can I help you?” they heard Judy ask, though from their spot, they couldn’t see who she was speaking to.

“Yes ma’am, we’re looking for Jamie Taylor. Her brother told us she was here,” a man’s voice came from the other side of the door.

Jamie wasn’t sure why, but her blood ran cold when she finally took notice to the flashing blue lights through the window curtains. She hadn’t done anything wrong. Okay, yeah, she had an overdue library book and she stole a bag of chips from the corner store last week, but they wouldn’t come after her for that, would they?

“Is there something I can help with?” Judy offered, trying to stop the two policemen from getting into the house, “Jamie’s been here with us all afternoon studying, I don’t understand what—“

“Jamie Taylor, we need you to come with us,” one of the officers peered into the house, interrupting Judy’s attempts to intervene.

“Jay, what’s going on?” Dani and Eddie just looked curiously at the brunette, wondering what was happening. But Jamie just shrugged. Their guess was as good as hers.

Judy was still going back and forth with the officers at the door, trying to get some answers as Jamie stood up. Maybe it was all a mistake. But she knew the sooner she talked to them, the sooner they would let her get back to studying.

“Officer, can you please tell me what’s going on? You can’t just take a child from my home without giving me some kind of explanation,” Judy sighed, exasperated by the situation she had on her hands. But the policemen took advantage of Jamie’s proximity, tugging her past Judy and out the door, holding her by the wrists behind her back to prevent her from running off.

“Jamie?” Dani’s voice came from behind her, sounding muffled as Jamie’s ears felt like they were full of water. She didn’t know what was going on, and she was terrified, feeling the panic start to rise in her chest as she thought about what could have possibly happened that would lead to this.

“Sir, at least tell me if she’s in any trouble. I’m sure it’s all a misunderstanding,” Judy followed them out of the house and down the front porch steps with Dani and Eddie following close behind.

“Ma’am, we have her father and a few of his friends in our custody. We just need Miss Taylor and her brother to come in for some questioning.”

“Mikey’s just a kid, what could he possibly tell you?” Dani’s voice was sharp from behind them.

One of the men walked ahead with Jamie, who was frozen with fear with the exception of her legs that had to keep moving. One look up the street and she could see a brigade of police cars in front of her house, dragging out a few men and women that Jamie could easily recognize as her dad’s poker group. At least that’s what he told her before they would disappear into the basement every Friday evening.

“Officer, please just tell us what’s going on,” Judy pleaded with the other man who had been at her door as they stood at the end of the driveway, watching Jamie get escorted away.

The man in uniform sighed, turning to the auburn-haired woman. “We got an anonymous tip that Mr. Taylor was distributing illegal narcotics from his basement. Not to mention his son was using the stove by himself in the home when we arrived to assess the situation. We need to gather as much information as we can, and that includes anything we can get from his children.”

“Well, when are they coming back?” Dani asked, stepping forward until she was standing beside Judy, staring at the officer with wide blue eyes full of fear.

The man looked remorseful at the teenage girl, holding his hands on his belt as he shrugged his shoulders, “With the situation we have at hand, unless Miss Taylor and her brother have any family here in the states, there’s a good chance they won’t be. We won’t be able to release them unless it’s into the care of a legal guardian. And in this case, that will most likely be whenever social services gets a foster family lined up for them.”

“What?” Dani shook her head, fiery tears forming behind her eyes as her jaw clenched, “No, you can’t just throw them in foster care, that’s ridiculous! This is their home!”

“There are a few foster homes here in town, young lady, your friend will be just fine,” the officer turned around rather dismissively, going to head towards the scene in front of Jamie’s house.

“Mrs. O’Mara, we can’t let them do this, Jamie belongs here!” Dani’s whole body began to tremble as she turned to the woman beside her, desperate for her to do something, “She can stay here. She can stay with you guys! Her and Mikey, they can—“

“Honey...I can’t. There’s just...no way we’d be able to—“ Judy started, but the teenager had run off in the opposite direction before she could finish.

That initial “no” was all Dani needed to hear before she really started to feel her whole world crumbling around her. If Jamie and Mikey couldn’t stay with the O’Mara’s, there really was nowhere else they could go. Because her own mother definitely wasn’t going to take them in.

She ran down the street, nearly tripping over her own shoes in her haste. “Jamie!” Her voice was as loud as she could manage, echoing through the neighborhood. She knew the neighbors were watching from their windows if they weren’t shameless enough to watch from their front yards. She didn’t care.

“Jamie,” she strained through a breathless sob, reaching the brunette just before they approached the police car she was meant to be loaded into. Desperate, she pulled her best friend into a bone crushing hug, feeling herself start to quickly fall apart at the lack of hug she got in return.

“Let her go,” she begged the officer holding Jamie’s wrists through her tears, “Let her go!” The tears flowed faster and her cries got deeper as she felt Jamie struggling against the man’s restraining hands behind her back. But Dani just gripped her tighter, keeping her close for as long as she could.

A heavy cry, strained and desperate, was muffled into Jamie’s neck when she was finally released long enough to hug her best friend back. Jamie didn’t know what was going on, but she hated to see Dani so upset, so she hugged her just as tightly.

“They’re gonna take you away. They’re gonna take you away from me,” the blonde gripped onto her tighter, clutching the back of Jamie’s t-shirt in her fists as she wept into her neck and shoulder, her entirely body heaving with dense sobs, “I don’t want you to go, Jamie, you belong here with me.”

It was starting to hit her then, how Jamie wouldn’t be right next door anymore. She wouldn’t be able to climb through Dani’s bedroom window in the middle of the night after a nightmare. When Jamie got lonely or sad or just needed company, Dani wouldn’t be right there to fill the void with her presence. Who knew where Jamie would be? The next neighborhood over? Across town? Farther than that?

“Hey, it’s okay,” Jamie whispered rather shakily, despite trying to seem so calm, “It’s gonna be okay. I promise.”

The blonde just shook her head, tears soaking through the shoulder of Jamie’s t-shirt, “You can’t promise that, Jay. You don’t know.”

The officer was kind enough to let the two girls have their emotional goodbye. But after a few minutes, he needed to step in, getting a sense that they’d never separate if he didn’t.

“All right, we’ve gotta get going, c’mon,” he tugged gently at Jamie’s arm, trying to pull her back from the blonde; but that just made Dani hold on tighter, refusing to let her go.

“Sweetheart,” Judy placed a hand on Dani’s shoulder, having followed them up to the car after she’d run off, “Danielle, we need to let them do their job, okay? You’ll see Jamie again real soon. We’ll make sure of it.”

“No! She shouldn’t have to leave, she didn’t do anything wrong!”

“Danielle, she needs to go be with her family so they can take care of this.”

I’m her family! You tell her she’s family all the time!” Dani’s voice raised higher than it ever had in Judy’s direction, “Why won’t you do anything?!”

But the woman just stood back with tears in her eyes and a hand over her mouth as she watched Dani struggle against the policeman who came up behind her, prying her arms from around her friend’s shoulders while another officer did the same with Jamie.

“Please don’t take her, please!” Dani fought against the man behind her, hands scrambling for Jamie’s arms as they were pulled apart. She willed herself to stop crying, because the tears in her eyes were only clouding her vision, making it impossible to see her best friend at all. She needed to see her, she needed to know she was there.

But now, they’d been pulled far enough apart that Dani couldn’t even feel her anymore. And the blonde was sure that having her heart torn completely in half would have hurt less than the feeling of Jamie’s fingers slipping out of her own.

“No! Jamie!” she kicked and squirmed, struggling as hard as she could against the policeman who was holding her around the waist. Through her bleary eyes, she could see Jamie being lowered into the back of the car. The sound of the door closing might as well have been a gunshot directly in her ears.

And just when she thought things couldn’t hurt any more, the sound of the car’s engine coming to life was like a sword stabbing clean through her heart. And before she knew it, the tires were rolling against the pavement, leaving a light cloud of exhaust and dust in their wake.

The officer finally let her go when the car had taken off down the street, leaving her falling over her own legs that were as weak as the rest of her. But Dani pulled herself together just enough to start running after the police car that had taken her best friend.

She screamed Jamie’s name as she ran, not caring who saw or heard; Not caring what her mother would say when the neighbors inevitably filled her in on the gossip later on. The setting sun burned brightly in her eyes, making it hard to even see the flashing blue lights ahead of her. And her legs burned as she tried to catch up to the car. She knew she wouldn’t catch it. It was impossible. But she tried anyway, desperate enough to attempt to fight the odds.

And sitting in the back of the police car with her crying little brother, Jamie could only stare out the back window, watching through her own teary eyes as Dani tried desperately to run after them. But once the car rounded the corner out of the neighborhood and onto the main road, she was gone with no hope of catching up.

Chapter Text

January 1973

“You’ve gone mad, right? Tell me you’re not serious,” Jamie knit her brows together at her friend.

Dani had just walked into the O’Mara house where Jamie and Eddie were working on a family tree poster for their stupid flour sack baby. Pretending to be married with a baby was gross enough, but with Edmund O’Mara? Jamie just wanted this week to be over already and it was only Monday.

“It’s winter, Jamie, your baby needs to stay warm,” Dani told her pointedly as she discarded her jacket and shoes at the front door before waltzing over with a few items in hand, saying hi to Judy on the way.

Jamie turned to her project partner with an incredulous look, silently asking if he also thought Dani had completely lost it. But the look on his face, which showed nothing but pure entertainment at the blonde’s actions, told the twelve year old that Dani hadn’t lost her mind at all, this was just how she was.

“It’s...it’s a sack of flour,” she glanced between the two of them, wondering why she was the only sane one in the room, “It can’t get cold, it doesn’t have feelings.”

Dani just slid into the chair beside her, laying out everything she had brought from her house on the table. There was a pink hat, a small blanket, and a pair of long pink pajamas that were perfectly suitable for a baby doll. But a sack of flour? “It’s not about her having feelings, it’s about pretending she’s a real baby. And a real baby gets cold in the winter.”

“Now you’re calling it a ‘she’,” Jamie leaned her head into her hands, feeling like maybe she was the one who was going insane.

“That’s what Mrs. McConnell told us it was,” Eddie chimed in with a shrug, “Might as well call it a ‘she’. And it would be easier if you would just pick a name already.”

Dani’s jaw nearly dropped to the dining room table, “You haven’t named your baby yet?”

“I’m not naming a sack of flour.”

Eddie rolled his eyes behind his coke bottle glasses and put his pencil down from where he’d been filling in his part of their combined family tree, “It’s part of the assignment, Jamie.”

“You name it, then.”

“I’ve been trying to name it, and you keep shooting every name down.”

“Yeah, because what kind of name is Guinevere for a sack of fucking flour?”

“Language, Jamie!” Judy called from the next room.

“Sorry,” she called back, rolling her eyes and slumping back in her seat, watching as Dani started to put the flour sack into the doll clothes she’d brought over.

“You’re gonna get a better grade if you put more thought and care into it, y’know,” Dani side eyed her with a smirk as she swaddled the sack in the blanket, even taking the extra step in cradling it in her arms and rocking it like a real baby.

She was definitely insane.

Jamie was going to give her a smart retort to go with her rolling eyes, but before she could say anything, Dani was placing the bundled up sack of flour into her arms.

“Make sure you support her head, Mom,” the blonde smirked with a playful scrunch of her nose before sitting back in her chair.

It had been the longest week of Jamie’s life, once the project was over. But thanks to Dani being the peacekeeper between her and Eddie, they did manage to get an A. She wasn’t exactly sure what the point of the project was, considering it was for health class. But whatever it was, Jamie knew that despite the high grade they’d received, she was not cut out for having kids of her own.

October 1990

“One more story, please?” Flora yawned into Jamie’s neck as she was carried up the stairs to bed. Dani was trailing behind her with Miles at her side. It was way past Flora’s bedtime, but Dani had let her stay up with them a little longer until it was time for Miles to turn in for the night.

“I read you a whole book, and told you my own story,” the brunette chuckled quietly, not wanting to wake Karen who was already asleep in the guest room down the hall. Turning to Dani, she offered her a hint of a smile and a nod, letting her know that she was fine to put Flora to bed on her own while she took care of Miles.

The little girl pouted with a huff as she was laid down in her bed and tucked in with the teddy bear Jamie had gotten from the hospital gift shop when she was born. “But you never told me what you and Daddy named the flour baby.”

Her aunt Jamie just let her lips curl into a smile. She didn’t have the greatest friendship with Edmund growing up, but she had plenty of stories to tell anyway. And Flora, especially, loved hearing stories about her parents and her aunt as children.

“We named it Flower.”

“No you didn’t,” Flora giggled up at her.

“Sure did. We flipped a coin and whoever won got to name it whatever they wanted. So when I won, I decided to name it after that little stinker from Bambi.”

Flora just laughed a little as her aunt tucked her blankets under her to make sure she was snug. “That’s silly. You should have named it after your favorite flower instead. Or called it ‘Flora’!”

“You’re right, I should’ve,” she chuckled, shaking her head, “Well, when you have to do that silly little project in your seventh grade health class, you name your flour sack baby something extra special for me, okay?”

Nodding up at her, Flora reached her arms up for a goodnight hug, which Jamie happily gave, squeezing her extra tight since it was her last night here. She would see her in the morning and again over the weekend for Halloween, but she always hugged her niece as if they wouldn’t see each other again for years.

“Aunt Jamie, can I come visit you at the Flora shop soon? I can pass out daffodils again like last time.”

Jamie just breathed a chuckle at Flora’s name for the store in Des Moines that opened the day she was born. All the other stores were properly called ‘The Leafling’ or simply ‘the flower shop’, but the five year old always made a point to call that particular store ‘the Flora shop’ because of their shared birthday. Not surprising, considering Flora was still at the age where she thought the moon followed her home on nighttime car rides.

“That wasn’t at the Flora shop, sprout, that was when I opened the store in Cedar Rapids, remember?”

She just nodded and yawned, rubbing her eyes with a balled up fist, “That’s right. But I still think me and Mummy should come pass out daffodils at the Flora shop.”

“Well, we’ll have to talk to Mummy about that, won’t we?”

May 1989

Jamie paced around the back room of her newest flower shop that was due to open its doors for the first time in about thirty minutes. She knew she had no reason to be worried. This was store number four and her third grand opening. She wouldn’t even be standing where she was if the previous openings hadn’t been successful. And so far, she was on a steady track, opening up a new store every two years since 1985.

She was expecting to do well today. With the store opening so close to Mother’s Day, she knew they were bound to at least get a few dozen orders in. Especially after the advertising she’d paid for and word of mouth around the city. Not to mention, her good luck charm was here with her once again.

“Hey, you okay?” a head of blonde hair poked through the door with a quiet knock, stepping in and closing the door behind her. The good luck charm in question always seemed to have impeccable timing.

Jamie just nodded, sitting on the edge of the desk in the corner as she wiped her clammy palms on her grey dress pants. “Just a little nervous, I guess,” she admitted, though she still wasn’t sure why.

“Is it because I brought Flora along? I know I should’ve asked. She can be a bit of a handful, I know, but Miles was bragging to her about getting to pass out the daffodils in Davenport and she just—“

“No, no, of course not. She’s just as welcome here as you are, you know that,” the brunette shook her head with a slight breath of laughter, “Could always use more hands, even if they’re tiny.”

Dani crossed the small space of the office that (for now) doubled as a storage room, sitting on the edge of the wooden desk with her, swinging her legs when they dangled over the floor. “So what’s wrong?”

Jamie shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. If she knew, she would’ve had a handle on it by now. “Do you ever just...I dunno, feel like things are going too well? Like, I‘ve always been so used to things going wrong in one way or another, I’m not used to…”

“...Things going your way?” Dani turned her head to face her.

“Yeah. And it all just feels like some kind of sick joke or a dream that I’m gonna wake up from. And with my luck, I’d probably wake up fifteen years old and have to live that year all over again.”

“Well…” Dani sighed, “I know what you mean about things feeling like they’re going too well. But you’ve had at least a four year streak versus my record of just a few days.” She chuckled, though it was a bitter laugh; One that Jamie could even feel the sting of.

It came as a surprise to hear, considering Dani’s life seemed so perfect. If Jamie didn’t constantly have the inside scoop on Dani’s marital problems and family drama, she would have assumed that Dani and her family were fit for Stepford. But just like how she was raised, she always looked and acted her best, regardless of how she felt on the inside.

“But you’ve worked so hard for this, Jay. This wasn’t all just dumb luck,” Dani continued, reaching for one of Jamie’s fidgety hands with her own and squeezing it tightly, “I mean it, you deserve this. You’ve been working your ass off since you started working for the Johnsons.”

The brunette just squeezed her hand back, watching Dani’s thumb graze comfortingly across her knuckles. She knew she was right. She definitely had worked hard for what she had now. But knowing how life worked, it just wasn’t realistic to own four successful stores where the worst things that had ever happened were a few broken windows and one attempted robbery.

“What if this was a dream?” blue eyes danced curiously over Jamie’s features, “What if you did wake up fifteen again? Would you do anything different?”

There was a loaded question. Jamie knew that there was plenty she would have done differently. But just about everything she would change were things that she couldn’t tell Dani. Especially not now that she had just celebrated her nine year wedding anniversary with Eddie just last week and next week was their second child’s fourth birthday.

Silence had never felt so heavy between them before. In Jamie’s mind, this could go one of two ways. She could say no and be immediately called out for being a liar. After which, she would likely be coerced into telling Dani exactly what she would change. Or she could be honest and say yes, willingly telling Dani everything that she would change about the past. But either way, she didn’t see this conversation going very well. And she certainly didn’t want to risk having Dani run out the door with Flora, telling Jamie never to speak to her again.

“Would you?” a shaped eyebrow quirked up when Jamie shot the question right back at her; a smirk on her face once she found a sly way around having to answer.

Painted pink lips opened to speak, though no sound came out. Instead, Dani’s cheeks just flushed a rosy red as she found herself in the hot seat, wondering what to say.

“Aunt Jaaaamie!” Flora, just tall enough to reach doorknobs at nearly four years old, came bounding into the room with curly pigtails bouncing against the pink overall straps on her shoulders. And she came in alone, meaning she must have snuck away from Jamie’s general manager who had offered to watch her for a few minutes.

“Flora, you’re supposed to be with Miss Rhonda, what are you doing in here?” Dani giggled at her youngest child as she ran up to them. She had to admit she was grateful that Eddie had taken Miles camping this weekend. She didn’t want the two of them arguing over anything on Jamie’s big day. And knowing her kids, they definitely would.

“I had a question,” the little girl shrugged her shoulders as she gently stroked the petals of the yellow daffodil she was holding, “Aunt Jamie, how come you’re giving out these flowers?”

Jamie bent down to scoop Flora up, placing her in her lap with a sigh. “Well, all flowers have different meanings. Some flowers symbolize love, peace, or friendship. But these ones…” she twirled the stem in Flora’s hands, “These are called daffodils. And they’re some of the usually the first flowers that bloom in the spring after all the snow melts. So they’re supposed to symbolize rebirth and new beginnings. So whenever I open a new store, I like to pass them out to everyone who comes in. Just to thank them for coming.”

“Did you pass them out at the Flora shop?”

“Well, your mum was supposed to, but the stork decided to drop you off a little early,” Jamie tickled her side gently, making both her and Dani laugh, “Think you can remember to tell people what the daffodils mean when they come in? I’m counting on you, sprout.”

“No. But Mummy can tell them and I can give them the daf’dils,” the little girl gave her a cheeky grin to go along with her innocently blunt answer, causing Jamie to release a snort of laughter.

“Looks like I’m counting on you then, Mum,” the brunette turned to her best friend with another smirk.

Despite the blush in her cheeks, Dani just sent the smug grin right back at her with a single raised eyebrow, “I managed it last time, didn’t I?”

October 1990

Jamie leaned down to kiss Flora’s forehead, making sure her blankets were tucked tightly just as Dani came through the door after a quiet knock, greeting them with just a bit of a smile. But from her shrunken and closed off demeanor, Jamie could already tell that something was wrong.

“Sweet dreams, sprout,” she put on a smile when she turned back to Flora, “I’m just gonna go talk with your mum real quick and she’ll be right back in to say goodnight, okay?”

After the five year old’s nod of approval, Jamie stood up from the edge of the twin sized bed and took Dani’s hand, leading her back out into the dimly lit hallway with the door closed behind them.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” she whispered, not wanting to wake Karen down the hall. The woman always went to bed early, but the downside to that was having to keep quiet to avoid waking the beast.

The blonde just shook her head, wiping at her eyes and blotchy pink cheeks. “It’s nothing, just...Miles,” she whispered, curling her arms against her own chest, “He’s upset about having to go to school tomorrow. And he used some…choice words that I know he didn’t learn from me or Eddie.”

Jamie’s lips pressed into a thin line as she tried to keep in the laughter that was building in her chest. She would have felt worse about trying not to laugh if Dani wasn’t giving her such an accusing smile through her tears, knowing exactly where Miles learned such colorful language.

“Okay, I’ll talk to him about that,” she chuckled the tiniest bit as Dani breathed a huff of laughter through her nose, wiping at her eyes again, “Don’t think that’s what’s got you so upset, though.”

Dani sighed quietly, sniffling a bit through her attempt to keep from crying, “I just know he’s hurting so much, y’know? I just wanna be able to take all that from him so he can be a happy little kid like he used to be. I mean, he’s not even ten years old yet and he’s miserable.”

Running a hand down the sleeve of Dani’s grey sweatshirt (which she actually recognized as her own that must have been stolen from her suitcase), Jamie just nodded in understanding, “Yeah, I know what you mean. But you’ve got enough pain of your own to deal with. Best you can do is try to work through both your pain together, y’know? Try to learn how to deal with it rather than trying to make it disappear.”

“Yeah,” she sniffled, wiping at her eyes again, “You’re right, as usual.”

“Well, I appreciate you feeding my ego, but let’s not start talking crazy.”

Dani just smiled and pulled her in for a hug, wrapping her arms around her best friend’s shoulders as she finally exhaled for the day against her neck. Today was over. There was no use in stressing about it until morning; One of the many things she learned from Jamie, who was so much smarter than she was ever willing to admit out loud.

“I’ll go talk to him, though. You bunking with me again?” the brunette mumbled as she pulled back, brushing a few blonde strands from Dani’s face from where they’d fallen out of her french braid.

“Unless you’re sick of me,” she teased with a bit of a smirk, knowing full well that Jamie could never be sick of her.

“Y’know, I’d try to fuck with you and say that I was, but I’m pretty sure that it would just make you start crying again.”

With a light punch to Jamie’s arm, Dani just shook her head, unconvincingly feigning offense before a breath of laughter left her lips, “You make me sound so clingy.”

“You’re not clingy? Dani, you had me climbing through your bedroom window in the middle of the night when we were thirteen,” Jamie attempted to keep her laughter as quiet as her voice, “Not to mention all the times you crawled into my bed in our dorm even though I was just on the other side of the room.”

“I am not clingy,” Dani blushed and rolled her eyes before mumbling that she would meet her down in the basement.

After watching her disappear into Flora’s room, Jamie just bit the inside of her cheek as she crossed the hall to Miles’s door, knocking gently before letting herself in.

“Oi, I didn’t teach you those words so you could use’em against your mum,” she closed the door behind her, making her way over to sit on the edge of his bed, “You trying to get me in trouble?”

Miles was quiet with his back turned to her as he laid on his side, facing the window. He was getting harder to talk to the older he got. But Jamie remembered being his age. She remembered Mikey being his age, too.

“Look,” she sighed, “I know how much it sucks being nine. And I won’t lie to you, kid, it’s not gonna get any easier when you turn ten either. Trying to make friends, trying to keep friends...dealing with bullies and homework. I get it. And I know it doesn’t make it any easier that you’ve gotta deal with this on top of everything else.”

He stayed quiet with his back turned. But she knew he was awake, at least. Miles always snored in his sleep ever since he was a baby. And Jamie always teased him about it (lovingly, of course).

“I know what it’s like to lose a parent, kid. Maybe not in the same way…” her voice trailed off, stopping herself from comparing his father’s accidental death to her own mother’s choice to walk out, “But know what it’s like to be left with just one parent after a lifetime of having two. Your mum knows what it’s like too, remember?”

Still no response.

“But...Miles, I don’t think you realize how lucky you are. You have the best mum in the world who would do anything for you. And she’s doing the best she can right now.”

Still nothing.

“I know you miss your dad. You’re never gonna stop missing him, either. But you need to cut your mum some slack, okay? Cause you know she misses him too. You wouldn’t want anyone kicking you when you’re already down, right? Don’t you think she feels the same way?”

She was surprised to see him nod from the back of his head before he rolled over to face her, his own face a bit red from crying. Miles had been a little shit for a while now, even before Eddie died. But it still broke Jamie to see her nephew in pain. Especially when she knew that he was taught to believe that he shouldn't cry.

“Grandma said I have to be the man of the house now,” he mumbled, wiping his nose after a slight sniffle.

Jamie shook her head and immediately sank to her knees beside his bed so she was level with his eyes, giving him a stern, serious look. “No. Look at me,” she commanded, waiting until his glassy brown eyes met hers, “You...are nine years old. You don’t have to be anything but a kid, you understand me? You do your homework, you do your chores, be nice to your mum and your sister, and you have fun with your friends. Those are your only responsibilities...Okay?”

He nodded slowly, swallowing the lump in his throat. Jamie knew what it was like to be told to take responsibility for her family. And that just made it that much more painful when they were separated, because she took responsibility and felt like she had failed them all. And she knew that, god forbid, anything were to happen to Flora or Dani, Miles would live with guilt for the rest of his life if he listened to his grandmother.

“You don’t have to be the man of the house. That’s bullshit. You’re not your dad. You just focus on being Miles. There’s no man of my house and I’m getting along just fine, right?”

“You’re the only person in your house,” Miles wiped his eyes with a bit of a smile.

“Damn right,” she chuckled, reaching up to ruffle his hair, “But my point is that there doesn’t have to be a man of the house. That’s a completely outdated concept and the sooner you learn that, the better.”

He nodded his head and sniffled quietly, twiddling his thumbs just like Dani did when she was nervous.

“Aunt Jamie?” his voice was quiet and timid, like he was afraid to talk to her for the first time ever, “You’re not gonna tell my mom I was crying, are you?”

She stared back at him with a sadness in her own eyes despite the anger that was raging in her head behind them. She hated that Miles felt like he wasn’t allowed to cry, or that he shouldn’t because it would make him less of a man. He was a boy, for christ’s sake. And a part of her hated Eddie and Karen for trying to make him grow up faster than he already was.

“Nah, that can stay between you and me if you want,” she ruffled his hair again and swiped her thumb against his damp cheek, “But you don’t have to hide it, y’know. S’nothin’ to be ashamed of. Okay? I promise. It’s fine if you don’t wanna cry in front of anyone, but you can’t keep that all bottled up.”

With a nod, Miles just wiped the last of the tears from his eyes and groaned when Jamie leaned up to press a kiss to his forehead.

“What, you’re too old to be tucked in now? Is that it?” she tickled his sides through his Star Wars comforter, getting a few refreshing laughs out of him as he tried to squirm away, “Look, I’m gonna be tucking you in til you leave for college, punk. And even then, I might just have to drop by to say goodnight and embarrass you in front of your roommate.”

He gave his aunt an affectionate roll of his eyes as she tucked his sheets and blankets in around him, not admitting that he found it comforting to be taken care of. And after a tight hug and a quiet utterance of, “see you in the morning, munchkin,” from Jamie, she backed out of his room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Chapter Text

October 1990

Closing the door slowly so it wouldn’t creak, Jamie trudged down the carpeted steps to the basement, finding Dani already reclining back against the couch cushions, legs stretched out across the pull-out mattress as she distractedly swirled a glass of red wine in her hand.

“Sorry, ‘bout Miles,” she ducked her head with a bit of shame as she crossed the room and joined her, accepting the glass that was wordlessly poured for her, “Am I getting that sweatshirt back before I leave?”

Dani just smirked into her glass and shook her head, “It would be rude of me to return it to you without washing it first.”

“Yeah, I recall my favorite Blondie shirt has been in the wash for, what? Almost four years now?”

“It’s my favorite too,” she pursed her lips together, attempting to hold in a laugh.

“You have the exact same one!” Jamie shook her head incredulously, remembering when they’d gotten tickets to see the band in concert the summer after their first year of college. They’d left with matching t-shirts, but Jamie got much more use out of hers than Dani.

“But you wore yours way more often than I did, so it’s softer!”

The brunette just sipped at her wine, wondering just how many articles of clothing she’d lost just from Dani digging through her suitcase and claiming them for the time being. She always got them back, but the Blondie shirt was something she hadn’t seen in years unless Dani was wearing it. She didn’t mind too much. She had others that she’d thrifted since the band broke up back in ‘82.

“Gimme yours then. I’ll wear the fabric out then you can give me mine back,” she teased, jutting a foot across the small space to kick at Dani’s shin over her flannel pajama pants. But Dani just shook her head, reclining back against the cushions with her head turned towards her.

“No, cause then it won’t be yours,” she mumbled with the slightest grin on her face, “I like yours. It reminds me of you when you’re not here.”

”Clingy,” Jamie thought to herself as her lips curled into a fond smile, “You say that like I’m never here.”

Dani was quiet in return, but Jamie could see the cogs turning behind her forehead. Knowing Dani, she was probably trying to figure out how to tell her that it felt like she was never here. In comparison to when she still lived in town, yeah, Jamie knew that she was hardly around; Only stopping back in town for a weekend every month at the least.

Dani would come to visit her in Des Moines too. Sometimes for a day trip into the city, leaving the kids with Eddie, Judy, or Karen. It was rare, though, especially now that Miles and Flora were both enrolled in weekend activities.

Jamie didn’t feel, in any way, that they were drifting apart. Not in the slightest. But she knew that they weren’t twelve anymore with nothing better to do than to lay in their backyards and point out shapes in the clouds. Life gets in the way. But at least she was here, sipping wine in Dani’s basement and bickering over an old t-shirt. And she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“Hey,” she muttered, shifting a little closer to Dani, who just stared distractedly into her wine glass, “I’ll try to come home more often. Promise.” She took the pinky finger of Dani’s free hand, linking it with her own before dropping a kiss to her knuckles as always.

Dani just shifted closer, resting her head against Jamie’s shoulder as an arm draped over hers. In the quiet of the basement, the sound of Jamie setting her wine glass down on the end table was much louder than it actually was, piercing through the silence like a bullet.

But Dani didn’t flinch at the sound. She just curled into Jamie’s side, breathing in the faint menthol that lingered on her oversized Tears For Fears t-shirt. Picking her head up, she placed her own wine glass down on the opposite end table and reached across Jamie’s torso, lifting the t-shirt sleeve enough to trace her fingers over the moonflower tattoo that had been wrapped beautifully around her bicep since Jamie’s 18th birthday.

June 1978

“Are you insane? That’s a tattoo, Jamie, that’s permanent.”

“Christ, you sound like Suzanne,” the brunette rolled her eyes at the memory of her foster mom chastising her just this morning. The woman had very conservative opinions on tattoos, but apparently no qualms when it came to her pervert husband trying to watch Jamie and the other girls get dressed for school.

Jamie still thought it was bullshit that she got in trouble for kneeing him in the groin when he snuck up and groped her while she was doing the dishes when she was sixteen. And people wondered why she never wanted to be there.

“It’s just a tattoo, Dani,” she sighed, taking a puff from her cigarette as she leaned against the railing of Dani’s front porch steps, “On my arm, no less, it’s not like I got something inked onto my face.”

The blonde sighed through her nose, holding her knees to her chest as she sat opposite Jamie on the steps. “Is it a moonflower?” she asked after a bit of silence, tucking long blonde hair behind her ear after the warm summer breeze blew it in her face.

“Yeah.”

“Why that one?”

“Dunno,” Jamie shrugged, flicking ashes to the ground, “I think it just might be my favorite flower. There’s just something so authentic about a flower that only blooms for a few hours. Kinda reminds me of our own mortality, y’know? We’re here for a moment, and then we’re gone. Some longer than others. So...just best to do what you can with your time while you’ve got it.”

Dani just bit her lip, watching as Jamie stared ahead at the subdivision street, littered with kids fresh out of school for summer vacation. Her best friend had always seen the world so much differently than she did. Jamie was smart. Too smart, even. Sometimes it seemed like she could single handedly solve world hunger if she thought hard enough about it.

She couldn’t help but feel bad. Jamie was the type of person who would backpack across Europe after graduation, live a nomadic lifestyle and never look back. But instead, she was here; Sitting with Dani in their small Iowa town, headed to an Iowa college that she didn’t even want to go to in the first place. All because Dani had asked her to.

“You’re thinking too hard, Poppins,” the brunette flashed a bit of a toothy grin in her direction, stomping her cigarette out on the concrete step, “What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing, just…” she sighed, quirking her lips to the side as she traced her eyes over the gauze that covered the tattoo around Jamie’s bicep, “What would you do if you could do anything?”

“Anything?”

“Anything.”

“Would you laugh if I said I wanted to go to work?” she chuckled. The Johnsons had told Jamie not to come in on her birthday. No matter how hard they were struggling to keep their heads above water and brainstorm ways to pick up business, they knew that Jamie had worked hard enough lately, doing volunteer shifts on top of her normal work. They told her that she at least needed to take her birthday off. And they gave Dani strict instructions to keep her away from the store all day.

Dani just giggled in response, shaking her head, “You know what I mean,” she reached over and shoved her shoulder, “What do you want for your future? Do you wanna...find a partner? Travel?”

“I wanna go roller skating tonight,” she shrugged.

”Jamie.”

“What’s the future matter to me right now anyway?” the brunette laughed through an annoyed groan, “A nuclear bomb could come down from the sky and wipe out the entire possibility of tomorrow. I’m not gonna stress over the future when it’s not even guaranteed.”

Dani’s jaw clenched with frustration. Jamie had always been so stubborn.

“Look,” the brunette sighed, tying her hair into a ponytail to save her neck from the humidity-induced frizz, “I’m just taking things one day at a time. So today, my birthday, I’ll remind you, I just wanna go roller skating with my best friend. That’s all I want. Okay?”

Jamie reached across for her hand, wiggling her fingers as an invitation until Dani grabbed onto them with her own.

“And hey, since you want me to think about the future, I sure wouldn’t mind you bringing me a burger and fries on your lunch break tomorrow,” she smirked, squeezing her hand tight. There were perks to your best friend being a waitress at the diner just a block away from the flower shop.

But Dani just rolled her eyes, chuckling at Jamie’s obvious ignorance to her point, mumbling a quick, “We’ll see.”

October 1990

“Makes more sense now,” Dani mumbled against Jamie’s shoulder and traced her fingers against the fully bloomed flowers on her arm, not paying any mind to the goosebumps that were rising under her touch.

“What does?” Jamie nearly gritted through her teeth, willing herself to stop breaking out in goosebumps and fucking shivering under Dani’s delicate fingertips.

“What you told me about the moonflowers. The whole...mortality thing,” she sighed, retracting her hand back into her own lap, “I always assumed Eddie would just...be around forever, y’know? He’d been around forever. I never...I never considered the possibility of a life without him around.”

Jamie silently thought back to the day of the funeral. Dani’s low voice ominously hinting at Eddie’s death being her fault was playing in her mind over and over again. But Dani always took too much internal responsibility for things. Things would happen naturally and she would find a way to blame herself for them. Karen’s fault, Jamie had concluded long ago, considering the woman had been blaming Dani for anything under the sun since they were kids.

So whatever happened with Eddie, she was positive that it wasn’t really Dani’s fault at all.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Jamie leaned her head down, pressing her cheek to the crown of blonde hair at her shoulder and watching as Dani chose to fiddle with her fingers instead. At least goosebumps couldn’t break out on her fingers.

“I’m really sorry, Jay,” she mumbled and pulled her hand away again, tucking her thumbs into her fists to prevent herself from biting at her nails; A nervous habit that she’d been desperate to stop once she got her braces off.

Another moment flashed into Jamie’s mind from the other day, when Dani had so cryptically given her an unprovoked apology before the funeral. She still had no clue what that apology was for.

“I always held you back, didn’t I?” Dani muttered almost inaudibly as her fists tightened in her lap.

“What are you—“

“You...You could have done so much. So much. And you could have gone so many places. You could live anywhere right now, Jay. But you’re sitting here in nowheresville, Iowa because of me.”

“You saying the four flower shops I’m running aren’t good enough?” Jamie attempted to joke with her, poking gently at her arm before Dani picked her head up, looking entirely unamused.

“You know what I mean. You could be doing anything anywhere right now if it weren’t for me dragging you to college. God, you didn’t even wanna go to college. You told me that all the time, and I made you come along with me because I don’t know how to be without you.”

“Dani, where do you think I’d be right now if I didn’t go to college?”

She shook her head and brushed her blonde hair from her eyes, sniffling quietly, “I don’t know. Not Iowa.”

“Well, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if I hadn’t gone,” Jamie pulled back enough to look her in the eye, running a hand over hers with gentle fingers on her knuckles, “Seriously, if I hadn’t learned what I did in school, I wouldn’t be running this business right now. There’s no way. Even if Phil had still passed it down to me, I probably would have sold it for hardly anything.”

Dani was quiet, looking down at their hands with a few sniffles every couple seconds. She was so tired of crying. But as much as she hated crying in front of Jamie, there was no one else who could cheer her up so quickly.

“If I’d stayed here while you went off to school, I’d have probably started hanging around the wrong kind of people, following in my fuckin’ dad’s footsteps because I wouldn’t have had you around to be the angel on my shoulder,” Jamie kept trying to get her to look her in the eye, but she just wouldn’t. “I mean it, Dani. As much as I hated the idea of it at first...and as much as I hate to admit it...going to college was one of the best decisions I ever made. You didn’t make that choice for me, either.”

It was quiet in the room, save for Dani’s sniffling that was now muffled into Jamie’s shoulder since she pulled her into a hug. She rubbed her back softly as she breathed in the strawberry shampoo, giving Dani the time to think about what she was saying.

“You ever think that I don’t know how to be without you either?” left her lips so quietly that she wasn’t even sure if she’d said it out loud. But Dani pulled back from the tight hug, wiping under her tired, red eyes, looking at her with confusion evident on her face.

“You were…all I knew,” she continued, bringing her bottom lip between her teeth nervously. She was never big on participating in emotional conversations with Dani. Just listening when she needed an ear. “Y’know Denny died, Mum left, Dad got arrested and me and Mikey got split up. But...I dunno, you were just a constant in my life. You were always there, even if it wasn’t right outside my window.”

“I was fucking terrified of the idea of you not being around. And I always thought...I dunno, you always had Eddie, but I didn’t have anyone else. And maybe I was scared that you’d forget all about me,” she squeezed her eyes tightly shut as a heavy flush came over her cheeks. She’d never told Dani this before. She never thought she would have to.

“If you think I could ever forget about you, you’re not as smart as I always thought you were,” Dani let out a bit of a watery laugh, her voice thick with tears as she cupped Jamie’s flushed cheek.

The brunette just chuckled, ducking her head. “Can you blame me? I mean, you were one of the most popular girls in our high school. You had plenty of other friends.”

“You and Eddie were my friends. Everyone else was...merely an acquaintance.” Dani let another laugh bubble up from her chest before she playfully mumbled a comment about Jamie being an idiot.

“I mean it, though. I’m here cause I wanna be. Not cause I feel like I’m...tied down to you or something. If anything, I’m here for the shops,” Jamie smirked, poking at Dani’s side, “You’re just an added bonus.”

With a final sniffle and a hint of a smile, Dani just shoved her shoulder and moved to lay down after turning off the lamp on her side of the couch. Jamie followed, settling in on her side as Dani fluffed up the pillow under her head.

“Can I ask you something?”

Blue eyes met hers as Dani settled into the pillow and under the blankets, getting as comfortable as she could on the old, thin mattress. “You know you can ask me anything.”

Jamie bit the inside of her cheek, knowing that that statement wasn’t entirely true. Maybe it was, but she knew for sure that anything she asked Dani wouldn’t always come with an ideal answer. She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth again; Her own little nervous tick.

“No woman’s gonna wanna kiss you if you chew your whole bottom lip off,” Dani would tease her when they were teenagers as she cupped Jamie’s jaw in her hand, her thumb tugging gently at her chin to coax her lip out from between her teeth.

”Well, you’re not gonna have any fingers left for someone to put a ring on if you keep biting them,” she would retort with a playful smirk. Of course, she’d had to come up with new material ever since they were nineteen when Dani was engaged for a mere two months before she got married.

Jamie was grateful for the darkness of the basement, because Dani’s thumb gently pulling at her chin to ease her lip from between her teeth still made her blush just as deeply as it did when they were sixteen.

“The other day before, y’know...the funeral,” she started, feeling her skin go cold when Dani took her hand off the line of her jaw, “You told me you were sorry…?”

“Oh,” Dani let out, “I was just sorry that I didn’t...I didn’t call...when it happened. And you had to hear about it from my mom the day before and I just…” She shook her head, sighing into the darkness between them, “It was stupid. And so wrong of me, but...I didn’t…want you to know. And my mom was...she actually invited you without me knowing. She didn’t tell me until...after she talked to you.”

“What?” Jamie went a bit rigid with shock, unsure of what to make of what she was hearing. She wasn’t sure which part was more staggering; the fact that Dani apparently didn’t even want her to come to the funeral or the fact that Karen Clayton, of all people, was the one to invite her. Even if it was only a day in advance.

Dani took in a deep breath, taking a few moments to gather her thoughts before trying to explain, “I wasn’t in the right state of mind after the accident. And I...I figured you and Eddie never really got along anyway and you probably had a lot of work to do, so I just…”

“Dani, I would’ve dropped everything to be here for you, you know that.”

“That’s the thing, though, Jamie, you shouldn’t have to drop everything for me. You’ve always dropped everything for me,” her voice raised just enough to surprise them both, “I mean, jesus, you used to go out and get ice cream for me in the middle of the night when I was pregnant with Miles. During finals week, no less.”

Nothing had ever been more frustrating to Jamie than her friendship with Dani. Because she could never tell her how she really felt. She’d been stuck with these unrequited feelings for more than half her life, having to watch as Dani gravitated towards Eddie despite Jamie being everything that Eddie wasn’t. But she could never tell Dani. As much as she hated how hung up on her she was, she knew that she would lose her entirely if she told her the truth.

“I don’t do it cause I feel like I have to,” Jamie whispered, unsure of what else to say. But at this point, it felt like they were going around in circles, chasing each other around a ring but never catching up and reaching the same point.

“I know you don’t, it just...hardly seems fair, you always coming to my rescue when I hardly return the favor.”

“We’ve had this conversation already. Many times,” Jamie quirked her lips into a bit of a grin, though she was grateful for the dark that hid its lack of authenticity, “Dunno what I have to do to get you to believe me.”

September 1973

Jamie leaned up against the sink in the girl’s bathroom with a cigarette between her lips, keeping an eye on the door as the sound of a toilet paper roll endlessly unraveling filled the tiled room.

“I can’t believe this. The one time I wear my white jeans to school,” Dani sounded understandably frustrated in the stall in front of where Jamie stood.

“Could be worse, you coulda been wearing a dress,” the brunette shrugged, blowing smoke towards the open window. Their first class of the day had already started, so thankfully the chances of them getting caught hiding out in the bathroom were slim to none.

The rustling of toilet paper continued to fill the silence between them until Dani groaned from behind the locked stall.

“I don’t have a change of clothes, what am I gonna do?”

Flicking the cigarette into the sink, Jamie just crossed her arms over her chest, wondering how to help. She’d gotten her first period last summer not long after she turned twelve. In the privacy of her own home, fortunately enough. She couldn’t imagine having it suddenly show up for the first time at school. When you’re wearing white jeans, no less.

Sighing, she untucked the Rolling Stones t-shirt she’d borrowed from her dad from her own blue jeans and slid the denim down her legs. “Here,” she stepped towards the stall and hooked them over the top of the door, pulling her shirt down so the hem reached her upper thighs.

“Jamie…”

“Put’em on, I’m not letting you hide out in the bathroom until school’s over. And gimme yours.”

“You are not putting on my blood-stained jeans, Jamie Taylor.”

“I’m not gonna put them on, I’m gonna throw them away,” she chuckled, “Trust me, that stain is not coming out.”

The blue jeans slowly slid off the top of the door, replaced by the white ones that Jamie tugged down and started to crumple up.

“Oh, gross,” a voice made her head tilt up as the bathroom door opened. But her eyes immediately rolled back when she saw Lisa Peterson standing there with a hall pass and disgust on her face at the sight of the blood stained pants.

“Hey, Lisa. Don’tcha hate when Aunt Flo comes early?” the brunette shook her head with a chuckle as if she’d just made a silly little mistake, “And in my favorite white jeans, can you believe that?”

“Yeah right, like you would ever own white jeans,” Lisa crossed her arms over her chest.

“Y’know, for the pep squad captain, you don’t have a lot of pep,” she scrunched her nose curiously at the other girl, “But you might wanna pick another bathroom. It’s a bit of a mess in here. Pretty heavy flow this month, as you can see.”

“God, you are so disgusting, Jamie,” the redhead made a face of pure disgust when Jamie held up the white jeans to show her the stain, immediately turning on her heel and leaving the bathroom.

Snorting to herself, Jamie tossed the pants into the trash can, leaning back against the sink as Dani slowly came out of the stall. “Good thing we’re the same size,” she smirked, looking at the blue jeans.

“You’re crazy. Lisa’s gonna tell everyone about that,” Dani brushed past her to wash her hands, shaking her head as the flush refused to fade from her face.

“So?” Jamie just shrugged, “Besides, even if she does, I can just let it slip that her bra is stuffed with tissues. Problem solved.”

Blue eyes stared her down with a regretfully amused smile before Dani couldn’t hold her laughter in anymore. “You’re not seriously gonna leave this bathroom wearing your dad’s t-shirt as a dress, are you?”

“Certainly am,” Jamie turned and draped an arm over her shoulders before they started for the door, “Who knows, I might just start a new trend.”

Chapter Text

July 1976

“Danielle!”

A sharp round of knocks rapped against the door, bringing Dani abruptly out of her dreamless sleep.

“Danielle, why is your door locked?” Karen’s voice came through again along with the relentless jiggling of the doorknob, “Are you awake?”

Sitting up, Dani panicked momentarily, willing the lock on her door to stay sturdy and trustworthy against her mother’s incessant twisting and turning of the knob. Running a hand through her tousled hair, she peered down to Jamie who was curled around one of her pink throw pillows, somehow sleeping soundly through the commotion.

“Jamie,” she hissed in a whisper and shook Jamie’s shoulder, quickly clapping a hand over her mouth when she started to groan and complain about being woken up, “Quiet,” intense blue eyes bore into Jamie’s tired green ones when they opened wide in confusion.

But it didn’t take long for the situation to register in Jamie’s mind before she was untangling her legs from the pink comforter and standing in the middle of the room in just a t-shirt and underwear, looking around for a place to hide. If this were any time in the last few years, she would be out the window and bolting across the yard to her own house. But the house next door now belonged to a perfect little family with two young kids and a dog.

Dani gestured wildly for Jamie to slide under the bed, knowing she’d be hidden by the ruffled bed skirt. “I’m awake! Sorry, my lock must be acting up again!” she yelled to her mother on the other side of the door, waiting until Jamie was fully concealed under the bed before greeting her mother with a smile that was perhaps a bit too chipper.

“Sorry, Mom, I—“

“We really need to get that lock looked at again, Danielle, it’s been doing that for years,” Karen shook her head with a huff, brushing past her daughter and into the room, much to Dani’s horror.

“Yeah, you’re right, uhh…” she trailed off, her eyes going wide when Karen picked Jamie’s jeans up off the floor, obliviously placing them in the laundry basket in the corner before going to the closet.

“I need you to get ready to go,” the older blonde rifled through Dani’s closet, picking out a floral dress for her and laying it out on the bed, “There’s a sale going on at Macy’s, and I’d like to get a head start on finding you some new shoes for school.”

The teenager just nodded, keeping the innocent smile on her face as she willed her mother to leave the room. She’d been sporadically sneaking Jamie into her room for nearly four years and had never been caught; she wasn’t going to let that change today.

“Was Jamie here?” Karen cocked her head, averting her eyes to something behind Dani’s legs.

At the mention of her best friend’s name, her rapidly beating heart dropped into her stomach as she followed her mother’s line of sight. And sure enough, there was Jamie’s skateboard, sticking out like a sore thumb in the pink and purple bedroom.

“O-oh, um...sh-she forgot it last time she was here to hang out with me and Eddie. I keep telling her to come pick it up, but I think I’ll just bring it to her,” she nodded, hoping that her fidgeting and trembling voice weren’t too obvious. She’d never been good at lying to her mom.

Karen sighed and sat on the edge of the bed, frustrating Dani even further. “Danielle, do you really think you should still be spending your time with her? It was one thing when she was just the little troublemaker next door, but...I’ve just…” she trailed off, “I’ve heard things...around town. I just don’t think it’s in your best interest to—“

“Mom, she’s my best friend,” Dani shook her head, “She hasn’t done anything wrong.”

“You aren’t worried that she’ll...try anything inappropriate with you? Do I need to be worried about you becoming a...a…”

“A lesbian?

“Danielle, please, have some decency,” Karen recoiled at the word before standing and straightening out her skirt as she stepped back in front of her daughter, “I just want what’s best for you and I don’t think having her for a friend is doing you any favors. I can only imagine what your classmates must think.”

Dani tried to keep her cool. Between being offended by her mother’s insults towards Jamie and the knowledge that the brunette was still under the bed, listening to every word, it was getting hard for Dani to keep a straight face at the least. “Mom, it’s fine. She’s just my friend like she’s always been,” she swallowed thickly and tried to usher her towards the door, “I’ll only be a little bit getting ready.”

Before Karen could say anything else, Dani had the door closed and audibly locked before leaning her head against the cool, painted wood, listening to the sound of Jamie shifting out from under the bed behind her. “I’m so sorry,” she mumbled as she turned around, pressing her back to the door after she heard her mom’s footsteps on the stairs.

“I’ve heard worse,” Jamie shrugged, looking around for her jeans and fetching them from the laundry basket when Dani pointed towards it.

“That doesn’t matter, she shouldn’t talk about you like that,” she shook her head, “You’re my best friend and she’s never treated you with any respect.”

Jamie just snorted a bit of a laugh as she pulled her jeans and shoes on, “Appreciate you sticking up for me, but it’s not necessary. Your mum’s never liked me, and I’ve never really liked her either, so...no point in trying to change anything. S’long as her daughter likes me, that’s all I care about.”

Rolling her eyes with a bit of a pink tint in her cheeks, Dani pushed herself off the door and wrapped her arms around Jamie’s neck, bringing her into a tight hug to let her know that regardless of what Karen Clayton thought, Dani still adored her and wanted her around.

“Are you gonna be okay? You can come back again tonight if you want,” she pulled back, tracing the freckles on Jamie’s face with worried blue eyes as she tamed down a few of the wild curls in her hair. She knew that Jamie’s new foster home wasn’t great from what she’d been told. Jamie wouldn’t tell her the full extent of how bad things would get, but if Jamie was sneaking through her window multiple nights a week because she didn’t want to sleep there, she could only assume how bad it was. Especially with her creepy foster dad.

“I’ll be fine. I’ve got work today anyway. And you have a shoe sale to get dressed for,” the brunette smirked, pulling out of the hug to grab her skateboard and make her escape through the window.

“Jamie?”

“Hm?” she stopped at the windowsill with one leg hanging out, already on the first rung of the ladder.

“I mean it…” Dani wrung her hands in front of her long nightgown, “I don’t care what she thinks...or anyone else. We promised to be best friends no matter what.”

Jamie just smiled warmly, a bit of pink coming to her own face, though she ducked her head to hide it. “I know,” she picked her head back up and nodded, her lips forming a bit of a crooked smile that Dani was so fond of, “M’afraid you’re stuck with me.”

October 1990

“Go wake her up, tell her she’s gonna be late,” Jamie heard a whisper in the dimly lit basement. She tried to feign sleep and hide her smile when she felt a new weight on the flimsy mattress, making its way towards where she was laying.

“Aunt Jaaaamie, you’re gonna be late for work,” Flora sing-songed the same way Dani did when she tried to wake her up gently. But Jamie kept pretending to be asleep, even adding in a few loud, over-exaggerated snores that only Dani knew were fake. “Mummy, she’s still sleeping.”

She could hear the smirk in Dani’s voice as her footsteps came a bit closer, “You know, Aunt Jamie’s really ticklish right here…”

That was all Jamie heard before tiny, wiggling fingers attacked the side of her neck, sending her reflexes into action. And before she knew it, she was sitting up and holding the screaming five year old in a playfully tight grip, tickling her sides instead as she shrieked with laughter.

“N-nooo!” Flora’s laughter filled the basement space as Jamie tickled her relentlessly.

“This is what you get for trying to tickle me awake,” Jamie laughed as Flora kicked her legs, trying to escape. She let her go after a few more torturous seconds, chuckling when the little girl ran up the stairs faster than she’d ever seen her move before.

“Sorry for the wake up call,” Dani chuckled and sat on the edge of the pull-out mattress, toying with the ends of her braid that matched Flora’s, “I didn’t want you to be late for work.”

“I’m my own boss,” Jamie stretched her arms over her head with a yawn, “Not like I can get fired.”

“I know, but...still, I’m sure you’re ready to get back.”

“This your subtle way of kicking me out?” she smirked with an accusing eyebrow raised high on her forehead.

Blue eyes widened with worry before she shook her head quickly, “No. No, Jamie, of course not, I just—“

“Poppins, I’m kidding,” Jamie reached over for the hands on her lap, wrapping her fingers around Dani’s, “I do need to get back, though.”

“Right,” Dani breathed out a nervous laugh, “Well, um...Mom’s making breakfast if you wanna stay for that. I have to drop the kids off at school right after.”

“When are you going back to work?” Jamie asked gently, continuing to stretch her limbs out.

“They’re giving me a few paid weeks off. Just to...recoup and get anything I need taken care of.”

“Good. You’ve been working there long enough, it’s the least they can do.”

Nodding with a smile, Dani just chuckled, reaching over to smooth down Jamie’s curly brown hair that was sticking out in a few different directions from sleep, “Anyone ever tell you your hair looks insane in the morning?”

“Hey, the ladies have no complaints,” Jamie playfully scrunched her nose up, taking in the way Dani’s cheeks flamed up as she retracted her hand with a nervous laugh.

“Right. Well, I’ll uh...I’ll let you get ready,” the blonde bit her lip, tucking her thumbs into her fists as she removed herself from the bed and made her way up the steps with one timid glance back.

Running a hand through her hair, Jamie just sighed to herself when she was left on her own, wondering what possessed her to say that. And to Dani of all people. It wasn’t like Jamie having random women in her life was any kind of secret, but she never really talked about them with Dani.

The most Dani ever got out of Jamie when she would ask about her love life was that people were as exhaustive as ever and not quite worth the effort. But Dani didn’t need to know about the one night stands and few friends with benefits scenarios that had filled out her free time over the years.

With a groan, she got up and dressed, fixing up her hair and brushing her teeth in the small basement bathroom. Once she had everything packed into her suitcase, she stripped the bedding off the pull-out mattress and put it all in the washing machine before folding the mattress back into the couch. And after fixing up the cushions, Jamie rolled her small suitcase up the steps to the main floor, setting it by the front door before making her way towards the kitchen.

“Danielle, what kind of example are you setting for your children? You need to sleep in your own bed, you’re not a child. Flora’s going to want to start spending the night in Wally’s bed with your influence on her,” Jamie could hear Karen chastising Dani from the doorway.

“Oh, can I, Mummy?” the little girl picked her head up from her coloring page with a gasp and pleading eyes.

“See?”

“She didn’t have that idea in her head until you just put it there,” Dani’s voice was quiet, but loud enough for Jamie to hear as she entered the room.

“Morning,” she breathed with an awkwardly tight smile, brushing past Karen to the coffee pot.

Dani just mumbled a quiet greeting as she leaned back against the kitchen counter beside where her mother was scrambling a few eggs for everyone.

“Jamie, I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t encourage Danielle to crawl into bed with you like a child,” Karen sighed, not making eye contact with the younger woman as she moved the yellowed eggs around the frying pan, “She needs to learn to be alone in her own bed. Especially with you going back to the city and me heading back home…”

“Sorry, uh...Karen. I offered. Figured she could use the company,” Jamie offered, meeting Dani’s eyes over her mother’s head. The blonde looked so apologetic, knowing that Jamie was taking the blame for her once again, “Won’t happen again.”

“Good. I think you girls are a little old for sleepovers. Not to mention you—“ Karen stopped herself, looking at Jamie up and down before retracting whatever she was going to say with a shake of her head, “Danielle should know better. I slept in my own bed just fine after my husband died, and she should be able to as well. And frankly, I don’t think it’s appropriate for the two of you to be sharing a bed.”

Jamie stirred her coffee, watching Dani from the corner of her eye. Even in her peripheral view, she could see that her best friend was hurt and annoyed by her mother’s words. “Yes ma’am. Won’t happen again,” she repeated simply, sipping at the steaming mug to distract herself from saying much else before taking Dani gently by the elbow to the table, not wanting her to be involved either.

June 1977

They were dead meat.

They weren’t supposed to be out this late. Dani wasn’t, anyway. Karen, as absent of a parent she could be at times, took Dani’s curfew quite seriously. But surprisingly to both herself and the blonde, Jamie had been the responsible one tonight, constantly reminding Dani of the time while they were out. But the cheerleader insisted on staying just a little bit longer, Jamie.

It was the first big party now that the school year was over. It wasn’t anything really fun. Just a bunch of drunk or stoned teenagers around a bonfire, sneaking off into the woods or shamelessly making out with one another right there for everyone to see. Jamie hadn’t wanted to go, but Dani insisted.

And through the night, the brunette just ended up shooing away multiple characters from the football team that tried to take advantage of Dani while Eddie was out of town for scout camp, rolling her eyes at each bitter accusation that Jamie just wanted Dani for herself.

“Hey, thanks,” Jamie smiled at the girl who had given them a ride home. Thankfully the party wasn’t all jocks and cheerleaders that Jamie wanted nothing to do with. There were some theater and band students there as well; as well as a few students who weren’t part of any kind of after school activity besides detention. Not anyone she was friends with, but some were nice (and sober) enough to offer to drive people home.

She offered the girl, whose name was Rebecca if she remembered correctly, a few crumpled up dollar bills from her wallet for gas, knowing that she had to go a bit out of her way to drop them off. And after saying goodbye, she allowed the slightly tipsy blonde to hook her arm through hers on the short walk up the driveway.

“You’re staying, right?” Dani hummed quietly, leaning her head on Jamie’s shoulder.

“If that’s still okay,” she nodded, guiding her up the front steps.

“Of course it is,” Dani gave her a tired smile before she started fishing her keys out from her purse, “My mom’s asleep, so you can just come in with—“

The porch light flicked on, making them both flinch in surprise. And Jamie hardly had time to get a “fuck” past her lips before the door swung open in front of them, revealing a very cross looking Karen in a bath robe.

“Danielle, where have you been, I’ve been worried sick!

“I’m fine, Mom, we were just at the bonfire, I told you that,” Dani straightened her posture a bit, trying not to let the tipsy slur in her voice sound too obvious.

“You have a curfew, young lady. One that I expect you to follow, even over summer vacation.”

“Mom, I—“

“It’s my fault, Mrs. Clayton,” Jamie chimed in, holding her hands behind her back like a guilty child as she gave the woman an apologetic look.

“No,” Dani shook her head as she looked between the brunette and her mother, “No, Mom, it wasn’t—“

But Jamie interrupted again, keeping her eyes on Karen and attempting to hold her gaze, “I wanted to stay later.”

“Jamie—“

“I’m really sorry,” she finished, holding her breath and hoping that Karen believed her. She normally did when Jamie would take the blame for things Dani got caught for. But this time, unlike the others, Dani had cheap beer on her breath and the scent of marijuana and menthol clinging to her hair.

Karen was quiet as she glanced between them, taking in Jamie’s firm gaze and the way her own daughter was looking guiltily down at her sandals. “Jamie, I think it’s time you went home,” the woman sighed, reaching for Dani’s arm to pull her inside (surprisingly more gentle than she had in the past).

“Yes ma’am,” she nodded in return, pressing her lips into a tight line as she watched Dani get tugged through the doorway.

“No, wait,” Dani fought against her mother, trying to pull her arm from her grip, “Can Jamie stay the night, please? Just tonight?” Her voice was desperate and pleading, knowing that there was a good chance that Jamie would be in just as much trouble (if not more) if she went back to her foster home this late at night.

“Absolutely not,” Karen shook her head, trying to pull Dani away from the door so she could close it. But the younger blonde stood her ground, making sure that the door couldn’t be shut in her face, “Go on home, Jamie.”

Nodding her head, Jamie placed her hands in her pockets and stepped backwards towards the steps, sending Dani a reassuring look that she could just come in through the window after a few minutes.

Last she saw was a slight nod of Dani’s head before she made her way back down the porch steps, checking over her shoulder before she rounded the side of the house. But she stopped dead in her tracks when she noticed that the wooden ladder that had been laying flat in the grass beside the Clayton house for years was gone.

“Shit,” she ran a hand through her curly hair, kicking at the grass under her feet, remembering that Dani had mentioned Karen trying to sell a few of her father’s old things that were just taking up space. Little did Karen know that the tall ladder actually got a lot of use over the years.

It didn’t take long for Dani’s bedroom light to come on, shining through the pink curtains before the window opened. “Are you coming up?” Dani whispered into the night, poking her head out the window and looking down at Jamie who was standing uselessly down below.

“I can’t,” Jamie hissed back, gesturing down to where the ladder usually rested against the house.

Looking at what Jamie was referring to, Dani’s jaw slacked, running a hand through her hair as she cursed under her breath. She knew her mom had been selling some of her dad’s old tools and collectibles, but she didn’t know she was planning on getting rid of the ladder. And Dani knew she couldn’t bring it up to her mother without sounding suspicious.

“Jamie…”

“I’ll be fine. Really,” the brunette sighed and shook her head, offering up the most comforting smile she could muster, though she was sure it didn’t look very convincing. “Sweet dreams, Poppins,” she gave her a bit of a wave as she turned away, already brainstorming places she could go for the rest of the night.

She made it to the sidewalk before the porch light of the Clayton’s house flipped on again, followed by Dani running out the front door with a frustrated call of “Danielle!” coming from inside as the blonde ran the length of the front yard to meet her, grabbing at her elbow through her jacket.

“You’re not walking halfway across town at this hour, Jamie. I don’t care. You’re staying here.”

“Dani…”

“Danielle! Come back inside now!” Karen appeared at the doorway again.

“You’re staying here,” she repeated with a serious look on her face; One that told Jamie that even if she tried to fight it, she wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

“Danielle!”

“Come on,” the blonde beckoned her along, pulling her gently towards the house. Karen huffed in the doorway, crossing her arms over her chest at her daughter’s defiance. But Dani swallowed thickly as she kept her chin high, bringing Jamie up the front porch steps with her. “Mom, Jamie’s staying here,” she stated as they approached her mother, “She lives halfway across town and it’s 1am, I’m not letting her walk home.”

“Danielle—“

“It’ll be dawn by the time she gets there, Mom, please...”

Karen looked between her daughter and her friend, taking in the desperately pleading look on Dani’s face and the nervous, resisting look on Jamie’s. “I suppose I can’t, in good conscience, allow her to walk home alone at this time of night,” she muttered almost bitterly, stepping aside so they could step inside, “Jamie, the guest room is right beside the bathroom upstairs.”

“But—“

“It’s the guest room or the sofa, Danielle,” she stopped Dani from trying to talk her into letting her best friend sleep in her bedroom. She knew her daughter well enough, even though she was still blissfully unaware of the dozens of secret sleepovers the girls were having over the past few years, “Be grateful I’m letting her stay here at all.”

It stung a little, but Jamie understood. She’d learned to see things from other peoples’ point of view from her own mother, ironically enough. And she knew that from Karen’s point of view, she was likely just looking to corrupt and convert her daughter.

“Thank you, Mrs. Clayton,” she nodded her head politely with a taut smile, not minding that she didn’t get much of anything in return.

And she should have seen it coming, but less than an hour later, the guest room door creaked open as Dani slipped inside, crawling into the bed with her without even a moment of hesitation.

“You’re gonna get me banned from this house for good one of these days,” the brunette whispered through a quiet chuckle, shifting over so Dani had some space to curl up beside her.

“Then I’ll just have to start sleeping at your house,” Dani mumbled in response, already relaxing against the pillow.

“Not in a million years.”

October 1990

Jamie squeezed Flora tightly after scooping her up into her arms, playfully shaking her side to side to try to get a giggle out of her. Flora always got a little upset when Jamie left. The five year old lived in some kind of fantasy world where her aunt could just live with them and be around all the time.

“I’ll see you on Friday night. That’s only four days from now. And we’re gonna go trick-or-treating remember?” she kissed her cheek, trying to clear the pout off her face, though, it didn’t work as well as she’d hoped. But Dani took over, trying to cheer her daughter up while Jamie turned to Miles.

“And you,” she started, pulling him into a tight hug, “Stop growing, first of all. You’re gonna be taller than me one of these days.” That got a slight laugh out of him. “Remember what I told you last night, okay?” she pulled back to look him in the eye, making sure he was paying attention, “I mean it, Miles.” He always knew she was serious when she used his actual name.

“You guys go get your stuff for school and we’ll leave in a little bit,” Dani ushered the kids back into the house, leaving her standing alone with Jamie on the front porch, “Now it’s my turn to pout about you leaving.”

Jamie just breathed a quiet chuckle, shaking her head as she lowered her chin, “Dunno if I can lift you into a hug as well as Flora, but I can give it a shot.”

Dani just smiled and closed the space between them to wrap her arms around her, burying her face into the shoulder of Jamie’s brown suede jacket. She always lingered a little, never wanting to see her best friend go. But she held on a little longer this time, knowing that once Jamie was gone, she’d be on her own again.

“Call me when you get home. Or to work, I guess,” she mumbled against her jacket.

Jamie just nodded, tightening her hold on Dani just for a little bit. She had a feeling that the next four days were going to drag on like weeks. “You bet,” she sighed, pressing a kiss to her temple before stepping back.

The blonde had her sleeves pulled down over her hands, running her hand up and down her arm nervously as she kept her shining eyes averted. Knowing that she had to take her kids to school, come home and do everything all by herself, the reality of her being a widowed single mother was starting to hit a bit harder. She’d had the help of Jamie and her mom over the last few days, but now she would really be doing it herself.

“Hey,” Jamie reached for her fidgeting hands with a warm smile on her face, “You’re doing great.”

Dani just shook her head with a breath of sour laughter, reaching a hand up to prevent a tear from slipping down her cheek. While she was grateful that Jamie seemed to be able to read her mind when she was upset, her reassurance was a little harder to believe this time around.

Jamie hooked a finger under her chin, lifting her gaze up to meet her own with determination. “Dani...you’re doing great,” she repeated, “You’ve done great, and you’re gonna keep doing great...Okay?”

With a simple nod, Dani let her wipe the stray tears from her cheeks, mumbling out a quiet, “thank you,” hoping that Jamie knew that her gratitude was for more than just the reassurance

“Any time,” the brunette offered the smallest grin, letting her hand linger just a bit longer on Dani’s cheek before clearing her throat and pulling back and reaching for her suitcase, “So...Chin up, Poppins. See you in four days.”

Chapter Text

October 1990

Jamie had forgotten how chaotic Halloween was. She hadn’t done anything remotely Halloween related since college. The most she’d done in recent years was put a bowl of candy outside her apartment door and curl up with a bottle of wine and a scary movie (if she was feeling festive); Unless you count the year she babysat Miles so Dani could accompany Eddie to a costume party with his colleagues. But even then, all she did was sit in their apartment and drink their wine after putting Miles to bed.

Dani had invited her over for Halloween every year since before Flora was born; once Miles was old enough to understand the concept of trick-or-treating in their new neighborhood. She always said she could use the company while she stayed behind and handed out candy to the trick-or-treaters while Eddie brought the kids out. And every year, Jamie came up with some lame excuse, whether it was work or plans she pretended to already have.

It wasn’t that she didn’t miss her, or didn’t want to see her. Jamie and Halloween just didn’t get along well. Especially when Dani was involved. From the embarrassing stumble she took in front of her when they were eleven (which required three stitches on her leg), to the kiss at Ingrid Westfield’s party when they were sixteen, to Dani calling to tell her that she was pregnant again on the morning of Halloween in 1984.

She’d never forget the tone of her best friend’s voice on the other end of the phone that morning. She didn’t sound overjoyed, but she didn’t sound upset about it either. She just sounded...scared. Like she wanted Jamie to do something to change it; Like all the pieces of her life were coming together like a puzzle that she didn’t want to do in the first place.

And Jamie remembered turning down her invite to keep her company at the house that night. She hadn’t exactly lied about the mountain of paperwork she needed to get done. But she certainly used it as a coverup when she spent the night drowning her sorrows with a bottle of tequila.

Halloween and Jamie just didn’t get along when Dani was involved.

But things were different this year. Dani was on her own with the kids, but Flora was the one who invited her along this time anyway. And that’s how she ended up roaming the neighborhood sidewalks with Dani, watching Flora and Miles run ahead of them as the sun rapidly started to set. And even better, she had to fight the weekend traffic from the city, and she’d arrived too late for Dani to force her into some kind of silly costume.

“Don’t run ahead, please!” the blonde called after her kids, sighing when Flora almost tripped over her skirt again. As cute as she looked in her Little Mermaid costume, the skirt meant to look like a shiny green tail didn’t give her much room to move her legs. And Miles’s Batman mask kept falling down, but the two were so preoccupied with getting as much candy as they could that they could hardly bring themselves to care about their little wardrobe malfunctions.

“You didn’t have to come along, I could’ve handled’em while you passed out candy,” Jamie nudged Dani with her elbow as she held onto Wally’s leash.

“I know, but…” she shrugged, chipping nervously at her orange nail polish that matched her jack-o-lantern sweater, “I might as well get used to it, y’know? Eddie always took them out. And I’ve still got a few years before Miles can take Flora out on his own.”

“If he’s anything like Denny, he’s not gonna want to,” the brunette snorted, remembering how her older brother had intentionally “lost” her and Mikey to go hang out with his friends on their first Halloween in America.

Dani just chuckled quietly, looking down at her feet, “All the more reason to get used to it now.”

Jamie just nodded, watching as Miles and Flora ran up the walkway to the next house, shouting “trick or treat” with some of the other kids.

“Thank you for coming, you really didn’t have to.“

“Told Flora I would,” she shrugged, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth. A part of her was paranoid about what could possibly go wrong for her this year, but she was going with the flow, trying not to assume the worst.

“I know, but still…”

Green eyes glanced beside her, taking in the downward tilt of Dani’s side profile, watching as she seemed to find such an interest in her shoes as they kept walking. “Hey. Poppins…” Jamie stopped, reaching for Dani’s arm to stop her as well, “It’s fine. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to be, yeah?”

Pink lips quirked to the side as she nodded in response. And Jamie just prayed that her absence over the last few Halloweens weren’t running through her mind.

“Mummy, they had full size chocolate bars!” Flora came running up to them as best she could, nearly tripping over her skirt again, “We’re gonna eat all the candy and stay up all night!”

Jamie just laughed at the sugar high the little girl was already on, despite not having a single piece of candy yet. But it was her first time being allowed to participate in trick-or-treating, so it wasn’t unexpected. “We’re gonna be spending the whole night in the hospital if you don’t stop running around,” she chuckled, crouching down untwist the fins of the tail from where they’d gotten tangled around Flora’s ankles.

“And you’re gonna crash into someone if you don’t stop running with your mask over your eyes,” Dani reached for the Batman mask on Miles’s face, attempting to tighten the elastic string around his head, “No more running okay?”

Once both kids nodded, the four of them kept walking down the sidewalk, reaching another cul-de-sac by the time the sun had fully set. It all seemed so much more chaotic in the dark. Kids and teenagers were running around, screaming in fear and delight. But Dani just yawned from beside her, linking her arm through Jamie’s and resting her head on her shoulder as they walked behind the kids.

“Don’t tell me you’re getting too old to stay out after dark,” Jamie smirked, allowing her arm to be pulled tightly against her. After the two weeks Dani had had, she didn’t blame her for being tired. She would probably be tired for a while.

“Even if I am, you’re still older than me,” she slurred a bit sleepily.

“Only by three months.”

“Still older.”

“You’re just mean,” the brunette chuckled, earning a bit of a laugh out of Dani as well.

This was going fine. There was nothing to worry about. It wasn’t possible for every Halloween with Dani to be terrible, right? At this point, she just felt like she did almost every Halloween after 1976. Nothing necessarily bad happened. She was just left with the painful memories and “what if”s of that night. And those were debilitating enough.

November 1976

If there was one place where Jamie knew she could clear her head, it was at work (As sad and lame as it sounded). Maybe she wasn’t in the mood to argue with picky customers or deal with Phil hovering over her shoulder to micromanage the tasks he’d give her, but the little flower shop in the middle of town was where she felt most at peace. Being around the colorful displays of multicolored flowers that topped the sea of green stems was just so comforting. And today, she really needed that peace and comfort.

Last night had been such a disaster. The Halloween party hadn’t even been fun to begin with, but she never expected the night to go so downhill.

A part of her held tightly to the memory, never wanting to forget the feeling of Dani’s lips against hers; Because there was a good chance that she would never get to experience it again. But in the blissful memory that she could swear was a dream, she could still taste the vodka punch in Dani’s mouth. A cruel reminder that it was all just a drunken mistake.

Trimming the stems of a few marigolds, Jamie breathed deeply as she worked out a random arrangement. It wasn’t for an order, but piecing flowers together was good for putting her racing mind at ease. And colors were calming. Deep shades of yellow and orange, with a few red ones in between, she even caught herself smiling as she arranged them in the vase she’d taken from the back room.

She tied a yellow bow around the neck of the vase, fluffing up the ribbon as she tried not to think of the ribbons Dani wore in her hair when they were kids. It was pathetic that every little thing reminded her of the blonde. But they’d been friends for five years now. Jamie had never been able to keep a friend so long, and she would hate to lose Dani so soon. Because in comparison to anything longer, five years was practically nothing, regardless of how long it seemed in her mind. And she couldn’t let what happened last night ruin anything between them.

But god, Jamie just needed the memory to fade. If only she’d been drunk enough to forget it by morning. Because the memory of the butterflies in her stomach and the sparks pricking at her brain...the tingly numbness of her fingers and the sound of Dani humming into the kiss with such relief...it was all sitting in the front of her brain, both torturous and gratifying.

The sudden jingle of the bell over the door was just what she needed to bring her back to reality. Unruly, picky customers would definitely be a great distraction. But the person walking towards her with a styrofoam cup wasn’t going to help her case at all.

“Hey,” she greeted Dani, rather surprised to see her coming towards her in a tan peacoat and blue tinted sunglasses.

“Olive branch,” the blonde sighed, setting the steaming styrofoam cup down on the counter before lifting her sunglasses to rest on the top of her head, “For whatever I did last night. I’m sure I was an embarrassment, considering how shitty I felt this morning.”

Jamie couldn’t help the crooked smile that came to her face when she pulled the cup across the counter. The café across the street had the best tea she could find in America. Or at least in town, since she hadn’t ventured far out of their town’s borders. “I mean, you were drunk and dressed like Raggedy Anne. Think that’s embarrassing enough.”

Dani just shook her head and rested her elbows against the counter as Jamie sipped at the tea carefully, humming with appreciation.

“You, uh…” she started, flicking her tongue nervously over her lips, “Don’t remember much, then?”

The hungover blonde picked her head up, blue eyes boring into green for a quiet moment before she shrugged. “I remember...ABBA. And vodka punch. A lot of it. Everything else is fuzzy.”

Jamie didn’t know whether to cry or jump for joy that Dani didn’t remember how the night ended. On the one hand, this meant they wouldn’t have to have an awkward talk about it. Jamie wouldn’t have to watch Dani wave a nonchalant hand and claim that it was just a friendly drunken kiss that meant nothing. But either way it hurt, because to Jamie, it meant everything. And now she had no choice but to move on and pretend that the kiss, something she’d been wanting for years, didn’t happen at all.

“Right. It was...uneventful, I guess,” she nodded curtly, sipping at the scalding hot tea to distract herself from the ache in her chest.

Dani just bit the inside of her cheek and nodded back, twiddling her thumbs atop the counter before gazing at the arrangement Jamie had been working on. “This is gorgeous. Did you make this?”

“I just put it together. Nothing impressive,” Jamie gave a single shoulder shrug, cleaning up the mess of leaves and trimmed stems. She was proud of the arrangement, but it wasn’t anything she worked hard on. Putting a bunch of flowers in a vase wasn’t rocket science.

“Jamie, I could never make anything like this. It’s like art, you should be bragging about this right now.”

Green eyes rolled towards the back of her head as she wiped her hands off, greeting an elderly woman who came through the door. “Something I can do for you?”

“Just looking for something to liven up the house a bit,” the woman returned her polite smile as she came closer to the counter.

“Well—“

“What about this?” Dani’s voice interrupted hers, turning the vase around to show the woman the arrangement Jamie had made, “Marigolds are great flowers for fall.”

“Oh, these are lovely,” the woman grinned as she admired the display of flowers.

“Jamie arranged them,” Dani gestured to the girl behind the counter, “She’s got quite a talent, don’t you think?”

The brunette just blushed, trying not to look annoyed at the smug grin Dani was sending her way while the woman inspected the flowers.

“She certainly does. You should be very proud of yourself, young lady,” the older woman turned to Jamie, “How much?”

“Uh...a-an arrangement with the vase is ten dollars plus tax,” she stammered, confused that the woman was actually impressed enough to buy it. Dani was always too nice to her, praising her for the bare minimum, so it was hard for Jamie to know when she’d actually done something worth anyone else’s approval.

The old woman fished a ten dollar bill and a few coins from her purse, handing them over to Jamie who rung the arrangement up in the old register and wrote up a receipt for her. And when she handed it over, she was surprised to see the woman handing her a few dollar bills in return.

“This is beautiful work. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson are lucky to have you here,” she placed the bills in Jamie’s hand, smiling at her despite the confused look on the teenager’s face.

“Thank you, ma’am,” the brunette mumbled as the blush bled heavier into her cheeks, “Have a nice afternoon.”

After the woman walked out with the vase of marigolds, Jamie just looked down at the dollar bills in her hand, a bit stunned that the woman was impressed enough with her work to leave her a tip.

”It’s noothin’, Dani. It’s just-a bunch-a flowas, Dani,” the blonde on the other side of the counter put on the best impression of Jamie she could manage, even though she knew that her best wasn’t good at all.

As atrocious as the impression was (and had always been), Jamie couldn’t help but snort a laugh through her nose, shaking her head as she tucked the money into her apron. “Never do that voice again.”

“I wouldn’t have to if you’d believe me when I tell you how great you are.”

Jamie just turned around, acting busy as she hid her smile, wondering how it was possible for Dani to be the cause of her stress and the solution to fixing it at the same time. Either way, she was glad that things felt no different between them. So maybe everything would be okay after all.

October 1990

“She all right?” Jamie offered Dani a warm smile and a refilled glass of wine when she plopped down beside her on the living room sofa.

With a sigh and a nod, Dani took the glass from her, taking a few long sips to match how much Jamie had in hers. “She’s okay,” she hummed as the warmth spread through her with each sip, “She hasn’t been sleeping very well lately anyway, but I think she’s just on a high from the excitement.”

Flora had come downstairs while they were both finishing up their second glasses of wine for the evening, claiming she just couldn’t sleep. The five year old had insisted on staying downstairs with them, sitting around talking with glasses of grape juice (as far as she was concerned). But Dani just ushered her upstairs and tucked her back into bed before coming back down, rejoining Jamie on the couch with a rerun of Three’s Company as background noise.

“Makes sense,” the brunette nodded, swirling her glass around, “Surprised that one woman dressed as a witch didn’t scare the shit out of her.”

“I think she gets her bravery from her Aunt Jamie. She certainly didn’t get it from me,” Dani snorted before taking another sip with a roll of her eyes.

“Which is strange, cause that woman even scared the piss out of me.”

The younger woman nearly spat her wine back into her glass, bringing a hand up to cover her face as she tried to swallow before letting the laughter work through her whole body.

As nice as it was to see Dani laughing like she didn’t have a care in the world, Jamie knew that she was still hurting. There was no way she wasn’t. And it was obvious in the way she was downing her wine like it was water.

“Maybe slow it down a bit. This isn’t happy hour,” she chuckled quietly, watching her pour herself a fourth glass.

Dani just snorted through another sip, lifting her legs to drape them comfortably over Jamie’s lap with a distant smile. “Hey, I never get to do this, let me enjoy it,” she mumbled, leaning her head against the back cushions.

“Pretty sure we did this exact same thing last weekend,” thin brows furrowed accusingly before she gestured to the TV, “Minus Suzanne Somers in bunches and a gaudy turtleneck.”

Dani just propped her head up on her elbow and stared into her glass of red wine, watching as she swirled it around distractedly. “I mean...Eddie didn’t really like for me to drink much...or at all. Which is weird, cause he would stay out late and drink to his heart’s content.”

Jamie just nodded, feeling her stomach turn a bit at the memory of all the nights she’d spend with Dani or on the phone with her while she waited for Eddie to come home. “So I recall,” she muttered quietly, “Just take it easy, yeah? I don’t think I’m as good at giving piggyback rides as I used to be, I dunno how I’d get you upstairs.”

Dani’s lips curled up around the edge of her glass as she took another sip with a distant look in her eyes. She reached down to scratch Wally’s head where he was laid at Jamie’s feet, shifting herself a bit closer to where her feet were in her lap.

“So,” she laid her hand on the brunette’s arm, squeezing gently for just a moment before letting it drift lazily into her own lap, “How’s the babe pool in Des Moines lately?”

“The babe pool?” Jamie eyed her like she’s grown an extra two heads, “Eddie wasn’t even a frat boy, what’s got you talking like one?”

“I dunno, but you know what I mean,” Dani laughed as a deep blush came to her cheeks.

“Well, I haven’t dipped my toes into the babe pool in a while, if you must know. Much too busy for that.”

“Jamie, we’re thirty, don’t you wanna find someone and settle down?”

With a scoff, Jamie just rolled her eyes and set her glass down on the side table before bringing her hands to cover Dani’s denim covered shins. “And what good would that do me?”

“You could be in a relationship and be happy,” the blonde shrugged through another sip, “Maybe you could get married if the laws ever change.”

“Don’t think that’s gonna happen anytime soon. Besides, with how much I’ve got going on at work, the last thing I need is someone latching themselves onto me like a parasite, being all...clingy and desperate for attention.”

Dani grinned cheekily, picking her head up, “You don’t mind when I’m clingy.”

“Oh, now you admit to being clingy,” Jamie smirked, poking playfully at a few spots on her legs, noticing how her ticklish squirming brought her even closer, “And for someone as clingy as you, you’re awfully insistent on me finding someone who’s gonna take up my free time.”

“I just want you to be happy. I...I guess I don’t mind sharing you with someone just as clingy as me...if they make you happy,” her words began to slur together.

“Well, I don’t mind it when it’s you because you’re my best friend, not someone trying to tie me down.”

Dani was quiet, letting the “I Dream of Jeannie” theme song fill the dimly lit room as she stared at Jamie’s side profile. The three and a half glasses of wine she’d downed in less than an hour made her limbs feel tingly warm, and she was sure that her face was flushed. But it was the liquid courage she needed to ask, “Well, what if I was?” almost too quietly for anyone to hear.

“Was what?” Jamie asked without looking away from the TV screen.

“Someone who was...trying to tie you down.”

One look at the woman beside her and Jamie could already feel this Halloween going downhill like she expected. The look in Dani’s eyes was unmistakable; glassy from the wine but wide and innocent like she had no idea how deep of a question she was really asking.

“I think you’ve had enough of the Red Zinfandel tonight, Poppins,” Jamie breathed a bit of a nervous laugh, feeling her heart start to thump harder in her chest as Dani refused to look anywhere but at her; And she just prayed that Dani couldn’t hear it over the vintage laugh track.

With her tongue dragging slowly across her bottom lip, Dani just nodded in agreement. But when she leaned across Jamie to place her wine glass on the side table with hers, she didn’t make it very far when she pulled back. She anxiously rubbed her denim-clad legs together where they were draped sideways over Jamie’s lap. One arm wrapped around her own bent knees while the other reached up to trace the beauty marks and freckles around her neck, connecting them like the constellations they would point out in the night sky as kids.

“Dani…” Jamie whispered through a strained breath, willing herself to keep her head as clear as possible. But it was difficult when the woman she’d been pining after for years was only a wine-scented breath away, “What are you—“

Dani was surprisingly fast, despite her wine buzz. But thankfully, Jamie was still faster, pulling back out of her reach when she attempted to close the limited space between them. She hadn’t been quick enough to stop her when they were sixteen, but at that age, she had no idea just how much of a mistake it would turn out to be. This time, she knew better. And she couldn’t go through that again.

“Dani…” she mumbled a bit louder, pushing gently at the blonde’s shoulders to ease her back so they could both sit up properly, “Not— w-we shouldn't—“ She couldn’t even get the words out. She wasn’t sure what to say. All she knew was the way Dani closed her eyes and pressed her lips into a tight line almost made her feel bad for saying no.

“Hey, it’s...it’s okay I just…” she sighed, clenching her fists determinedly by her sides as she tried to think of what to say, “You’re...you’re still grieving, Dani. A-and let’s face it, you’re kinda drunk, it’s just not…” She trailed off again, close to giving up on finding the right words.

“God, it feels like I’m sixteen all over again,” the blonde released a nervous breath around her slightly slurred words, raking her hands back through her hair as she pulled herself off Jamie’s lap, “And on Halloween, go figure.”

Jamie’s brows furrowed together at Dani’s words and sarcastic puff of laughter, feeling the night going downhill at a much faster rate than it already was.

“What…?”

“Ingrid’s Halloween party, junior year,” the blonde looked down at the chipped nail polish on her fingernails, chipping it even more.

“You...you remember that?” Jamie sat up a bit straighter, her world spinning around her the second she saw Dani nod her head, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she shot back. Jamie could practically taste the bitterness in her words.

“I…” that left her a bit speechless. She had good reason for not telling Dani, even if it killed her to keep it a secret from her. But now she was finding out that Dani had remembered it all along. “We were friends, Dani. It seemed like you didn’t remember, so I thought maybe that was for the best. What good would it do either of us to bring it up?”

“Exactly,” Dani’s jaw clenched as she avoided eye contact with her, “That’s why I didn’t tell you.”

Jamie was silent for a while, ignoring the witty humor of the old sitcom as she kept herself pressed against the arm of the sofa, watching Dani’s every move.

“But it’s...it’s different now...isn’t it?” the blonde turned to face her, bravely meeting her eyes with her own glassy blue ones, “We’re older, Eddie’s not here—“

“Eddie died, Dani,” Jamie released the breath that had been burning in her chest, wincing at her own harsh words, as true as they were, “He’s not...away on a business trip or out for the night with his friends, he’s gone...And you’re still grieving and processing that. You don’t really want—“

“Don’t,” she shook her head, “You can’t tell me what I want and what I don’t. You’re the only person who wasn’t constantly doing that to me.”

“Dani, I’m not—“

“Yes, you are.”

“I’m not.”

“You are!

“Well, sorry I’m not willing to risk our whole friendship just because you’re drunk and wanna experiment!”

Fuck.

Dani was still and quiet as she dragged a finger under her nose, keeping her eyes in her lap. Jamie hardly knew what to say. She just knew that it was foolish to think that she wouldn’t fall victim to another dreadful Halloween.

“You’re not being fair,” the blonde mumbled, still not looking at her.

Jamie wanted to scoff. She wanted to roll her eyes and throw it in Dani’s face that unfair was being in love with your best friend for nearly twenty years with no chance of her ever feeling the same way. Unfair was having to watch the woman you’re in love with play happy family with someone else. Unfair was being so head over heels for a person that part of you even considers letting them use you for their own selfish reasons, even if it hurts you in the end.

“It’s not...Jamie, it’s not like tha—“ Dani started, but Jamie was already standing up from the couch, running her clammy hands over the thighs of her black jeans.

“Look, I, uh…” she ran her tongue over her bottom lip, “I don’t think we should do…this...for a while. Not while you’re still in this...this grieving period.”

“Jamie—“

“And maybe your mum was right,” she mumbled, sticking her hands stiffly in her pockets, unable to believe that she was saying what she was saying, “Maybe all the years of sleepovers and stuff have been...I dunno...confusing for you. We’ve always been really close, but...maybe we’re just...too old for that now.”

She could already feel her heart cracking in her chest, but the confused and hurt look on Dani’s face made it break clean in half. It hurt like hell, but she would sacrifice what she needed to to keep their friendship.

“I’m gonna go,” she tried not to wince as she thumbed awkwardly to the door. Her little suitcase was sitting in the foyer, simply dropped there when she’d arrived later than expected after pushing through traffic earlier in the evening.

“Jamie…” Dani got up, slowly following the path where the brunette was easing herself backwards towards the foyer.

But Jamie shook her head, willing her to stop, “It’s not...Dani, it’s just a lot. A lot to process and I just...I just need some time to think. I think you do too.”

“Please don’t leave like this, Jamie. I’m sorry, it was a mistake, you’re right I’m just drunk and alone and—“ Dani just kept rambling, her voice thickening in her throat with each word.

They were Jamie’s words. Jamie’s words that she’d put in her mouth, now spewing back at her. Whether they were sincere or just lip service, it hurt to hear Dani say it. It felt like a confirmation of something Jamie just didn’t want to be true. But her desperate rambling came to an end eventually, topped off with a strained whisper of “Jamie, please,” that put the brunette’s willpower to the test yet again, all these years later.

She kicked her socked feet against the carpet where she stood on the threshold between the living room and the foyer, trying to focus on anything but the crying blonde standing six feet in front of her.

“I can’t.”

She wouldn’t even let herself look at Dani when she bid her goodbye. She tried her hardest to ignore the sniffling cries from behind her when she reached for her suitcase and slid on her shoes. And it took every ounce of strength she had to close the front door behind her and go back to her truck, unsure of when she would be back.

Needless to say, Jamie hated Halloween. And at this point, it didn’t seem like that was ever going to change.

Chapter Text

May 1980

Jamie wasn’t sure when she’d stumbled into the large coat closet. She just knew that the woman enclosed in the darkness with her was ready to rip the ridiculously puffy pink bridesmaid dress off of her body; And Jamie would have no choice but to thank her for doing so. Because not only was this woman providing her with a much needed distraction from this soul-crushing wedding, but Jamie would rather be wearing a trash bag than this bubblegum pink monstrosity Karen had picked out for all of Dani’s bridesmaids to wear.

“What’s your name again?” she panted, getting a bit overheated in the small closet. Why was the coat closet at the town community center so small anyway?

“Theodora,” the woman, Dani’s older cousin from Boston, whispered a champagne scented breath, clutching the hideous pink dress in urgent fists, “But Theo’s fine.”

Jamie just nodded, letting Theo press her against the nearest wall in the confined space. “Right,” she huffed, brushing curls from her face where they’d fallen out of her updo on the dance floor. It wasn’t exactly comfortable in the coat closet, but she’d done worse things in tighter spots. And she would much rather be here, sweaty, cramped, and surrounded by the scent of mothballs than out there.

This was the day she’d been dreading since Dani came back to their dorm with a rock on her left ring finger. And to make matters worse, Jamie was the one who had to act happy for her, and convince her that it was a good thing, despite feeling the exact opposite.

It had all moved so fast. Dani had hardly known she was pregnant for a week before Edmund proposed. And from there, Dani was juggling coursework and wedding planning; A wedding that was due to take place just after their final exams for the year.

Jamie, while trying her best to help her best friend through it all, had been as absent as a maid of honor could be. It was probably the only time in her life she’d been grateful for Karen Clayton. The woman had everything under control, and Jamie’s only responsibilities were to show up and convince the Johnsons to offer a discount on the flower arrangements.

(Aside from one dress fitting where she spent the entire time silently wishing death upon whoever decided that off-shoulder puffy sleeves were in style.)

And, god, the pink was a nightmare on its own.

She was better off in the coat closet. Even though the entire guest list had already seen her in all her Pepto Bismol glory at the altar of their quaint little hometown church. She may not have been the only ridiculous looking one at this wedding, but she certainly felt like it.

At least Theo didn’t seem to mind the gaudy dress on her. Then again, she was forced into one herself. Oddly enough, their mutual hatred for their bridesmaid attire was the reason they bonded in the first place.

Theo hadn’t been Jamie’s first choice. Not when her younger sister Nell was basically just a brunette version of Dani. She was a sweet girl, and almost exactly their age. And the only thing that stopped Jamie from making a move on her was the man she seemed head over heels for as they spun around the dance floor. But Theo certainly wasn’t a bad second option at all. At this point, ¾ of a bottle of champagne and a pretty older woman was exactly what Jamie needed to distract herself from the day.

As strange as it seemed, Jamie thought that this would be so much easier if Dani seemed genuinely happy, rather than putting on smiles that everyone assumed were real. Everyone but Jamie, that is. She knew her best friend better than anyone else.

It may have just been a selfishly hopeful, drunken hallucination, but Jamie could tell that the “happiest day of Dani’s life” was just another nightmare for the blonde. And if she could, she would pause everything just so Dani could catch her breath.

But Dani was playing the role of the happy bride perfectly, save for the moments where Jamie caught her zoning out, likely deep in thought about how this was really how her life ended up; and so early on. She wasn’t even twenty years old yet, and here she was, married, three months pregnant, and just fresh out of her sophomore year of college.

She tried not to think about Dani, though. She’d left the main event hall for a reason, and that was for Theo to give her the distraction she needed. The least she could do was let her.

“Uh...J-Jamie?” the voice of the person she was trying to forget came along with a quick knock on the door after a few minutes, “The, um...my mom said the toasts were supposed to start five minutes ago...”

Running her fingers through her hair as best she could, Jamie just cleared her throat as she pushed Theo away. “Yeah, I’ll be right there, I was just...just looking for something!” She didn’t know how Dani knew she was in here. And god forbid, she knew that she was with her hot cousin.

“Yeah, o-okay…” Dani’s voice sounded timid on the other side of the painted white wood.

Jamie leaned back against the wall, catching her breath. She could barely see Theo in the dark, but she could make out the slightest bit of sympathy on her face. “What?”

“Nothing,” she shook her head, reaching up to adjust the pearl-beaded bobby pins in her own dark hair, “Just sucks having to watch the woman you love get married to someone else, huh?”

Her jaw slacked a bit, both in surprise and offense, not that Theo was wrong. But she wasn’t about to admit to that. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. We’re just friends. I’m happy for her.”

“Honey, I’ve got a masters degree in psychology and I’m working on getting my PhD. You wouldn’t be downing champagne like you need it to live and hanging out here with me if you were happy for her.”

“What, a bridesmaid can’t have a little fun of her own at a party?”

With the bit of light coming from under the door, she could just barely make out a finely shaped eyebrow raising accusingly on Theo’s forehead.

“I am happy for her,” the younger brunette rolled her eyes as she lifted her own skirt and ripped the pantyhose down her legs. What was the point of wearing them under a floor length dress? Or at all? “She’s my best friend,” she huffed, suddenly feeling much more overheated in the little closet than before.

“Better get out there and sell that ‘best friend’ speech, then,” the playful smugness in Theo’s voice came through so clear that Jamie didn’t even need to turn the light on to know she was grinning wickedly. But her voice softened as Jamie stood back upright and tossed the pantyhose aside, “Does she know? That you’re gay, I mean?”

The younger woman just sighed and nodded her head, reaching up to tuck curly locks back into her barrette, “Yeah.”

“How long have you been friends?”

“Almost nine years,” she lisped around the bobby pins she’d placed between her teeth, holding onto them until she could put them back into her hair.

“Have you been in love with her for that long?”

“No, only like six ye—“ she stopped, freezing as she realized she’d been tricked into admitting the truth. And in the awkward silence that followed as she tied her hair back up and placed the bobby pins in as best she could, she ignored the barely visible smug grin on Theo’s face.

“Oh, fuck off,” she scoffed, unable to help the laugh that bubbled up from her chest as she kicked off her white heels and let herself out of the coat closet.

She brushed the loose curls she couldn’t tame from her forehead and trudged barefoot back into the event hall, already seeing Eddie’s younger brother Carson giving his best man speech at the table for the wedding party. And after rounding the long, decorated table, she plopped down into her chair beside Dani’s, offering the nervous looking blonde a hint of an apologetic smile.

The room full of people applauded Carson’s heartfelt speech, giving the blushing teenager the support he needed after being the reluctant center of attention. But soon, all eyes were on Jamie, who suddenly couldn’t remember a single word of the speech she’d been forced to write. But she stood up anyway after the microphone was passed down the table to her, clearing her throat awkwardly with her glass of champagne in her other hand.

“Hiya,” she breathed into the mic with a tightly closed grin as her eyes flit around the hall of (mostly) strangers, giving them a bit of an uncomfortable wave of greeting, “Um...for, uh…for those two don’t know me, I’m Jamie. I’ve known Dani…Danielle...and Edmund since...well, since we were eleven after my family moved here from England.”

Jamie never really had a problem with public speaking, but she could tell that at least half the people in this room were judging her already. “I remember the first time I met Dani...elle,” she added on quickly at the end. This wasn’t going to go well, she could already tell, “I guess we didn’t really meet, but she rang our doorbell, shoved a jell-o mold into my arms and ran off.”

That got a low rumble of laughter from the crowd, at least.

“And after that, we met properly and, uh...I guess we became pretty fast friends. But...she already had a best friend. One she’d known since before she could walk or talk. And that best friend was this guy,” she pointed to Edmund, who had a satisfied grin on his face as some people clapped for him. “These two…” she trailed off, flicking her tongue over her lips as she thought of what to say. The fog in her brain from the alcohol wasn’t doing her any favors.

“They’ve…” she sighed, “Sometimes things just...happen the way they’re supposed to, I guess. And these two...well, it just seems like they were meant to be together for life, doesn’t it?” She breathed a heavy laugh as the crowd in front of her hummed with agreement. Thankfully her comment didn’t come out sounding as bitter as she felt.

Running a nervous hand over her forehead, she looked to Dani sitting in the chair beside her with the first genuine smile she’d seen all day. It wasn’t the large, toothy grin she’d been putting on during the day’s events. Her lips were closed, curling up at the ends just enough to be considered a smile. It was small, but to Jamie, that just meant it was reserved for her. Not like the wide and glittering insincere smiles she was sharing with everyone else.

“I just...I just hope you know how much you mean to me,” she muttered quietly, though it rang loudly through the event hall from the speakers, “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. You’ve been there for me through everything, and you deserve…every bit of happiness that this stupid world can offer. Even when you don’t believe you do.”

A blush came to Dani’s face as Jamie spoke directly to her, her smile spreading farther across her rosy cheeks. And for a moment, in the drunken haze of Jamie’s mind, it was just the two of them. There was no room full of friends and family, no Eddie beaming with newlywed bliss, no plum-sized fetus concealed under Dani’s frilly white dress. Just them.

But Jamie managed to snap herself out of her little daydream just before the “I love you,” at the tip of her tongue could escape. Instead she cleared her throat, filling the awkward silence once more before chuckling into the mic and looking over at Eddie. “And O’Mara, if you ever hurt my best friend, in any way, I won’t hesitate to rip your spine clean out your asshole, got it?”

Dani and Carson seemed to be the only ones amused by her closing statement. The rest of the hall filled with appalled gasps and murmurs as women clutched their pearls and held silky gloved hands over their mouths. But at this point, Jamie couldn’t even bring herself to care.

“To the bride and groom,” she raised her glass, downing what was left of the champagne before sitting back down, grinning a bit dazedly down at her salad as the music from the band started back up.

Dani leaned over, sending a rush of electricity down her spine when she whispered into her ear. “How much have you had to drink, exactly?” she asked, toying with the sagging puffy sleeve against Jamie’s arm.

“Maybe a whole bottle by now,” the brunette shrugged, “But to be fair, I’m drinking for the both of us.” She kept her voice low, knowing that no one else in the room knew that Dani was pregnant aside from her mom, Eddie, and Eddie’s parents. “Hope I never have to call you ‘Danielle’ again in my life. Didn’t feel right.”

Dani just breathed a bit of laughter, shaking her head as she sipped her sparkling cider. “You’re not gonna sneak off with my cousin again, are you?”

Her heart dropped to her gut. But Dani didn’t seem mad. Just curious and slightly amused, if anything. “S’pose I don’t have to. How’d you know we were in the coat closet anyway?”

“I, uh…I saw you run off with her...after you were dancing together. I came to look for you and heard a thump coming from the coat closet,” her face quickly turned the deep rosy color of Jamie’s dress, “I just kinda put two and two together.”

“Smart,” Jamie just refilled her own champagne glass with a silent nod, slightly raising it as if to make a toast, “Well, glad to see one of our brains isn’t completely fried by alcohol and final exams.”

November 1990

After Halloween night, sleep didn’t come easily for Jamie. Every night since she arrived back at her apartment on Friday, she tossed and turned as her brain went into overdrive. If she wasn’t lying awake thinking about how badly things had gone between her and Dani, it was plaguing her dreams, turning them into nightmares that just woke her up again. And the longer time went by, the worse it got.

And Dani…

Dani was relentless.

She was likely skyrocketing her own phone bill with how many times she had called over the last week. Jamie received at least two calls a day at work; Though, she always insisted that her assistant take a message. She’d been avoiding thinking about her feelings on the matter or any kind of solution to fixing it. It was just easier.

But she never received any messages from her at work. Which made sense. Dani wasn’t one to burden anyone with her problems, even if it was as simple as getting Jamie’s assistant to jot a message down over the phone. At home, however, Jamie would return from work each day, drop her coat on the hook and listen to what seemed like hours worth of messages from the blonde.

”Hey, it’s me. I, um...I know you’re angry. And you have every right to be. But...Jamie, you’ve never avoided me before...I just wanna make things right again. Please call me.”

Beep

”It’s me again. I know I messed everything up, and I’m so, so sorry. Please call me back, Jamie, I wanna fix this. I need to fix this.”

Beep

“Jamie, if you’re there, please pick up. I really want to talk to you. I miss my best friend, okay? Call me.”

Beep

“Jamie, it’s been four days, this isn’t funny anymore. At least call me back to let me know you’re okay.”

Beep

“Aunt Jamie, when are you coming to visit us again? We miss you very, very much and we’re having pizza for dinner on Thursday night! Mummy can even order your favorite!”

Jamie remembered rolling her eyes affectionately at that one, scoffing as she took a quick swig of tequila. “Cheap shot,” she had chuckled to herself, not even surprised that Dani would use Flora as bait. But she was surprised at herself that she didn’t fall for it, considering those kids were her weakness.

On Friday night, just a week after Halloween, Jamie was surprised to see that her answering machine was only blinking with one message, rather than the multiple ones she’d been receiving every day.

With a sigh, she dropped her keys into the little bowl by the door and shed her jacket, running a hand through her hair as she made her way to the answering machine, preparing herself to hear Dani’s voice again once she pressed play.

”Hey, Jamie, it’s Carson. I just need to talk if you don’t mind giving me a call. Nothing serious, I just need some advice.”

The machine beeped, signaling that she had no other messages to listen to. It was a little bit worrisome, considering how often Dani had been calling over the past week. But it was what Jamie deserved for not picking up all week. She’d been avoiding Dani like the plague, she had no right to be even the slightest bit upset that she hadn’t called today.

Maybe she wasn’t upset. That wasn’t the right word for it. It worried her, wondering if Dani was okay. Or if she’d really decided to give Jamie some space. It wasn’t like Dani to just give up. That woman used to argue with her college professors about her grades, not letting up until they raised her score to something she thought she deserved for her work. No, Dani wasn’t the type to just give up when she was passionate about something.

But Jamie pushed the thoughts of her out of her head like she’d been doing all week. She pushed away the memory of Dani’s fingers against her neck, the scent of the red wine on her breath, the way she cried and told her what she thought Jamie wanted to hear. She pushed it all down; Instead, giving her attention to Carson O’Mara over the phone while she made herself a stir fry for dinner.

“Mate, your parents are two of the most accepting people I know. You’re their son, they’re gonna love you regardless. You’re one of the lucky ones,” she balanced the phone on her shoulder, being careful not to pull the cord too far as she worked around her small kitchen. “Well, your brothers are morons anyway, you shouldn’t care what they think.”

She frowned sympathetically as Eddie’s younger brother vented to her over the phone. He’d come out to her when he was fifteen. Though, it had been an accident. She had been jogging around the neighborhood one night during her first summer home from college and caught him kissing a boy by the woods. But she told him then and there when he stared at her, terrified that she would rat him out, that if he wanted it to be a secret, then the secret was safe with her.

And now, eleven years later, she was still the only one who knew. And Carson had become a surrogate of a little brother, filling the Mikey-shaped void in her heart.

“I don’t think they would see it as an added stress, though, Car. Your parents are not to type who would accuse you of ruining Thanksgiving just because you brought your boyfriend home. I mean, Christ, they were more supportive than my own father when they all found out about me.”

She shook the pan around on the burner, letting the vegetables sizzle for just a little longer as she leaned against the counter, sipping at her wine. “Well, in the end it’s up to you. But you know you wanna bring Bobby home. It’s just a matter of trusting your family to be cool with it. I know they will be. And hey, I’ll be there. You know we’ve always got your back, kid.”

Placing her wine glass down, she turned off the burner and stood on her tip-toes to reach one of the plates in the cabinet above her head. “I mean, if you don’t go through with it, there’s always Christmas. Or whenever you feel comfortable. But you’ve been together since you were eighteen. His family knows, right? And they’re fine with it.”

A heavy knock at her door nearly made her drop the plate she had grabbed right onto her foot. She caught it just before it could fall past the counter, but it managed to tip over her drink, leaving a mess of broken glass and red wine on her marble countertop.

“Shit. I gotta call you back. But think about it, Carson, I mean it. You’re gonna be thirty in a few years, I don’t want you looking back on your life and regretting anything. Trust me, it’s...it’s not a good feeling,” she kept the phone balanced between her shoulder and her ear as she picked up the larger pieces of glass and tossed them into the trash. All the while, the knocking at the door kept going, incessantly.

After hanging up with Carson, she groaned, trying to at least pick up the glass before she did anything else. “For fuck’s sake, I’ll be right there!” she yelled over her shoulder towards the door, but it did nothing to stop the knocking.

Frustrated, Jamie tossed the dishrag that was hanging over her shoulder at the mess of spilled wine before stomping over to the door, fully expecting to spend the next minute and a half cursing out her downstairs neighbor again after an exaggerated noise complaint.

“Jesus, what?” she practically hissed. But instead of the frizzy grey beard of the man who lived directly below her, she was met with a mane of blonde hair and angry blue eyes.

And if looks could kill, Jamie would have been six feet under in a matter of seconds.

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

October 1990

“The pasta was a little overdone tonight, but there’s always next week,” Eddie sighed as he got into the driver’s seat of their blue Ford Fairmont. He’d been the dutiful, chivalrous husband he was every Friday date night, holding the passenger door open for her and waiting until she was settled in her seat before closing it behind her.

Dani just nodded, looking down at the wrapped bouquet of red roses in her lap; The same dozen red roses he’d been getting for her from the flower shop since they were fourteen. The same dozen red roses he would gift to her on the way to the same Italian restaurant they’d been going to just about every Friday for sixteen years (with the exception of when they were in college). And Eddie always ordered the same four cheese ziti and side salad. If it weren’t for Dani constantly switching up her order, wanting to try new things, she was pretty sure the waiter would have their food at their table waiting for them by the time they arrived every Friday night at 7:30.

“You’ve been quiet tonight. Everything okay?” the man with curly, dark brown hair looked over at his wife after starting the engine of the car.

She had been quiet. She knew she had. And she knew that he knew something was wrong, not only from her silence, but he’d caught her biting at her thumb nails over dinner; something she rarely ever did anymore. “I, um…” she started, trailing off just as quickly as she’d attempted to start. She’d been struggling with this since she was a teenager, but since her recent birthday. it seemed to be plaguing her more and more by the day; Keeping her up at night.

“I have s-something to tell you,” she stammered, resisting the urge to bring her thumb nails to her teeth again.

“You can tell me anything, Danielle, you know that.”

Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be okay with it.

“Well, I’ve...I’ve just been thinking a lot lately. And I, um...I th-think I’m…” she trailed off again, looking into his deep brown eyes that were filled with concern and curiosity behind his round lenses, “I-I think I’m…”

“You think you’re what?”

“I think I’m...gay,” the last word felt so strange on her tongue. Like it was so taboo, but still such a relief to get out.

“You think you’re gay?” Eddie’s face twisted with confusion, eyeing her like she was crazy.

“I...I am. I’m...I-I’m pretty sure,” she stammered, looking out the window at the line of shops on the main street that they were parked on; waiting for the thousand pound weight to lift from her shoulders.

It was quiet after she made her confession, with the exception of a few of her own quiet sniffles. But eventually, Eddie began to chuckle lightheartedly.

“Okay, very funny, Danielle. April fools day isn’t for a few months,” he released a few breathy laughs as Dani turned to face him again. But he took in the way she wasn’t laughing with him. He saw remorse on her face and the tears shining in her blue eyes from the street lights outside. “That...no. No, Danielle, that doesn’t make any sense,” he shook his head, thick brows knit together, “I mean, we’re married. You married me. We’ve been together since high school.”

Dani wanted to tell him that her mother didn’t give her a choice in marrying him. It was either marry Eddie or she’d be left on her own, cut off and alone with a child. No one knew about that ultimatum. She didn’t want anyone to know. Because she knew that they would just end up offering to put their lives on hold to take her in or help her. And she didn’t want that. She hated burdening people. She always felt like a burden.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered tearfully, looking back down at the roses in her lap, stroking the tip of her finger against the soft red petals.

“This doesn’t make any sense.”

“I didn’t...I didn’t know...at first,” she sniffed, wiping under her eye as she tried to explain. But it was hard to explain something when you hardly understood it yourself. “I thought that eventually, I would just feel the way I was supposed to; The way everyone said I should feel.”

“But?”

“But...it just...never happened. And I should have said something sooner.”

“Probably should have never asked me to be your boyfriend in the first place,” he rolled his eyes, gripping a single hand on the steering wheel as he stared ahead at the other parked cars.

“I didn’t know then, Eddie. We were fourteen. I was scared about starting high school. But by the time I realized that it was just...that...just me liking the security of having you around...I felt like it was too late. And I didn’t wanna hurt you. Or your mom, or anyone else. So I just...stuck it out.” Her face was bright pink as she tried to hold it together.

“So you never loved me?”

“Of course I did!” she shook her head and finally turned towards him again, hoping that looking him in the eye would make him believe her. Because it was true, but she had a feeling that he wasn’t going to be easily convinced. “I loved you, Eddie. I still do. So much. Just not...not in that way. I never felt like that for any boy.”

“Did you feel it for any girl?” Eddie turned his head, staring her down with a tight jaw as he awaited an answer that Dani was pretty sure he already knew.

She thought back over her life, watching multiple girls and women flash into her mind. There was Shannon Smith, the senior captain of the cheer squad who always helped Dani with her stretches. There was Mrs. Leonard, her eighth grade math teacher whose attention she’d always craved.

There was Rebecca Jessel from one of her child development classes her freshman year of college. She and Dani actually met in high school on the night of the bonfire after junior year ended. And she’d always been nice to her. There were co-workers, classmates, the seamstress who fit her for her wedding dress, even some of the moms of the kids who attended the daycare she worked at.

There were always little crushes. Little sparks in her chest that made her blush and avert her gaze when she came in contact with a beautiful woman. But that’s all they were; Just little crushes. Nothing she thought was worth taking seriously.

And then there was Jamie.

Jamie had only come into her life when she was close to her eleventh birthday, but the bond they’d formed made it hard for Dani to understand how she’d survived an entire decade without her. The friendship she had with Eddie wasn’t nearly the same. Everyone always looked at her and Eddie— since they were toddlers— and talked about how they’d get married someday. A lot of people saw her friendship with Jamie as something that would be short-lived, something that wasn’t meant to last because they were so different.

Her friendship with Eddie was about encouraging each other to slam the door so the string attached would pull out their loose tooth. It was about racing each other from one end of the community pool to the other. It was her teaching him how to tie his shoes and him teaching her how to ride a bike; Trading lunches at school and dancing to The Monkees in Eddie’s living room. They were friends. Best friends. They always had been.

But her friendship with Jamie, from the very start, was about helping each other through hardships, listening to each other when they needed someone to talk to. It was about being each other’s confidant. It was Dani giving up her summer to help Jamie fix her backyard garden, and Jamie giving up the only pair of pants she had to lend to Dani when mother nature came to ruin hers. They were best friends too. Even if it wasn’t their entire lives, it certainly felt that way.

Though, her friendship with Jamie felt different in other ways; Ways that she didn’t take notice to until she had gotten a little older. Until she was sixteen, mentally kicking herself for what she’d done at the Halloween party, she never realized that the way she craved Jamie’s presence was about more than just her missing her best friend when she was away.

After that night, she’d started to let her mind wander a bit more, wondering what it would be like if it were Jamie’s hand she was holding in the school halls instead of Eddie’s; Or if it were Jamie kissing her cheek after dropping her off at the door of her next class.

But the more Dani thought about it, the more she pushed herself into Eddie’s arms, forcing herself to try to find as much happiness and comfort in her reality with him as she did in her daydreams about Jamie. Because even if she were allowed to think those things and do those things with her, Jamie didn’t want her like that. Just like she’d said the night of the party: they were friends. Best friends, but friends nonetheless.

She couldn’t feel that way. But she did. And she knew that there were times when she wasn’t the least bit subtle about it. Whether she was crawling into Jamie’s bed in their dorm and pressing a little closer against her than usual, or watching with unashamed adoration as Jamie rocked and soothed Miles when he was three, suffering through a miserable case of chickenpox.

She didn’t know what being in love was supposed to feel like. Everyone always told her different things, some contradicting the others. But she knew that she felt more with Jamie than she ever tried to with Eddie. Everything came naturally with her.

“Was it Jamie?” Eddie asked, breaking her out of her silent contemplation as if he was reading her mind. Part of Dani wished that he was reading her mind right now. It would save her the trouble of having to make sense of any of the thoughts that were racing through her head.

But she nodded her head after a bit of silence, unsure of what to say. And she hated how ashamed she felt. She shouldn’t have to be ashamed of the most authentic love she’d ever felt.

“I knew it,” he huffed, shaking his head as he gazed out the window, “I fucking knew it. You should have listened to your mom, Danielle. You should have dropped her as a friend when you found out that she was...was...like that!”

“She’s my best friend! I would never do that to h—“

”I was your best friend. Me, Danielle. And then she came along and started…”

“Started what? My grades didn’t drop, I didn’t skip school, I still went to church every Sunday,” she managed to shoot back, though her voice trembled with nerves, “She did nothing but move in next door. And because of the way she acts or dresses, everyone loves to paint her as some kind of monster!”

“Did she ever do anything to you? Ever...touch you or—”

“Oh, my god,” Dani rolled her eyes, bringing a hand up to her face as she couldn’t help but laugh bitterly as he continued.

“—try to kiss you or something that would...I don’t know, confuse you?”

“We kissed at Ingrid Westfield’s Halloween party junior year,” she stated plainly, her frustration giving her the confidence to say “fuck it” and be shamelessly honest.

“She kissed you? And you were drunk that night. Danielle...I can’t believe y—“ he stopped, running a hand through the shaggy hair on his head, “She can’t come over anymore.”

“What?”

“I mean it, Danielle, I’m putting my foot down. She’s been completely inappropriate with you. I didn’t know she tried anything all the way back then, but—“

“Eddie, I kissed her,” she admitted for the first time out loud. She hadn’t spoken of that night in fourteen years, and she was amazed at herself that she was finally telling her husband.

“You...kissed her...” he repeated, trying to wrap his head around the fact.

“I was drunk and I was mad at you for ditching me to do shots with the track team. And Jamie was...she was there. Like she always was, and always has been. And ever since then, I’ve just...come to realize that I felt more for her than I thought I did.”

Eddie was quiet; jaw slacked as he gazed out the windshield as if he were trying to memorize the license plate of the car parked in front of them on the side of the road.

“She doesn’t know...that I remember it. It’s just...something we never talked about,” she continued, “But she has never tried anything with me. She pushed me away that night. She knew I was drunk, she knew I was with you. Anything I’ve been confused about has never been her fault.”

She had to admit to herself that she was a little upset that Jamie never showed any interest in her outside of their friendship. Jamie had always been respectful of her and her relationship with Eddie (aside from the gagging noises she would make if they ever kissed in front of her, which Dani never liked to do). Even to a point that Jamie would encourage her to go out with him on Friday nights when she just wasn’t in the mood for Italian food and red roses.

But she always held onto the hope that it was really just respect rather than Jamie being uninterested. And she held tightly to the memory of the brunette kissing her once more after pulling back that night, clinging to the idea that Jamie really wanted it as badly as she did.

“I can’t believe this,” Eddie brought his hands to his face, muffling a groan into his palms, “Why are you doing this to me? Why are you telling me this? And why now?”

“I don’t…” she cowered a bit under his loud voice now that her anger had melted away. Now all she felt was guilt, once again, “I don’t know. I’ve just been thinking about it since my birthday. I mean, we’re thirty, Eddie. And I’ve wasted so much time living a lie. It’s not fair to me, it’s not fair to you.”

“So being with me has been a waste, then,” he scoffed, shaking his head.

“No, of course not!” her eyes widened as she tried to lean in closer to him, desperate for him to believe her, “You’re my best friend, too. Everything we’ve done together, I enjoyed it because it was you. Whether you were my boyfriend or my husband, Eddie, you’re still one of my best friends.”

He rolled his eyes, refusing to look at her as his throat bobbed, “Just not the best friend you spend your life with.”

Dani was quiet after that. Uncomfortable silence filled the little car as they both thought about their heated conversation. She could tell that Eddie was deep in thought with his head dipped down towards his lap, likely counting the corduroy stripes on his grey pants.

“So, what?” he started after what felt like ages, “Do you want a divorce or something?”

Her heart leapt into her throat at his question, making it difficult for her to breathe. She hadn’t thought that far. Divorce was messy enough, it would only be worse with the kids. Not only was there the inevitable custody battle, but then came the aftermath and the effects that typically stuck with children of divorce through their lives.

It wasn’t even as if their relationship was damaging for the kids to see. They weren’t constantly fighting or anything like in most cases. It was just the matter of Dani not living her truth. And it took everything in her to fight off the voices in her head that kept calling her selfish.

“I don’t know,” she just barely shook her head, bringing her thumb to her lips to chew at the painted nail. And it came as a bit of a surprise that even though Eddie could see her, he wasn’t trying to stop her like he always did.

“You know what, I can’t...I can’t do this right now, Danielle. Take the car home, I’m gonna take a walk...maybe get a hotel room for the night,” he ran a hand through his hair again, looking around the car as if he were missing something.

“Eddie, no,” she shook her head, reaching out for him, but he pulled out of her grasp each time she got a hold on him, “Please, Eddie, I’m sorry. I don’t—“

“No, fuck you, Danielle,” he squeezed his eyes tightly shut, almost as if it pained him to say what he did. And Dani just loosened her grip on his arm, bringing a hand up to wipe under her eye as he opened the door.

“Eddie…” she started to beg, pleading with him to stay and talk this out with her. The kids were at his parents’ house for the night, they had plenty of time to sit here and talk. She just needed him to understand.

But he had the door open, already stepping out onto the pavement outside the car. And all she could do was beg him to stay. “Eddie, please—“

It happened in a flash; So quickly that she would have missed it if she even blinked once. She could hear the deep honk of a horn and she saw the way Eddie’s grey pants and white shirt became almost illuminated in the headlights. And before she knew it, he was gone. He was gone and she was watching from the passenger seat, screaming in fear.

November 1990

This was new.

Jamie had never slept on her own pull-out sofa bed before. She only had it for when guests came to visit. And the only guests she ever had that slept over were Dani and the kids. And typically if the kids ever came to stay the night, they would share the pull-out while Jamie shared her bed with Dani. But this was something she’d never done before. And she, of course, couldn’t sleep.

For a while now, she’d had a hard time sleeping if she and Dani were together, but separated. Like her first night at Dani’s house the weekend of Eddie’s funeral, she couldn’t sleep. But after Dani came down to join her in the basement, she slept just fine. Honestly, it wasn’t that Jamie couldn’t sleep without her. She just couldn’t sleep knowing Dani was alone. Especially if she could easily join her or vice versa. And imagine how little sleep she’d been getting lately, knowing that Dani was going to bed and waking up alone every morning and night; just an hour drive away.

She’s probably been getting much less, considering her husband’s just died. Don’t be so fucking self-centered.

Rolling onto her back, Jamie pressed the heels of her palms against her eyes, rubbing against them until she was seeing galaxies behind her eyelids. She hated this. It seemed so silly when she really thought about it, but sleeping away from Dani when she didn’t have to felt so wrong.

When did she become so fucking codependent? She wasn’t the clingy one. Dani was the clingy one out of the two of them. And maybe that’s why she’d been tossing and turning on the pull-out mattress for nearly three hours. It never took Dani this long to seek her out.

But Jamie told her not to.

The blonde had put up a bit of a fight when Jamie told her to take the bedroom while she camped out in the living room.

”Jamie, I’m not taking your bed from you,” Dani had argued the sleeping arrangement Jamie had proposed, ”Either I sleep out here or you sleep in your bed with me like you always do.”

Obviously, considering their current arrangement, Jamie hadn’t backed down. She was proud of herself, she had to admit, even though she hated it just as much as Dani did. Thirty years old and she felt like she was finally growing up. Though, over the last few hours, she resisted every overwhelming urge to go check on her best friend; Telling herself that she would be a hypocrite if she went back on her own rules. Because she knew that she would give in and crawl into bed with her the second she saw her. Or god forbid Dani was still awake and asked her to stay, sprinkling a well-placed “please, Jamie?” somewhere in her request.

This fucking sucks.

The familiar click of her bedroom door came from down the hallway, sounding louder than it really was in contrast to the silence that had previously surrounded her. Jamie was teetering between frustration and relief, unsure of which to feel; because Dani had taken too many footsteps down the hall to just be making a midnight bathroom trip.

Jamie remained silent and closed her eyes as she refused to move a muscle, hoping that Dani would believe that she was asleep. But she tensed even more than she already was when the sheets were raised and Dani’s weight sank onto the mattress beside her.

“I know you’re awake, Jamie,” Dani mumbled into the darkness, already curled up and comfortable a solid foot away from her.

“Dani…” she sighed, inching away from her towards the edge of the bed. The frustration was starting to outweigh the relief at this point, “We can’t—“

“I didn’t tell you everything earlier,” she interrupted her quietly, her voice determined but timid, like she was approaching with caution.

“You can tell me in the morning, Dani, come on…”

“Do you know how Eddie died?”

It was such a heavy question and a heavy topic, but Dani asked it as if she were asking something as simple as Jamie’s favorite color. It slipped from her lips so effortlessly, as if she wasn’t aware of what she was even asking.

“He was, uh...he was hit by a delivery truck...from what Carson told me at the funeral,” Jamie muttered, still staring up at the ceiling as Dani’s eyes bore into the side of her face. Dani hadn’t told her herself about what happened, and Jamie never wanted to pressure her into talking about it.

“Did he tell you it was my fault?”

Dani was starting to scare her, if Jamie were being completely honest. Stalking out into the living room in the middle of the night, crawling into her bed to ask ominous, deadpanned questions about her late husband? All that was missing was some eerie music to fill out the silence.

“He didn’t…”

“Yeah...Cause he doesn’t know...Nobody knows,” Dani’s low voice faded into a shaky whisper, “It’s all my fault and nobody knows.”

Rolling over, Jamie turned to face her, taking in the way that even in the darkness, her skin was so pale, yet so blotchy red at the same time, like she’d been up crying for hours. “I don’t believe that,” she spoke quietly, “I wasn’t there, but I know it wasn’t your fault. Unless you pushed him in front of the truck yourself.” She added on the last bit with the slightest smirk, hoping that it would get her to crack a smile.

“I may as well have,” Dani sniffled, reaching up to wipe her eye with the sleeve of her nightgown before toying with the end of the braid she’d woven into her hair for the night, “He was mad at me.”

It took everything Jamie had in her to remain where she was and not cross the invisible red line she had mentally placed between them. But she wasn’t perfect. And something as small as brushing stray strands of blonde from Dani’s face couldn’t do much harm, right?

“For what?”

Dani sniffed as her breath hitched in her throat, closing her eyes as Jamie tucked her hair behind her ear. The simplest little touch of warm fingers against the shell of her ear sent a static through her, making her feel like her whole body was alive and buzzing. And since she was a teenager, she found that she was rather addicted to that feeling. And she never got it from anyone else.

“I-I...I, um…” she tried to start, flicking her tongue over her lips, “W-we got into a fight.” Her voice quaked more and more as she spoke.

She reached for Jamie’s arm before it could be pulled too far away, unconsciously running her fingers along the moles and birthmarks that she nearly had memorized on her skin. She’d spent so much of her past admiring them that she’d even come up with names for them, blessing each one with the name of a literary character, a constellation, a flower, or even just a name that she thought was pretty.

Tracing her fingertip between Aquarius and Ophelia, she felt the heat bleed into her face as she felt goosebumps rise on Jamie’s skin, swallowing thickly before she continued. “We got into a fight...and h-he...he got out of the car without looking,” her voice trembled as she stared at the ripped collar of Jamie’s old t-shirt from college, “He left and...he died.”

Jamie could feel her body going stiff as the realization crept in that she’d done the same; she’d walked out on Dani after an argument. And because of her own petty foolishness, Dani had no idea whether she even made it home okay. She only got confirmation that she was still alive from Jamie’s assistant informing her over the phone that she was in the office every day over the last week.

But Jamie didn’t know. If she had known how Eddie died sooner, she would have never left. She would have tried to handle the situation much more rationally than she did. But she didn’t know.

“What…” the brunette chewed her bottom lip, looking down at Dani’s finger still tracing across her arm, “What was the fight about?”

That question seemed to be what tipped Dani over the edge, sending tears sliding slowly down her face to the pillow under her head. Whatever it was, it must have been serious. But Jamie wasn’t in a rush to find out. She was curious, as anyone would be. But even if it concerned Dani, this one wasn’t her business.

“You don’t have to—“

“No,” Dani shook her head, wiping at her eyes once again before any more tears could stain the pillowcase, “I...I wanna tell you, but...Jamie I’m scared.”

“Scared of what?”

She shook her head again, sniffling as she tried to think of how to explain. She hadn’t even made sense of it in her own head yet, it wasn’t easy to get out into words. “Of...what could happen. Of what won’t happen...All of it.”

“Dani, you know whatever it is, I’ll help you. I don’t feel like I have to. I’ve told you a million times...I was a fucking idiot this past week, but...you’re my best friend, nothing’s gonna change that.”

Dani’s eyes squeezed tightly shut as she held in the heavy sobs that were building up in her chest. “This could...” she whispered tearfully, starting to fail at holding herself together.

“Dani…”

The red-faced blonde took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down, though it wasn’t easy. And Jamie was inching closer and closer to that invisible red line, finding it harder to resist comforting her best friend with each passing second of watching her suffer in silence.

“I-I told him that…” Dani managed through choppy breaths, struggling to even out her breathing, “I told him that I-I’m…”

Thoughts swirled around in Jamie’s head as Dani worked on getting the words out, but the longer it took, the longer the brunette had to assume the worst. Was she sick? The terminal kind? Was she having an affair? Was she pregnant again? Was she in trouble with the law? Was she—

“I-I’m g-gay,” she let out with a shaky, uneven breath, keeping her eyes tightly screwed shut as she dug blunt fingernails into Jamie’s arm, hoping that she was holding on tightly enough to prevent her from pulling away and putting that god awful distance between them again.

Oh.

Jamie’s world seemed to stop and turn on its axis, making her wonder if this was all some strange, but very detailed dream. There was no way she heard her correctly. Not Dani. Dani the senior prom queen with Eddie as her king. Dani, who went on weekly Friday night dates with her boyfriend-turned-husband. Dani who was living the perfect suburban life with two kids, a dog, and the love of her life.

“A-and I...Jamie, I didn’t…” Dani’s eyes opened, revealing the same blue eyes Jamie had been staring into for nearly twenty years, “I didn’t do what I did...last week…just because I was drunk and lonely.” The words stung the brunette a little, remembering how she’d used them so harshly against her, “I mean...I was lonely. And the...the alcohol helped me be a little braver, but...I wasn’t looking to just...use you. It wasn’t like that.”

Quivering pale fingers searched through the dark for something to hold onto, whether it was the sleeve of Jamie’s shirt, the heels of her palms or her bony wrists, nothing seemed sturdy enough. And Dani wasn’t used to Jamie not feeling solid and sturdy.

“Dani…” Jamie breathed, if you could call it that. It felt like all the breath had been sucked right out of her, leaving her feeling like a deflated balloon.

“And I just...maybe I just wanted to...relive that night when we were sixteen...try it again...start over, I don’t know,” the blonde continued, gripping onto her desperately, like she would disappear if she didn’t hold on as tight as she could, “And it was selfish of me...to do what I did. Both times, actually. It wasn’t fair to you, it wasn’t fair to Eddie…I just...I wanted to feel what I felt that night again.”

Jamie was quiet as she took in everything Dani was spilling to her as best she could, gathering it up with a ladle and a small plastic beach pail, struggling to catch it all. “What, um…” her throat was dry as she cleared it quietly. Her heart was pounding in her chest, feeling like she wasn’t even in control of her words anymore, her mind was so clouded, “What did you…feel?”

She dared to meet Dani’s eyes for the first time, holding her gaze as the tearful blues stared back at her, determined and confident, despite the rest of her.

“Everything.”

It came out in such a delicate whisper, laced with regret, hope, sadness, relief...all of it. Everything. Just like she said.

“Yeah…” Jamie nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat, “Me too.”

“Do you still...y’know...think about it?”

Jamie felt like she would choke on her own tongue at any minute. She’d never talked about that night with anyone, aside from the morning after when Dani brought her a tea and they danced around the topic of the kiss like a couple of idiots. But Jamie thought Dani forgot, and Dani thought that Jamie just wanted to forget. And it remained their secret for fourteen years; Something they hid even from each other.

But they were talking about it now, painting it back into reality after years of it feeling like a fantasy; Nothing but a dream with the aftermath of a nightmare. “More often than I probably should,” Jamie huffed, hating that she felt like she had to force her words out. They were real and true, but this conversation was like a minefield. And Jamie could just feel them tip-toeing towards disaster.

Her own resolve, the boundaries that she’d built up over the years, as well as the ones she’d tried to set in place over the course of the night, Jamie could feel them all coming crumbling down slowly; falling brick by brick as Dani forced her way into her fortress with something as simple as a hand placed gently on her cheek.

“Jamie…” Dani whispered into the darkness between them, stroking her thumb across the flushed apple of her cheek, “Can we just—“

“Dani—“ Jamie started to pull away from her with a shaky intake of breath.

“It doesn’t have to...lead to anything. It doesn’t have to mean anything if you don’t want it to, I just—“

“No, it would mean everything, Dani, that’s the problem,” Jamie shook her head as tears of frustration began to form in her own eyes, clinging to her lashes when she refused to let them fall.

Dani was quiet, stretching her thumb up to where tears were collecting under Jamie’s eye, “It would mean everything to me, too,” she whispered, voice trembling with trepidation.

“Really?” Jamie hated how unsure she sounded. She wasn’t used to being the one who needed reassuring. And as she blinked her glassy green eyes back up to Dani’s, she was beginning to see her in a new light. A light that she always dreamed of, teasing herself with visions of the impossible.

She was still the same Dani. But she was Dani the prom queen who saved a dance for her at their senior prom, stealing her away from Carson who Jamie had brought as a “date” just so she’d be allowed in. She was Dani who went on dates with Eddie every Friday night, but often greatly preferred Saturdays at the roller disco with Jamie when they were teenagers. She was Dani, who now lived alone with a dog that Jamie had gotten for her, and two kids that the brunette may as well have been a third parent to.

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

”Long as I can help it.”

”Promise?”

”Promise.”

The words echoed in her head, making her feel like she was thirteen all over again, curled up in Dani’s bed after sneaking through her window. Everything was so simple back then, even if it didn’t seem like it. A promise to stay friends forever could be easily made. And after everything they’d endured together, a kiss shouldn’t have seemed like something that would make or break the foundation of their friendship.

But Jamie hadn’t promised that they would be friends forever. She couldn’t promise that, it was impossible. But she promised to try. She vowed that no matter what happened, she would do whatever she could to preserve their relationship. And until now, she thought that pushing Dani away and keeping her distance was the best way to do that. Because she knew the way she felt had the potential to ruin everything.

But now, she’d learned, Dani felt the same. All this time. And her feelings weren’t quiet as unrequited as Jamie always thought they were. So she nodded, taking that leap into the territory she both feared and longed for.

Her heart was pounding in her chest, and she was certain that Dani could hear it. Even if she couldn’t, Dani could certainly feel it thumping through the thin material of her t-shirt when she pressed her palm carefully under her collarbone. And Jamie’s dry throat felt like the goddamn Sahara when Dani’s free hand took one of hers, placing it over where her own heart was beating rapidly in her chest.

After five or six (she lost count, honestly) firm beats under her palm, Jamie flexed her fingers, gripping the fabric of Dani’s nightgown in her fist, desperate for something to hold onto. Because the way Dani was moving closer to her, eventually getting close enough to tickle Jamie’s face with her eyelashes, the brunette felt like she would float away or wake up at any second.

She felt like a kid again with the butterflies in her stomach. The same butterflies that her mother once told her she would feel for someone special one day; Even if she was dismissive when five year old Jamie asked if Louise felt them for Dennis. She knew that Dani was that special person for her. She’d known it since she was fourteen. But she never imagined that she would ever be Dani’s, even if she daydreamed about it endlessly.

Jamie’s breath hitched in her throat, getting caught there as Dani’s lips met hers, warm and soft, just like they were in the memory she held tight to. They pressed closer as Dani’s lips caught around Jamie’s top one. And that was it. No going back from it. It was soft, slow, and gentle as they held onto one another like the other would break if they held on too tight. It was dizzying and it was breathtaking; Everything Jamie thought it would be, and more. But it seemed that it was over much faster than it started.

Green eyes opened hesitantly as Jamie held her breath, praying to anything and anybody that Dani wouldn’t disappear. She didn’t think that she could watch her shake her head and change her mind, claiming it was a mistake. If she could, she wouldn’t live to tell the tale.

Blue eyes just blinked back at her, tired and puffy but no less perfect to Jamie. Not a word was passed between them, but a warm palm cupped her cheek, brushing a thumb along the freckles that littered her fair skin. It was careful and it was comforting. Each swipe of Dani’s thumb against her cheek somehow made Jamie feel like, just maybe, everything was going to be okay. And soon, Dani’s lips found hers again, chasing away any of Jamie’s worries with another breathtaking kiss that neither of them wanted to pull back from.

And just like that, Jamie’s world was turning again, flipped back around and held at a slightly different angle; an angle where she could finally see everything clearly.

Chapter Text

November 1990

Jamie had woken up beside Dani plenty of times before. Since she was thirteen years old, there were weeks when she spent more mornings in Dani’s bed than her own. And in college, at least once a week, it seemed, Dani crossed the room to Jamie’s bed in the middle of the night; claiming it was comfier than her own (despite them both having the same shitty cots provided by the school).

Since then, there had been plenty of random little sleepovers in their adults years. Not nearly as many as when they were younger, but still more than two grown women would (or should) normally have. And Jamie would be lying if she said she didn’t love them; The mornings, especially.

When they were younger, Jamie was the late-riser; the one who could sleep all day if she were given the chance. Dani was the opposite. She got up with the sun; Bright eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to start the day as soon as possible. But at some point in the timeline of their friendship, they had switched.

Dani was unable to sleep late when she had two kids, a dog, and typical “wifely duties” to fill her day with. But she was virtually un-wakable when she didn’t have to wear her ‘wife’ apron and ‘mom’ hat. Jamie, on the other hand, being her own boss who made her own schedule, technically didn’t have to wake up early. But after two years in a shitty foster home, the desire to get up and out as soon as possible seemed to be etched into her brain; Something she hadn’t quite grown out of just yet.

Something she would never grow out of, however, was the feeling that spread through her whole body when she woke up with Dani’s even puffs of breath on her neck and the feeling of her chest rising and falling against her back. That was something that she would never get tired of. And something that she would certainly never take for granted.

Thinking back to the night before, Jamie’s lips curled into a small smile as she slowly came into consciousness; Grateful that it was all real and not some sick and twisted dream that her brain cooked up just to torture her. The chill that ran down her spine when Dani’s fingers raked through her hair, scratching gently at her scalp: real. The sounds of sheer relief that fell from Dani’s lips when they meshed with her own for what felt like hours: real.

And now this, waking up on her pull-out sofa, Dani’s legs tangled with hers while pale fingers clutched onto Jamie’s to keep her close: real. It was nothing new to them, though. In their unconscious shifting during the night, they often woke up in positions like this one. But this time just felt different. Because it was different, wasn’t it?

They basically admitted to having feelings for one another last night. That had to change things. How could it not? But things were so much more complicated than they were back in high school. Which was odd, because in high school, Jamie didn’t think things could possibly get any more complicated. But now, things weren’t as easy as she would have hoped.

Dani was a widow; And had been for only three weeks. Not to mention she had two kids and a whole life that just couldn’t be interrupted. And Jamie was running a business; One where she would likely be moving out of state for a while if things went according to her expansion plan. Not to mention they lived an hour apart already.

She hadn’t even opened her eyes yet and Jamie could already feel a headache coming on. And she certainly didn’t want to have it still lingering when she and Dani had the talk that they needed to have later. Once her eyes were open, she took in the orange glow of dawn that was seeping in through the windows, filling the room with warmth despite the early November chill outside.

As much as she wanted to stay where she was, letting herself succumb to the circumstances she’d found herself in, Jamie knew that she couldn’t. The angel on her shoulder always seemed to win when it came to Dani, even though she always wanted to listen to the devil on her other.

Moving as slow as she possibly could, the brunette managed to untangle herself from Dani’s embrace, grateful that she only stirred a little with a small, discontented noise before settling back into a deep slumber. Jamie didn’t look in her direction for too long, though. She knew that if she watched her sleep for longer than a few seconds, she would say “fuck it” and crawl right back under the covers beside her.

She fixed the t-shirt where it had twisted around her waist and slid her sleep shorts off once she got to her bedroom, changing into a pair of track pants and a hoodie before tugging on her running shoes. And after a quick brush of her teeth, her hair was tossed up into the best bun she could manage and she was tip-toeing back out into the living room.

Dani was still fast asleep with her arm extended and flopped against the mattress where Jamie had been laying just minutes before, mouth slightly agape and nostrils flaring with each breath she took. Jamie considered leaving her a note, just letting her know that she’d gone out and would be back within the hour. But instead she sat on the edge of the pull-out, gently running her hand along Dani’s sleeve and up to her shoulder, shaking her gently to rouse her from sleep.

“Dani…” she muttered quietly, waiting until the blonde stirred and blinked her eyes open, squinting in the orange tinted light, “Hey, I’m just going for a jog. Didn’t want you to wake up wondering where I was.”

“Mmkay,” she yawned, blinking tired blue eyes up at her from where her head remained propped against her bent arm on top of the pillow, “You’ll come back?”

“Course I will, it’s my flat,” Jamie smirked, chuckling a little at the way Dani’s lips curled into a smile that told her that she thought it was funny, but she was too tired to put effort into a laugh.

But she apparently wasn’t too tired to lift her hand up just a few inches off the mattress with her pinky out, mumbling out a slurred, half asleep, “Promise?”

As always, Jamie linked her pinky finger with hers, clutching onto it tightly and dropping a kiss to her warm knuckles. And before she could even think to stop herself, she bent over to press a lingering kiss to Dani’s temple, gently rubbing her side before pulling the blankets up to her shoulders. “Promise. Go back to sleep, love, I’ll be back in a bit.”

And after a smiling hum from Dani as she nestled back into the warmth of the bed, Jamie stood and grabbed her keys, taking one last look at her best friend before heading out.

June 1976

“Jamie, I’m not letting you pay your own way into the roller disco on your own birthday,” Dani eyed her best friend dubiously as she swapped a few books in her locker.

The brunette was leaning against the wall of lockers beside her, rolling her eyes with a fond smile. “I have a birthday every year. Let me spend my first real paycheck however I want.”

Dani gave her a proud grin around the little metal door, despite the way Jamie was arguing with her. Because she was proud. Jamie, especially lately, had been through a lot. Just a few weeks ago, her family had been literally ripped apart and she’d been sent to live with a new family. A nice family, at least, from what Dani had heard. But it still must have been rough being away from her own.

On top of that, Jamie had landed herself in a bit of hot water just last week, just two days after she started her new job at the Johnson’s flower shop. Evelyn Williams, the head editor of the yearbook, had told the whole school that Jamie had tried to touch her in the locker room or watch her shower or something. She’d heard a few different things from a few different people. Whatever it was, it wasn’t true. Dani believed Jamie over anyone else. She just hated that Jamie had become some kind of spectacle ever since the rumor started.

Even if the rumor wasn’t true, Jamie didn’t seem to show any shame in her sexuality; Not that she had any reason to. But Dani admired the way that even though the whole school thought badly of her because of it, Jamie seemed to walk with her head held even higher than she had before, almost like she was daring people to try to hurt her feelings.

“No more talk about my birthday. It’s not til Saturday anyway,” Jamie chuckled, lifting her foot to rest back against the lockers.

“Jamie, it’s on Friday.”

“But we’re not celebrating til Saturday.”

“What? Why not?”

“Friday’s your date night.”

“Jamie, it’s your birthday, I’m sure it’s not gonna kill Eddie if I skip one Friday night at Rudino’s.”

“Dani—“

“We’re going,” blue eyes stared firmly at her as she shut her locker a bit harder than normal for emphasis, though she still held a kind smile on her lips.

“You’re impossible.” Rolling her eyes again, Jamie just pushed herself off the wall of lockers and cocked her head in the direction the next hallway, “Come on, Poppins, let’s get to algebra.”

“Don’t you mean French?” a voice asked smugly from not far behind them. There were several voices from around this school that Jamie found unbearably annoying (one of them, being the voice of her P.E. teacher), but none of them gave her that instant ‘nails on a chalkboard’ reaction like Lisa Peterson.

“Peterson. Always a pleasure,” Jamie turned to face her, nonchalant as always as she placed a hand on the hip of her baggy overalls while the other held to the backpack that was slung over her shoulder, “Do I even wanna know what you mean?”

“Well, you guys are lezzies, right? You like, french each other all the time?” Lisa smirked as her little band of mindless robots giggled behind her.

“Why? You jealous?” Jamie raised her eyebrows with feigned suspicion, stepping closer to the former pep squad captain.

The redhead gave her a disgusted look, eyeing her up and down, “Yeah, right.”

“You sure? You certainly seem interested. I can probably squeeze you into my schedule around 3:30,” she glanced down at her watch snidely, “Anything after that it might be a little bit of a wait, y’know, I’m pretty booked up.”

“Jamie, let’s just go,” Dani appeared behind her, tugging gently at her elbow to pull her back from stepping any closer.

“Yeah, Jamie, you don’t wanna be late for following Danielle around like a puppy-dog,” Lisa gave them a fake wave with a sarcastically sweet grin as they turned to walk together down the hallway.

Dani kept her arm linked with Jamie’s as they ignored the venomous laughter from the girls behind them. She didn’t want Jamie to get detention for fighting again. Not so close to the end of the school year or her birthday.

“God, she’s always been so weird,” Lisa could still be heard talking behind them, not far enough out of hearing range just yet, “No wonder her mother left, she was probably too embarrassed to be seen with her.”

Dani stopped, her white sneakers echoing as they squeaked against the tiled floor.

“Dani, come on,” Jamie sighed, trying to tug her along. She’d heard what Lisa said. She’d be lying if she said it didn’t cut a little bit. But they were about to be late for class and she knew how much Dani hated being marked tardy.

“I heard her dad got thrown in jail for selling drugs out of their basement.”

“I heard they had a whole meth lab in their house.”

“She and her brother got thrown into foster care, right?”

“Yeah, and her brother is in my little sister’s class. She said he’s like, retarded or something.”

“All that and she’s a dyke. That whole family is fucked up.”

Their words all blended together mixed in with their malicious laughter. Jamie was used to it, and she was getting better at letting it roll off her back. Girls and boys alike all had nasty things to say about her and her family even before they moved here. She’d been broken in the past, letting their words seep under her skin. But as the years went on, they became too repetitive for her care. Though the wound of her father’s arrest was still a bit fresh since he was still in jail awaiting a trial, she remained as unfazed as she could.

Dani, however…

Before Jamie could even react, her best friend had spun around, dropping her books to the floor before practically stomping back up to Lisa and her posse. Blonde waves bounced against her back with each determined step, but Jamie managed to catch up to her just before she could pounce, holding her by the crook of her elbow. And when that plan started to falter, she wrapped her other arm around her waist, attempting to pull her back.

“Don’t ever talk about her or her family like that!” Dani’s voice nearly reached a shrieking decibel, red-faced and squirming against Jamie’s tight hold on her in an attempt to get free.

Dani had never been the fighting type. She’d never even been the confrontational type. She didn’t even like to complain when the burger shack put onions on her burger when she asked for them to be left off. So holding her back from clawing Lisa Peterson’s eyes out was a completely new experience that Jamie never thought she would have in her lifetime. Dani was a cheerleader; She had leg and arm muscles that Jamie was honestly no match against. But she still managed to hold her back, narrowly avoiding an elbow to the tit every few seconds.

“Dani, let’s go, it’s not worth it,” Jamie muttered in a surprisingly calm voice as she strained against her, pushing and pulling, “Come on.” It didn’t help that the group of popular girls were still laughing, this time more at Dani’s expense.

“No! No, you heard what they said!” Dani practically clawed her way out of Jamie’s grip, but stood in place, directing her fiery rage towards her, but not at her.

“I heard what they said and it’s. Not. Worth it,” Jamie stared into her eyes that looked like angry ocean waves, crashing on the shore in the midst of a storm. But tears of hurt and frustration shined in them as well as Jamie held firmly to her shoulders, trying to calm her down. She’d never seen Dani like this, and she hated that it was on her behalf.

Dani’s erratic breathing came stubbornly through her nose as her lips were pressed into a tight, angry line with a clenched jaw. The girls’ laughter reached their ears again from just a few feet away, and Jamie could see Dani’s eyes shift to her left, glaring daggers before she began to turn to face them again. But Jamie caught her quickly with a hand raised from her shoulder to her jaw, keeping her facing forward instead.

“It’s not worth it,” she repeated quietly, unconsciously tracing her thumb across Dani’s heated cheek in an attempt to soothe the angry tremors that had spread through her body.

“They shouldn’t talk about you like that,” Dani’s voice was low, almost ominous as she stared fiercely back into Jamie’s green eyes, “I can’t let them talk about you like that, Jamie. I can’t listen to it anymore. They’ve been at it since middle school, it’s not—“

The bell rang over their heads as students began to scramble to get to their classes before the second ring. Lisa and her gaggle of minions took off in different directions, and soon enough Dani and Jamie were the only ones left in the hallway.

“Come on, let’s get to class,” Jamie took her to pick up her books from where they’d been dropped on the floor and draped an arm over her shoulders as they headed towards their algebra class.

“Can we just skip today or something?” Dani shook her head, taking in a deep breath as her steps fell a little short, dragging behind Jamie, “I’m not in the mood for algebra.”

But the brunette just scoffed, tugging her along with a breath of laughter, “As much as I’d love to, I‘d hate to see your perfect attendance record ruined so close to the end of the school year.”

Dani just sniffled and ran a finger under her nose. She knew Jamie was right, and she was so close to getting her certificate with only a few days left of school.

“Thanks, y’know,” Jamie smiled a bit, leaning her head against Dani’s as they walked with their legs in sync, “For sticking up for me. Never thought I’d see the day Poppins comes at anyone with guns blazing.”

“She’s a bitch,” Dani gave her a watery chuckle and wiped under her eyes, “And you’d do the same for me.”

“Any day. I love a good scrap,” she smirked, “And you know I’d love to add Lisa fucking Peterson to the tally of people I’ve had to fight around here.”

November 1990

Jiggling her key in the lock, Jamie let herself back into her apartment quietly, not wanting to disturb Dani if she was still sleeping. She’d been gone for a little over an hour, and she could feel the after-effects from the cold weather settling in her body. But she knew that the small case of sniffles would fade once she had a hot shower and a cup of tea.

Her plans changed, however, when the smell of bacon wafted to her nostrils and she heard a Blondie record play quietly from the old turntable she’d thrifted a while back. From what she could see, the pull-out mattress had been folded back into the couch, and the blankets and sheets had been folded and placed nicely atop the cushions.

Stepping further into the apartment, Jamie kicked off her shoes by the coat hook and breathed a light chuckle at the sight of Dani turned towards the stove, humming quietly to “Atomic” as she flipped an egg over in the frying pan; unaware that Jamie had returned.

The brunette just leaned against the bar top counter, drinking in the vision before her. Dani seemed almost blissful with damp, wavy hair falling over her shoulders from the shower she must have taken while Jamie was gone. And her hair was just wet enough to stain the shoulders of her grey t-shirt; The t-shirt Jamie recognized as the one she, herself, had been wearing just this morning before she got changed for her morning jog.

“Y’know, if you keep stealing my clothes, I’m not gonna have any left to wear,” she finally spoke up, laughing a bit at the way Dani gasped in surprise. Though her own cheeks flamed up a bit at the way her words sounded coming out of her mouth. But thankfully Dani didn’t seem to notice. If anything, she was too caught up in her own embarrassment of being called out for stealing another item from Jamie’s wardrobe.

“Sorry,” she breathed out with an awkward smile, “Nothing I packed was really...comfortable enough.”

“Well, you know you don’t have to go rifling through my laundry. Closet’s full enough,” Jamie smirked, leaning onto her elbows as she watched the blonde turn the stove off and move around the kitchen. It was odd how new this all felt, despite none of it being new at all. This wasn’t the first time Dani had stayed the night. It wasn’t the first time she’d made breakfast in her kitchen. And it certainly wasn’t the first time she’d stolen an article of clothing from her.

But it all was different. This was Jamie’s first time waking up to all this with the knowledge that Dani saw her as more than just a best friend. And if she gathered the information from last night correctly, she’d seen her as more than just a friend for a while, now. Much longer than Jamie ever expected. Then again, she never expected this to happen at all.

“I know, but...it smelled like you,” the blush bled even heavier into her cheeks as she bit her lip, transferring food onto plates for the two of them and taking them to the table. “I, um...I made you tea,” Dani set the plates down, gesturing to the two steaming mugs that were already waiting for them on the table.

“Oh god,” Jamie chuckled as she pushed herself off the counter, rounding it so she could meet the blonde at the round table in the little dining space beside the kitchen.

Dani just laughed along with her, unconsciously smoothing out any wrinkles in the thighs of her blue jeans before sitting down. “I think I did it right this time, I swear,” she sat stiffly, almost curling into herself as she waited for Jamie to try the tea she’d worked so hard to perfect. She’d been failing at making a “proper brew” since she was thirteen, no matter how many times Jamie tried to teach her.

She watched with bated breath as Jamie slowly lifted the mug to her lips and took a careful sip, taking it as a good sign that she didn’t immediately spit it back into the cup like she used to. “Good?” blues eyes widened with a hopeful smile.

“Tolerable, at best,” Jamie chuckled an honest admission, shaking her head as she set the mug back down, “But if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were trying to kill me with all that sugar.”

Pink lips quirked into a bit of a grin as Dani sipped from the mug she’d made for herself. “I think you just need to learn how to like sweetened tea.”

“I’ll start liking sweetened tea when you stop stealing my shirts,” a thin eyebrow quirked up at her, accompanied by a knowing smirk, fully aware that that day would never come.

“Fine,” Dani huffed, crossing her arms over her chest as Jamie gently tossed her head back with laughter, “Keep your bitter leaf water.”

“I will. But I’m still gonna want that shirt back.”

Everything felt so normal between them that for a moment, Jamie forgot that they even needed to talk in the first place. Things could easily just fall into place on their own. But she didn’t trust her luck enough to do that. Things didn’t just work out for Jamie. Anything she ever wanted, she had to work for it. The only good thing that had simply happened to her was Dani.

“So, uh…” she started, clearing her throat gently poking at her eggs with her fork as Dani did the same, “Last night.”

The blonde nodded her head, suddenly stiff again. “Yeah, I’m sorry,” she mumbled, “For barging in here, I mean. And for yelling at you.”

“You already apologized for all that. Told you already, I kinda deserved it,” Jamie gave her a crooked grin.

“I know, I was just...trying to ease into apologizing for the other stuff…”

Her heart dropped a little with the assumption that Dani regretted any of what happened last night. Why else would she apologize for it? Unless she thought that Jamie had any regrets about it. “No need to apologize for that either…” her voice was quiet, testing the waters as her heart thumped deep in her chest.

“Really?” Dani asked quietly with her head ducked down in shame, though she still peered up at the brunette through the strands of wavy, drying hair that hung down in her face.

A reassuring smile curled on Jamie’s lips as she instinctively reached across the short distance between them, tucking Dani’s hair back behind her ear. “Course,” came out almost inaudible before she retracted her hand and cleared her throat.

Though her head was still tipped down, she could just barely make out the flush that was bleeding its way into Dani’s face with a shy grin; A grin that told her that Dani didn’t really want to apologize for kissing her at all. And that was fine with Jamie. She didn’t want any apologies. If she were honest, all she wanted was to relive the endless string of kisses from last night over and over again; Maybe even make new memories rather than rely on the ones that were spinning in her head now.

But she knew it wasn’t that easy.

“However,” she started, a little louder this time as she took a deep breath, “Think we need to...maybe talk about it...Make sure we’re on the same page, y’know?”

“I think we’re on the same page, Jamie,” Dani smirked a little in her direction.

The brunette just laughed a little, sipping at the tea in front of her with minimal cringing behind the mug, “Even if we are, you know there’s a lot more to take into account…right?”

Dani just nodded, starting to simply push food around her plate with her fork, distracted and most likely overthinking every little thing that came to mind. But Jamie just reached over for her free hand that was resting delicately atop her jeans, squeezing her fingers before blindly looping a pinky around hers.

Worried blue eyes met hers as Dani took in a trembling breath, nodding again at the silent promise from Jamie that talking it out wouldn’t mean talking themselves out of whatever they both wanted. And when her shoulders relaxed at the reassuring squeeze of her little finger, Jamie lifted their hands to her lips to press a kiss to each of Dani’s knuckles, hoping that she could feel the devotion she poured into every one.

Chapter Text

November 1990

A playful giggle was breathed against Jamie’s lips, sending a delightful shiver down her spine. She could swear that this was some kind of cruel trick being played on her. After everything, all these years, she was having a hard time believing that she was in this position; laying across her bed, trapped under Dani, who had her arms pinned down and her lips smiling against hers.

For the first time in a long time, she genuinely felt like a kid again, play-fighting with Dani like she used to when they used to play keep-away with the TV remote control on summer days when it was just too hot to play outside. Clearly, this was different. When they were kids, there was no kissing, no wandering hands creeping under shirt hems. Now they were two full-grown adults making up for lost time in any way that came to mind.

They’d had their talk over breakfast. It had been hours of communication, bringing up concerns and things that needed to be considered before they could move any further.

For starters, there was the matter of the kids. Miles and Flora would always come first. There was no argument there. Dani and Jamie knew that whatever happened between them would remain between them to begin with. Obviously, if things progressed enough in the future, the kids would have to know; But neither of them wanted to involve the kids just yet. Especially not so soon after they lost their father.

Jamie was worried that it would be confusing for them, seeing their aunt holding their mom’s hand or kissing her around the house. But to Dani, there was no one better. The kids already adored Jamie, so this would save her the trouble of having to introduce them to a stranger if the circumstances were different and she chose to start dating again after a while.

Secondly, there was the clear fact that Dani was still recently widowed. And she was still grieving. Not to mention Jamie couldn’t help but feel bad for getting more than friendly with Dani when Eddie had barely been gone for a month.

It was nice to know that Dani’s feelings were sincere and that this wasn’t just some kind of coping mechanism for her. But even if Dani never felt any semblance of romantic feelings for her husband, he was still a major part of her life. Her whole life. And she still needed to adjust to life without him.

But Dani eased Jamie’s worries a bit with the mention that she had a family therapist lined up for herself and the kids so they could all work through it together, as well as a separate one for herself. And Jamie made sure to tell her, repeatedly, how proud she was of her for seeking out that help.

The third concern was the distance. Living an hour away from each other may work out in the beginning while they’re taking things slow, but they would have to figure something else out at some point in the future. And if things went according to her plan, Jamie would be leaving for Vermont for at least a few months. She didn’t know when, but if she opened the New England store she’d been dreaming of, it would put her even farther than just an hour drive.

But all these concerns and worries were things they could work through later when the time came to deal with them. At some point during their conversation, Dani had boldly slid herself into Jamie’s lap, smoothing the worry lines on her forehead with little pecking kisses and the delicate tips of her fingers. And Jamie let her arms slip comfortably around her waist, holding her close like she always did.

And from there, everything was as it always was. Just a little different this time. Jamie still oversaw Dani after she offered to water the plants around the apartment, worried that she would drown every last one of them (like she’d unfortunately done several times after trying to help). But this time, she thanked her with a smiling kiss to her lips after she’d finished.

Like always, Jamie made lunch for them both while Dani sat on the kitchen counter, dangling her legs off the edge as she chatted about any old thing. But this time, while the food simmered on the stove, Jamie stood against the counter between Dani’s knees, chuckling into deep, steady kisses as Dani held her close with arms looped around her neck.

And they still retired to Jamie’s bedroom at the end of the night. Dani still stole one of Jamie’s many band t-shirts even though she brought pajamas of her own. But this time, somehow, they ended up wrestling on top of the comforter, pinning each other down victoriously as they filled the dimly lit room with blissful laughter.

Jamie had Dani pinned to the mattress at one point, kissing around her neck and jaw with playful little bites as tickling fingers crept under her t-shirt to her sides, knowing exactly where Dani was most ticklish. But Dani had managed to break free and flip them over, planting her knees on either side of Jamie’s hips as she held her arms down and giggled against her lips.

The day just felt so easy. It was strange how they’d done exactly what they always did when Dani came to visit, just with one major difference. They’d always been close, and the feelings were always mutually there. But now, those feelings were out in the open, finally free and allowed to be felt. Even kissing felt so normal; Like they’d been doing it all along. They’d wanted this all along. So, as normal as it already felt, it was no less exhilarating to finally have it; To have each other.

April 1973

“You want another marshmallow?” Dani smiled brightly. Even without the light from the moon or the flames from the unscented candles in the grass between them, Jamie was sure that Dani’s smile could light up the whole town. Even more so now that she’d gotten her braces off a few months ago.

“Think I’ve had enough to keep me up all night,” the twelve year old gave her a bit of a laugh, watching as Dani held another marshmallow for herself over the large, cylindrical candles that were sitting steadily in the grass.

This wasn’t how their night was supposed to go. Dani was supposed to be at Marcia Sheppard’s slumber party for the night. And Jamie...well, Jamie had homework she could catch up on; Maybe even get a jump on reading a few more chapters of To Kill A Mockingbird for English class.

But instead, both of them were sitting outside the tent Dennis had set up for them in Jamie’s backyard. The “tent” was just a sheet thrown over the clothesline that was held down with rocks on each of the four corners, but it was perfect for the two small girls and their sleeping bags.

“Sorry you’re stuck here with me,” Jamie sighed as she gave in and reached for another marshmallow, putting it on the small twig beside her so she could roast it over the small flame of their little makeshift campfire.

“I’m not stuck here with you, Jay.”

“Well, the party would probably be a lot more fun,” green eyes rolled with a shy grin when Dani reached over to shove her shoulder.

“Not without you there.”

Jamie gave her an incredulous look, like she was crazy for thinking that. “Marcia has a brand new color TV.”

“A color TV can’t toast marshmallows and point out constellations with me,” an eyebrow raised on Dani’s forehead, challenging Jamie to come up with a counter argument. And she simply grinned victoriously when she couldn’t.

Jamie just chuckled at Dani’s smugness, shaking her head as blew on her freshly cooked marshmallow puff. Marcia Sheppard’s family had quite a bit of money, but that really was her only redeeming quality. Aside from that, the girl was pretty boring from what Jamie knew about her.

They’d hardly spoken at school, but Jamie knew Marcia didn’t like her. She was just like the girls back in England that would tease her for her hand-me-down clothes or her hair. And apparently, little superficial things like that were enough to keep Jamie from being invited to her slumber party. She didn’t want to go anyway. She didn’t really like any of the girls at school enough to want to sleep over their houses; color TV or not.

Dani had been invited to the party earlier in the week when Marcia was handing out invitations during lunch. The girl with long brown hair came up to their table, handing Dani her invite with a smile. But after learning that Jamie wasn’t invited, Dani politely handed it back to her and carried on eating her peanut butter sandwich. And Jamie, as flattered as she was, had been berating her about it all week.

“Well…thanks,” the older girl offered her a half smile as after she swallowed her marshmallow, wiping her mouth on the sleeve of her sweatshirt.

She and Dani had been friends for a little more than a year and a half now. She’d never kept a friend for that long before. And she was starting to get comfortable with the fact that Dani just might be around for longer. She’d held herself at a distance for a while, not wanting to get too close to this new person in her life if there was a strong probability that Dani would just get sick of her and cast her aside like other people had done.

But the blonde had been doing nothing but the opposite since they met; Whether it was inviting Jamie places with her and Eddie, or refusing to go places because Jamie couldn’t come along. She’d been proving herself as a friend ever since the beginning when she came over to help Jamie with her fractions. And the brunette couldn’t have been more grateful to have her around. Because who knows where she would be or who she would have to hang out with if she hadn’t given Dani a chance?

A little later in the night, they were laid out in the grass, gazing up at the endless sky full of stars. For some reason it always freaked Dani out, looking up and getting caught up in the thought of the great infinity that existed outside of earth. Even on their sixth grade field trip to the planetarium last year, Dani was clutching the armrests of her seat in the planetary dome as the employee explained the stars and planets over their heads.

“You okay over there?” Jamie chuckled quietly, turning her head to see Dani’s fingers digging nervously into the grass.

“It’s just crazy to me that there’s so much out there. And we’re all just specks on a floating rock, worrying about who has the biggest TV or the neatest looking pair of jeans,” the blonde let out in one breath, not tearing her eyes from the dark sky above them.

Jamie glanced over from where she was sprawled out in the grass beside her, taking in the way her blue eyes widened and her jaw slacked, like she was being hypnotized and being sucked in by the sky. “Crazier to me, that space and somehow you and I ended up right next to each other,” she breathed a puff of laughter, shaking her head as she traced the big dipper with her fingertip.

“Lucky us,” Dani giggled and turned over onto her stomach to pick at the grass, needing the distraction from the thought of infinite space.

Sitting up, Jamie pulled her knees to her chest with a content sigh, distractedly toying with the frayed hem of her pajama pants. “Can I tell you something? You can’t laugh.”

“Of course,” Dani sprinkled the bits of grass from her fingers before sitting up as well, wiping any dirt onto the skirt of her long flannel nightgown.

A tongue flicked out over Jamie’s lips as she thought of how to word what she wanted to say. She always liked to think that she was pretty articulate for a twelve year old. But at times like now, when it came to being open and vulnerable with another person, she could never quite put the right words in the right order.

“I, uh...I think you’re my best friend,” she mumbled, pulling her knees closer so she could rest her chin on top of them.

“You think I am?”

“Yeah. Pretty sure,” Jamie nodded, furrowing her eyebrows when she looked over and saw Dani’s lips pressed together to hide the giant grin that was begging to be set free, “Hey, you said you wouldn’t laugh.”

“I’m not laughing!” Dani said through a contradicting giggle, “Why are you telling me this now? Did you not know before?”

The brunette just snorted and rolled her eyes with a tight smile of her own, feeling the tickle of heat forming in her cheeks. “Well, I try not to make a habit of handing out that title like it’s Halloween candy,” she stated firmly with a shrug, “Takes a lot to earn my trust, I guess.”

“So you’re saying I’ve earned your trust?” Dani’s grin practically reached her ears.

A single eyebrow quirked in her direction, “Any reason you shouldn’t have?”

“No,” she shook her head, scooting over to sit flush against her side so she could bring Jamie’s folded up body in for a hug, “You’re my best friend too.”

“Thought Eddie was your best friend.”

“I can have two best friends,” Dani rested her chin on Jamie’s shoulder, watching from the side of her face as her closed smile grew, “I like having a girl best friend cause we get to have sleepovers. I don’t do that with Eddie. I wouldn’t really want to anyway.”

“Why not?”

“He snores,” Dani’s nose scrunched up in disgust, making Jamie laugh when she saw the look on her face, “He always has. Ever since we were kids.”

“Hey, we’re still kids,” Jamie nudged her gently with a playful smirk, “Don’t be so quick to grow up, Poppins.”

November 1990

“Oh, come on, now you’re just cheating.”

“Am not!”

“Are too!”

“You had something in your hair!”

“Uh huh, sure,” Jamie just rolled her eyes with a laugh. She’d had her thumb pinned down under Dani’s again after Dani used her free hand to take advantage of the fact that Jamie’s whole body shivered when her fingers raked against her scalp; A piece of information she’d learned earlier today.

She wasn’t sure how long they’d been playing this game, but it felt like no time had passed at all, even though a few hours had probably passed since they’d turned in for the night. At some point in the last few hours, they’d gone from rolling around and innocently pinning each other down on the mattress, to laying beneath the covers, caught up in a game of thumb war. But in this game, whoever lost each round had to share a secret.

It had just been an exchange of silly stories so far; Little things that weren’t important, but still secrets that they’d yet to share with each other, even after nineteen years of friendship.

“Spill,” Dani chuckled, “You lost fair and square.”

Jamie just scoffed a quiet, “Fine,” before thinking of what she could say. With Dani’s obvious cheating, she’d been having to come up with more secrets and she was starting to feel like she was running out.

She’d already told her about the time she’d given her first grade teacher a valentine with a marriage proposal back in England, and the fact that she had Xanadu (Dani’s favorite movie) on VHS and put it on whenever she missed her. She knew Dani was never going to let her live that one down, considering Jamie was always so vocal about how much she detested that movie. And she had a feeling that Dani was going to make her watch it tomorrow before she went back home.

“I, uh…” she started with a smiling huff, “I almost tried to hook up with your cousin at your wedding.”

“Jamie, you did try to hook up with my cousin at my wedding. Do you not remember that I caught you two in the coat closet?”

“No, not Theo,” she shook her head, “First choice was Nell, actually.”

“Nell? Really?”

“I mean, I was a miserable fuck having to watch you get married,” she admitted with a snort and a shrug, “Guess I figured trying to get with your twin was gonna help. If I remember correctly, drunk me thought it was a genius idea.”

“I imagine it would’ve been kinda hard to steal her away from Arthur,” Dani smirked, though her eyes were a bit solemn as she fiddled with Jamie’s fingers.

“Exactly why I went for Theo. Who am I to try to steal a straight girl from her boyfriend?” Jamie chuckled.

Despite the distant sadness in her eyes, Dani couldn’t help but laugh a little at the comment, “Well, Nell actually likes men and women from what I’ve been told. But she’s been in love with Arthur since college.”

“Blimey,” Jamie’s eyebrows raised as she took in the information, “Good for her. Sucks for drunk me, though.”

The small bout of laughter between them faded as a new round of the thumb war started up. But Jamie had Dani’s thumb pinned in seconds as if the blonde wasn’t even trying. And before she could even grin in her victory, Dani was letting her confession fall from her lips.

“I feel really guilty...about all this,” she cleared her throat after a deep breath, “Not that I don’t want to...do this, but...I can’t stop thinking about how we just...lost so much time, y’know? It could have been you and me since high school.”

Jamie’s brows knit together as she listened, weaving her fingers through Dani’s as she listened intently, trying to understand.

“But...I feel so selfish for thinking that. I don’t like thinking it was wasted time because...cause I love my kids so much. You know I do. And I...I did love Eddie. I did. And he took care of us. But I wasn’t…in love with him,” Dani rambled through shaky breaths as she tried to explain, “I just...I don’t know how to love the time I had with him and wish that things were different at the same time. Either way, it feels like I’m hurting somebody.”

Nodding slowly, Jamie brought her hand to Dani’s cheek, grazing her thumb soothingly over her skin to calm her down a bit. “Hey, I get it. Nothing wrong with wishing we had more time. And you know I love those kids and wouldn’t trade’em for anything. Not even if I was given the chance to do it all over. Y’know why?”

Dani shook her head, her eyes glassy as she melted into the palm on her cheek.

“Cause we’ve got now...right? The circumstances are a little...different. Not really ideal, but...it is what it is. And...y’know what, I think maybe it’s better this way,” Jamie pursed her lips together as she attempted to form any kind of helpful, coherent thought, “We were still kids back then; still had a lot of growing up to do...Things may not have gone the way we like to think they would’ve.”

The blonde nodded her head slowly, leaning across the short distance to press her forehead to Jamie’s.

Jamie stroked her thumb across the line of her jaw as she held her close, breathing in the minty toothpaste on her breath. “I feel pretty guilty too, if I’m honest.”

“Do you?” Dani pulled back a little to look at her, curious.

“Yeah. I mean...I dunno. Feels a little fast for me to be making moves on a guy’s wife so soon after...y’know. Don’t wanna be disrespectful or anything,” she attempted a chuckle, still not sure how to go about talking about Eddie’s death with her. But Dani’s lips were on hers after a moment of silence, warm and reassuring like she’d been doing it for years.

“Technically,” Dani started between slow, smiling kisses, “I made the moves on you.” She pushed herself a little closer, letting a leg get tangled loosely between Jamie’s to get as close to her as she could. “And second,” she released an airy breath against her lips, “I was never...his. Not really.”

It sent a shiver down Jamie’s spine, thinking about just how long Dani was playing pretend. It was just about her whole life, really. She couldn’t even imagine how trapped she must have felt; Especially when she felt like she didn’t have anyone to confide in about her sexuality. At least Jamie had people she could talk to about Dani; Whether it was Hannah or Carson or whatever poor bartender she would drunkenly rant to. But Dani had been lost and wandering in her own head for thirty years, too afraid to even tell her diary about her feelings.

“So, please don’t feel guilty,” Dani continued in a whisper as her eyelashes tickled Jamie’s cheeks.

Nodding her head, Jamie brought her lips to hers again, pulling the fabric of the t-shirt at her side into her fist, trying to bring her impossibly closer. It really was crazy just how naturally everything came with Dani. Nothing was awkward or uncomfortable. And as much as she wished they could have been doing this all along, at least they had it now, just like she’d said. She didn’t know about tomorrow, or next week, or next year. But she was already considering herself the luckiest woman on earth just for what she had here and now.

Pulling breathlessly back from the kiss, Jamie just rested her forehead against Dani’s again, feeling the heated skin of her neck under her palm. “I fucking hate raisins,” she blurted as she caught her breath, causing an awkward silence to form between them as Dani pulled back with a confused crinkle between her brows.

“What?”

“I hate them. Always have. Just...never had the heart to tell you.”

“But...the cinnamon raisin cookies I always make that you love so much—“

“I spit the raisins out when you’re not looking,” she winced.

“Jamie…” Dani pulled back farther, putting some distance between them as she feigned offense with a hand placed on her chest, “I don’t...think I can do this anymore.”

“No, come on, this is why I didn’t wanna tell you!” Jamie pleaded through a fit of laughter, reaching to pull her back.

But Dani sat up and turned her back with her arms crossed defiantly over her chest, “Nope. I’m hurt,” she stated firmly, shaking her head so her hair shook against her shoulder blades.

“Dani,” Jamie chuckled, staring at the back of her t-shirt in the moonlight coming through the sheer curtains. She smirked a bit to herself as she leaned up to wrap her arms around Dani’s waist and pull her down to the mattress, holding her down as she hovered over her and kissed her through her giggles. But she quickly released her hold on Dani’s arms, smirking against her lips when they immediately wrapped around her neck to bring her in closer.

“I guess I can...make chocolate chip or something...when you come over,” the blonde panted as her throat bobbed, staring up into the green eyes above hers after she pulled back for air.

Jamie just breathed a quiet chuckle, ducking her face into the crook of Dani’s neck, mumbling, “Perfect,” as she peppered flushed skin with kisses. And she wasn’t at all surprised that she never wanted to stop.

Chapter Text

August 1981

“Would you stop?”

“Why should I?”

“Well, you’ve got a baby strapped to your chest, for starters,” Jamie rolled her eyes, taking the cream colored bed sheets from the blonde who was attempting to dress the bed for her while she unpacked, “Think that’s actually as good a reason as any.”

Dani stepped back with frown and a huff, stroking the back of Miles’s head as she sat on the opposite bed. “I came here to help, Jay,” she mumbled. She hated feeling useless. At least she had put Jamie’s clothes into the dresser drawers.

“I’ve got it under control,” Jamie ran a hand through her curly hair, obviously more stressed than she was letting on, “Sorry, I’m just...not looking forward to this whole ‘new roommate’ situation.”

She sat down on her own bed across from the one that was meant to be Dani’s. Jamie would be lying if she said she wasn’t nervous about getting a new roommate. Dani had completed her classes early last semester, working extra hard so she could get the credits before she gave birth to Miles not long before the semester ended. And Jamie ended up finishing out her junior year with their dorm to herself after Dani moved back home to live with her mom.

Anyone else probably would have been thrilled to get a dorm to themselves for a whole semester. But Jamie, who was typically a loner, found it to be incredibly lonely. She’d never lived farther than a few miles from Dani. Even when she moved into a foster home across town from her old house, she never went more than a few days without seeing her.

But she didn’t live far. Not anymore, at least. Dani and Eddie had gotten an apartment just a few weeks ago, not far from campus. It was a typical college town apartment with barely functioning plumbing and loud, partying neighbors. She knew Dani hated it. The noise kept both her and Miles up at night. But she still preferred the noisy neighbors over the very idea of staying at her mom’s.

Jamie got used to it not long after Dani left. She learned how to be her own person. It took some convincing from classmates and girls from the women’s liberation club to get her out of her dorm on Friday nights or to stay in town for a weekend instead of going home and bunking in the Clayton’s guest room. As much as she wanted to go home every weekend to see Dani and help her with Miles, Jamie knew that she needed to learn how to fly solo and learn who she was without her best friend beside her.

So as much as it sucked being without Dani, being away from each other was a good thing. It made their spontaneous reunions and phone calls that much more special. But by the end of her junior year, Jamie had to admit that she still missed having her around all the time.

She missed being forced to scoot over to make room for Dani in her bed in the middle of the night because the blonde was lonely even on the other side of the room. She missed coming back from class to find her passed out with textbooks spread out around her after cramming for a test. Hell, she even missed going to the 24 hour convenience store at 2 am just because her very pregnant best friend woke up craving peanut butter and pretzels.

And now, while she wouldn’t be alone anymore, Jamie was still nervous. She had no idea who her new roommate would be. For all she knew, the girl could be completely unbearable. She could be a Lisa Peterson type of girl; a stuck-up priss who thought she was better than everyone else. She could be a complete slob who left half-eaten take-out containers under her bed. She could be—

“Are you Jamie?” a voice broke her from her train of thought, coming from a woman in the open doorway with a laundry basket on her hip. She had a bright (albeit curious) smile on her face, flawless brown skin, and a shaved head. And Jamie could already tell, just from the homemade cropped Runaways tank top she was wearing, that maybe she wouldn’t be so bad. “Hannah Grose, lovely to meet you.”

Her accent came as a bit of a surprise as she crossed the room to shake Jamie’s hand.

“Lancashire?” Hannah asked with a bit of a curious glare; Almost accusing despite her smile.

That was even more of a surprise. Jamie’s eyebrows knit together, though she wore a faint smile of her own, almost skeptical. “Y-yeah, how did you—“

“Oh, I overheard a bit of your conversation from the hall. My father’s military, so I’ve lived all over. Heard enough accents that I could probably impersonate anyone at this point,” the woman snorted and thumbed to the doorway before crossing the small space to greet Dani, “Hannah.”

“Dani,” the blonde stood up from the mattress that apparently belonged to Hannah now.

“Pleasure,” the newcomer nodded her head with a bright grin before cooing a bit at the sleeping baby against Dani’s chest, “Well, I’m sorry to interrupt. I was just going to drop my things off before going downtown for lunch. Would you like me to bring anything back for either of you?”

“I should actually get going,” Dani cradled the back of Miles’s head, unconsciously bouncing him to keep him asleep, “I told Eddie I wouldn’t be long with the car.”

“O-oh,” Jamie stammered, getting nervous all over again. At least last time Dani left, she was left alone. Now she was stuck with a stranger. A kind stranger, at least, but a stranger nevertheless. And Jamie loathed small talk and icebreakers more than just about anything.

“Hannah, it was nice to meet you. Jamie’s a great roommate, but please make sure she folds her fitted sheets and goes to bed at a reasonable hour,” the blonde chuckled in Hannah’s direction before pulling Jamie into the tightest hug she could muster with a sleeping baby sandwiched between them.

Hannah just chuckled and set her laundry basket down on the mattress, pulling out a perfectly folded set of maroon colored bed sheets from inside. “Well, as an expert at folding fitted sheets, I can tell you I’ll do my best. I’m happy to give out a few pointers.”

“Oh, she knows how to, she just doesn’t,” Dani looked at her from where her head was rested on Jamie’s shoulder, holding onto her a little longer.

“Gonna miss you,” the brunette mumbled after a bit of silence, running a hand up and down the back of her sundress, “I know you’re just a few blocks away but…”

Dani just pulled back and nodded, swallowing the thick lump in her throat, “I know.” She toyed with the ends of Jamie’s curls that rested against her shoulders, twirling a ringlet around her finger, “Closer than home, though, right?”

“Right,” Jamie nodded.

It was just starting to sink in that Dani really was starting a life. She had a husband and a baby, and an apartment. It wasn’t a perfect scenario, of course, but it was a life; One step closer to the perfect life that everyone expected for her. But Jamie couldn’t help but wonder if Dani regretted any of it; Or at least wished that that life could have waited a little bit longer. At least until she finished college, considering when she dropped out, she only had a year and a half left until graduation.

“Be good, Jay. Call me once you’re settled in?”

“Yeah. Course,” Jamie just nodded again, pulling back from the hug to stuff her hands in the pockets of her shorts. She watched Dani wave goodbye to Hannah before she walked out the door, feeling pretty damn pathetic for holding tightly to that last glimpse of blonde shining in the sunlight from the window.

“Old roommate?” Hannah grinned in her direction as she dressed her flimsy mattress in the bed sheets she’d brought in.

“Yeah. My best friend, actually,” Jamie gave her a half smile before continuing to set up her side of the dorm, “Haven’t really been without her since we were eleven. Not til she had Miles last year.”

Hannah just smiled as she draped a mandala patterned quilt over her mattress once the sheets were on. “She seems to really care for you. Enough to make sure you fold your sheets properly, anyway.”

Jamie was quiet, unsure of what to say aside from a simple “yeah” that slipped past her lips more solemnly than intended.

“So what brought you here from England? I’m impressed your accent stuck if you’ve been here since you were at least eleven.”

“Just...my dad’s job, I guess,” she shook her head. She still wasn’t sure what brought them to America, even all these years later, “You?”

“Military family,” her new roommate repeated herself from earlier, “This wasn’t my first choice for school, but...sometimes you get so sick of moving around that you just wanna stay put for once. Even if it’s in the most boring place you can imagine.”

Jamie snorted a light laugh, appreciating that she and Hannah could at least see eye-to-eye on how boring their little state was.

“I have to warn you, I’m a bit of an early riser. Up with the sun, usually. I like to get to the gym before anyone else,” Hannah started before pulling a box out of the laundry basket and holding up an electric kettle and a box of tea bags for Jamie to see, “But knowing you’re a fellow UK native, hopefully PG Tips will make up for it. My mother has boxes imported over and sends me some in a care package every month.”

“I prefer Yorkshire Tea if I’m honest,” Jamie managed a bit of an awkwardly tilted smile.

“Same here, actually! But I’ll take what I can get to avoid whatever it is they serve down in the cafeteria,” Hannah chuckled, “Silly, they seemed to throw the only two British girls on campus together.”

“Yeah. And we’re here bonding over tea, no less. How stereotypical.”

Hannah gave a hearty chuckle, shaking her head incredulously, “Well, I can certainly say I already prefer you over my last roommate.”

The newcomer smiled in her direction and excused herself to go bring up more of her things while Jamie made a mental note to offer her a hand next time. The brunette certainly wasn’t looking for a new best friend, but maybe having Hannah around wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

November 1990

Dani linked her arm through Jamie’s as they walked down the city sidewalk, pressing tightly to her side as if it would shield her from the late autumn chill. It shouldn’t have worked, considering the rest of her was still exposed to the breeze, but Jamie made her feel warm all over. She always had, even before this weekend. But this was different. She just couldn’t describe how.

After she had woken up with warm hands at her sides and warm lips on her neck...well, she’d felt warm all morning. It stayed with her. It was something she never felt with Eddie. She never felt cold with him. But he never made her feel like this. There was a safety she felt with him, sure, but safety didn’t always equate to happiness. And even though there was a risk to whatever she was doing with Jamie, the happiness outweighed all of it.

They were on their way to meet Jamie’s friends for breakfast. She’d already made plans with them earlier in the week that Dani wouldn’t allow her to cancel. Though, they were running a bit late due to their reluctance to get out of bed just about an hour ago.

“Would you come on? We’re already late,” Dani tugged Jamie along when the brunette had stopped at the storefront of The Leafling to wipe a smudge off the window. The store was closed on Sundays, but she still peeked in through the glass to make sure things were still in-tact; Jiggling the door handle to assure herself that the shop was locked up properly.

“Not sure why I let Diane hire that new kid,” Jamie peered back towards the store as Dani pulled her to keep walking down the sidewalk towards the café, huffing quietly to herself, “She keeps forgetting to wipe the fucking windows.”

With a smirk, the blonde just pulled her closer to her side, glancing over at her with a quirked eyebrow as they walked, “If I remember right, you weren’t exactly Miss Perfect when it came to making sure the windows were wiped down at closing time either.”

“And if Phil were here, he’d be chewing her out for it just like he did to me.”

Chuckling, Dani just shook her head, reaching up to fix her bangs back behind her ear, “Just saying, you remember what it’s like being sixteen and working your first real job. Mistakes happen.”

“Just makes me wonder what shit I’m missing out on at the other ones,” Jamie snorted, “If the staff are willing to let smudgy windows slide when the owner’s constantly around, I can’t even imagine what they look like at the other stores.”

Dani giggled a bit to herself, finding it incredibly amusing to see Jamie acting so similar to the former owner of the original flower shop back home. Mr. Johnson was always getting on Jamie for the littlest things when she was first starting out; and Dani would always hear about how much Jamie hated it and thought he was just an annoying and grumpy old man. And now here she was, acting just like that annoying and grumpy old man she once detested.

“Wait—“ she stopped in her tracks as they approached A Batter Place, “A-are we telling them about...I mean…” she looked around, “...y’know, us?

Jamie felt her heart thump a few extra beats per second at the very mention of there being an ‘us’. But she could see the nervousness behind Dani’s bright blue eyes. It was clear that she wasn’t ready to let anyone else know, but didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings in the process.

“Don’t have to,” she shook her head, “Think we can wait at least til we figure out what ‘us’ means, yeah?”

Subtle relief flooded into Dani’s features as she nodded her head. They hadn’t come up with a name for what they were doing just yet. As of right now, they were taking things one day at a time, as Jamie always said; Just enjoying each other’s company just like they normally did.

After Dani nodded and adjusted the tweed newsboy cap that sat over Jamie’s brown curls, the two made their way into the small bakery. It always smelled heavenly with the mixture of coffee that was constantly brewing and the pastries that were always baking.

“Did they paint in here?” Dani glanced around, noticing that the walls were now a nice shade of turquoise rather than the tan they had been before.

“Hannah’s idea,” Jamie nodded, waving at the woman who greeted them from a small table in the corner, “She thought the place needed more color.”

Hannah stood up as they approached, greeting them with hugs and kisses on each cheek as she always did, telling Dani that it was great to see her again before they all sat down. “No children with you this weekend?” the woman smiled, running a hand over her shaved head before leaning her chin into her palm as the two women across from her shed their jackets.

“No, no, they’re with, um...they’re with Eddie’s mom,” she smiled, giving a bit of an awkward smile in return, expecting to be met with uncomfortable sympathy from Hannah. But the woman just offered her a bit of a smile and a squeeze of her hand from across the small table, offering her condolences in a way that didn’t need words, which Dani appreciated.

Back home, everywhere she went, people would stop to talk to her. In the grocery store, they would gush about Eddie to her, telling her how sorry they were for what happened to him. And she hated it. Though she tried not to let it show when she would tell them thank you and continue pushing her cart down the aisles. So, it was nice that Hannah seemed to understand that that kind of thing wasn’t necessary.

“Hey, look who’s here!” Owen emerged through the double doors to the kitchen with a tray of neatly put-together pastries for all of them to split, “Good to see you, again, Dani.”

“You too,” she smiled up at him when he came around and bent down to squeeze her shoulders in a one-armed hug before settling into his seat beside Hannah, “The place looks so beautiful. I love the new paint color.”

“Thank you,” the man across from her smiled, teeth just barely showing under his mustache, “I was against it at first, but apparently turquoise gives out an aura of calm and tranquility. In fact, it’s cyan-tifically proven.”

“Jesus,” Jamie muttered, chuckling a bit to herself as she reached for a warm croissant to put on a little plate for Dani before grabbing one for herself.

“Heaven help me,” Hannah gave a light sigh and moved to get out of her seat, “Tea for Jamie, I already know, but Dani? Tea? Coffee?”

“Coffee, please,” the blonde nodded, covering her mouth to attempt to be a little more polite about speaking while chewing.

Owen got up to help her, leaving Dani and Jamie alone at the small corner table; which Dani took full advantage of when she leaned over to press a kiss to Jamie’s shoulder, taking her hand into her lap.

“Are they married yet?” she asked, smiling at the idea. Owen and Hannah had always been cute in the time she’d known them. They had met when Hannah was helping Jamie put together a layout for her first store down the street. She’d stopped at the café to pick up some pastries and tea for them, and left with Owen’s phone number written on a napkin. And the rest was just history.

“Nah,” the brunette shook her head, running her thumb over Dani’s under the table, “Owen keeps asking and Han keeps saying no. She’s not big on the whole concept of marriage. But they keep on acting like an old married couple anyway.”

“They’re cute,” Dani rested her head on Jamie’s shoulder, sighing a bit to herself before pulling back to look at her, “I’m glad you have them here. I worry about you being some kind of hermit out here so far away from me.”

Jamie just chuckled, looking back at her with wrinkled brows, “Now, what’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what I mean,” Dani nudged her gently, “You never really made friends easily before. I’m glad Hannah stuck.”

“S’not that I didn’t make friends easily, I just didn’t want to make friends,” Jamie corrected her with a lighthearted tilt of her head, “Thought you were enough for me.”

A light tint of pink seeped into Dani’s cheeks as she looked down at their hands in her lap, “Well...as much as I like having you all to myself, I’m glad you have people here in the city that care about you and can look after you.”

“Well...even if I didn’t, I’m a big girl. I’m all right on my own,” she shrugged, kissing the side of Dani’s head, letting her know that she still appreciated her concern.

September 1984

Jamie sat on Dani’s front porch, gently swinging herself back and forth on the porch swing. It seemed like just yesterday that they were kids, pushing each other on the swings at the park to see how high they could go; But now they were all grown up. Dani was married with a kid and a mortgage on a house with a porch swing. And Jamie was leaving in the morning to start her new life in the city and prepare to open her first store as a business owner. Their lives seemed to be ever-changing.

“Hey, sorry,” Dani closed the red door quietly behind her, coming over and slipping under the blanket Jamie lifted up for her.

“Don’t apologize for putting your kid to bed,” Jamie snorted, laying the blanket over Dani’s lap as the blonde cuddled up to her side, “Gonna miss that little gremlin.”

“We’re gonna miss you,” Dani smiled a bit solemnly, watching the last fireflies of the summer dance across the spacious hill of her front yard, “You’ll still come visit, won’t you? I can’t do this without you.”

“You can,” Jamie nudged her gently with a smirk, “But I will. Promise. City’s only an hour away.” She nodded and reached for her hand, weaving their pinkies together before raising their hands to her lips and pressing a few soothing kisses to the sharp bend of Dani’s knuckles.

The blonde sighed, letting her head fall against Jamie’s shoulder, “Promise you’ll call, too. At least once a week. And promise you’ll be safe. And you’ll lock your doors at night. And you’ll fold your fitted sheets.”

Jamie nodded with each of Dani’s little demands, but chuckled at the last one, “I can’t promise I’ll fold the sheets, but I can promise the rest,” she placed one lingering kiss to her knuckles before dropping their hands back to the blanket on their laps, keeping their pinkies linked together as they sat in silence.

“You need to fold your sheets, Jamie.”

“What for?”

“Cause you’re an adult,” Dani giggled up at her, “It’s what adults do.”

“Mm...that’s the Karen Clayton in your head talking,” Jamie reached up with her free hand to tap a finger against Dani’s forehead, making her laugh a little harder before she leaned her head down against hers, “Life’s too short to be spending it folding fitted sheets.”

“Maybe,” the younger woman sighed, “Well, at least promise me you’ll keep yourself safe. Just cause you think I can do this without you doesn’t mean I want to. I’m already worrying about seeing your face on the news.”

Jamie just snorted out a laugh and nodded her head, bringing her hand back to her lips for one last promising kiss. “I promise, Poppins. But you gotta promise to stop worrying about me so much.”

“You know I can’t promise that.”

November 1990

“Please no,” Jamie whined dramatically as she unlocked the door to her apartment, “I’m gonna have those songs stuck in my head for days.”

“You should’ve never told me you have it on tape,” Dani smirked, kicking off her shoes and shedding her jacket once they were closed inside.

“Can’t we go rent your other favorite? That...that American Mary Poppins one where she says ‘fuck’?”

“The American Mary P— You mean Adventures in Babysitting?”

“Yeah, that one.”

“Nope.”

“Daniii,” Jamie laughed through a childish groan, tilting her head back in playful frustration. But Dani just leaned up to kiss her upward-tilted chin before practically skipping into the living room to dig through her movie collection.

Hanging her coat on the hook, Jamie kicked off her boots and followed her into the apartment. Dani was already shoving the Xanadu tape into the VCR when Jamie rounded the corner into the main space. “Just gimme a minute,” the brunette rolled her eyes, pressing the button on her answering machine to play the messages that were waiting for her while they were out.

”Hello, Jamie, it’s Henry. I’m sorry to disturb you at home. I just wanted to let you know I’ll be in town for a few days starting tomorrow if you wanted to go over your expansion account. I’m staying at the Hilton if you’d like to schedule a meeting.

Jamie went into the kitchen as she listened to her accountant list off the phone number of his hotel room before the machine beeped to the next message.

”Hi, Jamie, it’s Judy. I was actually calling for Danielle. Flora came down with a pretty high fever overnight. It keeps going down and then fluctuating again. I’ve got it under control, but I wanted to let you know. I hope you girls are having a good time.”

The brunette looked at Dani from across the room after putting the kettle on the stove. She could see the cogs turning in her head as she bit her lip in concentrated contemplation. “You’re thinkin’ too hard, Poppins,” she commented, leaning against the counter.

“I should...I should probably go,” Dani mumbled after a few moments, “...Right?”

“Kids come first,” Jamie gave a bit of a curt nod, pushing herself off the counter as Dani stood from the couch, “Been a good weekend, and there’ll be others.”

“Yeah,” she nodded and rounded the coffee table, meeting Jamie halfway, “Soon?”

“Whenever it works for us both,” Jamie shrugged and stepped closer until she could reach for Dani’s twiddling fingers, “One day at a time, right?”

The blonde just nodded, looking down at their hands that were tangling and toying aimlessly between them. “I just...I wish we didn’t…” she trailed off, unsure of what she was trying to say. But she tilted her head back up, coming face to face with Jamie, seeing the understanding and patience in her eyes, “It’s just confusing, I guess. Y’know...wanting to take things as they come...but still wanting to rush and...I dunno, catch up, I guess.”

“No need to rush,” slender fingers tucked Dani’s blonde hair behind her ear, lingering momentarily before Jamie’s hand moved to cup her jaw. “I get it, though.”

“You do?”

“Mmhm. Feels like...we lost so much time that we’ve gotta move ten times as fast to make up for it?”

Dani nodded, leaning into Jamie’s palm by her cheek, “Yeah, that’s it. And I...I lost Eddie...so suddenly and unexpectedly...I don’t wanna lose you too. Not before we can really...start to be something.”

Jamie wanted to tell her that she wasn’t going anywhere. She wanted to tell her that wild horses couldn’t drag her away. But she knew that Dani wasn’t worried about her pulling a Louise and leaving by choice. It was the power of the unexpected that she feared. And Jamie knew she had no control over that.

“I understand,” she nodded, flicking her tongue across her bottom lip, “One day at a time.”

The blonde nodded again before closing the space between them, pulling Jamie in closer by the belt loops of her jeans. The airy, high pitched hum Dani released against her lips made Jamie’s head spin as she swiped her thumb against the warm skin of her cheek.

Part of her wanted to ask her to stay a little longer; Tell her that Judy had raised four kids of her own and knew how to handle a fever. Like she said on the phone, she had it under control. But Jamie knew better. No matter how much she wanted to keep Dani here with her, the kids always came first. That was their rule. That was their first and foremost rule.

The whistle of the kettle broke them apart, sending them in different directions. Jamie went to move the kettle off the burner while Dani went to pack her things. And by the time Jamie had a mug prepared for herself, Dani was coming out of the bedroom with her backpack slung over her shoulder.

“Which of my shirts did you steal?” Jamie smirked, stirring her tea around with a spoon as she leaned against the counter.

“Blondie. From their ‘82 summer tour,” she blushed, biting her lip shyly as she slipped her shoes and jacket back on by the door.

Jamie just set her mug down with a snorted laugh, moving across the space until she was nearly toe-to-toe with her again. “Guess I can excuse it this time,” she muttered, her smirk growing into a full-blown grin at the sound of quiet Dani’s laughter. And the laughter turned into another pleased and breathy hum when Jamie’s lips closed in on her own.

The brunette knew she was fucked when she felt the flutter in the pit of her stomach, dissolving her will-power. She was pretty sure that she would be perfectly fine if that contented hum from Dani was the only sound she ever heard again. And she was willing to devote the rest of her life to bringing the intoxicating noise out of her as often as possible.

“Get home safe, yeah?” she swallowed thickly as she rested her forehead against Dani’s, breathing in the faint rose water of her perfume, “Call me once Flora’s settled?”

“Yeah,” the blonde nodded, leaning in to kiss her once more, lingering just a few extra seconds. She hoped that the next time she saw Jamie wouldn’t be too long from now, but she wanted to memorize the feeling of her lips against her own to tide her over just in case, “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“This weekend...For everything,” she whispered.

“Pretty sure I should be thanking you for driving out here and setting my stubborn ass straight,” Jamie just smirked again, brushing their lips together delicately.

“Glad I did,” Dani pressed her lips closer for a proper kiss before reluctantly stepping back, “Walk me to my car?”

Jamie didn’t need to be asked twice.

Chapter Text

September 1980

As much as she always hated school, Jamie had never despised it more than she did now.

Actually, she didn’t hate school. She just hated the situation she was currently facing. The first semester of junior year had only just started and she couldn’t bring herself to focus in any of her classes. Her mind was constantly elsewhere, pulling her focus from her lessons. Just the other day, she’d been so lost in stressful thought that her hour and a half long lecture flew by in what seemed like minutes; Which would have been a good thing if she’d retained any of the information.

And it didn’t help that the distraction in question was seated right beside her at her desk, trying to help her understand the math lesson she’d daydreamed through earlier today.

“Recite the quadratic formula to me,” Dani said sternly, determined to help Jamie understand her math homework.

“I can’t,” the brunette shook her head, dropping her pencil and leaning back in her chair.

“X equals…” Dani started, gesturing for her to complete the formula.

Jamie just bit the inside of her cheek and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to remember. She’d learned this in high school, and this was meant to be a recap. But she couldn’t remember it for the life of her.

“Negative B plus or minus…” Dani continued, failing at stifling a yawn behind her hand.

“Dani…” the older girl frowned, pushing her chair back so she could help her very pregnant best friend up, “Go to bed. I’ll just look for the formula in the book.”

“No, the point is for you to memorize it, Jay,” Dani’s voice deepened with another yawn as she shook her head.

“I’ll memorize it better when you’re getting some sleep. Come on, it’s nearly midnight,” Jamie helped her up despite her protests. Dani had been quite stubborn lately. She was in her seventh month of her pregnancy, but she was determined to at least finish half the year. She’d been working tirelessly to a point that she hadn’t been sleeping as much as she should. And while Jamie was proud of her, she was more worried about her than anything.

It didn’t help knowing that after the baby was born, Dani would be going to live back home with her mom over an hour away; Too far for Jamie to constantly check up on her. According to Dani’s plan, it was only for the spring semester, but who knew what would happen between now and then?

All Jamie knew was that she was pissed that Eddie was staying in school and finishing out the year, leaving Dani alone with her mother to take care of their kid. He was the one who apparently used a condom that had been sitting in his wallet since he was sixteen. Dani getting pregnant was the result of his own stupidity. He should’ve been the one going home to take care of the kid while Dani stayed in school.

All the anger and worry had already been putting a strain on Jamie’s grades over the last few weeks. She wasn’t failing anything just yet, but she was exhausted from staying up late and trying to catch up on what she was missing in class. On top of everything else, she felt guilty for keeping Dani up with her. Not that it was her choice. Her best friend was just a teacher at heart, putting people’s education before her own needs.

“Come on,” Jamie beckoned, gently tugging her arm to get Dani to start padding towards her bed in her fuzzy pink slippers, “I’m gonna turn in, too. I don’t have math again until Thursday, so I’ll work on it during my shift tomorrow, okay? Should be a slow day.”

“Is it ever a slow day at the student store?” Dani yawned again as she kicked off her slippers and settled into her bed, struggling to get comfortable as she usually did lately.

“No. But at least I get breaks,” Jamie just snorted and pulled the blankets up to Dani’s chin. She was sure it was uncomfortable enough trying to sleep with your stomach five times its normal size, but on these shitty dorm cots? It was a wonder how Dani was getting any sleep at all.

Huffing stubbornly, Dani clutched her blue and white teddy bear (aptly named ‘Blueberry’) to her chest, needing something to hold onto since her spare pillow was tucked between her knees. “Will you lay with me? Til I fall asleep?”

“Been a few weeks. Think I’ll still fit?” Jamie smirked as she moved across the room to turn the desk lamp off, leaving just the light from the street lamps outside to light her way back.

“Are you calling me fat?” Her back was turned, but Jamie could still sense the joking lilt in Dani’s voice. Thankfully her tone was lighthearted. She didn’t have the energy to see Dani through another breakdown. Last time, she couldn’t button her jeans and cried about it for at least an hour.

“Callin’ you pregnant,” Jamie chuckled as she crossed the room, carefully climbing under the covers as Dani turned towards to face the wall.

They were no strangers to sleeping close together with limbs entangled. But ever since Dani’s stomach had grown to a point that Jamie could only describe as protruding, the blonde had to start being the little spoon. With her stomach in the way, it was much more difficult for her to keep a hold on Jamie in the night than it used to be. But she didn’t mind the change in position one bit.

Settling her knees in the curve of Dani’s, Jamie settled her head on the pillow, brushing the blonde ponytail from her face as she placed a hand comfortably on Dani’s hip, “Comfy?”

“Do you still have room?” the younger girl asked with a bitterly joking tone, pulling a quiet chuckle from her best friend.

“Plenty.”

Despite Jamie’s answer, Dani reached for Jamie’s hand that rested on her hip and pulled it forward, laying it over her swollen stomach instead so she could keep a hold of it and pull Jamie closer.

“Better?” Jamie smirked against the back of her shoulder, pressing an affectionate kiss to the fabric of her large sweatshirt.

Dani just nodded and settled her back against Jamie’s chest, humming quietly, a sure sign that she was content. But the feeling of her unborn and unnamed baby boy rolling around was keeping her from sleeping peacefully.

“You feel that?” she mumbled sleepily.

“Mmhm,” Jamie nodded, feeling the kicks and movement under her palm, “Still feels really weird.”

“Try feeling it from the inside. I always feel like I’m gonna end up like that guy from Alien. Loved you in that movie, by the way.”

“Fuck off,” Jamie rolled her eyes with a quiet laugh, recalling how Dani had reacted to seeing Sigourney Weaver looking almost identical to her best friend on the big screen last year, “Ripley stole my haircut.”

“And your jawline,” Dani giggled, reaching back over her shoulder to ruffle Jamie’s hair behind her before settling her hand back on top of hers, “He’s already calming down, I think.”

“Good. Can’t have him keeping you up all night,” Jamie stifled a yawn, running her fingertips gently against the thick fabric of Dani’s sweatshirt.

“Having you around calms him down, you know.” the blonde smiled to herself, hidden against the concrete brick wall, “I think he likes you.”

Jamie just snorted a laugh against the back of her neck, “Pretty sure he thinks I’m boring if I’m always putting him to sleep.”

“No, he loves you. You’re his Aunt Jamie,” Dani’s fingers weaved into hers against the swell of her stomach, keeping her close through her reassurance, “You’re his favorite.”

A flush came to Jamie’s cheeks at Dani’s sleepy murmurs. She hadn’t been around kids since she was one. She’d forgotten how to talk to them, how to hold them, how to act around them. But all that aside, she still had to admit that she was excited to meet her “nephew”. As much as she hated this situation and the circumstances, she wasn’t about to hold anything against an innocent baby.

“Get some sleep, Poppins,” she sighed, placing another kiss to the back of Dani’s shoulder, already feeling her breathing even out under the palm of her hand.

November 1990

“How’s it coming, sprout?” Jamie asked; skillfully managing to play a card game with Miles over the coffee table while Flora, still a bit sniffly from her cold, colored in the flowers that covered Jamie’s upper arm with a few markers.

“Good,” the little girl nodded, pleased with her work so far.

Jamie just nodded back, chuckling “go fish” to Miles, who was frustrated over the fact that he was losing yet another game.

Dani had been reluctant to let her come for the weekend. Only because Flora was still a little bit sick. Dani had some kind of super-immunity to head colds. It made sense, considering she’d been working with children for years. Jamie, on the other hand, worked with minimal people throughout her days— at least not in person— and Dani didn’t want her getting sick, as much as she wanted her to come by.

But Jamie just used that exact excuse as a reason to come back to town and help her with the kids. She didn’t interact with any people. So if she got sick, the only person she had to worry about was herself.

“Dinner’s almost ready,” Dani came into the living room with a breathless smile, wiping pasta sauce on her apron.

“Okay. I’ll get these two washed up in a minute,” Jamie nodded in her direction as she took another card from Miles and laughed at his groaning. His father had been a sore loser too.

The blonde lingered in the doorway, leaning a bit against the frame as she watched Jamie entertain the kids. She’d always been good with them, even when she didn’t believe she was; Or when she didn’t want to admit it. But Dani knew that as much as Jamie claimed to dislike children, she would always have a soft spot for hers.

“Aunt Jamie, you should come with us to storytime on Monday,” Flora grinned up at her through a few sniffles, capping off her green marker after coloring in one of the moonflowers on her arm.

“And what exactly is storytime?”

“It’s when me and Miles and Mummy all go and tell stories to a nice lady. She plays games with us and we talk about school. She likes to hear stories about Daddy,” the five year old explained as she grabbed a purple marker to color in another flower, “You have lots of stories about Daddy, you should come and tell them to her.”

It clicked in Jamie’s mind that Flora was talking about their family therapy sessions. Obviously therapy for children was different than for adults. From what she knew, the psychologist was most likely using games and fun activities to get the kids to talk. But she assumed that Flora would be easier to talk to than Miles.

“Do you like storytime?” she turned to her niece, smiling when she nodded before turning back to Miles, “What about you, munchkin? You like storytime too?”

The nine year old just shrugged his shoulders, mumbling out a quiet, “I don’t know,” before asking her if she had any fours.

“Go fish, mate,” Jamie smirked a bit, “Do you tell stories too, or do you let your mum and sister do all the talking?”

“He doesn’t talk a lot during storytime,” Flora answered for him, focusing on coloring in the last flower on her aunt’s arm.

“Shut up, I just can’t talk cause you’re always talking!” Miles shouted at her from his spot on the floor.

“I am not!”

“Oookay, let’s go wash our hands for dinner, yeah?” the brunette held her arms up and stood up from the couch, “Miles, wash up in the kitchen, Flora, come with me to the bathroom, okay? Don’t need you lot fighting over the handsoap.”

The kids got up from their spots without questions. Miles ran off into the kitchen while Flora jumped into Jamie’s arms so she could be carried to the guest bathroom by the foyer.

“Aunt Jamie, guess what?” Flora whispered as she wrapped her arms around her neck from her position propped on her hip.

“What’s up?”

“I found a book at Nana’s house. It’s full of pictures! There’s pictures of Mummy and Daddy and Uncle Carson. And you’re in it too!”

“Yeah?” she chuckled, setting the girl on her feet before helping her reach the soap on the bathroom sink, “Did you find any good pictures?”

Flora just nodded with a smile and a mischievous giggle, “Mmhm. And I can show you later. Nana doesn’t know I put it in my bag.”

“Flora, you know you’re not supposed to take things without asking.”

“I know,” she sighed as they washed their hands, “I’ll give it back. I just wanted to look at the pictures.”

“Does your mum know?”

“No.”

“Well…” Jamie pressed her lips into a tight line, helping her niece dry off her hands, “Maybe we can all look at it before bed, yeah? Mummy might not want to, but I’ll look at it with you, okay?”

After Flora nodded, Jamie kissed her forehead and took her hand to take her to the kitchen for dinner.

August 1974

“Jamie, let’s go, you’ve spent half your money on this one game,” Louise huffed as she stomped out a cigarette. Her husband and youngest son were around here somewhere, riding the tilt-a-whirl, most likely, since it was Mikey’s favorite ride.

“Just one more try, Mum,” the fourteen year old mumbled, slapping another dollar down on the counter so the attendant would give her another ten darts.

The two Taylor women were standing in front of the balloon popping stand. Jamie had been saving up for the annual end of summer carnival for weeks. She’d been doing odd jobs around the neighborhood like walking dogs and mowing lawns. Mikey loved the carnival more than she did. Plus, it was their first year going without Denny (though, she tried not to think about him fighting in the war overseas). So Jamie figured that if she used her own money, her parents would have more to spend for her little brother’s entertainment.

And she was grateful that she’d saved up so much. Because winning that teddy bear was proving to be harder than she expected. But pop after pop, and ten dollars in the hole, the attendant was unhooking the coveted blue and white teddy bear from the wall and handing it to her with a smile and an utterance of congratulations.

“Have you got any money left or did you spend it all on that silly toy?” Louise crossed her arms over her cropped blouse, flicking her long, auburn hair over her shoulder.

“Jamie!”

The young brunette turned her head, a grin automatically coming to her face when she heard the voice of her best friend. But that grin faltered quickly when she saw Dani’s hand tightly tangled with Eddie’s as she pulled him along with her. They’d only just started dating last week, but it was still odd to see; But in a way that was more irritating than your typical odd sight.

“Hi,” she mumbled quietly as Dani pulled her into a one-armed hug, keeping Eddie’s hand in her free one.

“I’ve been looking for you,” the blonde’s smile sparkled in the multicolored string string lights that hung overhead, as well as the blinking lights from the Zipper ride not far beside them. “Hi, Mrs. Taylor,” she waved up at the slightly taller woman who was already lighting up another cigarette.

“Always lovely to see you, Dani,” Louise gave her a polite smile; though her attention was quickly grabbed by an attentive man standing across the way. But Jamie pretended not to notice the suggestive hand gestures he was giving her mother.

“Sweetheart, I’ll be back. I’ll meet you and your father by the ferris wheel later, okay? Stay with your friends,” Louise hunched down to press a performative kiss to her daughter’s cheek, covering the patch of her skin in a shimmery lip gloss. But Jamie quickly rubbed it away as she watched her disappear through the bustling crowd.

“That’s a cute bear,” Dani smiled, speaking just loud enough to hear over the noise of the carnival.

“Thanks,” Jamie looked down at the stuffed teddy bear in her arms with an awkwardly tilted grin; suddenly feeling shy, “I, uh...won it for you, actually.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

She handed it over to her, feeling an unfamiliar sense of relief when Dani let go of Eddie’s hand to hold the blue bear against her chest. And something about the look on Eddie’s face gave Jamie a bit of a rush as well. It was the same look he would get every time Jamie beat him at Monopoly when they would all play together.

“Thanks,” the blonde’s cheeks flushed, visible even in the dim festival lights.

“There you are,” Judy came over with a stick of pink cotton candy and a big smile, “Hi, Jamie!”

The brunette greeted her, kicking her feet awkwardly against the grass, “Hi, Mrs. O’Mara.”

“Are you having fun? I saw your mom just a second ago.”

“Yeah, she uh…she went to find my dad and Mikey,” she lied through her teeth, hoping that Judy hadn’t seen her mother running off with some random stranger.

Thankfully Judy just nodded, accepting her answer whether she believed it or not. “Well, the boys are all on the swinging pirate ship, but I told Danielle and Eddie I’d take them on the bumper cars if you want my ticket,” she held out a white ticket stub to her.

“Oh, no thank you, I cou—“

“Please, I’m sure these two don’t want me hovering over their little date,” the older woman chuckled, placing the ticket in Jamie’s hand.

Eddie, obviously embarrassed by his mother, covered his face and gave her a glare, silently begging her to leave them alone. “Mom…”

“Right, right, sorry. I was never here,” she held her free hand up to surrender, starting to walk away, “Just remember to meet us at the exit by nine. Good to see you, Jamie!”

The trio of young teens were left alone in an awkward silence, more uncomfortable together than they’d ever been. There was a tension that none of them could place, or were willing to talk about. And that tension was only made thicker when Eddie took Dani’s hand again as he lead the way to the bumper cars.

Jamie followed behind, giving Dani a few forced smiles every time she would turn her head to make sure Jamie was still following behind. But the tight knot of frustration in Jamie’s head only got tighter when Eddie kissed Dani’s cheek while they were in line.

Even from behind them, Jamie could tell that Dani wasn’t entirely comfortable with the public display of affection, as miniscule as it may have been. The blonde had always been a little on the shy side. And with her relationship with Eddie being so new, it was understandable that she wasn’t as willing to do more than hold his hand in front of others. And Jamie felt a bit relieved at the fact. But if Dani was happy, she was happy for her.

After another five minute round of watching cars wind and crash around the slick floor, the three of them were let into the attraction with a group of other people in line, all of them getting into different cars. And Jamie couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight of her best friend tucking her new stuffed bear under the seat belt with her.

But one look across the car-covered floor, she could see Eddie watching her too, giving her the same looks of glittering admiration that Jamie always did. It was nice that he appreciated Dani and was aware of just how good he had it by having her as a girlfriend. But Jamie couldn’t help the fire that burned inside her when she saw them together.

It wasn’t like Dani and Eddie dating changed anything. They still spent time together and Jamie still saw Dani just as much as before. But maybe the red hot feeling inside her was just the fear of not knowing if that would change. Especially with them starting high school next week. High school could change everything. And she was scared.

When the bell rang over their heads and the electricity buzzed by the top of the tent, Jamie wasted no time before her foot was slamming down on the pedal, sending her forward as she held onto the steering wheel with white knuckles. And after knocking a few cars out of her way, the rubber bumpers of her car met forcefully with Eddie’s, stopping him from bumping into Dani.

He glared at her, pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose before he started moving again. And like a cat to a mouse, wherever he went, Jamie followed, bumping into him at every chance she got. It felt good. Whatever aggression she was harboring, she was getting it out in a way that was acceptable in the moment. This was the whole point of bumper cars, right?

But a giggling ten year old came out of nowhere, laughing at the shocked expression on her face when he bumped into the side of her car; breaking her concentration. But before she could even get her revenge on him, the bell rang again and the ride was over. And Jamie could only watch from across the floor as Eddie helped Dani out of her car.

November 1990

“I know that bear!” Flora grinned widely, pointing to a photo on the page of the photo album that was spread out across her and Jamie’s laps.

The five year old and her aunt were squished between Dani, who was seated on Flora’s other side, and Miles, who was sitting against Jamie’s. The four of them were leaning back against the headboard of the guest room’s bed as they flipped through the album with Wally at their feet. The kids didn’t have school in the morning. Just activities in the afternoon, so Dani figured it would be okay to let them stay up a little later.

“Do you?” Jamie smirked, looking down at the photo of herself and Eddie with Dani squeezed in the middle with the blue and white teddy bear in her arms. The faded photo was taken right outside the ferris wheel at the carnival just before starting high school.

Flora nodded and gazed up at her with excited brown eyes, “That’s Blueberry! He was Miles’s bear and now he’s mine,” she grinned before turning towards Dani, “Mummy, was he your bear first?”

“Mmhm,” Dani smiled, putting on a brave face for her daughter. Going through Judy’s old photo album and reliving old memories wasn’t something she was exactly ready to do, but Flora had been so excited about it, she didn’t want to let her down. Especially since there were some photos in the album that Jamie hadn’t been around for to explain.

“Did Daddy win him for you at the carnival?”

“Aunt Jamie did,” a genuine smile grew on the blonde’s face as she looked over Flora’s head at Jamie, “She had to pop a lot of balloons to get him, too.”

“That was very nice of you,” the five year old turned her head again to give her aunt a toothy smile.

Jamie just shrugged in response, unsure of what to say. But the blush that crept onto her cheeks only deepened when she caught Dani looking at her.

“I think we can save the rest for tomorrow night,” Dani piped up, reaching across to close the book in Jamie’s lap with a deep breath, “You guys have dance and hockey tomorrow.”

“But Mummy,” Flora whined, though a sneeze cut her off before she could continue.

“And you need to take another quick dose of medicine, so come on,” Dani got up and lifted Flora into her arms, settling her on her hip before turning to Jamie, “You’ve got Miles?”

The brunette just nodded and nudged the boy off the edge of the bed so she could get up, leaving the photo album on the bed.

“I don’t need to be tucked in,” Miles grumbled, but Jamie caught him in a playful headlock, running her knuckles over the crown of his head as he laughed.

“Too bad, punk, let’s go,” she smirked, keeping her arm curled around the back of his neck to drag him to his bedroom, “At least let me cherish tucking you in before you reach the double digits.”

xxx

Jamie stood in the dimly lit hallway, leant against the wall across from Miles’s room, waiting for Dani to come back out from tucking him in for the night. Flora had already been on the verge of sleep when Jamie tucked her in after she and Dani switched places. So it was a quick and easy process tonight. And with Miles being so against being tucked in, she assumed that Dani wouldn’t be long.

As expected, the blonde slipped out of the room not too long later, giving Jamie a shy grin. This was their first time being alone since their dream-like weekend just last week. And while there had been several phone calls between them since then, they both shared that bit of worry that the other had changed their mind.

“All good?” the brunette asked quietly, extending her hand as she pushed herself off the wall.

Dani just whispered out a barely audible, “yeah,” accompanied by a nod before she took Jamie’s hand, blushing down at her feet when warm lips pressed to her knuckles. But when Jamie reached for the doorknob of the master bedroom, Dani stopped in her tracks.

“Wait…” her voice was quiet and timid.

“What’s wrong?”

“I...I don’t…” she started, almost embarrassed to admit the truth. But Jamie stepped back from the door and replaced herself at Dani’s side with familiar patience in her eyes, “I don’t...sleep in there anymore…”

Jamie wasn’t sure what she had been expecting, but she felt like she probably should have been expecting something like that. She knew that Dani had been struggling with sleeping in her and Eddie’s bed last month after the accident, but she didn’t know that it was still a problem for her.

“It’s okay,” Jamie ran her hand soothingly up and down Dani’s forearm, already walking backwards towards the guest room they had just been in with the kids, “My stuff’s all in the guest room anyway.”

The blonde just nodded, grateful that Jamie didn’t press or prod for answers as to why she couldn’t just grow up and sleep in her own bed, as Karen would have put it. Jamie had always been patient and understanding with her, even when she probably didn’t deserve it.

She leaned against the back of the door once they were closed into the guest room; her eyes following Jamie around as she took the decorative throw pillows off the bed. “I just can’t sleep in there,” Dani breathed, folding her hands in front of herself to wring her fingers together as Jamie stopped to listen.

“I always...I just feel like he’s in there. He’s everywhere in this house, but especially in there. And after he...died...w-when my mom made me stay in there, it...it felt like he was there with me. But not in a comforting way. Not in the warm and loving way that some people might want their loved ones to watch over them. It was like…”

She trailed off, almost afraid to meet Jamie’s eyes as she stepped closer to where Dani remained pressed against the door. “It was like he was…there...with me. Like...physically. I could feel him. And it felt like he was...angry, so angry, Jamie, and I can’t…” tears slipped from her eyes as she shook her head, bringing her hands up to cover her flushed face.

“It’s okay,” Jamie whispered, soothing her gently as she came up in front of her and ran her hands up and down her arms, “It’s okay.”

“It sounds so stupid but—“

“It doesn’t,” the brunette interrupted, shaking her head as Dani lowered her hands from her face, revealing the pink tint on her nose and cheeks; as well as the tear tracks on her skin. “Doesn’t sound stupid at all. Grief is…” she stopped, thinking over what she wanted to say, “Grief’s a fickle thing, really. Different for everyone. I’m no psychologist, but I think you were just blaming yourself so much for what happened that you started feeling like he would blame you too.”

Dani nodded her head and swiped a finger under her nose as she glanced down at Jamie’s collarbone that was showing over her loose pajama top.

“But…” she continued, “I don’t think there’s any shame in waiting to sleep in there again until you’re ready. I know Karen might see it differently, but—“ that got a little bit of a chuckle out of Dani on its own, knowing just how vastly different Jamie and Karen’s views were on just about everything, “There’s no rush to get back in there. You go at your own pace, Poppins.”

The blonde nodded again as she sniffled, smiling into Jamie’s touch as she reached up to wipe her tears from her pink cheeks. “My therapist said I should try to make the room mine instead of ours. Y’know, rearrange it, get new bedding, maybe some new wallpaper, but…”

Jamie cocked her head curiously to the side, urging her to continue if she wanted to.

“I-I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be here,” Dani ducked her head with her admission, “I can’t keep this house on just my income. I have access to Eddie’s savings, but that will only last us so long.”

“Well, Dani, whatever you need I can—“

“Jamie, no, I didn’t say that to get money out of you, I just...wanted you to know,” she reached for her hands, squeezing them tightly to reassure her that she was serious, “Just being honest. Communicating.”

Jamie just nodded in return, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth with a bit of apprehension. She knew this house had to be expensive, and with Dani’s salary as a preschool teacher, it wasn’t likely that she’d be able to keep paying the bills for long; Even with Eddie’s inheritance and personal savings.

“Right,” she nodded once more, “Well...if you wanted to try rearranging some things this weekend while I’m here to help, I don’t mind.”

A solemn smile grew on Dani’s face as she nodded back, bringing her hands up to rest on Jamie’s shoulders before leaning in to kiss her slowly. The kiss was filled with gratitude and appreciation; feelings that she tried her hardest to relay to Jamie through the slow mesh of their lips as she squeezed her shoulders affectionately.

“Would you call me a complete loser if I said I’ve been wanting to kiss you like this since we were like, thirteen?” the brunette mumbled against her lips, curling her fingers around her hips and kissing her again before she could answer.

But Dani just let out a breathy giggle into the kiss, wrapping her arms around her neck to pull her closer. “Well, if you’re a complete loser for that, then so am I,” she murmured, laughing quietly when she let Jamie pull her away from the door and towards the bed without breaking the intimate kiss.

Chapter Text

October 1971

“Hi.”

“Hey.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Mikey’s got a parent-teacher conference,” Jamie watched Dani sit on the swing beside her, “Guess he’s having some problems in class. Figured I’d stick around so I didn’t have to take the bus home.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Dani sighed.

“What about you?”

“Eddie has band practice after school on Thursdays. Sometimes I stay and wait for him and Mrs. O’Mara takes us for ice cream after it’s over. You wanna come with us?”

Jamie was surprised to get an invitation. She hadn’t been friends with Dani for very long and she’d been friends with Eddie for even less time than that (if you could even call them friends). Mrs. O’Mara was nice, but she didn’t feel comfortable letting the woman buy her ice cream. Especially if she wasn’t officially invited.

“No, thanks,” she shook her head, shaggy curls brushing the tops of her shoulders as she looked down at her lap.

“Are you sure? She won’t mind. If Carson’s with her when she comes, Eddie can ride in the front seat.”

“Yeah, I don’t wanna intrude.”

“It’s not intruding. I swear, she really likes you.”

“Well, I don’t have any money. And I don’t want her to have to pay for me,” the little brunette shrugged.

“Jamie, let’s go!” a woman’s voice with a prominent accent called from behind them.

After both girls turned back to see the Taylors standing by the edge of the playground with Mikey, Jamie sighed and got up from the swing, wiping any dirt off the legs of her overalls. “Gotta go. See you later,” she gave Dani a bit of a smile after slinging her backpack over her shoulder. But Dani just got up with her, keeping up with her steps as they walked through the grassy field between the playground and the elementary school.

“What are you doing?”

“Coming to say hi. Is that okay?”

“I-I guess…?” she stammered, unsure of why she was nervous. It wasn’t like Dani hadn’t met her family before.

The two eleven year olds approached the little family on the concrete pathway and Jamie allowed herself to be pulled into a one-armed hug by her father while Dani gave them a chipper little wave.

“Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor. Hi, Mikey,” she flashed her newly tightened braces at the three of them.

“Hi there, Dani,” Dennis gave her a kind smile in return, “What are you doing here?”

“Our friend Eddie has band practice after school on Thursdays, and his mom takes us out for ice cream after,” she explained again, “I was wondering if Jamie could come with us?”

“What?” the brunette’s eyes widened a bit, looking between her friend and her parents, “No, I—“

“I don’t see why not,” Louise glanced up at her husband. And Jamie watched, horrified, as her dad pulled a few bills from his wallet.

“I dunno what a cone goes for nowadays, but a few dollars should cover it,” the man tucked the money into the chest pocket of Jamie’s overalls as his daughter looked at him with disbelief, “Have fun, sweetheart.”

“Dad, I—“

“We’ll be back by dinner time, I promise,” Dani grinned up at Jamie’s parents. And before the brunette could even process what was happening, her family was walking away and Dani had her by the hand, tugging her back towards the playground.

“Dani…”

“Just this once? Please?” Dani practically pouted at her, “Just this once and then you never have to come with us for ice cream ever again if you don’t want to.”

Jamie couldn’t wrap her head around how the look on her face made it impossible for her to say no and run back to her parents. Not that she really wanted to. But she’d never really been invited out anywhere by anyone before. Getting invited to Dani’s birthday party last month was one thing; this was different. But she wasn’t sure what it was that she was so afraid of. She had her own money, Mrs. O’Mara was always kind to her. She had no reason to be nervous.

“Just this once. And I’m paying for myself,” she sighed, unable to stop the shy smile that came to her face at the way Dani practically bounced up and down with excitement.

August 1974

Dani laughed as Jamie laid on the swing, spinning in circles as the chain untwisted from the tight spiral she’d created. For someone who could be so mature, Jamie really was a five year old at heart. But Dani loved that about her anyway.

“You’re gonna get sick if you keep doing that,” she giggled from beside her, swinging herself slowly in her own seat as Jamie stumbled a bit standing up. But the brunette just shook her head and draped herself over the seat of her swing again, using her feet to start twisting herself around once more.

“Dunno why you won’t try it, it’s fun,” Jamie came to a dizzying stop after another whirlwind ride, remaining slumped over the swing.

“I’m in a dress.”

“So wear shorts next time.”

Dani rolled her eyes with a grinning chuckle and looked around the park, watching women pushing baby carriages around and little families having picnics in the grass, wondering if that’s what her own future was bound to look like.

“Can I tell you something?” she mumbled, holding onto the chains by her head.

Jamie just responded with a quick, “Course,” as she started to tangle her own chains again.

“I, um...I asked Eddie to be my boyfriend.”

Jamie stopped twisting for a moment, trying to process what Dani had said. She knew that everyone expected her to end up with Eddie, but it never seemed like that was what Dani wanted. If it was, she never actively showed it. Or maybe Jamie just never wanted to see it.

“Why?” she asked quietly, trying to resist sounding as put-off as she felt. She kept her voice neutral, but she couldn’t resist wrinkling her nose at the very idea of Dani dating Eddie.

“Cause Linda Horowitz said that starting high school with a boyfriend is a good idea,” Dani shrugged, not sounding very thrilled about her own choices, “It makes you look...cooler, I guess. She said everyone does it.”

Jamie rolled her eyes at the mention of their slightly older neighbor who lived down the street. Linda Horowitz was a Nancy Sinatra wannabe, with her poofy blonde hair, short skirts and knee-high go-go boots. Jamie never really talked to her, but she overheard plenty of her conversations at the bus stop. And it didn’t take a genius to know that she was faker than cheese in a spray can.

“Well, Linda Horowitz is also repeating the 10th grade this year,” she muttered almost bitterly, “Wouldn’t take anything she says to heart.”

“Well, she knows what high school’s like. And...everyone wants me and Eddie to get together anyway,” the blonde looked down at the stripes on her dress, suddenly very interested in the order. Yellow, white, orange, red, teal—

“Is that what you want?”

Jamie’s question caught her off guard as she picked her head up, taking in everyone around her again. She didn’t know what she wanted. She wanted that house on Cherry Tree Lane. She wanted to be a teacher. And wanted to always have Jamie and Eddie by her side.

But she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be the woman holding her husband’s hand as they walked around the pond, or the woman who was wiping ice cream off her toddler’s face on the nearby bench. She knew that’s what her mother wanted for her. Dani could remember Karen talking about her giving her grandchildren ever since she was six years old; before she even knew where babies came from. And Mrs. O’Mara was always talking about her and Eddie getting married and having a happily ever after together.

Sometimes, it didn’t seem like she had much of a choice in the matter. She didn’t want to let any of them down. But she could give them all what they wanted while still achieving her own goals, right? She could remain friends with Jamie, get a job as a teacher, and grow old with Eddie in the blue house of her dreams. How bad could it be?

“I guess so,” she shrugged, distractedly laughing when Jamie lifted her feet off the ground to dizzy herself again.

May 1976

“There you are.”

A chill ran down Jamie’s spine at that voice. After everything today, she wasn’t expecting to hear that voice ever again. There was no doubt in her mind that Dani heard the rumors. This was a small town. Word spread like wildfire. Faster than wildfire, even.

“Jamie?” Dani approached her slowly and wrapped her arm around the metal beam of the swing set on the elementary school playground, looking at how downtrodden her best friend looked; slumped and miserable.

“How’d you know I was here?” she asked without looking up from the wood chips under her feet.

Dani shrugged and settled into the swing beside her, “You weren’t on the bus,” she mumbled. She knew Jamie lived across town now. She didn’t take the same bus home as Dani and Eddie anymore. But they always studied at Dani’s house on Wednesdays.

“Didn’t think I’d be very welcome at the study group anymore,” the brunette shook her head with a solemn bitterness in her voice.

“Why wouldn’t you be?”

Jamie’s head picked up before reddened eyes met hers. And right away, Dani knew that she’d been crying. “I’m sure you’ve heard by now,” she gave a light laugh that was as bitter as her voice.

“I...heard some things, yeah,” Dani swallowed the lump in her throat, gently swinging herself back and forth.

“Yeah,” Jamie nodded, “So...figured you wouldn’t wanna hang out with a ‘dirty dyke’, as Peter Quint so lovingly put it when he cornered me in the hallway earlier.”

Dani already wished that she had more classes with Jamie this semester. Aside from at lunch, the only time she saw her during the school day was during fourth period algebra. Everything was fine today during lunch. But apparently, something had gone wrong between Jamie’s fifth period gym class and the end of day bell.

Dani heard the whispers throughout her classes, making it difficult for her to focus in any of them. She’d been far too distracted with the rollercoaster of emotions in her head. Were the rumors true? Or were people just being mean to Jamie like they always were?

“I didn’t do what everyone’s saying I did,” Jamie spoke up again, shaking her head as she stared down at the ground, holding tightly to the chains of the swing, “Evelyn, I mean...I didn’t try to...touch her in the locker room, or whatever they’re saying.”

Blue eyes searched Jamie’s side profile as she resisted the urge to tuck brown curls behind her ear from across the small space between them. “Why would they say that?”

“Cause they all hate me,” the brunette scoffed, “And cause that’s what Evelyn wants them to believe. All because…”

“Because what?”

Jamie took a deep breath, her shoulders rising and falling. “Cause I turned her down when she came onto me,” her jaw clenched a bit with each word, “After gym, she came up to me in the locker room...started saying some shit about her parents being out of town and saying I should come over...So...I guess this was her way of getting back at me for saying no.”

Dani blinked as her mouth hung open, trying to wrap her mind around the fact that Evelyn Williams even talked to Jamie, let alone showed an interest in her. She didn’t know Evelyn was...like that.

“But...why would she ask you to do that? You’re not—“ she stopped when green eyes met hers. The look on Jamie’s face said it all, “Oh...you’re really…”

“Yeah,” Jamie cleared her throat uncomfortably, fidgeting on the seat of the swing.

“Oh,” Dani mumbled again, holding onto the metal chains of her own swing as she looked down at her sandals, “Why didn’t you tell me you liked...girls?”

Jamie didn’t answer. She just kept her head low as she swung herself back and forth.

With a sigh, Dani stood up, reached a hand out and waited for Jamie to take it, “Come on. You don’t have to talk to me, but you’re not allowed to miss Wednesday night study group.”

With an obvious hesitance, Jamie’s eyes flicked between Dani’s face and her extended hand. Her eyes looked sincere. She wasn’t giving her any reason to think otherwise. After all the years of friendship between them, she had never given Jamie any reason to believe that she couldn’t be trusted. And thinking a little harder about it, Jamie didn’t think that she would start now; even despite the circumstances.

With a sigh, she placed her hand into Dani’s, relishing the feeling of her warm, slim fingers squeezing her own and the gentle smile on her best friend’s face. And for a moment, all the stress of the day melted away. In those few seconds, she forgot that she was the butt of everyone’s jokes at school. She was just Dani’s best friend like always; Nothing more, nothing less.

Dani kept her hand tightly in her own as she lead her off the playground. But it didn’t take long for Jamie to retract her hand and clutch nervously at her backpack straps instead. As much as she would have liked holding Dani’s hand for the whole thirty minute walk, there were other students around the school property; and she didn’t want to give them any reason to say anything else. Especially about Dani.

But they still walked together the whole way, enjoying the early summer sunshine in silence for the entire thirty minutes. And things remained silent between them the entire evening. Any words exchanged were related to their schoolwork or what Jamie wanted for an afterschool snack.

“Are you gonna be okay getting home?” Dani asked as she walked Jamie out after a few hours of studying. She was a little pissed off that Eddie hadn’t shown up; Especially since she had a feeling that it had something to do with the rumors that spread around school today. At the same time, however, she was glad to have Jamie to herself for the afternoon. But now that the sun had set, her mom would be home from work soon, and she didn’t want Jamie to be too late getting back to her new foster family.

“Yeah, I should be fine,” Jamie nodded, taking a glance over at the house next door. It was still blocked off and surrounded by wooden police barricades and caution tape. The last time she’d been inside, she and Mikey were each given a trash bag to fill up with some of their belongings to take with them to their separate foster homes.

“I’ve been trying to get more of your stuff,” Dani mumbled, sitting on the concrete steps and urging Jamie to do the same, “Officer Hayes is really nice. Whenever he’s around, I try to see if he can go in and find some things you left behind.”

“Y’don’t have to do that. It’s just stuff,” Jamie shrugged, reaching into her backpack for her carton of cigarettes, “And thanks for...y’know…not exiling me like everyone else.”

Dani just shook her head, watching Jamie flick her lighter until the tip of the cigarette lit up with a faint orange glow. “I wouldn’t do that to you, Jay.”

The brunette just nodded and breathed out her first puff of smoke, blowing it away from Dani like she always did.

“Can I ask why you...felt like you couldn’t tell me?” Dani pulled her lip between her teeth as she wrung her hands in her lap, “I-I’m not mad or anything, just...I didn’t expect to hear something like that from the girls on the cheer squad instead of y—“

“Didn’t wanna make you uncomfortable,” Jamie interrupted gently with an apathetic shrug, “Didn’t wanna give you any reason to hate me.”

“I could never hate you, Jamie. You’re my best friend. We promised we’d never let anything come between us,” she shook her head and reached for one of her hands, clutching desperately to her fingers to emphasize her words, “As long as you’re still Jamie, that’s what matters to me.”

The older girl just looked down at her lap as a flush came to her cheeks, unsure of what to say. As grateful as she was, saying ‘thank you’ didn’t seem quite right. But fortunately, Dani kept talking so she didn’t have to come up with something right away.

“And...I know it might not feel like it now, but this...could be a good thing,” Dani offered, shaking her head when Jamie turned to her with confusion in her eyes, “I mean, like...like, you don’t have to hide anything anymore. You can just be you.”

“I was already me. I don’t really feel any different,” Jamie shrugged her shoulders, flicking ashes through the poles of the metal railing, “I don’t feel like it’s gonna change my personality or the way I dress. I never really felt like I was really hiding anything. It just...wasn’t public knowledge. But...it’s out in the open, now. Can’t change anything about that.”

“Well...you’re my best friend. I just want you to be happy and comfortable with who you are. No matter what anyone else says. And...I don’t care what anyone says either. I always thought it was cool how you just...marched to the beat of your own drum. Like, you didn’t really care if anyone marched with you, y’know?”

The older girl let out a smoky puff of laughter, shaking her head with a crooked smile as she looked down at her lap. “Don’t start singing Mama Cass to me, now, Poppins,” she chuckled, looking over just in time to see Dani’s cheeks flush pink under the porch light, “But thanks.”

Dani just gave her a nod and a smile, shifting herself across the concrete to pull her into a hug. Jamie never seemed to care what people thought about her; Which was something she admired a lot. But Dani knew that there was a difference between a few mean girls calling Jamie poor for wearing hand-me-downs and having her sexuality completely outed. Something like this could ruin everything for her, especially in their small, conservative town.

And with everything else going on, Dani had to admit that she was scared for her. She couldn’t even imagine how scared Jamie was. But if there was one thing she knew for sure, it was that she’d be there for her as much as possible. Especially now.

And hopefully soon, the dust would settle.

July 1982

“Oh, come on, the swings aren’t gonna kill him,” Jamie shook her head as she and Dani walked through the park with Miles in the stroller in front of them.

“They’re dangerous, Jamie.”

“Those little bucket seats were literally made for babies,” Jamie chuckled at how protective of a mother Dani was, “I mean, I don’t think he’s got the arm strength for the monkey bars just yet, but if he can hold his head up, I think he can handle the swings.”

Dani looked between the stroller and the swingset across the way, silently contemplating before turning back to Jamie. “If he gets hurt, I swear to god, Jamie—“

“Dani. Would I even suggest it if I thought it wasn’t safe?”

“You suggested throwing him in the pool last summer before he was even a year old,” an eyebrow cocked up at her in an accusing manner.

“That’s how babies learn to swim!” Jamie laughed, raking her hair back into a scrunchie to save her neck from the summer heat, “Come on, trust me. It’s not like I’m gonna see how high he can go.”

Shaking her head with a hidden smile, Dani just pushed the stroller towards the swingset. She trusted Jamie, she just didn’t trust the swingset. But she unbuckled the 1 ½ year old from the stroller, adjusting the hat on his head before handing him over to his aunt.

“Come on, munchkin, let’s show Mummy that the swings aren’t anything to be scared of,” the brunette muttered to the baby as she carried him to one of the bucket seats, placing his chubby legs through the holes in the seat before starting to push him gently so he drifted back and forth. “See?”

Dani’s nerves began to dwindle as she watched her son smile and laugh as he glided slowly through the air, gripping onto the edge of the seat with his pudgy fingers. “He likes it,” she breathed a sigh of relief, looking at Jamie with a bit of surprise.

“Told ya,” Jamie chuckled, continuing to push Miles carefully. When he got older, she was sure that she’d be teaching him how to jump off the swing like a pro so he could beat all his friends in childish little competitions of who could jump the farthest. But for now, she was fine with just giving him a few gentle pushes, laughing at the way he shrieked with happiness from flying just a few inches forward.

November 1990

“You want a push?”

Dani’s head shot up at the unexpected sound of Jamie’s voice. After the kids were put to bed, the brunette had gone for a shower, saving herself the energy of taking one in the morning before leaving to go back to the city. And after looking for Dani everywhere around the house after her shower, Jamie eventually found her in the backyard; bundled up in her purple jacket as she sat, unmoving, on the kids’ swingset.

“We might tip the whole thing over,” Dani snorted, shaking her head as Jamie crossed the grass, flicking the ashes of her cigarette away. But she didn’t put up a fuss when Jamie held the cigarette between her lips so her hands were free to pull the swing back, starting to push her gently.

“So,” the brunette continued to press against the back of Dani’s purple coat with one hand while she pulled the cigarette from her lips with the other, covering her words with a thin haze of smoke, “What’s got you out here all alone in the cold at this hour, Poppins?”

Under her puffy sleeves, the shrug of Dani’s shoulders was barely visible. But a shrug was such a typical ‘Dani’ response that Jamie didn’t even need to see it to know that she had done it. “Just needed some fresh air, I guess,” the blonde mumbled.

“S’pose this isn’t helping matters then,” Jamie snorted, taking one last drag from her cigarette before moving back towards the fence, ashing it quickly against the wood and tossing it over.

Dani was smiling back at her when she approached the swingset again, holding the chains in tight fists like a child afraid to fall off. “You really should quit smoking, y’know.”

“So you’ve been telling me since eighth grade,” she chuckled and started to slowly push her again, sending her back and forth in front of her. In the silence, she wondered if she’d done something wrong. But aside from sneaking each of the kids an extra cookie after dinner yesterday, she couldn’t think of anything that would have gotten this kind of reaction from Dani.

Grabbing onto the chains, Jamie brought the swing to an abrupt but gentle stop, sliding her hands down the metal until her fists met with Dani’s. “Should I ask what’s wrong or just keep pushing?” she rasped in Dani’s ear before pressing a lingering kiss to the side of her head, covering her cold hands with her own as they gripped tightly to the chains.

“I, um...I just don’t want you to go,” she shook her head, unashamed of how clingy she may have sounded, “It’s...hard, I guess. Not getting to see you all the time. I know it’s better this way, with us taking things slow, but…” She shrugged again, unsure of how to explain how she was feeling.

Jamie flicked her tongue over her lips as Dani leaned back into her chest with a deep breath. She knew what she meant, feeling like you’ve finally gotten something after wanting it for so long, but not being able to have it all the time. Whatever they had was still new, still fresh, and both of them knew that rushing it wasn’t going to do them any favors.

Though, it felt silly to call it ‘rushing’. They’d known each other for almost twenty years and apparently liked each other since they were young teenagers. They weren’t strangers starting something brand new, having to deal with the ‘getting to know each other’ phase to make sure they were compatible. They had two decades worth of proof of compatibility under their belts. But there was so much more to take into account than just themselves.

“Well...I’ll be back in just a few days for Thanksgiving,” she sighed, letting the swing go to start pushing her again, “And then Miles’s birthday party the week after that. And we have our phone calls in between.”

It wasn’t the same. Dani knew that if she were dating anyone else, it would be ideal, keeping them at arm’s length to start out with, seeing each other on the weekends with a few phone calls throughout the week. With a stranger, she could easily take her time. But this was Jamie. They already knew each other better than anyone else. The trust, loyalty, and promise of forever was already there. Jamie could get down on one knee and propose to her right now and Dani would say yes in half a heartbeat, as insane as it sounded.

“Yeah. I need to hook up a phone in my bedroom. The kitchen floor’s not comfortable enough for our late night chats,” the blonde snorted a bit of a laugh, brushing a few wind-blown strands from her eyes.

“Cordless landline. Best thing I ever bought,” Jamie chuckled, “Can curl up in bed and act like you’re right there with me.”

Dani smiled, a delightful chill running down her spine at the very idea of getting to talk to Jamie on the phone until she fell asleep. “That sounds nice,” she murmured, though her smile slowly faltered, “What about later? When you go to Vermont?”

“What about it?” Jamie asked after a few beats, keeping her voice quiet.

“How will we make things work then? You won’t be able to come over as often, you’ll probably be too busy to call as much, you’ll meet new people…”

Jamie brought the swing to a slow stop again, stepping around until she was crouched down in front of Dani’s legs and holding onto her knees over her flannel pajama pants. “You…” she sighed with a hint of a smirk on her lips, “...are quite the over-thinker.”

“I’m serious, Jay,” Dani said firmly, taking her hands off the chains to rest them in her lap.

“As am I,” the brunette quirked an eyebrow at her, taking her hands into her own, “One day at a time, remember? Don’t worry about months from now. Vermont might not even happen and you’ll have worried your pretty little head over nothing.”

“But don’t you ever think of...y’know,” Dani shrugged, distractedly toying with Jamie’s fingers in her lap, “...where this whole thing is going...where you want it to go?”

“Think about it a lot, actually. Quite a bit. Every day, every night. When I’m at work, when I’m at home. When I’m alone, when I’m with you…”

Dani’s heart skipped a beat in her chest as she gazed down at her best friend. No matter what label they put on their relationship, Jamie would always be her best friend.

“But then I always have to remind myself that at least I’ve got you; Whether you’re right in front of me or an hour away. Y’know? Whether you’re lying right beside me or if we’re on the phone, half a world apart. Sorry to tell you, babe, but I’ve wanted you far too long to let a little distance get in the way,” she smiled up at her, squeezing her fingers with gentle reassurance, “And I know you feel the same. That’s how I know this is gonna work.”

Dani nodded her head quickly, taking her hands from Jamie’s so she could pull her up for a kiss; deep and slow with her hands resting delicately against her cheeks. That delightful breath of relief that the brunette loved so much was released against her lips as Dani kissed her once, then twice, and over and over until they were both too light headed to continue.

“You’re amazing, you know that?” the blonde smiled, keeping her forehead leant against hers as Jamie held herself up with the chains of swing.

“Maybe I do,” Jamie just smirked and pecked her lips once more before helping her up, leading her back towards the house.

Chapter Text

November 1990

Jamie never had big birthday parties with a lot of guests. Even back in England, most of her birthday parties were just family. Until she moved to the states, she never really experienced what would, nowadays, be considered an average child’s birthday party. But those were just the ones she attended as a guest, herself. At her own parties (if you could even call them that), she was perfectly content with just having cake with her family and Dani. And as she got older, as long as she had her best friend at her side and a pair of rollerskates on her feet, it was a good enough birthday for her.

Maybe it was just because she was a kid, too focused on having fun at Dani’s parties, hoping the gifts she got for her were impressive enough despite her minimal pocket money; but she never remembered birthday parties being this stressful.

She’d been up nearly all Friday night with Dani, helping to put up streamers and blow up balloons to set up for Miles’s birthday party on Saturday afternoon. According to Dani’s RSVP list, nearly his entire class would be in attendance. Plus a few of Flora’s friends (so the five year old had some kids to play with), as well as a few kids from the neighborhood and everyone from Dani and Eddie’s immediate family.

And so far, it was proving to be just as wild as Jamie assumed it would be. Kids were everywhere. She recognized a few of them from previous birthday parties. Adults were gathered in different spots on the first floor of the house, and Jamie was playing the role of the dutiful co-hostess. She had put herself in charge of making sure the snack table remained stocked and keeping Flora away from the gift table. Just little tasks to take some of the responsibilities off of Dani’s shoulders.

It was a bit overwhelming. In recent years, this was the most she’d been home in such a short period of time. She’d been here every weekend since the funeral, with the exception of the one weekend that Dani showed up at her door. And Jamie didn’t think that things could get any more overwhelming than they were last week during Thanksgiving.

Everything was a bit more emotional than usual around the O’Mara’s dining room table, considering they had an empty seat that would usually be filled by Eddie. And on top of that, Jamie was trying her hardest to be there for Carson, who turned out to be too nervous to bring his boyfriend home for the holiday. But she reassured him that there were plenty of opportunities to come out to his family. Thanksgiving wasn’t a “now or never” situation.

And now, she was back again for her Miles’s birthday party, doing her best to keep up with it all and be as helpful as she could. She always tried to help out, but this was Dani’s first time hosting a party for the kids without Eddie’s help, so Jamie was attempting to assist as best she could with everything.

“You surviving out there?” she smirked at Dani when she came into the empty kitchen. But she abandoned the veggie tray she was refilling when she saw that look on her face. It didn’t happen too often, but after years of friendship, Jamie could just tell when Dani was on the verge of an anxiety attack.

Aside from the flushed look on her face and the deep crinkle between her eyebrows, her general body language was always a dead giveaway. Dani typically wrung her hands when she was nervous, but when she was on the verge of spiraling, she was known to scratch at her forearm like she had an itch under her skin that she just couldn’t reach. If she was wearing long sleeves, like now, she would typically drag the sleeve up and down her arm. But there had been instances when she would turn her arm bright pink from scratching directly on her skin; Uncontrollably and unconsciously, according to what Jamie had been told before.

“Hey, it’s okay,” she circled the island and met Dani on the other side, slowly taking her fidgeting hands into hers before she could start scratching distractedly under her sleeve.

“Can you feel that?” She squeezed Dani’s fingers in her own, tight enough to be felt even if she was getting the tingly numb sensation she usually did when she was panicking, “Can you squeeze back?” She smiled when the blonde nodded, weakly squeezing her fingers in return before Jamie brought her hands up to cup her flushed cheeks instead.

Dani had barely taken her eyes off the floor as she tried to even out her ragged breathing with Jamie’s guidance. After a few failed deep breaths, she managed to fix her eyes on the pearly buttons of Jamie’s blouse instead.

Jamie soothed her gently, grazing over the apples of her cheeks with her thumbs as she tried to ease her down from the adrenaline rush. And eventually, blue eyes met hers, glassy and dull from worry as Dani swallowed the thick lump in her throat, finally feeling like she could breathe again.

“There we are,” she whispered, carefully brushing blonde bangs from her eyes, “Want me to get you some water?” Jamie asked quietly as one of her hands trailed from Dani’s cheeks to the side of her jaw, still running her thumb over her flushed skin.

She shook her head slowly, closing her eyes to focus on the feeling of Jamie’s slightly calloused skin against hers, moving back and forth, side to side. “N-no, I’m fine. It’s just...a lot,” she nodded with a sniffle, reaching up to rest her hand atop the one Jamie still had against her cheek, “I-I’m sorry.”

She knew Dani was pushing herself too hard; Trying to prove to everyone out in the other rooms that she was capable of doing this on her own. And she had been turning down just about every offer for help, even if she really needed it.

“No need to be,” Jamie leaned up to kiss her forehead with a gentle smile. And the smile only grew when Dani pecked her lips quickly, taking advantage of the brief time they had alone, “Anything I can do? I can tell Carson to round the rugrats up for duck-duck-goose or something if you wanna take a break.”

“Jamie, they’re ten,” Dani chuckled quietly, grateful that her chest didn’t feel as tight as it had just a few moments ago, “And this is a break.”

“What do they play nowadays, then? Spin the bottle? Ouija board?” she smirked, taking a reluctant step back from her when someone walked past the doorway.

The blonde just laughed, bringing her hands up to cover her face in disbelief, “God, please don’t remind me that my children are probably gonna end up playing spin the bottle when they’re older.”

Jamie laughed a bit with her, trying not to think about how only three years from now, Miles would be considered a teenager. And he would probably be doing all the awkward things that came with it.

“Well...I can still get Carson to find a way to distract’em all if you decide you need a break. He won’t mind,” she muttered with a sincere look, kissing her once more before moving back to the veggie tray she had been assembling, “You’re allowed to need and ask for help, babe.”

With a nod, Dani just watched as Jamie moved away, finding herself following her beeline until she was placed right beside her at the counter. “Are you still going to see Mikey tomorrow?” she asked, reaching for a baby carrot.

Jamie froze for a split second at the reminder of what she had planned for the next day. She always went to see Mikey on his birthday, as much as she hated making the drive. It was four hours from here; three from Des Moines.

“Yeah,” she sighed, “But I don’t have to. I can go another day if—“

“No, no, don’t be silly,” Dani shook her head, swallowing her little bite of carrot, “Tell him I said happy birthday?”

“Course,” Jamie just nodded once, pressing her lips into a tight line, trying to focus on arranging celery sticks and cucumber slices around the little bowl of ranch dressing on the platter. “I know we said we weren’t gonna tell anyone just yet but…” she glanced over her shoulder to make sure no one was eavesdropping from the doorway, “Think I can tell him about...y’know...us?”

Dani peered down at the veggie platter for a moment as she chewed on what was left of her carrot stick, deep in thought about her answer. “Yeah, that’s fine,” she gave a bit of a nod as her eyes met Jamie’s again.

“You sure? I don’t have to. He just always asks about you and I don’t—”

“Jamie, it’s okay. He’s your brother, you shouldn’t have to hide anything from him. And I know you don’t get to see him that often.”

Jamie sighed, her shoulders slumping with a nervously whispered, “yeah,” as she looked down at the array of vegetables in front of her. “Hopefully I won’t be long. If I leave early enough, I can probably make it back in time to say goodnight to the kids.”

“Take as long as you need,” Dani shook her head with a small, but reassuring smile, reaching up to tuck stray curls behind Jamie’s ear before letting her hand linger just above it, “Just...come home safe to me afterwards.”

Heat seeped into the brunette’s face as she tried to contain her own smile; Though she found it to be much more difficult than she thought. “Think I like the sound of that,” she gave a short chuckle just before Dani pulled her in, pressing their lips together for one last hidden kiss before she had to go back out to the party.

November 1976

“Who’s winning?”

“Uhhh…” Jamie tapped her pencil against the score sheet, trying to add up their scores. Maybe bowling wasn’t the best idea, considering math wasn’t her strong suit and Dani had no idea how scoring worked, despite being good at math.

“Hey! Hey, it didn’t go in the gutter this time!” Dani came bounding over, practically bouncing in her rented bowling shoes.

Jamie just grinned up at her best friend as Mikey took a seat beside her at their small table. “There ya go, Poppins. How many did you—“ she peered around the blonde, frowning when she saw a full set of pins standing up at the end of the lane, “Did you knock any over?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you take both your turns?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you count how many pins you knocked down?” a thin eyebrow raised in her direction as Dani shuffled her feet against the floor.

“...No.”

Jamie dropped her head to the table with a groan, dropping the pencil along with it. She knew they should have gone to the roller disco or to the movies or something besides bowling. But it was Mikey’s 14th birthday. And after they’d been separated in foster care earlier this year, Jamie was determined to give him a decent birthday celebration. And this was what he wanted to do.

Her brother had it a little better at his foster home than she did at hers. His foster parents seemed nice enough; and they tried their hardest to provide for the kids they took in. According to Mikey, his foster mother made brownies on his actual birthday earlier in the week. That was something that Jamie knew Suzanne would never do for her or any of the other kids in her house. Life wasn’t perfect for Mikey either, but Jamie was glad that he was being cared for. And she was glad that they were still so close together.

“When we finish this game, can we get pizza and open gifts?” Mikey turned to her with an excited grin. His smile hadn’t changed since he was a toddler. Even at fourteen, he still had the same dimples on his cheeks.

“Gotta get through the game first,” Jamie snorted and shook her head before nudging Dani in the ribs when she sat down beside her, “And that means someone needs to let me jot their scores down.”

Dani just covered her blushing face and laughed, “I’m sorry!

Mikey just laughed at his sister and her friend. He was glad he’d asked Jamie to bring Dani along. She was always nice to him, and he considered her to be another older sister. He missed the days when she would come over to their house. She would make them all snacks or help them with their homework. Sometimes they would play Clue or Sorry!, and she was a much nicer loser than Jamie. He didn’t get to see her or his sister nearly as often, so it was nice to spend time with both of them just like they used to do.

They managed to get through the first of their two games within the next half hour. It took a lot of Jamie calling over to Dani, telling her not to roll the ball yet. And it took a lot of Dani’s chin on Jamie’s shoulder, helping her add up the scores after the process of bowling scoring had been explained to her.

“All right, I guess you can open your presents while we wait for the pizza,” Jamie plopped down in her seat at the table behind their lane, joining her best friend and her brother after her trip to the snack bar.

Dani giggled at the younger boy’s enthusiastic reaction. “Open mine first,” she handed him a heavy, rectangular gift wrapped in blue paper, “You’ll probably like Jamie’s better, so we’re saving the best for last.”

Mikey rolled his eyes and reached across the table, taking the gift from her before starting to unwrap it. “Whoa, this book is huge!” he gaped at the large book in his hands. On the dust cover, there was a design made up of planets, constellations, astronauts, and space shuttles.

“It’s everything we know about outer space so far,” Dani explained with a smile as she sipped at her soda. It was a book made for kids a bit younger than Mikey, but she knew he had some issues with reading and comprehension. A book for someone his age might have too many words and not enough pictures to keep him interested.

“This is so cool,” he flipped through the pages, grinning when he stopped on a page that had instructions on how to make a homemade star frame for locating certain stars with the naked eye, “Thank you, Dani!”

Jamie just smiled at how pleased her brother seemed with his gift. If it was outer space related, Mikey was interested. He’d loved space since he was a little kid, and she loved that he had a passion that had stuck with him for so long.

“All right, now mine,” Jamie bit her lip and handed him her gift that was wrapped in old newspaper pages with a red bow tied on top. She’d saved up three weeks worth of paychecks for it after he’d pointed it out in the toy store a few months ago, so she hoped he liked it.

She watched him tear apart the newspaper wrapping before his eyes widened at the box that lied underneath. “Holy shit!” he breathed in surprise as he inspected the box. It was a scale model kit of Apollo 11, complete with all the pieces as well as a small paint kit to make it look like the actual space shuttle, “This is mine?

“All yours, kid. Go crazy,” she smiled and reached over to ruffle his shaggy hair that desperately needed a cut.

“Thank you!” he put the box down and moved over so he could hug them both, squeezing them as tight as he always did. Though, now that he was a teenager and had a bit more muscle on him, the tight hugs were enough to squeeze the air from their lungs.

“You’re welcome,” Dani and Jamie uttered at the same time, smiling at the fourteen year old as he sat back down and marvelled at his two new presents. Jamie wished she was passionate about something like Mikey was about outer space. He’d known he wanted to be an astronaut since he was six years old. They’d watched the moon landing on TV through a shop window back in England, and he had been obsessed with it ever since.

He was destined to be an astronaut, or at least work for NASA. Jamie knew that he would strap in for a flight to the moon tomorrow if they called up and asked him to.

“All right, I’m gonna go get the pizza, then we can start the new game. But don’t think that just cause it’s your birthday that I’m gonna let you win,” the brunette stood up, pointing a finger at her little brother before heading back to the snack bar.

November 1990

Putting her belongings on the inspection table, Jamie stepped through the metal detector as the guards searched her purse, making sure she wasn’t smuggling anything in. And once she was in the clear with a visitor badge clipped to her shirt, she followed the guard on the other side of the metal detector to the door that lead to the visitation room where little booths were lined up all together, separated by short wooden walls for privacy.

With a tired sigh, she took a seat in an uncomfortable metal folding chair, keeping her purse between her knees as she waited. But it didn’t take long for a guard to enter the room on the other side of the plexiglass, holding onto the crook of her little brother’s elbow to guide him to sit across from her. After the last few years, it never got any easier to see Mikey in that bright orange jumpsuit.

But with a warm smile growing on her face, she watched him sit in the chair across from her, picking up the telephone on the wall as he did the same.

“Michael Benjamin Taylor what the hell happened to your hair?” she smirked into the phone, watching him chuckle as he ran a hand over his head where his hair had been buzzed down.

“Felt like a change,” the newly 28 year old shrugged with his head shyly tipped down. Shaggy hair or not, he was still her sweet little brother, regardless of what mistakes he’d made that landed him in this place.

She remembered it like it was yesterday, getting a call in her office at the flower shop in her hometown. Mikey had gotten caught with a few hard drugs on him, intending to sell them. And when he was caught and arrested, he fought back and broke an officer’s nose. With all those offenses put together, he wouldn’t be seeing the outside world again until he was in his early thirties. Just a few more years. But it was sad to see him follow in their father’s footsteps.

He was always a good kid. But after he graduated high school and was forced to leave his foster home, he started doing what he needed to to survive. That put him in the hands of the wrong people; People who took advantage of his naivety and kind-hearted nature. And to make matters worse, he’d been caught sneaking in drugs when he would go visit their father at the prison in Anamosa. Because, unfortunately, Dennis had become just another person who saw Mikey as a dumb kid who was too good of a person to say no.

Jamie hadn’t spoken to her father ever since.

“You doing anything special for your birthday this year?” the woman asked, leaning her chin into her free hand. It felt silly to ask, as if he had any plans outside of this building.

“My tomato flowers bloomed this morning,” he shrugged, though he had a smile on his face that showed that he was really proud of himself. A few years ago, Jamie had told him to talk with his counselor about getting into one of the more low-key programs they offered. She knew Mikey was overwhelmed with the violence and mind games he was surrounded by, and she could tell when she visited that it had started taking a toll on him. And in the last few years, since he’d taken up gardening, he’d seemed much more calm and much less angry.

Things were still shit on the inside, but it turned out that gardening was helping him a lot. The only thing that would possibly bring him more peace than that was stargazing. But that wasn’t an option around here. Apparently he could hardly even see the sky through the tiny window of his cell.

“Hey, that’s great. You should be proud of yourself. S’not easy creating something out of nothing. Something edible, no less,” Jamie grinned into the phone as he nodded back at her, “Keep at it, Mikey. That must have been great to see on your birthday.”

“Yeah,” he nodded again before sighing into the receiver.

“Before I forget, Dani says happy birthday. And she hopes you’re doing all right,” Jamie spoke quietly into the phone, smiling at the memory from just a few hours ago; Kissing Dani goodbye in the foyer while the kids ate their breakfast in the kitchen, promising that she’d be back in the evening.

“How’s she doing?”

“She’s...as good as she can be, I guess. You remember Eddie?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“He, uh…” she flicked her tongue over her bottom lip and shifted uncomfortably in her seat, “He died last month in an accident.”

Mikey’s eyes widened with shock as his jaw slacked, “Oh, shit.”

“Yeah. But...Dani’s getting by as best she can. I’ve been making the drive back home more often to help out with the kids and stuff.”

“God, I bet the kids are so big now,” her brother shook his head, bringing a hand up to run over his buzzed hair again, “Miles just had a birthday, right?”

Jamie nodded and pulled her wallet out of her purse, unfolding the line of plastic photo slots and holding it up to the plexiglass so he could see the most recent pictures she had of Miles and Flora. “Miles just turned ten on Friday. And Flora’s gonna be six in May.”

“Christ,” he chuckled, unable to believe that it had been that long. He’d only ever met Miles. And that was when Dani had moved back home while Mikey was still in his senior year of high school. And if it weren’t for Dani letting him come over so she could help him with his assignments, he would have never gotten his diploma.

“Can’t believe it’s been that long.”

“I know,” Jamie chuckled, “Miles’ll probably be taller than me by the time he’s thirteen.”

Mikey just smirked and shrugged a shoulder, “Not hard to be taller than you.”

“Fuck off,” she shook her head with a breathy laugh. She ran a hand through the curls on top of her head, wondering how to approach the topic of her and Dani’s relationship. They still had no name for it. A name wasn’t really necessary right now. While Dani was healing, they were simply...enjoying each other's company.

She wasn’t sure what Mikey would think. But she was admittedly worried that he would judge her for trying to date a widowed woman so soon after her husband had died. She didn’t exactly have the time to give him all the details, but if he did have anything to say on the matter, she could at least tell him that as much as she wanted it, it was ultimately Dani’s decision.

“Got something on your mind?” Mikey cocked his head a bit, gazing at her curiously through the smudged barrier between them.

With a sigh, the brunette nodded, averting her eyes as she tried to think of a way to tell him. “We, um...we’re kind of...dating,” she muttered quietly into the phone after clearing her throat, “Me and Dani, I mean.”

She winced as she met his eyes, hoping that he wouldn’t disapprove. He was one of the few people in her life whose opinions she actually valued. She never talked about her feelings for Dani with him before, but she had a hunch that he wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to hear that Jamie had been in love with her since they were teenagers.

“Well…” Mikey’s cheeks puffed out with a strained sigh, “That’s, uh...that’s something, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. But...it’s not like I...made any moves on her or anything. It was more her decision. If you can believe it, I actually tried to prevent it from happening.”

“Why?”

“Cause...it’s hardly been a month since Eddie, and...she’s my best friend, y’know? It could...complicate things,” she shrugged, “Just don’t wanna lose her, I guess. Kinda hard to go back to being just close friends if things go wrong.”

“What makes you think things are gonna go wrong?” Mikey asked, leaning onto his elbows with a furrowed brow.

“You know me, I don’t do relationships,” she shrugged, “And she’s only ever been in the one relationship. And for her, most of what she had with Eddie was fake or forced.”

Mikey nodded slowly, thinking over what his sister was saying. “She makes you happy though?”

Jamie looked up from the scratched countertop, taking in the sincere curiosity in her brother’s eyes. “Yeah,” her voice was barely audible, even through the phone, “Yeah, she does. Always has.”

“Well...in my professional opinion,” he smirked a bit, leaning back in his chair, “If you make each other happy like you say you do…if something were to happen...then you won’t let it ruin things. Your friendship’s something worth fighting for. Even if you’re stubborn as a bloody mule, I know Dani won’t give up that easily.”

“Yeah,” Jamie scoffed, chuckling to herself, “We had a fight the other week and she showed up at my door after a week of me ignoring her calls like a dickhead. Said she wasn’t gonna leave til we fixed everything.”

“Sounds like Dani.”

Nodding her head, Jamie shook her head adoringly at the thought of the blonde, and the sheer determination that drove her every day.

“I mean it, though,” Mikey continued, “Don’t start things off by worrying about what could go wrong. If you prepare for the worst, the worst will happen.”

Her brows knit together with amused confusion as she tilted her head at him, “When did you get so philosophical and shit?”

“Y’learn some things in mandated therapy,” he shrugged, giving her a bit of a crooked smile so similar to her own, “I’m happy for you, though. I know you’ve liked her for a while.”

Jamie scrunched her face up, embarrassed that her little brother knew that she had a crush on her best friend all this time. “Was I that obvious?”

“Obvious to everyone but Dani, I’m pretty sure,” a chuckle bubbled up from his chest before he turned to face the clock on the wall behind him, “Well I’ve got another hour. Tell me all about it.”

“You don’t wanna hear about my love life on your birthday,” Jamie shook her head with brows still creased together.

“Well, I’ve got nothing new to share,” he shrugged his shoulders with a smirk, “Unless you’d like to hear about the massive fart my cell mate let out this morning. Or we could just sit here and stare at each other, making stupid faces…”

The older Taylor sibling just squinted her eyes at him, remaining quiet as her brother leaned back in his chair with a hand resting behind his head.

“The fart was quite impressive actually—“

“Fuck, all right, fine, I’ll tell you. Just...don’t tell anyone,” she muttered, looking down at the bit of frayed fabric on her jeans.

“Who am I gonna tell?” he chuckled, gesturing around to the general location, gently reminding her that he was in prison with a bunch of other men who were stuck there with him. It wasn’t like word could get out about her and Dani. Plus, they were four hours from home. If word was going to spread, it wasn’t going to spread fast like it would back in their sleepy little town.

And with a deep breath, Jamie told him just about everything. She told him about the Halloween party, she told him about not learning that Dani remembered the Halloween party until a few weeks ago. She told him about the fight, the kiss, the pure bliss of that weekend. She told him how they’re taking things slow, despite wanting to rush and make up for lost time, and the hours of phone calls they would fill in the gaps with.

Through all of it, Mikey listened intently, smiling at how happy Jamie seemed for the first time in a long time. If it wasn’t clear through the entire recap Jamie had shared with him, it became obvious when she told him about last weekend; How she’d gotten to spend four long days with Dani and the kids, going shopping for new decor for Dani’s bedroom, rearranging the master bedroom so it felt more like her space, rather than a space she was meant to share with Eddie.

She told him about the guilt that crept into her veins every time she so much as thought about Eddie; and how it was hard to escape the thought of him when she was in his house, helping take care of his kids and kissing his wife after the kids were asleep. And despite the dry ache in her throat from talking for so long, Jamie could have gone on for another few hours if it weren’t for a guard coming around to tell Mikey to wrap it up, and that his visitation time was almost over.

“Sounds like you’re really happy. Looks like it, too,” Mikey sighed into the phone, preparing himself to say goodbye until the next time Jamie came to visit. He knew it was a long drive and that she was really busy. He didn’t blame her for only coming down to see him every few months. But he appreciated that she hadn’t missed a single birthday since he was first incarcerated.

“Thanks, mate. Hope you have a good birthday. I’ll try to come around again for Christmas,” she sighed, tapping on the plexiglass with the tip of her finger as he did the same, meeting her taps from the other side.

“Tell Dani I miss her and that I’m sorry about Eddie?”

“Course,” she nodded, feeling her face start to heat up as tears began to form behind her eyes. Leaving him was never easy, even after all these years. She swallowed the thick lump in her throat and sighed into the phone, mumbling, “Love you, kid,” almost too quietly for him to hear, following it up with one last, “Happy birthday.”

“Thanks…Love you too,” he gave her the smallest hint of a smile and one last tap on the barrier between them before hanging up the phone, leaving her to do the same as she watched him get escorted back through the door on his side of the room.

As she gathered herself and stood up to leave, Jamie tried her hardest to push down the guilt that filled every crevice inside her whenever she came here. Thoughts of “what if”s always banged around inside her head. What if she had been more attentive to Mikey? What if she had insisted on going anywhere child services sent them so they could stay together instead of letting the system split them up? What if she’d tried harder to bring him home when he moved to the city with his troublemaking friends? Mikey was supposed to be working for NASA right now, not wasting precious years of his life in a prison cell.

She considered using the pay phone in the visitation waiting area to call Dani and let her know that she was finished and would be heading back. But she just knew that the second she heard her voice, her resolve would completely crumble and she would end up crying to her right then and there over the phone. And she would much rather just get back home as soon as possible.

So with a heavy heart and a burning throat, Jamie adjusted the strap of her purse on her shoulder as she left the penitentiary, ready to spend what was left of her weekend curled up in bed with her best friend.

Chapter Text

November 1990

Jamie yawned as she adjusted herself against the headboard with her notebook in her lap, trying to get a few things done for work tomorrow. It had been a long day. A long weekend, really. Between Miles’s birthday party yesterday and the eight hour round trip drive to visit Mikey today, Jamie was exhausted.

She’d gotten back into town around seven; a bit too late for dinner, but early enough to give Flora a bath while Dani helped Miles with some last minute homework he’d neglected to finish. And once the kids were settled into their beds and tucked in, Jamie retired to the guest room for the night while Dani took a shower.

The blonde had been embarrassed to admit that she hadn’t quite made it back into the master bedroom yet. And she felt terrible admitting it to Jamie; Especially after Jamie had spent most of her visit helping her rearrange and redecorate the room last weekend after Thanksgiving. But Jamie understood. She knew it wasn’t like a new set of bedsheets and some new curtains were going to magically fix Dani’s problems. It was just a helpful start. And Jamie assured her that she didn’t mind sleeping in the guest bed again. She’d sleep in Wally’s bed as long as Dani was with her.

The sound of the door clicking shut got her attention, making her snap her head up to see Dani already coming towards the bed. Her hair was laying in damp waves over the shoulders of her large white nightshirt that had Garfield on the front. And something about the warm, dim lighting from the bedside lamp made her look practically angelic.

“Hey,” Jamie sent her a smile, trying not to make it obvious that the mere sight of her was making her heart skip a few beats. And it started pounding relentlessly in her chest when she crawled onto the mattress, crossing the short distance until she was settled, straddled across Jamie’s lap.

“Hi,” Dani whispered, bringing a hand up to gently slide Jamie’s reading glasses up the bridge of her nose. Though it was useless, considering they slid right back down when Dani’s lips met hers in what was probably the slowest, most tender kiss they’d shared thus far. “I missed you today,” the blonde mumbled against Jamie’s lips while her hands blindly reached for the notebook she was holding, putting it aside before bringing her hands up to cup her face.

Jamie just breathed a sighing laugh against her lips, using her newly freed hands to wrap her fingers around the curve of her hips. “Missed you, too,” she mumbled into the kiss, trying to keep her hands at her waist to avoid thinking about how high the Garfield nightshirt was riding up Dani’s thighs.

Dani just let out a giggly hum, deepening the kiss as she looped her arms around Jamie’s neck. “Thanks for coming back,” she whispered through shallow breaths and rested her forehead against hers, unable to resist stealing a few more chaste kisses as she tried to catch her breath.

“Told you I would,” Jamie smirked, nipping gently at Dani’s lower lip to pull another giggle from her. And she soon found her reading glasses being gently pulled off by the temples and set aside as Dani dubbed her finance work finished for the night. “You ready for tomorrow?” she sighed, letting her hands slip a bit boldly from her hips to where the hem of Dani’s t-shirt wrinkled against her upper thighs.

“I think so,” the blonde took a deep breath as she nodded, leaning back to rest her full weight on Jamie’s lap, “I think I took enough advantage by taking a month of paid leave.” She swallowed thickly at the fact that she had accepted the money from the woman who ran the childcare center. She knew that they had offered it to her because they cared about her and wanted her to take care of herself and her family, but the guilt still sat in her belly all this time.

“Hey, they were giving you a break. A necessary break. It wasn’t taking advantage,” Jamie shook her head, reaching a hand up to twirl a damp blonde strand around her index finger.

Dani huffed a bit and looked down to where Jamie’s other hand laid against her thigh, taking it into her own to toy idly with her fingers. “I just feel bad, I guess. I mean, yeah, I’ve been working there for almost ten years, but...I dunno, I feel like I’ve already taken advantage of their generosity with the free childcare and all,” she shrugged, running her thumb over the sharp bend of Jamie’s knuckles, “They didn’t have do offer me this on top of everything else they’ve done for me.”

The free childcare, the Christmas bonuses, and all the other little perks were just general employee benefits, but still. They were still nice things that the owners didn’t have to offer.

“No, they didn’t,” Jamie watched as their fingers weaved together, “But they did because you’ve been a great employee for them for years. I mean, how many days did you stay after hours with kids whose parents were late picking them up so your co-workers could go home on time?”

“Too many to count,” she blushed a little. Back in the years when Miles was still young enough to attend the nursery school, she would stay a little later every now and then. Since she already had Miles with her, the only thing she was missing out on was getting dinner started at home. Even in recent years, Miles took the bus from school to the center with the kids who participated in their after school program, so if Dani needed to stay later, she already had the kids with her.

“Exactly,” the brunette nodded, “You’ve been good to them all these years. It’s good that they recognize that they need to be good to you, too. Not all jobs are like that.”

With a silent nod back, Dani just sighed slowly, chewing on the inside of her cheek as she thought about it. “I know...I just feel guilty. Y’know, I never wanted that to be my career. It’s still teaching, but—“

“S’not what you wanted,” Jamie finished for her, quirking her lips into a sympathetic half-smile.

“Yeah. But...they treat me like I’m going to be there forever,” she mumbled, “Like, I feel like I can never quit and move onto something bigger after all the nice things they’ve done for me.”

“Do you feel like they do nice things just to get you to stay?”

“I guess not. I haven’t given them any reason to think I want to leave, so it doesn’t feel like a bribe or anything.”

“Well,” Jamie cleared her throat, “I think they just realize that you deserve it. Yeah, I doubt they want to ever lose you as an employee, considering you’re such a good one. But I’m sure they know that this is a hard time for you. And you’ve got two kids. They run a childcare center, babe, they know you need money to make sure they’re taken care of.”

With a final nod, Dani leaned across to kiss her again; A silent ‘thank you’ for always knowing what to say. “Can I say something stupid?”

“Can’t guarantee that I’ll think it’s stupid, but sure,” Jamie smirked, chuckling low in her throat, sending a gentle vibration into the kisses that were still being planted against her lips.

Dani pulled back enough to meet her eyes, but remained close enough to smell the minty toothpaste on her breath, swallowing thickly as her hands began their nervous fidgeting again. “It hasn’t sunk in that...any of this is real yet...if that makes sense?” she started, “Like...every night when I go to bed, I feel like I’m just gonna wake up next to Eddie again and everything will be back to how it was before he died.”

“Does feel a bit too good to be true,” Jamie mumbled distractedly as Dani held her hands in her lap. But her eyes widened quickly as she began shaking her head, realizing what she’d said, “Shit, I didn’t mean it like that, I just meant that—“

The blonde laughed a little, finding it entertaining to see her best friend so flustered. Jamie rarely lost her cool, so she couldn’t help but find it moderately amusing to see the embarrassed flush on her face as she attempted to ramble out an explanation.

“Jamie,” she started, dropping her hands in her lap so she could cup the sides of her face, running a thumb pad against her lips to stop her from stammering out an apology, “I know what you meant.” She felt Jamie’s slow breath of relief against her chin, curling her own lips into a reassuring smile as her thumbs moved back to graze against the line of her jaw. “And you’re right. That’s how it feels,” she sighed, lowering her hands to her shoulders once Jamie had relaxed a bit.

She loved Edmund, she genuinely did. He’d always been her best friend, even after Jamie moved in next door. But she loved him in a way that wasn’t right for a marriage. It wasn’t fair to either of them to keep stringing it along as if they were a perfectly happy couple. She wasn’t attracted to him, and he deserved to find someone who would appreciate him more as a husband, not just as a friend.

And Dani was still working through the guilt of knowing that she was going to be able to move on without him. This wasn’t a divorce. He died. And she still let the guilt take over her entire being at times. Some nights when she was alone here in the guest room, she slept fitfully, plagued by nightmares that would leave her too terrified to even open her eyes; not wanting to risk seeing him in the room, standing and watching her with blinding headlights shining in the lenses of his glasses.

And she’d been so focused on fighting off the fear and nightmares that she hadn’t told her therapist about Jamie yet. When she came up in conversation, Dani always spoke of her as a friend; someone who simply came around to help out, like a good friend would. And she felt guilty about that too. She didn’t want to be ashamed of how she felt about Jamie. Especially when she knew that Jamie would never be ashamed of how she felt about her.

“Can I ask you something stupid, now?” the thick, raspy accent brought her out of her racing thoughts as she looked up to meet her eyes, seeing the playfulness behind the green to match her joking tone. And after a quiet hum of approval, Jamie took in a deep breath.

“When did you know? That you...y’know...liked me?” Jamie couldn’t help but wince at how juvenile the question sounded. Here they were, thirty years old, and it felt like they were in seventh grade again, gossiping in a pillow fort about who liked who at school.

But Dani was quiet, unsure of how to respond, but she adjusted her weight on Jamie’s lap as she thought about it; too comfortable to move off of her just yet. “I guess…” she trailed off, biting her lip as she tried to remember an exact moment.

“I don’t know, really. I never actually thought about it. Y’know, I just...I always liked you. I know that’s a cop-out answer, but…I guess I knew that I liked you after I heard the rumors about you and...and after you told me that you really did like girls,” she winced a bit, not liking to bring up that rough part of Jamie’s life. But the brunette remained neutral, keeping her head attentively tilted a bit to the side.

“I think that I forgot it was an option,” she continued, “Like...you didn’t hear much about it back then. And around here, it wasn’t exactly something that people were okay with. And then when you told me...it was like something clicked. Like I remembered that being gay was possible, as bad as that sounds.”

Despite her upbringing, Dani had always been an accepting person. She never judged or disliked anyone unless she gave them a legitimate reason to. She wasn’t like her mother who seemed to look for any reason to bad mouth other people.

Dani knew what it was like to be judged for something she couldn’t control. She couldn’t help that her dad died, leaving her in a single-parent household. So what gave her the right to judge other people for things that were out of their control, like their sexuality or the color of their skin? And she made sure to raise Miles and Flora the same way.

“But I always liked you before that. I guess I just...wasn’t aware of it,” she kept talking, bringing her palms to the sharp line of her jaw again, swiping her thumbs across Jamie’s lightly freckled skin, “The line between friendship and romance is just really blurry with you. And...I think that’s where I got confused with Eddie. I kept waiting for that transition between the two with him and it never came. It just sucked, cause for the longest time, I thought he was my only option, even though he wasn’t my preference.”

Jamie nodded as Dani’s warm hands trailed from her jaw to her neck, shoulders, and down her arms until their fingers were wound together again. “Makes sense,” she mumbled, bringing their hands up to place a few slow kisses to her pale knuckles.

“What about you?” the blonde’s head cocked to the side, curious, “Did you know when you started to like me?”

Jamie just breathed a quiet chuckle, placing their hands back between them where her legs were trapped between Dani’s. “Well, if I’m honest, I didn’t even wanna be your friend at first. But you’re so damn pushy I had no choice,” she smirked with a shrug, laughing out loud when Dani playfully punched her shoulder.

“But after...I dunno, I guess my answer’s the same. I always liked you. Can’t really point out a specific time when it started. But I guess I became more aware of it when we were fourteen after you and Eddie started dating.”

“Jealous?” Dani smirked a little, but it grew into a full-fledged smile when Jamie rolled her eyes.

“Not that I’d ever admit it back then, but yeah. Insanely,” she nodded through her quiet laughter, “Think that’s when I started really understanding my sexuality and all that. Never really realized how much I wanted to be the one to kiss you and hold your hand until I saw him get to do it, y’know?”

Dani nodded and leaned in to kiss her again, moving her lips slowly as she pressed closer. Her knees dug into the mattress on either side of Jamie’s hips as she dragged her tongue along her bottom lip, humming appreciatively when it met with hers.

It still hurt knowing that they had lost so many years together. But Jamie was always right when she spoke of how there was no way of knowing whether things would have truly worked out between them if they had admitted their feelings any earlier. Especially while they were still in high school. They both had some growing up to do.

Dani was grateful to have her now, of course, even under the difficult circumstances. There was no one else she would rather have by her side. Jamie had always been there, even when she felt like she didn’t deserve her.

And the best part was that being with Jamie felt so effortless. Since they were kids, she never really had to try. It just came naturally. And she loved that being with her like this felt no different. The shift from friends to more was hardly a task. Just like everything else, it was second nature; Like they were meant to be doing it all along.

June 1973

“Jaaaamie.”

The newly thirteen year old scrunched up her face, groaning as she turned over in her bed. With her eyes still closed, she reached behind her head to pull the pillow over her ears. Dani was her best friend, but she knew by now that when she heard her name sing-songed like that first thing in the morning, it meant that Dani had something planned. Something that involved her getting up earlier than necessary.

“Come on, sleepyhead, you can’t sleep your whole birthday away,” Dani ripped the pillow away with a laugh, “I got you a present.”

“Can’t it wait til the sun comes up?” Jamie grumbled, curling into herself when Dani ripped the covers away too.

“The sun’s been up for hours,” the blonde rolled her eyes and crawled onto Jamie’s bed, sitting with her legs crossed as she held the small gift in her lap.

With a groan, Jamie rolled onto her back to rub her tired eyes before sitting up, running a hand through her unruly hair. “After I open it, can I go back to sleep?” she yawned, though she couldn’t help but smile a bit at the excited look on Dani’s face. Her smile was contagious.

“Of course not,” she giggled, handing the gift over and watching as Jamie inspected it, “Open the card first, though.”

Jamie nodded her head and opened the homemade card, chuckling at the simple drawing of both their heads on the cover underneath where Dani had written HAPPY BIRTHDAY! in all capital letters. Her own head was surrounded by spirals of brown crayon while Dani’s was topped with long waves of yellow. Opening it up, she smiled at the sight of curly purple letters that covered the paper.

Jamie,

I’m so glad that you moved in next door and we became best friends. I’ve never met anyone like you before. I hope we stay best friends forever.

Happy 13th birthday!

Love always,
Dani

“Thanks, Poppins,” Jamie smiled as she looked up from the card, standing it up on her nightstand before getting to work on opening the little package. The twelve year old across from her pulled her lip between her teeth as she watched Jamie tear into the wrapping paper and pop open the small velvet box underneath.

“Is this a mood ring?” Jamie’s eyebrows raised a bit on her forehead as a smile crept onto her face.

“I remembered you said you wanted one,” Dani’s shoulders shrugged nervously; Though she wasn’t sure why, considering Jamie already seemed to really like what she’d gotten for her, “Do you like it?”

The brunette was quiet as she plucked the ring out of the box and slid it onto her index finger, watching in awe as the colors began to shift in the orb that sat on top of the gold band. “Thank you,” she mumbled quietly, a bit taken back by the fact that Dani had remembered something so minuscule that she’d said. Jamie, herself, didn’t even remember when she mentioned wanting one.

“You’re welcome,” Dani smiled, shifting onto her knees to reach over for the box, pulling out the slip of paper that came with the ring, “And look, all the colors mean something different.” She moved to sit beside Jamie, flush against her side so they could both read the folded up paper, “What color is it turning?”

Swallowing thickly, Jamie glanced down at the ring, feeling heat tickling into her cheeks when the strawberry scent of Dani’s shampoo wafted towards her nose. “Kinda red...mostly black,” she mumbled quietly, hoping that Dani couldn’t hear her heart thumping in her chest.

“Ummm...black means you’re stressed. And red means you’re nervous,” Dani read curiously off the paper before looking over at the ring, “Are you nervous? Or stressed?”

“No,” Jamie shook her head quickly and cleared her throat before getting up to get some clothes from her closet, needing to move away from Dani before the blonde could hear how fast her heart was suddenly beating. “Maybe it’s just...cycling through the colors to start off with. Y’know, getting used to my body temperature or something.”

“Maybe,” Dani peered down at the paper, oblivious to Jamie’s sudden apprehension, “I hope it’s not broken.”

Jamie just hummed in agreement, looking down at the ring again, watching it remain a steady mixture of black and red. Maybe wanting one of these wasn’t the best idea since it would put her whole range of emotions on display for the world to see. She didn’t even know why she was (apparently) stressed and nervous, but the mood ring picked up on it pretty quickly.

“So what’dya wanna do today?” Dani asked from behind her, setting the paper to the side.

“I’ve got nothing planned aside from avoiding thirteen wedgies from Denny,” Jamie rolled her eyes at the mention of her older brother’s birthday tradition, “Then dinner and cake when Mum and Dad get home from work.”

“Well, I’ve got eight dollars saved up from my allowance. What do you wanna do?”

“Don’t want you to spend your money on me, that’s for sure. You already got me the ring,” she chuckled, feeling her nerves start to fade as she pulled a red and yellow striped t-shirt from her closet as well as some long denim shorts.

“Come on, it’s your birthday! Have you ever been to the roller disco?” Dani asked, “We could ride our bikes over there! Eight dollars will cover both our skates. And we can split some popcorn and a soda.”

Jamie turned around with her clothes for the day laid out over her arm. She’d never been to the roller disco before, but she’d always wanted to. She just hated to have Dani pay for her. But she could just save up over the summer so she could do something nice for her birthday in September. It was only fair.

“Fine. But you can’t laugh at me if I fall over.”

December 1990

Jamie leaned against her desk, chuckling at the story Dani was telling her over the phone. Apparently Flora had a little crush on a new boy from Michigan who just joined her kindergarten class.

”She told me she wants to buy him roses from the flower shop and give them to him for Christmas,” she could hear Dani’s smile through the phone. She could just picture her leaning against the front desk at the childcare center, shaking her head. Apparently her class was out on the playground right now, tiring themselves out for nap time.

“Tell her to get him some purple lilacs. Perfect flowers for a first love,” Jamie chuckled, tapping her pen against her desk calendar.

”Don’t encourage this, she’s five!”

“Uh, I do recall you telling me that you had your first kiss at eight,” Jamie challenged with a smirk, “Just three years older than she is.”

”That’s different,” the blonde huffed into her ear just before the door to her office opened slowly.

“Line two, Jamie,” Amanda, Jamie’s assistant, poked her head into the room, smiling when Jamie gave her a thumbs up.

“Thanks,” she smiled at her as she ducked back out before looking at the blinking red light on the cradle of her desk phone, “I’ve gotta let you go, baby, but I’ll talk to you tonight?” She always waited for Dani to call, knowing too well that the kids would wake up if Jamie called the house after hours.

”Nine-thirty okay?”

“Always is. Have a good day, give the kids a kiss for me, yeah?” she grinned into the phone, hearing Dani’s quiet confirmation that she would; followed by a reluctant goodbye.

After Dani hung up, Jamie clicked the button below the blinking red light, bringing the phone back between her ear and shoulder as she typed a few details into her computer. “Jamie Taylor,” she answered, trying to focus on both tasks at once.

”Hello, Jamie, it’s Henry,” the prim and proper voice of her accountant came through the line, ”I just spoke with the contractor up in Burlington about the site build and everything’s been approved for your account. He should be in contact with you and Ms. Grose about your plans sometime within the week, likely tomorrow; Once he gets everything organized on his end.”

Jamie felt her fingers go a bit numb as her heart began to beat rapidly in her chest. She wasn’t sure if she would get approved at first. She had gone through several contractors and multiple options for build sites. It had taken longer than she’d anticipated, to a point that she was starting to think that she should just take up another vacant space in Burlington rather than building her own stand-alone store.

”Jamie?”

“Yeah, I’m here, sorry. Just, uh...processing,” she furrowed her brows and leaned her head into her hand, unable to focus on the numbers she was inputting into the computer anymore, “He really approved it?”

”It took a bit of convincing, what with the nursery and greenhouse additions you wanted on the site, but yes,” Henry chuckled in her ear, ”With the winter season, he won’t be able to break ground until spring, so you have time to make any necessary changes or plans, as long as you run them by him, of course.”

“Right.”

”And I do believe he mentioned wanting to meet with you and Ms. Grose at his office in Burlington as soon as possible to go over the paperwork, show you the site, all that.”

Jamie’s heart sank a bit in her chest as she thought about what she was going to tell Dani. As far as she knew, a business trip to Vermont wasn’t going to get in the way of their weekend. But eventually, it was going to get in the way of everything. There was no way that Jamie could travel to her hometown every weekend once she made her temporary relocation to New England. Depending on how long she was there, there was a good chance that she would only get to see Dani and the kids every few weeks.

It was nothing new. Before Eddie died, that’s how often Jamie was coming home from the city anyway. But that was when they were living separate lives; being individuals. There was still no label on what they were now. It was as casual as an exclusive relationship with no label could be. They were together, she knew that much.

“Congratulations, Jamie. I know you’ve been wanting this for a long time,” she heard Henry say gently, genuinely happy for her that her dreams were coming true.

He didn’t know about Dani, but he was right. Her dreams were coming true. She was getting the two things she wanted more than anything. The only problem was that now, it was starting to seem like there was no way that the two things she wanted most could coexist.

Chapter Text

December 1990

Pulling up on the edge of the sidewalk that Saturday morning, Jamie parked her truck by Dani’s mailbox. For the first time in a while, she wasn’t practically jumping out the door and bounding up to the house with an embarrassing amount of enthusiasm. No, she was a little too nervous this time around.

She gripped hard onto the steering wheel, turning her knuckles white as she thought about what to say to Dani. It had been bothering her for days since she got that call from Henry. She was excited for this new location. So excited, she couldn’t even put it into words. This was huge for her. And over the last few days of thinking, she’d decided that she was going to do this. Regardless of what anyone (even Dani) thought, she was going.

She was willing to try making things work between them. They could make things work. And if Dani was willing to try, next week would be like a trial run for how things might be in the near-future.

One of the issues, however, was that neither of them had ever been in a long distance relationship before. Oddly enough, Dani had more experience with long distance romance than Jamie did. Every summer when they were kids, she would write letters back and forth with Eddie while he was away at scout camp for a few weeks. And after Miles was born, she managed to make things work with him from home for a semester while he was still staying on campus.

Jamie didn’t do relationships at all, let alone long distance ones. And the most distance between her and one of her repeated hookups was just a few dozen miles between the city and a neighboring suburb. But she knew how she felt about Dani, and she was willing to work as hard as she had to to make it work.

Now she just had to tell her.

With a deep breath, she grabbed her overnight bag from the passenger seat. Her suitcase for Vermont was on the floor below the seat so she could head straight to the airport Monday morning. She hated that she only had two nights here with Dani and the kids versus the three she normally had lately; But she’d been too busy packing and making final arrangements for her trip to drive into town yesterday after work like she typically would.

She slung the backpack over her shoulder and stepped out into the snow-covered grass that surrounded the sidewalk, using her free hand to drag the empty trash bin up the driveway to put it back in the garage. One less thing for Dani or Miles to do later. Judy’s silver minivan sat at the top of the hill in front of the garage; Not unusual, but not very common either. It would be nice to see her, though.

After dropping the trash bin in the garage, the brunette wiped her boots on the mat that lead to the kitchen before removing them and letting herself in.

“Hello?” she called out into the empty kitchen, seeing the signs of a messy waffle breakfast still on the table as she removed her coat and scarf.

There was no answer, but the typical Saturday morning commotion could be heard from upstairs. She knew Flora had ballet on Saturday mornings and Miles had hockey right after. And especially lately, getting both the kids ready in the morning was proving to be quite a task. Between getting Flora to sit still so her hair could be pulled into a tight bun and trying to stop Miles from breaking anything with his hockey stick, it was hard enough for two adults to manage. Jamie couldn’t imagine how Dani could make it work on her own. But thankfully Judy and Karen were both active participants when it came to helping with the kids.

Dropping her bag by the door, Jamie started cleaning up the plates that were left on the table, scraping leftover waffle pieces into the trash before placing them in the sink with the silverware.

“Aunt Jamie!” Flora came running into the room, sliding on the hardwood in her white ballet tights until she was close enough to jump into Jamie’s arms.

The brunette just chuckled and lifted her into a hug, being careful not to mess up the perfect bun that topped her head. “Hey, sprout. You excited for ballet today?” she smiled, setting the five year old down to sit on the edge of the counter while she rinsed off the dishes.

“Mmhm!” she nodded, swinging her legs, “Our recital is in two weeks! We’re dancing to songs from The Nutcracker!”

“Well, that’s exciting, isn’t it?” Jamie grinned, scrubbing maple syrup off the plates under the faucet, “Think I can come to your recital?”

“Of course,” Flora nodded again with a grin full of baby teeth, “Mummy will be there! And Miles, and Grandma. Nana and Papa will be there too!”

Jamie smiled to herself as she dried her hands on a dish towel, finding it amusing that Flora seemed to have forgotten that she had attended just about every recital she’d had since she was three.

“There she is,” Judy came into the kitchen with a big smile, coming over to Jamie with her arms wide open for a hug, “How have you been, sweet girl?”

“Been all right. Just working,” she grinned, grateful that Judy gave such long hugs so the woman wouldn’t see her blushing at the little term of endearment. Since they were kids, no matter how old they got, she and Dani had both been called variations of ‘sweet girl’, ‘sweet thing’, anything Judy’s maternal mind could come up with. They were the daughters she never had, so Jamie didn’t mind; Especially since Judy was the mother she always wanted. But it still didn’t stop her face from flushing at just how happy it still made her after all these years

Judy pulled back and squeezed her shoulders, looking at Jamie as if she hadn’t seen her in years, just like she always did; Even though they’d just seen each other for Thanksgiving two weeks ago. “Everything’s going well, I hope?”

“Yeah,” she nodded, “Yeah, really well, actually.”

“That’s amazing, sweetheart,” the auburn-haired woman squeezed her shoulders again over her dark blue flannel before turning to Flora and helping her down to her feet, “Go put your shoes on, honey, we’re gonna head out as soon as Miles is ready to go.”

“Lost his pads again?” Jamie snorted as Flora ran out of the room.

“You know him too well,” Judy leaned against the opposite counter, sipping at what was left over from her morning coffee, “I don’t know how Danielle is doing this all on her own. I’m impressed, but...I just hope she doesn’t burn herself out trying to be Supermom, y’know?”

Jamie just nodded her head and twiddled her thumbs as she bit the inside of her cheek. “Y’know, Judy, she uh…” she started, trying to think of how to piece together the words in her head without sounding rude, “She actually prefers being called Dani…”

Judy just knit her brows together in confusion, tilting her head a bit as she lowered her coffee cup to the marble countertop.

At her silence, however, Jamie quickly shook her head and straightened her posture, awkwardly shifting her socked feet against the hardwood. “That’s...that’s not my place, I’m sorry, I just—“

“No, sweetheart, it’s all right. I just thought that was your own special nickname for her. No one’s called her that since her father. I didn’t know it was what she preferred,” Judy stepped a bit closer to reassure Jamie with a gentle hand on her arm.

“Yeah,” the younger woman breathed a bit of a nervous laugh, grateful that Judy was always so understanding. It really wasn’t her place. But she knew Dani, and she would probably let people keep calling her ‘Danielle’ until the day she died, even though she hated it. “I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t be sorry. I’m glad you told me,” Judy squeezed her shoulder affectionately, turning her head as the noise of Miles and Dani coming down the stairs trickled into the kitchen.

“Gloves and hats on please,” Dani’s voice could be heard at the bottom of the stairs before the two women made their way to the foyer.

Judy immediately went to help Miles into his snow boots as Jamie hung back by the kitchen doorway, taking in how comfortable Dani looked. In her black stirrup leggings, red, oversized Iowa State Cyclones crew neck and her hair thrown up in a messy ponytail, she looked like she could single-handedly rid Jamie of any of the chill left in her bones from the freezing weather outside.

“Hey! You’re here,” the blonde smiled widely when she caught sight of Jamie, practically jumping off the bottom step of the staircase to greet her with a tight hug. But before Jamie could respond with anything besides a hug in return, Dani was turning around and crouching down to say goodbye to her kids. “Have fun and be good for Nana, okay? I’ll see you when you get back,” she smiled as she pressed kisses to their cheeks, wrapping her arms around them both.

Jamie bid them both goodbye as well (a hello and goodbye for Miles), waving them off as Judy slid her purse strap over her shoulder by the door.

“You girls have fun,” the older woman smiled, “Dani, I might take them out for h-o-t c-o-c-o-a after lunch, if that’s okay.”

Flora’s face scrunched up in confusion as she looked between the adults, “What’s that spell?”

“Hot cocoa,” Miles deadpanned with his nose buried in a comic book.

That was all it took for Flora to throw her arms around Judy’s waist with her chin against her coat, begging her to take them to King Cocoa. Dani just chuckled, muttering that it was fine as long as they behaved. And after thanking her mother-in-law for taking the kids for the day, she and Jamie were left alone in the foyer, leaning against opposite sides of the arched kitchen doorway.

“She called me ‘Dani’,” the blonde bit her lip and looked down at her feet, a bit stunned.

“I heard,” Jamie nodded her head, pursing her lips into a tight line, “Is that...okay?”

It was nice to see the smile on Dani’s face when she picked her head up with a nod. It was the kind of blushing smile she always got when someone did something nice for her, or gave her an unexpected compliment. “Yeah,” she tucked loose blonde strands behind her ear as she finally looked up to catch Jamie’s eyes, pushing herself off the wall to meet her on the other side of the entryway, “Can’t help but feel like you had something to do with it, though.”

The smile Jamie was trying to hide crept higher onto her cheeks, and she shrugged her shoulders just as Dani’s hands came up to rest over them. “What makes you think that?” she asked quietly, looping her arms around Dani’s waist until her hands were linked behind her back.

“Just a hunch,” her nose scrunched up in a playful manner just before her lips met Jamie’s, moving against them; unhurried. Her hands squeezed against her shoulders, clutching the flannel material in a tight grip as she pulled away slowly. “Hi,” she breathed, pulling back enough to meet the deep green of Jamie’s eyes.

“Hi, yourself,” the brunette chuckled, kissing her once more before they separated, “What’ve you got planned for these next few hours?”

Dani just let out a light laugh and brushed loose hair from her face again. “Would you hate me if I said I wanted to go back to bed for a little bit? I’m exhausted.”

“Now, why would I hate you for that?”

“Cause we finally have some time alone and I’m too tired to even stand.”

“Well, lucky for you, I’m quite tired, myself,” Jamie smirked, pressing a kiss to the worried crease between her eyebrows, “Go on upstairs, Poppins, I’m gonna finish cleaning up the kitchen and I’ll be right up.”

“Crap, I forgot. You don’t have to do all that, I can get it,” she sighed, shaking her head. But Jamie took her by the elbow to stop her from disappearing into the kitchen.

“Hey, I got it. Go upstairs, I’ll just be two minutes,” she shook her head with a reassuring smile, turning her back towards the staircase.

Dani just huffed and thanked her quietly, calling for Wally to come with her upstairs before Jamie went back to the kitchen, grabbing her backpack once she was done cleaning up the rest of the mess from their breakfast this morning.

Climbing the curved staircase, she sighed when she reached the second floor; But stopped in her tracks when she saw Dani leaning her back against the door to the master bedroom with Wally at her feet. “You all right?” she asked, stepping closer to where Dani seemed lost in her own thoughts.

“Yeah,” she nodded in return, biting her bottom lip as she anxiously chipped at her nail polish, “Just thought maybe we could...try sleeping in here? If that’s okay?”

Jamie was a bit surprised. She’d been expecting to drop her things in the guest room like she had been over the last few weeks. But she nodded her head, blinking her eyes as she did so. “Yeah. Yeah, of course. As long as...you’re okay with it,” she muttered, plastering a warm smile on her face.

With a nod and a deep breath, Dani turned the knob to open the door, leading Jamie (and Wally) into the master bedroom that had, for the most part, gone unused since Eddie died. Aside from using the bathroom and the closet, Dani hardly found a reason to set foot into her and Eddie’s bedroom anymore. Jamie helped her rearrange and redecorate two weeks ago, but she still couldn’t find the courage to sleep in there, even if she had company. But she was ready to try now. Giving it a trial run with a nap in the daylight seemed like a better idea than trying to sleep a full night.

“Thank you,” Dani hummed and sat on the edge of the pristinely made bed, running her fingers over the new floral comforter as Jamie dropped her bag by the dresser. Wally had already made himself comfortable at the foot of the bed, curling into a ball with an audible, content sigh.

Jamie, approaching the bed slowly, circled her finger along the palm of her opposite hand. She didn’t expect it to be this uncomfortable. But she knew that even if it looked a little different, this was still the room that Dani shared with Eddie. This was the space they’d built together and specifically chosen as their bedroom, once upon a time. Maybe years ago, she would have jumped up onto the mattress and made herself comfortable under the covers but this was different. It felt almost disrespectful in a way, considering she was basically dating Eddie’s wife. Even if his spirit was lurking around here somewhere, she didn’t want him, or anyone else, to think that she was trying to take his place.

She watched as Dani eased herself down against the mattress, laying her head against the pillow like it would bite her if she moved too fast. But seeing her begin to relax made the tension in Jamie’s mind start to dwindle as well.

“Not so bad, right?” The brunette gave her a bit of a grin, crouching down at the edge of the bed so she was level with Dani’s eyes. And her smile only grew when pale fingers reached out for hers, wrapping around them with purpose.

“I told Nancy,” Dani mumbled, staring at their laced fingers.

“About the room?”

Dani shook her head, raising her eyes to meet Jamie’s. And Jamie couldn’t miss the way the bright blue shade of her irises seemed to dim with apprehension.

“About...you...and me,” she lowered her voice as if someone would hear her if she spoke too loud.

Jamie let out a quiet, “oh.” She wasn’t disappointed or upset; Just surprised that Dani had worked up the courage to tell someone. But she knew that there was the safety of confidentiality backing her decision of telling her therapist. “What’d she have to say about it?” she asked, swallowing thickly. She wanted what was best for Dani, so she was prepared to hear all about how her therapist thought she was moving too fast into something new.

“She was surprised. Maybe overwhelmed, considering how much I unloaded on her in an hour,” Dani chuckled a little, “But she said it was good that we’re taking things slow, even if sometimes it seems...too slow.”

“She knows I’m not some random woman you picked up in the grocery store, right?” Jamie smirked, laying her chin on her arm, letting her lips curl up a little higher at the sound of Dani’s laugh.

“She knows that, yeah,” she giggled quietly, “I’ve brought your name up at least once a session since I started, so she knows that you’ve been an important part of my life for a while.”

The brunette nodded, leaning in the short distance to pepper kisses along Dani’s knuckles. “Proud of you for telling her,” she murmured; Warm breath meeting pale skin. And before she knew it, Dani’s hand was untangling from hers, coming up to rest at the line of her jaw instead as soft, pink lips met with her own.

Jamie smiled into the slow kiss when Dani released an airy sigh. Just about every time their lips met, Dani seemed so relieved; Like each kiss was the first, after a lifetime of waiting for it. Warm, slim fingers stroked at her jaw before trailing down to her shoulder, clutching tightly to the flannel fabric with a subtle pull to invite her up onto the bed. And Jamie accepted the invitation without any second thoughts.

Climbing over Dani, Jamie landed on her side, rolling the blonde over with her as her own raspy chuckle met with girlish giggles between them. But the laughter faded shortly. Fingers tangled into Jamie’s curls as hands crept under the hem of Dani’s sweatshirt, finding the warm skin of her sides.

Jamie pulled back breathlessly as a leg covered in skin-tight black cotton came up to hook around hers. Regardless of how far Dani was looking to take things, there was only so far Jamie would go; Especially in this room, and in this bed with Wally dozing at their feet.

“I’ve, uh...got something to tell you, too,” she hummed, running her tongue along her bottom lip.

Dani just nodded, raking a few curly strands back from Jamie’s forehead as she did. “Everything okay?” she breathed, letting her hand linger in the mane of brown coils.

Nodding back, Jamie glanced down between them, suddenly distracted by the faded Cyclones mascot on Dani’s red sweatshirt. “Yeah, um…” she started, feeling goosebumps rise up against her hand that was still laid against the skin of Dani’s side, “I’m, uh...I’m going to Vermont...for a few days next week. The store got approved by the contractor and the city…”

The fingers that were massaging her scalp stilled as Dani took in the news. And slowly, they were removed from her hair entirely. Instead, her hand trailed down past her shoulder until they were resting over the undone buttons towards the top of Jamie’s blue flannel shirt; swirling her thumb distractedly over the buttons.

“Please say something,” Jamie mumbled, swiping her thumb over Dani’s skin.

But the blonde was quiet, clearly thinking about what to say. If her thoughts were anywhere near what Jamie’s had been like over the last few days, she was probably battling with different thoughts that made it impossible for her to settle on one solid feeling.

“That’s...that’s amazing, Jay,” she whispered, toying with the pilled fabric under her fingers, “You must be so excited.”

“I am,” she nodded and pulled her hand out from under her sweater so she could tuck wispy strands of blonde back instead, letting her fingers linger around the shell of her ear, “S’just for a few days for now—“

Dani shook her head as a nervous chuckle came from her lips and heat seeped into her cheeks, “No, Jamie it’s...you don’t have to explain it or justify it to me, I mean it’s your company. You’ve been working towards this for forever. And I’m so…so happy for you. It’s just—“

“I know,” Jamie stroked her thumb along her jawline, feeling the nervous trembling under her fingers, “I get it. Means things are gonna start...changing.”

Dani nodded, leaning into the palm of her hand, “I’m happy for you, though Jay, I really am. I don’t want you to think that I’m not just cause I’m—“

“Dani…I understand,” she managed a smile. She knew Dani was happy for her. Whether they were together or just friends like always, she knew that Dani would especially worry about her being so far away from home.

As much as the blonde always encouraged Jamie to branch out and go to bigger and better places than Iowa, she still harbored that worry that any good friend would. Dani had always been very protective of her. It was hard to be protective when she wasn’t nearby. And Jamie worried about her just as much, even though Dani was always loved and taken care of.

July 1973

“And those are my cousins, Steve, Shirley, Theo, Luke, and Nell. Luke and Nellie are twins about our age,” Dani pointed to each child in the photo album that was splayed out across her and Jamie’s laps. They were sipping pink lemonade on Dani’s front porch steps as she explained her extended family to Jamie, since she was leaving to stay with them tomorrow.

“She looks just like you. Just with brown hair instead of blonde,” Jamie pointed to where Nell was standing with a big smile at the end of the lineup. The five of them looked like a mini Von Trapp family, lined up from tallest to shortest, which also happened to be oldest to youngest.

“Yeah, I guess we both take after my grandma,” the blonde smiled, “Aunt Liv says we both look just like her when she was our age. There should be an old picture of her in here somewhere…”

Jamie sighed to herself as she stared down at the photos as Dani turned the pages. The Crain family seemed nice enough in photos. But she knew that photos only showed you what people wanted you to see. Especially the photos that were proudly displayed in photo albums.

“They’re nice...right? I mean, like...they’re good people?” she asked hesitantly, wincing at the uncertainty of her own words. But Dani would be all the way near Boston. If she was hurt or scared, Jamie wouldn’t be able to help like she would if Dani were here.

“Oh, yeah, they’re the best. I used to hide whenever it was time for my mom and I to go home. They move around Massachusetts a lot, fixing up really cool old houses. It always felt like...I dunno, like a fairytale compared to here.”

Nodding, Jamie fiddled with her mood ring, watching the steady flow of red and black in the orb. The color usually remained black. Even when she didn’t think she was stressed, it was black. Only when Dani was around, did the red begin to creep in. Sometimes it would turn a shade of orange, meaning she was apparently unsettled. But in the month and a half she’d had it, she’d yet to see it turn any of the other colors.

“Gonna miss you,” she mumbled, not looking up from the ring so Dani couldn’t see the blush creep onto her cheeks, “Dunno what I’m gonna do without you for two whole weeks.”

Dani smiled and shifted closer to her best friend, leaning her head on her shoulder. “It’ll fly by. Maybe you can have a camp out with Mikey orrr...have Denny take you guys to the pool...Clean your room, maybe?” she smirked, laughing out loud when Jamie snorted at her last suggestion.

“Very funny,” Jamie chuckled, shaking her head, spinning her mood ring around over the half of the album in her lap, “You gonna be all right with your mum, though? Can’t imagine being trapped in a car with her for three days.”

“I’ll be okay, Jamie, I promise,” the blonde picked her head up and looked at the side of her face, “I’ll write to you. And I’ll ask Aunt Liv if I can call you when I get there. I’ll be back before you know it.”

The older girl turned to meet her eyes, squinting a bit in the hazy sunlight of the early summer afternoon. “Well good,” she nodded curtly, taking a nervous, chuckling breath in.

“Who knows? Maybe in two weeks, I’ll come back and you’ll have a brand new best friend,” Dani gave her a smug grin, gently elbowing her side.

“Think there’s a better chance of me launching Mikey to the fucking moon in a homemade rocket, Poppins.”

December 1990

Jamie bid Hannah goodnight after dropping her at her hotel room down the hall from her own. They were finally winding down after a long day of traveling. Between winter weather and the typical delays that came with holiday travel, they’d gotten to Burlington much later than expected. Not to mention with the time difference, they’d lost an hour of productivity time.

She’d made sure to call Dani from a pay phone when they got to the Burlington airport, just letting her know that they’d landed safely. The woman back home sounded relieved to hear from her, but still as solemn as she seemed this morning when they said goodbye. But she’d asked Jamie to call her again at 9:30 as usual, telling her that she’d wait by the phone so the ring didn’t wake up the kids.

And now, after getting dinner and celebratory drinks with Hannah, Jamie leaned back against the hotel pillows and watched the alarm clock on the nightstand change from 10:28 to 10:29, wondering if Dani was waiting by the phone like she said she would be.

Jamie didn’t believe in a lot, but if there was one thing she did believe in, it was the strength of their relationship, regardless of what kind of relationship it was. This was going to be hard when the time came for her to relocate here to New England; Harder than it already was now on her first night. But she and Dani had been put through the ringer enough times to make anything work. A couple hundred miles of distance was nothing. Jamie had a memory with Dani for each mile that came between them, reminding her that she was worth fighting for.

She let out a nervous puff of air when the clock turned to 10:30. She knew that she was willing to make this work. But she couldn’t help but worry that Dani didn’t feel the same way. Even after a whole weekend of Dani assuring her that she was just as determined to see this relationship through. Things were always easier said than done; And Dani had enough on her plate lately. Maybe something like this would be too much.

Picking up the phone, she sighed into the receiver as she dialed out, listening to the brief ringing before Dani’s quiet, crackly voice met her ear.

”Hello?”

“Hey, you,” the brunette grinned at the sound of her voice.

”Hi,” Dani greeted her with an airy breath. Thankfully, Jamie could hear the smile in her tone, ”How’s Vermont?”

Glancing out her window at the gently falling snow, Jamie just let out a quiet, chuckling sigh; shaking her head, “It’s...unreal.”

”Just like White Christmas?”

“Better, if you can believe it. The snow is so different from back home. It’s like...it’s delicate, almost. Doesn’t make you feel like you’re gonna get stuck in it if you stand in one place for too long. And they’ve got the downtown area all decorated for Christmas, and there’s a huge tree and…God, baby, you’d love it here. I wish you could see it.”

“Sounds amazing. Take lots of pictures for me?”

Jamie nodded her head, though Dani couldn’t see it. “Of course,” she smiled a bit, laying down against the pillows, “How are things there? I miss anything in the last few hours?”

”Same old Iowa,” Dani muttered quietly, ”Wally nearly knocked over the Christmas tree again.”

“Tell him he’s gonna end up on Santa’s naughty list if he keeps that up.”

Dani just released a barely-there breath of laughter into the phone. And Jamie could just imagine the look on her face that went along with it.

“Hey, just cause I’m not there doesn’t mean I don’t know when there’s a frown on that pretty face of yours,” Jamie said gently, “Talk to me.”

“It’s nothing, Jamie.”

“Dani. Come on, love, this is only gonna work if we communicate, remember?”

She heard Dani sigh quietly on the other end of the line, “I just...miss you already. It’s stupid.”

“S’not stupid. I miss you, too. But I’ll be back in three da—“

“No, I mean...I already miss you for later...like, when spring comes”, her mumbling voice was accompanied by a sniffle that Jamie knew she was trying to hide, ”I just know that as much as I miss you now, it’s gonna be ten times worse when you move over there for months.”

“I know,” Jamie bit her lip, raking a hand through her hair.

”And I feel so selfish for being sad when you’re getting everything you’ve been working for. But I’m happy for you, Jamie. I really, really am. This is everything you wanted.”

“You’re not selfish, Dani,” Jamie’s voice was low, trying to be reassuring. But there was only so much she could do through a telephone line, “Yeah, I’ve wanted to open this store for a while, but...I’ve wanted you for even longer.” She was met with silence on the other end, save for a strained sigh and a few sniffles. And she hated that she wasn’t there to comfort Dani like she normally would. “And you’ve wanted me too...right?”

”Of course I have.”

The brunette smiled at the tone of Dani’s voice, like even through her insecure tears, she thought it was ludicrous that Jamie would even ask such a question. “Well good,” she chuckled lightly, “That’s why we’ve gotta talk things out. No avoiding. I actually believe you’re the one who made a big deal out of that.”

Dani breathed an airy laugh into her ear, and Jamie just knew that she was shaking her head on the other end.

“Listen. I probably won’t be moving out here for another five months. That gives us plenty of time to figure out how we’re gonna handle this. And in the meantime…” she trailed off a bit, nervously flicking her tongue over her bottom lip, “I’m only here for another three days. And when I get back...Kinda wanna take you out on a proper date. What’dya say?”

She was met with silence once more, leaving her unsure if she’d said the wrong thing or suggested something Dani wasn’t ready for. But a barely audible, “really?” was whispered into her ear after a few moments.

“Yeah.”

”Okay,” she could just hear the smile creeping onto Dani’s face. If she focused hard enough, Jamie could even picture the pink tint filling her cheeks and the way she always shyly lowered her eyes to the floor. And she already couldn’t wait for these three days to be over so she could see it in person again.

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

December 1990

It was amazing, really, how tiring the beginning phases of opening a store really were. Jamie would have thought that somehow, this one would be easier. She had time. The place still needed to be built; Unlike the others where she usually bought up vacant stores in areas with a higher population. But somehow, this Burlington location was exhausting her already.

Maybe it was the traveling, maybe it was the winter weather; It could even have been the fact that she was just so overwhelmed by it all. But whatever it was, she was glad to be home. She wasn’t at an age where hotel beds didn’t agree with her back just yet (thankfully), but she didn’t splurge on a perfect mattress and comfortable bedding for nothing. And she missed her own bed terribly.

With a sigh, Jamie leaned against the elevator wall after hitting the button for the sixth floor. She was so tired that she could probably fall asleep against her suitcase and spend the night where she stood; Going up and down with her neighbors as they got on and off.

Stepping out into the sixth floor hallway, Jamie glanced at her watch, silently reminding herself to wind it back to central time when she got in. If she didn’t, she just knew that she would be embarrassingly early picking Dani up tomorrow morning. Though, she had a feeling that the blonde wouldn’t mind getting a little extra time with her. Jamie knew she wouldn’t mind it at all. They usually spent their weekdays apart anyway, but being out of the state and halfway across the country just felt different. It was weird not being within a reasonable driving distance from each other.

But she was home now, and just the thought of what she had planned for tomorrow was giving her the energy she needed to make it the rest of the way to her door. It wasn’t that late, she could probably still call Dani to let her know she made it back in one piece. She’d tried to call her when she got to the airport, but there was no answer. But she hadn’t expected an answer, since she called at their usual dinner time. If she were lucky, there would be a message from her waiting on the answering machine.

Speak of the devil…

When Jamie turned the corner to the residential hallway, she stopped in her tracks when she saw Dani sitting on the floor, leaned up against her door with a book in her lap and a suitcase by her side.

“Poppins, please tell me you haven’t been sitting here long, otherwise I’m gonna feel like a real asshole for dragging my feet,” she couldn’t help the smirk that came to her face when Dani flinched at the sound of her voice. Apparently she was too immersed in her book to notice that Jamie was standing at the end of the hall.

But a smile came to the blonde’s face when she saw her. She put the marker into her book and stood up from the floor, brushing out the wrinkles in her long green skirt as Jamie approached.

“It hasn’t been that long. Maybe about...” she shook her head with a poorly contained grin, looking down at the small watch on her wrist, “...thirty minutes.”

“That’s long. Remind me to get a spare key made for you if you’re gonna keep turning up out of the blue,” Jamie shook her head with an amused smile of her own, despite how bad she felt about Dani waiting on her. Though, she still wasn’t sure what she was doing here in the first place.

“What’re you doing here anyway?”

Dani ran her hand nervously over the collar of her denim jacket as she watched Jamie unlock the door and open it up for them both to go inside. “I thought you’d be tired,” she shrugged, following her into the apartment and rolling her suitcase behind her, “Figured I’d spare you the drive and come to you instead.”

That was such a ‘Dani’ thing to do, Jamie was surprised she didn’t expect it. She just breathed a puff of laughter and shook her head, waiting until the door was closed behind them before she placed herself toe-to-toe with Dani and leaned in for a smiling kiss.

“Wouldn’t have minded,” she mumbled, chuckling quietly when Dani reached up to take the beanie off her head and ruffle her curls without taking her lips off of hers.

Stepping away with one last chaste kiss, Jamie shed the jacket from her arms and hung it on the hook as Dani did the same. “The kids with Judy, then?” she looked back at her, going to the kitchen to put the kettle on. Unpacking could wait.

“My mom took them for the weekend,” Dani smiled, sauntering after her slowly, “I stopped at Video Update if you’re not too tired to watch a movie.”

Jamie peered over her shoulder with an accusingly raised eyebrow as she filled the kettle, “Does it have Olivia Newton-John in it?”

“Now what is that supposed to mean?”

The brunette laughed at Dani’s feigned offense as she put the kettle on the burner. “Could have something to do with the fact that you love to make me sit through her movies. You dragged me to see Grease like, five times after we graduated high school.”

“It was only three times,” Dani huffed, crossing her arms over her chest, “And no, it doesn’t have Olivia Newton-John in it.”

“Who’s in it, then?”

“What does that mat—“

“Dani.”

Fingers twiddled together in front of Dani’s torso as she averted her gaze.“Julia Roberts,” she mumbled quietly, admitting defeat.

Jamie breathed a laugh and leaned against the edge of the counter, watching the blush take over Dani’s cheeks, “Shoulda known.”

”Why?” the blonde stomped her foot like a petulant child, laughing nervously as she suddenly felt like she was being interrogated.

“Well...knowing what I know now…” she pushed herself off the counter, walking towards her intimidatingly slow, “It makes a lot more sense that you were squirming in your seat when we saw Pretty Woman earlier this year.”

“I—“ Dani’s jaw slacked a bit, unsure of how to defend herself under Jamie’s knowing gaze. And it was going to be even more embarrassing to admit that Pretty Woman was the movie she had rented and brought over. But after a moment of trying (and failing) to come up with an excuse, she sighed with slumped shoulders, “I mean, can you blame me?”

Jamie just smirked and shrugged before returning to where the kettle was whistling on the stove, “S’pose not. Guess I’ve just got more of a thing for blondes.” She couldn’t see it with her back turned, but she could just sense the blush intensifying on Dani’s face.

Before long, the two were huddled together on the couch, a blanket and a bowl of jiffy pop in their laps as the movie played on the tv. Though, it started with Dani commenting on how Jamie’s hair would look just like Julia Roberts’ if she would ever allow it to grow past her shoulders, and Jamie teasing the hell out of Dani about her apparent celebrity crush.

Despite her constant, poorly concealed yawns, Jamie claimed she wasn’t too tired to finish the movie. And each time Dani suggested that they just turn it off and go to bed for the night, Jamie stubbornly denied her each time. But by the time Vivian Ward was singing Prince in the hotel bathtub, Jamie’s head found its way to Dani’s lap as she dozed off; soothed to sleep with the help of slim, gentle fingers raking against her scalp. The rental tape wasn’t due back until Sunday anyways.

September 1981

“God, I never thought I’d get to wear these again,” Dani looked down at her strappy high heels, allowing Jamie to veer her around a sewer grate so she didn’t stumble or get stuck.

Apparently, they were on their way to a bar. She’d just turned twenty-one a few days ago. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. Miles was starting to eat more solid foods and Dani hadn’t had a single drop of alcohol since she’d been pregnant. She’d never been one to drink too often, but it had been a while. Even when Eddie took her out to dinner on her actual birthday, she stuck with water, knowing that Jamie wanted to take her out for her first (legal) drink.

“Y’look good, Poppins,” Jamie smirked, ducking her head down a bit shyly as they walked arm-in-arm down the sidewalk of Downtown Iowa City, playing it off as if she was just watching her step. In reality, her face was turning a shade of pink at just the thought of Dani in her thigh-length party dress beside her. And somehow she looked even better in Jamie’s leather jacket (since she’d been too excited to go out to remember to bring one of her own).

Dani looked around the area, wondering where they were headed. It was difficult not to feel guilty about being out. Rebecca had come over to babysit Miles since Eddie was at a night class. She’d never left him with a sitter before besides her mom or Judy. But she was sure a drink or two would ease her nerves about it. Though she knew, from past experience, that she needed to keep a level head tonight. One drink over her limit, and who knows what she would end up doing or saying; Especially with Jamie around.

“It’s just right here,” Jamie muttered, pointing a bit in the distance with her free hand, weaving in and out of traffic around the sidewalk that was littered with other college students.

Running her fingers through her long hair, Dani followed Jamie down the short staircase that lead to a literal underground bar. It seemed normal enough on the outside with loud music and neon lights clouded by cigarette smoke. Even on the inside, there were pool tables, dart boards, the usual things that Dani would expect to see in a bar. There was just one difference…

“Is this like...a ‘girls only’ bar or something?” Dani furrowed her eyebrows in confusion, not seeing a single man in sight. She hadn’t been to many bars before, but when she did, they were usually crawling with sleazy guys.

“Pretty much. Come here a lot with the women’s lib group,” the brunette nodded, waving to someone she knew that had called her name.

Dani had never heard of such a thing. But then again, this was a college town. It made sense for there to be a girls only bar in a college town. It was smart, actually. Too many girls were probably tired of getting hit on and groped by drunk frat guys that they started a bar of their own so that—

Her thoughts came to an immediate halt when she spotted two women at one of the pool tables. One of them, looking like she’d just won first place in a Joan Jett look-alike contest, had just skillfully pocketed a few pool balls. And the other, who might as well have been the Cherie Currie to her companion, had pulled her in for a congratulatory kiss; right here in a room full of people.

“Come on,” Jamie tugged gently at her elbow, cocking her head to beckon her towards one of the tables.

“Wait…” the blonde stood her ground by the door, nervously fiddling with the zipper of Jamie’s jacket around her shoulders before her voice dropped to a whisper, “Jamie, is this a lesbian bar?

Jamie stepped closer so she could hear her over the music. “I mean, not officially,” she started with a shrug, “More just like an...inclusive space for women?”

Dani swallowed thickly, feeling her heart rate begin to rise. She just couldn’t stop thinking about what people would think if they saw her here. What would they say? How quickly would it get back to Eddie? Or worse, her mother?

“We can go somewhere else if you want, I just know the menu here better than the other places, I guess,” Jamie shook her head, letting go of Dani’s elbow slowly.

At her lack of response and the trepidation on her face, Jamie mentally kicked herself. She should have asked if Dani was comfortable coming here instead of assuming she would be okay with it. Even though it wasn’t officially a lesbian bar, it was where they tended to flock. But just because Dani was comfortable around her, didn’t mean that she was going to always be comfortable in her spaces. It took her a year just to agree to go with Jamie to a women’s lib rally.

“Come on, let’s just go somewhere else, it’s okay,” she turned towards the door and tried to pull Dani along. But the younger of the two just shook her head, turning to Jamie with hesitant determination.

“No, we can stay, I’m sorry. I just...you know I worry about things getting back to my mom,” she ducked her head, talking just loud enough to be heard over the music.

Jamie knew that to be true. Ever since they’d moved out of their hometown for school, Dani always worried about her mom finding out about anything she did that was even a toe out of line. She panicked over her mom finding out about something as miniscule as a C on a test. And as absurd as it seemed, Jamie knew that if she found out, Karen’s reaction to learning that her daughter was spotted at a supposed gay bar would be ten times worse than when she found out Dani was pregnant at nineteen.

“There’s another bar right down the street, Dani, it’s fine—“

“No, I wanna stay,” the blonde squared her shoulders under the black leather jacket, reaching for Jamie’s hand and squeezing her fingers in her apprehension.

Jamie looked down between them at where Dani’s fingers were wrapped firmly around her own, squeezing them in return when she met her eyes again. “You sure?” she asked quietly, searching her blue eyes for any sign of dishonesty when Dani nodded her head.

She could tell she was nervous, but Jamie could always tell when Dani was determined to push past her nerves and try something new. Along with the very specific dimples that formed when her jaw was clenched a certain way, her lips would press together into a tight crease and a small vein would pop out around her temple.

She wore the same face when they stood in the dark wings of the auditorium; having been hit with a wave of stage fright on the opening night of their 8th grade production of Cinderella. And again when they were fifteen, when Jamie spent an afternoon teaching her how to ride her skateboard at the park. She had no reason for learning to ride, but that was back when they were young enough to not need a reason for everything.

“If you decide you wanna leave, we’ll leave...okay?” Jamie sighed, giving her hand another reassuring squeeze, “It’s not a big deal.”

One thing Jamie loved about Dani was that sometimes (not always), she was authentic in her fear. There were times when the blonde would put on a brave face and pretend that everything was fine, not letting anyone know that her own inner anxieties were ripping her to shreds.

But most times, when it was just the two of them, Dani wasn’t ashamed to let Jamie know she was feeling scared or nervous. It may have had something to do with the fact that she knew Jamie could read her like a book and see right through her anyways. Or maybe she just knew that Jamie would never judge her for being afraid. But Dani always let Jamie see that she was trying to be brave, rather than acting like she had no fear at all.

And she did the same now, nodding her head as she swallowed the thick lump in her throat, letting Jamie lead her to an empty table. “Are you sure this isn’t a gay bar?” she whispered as she spotted another obvious couple at a corner table nearby, averting her eyes immediately.

“Positive. I come here with Hannah and the girls all the time and some of them are straight as an arrow,” Jamie chuckled, leaning against the tall table instead of sitting on one of the stools, “You okay to stay here while I get the drinks?”

Dani just hummed and nodded, trusting Jamie to bring back something that she would like. When she was left alone, she clutched the leather jacket a bit tighter around herself, despite the warmth of the bar and the heat of her own embarrassment coursing through her veins. Her eyes sailed across the large room, unconsciously landing on the same couple she’d first seen at the pool table. They reminded her of herself and Jamie in a way. Besides their obvious relationship, they seemed to be the best of friends, comfortable in their own little world together.

Maybe this wasn’t the best idea, coming here. She hadn’t even had a sip of alcohol yet and she was already letting her mind wander; Imagining what it would be like if she were the one congratulating Jamie with a smiling, unashamed kiss every time she got a ball in a pocket. Or if Jamie were the one wrapping an affectionate arm around her waist, distracting her from the game with subtly wandering hands—

“Hey,” an unfamiliar voice made her nearly jump out of her seat. If she had a drink, it would definitely have been spilled by now. But she composed herself quickly to meet the voice that actually saved her from her forbidden little daydream.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you,” the girl who had appeared beside her, with her nose ring and purple streaks in her dark, shoulder-length hair, was tapping her fingertips against the wooden tabletop, leaning into Dani’s space a little too close for comfort. “You got a name?” she raised a pierced eyebrow with a curious smile.

“Uh, D-Danielle,” the blonde winced. Besides Eddie’s friends and colleagues, she hadn’t introduced herself to someone as ‘Danielle’ in a while. But her head was so fogged by nerves and embarrassment, that it just slipped out.

“How come you’re over here all by yourself, Danielle?” the girl gave her a bit of a smirk; Like she knew something that Dani didn’t.

“Oh, I’m not— no, my, um…” she stammered, starting to ramble as she turned to look for Jamie. And thankfully, always with impeccable timing, the brunette was at her other side in a matter of seconds.

“Here you go, love,” Jamie placed their drinks on the table before draping an arm around Dani’s shoulders and pressing a kiss dangerously close to her lips like it was second nature. As stunned as she was, Dani just let out a nervous breath, smiling at her best friend who just winked at her in return, wordlessly telling her to just play along.

And Dani did the best she could under the sudden pressure, reaching up to hold onto Jamie’s hand that was hanging over her shoulder and leaning into her side carefully. She knew that this was an act. But it was an act that she was grateful for in more ways than one.

“Can we help you?” Jamie turned to the purple-haired girl with the customer service persona she’d learned from Mr. Johnson; Not overly patronizing, but not aloof either. And she had it down pat with gently raised brows, feigning curiosity and a genuine willingness to help; just like she would at work when customers would come in looking completely lost.

The girl in front of them just nodded her head as if to accept defeat like a good sport. She just muttered a quiet, “No, sorry,” before stepping away towards the bar. And Dani felt the comfort of Jamie’s arm around her slip away slowly as the brunette slid into the stool beside her, sliding a brightly colored drink towards her.

“Christ, Poppins, I can’t leave you alone for five minutes, can I?” she let out a raspy chuckle, bringing her own glass to her lips as she shook her head, “I took you here so you didn’t have to worry about men drooling all over you for once. Didn’t think I’d be having to chase the ladies away so soon, too.”

A heavy flush crept to Dani’s cheeks as she sipped at her own drink, “I think she was just being nice,” she mumbled, “She saw I was by myself, she probably just wanted to make sure I was okay or something.”

“Dani, you’re in a lesbian bar. She was trying to take you home,” Jamie deadpanned with a snort as she put her glass down on the table.

“You said it wasn’t a lesbian bar!”

“It’s not, I’m kidding,” curls swept against the shoulders of her white t-shirt, “But considering how good you look in my jacket, I’m surprised I’ve only had to shoo one girl away so far.”

December 1990

This felt so odd. The only dates that Dani ever really went on before were with Eddie. It was Rudino’s every Friday night at 7:30 for as long as she could remember. Sometimes they’d spice things up with a trip to the movie theater if anything good was playing. But aside from that, things were kept predictable and safe. So standing in Jamie’s bathroom, blow drying her hair for a mysterious date in the middle of the day, already felt so foreign.

Jamie always took her to interesting places. Whether it was the roller disco and the bowling alley when they were teenagers, or a bar and a random farmer’s market as they got older; Jamie always kept things new and exciting.

After her hair was blown out and pulled up halfway into a teal scrunchie, Dani brushed out any wrinkles in her pink sweater and jeans, hoping that she wasn’t underdressed. Two days ago when Jamie was still in Vermont, Dani had asked her for a hint over the phone, wondering where they were going for whatever Jamie had planned. But the only hint she was willing to give out was that Dani should dress casually.

Stepping out of the bathroom and down the hall to Jamie’s bedroom, Dani put her blow dryer back into her luggage. There was a knock at the door just as she lifted the suitcase onto the bed, trying to look through her other options for clothes, just in case what she was wearing wasn’t acceptable for whatever they were doing. But her eyebrows knit together when the knocking started again.

“Jamie, there’s someone at the door!” she called out; Her voice loud enough to be heard through the whole apartment. But if Jamie could hear her, there was no way she couldn’t hear the knocking.

A few moments passed before Dani turned back to her suitcase, pulling out one of her other sweaters to inspect it thoughtfully. But she turned towards the bedroom door when the knocking persisted. “Jamie?” she called again, this time, making her way down the hallway and into the living room. There was no sign of her around. Maybe she went to check her mail and forgot her keys…

With a confused huff, Dani stepped towards the door, noting that the chain latch was undone. Jamie must have stepped out and forgotten her keys. But she peered through the peephole in the door anyway, just to be certain. And sure enough, a mane of curly brown locks caught her eye on the other side.

Rolling her eyes with an affectionate smile, Dani just shook her head and opened the door, planning on teasing her for making such a simple mistake. But all the words fell out of her head, leaving her stunned and speechless when she took in the sight of Jamie in front of her.

She was wearing an ivory pinstripe dress shirt, aesthetically large enough that the sleeves had to be rolled and cuffed against her forearms. The shirt was tucked loosely into a pair of dark blue jeans, all held together with brown suspenders looped over her shoulders. And as if that wasn’t enough to send Dani melting to the floor, she had a bouquet of fully bloomed pink azaleas in her hand and a shy smile on her face.

“What are you doing?” she bit her lip, trying to contain her giggles as she leaned against the door.

Jamie rolled her eyes, briefly casting her gaze down to the flowers in her hands, “Just go with it, I’ve never picked anyone up for a date before. Trying to do it right.”

“I find that hard to believe,” Dani smiled and reached for one of Jamie’s hands to tug her gently into the apartment, tangling her fingers in the loose curly waves of her hair as she pulled her in for a kiss.

Jamie never really talked about any of the women she was seeing, but it was outrageous to think that Jamie, charming and winsome Jamie, had never shown up at a girl’s door with flowers before. But Dani had no reason to believe that it was just a line. And it was almost overwhelming to know that she was the first and only person to get to see Jamie like this.

“I really haven’t,” the brunette smirked into the kisses that neither of them wanted to remove themselves from. She’d been oddly nervous about this whole thing, trying to find the fine line between romantic and nauseatingly corny. Though, she had a feeling that she could have done just about anything and Dani would have loved it. “You look beautiful,” her nose scrunched up in a shy but cheeky smile as she pulled back from the kiss.

“I’m wearing what I always wear,” Dani looked down at her outfit with a chuckle.

“Would you just play along for once?” Jamie scoffed, rolling her eyes as she turned away from her to put the flowers into the vase she’d already prepared while Dani was getting ready.

The younger woman just laughed and followed after her, chuckling out an apology as Jamie unwrapped the bouquet to place the trimmed stems into the water. “Thank you, Jamie, you look very gorgeous yourself,” she giggled, leaning her elbows against the tall bar counter between the kitchen and the living room. “And these are amazing,” she reached over to delicately touch one of the petals with her fingertips, “Where’d you find azaleas in December?”

“I know a guy,” Jamie shrugged with a secretive smirk, unconsciously arranging the bunch of flowers in the vase. Thankfully she’d been able to have one of the girls drop them off for her just a few minutes before she knocked at her own door. “You about ready?”

“Do I get to know where we’re going yet?” Dani rounded the counter to meet her on the other side with a curiously raised eyebrow and her arms crossed over her chest.

But Jamie just turned to face her with an equally as challenging look in her eyes, shaking her head as she reached to untangle Dani’s sweater-clad arms. “You…need to stop trying to ruin my surprises,” she rasped, grinning rather smugly as she pulled her in closer. And to her pleasant surprise, Dani’s hands clutched at the suspenders, wrapping the woven fabric in her fists to pull Jamie in closer; Not letting go even when their foreheads were pressed together and her lips were ghosting over hers.

“You’re no fun,” she whispered, smirking to herself at the surprised puff of air that breezed against her lips, “And you’re cute when you’re nervous.”

“I’m plenty of fun,” the brunette collected herself quickly, not used to being the one who felt out of control between the two of them, “You just have to stick around for the fun part.”

Dani’s breath hitched in her throat when Jamie’s hands met hers, closing around her fists that were still holding tightly to the suspenders over her middle. The beginning note of a fevered whimper made its way past her lips, crossing the centimeter of space to Jamie’s. And if she weren’t mistaken (or dreaming), the woman in front of her breathed in the noise Dani had drawn out against her, inhaling it, swallowing it down like she needed it to live as she tightened her grip over Dani’s hands.

“Guess we...better get going then…” Dani pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, chewing nervously as she met Jamie’s green eyes again, suddenly feeling like the room around them was much smaller than it was a minute ago.

“Yeah,” Jamie just nodded and cleared her throat, freeing Dani’s hands from her grasp, though it took her a moment to release the hold she had on her suspenders. She bit down on the inside of her cheek, watching Dani back away before turning back into the living room to get her jacket, sliding her arms through the purple sleeves.

“You’re really not gonna tell me where we’re going?” the blonde asked; her voice back to normal like she hadn’t just fucking whimpered with her face less than an inch from Jamie’s and leaving her reeling.

“I’m really not,” she let out a raspy chuckle, raking a few stray curls from her forehead before placing the vase by the window sill so the flowers could get plenty of sunlight. “Thought you’d learn to enjoy the ride by now, Poppins.”

With a frustrated, but admittedly adorable huff, Dani nodded her head, accepting that she would just have to find out when they got there. At least she knew that whatever it was, she trusted that Jamie would make it exciting. She’d already shown up at her own door with flowers just to make it an authentic first date experience. Who knew what else she would come up with?

Chapter Text

May 1972

“Mikey would be losing his shit right now if he were here,” Jamie chuckled as their sixth grade class sat in one of the conference rooms of the Des Moines planetarium. They had already taken a tour of the building and now they were all sitting down for lunch.

“He likes outer space?” Dani asked from across their table, thanking one of the chaperones that came around and placed her tin Scooby Doo lunch box in front of her.

“Loves it. Hasn’t shut up about wanting to come along today,” the little brunette nodded, wrapping her arms around her middle. Even in a room full of chattering sixth graders, she felt like everyone would be able to hear her stomach growling.

She’d been running late this morning. Her and her brothers just barely caught the bus with the other neighborhood kids. Thankfully she’d made it on time, otherwise she would have missed out on the entire class field trip. Jamie wasn’t nearly as obsessed with outer space as Mikey was, but she could appreciate looking at the moon and stars. Plus, it was time away from their stuffy classrooms. She’d take a tour of an underground sewer if it got her out of math for the day.

She gazed down at the long wooden table as everyone around her was given the lunches they’d brought along. Sandwiches were unpacked and thermoses were opened; And Jamie tried not to focus on how hungry she was, or how angry she was at her mother for forgetting to pack her lunch like she’d asked her to last night. All she had was a few quarters in her pocket that Louise had given her instead; apparently not listening when Jamie had told her that they wouldn’t be able to buy their lunch on the field trip.

Dani turned away from where Edmund was telling a joke beside her, taking notice of the way Jamie seemed lost in thought, staring at the empty space on the table where her lunch should have been. “Did they not bring your lunch to you yet?” she looked around, seeing if any of the chaperones were still handing out their lunch boxes.

Picking up her gaze, Jamie just shook her head with a small, tightly pressed grin, leaning her elbows onto the table. “Guess it must’ve gotten lost somewhere,” she breathed a nervous chuckle and folded her arms down. She could see the curious glint in Dani’s eyes, but she put her head down on her arms, pretending she was tired so she could hide her embarrassment.

They hadn’t known each other for even a whole year yet, but it always seemed like the blonde could sense when something was wrong. It was like a super power.

Just two months ago, from a small, lighthearted chat between their windows, Dani could tell that Jamie was having a rough evening. And without hesitation, she came over with her favorite book and read it to her out loud, giving her something else to focus on for the night. Jamie had uttered a simple “thanks” before Dani went back home, but the younger girl could tell in her demeanor that she was much more grateful for the company than she let on.

Swallowing the bite of her turkey sandwich that she had in her mouth, Dani carefully ripped her sandwich in half, making sure each half had a fair amount of turkey, lettuce, and cheese. And along with half the carrot sticks and potato chips she had packed into her lunch box for the day, she slid it across the table on a napkin, placing it in front of Jamie as she filled the cap of her thermos with milk for her as well.

Jamie picked her head up slightly, peering out from under her shaggy curls to see the food in front of her; As well as Dani eating her own lunch and joking with Eddie again as if nothing had happened. And as much as she wanted to slide it back over to her and deny the kind offer, she was starving. Maybe she would allow herself to give into someone else’s kindness without a fight just this once.

Blue eyes met her own as she bit into her half of Dani’s sandwich. And she just sent a small nod across the table, silently thanking her friend for her generosity. And though their communication was silent in the buzz of chatter around the room, they seemed to understand each other perfectly.

December 1990

“A restaurant?”

“Nope.”

“The movies? That movie that I’ve been wanting to see is finally out! The one with Cher and the girl from Heathers?”

“Not this time.”

“A bar?”

“It’s eleven-thirty in the morning,” Jamie chuckled, watching her breath manifest in front of her in the bitter winter cold.

“Jamie, come on. Where could you possibly be taking me?” Dani watched the brunette’s eyebrows raise a bit on her forehead from under her knit cap as Jamie shrugged her shoulders, continuing to walk the city sidewalks with their arms looped together. She would have loved to be able to hold her hand, but huddling together like this was warmer anyways.

“You’re not gonna guess it,” Jamie snorted, shaking her head when Dani huffed petulantly beside her, “Don’t throw a tantrum, Poppins, we’re almost there.”

After a few more crossed streets and rounded corners, Dani got her answer in the form of scale model planets in the courtyard of the city’s planetarium; Nine of them forming a circle around a large stone sun in the middle.

“You’re kidding,” came out in a surprised laugh. Jamie would have begun to worry that it was a stupid idea if it weren’t for the large, open grin on Dani’s face and the way her eyes lit up in the late morning sun, “I haven’t been here since sixth grade.”

“Me either.”

They walked through the courtyard a bit faster than their previous pace due to Dani’s obvious excitement; Just like they were eleven all over again when the blonde had dragged Jamie eagerly by the hand all around the building. One thing about having Dani as your assigned field trip buddy: she was excited to learn about everything. And she made sure you learned about it too, whether you wanted to or not.

“Do you think Mrs. Vaughn’s science class still comes here every May?” the blonde wrinkled her nose with a giggle as they waited in the short ticketing line.

“Dani, that woman’s gotta be well into her eighties by now. I don’t think she has the energy to even teach; Let alone bring a bunch of eleven year olds into the city,” Jamie eyed her with an amused grin, taking a moment to appreciate the flush on Dani’s porcelain skin. But soon enough, they were inside and out of the cold, shoving their jackets, hats, and scarves into a rented locker before starting to walk around.

“Pretty sure this place was bigger in sixth grade,” the brunette looked up at the stained glass ceiling of the atrium lobby as Dani held a folded paper map up to her nose, trying to decide where she wanted to go first.

“Well, you were short back then. Let’s go this way,” Dani muttered as she put the map into the back pocket of her jeans, casually linking her arm through Jamie’s again.

“I was not short.”

“You were! Shorter than me, anyway.”

“No, we’ve just about always been the same height. Maybe it just seemed that way because you spent your teen years in heels and platforms,” Jamie used her free hand to poke at her side as they made their way into the first section of the museum, “I was taller than Eddie for a while, at least.”

Dani just laughed at that. She and Jamie had both grown taller than Eddie some time during seventh grade. And she had a photo of the three of them on the first day of eighth grade sitting on the mantle in her living room to prove it. “God, yeah. He didn’t hit his growth spurt til, what? The summer before high school? After that, he was practically taller than both of us combined.”

A chuckle came all the way from Jamie’s chest, remembering how she called Eddie ‘beanstalk’ for a month before he finally got fed up enough to tell her to stop. But her laughter died down as they roamed the dimly lit room full of model rockets, space shuttles, rovers, and mannequins in NASA uniforms and space suits.

Dani took advantage of the way the room was barely lit, trailing her hand from the crook of Jamie’s elbow and down her forearm until her fingers were subtly laced with hers. She rested her chin against the cotton shoulder of the brunette’s loose-fitting shirt, squeezing her fingers gently as green eyes seemed to glare at a memorial for the victims of the Challenger explosion a few years back.

“Mikey got into a fight, y’know,” Jamie sighed deeply, still staring rather intently at the memorial of photos and plaques, “When the Challenger was supposed to launch, he ended up fighting some other inmate over the fucking TV. He wanted to watch it take off. Other guy wasn’t having it.”

Dani turned her head to study the side of Jamie’s face a bit more intently as she spoke, squeezing her fingers in her own as her free hand stroked comfortingly up and down her arm.

“And you know the famous Taylor Temper,” Jamie scoffed with a bitter laugh, “Mikey started a fight over it...Bad enough that it landed him in solitary for a few weeks, but...Honestly, I think if he ended up getting to watch it...if he saw what happened...it would’ve crushed him. The kid’s sensitive enough as it is.”

Dani nodded in agreement. She’d heard from Jamie about how much Mikey struggled with something as simple as not being able to see the stars at night. Even from his cell, he couldn’t see the sky. It was strange how much you learn to appreciate something as common as the stars in the sky when you learn that someone hasn’t been able to see them in years.

“But I think it was better the way it happened, as fucked up as it sounds,” she continued, “Y’know, if he had ended up getting to watch it, he probably would’ve cried. But by fighting...I dunno, it earned him a little more respect in there. They would’ve given him hell and made him a target if they caught him being vulnerable like that, y’know?”

Dani nodded again, squeezing Jamie’s arm gently and running her thumb over smooth skin as they walked away from the memorial. “You should take him here when he gets out,” she suggested gently, “I think he’d love it.”

Jamie just nodded, taking a moment to duck her head towards their shoes.

“Maybe...we can all go?” the blonde continued with a bit of trepidation, “You, me, Mikey, and the kids?”

Swallowing the lump in her throat, Jamie just nodded slowly, unsure of why she was surprised that Dani was so willing to let her kids meet Mikey. But she often forgot that Dani had known her little brother since he was eight years old. Dani was even there for him when Jamie was still away at school. She was the one he turned to when he was struggling with school. And he was apparently always very sweet and willing to help her with Miles.

He wasn’t a bad kid. Just the opposite. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, surrounded by people who took advantage of his good heart. Dani hadn’t seen him in years, but she trusted that even after serving a few years in prison, he wasn’t dangerous.

“Yeah,” the brunette cleared her throat, turning to press a grateful kiss to the warm skin of Dani’s temple, “I like that idea.”

xxx

“This is new.”

“Yeah, I guess they just added it earlier this year. Maybe last year,” Jamie glanced around as they entered the dark room. And once they were inside, it was safe to say that she was rendered a bit speechless.

The room was a full dome like the circular theater where they’d seen a presentation on the solar system, free to hold hands and steal brief kisses in the darkness of the back row. This room, however, had no seating. It wasn’t a theater, it was just a dome with the night sky projected onto the rounded ceiling. And guests were free to walk around or sit on the floor, pointing out constellations as calm, ambient music played through the speakers.

“This must be a nightmare for chaperones on field trips,” Dani chuckled as she looked around. It was nearly impossible to see much since the projection on the ceiling was the main light source. She could only imagine how their sixth grade class would have been running around the room, recklessly playing tag in the darkness.

“Can’t even imagine,” Jamie chuckled, reaching for Dani’s hand again in the safety of the dark as they gazed up at the simulated stars. “Come on,” she tilted her head after a few moments, tugging the blonde along until they were seated comfortably on the floor against the curved wall.

Dani cuddled into her side with a content sigh, blindly toying with Jamie’s fingers in her lap, “So you knew this was here?”

“What?”

“This,” she gestured up to the new addition to the museum, “The star dome.”

“Heard about it,” Jamie shrugged nonchalantly, hoping that it was dark enough that Dani couldn’t see her shy grin, “Figured it’s the middle of bloody December, so having one of our famous backyard camp-outs was out of the question for a first date. This was the next best thing besides sticking those little glow in the dark stars to the ceiling of my apartment.”

Dani bit her lip as she looked around. The dark room was full of people, but they were all looking up at the ceiling; Much too preoccupied to pay any attention to the two women sitting on the edge of the wall. So Dani took the moment to nudge at Jamie’s chin, turning her face just enough so she could cup her cheek and lean in for a kiss.

Jamie grinned into the kiss, leaning a bit closer, “Can’t say this is how I imagined getting to kiss you under the stars for the first time, but I’m not complaining.”

“You...” Dani paused and smirked against her lips, kissing her again, “...are quite the romantic, y’know.”

“Not for everyone,” Jamie breathed quietly, nipping at Dani’s bottom lip to pull a delightful giggle from her. But someone came close enough to their little bubble that they pulled back to put a bit more distance between themselves than before; not wanting to risk having anyone snidely remind them that the planetarium was meant to be a family-friendly environment. Because apparently two women holding hands and sitting close in a dark room was so inappropriate.

Dani just sighed, bringing her knees to her chest as she looked up at the simulated sky with a frown. “It’s not fair,” she mumbled, wrapping her arms around her knees to keep from reaching for Jamie while other museum-goers were so close.

“Yeah,” the brunette just sighed beside her, knowing exactly what she was referring to. She looked down at the thin carpet on the floor before gazing back up at the ceiling, watching a shooting star make a brief appearance. “You spot any constellations yet?” she asked, hoping it would take Dani’s mind off of the fact that they weren’t allowed to act like any of the other couples in the room.

“Just one,” a smile formed on her face, at least.

“Which one?”

“My favorite one,” she pointed up towards the ceiling with a blush on her cheeks, tracing three consecutive stars in the air with the tip of her finger.

“Orion?”

“Mmhm.”

“You ever gonna tell me why that one’s your favorite?” she reached over to nudge her gently. Dani had been saying that Orion was her favorite constellation since they were teenagers, but she always just shrugged when Jamie asked why. The brunette always thought that in terms of what they represented, Lyra or Cassiopeia would be Dani’s favorite of the constellations.

“I like his belt,” the blonde lowered her arm, ready to wrap it back around her knees. But Jamie intercepted it just before she could, tangling their fingers together again.

“Cause it’s easy to find?” a thin brow quirked up in question, but Dani just shook her head.

“They’re all easy to find when you know what you’re looking for,” she scooted a bit closer once they were alone in their space again.

“So, what? You just think Orion’s got good taste in accessories?” Jamie smirked with a snort.

Dani shook her head and rolled her eyes, leaning sideways to nudge Jamie’s shoulder with her own before glancing down at her lap once she’d lowered her knees again. “The three stars of his belt...you have them on your back,” she finally admitted, lowering her voice and her face with shyness, “Even curved and spaced apart the same way. It’s like someone plucked them from the sky and put them between your shoulder blades.”

Jamie was a bit stunned to hear her answer. It wasn’t something she expected. Then again, she had no idea what her own back looked like. So, this was news to her. She was going to make a cheeky comment, asking Dani when she’d had the chance to see the freckles, considering she never wore anything that exposed her back. But they’d been friends for nearly two decades. They’d been comfortable enough to change clothes in front of each other since they were thirteen. Not to mention the seemingly endless trips to the pool or the lake when they were younger, the series of freckles were probably visible over the top of Jamie’s bathing suits.

“Fair enough,” she muttered instead, leaning her head back against the wall so she could watch as planets and constellations were highlighted and labeled against the rounded ceiling.

It was quiet between them between the times when they would point out certain stars to each other, testing each other on whether or not they remembered their names. But eventually Dani sighed and leaned her head against Jamie’s shoulder, tracing the knuckles of the hand she was holding in her lap.

“Do you think this is weird?”

“What?”

“This,” she picked her head up and turned to face her, “Y’know, us. Just the fact that...it doesn’t feel like anything is any different. Like...I dunno, I thought that telling you the truth about how I felt...and having you tell me you feel the same...getting to kiss you and everything…” she sighed, shaking her head with a bit of a shrug, “I thought it would make things feel…so different.”

Jamie just squeezed her hand as she continued, unsure of what to say just yet.

“But...everything we do just feels so...normal. Y’know, like we’ve been doing it all along. And it does feel different. Obviously. I mean...I never thought you actually liked me the way I liked you. That’s an amazing feeling on its own. But—“

“No, I get it,” Jamie nodded, running her thumb over the pale skin of Dani’s hand, “We’ve just always been...a lot closer than normal friends, I guess. I mean, all these years we may as well have been dating already just without all the...extra stuff.”

Dani smiled as Jamie snorted a quiet breath of laughter. That was exactly it. From what she knew, usually when you start dating someone, you have to learn about them. You have to learn things like their favorite color and what positions work best when you sleep beside them so you’re both comfortable at night. While she already knew everything about Eddie, there were things about him that she still had to get used to when they started dating.

But with Jamie, she already had years worth of practice. She knew Jamie’s favorite band and how she liked her eggs in the morning. She knew that Jamie slept most comfortably on her back, but she was still able to sleep comfortably on her side if she had company in bed with her.

They’d been sharing beds, holding hands, going on “dates”, and kissing each other’s knuckles, cheeks, and foreheads for so long that the transition between friends to lovers was, so far, nearly nonexistent. They were still Dani and Jamie, the best pair of friends the world had ever seen.

And even though there were feelings admitted and kisses exchanged, it still felt like nothing had changed. Dani thought that finally getting to be with Jamie would be electrifying. And it’s not that it wasn’t. It was just that things with Jamie had been electrifying all along.

They’d spent more than half their lives getting as close as friends could possibly get while still remaining friends. And now, they just got to be more. The transition was smooth. It wasn’t awkward like it had been with Eddie. Kissing him just felt wrong, even from the start. But kissing Jamie, Dani finally understood what she was meant to feel. Each kiss was as earth-shattering as the last.

And as electrifying as it was having Jamie around as a friend for the last nineteen years, it was a hundred times better now. Because now, it wasn’t one of Dani’s little classroom daydreams. It wasn’t just another one of her far-fetched fantasies that she would have as she lay awake at night, listening to Jamie’s even breathing from across their dorm.

It was real. She’d wanted this for years and it was finally happening. And one glance beside her, she took in Jamie’s warm smile and the way she lifted her hand to kiss her knuckles like she always did; just knowing that she felt the exact same way.

May 1972

The little brunette wandered the planetarium gift shop, watching her classmates pick out neat toys and books with their allowance or money given to them specifically for the field trip. Eddie had bought a spinning toy rocket and Dani got a new pack of reels for her View-Master. But Jamie, with the $1.75 worth of quarters she had in her pocket, wasn’t sure what to buy. She didn’t have enough for anything she was interested in. She could get something for Mikey, but all the toys were too expensive.

“Kids, the bus is leaving in five minutes!” Mrs. Vaughn called out into the gift shop, holding up five fingers on her raised hand once she got the attention of her students.

“Are you gonna get something?” Dani appeared beside Jamie with a smile, holding onto her little shopping bag.

“Probably not, but I’m gonna keep looking,” the eleven year old shook her head with a shrug, glancing at a wall of puzzles and books that she couldn’t afford.

Dani bit the inside of her cheek but nodded anyway, telling Jamie that she would see her on the bus before she left the gift shop with most of the other kids.

Watching her go, Jamie just sighed, wondering if she should just give up. Most of the things in here were just dumb toys that would end up lost under her bed sometime during the upcoming summer. They weren’t important.

Jingling the change in the pocket of her baggy jeans, Jamie turned on her heel, ready to just leave and get on the bus. She had her memories of the day, that was enough. And Mikey would probably get to go on the same field trip when he got to sixth grade. He could buy something for himself then..

She scuffed her sneaker against the shiny hardwood floor as she made a beeline for the exit of the shop. But a purple sign caught her attention, drawing her towards the bin below it.

Furrowing her brow under her curly bangs, Jamie reached into the small bin, pulling out a porous grey rock before reading the sign again.

Moon Rocks $1.25 each

She looked down at the rock in her hand. She doubted that it actually came from outer space. There was no way that something from the moon could only cost $1.25, even if it was just a rock.

”I love the moon,” Dani’s voice from earlier flowed into her mind, ”She’s always so pretty.”

”She?” Jamie had side-eyed her curiously as they watched the projection show in the small dome of the planetarium theater.

”The moon could be a girl,” She’d giggled in response, leaving Jamie too deep in thought to respond.

With a sigh, she picked out the best looking rock and quickly brought it up to the cashier, knowing her time was running out. And after an awkward interaction, shyly handing her quarters to the man behind the register, she joined the last of her classmates to leave the gift shop and went back to the bus with one of the chaperones.

Dani flashed her braces at Jamie when she took a seat on the bench across the aisle from herself and Eddie. “Did you get anything?”

Nodding, Jamie reached into her pocket and handed her the moon rock. “I-it’s for you. As a...a thank you...y’know, for lunch,” a tight-lipped smile formed on her face as Dani curiously took it from her hands.

She suddenly felt really stupid. Not only had she paid a whole $1.25 for a rock, but she was giving a rock to Dani as a thank you present.

“It’s a moon rock,” she explained, holding tightly to the edge of her bus seat, “But I dunno, I think it would cost a hell of a lot more if it were really from the moon. It’s really stupid, cause it’s just a fucking rock, but I remember earlier you said you loved the moon and thought she was pretty, and even though the rock’s not as pretty as the whole moon, I thought you still might—“

“Jamie,” Dani giggled her name to interrupt her mile-a-minute babbling, reaching across the aisle to pull her friend into a hug. “Thank you,” she breathed against her shoulder with her arms wrapped around her shoulders, “It’s not stupid, I love it.”

She pulled back and looked down at the rock in her hand, smiling as she turned it over to look at all sides of it. “You called the moon a ‘she’,” she smirked a little, glancing teasingly in Jamie’s direction.

The brunette just released a puff of breathy laughter, unaware that she’d said that in her rambling. “Maybe it is a ‘she’,” she shrugged with a grin that was somehow shy and smug at the same time. Dani was strange, and sometimes she made no sense. But there was something about the way she unashamedly referred to the moon as a girl that made even Jamie the skeptic start to believe it.

That was what Dani did, though. She had a way of making Jamie agree to anything without even trying. So if Dani Clayton said that the moon was a girl, then the moon was a girl; As ludicrous as it may have seemed.

And it was hard to miss the smile that grew on the younger girl’s face when Jamie agreed with her. It was a smile that made it quite obvious that people didn’t often (or ever) go along with her silly, child-like ideas.

And Jamie liked Dani’s smile. She was realizing that she was willing to go pretty great lengths to see it; Even if it meant agreeing that the grass was red and the sky was purple every now and then.

December 1990

“Can’t believe you made me get you one of those,” Jamie snorted at Dani, poking at her chicken fried rice as she ate straight from the take-out container.

“I didn’t make you get me anything,” the blonde quirked an offended eyebrow at her, turning her new moon rock in her hands as she took a break from eating, “If I remember correctly, you handed the cashier your credit card before I could get my own money out.”

“Let me rephrase, then,” Jamie chuckled and propped a socked foot up on the coffee table; barely paying attention to the episode of Cheers on the TV, “I can’t believe you wanted one of those.”

Dani tossed her head back with an airy laugh, placing her new souvenir down on the end table beside the small lamp. “Well, I’m pretty sure my mom tossed my old one into the woods behind the house. I couldn’t find it when I was going through all my stuff to take with me when I moved out. I think she thought it was just a rock.”

“Dani, it was just a rock.”

“It was a moon rock that you got for me,” she said, pointed and defensive as she glanced in Jamie’s direction.

With a sigh, Jamie just folded down the lid of her take-out container and placed it on the coffee table before turning to lean against the arm of the sofa, facing Dani with a small, but enamored smile. “You are ridiculously sentimental, I’ll have you know,” her nose scrunched up playfully.

“Oh, you wanna talk about being sentimental?” Dani challenged, bringing her knees up to fold her legs under herself on the couch as she turned to face her as well, “Should I bring up the mood ring that doesn’t fit you anymore that’s still sitting in your jewelry box?”

“Oh, come on, that’s different.”

“How?”

Jamie rolled her eyes, laughing quietly as Dani knelt forward, resting her hands on top of the brunette’s raised knees. “That was a birthday gift. And it’s jewelry. A rock is useless.”

“A ring that doesn’t fit you anymore sounds pretty useless to me,” a playfully accusing eyebrow raised on Dani’s forehead.

“And how do you know I wasn’t saving it to give to Flora when she’s older?” Jamie tilted her head with a playfully wrinkled brow, folding her arms across her chest. But holding in her laughter proved to be quite a task; especially when faced with the blank look on Dani’s face that accompanied her stunned silence.

Blue eyes blinked and averted as Dani squirmed where she was holding onto Jamie’s knees, obviously trying to think of some kind of comeback. But she couldn’t come up with anything. Instead, she just shook her head and shoved Jamie’s knees apart instead with a frustrated huff; leaning forward to drape herself over her torso instead.

“That’s not fair,” she whined stubbornly as Jamie chuckled and lowered her knees on either side of her, sliding down until her back was flat against the couch cushions with Dani on top of her.

“What’s not fair?” Jamie ran a fingertip idly up and down the back of her sweater.

“The fact that you can say the simplest thing and it just...makes all the words tumble out of my head. And all I can think of instead is how much I like you,” she folded her hands under her chin and propped her head up atop Jamie’s chest with a pout.

As comfortable as she was, Jamie hated that Dani’s hands were resting just under her collarbone. It was probably painfully obvious how fast and firmly her heart was beating under her palms. And it wasn’t helping that Dani was slowly circling one of the pearly white buttons of her shirt.

“Oh yeah?” her voice came out in a raspy whisper as her mouth began to dry out.

“Mmhm,” Dani sucked her own lip into her mouth, gnawing at it gently before raising herself up to kiss her; slow and soft, almost hesitant, as if she’d never done it before.

With wandering hands tracing the pink material of her cable knit sweater, Jamie smiled against Dani’s lips, letting out a chuckling breath into the kiss as Dani pressed herself closer.

“Good thing I like you a whole lot too,” the brunette mumbled and ran her tongue along her own lips after Dani pulled herself back, smiling down at her with a grin that somehow conveyed so much emotion despite being so small on her face.

Sighing contentedly, Dani laid back down, curling into the crook of Jamie’s neck. “Pretty sure this was the best first date I’ve ever had. Even though I’ve only had two,” she mumbled with a quiet snort.

“You saying it’s over?”

Dani picked her head up, “It’s not?”

“Well, if we’re still being traditional about this, I don’t think it’s over til I drop you off at home,” she chuckled as Dani lowered her head again, “But seeing as how you drove yourself over here, I dunno how that’s gonna work. Guess it’s just done when we say it is.”

“Well, some people have sleepovers on a first date, don’t they?”

Jamie’s hand on her back froze as she thought on what Dani said; wondering if she was implying what was now running through Jamie’s mind.

“Not like that,” the blonde shook her head in her spot in her neck, grateful that her intense blush was hidden from Jamie’s view, “I mean, I guess some people do...that...on a first date, but…”

Jamie just pursed her lips together as she felt Dani begin to radiate a heat against her. It seeped so strongly through their clothes as if the layers weren’t there at all. It was endearing how embarrassed Dani was about the mere mention of sex. Despite their age (and the fact that she had two kids), the blonde’s merciless shame still took over her like it did back in high school, making her blush furiously.

“Well…” she cleared her throat, “No rush...yeah? One day at a time.” She could feel Dani nod against her neck, followed by the rise and fall of her shoulders when she took in a deep, sturdy breath.

Jamie was no stranger to sex. If anything, she was more of a stranger to romance and monogamy than she was to sex. For a while now, there had only been a small handful of women that she saw more than once. But they were all casual hookups; After-dark meetings with no strings attached that only lasted a few hours at a time.

It wasn’t that Jamie didn’t want something more than casual meet ups. She just didn’t want it with them. Not even with the captivating women she’d met here in the city with bright blue eyes, blonde hair, and soft but radiant smiles. She knew it wasn’t fair to any of them to try for anything more. It would just be an act; A fantasy to live out like a child playing house.

And even if she wanted to, it was going to take someone otherworldly to make her feelings for Dani fade. She had just never met that person. But if she were honest, she hadn’t been looking. She was so pathetically hung up on her childhood friend that she never gave anyone else a fair chance.

But it worked out in her favor. Because here she was now, with Dani lying on her chest, fresh off their first real date. There were no hidden, unrequited feelings, no shame or guilt in what they were doing. It was just them, the way they’d always wanted it to be. And they had all the time in the world.

“So...” Dani let a fingertip linger around a loose button on Jamie’s shirt, making a mental note to fix it for her before she left. “Do you think, um…” she fell short, embarrassed even from where her face was hidden, “Do you think it’s too soon to...put a label on...y’know, this?”

Jamie stilled again as her heart leapt into her throat, making it nearly impossible for her to breathe normally. A label wasn’t entirely necessary to her. But since she was fourteen, she’d always wanted to be the one to call Dani Clayton her girlfriend. And she could only ever daydream of having the honor of getting to be Dani Clayton’s girlfriend.

“Is that...what you want?” she cleared her throat, though, her voice still came out raspy and dry. But she met Dani’s eyes when the blonde pulled herself up from her hiding spot against her neck. The ocean blue iris’s spoke for her, telling Jamie everything that she just couldn’t bring herself to say out loud.

”It’s all I’ve wanted for years,” they may as well have screamed in her face. They were wide, bright, and shiny, as they always were; But so full of tentative desperation.

But despite her obvious apprehension, Dani flicked her tongue carefully over her lips, trying to find the courage to speak for herself rather than letting her eyes do the talking. However, when she finally got the nerve to speak, all that came out was a strained, barely audible, “Please, Jamie,” as she wrinkled the shoulder of the brunette’s shirt in a nervous fist.

And as usual, that was all it took.

Jamie felt all the air leave her body as if Dani’s tenuous request was completely unexpected. This was something she’d dreamed of since they were fourteen. And after years of starting to accept that it would never happen, she was having a hard time believing that it wasn’t just a dream. But it was real, and it was happening here and now.

“You sure?” she only was able to manage a strained whisper of her own. A label wouldn’t make a difference. They would still talk on the phone most nights, have their weekend sleepovers, kiss when they were alone, and go out on dates when they could. Nothing would be any different than it was now. But damn, having the privilege of calling Dani her girlfriend was something Jamie would be crazy to pass up.

And Dani lingered above her as a slow smile spread across her face. “Yeah,” she gave the slightest nod, letting go of Jamie’s shirt to toy with the loose ringlets at the nape of her neck instead.

Jamie took in a staggering breath, releasing it just as slow as a shaky, “Thank fuck,” flowed out along with it. She wasn’t sure if she lifted her head up or if Dani lowered hers down. Maybe they met in the middle. All she knew was that the kiss shared between them was nothing short of exhilarating; intoxicating.

It felt new. Every kiss with Dani felt new, but this felt solid. They weren’t just friends with feelings who just so happened to make out every now and then. They were girlfriends; Unspoken, but official. It felt like they’d taken ten giant bounds forward instead of the slow, tip-toeing baby steps they’d grown so used to.

It actually wasn’t scary, diving into the deep end like this. Sometimes Jamie wasn’t so sure about some things. She was bold, but she knew when to approach with caution. And Dani was constantly living in fear of the “what if”s of life. But for once, neither of them had a single qualm; no feelings of worry or fear of what could go wrong in this decision. It felt right.

It was right. There was no way it couldn’t be. It was just so hard to believe that it took them nineteen years to figure it out.

Chapter Text

December 1972

Jamie laughed loudly at her little brother as a homemade Christmas cracker ripped open quietly between them, making him flinch in surprise as hand-cut confetti and a few other things fell to the rug under their feet. Apparently Christmas crackers weren’t very popular in America. Dani had no idea what they were until she was helping her put a few of them together last week. They could be a bit of a pain in the ass to make, but Mikey loved them. Along with paper crowns and confetti, the Taylors usually put little toys in all their crackers and let Mikey keep them as part of his Christmas gift, even if he didn’t get the bigger half when they were pulled apart.

Christmas had never been a huge deal in their family. Most of the time, they didn’t have enough money to get gifts for each other. But this year, when they woke up Christmas morning, there had been gifts under the tree not only from each other, but from Santa Claus as well.

Jamie had learned very early on that Santa wasn’t real. She probably had it figured out by the time she was seven; noticing that Santa only seemed to visit the kids who came from families much more wealthy than the ones in their neighborhood back in England. But even if they rarely got a visit from the old man in red, her ten year old brother still believed in him.

Though this was their first time having gifts from Santa under their tree, Jamie was smart enough to pick up on the fact that her father’s handwriting was scrawled on all the tags. But they all played along anyway for Mikey’s sake, pretending that Santa had actually come to drop the new gifts off overnight.

And as excited as Jamie was to get a portable radio that she could take with her on long bike rides with Dani, she was happier to know that her parents seemed to be doing well enough at work to be able to afford gifts for her and her brothers, as well as ingredients for a whole feast for dinner.

As the morning turned to afternoon, Jamie was helping her parents prep the turkey and roast potatoes, and Denny was cleaning up the wrapping paper, tinsel, and confetti mess from the living room rug. Mikey was playing with his new train set on the floor when the doorbell rang over the sound of Christmas music on the radio.

“I’ll get it!” The little boy stood from his spot and ran to the door, swinging it open immediately despite being told several times to ask who’s there first.

Jamie was washing mini red potatoes in the kitchen sink when she heard Mikey babbling to whoever was at the door about Santa and his new train set. But the sound of Dani’s voice that came after had her washing the potatoes even faster so she could finish and go say hi.

“Be right back, Mum,” the brunette mumbled, setting the potatoes into the colander and drying her hands, leaving her mother to baste the turkey while she ran to the living room.

“Hey!” Dani greeted her with a big smile, getting up from her spot on the floor with Mikey to give Jamie a hug, “Merry Christmas.”

“You too,” the brunette blushed a little against the tweed of her pink winter jacket, damp from the snowflakes that had landed and melted on her shoulders, “What are you doing here?”

“Eddie called my house a few minutes ago. He said that Mrs. O’Mara wants us to come over as soon as we can.”

“Why?”

She shrugged her shoulders, sending the curls at the ends of her blonde hair bouncing against pink tweed. “I dunno, he just said his mom wanted to see us. Both of us.”

Jamie’s throat dried out a bit. She knew the O’Maras, they were nice people; Especially Judy. They were also very generous. So Jamie could only assume that they were inviting her over on Christmas Day to feed her or give her some kind of gift.

Dani may have been comfortable with it, since she’d known them her entire life. But Jamie had barely known them for a year and a half; And she wasn’t too keen on taking people up on their selfless hospitality. She was raised around people who had a mentality of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,”, but sometimes, she didn’t have the means to repay people for their kindness. And sometimes that got her into trouble. So she’d learned not to rely on other people at all.

“Oh, uh...I’m kind of—“

“Hi there, Dani, Happy Christmas,” Louise came over with a cigarette in hand, apparently taking a break from cooking as well.

“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Taylor,” the blonde smiled politely up at the woman, “Is it okay if I take Jamie over to Eddie’s? His mom wanted us to come over for something.”

The auburn-haired woman took a long drag from her cigarette, blowing it into the air beside her with a shrug, “I don’t see why not. Just have Jamie back by five for dinner.”

“It smells amazing,” Dani commented, peering around Louise silently wondering what they were making.

“You’re welcome to join us, if you’d like. We’ll have plenty,” Louise flicked her cigarette into the ashtray she was carrying along with her.

“Okay! I’ll see what my mom says,” her smile grew even more as she nodded eagerly. And after Louise went back to the kitchen, Dani grabbed Jamie’s hand to lead her to the door, helping her into her puffy coat and putting her knit cap on head for her. “Ready to go?” she asked once Jamie had her snow boots on.

“Are you sure Eddie said both of us?” her voice was almost shaky with nerves. The O’Mara family were still new to Jamie. As comforting as they were, they seemed too perfect; and that made her nervous.

“Positive. She always makes Christmas cookies, maybe she just wants to give us some before the boys eat them all,” Dani giggled, dragging Jamie out the door and into the snow. The walk to Eddie’s house wasn’t long. But in the heavy snow and bitter cold, it seemed so much longer than usual.

After Dani knocked eagerly on the door with a mitten-covered hand, Eddie opened the door slowly, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose as a blush covered his cheeks. And after taking one look at the sweater he was wearing, it was obvious why.

“Don’t even say anything, my mom made it,” the twelve year old boy rolled his eyes, looking down at the gaudy red sweater on his chest. There was red, green, and white yarn in intricate patterns along the sleeves that were a bit too long for his arms, and a big green ‘E’ knit onto the torso.

“I think it’s cute,” Dani grinned genuinely, reaching over to trace the pattern on his arm.

Jamie, on the other hand, had to cover her mouth with one hand, trying not to laugh. She could only imagine what kids at school would have to say about it if he were ever forced to wear it after winter break was over. But thankfully, he turned his back to lead them into the house; and Jamie was free to uncover the amused smile that lingered on her face. She was pretty glad that her mom never learned how to knit.

The girls took their shoes and coats off at the door, smiling as the rest of the O’Mara boys (all in matching sweaters) greeted them. Carson bounded up to them for tight hugs before dragging them to the Christmas tree to show them what he’d gotten from Santa, much like Mikey did when Dani showed up at the Taylor’s house.

“Merry Christmas, girls!” Judy came down the stairs, greeting the pair that was kneeling by the tree with Carson, “Those two boxes under the tree are for you.”

With matching looks of confusion, Dani and Jamie looked at each other as Carson plopped the matching boxes in their laps; One tied with a red bow and one with green.

“Mrs. O’Mara, you didn’t have to—“

“No, no, none of that. It’s Christmas, go on,” Judy cut Jamie off and waved a hand, sipping at a glass of wine with a smile as she eagerly watched them unwrap their gifts.

Once the wrapping paper was torn off and the lids were lifted, Jamie stared into her box, suddenly finding her mind whirring. Dani was lifting her new hand-knit sweater out of the box in her lap, all smiles as she told Judy how much she loved it. Just like Eddie’s and the other boys’, it was red with patterned sleeves and a big green letter ‘D’ on the torso.

“I made them for all the boys, and I figured you’re both like daughters to me, so I made them for you, too,” the woman grinned from where she was seated on the edge of the armchair.

Jamie stared at hers that matched everyone else’s, feeling a lump rising in her throat. A minute ago, she was trying not to laugh at Eddie wearing his; thanking the heavens that her own mother never took up a knitting hobby so she never had to wear something so humiliating. But now, she was seeing it in a whole new light.

Yeah, the sweater with gaudy patterns on the sleeves and big ‘J’ on the chest wasn’t the most attractive piece of clothing she would have in her closet. But it was less about the sweater and more about the fact that she was seen as family by this woman, by these people, enough for them to include her in something like this. She would’ve expected them to do this kind of thing for Dani, but Jamie had only met them last year.

Judy was constantly making her realize how much she craved affection from her own mother. Louise didn’t bake cookies for no reason, or take her and her friends to the ice cream parlor. Judy had given Jamie a jacket and a pocket full of fresh baked cookies ten minutes after meeting her. Her own mother would never do that for someone. Dani’s mom wasn’t like that either; so Jamie understood why Dani loved Judy so much. She seemed to be the ideal mother that anyone would want.

“Do you like it, Jamie?” Judy’s voice brought the brunette out of the thoughts that were swirling through her head. Apparently while she was lost in thought, staring into the box, Dani had managed to put hers on over the sweater she was already wearing.

Clearing her throat, Jamie nodded with a blushing smile. “Y-yeah. Yeah, thank you,” came out with a bit of effort around the lump that still sat in her throat. She pulled the sweater out of the box and slid it on over her head, tugging her curls out from under the neckline before turning to Dani who was grinning beside her.

“Thank you, Mrs. O’Mara,” the blonde pulled Jamie up to her feet so they could hug Judy together; And the older woman hugged them back just as tightly.

And to make matters worse on Jamie’s already repressed emotions, Mr. O’Mara came around with his camera, calling for all the kids to get together so he could get a picture of all of them in their matching sweaters; Dani and Jamie included.

That was another thing that the Taylors never did. The last photo taken of the five of them was from before Mikey even lost his first tooth. There had been a few photos taken since then, but no family portraits. Cameras were expensive, as well as film and development.

But she squeezed beside Dani as they all stood in front of the tree, giving Mr. O’Mara’s camera lense a genuine grin. And once the photo was taken, they all laughed after nearly being blinded by the flash.

Their matching sweaters may have been ridiculous looking, and they would grow up and laugh at how silly they looked in them. But Jamie knew, even now at twelve and a half years old, that no matter how hard she laughed at herself, she would always remember how good she felt in the moment that the photo was taken.

December 1977

Waiting patiently in the cold outside the Clayton’s front door, Jamie stood in the dark until the porch light turned on. She’d just been outside Dani’s bedroom window, tossing a few snow-covered pebbles to let her know that she’d arrived for another secret sleepover. She hadn’t climbed through her window since before their junior year of high school ended earlier this year; Not since the ladder was removed from its former spot on the side of the house.

The door opened slowly and quietly as Dani appeared in a red flannel pajama set with her hair draped over her shoulder in a braid.

“Merry Christmas, Poppins,” Jamie smirked as she slid her shoes off on the porch so she would make less noise coming inside. Apparently after a lot of eggnog, Karen was out cold for the night, but Jamie didn’t want to risk waking her.

Dani just gave her a warm smile and pulled her into a tight hug on the door mat, whispering ‘Merry Christmas’ in her ear before pulling her inside and out of the cold. And just in case, not a word was spoken between them until they were upstairs and locked into Dani’s room, far enough down the hall from Karen’s bedroom that they didn’t have to whisper.

“How was Christmas at Mikey’s?” the blonde asked quietly, already moving to sit cross-legged on her bed in the dim light from her lamp.

“Better than whatever was going on at my house, I’m sure,” Jamie sighed as she shed her layers until she was comfortable in just a big sweatshirt; crawling up onto the pink bedding with her.

Biting her lip, Dani just glanced down to where her thumbs were twiddling in her lap. From what she’d been told, Mikey’s foster home wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot safer than Jamie’s. And she was glad to hear that Mikey’s foster parents were kind enough to let Jamie join in on their holiday. Jamie only had six more months before she turned eighteen and could legally leave. And for both of them, June couldn’t come fast enough.

“Have something for you,” the older girl smiled a bit, getting up to rummage through her clothes pile on the floor.

“Oh yeah?” Dani managed a smile of her own, reassured by Jamie’s seemingly chipper mood.

Coming back, Jamie climbed back up onto the twin-sized bed, sitting up on her knees as she handed Dani a gift wrapped in a few old Sunday comic strips with a bow made of thin twine. “Yeah,” she sighed, handing it over.

“You didn’t have to get me anything.” Dani knew that Jamie’s financial situation didn’t leave much room for spending. Yeah, she had her job, but she had been trying to save up for an old truck that she’d had her eye on. And she was hoping to get it by the end of senior year.

“Didn’t spend any money on it, don’t worry,” Jamie shrugged, as if she could read her mind. She knew how supportive Dani was of her saving up every penny of her paychecks as much as she could so she could get her truck. But thankfully, with the raise she got last month and her Christmas bonus from the Johnsons, she’d get the truck much sooner than she originally anticipated.

The blonde just nodded, never losing her smile as she carefully tore through the newspaper after unwinding the twine bow. Under the paper was a wooden picture frame; painted pink and covered in painted flowers.

“It was...last minute. Made it at Mikey’s last week,” Jamie went on to explain; a bit embarrassed as Dani ran a fingertip over a painted daisy, “They were having all the kids make’em and a few other things so they’d have stuff to give to each other for Christmas, and they were nice enough to let me join in.”

“Did you make one for Mikey?”

“Yeah. Didn’t have any pictures to put in it, though. Same with yours,” she cleared her throat, feeling a little bad that she couldn’t add pictures to the frames she’d decorated. But Dani knew that Jamie didn’t have many photos to choose from to begin with. And of the ones that she did have, she refused to keep at her own foster home. Anything that Jamie valued was kept far away from there. Especially since David, her foster dad, had a habit of destroying anything in sight when he was drunk or angry.

Dani nodded again, smiling down at the frame. She knew that Jamie kept her photos and anything else of value in her locker at school, or in a box in Mr. Johnson’s office at work. She even kept a few things here at her house for safekeeping. But Dani had plenty of photos of her own that would fit in the frame.

“Doesn’t have to be a picture of us, either,” the brunette spoke quickly with a hand held out between them, “It’s...y’know, just a frame. Could put a picture of you and Eddie in it if you want, or the cheer squad, or hell, even your mum, I dunno, but—“

“Jamie,” Dani giggled after letting her ramble for a few moments, setting the frame aside so she could lean over to hug her tightly, “I love it, thank you. I know exactly what to put in it, too.”

“Yeah?”

“Mmhm. Just gotta dig it out of my photo album,” Dani pulled back, knowing that the photo Rebecca took of her and Jamie on the bleachers at the homecoming game earlier this year would fit perfectly in the frame. It was the first semester Dani got to spend on the sidelines, since she gave up cheerleading to focus on working for an after school tutoring program instead.

“I have something for you too,” her smile grew as she untangled her legs and set her feet on the rug, pulling a flat, wrapped square out from under her bed to give to her best friend, “It’s not much, I promise.”

Jamie breathed out a bit of a laugh and ran her fingers over the shiny green paper before carefully ripping the tape and sliding a record sleeve out from under the packaging.

“I know you don’t have a record player, but I thought maybe you could keep it here and we can listen to it when you come over,” Dani’s eyes were wide, trying to explain as Jamie nodded and looked over the front and back of the sleeve.

“Think I’ve heard of them before. Never listened to’em, though,” the brunette commented quietly, seeing that it was just titled Blondie. And the track listings had some pretty strange names like “Attack of the Giant Ants” and “X Offender”. But she would listen to just about anything. And the band looked pretty cool.

“I’ve never heard of them. I thought maybe you had, but...I guess we can listen to it together soon?” Dani sounded nervous in her question, hoping that Jamie wasn’t upset that she had gotten her something that she really couldn’t even take home or use, herself. But she knew that anything she got for her, Jamie wouldn’t want to bring it back to her house in fear of it getting stolen or ruined.

“Thanks,” Jamie leaned up and over on her knees to hug her again, squeezing a little tighter, hanging on a little longer. The scent of strawberry shampoo had become such a comfort to her over the last few years, even in moments when she didn’t know she needed comfort in the first place.

Dani pulled back with a deep sigh, bringing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. “Can you believe this time next year we’ll be in college?”

“Ugh, don’t remind me,” the brunette rolled her eyes. She’d been following Dani’s lead in sending out applications to schools. Acceptance and rejection letters were due to start rolling in sometime in the coming months.

A part of Jamie was terrified that she and Dani would end up getting separated. Dani would have Eddie wherever she went, at least. She wouldn’t be alone. And if the universe decided, once again, to be against her, Jamie knew that she would just have to adjust to whatever happened.

But she tried not to worry too much about it. She lived with a ‘one day at a time’ philosophy. She said it to Dani all the time. And she tried as hard as she could to practice what she preached. And somehow, it was just easier when Dani was around. Especially when they were squeezed together on a twin-sized mattress, falling into a peaceful sleep with nothing but the sound of snowflakes against the windows to fill the silence.

December 1983

“Thank you for coming, have a Merry Christmas,” Dani gave the last customer of the night their receipt and slid the large poinsettia across the counter, waving goodbye as they walked out satisfied (as most customers who came into the little flower shop did).

Once they were gone, she rounded the counter and locked the doors, pulling the shade down to cover the glass windows.

“Oi, you’re not even gonna wipe the windows down?” Jamie seemed to manifest behind her with a broom in hand and a smirk on her face.

“Oh, come on, there’s probably only like, two tiny smudges on the glass,” the younger woman rolled her eyes and made her way back to the counter to count the till.

“Phil would have your head if you said that to him,” Jamie shook her head with a chuckle as she swept the floor, “I should know, I was the punk teenager who did say it to him.”

Dani just let out a puff of laughter as she counted bills in the drawer. “And look at you now,” she grinned smugly in Jamie’s direction, “He gave that punk teenager the whole place.”

The brunette bit the inside of her cheek to contain her smile. Mr. Johnson had died earlier that year, leaving Jamie the whole business. Even after years of hard work, being a faithful and helpful employee (who even helped save them from having to close their doors), it still surprised her when Phil told her that he wanted her to keep the store going after he was gone.

And so far, it was going more than well. She had a great staff, some old, some new; and business was booming. She even had the apartment upstairs and she lived ten minutes from her best friend. Jamie wasn’t used to things going well for her, and she was still surprised that things had been going as well as they were; But she would be foolish to say that she didn’t deserve it. She was a reliable employee here in high school, she worked long hours to help keep things afloat for the Johnsons, and she busted her ass through college to end up where she was now.

“You trying to follow in my footsteps, then?” she leaned against the broom handle, watching Dani laugh again as she counted quarters from the drawer.

She was grateful for Dani’s stubbornness at times. She was always willing to help out, even though Jamie always told her not to. But today, Dani came in unannounced, convinced Jamie to let her work the counter and let the girl running the register go home to be with her family. It was the night before Christmas Eve and they were closed the next three days.

After Dani’s stubborn insistence, Jamie let her counter girl go home and told her that she’d still be paid for the rest of her shift. And for the last three hours, it was just her and Dani running things around the store, selling last minute holly and poinsettias.

“Thank you again, you really didn’t have to come help,” Jamie sighed and jingled her keys in her pocket after everything had been cleaned, counted, and organized. Now, Dani was regretfully sliding her coat onto her arms and wrapping her scarf around her neck, hating that she had to turn down Jamie’s offer for hot cocoa upstairs so she could get home in time to make dinner for Miles and Eddie.

“You gonna let me pay you this time?” she smirked, walking Dani to the door as the blonde gave her an abrupt “nope” with the ‘P’ dramatically popped with a smile.

“You’re killin’ me, Poppins.”

“I didn’t come to help cause I wanted money, Jay. I came to help you cause I like it here. And I wanted to spend time with you,” Dani playfully shoved her arm, “And now, you don’t even wanna come over for dinner. Twelve years of friendship and you’re finally sick of me.”

Jamie couldn’t stop the laugh that came from her chest at Dani’s accusation. It was a ludicrous idea, and she could tell that even Dani knew it by the way she laughed along with her. “It’ll be a cold day in hell if I ever get sick of y—“ She stopped herself mid-sentence with her head tilted back from laughter, fixing her eyes on a bundle of green over the doorway. “Did you put that there?” she pointed up to the little plant bundle over the doorway.

“Yeah, it’s Christmas! I thought it would be...I dunno, romantic or something for couples that came in,” Dani’s face began to tickle with embarrassed heat.

“What’s romantic about a bundle of holly?” Jamie chuckled, failing to pull the little ribbon-wrapped leaf bundle down.

“It’s mistletoe!” her voice got a bit pitchy in defense, “...Isn’t it?”

“Dani, this is holly,” Jamie’s voice remained peppered with laughter; And it only got stronger at the look of confusion on her best friend’s face as she looked up at the holly leaves.

“I-I thought…” she trailed off, unsure of how to finish. But Jamie took her mind off of it with a chuckling kiss pressed to her cheek. And she tried not to make it obvious that the simple act, the common act, had her breath catching quickly in the back of her throat.

“There. Happy?” Jamie offered her a warm smile as she pulled away, running a hand up and down the puffy sleeve of Dani’s jacket. And for a moment, she allowed herself to think that the heavy flush on Dani’s cheeks was from something other than the embarrassment of mixing up two very different plants.

They stayed, unmoving in front of the doors as blue eyes met with green in the dim lighting from the floodlights. A chill ran down Jamie’s spine, and she knew it wasn’t from the cold right outside the doors. But after a few moments of uncomfortable silence, she cleared her throat and stepped away, fetching a poinsettia from a nearby display to bring back to where Dani was standing by the door.

“Here,” she handed it over, being careful of the leaves, “For helping out tonight.”

Dani noticeably relaxed a bit as a smile spread on her face and she shook her head, “I told you you don’t have to pay me. With anything.”

“Then it’s for your mum. Tell her I said Merry Christmas,” Jamie chuckled as Dani finally took the potted plant into her arms.

“Fine. Thank you,” the blonde smiled, “Are you still coming to Judy’s on Christmas Day?”

Jamie just nodded, shoving her hands into the pockets of her brown slacks. “As far as I know,” she nodded, rocking back and forth on her shoes. She had a lot of work to get done here, and Dani knew that. But the younger woman had been reminding her all week that she needed to spend at least one day with her family, even if they weren’t blood related.

“Call me if Karen gets to be too much for you tomorrow, though,” she continued with a hint of a snort and an amused smile, “I can be at her house in five minutes if I break the speed limit.”

Dani rolled her eyes as Jamie expected to get a small lecture about how she shouldn’t speed, especially when the ground was wet and icy. But instead, she pulled her in for a hug with one arm around Jamie’s shoulders, holding her as tight as she could with the poinsettia in her other arm. “I know you’ve got a lot of work to do, but feel free to stop by,” she sighed into the crook of Jamie’s neck.

“We’ll see. If not, I’ll see you the next day at Judy’s,” the brunette’s voice muffled against her shoulder.

With a nod, Dani stepped back and took a deep breath, holding the poinsettia pot against her midsection before Jamie unlocked the door, letting her step out and walk the short distance to her car. But the older woman remained in the open doorway, making sure Dani got into her car before she locked herself in for the night.

“Jamie, it’s freezing, go inside!” she called to her over the whistling wind as she unlocked the drivers side door.

“I will when you drive off!” Jamie yelled back.

“You’re gonna get sick!”

“A little cold never hurt anyone!”

“Jamie!”

“The longer you stand there yelling at me, the longer it’s gonna take for me to go back inside! I’d hate to have to blame you if I get pneumonia!” she leaned against the door with her arms crossed over her front of her sweater. And she watched, entertained as Dani surrendered and got into her car, nearly blinding Jamie with the headlights when she turned the engine on.

And after waves were exchanged between the windshield and the lightly falling snow, Jamie closed herself back into her little shop, reaching up to pull the ridiculously placed holly leaves from where they hung over the entrance.

December 1990

“Mummy! Aunt Jamie, wake up! Santa came! He came and he took a bite of the cookies we left him! And he drank all his milk! And he left us presents! Wake uuuuup!!”

Jamie’s nose scrunched up with displeasure as she felt the weight of her niece jumping on top of her.

“Flora, the sun’s not even up yet,” she could hear Dani’s thick, yawning voice beside her, “Go back to bed for another hour, the presents will still be there.”

“But Mummyyyy!”

Jamie’s eyes opened slowly as she felt Flora climb off of her. It was still dark outside. The only light in the room was coming in from the hallway. “Y’know, I heard the elves wrap the presents in special paper now,” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes before sitting up, “Yeah it’s indestructible before the sun comes up.”

“That’s a lie,” Miles accused from the doorway, not wearing the same fascinated smile as his little sister.

“Oh yeah?” she curled an eyebrow up at him, “I think it’s pretty smart of’em. Makes it so the toys can’t get ruined on the overnight trip.” She grinned with a playful smug at the ten year old, but he remained rather stoic in the doorway with his arms crossed over his pajamas.

“Mummy, he even brought presents for Wally, can we please go see?” Flora sat on her mother’s lap, pleading with an irresistible pout and hands folded under her chin.

Dani just sighed and looked at the brunette beside her. But Jamie just offered a one-shoulder shrug with an amused smile. They were already awake; Though, the two of them didn’t get to bed until late. They stayed up drinking wine and watching White Christmas in the living room, waiting until they were sure the kids were both fast asleep before they brought a load of gifts up from the basement to place under the tree.

Once everything was set out, Jamie took a bite out of each of the sugar cookies by the chimney while Dani brought the mug back from the kitchen. The milk had been sitting out far too long to even be drinkable.

And after they retired to the master bedroom for the night, the two of them stayed up a bit later; kissing and talking until, eventually, they were yawning. But they’d only managed to squeeze in about four hours of sleep before they were woken up.

“Why don’t you both go brush your teeth and give us a few minutes,” Dani ran a hand over the back of Flora’s head to smooth down her messy french braid. And the little girl didn’t have to be told twice; She was out the door and down the hall in a matter of seconds.

Miles, on the other hand, lingered in the doorway. The look on his face wasn’t one of anger or sadness. But he certainly didn’t seem as thrilled as Flora.

“You okay, kid?” Jamie’s voice was still a bit raspy from sleep as she cocked her head curiously. But Miles just pushed himself off the doorframe and rounded the corner, leaving them alone.

“He all right?” she turned to Dani, asking her instead.

But the blonde just shrugged her shoulders with a sigh, “I mean, he’s cranky in the morning. But it’s Christmas morning. He’s usually so excited.”

Laying back down, Jamie pulled Dani down with her, wrapping an arm around her waist as she pressed a kiss to her lips, letting a few more trail down to her neck.

“Jamie, they’re gonna be done brushing their teeth soon,” she chuckled quietly into the curls at Jamie’s shoulder. But in a moment of weakness, she pulled her closer, finding her lips again with an airy hum of contented approval.

And unsurprisingly, Jamie was the one to pull back first. At this point, she was used to being the one to make rational choices after Dani had been practically hypnotized by dizzying kisses. “Come on, Poppins. Maybe if we get some hot cocoa in those two soon, they’ll pass out at Judy’s later,” she smirked against Dani’s lips, allowing herself to be brought in for one last lingering kiss with Dani’s hand resting against her cheek.

Minutes later, Jamie yawned as she walked down the stairs, tying her hair into one of Dani’s brightly colored scrunchies as she approached the commotion in the living room. Miles and Flora were already digging through the pile of gifts, separating them into piles so the five of them (Miles, Flora, Dani, Jamie, and Wally) each had their own pile.

“Don’t forget your stockings, guys,” Dani giggled from her spot on the couch, pointing to the fireplace where five full stockings were hanging from the mantle.

“Oh, right!” Flora nearly shrieked and ran over to retrieve them to place them in everyone’s piles.

“Oi, no peeking, missy,” Jamie plopped down on the couch beside Dani, smirking at Flora. But the little girl just giggled shamelessly after being caught peeking into her stocking as she carried it over from the mantle.

“You can’t tell us what to do,” Miles said firmly from his spot on the floor, staring across the room at Jamie.

“Miles,” Dani furrowed her brows at him, confused at his attitude. Her son could be moody; In the morning, especially. But he’d never directed his moodiness at Jamie like this.

“Well, she can’t!” he raised his voice a bit defensively.

“First of all, do not raise your voice at me. Or anyone, for that matter,” Dani held a finger up to him before adding another, “And secondly, Aunt Jamie was just joking with your sister. But even if she wasn’t, you know better than to talk to someone like that.”

“But she can’t tell us what to do. Only you and Dad could do that,” he grumbled.

“Nuh-uh, Grandma can tell us what to do, too! And our teachers. And your hockey coach,” Flora chimed in from her little fortress of wrapped gifts on the floor, shaking a few to see if she could guess what was inside.

“I don’t need any help, Flora, but thank you,” Dani pinched the bridge of her nose before glancing back at her son, “But she’s right. You listen to all those people, and you need to listen to Aunt Jamie too.” Miles never had a problem listening to Jamie before, so she had no idea where this was coming from. And the fact that he was putting up such a fuss over a joke that wasn’t even aimed towards him was unusual.

The ten year old just rolled his eyes, muttering out a quiet, “Whatever,” that was still intentionally loud enough to be heard. And Dani had had enough.

“You know what, go to your room. You can open your presents later,” she shook her head, pointing towards the staircase in the foyer.

“B-but, that’s not fair—“

“Keep it up and you won’t open them until after we get home from Nana’s house,” the blonde told him firmly, keeping her finger pointed towards the doorway to the foyer. And Jamie, sitting awkwardly between them in the conversation, had to admit she was impressed to see Dani holding her ground, not even breaking eye contact with Miles when he tried to stare her down.

But eventually, the boy got up. His face was reddened from frustration as he stomped past them, continuing to stomp all the way up the stairs until his bedroom door was audibly closed.

“I’m so sorry,” Dani whispered, raising her trembling hands to her face; leaning into them.

Jamie straightened up and placed a subtle, soothing hand on the small of Dani’s back, rubbing tight circles over her pajama top. “S’all right,” she shook her head. If it weren’t for Flora still being in the room, she would’ve pulled her into her arms to calm her down.

“It’s not all right, Jamie, he shouldn’t talk to anyone like that, especially you. He knows better,” she shook her head as she brought her hands down from her face, looking at her girlfriend with glassy eyes.

Flora was distractedly singing along with “Frosty the Snowman” on the radio, so Jamie took the opportunity to lean a little closer to Dani, talking quietly enough that the little girl wouldn’t hear. “Baby, it’s early and he’s ten. And...I mean, it’s his first Christmas without his dad. I’m sure he’s just...not taking it well, y’know?”

Dani nodded, reaching behind her to hold Jamie’s hand out of Flora’s eyeline. “I’m gonna go talk to him, I think. Can you help her with her stocking and maybe Wally’s presents?” she sniffled, wiping under one eye with her free hand.

“Course,” Jamie nodded back, offering Dani a comforting smile, briefly kissing the back of her hand before watching her disappear into the foyer. And once she was upstairs, Jamie sighed, putting on a cheerful grin as she joined the five year old on the floor.

“Just you, me, and the mutt for now, sprout” she laughed as Flora plopped herself into her lap without hesitation, “Should we see what Santa brought for Wally first?”

xxx

Jamie leaned against the back of the couch, sipping at a glass of wine as Meet Me In St. Louis played on Dani’s TV. Flora had been easy to put to bed after the exhausting day they all had. Miles was obviously tired, but Dani had been tucking him in for the better part of an hour, now. Jamie could only assume that she had finally gotten him to talk about what had been bothering him this morning.

It had been a long day. After being woken up before sunrise, opening gifts, and dealing with Miles’s attitude all morning, the four of them had gone across town to their old neighborhood to join the O’Maras like they did every Christmas.

That had been a whirlwind. Aside from the obvious emotion that lingered in the air from Eddie’s absence, Carson had arrived just before lunch with Bobby. Somewhere during the afternoon, while Judy was trying to set him up with Olivia, his childhood friend who had just moved back to town, he had decided to tell his mother the truth. And in the process, he let everyone in the house know that he was gay and Bobby was his boyfriend.

But despite everyone’s initial shock (the look on Dani’s face was priceless), the O’Maras were very accepting of him and they welcomed Bobby in with open arms. Aside from the kids, the only person in the room not completely beaming for Carson was Karen, but that was the least bit surprising to Dani or Jamie.

And after dinner, dessert, and a lot of singing along to Christmas songs that Carson played on his old guitar, they all said their goodbyes. Jamie hugged the youngest O’Mara a little tighter than usual, telling him that she was proud of him. Eventually, she would confide in him about Dani, and she hoped that he would be just as supportive.

And now, here she was, settled alone on the couch with Wally at her feet. Flora had been tucked in with her new pink Care Bear, falling asleep surprisingly fast, considering all the buckeyes and cookies she ate at Judy’s. Though, she put up a bit of a fuss, not wanting to go to bed without getting to watch one of her new Disney video tapes. But the sugar crash hit her hard and she was fast asleep within minutes.

Jamie knew that Dani was exhausted after the day they’d had. At this point, she wouldn’t be surprised if she had fallen asleep curled up with Miles in his bed. She was about to get up to check on her, but the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs stopped her. And she smiled at the sleepy looking blonde that padded into the living room in her pajamas.

“Hey,” she leaned back against the couch cushions with arms extended so Dani could just fall comfortably against her, “That took a while. He doing all right?”

Dani just sighed deeply as she made herself comfortable against Jamie’s chest. “I still can’t believe you knew about Carson,” she mumbled, deflecting from the conversation, “I’m surprised you never told me, but it’s nice that you kept his secret. He’s lucky to have you.”

“I’d want him to do the same for me if the roles were reversed,” Jamie shrugged and ran a hand down Dani’s back, settling with warm fingers on the exposed skin at the small of her back, “What took you so long with Miles?”

“And I can’t believe how much Flora ate. That girl is a bottomless pit,” Dani let out a light giggle, still ignoring the topic Jamie was trying to bring up, “My mom never would’ve let me eat that much, even at that age. Do you remember that time she literally took a brownie out of my—“

“Dani…”

Blue eyes squeezed shut. Dani knew that Jamie wanted to know why she was upstairs for so long. But, she had no idea how to tell her what Miles had said.

“Hey,” Jamie tried again, gently tilting Dani’s chin up to face her as those blue eyes quickly filled with tears, “It’s just me. You know you can tell me anything.”

Dani just nodded and leaned up to meld her lips to hers, kissing her with a gentle passion that made Jamie’s heart race. But it felt like a goodbye kiss; One of those “one for the road” type of kisses that you give to someone when you know it’s the last time you’ll see them.

“He, um…” Dani licked her lips slowly, wondering what to say, “He’s upset. Like you said before, it’s his first Christmas without his dad. And...I think it was a lot for him to...to see us in my room this morning. Y’know...in the bed I shared with Eddie…”

Jamie watched as the blonde pulled her bottom lip between her teeth nervously, simply nodding her head, waiting for her to explain a little further. But she had a feeling that she knew where this was headed.

“H-he didn’t exactly say it, but...I-I think he’s just...I dunno, I think he’s worried that I’m forgetting about Eddie. And he doesn’t want anyone taking his place,” Dani’s throat bobbed as she continued, “And I told him that no one could ever replace his dad. But he s-said that he...he notices how I’m just...different...when you’re around.”

“Different, how?”

“Happier,” she sniffled, wiping her sleeve under her eyes, “And he said that he wants me to be happy. But he mentioned that I always seem happier with you around than I ever seemed with Eddie.”

Jamie nodded, chewing gently at the inside of her cheek. It made sense why Miles was so snippy with her this morning. He was used to the idea of her and Dani sharing a bed, but he’d never woken up to find Jamie in Eddie’s spot before. To see someone in your dad’s sleeping spot after he died was hard enough. Especially only two months later. But she could understand how it would be even more upsetting when your mother seemed genuinely happier with someone else in that spot. And that could easily be twisted around in his ten year old mind to make it seem like Jamie was trying to take Eddie’s place.

“I told him that...you’re my best friend, and you’ve always made me so happy. And he knows that sometimes, we sleep in the same bed. He knows that. But...I think seeing you where Eddie used to sleep upset him. And he’s gonna apologize to you in the morning.”

Jamie nodded slowly, letting Dani know that she understood. But the tearful younger woman continued before she could speak.

“I hate lying to them,” she whispered as a tear slipped down her cheek, “I hate lying to everybody. But that’s all I’ve ever done is lie. I lied to myself for so long. And I lied to you, and Eddie, and Judy...and now my kids, I’m so tired of it, Jamie. And now I feel like maybe this was too fast. Cause if Miles can’t even handle seeing you sleeping on Eddie’s side of the bed—“

Jamie shhed her quietly and brushed blonde tendrils back behind her ear, pulling her a bit closer, higher up her chest so she could hug her properly. “I know,” she breathed as hot tears fell to her neck, “I know.”

“I just don’t know what to do,” Dani’s fists clenched tightly at the sides of Jamie’s t-shirt, trying to keep her close so she didn’t leave, “I want you, but I also want my kids to be happy, and I don’t wanna break Judy’s heart, and I don’t want to even deal with my mom. And I don’t want you to feel like I’m keeping you around as some kind of dirty little secret, and—“

Warm lips pressed to hers, cutting her off mid-sentence as she let out a surprised (but no less pleased) whimper into the kiss, instinctively pushing herself in closer to soak up as much of Jamie as she could. And like every time, the brunette managed to make her forget about her problems, even if it were only for a few seconds.

“S’gonna be okay,” Jamie whispered against Dani’s lips, tasting the warm salt from her tears, “I can’t really tell you what everyone else feels like, but...I can at least tell you that I...” she paused to kiss her again, smiling a bit at the way that Dani seemed to melt into her, “...am with you. Okay? Through all of it, you know I’m here. No matter what.”

Dani leaned against her forehead, breathing deeply as she was reduced to a few sniffles. Jamie knew that after everything, this wasn’t easy for her. And sometimes, all she could do was offer her comfort. But if she knew how to fix it all for her, she would have had it done already.

“And I don’t feel like that. Like a dirty little secret. You’re not hiding me. We’re just hiding…this. And it’s just for now,” she whispered, feeling goosebumps rising on her skin where feather-light fingers were blindly tracing the tattoo on her arm. “So please don’t think I feel that way,” she continued, shaking her head, bringing her hands up to cup Dani’s cheeks, grazing her thumb pads against the line of her jaw.

The blonde let out a hiccup of a sob, a bit overwhelmed by the affection, swallowing everything she wanted to say to the woman in front of her. Instead she just nodded and captured her lips in hers again, hoping that everything she had to say could be felt instead of heard.

There were so many emotions swirling through Dani’s head, along with decisions she felt needed to be made. How was she meant to keep Miles from feeling the way he did without her destroying her personal progress?

She hadn’t been able to sleep through the night in that room since Eddie died. She didn’t want to sleep without Jamie when she was here. As hard as it still was to believe, Jamie was her girlfriend; Dani wasn’t going to make her sleep in a whole other room. But Dani didn’t want to go back to sleeping in the guest room either. Not when she was doing so well.

Questions and anxieties ran marathons through her mind. But they were slowing down with each kiss from Jamie, and each gentle, soothing touch of her hands. And eventually, she was able to forget about it all. At least for now. Instead, she managed to focus on how warm Jamie felt beside her as they cuddled together on the couch, how good her fingers felt raking against her scalp, and how peaceful the brunette managed to make her feel as Judy Garland’s singing filled the room with the crackle of the fireplace.

Chapter Text

December 1990

Now that I’m here
Now that you’re near
In Xanadu

Jamie snorted a quiet laugh as she wiped down her kitchen counters, listening to the muffled sound of Dani singing to herself in the bathroom down the hall. The blonde had finally managed to get Jamie to sit down and watch the musical with her after tireless efforts over the last few weekends. The songs were all little earworms that got stuck in your head easily, and Dani had probably been singing the same song the whole time she was getting ready.

It was New Year’s Eve; And while Jamie would have been perfectly content going to the O’Mara’s annual end-of-year party, Dani had found out about the party that Hannah’s company was throwing at a nightclub downtown. They’d rented out the whole place, DJ and all. It wasn’t really Jamie’s style (or Hannah’s for that matter), but Dani was insistent on going; claiming that she had been craving going out dancing.

So now, here Jamie was, leaning against the kitchen counters in an ivory tank top made of satin and lace, tucked into navy, wide-legged dress pants with a loose-fitting navy blazer on top with the sleeves rolled up her forearms; waiting for Dani to come out of the bathroom so they could go.

She would’ve been completely fine with staying in, ordering Chinese and watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve on TV, but it would be nice to go out with Hannah and Owen. Plus, she couldn’t deny this for Dani. Not after how excited she seemed.

She knew the younger woman had been stressed lately. On top of the typical holiday stress, work, and her son’s attitude, Karen had been giving Dani hell for flitting off to the city every few weekends and leaving the kids. Dani told her mother that her therapist had mentioned how it was important to have some time away from the kids so she could focus on herself and her own needs. But of course, Karen was a firm believer that mental health professionals were all quacks, trying to make a buck by feeding people lies. Which was ironic, considering how part of Karen’s job as a real estate agent was to make a run-down shack sound like Buckingham Palace.

Jamie wasn’t sure of exactly what Karen had been saying to her daughter lately, but whatever it was, she could tell that it had gotten under Dani’s skin. Between the desperate way Dani kissed her in the truck when Jamie picked her up earlier in the evening, and the way she seemed so distant while acting so cheerful, Jamie could just tell. But Dani wanted to have fun tonight. They could talk about it later.

She heard the creak of the bathroom door down the hall, followed by the click of heels on the hardwood; closing in slowly. The brunette wasn’t sure what she was expecting when she turned to face the approaching woman; But whatever it was, she was nearly knocked off her feet at what she laid eyes on.

Dani was toying with the gold bracelets on her wrists, jingling them together with an obvious shyness as Jamie took in her appearance. Her long hair was blown out, sending subtle blonde waves cascading down her back. Her dress was tight with an intentionally loose scoop neck, silky black was held up by spaghetti straps and fell to her mid-thighs. And underneath, her legs seemed to go on for miles until they reached her feet; Red painted toe-nails under strappy black heels.

“Is it too much?” she winced at Jamie, nervously rubbing her bare forearm as she bit her red painted lip.

Jamie realized quickly that her throat had gone a bit too dry to respond verbally; And she learned so by choking on the first word that tried to leave her mouth. But the blush that crept up on Dani’s cheeks under her makeup told her that she didn’t need to say anything anyways.

“Can’t tell if that’s a yes or a no, but I’ll take it as a compliment anyway,” the blonde ducked her head with a giggle, her blush intensifying as Jamie rounded the kitchen counter to step closer to her.

An audible breath released from the back of Jamie’s throat and eyebrows rose to her hairline, tilting her head at an angle as she tried to think of what to say. “That’s uh…” she started, clearing her throat, “That’s quite a dress.”

“But is it too much? I don’t wanna embarrass you,” Dani muttered, swallowing thickly as the toes of Jamie’s high heeled shoes met with hers. But as nervous as she was that she’d gone overboard, a smile still managed to creep onto her face as the brunette’s hands found her waist, gently pulling her off the wall.

“If I’m gonna be embarrassed about anything tonight, it’s gonna be how I look like a bum in comparison,” Jamie smirked, flicking her gaze between blue eyes and red lips.

But Dani just scrunched her nose up in a playful manner, shaking her head as she toyed with the soft ringlets at the back of Jamie’s neck. “Mm-mm, you look amazing,” she mumbled, feeling a chill run down her spine at the look in her girlfriend’s eyes; And she couldn’t help the feather-light hum that escaped her lips at the way delicate, sturdy hands squeezed at her hips.

“I’m not the one that’s gonna be turning heads all night. Don’t even wanna know how many leeches I’m gonna have to chase away from you tonight” Jamie’s own lips curled into a smirk as she inched closer and closer until their foreheads met; close enough to smell the addicting, flowery perfume radiating off each other’s skin.

Dani just chuckled as minty breath mixed between them, shaking her head. “You say that like you do it all the time.”

“Done it enough.”

June 1978

Jamie wasn’t sure what she was thinking when she predicted that she would never have to see these people again after high school. It was foolish to assume that. Not only did they live in a small town, but she was headed to an in-state college. And Dani, despite not being a cheerleader since last year, was still popular at school. She was senior prom queen for fuck’s sake. She was basically royalty. She was the friend every girl wanted, and the girl every guy wanted to date. Which meant she still got invited to just about every student-hosted event in town. It wasn’t often that she agreed to go, but they had just graduated, so it was cause for celebration.

This time: another fucking bonfire.

Jamie wouldn’t mind them so much if it weren’t for the shitty music, the stoners that somehow managed to crawl into her truck bed for a nap, and the sloppy drunk boys that insisted on trying to convince Dani that “it’s not cheating if Eddie’s away at camp”; Drunk male logic. It was the same thing every summer since high school started. The only difference was that this time, Dani was just drunk enough that she would probably believe it. And that meant that Jamie was not leaving her side for even a minute. She didn’t trust a single soul here.

“Hey, maybe slow down on the beers, Poppins,” Jamie muttered quietly from beside Dani, reaching over to wipe a dribble of spilled beer from her chin with her thumb.

“I’m fine Jamie, m’not even buzzed yet,” Dani slurred, shaking her head and swatting her hand away.

Rolling her eyes, Jamie just breathed a quiet, “sure,” before turning back to face the fire. Dani was stubborn enough when she was sober, but drunk Dani was nearly impossible to deal with. But the blonde was insistent on going out and having a good time now that high school was over. She very rarely got to actually relax. Nothing about this setting was relaxing to Jamie, but to each their own.

She watched from the corner of her eye as Dani downed the last of her fourth beer in the last hour and a half, crunching the can and putting it in a pile with the rest of them. She may have been drunk, but apparently she still planned on putting them into a trash can if she could find one.

“Gonna go get another, y’want one?” she stood to her feet with the least bit of coordination. If it weren’t for Jamie grabbing onto her hand to steady her, there was a good chance she would have tripped and fallen face first into the flames.

“Maybe wait a little bit, yeah?” Jamie looked up at her from her seat on one of the logs that surrounded the fire.

“Why?”

“Cause you’ve had four beers in less than two hours, Dani. Your mum’s gonna be pissed at me as it is when I drop you off at your house past your curfew, she’s gonna fucking murder me if you show up wasted.”

The blonde shook her head and pulled her hand out of Jamie’s so she could cross her arms over her chest, “I don’t care what she says, she can’t tell me what t’do anymore.”

“You’re still under her roof for another two months. And you’re not eighteen for another three, so…” Jamie stood up so they were eye-to-eye. But blue eyes turned to slits as Dani’s jaw tightened.

“Just cause you’re eighteen and m’not doesn’t mean you can tell me what to do either.”

“No, but as your best friend, I’m supposed stop you from making stupid fucking choices, Dani.”

“Whoa, trouble in paradise, ladies?” Peter Quint came over with a beer can in each hand, interrupting them before Dani had a chance to respond.

“Nothing that concerns you,” Jamie rolled her eyes as she crossed her own arms over her chest. Even with averted eyes, she could still feel the sting of Dani’s gaze on her.

“Always a charmer, Taylor,” the football player scoffed before turning to the blonde, handing her one of the beers he had in hand, “A bunch of us were gonna go watch the guys from the basketball team rope swing into the lake. You wanna come?”

Dani stared ahead at Jamie as she fiddled with the tab of the beer can in her hands, swallowing thickly as the breeze blew the loose brown curls back from her shoulders. Why did Jamie always have to be so pretty when she was trying to be angry at her?

“Yeah,” she nodded, narrowing her eyes even more in a silent challenge for Jamie to try to stop her, “Yeah, let’s go.”

Jamie just rolled her eyes as Dani held onto Peter to steady herself, knowing that this was just Dani being drunk and stubborn. But she wasn’t sure where it was coming from, which made it even worse.

“Dani, come on,” she sighed, taking a few steps towards where Dani was starting to walk away. She wouldn’t trust Peter Quint to return a library book for her, there was no way she was going to trust him with her best friend. “Dani,” she grabbed her by the elbow, her eyes widening in surprise when the blonde sloppily ripped her arm away and turned to face her again.

Peter was still standing behind Dani, sipping at his beer as he waited for her to turn back around and follow him down to the lake. But he scoffed and turned to leave anyway when Jamie gave him a look, silently telling him to get lost.

“Can we just go?” Jamie sighed, trying her hardest to remain rational with Dani. But the alcohol was making it difficult for Dani to see it as anything but argumentative.

No,” her brows wrinkled together as she still swayed a bit on her feet, “I wanna stay n’have fun with my friends.”

Scoffing, Jamie rolled her eyes again, crossing her arms over her chest, subtly distracting herself from her frustration with the tassels that hung from the sleeves of her brown jacket. “Dani, none of these people are your friends. You’ve even said that yourself. I don’t even know why you want to come to these things every year anyways.”

“M’allowed to have other friends, Jamie,” Dani shook her head, her voice straining like she didn’t want to say it in the first place, “Just cause…” She trailed off, shaking her head as she averted her eyes to the fire.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Might as well say it. I’m already annoyed that you’re suddenly such a big fan of Peter fucking Quint and his squad—“

“Just because you don’t have any other friends doesn’t mean that I can’t!” Dani snapped, turning back to her with fire reflected in her shiny blue eyes. And Jamie couldn’t tell if they were glassy from the alcohol or if she was on the verge of tears; But she honestly hoped it was the alcohol.

Standing back with a clenched jaw, Jamie just nodded her head curtly, appearing as if she was accepting what Dani had said even though it was already tearing her up inside. “Fine,” she muttered sitting back on the log.

She had her eyes focused on the fire, so she wasn’t able to see the regret in Dani’s eyes. But the stubborn pride was too tightly wound inside the blonde to allow her to take back what she said. So Dani just turned and walked away, following the trail towards the lake with only one look back at Jamie.

With a huff, Jamie pulled a carton of cigarettes from her jacket pocket, lighting one up and pulling from it like her life depended on it. She tried her hardest not to let what Dani said get under her skin. She was just drunk, stressed about college, and mad at her mother. But Jamie knew that drunken words were often sober thoughts.

She never wanted to hold Dani back from anything. Maybe she was a little selfish and liked having Dani all to herself at times; But she never tried to stop her from having other friends. Though, Dani had stated plenty of times that Jamie and Eddie were all the friends she needed; Everyone else was merely an acquaintance.

About an hour passed after Dani had left to go hang out with the other graduates. Jamie had spent the whole time willing herself to just leave and go sleep in her truck or on the bench in the back room at the flower shop. That was always her last resort when she wasn’t allowed at Dani’s house and didn’t want to disturb the O’Mara’s too late at night.

But she knew that regardless of how Dani spoke to her, her guilt would eat her alive if she left without her. It was already killing her sitting here around the fire, not knowing where Dani was or what she was doing. Maybe it was a lack of self-respect that had her still waiting around. Whatever it was, she wasn’t leaving this place without Dani; Even if she had to throw her over her shoulder and drag her back to her truck. She wasn’t going to let a stupid fight stop her from at least making sure Dani got home safely.

She strolled around the lakeside park, ignoring the drunken teenagers around her and taking as many puffs from as many cigarettes as she saw necessary. She’d lost count after the third, but it couldn’t have been more than five. This whole situation almost made her reminiscent of the Halloween party two years ago. She’d rather go through that five more times than deal with the fact that Dani was drunk and surrounded by sleazy football players.

“Come on, I just wanna show you something,” a familiar, irksome voice fell upon her ears, muffled by distance.

“No, I gotta...find Jamie, I have’ta go home,” a voice that was even more familiar (and at least three times more slurred than when Jamie had last heard it) got her attention; making her ears practically perk up like an alert dog’s.

“Pretty sure she already left. Come on.”

Pushing herself off the tree she’d found silent solace against, Jamie walked towards the noise, picking up the pace of her steps as she heard Dani putting up a weak fight. And sure enough, there she was, not too far away; weakened and shambolic as she tried to squirm away from Peter Quint’s wandering hands and assaulting lips at her neck.

“Oi! Hey!” she called, suddenly seeing red as she ran over to where Peter was trying to drag Dani into the nearby woods. Without even thinking, she shoved the tip of her lit cigarette against the skin of Peter’s neck, ignoring how he yelled and groaned out in pain. It got him to release his hold on Dani, that was all she cared about.

“Jamie!“

“Fucking bitch!”

“You okay?” Jamie turned her attention to Dani as the cigarette fell to the ground.

“Y-yeah,” she nodded, obviously a bit shaken from the sudden commotion.

“What the fuck did you think you were doing?!” Jamie turned and placed herself between her best friend and the quarterback, not caring that he practically towered over her. But she didn’t even give him any time to answer. She realized quickly that she didn’t care to stick around to hear his bullshit excuses.

Taking Dani’s hand, she turned on her heel in the grass and lead the stumbling blonde towards the dirt lot full of cars, grateful that she’d parked her truck near the outskirts.

“Jamie—“

“Get in,” the older girl held the passenger door open for her, though she focused her eyes on anything but her.

Dani bit the inside of her cheek, hating that Jamie wouldn’t even look at her. But she knew she deserved it. Even after a few more beers, she couldn’t erase the memory of the hurt on Jamie’s face when she’d said what she did earlier. It had stuck with her all night like the tell-tale heart beating under the floorboards.

“Jamie…” she whispered again, her voice just as desperate as it was, quiet.

But Jamie still didn’t look at her. She just kept the door held open as the summer breeze blew through her curly hair. “Just get in,” she repeated, softer this time with a bit of pleading in her own tone. She just wanted to get out of here, and she wasn’t leaving without Dani. And thankfully, this time, the blonde listened, getting into the truck with a quiet sniffle before Jamie closed the door behind her.

With a deep, heavy sigh, Jamie climbed into the driver's seat, bringing the truck to life before driving out of the dirt lot and onto the road. She held the steering wheel in a vise-like grip, turning her knuckles white as she focused on the dark road ahead; And her jaw clenched tighter with every sniffle that came from the passenger seat.

A small part of her wanted to gloat. She wanted to yell, “I told you so!” in Dani’s face. Because Peter Quint had just proven that Dani should have listened to her earlier. But she wouldn’t. She couldn’t. Dani was still her best friend and she couldn’t do that to her.

“M’sorry, Jamie,” a quiet, drunken slur came from beside her, nearly inaudible over the sound off the engine.

“Later,” Jamie deadpanned. She didn’t want to talk to her while she was still this drunk. She could drop her off at home and let her deal with her mom and her hangover on her own. That would probably be the smartest choice. But instead of taking a right onto the street that would lead Jamie to the neighborhood she used to call her own, she kept going straight, headed towards the main part of town.

And an hour later, Dani was sobering up in a booth in their town’s little 24-hour tin diner. Not a word was uttered between her and Jamie the whole time. They just sat and ate their 1am breakfast in a corner booth until the drunken haze was gone from Dani’s eyes.

“Feel better?” the brunette asked, watching Dani finish her glass of water.

“I feel more sober,” she muttered back, thanking the waitress that came to refill her glass, “But not better. I was awful to you.”

Jamie nodded, swirling a sausage link around in maple syrup with her fork, “Kinda were, yeah.”

“I’m so sorry, Jamie,” Dani leaned her elbows onto the table between them, “I didn’t mean it, I really didn’t.”

Jamie watched as Dani hid her face in her hands, shaking her head behind them. She had thick skin, but she had to admit that hearing what Dani said to her out of anger earlier in the night really did sting; Especially since she was already insecure about it.

She didn’t care so much about the fact that she didn’t really have any other friends of her own. Jamie was a loner at heart. But since she was eleven years old, she worried that she was holding Dani back. Or that Dani spent so much time with her because she knew that Jamie didn’t have anyone else.

“You know that, right?” a meek voice seeped through the cracks between Dani’s fingers before she revealed her face again; flushed and full of remorse, “I know it’s no excuse, but...I was just frustrated in the moment, y’know? I came out to have fun and get away from my controlling mother, and I just felt like you were…” she winced a bit, “...being controlling too. And you weren’t, I know that now. You were just looking out for me like you always have, which I appreciate.”

Jamie ran her tongue along her bottom lip as she gazed down at her empty plate. She could smell bullshit a mile away from anybody, but Dani seemed genuine. If not from the look on her face, she could tell by the look on her face; and she could practically hear her begging for forgiveness just by looking into her eyes.

“I just…” Jamie sighed, reaching for another cigarette and sparking up her lighter, hoping it would help clear her mind so she could voice her own thoughts, “I don’t wanna hold you back, y’know? If you want other friends or want to hang out with other—“

“I don’t.”

“But if you ever do,” she continued, “I want you to feel like you can. Just...maybe not pigs from the football team.”

Dani was quiet as she leaned back in her booth seat, watching as Jamie politely blew smoke away from her. “Do you remember seventh grade?”

The brunette released a smoky puff of bitter laughter, “Unfortunately.”

“Do you remember camping out in your backyard the night of Marcia Sheppard’s slumber party?”

“The one you should’ve gone to, yeah,” Jamie smirked a little, flicking ashes into the tray at the end of the table.

“If I wanted to go, I would’ve. But I didn’t want to, because you wouldn’t be there,” Dani leaned against the table again, “I messed up saying what I did earlier. Especially because I don’t think I could ever…ever find another friend like you anywhere. You could’ve left me there after I walked away and you still waited for me.”

“Who said I was waiting for you?” Jamie’s eyebrows knit together with a curiously joking smile, letting out a raspy chuckle at the way the blonde knowingly tilted her head with a small grin of her own before giving in, “Didn’t want you riding home with any of them.”

“That’s what I mean. Why would I even want other friends when I’ve got the best one?” Dani smiled, “Maybe every now and then, I’ll want to go to a party or something with other people we know, but none of them are ever gonna compare to you.”

The fluorescent lighting over their heads made the blush that crept onto Jamie’s cheeks painfully obvious. But she attempted to distract Dani from it by holding her hand out over the table, passing the cigarette over to her. She wasn’t perfect. She’d said some things out of anger before too; And Dani had been gracious enough to forgive her when she did. The least she could do was do the same.

“If it helps, I had an awful time,” Dani coughed a bit of smoke from between her lips, handing the cigarette back, “Watching the basketball team nearly break their necks jumping into the lake isn’t as fun as you would think.”

Jamie snorted, ashing the cigarette in the tray before leaning her elbows against the table. “Well, you’re forgiven, Poppins. You’re a pain in the ass when you’re drunk, though,” she chuckled, poking fun as Dani rolled her eyes.

“You should’ve just thrown me over your shoulder and dragged me out of there,” she shook her head, embarrassed as she thought back on her own behavior.

“Thought about it, actually,” Jamie shrugged with a hint of a smile, “You sure you’re all right? Peter didn’t...do anything, did he?”

Dani shook her head after swallowing another mouthful of ice water, “No, he was just...handsy,” she cringed.

“Pig,” Jamie huffed, leaning back in the booth as she checked her watch, “Well it’s nearly two. Your mum’s gonna kill you and me if I drop you off this late.”

Dani nodded in annoyed agreement.

“So, I’m thinking...you and I should have a truck bed camp-out at the Porter’s cornfield for the night. What’dya say?”

Dani was quiet, though it was obvious that she was trying to hold back her smile, “Only if you let me pay for breakfast. Or whatever meal this was.”

Jamie met her eyes, grateful to see the playful glint in them again. This was the Dani she knew. They were getting older, but a part of her still held tightly to the version of Dani she’d met when she was eleven.

“S’pose that’s fair.”

December 1990

Dani winced as she downed another shot, biting into the lime slice from the small ceramic plate Owen had brought from the bar to their little table. This wasn’t exactly her scene, even though she was the one who wanted to come. But she was among friends, and she was loosening up quickly. And she had to admit, it was entertaining as hell to see a bunch of architects of various ages dancing to “Groove Is In the Heart” on the dance floor.

“You all right?” Jamie leaned over to ask in her ear over the loud music, checking in like she had been for the last hour they’d been here.

Maybe it was the alcohol or the way the neon lighting was angled on Jamie’s face, but Dani could feel herself getting lightheaded as the need to be closer to her became overwhelming. But she just nodded her head with a hum, trying not to focus too hard on the small weight of Jamie’s hand placed subtly around her waist. Hannah and Owen were still under the impression that they were just friends and she didn’t want to fuck up and accidentally reveal the truth.

“I’d be happy to get anyone a water,” Owen slurred a bit, waving his empty shot glass in the air, “Too many shots is bound tequil-ya.”

Dani giggled at Owen’s silly pun while Jamie and Hannah expressed affectionate annoyance with him. Though, he was used to it, grinning proudly to himself under his mustache.

Sliding a little closer to Jamie in the booth, Dani twirled a bit of blonde hair around her finger, using the time that Hannah and Owen were turned towards each other to look in Jamie’s direction. And she felt like she would melt into a puddle on the spot at the warm smile she gave her in return.

“Oh! Whitney! Let’s go dance!” Owen practically squealed, banging on the table before he slid out from the round booth.

“People are gonna get the wrong idea if you keep getting squeaky whenever Whitney Houston comes on, mate,” Jamie shook her head as Owen bounced on his toes to the beat of the song that had come on, turning to Dani to explain, “Owen has quite a crush on her.”

“I don’t blame him,” Dani just nodded with a quiet laugh as Hannah slid out of the booth as well.

“Ethereal as she may be, she still doesn’t hold a candle to this lovely lady right here,” he held his hand up with Hannah’s connected, twirling her smoothly.

Hannah seemed amused and enamored, despite the way she shook her head at him. “You two coming?” she asked, fanning out her long skirt to give her legs some air.

“You feel like dancing yet?” Jamie turned to Dani again, her voice just loud enough for her to hear.

Biting the inside of her cheek, Dani thought it over for a moment before shaking her head, “Maybe in a minute?”

Nodding, Jamie told Hannah that they’d meet them on the dance floor for another song, subtly moving her hand from Dani’s waist to where the blonde’s hand was resting innocently on her thigh under the table.

“You said you were excited to go dancing, and we haven’t hit the dance floor once,” Jamie smirked, bringing their tangled hands up to leave a lingering kiss to the back of Dani’s knuckles, “What’s wrong?”

Dani shook her head, wondering if the sudden heat in her cheeks was from Jamie’s gesture of affection and not her third tequila shot working its way through her system. “Just wanted to be with you for a minute,” she mumbled, her words starting to blend together as the alcohol began to take its toll on her, giving her the courage to press herself a bit closer to the brunette. They were alone in the booth, but it wasn’t entirely secluded.

An uncontrollable hum left her as Jamie’s fingers tucked blonde strands behind her ear, letting her fingers linger on her jaw. And god she just wanted to kiss her. They’d only been at this club for an hour, but it felt like it had been days since they’d last kissed.

“Well lucky for you...” Jamie’s lips started moving into a smirk as she spoke, suddenly making Dani aware that she’d been staring at them, “...I am ridiculously protective, and I don’t plan on leaving your side tonight. Especially if you have any more to drink.”

A shiver ran down the blonde’s spine, both at the tone of Jamie’s voice and the memory of the last time she’d truly been drunk. She didn’t like who she was that night or how she treated Jamie.

And she remembered that night as they laid out in the bed of Jamie’s truck beside the Porter’s cornfield, she promised herself that she would be more careful. Because, considering how debilitated she had been against Peter Quint’s advances, who knows what would have happened to her if Jamie hadn’t been there?

“One more drink? Maybe not a shot this time?” Blue eyes found green under the neon lights. She was a bit loosened up from when they had arrived. And according to the DJ, there was only an hour and a half left before midnight. One more drink would tide her over until then.

Nodding once, Jamie began to slide out of the booth with Dani in tow. “Come on, then, Poppins, let’s go get you something tall and fruity,” she smiled and tilted her head in the direction of the bar.

December 1973

“So what are your New Year’s Revolutions?” Eddie asked after a sip of his sparkling cider.

“Resolutions,” Dani and Jamie corrected him simultaneously; Dani with a giggle, and Jamie with a roll of her eyes.

The three of them were sitting on his scratchy bedroom rug in a triangle. Dani had gotten a bit claustrophobic downstairs with so many people around. She didn’t think it was possible for the O’Mara’s house to hold so many people. It seemed like their whole neighborhood was here; Even Jamie’s family. But the blonde had grabbed both her best friends to drag upstairs with her to escape the overwhelming crowd.

“I wanna meet one new person every day,” Dani announced proudly, “Even if it’s a random old lady on the sidewalk. I think it would be cool to know that I met at least 365 new people if I stick with it all year.”

Jamie smiled as she wrapped her arms around her bent knees. Dani had always been like that anyway. She was pretty sure she’d achieve that goal even if she didn’t intentionally set it for herself.

“Well, I wanna start working out. Kevin and Kyle have a bunch of weights in the basement I can use,” Eddie grinned proudly, not even flinching when Dani reached over to push the wire-rimmed frames up the bridge of his nose.

“What about you, Jay?” the blonde turned to her with an excited smile, fluffing up the skirt of her party dress. Jamie thought she looked like a doll with her hair curled and topped with a matching bow. And she couldn’t help but feel a little out of place being the only girl in the whole house that didn’t dress up. But she would rather feel out of place in jeans and a sweater than wear a dress.

Shrugging her shoulders, the young brunette just picked at the rug under her, careful not to spill her plastic cup of cider. “You know I don’t do resolutions,” she muttered.

“You’ve gotta have something you wanna do,” Eddie eyed her curiously, “Maybe make it a habit to start acting more like a girl.”

“I’ll start acting like a girl when you start showering regularly, O’Mara,” she scoffed, leaning back on her arms.

“Be nice, both of you,” Dani shook her head, holding her arms up between them, “There’s no rule saying you have to have a New Year’s resolution.”

Jamie flipped her middle finger up at Edmund with a smug grin when Dani had her head turned, watching as he rolled his eyes.

“Do you wanna kiss me at midnight?” he asked suddenly, turning back to the blonde. But Dani just looked at him like he’d grown an extra head out of his neck. And Jamie felt her heart suddenly sinking into her stomach.

“What?”

“Come on, adults kiss at midnight on New Year’s. We’re thirteen now, we’re practically grown up.”

Dani didn’t even hide the playful disgust on her face, giggling as she shook her head. “But you’re like my brother. It would be weird,” she squirmed where she sat on her knees, nervously smoothing out wrinkles in her skirt.

“We’ve kissed before.”

“That was a dare,” she eyed him, “And we were eight.”

“So?”

Dani bit her lip, looking down at her lap as she searched for more excuses. “Jamie doesn’t have anyone to kiss. It wouldn’t be fair.”

“Trust me, I’d rather kiss Mrs. Kaufman’s pitbull than anyone here,” the older girl muttered, shifting uncomfortably as her cheeks flames up; hidden by the dim lighting of the room. It wasn’t a lie, but for some reason it felt like one deep down.

”Ten, nine, eight, seven…”

The party-goers downstairs started the countdown to midnight as Eddie sat up on his knees, pushing his glasses up again. “Come on, Danielle, it’s tradition.”

”Six, five, four…”

Dani peered over at Jamie, hoping that she would be able to get her out of this. But the brunette seemed to be in her own little world, picking at loose fibers in the woven rug. Maybe one kiss wouldn’t hurt. Like Eddie said, they’d done it before.

”Three, two, one!”

The crowd below them shouted and cheered as the new year started, singing “Auld Lang Syne” as Dani squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her lips to her oldest friend’s for no more than two seconds; wiping her mouth on the back of her hand instinctively when she pulled away.

“Happy New Year,” Jamie mumbled, filling the awkward silence that fell under the muffled excitement from downstairs as she sipped her cider; Hoping that it wasn’t long before her parents were ready to go home.

December 1990

“Blue Monday” was thumping in Dani’s ears through the club speakers. She couldn’t tell you the name of the pink drink Jamie had ordered for her at the bar, but she could tell you that it tasted good. And it was just what she needed to get the courage to drag her girlfriend onto the dance floor.

They managed to find Owen and Hannah in the crowd, joining them in dancing to whatever song Owen was getting entirely too into. And several songs later, the minutes were creeping closer to midnight as Dani finally began to start feeling free enough to relax. In the middle of the dance floor, with the tang of fruit and vodka on her tongue and the feeling of Jamie’s hands on her waist, the blonde finally felt like she had silenced the sound of her mother’s voice that had been banging around in her head all night.

Even when she tried to will it away before, Karen’s voice was in the back of Dani’s mind, telling her that Eddie wouldn’t approve of her going out; That she was a bad mother for leaving her kids with her and Judy as often as she had been lately. But now all she could hear was the synth beat from the song, loud enough that she could feel it thumping in her chest opposite her steady heartbeat.

She smiled dazedly at the feeling of Jamie’s strong but gentle hands on her waist over her tight dress, moving her hips in time with her own to the music. And for once, Dani didn’t care. Even if she wanted to, she couldn’t bring herself to be aware of anything but the music in her ears and the soft, subtle kisses her girlfriend was placing around the bare skin of her shoulder.

In the dark of the club, under the flashing strobe lights, she could hardly see anyone else around them anyway. For all she knew, there was no one here but them. No one to question, no one to judge, not even anyone to cheer them on. Just them, and no one else.

She hadn’t even noticed that the song had changed again. It may have changed a few times since she last paid attention. It was hard to focus when her back was so comfortably pressed to Jamie’s front as the brunette held her close.

The DJ came over the sound system, calling out into the crowded club to announce that there was only one minute til midnight. And as the music took over and the crowd around them cheered, Dani turned in Jamie’s arms, running her hands up the sleeves of her blazer until they were connected behind her neck.

“Feel okay?” Jamie leaned into Dani’s ear speaking just loud enough to be heard. And she pressed a subtle kiss to the shell of her ear as the younger woman nodded into her padded shoulder, twirling sweat-dampened ringlets around her fingertips.

There was a twinge in the pit of Dani’s stomach, giving her an anxious energy that made her feel like she could run laps around this whole club. Her knees wobbled a bit under her own weight, making her hold onto Jamie even tighter. And as a result, Jamie held her tighter in return, circling her arms securely around her waist.

She pulled away slightly as the DJ started counting down from ten, encouraging the crowd around them to join in. But Dani just focused on green eyes in front of her instead, letting her own trail down the slope of Jamie’s nose to focus on the flawless curve of her cupid’s bow and pillowy soft looking lips just below.

But she found Jamie’s eyes again, searching them in their close proximity for any sign that Jamie wasn’t thinking the same thing she was. But when the brunette’s eyes trailed down to focus on what was left of Dani’s red lipstick, Dani knew that Jamie had the same thing on her mind.

”Five!”

Her heartbeat picked up speed in her chest, threatening to burst out of her ribcage. She could feel the thin layer of sweat that coated the back of her neck from dancing and the heat of bodies around them. And she could smell the tequila and lime on Jamie’s tongue with each panting breath she took.

”Four!”

No one around them was paying attention. Even if they were, she had a feeling that they were all far too drunk to care. They weren’t in their small little hometown where everyone knew their names and knew that they had been inseparable since they were kids. They didn’t know that Dani was recently widowed or that Jamie spent the last few years of her adolescence in foster care.

These people didn’t know their lives like everyone back home did. Dani was so used to everyone knowing her business that she felt like she couldn’t so much as buy a different kind of milk at the grocery store without it getting back to her mother.

”Three!”

But they were an hour from home. And this was her time, their time to do and act as they wanted to. It was one thing to share a chaste peck in a dark corner of the planetarium; but to kiss Jamie in a room full of people, close by and potentially watching...Just the idea made her nervous. Even out in the city, in a dark club, in a crowd of people, there was still the risk that someone, anyone, here would know her, or her mom, or her boss.

”Two!”

Kissing Eddie in public had always been uncomfortable, because it made her uncomfortable. But people never stared in disapproval or thought twice about it. They were comfortable with it, regardless of how Dani felt.

This would be just the opposite. Other people around them might not approve, but Dani had never been so comfortable with kissing at all until it was Jamie’s lips on hers, melding into her own like they were meant to be placed together.

”One!”

But Jamie was solid in her arms. Solid and real just as she always had been. She’d always been around; even in times when Dani didn’t deserve her to be.

Even when they were fighting and being too stubborn to speak to each other, Jamie was always there, even if it wasn’t right in front of her. Whether it was in the form of a soft, old t-shirt or a song on the radio that Jamie loved, she was always there for her in some way. Everything and everyone around her could fade and Jamie would still be there.

But she was here now, with her. And Dani wanted to start taking advantage of the time she had with Jamie, her girlfriend, while she had it. Life was too short to live in constant fear like she had been all her life. She may not have been brave enough to fully be herself anywhere, in front of anyone. But this seemed like a good first step.

”Happy New Year!”

Dani gripped tightly to the back of Jamie’s blazer when their lips met at the stroke of midnight. The crowd around them clapped and cheered as 1990 turned to 1991. But to Dani, they were gone; Nothing but muffled sound that blended into the music.

Instead, for the moment, all she knew was Jamie. Jamie’s hair tangled around her fingers, the taste of tequila and tobacco on Jamie’s tongue, Jamie’s arms around her waist, holding her upright against her. Her senses were filled, overwhelmed, by the woman she had the privilege of calling her girlfriend.

Her forehead remained against Jamie’s after they parted, catching her breath as the room around them became real once more; loud, crowded, and scented with sweat and alcohol. Dani relished this feeling of being carefree for as long as she could, knowing that it would fade when she sobered up, or when she went back to their sleepy little hometown.

“You all right?” Jamie asked softly, barely audible. If it weren’t for the feeling of her breath so close to Dani’s lips, the blonde may not have realized that she had said anything at all.

Her question managed to bring her slowly back to reality, making her realize that she was still gripping tightly to the back of her blazer like her life depended on it. But she loosened her hold on the fabric and let her palms trail to her shoulders instead as she nodded her head and kissed her again.

She was good.

Great.

Amazing, even.

She was kissing Jamie in a room full of people, not caring who saw. And the world wasn’t collapsing around her as a result of it.

She’d survived the first minute of the new year. And for the first time, maybe ever, she felt like she was ready for the other 525,599. She just hoped the feeling wouldn’t fade when she woke up in the morning.

Chapter Text

January 1991

The world around Dani remained dark as she found it hard to open her eyes. There was a light thudding in her head from how much she’d had to drink the night before, but it was bearable. She managed to find distractions in the feeling of her surroundings.

She knew she was in one of Jamie’s large t-shirts; Though, she wasn’t 100% sure of which one it was or when she put it on. The memory of the night was a bit fuzzy upon first waking up, but she knew that she was at least safe and secure in her girlfriend’s bed, covered by the familiar fleece blanket under the down comforter.

Humming quietly in content, the blonde let her legs tangle further around Jamie’s as she pulled her closer, keeping her eyes closed as she nuzzled into the base of her neck.

Considering Jamie still seemed to be asleep, she assumed that the sun had yet to come up. Even after a night out, Jamie still had a habit of getting up early; Which Dani found funny, considering Jamie was nearly unwakeable and cranky in the morning when they were kids. But much like Dani’s tolerance for alcohol, that had changed over the years.

And maybe it was the alcohol leftover in her system that had her suddenly feeling so anxious. Jamie was right there with her, but Dani missed her so much as if she was half a world away. It took everything she had to just let her sleep. As much as she loved the time she did get with Jamie, it was an awful feeling, knowing that it was limited. Especially now that the holidays were over, Jamie’s only excuse for coming home was to see her and the kids; And Dani only hoped that they were a good enough reason for her.

She hated that she doubted it. She knew that Jamie loved Miles and Flora. But the little anxiety monster in the back of her head (as her therapist had described it) was constantly taking control, telling her that the kids were all Jamie stuck around for. It was like a parasite in her ear, telling her that Jamie would lose interest, or that she already had because being with Dani wasn’t everything she’d built it up to be in her head over the years. Dani had always struggled with not feeling good enough for anything or anybody. Especially Jamie, even though the older woman had never given her any reason to feel that way.

If anything, Jamie had been one of the few people in her life who didn’t make her feel like that. Jamie made her feel like she was good enough to be treated right. From their first conversation on the lawn between their houses, to last night when Jamie had handled her so carefully; Saving her from stumbling off the sidewalk as they got into the cab they took home, to making sure that Dani drank water with a preventative painkiller to save herself the morning hangover.

And if she remembered correctly, she didn’t get into whatever t-shirt she was wearing now on her own. In fact, a heavy, embarrassed flush came to her face at the blurry memory of nearly getting her head stuck in one of the sleeves when she tried. And the faded sound of their shared laughter rang in her ears as she remembered the way it felt like the funniest thing in the world that, at thirty years old, she was drunk and tired enough that Jamie had to help dress her like a child.

Blinking her eyes open, the room looked hardly any different than the back of her eyelids, save for the bright city lights trying to sneak in from behind the dark curtains. Dani lifted her head from her pillow and peered over Jamie’s head at the alarm clock; The glowing red 4:58 just adding to her confirmation that the sun hadn’t come up yet. Even if it had, they were out until well after midnight. Dani didn’t even know why she was awake already. But unfortunately for her, the inability to sleep typically led her to get lost in her own head. And that wasn’t a fun place to be.

Lowering her head back to the pillow, she inched a bit closer to Jamie’s back and tightened her arm around her middle, hoping that the familiar warmth would lull her back to sleep. But the little beast inside lurked, always looking to pounce when she was alone and at her most vulnerable. She may not have been alone with Jamie breathing evenly, soothingly, by her side, but with a slight hangover and barely any sleep to recharge her after an exhausting night, she was vulnerable enough.

She willed the thoughts away. Any thoughts that had her wanting to run, to put an end to things before she ended up with her heart trampled on, she willed it to leave. There was no reason for her to believe that Jamie was or could be bored of her already. Not after all this time. Not after the years of waiting. She couldn’t be.

But it was beginning to eat her alive, the thought of Jamie being exhausted of her already or regretting any of their newfound relationship.

Dani had learned about regret a long time ago. She regretted going to Connie Ashford’s slumber party in fourth grade when she could have spent the night with her father. If she had known that he would be gone the next morning, she would have never gone to the party in the first place.

She regretted not fighting harder against the expectations everyone put on her as a teenager. There was so much she could have done differently had she just been more brave. Jamie had assured her time and time again that their time wasn’t then. If it was meant to be then, it would’ve happened then. Instead, their time was now. But Dani still wondered every day if things would have worked out if she’d been brave enough to talk to Jamie about that kiss in Ingrid Westfield’s front yard.

She hated to say that she regretted her first time with Eddie, because she loved the child she got out of it more than anything; as terrifying and stressful as her pregnancy had been. But if she could have done things differently, she would have. She wouldn’t have let the conversations she heard at that damn party get into her head. She wouldn’t have pressured herself to do something that she wasn’t ready for; Something she didn’t even want to begin with.

February 1980

Dani stumbled a bit through the door of her dorm room, kicking off her shoes with a quiet sniffle. Jamie was asleep across the small room, filling the quiet with the sound of her even breaths. She could tell that she was asleep. Since they’d gotten to college, Dani noticed that Jamie always went to bed laying on her right side facing her bed, and she would roll over onto her left once she was asleep to face the wall. Maybe it was foolish, wishful thinking, but Dani liked to believe that it was because Jamie liked to keep a watchful eye on her until she fell asleep; making sure that Dani was safe and secure so she could sleep peacefully.

As quietly as she could, she changed into a pair of flannel pajamas, trying her hardest to ignore the ache that lingered between her thighs. It was nothing but a harsh reminder of what she’d done, and how she’d never get her first time back.

Padding across the dorm, Dani found herself veering away from her own bed and heading directly for Jamie’s, not even thinking twice about crawling into bed with her best friend and wrapping herself around her back.

Her heart thumped harder in her chest when the brunette stirred in her admittedly tight grip. But for some reason, for once, she didn’t feel guilty for waking her.

“What time is it?” Jamie’s already husky voice came out even drier as she eased out of sleep, turning around under Dani’s grasp on her as best she could to get a glimpse of her alarm clock. “Did you just get back? It’s almost three,” she mumbled, coming face to face with the blonde. But as her eyes adjusted to the dark, the fazed look in Dani’s eyes had her feeling wide awake in seconds.

“What’s wrong?”

Dani remained quiet, almost like she was too stunned to move or speak.

“Dani...hey…” she muttered, shaking her shoulder a bit before reaching up for the chain of her bedside lamp. Dani didn’t even flinch at the sudden, offensive light. Her usually bright blue eyes just remained as they were, somehow unfocused but so heavily focused on the cement brick wall behind Jamie at the same time.

Leaning up on her elbow, Jamie brushed a bit of blonde from Dani’s forehead, taking in the behavior of her best friend. She’d seen her like this before when she’d gotten a B on an important test and when the goldfish she’d won at their town’s annual summer carnival had died. Jamie always called her the “unmoving blob” when the time came around to joke about it. But it was never easy to see her like this, even if the reason for her going so stiff was something as miniscule as a B on a test.

And seeing her like this now had Jamie mentally kicking herself. Even though she had to be up early for work today, she was starting to actually regret not going with her and Eddie to whatever kegger the local frat boys were throwing tonight. She could only imagine what kind of shit happened to Dani at parties when she wasn’t around.

“Dani…”

The blonde was far too gone in her own head to even register her voice. On repeat, like a broken record, were the voices of the other girls at the party, talking about how early they’d lost their virginities; And the boys discussing how long they were willing to wait for a girl to “give it up” before they gave up and kicked them to the curb. She hardly left Eddie’s side the whole night, so she knew he’d heard them talking too. And she couldn’t let their words get to him.

Eddie was all she knew when it came to dating. She didn’t have multiple boyfriends and years of experience under her belt like some of her peers. Thankfully, neither did Eddie. But she knew that he was getting impatient with her. He’d been trying to have sex with her since they were sixteen. And three years later, he was still waiting on her.

As sad and pathetic as it sounded, part of her wished that he would just go get it out of his system with someone else and come back to her after so they could carry on like always. At one point tonight, she even found herself wanting to convince him to just go sleep with whatever nameless, leggy blonde he was making subtle eyes at across the room.

But he was all she had. He was her only option. She couldn’t bring herself to find even a smidge of interest in any of the boys at her school. Not even the kind ones in her classes who were conventionally attractive. She told herself that it was because she was just that committed to Edmund. She loved him so much that she couldn’t even consider the thought of another boy taking his place. And yet, she was thinking of encouraging him to be unfaithful to her; Thinking that she would even prefer it.

But she couldn’t propose that to him. For starters, she had a feeling that he would never agree to it, even if he wanted to. Second, it would raise the question of why she couldn’t just sleep with him herself; To which, she didn’t have an answer other than the fact that she just didn’t want to. And lastly, it wasn’t fair to tell him to go have sex with someone else, but to still come back to her and play the role of her loving and devoted boyfriend.

So...she did it herself.

She couldn’t lose him. She needed him. Maybe she wasn’t ready for it. She didn’t know if she would ever be ready for it. But she did it.

Sex was such an enigma. In high school, sex was made to sound like this amazing experience that was special, and meant to be shared with someone special to you. And in college, now in their second year here, people around her claimed that sex wasn’t a big deal. It was just something you did; Something that everyone had done.

But now, she didn’t know how to feel. It wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t nothing either. Either the girls around her were exaggerating to an almost fantasy-fictional level, or Dani, herself, was just broken.

It wasn’t life changing. She didn’t see stars or fireworks, or whatever the girls around her would say. It was nothing like that at all. It was awkward and painful, and it left her feeling more empty than anything when it was over. She was glad she got it over with, but at the same time, she hated herself for giving into the pressures that weighed her down again.

Jamie’s voice was muffled in her ears as her darkened blue eyes blinked slowly, adjusting to the light. But all she could do was tighten her grip on the sleeve of Jamie’s sweatshirt, swallowing thickly as she thought of what to say.

“Hey,” Jamie spoke again, coming in a bit more clearly as Dani slowly rose from the depths of her own thoughts, “You’re scaring me, Poppins.” Her voice had a joking lilt to it, trying to lighten the heavy silence around them to mask the genuine worry that she felt.

Dani mumbled something under her breath; barely audible, even in the silence. If it weren’t for the alcohol scented breath that passed between them, Jamie wouldn’t have known that she’d said anything at all.

“What was that?”

Dani’s tongue flicked over her dry lips and swallowed around the thick lump in her throat as she spoke a little louder. “I…I had sex with Eddie,” she muttered so plainly. She didn’t sound as shocked as she looked. She didn’t sound happy or sad, she just...said it. Stated it like it was a plain and simple fact. In fact, the only thing that led Jamie to believe that she had any emotion behind her words at all, was the vise-like grip Dani had on the sleeve of her sweatshirt.

“Oh…” the brunette let out in a puff of breath, unsure of what else to say, “That, um...that…” Continuing to try to talk wasn’t doing her any favors. It was all just coming out in a jumbled, unfinished mess. “Had you...never…?”

Dani shook her head, still staring blankly ahead at the white-painted concrete.

That shocked Jamie more than Dani’s original confession. “Oh, I thought...I thought you’d been doing it since, like, junior year.” It took everything for the brunette to keep the blatant disgust off her face. This didn’t seem like the time for her to be “jokingly” gagging at her best friend’s relationship like she used to. Just because she was almost twenty years old doesn’t mean she had matured that much.

“No...No, I never...we never…” Dani stumbled over what she was trying to say. Her voice was still watered down and dull, almost bored; Though Jamie knew that Dani was probably feeling much more than her apathetic voice let on, “I never...felt ready.”

Dani’s tone and general behavior lead Jamie to believe that she was no more ready for whatever happened tonight than she had been in the past. First times were messy, regardless of who you were and who you were with.

“He didn’t…force you or anything, did he?” she swallowed, already dreading the odds of the answer she was about to receive. That 50% chance of getting a ‘yes’ in response seemed much greater than the other 50% chance she had of getting a ‘no’. But she just hoped that it was just her mind preparing for the worst.

But Dani shook her head with a quiet “no”, putting Jamie’s mind at ease. Not at complete ease, because the thought of Dani agreeing to it (or even initiating it) certainly didn’t make her feel very good either. But she definitely preferred it over the thought of Eddie taking advantage of her.

“Didn’t wanna...keep him waiting anymore,” the blonde continued, murmuring as her eyes finally moved off the wall. Instead, she stared intently at a long curly string of hair that was stuck to the sleeve of Jamie’s sweatshirt; encouraging her to release her grip on the fabric so she could pick the piece of shed hair off of it instead.

Jamie just furrowed her brows, watching as the cogs seemed to turn behind Dani’s forehead. “You don’t owe him anything, Dani,” she shook her head.

“He’s been asking me since we were sixteen, Jamie,” the younger girl’s unfocused eyes flicked up to hers suddenly focused and determined as her voice became more clear, “Three years. Almost four. He’s been so...so patient, I—“

“And if he loves you like he says he does, he would keep being patient,” Jamie cut in as her own voice became a bit more curt than it had been before.

Dani focused on the collar of Jamie’s sweatshirt now, tracing her eyes over Cordelia and Primrose, two freckles that dotted the side of her neck. “It’s...complicated,” she whispered, resisting the urge to connect the dots with the tip of her finger.

“Shouldn’t be.”

She was right. It shouldn’t be this complicated. But it was. And Dani had no choice but to move on. If she could turn back the clock, she would never have gone to that party tonight in the first place. If she had that power, there were a lot of things that she would go back and change.

Tears were apparently falling from her eyes; Ones she didn’t even know existed until warm, gentle fingers found her cheeks, brushing them away with a softness that made her stomach feel like it was tying itself into a tight knot.

Eddie never touched her like that.

Eddie touched her like she belonged to him; Like she was a permanent fixture in his life. He touched her like he knew she would always be around regardless of whether he was rough or gentle with her. He was never rough intentionally, but there was no thought behind his touches. Sometimes he squeezed her hand too tight or tugged at a snarl in her hair when he would brush it back from her face.

And if it weren’t for Jamie, Dani would never have even noticed the difference between how he touched her and how she wanted to be touched.

Because Jamie touched her like she would disappear at any given second; Like one wrong move would have her taken away. Not that Dani felt like Jamie walked on eggshells around her, but she could always feel the thought and consideration in the way her fingers met with her skin; Like getting to touch her and be around her was a privilege rather than a right.

Dani, by no means, felt like her presence was a privilege to anyone. But Jamie made her feel that way. Jamie always tried to remind her that she was worthy of respect from everyone, including her. Even when Jamie was more rough and playful with her, she was never possessive. It was like she knew that Dani wasn’t her toy to play with however she wanted.

Something about the way Jamie touched her, even in a way that was as simple as brushing tears off her cheeks, Dani could feel that Jamie didn’t expect her to always be around, even if she wanted her to. Jamie never expected anything from her.

Leaning into the delicate touch of her fingers, Dani sniffled, not daring to look into the green eyes that she just knew were full of worry for her.

“You weren’t mad?” she found herself asking, her voice just higher than a whisper, “When you...you thought that I’d already done it and didn’t tell you?”

“Why would I be mad?”

“Cause we’re best friends. We tell each other everything,” she shrugged.

“Well...are you mad that I didn’t tell you about my first time?”

Dani’s heart clenched a little in her chest at the reminder that Jamie had also taken that step with someone. But she wasn’t mad. She felt a twinge in her stomach at the thought of Jamie being with someone who was probably just as beautiful and gentle as she was. It wasn’t anger, but she just couldn’t admit to herself that it was jealousy.

“Of course not,” she shook her head slowly in response to her question.

Jamie just leaned her head onto her hand that was propped up by her elbow, sighing down to where Dani was laying on her other pillow, “So what makes you think I’d be mad, then?”

Shrugging her shoulders, Dani just ran her thumb over the thick sweatshirt fabric at Jamie’s side, unsure of why she thought that. “What was it like?” she asked suddenly, mentally kicking herself immediately after. Jamie never talked to her about the women she saw. But even if they never came back to their dorm, she knew that there were women in Jamie’s life, even if she never dated any of them.

But Jamie’s dry chuckle put her mind at ease a little. And she watched as she shook her head with an amused snort. “Awkward. Kinda scary, honestly. Not as fun as I thought it would be,” she rolled her eyes, “But...being sixteen was already awkward, scary, and not fun at all, so...it wasn’t anything different or special.”

Dani felt her stomach turn a bit, but she just took in a deep breath, attempting to make the feeling go away. She still wasn’t mad, but it was a bit of a shock to hear what Jamie had been doing for years when she wasn’t around. And she was just praying that none of the girls she was with ever hurt her.

“Has it gotten more special?” she swallowed thickly, unsure of why she was suddenly so interested in Jamie’s sex life.

“Uh…” Jamie seemed to wince as she approached the topic carefully, “It’s gotten better. Wouldn’t really call it ‘special’. I feel like you gotta find the right person for it to be special.”

Dani bit the inside of her cheek, following the curve of Jamie’s collar with her eyes, back and forth, side to side, over and over. “It didn’t feel special with Eddie,” she muttered.

Clearing her throat after a beat, Jamie just curled her lips to the side with a single nod of her head. “Well...maybe it takes a few tries with the right person for it to feel special,” she offered, feeling like her lungs would collapse in her chest for even suggesting it. But Dani was happy with Eddie. He was her right person, as much as she secretly hated the fact.

“Please tell me he wore a fucking condom,” she added with a bit of lightheartedness behind her serious demand. Her mind was put at ease, however, when Dani nodded her head. “Good,” she sighed, “You gonna be okay?”

“Can I sleep with you tonight?” Dani asked instead of answering, dull blue eyes finally lifting to meet hers.

Normally, Jamie would come up with some kind of quip of fake annoyance, rolling her eyes and commenting about how she didn’t have much of a choice in the matter anyway. But tonight she just nodded, leaning across the short distance to smooth the worried line between Dani’s brows with a kiss before reaching for the lamp chain again.

“Course,” she confirmed once the room was dark again, making herself comfortable beside her best friend for the night.

January 1991

With a heavy yawn, Jamie rolled over in her bed to face the ceiling as she opened her eyes. Her body felt so heavy, it took an effort to raise her hands to her face so she could rub the sleep from her eyes.

It was a bit strange, waking up without Dani when she was here. Especially after the late night of drinks and dancing they’d had, she expected that her girlfriend would have slept at least until ten today. But the sun was still rising and Dani had apparently already gotten up.

With one last yawn and stretch, Jamie scratched at her scalp under her mop of curly hair and sat up, glancing around for any sign of her. She didn’t smell any kind of breakfast cooking through the open doorway. She didn’t hear the TV or any music playing from the living room. And there was no sound of singing or running water coming from the bathroom down the hall, or any of the other typically ‘Dani’ things that she usually encountered in the morning.

Curious, she swung her bare legs over the edge of the bed, ignoring the ache in her feet when she stood up. “Dani?” she called out gently, her voice still hoarse.

Her overnight bag was still sitting in the corner by the closet. And as she stalked quietly into the living room, she saw her shoes still by the door, and the chain latch still fully locked. There was no smell of morning coffee or distant, distracted humming. And unless she had squeezed into the kitchen cabinets, there was only one other place Dani could be.

She hoped she was wrong as she approached the sliding door to the balcony, peering through the blinds. And she nearly felt her heart drop to her stomach at the sight of Dani sitting on one of the deck chairs wrapped loosely in a blanket.

“Have you gone completely mad? It’s below freezing out here!” Her voice was near-frantic as she yanked the door open. She could feel the bitter cold wind on her own skin as she stepped barefoot out onto the balcony, trying to get the blonde’s attention as she seemed to be distractedly facing the rising sun.

“Dani!”

The noticeable flinch let Jamie know that she’d gotten her attention. And the way she looked around at her surroundings had her wondering if Dani even knew where she was.

“Dani, come inside,” she stepped closer, trying to ignore the way the wind stung her bare legs as she reached to help Dani to her feet without another word. And thankfully she followed without a fight.

Once she got her inside, Jamie sat her down on the couch, rubbing the quilted blanket against her arms. “Christ, you must be freezing,” she whispered, taking in the pale, bare legs and feet that peered out from under the blanket. She didn’t know how long Dani had been out there, but she was surprised that she hadn’t turned blue from being out there longer than a minute.

Dani’s cheeks and nose were understandably rosy as she began to shiver; Like she finally just realized how cold she was.

“Baby, what were you doing?” Jamie asked; her voice dripping with worry as she attempted to thaw her frozen girlfriend beside her, trying to rub warmth into her skin through the blanket that, as nice as it was, wasn’t enough to have kept her warm outside.

“M-m’s-so-o-rry,” she whispered through her body’s heavy tremors, leaning her cold face into the warmth of Jamie’s neck, “I-I c-couldn’t fe-eel it.”

“Couldn’t feel what, love?” Jamie held her close, reaching under the blanket to take one of Dani’s ice-cold hands in her own that were still pretty warm.

“The c-co-old,” Dani mumbled before releasing a whimper against her shoulder, feeling like ice had solidified thickly around her bones.

The brunette whispered out a barely audible, “fuck,” as she stood up, slowly pulling Dani up with her. She cursed the hardwood floors of her apartment, knowing that carpet would have been so much warmer and comfortable on Dani’s feet right now. She would’ve carried her if she had any faith in her own strength to do so.

“Come on,” she led her back down the hall, feeling her heart crack with every sniffle and whimper of pain from the woman beside her. What the hell had she been doing? What was she thinking?

Taking her into the bathroom, Jamie sat her on the lid of the toilet, placing a reassuring kiss to her cold forehead and hands before reaching for the knobs of the bathtub, running the water just heated enough to warm Dani up but not too hot to overwhelm her when she got into it.

“Do you remember how you got out there?” Jamie turned back to face her from her spot on the edge of the tub, going back to rubbing her arms over the quilt.

Dani just sniffled from where she was bundled up in front of her. “I-I jus-st needed f-fresh air...t-to think,” she stammered, raising dull blue eyes to meet the worry in Jamie’s. She hadn’t been out there long, from what she remembered. The sun had only just started rising when she’d gone out. “I-I th-thought the c-cold would he-elp.”

“Help what, baby?” The brunette ran warm hands up and down the sides of Dani’s thighs under the blanket, still attempting to soothe and warm her up.

The tear that slipped down Dani’s cheek may as well have been boiling hot against her frigid skin as she tried to think of what to say. “The th-thoughts,” she muttered, hoping that it was enough of an explanation.

Jamie could tell that something was going on. And whatever it was, it was bothering Dani so much that she’d nearly given herself frostbite to distract herself from it. But she could tell from the look in her eyes that she wasn’t ready to talk about whatever it was right now. She couldn’t even talk without shivering around her words anyway.

So Jamie just nodded her head and leaned up to kiss her forehead, brushing the falling tears from her cold cheeks as she did so. She didn’t ask any more questions or bring up how worried she was for her. She was pretty sure all of that was conveyed through the slow, warming pecks she placed around Dani’s face anyway.

Lips trailed along her forehead, down the bridge of her nose and across both her eyelids; tasting the tears as they began to flow freely from the corners of her eyes. She followed their paths with the soft press of her lips until she felt the shiver of Dani’s under her own; And she attempted to soothe the shivers with a slow, steady kiss that Dani whimpered into desperately, begging Jamie to make everything better like she always did.

Jamie flinched a bit when cold fingers met with her neck, bringing one of her own hands up to keep rubbing at the frozen skin of Dani’s arm as they wrapped around her neck.

“Hey,” she breathed, pulling back from the dizzying kiss as best she could, “Let’s just get you warmed up, yeah?” She panted warm breath against formerly frozen lips, hating the look of remorseful hurt in Dani’s eyes. But she tried to keep focused on why they were huddled together in her bathroom in the first place, reaching over to turn off the faucet.

With a bobbing throat, Jamie turned back to Dani, turning away when the blonde tried to kiss her again. “Come on,” she rasped, gripping the hem of Dani’s t-shirt to carefully tug it over her head. And just like the night before when she’d helped her out of her dress, Dani reached to begin undressing her as well; This time, desperately trying to reach her lips rather than giggling coyly against them.

“Dani,” Jamie gave in for one kiss, but pulled back to stand up, awkwardly raking her hand through her hair as she stepped towards the door, “I’m, uh...I’m gonna go make you some tea.” She turned on her heel, trying her hardest to avoid the pained look in Dani’s eyes as she made her way out of the bathroom.

xxx

Jamie paced outside her bedroom door, peeking in on Dani as she slept curled up in her bed each time she passed the open doorway. She didn’t get scared easily, but it had taken her a while to calm herself down after Dani had been properly taken care of and tucked back into bed with several layers of blankets.

She had no idea what the hell had happened or what could have possibly possessed Dani to step outside in just a t-shirt with a blanket wrapped around her.

She’d considered calling Karen to ask her to keep the kids another night. But didn’t want to let Karen in on whatever was happening with Dani so soon; Not before she figured out what was wrong. Not to mention, Jamie had a feeling that with how on edge she was this morning, it would be so much harder to bite her tongue if Karen said anything out of line. And she knew that the woman had been very opinionated lately.

Maybe Dani was feeling guilty again. Her mom had been bothering her about the fact that she’d been leaving the kids with her and Judy while she went off to the city. Maybe when Dani woke up sober and clear-headed, she started letting Karen’s words get to her all over again.

That wouldn’t explain her going outside. But then again, Dani did say that she went out for fresh air, and that she thought the cold would help with ‘the thoughts’. Whatever those thoughts were, she was far too dazed to talk about them earlier.

When Jamie had returned to the bathroom with a mug of tea, Dani was practically falling asleep against the shower wall from where she was sitting in the bathtub; To a point that Jamie didn’t trust her to hold the mug of tea without dropping it. So after a few minutes of coaxing the blonde, telling her to stay awake long enough to have a few sips of tea and let her body warm up more, Jamie wrapped her in a towel, dressed her in thick sweats and socks, and tucked her back into her bed.

And she’d been checking on her every twenty minutes, making sure she was still breathing, at least. She’d called Hannah, telling her what had happened and what she thought she should do. And the woman assured her that everything would be fine and told her to just see how Dani felt when she woke up.

And after a vicious cycle of pacing around her apartment and checking in on her girlfriend for a few hours, Jamie finally heard Dani stir with a discontented whine; her body visibly moving under the pile of blankets.

Stepping into the room, the brunette greeted her quietly, crouching down beside the side of the bed that Dani was still curled up on. She’d stopped shivering after a few minutes in the bath, thankfully, but Jamie still insisted on keeping her bundled up.

“Hey,” she whispered, brushing hair from her eyes with a bit of a relieved smile when blue eyes slowly opened to meet hers. “How you feeling?” she stood and rounded the bed, crawling into bed beside her, “Y’scared the hell outta me, Poppins.”

Dani managed a bit of a smile at Jamie’s joking tone, yawning as she stretched her sore muscles. The warm water from the bath certainly helped soothe the ache from the night of dancing; But now she had the leftover ache from the near-frostbite she’d received outside. She still couldn’t believe she’d done such a stupid thing. And what made it worse was that she remembered why she’d done it, but none of her reasoning for it made any sense.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered hoarsely, watching as Jamie settled onto the pillow beside her. It took everything Dani had in her to not start thinking about how she didn’t deserve her. Thoughts like that were what caused her problems in the first place.

Just be grateful for her. You deserve her, you do.

“You wanna tell me what happened?” Jamie hummed, letting her fingers trail from Dani’s cheek and down the sleeve of the heavy sweatshirt she’d dressed her in when she was too lethargic and floppy to do so herself after her bath.

But Dani just bit her lip, averting her eyes to the limp curls at Jamie’s shoulders.

“Don’t have to,” the brunette assured her, squeezing her arm gently over the large sleeve of her sweatshirt, “Just—“

“No, I-I want to, I just...don’t know how to explain,” Dani mumbled, shaking her head. And she breathed in deeply when she met Jamie’s eyes again, feeling like her heart would escape from her chest at how softly that familiar husky voice told her that there was no rush.

She wanted to tell her about how she felt like her whole body was going tingly and numb before she’d left the bed this morning. She wanted to explain to her that, for some reason, she thought that stepping out into the frigid cold in just a blanket and a t-shirt sounded like it would bring her body back to life when she felt like she was losing control of herself. But she didn’t know how. And before she could get any more words out, the need to kiss Jamie and distract her from the subject became too overwhelming to avoid.

Pushing herself closer, Dani let her lips melt into Jamie’s, once again. And just like before, the chanting mantra of, “love me, please don’t leave me,” echoed in her head as she poured everything she had into the kiss. And it killed her that she could practically taste the hesitation on Jamie’s tongue.

The fear took over her quickly. That anxious little monster was screaming at her that Jamie didn’t want her. Jamie was bored of her. Jamie regretted her. But Dani kept kissing her, begging Jamie to prove her wrong.

Jamie nearly recoiled at the whine that escaped Dani’s throat and fell against her lips. That wasn’t a noise of lustful desperation. It wasn’t the kind of sound she’d been, quite literally, dreaming about coaxing out of her girlfriend. The noise that left Dani’s lips was pained; The wrong kind of desperation. And as Dani pushed herself even closer, hovering over her as she straddled her waist, Jamie knew that this had to stop.

“Dani…” she pulled back again, finding the same fearful hurt in her girlfriend’s eyes as before. Only this time they stared directly down into her own. “Baby...what is it? What’s going on?” She didn’t want to rush her into talking about what was wrong, but god she needed to know so she could try her hardest to make it right.

Sitting up, she brought the blonde along with her, letting her stay with her knees at bracketing her hips. She was careful as she placed a few calming pecks along her flushed cheeks, not wanting to give her any ideas; Though, she couldn’t control the goosebumps that raised on her skin when blunt fingernails gently raked down her arms.

“I don’t want you to...to go,” Dani murmured, her voice shaky as she held tightly to the arms that circled her waist.

Confusion had been one of Jamie’s prominent emotions all morning, but this wasn’t really helping matters much. “I’m not going anywhere,” she shook her head against her forehead, “I’m not.” She could only assume that this was the result of some kind of nightmare Dani had last night. It would definitely explain her being awake so early. But she couldn’t, for the life of her, think of what else could be worrying her.

“But you might. I-if you get...bored, or...if you get tired of...waiting,” Dani’s voice trembled as she tried her hardest to be honest and tell Jamie what had been bothering her. It was humiliating, knowing how ridiculous she sounded. And that evil little voice in her head had her just waiting for Jamie to start laughing at her.

But Jamie was thinking about what she had said, letting her words run around in circles in her mind until she could make sense of it all. And it brought her back to college, waking up to find Dani nearly catatonic beside her in her bed before she told her about how she’d decided to just “get it over with” and sleep with him; And how she didn’t want to keep him waiting anymore.

Suddenly it started to make a little more sense.

“Dani,” she started in a single breath against her lips, kissing them slowly as the blonde took a shuddering breath, “Think you’re forgetting that I’ve wanted you— all of you— since high school.”

“You’ve waited a really long—“

“And I’ll keep waiting,” she cut her off gently, reaching up to tuck loose hair from her ponytail behind her ears before kissing her again. “I’ve wanted you,” she kissed her, “I want you,” she kissed her again, “And I’m gonna keep on wanting you. But sex isn’t all I want. You’re more than just that to me.”

Three small words were threatening to spill directly from where they’d been lingering in Dani’s chest for years; The words she’d managed to keep to herself even in the hardest instances. This was proving to be one of the hardest, but she swallowed them back down anyway; Instead, nodding her head and latching her arms around Jamie’s neck, holding her in a tight hug.

“I want to,” she breathed shakily into the mane of brown curls, “Just...just not yet.” Sex had never been something she’d enjoyed. Every time with Eddie was uncomfortable or painful. After all these years, it never got better. Each time she’d hope that that would be the time that sex began to make sense, and each time, she was left inwardly frustrated and confused, wondering why people made such a big deal about it.

She didn’t want it to be like that with Jamie. She was afraid to have sex with her just to find it as unfulfilling as it always had been with Eddie. She wanted Jamie to be the exception; The person that made sex finally feel right and special.

It didn’t help matters that Dani had never been with a woman before. She didn’t know how many women Jamie had been with, but she was sure that it was enough that she’d found someone who knew what they were doing. But she couldn’t help but wonder if Jamie had ever found the person that it felt special with.

“No rush,” Jamie repeated with a few kisses peppered to her neck before pulling back to meet her tired eyes again, “But I need you to be honest with me. No acting like you’re ready just to get me to stay. Cause...I’m staying. Okay? I’m staying. Even if you decide you wanna wait til the year 2020 so we can do it in a flying car.”

“I think you saw that Back To The Future sequel one too many times,” Dani couldn’t help the watery laugh that left her lungs at Jamie’s joking tone, shaking her head against her forehead as she laughed along with her. “Plus, I don’t think at sixty, we’ll be wanting to do anything in a car. Especially not a flying one.”

Jamie’s lips smirked against her own as she kissed her again, slow and reassuring before she sighed. “I gotta get you back home by tonight, but what’dya say to chicken soup and a movie? I’ll even sit through Xanadu again.”

Dani searched the deep green eyes before her, not even needing to look for any signs of insincerity from Jamie. She could feel her authenticity as if it was radiating like heat off her body. And slowly, that anxious little monster in her head began to quiet down, disappearing into a dark corner of her brain, so she could finally think for herself.

“You’re perfect,” she mumbled, distractedly twirling a brown ringlet around her finger.

“Mm...pretty sure that’s you,” Jamie chuckled, though a heavy blush bled into her cheeks anyway.

Chapter Text

February 1983

“All right, you’re all set,” Jamie tapped her pen against the special order form she’d just filled out for the middle aged man standing at the counter, “We’ll have the bouquet ready to be picked up by the morning of the 13th.”

She bid the man a good day and thanked him for his business before sliding the order form into the folder with the others. Things had been so busy at the flower shop lately, she was glad that she was able to help out. Mr. Johnson could hardly count change without dropping it anymore, she couldn’t imagine now how he would handle keeping up with all these orders at his age.

With a deep breath, she sipped at her tea. She hated taking orders. She felt much more comfortable in the back, putting bouquets and arrangements together. But being a bit of a control freak, she also didn’t trust anyone else on the staff to take down the orders properly.

She picked her head up when the bell rang over the door, signaling another customer. But she had to resist the urge to roll her eyes when she saw the tall, bespectacled man coming straight towards the counter.

“Edmund O’Mara,” she sighed, “Let me guess, a dozen red roses with baby’s breath and a personalized card.”

“You got it,” he nodded, getting his wallet from his back pocket.

“That’ll be $20.95,” she muttered, already tapping it into the register.

“What?”

“Twenty dollars and ninety five cents,” she eyed him through her lashes as she fetched another special order form.

“It was $16 even last time,” his thick brows knit together.

“Well, this time it’s $20.95,” she shrugged. She wasn’t sure why he was arguing over a five dollar price difference. It wasn’t like Eddie had ever struggled with money. “Look, it’s simple economics, mate. Inflation and all that. We’re making some changes.”

“And I’m guessing you’re not gonna offer me any kind of friends and family discount?”

Considering you’re hardly my friend and not my family, no.

“Why would I do that?”

He shrugged and eyed her accusingly, “You’d give Danielle a discount.”

“Well, for starters, she wouldn’t ask for one. Second, she helps out around here enough to earn a discount. I’ve never seen you throw on an apron and sweep up leaves in the back,” she leaned against the counter with a light chuckle. For some reason this entitled little tantrum he was on the verge of had her wanting to poke the bear even more. Call her argumentative, but she was always entertained by how easily agitated he got with her.

“Just ring it up, please, I’m gonna be late for dinner,” he rolled his eyes, “Are you still watching Miles for us on Valentine’s Day?”

“S’far as I know,” she nodded as she started counting his change, “Dani said you’re going to Rudino’s.”

“Of course.”

“Not even gonna switch it up for the holiday?”

“What do you mean?”

Taking a deep breath, Jamie handed him his change before clearing her throat, “I mean...you do the same thing every Friday night. Been doing the same thing; Even every anniversary, every Valentine’s Day, it’s Rudino’s and red roses. Are you ever gonna try to...I dunno, make it more special or anything?”

“I think it’s special enough. It’s tradition,” Eddie shrugged and pocketed his wallet again, “Tradition is something that Danielle values.”

“Just feel like that would get boring after a while,” she muttered with her head down, focusing on writing out the order form.

“Well,” he started, stuffing his hands into his jacket pockets, “Whenever you finally decide to get into a relationship, you can do what you want. Until then...just stay out of mine.”

Picking her head up to meet his eyes, it took everything Jamie had in her to bite her tongue and keep quiet. She’d watched, for years, as Dani was dragged to the same boring restaurant every Friday night with the same boring flowers that she didn’t even like. She’d been the one that Dani called when she felt like she was stuck in a rut and tired of living in the same routine. And being her best friend, it was hard to keep her mouth shut instead of defending her.

But Eddie was right. It wasn’t her business. After only knowing Dani for a month, she’d told a couple of irrelevant bullies that anything that concerned the blonde concerned her too; And she’d lived with that mindset for over ten years. But they were older now. Dani was in a committed relationship with her childhood sweetheart. It wasn’t her business.

“Fine. You’re right, I’m sorry,” she forced the apology out, shaking her head as she filed the order form away with the rest, “Your order will be ready by the morning of the 13th. Thanks for stopping in.”

And with that, she turned to reach for her tea again, listening to the sound of Eddie’s footsteps as he walked away from the counter and back through the door.

February 1991

Jamie had never been one to do relationships. Ever since she was a teenager, she never let herself get close to anyone. She’d rather expose herself physically than emotionally. There may have been women that she saw more than once if they provided good conversation or if they were fun to be around. Just because she never let her relationships progress past sex, she still enjoyed having something resembling a friend around every now and then.

She was realizing, however, that time with those women, basically nameless and faceless characters in her mind at this point, went by so fast. God forbid she invited a woman over twice, the time between meet-ups seemed to pass by before she could blink twice, hardly giving her time to recoup and focus on herself in between.

But with Dani, time moved so slow in between weekends. Sometimes Jamie would get lost in a daydream at 10am, and her mind would go on for what seemed like hours, feeding her memories and fantasies of both past and future with Dani; But when she came back to reality, only five minutes would have passed. It was almost agonizing. Especially since the time she had with Dani seemed to always fly by.

The best thing about being your own boss, though, is making your own schedule. And especially after Jamie had gifted herself with a cellular telephone for Christmas, it was making it much easier for her to work from home. She could even have some of her phone conferences from her couch if she wanted to. So it certainly came in handy when Dani had inevitably gotten sick after New Years.

With her briefcase packed with all her important work, she ended up working from Dani’s house for a few days after her usual weekend visit. She dropped the kids off at school in the morning, worked on her spreadsheets and made a few phone calls while Dani rested, then picked the kids up and made dinner for everyone in the evening. The kids were well behaved, but she still gained a new level of respect for Dani, who was doing it all on her own nearly every single day.

But Jamie had to admit it was nice, feeling like she was part of something. She usually helped out with the kids, but never on her own like that in their daily routine; And especially not when she had to take care of Dani in between. But aside from making her soup and keeping her company while she rested, the blonde didn’t require much help. She’d always been fiercely independent when it came to taking care of herself. But that was hardly surprising, considering how she spent a majority of her adolescence raising herself.

Even that week seemed to fly by, now that Jamie thought about it. She was there from Saturday to Tuesday (after spending Wednesday and Thursday with Dani in the city for New Years). Nearly a whole week together and it felt like it flashed by her in an instant when she thought about it now, over a month later.

“Line one, Jamie,” Amanda stuck her head into the doorway of Jamie’s office, nodding when the brunette thanked her through a sigh.

Collecting herself after yet another torturous daydream, Jamie leaned back in her desk chair, spinning herself around so she could watch the snow starting to fall outside her large office windows.

“Jamie Taylor,” she answered the phone, cradling it between her ear and shoulder as she put her feet up on the plant-covered windowsill.

”Have I ever told you that you do way too much?” Dani’s voice sent an immediate wave of warmth through her as a smile grew on her face.

“I haven’t the slightest idea what you mean,” she smirked, tapping her pen against her bottom lip.

”Hm. Guess I should start asking my neighbors which one of them sent this giant bouquet of beautiful flowers to my front door,” the younger woman sighed dramatically into the phone.

Jamie chuckled quietly and shook her head, “You like’em, then?”

“I love them, Jay, they’re so pretty. You didn’t have to do this, though. I know you think Valentine’s Day is stupid.”

“But you don’t,” the brunette shrugged with a hint of a smile, “And you’re running out of time to tell me what you wanna do on Saturday.”

Dani breathed a laugh on the other end, followed by a deep sigh, ”Even if I had any idea what I wanted to do, we probably couldn’t do it anyway.”

“Why’s that?”

”Judy and Mike already have plans. And my mom’s got a date.”

“Karen’s back in the dating game?” Jamie chuckled with her brows raised to her hairline.

“Mmhm. Of all Valentine’s Days, too.”

“No sitter for the kids either?”

“Pretty sure all the neighborhood sitters are booked,” Dani sighed again. Jamie could hear the disappointment in her tone; She could only imagine the look on her face that went along with it.

“Why don’t we all go do something?” Jamie suggested as she spun herself back around to face her desk, “You me and the kids, I mean.”

”You don’t wanna do that.”

“And why don’t I?”

“Cause...Cause it’s our first Valentine’s Day as a...y’know, a couple. You shouldn’t have to deal with my kids tagging along for a date.”

Chuckling, Jamie began to pack up her paperwork for the day, “Poppins, it’s not like we’d be dragging them with us to a bar. We’d do something that’ll be fun for all of us.”

Dani was quiet on the other end, likely deep in thought about it. As far as Jamie was concerned, Dani had rarely (if ever) been given the option to decide where she wanted to go on dates, so her indecisiveness wasn’t entirely surprising. But at the same time, Jamie didn’t want to force anything; Even something as simple as choosing a place to go for Valentine’s Day.

“Gonna be spending the day with’em anyways, babe,” Jamie reminded her gently, “Might as well take them out to have some fun, yeah?”

Dani hummed into the phone. Jamie hoped she was nodding on the other end.

“You’re right,” she muttered, “Are you sure you don’t mind?”

Jamie smirked as she straightened out folders in her desk drawer, “Would I have offered if I did?”

“No, but...I just feel bad, I guess.”

“Think you’re forgetting a few things.”

”Like what?”

“Firstly, I love those kids; And I never mind hanging out with them,” she started, closing the drawer, “And second, I signed up for you. All of you. Kids, Wally...hell, even Karen included. And that means taking the kids to the roller disco on Saturday for Valentine's Day. Unless you’ve got a better idea.”

Dani laughed breathily in her ear, ”God, I haven’t been there in forever. Not sure the kids are calling it a ‘roller disco’ anymore, though.”

“What else would they call it?”

”Pretty sure it’s just called a roller rink.”

Shaking her head, Jamie just rolled her eyes with a slight chuckle and mumbled, “Christ,” as she realized that they really were getting old.

”I think they’d like that, though,” Dani continued, ”Miles has been there for a few birthday parties, but Flora’s never gone before.“

“Think you can still keep yourself up on eight wheels?”

“It’s been a while. I might need more help than my five year old,” the blonde giggled quietly.

“If it makes you feel any better, I’m a little rusty, myself. Pretty sure Wally would be better on skates than me now.”

“I guess we’ll find out on Saturday, then.”

“Guess we will.”

February 1972

Jamie tugged at the turtleneck under her chin, hating that it was the last clean shirt she had. At some point, she was gonna have to learn to start doing her own laundry, because her parents weren’t getting it done lately. She could get a few wears out of her jeans, but she needed clean shirts.

But fourth period had just ended, meaning the school day was just about halfway over. She didn’t have to stay in this itchy turtleneck for too much longer.

Tugging at the collar with a grimace, she held her books against her chest with her free hand as she walked to her locker, trying not to outwardly cringe at a few seventh and eighth graders holding hands and kissing in the hallway around her.

She didn’t see the point of Valentine’s Day as it was, but she certainly didn’t see why the twelve and thirteen year olds were celebrating it. She was pretty sure that her own parents didn’t know what love was; How would a bunch of kids know?

“‘Scuse me,” she sighed, looking up at the boy and girl that were blocking her locker. They looked like eighth graders. The girl was wearing way too much orange eyeshadow like her neighbor Linda Horowitz. Linda was in the eighth grade too.

Thankfully, they moved out of her way without an argument, walking off with their hands linked together as Jamie turned the dial of the lock and opened the little metal door. But before she could start to unload her books from her arms, a folded paper tumbled from her locker and down to her feet.

With curiously knit brows, the young brunette put her books in her locker before bending down to pick it up, being careful not to damage whatever it was.

It was pink paper cut into the shape of a heart (folded to fit through the vent in her locker, apparently). And along with the lace trim glued around the edges, it was covered in familiar, swirly red handwriting.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Jamie!
Love Always,
Dani

Her lips curled into a bit of a smile at the way Dani had dotted the ‘I’ in her name with a heart instead of a flower like she normally did. All for the sake of the holiday, Jamie assumed.

She thought it was a bit silly that she’d written ‘love always’ when they hardly even knew each other. Sure, they’d spent time together after school and over winter break, but Jamie still barely considered her to be a friend; Especially not one she expected a ‘love always’ from. And on a Valentine’s Day card, no less.

“Do you like it?” a cheerful voice came from behind her, nearly making her drop the card to the floor again. But she turned to face her next door neighbor; her timid smile meeting the blonde’s cheerful one.

“It’s great, thanks,” she leaned against the row of lockers.

Dani’s smile grew, flashing her braces as she stepped a bit closer to Jamie, taking the paper heart from her hands. “I’m sorry if the lace smells funny. It was in my mom’s sewing kit that she got from my great grandma. But she wouldn’t let me use her perfume to make it smell better.”

“Not really planning on keeping it too close to my nose anyway,” Jamie chuckled as Dani handed it back, “Feel bad I didn’t make you anything. I kinda thought Valentine’s Day was just for couples.”

“You never did class valentines at your old school?”

“Yeah, but that was primary school when we were all in the same class together all day.”

“We used to do class valentines in elementary school too,” Dani nodded, clutching her English textbook to her chest, “I figured I’d still give them out to people this year, but I made you and Eddie extra special ones, cause you’re my best friends.”

Jamie felt her heart leap in her chest when Dani said she was one of her best friends. She was weird, but Jamie still found her intriguing. As pushy as she could be at times, she was still really nice and friendly; And she seemed to really want to be her friend. That was something Jamie wasn’t used to. Especially not from girls like Dani.

“Thanks,” she ducked her head down to the card in her hands again, tracing her eyes over the swirly red letters on the pink paper, “Wish I’d gotten you something, too.”

“No need to. I’m just glad you like it,” the blonde in the pink patterned dress reached forward to hug her around the neck, mumbling, “Happy Valentine’s Day,” against her shoulder.

Jamie just hugged her back, finding herself oddly content in the smell of strawberry shampoo in Dani’s blonde hair. “You too,” she whispered, almost dreading the moment Dani pulled away. Aside from wrestling with her brothers and a few hair ruffles from her dad, she didn’t get much affection from the people around her. So, she figured it made sense that a hug had her feeling like she’d just won $50 at a bingo game.

“What did you bring for lunch today?” the younger girl grinned as they started walking towards the cafeteria.

“Peanut butter sandwich and an apple, I think,” Jamie walked beside her with a shy smile.

“You wanna trade? I’ve got turkey and cheese with grapes.”

The brunette turned to see Dani smiling over at her with her mouth full of braces. She didn’t really like turkey. But she found herself nodding anyway. For some reason, even on the occasion that she wanted to, saying no to Dani was getting harder and harder each day.

February 1991

“Go brush your teeth and get in your pajamas, please. You can watch a little TV before bed, okay?” Dani kissed the top of Miles’s head as the four of them entered the house. Jamie was trailing behind with Flora out cold in her arms, asleep on her shoulder.

They’d had a pretty busy day all together. After the kids’ regular Saturday activities and lunch, they spent a few hours of the afternoon at the roller skating rink (which Jamie still insisted on calling the ‘roller disco’). Jamie spent most of it on the edge of the rink, holding onto Flora’s hands to teach her how to move and balance on skates. Dani even braved putting on a pair so she could go around the rink with Miles. However, after a while, he made a few friends that invited him to skate with them; so Dani returned her rental skates and took pictures from the sidelines instead. And after leaving the rink to go out for dinner, they were finally coming back home for the night.

“Do you mind putting her to bed while I let Wally outside?” Dani asked after Miles disappeared up the stairs. It was just about Flora’s bedtime. She’d been fast asleep since Dani put her in her booster seat after they left the restaurant. But the blonde didn’t want to bother waking her up just to brush her teeth. Especially since Flora was still having trouble staying asleep lately.

“Course,” Jamie nodded, letting Dani kiss the top of her daughter’s head before she took her upstairs. Flora still had her sweater and leggings on, but those were comfortable enough for her to sleep in. So Jamie just placed her down on her bed and tucked her in with her favorite bear and a kiss to her forehead.

They watched an hour of TV with Miles before tucking him in as well. He was in a fairly decent mood today, thankfully. Jamie was pretty sure that it had something to do with the fact that he’d made some new friends at the roller skating rink. He was still grieving Eddie, as he would be for a while, but it was nice to see him smiling and happy again, even if he went back to being moody in the morning.

“I think that was the most fun they’ve had in a long time,” Dani took her hair out of her ponytail and lifted herself up to sit on the kitchen island while Jamie rummaged the cabinets for wine glasses, “I can’t believe I put on roller skates for the first time in over ten years.”

“I’m surprised you stayed upright the whole time,” Jamie looked over her shoulder with a chuckle as she pulled two glasses down from the cabinet over the dishwasher.

Dani laughed with an enthusiastic nod of her head, running her fingers through her hair that had been tied back all day. “You and me both,” she smiled, toying with the blue scrunchie around her wrist as the sound of wine being poured filled the silence between them, “Thank you for today, Jamie, really.”

“No need,” the brunette sauntered over, holding one of the wine glasses out to her. She was going to lean against the opposite counter, but instead, she was caught with her hips against the kitchen island and Dani’s ankles locked playfully around her waist.

Lips were warm and melded against hers before either of them could get in a sip of wine. Jamie could feel a chill run down her spine at the sound and feeling of Dani giggling into the kiss, deepening it slowly as Jamie’s free hand wrapped around her waist and toyed with her denim belt loops.

They separated breathlessly; foreheads pressed together as they silently enjoyed their first moment alone since waking up this morning. And though Dani unlocked her ankles from around Jamie’s waist, the older woman remained in place between her knees, pulling back just enough to take a smirking sip from her wine glass.

“I think I’m gonna start packing up some stuff to put in storage,” Dani sighed, swirling her wine around.

“Yeah?”

“Mmhm,” she nodded, keeping her eyes fixed on the red liquid in her glass, “I can only keep paying the mortgage on this whole house for so long, y’know?”

“I get that,” Jamie nodded, reaching carefully under the hem of Dani’s lavender sweater to run her fingertips soothingly against the skin of her lower back. And she could feel the way Dani shivered under her touch almost immediately. “Where you thinking of going?”

Dani shrugged her shoulders, lifting her gaze up to meet Jamie’s, “I’ve been thinking about it. I really wanna go back to school and get my degree, so...moving back in with my mom would be easiest when it comes to making sure the kids are taken care of.”

Jamie could already feel her blood running cold at the idea of Dani moving back in with her mother. As much as she wanted Dani to follow her dream of being an elementary school teacher, she couldn’t even imagine what hell she would go through trying to work, go to school, and raise her kids all under her mother’s roof.

“Hoping there’s a ‘but’ in there somewhere,” she snorted quietly, leaning up to pepper a few kisses to the corner of her lips.

Thankfully, her request got a chuckle and a nod out of the blonde before kisses were returned through her airy laughter. “But...I think I’m just gonna try to find an apartment that’s still in the same school district for the kids. Maybe I’ll find one a little closer to work. And I’ll probably just...wait to go back to school for a little while longer.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Jamie nodded and took one more sip of wine before putting her glass down on the marble countertop beside Dani, wrapping her arms around her waist to pull her a bit closer, “Do the kids know?”

Dani shook her head with a bit of a solemn grin, “Not yet. I don’t really wanna worry them with it until the school year is over. Especially Miles. But I’m hoping to be settled and comfortable in a new place by the end of the summer. It’s just gonna take forever to pack this house up anyway.”

“We could get started on it next weekend if you want,” Jamie suggested, pulling back enough to meet her eyes again, “If Judy or Karen are able to take the kids, I mean. At least to get started.”

A bit of a soft smile grew on Dani’s face as she put her wine glass down as well, looping both her arms around Jamie’s neck. “Thank you,” she whispered into the silence between them, affectionately nudging Jamie’s nose with her own before their lips met again.

Dani hummed breathily against her, giggling a bit as Jamie pulled her closer and ran her fingers against the soft skin under her sweater. Her own hands flattened against the flannel material of Jamie’s shirt, running her palms along the lines of her shoulders and collarbone. Something about the way Jamie kissed her always had Dani’s head swimming as if she’d been holding her breath for way too long. It was dizzying, making her head feel fuzzy in a way that she only ever felt with Jamie.

“I love you,” slipped from her lips in a barely audible breath. And what came as the biggest surprise was that she didn’t feel any kind of fear or regret afterwards.

Maybe it was just confidence that Jamie wouldn’t run. She knew that Jamie had been harboring feelings for her for so long that even if she didn’t feel the same way, it wouldn’t scare her away. It was amazing, really, that she didn’t feel any kind of anxiety about it at all, even when Jamie pulled back from where their foreheads were pressed together, boring green eyes into hers.

“Say, uh…” Jamie mumbled with a bit of a stunned chuckle, “Say that again?”

Dani’s smile only grew before she kissed her again, bringing her hands back behind her shoulders to twirl brown ringlets around her fingers. “I love you, Jamie,” she whispered again into the eager kiss, “I’ve always loved you.”

Jamie exhaled slowly, releasing a wine scented breath against Dani’s lips just centimeters from hers. “Fuck, I’ve wanted to hear that for so long,” she shook her head with a growing smile of her own, bringing her hand up to rake curly hair back from her eyes. She’d heard it before, but never like this.

Dani just nodded and kissed her again and again. “You’ve loved me too...right?” she whispered between kisses, clutching the loose flannel at Jamie’s collarbone in a tight, desperate fist, “I know you have. I can...feel it.”

“I have,” Jamie nodded against her forehead, grinning into the fervent kisses as she pulled Dani even closer, “Still do.”

Dani couldn’t help but laugh a little as her eyes stung with unshed tears. For once, they weren’t tears of grief or sadness; But joy and relief. She felt like she shed a tear for each year she knew and loved Jamie, one for each time she’d missed an opportunity to change things, and one for each time those three words lingered on the tip of her tongue before she had to swallow them back down.

“I love you, Jamie,” she repeated through a watery chuckle as the brunette swiped the tears from her cheeks with gentle thumbs, “I love you, I’m sorry it took me this long, I’m so sorry.”

“Hey, shh,” Jamie soothed, gently stroking her thumbs against her cheeks as Dani’s hands covered her own, “I love you. So much, I love you, baby.” She took Dani’s hands in hers between them as she kissed the still-falling tears from around her cheeks, trying to keep her own eyes from welling up.

“We’ve got now, remember?” she brought her little pecking kisses back down to her lips as Dani wrapped her arms around her neck again, bringing her in as close as she possibly could, “Now is all we need to worry about. Can’t change the past, right?”

The blonde nodded against her lips, kissing her a few more times before pulling back with a few quiet sniffles as she wiped her eyes. “Love you,” she whispered once more. Even though the past didn’t matter, Dani still felt the need to say it as much as possible to make up for lost time.

“Love you,” Jamie scrunched her nose up with a playful grin and wrapped her arms around her girlfriend in a tight hug, letting her lock her ankles behind her back once again.

Chapter Text

March 1991

It was incredible just how much stuff people could accumulate over the course of a few years. Dani and Eddie only had this house for about six years, but Jamie didn’t remember them having this much stuff before. Then again, they were surrounded by help when they moved in. Pretty much everyone from Eddie’s immediate family had come to help unload moving vans. Along with some of his stronger friends from around town and the men from the moving company, there were plenty of hands to carry everything in.

But for the last few weekends, it had been just her and Dani. When the kids were out or asleep, they were spending most of their time trying to pack up and sort out as many of Dani’s belongings as they could. And she had a lot of stuff. Between Dani being a sentimental little pack rat and Eddie’s habit of showing love through gift-giving, the storage closets in their house were full of things; old and new.

This weekend they were tackling Dani’s walk-in closet that she used to share with Eddie. Dani was smart to send the kids off with Judy until Sunday. Considering it even took her a while to stop stalling just opening the doors to the closet, it was probably going to take them a while. But by the early afternoon, they had made their way in, and Dani had gotten the courage to start taking Eddie’s clothes off the hangers.

“What about these?” Jamie held up a few dusty books from where she was knelt in the closet. There was a worn out copy of ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’, a few old issues of Seventeen, and eight copies of their high school yearbooks; two of each from all four years.

“Umm...the magazines you can throw away, I guess,” Dani turned to face her from Eddie’s side of the closet.

“And Judy Blume?” Jamie held up the paperback novel, chuckling at the crumpled, discolored pages and the bent spine. She remembered Dani reading the book non-stop when they were kids. One time she asked why it was taking her so long to finish it, and Dani simply told her that she was rereading it for the tenth time.

Dani’s shoulders slumped as she reached across for the book, running her fingertips over the faded, ripped cover with a hint of a smile. “Is it stupid that I wanna keep it?”

The brunette shook her head as she flipped through the magazines, looking at the notes Dani had scribbled on the pages; Just little circled excerpts or clothing items she liked. But she put them into the trash bag after making sure that nothing important was hiding between the pages.

“Not stupid. Flora might wanna read it when she’s older,” she assured her, starting to flip through the yearbooks, smiling at how the pages of Dani’s were covered in notes and well-wishes from other students.

Sometimes, looking back, Jamie still wondered how she and Dani had remained such good friends all through high school, considering they were such different people. Jamie’s yearbooks had hardly any signatures or notes in them at all (though, Dani had covered a whole page in all four of them); Meanwhile the pages of Dani’s were covered to a point that eventually people ran out of room on the blank pages and had to start writing over photos.

“I’ll keep it, then,” the blonde crawled over to place it in the moving box herself instead of handing it back, taking a seat beside where Jamie was leaning against the closet wall. She peeked over her arm, resting her chin on the flannel-covered shoulder so she could join her on her trip down memory lane. “Which one is this?”

Jamie turned to press a slow kiss to her temple, muttering, “Senior year,” against loose strands of blonde before leaning her head down against hers.

Dani hummed with a nod as Jamie kept turning the pages, squinting at black and white faces she hadn’t seen in years and trying to remember their names. “Still can’t believe people say high school is the best four years of your life,” she snorted, burying her nose against Jamie’s sleeve.

“You telling me they weren’t the best four years of your life?” the older woman smirked as she flipped a few more pages.

“Not at all.”

“Coulda fooled me. With these pictures, at least,” Jamie chuckled, pointing to a picture of Dani grinning with all her teeth at the senior picnic.

Reaching across Jamie’s lap, the blonde turned the next few pages; seeing fake smile after fake smile on her own face before she finally landed on one she knew was real.

“I was laughing at you, there,” she pointed to a photo of herself at the job fair she’d helped organize in the gymnasium that year, “You were standing behind Rebecca making faces at me, remember?”

“I knew you were stressed,” Jamie shrugged with a lopsided grin. She remembered how Rebecca had come around with her camera and notepad to interview Dani for the yearbook. But Dani had been too nice to tell her that she was too frazzled to be interviewed at that moment. And while she had to push herself through the short interview, Jamie managed to get a laugh out of her from behind Rebecca’s back with dumb faces and silly dance moves.

Pressing a kiss to the pilled flannel of Jamie’s sleeve, Dani just smiled as she curled up beside her, watching as they flipped through the pages. “Definitely wasn’t the best four years of my life, though,” she sighed down at the pages, “Especially when people were so awful to you.”

“They made my life hell, not yours,” Jamie snorted, closing the yearbook gently.

Dani shook her head, tracing the freckles on her arm where her sleeve was rolled up. “But I hated it. And I hated that I couldn’t do anything about it. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get them to just leave you alone.”

Jamie’s lips pressed into a tight line, remembering just how frustrated Dani used to get when they were in school; To a point that she nearly scalped Lisa Peterson on her behalf. “Survived it, though, right?”

Nodding her head, the blonde tilted her head up and cupped Jamie’s jaw, stroking her thumb across the point of her chin before kissing her slowly. “I love you,” she sighed against her lips, sitting up straighter to keep herself balanced as she slowly deepened the kiss.

Jamie’s lips curled into a smile against hers, murmuring quietly that she loved her in return as she pulled her closer. Dani moved the yearbook off her lap, greedily taking its place as she settled herself atop Jamie’s thighs, draping her free arm over her shoulder while her hand stayed at the sharp line of her jaw. But she pulled back breathlessly after a few moments, drinking in the menthol taste left on her tongue from Jamie’s and humming contentedly as she leaned her forehead into hers.

“We should finish this, yeah?” Jamie’s head tilted towards the mess of boxes and clutter around them, chuckling a little as her hands remained at Dani’s belt loops.

The blonde nodded her head, dragging her tongue over her lower lip before she removed herself from Jamie’s lap and returned to Eddie’s side of the closet, continuing to sort everything for Judy to go through later. “The, um…” she started as she pointed to the books surrounding her girlfriend, “We can keep my yearbooks here. Eddie’s copies can go with the stuff we’re bringing to Judy’s.”

Jamie complied silently, placing the correct yearbooks in Judy’s box before putting Dani’s into the moving box.

After a bit more sorting and separating, she pulled a shoebox out from where it sat on a high shelf, blowing dust off of it. The shoe store it came from didn’t even exist in their town anymore, that’s how old it was. But she opened it curiously, feeling a chuckle begin to bubble up from her chest.

If she thought Dani was a bit of a pack rat before, that opinion just grew stronger when she looked through the little box of random items. There were faded movie ticket stubs for ‘Alien’, ‘Grease’ and several others, hospital bracelets dated for 1980 and 1985 from Miles and Flora’s births, the dried up red rose corsage Eddie had given her before prom, a few photos and birthday cards, and one of the flower crowns Dani had made for them the summer before they left for college; Though like the corsage, it was dried up and falling apart.

“What’s all this?” she asked curiously, turning to where Dani was folding clothes neatly into plastic storage totes.

Snapping her head up, Dani’s cheeks turned a bright shade of pink at the box in Jamie’s hands, recognizing it immediately. “Oh, that’s um...nothing, it’s just—“ she stammered over her words, unsure of why she was so embarrassed by her little memento box. Especially in front of Jamie, of all people.

“I’m just curious, babe, you don’t have to tell me,” Jamie shook her head with a gentle smile as the blonde walked the short distance over to her, “Box of memories?”

Dani nodded slowly, feeling the flush on her face remain, steady and tingling in her cheeks. “Just stuff from...I dunno, happy moments, I guess. Stuff that just means a lot to me.”

She stepped over to Jamie and looked into the box that she hadn’t touched since Flora was born. The last thing she’d put in there was her hospital bracelet. Since then, the box had remained untouched in the back of her closet.

Reaching over Jamie, she plucked a folded piece of paper from the box, unfolding it with a bit of a smile on her lips. “Remember how mad at me you got for losing your copy of Charlotte’s Web?” she breathed a huff of laughter through her nose, looking down at the paper.

“Yeah. Leave it to me to get mad over a fucking book,” Jamie chuckled, “If I remember right, I didn’t talk to you for a whole day.”

“A day and a half,” Dani corrected her with a giggle, “You didn’t talk to me until lunch the day after I told you I’d lost it.” She looked down at the paper again, running her fingers gently over the excerpt she had loved so much that she wanted to keep a copy of it for herself.

“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked, “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte, “That in itself is a tremendous thing.”

“I’m still sorry for losing it,” Dani folded the paper up again to put it back into the shoebox, giving Jamie a guilty smile as the brunette placed it in the moving box.

“Hey, you made it up to me when you paid a ridiculous amount of money for a new first edition,” she chuckled, recalling her 27th birthday present as she turned to face her with her arms folded across her chest,

Dani stepped close enough to loop her hands around the back of her neck, pecking her lips quickly. “Still, I shouldn’t have lost it in the first place,” she muttered, letting out a few airy giggles as Jamie pulled her closer. It was a good thing she’d decided to start packing the house up last month, because at this rate, with her stalling and the constant distractions, it seemed like they would never get it finished.

“Mistakes happen. I mean, we were twelve,” Jamie smirked against her lips as Dani pressed her to the door frame. And as much as she wanted to encourage packing and sorting, the feeling of pink lips against her neck was too good to resist.

Dani didn’t respond aside from a breathy hum against her neck. Jamie had always been kind to her, understanding with her, patient with her; All these things that, at times, she felt she wasn’t deserving of. Eddie was kind. He would often be begrudgingly understanding in times when he was inconvenienced by something she had done wrong. Same with his patience. He was never outwardly impatient with her, but she could see it in his eyes that his patience would begin to wear thin.

Jamie had waited for her for twenty years, even before she knew she was waiting for her, she was. And after being together for four months, she still showed no signs of impatience, no signs of wanting to seek gratification from anyone else. Back in college, Jamie had told her that if someone really loved her, they would wait as long as it took for her to be ready.

And for the first time ever, she felt ready. Really ready. Not like with Eddie when she decided to just get it over with. Not only was she with someone that she loved and trusted, but she was with someone that she wanted to be with; Someone that she didn’t mind giving herself to completely.

Unlatching her hands from behind Jamie’s neck, she let them trail down to where her flannel shirt was unbuttoned and clutched the material in tight fists as she gently pulled the brunette off the doorframe, starting a backward walk towards the bed before she was falling back onto it; Her lips never leaving Jamie’s for a second.

“Hey,” the brunette panted quietly from where she hovered over her, searching her darkened blue eyes, “We don’t—“

“I want to,” Dani said breathlessly, staring back up at her as she let her fingers tease the buttons of Jamie’s shirt that were still done up, “I want to.”

Jamie’s eyes were full of a mix of concern and adoration as they looked into her own. She swept fallen blonde strands from her forehead, swallowing thickly as she kept herself propped up on her arm. “You sure?” she asked quietly, running her tongue along her bottom lip.

Dani nodded her head without a moment of hesitation, pulling her down for a heated kiss; her hips giving an involuntary lurch when Jamie settled herself between her thighs. “Please, Jamie. Please…”

The brunette just hummed against her lips, all too familiar with that phrase. Regardless of who it would benefit, Jamie always did what Dani wanted. There were very few times she’d said no. And as worried as she had been over the last few months that Dani was trying to force herself into wanting this, one look into her dilated blue eyes told Jamie that she wouldn’t need to say no this time.

August 1978

“Are you sure it’s tonight?” Dani asked, spinning around in circles in the middle of the empty field.

“It’s the same night every year,” Jamie huffed, staring up at the sky and readjusting the crown of wildflowers Dani had woven together for her over the last hour. It was nearing 3am and they were straddling the border of Iowa and Missouri to watch the annual August meteor shower.

Dani very rarely snuck out. But she had awoken at midnight to find Jamie tossing pebbles at her bedroom window, offering up a stolen bottle of wine and the promise of a late night adventure; One last one before they left for college.

“Haven’t been out of Iowa since I got here,” Jamie had smirked up at her from the grass between Dani’s window and what was now just the random house next door.

And after a bit of quiet debate, Dani was running out of her house and climbing into Jamie’s new truck, dressed in a knee-length floral dress and tennis shoes; Wide awake and ready for whatever adventure Jamie had in mind.

But between the wine, the lack of sleep, and the bit of marijuana she had in her system now, Dani was feeling pretty restless as she twirled around under the moonlight, humming Carly Simon to herself since the radio in the truck wasn’t picking up any stations.

“Would you stop spinning around? You’re making me dizzy,” the brunette chuckled, swinging her legs over the edge of the tailgate as she sipped wine straight from the bottle.

“Well I’m bored!” Dani groaned and threw her head back, making her own flower crown fall off her head, “The sun’s gonna be up soon and we’re all the way in Missouri!”

Jamie just rolled her eyes with an enamored smile. Dani didn’t get high often, but when she did, she always became a ball of restless, giggly, playful energy; Just the opposite of Jamie’s mellow high. “Sun won’t start rising for three hours, Poppins. And we’re only two hours from home, calm down.”

The blonde twirled around once more before placing the crown back on her head and climbing up onto the edge of the truck bed beside Jamie, releasing an audible puff of frustrated breath. “Why do you think they tell you to wish on shooting stars?”

“Dunno.”

“Do you think in places where they see shooting stars all the time, peoples’ wishes come true? They’ve all probably won the lottery over there. And none of their family members are sick.”

“Maybe,” Jamie shrugged as Dani snatched the wine bottle from her hands to take a long swig, “Guess that would depend on if their wishes come true or not.”

“They have to come true, Jay,” she wiped her mouth on the back of her hand, “What else are shooting stars for?”

Jamie snorted quietly and leaned back on her palms, “Pretty sure they’re just rocks flying through space, babe. Just like stars are just glowing balls of gas. Nothing magical about’em.”

“You’re no fun,” Dani shoved her a bit harder than normal, but still as playfully as ever, “If you believed in them, though, what would you wish for?”

“I wouldn’t wish for anything. If I was meant to have something, the universe or whatever would sort it out for me.”

“Jamieee!”

“God, you’re annoying. Dunno what I was thinking, giving you weed and alcohol,” she rolled her eyes again, laughing as she tried to squirm away from where Dani was tugging on her arm like a neglected child.

“You love me anyway,” Dani giggled, falling back against the thick blanket that covered the truck bed, not paying any mind to Jamie’s lack of response. Instead, she just tugged on her elbow, pulling her down to lay on her back beside her. “Seriously, though. If you could wish for anything, and you knew it would come true…what would it be?”

Between the marijuana and Dani’s question, Jamie could feel her throat getting drier by the second. She didn’t know what she would wish for. Part of her wished that her mother never left. Part of her wished her father had never gotten arrested or that she and Mikey hadn’t been separated, even if they were just on opposite sides of town. A part of her wished that she hadn’t pushed Dani away at Ingrid’s Halloween party. And a very small part of her wished that they’d never moved here from England in the first place, just to save her the heartache of everything she’d endured over the last few years.

But as much as she wondered about whether things would be different had any of those things hadn’t happened, she already knew that she would never wish to change any of them. Things were the way they were, and who’s to say that they wouldn’t be worse if she got her way?

A few fireflies blinked over their heads, thankfully distracting Dani enough as she mistook them for meteors; But her focus still came back to Jamie after. And the brunette felt like she was going to implode at the feeling of polished nails tracing the moonflower on her bicep.

That feeling was never going to go away. She’d been willing it away since she was thirteen; And it was getting harder and harder each year as they got older. And each time, it got increasingly more difficult to not wish that things were different, despite knowing that they couldn’t be changed. Because what would life be like if she lived in a world where she could tell Dani how her whole body turned to pins and needles at the simplest touch of her fingers or the slightest whiff of her perfume? And what would that life be like if, by some miracle, Dani felt the same way?

“I guess I would wish for…”

“Oh, look!” Dani quickly sat up, not even caring about the flower crown falling off her head as she did.

Jamie peered up at her from where she remained laying in the truck bed, watching as a few meteors flew past around Dani’s head. What started as a few sporadic stars, soon turned into an aptly named shower of them; Practically clear as day in the barely lit countryside.

Sitting up, the older girl sighed quietly as she tilted her head up to watch the sky. But her eyes gravitated towards Dani on their own, watching as the blonde stared up at the sky with a wide, open smile. She lived for the moments that she got to see Dani in complete bliss; without a care in the world.

“What would you wish for?” she leaned sideways, nudging her best friend’s shoulder with her own as a smirk formed on her face.

“I’d tell you, but…” Dani tore her eyes from the sky to turn to Jamie with a playful shrug, “...that’s against the rules.”

“What rules?”

“If you tell a wish, it won’t come true. You know that,” Dani fell back against the blanket, staring up at the dark sky as she patted the blanket for Jamie to join her again.

Sliding down on her arm, Jamie turned on her side so she was more focused on Dani than the sky, propping her head up on her elbow, “Oh, come on, you were gonna make me tell you mine.”

“Cause you don’t believe in them. It wouldn’t count against you if you told,” Dani giggled, briefly letting her eyes meet Jamie’s in the dim moonlight.

With a smiling scoff, Jamie shook her head and laid on her back again to watch the sky with her, watching as meteor after meteor darted through the stars in the blink of an eye. Even if she believed in wishing on stars, she wasn’t sure what she would ask for. She had to admit that it bothered her that she couldn’t think of a single thing that seemed logical enough to wish for. Was she really so directionless in life that she couldn’t think of a single thing?

But just as she began to stress and overthink about something so minuscule, slender fingers wove between hers with a grounding force that still felt other-worldly even after seven years.

“Jamie?” Dani cut through the cricket-filled silence as she squeezed her hand where it was joined with her own between them.

“Mmhm?” her throat was dry when she hummed out her response. But instead of a reply, she just received another affectionate squeeze as Dani’s thumb stroked delicately over hers. Seconds passed like minutes as the silence crept on. And with Dani’s hand in hers like it was now, Jamie could feel the anticipation of whatever she was going to ask building up in her chest.

But the fingers were slowly lost from her grip as Dani mumbled a quiet, “never mind,” towards the sky.

Jamie didn’t poke or prod, as curious as she was. Whatever it was, Dani wasn’t ready to say it. But if it was meant to be said, she would hear it eventually. No wishing required.

March 1991

Dani wasn’t sure how long she’d been asleep for. It may have been hours, or only minutes. All she knew was that she’d never woken up feeling as satisfied as she did now. She’d never felt this way at all. The closest she’s ever gotten was the morning after her first real kiss with Jamie back in November. But even then, satisfaction wasn’t what she’d been feeling; Rather a sense of uncertainty and worry.

She never woke up like this with Eddie. If anything, she woke up miserable; feeling sore, empty and guilty. Sore from Eddie’s groping and relentless use of her body for, what always turned out to be, his own pleasure. Empty as if he’d sucked a bit of life out of her with every kiss and every push and pull of his hips. And the guilt she felt after each time was the worst of all, as she knew that she was not only letting him down, but letting herself down as well by giving in to him; allowing herself to play into the feelings she pretended to have for him.

She wasn’t sure when, but at some point, she’d stopped trying to kid herself. She’d stopped trying to convince herself that eventually she’d find herself attracted to him; That maybe the next time Eddie laid uncomfortably between her thighs, it would be the time that she finally felt something other than disgust and shame.

But it never came, and she stopped trying. She stopped trying to feel pleasure with him. Instead, despite outwardly agreeing to it, she often found herself staring at the ceiling, counting the seconds until it was over as tears streaked from the corners of her eyes. And as much as she wanted to think of Jamie in those times, to at least try to imagine that she was with someone who she adored, she couldn’t. She couldn’t bring herself to put Jamie into her mind and associate her with something that left her feeling so awful.

Even though she had no proof at the time, Dani had a feeling that Jamie would never be fumbling and awkward. Jamie wouldn’t grope at her like an object or leave her feeling trapped under her with no way out. So how could she possibly imagine it was Jamie’s hands on her skin instead of Eddie’s?

And she was right, all this time. Jamie was even more than Dani had imagined. She’d made her feel things that she didn’t even think were possible; Things that she’d often heard about, but could never put a feeling to. It was euphoric, for lack of a better word. Dani still felt sore; But she was sore in the best possible way, with weakened muscles from curled toes and clenched thighs from even the simplest of touches. She still felt empty, but in a way that had her practically aching for more, wanting Jamie to make her feel full and satiated again.

But absent from her mind was guilt. She didn’t even feel an ounce of it for the first time in ages. And she hoped it would remain that way. Even with Jamie beside her as she slept peacefully on what used to be Eddie’s side of the bed, Dani couldn’t bring herself to feel anything but fulfillment. If she felt guilty about anything, it was that she’d hardly had the energy to give Jamie the same intoxicating pleasure she’d received from her.

Her heavy eyelids opened slowly to find deflated brown curls falling over Jamie’s bare shoulders; exposed to the sunset that flowed in through the windows. She lightly raked blunt fingernails against her side, watching with mild amusement as goosebumps raised on Jamie’s pale skin. And with a confident smirk, she flicked her tongue over her lips and picked her head up to press kisses to each freckle that dotted the backs of her shoulders; starting a trail down her back until they met with the three consecutive freckles that lined up in a curve directly between her shoulder blades.

This was how it was meant to be, waking up like this; feeling happy and satisfied with the person you’re in love with.

“Knew you’d be an insatiable one,” Jamie mumbled smugly, though her voice was still laced with sleep, “Can’t say I blame you, though.”

“Cocky,” Dani giggled breathily against her back, watching as her girlfriend rolled over to face her instead.

“Rightfully so, don’t you think?” Jamie’s lips curled into a smirk before Dani leaned across the small space to kiss them for the first time in what felt like forever.

Humming quietly into the soft and slow press of kisses, Dani reached up to run her fingers through Jamie’s hair, scratching gently along her scalp as she muttered a playful, “Maybe,” against her lips.

They kissed for a few minutes, soaking up the reality of what used to be their shared fantasy as they got reacquainted with the feeling of warm, bare skin flush together.

“How you feeling?” Jamie asked, pulling back just enough to breathe. Though, they were still close enough for her to feel the flutter of Dani’s eyelashes against her cheeks as the blonde shifted down to pepper kisses along the curve of her chin.

“Good,” Dani mumbled back, though ‘good’ was a vast understatement. There wasn’t a word for what she felt. Even the most amplified words couldn’t describe it. She just knew that she felt better than she ever had before. She felt light as a feather, bold and confident. And any nerves that she felt before had faded into the back of her mind, dimming and silencing along with the rest of her anxieties. “How do you feel?”

“Good,” Jamie repeated back to her as her nose scrunched up with a playful grin.

“Do you?”

“Mmhm.”

“Even if I didn’t…do anything for you?” Dani pulled back from her slowly, blue eyes still darkened with want.

Jamie just chuckled under her breath, cupping her cheek as she kissed her girlfriend’s pouted lips, “Baby, trust me, I got just as much out of that as you did.”

“I find that hard to believe,” Dani giggled into the kiss, trailing a teasing fingertip down the center of Jamie’s bare back and over the curve of her hip until her hand was settled on her thigh under the covers, boldly tugging a leg over her own.

There was no possible way that Jamie felt as good as she did now. Especially not after hardly being touched at all. Though, the more Dani thought about it, even if it wasn’t a physical feeling, she knew that she would be floating around on cloud nine if she knew that she was the one to make Jamie fall apart under the touch of her fingers, lips, and tongue. So, maybe it wasn’t as hard to believe as she’d initially thought it to be.

“But maybe…” she interrupted herself with a gasp as Jamie placed a series of kisses on her neck, “Maybe I can…find out…what it’s like?” She gasped again with a soft whimper, digging her polished nails into the skin of Jamie’s thigh as she felt the white hot desire bubbling in the pit of her stomach once more. Though, it was unfortunately accompanied by a rumble of hunger, turning her cheeks bright pink when Jamie pulled back from her neck with a raspy chuckle.

“Maybe after we eat something,” the brunette smirked, running her thumb over Dani’s flushed and heated cheek as she kissed her fully.

With a frustrated huff, Dani slumped down onto her pillow as Jamie sat up, flattening her wild hair before reaching for the discarded flannel on the floor and buttoning it up halfway. “I don’t feel like cooking. Or going out,” she sighed, trying to politely avert her eyes as Jamie slid her underwear back up her legs.

“Delivery it is, then,” Jamie snorted a laugh, kneeling up on the bed to catch Dani’s lips with her own once again. “Pizza?”

The blonde reached for the phone cradle on her nightstand. She’d taken the one that used to hang on the wall in the kitchen to her bedroom after replacing it with a cordless one like Jamie had suggested. “Speed dial seven.”

The older woman shifted over her and settled on her elbows, smirking as Dani’s legs found their way to either side of her hips from under the thin bed sheets. “You want your usual?” she asked, already holding the phone to her ear as it rang.

Dani just nodded with a hum and dragged her tongue along her suddenly dry lips, watching Jamie’s move, forming word after word as she spoke into the phone. She could have been ordering a pizza covered in anchovies and jalapeños and Dani wouldn’t have known. She was far too distracted. Even more so when Jamie’s lips curled into a smirk when she seemed to notice her staring. And to make matters even more unbearable for the blonde and her growing desire, Jamie rolled her hips against her through the covers as she ordered their food so nonchalantly.

It took everything Dani had to hold in the desperate whines and whimpers that sat in the pit of her chest. If the feeling of Jamie rocking against her through the cotton sheets wasn’t enough, the way that her already darkened green eyes seemed to grow even darker had Dani’s head spinning.

But the phone was back in the cradle beside them soon enough, and Jamie’s lips were back on hers, mumbling about how the pizzas were going to take about thirty minutes to arrive.

“There’s a lot we can…do in thirty minutes,” Dani panted as fumbling hands reached for the buttons of her flannel.

But Jamie just shook her head, ceasing her rocking hips much to Dani’s dismay. “Mm-mm, pretty sure we’re gonna need more than thirty minutes. And…” she paused to capture her lips in a smirking kiss, “…Not sure I’m gonna want to stop to answer the door, if I’m honest.”

Dani just giggled against her lips as she wrapped her arms around her neck to keep her close. It was never like this with Eddie. It was never fun and carefree like this. If anything, sex with him felt like a business transaction; They may as well have shook hands and parted ways when it was over.

She wasn’t used to wanting more and more until she couldn’t feel her legs anymore. She wasn’t used to wanting at all. But with Jamie, all she felt was want. She wanted her in every way possible, in any way she could have her. And she was just about positive that Jamie wanted her just the same.

Chapter Text

April 1991

“Think I’ve reached my limit,” Jamie cleared her throat as she put her shot glass back down on the bar. It was only her fourth tequila shot, but she was starting to feel the buzz she wanted. Usually a buzz was all she really needed to have a good time. And honestly, she would have had a good time tonight even if she was completely sober. She was with a great group of people at a bar in Burlington, not far from where they’d just broken ground on her fifth shop earlier in the day.

It was a completely new experience, working with the architects and contractors that worked with Hannah. Every time she would open new stores, they were always vacant spots that already existed, like cute little storefronts on populated strips. Typically, she only worked with Hannah on how to go about setting up the interiors. But this was a whole new crew that Jamie had found herself bonding with quickly, both from Des Moines and Burlington.

“I think I might have to agree,” Hannah swiped a thumb under her bottom lip with a chuckle. She turned to the small stage where a few of her coworkers were gathered together, bunched up behind a single microphone as they belted out a drunken rendition of “Lean On Me”.

“You call Owen yet?” Jamie leaned her elbow on the wooden bar, checking her watch to make sure she hadn’t missed her window to call Dani. This was their first weekend apart since last fall. It sucked, but Jamie had promised to make it up to her when she returned the following Sunday. But with it being Friday now, nine days never seemed so long before.

Hannah just chuckled briefly and shook her head, “He’ll be up for hours anyway. You know how he does his best baking late at night. I’ll call him when we get back to the hotel.”

Jamie breathed a laugh through her smile, shaking her head as well as she checked her watch. “I should go call Dani before it gets too late,” she muttered, running her hands over her dark jeans before she got up from her bar stool.

“Everything still going well with her, love?” Hannah tilted her head with a silent offer to listen if Jamie had anything to vent about.

She’d officially known about their relationship since the New Year’s Eve party when she spotted them kissing from across the dance floor. But when Jamie had come clean about their relationship, Hannah had let it slip that she had a hunch since the day they’d walked into the café together back in November. And she was supportive, as always. Since they met back in college, Hannah had always listened to Jamie’s stories about Dani; And she had always had hope for them to make things work.

“Yeah,” Jamie nodded, leaning against the bar, “Really well, actually. Just miss her, is all. I know that it’s just gonna get harder when I move out here, even if it’s just for a few months.”

“Well, you know you can still make time to see her. And she’ll be there for opening day, I’m sure.”

“Always is,” Jamie chuckled with a hidden blush and smile. Dani really was her good luck charm, “Whenever we get closer to an opening date, I wanna surprise her and book a flight out here for her and the kids.”

“Well, I know Flora would certainly love that. I think she loves those flower shops more than you do,” Hannah grinned as she sipped at her new glass of water.

Laughing quietly, Jamie turned back to the stage and clapped along with the rest of the patrons as the group of karaoke singers finished their song. Viola, one of Hannah’s colleagues, was playfully hanging off the mens’ shoulders, throwing her head back with a loud cackle as they helped her off the stage. It was hard to tell whether she was wasted or not, considering Viola was just about the same when she was drunk as she was sober.

She was quite the businesswoman, Jamie had to admit. She knew when to be a serious hardass when it was necessary, but when she wasn’t on the clock, she was probably the most reckless, wild person Jamie had ever met in her life.

“Be right back,” she pat her hand against the wooden bar, smiling when Hannah nodded before heading towards the hallway where the payphone wasn’t far from the bathrooms. Her cell phone was an option, but the payphone was more trustworthy when it came to reception.

She slid a few dimes into the slot before leaning against the wall, waiting as the phone rang in her ear. It was about 9:45 back home; Just a little later than she would normally call during the week. But they never established a call time for the weekends, considering they were usually together.

”Hello?” a rather sleepy voice came from the other end.

“Sorry, did I wake you? Wasn’t expecting you to be asleep so soon,” Jamie furrowed her brow with a light chuckle.

“Mm-mm, no, I was…well, I guess I fell asleep. I didn’t mean to.”

“Long day?”

“Between Flora’s temper tantrum before dance class, Miles’s temper tantrum after hockey, and both their temper tantrums when my mom let it slip about us moving at the dinner table, yeah. Very long.” Dani sighed into the phone.

“Shit, I’m sorry,” Jamie winced, “I mean, I guess this way, they have more time to wrap their minds around it before they have to start packing up their rooms, yeah? Get’em used to the idea?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Dani’s voice seemed to strain as she stretched her limbs out on the other end, “Did you guys break ground today?”

The brunette nodded as she hummed, “Mmhm,” loud enough to hear over the distant music and bad singing, “Guess I’ll have pictures to show you when I get home. Really cheesy ones of all of us with hardhats and shovels.”

“Bet you looked very cute in yours,” she could practically hear Dani’s nose playfully crinkling up with her comment.

“Maybe I did. You’ll just have to wait til next weekend to see for yourself.”

“Any chance I can be greedy and ask you to come home early?”

“I would if I could, baby, you know that,” Jamie smirked into the phone, chuckling at the sound of Dani’s huff of frustration before slurred, off-key singing started to flow down the hallway.

“Jaaaaamie! Jamie, Jamie, Jamie,” Viola practically skipped towards her, pointing an accusing finger at the end of her fully extended arm, “You, miss, are not neeeearly drunk enough to do karaoke with me, so come on. More drinks, let’s go.”

“Who’s that?” Dani chuckled in Jamie’s ear.

“One of Hannah’s colleagues,” Jamie rolled her eyes before turning to the woman with long, dark hair, “Think you’ve had enough Vi. I’m on the phone.”

“Vi? Is that Viola?”

“Well, you haven’t had enough. And neither of us are leaving this bar until you get up on that stage to be the Elton John to my Kiki Dee, so c’mon!” Viola tugged on her arm with a weak, but determined pull.

“Vi, I’m on the phone.”

“Oh my god, is it the mysterious girlfriend?” brown eyes widened along with her smile before she reached for the phone. As drunk as she was, she was still quicker than Jamie could keep up with, and she had the phone to her ear before Jamie could even react.

“Okay, you don’t know me, but my god are you one lucky lady,” she spoke into the phone, fighting off all of Jamie’s attempts to get it back, “Lemme tell you something, Jamie doesn’t let just anyone tie her down, trust me, I’ve been trying for years, girlfriend. So you better be treating her right, if you know what I mean, cause trust me, there are plenty of women around here who would kill to be in your shoes— OW!”

Jamie finally snatched the phone back after jabbing Viola in the ribs with her elbow, wishing that she’d tried it sooner. “Why don’t you go rescue Tim from his horrible duet partner?” she pointed a finger down the hall, rolling her eyes when the woman just agreed and skipped back down the hall. “Dani?” she put the phone back to her ear, stressfully raking her hair back from her eyes.

“I’m here,” she replied after a moment, sounding much more meek and timid than before.

“I’m sorry, she’s drunk. Probably the drunkest person here,” green eyes rolled into her head as she leaned against the payphone, fumbling for more loose change to add to their time, “Didn’t know she was drunk enough to snatch the phone from my hand.”

“I didn’t know she was part of your Burlington team,” the blonde mumbled. And Jamie could just tell from the tone of her voice that she was upset.

“Dani…it’s not—“

“It’s fine, Jamie. I’m um…I’m really tired. Like I said, it was a long day, so I’m gonna go back to sleep. I’ll see you when you get back, you don’t have to call if you’re busy.”

As much as Jamie wanted to fight it and refuse to hang up until the air between them was cleared, she knew that there wasn’t much she could do over the phone. And who knew if she had enough spare change to last her however long it took?

“Okay,” she sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose, “I love you.”

“Love you too,” was all she heard before it was nothing but a dull dial tone in her ear.

July 1989

Dani threw her car into park, clutching the steering wheel tightly as she leaned her forehead against it, taking a deep, shaky breath. She hardly remembered the hour-long drive here. She’d been so angry and distracted that she was actually surprised she’d made it to the city without causing an accident.

Eddie could be so frustrating sometimes. He’d started putting down her dream of going back to school to earn her degree again after she’d brought it up over dinner. In front of the kids, no less. It wasn’t the first time. He’d often encourage her to quit her job at the childcare center, too; claiming that there was no reason for her to be chasing after other peoples’ children when she didn’t have to.

Tonight, it all started because her tutoring session ran long, causing a delay in her starting dinner. Which, after the kids were put to bed, sparked an argument about how Dani was (and wanted to be) more than a housewife, and how she wanted to do more than just cook, clean, and take care of the kids while he went out and earned a paycheck. And Eddie wasn’t too convincing when he claimed that he agreed with her.

After everything, Dani had had enough. She told him that she was going to Jamie’s for the night, and that he could play supermom tomorrow morning; just so he could get a taste of what being a housewife entailed, between making breakfast and getting the kids ready for their Saturday activities and driving them around town.

And now, here she was in the parking lot of Jamie’s apartment building, sitting in her car beside the empty green truck that told her that her best friend was probably home. It was a Friday night, just barely 11pm. If Jamie wasn’t home, Dani would rather wait outside her door for her to return than go back home for the night. Especially since she hadn’t seen her in a few weeks.

With a sniffle, she wiped at her eyes, getting out of the car. She’d been in such a rush to leave, she didn’t even think to pack a bag. But there wasn’t anything of Jamie’s that she couldn’t borrow. It wouldn’t even be the first time they shared a toothbrush.

With a determined walk into the building, Dani tried to hold her head high for the trip up to the sixth floor. No one was really up and walking around at this hour, but just in case, she didn’t want to be caught in the middle of an emotional breakdown by one of Jamie’s neighbors.

When the doors opened, she stepped out and rounded the corner, knocking on Jamie’s door when she reached it. She doubted that she was asleep, but just in case she was, she knocked a bit louder than normal.

She wiped the stray tear from under her eye as she looked around the hallway, wondering just how long she would be waiting here if Jamie wasn’t even home. But the door opened not long after, revealing her best friend on the other side, calming down from a laughing fit with cash in her hand.

“Dani?” her brows furrowed as her laughter came to an abrupt stop, “What are you doing here?”

The blonde tried her hardest to ignore the way her body reacted when she saw Jamie dressed in just a t-shirt that stopped at her upper thighs, giving her a full view of her pale, slender legs.

“Are you okay? Was expecting the pizza guy, but not you,” she chuckled a bit nervously, running her hands through her tousled hair.

At the question, Dani could feel her eyes welling up again, bringing back the reality of how she was stuck in this marriage that she never wanted in the first place. It was bad enough that she couldn’t find the slightest bit of attraction to her husband, but he wasn’t the same boy she grew up with. He’d become so different, especially after getting his dream job. And she hated that he was allowed to follow his dreams while everything had always been decided for her.

Lunging forward, she caught Jamie in a tight hug, breaking down with her face buried in her shoulder. It took a bit longer than usual for Jamie to wrap her in her arms and squeeze her tight. And even when she did, it felt reluctant.

“What’s wrong?” was whispered in her ear, raspy with an accent as thick as the day she’d met her.

“We got into a stupid fight,” she shook her head as she pulled back from the hug, swiping her hand under her nose with a shaky breath before stepping past Jamie and into the apartment.

“Dani—“

“He keeps putting me down every time I bring up going back to school. And this time I brought up the fact that it’s his fault I had to quit school in the first place,” she kept going, kicking off her sandals at the coat rack and moving towards the living room, “He just doesn’t get that I don’t just wanna be his—“

She stopped in her tracks, nearly tripping over her own feet at the sight of a woman with long, dark hair standing in the open balcony doorway with a cigarette in hand and what appeared to be nothing but a blanket wrapped around her body.

The woman turned to her with a chuckle, flicking ashes out onto the balcony as she looked her up and down. “Funny, you don’t look like a large supreme pizza with extra cheese,” she muttered with a curious smirk, raising her already fashionably high cheekbones.

Dani stood there stunned as she started to piece things together. Between the way Jamie had answered the door dressed in just a t-shirt, and the way she seemed so hesitant to hug her just a minute ago, it was obvious that she had interrupted something here that made her sick to her stomach to even think about.

“I-I’m so sorry, oh my god, I—“ she stammered as her whole body seemed to turn bright pink with embarrassment. She suddenly felt lost, like she couldn’t remember which way the exit was, but the more she looked around, the worse it got, considering there were clothes strewn about everywhere.

She finally turned back towards the door where Jamie was standing with a hand over her face; shaking her head, just as embarrassed. “I should go, I shouldn’t have just shown up like this, I’m so sorry,” the blonde kept rambling on, feeling her ears heating up at the sound of the random woman by the balcony laughing; Likely at her expense.

She clumsily slipped her sandals back on in her haste, ignoring Jamie as she attempted to explain and try to work something out so they could talk about what had driven Dani to travel all the way there. “Jamie, it’s fine, I’m sorry, I should’ve called or just…sucked it up and dealt with it,” she shook her head, fumbling for her car keys as she brushed past her best friend and back out the door.

Her heart was in her throat, throbbing and cracking as she struggled to breathe around it. Her vision blurred and tunneled as she practically ran down the hallway towards the staircase, figuring they would get her out of here much faster than the elevator.

She knew that Jamie had women all over her. How couldn’t she? She’d known about it since high school when Jamie said Evelyn Williams had pursued her in the locker room after gym (even though the rest of the school heard a different story). But she’d never seen such damning evidence of Jamie’s sex life before.

Even in college, Jamie never brought girls back to their dorm. If it weren’t for her good judgement, Dani probably would have never guessed that Jamie was having sex or was in any kind of reletionship with anyone with how little she talked about it. But what she’d just walked in on shouldn’t have come as a shock. It was foolish of her to think that Jamie wasn’t inviting women to her apartment. And it was immature of her to have this kind of reaction to finding out about it. They were almost thirty, for god’s sake, what did she care what Jamie did?

With strained, uneven breaths, Dani left the building with sweaty palms bunched up at her sides. Willing herself to just keep going and get back to her car without looking back or even thinking back over the last five minutes.

“Dani!” Jamie’s voice called after her, making her shoulders hunch and her back stiffen as she picked up the pace of her steps. And the sound of Jamie’s bare feet hitting the pavement as she ran to catch up to her had her wanting to take off in a sprint, “Dani, hold on!”

Jamie’s hand grabbed onto her elbow, but Dani instinctively ripped it from her grasp, not meeting her eyes when she turned to face her. She looked at other cars, the hole in the hem of Jamie’s long t-shirt, and the plaid pattern of the boxer shorts she’d apparently thrown on in a hurry.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were coming. Viola’s just one of Hannah’s—“

Blue eyes squeezed shut as the rest of Jamie’s words seemed to fade to nothingness in her ears. Just hearing the woman’s name made it seem that much more real, solidifying the fact that she’d just humiliated herself by barging into Jamie’s apartment when she had company. Why was she so upset anyway? Aside from the embarrassment, she had no reason to feel anything about this. Jamie was an adult with her own life. Even though they were best friends, Jamie didn’t have to tell her everything. Especially not about her romantic life. It wasn’t like she told Jamie everything when it came to her marriage.

But that was different, wasn’t it? Jamie knew Eddie and she was aware of their relationship. And she was sure that there was at least one occasion when Jamie had to suffer through the sounds of Eddie’s barbaric grunts and groans through the wall between the master bedroom and the guest room. If anything, that was much worse. And Dani was mortified at the very idea of her hearing any of it.

But in this situation, all Dani had done was find a mysterious woman in Jamie’s apartment. She didn’t bear witness to anything besides the apparent aftermath.

“…just a friend, that’s all…hardly ever see her…” Jamie’s voice drifted in and out as Dani wished she had something stable to hold onto; But she was stuck standing here with Jamie in the middle of the parking lot.

“Must be a pretty great friend if she’s hanging out naked in your apartment,” she managed to find her voice, peppering it with a sarcastic bit of laughter as she still refused to meet Jamie’s eyes, “Better friends than you and I ever were, even.”

“Dani, come on,” Jamie rolled her eyes with a scoff, “I offered to send her home so you and I could talk, did you not hear any of that?”

Dani hadn’t heard any of that. Whenever it was mentioned, whether it was upstairs or right now, it must have gotten lost amongst her racing thoughts. But that didn’t help matters anyway.

Unfolding her arms from across her chest, Dani ducked her head to fiddle with her car keys, feeling guilt start to creep up her spine when she ran her thumb over the “world’s best mommy” keychain Miles had picked out for her birthday a few years ago.

“I have to go back home anyway. I shouldn’t leave Eddie to deal with the kids on his own in the morning,” she shook her head, finally lifting her gaze to meet the solemn green eyes across from her, “Jamie, it’s fine, go have fun with your date. I was just…I dunno, it just came as a surprise, I guess. But it was my fault for not calling and just barging in, I’m sorry.”

Jamie was silent, shifting her bare feet against the black pavement as she clenched her jaw. “S’not a date,” she mumbled, unable to come up with anything else.

Dani wasn’t sure what she wanted from Jamie right now, and she knew it wasn’t fair to expect Jamie to figure it out for her. Jamie always knew what to say, but this was the first time that they both seemed to realize that there was nothing that could be said that would make this better; any less awkward.

“Well...whatever she is...it’s not my business,” the blonde swung her arms a bit out to the sides, thumping her fists against her thighs before starting to walk backwards towards her car, “I’ll, um...I’ll call you. Maybe tomorrow afternoon. Who knows, maybe this will all be sorted by the morning.”

Jamie swallowed a noticeable lump in her throat, turning to see a beat up old car with a sign for her usual pizza place attached to the roof pulling up to the entrance of the building.

“Fine,” she sighed with a curt nod before turning to walk in the opposite direction, not paying any mind to Dani watching her walk away.

April 1991

Slowly rolling her truck to a stop, Jamie killed the engine after pulling up beside Dani’s mailbox where she always parked, peering out the window at the big blue house. It wasn’t unusual for all the lights to be off, considering it was nearly midnight on a Friday. Dani and the kids were asleep by now.

The last week had gone by so slowly. Since her phone call that Viola had crashed last Friday night, Jamie hadn’t spoken to Dani much. Not for lack of trying, but the blonde (stubborn as she always was) had been fairly short with her during their sparse phone calls over the last few days.

On the one hand, Jamie wanted to call her nightly to at least say goodnight. But the point of her taking these trips to Vermont (aside from it being required as the business owner) was so that they could get used to the longer distance. In the future, there might be days when they won't get to speak at all. The only difference was that Jamie knew that Dani was upset. It was one thing if they didn’t get a chance to talk, but they’d had chances and they were regretfully skipped; or they were spent with Jamie rolling her eyes at Dani’s short answers and refusal to admit that she was still upset about what had happened on Friday night.

But Jamie had spoken to her this morning, telling her that she would be busy through the night, just throwing her off from the surprise of her returning two nights early. Dani was expecting her to return on Sunday afternoon, but that would have only left them with less than a day to talk things out before Jamie had to return to the city. And with the kids around, who knew when they would get the chance. At least this way, they would get two extra nights.

Getting out of the truck, Jamie sighed as the door squeaked shut and started her walk up the dewy grass hill and around the side of the blue house, scavenging for a few pebbles along the way until she was just under Dani’s window.

She tossed the first one, having become an expert at tossing pebbles with enough force to be heard against the glass, but not hard enough to cause any damage. Though, she was more financially stable enough to be able to pay for a broken window now than she was when they were seventeen.

Tossing a few more up, her lips curled into a crooked smile when light shined through the sheer curtains. She stepped back, nervously stuffing her hands into her jacket pocket as she prepared herself for anything from a stubborn rejection to Dani quite literally jumping out the window to greet her.

“What the hell are you doing? It’s the middle of the night,” Dani hissed with obvious confusion on her face when she stuck her head out the window after moving the curtains aside, “And you’re not supposed to be back til Sunday.”

“Hello to you too,” Jamie snorted. She didn’t want to speak too loud, but at least the houses in this neighborhood weren’t mere feet apart like they were where they grew up. She didn’t have to worry about waking anyone else up but the kids, “You gonna invite me in? Bloody cold out here.”

“Did you lose your key?” Dani huffed, her voice dripping with reluctant sarcasm.

“‘Fraid so,” she lied with a shrug, “So you can come down and let me in so we can talk or I can go sleep in the truck and catch you in the morning. But I’m not leaving til you talk to me. Really talk to me.”

Dani stared down at her with a softened expression as she chewed on her bottom lip, tapping her fingers at the edge of the window.

“S’awfully cold out here,” Jamie sing-songed, twisting side to side with a smug grin.

The blonde rolled her eyes as a hint of a smile formed on her face, muttering a quiet, “fine,” before she closed the window. Jamie took that time to go get her suitcase from her truck; And by the time she was wheeling it up the walkway, Dani was already leaning against the frame of the front door in her lavender bath robe.

“Why are you back so early?” the younger woman twiddled her thumbs nervously, tired blue eyes meeting with Jamie’s after they were alone in the foyer.

Shedding her shoes, Jamie shrugged as she hung her jacket up by the door, running a hand through her hair as she turned to face her girlfriend again. “Thought you wanted me to come back early,” she breathed a quiet chuckle, folding her arms over her chest.

“I did...I-I mean I do, but…” Dani shook her head, unsure of what to say, “I just...didn’t think you could. And after last weekend, I doubted you would.”

Jamie leaned against the nearest wall, shrugging her shoulders again, “I mean, you’ve been pretty short with me on the phone since then, Poppins, but I figured I’d take the risk even if you didn’t want me here.”

“I always want you here,” she whispered, barely shaking her head as she wrapped her arms around herself, “It was just...it was hard, y’know? Knowing that she was there with you. I didn’t know she still worked with Hannah. She wasn’t at the New Year’s Eve party…”

“I’ve never been into Viola like that, Dani. Every meaningless encounter with her is so far behind me now, I don’t even know if I’d remember her name if I didn’t have to work with her.”

A breath of laughter was released through Dani’s nose as she sent a shy smile to the hardwood floor. “I don’t think it was so meaningless to her,” she muttered as her frown returned, recalling how Viola had told her that she’d been trying to date Jamie for years.

“Doesn’t matter what she wants,” Jamie shook her head, stepping off the wall, “Cause I don’t want her. Even when I had her, I didn’t want her like that. She was just...company.”

The blonde was quiet, swallowing thickly as she glanced around the foyer, trying to focus on anything but the burn of Jamie’s gaze boring into her. She trusted Jamie, she truly did. She just didn’t trust other women around her. Viola knew that Jamie was taken, according to the dark-haired woman’s words that had been on repeat in her head all week. But taken or not, she was still sought after. And that obnoxious little gremlin in the back of her mind had resurfaced, sitting in the front of her brain to consistently try to convince her that Jamie could find so much better.

“She seems like she’s a fun person,” Dani picked her head up slowly, bringing her hand up to her teeth to gnaw at her thumbnail.

You’re a fun person,” the brunette smirked, stepping away from her to saunter across the foyer in her direction.

“She’s pretty.”

“You’re beautiful.”

“She probably doesn’t have a load of emotional baggage.”

“Maybe not,” Jamie shrugged, stepping closer with a sly grin until they were just about toe-to-toe, “But I’ve been in love with you for more than half my life, emotional baggage and all.”

“Jamie…” a furious blush rose to Dani’s cheeks, closing her eyes when Jamie came close enough for her to smell the faint scent of cigarette smoke on her clothes. She knew that she was being foolish. And it was immature of her to be so short with Jamie all week over the phone. It was embarrassing, really, after the fuss she’d made when Jamie avoided her calls all week after Halloween last year.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, feeling the shame of how she’d acted over the last few days. Especially after preaching to Jamie about communication, she hated to be the one who was too stubborn to do it. “I acted pretty stupid, huh?”

“Not stupid. Stubborn as hell, though,” Jamie mumbled with a puff of laughter, shaking her head ever so slightly, “But I’ve been grumpy and jealous over you enough times to understand.”

The blonde just huffed, despite the smile curling on her lips, “I wasn’t jealous.”

“Lying to me, now?” Jamie let out a raspy hum in question with an accusingly raised brow. And the closer she came, Dani could only hum in response, unsure of whether it was meant to be a hum of denial or compliance. The thoughts were falling out of her head pretty quickly.

The tip of Jamie’s nose met with hers before their foreheads were pressed together as well. She could feel her heart starting to beat faster before her breathing picked up, sending shallow, toothpaste scented breaths across the short distance to Jamie’s lips. And all she could do was flick her tongue out to wet her own and swallow the thick lump that had formed in her throat as her mind became clouded and fuzzy.

“Honestly, Poppins, why would I want anyone else?” Jamie husked in one breath before Dani captured her lips, whimpering desperately against them for the first time in over a week; Far too long for either of their liking.

She backed her up against the nearest wall, humming low in her throat as Dani’s tongue met with her own. Her hands gripped tightly to the fluffy lavender colored bathrobe at her sides, reaching between them to untie the loose knot in the tie that was holding it together.

Trailing her lips down Dani’s jaw, Jamie just sucked lightly on the warm skin at the juncture of her neck and shoulder, nudging the loose strap of her nightgown out of the way. But one gentle nip of her teeth against the sensitive skin had Dani already crying out into the empty foyer, much louder than she should have been at this hour.

“Hey, shh,” Jamie chuckled low against her lips again, muffling the blonde’s desperate, breathless whines, “Kids…”

“They’re at Kyle’s...for Miranda’s slumber party,” Dani puffed against her lips, grateful that she’d let the kids stay at her (former) brother-in-law’s for their cousin’s birthday.

“Oh, thank fuck,” Jamie breathed out a throaty laugh. She pulled her giggling girlfriend off the wall and back to her lips before allowing herself to be tugged up the stairs, planning on making Dani forget about every insecurity that sat in her brain like a bothersome little parasite.

Through the night, Jamie worked Dani to release after shattering release, making sure that Dani knew just how much she wanted her and only her. And in between, Dani had showered her with attention in return.

Jamie had to admit that she was surprised, learning about this side of Dani when she could over the last few weeks. For someone who had grown up never getting to be herself or make her own decisions, the blonde was much more comfortable being under Jamie’s control than either of them thought she would be.

But Dani trusted her to make her feel all the good things she’d never felt before. Between feather-light touches against her chest and teasing bites just firm enough to leave marks on her inner thighs, Jamie had the power to take her to heights she never even imagined she could reach before. And to both their pleasure, Dani was quite a fast learner when it came time to return the favor.

Tonight, Dani may have been a bit possessive, letting her jealous insecurity get in the way. When the thought of Viola crept into the front of her mind (or anyone else who may have had the privilege of being with Jamie in the past), she found herself trying that much harder; overthinking her every move so she could solidify herself in Jamie’s mind, just in case she wasn’t the only woman she was thinking of.

But, like the mind reader she always seemed to be, Jamie took notice, picking up on the distant look in Dani’s eyes and the erratic movement of her fingers. She pulled Dani up to bring her closer and softly kissed the worried crease between her brows away, managing to banish every insecurity that crept up on her with the wordless promise that Dani had no reason to worry.

And with that reassurance came the confidence to continue with the fluid rhythm Dani had been keeping before, finding a sense of safety in every pleasured syllable that fell from Jamie’s lips. Nothing was exaggerated to prove a point or to debunk the blonde’s diffidence. Everything with Jamie was, and always had been, genuine. The strained moan of Dani’s name from Jamie’s throat when she was tipped over the edge was no exception. And being the resilient woman Jamie was, Dani hardly had any time to think before the brunette had her seeing stars all over again.

Chapter Text

September 1972

Jamie tapped her eraser against her history textbook as she read about the women’s suffrage movement. For once, she was completely engrossed in a history topic. Usually history would put her to sleep. But this year’s teacher wasn’t nearly as monotone and boring as her sixth grade history teacher from last year. And this was a topic that she actually found to be quite interesting.

This was the last of her homework that she had to complete before she was done. And the weekend had just barely started. Dani was right, getting her homework done on Friday night was a good feeling, especially knowing that she had the whole weekend to do anything but homework.

Taking a sip from her glass coke bottle, she sighed and leaned down against her desk, wanting to get this last question done before she went to bed for the night. It was already getting close to ten and she had to be up early to mow the lawn since Denny had to go to work.

A muffled commotion caught her attention just as she was about to jot down the answer to her last homework question. She was no stranger to hearing noise from Dani’s house. Whether Karen Clayton was drunk and manic or drunk and angry, sometimes Jamie felt like she would be able to hear her from all the way down the street. But this didn’t sound like Karen’s typical drunken witch cackling. Even through her window, she could tell that she sounded angry. And she would have ignored it if she wasn’t so sure that her anger was directed at Dani.

Getting up slowly, Jamie tip-toed across her room towards her window as if someone would hear her and catch her snooping if she took normal steps. She pulled her lower lip between her teeth as she carefully moved her curtain aside, just enough to be able to see the house next door. And through the sheer curtain in Dani’s room, she could see Karen standing over Dani where she was sitting on the edge of her bed.

Even if she wasn’t able to hear the noise, Jamie could tell that Karen was angry. It was clear from her wild hand gestures, waving arms, and accusingly pointed fingers in Dani’s face. And if that weren’t enough, Jamie’s eyes widened as she watched the woman slap her friend across her cheek, hard enough that Jamie could hear the impact through both closed windows between them.

She’d heard plenty of stories from Dani about how Karen would hit her or grab her too roughly, especially when she was drunk. Hell, that was what led them to officially meet for the first time out in their front yards. But she’d never seen it happen. For some reason, seeing it happen was so much worse than seeing the bruises left behind. Bruises would heal, but even at twelve years old, Jamie knew that the experiences were harder to forget. She couldn’t remember the bruise Louise left her with after she had nearly broken a window with her slingshot at their house back in England, but she remembered the anger on her mother’s face when it happened. And Jamie couldn’t help but feel awful for her friend next door, as she was likely going to remember this fight with her mother even years from now even after the bruises faded.

As much as she willed herself to look away, go back to her homework, and mind her business, she couldn’t take her eyes off of Dani as she sat slumped and crying on the edge of her bed as Karen left her room with an audible slam of the door. She seemed frozen, aside from her shaking shoulders. And Jamie just watched through the sheer curtain, trying her hardest to tear her eyes away.

Eventually, she couldn’t keep to herself any longer. The only problem was that she couldn’t exactly yell across the yard to get Dani’s attention. Looking around her room, she grabbed her flashlight and opened her window, pulling her curtain aside as she pointed it at Dani’s window and clicked it on and off. A small smile cracked on her face when Dani seemed to notice, wiping at her eyes before she stepped towards her own window and raised the pane.

“I guess you heard all that,” Dani mumbled just loud enough to hear between their houses, wiping at her nose and eyes pitifully.

“Kinda hard not to,” Jamie curled her lips to the side as she gave a bit of a guilty shrug.

“I’m sorry,” Dani sniffled, “I hope you weren’t sleeping.”

“Just doing homework,” Jamie shook her head, leaning against the windowsill. She wasn’t sure if everyone in her house was asleep, but she didn’t want to risk waking them.

Dani at least managed a watery giggle across the way as she wiped her eyes again, showing off her newly straightened teeth, “On a Friday night?”

“Trying your technique,” Jamie chuckled, frowning again when Dani winced as she pressed her fingers to her cheek, “Got anything you can put on that?”

The blonde shook her head with a sniffle, “I shouldn’t leave my room.”

“Want me to get you something? I think we’ve got some frozen lima beans that I’m trying to make disappear,” Jamie thumbed towards her door, glad to see that she managed to get another laugh out of her.

“And how, exactly, are you gonna get them over here?”

Glancing around, Jamie spotted a ladder laying in the grass at the edge of Dani’s house, practically hidden amongst the bushes. It looked tall enough. Now as for getting out…

“Gimme a couple minutes,” Jamie nodded before closing her curtain and creeping downstairs.

And approximately twenty minutes later, Jamie was scaling the side of her house with a bag of frozen lima beans held between her teeth. She’d managed to tie a bunch of towels and blankets together, tying her escape rope to the radiator in her bedroom. And she figured she could just use Dani’s ladder to get back in.

But for now, she carefully propped the ladder under Dani’s window, climbing up in her plaid pajama pants and her dad’s old rugby jersey.

“You’re insane,” Dani met her at the window with a chuckle and a shaking head, taking the bag from between her teeth with a quiet murmur of gratitude.

“Maybe I am,” the brunette shrugged, holding onto the ladder that was just tall enough for her to reach the window, “But…I know how much it sucks when your parents take shit out on you. And I’d want someone to do the same for me.”

Dani gave her a shy smile around the cold bag that was held to her cheek. “I’m afraid of heights, so you’d have to deal with me coming to the front door,” she offered, stepping back from the window, “You can come in…if you want. We just have to be quiet.”

The twelve year old turned back towards her own house, noting how she’d left her desk lamp on and her window open. But she was sure she wouldn’t be long. Ducking her head, she slid into the bedroom, swinging her legs over the window sill until her feet were on the rug. They’d been friends for a year, but she’d never been in Dani’s house before, let alone in her bedroom. She’d seen just a section of it from her own bedroom window, but the whole space, covered in pinks and purples, just screamed Dani.

“Lights out, Danielle!” Karen shouted from down the hall before Dani could even sit back on the mattress.

Jamie chewed at her bottom lip, watching as Dani’s face turned as pink as her bedsheets. But she leaned back against the window as the blonde stepped across the room, flipping the lightswitch and locking the door.

“Locking me in?” she chuckled quietly in the new darkness of the room.

Dani just smiled and shook her head as she tip-toed back to her bed, making herself comfortable, “Locking her out.” She sat atop her pink quilt, crossing her legs under her long nightgown and patting the bed with her free hand, “You can sit, y’know.”

Nodding, Jamie slid off her sneakers that she’d left untied in her haste and climbed up onto Dani’s bed, sighing when she made herself as comfortable as she allowed herself to get.

“I don’t like lima beans either,” the blonde breathed a quiet laugh, feeling a lot more at ease when she saw Jamie grinning back at her through the dark, “Thank you for…well, everything.”

“Like I said, I’d want someone to do the same for me,” Jamie shrugged, grateful that the heated blush in her face couldn’t be seen, “You can tell me what happened…if you want.”

Dani shook her head and rolled her eyes, sighing quietly, “I don’t like her new boyfriend. It’s as simple as that, really. Everyone she’s brought home since my dad died…it’s like she’s trying to replace him by making me call all these new guys ‘dad’. And I won’t. I can’t, y’know?”

The brunette could only nod in response. She could only imagine what it was like, being forced to refer to someone you didn’t even know or trust as a parent. “No offense, but your mum’s a bit of a nightmare,” she muttered, smiling when Dani laughed quietly.

“You’re right about that,” she shook her head, pulling the bag off her cheek to give herself a break from the cold, “Maybe if she would just find one that sticks, I’d be more willing to try. But I’ve lost count of how many boyfriends she’s had in the last four years. It’s embarrassing.”

Jamie pressed her lips into a tight line, sighing through her nose as she pulled her knees to her chest, “Well…no need to be embarrassed around me. I’m not a fan of your mum at all, but…I don’t judge you for any of it. Think it’s pretty brave to stand up to her, actually. It’s admirable.”

“Really?”

“You know she’s gonna react badly and you’re still brave enough to tell her no. Think you might even be braver than me,” she chuckled through her whispers, watching as Dani ducked her head with a shy smile and put the bag back on her cheek.

“I don’t think so,” she shook her head bashfully, “But thank you. I know I keep saying that, but…I really mean it.”

“Any time.”

They sat still in the dark for a few minutes with nothing but the sound of the crinkling bag against Dani’s cheek to fill the silence. Jamie had never done this before. She’d never met someone that she felt so comfortable with. She and Dani had gotten a lot closer in the last year, but this felt brand new. And the most surprising part was that it wasn’t scary. But she knew that she should still probably keep some distance. It would only hurt that much more if their friendship ended at any point if Jamie let herself get attached.

“I should probably go,” she whispered, lowering her knees to extend her legs across the mattress.

“Oh.”

“You sound disappointed,” Jamie’s eyebrow raised suspiciously, though there was a joking lilt in her voice.

“I was…gonna ask if you wanted to sleep over. You don’t have to, obviously, but…“

Jamie thought about it briefly, chewing at her bottom lip. She’d never slept over anyone’s house before. Aside from when she was little and her parents would drop her and Denny at a neighbor’s or their Nan’s house on nights they had to work late.

“No, I…I can. Let me just, uhh…go back for my sleeping bag and come right back.”

“I’m not gonna make you sleep on the floor, Jay. You can sleep up here with me,” Dani shook her head, already putting the bag of lima beans down and reaching for her retainer.

“Are you…are you sure? I mean your mum—“

“The door’s locked. She can’t get in,” she lisped around her retainer, moving under the blankets and turning them down so Jamie could make herself comfortable too.

Jamie looked between the door, the window, and the spot on Dani’s bed that was reserved just for her, wondering just what she should do. She could go back home and return to her own bedroom, safe and sound. But something was pulling her down like a force stronger than gravity, and she was finding her place under the covers before she could even finish reasoning with herself.

“Fine, but if she manages to get in and she kills me, I’m coming back to haunt you,” she huffed with a smile, laying her head on a decorative pillow.

“Fair enough. I could use the company, even if you’re a ghost,” Dani giggled and shook her head.

“Probably safer if we run a tin can telephone line between our windows next time, though,” Jamie snorted, yawning quietly as she made herself comfortable on the stiff mattress.

“Nah, I think I like this better.”

May 1991

“Whoa, slow down, munchkin,” Jamie chuckled, balancing the serving platter in her hands after Miles nearly crashed into her on his way to the stairs.

“Sorry, Aunt Jamie!” he called back, running up the steps with a few boys trailing behind him. At least he was having a good time with his friends. She could only imagine how miserable he would be if he had to hang out with all his sister’s friends from kindergarten.

Sliding into the kitchen, the brunette released a cleansing breath as she set the platter down on the kitchen island, refilling the finger sandwiches Judy had put together for Flora’s teddy bear tea party. All the girls and a few boys from her class were out in the nearly empty living room, sitting around a few little decorated tables with their teddy bears having tea. There was a perk to having most of Dani’s house packed up, and that was how much room there was for guests when there was hardly any furniture left.

“Aunt Jamie, come and see! Uncle Bobby is gonna do magic!” Flora came bounding into the kitchen in a glittery pink party dress with long, curled pigtails bouncing on her shoulders.

“Uh-oh, I hope he doesn’t make Blueberry disappear,” the brunette chuckled as she set the finger sandwiches on the glass platter in front of her.

The six year old giggled and held her bear close, moving to stand beside Jamie, trying to watch over the edge of the counter. “How come Mummy gave us apple juice instead of tea?”

Jamie snorted and shook her head with an amused smile, “Cause your mummy’s not very good at making tea.”

“But this is a tea party, not a juice party.”

“You’re right,” she nodded, wiping her hands off before scooping her niece into her arms, propping her on her hip and carrying the platter with her free hand, “But you asked for a teddy bear tea party, remember? Teddy bears like juice much more than tea.”

“They do?”

“Oh for sure. Blueberry told me himself that apple juice is his favorite.”

Flora just giggled as Jamie carried her back across the foyer and into the living room, “Aunt Jamie, Blueberry can’t talk.”

“You sure? Maybe I’m just the only one he talks to,” she smirked, settling the girl down on her feet and letting her run off giggling before meeting Dani at the food table in the corner. “You all right?”

The blonde nodded with a smile, “Somehow the party for a bunch of six year olds is a lot less stressful than the one full of ten year olds.”

“Probably helps that they’re all sitting still and focusing on drinking with their pinkies up,” she chuckled, leaning back against the table as she looked around the living room.

Karen and Judy were chatting in the opposite corner with a few parents of the party guests and Carson was sitting with the kids, watching Bobby pull an endless rope of scarves from his mouth. This was the most serene kids party she’d been to since before Flora was even born.

“Anything you need me to do?” the older woman turned to her girlfriend, resisting the urge to weave her fingers through hers.

“Yeah, actually,” Dani bit her lip and started towards the kitchen, beckoning for Jamie to follow.

Following dutifully, Jamie stayed a step behind Dani, not asking any questions when she was led through the door to the garage. “Are we making an escape?” she chuckled after the door was closed behind her. But Dani had her backed against the passenger door of her car without a word of response. Instead it was just warm lips against hers and gentle hands at her waist, keeping her close.

“Miss you,” Dani whispered, humming against her lips as she kissed her slowly.

“I’ve left your side four times today,” Jamie’s nose scrunched up with a small laugh as she brought her hands up to cup Dani’s flushing cheeks, “Clingy.”

The blonde pinched her side in a gentle punishment before laughing with her, leaning her forehead against hers with a deep sigh. “One more month. I can’t wait to get out of here. I can’t believe my mom found a buyer so fast.”

“She’s a little crazy, but she’s a damn good realtor, I’ll give her that,” Jamie snorted, “The kids feeling a little better about the new place than before?”

“Flora’s much more open to it. Miles is…coming around slowly. But the apartment is much closer to Jason’s house, so he’s excited about that,” she nodded. Miles and Jason had been just about inseparable since they met at the roller skating rink back in February. The other boy was a grade above Miles, but it was nice knowing that her son had found a friend that seemed to understand him.

“Good. He seems like he’s been in a better mood lately.”

It was nice to see Miles getting back to the happy kid he used to be. Even before Eddie died, he’d gained a bit of attitude and his mood had gone downhill. But it wasn’t surprising that a friend was exactly what he needed. Jamie knew what that was like. That age was rough, and it seemed like Dani walked into her life at just the right time. As reluctant as she was to accept her as a friend, Jamie had been grateful for her since the beginning.

Dani nodded with a warm smile, nuzzling the tip of her nose against the brunette’s before looping her arms around her neck and kissing her once more, letting the rest of the world fade away for just a moment.

But the sound of the door opening behind her had her crashing back to reality, leaving her head spinning as panic hit her like a freight train. And without even opening her eyes, she knew that she hadn’t pulled away from Jamie fast enough; because a familiar, suspicious and disapproving “Danielle?” reached her ears before she could even make sense of what was happening.

The noise from the party was drowned out as the door clicked shut, and Dani just prayed that when she opened her eyes, her mother wouldn’t be there; hoping that Karen had decided to ignore whatever she saw and just gone back inside. But blue eyes, nearly identical to her own, were glaring directly at her with a fire that she hadn’t seen since she was a teenager.

“Mom—“

“Jamie, please go back inside so I can speak privately with my daughter,” Karen deadpanned without taking her eyes off Dani. But as drab as her voice sounded, it was clearly dripping with hostility.

Dani could see from the corner of her eye that Jamie was hesitant to do as Karen said. And she honestly couldn’t decide whether she would prefer for Jamie to stay or go.

“No ma’am,” Jamie muttered as she lowered her hand that had been covering her mouth in shock.

“Excuse me?”

“Jamie, please go,” Dani turned her eyes to the ground, wishing that she could just slip into the cracks in the concrete and never come out.

“No, I’m just as much involved here, so…” Jamie squared her shoulders as she looked at Karen with a curt nod, “…Anything you say to her, you can say in front of me.”

Karen raised her eyebrows, stunned that Jamie was refusing to do as she said. But with a deep breath and a shrug, she seemed to accept that Jamie was unrelenting and glanced between the two younger women. “Fine,” she started, taking a step closer, “For starters, Danielle, I cannot believe that you would do something like this at your own daughter’s birthday party. Do you realize how inappropriate that is?!”

Dani just nodded, still hanging her head with shame. And Jamie hated to see her cowering under her mother’s disapproval like she always had.

“Secondly, I should have known,” the older woman breathed a bitter laugh, shaking her head as she pointed a sturdy finger at Jamie, “I should have known that she would corrupt you like this! The second I heard that she was…was…what she is, I knew that she’d be leading you down a filthy, sinful—“

“Don’t talk about her like that,” Dani interrupted as she snapped her head up, eyes full of hurt tears that she refused to let fall.

“Excuse me, Danielle?”

“I said don’t talk about her like that,” she repeated, clenching her fists at her sides, “Talk about me all you want, but…please leave her out of it.”

“Dani—“

“It’s a bit hard to leave her out of it when I just walked in on the two of you—“

“Can you keep your voice down, please?” Jamie cut in, trying to keep her own voice as calm as she could in the intense moment as Karen’s voice continued to elevate. The last thing they needed was everyone inside hearing any of this.

Karen turned to her with a bitter expression and her arms folded over her chest, “I believe this conversation was meant to be between me and my daughter. If you don’t like it—“

“All I asked is for you to lower your voice before this conversation involves everyone else here,” the brunette interrupted again, a bit more firmly.

“What is going on in here?” Judy’s voice joined the mix as she came through the door from the kitchen, confused and concerned.

Karen turned to her friend before gesturing to the two younger women, “It appears that Danielle and Jamie snuck off to have a secret rendezvous in the middle of our grandchild’s birthday party!”

Jamie brought a hand to cover her face in embarrassment and frustration as Karen continued to raise her voice.

“What?”

But Karen, in her fit, turned back to Dani, “It hasn’t even been a year since Eddie’s passing, Danielle, and you’re already acting like a little slut—“

“Hey—“ Jamie held a hand up.

“Karen…” Judy tried to calm the older woman down at the same time.

Dani let an angry tear fall from her eye, allowing herself that one moment of weakness before she held her head high and spoke up again, “You brought a guy home a month after Dad died, and you had a new one by the next week. I don’t think you have any right to call me a slut.”

“You disrespectful little—“

Jamie stepped in front of Dani as Judy grabbed onto Karen’s arm, both of them protecting Dani from the physical wrath they knew she’d been treated with since she was a child. “Karen, why don’t you go have a cigarette and calm down,” the auburn-haired woman suggested as gently as she could.

“How am I meant to calm down, Judy?! Did you know about this?! How my insolent daughter has chosen to move on from your son?!”

“I’m sure they have a…reasonable explanation,” Judy looked at the pair of younger women curiously.

“Judy, it’s—“ Jamie started, but Dani gently moved her aside from where the brunette was still standing guard in front of her.

“This isn’t just some random fling to get over Eddie, Mom,” blue eyes squeezed shut as she bravely reached for Jamie’s hand, squeezing her fingers in a tight but shaky grip, “Jamie’s my…she’s my girlfriend,” But feeling Jamie squeeze back didn’t make her feel better like she thought it would.

There was a silence that followed that made Jamie want to just disappear. She had no idea what to say or what was going to happen, but she knew that she wanted it to be ov