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this will be our year (took a long time to come)

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Spring

Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs 

Cover eggs just with cool water and a splash of white vinegar. Bring to a spirited boil, then remove from heat for 8 minutes. A favorite for Easter, other pagan rituals of rebirth and new beginnings, or just a snack. 

***

 

The leak comes trickling down the first week of March, just before Jamie is due back to her regular schedule at Bly. In living memory of all her years in the English countryside, she cannot remember a rainier beginning to spring, thinks of the mud that must be getting tracked into that great, good house. 

She notices it stepping out of her bathroom, toothbrush hanging from the side of her mouth. The rain outside had been so deafening that it obscured the sound of the single drop landing square in the middle of her living room. Jamie looks up at it and squints. She scratches her lower belly, between her white briefs and her tank top, and then she retreats to the bathroom to rinse and spit.

The phone beside her couch begins to ring when she steps out again, wiping her mouth. She picks it up and drops it back into the cradle in the same motion, fetches her cigarettes from the same table, and takes note of the time on the clock—12 PM noon even, just about. A pot will do for the leak for now, while she runs out for another carton of smokes and eggs for breakfast and something silly and small to eat all day so she doesn’t have to think about dinner. 

The phone rings again just as she’s pulling on her waxed jacket to leave the apartment. She barely glances back in before shutting the door and locking it. She’s got one more week before she’s due back at Bly. 

***

a prologue to spring 

 

The next morning, Jamie has the kind of hangover that you taste in your mouth the whole next day. The kind that keeps you teetering right on the razor’s edge of barfing your brains out. She is still in all of her clothes from the previous evening, but when she turns in bed the space next to her is empty. No Dani. For a moment she wonders if the whole thing was a dream, but then she turns the other way and sees the carefully laid out aspirin and water. And she hears, downstairs, the sounds of breakfast carrying on.

Not a dream, then. She can’t quite parcel out if she finds that fortunate or unfortunate. 

After doing her best to make herself look presentable in the mirror of Dani’s bedroom (there’s nothing to be done, she decides—her entire outfit has been pressed into one permanent wrinkle. If the children are scandalized by this, so be it) she makes her way down to the kitchen. Before she registers anything, Jamie notes that it’s bright. And loud. 

Dani is at the table looking miserable but clearly attempting to pay some mind to Flora as she explains a drawing she’s done. Miles is watching this with scant interest while Hannah and Owen sit on the other side, also looking faintly green, their breakfast plates in front of them untouched. At least Jamie is in good company.

“Morning, you lot.” Owen and Hannah make a passing effort not to look too surprised to see her, but their eyebrows still raise in unison. Dani doesn’t look up, nor does Flora. “What’s on the menu today, mate?”

“Uh, sausages.” Owen smiles. “And there’s brew on the stove, if you want it.”

“Thank fuck.” Hannah and Dani both verbally protest. Jamie rolls her eyes. “Thank goodness.

“I didn’t realize you’d stayed last night, dear.” Hannah says as Jamie pours herself a mug, hip cocked against the sink. She takes a long sip, hoping for comfort, but even tea sits in her stomach like toxic waste. It’s a shame, too. Owen’s sausages are her favorite. 

“Roads were bad. And I was piss—” Hannah and Dani both look at her witheringly. “Tired. Knackered, really.”

“I wish I’d known, I would have made a bed for you.” 

Jamie is opening her mouth when Flora cuts in, not looking up from her drawing. She’s adding something in pink crayon, head tilted as if trying to get the angle just right. “She didn’t need one. Jamie and Miss Clayton had a sleepover last night.” 

Children, Jamie thinks, are shite at reading the room. Flora seems completely unaware of the levels of hidden conflict that occur between the four adults at that moment. Dani pales, and then looks up at Jamie like a frog that’s just been pinned for a science project that involves removing it’s internal organs. Jamie shrugs and shakes her head. 

“They were quite loud coming up the stairs.” Flora continues, tongue now sticking out from between her teeth in concentration. “And when I came out of my room for a glass of water, Miss Clayton was crying.” She does look up then, pressing the back of the crayon against her forehead as if to pinpoint the memory in her mind. “So I thought, maybe they’re going to cheer each other up. Or have sex.”

Owen chokes on something. Dani, already pale as a sheet, turns whiter and opens her mouth. “Flora, that’s private between Jamie and Miss Clayton.” Hannah interjects before either can get a word in edgewise. But she’s not looking at Flora when she says it, rather fixing Dani and Jamie with an inscrutable expression. “ Very private. Young girls don’t need to be preoccupied with—”

“Why?” Flora interrupts, sounding peevish. “It’s just kissing. Kissing laying down. And then you have a baby.” She sighs. “It would be marvelous to have a baby in the house. It’s been so dreadfully boring lately.” 

“I think.” Owen thumps his hands down against the table. “We should all take a little stroll outside, get some fresh air, good for the constitution. Jamie, Miss Clayton, do you mind doing the washing up?” 

“But I don’t want to—”

“I’m not done with my—”

Owen fixes Miles and Flora with a look that indicates the suggestion is not optional. Each of them grumbling, they stand up and follow Owen out of the kitchen. Hannah stays near Flora, and Jamie hears her whisper “let’s have a little talk on our walk, shall we?” 

The silence that follows their departure is long, sticky, terrible. Dani sits at the table with her hands folded in front of her and Jamie stays at the sink. “Those children,” She says, willing to do anything to break the ice. “Could benefit mightily from public schoolin’.” 

Dani lets out a long, pained groan and her head falls to the table with a thud. “Fuck! God, that was mortifying. I’m so—” She pulls her head back up and runs her hands through her hair, still not looking at Jamie. “I have to go catch up with them—explain to Flora…”

“I’ll come with you.” Jamie sets her mug on the counter, but Dani is already shaking her head as she stands.

“No, no, that will just make it worse.”

“Blimey.” Jamie barks out a half-laugh. She tries to bury some of the sting she feels, but figures that it bubbles up anyway.

“I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be mean. I just feel ill, and I…” Dani places two hands on the back of the chair in front of her and leans on them, letting her head hang down for a moment. She shakes it. Jamie can’t count how many times she’s done that exact motion in the last 20 minutes; sublimated herself, said no, rejected the whole situation. “...last night was so, so unprofessional. And it shouldn’t have happened.”

Jamie can’t hide the pinch of that. She looks down, abashed. “Right. Message received.”

“Wait. Wait. I feel like I’m not—” Dani looks a little desperate now, a little confused. But Jamie is already leaving the kitchen. Dani reaches out as if to try and stop her on her way out, but Jamie angles away. 

“Wasn’t even meant to be here this mornin’.” Jamie turns and faces Dani, feeling spiteful, trying not to show it. “ You asked me to stay.”

A flash of it passes through Jamie’s memory. Folding Dani into her bed, Dani whispering can you stay up here with me? At the time, it had felt like something. Jamie flushes at the memory, at her own stupidity at indulging it.

“Yes, I did.” Dani says quietly. “And I’m not talking about that.”

But Jamie already feels scorned, indignant. And at this point in her life, after her years in the system, the scorning doesn’t even have to make sense for Jamie to root herself in it. To be unreasonable about it. Her stomach is churning with tea, bile, alcohol. She needs to go home, vomit, brush her teeth and go back to bed. “It’s fine, Dani. Just—it’s fine.” 

“It doesn’t feel fine.” Dani says as she retreats. “Jamie, it doesn’t feel fine!” She’s calling, but Jamie already has her back turned and is halfway out the door. 

***

Auggie, when she shows up, looks like a drowned rat. Jamie keeps her in the kitchen, dripping onto the linoleum, while she fetches her only other towel from the bathroom. Then she makes her strip down to nothing but her briefs and undershirt and towel her head, spraying droplets as she does.

Jamie watches her, grabbing beers from the fridge, and feels suddenly so affectionate that she could gather Auggie into her arms and cradle her. Like sometimes happens when she sees Flora saving bugs from drowning in puddles or when Miles hangs his little sister’s crayon drawings up on the walls of his room—deep cherishing from an unknowable wellsource. Even sexless, there’s a kind of intimacy that remains between them like residue on someone’s fingertips. 

They sit on the couch like that, in their underwear with the leak dripping into a pot right in front of the television. Jamie’s flipping through channels, occasionally stopping on anything that looks good (the last half hour of a favored movie, a good episode of a TV show they’ve seen a million times before) they jeer at a BBC newscast of Ronald Reagan, looking waxy and villainous. 

“Goin’ back full time tomorrow?”

Jamie hmms in affirmation, not really looking away from the television. There’s a rugby match on. 

“Gonna see Diane?”

“Dani.” Jamie corrects without thinking. She winces and looks sidelong at Auggie. The other woman is hiding a smile against the lip of a beer bottle. “Suspect so, seeing as we’re colleagues. ” 

“Ah.” Auggie nods slowly. “Thought you were—”

“We’re not.” Jamie interjects sharply, and too quickly to be casual. Auggie’s eyes are glittering. “Thought maybe something might happen, but it was stupid.”

“Bet it wasn’t stupid.” Auggie shrugs, looks thoughtful. “I mean, if you thought it was somethin’, it was probably somethin’.” 

“Maybe so.” Jamie crosses her arms over her chest and sinks into the couch. “She was just experimenting, probably.”

“She told you that?”

“No.”

“Well.” Auggie’s eyes flick back to the TV where two men smash into each other, their bodies vibrating with the impact. Jamie can see the gears turning in her head, and Auggie is a bit like Dani in that way—always thinkin’. It makes Jamie nervous. She knits her brows together. “You never really know how a person means something. Maybe if you asked her...” 

The chasm between Jamie’s brow deepens. Auggie is looking at her now, balancing the beer on one of her knees. Jamie can see the condensation on the skin beneath it. She thinks about that day last winter that she’d rejected her, how Auggie had snuffed out that cigarette under her boot and drifted away. She puffs out a breath through her nose. Always thinking so much and saying so precious little. 

There’s a flippant remark on her lips, but instead what comes out is: “I’ll think about it.” She turns away then, but can feel Auggie’s smile on the side of her face. Jamie figures that she owes it to Auggie, at least, to be a little brave. Braver than she’d normally be, anyway.

***

 

The next day, her first back at Bly, brings downpour the likes of which she’d not seen in years. Her old pickup, perhaps in protest of the bad weather, makes a viable threat not to start. Breath puffing in front of her, Jamie lays her head on the steering wheel. “Not today. Please, Christ.” She whispers, and cranks the key once more in the ignition.

The car rumbles dangerously. Then it smoothes into the regular sound of the engine and she peels off from the curb.

It’s a quiet drive, not yet light out. If she didn’t know her way around the grounds like the back of her hand, she would have had to find a flashlight to navigate to the greenhouse in the predawn darkness. As she passes the house, she sees a light from the upstairs turn on and a figure appearing in front of it. Jamie squints, wonders briefly who would be up at such an hour, then trudges on through soggy grass.

Her question is answered an hour later by the opening of the greenhouse door and a timid “good morning.” Jamie knows who it is before she’s turned her head away from the flower she’s busy misting. 

“Poppins.” She sets the spray bottle down and picks up a rag next to it to wipe the dirt from her hands. When she turns, Dani is looking frustratingly radiant. She’s got on her slicker, hair pulled into a high ponytail and her hands clasped in front of her. Jamie, feeling flustered, pulls the arm of her coveralls back to glance at her wristwatch. “It’s half-eight.”

“What’re you listening to?” Dani says, in lieu of an answer to the unfinished question. She looks past Jamie’s shoulder to the boombox on the shelf behind her. Her lips quirk into a smile. “Is this Joni Mitchell?”

“The plants like it.” Jamie sniffs. “Little early to be up snooping around, isn’t it?”

“Owen said you’d be coming back early today. I just wanted to…” Dani trails off, her lips and mouth working a little bit, as if she’s chewing the words that she wants to say. “I was hoping we could talk. Before the kids got up. I don’t like the way we left it.”

Jamie’s first responses, petulant, flash through her head. Talk about what? And Let’s just forget about it. But Auggie’s face follows them and, to her chagrin, Jamie finds herself pushing past the muck to try and offer something more productive. It feels like trying to fish a pearl from the guts of a mollusk, slimy and wretched. “I was being a cunt.” Dani’s face registers surprise, either at the admission or her harsh language. Jamie carries on regardless. “Wasn’t listening to ya, when you were trying to explain yourself.”

“I was being mean. And not,” Dani licks her lips. “Expressing myself well. I don’t really know how to express myself about this, to be honest.”

Jamie chuckles. “Dunno a person on God’s earth who does.” A silence stretches between them, but it’s not uncomfortable. Dani is looking and Jamie and Jamie is looking at Dani and to her, it feels like they’re sizing each other up. Placing each other in the world like a chess piece. “Did Flora…”

“Oh.” Dani blanches noticeably. “Hannah talked to her, I don’t know. She knows you can’t get me pregnant now.” The blood that had just left Dani’s face appears to flood back all at once in a rapid, scarlet blush. Jamie raises an eyebrow. 

“How would Hannah know a thing like that?”

Dani’s mouth opens and shuts like a fish and Jamie laughs, probably for the first time in weeks, long and hard. “You’re teasing me.”

“Me? Never.” Jamie looks to her hands, feeling the levity of the moment get caught in the back of her throat and wither there. “Did you tell her we didn’t—” 

“I didn’t know what to say about...that.” Dani takes a few tentative steps closer. The rain is pounding on outside, and there’s a gray light pressing through the clouds, and she looks softer than Jamie thinks she’s ever seen her. Jamie takes a deep breath and chokes on it, watching Dani’s continuing approach with a mix of anticipation and wariness.

They’re close then, close enough that Jamie can see Dani look up at her through her eyelashes. Jamie reflects on this for an incredulous moment—her, here, in the midst of the thing that romance novels are made of. Once upon a time, in her youth, maybe she had imagined herself as some kind of roguish, troubled hero. She could have perhaps even seen herself as deserving of what Dani wants to give. What that could possibly be, the extent of it, the contours of it, Jamie still doesn’t know. A simple peek behind the curtain and into her fantasies, mostly a courtesy due to Jamie’s role in them? Or something deeper, more physical, more touch-involved? She has to swallow the thought back like a horse pill. Jesus wept.   “I know we didn’t, technically, but I—”

“Miss Clayton!” They jolt apart. Jamie realizes belatedly that her hands are shaking and tucks them into the pockets of her coveralls. Hannah is shrouded when she enters the greenhouse, wearing a large rain jacket. She pulls the hood down when she passes the threshold. “Jamie, good morning.” Her nose wrinkles. “Is that Joni Mitchell?”

Jamie reaches out and hits the pause button on the boombox. Hannah’s attention has already turned to Dani. “Dear, you’re needed inside for a moment.”

“Are the kids okay?”

“They’re fine.” Hannah smiles reassuringly. “Haven’t woken up yet, even. Mr. Wingrave is on the phone.”

Dani glances back at Jamie almost pleadingly. Jamie wonders if she’s as hesitant to leave the shroud of their conversation as Jamie is to let her go. They hadn’t even really gotten to address anything. “Everything alright?”

“Perfectly.” Hannah smiles tightly. She looks stressed, Jamie notes.

“Okay.” She says, finally, seemingly deciding not to push it. At least not there in the greenhouse, sandwiched between two different conversations. “Bye, Jamie.”

“Poppins. Hannah.” As they leave, Jamie turns back to the plant in front of her. She supposes that she should continue working, but finds that she has suddenly and briefly forgotten everything she knows about gardening or even what she had been doing moments before. Dani’s smell, clean and sharp, lingers in the air all around her. Jamie presses play again, and decides that, at the very least, she has the rest of the day to come back into herself.

***

Gossip at Bly has always followed a certain hierarchy. Lady Wingrave, God rest her soul, was a prolific tattle. In the old days, if something started with Hannah, it ended there. But if Owen or Lady Wingrave got ahold of it, it was certain to trickle it’s way down to Jamie in one way or another. Either directly or because Flora overheard, which happened more and more as she got older. Then, of course, Hannah and Owen got sweet, and even things that Hannah knew were not safe from the giant ear of the house.

Jamie is sure that she will find out the form and substance of Henry Wingrave’s call in one way or another. And that afternoon, when the rain has slowed to a trickle and she’s hauling a wheelbarrow full of dead matter from the garden beds, she sees Flora’s pink rain jacket jostling toward her in the horizon. Jamie drops the wheelbarrow handles and waves. Flora waves back.

“Hi, Jamie.” She says when she gets near enough, looking a little out of breath from her jog. Her hood is up but pressed back behind her ears, and tawny flyaway hairs stick up from the humidity. “Miss Clayton wanted me to fetch you for tea time.”

Jamie’s eyes flick above Flora’s head to the house beyond and then back to her face, smiling. “I’ll be missing this one ‘m afraid. If I come in from the rain now, I’ll never come back out.”  Flora frowns, looking like she’s fixing to say something else. “Quite the tizzy in there today, isn’t it?”

“Oh.” She says, kicking some mud with her rain boot. “Yes. Uncle Henry called this morning, now everybody has the vapors about it.”
Jamie hums. “Coming to visit, I reckon?”

Flora nods fiercely. “I heard Miss Clayton talking on the phone with him, when I came downstairs for breakfast. She sounded so sad, but like she was trying to hide it.” Her face pinches all together in that distinctly Flora way she has. The way that tells Jamie she’s puzzling something out. Jamie wonders for a moment if Flora will remember her in the way Jamie is certain she’ll always remember Flora. “Do you think he’s going to take us to London?”

Jamie fights down a wave of melancholy. “Dunno about that, sprout. You’ll have to ask him when he gets here.”

Another nod. Flora is digesting this information, this lack of a complete and satisfying answer. Jamie is so used to Miles’s prematurely adult disposition, but to see Flora adopt it as well grieves her. She searches for another comforting word, something certain, but comes up with nothing. 

“Anyway, you must come in.” Flora says finally. “Miss Clayton is beside herself about it.”

Jamie’s eyebrows raise. “Aye?”

“It’s all she’s talked about all morning. She’s worried about you catching cold.” Flora stuffs her hands into the pocket of her rain jacket. “I fear if you don’t come with me, we may never hear the end of it.”

Jamie laughs at that, at the look of real consternation on her young face. She picks up the arms of the wheelbarrow again. “You can tell Miss Clayton I’ll be in when I’m finished.” 

“I think she has a little crush on you, you know.” Flora says, sagely. Jamie’s mouth drops open at the same time she emits a sharp, surprised laugh.

“Oi! Cheeky.” But Flora has already turned around and started off toward the house. Jamie watches her go, her pink jacket fading into the fog surrounding the house. Then she begins the arduous task of pushing the wheelbarrow through the mud.

***

 

By the end of the night, Jamie has made peace with the idea that they'll not have another chance to talk. She does go in a few hours later, and Dani fusses over her, stripping off her wet jacket before she’s even properly in the kitchen. But then Flora falls playing hide and seek with Miles, and Dani leaves, and Jamie has her re-warmed tea in the kitchen with Owen. 

Early spring is always a busy time for her. The beds need to be cleared, a map made of where things should be planted. Then there’s the greenhouse work, and the dead leaves and fallen branches leftover in the gutters. And if Mr. Wingrave is really coming the next weekend, the yard will have to be looking spic and span, which stresses Jamie greatly. The rain has the whole grand place waterlogged and covered in mud. 

By the end of it, she hadn't even eaten lunch. Her bones hurt and she’s damp in the way that only a long shower and diving in bed will fix. It’s dark out again when she trudges down the driveway and to her truck, only realizing that Dani has been speed walking toward her when she’s very near. She has a hat in her hand that Jamie immediately realizes is one of Lady Wingrave’s floppy, frilly things from when she kept a hobby garden around back. Jamie eyes it in bemusement. 

“Hannah knows you have that?” She drawls. Dani’s brows knit and she looks down at it.

“I guess so, I—” She swallows. “I needed an excuse to come out here, so I told her I was bringing you something you forgot.”

Jamie can’t help but let out a sharp chuckle at that. She reaches out and fingers the teal ribbon tied in an enormous bow around the middle. “Not really my style, but—”

Dani reaches out and clasps Jamie’s hand with her free one. Jamie is startled by this, by the suddenness of it and by the way it sends electricity shooting through her body. Dani looks both determined and hugely, terribly frightened. She opens her mouth once, and then closes it. She licks her lips.

“I meant it, what I said that night.” Is what she ultimately decides on saying. “And what I said today. I’m not really sure how to talk about it.”

“Poppins, it’s okay. We don’t need to talk about it now.”

“I want to talk about it.” Dani huffs. “I feel like I spent so long not talking about it. And now that I know, I—” She’s stepped closer as she talks. The hat is pushed and crumpled between them, still clasped in Dani’s other hand. She holds tight to Jamie’s, arms dangling to the side. “I feel like I can’t go backwards from here. But I also don’t know where here is. And I want to know before we...”

Jamie’s breath stutters at the low, syrupy whisper that Dani’s voice has become. She thinks about her younger self again. Jaime, cocky and 19, with a wet drip of cocaine perpetually in the back of her throat and a regular only to bars that happened to be in basements. Jamie who would dance cheek to cheek with women twice her age, women taller than her, women with husbands at home. That Jamie, she reckons, would have flung the car door open and dragged Dani into it and been three fingers deep without much worry about how she herself felt about it or how it looked to other people. 

But now she's Jamie who gets cranky when she misses her 2 PM tea. And for the first time in a while, she feels a sort of fondness for that other girl, a regretfulness that she hadn’t hung on to more of her. Her emotions were raw, and loud, and inappropriate, but christ—at least she had them out. Had them in her hands like a knife. Now she struggles, swimming against twin currents of arousal and something else, something that inspires anxiety tight and deep in her belly. 

“No reason we ought to do that. Go backwards.” Jamie whispers back. They float together for a moment. Dani’s eyes are hooded and Jamie can see that telltale blush on her chest, and in the same look realizes how deep her breathing has become. Her free hand drops and without thinking she slides her hand against the small of Dani’s back. Amazingly, tragically, her shirt rides up and Jamie’s fingers brush against skin. Dani’s breath stutters and a small, almost imperceptible groan slips out of her mouth. 

Dani’s hand drops Jamie’s, causing a moment of acute loss. But she quickly reaches between them to grip Jamie’s shirt, using it as leverage to position them just a little bit closer. “I don’t know what to do. I had this whole thing planned out, everything I wanted to say, but now I feel like I can’t remember.” She murmurs. Her hand fists the shirt tighter and pulls Jamie in until, like magnets, they’re orbiting but still repelled by an invisible force. Jamie’s eyes flick up for a moment and she stills. “You make me forgetful. I’m forgetting that I want to do this right.” 

“Sorry to say it,” she murmurs, looking over Dani’s shoulder. “But I think we have an audience.”

Dani looks over her shoulder and, sure enough, there are four shadows visible against the first floor window. Startled, she takes a step back. Jamie grabs the hat before it can fall to the ground, holding it slightly crumpled against her chest with one hand. Dani laughs a little, breathless. 

“I guess I should, uh—”

Jamie nods, sharply and does her best to smile. “I’ll be back tomorrow, hey?”

This seems to cheer Dani a little. She brightens. “Yeah.” She says. “Tomorrow.”

The world takes on a surreal texture when Jamie watches Dani walk back down the drive, hat still clutched to her chest. For so many years, she has known exactly what the next day will bring. This is by self design. For those same years, her conviction has kept her out of prison, out of trouble, out of love. Jamie feels the little cracks in her plan now, like rubbing your tongue over a cut in your mouth. On that spring night in 1988, in the Wingrave’s driveway, damp and keen-feeling and holding that stolen hat for dear life, she can sense the holy mess beginning to seep in.

Jamie huffs out a breath and tilts her head up to look at the cloudy sky. Tomorrow it was, then.

***

Jamie wakes up late the next day and thus doesn’t get to Bly until after breakfast. As with yesterday, the house is in a tizzy before Mr. Wingrave’s visit. Hannah greets her with a harried look and gently scolds her for tracking mud in the house before shooing Jamie out to get the last of the wet slop off of the chapel roof. 

It’s the first day in a week with no rain, so Dani has let the children out to run wild like the feral animals they are. Jamie can hear them squeal and tussle as she stands on the ladder, sweeping off an entire winter’s worth of tree detritus and scooping it from the gutter. The laughter and yelling comes closer. She rolls her eyes. 

Job done, Jamie begins to descend the ladder. She can hear the children coming ever closer until she finally sees them, Miles holding something likely stolen and Flora coming after him in a rage. She’s four rungs from the bottom when they come sweeping past her, and Jamie scarcely has time to shout for them to slow down before they’ve rattled the ladder so much that she loses her footing and crashes to the soggy, muddy ground. 

For a moment, everything is black. She begins blinking back into consciousness and taking stock of her body--nothing feels broken, but there’s a dull, persistent ache in the side that she’d landed on. When she fully opens her eyes, Flora is above her, face wide and bright with concern. “Jamie.” She whispers. “Are you dead?”

Jamie groans and flips over onto her back, squinting up at Flora. Miles is a few feet behind her, wringing his hands. She manages to gather her body up onto her elbows. “‘M not dead. But I need you to run and tell Miss Clayton and Mrs. Grose that I’m hurt.” Taking stock, Jamie realizes how much mud she’d fallen in. She reaches up and picks a twig with a leaf attached out of her hair. “And that I need a shower.” 

Without missing a beat, Flora turns and hollers. “Miss Clayton! Mrs. Grose!” And takes off running so fast that Jamie is worried she’s going to slip and fall. Miles casts her a worried glance, but Jamie just shakes her head at him. “Go on, mate. Follow your sister.” And he does.

It takes a minute, but Dani and Hannah come trotting back on Flora’s heels. They fuss and tut, help her up and walk her back to the manor house. They decide that a doctor isn't necessary yet, but a hot shower is. Jamie can’t lift the arm on the side of her body that she’s landed on, but she puts the other on Hannah’s shoulder, and Hannah totes her weight admirably. 

The thing that Jamie has discovered about being hurt is that so much happens around you so quickly that you can blink your eyes and suddenly be somewhere else. In this case, Jamie blinks and finds herself in Dani’s bedroom, sitting on the bench at the foot of her bed, with her coveralls zipped down. Dani herself is standing in front of her, worrying her thumbnail in her mouth. There’s a tension in the room that is readily apparent even as Jamie feels that she’s just teleported herself there. 

“Do you want me to—” Jamie blinks. “Turn around?” She looks down at herself, covered in mud and debris, and realizes what Dani is saying. Yes. The shower. To take a shower, you traditionally have to take your clothes off. 

“Can’t lift my arm, really.” Dani bites her thumb so hard that Jamie is afraid she’s going to sever it completely, like a carrot. “If you could…”

“Right. Of course. That’s why I’m here!” A manic chuckle. Dani’s eyes are flitting all over her and land, finally, at her feet. “I’ll just.” She swallows, audibly. “Your boots, first.”

Jamie is opening her mouth to say something, though she isn’t sure what. Perhaps offering that Owen or Hannah can help her? Or that she’ll just shower in her coveralls and worry about the rest later? But Dani, with an eagerness that she had buried well under her anxious energy, is already on her knees in front of her. Jamie covers the surprised grunt that escapes her with a little cough. 

She stares at the ceiling while Dani works. Somewhere distant, in a universe above Jamie’s head, there’s the pressure of her shoelaces coming undone, of Dani separating the sides of her boot from the tongue. The pop as one and then the other comes free of her ankle. She figures she can get through the rest of it like this, just pretending that the person taking off her clothes is anybody else.

Then, somewhere in that distant universe, there’s a sensation at her heel. She looks down and sees first that both of her boots are off and discarded somewhere off to the side. Below her, Dani is gently touching her right foot. There’s nothing wrong with it—other than the fact that she’s wearing two different socks from her rush to get out of bed that morning. The right one is shorter than the left, the end of it hitting just at her ankle. Jamie swallows and watches as Dani, transfixed, rubs her thumb against the bony bump on the side of her ankle. 

Dani flicks her eyes up to meet Jamie’s and just the sight of her like that, on her knees, looking at her as if asking what’s next? And is this okay? At the same time has the effect of two tectonic plates rubbing together. An earthquake, a tsunami. A tremor in the foot being held such that Dani reaches out to hold it with her other hand also.

“Maybe we should—”

“Yeah.” Dani clears her throat and stands, and Jamie stands too, at a loss for what else to do. Jamie expects that her next move would be pulling the coveralls down her arms and to her knees. Instead, Dani’s hands, soft and dry, slip into the opening of the coveralls and come to rest on Jamie’s waist. Dani seems as surprised by her action as Jamie is.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I did that.”

“That’s okay. You can—” Instead of explaining, Jamie uses her good hand to hold Dani’s elbow and guide her hand under the fabric of her t-shirt. They both shudder in unison at the feeling of skin on skin. “Okay?”

“Okay.” Dani nods feverishly. Her eyes are closed, but she slips the other hand underneath the shirt and begins to roam, touching every piece of skin available to her. The motion of it drags the coveralls off Jamie’s shoulders naturally and Dani, regrettably, pauses her actions to pull them down around her waist. 

Her hands go right back to where they were. Jamie feels like her legs aren’t going to hold her, especially as Dani presses her body in until they’re cheek to cheek. Especially when she feels Dani push her face into her hair and smell in one large inhale and in the same motion squeeze her hands around Jamie’s waist. It’s been a long time since she’s been touched like this, if she ever has. Like Dani is a schoolboy being allowed to go to second base for the first time. Her fingers skirt all around her stomach, her hips, and finally the edge of her bra.

“Not to bring this up again,” Dani’s voice is a warm breath against Jamie’s ear. It makes her shudder, melt. “But I’d really hoped we’d get to talk.”

“Yeah.” Jamie breathes. “We should definitely talk. Before we do anything else.”

“Okay.” They both push Jamie’s coveralls down until they’re pooled at her ankles and she’s able to step out and kick them to the graveyard of her socks and boots. Dani is tugging at the hem of her t-shirt then, with the kind of confidence that only comes from somebody in a fugue state. Jamie lets her, lifting her good arm. They pause then, looking at each other. There’s a dare hanging in the air, to go forward or to stop. Dani makes up her mind flint-quick. She breaks their gaze to go for Jamie’s pants button, sticking her hands between them to fumble with the zipper.

Their mouths are so close and they’re both breathing so hard. But nothing happens. The other woman’s face looks clouded, muddy with pleasure. Like somebody had reached inside of her and splashed around until silt long hidden at the bottom rose to the surface. The zipper comes down with a metallic hiss and neither hesitate before pulling Jamie’s pants down and discarding them. 

Jamie has her first moment of clarity then, standing in front of Dani in only briefs and a sports bra. The first-time shame of being nearly naked in front of a new person rises and is dispersed by Dani’s look. It’s not just the hunger, but the urgency underneath it. The desperation.

“I want to—can I—” Jamie nods, not really sure what she’s agreeing to. She’s going to end up naked one way or another. Dani steps back in and the feeling of her clothed against Jamie’s skin makes Jamie shudder. Her head falls against Dani’s shoulder. Dani’s face is in the crook of her neck too, puffing out breaths as she slips both hands under the waistband of Jamie’s underwear and feels her hips and thighs with open hands that are roaring with appetite. Jamie can’t help it—a soft, feminine sigh escapes her. When Dani echoes it, lost somewhere between her curls and the crook of her neck, she feels it in the center of her cunt. 

Her briefs go before her bra. Jamie squeezes her thighs together, a strange shame bubbling up that Dani might touch her inner thighs and discover the slickness there. That Dani might know how turned on she is. She fights the urge to laugh at herself as she feels Dani tug at her bra until it, too, crests over her head and is left at their feet. 

It doesn’t even feel strange to be naked. There’s a chill in the room and somewhere in the back of her mind, she recognizes that she’s in pain, although it feels far away now. Dani has fended it off with her looks and her touch and now, with the way she steps back just an inch and her hands smooth over Jamie’s stomach and Jamie honest-to-Christ groans and she feels the heels of her hands skirt around the wiry hair between her legs. 

“What happened to talkin’?” She asks, rhetorically and to nobody.

“What if I…” Dani swallows thickly, and presses them both back a step until Jamie’s knees bump the bench behind her. One of the hands that had been hemming at the apex of her thighs moves down until she’s nearly cupping it. Jamie emits a strangled gasp, grabs her wrist. “It’s okay. It’s okay. Jamie. I want to—do you want me to? I promise I can—” 

The knock at the door sends Dani flying back. It might have broken the moment if that wasn’t also the first time Dani was really looking at her full body, flushed and naked. Her mouth drops open and they stand there for a moment, chess pieces again, trying to reorient themselves. The knock again, more persistent this time. “Dear, are you in there? I brought towels.” A beat. “It’s Hannah.”

“Yes!” Dani calls, not tearing her eyes away from Jamie. She looks like she’s trying to take a long, thirsty drink of water before a period of drought. Then she turns, and she goes to the door and opens it just a crack to receive the towels. 

The next time she’s next to Jamie’s body, she’s pressing the towel into it, wrapping it around her. Still shellshocked, Jamie holds it up against her chest. She isn’t sure what she’s expecting when the fog of sexual tension rolls off of them. Embarrassment, maybe. Shame. But when she looks at Dani, the woman looks so achingly fond that it pulls something similar from Jamie. Something adjacent to wanting to kiss somebody, like she wants to take Dani’s face in her hands and rub their cheeks, their foreheads, their noses together.

“The bathroom is just there.” Dani says, gesturing to the doorway near her bed. “There’s shampoo, soap…” She trails off, smiles. “I’ll just—”

“Okay.” 

At the doorway, Dani wrings her hands. She’s still smiling, something that comforts Jamie amid all the resurfacing anxiousness. “I really like you, Jamie.” There’s a look on her face now like those aren’t the words she’d expected to leave her mouth. Jamie grips the towel tighter around her, feeling dumbstruck. “I want to do this right, I just keep getting—”

“I understand.” Jamie blurts, shifting from foot to foot. “‘S alright, I mean. I get it.”

“Okay. Well, um.” She clears her throat. “Have a good shower.” And then she’s gone, and Jamie is alone again.

***

She has to take the rest of the week off after that. She protests, of course—she’s missing valuable planting time, and the yard is going to look a mess when Mr. Wingrave gets there on the weekend, even though Miles and Flora had been relegated to yardwork as punishment. But Owen says if he sees her anywhere on the property he’ll chase her off with the shotgun. Although Jamie thinks it would be quite the sight, she decides not to push it.

“I’ll call you.” Dani says before she goes, and kisses Jamie on the cheek. Everybody’s watching, but she doesn’t really seem to care. The kiss, a four course meal and a promise, will tide Jamie over the whole week. 

A huge, thundering bruise erupts over the side of her body that had hit the ground. Auggie coos over it when she comes to visit, toting a sack of gifts from the book club. There’s nothing better when you’re hurt,  Jamie figures, than a bag full of gifts from a bunch of lesbians. There’s salves and tea and chocolates and crisps and zines that she’ll never read. 

“One of them’s pretty dirty.” Auggie says conspiratorially, holding up a zine with a cover displaying a rather colorful picture of Margaret Thatcher doing something odious. “Just so you know. I put one in there for Dani, too.”

“Noted.” Jamie laughs, and snatches it out of her hands. “She’ll be dead chuffed.”

Auggie leaves. The leak leaks. There’s nothing good on TV. Jamie’s body aches, but she finds enough fortitude in herself to drag it down to the bar beneath her apartment for a pint. By the time Sunday comes, she’s feeling a little better and deciding whether or not to test Owen’s shotgun threat. That’s when the phone rings.

She picks it up on the first ring, too eager to really be embarrassed. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Dani’s voice is smooth over the line. “It’s good to hear your voice again.” Jamie sinks into the couch cushions, feeling like a schoolgirl.

“Yours too.” She presses the phone tighter against her face as if it’s Dani’s hand, or her cheek. “You finally called.”

“Yeah.” Dani chuckles a little ruefully. “It’s been pretty crazy here with Mr. Wingrave’s visit and all—”

“—Is he—”

“—He left.” She sighs. “This morning.” Jamie is about to ask if it went well, but figures that the long silence that follows that statement is answer enough. She feels a twist in her stomach. “The kids are…”

“I bet.” Jamie licks her lips. “Y’know, I’m feeling a bit better—well, to be honest I’m going a bit mad here—and I thought—maybe I could rent a movie or something. Come down there tonight.” She pauses. “For the kids. To cheer ‘em up.”

“Oh.” Dani’s voice brightens. “I’m sure they’d love that.”

“You’ll have to keep the shotgun away from Owen, though.”

“What?” 

They hang up the phone and Jamie limps down to the general store, which boasts a selection of about 10 video tapes you can rent on good honor. There’s about five staples— Gone With the Wind and such—but Milton, the owner, does make a decent go of getting some new ones from London that he rotates though. Jamie ends up with The Princess Bride, something Flora’d been begging her to bring since she’d first read about it in the paper, and Moonstruck, for after the little ones went to bed. 

The VCR was a new addition to Bly. The children had begged for it, seeing as the closest movie theater was an hour away, and Mr. Wingrave had given in for Flora’s eighth birthday. It was a colossal thing, and the only person who’d ever used one before was Owen. He still has to fish the instruction manual out of one of the kitchen drawers and study it intently, one eager child peering over each shoulder.

“Thank you.” Dani whispers. They’re observing from the living room. “They’re really excited. It’s all they talked about since you called.”

“My pleasure.” A smile tugs at the corners of Jamie’s mouth. “They seem happy.”

“Yeah, and trust me, that was a feat.” Jamie hums. She doesn’t ask anything else, but she doesn’t need to. “Mr. Wingrave has good intentions, he just—he’s so eager to get them back to London, all the sudden. And they don’t want to leave.” Jamie watches on as Owen begins reading the instructions out in a silly voice. Flora giggles, delighted, and Miles rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling too. Hannah, behind them, is fixing hot chocolates.

 “Can’t blame ‘em.” She murmurs, and Dani smiles, touching her arm. The feeling of it, reasonably, should be dulled after all that had happened before her shower. But it still zips through Jamie’s body all the same. 

For the first movie, the children cram on the couch next to Dani and Hannah while Owen and Jamie are relegated to the two seater on the other side of the television. Fresh rain starts outside, to which Hannah tuts (“I thought we were finished with this, already”) but otherwise, Jamie thinks it creates quite a nice atmosphere. 

Miles and Flora eat so much candy that Jamie fears they won’t be able to settle after the movie is done. But by the time the credits roll, they’re each snoozing against one of Dani’s arms, Flora with a little string of drool at the corner of her mouth. There’s a little protesting, mostly from Miles who wants to stay up to watch the adult’s movie, but Dani gets them to bed without much of a fuss. 

By the time she comes back downstairs, Owen’s already moved to sit next to Hannah, and Dani comes to sit next to Jamie without drawing any attention to it. It feels natural, Jamie thinks as she slides the blanket over her lap, to have her here, so close. “I love Cher.” Hannah says, looking at the back of the box while Owen pushes the tape into the machine. Dani and Jamie’s eyes both flick to her, amused. 

The movie plays. Despite everything, Jamie feels a sense of intense relaxation float over her—her side still hurts, sure. There’s still this bubbling up thing between her and Dani that remains mostly unspoken. But this, a quiet night of watching a movie with friends, cuts through the noise. She finds herself letting her guard down and sinking back into the cushions.

Dani’s first move is innocuous. She shifts close enough so that their legs and shoulders and arms are pressed together. The first place Jamie’s eyes go is to Owen and Hannah. This is inconsequential, she knows: the two of them, firstly, are cozying up themselves. Secondly, Jamie would be hard pressed to believe that neither of them knew that something was going on between her and Dani. To see them sitting lover-close like this would come as no surprise.

Then, she looks at Dani. The other woman is still fixated on the TV until, it seems, she feels Jamie’s gaze on her. Then her eyes flick up, just for a second, and she smiles. Jamie doesn’t have time to mull over the sticky feeling it leaves in her stomach because the next thing that Dani does is take Jamie’s hand, which until that moment had been resting on her lap beneath the blanket, and move it to rest on her bare thigh.

Dani, Jamie reflects, had been wearing these high-waisted gym shorts with a T-shirt tucked in when she came down from putting the children to bed. At the time, other than her gaze stuttering on her legs for a moment, Jamie hadn’t thought much of it. They were in style, and more comfortable than the light wash jeans she’d been wearing earlier. Jamie’s own bedtime attire, when she’s at home, is a pair of basketball shorts and a Cure t-shirt. Nothing strange about it.

Now, she finds herself with a sudden handful of smooth, dry skin, and she can’t help but wonder if the move had been calculated. Has she ever seen Dani wearing shorts before? She wants to look again, but recognizes the fragility of her good fortune. There is a saying about gift horses and their mouths that Jamie doesn’t remember but thinks may be applicable.

Gamely, she opens her hand so her whole palm and all five fingers are holding the circumference of Dani’s thigh, just above her knee. This must tickle a little, because Dani jerks slightly and smiles. When Jamie goes to move her hand away, unsure, she grabs it and places it back firmly. Okay Jamie thinks, fine. 

On screen, Cher, wild-haired and stoic, gets ready to go to the opera with Nicholas Cage. Later, when thinking about this moment, Jamie will blame it on the romance of it all. She’s never been to New York, but the movie makes it look so enchanting, so sincere. Her hand, which had been planted in the same place, moves along Dani’s seams, pulled upward like a puppet. 

Under the blanket, Dani shifts. Jamie glances at her face, sees her blink twice, hard. Still, she doesn’t look back over although she knows Dani must feel her gaze. Her hand, still open as if begging for something, is now still on her upper thigh, threatening to be but not quite underneath the hem of her shorts. For a moment, Jamie thinks that might be the end of it. A little earnest, unpracticed intimacy. 

But then, Dani shifts again. And this time, she does it to put both feet on the ground and spread her legs, just a little. Not enough that if Hannah or Owen glanced over they might notice that something was going on, but enough to give Jamie’s hand more room to roam. Explore. Find. Take. She realizes that her thoughts are unspooling and tries to reel them in, but is finding it increasingly difficult. Imagines she can feel the tension of anticipation under the skin of Dani’s inner thigh. 

She moves her hand up, into the leg and under the cotton fabric of those gym shorts. Dani brings her thumbnail up to her mouth and bites. The skin of her thigh is chalky, soft, dry. Jamie has to bite back a noise when she feels the edge of Dani’s underwear, a few of the hairs that creep out the sides. Then, with a courage she wasn’t aware she possessed until it happens, she slides three fingers horizontally until they rest squarely on the center of Dani’s underwear.

The reaction is immediate. Dani’s eyes slam closed and her brows knit together and Jamie’s not sure that in her whole life she’s ever seen anything that erotic, feels fear of what’s to come with that being the case. The thought of it makes her come back into herself, and she almost moves her hand when, as if sensing this, Dani uses the hand underneath the blanket to cup Jamie’s over the fabric of her shorts, keeping her there. 

They sit like that for a moment. Jamie with her three fingers over Dani’s warm, increasingly damp-feeling panties, and Dani with her own hand cupping Jamie’s over the fabric of her shorts. The friction created by Dani’s hand and the restriction of the inside of her shorts is enough that Jamie only has to grind her fingers a little to make firm contact. The first press is experimental. Now watching her face more than the movie, Jamie sees Dani’s eyes flutter and struggle to stay open. Sees her lips part. The next is more confident. This time, Dani wiggles her whole body around, obviously trying to disguise it as an attempt to get more comfortable on the couch. 

They enter a rhythm. Jamie presses, Dani presses back. She moves her body in small ways, trying to find relief without attracting attention. But her face is now so plainly colored with pleasure that if Owen or Hannah were to look over, Jamie thinks they would certainly know immediately what was going on. To that end, she thinks they should stop, but the cacophony building around them makes it feel impossible. A kitchen full of Italians yelling. Owen yawning. Dani’s small, loud movements. The rain hitting the window panes. Jamie’s own heart, feeling saturated and open.

Jamie is rubbing with unmistakable purpose now; small, tight circles over Dani’s clit. Perhaps she had been playing coy earlier, perhaps they both had. That sort of creeping around corners dance that new lovers do, the kind that Jamie is all too familiar with. Tipping your hand just a little, just enough to let the other person know you’re interested without revealing anything else. 

All of that pretense had been quickly, tidily disposed of. Jamie is touching Dani to make her come, and she’s certain Dani knows, and she’s certain that neither of them are thinking about the consequences of the thing. What Jamie is thinking about is this: Dani had said she’d never had sex, but had anybody ever touched her like this? Stroked her body into this specific frequency of pleasure, made her cheeks turn that color, made her unable to keep the seams of her pretty mouth together? If Jamie does do these things, doesn’t it mean something, to them, here, now, or cosmically? 

All at once, Jamie can’t stand it. Feeling turned on is one thing, but that other dimension of wanting is too deep a place for her to wade through. She wants Dani to come, but more than that she wants Dani to be desperately entangled in her. She understands, briefly and with a film of irony, the brutish, masculine urge to be the first of something. To be the cherished, singular point of somebody’s affection, of their gratification. 

In the background, she hears the roll of the credits. Blinking back into reality, Jamie looks at the television and sees the scroll of names across the TV. She moves to take her hand from Dani’s pants but, to her surprise, Dani presses her cupped hand harder to keep her there. When her eyes flick to the other woman’s face, Dani is smiling at Hannah through the dark. (Hannah is saying something like, “oh, that was lovely! Doesn’t New York look lovely?” and Dani is agreeing, and Owen is standing to find the light switch on the wall. Dani only allows Jamie’s hand to move once the lights come back on and there would be little they could do otherwise to hide their half-completed indiscretion.)

Jamie says goodnight in the same way she’s been saying goodnight for all the years she’s been at Bly. Helping them put empty wine glasses in the sink, saying “alright, mate” and clapping Owen on the shoulder. It’s all so incongruously bland. She doesn’t move to the front door until there’s nothing else she can do to stay. When she spills out into the chilly, early spring air, it’s in a daze. 

The only sounds for a moment are her boots crunching the gravel as she walks to the truck. She stands by the driver’s side door, jingling and rustling as she tries to separate her keys from her pack of cigarettes and 10 loose receipts in her pocket. In the background, another sound emerges: more crunching gravel. Confused, Jamie pokes her head up to see Dani Clayton, still in those damned gym shorts, barreling down towards her with a pair of Lady Wingrave’s gardening gloves clutched in one hand.

Jamie opens her mouth when she gets near, a half-formulated question on the tip of her tongue. Without saying anything Dani reaches behind her to wrench open the door and pop the driver’s seat forward. She sees Dani glance over her shoulder as if checking for onlookers before firmly pressing Jamie back until she has no choice but to scoot backwards onto the rear bench seat.

There’s no question, really, as to what Dani is there for. The other woman carries a charged air with her when she clambers on top of Jamie. The back of the truck is a tight fit, and they make it work humorlessly, shifting limbs until Dani is on top of Jamie and Jamie is beneath her, panting in the dark. She reaches up to flick on the overhead light—to see her, she realizes she needs to see her—but Dani grabs her hand and instead guides it to the front of her shorts. 

“Is this okay?” Her voice in the dark could be coming from anywhere. Jamie blinks, squints. Tries to see through the shadows. A heavy breeze ripples by, making the trees sound more like an ocean. She clears her throat.

“What’re we doing?”

“I need—” Jamie hears Dani lick her lips, feels her shift a little on her lap. “I need you to finish what you were doing. I can’t go back to bed if you don’t.”

“Alright.” Rearing up, Jamie goes for a kiss, instinctively. She doesn’t know what else to do, how else to start Dani off. It had been so easy in the living room, but now she feels a little small, a little unconfident. A little like the teenage Jamie who’s entire sense of self had depended on how good she could make others feel. 

The kiss, too, is rebuffed. Dani turns her head and Jamie remains in the liminal space where the kiss would have otherwise been, unsure if she feels confused or hurt. There’s a charged pause when it seems that they might not go forward, that Jamie might, mired in that small rejection, toss Dani back into the night where she came from. 

Instead, she slips her hand beneath the waistband of Dani’s shorts, her underwear. Dani sighs with her whole body, slumping forward. The entire act in reality takes about two minutes, but in the shelter of the car it stretches on forever. 

All Jamie does, really, is press her fingers against Dani’s clit. She doesn’t have room to do much else, with the angle and with Dani’s layers impeding her. But it doesn’t matter. Dani capably drags her pleasure from the depths of what she’s offered, rocking her hips with a ferocity that Jamie had only dared to guess she might possess. Little, desperate noises are escaping her, and her hands, frantic, press on Jamie to gain purchase. Her chest, the curve of her breast, her shoulder. 

The rocking intensifies. Jamie is sure, distantly, that anybody who chanced a peek out into the driveway would see a steadily shaking car with foggy windows. It doesn’t matter. The universe has narrowed in that moment to the few square feet in the back of her truck, occupied almost to the brim by their sweating, rutting bodies. 

Though she hadn’t slipped a single finger inside her, Jamie is wet up to the wrist when Dani’s rocking begins to lose its rhythm. Her hand, which had been flitting and pressing, rubs over the side of Jamie’s face, pressing it sideways into the seat. Jamie grabs her wrist, turns her head, and sucks Dani’s thumb into her mouth. She grips her, strokes the pad of it with her tongue. Makes her feel it.

Dani comes right then with a shout that could have sent birds flying from the tops of trees. 

***

Later, in the back seat, they’re laying crumpled and panting and spent. Jamie can almost feel the tenderness returning to Dani, her body softening. She knows it for sure when Dani reaches up and flicks the overhead light on. Above her, her cheeks are pink, hair mussed, face streaked with what Jamie realizes are tears. 

Jamie sits up on her elbows, flummoxed. “You alright?” She feels stupid saying it, like her voice isn’t exactly hers. 

“When I left Eddie,” Dani begins, very preciously, very quietly, as if her words could somehow shatter the windows of the car if uttered too loudly. “I thought that was the bravest thing I’d ever have to do. To leave him and come here and start my life. I’m so tired,” she takes a deep breath in, and Jamie thinks she does sound very, very tired. “Of being brave. Of doing the brave thing.”

“That’s alright.” Jamie says, at a loss for anything else. She feels like she’s just been spun in a tilt-a-whirl. 

“I just thought you deserved to know that. Before anything else.” Dani continues, unabashed. “I know kissing you is going to make me different. And I’m scared to do it.”

Dani’s face is unreadable, bald-looking in the white light of the car. Jamie looks at her and feels young again, young enough to understand something but not articulate her understanding of it. Young enough that the words don’t matter. They’re each of them present in this moment together, with the night cold around them, the trees moving like the ocean, Dani’s half-secret safely stashed in the back seat of her truck. 

Most of all, Jamie understands that Dani is asking to be done making the hard choices, the hard discoveries, if just for a night. So, she does the only thing she thinks might help: she leans up, and she kisses her. 

***

Jamie returns home with that kiss nipping at her heels. She floats up her stairs in a suspended state of delight and disbelief. Receipts fall to the floor as she retrieves her keys, again, and pushes the front door open.

The leak, once a trickle, has borne open a hole in her roof. Water from the rainfall pours down in biblical proportions. It spills over the sides of the pot she’d put down freshly just that morning, making it look almost comically small. It runs rivers over her historic hardwoods, under that damned wood stove, puddles under her boots. It comes and comes, unrelenting, and all Jamie can do is stand and watch.

***

“Easter,” Hannah says with her yearly flourish, “is a big deal at Bly.”

 

Dani’s eyes round off big, like twin moons. Her mug stops halfway to her mouth. “Really?” Her eyes flick over to Jamie. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

Jamie shrugs, swallows a mouthful of eggs. “Ya’ didn’t ask.” She barely dodges the napkin Dani throws at her, chuckling the whole time. 

“Now, now children,” Owen comes, towel thrown over his shoulder, to sit with them at the kitchen table. “Seeing you two fight is so un- fork- tunate.”

“Boo, hiss.” Jamie deadpans. Hannah and Dani roll their eyes. “It’s not really a big deal, Poppins, the kids just like it. We hide a bunch of eggs for them and they go nuts.” She takes a long sip of her tea. “Everybody gets into their Sunday best. It’s fun.”

“Not a big deal?” One of Hannah’s perfect eyebrows arches upward. She turns her gaze to Dani. “One year we got your lovely Jamie to wear bunny ears.” Dani’s mouth opens and rounds with delight and Jamie lets out an aggrieved “oi!” 

“I don’t really have anything.” Dani admits, once the laughter has died down. “To wear, I mean.” 

Jamie shrugs. “It’s the thought that counts.” 

Later that day, when they’re kissing feverishly in the laundry room, Dani breaks away to ask: “Is it really okay?” Jamie looks back at her, wild eyed. They haven’t done anything more than kiss since that night in the truck, but the kissing has been persistent and all consuming. Jamie is lost in it. She can’t fathom what okayness Dani could possibly be checking in on. “The Easter thing. I only really have one dress.”

“Oh.” Jamie swims in this for a confused moment. “‘M sure it’s fine, Poppins. The dress.”

“It’s just not really a church dress.”

“Good thing we’re not really at church.” Jamie says, and leans down to continue the kissing. 

Dani and Jamie return to her apartment to fetch the last of her things on Saturday. As usual, Jamie’s landlord is there with his new promise of what day they’ll be done fixing the roof (“The 10th, the 10th, the 10th.” He says to her as she shoulders past him, rolling her eyes.) Most of what she needs is already at Bly: clothes, toothbrush, odds and ins of comfort. Her couch, television, and bed are all draped with plastic covering when they step inside, giving her place the appearance of something abandoned and haunted. 

This isn’t Dani’s first time in her apartment since the leak had exploded but her eyes still roam over the place with curiosity. Jamie makes a beeline to the other end, her bedroom, to fetch the duffel resting on her plastic-covered bed. “Poppins.” She says, once she has it zipped open for a last look inside. This breaks Dani out of her reverie and she glances over, smiling. “D’you mind grabbing the—”

“Oh—of course.” Dani comes over to retrieve a box sitting next to the nightstand, full of books and pictures Jamie doesn’t want soiled by rainwater. Discovering something missing in the duffel, Jamie swears.

“Actually, can you...in the nightstand, there’s a book. Can you grab it for me?”

Humming, Dani peels up the plastic covering to access the drawer. Jamie isn’t facing her, too busy rearranging something in the duffle, but she feels Dani stiffen behind her. Blinking, she turns around.

Of course, there was something in that drawer that wasn’t a well-loved copy of Leaves of Grass. Jamie had known that, too, just forgotten. How had she forgotten? But Dani doesn’t look upset, or confused. Jamie realizes that she's bemused as she holds the thing up by a strap. 

“You’re blushing.” Dani says, and Jamie is mortified to hear the note of delight in her voice. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you blush.”

“I forgot,” Jaime croaks “That I’d put that in there.”

“The zine Auggie gave you made it seem like everybody does—keep it in their nightstand, I mean, or their backpack.” Dani extends the strap-on out to Jamie, who looks at it dumbly. 

“The zine?”

“Do you want to pack it?” They speak at the same time, words stepping over each other. Jamie darts a hand out to take the thing from Dani, if only to remove it from the dead center of their exchange. “To take back to the house?”

Unmoored, Jamie mulls over the right answer. It feels like she can’t say no, not that she’d even really want to, but she wonders feverishly what else exactly Dani had gleaned from that zine, other than the chestnut about nightstands and backpacks. What does she think it’s used for? What is she asking Jamie to do with it, at Bly, after she packs it and brings it? The darkness of Dani’s eyes tells Jamie that she's cobbled together some idea.

Jamie swallows harshly and presses it into the duffel. 

 

***

The book is Leaves of Grass. Jamie had had it, that copy, stolen from a library when she was a scrawny twerp of a thing, since she was 14. It had seen the inside of as many prisons and jails as she had, sitting in the personal effects locker. As many foster homes, as many apartments. It’s surreal to look over and see Dani hold it open in her lap, squinting. The truck rocks her body every time they go through a pothole.

“Doesn’t that make you sick? Reading like that?” Dani doesn’t respond. She’s scratching her cheek now, engrossed in whatever passage she’d opened to. “Which one?”

“Song of Myself.” Dani says, not looking up. Jamie knows it exactly, knows that she’d dog eared it enough that the corner had nearly ripped clean off. So she knows, when Dani mouths a line, reading it to herself to comprehend, what she’s reading. I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, her mouth moves slowly, intentionally. She tucks a stray piece of hair behind her ear. If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

Jamie trains her eyes forward and clenches her hands on the steering wheel.

 

***

Easter comes. Like years past, the whole house smells like boiled eggs from the previous night’s dying party. Jamie, being both the earliest riser and the master gardener, had always been tasked with hiding the eggs about the garden. It was something she did with relish, tromping around the lush greenery in her boots and calculating just the place to put each one. Hidden enough to be hard, but easy enough that they wouldn’t have a garden smelling like rotten eggs come next week. 

She watches them over breakfast, nattering on in excitement. Flora is beside herself, wondering aloud which frilly thing she’s going to select for the hunt. Miles is more reserved; he’s too old for this now. Jamie knows he’s doing it primarily for his sister. Maybe they all are, on that warm spring day in 1988. Doing it for Flora. Owen in his pastel shirt and suspenders, Hannah in a lovely emerald colored pantsuit. And Dani—

“Oh! Jamie!” Jamie doesn’t realize she’s spilled her whole mug of tea down her front until Hannah is leaning over to dab it off her. In front of her, having just passed the threshold of the kitchen, Dani looks surprised. But in an instant her gaze softens into something else, something more dangerous. Hannah’s eyes flick over to her, taking in Dani’s dress. It’s yolk colored, a little low cut, and silk. Just put together enough that people might think twice before considering it indecent, but depending on the angle, who knows. Like a kaleidoscope, Jamie figures. One twist and it’s all different. “Well.” She says, softer and a little knowing. “You just go up and wash up. Thank goodness you weren’t in your propers.”

“Right.” Jamie clears her voice and stands, rubbing her hands down the front of her pants. She can’t tear her eyes from Dani. “I’ll just—meet you all in the garden, then.” When she passes by Dani, she doesn’t touch her. She’s not sure she could stand it, that either of them could. “You look nice.” She murmurs, and feels more than hears Dani’s smile. 

It’s traditional for the adults to watch on with a cocktail as Miles and Flora poke their heads in and out of bushes, planting boxes, birdhouses. Hannah only admonishes Jamie a little about not spilling her French 75 down the front of her “nice” shirt, an oversized men’s button down with short, rolled sleeves that she’d tucked into her gardening pants. Jamie rolls her eyes but her gaze does wander often to Dani in that dress, cheering every time Flora holds up an egg with triumph. 

Time carries on, strange and prompt and circular. This Easter could be every Easter they’d ever spent together; the egg hunt, the baskets full of sweets, the sugar crash nap, and the large supper. Mr. Wingrave calling at 7 PM on the dot and Miles and Flora holding the phone between their two ears to both hear and respond, a bit drolly. Even Flora demanding to be put to bed in her dress, as if clinging to the goodness of the day she’d had and dragging it with her into sleep, feels deeply familiar. 

Jamie doesn’t make it out of the house for a smoke until half past 9. She’s been keeping all the things that Dani doesn’t want the kids to stumble on in the greenhouse—smokes, mags, books of questionable taste. She’s pulling the cigarette carton from her duffel when she sees it, the thing she’d pressed in there at Dani’s behest yesterday. That same, unmoored feeling washes over her.

“Jamie?”

Her head whips around and she sees a dark figure at the threshold of the greenhouse. At this point, Jamie would know Dani by the simple cut of her from a thousand miles away. Like a precious dress pattern made time and time over again until you could do it with your eyes closed. She unfolds from her crouch and smiles. “Poppins. Just came out for a smoke.” 

Dani steps in further until she’s no longer obscured by shadow. She’s still in that dress, the one that feels to Jamie like a punch in the gut. She’s smiling, looking a little tired. “I just got Flora down. She did not want to get out of that dress.”

“Every year.” Jamie rolls her eyes. “Doesn’t hurt any to let her keep it on, I reckon.”

“I guess not.” She comes over to stand by Jamie. A thick silence overtakes them like rising water filling the greenhouse. They have such precious little time away from that clown-car house of people and children that any moment alone feels significant, somehow. “Owen and Hannah went to bed, too.” Dani’s voice is lower when she says this, like she’s telling a little secret.

“Ah.” Jamie swallows. They’ve drifted closer, knees and arms brushing, Dani’s head tilting. Jamie can smell her breath, sweet with alcohol and pilfered chocolates. She’d called it taxing when she poached them out of Flora’s basket before putting it away into the cupboard to be doled out over the week. What a scam adults play on children, thinks Jamie, and almost laughs. “And you?”

“And I…?” Dani has the dreamiest look fixed on her face, all fluttering eyelashes, and Jamie knows looking at it that she’s not listening at all.

“You’re going to bed?”

“I actually came in here to ask you something.” One of Dani’s hands wraps around Jamie’s bicep and pulls her closer. “But I forget—” the sentence is swallowed in a kiss. They both moan under the weight of it. Jamie backs their bodies up until Dani is pressed against one of the shelves and the little cry she lets out when her back hits the wood, when Jamie’s mouth travels wet and open down to the crook of her neck, sends Jamie into a frenzy. They press their bodies together, fabric on fabric, searching frantically for purchase. 

Jamie mouths her way down Dani’s neck, pressing her thin dress strap away to bite gently at her shoulder. She has a desperate, yawning open feeling, like she could swallow her whole and still be hungry for more. The appetite is fueled by the sounds Dani is making, eager and full like an overflowing cup. Like Jamie’s pot, spilling over with a torrent of rainwater, unable to hold everything it’s been given. 

They scramble like that for a minute, kisses wet, hands open and searching. Jamie rucks Dani’s dress up around her hips for the chance to grab a warm thigh, to spread her legs open and step in between them. She feels and sees Dani’s whole body stutter when Jamie grinds even just gently into her center, one hand flying up to press against a shelf above her head. Her eyes pinch closed. 

“Wait—” Jamie pauses immediately, both hands still holding Dani by the hips. She has to bring herself down like a train speeding and hitting the breaks. 

“Sorry, think I might have—carried away, a little.”

“No, no, I just want to…” Dani’s eyes flutter open and she fixes Jamie with a look, then slides her arms around her shoulders and pulls her in for another kiss. This one is slower, more tender. It leaves Jamie weak in the knees when they pull away. “...I came in here to ask you if you wanted to have dinner next week.”

Jamie laughs, stupidly. “We have dinner together every night.”

“No, I know.” Dani sucks on her teeth. “I mean, together and without children present. Just you and me.”

“Oh.” Jamie searches Dani’s face for any sign of hesitance, untruthfulness. All she sees is dark eyes, naked want, tenderness. She becomes mired immediately in intolerable softness, her hands clenching and releasing for a moment with the force of it. “Like a date.”

Dani’s face breaks open immediately in a beautiful smile. Her eyes crinkle, her teeth flash in the semi-darkness. It makes Jamie want to get on her knees and kiss her feet. “Yes, a date.”

Jamie murmurs an agreement. They kiss, again, chaster this time. Jamie feels caught in her sway, a hypnotizing spotlight of goodness. Caught in the way that Dani had come to her like an altar when she was ready to pray and light the candle. And how long she’d waited for this—to be approached and invited with a distinct and thoughtful readiness. The time she’d spent at the doorway, the long wanting to be invited inside. “We can just…” Jamie makes to step away, to give Dani breathing room. But Dani makes their bodies flush again.

“We don’t have to.” She says, clearing her throat. “I’m just nervous. I’ve never done anything like this before.”

“Right. Thought you’d gotten all sort of pointers from that dirty zine.” It’s meant as a tease, but Dani’s eyebrows lift as if she has an idea. 

“Do you have it?”

“I mean yeah, but—” Jamie is stuttering now, but immediately sees the sense of control Dani is seizing from this. To have Jamie transformed to some shy, careful thing. She sees the appeal of it. “Yeah, I mean. I do.”

“Can I see it?” Dani’s eyes dart over to where the duffel sits in the corner of the greenhouse, once an inanimate object but now a fully realized character in the moment. “On you, I mean.”

“You just want to see me look stupid.” Jamie accuses, with no malice. She’s already moving over to get the damned thing. 

“Maybe.” Dani admits. Her eyes follow Jamie all the way to the bag, follow her back when she stands in front of her with the strap-on held in one hand. She shifts back and forth on her feet.

“Feet tired?” 

“A little.” 

“Want to have a rest on the couch while I—” Jame gestures vaguely to the toy and to her lower body. Dani bites back a laugh and complies, sitting on the couch with her hands on her knees and her knees pressed together while Jamie disposes first of her pants, leaving her in just a white undershirt and briefs. Dani’s eyes immediately stray to her underwear and stay glued there while Jamie drags them down her legs and kicks them off, leaving her naked from the waist down. 

“We don’t have to.” Jamie says, feels like she has to say, even though Dani looks like she’s about to throw her down onto the couch and have her way like she did that night in the car. Both hands have fisted sleek yellow fabric so tightly that Jamie thinks the dress might rip altogether. 

“I want to.” Dani says firmly. And that’s all Jamie needs to hear to finish pulling the strap-on up her legs and fix the buckles firmly around her hips. 

“Well?” She does feel a little nervous, especially with the way Dani is looking at her—well, Jamie supposes, she’s looking at a part of her body, at least. But she’s been naked like this in front of other people enough that she can hold her own a little, even if she feels like she doesn’t quite know what to do with her hands. When, she wonders, do you figure out what to do with your hands? “Do I look stupid?”

“No.” Dani breathes the word out in a gust. She finally manages to pull her eyes up from where they’d been stalled between her legs to look at her face. “You don’t look stupid at all. That’s so mean?” Her voice tilts up at the end. Jamie laughs then, all delight. “Come here.”

And she does. She’s not sure where here is, but she knows where she wants it to be, so she tries there first. Jamie kneels in front of Dani, placing a hand on each knee and guiding them gently apart. Dani complies like she’s a puppet on a string, waiting for Jamie’s next move to guide hers. Her body slides down the couch in time with the motion of Jamie pushing the dress up her thighs until it’s bunched around her waist. 

All of this might be too much on its own, but the sight of Dani’s center inches from her face, only in gray underwear with a large, noticeable wet spot in the middle, transcends into the realm of the unbearably erotic. Dani’s stomach rises and falls with each breath and Jamie gives into her first urge to lean up and kiss her there, right above the band of her panties, evoking the most lovely sound. 

She hooks her hands into her panties and drags them down, down, until they too are off and disposed of somewhere in the corner of the greenhouse. Jamie has never felt such conflicting urges before: to be good at something, and to give completely into hedonism. To have her fill of Dani with her mouth while her other hand works under the straps of the toy. At the thought of it, she wraps her hand around the base of the strap, pressing it just a little into herself. Enough feeling to tide her over. 

“Is this—”

“Yes, yes, it’s okay, please just— oh.” Dani’s whole body rises as if from the dead when Jamie’s tongue makes contact. She grabs her thighs with her hands to hold her a little steadier as she licks, messy and unguided at first. She has to bury down the urge to focus her attention and make Dani come, just to show her that she can do it and do it well . It’s tough because, with every stroke, with every time she sucks Dani’s clit into her mouth and laves it, Dani utters a near-constant stream of oh my god, Jamie, oh my god, Jesus Christ —and where she got that mouth Jamie has no idea, but it does figure that she’s a talker. 

When Jamie presses a finger in, testing, she thinks Dani might blow the roof off the greenhouse. Her body squirms and her hips buck so hard that it’s no longer useful for Jamie to try and keep her steady. She is, she realizes, just along for the ride. “Another.” Dani says, and Jamie presses another finger in, working them in and out wetly. Above her, with an arm thrown over her eyes, Dani shakes her head. “One more.”

Jamie releases her clit from her mouth with a wet pop and looks up, momentarily taken aback. “You sure?”

A frantic nod. “That’s how I—when I—” 

Jamie doesn’t need to hear any more. She puts her head back where it’s most useful and presses a third finger in, causing Dani to groan, low and broken. She says something that Jamie can’t quite understand, then says it again, and Jamie realizes it’s I’m gonna come, and so she lets it happen. It only takes a few more strokes of her fingers and Dani is seizing, shaking, wrapping her legs around her head and squeezing. 

Jamie sits back on her heels and wipes her mouth, panting with the exertion of it. She’s so painfully turned on that she can feel her wetness smeared not only on her inner thighs, but down her legs. Arousal sits in her belly like a coiled snake. 

Her moment of reprieve ends when Dani pulls her up, pressing her back onto the couch so that she’s sitting. Her first instinct is to cover herself—the toy sits between her legs, feeling somehow crude in the afterglow. But when Dani leans over her from the other side of the couch she realizes that her dress is pulled down enough on one side to expose a nipple. The urge to lean up and capture it in her mouth eclipses everything else and she does just that, delighting at the raptured sound Dani makes, only stopping when she feels the base of the toy press purposefully into her clit. 

She rears back with a surprised, pleasured grunt and realizes that Dani’s hand is on it, grinding it down. She shoots Dani a questioning look, to which the other woman shakes her head.

“Did you learn that from—”

“Doesn’t matter.” Dani kisses her fully, feverishly. Their tongues claush. Then she’s sinking to her knees, hand still on Jamie’s cock, eyes wide and blown out. Jamie makes to take the thing off, eager for contact, but Dani stops her with a hand over her own. 

“Love, you don’t have to—”

“I want to.” A kiss, filthy and chaste at the same time, on her upper thigh. Jamie groans and puts her hands over her face, unwilling to watch what’s happening between her legs, needing to watch it. “Can you feel it if I…?”

She presses down on the base of the toy again, experimental. It sends shockwaves up and down Jamie’s body. Her hips buck up a little, involuntarily, and her hands grip the edge of the couch. Her face uncovered, she’s able to drink in the image in front of her; Dani, on her knees, hair swept over one shoulder, leaning forward to take Jamie into her mouth. Jamie lets out a choked sob and shifts a little, gasping again when she feels Dani’s mouth make contact with the toy. 

Jamie had come to know over the years that even if you could only really feel one thing—the base of the toy bumping against you, if you did it right—watching allowed for a different spectrum of sensation. All she wants to do is let her head fall back, listen to the wet noises happening between her legs, imagine what is and what could be, but she makes herself watch. 

“Dani.” She breathes, placing a hand on Dani’s shoulder. Her blond head looks up and Jamie has to school herself into respectfulness, looking at her swollen mouth and pink cheeks. She knows that there’s something she needs to articulate, but finds the words shuffled around in her head like an alphabet soup. I need to come, but not like this “Can you—” She’s pulling Dani up by her biceps, and Dani seems to understand. She’s meeting Jamie where she’s at, in the middle for a messy kiss, allowing herself to be pushed back on the couch by the force of Jamie’s body. Hitching her legs about Jamie’s hips, slipping her hand beneath her shirt, groaning. It’s all such beautiful, messy poetry, one thing lost within another in a sailor’s knot of movement. 

“Can you...like this?” Dani bucks her hips up to illustrate her point, threads her hands in Jamie’s hair to keep her close. “I want you to be close to me. When you come.” Whispered into Jamie’s cheek, and Jamie has never been so inside and outside of her body at the same time as when she feels Dani’s hand creep between them to fumble with the appendage between her legs. “Is this okay?”

In her mind, Jamie is treading water. Shouldn’t Dani’s first experience be better than this, than Jamie in her tattered undershirt and no pants, damp with sweat, biting back the impulse of rudeness. The yen to take, to have. Jamie had always thought there’d be flowers when she did it the first time, candles. Some soft music. For herself, Dani doesn’t seem concerned with formalities. Nor does she seem to be wasting mental energy on parceling out what she’s owed by the universe, or by Jamie as it’s current steward. 

Or maybe, Jamie thinks, she’s already decided. She blinks down at Dani, the woman beneath her waiting for an answer. Body trembling with all the energy building up there. Jamie nods once, an assent, and reaches down to help Dani guide herself inside.

She goes slowly, figuring that’s the way, watching Dani’s closed eyes and furrowed brow for any discomfort. Her legs squeeze around Jamie’s hips, urging her on until she bottoms out with an approving gasp from both of them. “That feels— oh.” Dani clutches her and groans when Jamie gives her hips an experimental twitch. “Just go slow at first.”

“Of course.” She murmurs into her temple. The feeling of it when she begins to move gently, the call of her body and the response of Dani’s, is strange and carnal. They’re pressed so tightly to each other that Jamie worries transiently that she might be crushing Dani, thinks to ask and immediately forgets when Dani presses back into her hard and she thrusts harder in response. 

“Oh, Jamie. ” Dani whispers, cradling Jamie’s head close to her. They’re moving in earnest now, the only sounds in the greenhouse moans, skin against skin, the scrape of the couch legs against concrete floor when Jamie’s thrusts smudge it to the side. “Can you feel me?” Every bite of her hips is pressing the base of the strap-on into her, driving her closer and closer to an apex, and Jamie is so deep in the thick of it she can’t speak. “I can feel you, can you feel me?” Dani continues, a babble. “I just want you to feel good, Jamie, I just want—”

They’re so close at every conceivable point that it seems impossible. Giving in to the urge to be as close to Dani as possible, Jamie drives in once, hard, and grinds there. She sucks her earlobe, devours the sounds coming from Dani, feels her toes curl and feels the softness of Dani’s thigh under one hand. The pressure builds and builds and finally crests and Jamie has to bury her head in Dani’s chest so her shout doesn’t startle her. She feels her orgasm travel from the tips of her toes all the way up to the top of her head. Dani’s heels dig into her lower back, drawing her deeper, keeping her in place.

Dani’s chest is heaving, her hand covering her eyes. She keeps saying oh, the word escaping in miniature from her mouth like droplets of water. When Jamie finally has the strength to lift her head from her chest, to look her in the eye, Dani is disheveled and smiling. “Thank you.” She says, seemingly unaware of the devastation those two words create in Jamie’s body. She punctuates them with a series of kisses; to her temples, her eyelids, the tip of her nose.

Everything precious; nothing unappreciated.

 

***

Summer (epilogue) 

Strawberry Shortcake

A perfect last-course to enjoy with friends after a filling dinner, can be made any way you please. Always use fresh strawberries. 

***

They find that they have another year on a Tuesday in June. Henry Wingrave stands in front of them in the driveway on that unseasonably warm day, mopping sweat from his head with his kerchief. He’s saying something about giving the children one more year before introducing them to a new school. About giving them a weekend a month in London to ease them into it.

What he’s really saying, Jamie knows, is he’s giving the children time to get used to him. He’s not really such a bad man; absent, like a ghost, but everybody has their sins. Nobody knows this more than Jamie Taylor. Most of all, she’s glad for them to have an unencumbered summer. To move together in that big, alive house, swatting flies and fanning themselves and throwing open windows. Drinking lemonade and staying up late. Who knows how many more they'll have, considering this one already feels borrowed. Might as well treat it as something precious. 

There’s no school during summer, and Dani takes this as sacred text. Still, during the afternoons, she sits out by the lake with the children and they read, or do embroidery, or journal. Jamie likes the reading days the best, tends to linger in the wings when they do it just to hear Dani’s voice rising over the cattails. She’d even lent some of her own books to the cause.

“Why, who makes much of a miracle? As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles.” She hears one afternoon, trimming back a bush near the lake. Jamie pauses and listens, cicadas loud in the background, trees whispering overhead. “Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan, or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky, or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water…” 

When she peers over, Flora and Miles are sitting criss-cross in front of Dani on a blanket, looking enraptured. Dani is spread out with her shoes kicked off, the list spilling of her tongue. Or stand under trees in the woods, Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love, Or sit at table at dinner with the rest

Jamie smiles, and she sighs, and she returns to her task.