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“Dani, are there mountain lions in Vermont?”

 

Dani chuckled and bumped her shoulder against Jamie’s as they walked along the forest trail.  “You wait until we’re onthe trail to ask me that?”

 

Jamie shrugged. “I mean, I’m not scared of ‘em or anything.  Just curious is all.”

 

“Mmhmm,” Dani, replied, skeptical.  “And no, there are no mountain lions in Vermont.  At least not that I’m aware of.”  She paused. “But there are bears though.”

 

“S’not funny, Dani.  We don’t have all this wildlife in England.  America is a wild and untamed land.”

 

Dani laughed.  “You’re adorable.”

 

“Am not.”

 

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.”

 

“What are you gonna do?  Offer the bears some of your awful tea?  Because I bet that would scare them off for sure.”  Jamie snickered and cut her eyes over at Dani, knowing she was in trouble, but enjoying it all the same.

 

“Hey!” Dani retorted.  “That’s not fair!  You said my tea was getting better!”

 

“Aye, but better isn’t good, Dani.”

 

Dani huffed.  “You’re lucky you’re so cute.”

 

“You love me,” Jamie said smugly.

 

Dani rolled her eyes.

 

“What?  You know you do.  Wait.  You’re not taking me out in the woods to kill me, are you?” Jamie asked, feigning fear.

 

“You’re impossible,” Dani replied, unable to keep from smiling at their playful banter.  She loved it; they both did.  She leaned over and placed a quick kiss to Jamie’s cheek.  “And yes, I love you.”

 

Jamie blushed.  “I knew it.”

 

Dani threaded her fingers into Jamie’s as they walked side by side down the trail, shoulders brushing every so often.  It was nearing the end of summer and they had decided several weeks ago to take a camping trip.  They carefully researched their route, bought supplies, and checked the weather.  They had both been buzzing with excitement all week thinking about their weekend away together.  Dani knew how much Jamie loved nature and she hoped it would be a refreshing weekend for her girlfriend.  And Jamie knew how much Dani loved to plan things for them, so she had let her take the lead and pack. 

 

They had been hiking most of the day, sometimes talking and sometimes quietly enjoying the peacefulness of nature.  Jamie offered commentary on the local plant life as they hiked.  Dani loved that Jamie had researched and learned all of it.  She listened with rapt attention every time Jamie stopped to point something out.  Dani found Jamie’s passion and enthusiasm contagious.

 

Their plan was to make the eight mile hike to the top of the mountain, camp for the night, and make the return trip the next day.  They picked a remote trail, hoping to have it to themselves.  They had only passed two other hikers heading back down the trail all day and were thankful for the solitude.  They had another mile to go until they reached the summit.

 

“I’m glad we’re almost there,” Jamie said, “These backpacks are getting fucking heavy.”  She looked over at Dani, who seemed to be struggling less. She raised one eyebrow.  “Dani?”

 

Dani avoided eye contact with Jamie.  Looking straight ahead, she said quickly, “I may have put the tent in your bag.”

 

‘Oi, that’s cheeky, Dani, and you know it.”  She shook her head good naturedly.

 

Dani tried not to smile too big.  She had known Jamie would be a good sport about it, and she was impressed it had taken Jamie so long to notice. 

 

Jamie playfully swatted her arm.  “You’re carrying it on the way back.  You’re the one who wanted it.”

 

Dani threw her hands up in mock surrender.  “Fine, fine.  I’ll carry it on the way back.”

 

Jamie nodded.  “Alright then.”

 

They came upon a rocky outcropping, with a beautiful view.  They could see mountains for miles.  Jamie whistled, taking it all it.

 

Dani stepped a little closer, carefully navigating the rocks.  There was a slight slope in front of her.  “Wow, look at that Jamie, it’s beautiful,” she said, her voice full of awe.

 

Jamie was about to respond when movement near Dani’s feet caught her eye. 

 

Shit!  Snake! 

 

Jamie moved quickly, not even taking a second to think about what she was doing.

 

“Dani!” 

 

Jamie closed the small gap between them, pushing Dani out of the way of the long, slithering snake.  Startled by Jamie’s sudden movement, the snake reared up and hissed.

 

Several things happened at once.

 

Dani screamed.

 

Jamie took a step backwards away from the snake.

 

The snake slithered away under a rock.

 

Jamie’s foot found a lose rock. 

 

The rock gave way.

 

Jamie lost her balance.

 

Dani reached for her.

 

She was too late.

 

Jamie stumbled backwards down the slope, head over heels.

 

“JAMIEEEEEEE!” Dani screamed.  She watched in horror as Jamie tumbled down the hill, through the dirt and leaves, unable to slow her momentum. Jamie’s backpack was shed at some point and she finally stopped rolling when she reached flatter ground.

 

Dani hadn’t waited to see her stop.  She had begun sliding down the slope almost immediately after Jamie.  Being as careful as she could, but also moving quickly, she needed to be by Jamie’s side more than anything.  She was also terrified about what she would find.  It only took Dani seconds to slide down after Jamie, but it felt like hours.  Dani saw Jamie’s unmoving body.  She was curled into herself, her back to Dani.

 

“No, no, no, no,” Dani chanted over and over as she ran the final few steps towards Jamie.  Tears were streaming down Dan’s face as she knelt in the dirt next to Jamie.  She started to reach for her and then pulled back, not wanting to hurt her.  She could hear Jamie moaning.  It instantly broke Dani’s heart.  But it also told her that Jamie was conscious.

 

“Jamie?” She said tentatively, her voice shaking.

 

Jamie groaned. “Fuuuuuuuuck.”

 

“Where does it hurt, baby?”

 

“My pride,” Jamie groaned out.

 

She’s joking.  That’s a good sign.

 

“And my ankle,” Jamie added, rolling over onto her back, grimacing.

 

“Okay,” Dani said as calmly as she could.  “Let me take a look.  Can I touch you?”

 

Jamie winced and nodded.  “You can touch me, yeah.  The only thing that really hurts is my ankle.  Reckon I’ll have some bruises though.”

 

Dani gently placed one hand on Jamie’s shoulder and the other on her cheek.  “You’re gonna be okay. I’m here.  I’m gonna take care of you.”

 

Dani moved down to Jamie’s ankle and did her best to keep her face neutral; she knew Jamie was watching her closely.  Dani didn’t need to look any further to know that it was either broken or severely sprained.  Jamie’s ankle was already swollen and Dani knew it had to hurt.

 

“How bad is it, Poppins?” Jamie asked, her voice strained as she tried to sit up.

 

“It’s not great.”

 

Jamie tried to turn her foot and cried out in pain.  Dani was back by her side in an instant, placing a soothing hand to Jamie’s cheek.  “Shhh, baby.  Don’t try to move it.”

 

“Fuck, Dani.  I’m so sorry.  I— I know you’re scared of snakes.  And I was trying to trade places with you.  And I lost my balance, and I— I don’t know what happened exactly, but I think I may have overreacted a bit to the whole situation.”

 

Dani looked down on Jamie with love in her eyes, her thumb grazing Jamie’s cheek.  “You think?” She asked teasingly.

 

“Jesus, Dani.  I’m so sorry.  I’ve ruined our trip.”

 

“Okay, that’s the last apology I’ll hear out of you,” Dani said sternly.  Jamie opened her mouth to speak again, but Dani cut her off. “No.  I mean it.  No more sorry’s.  You were trying to protect me.  I’m so sorry you got hurt.”

 

“Now what do we do?” Jamie asked weakly.

 

“Now I’m going to patch you up as best as I can.  It will be dark soon, so we’ll need to find a place to make camp.  And then I will carry you home if I have to.”

 

Jamie brought a hand to her forehead and closed her eyes, embarrassed and in pain.  “I can’t believe I’ve gone and sprained my ankle.  I’m so sor—“

 

“No.  What did I say about that word?”

 

Jamie appeared properly chastised.  She sat up, leaning on her elbows, and finally looked at her foot.  “Fuck, Dani!  It’s a hell of a lot worse than you said!” 

 

Dani smiled sheepishly.  “I’m gonna go find the first aid kit.”

 

“Wait, was that in my pack, too?  What even is in your’s?!”

 

Dani muttered, “The food,” as she deposited her bag next to Jamie and headed back up the hill to retrieve Jamie’s.  She returned minutes later.  Jamie had scooted back against a tree for support.

 

“Okay, let’s fix you up,” Dani said as cheerfully as she could, but her heart felt tight seeing the woman she loved in pain.  She offered Jamie two Advil first and a bottled water.  “For the swelling and pain,” she explained.  Jamie nodded and took the pills without argument.  She must really be hurting if she’s not arguing with me.  Dani could see the pain in Jamie’s eyes.  “Hey, Jamie?” She said softly.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“You know you don’t have to pretend like it doesn’t hurt, right?  It’s okay to cry if you want to.”

 

Jamie gave her a quick nod and tight lipped smile.  She didn’t trust herself to speak in that moment.  Dani’s gentleness alone was enough to move her to tears.

 

Dani hovered over Jamie’s ankle with an ACE bandage.  “Compression will help,” she explained.  “Is it okay if I touch your ankle?”

 

“I really wish you wouldn’t,” Jamie admitted, the pain shooting up her leg.

 

“I know, baby, but I have to.  I know it will hurt, but I want to help you.  Please let me?”

 

Jamie gritted her teeth.  “Yeah, okay, reckon you’ll fuss until I let you, so might as well get it over with.”

 

“I’ll be careful,” Dani promised.

 

“I know you will.”

 

Jamie closed her eyes and winced as Dani gently wrapped her ankle.  It hurt, but Dani’s touch was soft.

 

“Are you done?” Jamie asked tentatively, opening one eye and squinting at Dani.

 

“With your ankle, yes, but now I need to take a look at the rest of you.  You’ve got some cuts I need to tend to.”

 

“Dani, I can do that myself.  You don’t need to—“

 

“I want to.  Jamie, you always take such good care of me.  Is it really so hard to let me do the same for you?”

 

The question was gentle and tears welled in Jamie’s eyes.  “Yes, it is hard for me,” she confessed.

 

“Why?” Dani asked, laying a gentle hand on Jamie’s thigh, rubbing her thumb over the fabric of her shorts.

 

“Because no one’s ever taken care of me before.  Not until you, Dani.  I guess… I guess I just don’t feel worthy of the attention, if I’m being honest.  Feel more comfortable doing the taking care of.”

 

Dani smiled sadly.  “You are so worthy of love, Jamie, and I will spend the rest of my life convincing you of that.”  She leaned in and placed a soft kiss to Jamie’s lips.  She then kissed the tears off Jamie’s face, carefully cradling her face in her hands.

 

“Now about those cuts,” Dani said, finally pulling away and looking into Jamie’s eyes.

 

Jamie sniffled and nodded her consent.  Dani started on Jamie’s legs, carefully sanitizing each cut, bandaging it, and then finally kissing it.  Jamie watched her with rapt attention.  Then Dani reverently took each of Jamie’s arms and did the same, covering even the slightest scrape in Neosporin and sealing it with a band-aid and a kiss.  She worked slowly and methodically, allowing her fingers to linger on Jamie’s skin.  She took both of Jamie’s hands in her own, turning them around, looking for injuries.

 

“Your hands look fine,” Dani said, surprised.

 

Jamie nodded.  “Yeah, I uh, tried to protect them on the way down.  Figure they are my most valuable assets.”

 

Dani blushed.  “Oh… I… uh… yeah, I mean, you won’t hear any argument from me on that.  Uh, good job.  Thank you.”  Dani gave Jamie an awkward salute.

 

“What the hell are you going on about, Poppins?” Jamie asked, confused.  Then understanding dawned.  Jamie laughed.

 

“Why are you laughing?”

 

“I was referring to my plants, Dani, you know, my livelihood and all that,” Jamie said through fits of laughter, “But umm yeah, that, too.”

 

“Oh my god!” Dani exclaimed, embarrassed.  And then she too burst into laughter.

 

“I’m glad to hear you’re such a fan of these hands though,” Jamie said, pleased.

 

Dani raised an eyebrow.  “Don’t think I’ve ever been quiet about it.”

 

“Oh, you definitely haven’t.” 

 

Jamie grimaced as she moved too suddenly.

 

“Hey, it’s okay.  Try not to move too much, okay?” Dani said, concern flooding her body.  She noticed a few leaves lodged in Jamie’s hair, and she carefully began running her fingers through Jamie’s curls, plucking out all of the leaves and debris collected in the fall.  Jamie watched her intently the whole time, marveling that this kind woman was in love with her.  “There you are,” Dani proclaimed, as the last offending leaf was removed, proud of her work.

 

“I feel throughly tended to.  Thank you, Dani,” Jamie said softly.

 

Dani took Jamie’s face in her hands again and leaned in to place a kiss on her forehead.  Jamie sighed in contentment.   But they both knew they had to move.  It was dusk and they needed to make camp.

 

Jamie braced herself against the tree as she stood up, sucking in a breath as she adjusted to the pain in her ankle.  Dani was right next to her, slipping a strong arm around her waist.  Jamie threw her arm over Dani’s shoulder, gripping tightly.

 

“I’ve got you.  You can lean on me,” Dani said.

 

“I don’t want to be too much of a burden.”

 

“You never could be, Jamie.”

 

Jamie nuzzled her head into Dani’s neck in thanks, overwhelmed by it all.

 

“Come on, baby.  We can do this,” Dani said, encouraging Jamie the whole way.

 

It was hard and slow work, but the two made it back up the slope and onto the trail.  They walked until they found a safe place to make camp.  They had practiced putting the tent up in their living room and got it assembled quickly, Dani doing most of the work. They ate dinner and talked until the sun went down, finally turning on their lantern and deciding to get some rest.

 

“Oh no, Dani.”

 

“What’s wrong?” Dani asked, concerned.

 

“My sleeping bag’s gone!  Shit!  It must have fallen off my backpack in the fall, and I didn’t notice.”

 

Dani was unrolling her purple sleeping bag in the tent.  “It’s okay, Jamie, you can share mine.”

 

Jamie eyed her suspiciously.  “Dani, love, did you chuck my sleeping bag just to get me in your’s?”

 

Dani scoffed.  “I did no such thing.  Now come on, let’s go to bed.”

 

Dani helped Jamie into the tent and into her sleeping bag.  She then slid in next to her and zipped them in together.  They both giggled as they tried to fit in the one-person sleeping bag, eventually realizing the only way it worked was if they both laid on their sides.  Jamie let out a slight whimper, her body finally giving into the hurt.  Dani scooted closer to her, spooning her and lightly resting her hand around Jamie’s stomach.

 

“Is this okay?” She whispered.  She could feel Jamie nod in response.

 

“Please hold me like this all night?”  Jamie sounded so fragile.

 

“I will.”  Dani slid her hand under Jamie’s shirt, rubbing soothing circles on Jamie’s skin and peppered her neck and shoulders with kisses.

 

“And Dani?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“You’ll protect me from the bears?  A little worried I can’t outrun them now.”

 

Dani chuckled.  “I put the bear spray under the pillow… just in case.”

 

“Good girl.”

 

Dani hummed.  “Goodnight.”

 

The next morning, Jamie and Dani began the long hike back.  Jamie leaned heavily on Dani, grumpy that she couldn’t do it on her own.  But Dani encouraged her the whole way, even listing all the reasons she loved her.  They went slow and took frequent breaks, but they stumbled out of the woods together by late afternoon, both of them exhausted from the effort.

 

Dani drove Jamie straight to the E.R., where she held her hand the entire time.  Five hours later, Jamie left with a boot on her foot, thankful that it was only a bad sprain.

 

That night, they sat on their couch.  Jamie was curled against Dani’s side, resting her head on Dani’s shoulder.  Dani had a protective arm around her, holding her securely.  She gently ran the back of her other hand up and down Jamie’s face.  Dani knew how much the motion soothed her.

 

Jamie was tired from the pain meds and hurt all over, but she reveled in the feeling of Dani.  Her Dani. She felt safest when she was in Dani’s comforting arms, knowing it was the only place she could truly be vulnerable. Only Dani got to see her like this.

 

“Thank you,” she mumbled, sleep taking over.

 

“For what?” Dani asked sincerely.

 

“Taking care of me.  Never leaving my side.  All of it.”

 

“Jamie, your side is the only place I ever want to be.”

 

Jamie kissed Dani’s cheek.  “I love you.”

 

“I love you, too, baby.”

 

Knowing they were both too tired to make it to bed, Dani shifted so she was laying down, pulling Jamie down on top of her.  Jamie’s familiar weight made Dani feel safe.  Jamie sighed contentedly as she laid her head on Dani’s chest.  And with Dani’s arms wrapped around her, she fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.  Dani kissed the top of her head and soon followed her into sleep. 

 

And there was Jamie— waiting for her in her dreams.