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Jamie Taylor was twenty four years old and so tired.

She was tired in the same way her mother was tired, and as far as she was aware the same way her grandmother was tired, and probably all the women before her.

Her horrible childhood ran headlong into her terrible adolescence with not even a moment for breath. Abuse and neglect at home became bullying at school, which created an unrecognizable angry child who spat and swore and swung fists. Which begat detentions and letters home and more hitting, more hungry nights, more bruises, so many little injustices that she didn’t even try and remember anymore.

She thinks about Bread and Jam for Frances, about the boy Albert taking a bite of each thing in his lunch, one after the other, and how much pleasure he took from eating. She thinks about Frances crying over the thing that was supposed to comfort her the most.

By the time Jamie had been left to look after Mikey, her only meal most days was her school dinner. If she was lucky she could nick something from the shops she hadn’t been banned from yet. The days ran together into hungry and less hungry, tired and less tired, scared and less scared. She tried her best— he was only a baby after all, and completely reliant on his ten year-old sister for everything. She woke early in the mornings to give him some bread or cereal swiped from the afternoon before. She bundled him up and walked him to nursery before walking another few kilometers to her primary school. Jamie was late every day, and every day her teacher sent her to the office: it wasn’t fair, but no one was interested enough to wonder why, and she figured that she just wasn’t important enough to believe. Months went by like this.

Jamie Taylor; intelligent, kind, funny, hard working, became Jamie Taylor; the bad kid, the angry girl, the girl in ragged uniform and toes poking through her shoes. A girl with too many bruises to explain on bike accidents, with hand-shaped marks around her wrists that no one seemed to want to look at long enough to question. She was in year six and hadn’t grown more than an inch or gained more than a kilo since the year before.

Of course, after the accident things accelerated rather quickly. There was the initial, frantic call to 999 (which she doesn’t remember much of even seventeen years later), the police asking questions. There was the garbage bag of clothes she was given from the house she never saw again, the one pair of trainers she had to squeeze her feet into for almost two years.

The first few days she stayed in hospital. Not much more could be done for the raw bubbling skin of her burn, but the social workers needed to find her a placement. She didn’t mind it much: the bed was clean, there were three meals a day, and she got to watch as much television and read as many books as she wanted. No one bothered her except the nurses, and they were nice enough. No one hit her or yelled at her. With no small amount of shame she felt a great wave of relief that someone else was watching Mikey. She hadn’t seen him since she tried to push him out of the way of the boiling pot. Michelle, her social worker, had promised her a visit soon enough, but Jamie hadn’t pushed it. She was bad and had gotten him hurt. He was much better off without her.

Michelle took her to her first foster home a day after that.

They’re her emergency placement, Michelle explains, and they can only keep her for a month. Then she’ll have to go somewhere that’s more permanent. Jamie only shrugs at this. Permanent, temporary, she doesn’t care. Adults are all the same, and they’ll say whatever they want to keep her from asking questions or needing too much attention. The Langlands are fine, if distant. She has a bare little room with a bed and some drawers that she can’t fill. No one hits her or yells, and if they don’t pay too much mind to her all the better. They live on the other side of her town and drive her to school every day. She eats supper every day, and sometimes can even scrounge breakfast if Mrs. Langland isn’t running late for work.

No one at school will look at her when she returns. It’s as if her bad fortune will wash out of her mouth and infect the rest of them if they try and talk to her. She doesn’t smell bad, and her uniform is finally a size that fits if a bit big. Her shoes are the right size, though scuffed from the second hand shop.

At the end of the day she’s almost started to believe that things will be a bit better. She hasn’t been hit. No one has called her terrible names, or spit on her, put gum in her hair, or any of the things they were doing a few weeks ago. Jamie knew none of them would be friends with her, but an uninvited little root of hope began to nudge that maybe they would just leave her alone.

As the bell rings, Jamie grabs her bag and makes her way out to the front of school. Mr. Langland said that he would pick her up, and to wait right there on the curb. She really hopes that he isn’t lying, because she isn’t quite sure how to get back to their house. As she walks towards the curb she can see a group of kids from her year. They are standing in an almost-circle, whispering with their heads down. Occasionally one of them will shriek with laughter and the others will shush them. She nears, and a few start to turn towards her and then whip their heads back to the others with glee. Her stomach drops. She knows exactly who they’re talking about.

She wants to leave, but Mr. Langland probably wouldn’t wait very long for her, and she didn’t know how to get to the house. She plants her feet solid and imagines that’s she rooted down to the spot. She imagines that she’s an oak tree, and that she can’t understand English anyways so the words will mean nothing when they come.

“Oy, look, I thought I smelled something!” a voice whisper-yells in her direction. Laughter. Jamie thinks of the oak tree. The way she’s seen them sway in the park closer to her old house.

“Jamie, are you sure that you’re a girl? You smell like a boy. You’ve a boy’s name. You’re ugly as a boy.” Laughter. They come closer as a group, prowling slow like one creature. She thinks about how much she loves the smell when the farmers way out in the country cut grass for hay. She went there once when she was very small to visit her mother’s family. She remembers the trees, and the green smell.

“I heard she’s a whore, just like mum.”

“I heard she’s a dyke. Are you a dyke, Taylor?”

“I heard that she killed her baby brother. Boiled him alive.”

Jamie turns to the boy who said that. Chris. He has ugly yellow tombstone teeth and mean eyes. His father worked in the mines with hers. She feels the hot, drowning anger start to rise.

“What did you say,” she asks, low and slow. She learned how to sound scary like this from Denny. He never had to yell and all the boys in the neighborhood were afraid of him like she was. The boy with the teeth sneers.

“I said that I heard you killed your little brother. You boiled him like spuds and probably liked it, too, because you’re a psycho. That’s why your mum left, y’know. B’cus you’re crazy and dirty and everyone hates you.”

There’s silence, this time. If there’s laughter she can’t hear it. Jamie doesn’t really hear anything. She can’t hear her own words, and she can’t hear the boy scream as she jumps on him. Everything is cottonwool and searing, intolerable heat, and red. She punches and kicks and bites and feels nothing. Her fists throb without pain and all the blows the other kids land don’t even register. A teacher, or maybe a parent, comes and breaks up the fight. She doesn’t stop. She bites into the hand the boy had tried to slap her with and does not let go. The red she sees bubbles out into the world and fills her mouth. A grownup has her under the arms and is pulling hard to get her off but she holds firm.

Eventually things start to rush back to her. Jamie knows that she’s sitting on the ground. She knows that her mouth has blood in it, maybe her own, maybe not. She knows that the back of her head is throbbing, and her ribs hurt every time she breathes. Her nose stings. One of her lips is definitely fat, but she isn’t able to tell which one yet. Mr. Morrisson, the gym teacher, is looking at her like she’s something he found in a bin.

“Fuckin’ lovely. Another Taylor Terror, just like the rest of her family,” he says to the girls gym coach that comes to stand next to him.

Later, after she’s sat in front of a parade of adults all talking at her, one after another, she’s alone with Michelle again. Jamie doesn’t remember her coming, but then again everything has been happening in bits and bobs since she first punched Chris. They are alone in the head of school’s office.

Michelle is looking at her but her face isn’t angry. She sighs.

“Oh, darling, you’ve certainly done it well.”

“Did Mr. Langland come to pick me up?” Jamie asks. It’s the first thing she’s said since she’d been in the office.

“…” Michelle sighed again. Jamie knew at once what that meant.

“Jamie, the Langlands don’t think that they are quite the right fit for you, at the moment. They’ve asked me to come and pick you up.”

“So where am I going to go?”

“Well sweet, there’s a home that will take you in an hour or so west. The Langlands brought your, erm, bag, and we’re going to leave from here.”

Jamie had thought, as she often did, that if her life were more like one of her favorite books, this never would have happened. In books, little girls that have no real families get taken in by wonderful, lovely couples who put plasters on their cuts and make them birthday cakes. The little girls in books don’t go back to their dreadful old schools: they get to go to posh new ones, and make great new friends who love them forever. Little girls in books live happily ever after with their new family that loves them.

Her next foster home is much, much worse than her first.

It’s worse even than the home she was taken out of. She’s hungry again. She doesn’t have clothes that fit, and she can’t always wash the few that she has often enough so that they don’t smell. There are five other children living in the house, most of them older than her, and there isn’t enough of anything to go around. All four girls, from six year old Maggie to seventeen year old Susie sleep in one room. There are only three beds, but as Susie tells her the first night, she doesn’t sleep there any more, and Jamie can have her bed.

Susie teachers her how to climb out of the window and down the drainpipe. Susie shows her how to become invisible in plain sight, and say ‘fuck you’ when the man and woman hit them with the belt or the spoon or a shoe and not cry. Sometimes when Susie is home she’ll plait Jamie’s hair, tell her about the crazy misadventures she gets into when she hitchhikes around town. It’s not much, but every time it happens Jamie feels warmth in her chest.

Jamie is ten, and then Jamie is eleven with not even an acknowledgement, which is as much as she expected. She’s surprised she even remembers it, in all honesty, since it’s never been celebrated before.

Her new school is at least a bit better. She is totally anonymous, too much of a nobody to ever be looked at twice. She doesn’t talk, and no one talks to her. She makes perfect marks in science and english and no one cares. She is flunking maths, and refuses to dress out for gym, and no one cares. She gets lice from Maggie and cuts her hair. She has a rash from bedbugs so perpetually that her skin scars. She reads as much as she can get her hands on, spends all the time she can outside of the house. She wanders the streets until it gets dark, then climbs in through the window for bedtime. Sometimes she gets beaten by the man or the woman when they catch her, but something inside of her must have broken after a little while because she doesn’t care anymore. The blows land and she feels a million miles away from her body.

She’s still a child, despite it all, and she doesn’t realize that things can get worse.

Eleven becomes twelve, and she starts secondary school. After a few months she notices how much different she looks from the other girls. For one thing they’re almost all a few kilos heavier and a good deal taller. Jamie looks the same as she has always looked, with a bit more height, a few more scars. She’s always been slight, always been the smallest, but she’s strong, and fast. She starts to notice the way that the older girls look. They are starting to look…she doesn’t really know. She might want to be them, but she might also want to see them getting dressed in the morning. Jamie knows that it’s wrong to think this way and she conspires to keep this secret inside for the rest of forever. She doesn’t want the bullies to be right about her. She manages to not think about it for some time. It’s dangerous.

Maggie and Janie’s mummy gets out of jail, Susie never comes back one night, and just like that Jamie is alone in the room.

It was right around this time that the Man started looking at her. Susie told Jamie when she had first arrived to never ever be alone with the Man, though she wouldn’t say why. She shook and smoked cigarettes and threw up and never said a word, but Jamie knew that the man was hurting her in the dark, in some way worse than the slaps and belts that were commonplace to all the children during the day.

The other shoe drops, as it always does.

The Man starts to hurt her the way he used to hurt Susie.

Jamie tries not to remember. For a long, long time after, she tries not to remember though she is often not successful. He makes her do things that cause her to feel sick for days afterwards. She starts vomiting and shaking from the stress, and she stops sleeping. When she eventually passes out from exhaustion, she wets her bed. The sheer, unmitigated embarrassment of changing her pants and sheets most mornings before school is enough to have her skip almost all of her morning classes for months on end.

Jamie tries to run away four times. Each time she gets caught, and each time she pays dearly.

She sleeps in the park, or tries to get locked into the library at school without anyone noticing. By the fifth attempt, the man and the woman have had enough of her. One day, she comes back from school and sees Michelle’s government issue black four-door in the drive way, and Jamie almost cries for the first time in years.

Time passes.

Jamie bounces between three more homes, and never lets a man touch her again. If they try, she fights. If she can’t fight, she runs. She knows one day she will be trapped, and wonders if she could stop her own heart through sheer will.

She thinks about Pippi Longstocking, living in a house to herself, her own pots and pans. Her own patchwork coat hooked by the door, a treasure chest full of plundered doubloons, and pancakes and cookies with her friends.

Jamie starts sleeping on benches, in alleyways, anywhere she isn’t likely to be found. The police pick her up a few times and her record grows. By the time she’s sixteen she has stopped going to school entirely, choosing instead to hang out with a crew of other teenage runaways and ruffians. ‘Friends’ isn’t the right word— they aren’t friends. They aren’t kind to each other, and when cops come it’s every man for himself, but they protect one another. They steal food, smoke weed and cigarettes, and party in abandoned warehouses and buildings until the sun is risen. The music is loud, it fills Jamie up in the same way as the rage from her childhood. In 1976 the sound of Yorkshire is fucking angry, and Jamie can loose herself in bodies fueling that anger with punches and slamming. People hand her drinks, and she drinks them. They pass her a bump and she takes it. Girls find out that she’ll kiss them, and she does. If she plays her cards right, Jamie can go days at a time without having to think or feel much of anything. The shaved, pinned, pierced, tattooed girls she parties with are just as empty, just as bottomlessly angry.

She thinks about Pippi Longstocking, about Villa Villekulla and being the strongest girl in the world.

Jamie turns seventeen. That night she eats meat pie that she pays for herself and gets slashed by a bottle at an underground club in the same hour. She’s so high she feels nothing, and watches the blood bloom from her arm into the shredded jacket she’s wearing. It almost makes her laugh. A girl thinks that she’s tough for it and they make out in a toilet stall.

Soon after her crew decide it’s high time to try out a bigger pond. Their various rackets are wearing thin in this town so they all pile into a rusted van with a big-titted woman in a loin cloth painted on the side. They head to London to hear the music, party all night, and dismantle the whole world inch by inch.

It’s not a bad year, considering what comes after. She dances, gets high or drunk, fucks girls (but never, not once does she let them touch her, and they could care less). She goes to protests. Her pickpocketing skills improve considerably and the boys in Piccadily that she hangs out with on the curb teach her all sorts of things about being a homosexual. She meets men that she is not afraid of and girls who want to kiss her sober. She falls in love with one of those girls.

“How have you kept it all safe inside of you?” Sarah whispers to her, stroking her hair. She is a student at university, from a family, who lives in a flat with heat and appliances.

“Kept what?”

“All this tenderness. All this soft stuff. You look and act like every other gutter punk on the street until I get you alone, and then you’re just about the sweetest thing on Earth.”

Jamie doesn’t know how to answer that, so she doesn’t. But she thinks of seven year cicadas, or the way that certain plants she'd read about can look withered and dead for months and still shock into bloom without fail.

Jamie also knows that this softness is probably the thing that is going to get her killed, try as she might. She pushes the thought down to where she used to keep her desire, locks it up tight to make room for Sarah. She wants to weave her a basket, or knit her a sweater, or bake her a cake. Reflexes to warm Sarah's hands and make sure her socks are clean fire out before Jamie can reign them in, and her impulse control becomes non-existent around her.

Eventually this catches up to Jamie, just as she figured it would. Sarah's flirtation with petty crime becomes more serious, and she and Jamie rob a few student flats that are vacant for the holidays. When the cops come to arrest Jamie at her squat, she doesn't even think before taking full credit for the break-ins. Sarah promises to write her. Not a single letter ever arrives.

Her storied record does not inspire sympathy in her judge. He sentences her to four years in the penitentiary.

The story from there is not all that interesting. It’s all the same to her. She gets beaten in prison when she first arrives, but is left alone afterwards. She keeps to herself, reads, finishes her GCSEs. Jamie finds a new love in the garden, and four years fly by between mulching beds and pruning hedges. There is a group of older ladies serving long sentences that putter around with her day after day, and if it isn’t friendship it’s as close to it as Jamie has gotten in a long time. They cluck over her, whinge about the way that she does this or that, give her snacks without expecting much of anything in return. Jo Jo, an old bulldyke with tattooed knuckles and heavy gait, likes to slap Jamie’s back and give her advice on women. Experience teaches her to act uninterested and aloof, but she soaks up each lesson and keeps it close to her heart.

Time goes on. Soon, she’s twenty three and facing release. She’s been going to therapy to try and ‘work through things’, a phrase which Tamara immediately finds interest with. She talks about her mom, and Denny, and Mikey. It’s easy to talk about being hungry, being beaten, being scared, and angry. She never talks about The Man— if Tamara notices she never says anything. Tamara talks with her about shame and history and trauma. She and Jamie work together to figure out what she’s going to do when she’s released. Jamie tries to be tough, to say that she’s not worried about After, but the ol’ biddies see right through her. Edie comes from a small village in Essex with a stately manor house in need of a gardener; she wonders if Jamie wouldn’t want her to put a word in. Edie’s sister lives in the village, and owns the only pub in town. She’s going to be moving in with her daughter, and would Jamie be interested in living in the flat?

Jamie is, and she does, and that’s the end of that. Tamara smiles.

When the day comes Jamie finds herself standing at the bus stop in Bly with her backpack stuffed full of everything she owned in the world. A few shirts, another pair of pants, some trainers. Her two favorite books from prison, Tender Buttons and The Salt Eaters. A Zippo, a long-expired pack of cigarettes, and bus fare given to her by the prison social worker. She expects the flat above the pub to be empty, and it is, but further inspection reveals an actual bedroom, with an actual bed, in the back (and only) room. It’s small and the sheets are lacy and floral like she imagines the room at whole was when Edie’s sister lived here. She can even smell a bit of talcum powder. There is cold sunshine. She turns the kitchen tap on and off, and does the same thing in the bathroom. There is a tub, but no shower, and she sits in it to feel what it will be like. There is a deadbolt and lock on the front door that she fiddles with. She pokes her head inside the refrigerator. Images of tea boxes and kettles, curtains, a few potted plants, a radio, float through her head unbidden.

Twenty minutes after arriving in the new flat, Jamie sits down in the middle of the empty floor and cries for the first time in years.

—————— —————— ————— ————— —————— ——————— ————— ———————

Jamie Taylor is twenty seven, and tired, yes, but also deeply and terrifyingly in love.

Dani had entered her life so gently she had barely noticed at first. Jamie was very content with her quiet existence, and four years of habit are hard to break. Tea with Owen and the children in the mornings, wrapped sandwich lunches in the greenhouse with the radio on, quiet drives home, reading before bed. Jammy egg, bitter black tea, ham and mustard, cigarette, Cornish pasty, toothpaste. On a Wednesday she might shoot a rabbit and bury it’s tiny warm body where she found it. Monday is for weeding. On Saturdays she watches matinee double-features at the cinema in town and gets a single drink at the pub.

Occasionally she meets a woman like her at gardening stores or book stores, or through magazines. She never lets it get very far— sometimes she’ll get them off quick and easy in the cab of her truck or on her couch (never in bed). Sometimes they call each other, exchange news and gossip.

But Dani is immediately different. They dance around each other, flexing and breathing like a Martha Graham performance she had seen the advertisements for in London once. Deep pulling breaths, tension and flexing. The delicious inevitable exhaling together. Of course, Dani herself is no pion of emotional stability, which is refreshing to Jamie. She is still relatively fresh off the wide empty plains of Iowa, toting the cracked remains of her dead ex-fiancé, and a lifetime’s worth of internalized homophobia in pastel sweaters. There is panic, always, riding shotgun in her chest and high in her throat, and she tells Jamie that it’s not even as bad as it was when Eddie’s ghost jumped out from every mirror. Jamie had been gentle as she coaxed Dani out of her terror and panic. They crept through the first quiet months of their relationship with long midnight talks on the grounds, movies in the den after the children had gone to bed, raucous laughter with Hannah and Owen in the kitchen. 

Jamie had never felt closer to another person and every day she wanted a bit more of Dani; another joke, another story, another kiss. She had never wanted like this before. The hunger yawned in her chest and stomach at all hours. She felt it claw at her when she held Dani’s hand, and pace between her legs in the shower when she thought about the softness of Dani’s stomach when her jumper had ridden high the day before. She masturbates more in two months than she ever had in her life up to that point.

Her desire is all-consuming but not without complication-- they had not had sex yet.

With other women it hadn’t meant anything. They would be kissing, and they would be laughing, and eventually she would want Jamie to touch her and who was she to say no? But it is the second month that she and Dani have been flirting around the idea of ‘dating’ that Jamie realizes that she hasn’t had sex, really, in any way that counts to her. She’s fucked girls. She has wanted and been wanted in return. But sex? A complete sharing of herself with another, safe sane and consensual as the flyers said? Willingly taking off all of her clothes and sliding into bed, a lamp still burning? Never. The thought fucking terrifies her. It isn’t the way that it goes in books or movies. Her devotion and love for Dani doesn’t make this fear go away. If anything it creates the most confusing tempest of conflicting emotion and desire.

Jamie isn’t much for lying, after everything— Dani deserves to know. Increasingly the insane urge to let Dani know everything bubbles up inside of her. Every time Jamie opens her mouth she’s half-convinced a torrent of vile memories is going to come shooting out of her. But Dani deserves to know, to know her in the same way that Jamie has gotten to know Dani.

So. Jamie pulls it together and commits to telling Dani about her fears and reservations around sex, as soon as an appropriate moment presents itself.

Two days later and Dani is on top of Jamie in her second-hand bed (Edie’s sisters’ flouncy sheets have long been given away to the charity shop). She had invited Dani over under the pretense of listening to Hounds of Love, which Jamie had bought for her last week during their trip into town for fertilizer. Jamie was aware that the B-Side was still playing, faintly, in the background, but her attention was completely tuned into the hot weight of Dani’s palm resting on her sternum, between her breasts. She is still in her jeans and a white undershirt, raking her fingernails sharp-gentle under the band of Dani’s bra, and Jamie is feeling good. Dani lets out a pleased little noise that Jamie returns, and then they’re smiling at one another like absolute dopes. Sixteen year-old Jamie would be absolutely horrified—good. They kiss like teenagers, completely without finesse, tongue and clanking teeth and boundless enthusiasm. Arousal thrums tightly in her belly and she can tell that Dani is equally effected if her flushed cheeks and panting breath are to be believed.

Every time it changes on her, Jamie is left in the after not understanding where the door opened from the ‘before’.

One minute she’s hazy brained and lost in a mire of pleasure, and then Dani shifts. Her hand is solid now on Jamie’s chest, and her hips drop down between Jamie’s thighs. They both gasp.

“Jesus, Dani,” she pants, and Dani smiles down at her like the cat that got the canary.

And then it all catches up to her at once.

The sensation is…suddenly overwhelming. It reminds her of things she doesn’t think about, it’s too close and then— she’s there, in her second foster home, in Susanna’s old bed, and He’s there too and she tries to scream but he covers her mouth, and presses on her chest, he’s so strong and she can’t escape there’s no escape she’s trapped she’s trapped she’s going to—

The world reduces down to white noise and blackness. Jamie’s ears are ringing, her heart is racing, nausea roils her stomach. Time must pass, but she has no ability to parse what is happening around her. She’s rolled up into a clenched fist with hair, jaw cinched so tightly that her teeth squeak. She’d forgotten to cut her nails and they are biting into her palms without any sensation. There is the feeling of screaming inside her throat without her hearing it.

Some amount of time passes before Jamie starts to come back to herself. She’s in her bed. The bedside lamp is on, amber and refracting through the glass of water that’s appeared at her side table. Jamie’s body begins to hurt, piece by piece, starting with her head. A tension headache throbs behind her eyes, and her jaw aches. Her neck is stiff. There are bloody welts in her palms from where her nails have dug in, and—

“Hey,” says the softest voice from the armchair in the corner.

Dani is pale, her hair is in fantastic disarray, and she’s changed into a pair of Jamie’s pajama pants. Her smile is trying not to be sad, and her eyes are glassy.

“Hey yourself,: she says, her voice gritty and raw.

“Is it ok if I come over there?”

The questions pings off of her like a BB pellet. The fact that she feels the need to ask… “God, fuck, Dani, I’m so fuckin’ so—“

“Jamie, you haven’t done a thing to apologize for. If anything I should be the one apologizing. I should have asked you, before I did that.”

Jamie shakes her head to dislodge her urge to soothe Dani with pretty nothings. She hasn’t done anything wrong, but she also can’t avoid hurting Jamie if she doesn’t know where the wounds are festering. She takes a steadying breath. It feels good so she takes another. Dani waits.

“You couldn’t have known, love. I liked it. Christ, did I. I— I wanted you to do that. But.”

“But.” Dani repeats, eager and so kind and ready to listen to her that Jamie nearly breaks right there, gathers her up in her arms and tucks them into bed away from all of this. But the night is safe for now, and she can be brave.

“There are…things about me. About my life. That I— that are hard to talk about. That are going to be hard to hear, because it’s fuckin’ horrid. Will you…” she trails off, feeling abysmally small and insecure. Her skin feels too hot and too loose. “Will you come over. And, uhm, and hold me?” She coughs the last part out, gruff.

Time and time again Dani reminds her that kindness isn’t a feeling. It’s a decision that one needs to make when the time comes, like washing someone’s dishes, or folding their teeshirts. Dani rises slowly and silently and makes her way towards Jamie, dream-like, so kind it stings Jamie all over.

Gathered up in Dani’s arms, Jamie trembles. Dani holds her tightly but without any sense of restriction, her hands sweeping down Jamie’s back in a soothing rhythm, whispering sweet nonsense into her curls.

“You don’t have to tell me,” Dani begins, “but I want to hear it. No matter what, if you want to tell me, I want to hear it.”

The thing is, in this moment she knows that is what makes the difference. Jamie had always thought that when (if) she finally felt ready to tell this particular story it would be a pouring— the rot inside would raise higher and higher and she simply would not be able to keep it corked up any longer. But right now all Jamie can think of is one of her earliest memories: her father, impossibly tall, scooping her out of the backseat of his car. His arms are pure trust, and she can smell the cold earth from his neck. Lost in the blackberry magic of half-sleep, she had found herself transported almost miraculously into her own bed.

“Ok,” Jamie breathes out, “ok.”

Dani holds her through the night. She never falters, not once.