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Amaranthine

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Chapter 18: After the End, Pt.II

Sunday February 7th, 1999 (Dani is 35)
DANI:

I sleep all day. Noises flit around the house -- garbage truck in the street, tree rapping against the bedroom window. I sleep. I inhibit sleep firmly, willing it, wielding it, pushing away dreams, refusing, refusing. Sleep is my wife now, my forgetting, my drug, my oblivion. The phone rings and rings. I’ve turned off the machine that answers with Jamie’s voice. It’s afternoon, it’s night, it’s morning. Everything is reduced to this bed, this endless slumber that blurs the days into one, makes time stop, stretches and compacts it until it’s meaningless. As if from a nightmare, I wake back in my bed, feeling each time that it was just a bad dream. That if I just wake up, to the room I once shared with my wife, that perhaps the nightmare will abate. But the remembering itself is injury anew. My heart shatters again, burning in my chest, a searing ache that time does not soothe. I sleep, and I forget. Having forgotten, I wake. I sleep. I wake. I remember. So I sleep.

But sometimes sleep abandons me and I pretend, like I’m eleven years old and don’t want to go to school. I breathe slowly and deeply. I make my eyes still under my eyelids, I make my mind still, and soon, sleep will come for me. Come for me like Jamie used to. 

Sometimes I wake up and reach for her. Sleep erases all differences; then and now; dead and living. I have no space for hunger, for vanity, for caring. This morning I caught sight of my face in the bathroom mirror. I’m paper-skinned, gaunt, yellow, ring-eyed, hair matted. I look dead. I want nothing. 

My mom sits at the foot of the bed. She’s been here for over a month now, staying after the O’Maras flew back to Iowa, helping to hold the fragile pieces of my former life together, keeping them from shattering entirely. Her, Hannah, and Owen are a tight team, coordinating meals, school pick-ups and drop-offs, laundry. “Dani?” Mom says in a soft voice, “Flora’s home from school. Won’t you let her come in, say hello?” I pretend to sleep, not wanting Flora to think I’m hiding from her, which I am, but only because I’m trying to hide from myself, from everything, from everyone.

Flora’s little hand strokes my face. Tears leak from my eyes. She sets something on the floor, probably her backpack and crawls into bed with me. I wrap my arm around her as she tucks her head under my chin. Flora pretends to sleep. I stare at her eyelashes, her mouth, her pale skin; the last remnants of Jamie left in this world. A living testament of our love, our life together. She is breathing carefully, clutching my hip with her strong hand, she smells of pencil shavings and sugar and shampoo. I kiss the top of her head. Flora opens her eyes. I squeeze her closer to me. I can feel the fast rhythm of her heart, and I finally understand. I vow to call Henry to see what he’s working on for Flora; the tracks he and Jamie have laid for her future. My mom gets up and walks out of the room. 

Later I get up, take a shower, and eat dinner sitting at the table with Mom and Flora. I sit in Jamie’s chair after Flora’s gone to bed. I take out the bundle of letters and papers, and I start to read. 

 

 

A letter to be opened in the event of my death:

 

                                                                                         December 10, 1997

Dani, 

If you’re reading this, I’m probably dead. (I mean, you never know what might happen, but it seems pretty dumb and self-important to just declare my own death as an outright fact. But, like I said, you never know. So if I am alive, and you see this, just go upstairs and smack me a bit for good measure. I’m sure I’ll deserve it for something.) About this death of mine - I hope it was simple and clean. I hope it didn’t create too much fuss. I’m sorry.  But you know: you know that if I could’ve stayed, if I could’ve gone on, that I would have held on to every second: whatever it was, this death, you know that it came and took me.

Dani, I want to tell you, again, and again, and again. I love you. Our love has been the earth under my feet, the net under the high-wire walker, the only real thing in this strange life of mine that I could ever trust. My love for you has more density in this world than I do, myself: like it could linger on after me and surround you, keep you, hold you. Your love has been the gravity that keeps me spinning on axis.

I hate to think of you waiting. I know that you’ve been waiting for me all of your life, really, as an unwavering manifestation of patience incarnate, always uncertain of how long a patch of waiting might be; ten minutes, ten days. A month. What an uncertain wife I’ve been. Please, Dani. When I’m dead, stop waiting and be free. Plant me deep inside of yourself and then go out into the world and live. Love the world and yourself in it, move through it like it gives no resistance, like the world is your natural element.

After my mum left, it ate up what was left of Dennis. He buried his head in the dirt and never looked up again. Since I was a kid, I’ve understood how absence can be present, like a damaged nerve. Thought it was all there was, until you. Don’t bury your head. Look up, look ahead. There’s so much life in the world, don’t miss a minute of it looking back.

I’m sitting at the kitchen counter as I write this, looking out at the backyard; the backyard that I recognized when we were looking for a place to call home, searching for this very house; the backyard I landed in and saw you here, exactly where I’m writing this letter, lifting Flora in the air and spinning around, and beckoning me to our future together. Our little leafling is growing, sprouting, blossoming with each passing year. God willing she’ll outlast us both and breathe more life into the world. 

It’s one of those winter evenings when the coldness of every single thing seems to slow down time, like the narrow bit of an hourglass where time itself flows through, but slowly, slowly. I’ve got this feeling, familiar to me when I’m out of time but almost never otherwise, of being buoyed up by time, floating effortlessly on its surface. Had a sudden urge, tonight, here in the house by myself (you’re picking up Flora from Ben P.’s house) to write you a letter. I just wanted to leave something, for after. Something that wasn’t emptiness or tragedy. I think time is short, now. I feel it waning, like the flowers during the last cold breaths of autumn before winter comes. I’ve been hiding this from you, I know, and I’m sorry. It’s not a fate I would wish on anyone, but least of all you. I’m sorry to leave you this burden, of the emptiness of me. But I know you’ll be in good hands. Strong hands. Loving hands. Owen and Hannah. Judy and Eddie. Your mum. And Flora. As she gets older and has all the milestones and moments big and small - her first love, her first heartbreak, learning to drive, graduating school, when she moves into her first flat - Don't think of losing me. Don't let that hang over your happiness.

You'll find little moments, little pieces of our life that remind you of me. They'll be silly and dumb, or they'll be sad, and you'll cry for hours. But they'll still be a piece of me. And you'll hold them tight, and it'll be like I'm there with you, even though I'm gone. The beauty lies in the mortality of the thing. And god, Dani. You made me feel so fucking beautiful. Every living thing grows out of every dying thing and Dani, I want you to live. Please, promise me you’ll live.

There’s one more thing, and I’ve debated telling you, because I’m worried that telling might cause it to not happen (silly, I know) and also because I’ve just been going on about not waiting and this might cause you to wait longer than you’ve ever waited before. Longer than anyone should wait. But I’ll tell you in case you need something, for later.

Last summer, I was sitting in Henry’s waiting room when I suddenly found myself in a dark hallway in a house I didn’t recognize, at first. It smelled like rain. At the end of the hall I could see a rim of light around a door, and so I went very slowly and very quietly to the door and looked in. The room was white, and intensely lit with morning sun. At the window, with her back to me, sat a woman, wearing a pink cardigan, with long white hair all down her back. She had a cup of tea beside her, on a table, surrounded by plants. When I saw her, I saw her eyes, and it was you, Dani. It was you as an old woman, in the future. It was sweet, sweet beyond telling, to come as though from death to hold you, and to see all the years present in your face. I won’t tell you anything else, so you can imagine it and you can have it unrehearsed and natural when the time comes, as it will, as it happens We’ll see each other again. Until then, live, fully, present in and part of the world, which is so, so beautiful.

You put in your love and your effort, and you see where life goes. Sure went far, didn’t we, Dani?

Alright, It’s dark, now, and you and Flora are coming home soon. Best wrap this thing up. I love you, always. Time is nothing. 

-Jamie


Saturday, September 23rd, 1972 (Dani is 10, Jamie is 32)
DANI:

I’m so excited. I’m waiting in The Meadow and my leg is bouncing the way it was when I was waiting for Eddie to open his birthday gift because I knew he was gonna love it except this time I don’t have to wait for all the other kids to leave after the party before he opens presents, I just have to wait for Jamie. She said she’d be here soon. Saturday, September 23rd, 1972. Early afternoon, after lunch is what the date said in the Book. I made sure everything was done before lunch so I wouldn’t have to worry about it not being ready on time or coming late. I should have brought a book or something cause I’m starting to get bored sitting here, but I was too excited and ran out the door fast and also I didn’t want to carry too much and drop anything. 

I don’t have to wait too much longer anyway because there’s a soft thud and Jamie’s head pops up from behind the rock a second later and I can’t hold it in anymore and jump up and shout “Surprise!”

JAMIE:

I don’t even have time to register where I am yet before Dani scares me half to death. “Jesus!” I slap my hand to my chest, heart beating out my bloody skin. Guess I’m in the Meadow, then. Dani looks to be about ten, so it must be the early 1970s. I take her in as my heart slowly calms back down to normal. She’s beaming, and the summer sun has bleached her hair as blonde as I’ve ever seen it. A small smattering of freckles pepper the tops of her cheeks and across her nose and there’s the slightest gap between her teeth that will close as she gets older. It’s the cutest goddamn thing. 

“Sorry,” she winces, looking the barest amount of ‘sorry’ one could be with a giant grin still stretched across her face. 

"‘S’alright,” I say, reaching for the Box now I’ve got my wits more about me. Dani turns around to give me privacy as I stand and get dressed. “What’s all this about a surprise, then?” I say once everything is zipped and covered. 

She literally cannot keep still in her excitement, practically bouncing out of her shoes. “Happy birthday!” she says, presenting me with a very sad, very small cake-like looking thing. She looks unbelievably proud at what I’m sure must have been a lot of work to make something dubious. I try to hide my dismay at the neon-colored frosting that has to be at least half food colouring, and hope the grimace twists into more of a smile. My reaction doesn’t seem to faze Dani at all, who is biting her lip over a grin. 

“Er,” I start, not wanting to break the news to this unbelievably happy creature, “Sorry, Dani, this is lovely, it really is, but, ah, ‘s’not my birthday.”

“Oh, I know that,” Dani says matter-of-factly, as if she was anticipating this.

“You do?”

“Yeah!”

“So, then, uh-” I gesture to the cake, “What’s all this, then?”

Dani smiles. “It’s the anniversary of the day you first time traveled here! Since you won’t tell me when your actual birthday is - which is still really unfair by the way - I picked this one for you instead!” Oh, this darling child.

I think about the fact that somewhere, in this time, a twelve-year-old me is out there living a pretty miserable, lonely existence. And meanwhile, lucky me gets to be standing here, in front of Dani, someone who at this point still barely knows me, a strange older person who disappears and reappears at a whim, but who’d gone out of her way to make a cake, no matter how small, just to celebrate my existence.

“Blimey,” I manage to say, a little choked up. I cough, trying to mask my emotions. “What’s this?” I point to a green squiggle of icing. 

“It’s you!”

My brows shoot up. “Me?”

“Yeah,” she frowns. “Well, it’s supposed to be you. But I’m not that good at drawling and it’s even harder doing it in frosting.”

“Well,” I say, bending forward to her height, bracing my arms on my knees, “I think it looks great. Never been drawn in frosting before, reckon it’s the best I’ve ever looked, really. How’d you get the cake that small?”

“I got an Easy Bake Oven last year for my birthday. The first two kinda looked like soup, but this one came out okay!”

I dip my finger into the frosting and pop it into my mouth. It’s…sickeningly sweet with a slightly plasticky taste. Not too terrible, considering. 

Once I relieve her of holding the cake, really a tiny thing cradled in my hands, she reaches into a bag by her feet and pulls out one of those paper cone hats. It’s got horses all over it and she puts one on and reaches up to loop one on my head as well. Her hand slips and the elastic string snaps my neck. 

“Ow.” I say, rubbing my throat. 

“Sorry,” she cringes. Leans back and nods, pleased. Just as I take a bite, she blows a party horn. I startle at the honk. “Happy Birthday, Jamie.”

This cake both looks and tastes like a hockey puck. Still, it’s one of the best I’ve ever eaten, and I tell her so. “Best fake birthday I’ve ever had.”   


Sunday, May 6th, 1999 (Dani is 36)
DANI:

It's the first warm, genuine day of spring, and I’ve decided it’s time. Flora misses her mom. I miss my wife. They’re installing the memorial bench today and I wanted us to be there for it. There isn’t a ceremony or anything, just a worker and a pile of cut lumber. No metal, nothing that would bite into bundled limbs in the winter, stealing precious heat from the backs of people’s legs. Just wood: organic, fitting, warm. We set up a blanket by our elm sapling, already several feet larger than it was when we planted it just a year ago. Flora, too, is larger. I ache, thinking about the growth Jamie’s not here to witness, the results of her careful guidance and tender care.

Flora hasn’t started time traveling yet, thank god. Don’t think I could handle it happening so soon after Jamie...well. So soon after Jamie. It’ll be soon, I know. Jamie’s first trip was at five years old. Flora’s going to be six. 

“Why are we here, Mummy?” Flora asks.

"Because they’re building a bench for your Mom, and I thought it would be nice to watch it happen.”

There was something Flora understood, in the aftermath of New Years’ Eve, of something final. Of something...gone. Of the stem cut, not growing back. Flora, looking so much older and solemn than her youth should allow, grief having aged her into a maturity far beyond her years. Some things in life like tender budding blossoms, a dragonfly’s wings, a spider’s web, are so delicate that we understand them as the precious, fragile things they are. Flora senses it. 

“Why are they building a bench for Mum?”

“Well,” I say, unwrapping a sandwich and handing it to Flora, “Because she worked here for a really long time, loved this place a lot, and I thought it might be a nice place for us to come and remember her.”

“But why don’t we do that at the cemetery? Gran says Grandpa Phil is there, just like Mum.”

Sometimes, Jamie taught me, delicate things have to be planted. Tended to. Loved. Given strength underground, buoyed with a strong root system, to belie the fragility of what’s visible above. Flora’s five. Jamie’s gone. With each new day, Flora will live more of her life without her mother. She’ll collect new memories, experiences, relationships, all without half of her. Maybe that was another reason for all of Jamie’s gardening; leaving something of herself to help root us without her.

I try to find words to explain. “When I was a little girl and Grandpa Phil died, we would go to the cemetery and leave flowers for him. It was nice. But then the flowers would die, long after we were gone, and just stay there. I would think of the flowers withering and drying up on Grandpa Phil’s headstone and it would make me feel even more lonely and sad. Cemeteries are where dead things are. This place is so much more alive, don’t you think?”

I wanted this place to be a place of life and living. I chose a bench so that anyone could have a place to sit and rest, supported by Jamie, enveloped by the things she nurtured. There’s so much life here. I want Flora to remember that. This is the place where Jamie is. Not in a cemetery, buried deep down in the dirt, but here; in the topiaries she shaped, the flowers she planted, grass she cut. She’s in the greenhouse where we kissed, where our life together truly started. In the sapling we planted together. She’s right there by that tree, next to the row of hedges where we met, after she cut her hand on a trowel, cursed, and our timelines finally aligned.

That same tree will soon have a bench to remember that moment, that place, in permanence. A memorial. A testament. A marker. Something that time cannot erase. Something of us that will remain here, long after both of us are gone.

“And other people can sit on it, too?”

“Yes, pumpkin. Anyone can use it.”

Flora nibbles on the sandwich, taking small bites, and regards this for a moment. “Could Mum use it, too?”

Such an innocent question, perfectly logical, and still it slices deep. I inhale sharply. Hold onto the breath and let it out slowly. “Yeah,” I say, as the pain of it ebbs into the strangeness of our situation, “I suppose she could sometimes.”

“Won’t that be strange,” Flora giggles. “Sitting on her own bench.”

It’s not funny, not really, but I guess maybe somewhere it could be. I let Flora’s amusement seep into the cracks of me like water and smile, poking her belly for good measure, and she giggles again at the tickle. There’s something deeply addicting about the sound of a child’s laughter, and I pinch her tummy again to hear it. A peal of laughter rings out and settles deep in my chest. I bottle the sound like lightning, and hold it inside. 

I try to see things from Flora’s eyes. Her mother, dead but not dead. Her mother, who’s dead but who she still sees; flesh and blood, not a ghost or specter of who she was, but real. Does something like a memorial seem strange to her? Oddly superfluous in it’s own, strange way.

“I think she’ll quite like it, don’t you?” So matter of fact. The tense stuns me. She’ll quite like it. Future tense. There’s a Jamie somewhere out there who will see this, a version of her still floating around. There’s something painfully bittersweet and hopeful about this concept.

“Yeah,” I agree, “I think she will.”

“I’m sorry you’re sad, Mummy. I’m sad too. I miss Mum an awful lot, but then I remember.”

I frown. “Remember what, pumpkin?”

“Dead doesn’t mean gone.”

I freeze. I know those words. Remember them. Those words got me through the darkest days of my childhood after dad died. My frown deepens as the memory swallows me. I remember sitting on the rock, crying. I remember how my dress itched and my nice shoes pinched. I remembered how much I hated wearing black, vowed to never allow it to absorb me again. For a moment, I’m eight years old again. “But then I learned a secret, and I didn’t even need to be sad anymore.” Jamie’s words, echoing through the mouth of our daughter. I turn my head sharply. “Flora,” I practically whisper, “Where did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” she asks, taking a bite of her sandwich.

“Dead doesn’t mean gone,” I repeat back.

“Oh,” she frowns, thinking hard, “Nowhere, really. It’s just how it is, isn’t it.” She says it so matter-of-factly, as if she were remarking about the surety of the sun or the moon. Says it with the wondrous, casual wisdom of a child, as she goes back to humming as she chews, observing the birds flying overhead.

I sit there, still stunned, feeling the strangest sense of deja vu and newness all at once. Jamie, still out there. Jamie, still here, in her own way, living in Flora and myself. Transmitting through time, spreading out from us like ripples in a pond. I sit on Jamie’s shores, letting the memories lap at my toes like soothing warm water.


Thursday, October 5th, 2000 (Dani is 38)
DANI:

Flora's reward for being patient while I pack up my classroom and stay late doing some prep for the next unit is to go out for dinner. We meet Owen and Hannah at our favorite Italian place. The restaurant isn't too busy, given we're eating on the earlier side. It's only six-thirty and after we order, Flora occupies herself with a coloring book and stickers while Hannah, Owen, and I nurse glasses of wine and an antipasto platter. The waiter comes to refill our waters and Flora sits on her knees on the chair to lift herself higher in order to get her mouth around the straw sticking out the top of the glass. A few strands of hair escape her headband and she brushes them off her face unsuccessfully with the back of her hand, unwilling to let go of her crayon. I take off the headband and re-thread it behind her ears, tucking it back and getting the hair out of her face. "Thank you," she says politely.

"You're welcome."

"When's Mum coming home?" she asks. Hannah makes a strangled sort of noise in the back of her throat, covering it up quickly with a cough.

"November 19th," I tell Flora, who nods and goes back to coloring while Hannah looks at me reproachfully.

Later, we're taking a walk after dinner, digesting and walking off the wine, meandering directionless in the Commons. Flora's off running toward a tree when Hannah finally says, "Doesn't Flora know that Jamie's dead?"

"Of course she knows. She saw her." The tone comes out harsher than I intended. It's not Hannah's fault. It's no one's fault.

"Pardon the obvious question then," Owen interjects, "But may I ask why you told her she was coming home in November?"

"Because she is. She gave me the date herself."

It takes a few seconds for it to click. "Blimey," he says when it finally comes together. Even though my eyes are trained on Flora off by the tree, I can feel him staring at me. Incredulous. "Isn't that kind of...weird?"

"Flora loves it."

"For you, though?"

"I never see her." I try to keep my voice light, as though I'm not constantly tortured by the unfairness of this, as if I don't mouth my resentment whenever Flora tells me about her visits with Jamie even as I soak up every last detail.

Why not me, Jamie? I ask her silently as we walk up the path to the house. Why only Flora and never me? But, as usual, there's no answer. As usual, that's just how it is. Hannah kisses me, Owen gives a one-armed hug, and they continue walking down the street, shoulders pressed up against each other, walking side-by-side. I bite down my jealousy. Flora bounds inside the house and I stand in the driveway.


Friday, May 25th, 1979 (Jamie is 19)
JAMIE:

Mack and I are high. We’re high and it’s dark and we’re looking for her car after a concert. We’re laughing deliriously over some joke that I can’t even remember anymore, or why it was even funny, but it doesn’t matter because the world is blissfully foggy for a bit and all I can feel is my ears ringing from the loud music, my feet on the sidewalk, and nothing else. 

“Jamie.”

“What?”

“There’s that little girl again.”

“What little girl?”

“The one we saw earlier.” Mack stops. I look where she’s pointing. The girl is standing in the doorway of a flower shop. She’s wearing something dark, so all I see is her bare feet. She’s maybe seven or eight; too young to be out alone in the middle of the night. Something inside of me burns, despite the drugs coursing through my system, in seeing a little girl out here alone at night.

“Oi! y’alright?” I call out to her. “Are y’lost?”

The girl looks at me and says, “I was lost, but now I’ve figured out where I am. Thank you,” she adds politely.

“Do you need us to take you home?” Mack’s gotten maybe a foot away from the girl. As I walk up to them I see the kid is wearing a man’s windbreaker. It comes all the way down to her ankles.

“No, thank you. Though it’s very kind of you to offer anyway.” She has long brown hair and a pale face.

“Did you run away?” Mack asks her.

The girl shakes her head. “I was looking for my mum, but I’m a bit too early, I suppose. I’ll come back later.” She squeezes past Mack and grabs my jacket to pull me down to her. “The car is parked over there,” she whispers in my ear, pointing over to the next block. I stand there awkwardly, not sure what to do with my arms, as this strange child puts her hands around my middle and gives me a quick hug before running off down the sidewalk, her feet slapping the concrete as I stand staring after her, baffled. Mack is quiet as we continue walking. Sure enough, we find the car over on the next street.

“That was bloody-fuckin’ strange,” I say after we get back home. She sighs and says, “Jamie, you’re a fuckin’ idiot,” and closes the bathroom door behind her without another word.


Tuesday, July 22nd, 1975 (Jamie is 37)
JAMIE:

It’s sometime in the past. I’m sitting on Blackpool Beach with Flora. She’s seven, I’m thirty-seven, and both of us are time traveling. It’s a warm evening, maybe July or August, and I’m wearing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt I nicked from a souvenir shop; Flora’s wearing a pink nightgown she took from an old lady’s clothesline. It’s too long for her so we’ve tied it up around her knees.

Despite our odd and mismatched fashion choices, people haven’t been giving us strange looks at all. Barely glancing at us as they go about their lives. Strange, that whenever Dani and I would take Flora together, people’s gazes would linger just a little too long, trying to puzzle out the secret of our family. Dani and I always keep rather chaste in public, keen to not push the boundary of physical affection too far unless we’re certain of the company. Especially when Flora’s with us. It feels strange, being here without Dani. But we’re doing our best; we swam, built a sandcastle, ate sausages and crisps from a vendor in the parking lot. We don’t have a blanket or any towels, and so we’re just kind of sandy, damp, and pleasantly tired after a day in the sun, and we sit watching little kids running back and forth in the waves and the big silly dogs loping after them. The sun is setting behind us as we stare at the water. 

“Tell me a story,” says Flora, leaning against me.

I put my arm around her. “What kind of story?”

“A great, good story. About you and Mummy, when Mummy was a little girl.”

“Hmm. Okay. Once upon a time --”

“When was that?”

“All times at once. A long time ago, ‘n right now.”

“Both?”

“Yeah. Always both.”

“But how can it be both?”

“I dunno, it just is. D’you want me to tell this story or not?”

“Yes, please.”

“Right then. Once upon a time, your mum lived in a lonely house at the end of a lane and behind that house was a meadow. And in the meadow was a place where she used to go play. And one day, your mum, who was only a wee little thing with hair like sunshine, went out to the clearing and there was a woman there --”

“With no clothes!”

“Not a stitch on her,” I agree. “And after your mum had given her a towel she happened to be carrying so she could have something to wear, the woman explained that she was a time traveler, and for some reason your mum believed her--”

“Because it was the truth!”

“Well, yeah, it was, but how was she supposed to know that? Anyway, your mum did believe her, and a few years later on she was silly enough to marry her and here we are.”

Flora nudges me with her knee. “Tell it right,” she demands. 

“That’s exactly how it happened! I should know, I was there.”

Flora’s quiet. Then she says, “How come you never visit Mum in the future?”

“I dunno, Flora. If I could, I’d be there. I’d always be there.” The blue is deepening over the horizon and the tide is receding. I stand up and offer Flora my hand to pull her up. As she stands brushing sand from her nightgown, she stumbles toward me and cries, “Oh!” and is gone and I stand there on the beach holding a damp cotton nightgown and staring at Flora’s slender footprints in the fading light.


Monday, June 23rd, 1986 (Jamie is 26, Dani is 23)
JAMIE:

The wrong kind of love can fuck you up. The right kind of love? Not sure I know what that feels like. But what I do know is how perfectly the shape of Dani’s mouth fits against mine. How my body radiates from the epicenter of my chest when I think about her. How the sound of Dani’s moan vibrates in my ears on a constant, unending loop.

This is different from that first day, when she found me in the Gardens and stayed the night in my flat. She was a curious stranger then, an anomaly in my boring predictable life, and now, she’s the only thing I think about. Never been so distracted, so preoccupied by a woman, that I couldn’t function like a bloody human being. I’m misplacing tools, overwatering plants, forgetting things, and having to walk all the way back to the shed to get equipment I left behind. Still can’t find my favorite gardening gloves.

I can’t stop replaying the kiss we shared, can’t seem to string enough thoughts together to accomplish anything at work now that I’ve opened myself up to Dani Clayton.

If the right kind of love is anything like this, then I am totally and completely fucked.

Dani’s busy managing the last few weeks of school, which means I’m stuck spending my evenings alone, pining the nights away. For having spent so much of my life alone, it’s strange how quickly I’ve gotten used to her company. Depend on it, now, really. Truly, entirely fucked.

I know it’s temporary, and the promise of a long, uninterrupted summer holiday entices me to be patient. Phone calls fill the void, as if our shared kiss was a reset button, taking us back to the start. Except now, the early stilted pleasantries have been replaced by flirtatious banter, and instead of filling the void, it does the opposite. The gap grows larger every day I don’t see her, and I’ve started to feel like a woefully abandoned puppy.

“You know, the last time I saw you in the Meadow, I tried to . . .“ She giggles nervously into the phone, “Tried to ….”

“Tried to what?”

“Seduce you.”

I feel my pulse quicken. “Yeah? Did you succeed?”

“You turned me down. Said you were old enough to be my mom.”

Both of us snort in laughter. I smile, and it comes out of my mouth before I can stop it. “Reckon you’d succeed this time around.” I bite my lip, cringing. Dani is silent on the other end.

“Might be worth a try,” Dani’s voice is honey smooth, “Considering that it’s all I’ve thought about for six years.” 

I cough out a nervous laugh and fidget with the phone cord. “That’s um,” I stammer, “That’s-“

“Is it working?”

I grin ear to ear, caught and suddenly bashful. “Y’know, it’s getting late. I should probably let you go.” I sidestep, feeling my cheeks warm under Dani’s laughter.

“These reports aren’t going to write themselves I suppose.” I hear the rustling of paper on the other end. “I miss you,” she sighs. “Is it really only Monday?”

“Miss you too,” I reply, untangling the cord from my hands. “Wish I could bail on my Friday night plans, but I’d be a pretty shit friend, not showing up to Owen’s birthday. I’m already hangin’ on by a thread. Miracle he still puts up with me, if I’m honest. Saturday can’t come soon enough.” A comfortable silence stretches between the two of us, neither of us wanting to part just yet. Five days feels like a lifetime. I turn and look at the plant Dani repotted that day in the greenhouse, sitting in a prime location on my bookshelf, and I feel myself flush at the memory of it.

“I’d rather be staring at you than these papers, if I’m being completely honest.” Her tone isn’t flirtatious this time, more wistful and longing, but it makes my body hum anyway, my mind meandering through all the ways Dani could undo me with just one look.

“You’re slightly better company than plants, I suppose.”

She laughs. “Only slightly?”

“Well, I guess you do make an apple pie that’s to die for. What’s a girl gotta do to get another slice?” 

“I can think of a couple of things.” This time the silence is charged and I feel the blush creep across my face a second time.

I clear my throat. “Right.”

“Seriously Jamie, if you want my pie, all you have to do is ask.” She says it in a way where I can’t tell if we were talking about her actual baked apple pie, or something decidedly not an apple pie at all. She sighs into the phone. “Okay, goodnight now, for real. Call you tomorrow?”

“Yeah of course,” I recover quickly. 

“Good night then, Jamie.”

“Dani?”

“Yeah?”

I pause for a moment. “It’s working,” I say with a smile, and hang up the phone.         


Friday, June 27th, 1986 (Jamie is 26, Dani is 23)
JAMIE :

I barely make it through work. It’s Friday, and the anticipation of seeing Dani tomorrow is making me feel practically manic at this point. I get home from work, shower quickly, throw some clothes on, and make it in time to the pub to see Owen already seated, a big mustachioed smile waiting for me when I walk in.

“Happy birthday mate!” I say, and Owen stands and greets me with a warm hug. He orders a round of drinks, and starts going on about what happened at the bakery today. I smile and nod in all the right places, and I feel like a right prat that I just can’t focus on what he’s saying. I try to get my head on straight and be there for my best friend, and I fail miserably. 

“Mhm,” I respond absentmindedly, taking a sip of my beer. 

“Jamie.” I look up to see Owen furrowing his eyebrows at me. “Are you listening to me?”

Shit. “’course I am.” My mind tries to rewind back the bits and pieces that actually made it into my brain.

“I asked if you I had gigantic tusks growing out of my ears and you said ‘mhm.’” I groan. “Is everything okay? You seem tense.”

“I’ve just been feeling . . . distracted, is all. I’m sorry mate.”

He looks at me suspiciously. “Since when do you get distracted by anything that isn’t green and growing out of the dirt? I call shenanigans.” I roll my eyes at him, but he’s looking at me expectantly. “You’re going to make me pry it out of you, aren’t you?”

I purse my lips, nervously twisting my beer on the coaster that’s sitting on the table. I’ve entrusted Owen with my deepest secret, so what’s one more in the scheme of things?

“I met someone,” I say slowly. He grins at me, wide eyed and excited. 

“Well now, that’s the best bit of gossip I’ve heard all week. Who’s the lucky chap?”

It never gets easier, does it? Even when it’s to people who are closest to you. Especially when it’s people closest to you. I hesitate, but Owen is looking at me so earnestly and with genuine excitement. He’s never been anything but supportive, so I hold on to that as I tell him.

“Her name is Dani.”

If it shocks him, he doesn’t show it, and the happiness in his eyes doesn’t waver. He claps me on the back with a “Well done!” and instantly I’m relaxed and grateful for having landed in the back alley of this man’s bakery. “This calls for a round of shots, and don’t you dare turn me down Jamie Taylor. It’s my birthday so you are required by law to do as I say.” He gets up and bounds to the bar, returning a moment later with lime wedges and two shots of tequila. I know I’m going to regret this in the morning, but Owen’s joy is infectious, and we toast to my good fortune and his trip around the sun, and knock them back with purpose.

I tell him all the weird details of how a future version of me traveled to Dani’s childhood. How the last time she saw me was six years ago, and how all Dani had was my first name and the fact that I was British, and still managed to find me at the gardens. 

“Is it weird? That she knows whole things about you that you don’t?”

“Sometimes. I try not to dwell on it too much, or compare myself to that future version of me. Fought against it in the beginning, but at the end of the day, I’m still me, no matter when I come from. Found out more than once the hard way y’can’t run away from what’s going to happen. Best you can do is make peace with it and-” I make a spinning gesture with my beer bottle, “-carry on.” For all the shit this world has handed me, it’s given me Dani, and I am not about to waste this precious gift. “She sees all of me, y’know? The good bits, the broken ones, the ones that don’t exist yet. ’s humbling to be known like that. To be understood. Like I matter.”

“Jamie,” he says in a serious tone, laying a warm hand gently on my shoulder. His brows are furrowed together, eyes full, and I’ve never seen this kind of love directed at me before. I’ve had and lost two, but in that moment, I feel like I finally found my brother. “You matter. You’ve always mattered.”

I swallow over a thick lump of something I don’t feel much like crying over in a pub. I clear my throat and take a deep swig from my beer instead, unable to sustain Owen’s gaze any longer. “You’re contractually obligated to say that to me,” I say instead. “I’m your best customer. Couldn’t bear to lose me.”

Thankfully, he sees the moment for what it is – a deflection from the intensity of the moment but acknowledged and appreciated nonetheless. The love passes between us, unspoken but recognized, demonstrating itself in the intimacy of gentle teasing. “Oh, you are by far my worst customer.”

I’m affronted. “I’m there every day!”

“And yet, she never pays,” he takes a long sip of his drink.

“You never charge me!”

“Ergo,” he points out, “Technically, not a customer.” I shake my head, grinning into my beer, angling it up for a deep swig. “Does she know how you feel?”

“Hm?” The bottle makes a pop as the vacuum seal releases.

“This Dani person. Does she know how you feel?”

Right. Forgot what we were talking about for a second, the tequila having made me fuzzy. “No, I hadn’t really . . . said all that out loud before.”

Owen fixes me with a questioning look. “So, why are you here telling me all this, instead of telling her?”

“Because it’s your birthday?”

“Well then, for my birthday, I want you to celebrate by leaving this rat hole of a pub and going to your girl. Love waits for no one, my dear Jamie.”

“I can’t just... show up at her apartment right now, it’s late!” I sputter. 

“Then call her and ask if you can come ‘round.” He points to the payphone at the back of the pub.

“Owen, you know as well as I do that that phone’s been broken for god knows how long.” 

A deep frown forms on his face and he pivots in his seat to face me. “Let me get this straight. This girl has been in love with you since she was a child, uprooted her life and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to find you. She's spent a lifetime waiting for you. I hardly think she’ll turn you away if you show up at her flat tonight.” I shrug hopelessly. He shakes his head at me, and reaches for his pint. “Jamie,” he says in what would be an almost scolding tone if not for how full of fondness it is. “Not everyone’s happy ending lands in their lap, fully formed and ready for you. What are you waiting for?”

I blanche. What am I waiting for? “I messed it up in the beginning, almost ruined it, so I want….I need to do it right. I’m tired of fucking things up, doing things based on instinct. It has to be the right moment.”

“Bollocks,” Owen grunts, “You don’t wait for the right moment, you make the moment happen.” He punctuates each word, tapping his index finger firmly on the table. “Besides,” he wiggles the tiny glass containing my lime wedge, “You’ve already taken one shot tonight. What’s stopping you from taking another? It might cure,” he pauses dramatically and clinks his pint glass against my beer, “what ales you,” he finishes with a wink.

I groan and roll my eyes. Despite the butterflies raging in my belly at the idea of showing up at Dani’s flat tonight, I have to admit, he’s right. It must show on my face because he laughs and finishes his drink.

“Go on then, I’ll settle up here. You owe me two pints and a formal introduction to your lady friend as thanks.” Owen smiles at me, and I am so humbled by this man and his endless kindness.

“Deal.”

Thirty minutes later
JAMIE:

It’s 9:30, and I manage to hail a cab to Dani’s flat. I’m a mess of nerves, my leg bouncing in time with my racing heartbeat. In the 20 minutes it takes to get to Dani’s building, I’ve already talked myself out of seeing her four times.

As I walk up to the door, a group of people walk out, ready for a Friday night on the town, and they hold the door open for me. I hesitate, push aside my anxiety, and walk inside. I take the steps two at a time, then find myself at her door. My palms are sweating and I have no plan in place and my brain is screaming at me to just go home. Who shows up announced at 10 in the evening? This was a terrible idea. But I’m here, and I raise my hand to knock and I stop myself again. I’m seeing her tomorrow. What is wrong with me? I clench my fists in frustration and groan at my idiocy. Fuck. Fuck. Just do it. I stand there for what seems like ages fighting myself, feeling my bravado quickly deflate, when a familiar voice stills my restless thoughts.

“Jamie?”

My stomach drops, and I freeze. My eyes are glued to the door, and I wonder if I can slither away undetected, as if the fact that I can’t see Dani means that she can’t see me. I turn slowly, like a child caught doing something naughty, and there she is, standing a few feet in front of me. She’s dressed in grey sweatpants and a zip up hoodie with Iowa State emblazoned across her chest. Her hair is tied in a messy ponytail, tendrils framing her face, and she’s carrying a basket of laundry. She’s so casually comfortable standing in the dimly lit hallway and I hold my breath, letting my eyes soak in the sight of her. She is an absolute vision. 

“What are you doing here?” A wide smile breaks across her face as she approaches me, and I remember to breathe. Whatever I had prepared to say dies on my tongue, and I stand there, silent and gawking. “Wait, is everything okay?” Her face wrinkles in concern.

“Yeah, yeah, it’s fine, I’m . . .” I feel the embarrassment etched across my face, my over eagerness to see her turning into dread as I fumble to explain why I’ve shown up at her doorstep. That familiar feeling of rejection starts to creep in, even though I know Dani has done nothing but accept me. I sit with that for a second, and let it settle my nerves. I’m struggling for something to say, and I think, fuck it. She’s known me since she was six.

“I missed you,” I confess. “I’ve spent all week thinking about you and nothing else and it’s fucking irritating and I don’t know how to turn it off long enough to get some sleep.” I chance a look at her, and catch an unreadable expression on her face. “That sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not, because I do genuinely like thinking about you but it’s just non-stop,” I explain nervously, because none of this is coming out right, “and to be honest, I’m exhausted, and I thought that if I gave my brain what it wanted, if I came to see you for a second, I could finally get a good night’s sleep and be fully present for you tomorrow. I just . . . wanted to look at you. And it makes me think about how you’ve been waiting for me for years, and I’m so pathetic I couldn’t even let a whole week go by before turning into a mess without ya. And I feel like a right idiot turning up at your door this late at night so I’m just- I’m just gonna go.” But I don’t move, and just stand there dumbly, hands stuffed in my back pockets, staring at my feet. Owen’s pep talk has been reduced to a buzzing in my ears, and the last ounce of courage I have seeps out of me, leaving me painfully exposed. 

“So, you came all the way over here, unannounced,” she says as she steps closer to me, “tiptoeing around my apartment, just to come say hi at ten in the evening, and now you’re leaving?” There’s mirth in Dani’s voice, and I feel my cheeks flush. The only thing that separates us now is her basket of laundry, and I can feel her presence in every cell of my body, like a moth to a flame. “Jamie, you flirt.” She bites back a giggle, and it’s enough to break the tension. She shifts the basket to her side, and takes a step closer to me, pulling me into her orbit, and I feel my body vibrate as she reaches out and curls her free arm gently around my waist. “I missed you too,” she whispers softly, tightening her grip and pulling me closer. “Any chance I can get you to stay a little while longer?”

“Are you sure I’m not interrupting your evening?”

“You mean the boring date I’m having with my dirty laundry? Having you here is an improvement. Unless you’ve had your fill of me and don’t need anything else?”

“Highly unlikely.” Her eyes flicker to my mouth, and I can feel the coil inside me start to tighten. 

“Come inside?” she asks, tugging on the bottom of my jacket. I can’t think of a single reason to say no at this point, so I nod, and let her guide me through the door into her flat. It’s dim and cozy inside, and there’s soft music playing low in the background. She places the basket of clothes on the dining table, and I catch the way her thumbs tuck into her palm. She’s pensive for a second before a half smile appears and she says, “So tell me about this hot teacher that’s been keeping you up at night. She must be quite the woman.”

I bite back a nervous laugh, and rub the back of my neck self-consciously. “Yeah, she’s pretty amazing.”

“Yeah?” She crosses her arms and leans against the dining table. “Tell me about her, then.”

I’m being baited, and I know it. Nerves are nipping at my heels, and I can feel the energy in the room change, that easy going, comfort of our phone conversations giving way to something charged and delicate. Dani has always been careful to keep it light, dancing around anything serious, and now that I have her in front of me instead of on the other end of a phone call, I don’t want to waste time sidestepping around how I truly feel.

“I, um . . . ’s the details, really. The way her hair looks perfect, no matter how she wears it. How she listens to me with her whole body. The way she gets excited about new pairs of socks. She’s a pretty dynamite kisser, that one, thank god, I think that would have been a deal breaker.” I flush at the memory of the greenhouse, feeling more alive than I ever have.

I rest my body against the back of Dani’s couch, thread my hands together and hold them in my lap, trying to control the nervous energy creeping through my fingers. Dani is staring at me openly, a thin smile on her lips, her thumbs once again tucked tightly in her palms. I choose my next words carefully, the weight of them buoyed by the warmth spreading in my chest. “I think about all the things I’ve yet to learn about her. I wonder what she does before bed, and what she’ll look like in the morning, before she wakes up after a good night’s sleep. I wonder about how she likes to be touched and where. If she likes it slow or . . . Some way different. How she might sound, if we did certain things together.” My face, which was warm with a hint of embarrassment at the beginning of this conversation, is now burning across my cheeks as my secret thoughts spill out of me like a confession. Dani’s gaze never wavers, the tension around us tangible and consuming. 

“She has an unfair advantage,” I continue, “having seen me naked already, which, might I add, was one of the first things she said to me on our first date. I unfortunately just have my imagination to go off of, and I’m sure it doesn’t compare to the real thing.” With that she finally breaks eye contact, letting out a bashful laugh as she looks down. “So you can see the difficulty this presents when tryin’ to sleep.” Dani’s biting her lip now, holding back a nervous giggle. I stare at her, letting the soft expression on her face peel back the emptiness of spending a week apart.

When her eyes meet mine again, they’re lidded and heavy, lust barely contained behind a look that wants to devour me. Can’t say I feel any different. She hums, bites her lip. Fuck. “Sounds like she should even the playing field, then.” 

“Only if she wants to,” I say seriously, all teasing gone. There’s a fine line between making the moment happen and making sure we both want it to. While I’ve got a pretty good idea based on the way she’d been looking at me, this is too important. It’s got to be right. For her. For me. For both of us.

“I don’t take a lot of risks,” I start. “I like my life the way it is, nice and boring. I never had a reason, for anythin’. Getting whipped around by time doesn’t do much but make y’feel like you have no free will, because everything’s happened already. And then you walked into my life. Y’didn’t pigeonhole me, y’didn’t try to force me to be something I wasn’t. You just, let me be. I know it wasn’t easy for you, but having that choice, havin’ that small ounce of control over my life . . . It felt like freedom. And if you were willing to risk everything to give that to me, I want to do the same.”

My eyes travel the length of her, letting the sight of her permeate all my senses. She’s staring at me with wide eyes as I step closer. Wide, hopeful eyes, and my heart beats harder against my chest. I lean in and kiss her, slowly, with as much feeling as I can, to make her understand. I’m ready to fill my emptiness with Dani until I’m bursting and I drink greedily from her lips. She whimpers ever so slightly, and I pull back to make sure. “Okay?” I whisper, and the smile I get in return is blinding.

“I thought you’d never ask.” Dani traces my shoulders with her hands, gliding them up my neck, before cupping my cheeks and pulling me in. This is different from the kiss in the greenhouse. There’s a boldness in the way her hands are traveling around my body, clutching at the back of my neck, then grasping my shirt, winding in my hair as the kiss deepens. I slide my tongue into her mouth, and when it touches hers, Dani moans. It’s lyrical, hypnotic, and sears itself into my brain. My hands have found their way under her sweater, mapping the lines and contours of her back. I push into her a little too eagerly, and she loses her balance and bumps into the dining table. She giggles into my mouth, then pulls back to look at me. She stares at me openly, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear, and I catch her hand and press a kiss into her palm.

“And this?” I whisper, slowly tugging the zipper of her sweater down to reveal a white tank top underneath. “Is this okay?” She bites her lip and nods. I slide my hand under the thin fabric, grazing her hip and splay my fingers across her lower back, and she’s so soft, so tender, and I lose myself in the feeling of her skin sliding across my fingertips. She inhales sharply at the contact, and grips my shirt a little tighter, resting her forehead against mine.

A nervous laugh escapes her lips. We still, letting this moment settle around us. She’s staring at my lips, a pensive look on her face, and blushes when she catches my eye.

I can see it so clearly now, the difference between being used and being wanted. The surety of it pulses through my body and fills me with a need to show her all the ways I want her in return. I feel it so viscerally, like gravity. I feel like I could break from the weight of it, crack under the tension, if I don’t close the distance between us soon.

We linger like this, bodies fused, taking in one another. The intimacy of it all wraps us like a warm blanket, and I can’t recall ever feeling this way: so full of wonder and desire, wanting, and being wanted in return. Dani tightens her embrace, and I nuzzle into her neck, inhaling the soft scent of her. Her sweater is posing a problem for me, so I nudge it back, exposing the delicate lines of her shoulder. I press my lips into the soft ridge of her collarbone, and continue to pepper light kisses across her shoulder, sliding the fabric away to reveal more. Dani's breathing becomes more pronounced as I slip the sweater completely off, and I gently tug the thin strap of her tank top down, so I have her entire shoulder at my disposal. I bite my lip when I realize she’s not wearing a bra. I trace her skin lightly with my fingertips, and feel her gasp as her eyes flutter closed.

“Okay?” I ask, making sure. She breathes out a strangled yes, and I wait for her to open her eyes. She looks at me, eyes dark, and in one smooth motion she slides my jacket off and onto the floor.

“Thought you might be getting warm under that,” she says, and captures my lips in a searing kiss. Her hands slide under my shirt and they’re hot, searching, pulling me in, making the coil inside me throb harder, tighter.

DANI:

Somehow we manage to fumble our way into the bedroom. It all feels heady, and I can’t quite believe this is happening. Jamie clicks the door shut behind us and takes off her boots, placing them neatly by the door before turning to me. Anticipation stretches between us, chipping away at the years I spent waiting for this moment, until all that’s left is a deep well of desire inside of me. 

She’s still, the glow of the moonlight illuminating her, and I feel her gaze linger on every part of me. There’s a soft smile on her face, reverent, and I can feel that familiar warmth start to pool in my belly. As she steps towards me, she’s taking all of me in, savoring the moment, and the longer she stares, the quicker my pulse races. I can’t feel anything but the weight of her stare, and she stalks towards me with a hunger that makes her eyes darken. When her eyes track back to my face, I blush and my nerves are comforted by a similar shade on her cheeks. She leads me to the bed, and somewhere I register the humor of her leading me to my own bed but right now the very air seems like it’s vibrating. When the backs of her thighs hit the mattress, she sinks down, guiding me next to her. 

My body is absolutely humming, and I’m grasping at Jamie’s shirt, trying not to float away in the bliss of her hands and lips. I moan, and feel Jamie chuckle into the crook of my neck. The sound of it snaps me into focus, my self consciousness blooming across my face in a raging blush. I can feel my want cool into nervous energy, and suddenly I’m fifteen again, wanting Jamie in ways I didn’t understand. I’m seventeen, raw and vulnerable next to Jamie in my mom’s Buick, my confession of love sitting between us. I close my eyes, and I’m in the Meadow on prom night, watching Jamie disappear, leaving only a rumpled tuxedo and a promise of there will be other nights in the space where she once stood. My body stills, and it’s suddenly abundantly clear to me that nothing has prepared me for this onslaught of feelings that come with being handed the one thing you’ve waited your entire life for.

She stiffens and pulls back, sensing something in my momentary pause. “Fuck, I’m sorry, was that...too much? We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” she says softly, her hand idly playing with my necklace.

I bark out a nervous laugh. “No, no, it’s not-” I shake my head, eager to make her understand. “It’s not too much. It’s perfect, even, I just-” I bite my lip, the confession just behind my teeth. “I’m just a little nervous. It’s stupid because I’ve thought of this so many times and now it’s here and I don’t . . . I don’t know how to do this.” I take a deep breath, closing my eyes to steady myself.

“Before bed, I put in my retainer and read two chapters of my book. In the morning, my hair is a rat’s nest and I’m not really myself until a cup of coffee. Those are easy answers. Those are the things that I know. I don’t really know how I like to be touched, or where, or if I like it slow or . . .” I hesitate. The silence stretches, and I reach out, finding the hem of Jamie’s shirt, needing something to ground myself to this moment, connecting these thoughts to the present. 

“I think about you all the time,” I breathe. “I think about your eyes, and your mouth, and your hands. I think about all the ways I could know myself, if you showed me what it’s like.” I finally open my eyes to look at Jamie and familiar heat pools low in my belly. “I want to know everything. About me. About you. And it’s frustrating, having all this want and not knowing what to do with it. I dreamed about being that person you came home to when you disappeared from me in the Meadow, and now that it’s here I . . . “ I sigh in frustration, “I want you Jamie, so much, even if I don’t know how.”

Jamie leans in, the tip of her nose nuzzling my cheek. “Do you want to?” She murmurs into my ear. I shiver.

“Yes,” I breathe.

“Then that’s all you need to know, really.” She’s looking at me so openly, the air around us so fragile and paper thin.“I’m sorry, for making you wait as long as you did. I don’t want you to have to hold back anymore, okay?” She places her hands on my hips and gently shifts closer to me, never losing eye contact. “Please?” My hand slips under her shirt, gliding across her hip and back. “I want this,” she whispers sincerely, trembling under the weight of it. “I want us, I want you, in any way you’ll let me tonight.” My breath catches, and I fist the back of her shirt. 

“Okay,” I whisper back. A flare of confidence flushes through me, and I lean into it, rolling Jamie onto her back, straddling her and pinning her to the mattress. The surprise in her eyes slowly turns into delight, and she slides her hands up my thighs, fingertips grazing the skin under my tank top when she reaches my hips. My heart is like a piston, and Jamie’s hands still, not moving any further. The look of affection on her face settles deep in my chest, taking root, and I feel my nerves subside. I take a deep breath, and pull out my hair tie, freeing my hair and letting it cascade down my back. I reach for the hem of my shirt, and take it off slowly, feeling the cool air graze my stomach, my breasts, then my neck as the rest of the tank top comes off. Jamie’s mouth opens, and there is a brief bewildered look on her face, before her eyes lower slightly, and she stares slack jawed at my chest. 

“Am I doing this right?” I ask half seriously, trying to keep my self consciousness at bay. I wring my shirt in my hands as I fight the urge to wrap my arms around my chest and hide myself. Jamie’s eyes flit up to mine, and I watch as her mouth curves into a bright, satisfied grin. 

“Yeah,” she breathes with a slow nod, and she shamelessly resumes staring at my breasts. “I reckon y’are.” I grin, oddly proud of myself that I’ve gotten Jamie to finally look like that. That it’s Jamie who wants me, Jamie who now has me. And even more, that Jamie is letting herself want me. The intensity of it strikes me and I shiver in the moonlight. Jamie takes my shirt from my hands and tosses it to the side, and I’m barreling into her mouth, grabbing fistfuls of her shirt and pulling her roughly to me before it even hits the floor.

It’s like I’ve turned into a rabid beast with the way I’m devouring her, but I can’t get enough. Her hands are still at my waist, circling respectfully around my midriff, not wandering elsewhere. I appreciate the respect she’s intending to show, but honestly I don’t care for any of it. I’ve been wanting her since before I knew what that meant and now she’s finally here. A warm feeling fills my heart and I pull her closer trying to get her to feel it, too. 

I kiss her roughly, Jamie licking into my mouth, and throw my head back to feed air to my oxygen starved brain and Jamie quickly follows, sitting up to close the distance, latching herself onto me, sucking and nipping then soothing with her tongue. I moan, my sensitive neck making nerve endings explode like fireworks. My hips are rolling into her now, desperately seeking anything that can relieve the growing pressure between my legs. Jamie’s fingers dig into me, now more hungry and decidedly less chaste than they were a moment ago. The tips of her fingers slide down to grip my ass and she reaches behind her, bracing her arm on the bed, before simultaneously pulling me down and thrusting her hips into me. The motion and the pressure short circuit my brain completely and the groan that comes out of my mouth is filthy and unhinged. It echoes around me, but I can’t bring myself to care. Jamie is whispering in my ear, and it barely registers over the roar of my body wanting and needing so much at once. 

After so many years and so many nights spent dreaming of this moment, visualizing it in so many different ways, I’d always imagined in the end it would be slow and deliberate. Nothing like the desperate fire that is raging through me right now like a wildfire through the driest tinder. There’s a flame inside me that’s been starved for so long that now, finally exposed to oxygen, it’s primed to explode. It’s chemistry. It’s inevitable. It’s the law of the universe.

I’m grinding, urgently, desperately, the pressure building and building and building, rocking harder, trying so hard to focus on Jamie; focus on her hands, her mouth, her body, but all I can see is a tunnel of white and I chase it with abandon. She meets me eagerly with every thrust and my world narrows until it’s nothing more than the rush of heat between us. I feel soft, wet lips on my breast, and when Jamie gently laps at my nipple and sucks it into her mouth, the tunnel of white turns into a galaxy of exploding stars behind my eyes. It pulsates through me and I can feel every inch of me go taut with pleasure, shaking, trembling, until it finally wanes and I feel myself sink into Jamie’s arms, boneless and spent. I hear Jamie chuckle, low and resonant, and my eyes jerk open. 

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” I mumble embarrassed, the ecstasy of just a few seconds ago evaporating instantly. I bury my face in her neck, hoping I can just will myself to disappear. I can’t believe it.

“Dani?” The edge of Jamie’s voice is tinged with concern.

“I-I’m...I’m so sorry,” I stammer, “I-I-”

“Hey, hey,” she soothes, “It’s okay.”

“No it isn’t!” I practically whine, trying to crawl inside Jamie to hide. “I just-” I flap my hand, gesturing, “-and it’s been what, two minutes? What am I, a thirteen-year-old boy?”

Jamie chuckles, “Been holding onto that for a while, yeah?”

“S’not funny,” I grumble. 

“It’s a little funny, considerin’ you have no idea how unbelievably sexy that was.” I continue to pout into Jamie, but my protestations are muffled in her neck. “Hey, hey,” Jamie says, nudging me gently with her shoulder, “Look at me.” She waits until I do. “That was-” her eyes roll up and one corner of her mouth pulls up in a half grin as she shakes her head as if in disbelief, “-That was amazing.”

I am in no way convinced. 

“Look,” she says, lifting my chin with her finger until our eyes are once again level. “Maybe it’s not apparent to you just how sexy that was, but it’s true.” I scoff, and resume pouting. Jamie smiles and presses her forehead into mine, before taking my hand and bestowing it with a gentle kiss. “Maybe you can believe what you feel?”

“The only thing I’m feeling right now is a very strong desire to disappear off the face of the earth entirely,” I grumble.

Jamie laughs in response, then gently rolls me to her side. I expect her to get out of bed but instead she traces a finger down my chest, and my breath hitches. She continues, through the valley between my breasts, then lower, circling my belly button, before she stops, and to my surprise, reaches for the button of her pants, and undos it in one smooth motion. I can’t tear my eyes away from the way she pulls the zipper down, my mouth suddenly very, very dry. Time slows as I watch her press another kiss to my hand, before placing it on her belly and sliding it down. My heart is pounding. I wonder if Jamie can feel my hand trembling as it passes under the elastic of her underwear. Her legs open, and she guides my hand through damp curls, then lower, into an impossible deluge of heat and wetness. My eyes flutter and my breath catches and I’m about to lose what’s left of my mind when she gasps softly at the touch, and my eyes snap to hers in awe. Her lids are heavy, almost shut, and she presses my hand into her slickness without hesitation so I can feel just how much she was telling the truth. 

“Do you believe me now?” All I can do is groan in response, my own body already flooding again with warmth. “As amazing as that was,” she somehow manages to say with my hand still cupping her, “I’d like to do it all properly now.” 

“What about any of this is proper?”

“Nothin’,” she says with a wicked grin. “That’s half the fun.”

She leans in and swiftly captures my lips with hers, removing her hand from her underwear to grip my neck. I can feel her rock into my hand slightly, so I press into her a little harder and I’m rewarded with a moan and a vise-like grip on my neck. I want to hear that sound again, want to draw it from her louder, want to find out what else makes her moan, makes her cry out, what will bring her undone. 

My middle finger presses down gently, feeling her part under the pressure, and I slowly glide my finger up through wet folds then light up like a Christmas tree at the way she squirms under my touch. I let my finger drift, dragging it back and forth, lengthening my strokes while pressing just a bit harder and delight when she hisses and bites her lip. With her head thrown back against the pillow, I don’t think I could have ever imagined something this sexy even in my wildest dreams. I tease her opening a little longer before sliding higher, knowing exactly what I’m looking for, when Jamie grabs my wrist and stills my hand. 

“Dani, wait,” she huffs in a strangled voice. 

I stop. “Am I doing it wrong?”

“No, no,” she reassures quickly, “It’s all fantastic, just...slow down a bit, yeah?”

“Slow,” I repeat. 

“Yeah.” She lifts my hand and moves it to her breast. “Slow.” It’s soft, I think stupidly, giving an experimental squeeze. “I want to remember all of this,” she whispers, “and I can’t do that if you’re already off to the races.” I nod and swallow deeply, unable to tear my gaze away from my hand palming her breast. I rub my thumb gently in circles, feeling her nipple swell, then harden. Jamie sighs in approval, and the hum of it echos through my body, setting off sparks between my legs. “I think,” she murmurs, shifting slightly away from me, “that we are wearing entirely too many clothes.” She pushes herself up into a kneeling position next to me, and I instantly miss the warmth of her body. She removes her shirt, and I marvel at the way the moonlight glows against her skin, illuminating her like a Vermeer painting. She reaches behind her, unclasps her bra, and suddenly I don’t know where to look. The straps slide down her shoulders, then her arms, until the bra pools in her hands and she’s bare in front of me. I know that I’ve seen this; I’ve seen her naked before, but this slow reveal of skin and flesh on Jamie’s own terms is transcendent and all I can do is feast on this moment, soak in it, and let myself look at her. I feel the years between us disappear, past and present rushing together as if I’m all the versions of myself I have ever been; I’m in the Meadow; I’m here; I’m everything in-between. Except I am more, now, because now Jamie’s here and she’s mine.

Jamie’s gaze never leaves my face, intently watching the way I devour her with my eyes. I feel the waistband of my sweatpants loosen as she unties them, and a few short tugs later, I am completely naked by her side. She makes quick work of her pants and underwear, and when we finally press together, unencumbered and free, I gasp. I shiver; not from the cold, but from anticipation as Jamie’s hands drift across my body, igniting me once again. Slow, she had said, and it feels tortuous as I try to keep my hips from surging into her. I squeeze my legs together for dear life, searching for a bit of relief as she kisses me, caressing my tongue with hers until it leaves me breathless and trembling. 

My hand finds its way to her breast again, and it’s a welcome distraction from the throbbing between my legs. I tilt my head down, and the sight of my thumb circling her nipple sends a sharp thrill through me. I’m surprised that even though I have been staring at them since I was a teenager, I never noticed the tiny mole that lines up with her left nipple. ‘Stop,’ it says, a period marking a complete sentence. I suppress a laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Jamie asks in an amused voice, and instead of answering I bring my mouth to her breast and close my lips around her nipple. Jamie bites back a moan, brings her hands up to my cheeks and gently gathers my hair across one shoulder and runs her thumb along my bare neck. I raise my hand to grasp onto Jamie’s forearm and am rewarded with a strangled noise as I suck. She throws her head back and the pads of my fingers run along her skin, dragging across her neck, down to her chest, stopping at her other breast. I pinch her nipple and twist and she draws a breath in sharply, pulling me back up to meet her mouth. 

“Fuck Dani,” Jamie hisses, “You are such a fucking liar. You know exactly how to do this.” She giggles into my mouth when she kisses me, and I feel light-headed and giddy at eliciting such a reaction. Gone are the schoolgirl nerves and self-doubt. I’m a woman emboldened. Her leg wraps around my hip, and instinctively I raise my thigh and her laughter turns into a gasp when we make contact. She exhales as she rocks into me, one long, slow thrust that’s hot and wet and full of need. I reach for her hip, encouraging her, feeling her breathing shallow into short pants as she sets a rhythm. 

At first, it’s slow and languid, almost lazy the way she undulates against me. I watch her face, the way her eyebrows furrow and her tongue wets her lips, and feel a rush of fresh arousal when her eyes open to look at me as she writhes against me. She continues like this, eyes locked onto mine, and just when I think I’m about to break with desire, a new sensation presents itself - the press of her breasts into mine, the delicious sound of her strangled moans, the increasing urgency at which she’s grinding against my leg - and it makes my head spin.

Jamie pulls me into a kiss, and it’s all teeth and tongue and desperation. Her breath is shaky, and my heart is pounding as she rolls me onto my back. She leans over me, eyes dark with lust, humming with approval, before pressing her lips into mine, then along my neck, leaving a trail of kisses down my chest that ends with a slow swirl of her tongue around my nipple. Some unintelligible noise comes out of my mouth, and I clutch her tighter with every wet pass until she gives it one last kiss before pulling away and nuzzling back into my neck. 

Just when I think I have a second to catch my breath, her hand slides down my belly and she murmurs, “Stop me, if this is too much,” and my senses implode when I feel a finger slide through my wetness. Another undignified moan escapes my lips and I think, This is it. This is how I die.

“Okay?” Jamie asks, lazily swiping her finger back and forth, and oh god, I didn’t think it was possible to be wetter than I was before. I manage a strangled yes, and she continues in painstaking slowless, whispering hot breathy affirmations into my ear. I know she’s got a self-satisfied grin on her face, I can feel it pressing into my cheek as my hips jerk erratically, before her finger dips lower. I can hear my voice and the sounds that it’s making, but it’s muffled, like I’m underwater and the only thing keeping me from drowning is the feeling of her finger sliding into me- first one, then an unfamiliar but ungodly pleasurable stretch when she adds a second. We both gasp. I feel myself tightening around her, straining once again, as she fucks me gently, every thrust hurling me towards a white hot oblivion. 

“Dani, look at me,” she whispers, and when I open my eyes she pushes her fingers as deep as they can go. She holds them there as I inhale sharply, my edges blurring, feeling my body tighten to the point of stillness. I feel lost, untethered, until my eyes focus again and I see Jamie, looking at me with such tenderness and wonder, and suddenly the sweet rapture of being touched so intimately feels like too much, and Jamie’s face crumples into concern when a tear slides down my cheek. 

“Dani?” she asks in alarm, stopping immediately. “Did I hurt you?”

I shake my head, not knowing how to fashion into words the bigness of the feelings inside of me. I love you, I think. I’ve loved her for so long; always a noun, but now a verb. I cradle this feeling, letting it fill my heart, before gently placing it in Jamie’s hands. 

”I love you,” I say, letting go. “And it’s not . . . I’m not asking or expecting anything from you,” I’m quick to add, “I’m really not. And if you’re not there yet, that’s okay too.” I reach up and cup her cheek, and say with sincerity, “I just wanted . . . I just needed you to know, okay? That’s all.”

Part of me is afraid of spooking her after the last time I said those words, but the way Jamie looks at me, so full, is enough to convey the world of difference between now and then. Joy. That’s what this is. Joy. She feels it too. Laughter bubbles, elated and free, and I breathe it back into her, pulling Jamie in for a kiss, imbuing it with all the love I can muster.  Her eyes stay closed for a moment when our lips part, and she smiles to herself, like she can’t believe her good fortune. The feeling is mutual. 

“I do believe you were in the middle of something,” I tease, buoyed by the levity of the moment, and her eyes sparkle when I take her hand and guide it back between my legs. “This time don’t stop,” I command and Jamie’s eyes go wide as I slide her fingers back inside me. I exhale slowly as she takes the cue and pumps into me in excruciating slowness, knuckles to fingertips and back with every stroke. I’m burning for her now, like a stick of dynamite lit at both ends, dangerously close to exploding.

She slides her fingers out and slowly circles them around my clit, once, then a second time, and the sensation of it makes it impossible to breathe. Her fingers dip, then swirl, and repeat until my hips are jerking uncontrollably in tandem, my back arching as high as it can go. Every press, every kiss of a fingertip takes me higher, floating me above the bed like a tethered balloon straining for freedom. Jamie’s fingers are moving faster now, rubbing tighter, more focused circles around me, and I feel like Icarus soaring through the sky, chasing the burning heat of the sun until finally, I crest, straining and weightless as I come. I hang, suspended in air, then start to fall, feeling myself rush back to the earth, but it doesn’t feel like dying, it feels like living. I tumble in ecstasy and Jamie is there to catch me, her arms cradling me as I come back to earth. She burrows into me with a long, content sigh and my heart's still pounding as I clutch her to my chest.

“Holy shit,” I finally manage to say, swallowing desperately, trying to regain my equilibrium. Jamie huffs out a chuckle, her breath tickling my now over-sensitive breasts. “Holy shit,” I repeat, threading my fingers into her hair. She presses a kiss to my chest before lying her head back down, idly rubbing circles on my arm.

We lay together, content to just be, breathing in this newness between us. Jamie’s eyes are closed, and I savor this moment, her face awash in calm and peace. I could fall asleep like this happily, Jamie curled against me, the comforting weight of her on my chest, but there’s one more hunger still gnawing at me that remains to be sated.

“Your turn,” I say, gently nudging her thighs open. The look on her face is asking me if I’m sure, and I kiss her before the words can come out of her mouth. “I want to touch you,” I plead, hand gently squeezing the inside of her thigh. “Please?” 

Jamie swallows deeply and nods, biting her lip when my fingers slide down into her wetness. Her hips twitch with every stroke, and sink my fingers in deeper, deeper, until I’m sheathed in softness, hot and wet. Jamie writhes beneath me as I thrust into her, reaching hungrily for the mewling sounds coming out of her.

“Jesus Dani,” she hisses, and I can feel her clutching at my back as I sink into her again, lost in the way she squeezes around my fingers, trying to to set a pace until she reaches down and grabs my hand. “I’m so close, Dani, just . . . please - “ she says in a ragged voice as she guides my fingers to her swollen clit, and shows me just how she needs it. Gone is the slowness from before, replaced by short quick strokes and jerking hips as Jamie moans, “Right there, don’t stop.” It doesn’t take much, and when she comes with a cry, messy and beautiful, I swallow it and capture her lips, kissing her back down. 

“C’mere,” Jamie says sloppily, tugging me up to lie next to her. I press a kiss to her chest before resting my head on her shoulder. It’s so easy to settle against her side, slipping into place like I’ve always meant to fit here. I hum contentedly and wrap my arm around her side as she pulls the sheets up around us. Jamie’s fingers rub my scalp soothingly and exhaustion creeps in quickly, beckoning with open arms. She mumbles something I don’t hear as I fall, blissfully satisfied, into sleep’s warm embrace.

JAMIE:

Dani’s asleep in my arms, dead to the world in a post-orgasmic dreamland, and I’m not too far off but I say “I love you too,” anyway and know, somewhere, she hears it.


Saturday, July 12th, 2003 (Jamie is 38. Dani is 41)
JAMIE:

I land in the Gardens. I have no idea what year it is, but it must be sometime in the future because Flora is sitting cross-legged in the grass with a pile of clothes in her lap and she looks to be about 9. She brightens immediately and jumps to her feet, the clothes tumbling forgotten to the ground, and throws herself at me. I have just long enough to open my arms before she barrels into them and I wrap my hands around her back, curling around her like a leaf. “Hey, Sprout.” I kiss her head as she nuzzles deeper into me. “Missed you,” I say.

Flora pulls back. “How could you miss me?” She asks with all the logic of a child, “You’ve only just seen me in your present!”

“Yeah,” I admit, “But I haven’t seen this you in weeks.” I grin and rub her head, mussing her hair. She giggles and it’s the best sound. I try not to think about the years I’ll miss between my Flora, home at five, and this older version of her. Or the fact that I’ve rarely seen her older than this. That a whole future together will be stolen from us. What will she remember of me? Will anything be left of me to carry into her adulthood?

“I missed you too,” she admits in a small voice, as if it’s something to be ashamed about. 

“Hey,” I say, kneeling next to her so we’re eye-level. “It’s alright to miss me and be sad about it, yeah? Dead doesn’t mean gone, right?”

“Right,” she nods determinedly. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath through her nose, letting it out slowly through her mouth, and nods. There’s an air of calm about her when she opens her eyes again and a smile pulls at her lips. “Put these on,” she says, bending down to pick up the clothes. I take them from her and get myself decent while Flora waits patiently, buzzing with energy. Once I’ve slipped on the trainers, she immediately grabs my hand and says “Come! You’re expected.” I stumble after her.

“Where, uh, where are we goin’?” I ask as she leads me through the sculpture garden, weaving between busts and nymphs who look upon us with frozen faces.

“You’ll see,” Flora chirps. We keep going for a while. Eventually we come to a grove of trees with a picnic basket resting by a cluster of flowers. Only now does Flora let go of my hand as she hops a few steps and grabs the basket by the handle and hands it to me with a flourish. I start to open it but Flora slams my hand down and says “No!”

“Flora, how are we supposed to have a picnic if you won’t let me open the basket?”

We’re not.”

“Not what.”

“Having a picnic.”

I eye the basket skeptically. “This is a picnic basket, right? There aren’t any snakes or other nasties in here ready to jump out at me, are there?”

Flora giggles. “No,” she reassures. “It’s a picnic basket. But you must have it,” she says simply.

I don’t understand. “Thanks, Twig, but what’s the fun in coming all the way to the future and eatin’ alone?”

“You won’t be.”

“Well,” I reason, Flora standing with her hands clasped behind her back, swinging her hips a little side-to-side, “If we’re not having a picnic together, then-” There’s a wide smile on her face, almost mischievous, like she’s holding a secret, and I notice her attention directed at a spot into the distance somewhere behind me. I cut myself off, frowning, I turn to see what she’s looking at: a woman, about fifty meters away, sitting on a blanket facing the lake. Her back is to me, and the sun shines right in my eyes as I squint, but I know without a shadow of a doubt who it is. I turn, gaping dumbfounded to Flora. She’s beaming. Quite pleased with herself too, the little shit. 

I’m stunned. I’ve never seen my Dani in the future. Closest I’ve ever gotten was that first time, as she sprinted down the hallway and I crawled up the school steps, only to disappear before we could make contact. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve come to see future Flora, but it’s over a dozen. Not once have I ever been able to see Dani. 

Flora tugs my hand and I kneel in the grass and collect her towards me, holding her tight. When she pulls back, her hand rests on my cheek and gently, so gently, wipes the tears from my eyes.

My heart aches, yearns, for the woman across the field. The gravity of her is already pulling me towards her and I feel it as a physical tug. But I refuse to move. Not until - “Are you sure?” I check with Flora. Flora, who’s already been cheated out of a future with her mum, who’s moments together are so few and precious, I can’t bear to take any more from her than time already has.

“Of course I’m sure. You told me where to be, silly.” I’m too stunned to process the logistics of it all. I must not be moving still because, “You must take it,” Flora insists, pushing the basket towards me. “It’s for you.” My throat is thick and despite Flora’s gentle touch, tears keep falling down my cheeks. Elated and heartbroken at the same time at the thought of Dani, while also touched by Flora’s generosity and selflessness. I squeeze her to me one last time and press a kiss to her head. 

“Go on,” Flora entreats, “She’s waiting.” And I go. 

DANI:

It’s a lovely day outside. Flora’d been excited for days, begging for a trip to the Gardens until I finally caved and promised we could go this afternoon. She led me to a spot by the Lake in a wide field with an open view and we’d been cloud watching for about twenty minutes before Flora declared she had to use the restroom and ran off towards the Visitor’s Center in a hurry. She knows this place like the back of her hand now, probably nearly as well as Jamie at this point, but after nearly twenty minutes of sitting alone I start to get a little concerned.

I hear feet shuffling in the grass behind me. “Finally!” I start to say, turning around to welcome her back, “Was startin’ to get worried about y-” when the words die on my lips entirely. 

Jamie, standing not five feet from me, arm hanging loose at her side, staring at me with a stunned, glassy sense of awe. I take a sharp inhale and hold my breath until it hurts; until the pain in my chest is real, grounding me to the world and I’m sure that I’m not dreaming, that she isn’t some sort of figment of my imagination. 

“Jamie?” It comes out of me as a whisper. My whole body is trembling. 

“Hey,” her voice cracks.

“What are you doing here?!” I cry, scrambling to my feet. “Your letter, you-” I find that I can’t get the words out, my chest is a heaving hiccuping mess, “You never said--Old lady, Jamie, you said old lady!” I’m scolding her. Jamie’s here - here!- and I’m scolding her. I’m crying and I’m wasting time and suddenly I panic, as if she’ll be taken from me again immediately and I throw myself into her arms, slamming into her, clutching her fiercely, tightly, and I never want to let her go. A soft thump as the basket she was holding drops to the ground. Her fingers thread through my hair, cupping the back of my head, and as she grips tight, pulls my hair and my scalp stings and tears would prickle if they weren’t already pouring down freely on my face. 

“Jamie,” I murmur, her name a benediction, a prayer, an answer all its own, “Jamie, Jamie, Jamie.” Jamie, here, and me, now; us, a state of grace. 

“’m sorry,” she mumbles into my neck, her breath hot against the crook of my shoulder. “I’m so sorry I left you.”

“But you’re here now,” I cry wetly, tears openly streaming down my face. 

“I’m here now.”

“How long?”

“I dunno, but,” she indicates to the basket, “Flora gave me this, so I reckon we’ve got time.” We’ve got time: the three most beautiful words in the English language. This dream, this miracle, made real - even if for only a little while, it’s more than I ever thought I’d have again. 

“Flora!” I remember suddenly, “Where-”

“Made herself scarce. Said this one was for us. She’s fine, she went to the gift shop and is probably pickin’ out another garden decoration with a butterfly.”

“But...how, how are you- I mean, I don’t understand, you said-”

“Didn’t know myself, either, until just now. I wrote you that letter last week, but it looks like there was one more surprise in it for the both of us, I guess.” 

“I don’t care,” I say, her arms warm under my hands. “This is the best surprise of my life,” I press myself into her again, holding tight, “I can’t believe this is real.”

“Ow!” Jamie cries, jumping back. “What’d’ya pinch me for?”

“I want to make sure you’re real.”

“‘Course I’m real! Besides, aren’t you supposed to pinch y’self?”

“Oh. Right.” I’m so addled, buzzing in shock still. “Pinch me,” I demand.

“Christ,” Jamie rolls her eyes good-naturedly, “You and twelve-year-old you are remarkably similar, y’know that? There,” she pinches me. “Happy?”

It hurts. It’s real. “Yes,” a laugh bubbles up. “Yes.” Bright, infectious deliriously happy joy froths over and one laugh turns into an absolute deluge and I can’t stop laughing. Jamie grins wide and scoops me up in her arms, spinning me around and around. I hook my ankles together and bend my knees, feeling gravity pull sideways, and I throw my head back and laugh at the sun, smiling all the while until I can’t bear to keep my eyes from her anymore. I look down at Jamie, her eyes a golden green capturing the light, and I rest my arms around her shoulders and lean down to kiss her and it feels like home. All the ragged, fraying, splintered parts of myself from the last few years smooth out under her lips; all the longing, loneliness, wiped away by her tongue; the scars of grief and empty, aching days healed by her touch.

At some point she must put me down because by the time I open my eyes again, we’re back to being the same height and my feet are back on the ground. “Hi,” I breathe. 

“Hi,” she grins, a loopy, lazy thing. I missed that look of hers so much. Missed her so much. I must have said it out loud because she murmurs an apology, regret shading her face. 

“No, no,” I say. “It’s good.” I smooth my fingertips across her face, committing every last curve and perfect imperfection to memory. “This is more than I ever thought I’d have again. I’m just so glad to see you.”

She kisses me again. “S’good to see you, too.”

“It’s been minutes for you, how could you miss me?”

“I always miss you,” Jamie says. “Even if it’s only been a minute. Doesn’t matter if it’s been a day or a week. I missed you before I even left.” A beat. More seriously, “I’m sorry, again. I hope it wasn’t too bad.” 

The memory of it swells like a wave in the ocean. If I let myself think about it too much or we talk about it too deeply, too specifically, too much, I fear it’ll crest and barrel on towards the shore and crash and I don’t want to waste a minute of this thinking about that. “It’s okay,” my hands hold her face like a jewel. My thumbs ghost along her cheeks. “You’re here now.”

Jamie offers the basket, almost sheepishly. It’s filled to the brim with goodies. Inside is a note - “All your favorites, from your favorite. Miss you, mate. All our love, Owen (p.s. Your shit team lost again this year. Liverpool for life.)”

“That prick,” she laughs, tossing the note back in the basket. “Liverpool  is rubbish, don’t care what he says. He should have seen Burnley play back when they won the championship. Absolutely brilliant, they were. He’d stick by ‘em, too, I bet.”

“You saw them?”

Jamie pops a grape in her mouth. “Yeah,” she says, crunching down, “Was stuck in November of ‘59 for a bit. Figure I might as well enjoy m’self while I was there.”

“I’ll have to tell Owen next time he makes me watch a game with him.”

“He gets you to watch a football match with him?” she asks in disbelief. 

“Well, sort of,” I admit. “Mostly it’s me and Hannah drinking wine on the couch while he tries to explain what’s happening during the game. I don’t have the heart to tell him that we have soccer in America and I’ve lived here long enough to know the rules. And also I don’t really care.”

Jamie laughs. It sounds like music. It sounds like dancing. A grin pulls across my cheeks and I beam, watching her exist before me once again. She starts taking out food - cheese, crackers, pastries, biscuits, a bottle of wine - and I’m struck by how nervous I suddenly feel. Like this is the beginning all over again. Brand new. A picnic date with a person I’ve known for thirty-five years and I have butterflies in my stomach like a love-struck teenager. Suppose I’ll always be love-struck when it comes to Jamie. Even out of order, every time with Jamie felt brand new. Like the first time.

The way Jamie nibbles her lip, biting back a grin of her own, eyes flittering and sharing glances as she sets up lets me know she feels the newness of it too. And maybe it is. A new beginning. Even if it’s a short one. I’m different, now, than I was before. We always are, I suppose, living and growing and becoming something new. But now I am a woman shaped by grief. Forged by it. Now, I am a widow. Somehow sharing a short beginning, a small pocket of time with my wife. The weirdness of this, this particular miracle, is novel.

We nibble on grapes, try throwing them into each others’ mouths and miss terribly, grapes bouncing off our foreheads and cheeks into the grass, us laughing all the while.

“And to think, this all started with you throwing a shoe at my face,” Jamie remarks after a particularly bad shot hits her eye. “Your aim hasn’t improved at all.”

“Technically, this all started because you scared a child and twenty years later, I harassed you at work and wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

“Thank fuck for that.”

Conversation meanders into catching up, Jamie asking what’s been happening. I tell her some fun things about Flora, like this new phrase all the kids are using at school and driving all the parents nuts. That Mom visits more. That the plants are still alive. I ramble on about all the minutiae until Jamie puts her hand over my own in an unbearably gentle interjection and I still. 

“That’s all well ‘n’ good and I’m glad to hear it, really, but...what about you, Dani?”

“I-” I stammer for a moment before my jaw snaps shut. Why is it so hard to answer this question from her? It’s not like I don’t hear it constantly. Hannah checks on me nearly every day, it seems, before classes start, during lunch, in the evenings walking home. Owen too when he drops Flora off or picks her up, the three of us talking and reminiscing fondly and sadly over glasses of wine after Wednesday family dinners after Flora’s gone off to bed. My mom, Eddie, and Judy. “How’re you doing, Dani? Really.” And I tell them, honestly. About the nights that I fall asleep near instantly, exhausted, from living a life built together then having to hold it up alone. About the nights spent staring up at the ceiling or hugging a pillow, crying out all the emptiness inside until I’m curled around my hollowness. About the times when Flora makes me laugh so hard milk comes out of my nose which makes her laugh so hard, milk comes out of her nose. About the days when I want to pull my hair out because she’s put me at my wit’s end and I want to scream in frustration. About how hard it is to go through each day without Jamie. About how much it still hurts when I think about her. How much worse it is when I realize I had forgotten to think of her at all. What about you, Dani?

Hearing it from Jamie’s mouth is somehow altogether different. This question is from the person I’d been supposed to bear that with. The person who was supposed to be my partner, help shoulder the burden of life together, instead of me bearing the burden of death alone. It’s different from the lips of the person I’m supposed to kiss. From the mouth that’s traced every inch of me. A co-pilot. A partnership. An other half. Instead of the horrible unbalanced act of living alone without toppling over, without a counterbalance. 

And now, another question entirely: how do I want to spend this time with Jamie? Do I talk about the sadness of it all? Do I push it aside and deflect? I think back to those beautiful last painful years, how hard it was to acknowledge the unspoken truth and inevitability of Jamie’s death. Never talking about it directly, skirting around it like a shadow avoiding the sweeping beam of a flashlight. I don’t want this to be another missed opportunity. It’s time to put the shadows to rest where they can’t haunt me anymore.

“I was mad,” I finally admit. “For a long time, at you.” The skin of a grape pulls away from a tooth, and it’s tart bitterness floods over my tongue as I pinch it between my teeth. “For not telling me. That night was…” The sound of sirens, of the hush that had fallen over the deathly still crowd of our family and friends as all the air left the room in the wake of Jamie’s broken body, the acrid iron smell of blood burnt so deeply into my nose I could taste it, all rushes unbidden and I shudder. Jamie’s thumb rubs soft circles on the back of my hand. She presses a kiss to my shoulder, gives me space to speak. 

“But then I realized that part of me always knew. Not the exact time, maybe, but I knew enough. And I could’ve brought it up if I’d really wanted to. I didn’t wanna say it out loud, y’know? Didn’t wanna make it more real than it already was. So instead it just became this unspoken thing that ate at both of us, kept us so afraid - me so afraid.” I finally turn to look at Jamie, having only been able to recount it all while staring off into the lake. Her eyes are brimming with tears, face crumpled. “That’s the only thing, out of all of it, that I regret.”

Jamie takes my hand, brings it up to her face and presses a kiss to the back of my knuckles. She keeps her lips there for a long time, breath puffing from her nose tickles my skin. She doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t have to. It wouldn’t change anything if she did. What’s done is done, but now, finally, there’s peace. Even in the grief, there’s peace.

With the shadows finally gone, we sit in silence for a while, content to simply hold each other as the sun drifts lazily across the sky.               

Later
JAMIE:

“Mum!” Flora cries as she rejoins us a few hours later, “You’re still here!”

“Looks like. Guess you’re stuck with me a little while longer, Little Bit,” I kiss her head. The three of us walk toward the car, my arm around Dani’s waist. I ignore the astonished stares and sputtering of my seemingly miraculous appearance from my co-workers as we pass through the front gates. All I can offer is a two-fingered salute and “Cheers,” too busy cherishing the extended visit with my girls. 

We drive home, Flora babbling excitedly about anything and everything. How Marcus started taking karate and now all the kids are into karate but she likes ballet and Thomas’ mum made cupcakes with worms in them (“They’re gummy worms,” Dani grins from the driver’s seat), and that her favorite animal has changed from a dolphin to an elephant. I interject appropriately and make follow-up questions, entertained by the fact that once she gets going, this slightly older version of Flora rambles the same way her younger self does. Dani and I smile the shared smile of parents being amused by their children, and I give our hands, intertwined over the gears, a squeeze. 

Flora barely stops to breathe the entire ride home. After getting out of the car, we go inside. We take off our shoes and head into the kitchen. Dani and I start the dance of dinnertime, well practiced and well-oiled. For me, it’s been hours since we did this. For Dani...I falter, realizing I don’t know what’s in the refrigerator. Or what Flora’s eating habits have been like, lately. This place, so familiar, is so different from the one I’ve known. This place has continued without me. I’m adrift here, an alien in my own home. Estranged. 

A warm hand covers mine around the refrigerator handle. I turn my head, lost. “It’s okay,” Dani murmurs, understanding. “It’s okay.” 

“I-” I croak, voice failing. 

“It’s okay,” she repeats, anchoring me, rubbing circles on my hand. “Flora still hates carrots. We still have grilled cheese on Wednesdays.” I exhale shakily, breathe in the constants, let them steady me. The trembling stops. “There we are,” Dani says low in my ear. She opens the fridge. Yoghurts, fruit and vegetables, cartons of takeaway, cheese, juice, milk, all looking remarkably similar to what I’d seen this morning back in my time. Different, but the same. 

“Thanks,” I exhale shakily.

She presses a kiss to my temple. “You’re welcome.”

Flora perks up from the living room, “Can we have ice cream for dinner?” We respond “No,” automatically at the same time, blink, and just like that the spell is broken; the tightness in my chest eases as we laugh. The rest of dinner progresses without incident and Wednesdays be damned, we gorge ourselves on a truly obscene amount of grilled cheese.

Later, after bath time, Flora asks to read together so I prepare myself to read a record amount of books. Instead, I’m met with Flora, sitting up under the covers in bed, a thick paperback lying neatly on her lap. I’m stunned for a minute before realizing - Flora doesn’t read picture books anymore. I settle this fact into myself as I scooch up next to her, bring an arm around her shoulders, and open the book. We read for an absurd amount of time, my mouth long dry when she finally falls asleep many, many, many chapters later. Dani and I carefully slide our arms out from under her pillow and make to leave but as I kiss her gently, her tiny hand wraps around the hem of my shirt and it tugs, my heart pulling, leaving part of itself behind as I slip away.

Flora’s door is barely shut before Dani’s lips are on mine. She pins me against the hallway table, tongue sliding into my mouth. Her hair shimmers in the dim light and I marvel at the strands of silver. I’ve never seen her with so many grey hairs. My Dani’s hair is still the color of a lush field of wheat, shining in the sun. Now, white streams from her temples. They’re beautiful. I’m struck dumb when I realize, suddenly, that this Dani is older than me. I reach up to touch her hair, caressing it, lamenting my part in the sudden aging.

I feel something wet on my cheek. I pull back. She’s crying. “Dani-” I start before she cuts me off with a single finger over my lips. 

“Don’t,” she says urgently. “Today was…” she looks up toward the ceiling and makes a choked noise “perfect,” and ends in a pinched smile. “Let’s make it last just a little while longer.” I nod. It’s late December when I’m from. My clock is ticking there just as short as it is here, with Dani. For me, I’ve got another two weeks to live. For Dani, this stolen time is even more precious and finite; seconds and minutes instead of days and weeks. We’ve already burned a whole afternoon and evening’s worth of hours. How much more is left? 

As calm and languid as the day had passed in a haze of picnics and bedtime, now it’s as if we can’t move fast enough. An urgency propelling each action. 

Dani’s tongue thrusts into my mouth, and I’m already open and hungry for her. I lose myself in her, losing all sense of wicked Time, of anything except for the way her hands are tangled in my hair, the soft sounds escaping her throat that are akin to tossing oil on a flame, igniting me anew. My lungs burn with Dani until I break away with a gasp, chest heaving, my head thumps backward onto the wall. I don’t even get a chance as Dani’s hunger continues unabated, she merely moves downward, feasting on my neck, nipping, while her fingers slip beneath my waistband, cupping me in my pants, and I’m practically on fire.

It’s all I can do to grab onto her shoulders as her hands deftly bring me undone in just a few strokes and I cry out as I clutch onto her, pulling her into me until even then she still feels too far away from me somehow. I gently nudge her up to apologize with a still-breathless kiss and when I see wetness on her cheeks, recognize it and fall to my knees in the closest thing to atonement I can imagine. And a few moments later, with her underwear down and her skirt rucked up, when she next cries out, at least this time I know a small part of her is finding release from my love, instead of sorrow.

The next morning
DANI:

I wake up satisfied and empty in a way that somehow feels whole. I know without opening my eyes that Jamie is gone. I stretch, limbs pulling taught, and relax, curling into the blankets like a cat. Taking a lazy moment, I find myself smiling into the window, sun peeking out over the treetops, remembering last night. After the preamble in the hallway, both of us were surprised to find Jamie still there and decided to take advantage of it more leisurely, tumbling into bed for a few more rounds. I don’t know when she left, but it’s okay that Jamie’s not here now, because I got to fall asleep in her arms one more time. When I finally get out of bed, I go down the hall and wake up Flora, gently stroking her nose until her eyelids flutter.

She bats my finger away a few times before she finally cracks open her eyes. She brightens when she sees me and as if suddenly realizing something urgent, quickly glances around. When Jamie is nowhere to be seen, Flora’s face falls, practically bruised with hurt. She sits with the disappointment for a second, acknowledging its sadness and tucking it back into herself before bravely looking up at me.

“It was so good to have mum back for a while, wasn’t it?” She says in a tone so soothing and full of compassion, it's as if she’s the consoling parent here. I choke back a cry and pull her towards me, gathering her in my arms. Flora is ten and still so small, and I press a fierce kiss on the back of her head. 

“Yeah,” I say, peeling back the covers. “It was.” We walk out of her room together, holding hands, a shared ache between us, a new day awaiting. 


Monday, March 15th, 2004 (Dani is 41)
DANI:

I’ve never changed Jamie’s garden before. Flora and I have diligently tended to it, keeping it as close to how she left it as possible. I’ve gotten the hang, over the years, of the rhythm and flow of the growth cycles. Of the seasons changing. Of keeping my hands busy and my eyes sharp, tending to each plant like precious things. They are, at least, to me. If I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough, I can hear her working next to me, spreading mulch or humming under her breath. I can pretend she’s here with me. 

I was hysterical, the first time something out here had died. It was absurd, sobbing like a baby into a dried out patch of withered leaves. Flora eventually came out and found me, kneeling in the dirt, tracks of tears drying in salty trails on my cheeks. She’d draped her body over mine, sheltering me under her canopy, holding tight. I’d held onto her arms like the lifeboat she was, keeping me afloat. 

It was more than feeling like I’d let a part of Jamie die. It was that I’d failed to protect something she’d cherished. Something she’d left for me. For Flora. There are so few pieces of her left. Letting one of them slip through my fingers seemed unforgivable. 

So now, we have an empty patch of ground I haven’t dared touch that’s been lying dormant for the last two years. A gap, an empty place, ready for something new. For new roots and growth. 

Jamie’s worn copy of Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants is never far from the kitchen or living room. Flora used to leaf through some of Jamie’s old books before, having gone through a particularly morbid phase where she was fascinated by Hypothermia, Frostbite, and Other Cold Injuries and Wound Care Essentials. Part of me wanted to keep those books from her for a few more years, but there’s nothing really in them that’s too inappropriate for her to see, even if she is a little young still. But she’s time-traveling now and I can’t help but worry that god forbid whatever she reads could one day save her life. 

It came as a relief when Flora moved onto decidedly less gruesome material. For the last few weeks she’s been reviewing the careful list of edible plants she’s found in the garden, cross-referencing it with ones from the book. Jamie left her worksheets, things for her to learn, memorize, and master in the long quest for safety and survival. I must have the only ten-year-old in town who knows how to pick locks and forage for weeds. How’s that for a party trick?

So when Flora finished her study of the garden Jamie left behind, there was a long list of plants that were leftover on the list that weren’t in the backyard. Which of course meant hearing about every single species from Year One through Year Five, between every snack, during breakfast, on the way to school, on the way back from school, at dinner, until my ears just tune out a bit when it comes to a child’s never-ending sharing of their favorite hyperfixation. 

One night, Flora left some of her things sprawled out on the table. It was the end of a particularly frustrating day, and Flora not putting her things away was something I wasn’t in the mood for so I yelled for her to come down and clean up and help set the table for dinner. Angrily shuffling the various sheets into a single pile, a spread in the field guide became visible. A picture of it caught my eye, but the name stops me dead in my tracks. Long, trailing red flower tails standing in stark contrast to all the green. Amaranthus caudatus. Love-Lies-Bleeding. 

I don’t know how long I stand there frozen, only that the sound of Flora running down the hallway into the kitchen startles me back into movement and I slam the book shut as if it’s dangerous. The poison of it seeps into me anyway and all during dinner, I nod distractedly as Flora recounts her day, giving absent one-word responses, my eye flickering to the book, now stacked neatly by the corner. The name haunts me through bedtime, and after a kiss to Flora’s  forehead and “Goodnight, sweet girl,” I spend the next hour back at the kitchen table gripping a glass of wine, taking errant sips, and staring down the book as if readying for battle, bracing myself to open it.

I trail my finger along the index and find it right away among the A’s. Page 21. I take a deep breath and before I can change my mind, flip to it. And there it is, in glossy full color, the bright burgundy of the flowers, hanging in clustered strings of craft pom-poms. Though the name is what arrested me, I let myself get over the shock of it and actually read the entry. As my eyes move across the page, the kernel of it settles in my heart and I know what to do. It feels right, somehow.

Luckily the climate is a bit more mild here than back in Iowa, so we can plant the seeds right in the soil outside instead of starting a few weeks early from planters. It takes a few weeks to order the seeds, not the most common thing lying around in the average garden market, but once they come, I place them in the middle of the kitchen table and wait for Flora to come home from her play date. 

Later, I broach the subject with her. My palms are sweaty. I fiddle with my fingers, eventually settling on just gripping my thumbs in an effort to keep my hands still. “Hey, Flora?” I ask, my voice breathy and too high.

She doesn’t look up from her homework, focused entirely on the page in front of her. “Yes?” 

“How, um, would you feel,” I start haltingly, “About planting something together in the garden?” Why am I so nervous? 

She stops writing, placing the pencil down on the table and cocks her head, looks up, her brow furrowed in contemplation as she thinks it over. I continue barreling on as if talking will ease the pain of the conversation. “‘Cause, y’know, we’ve got that empty space in the back row by the fence, and I know have your list of plants and I thought maybe we could try one ourselves. Fill the space and make it whole. It seems kinda lonely, don’tcha think? A-and I know it isn’t the same, as when your mom left it, but, maybe, we could... make something new together? What do you think?”

“I think,” Flora drawls, mulling it over, “It’s a lovely idea.” I exhale. Relief floods me immediately as my shoulders relax. 

“Yeah?” 

“Yeah!” Flora says. “It’ll be like the time we tried to grow tomatoes.”

I groan. Jamie and Flora had planted tomatoes years ago and they grew so prolifically, we practically drowned in tomatoes for weeks. Couldn’t give them away fast enough. Thank goodness we were able to dump bucketfuls to Owen, who in turn would bring back a jar of tomato jam or sauce for spaghetti. Jamie refused to plant them the following year unless we promised to have a plan for wider tomato dissemination, not wanting to get stuck with eating tomato sandwiches or BLTs for weeks straight. (“I can’t take it anymore, Dani.” She’d said. “If I never see another tomato again, it’ll be too soon.”) 

“Well, if this one grows half as well as those tomatoes, I think we’ll be alright.” We look at each other and smile. 

I don’t tell her what it’s called, of course. There are a slew of other names it goes by, so I tell her those instead, knowing full well she can and likely will look it up in the book later. I hope she won’t find significance in the name the way I have. That it won’t grip her and instead leave her be, blissfully naive to the violence of her mother’s death. 

The next day, we plant. I feel a strange sense of deja vu. I choose to think of it as feeling Jamie instead. As soon as we put the seeds in the ground, they should take off. Ten to fifteen days after planting, they’ll germinate and soon after that, grow three to eight feet tall. Should tower over both of us, if we’re lucky. In a few weeks, we’ll be lying in the shade of it’s stalks; in the canopy of Jamie. Three long months after sowing, the flower buds will unfurl and blossom. As a reward for our patience, bees will arrive and pollinate. Birds will come feed. 

The leaves can be harvested early in the season while they’re still tender. Apparently they’ll taste like spinach, I tell Flora. And later, as fall encroaches closer, the seeds, nutty-tasting and rich in protein and nutrients, will fall and can be cooked, ground into flour, sauteed, or saved for next year’s crop. All of the energy will move to the next generation of life. The amaranth will have given birth to the future, and then it will be done. This is the way it works. We’re all doing the same thing, really. We’ll soon have a garden with a crop full of amaranth, but next season it’ll have to be replanted. And so will I.*


Tuesday, May 24th 2045 (Jamie is 38, Dani is 82)
JAMIE:

I find myself in a dark hallway. At the end of the hall is a door, slightly open with warm light spilling around its edges. The hall is full of photographs; a young woman in graduation garb, gripping a diploma beaming to the camera; the same woman in a wedding gown, smiling happily over the shoulder of her spouse; the happy couple posing at Disneyland, two children at their waists; the same family, older, but happy, over a long table piled high with food and Christmas decorations, and an elderly brown couple in the back. I squint, leaning closer to the frame, and realize with startling clarity who the couple is. Realize, suddenly, that this hallway is familiar. So where’s-

I look back toward the light shining round the door and walk slowly and silently toward it. Morning light fills up the room and is painful at first, but as my eyes adjust I see that in the room is a plain wooden table next to a window. A woman sits at the table facing the window. A teacup sits at her elbow, steam rises from the surface of the water in the sunlight.. She’s surrounded by green - plants of all kinds line the windowsill, the table, the bookshelves, hanging from the ceiling, tall ones rising from the floor. The walls are practically invisible against the jungle of green. The woman is extremely still. She’s an old woman; her hair is perfectly white and lies long on her back, pinned behind her head with a barrette. She’s wearing a sweater the color of coral. The curve of her shoulders, the exhaustion in her posture says here is someone who is very tired, and I’m tired, myself. As I shift my weight from one foot to the other, the floor creaks and I cringe, but the woman doesn’t move from where she’s asleep on the chair. I rest my hand on her shoulder and after a moment she stirs, head lifting. When she turns and sees me and her face is remade into joy; I am overwhelmed; this is Dani. Dani old! And she is standing, rising from the chair, coming to me, and I take her into my arms.


Saturday, May 13th, 2045 (Dani is 82)
DANI:

This morning everything is clean; the storm left branches strewn around the backyard, which I will go out and pick up. The garden is lush and green, a warm welcome after last year’s extraordinarily hot summer. Hummingbirds flock to the flowers, towering by the fence, which is covered in thick roses and wisteria as it crawls up the brick of the house. I sit at the dining room table with a cup of tea, looking at the trees and the birds outside, listening. Waiting. 

Today isn’t much different from all the other days. My sleeping habits have changed over the years. I put on pants and a sweater, brush my hair, make toast, and tea, and sit looking at the garden, wondering if she’ll come today. In the afternoon, Flora will bring the kids over for a few hours while she runs errands. They’re older now and don’t need their grandma to babysit them, but it’s nice they still come to keep me company while they do their homework or play together. Little Theo has become quite the chef and takes over making dinner for everyone when evening falls.

It’s not much different from the many other times Jamie was gone and I waited, except that this time I’ve got instructions: this time I know she’ll come, eventually. I wonder sometimes if this readiness, this expectation, prevents the miracle from happening. But I have no choice. I never did. Wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. She is coming, and I am here.