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(i’m not) the guy you’re taking home

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1

DANI

No one gets to choose the place they look back upon with the greatest fondness. It simply can’t be done. You might have ideas, sure—the stage where your academic achievements scored a scholarship; the treehouse where your best friend kissed you for the first time; the living room where your father whirled your mother to a Sinatra record as you giggled—but you can’t plan it out. To assume otherwise is a kind of hubris.

Dani Clayton does not think of herself as particularly possessed of hubris.

Dani Clayton, buffeted by the winds of a world with so many opinions, has learned to roll. To smile. To buy plane tickets on the sly, sneak off to school on her own hard-won dime, subvert her mother’s expectations in smooth, practiced strokes. She’s learned to take the world as it comes, deftly spinning to make it her own. A new skill set, maybe, but a good one. It will serve her well.

Still, when she looks back on the place which brought her the most joy, she’s startled to discover this:

A dorm room.

Particularly, her dorm room. This was meant to be the land of late-night study, excessive caffeination, movie nights. It wasn’t meant to be the place she’d come to embrace as her happiest, clearest vision of the person she wanted to be.

She blames Jamie for that. She blames Jamie for a lot of things. The joy. The vision.

The hurt that followed.

A lot to blame Jamie Taylor for, as it turns out. She didn’t plan on that, either.

JAMIE

Life has a way of knocking a person clean out, is the thing. She learned that young; learned it when her mum walked off, when her brothers proved too stubborn and too young, respectively, to help her hold the remnants of their family together, when social services cut in to spoil the whole dance. Life takes its own track, twists its own branches, and it doesn’t matter that you never meant to plant the tree at all. Doesn’t matter that you’d have preferred flowers with huge, glorious blooms. Doesn’t matter what you want. Life does what it likes. To assume otherwise is a kind of hubris.

Jamie Taylor has had enough of hubris, if she’s honest.

Jamie Taylor, dragged by the ankle through a childhood too brutal to be allowed, has learned humility. To keep her head down. To slip away from the country of her birth, to start over somewhere new, to invent a version of herself who has no qualms about keeping her own company. A lonely skill set, maybe, but a good one. It will serve her well.

Except life does whatever it pleases, and sometimes, what it pleases is a wrench hurled into the plan.

Sometimes, that wrench is roommate-shaped.

Particularly, her roommate. She was meant to be a stranger with whom Jamie shared space, maybe the source of flash cards or menial conversation. She wasn’t meant to be the source of trust, of laughter, of nights spent sharing a single twin bed.

She blames Dani for a lot of things, when it comes down to it. The communication. The thrill.

The loss that followed.

A lot to blame Dani Clayton for, as it turns out. Life has one hell of a roundhouse.

2

JAMIE

What’s the fucking phrase she’s hated since university? The show must go on.

Christ, she doesn’t have the energy today.

“Jamie, how many girls can we possibly look at?” Rebecca sounds like she wants to throttle her. Rebecca, in fairness, usually sounds like this these days. Probably has something to do with having a mind-numbing amount of money and a smash hit destined for the screen, but lacking the power of final say. In her shoes, Jamie’d be in throttle-mode herself.

C’ept she isn’t in Rebecca Jessel’s absurdly expensive shoes. Can’t imagine sitting down and churning out a romance novel so charming, it pins down a spot on the New York Best Seller list for twenty-two weeks running. Writing has never been Jamie’s bag.

This is what she’s good at. The camera. Slipping behind it. Making the kind of art that will speak to more than just salacious housewives, coaxing a vast and varied audience to chuck their pocketbooks at cinemas next summer. That is why they hired her. But, before any of that can shake out as she hopes—

“Gotta find the right one.” She’s forcing patience into her voice like a firefighter struggling to knock out an apartment blaze. It takes a surprising amount of both effort and skill, aiming that patience where it needs to go: into soothing a beleaguered novelist before she can take her toys and go home.

Rebecca’s a good woman, she’s sure. A kind woman with a heart of gold. But good and kind are not the same as willingly hands-off, which is what Jamie needs just now.

“We’ve seen so many—”

They have. Tall women, short women, women with great smiles and women who deliver lines straight from the heart. Women who look like they’ve never seen a camera in their lives, women who look like they’re being held at gunpoint, women who flirt so aggressively, Jamie thinks she’d be better off meeting them in a pub than via screen test.  An endless array of women, plenty of whom are masters of their craft—probably.

Probably doesn’t work for Jamie. She has to be perfect. She has to be able to carry the entire goddamn film.

“You,” she says carefully, watching that spool of patience run rapidly toward its end in real-time, “chose our Lady. I choose our lead. That was the deal.”

Rebecca grinds her teeth. She glances again at the clock, as if Jamie doesn’t know full-well what time it is (nearly two in the morning, and if Rebecca thinks she has nowhere she’d rather be right now, it’s the maddest thing about her), and heaves a sigh.

“One more.”

As many as it takes, Jamie does not say, because this is her baby, too. Rebecca may have written the source material, but Jamie is the one who accidentally fell in love with it. Jamie, with a BAFTA under her belt, the indie darling known for discovering gloriously unexpected new talent and drawing forth portrayals so authentic, critics joke about witchcraft.

Jamie accidentally fell in love with the tale of the headstrong au pair and the cursed Lady transformed by her gentle hand, and it was Jamie who convinced the studio to take a chance. A whole riot of chances, actually: on her, on Rebecca’s “beach read” book, on funneling mad amounts of money into a Sapphic romance for the modern age.

It’s her baby, and Rebecca’s, and the studio is counting on something worth a damn at the end of the line. If Jamie wants to keep her good name, the prestige she’s scrounged since dropping out of school with the cheapest camera she could find and an abundance of favors called in, she needs to deliver.

So the lead has to be something special. Beyond special. Luminous.

“One more,” Rebecca repeats, a note of warning behind the words. “At least for tonight, Jamie, I’m exhausted.”

“One more,” Jamie hedges, and presses play.

A ghost fills her laptop screen. A ghost with blonde hair, blue eyes, skin she still feels warming under her hands in her dreams. A ghost who smiles lopsidedly, just a tinge of self-effacing humor in her voice as she says, “Dani Clayton, twenty-seven years old, five foot four. Reading for the role of Eleanor.”

Jamie’s throat is dry, her knees suddenly locked. That face shouldn’t be possible, not for a film like this. That face belongs on red carpets, enormous billboards in Times Square, YouTube videos showing off her top-ten can’t live without ‘em items. That face shouldn’t, couldn’t, be sending in screen tests for an indie adaptation with queer romance slapped on the label. It’s beneath her. It has to be beneath her.

Jamie was counting on it.

And, fuck, she’s good. Of course she is. She always was, always knew how to speak with perfect sincerity, with her whole chest. Dani doesn’t just recite lines; she feels them down to her bones. She could break curses in real life, Dani Clayton. Jamie believed that, once.

“Holy shit,” Rebecca breathes when the tape runs out and Jamie slaps the spacebar to freeze the final frame. Dani’s smile is warm. Her hand, suspended in the act of reaching up to push a lock of hair off her forehead, is agonizing in its familiarity.

“Jamie, I have to study,” she laughs.

“Who’s stopping you?”

“I need my hand—”

“Got two of those,” Jamie points out, turning Dani’s left in her right. She traces the lines of her palm slowly, the edge of one blunt nail digging gently into the skin. Dani inhales.

“You’re distracting.”

“You’re distracted,” Jamie corrects. “Sounds like a personal problem.”

Dani is still laughing when she draws the hand to her lips, kisses each finger in turn. Salt clings to the skin, courtesy of an open can of Pringles, and Jamie delicately licks the pad of the index finger until blue eyes go dark.

“Study,” she says in a low voice, a gentle command, and she’s grinning as Dani throws down her pen, twists in her seat, grabs for her collar—

“Jamie?” Rebecca’s hand drifts into her field of vision. She rocks back, head spinning.

“Yeah?”

“I said, she’s incredible.” No frustration in Rebecca’s voice now, merely a kind of awe. Jamie clears her throat.

“Always is, if you listen to the papers.”

“And she’s trying out for my movie.” Rebecca is plainly adrift on her own good fortune. Jamie scowls.

“Our movie.”

Rebecca ignores her. “She’s the one, Jamie. Isn’t she? I mean, you have to see it this time. If you say she’s not, I swear to God, I’ll go over your head—”

Incredible. Yes, Dani has always been that. Too incredible, maybe, to get wound up with the likes of—

“Jamie.” Rebecca punctuates her name with a gentle slap on the shoulder. She sighs.

“Yeah. You’re right. She’s perfect.”

The movie, she reminds herself. It’s about the movie, about her reputation, about her career. Dani Clayton is a lot of things, a lot of uncertainties wound up in a woman, but she is the actress of her generation. She is everything a tiny film couldn’t begin to dream of—and she sent in her tape without prompting. She sent it because she wants this role.

There’s a lot she hasn’t been able to give Dani Clayton in this life. This?

She can do this.

3

DANI

She’s a little surprised she gets the part, honestly. It’s not exactly a cornerstone of her career, a movie like this one. Time was, she wouldn’t have even tried—but she’s growing tired of the same old stories, the same old tropes. She wants to stretch her wings. It was, after all, the whole reason she’d embraced the acting thing in the first place: simply to see if she could. Test your own limits. Run toward whatever makes your heart pound hardest.

No time like the present, she’d thought, sending in the tape, knowing full well they’d want someone more established in the indie sphere. Someone who hasn’t built a career from the ground up in historical romances, someone who hasn’t gone from playing maids in corsets to duchesses in corsets to the occasional pirate queen in a corset. A fresh, modern face., that’s what they’d want. An openly queer face.

The leading role in a contemporary supernatural lesbian romance? Not Dani Clayton. Certainly not.

And yet: here she is.

“They loved your tape,” Owen Sharma insists. In the absence of her last personal assistant, Owen has been filling in, and after only a few weeks, she has to admit he’s a better fit than Eddie ever was. Maybe because Owen, having just met her, has no preconceived family-friend notions of what she’d been like as a child; maybe because Owen, having spent most of his adult life in various service industries, has long learned the art of being at once warm and slightly removed from his clients.

Eddie never worked that particular skill out. He would have followed her to the ends of the earth, but it would have been following the eight-year-oid girl he remembered, not the nearly-thirty screen actress she’s grown into.

Plus, Owen has given absolutely no sign of romantic or sexual interest, even when he introduced himself as a “huge fan, Ms. Clayton; must’ve seen Queens of the Saltweary Sea eight times in the cinema.” That alone was reason to hire the man, after the last two years gritting her teeth through Eddie’s hand on her arm.

He’ll be good for you, she remembers her agent insisting. Peter Quint had been excellent at his own job, true. Understood the inner workings of people and money alike, and used both to catapult his talent to ridiculous levels. She had never much liked him as a person, but as representation, she had to admit he was capable despite his bad habit of testing boundaries.

The line, of course, had come rushing up to meet her eventually. It always does.

Hiring her childhood friend as a personal assistant was one thing, though she chafed at the knowledge that Peter knew things about her past she’d have preferred to keep buried. Keeping Eddie in frame at award ceremonies, too, was not akin to a root canal. He was funny and sweet, boyishly prone to blisteringly-accurate mimicry of her own mother that never failed to make her laugh.

It was when Peter insisted she begin keeping Eddie close in public—when Peter himself hired a squad of tabloid photographers to insinuate Dani Clayton and her PA might, perhaps, be closer than anyone expected—that the need for change began to seem like a good idea.

One might even say critical.

Owen is a much better fit. With him by her side (and Henry Wingrave representing from a distance, equally as capable as Peter with none of his pushier attributes), she’s ready to show the world a new side of Dani Clayton.

They loved your tape, Owen says,. Dani has yet to figure out who they are. The author, presumably, on hand to adapt her own work for the screen. The studio? Producers?

She’d sent it in on a whim, really. Like running away to university in California, it hadn’t been so much a plan as a reckless act of sleepwalking, designed to shake her life free of its moorings. Back then, it had been about getting away from her hometown; with the tape, it had been about rattling the ideas of what she could play. Award nominations are wonderful, but this—this is something that scares her. Scares her in the best way possible. She’d taped the lines, thrown the footage into the world, and slammed her laptop shut like she could divorce herself from the act. For days, weeks, she’d gone about her life like nothing had changed. She hired Henry. Owen. Thumbed through scripts without truly seeing beyond their typeface.

And then, out of the blue: the call from Henry to say they wanted her. Her for Eleanor. Her for the face of The Lost Lake.

It had all been a flurry after that, rushing to get her flown out to a tiny village in the English countryside for filming. She has rented a room above the village’s combination inn-and-pub, Owen settling in next door, and finds the whole place charming in ways with which Los Angeles can’t compete.

The production itself is contained to a single location: a manor and its grounds, where cast and crew will have free reign to paint the love story between a bright-eyed au pair and a long-cursed woman bound to the house’s lake. Dani shields her eyes with one hand, beaming up at the sprawling house.

“This is gorgeous.”

“Better be,” a woman’s voice drawls off to her left, “for what they’re paying to use it.”

Dani turns in time to see a black taxi crunching gravel, disappearing down the endless drive. The woman who has spoken is gorgeous, perhaps ten years her senior: icy eyes, full lips, deadly cheekbones. She extends a hand, and Dani accepts it warmly.

“Viola Lloyd,” the woman says. “Better known for these next few months as your personal Lady of the Lake.”

Dani laughs. “Pleasure to meet you. I’m—”

“I know who you are,” Viola interrupts. Her accent is crisply English, her smile restrained in the manner of a pageant queen. “I must be honest, I didn’t expect them to secure an Academy Award-nominated actor for an adaptation with so much…heart.”

I have heart, Dani thinks indignantly. Her smile never wavers. “Well, you know. Always good to try the things that scare you.”

“Like kissing a woman.” Viola bares her teeth. Dani raises an eyebrow.

“If that’s enough to frighten you, maybe you’re in the wrong place.”

For a long moment, Viola stares. Then, just as suddenly as she’d arrived, her face breaks into a genuine smile.

“Oh, we will get along famously, you and I. Come. Mustn’t keep our fine director waiting.”

Her arm loops through Dani’s, her strides carrying them halfway to the house before Dani even knows they’re moving. She glances over her shoulder as Owen, jogging behind them, shoots her a well done thumbs up.

“I wish we could have simply stayed here,” Viola is saying as she manhandles Dani into the foyer, “it’s magnificent. You’ll see. Crew is small enough, we probably could have managed it, but those prices—ah! Becca!”

A prim young woman with black hair bound into a braid turns, beaming. “Viola! Oh, good, you’ve found her!”

“Like a lost lamb,” Viola confirms, pushing Dani toward the new woman. “Ms. Clayton—”

“Dani, please.”

“—meet Rebecca Jessel. Source of all our beauty, all our snappy comebacks, and all of our—” She lays a flirtatious hand on Dani’s elbow, eyebrows rising. “Boundless lust.”

“There are, regrettably, some bounds,” Rebecca says lightly. “We are pushing for a proper R rating in America, after all. Ms. Clayton, we’re so pleased you could make time in your busy schedule for our project.”

“Dani,” she corrects, careful to keep her tone bright to prevent anyone noticing the edge. She hates it when people speak to her like she matters more than them, like she’s doing them some great favor. It’s a job, acting. A good job, a fun one, and she enjoys it immensely—but it doesn’t make her a god by any means. She could just as easily have become a teacher, and been no different for the change in salary.

“Dani,” Viola repeats knowingly. “Well, Dani. I don’t suppose you’ve been introduced to the brains of the operation?”

“Rude,” Rebecca sniffs. Viola gives her a placating smile.

“Darling, you’re the heart, the soul, the very spirit.”

“Leave off licking her boots, Lloyd, you’re already on payroll.”

Dani tenses. She’d told herself she could handle anything, that the whole point of this adventure was the adventure, that being frightened was a good sign she was doing something right.

Somehow, it never occurred to her that this could happen.

The director is slim, dressed in pinstripe slacks held up by suspenders, clean sneakers, a black button-down cocked open at the collar. Dani’s eyes drift desperately, struggling to avoid landing on the woman’s grim, beautiful face.

They land, instead, on the silver chain at her throat, and she feels all the air go out of the room.

“Present for you.”

“For me?” Jamie stretches. She’s perfectly tailored for Dani’s bed, it often seems. Her own is piled high with clothes (they’ve gotten good at aiming for it in fits of passion), and Dani sometimes wonders if they don’t unconsciously strive to render it unusable for sleeping.

It’s better to have her here, in Dani’s space: sprawled lazily among mussed sheets, boxer-briefs slung low on her hips, half-asleep and still smelling of sex. She’s perfect.

Nearly.

“I don’t need a present,” she’s laughing, as Dani—naked herself and pleasantly sore from clenching her thighs around Jamie’s head—all but falls off the bed trying to reach beneath it. “Or, better idea, come back up here and be my present—”

“After,” Dani says impatiently. Here, a sock. There, a notebook. A demolished package of cookies. A— “Yes!”

Jamie’s expression softens at the velvet box, fingers brushing the links when she pops it open. “Dani. This is—”

“Made me think of you,” Dani says hurriedly. They’ve been together a year now—long enough to feel as though jewelry is acceptable, but maybe not so long to not be embarrassed about it. “Solid. Unbroken. Not too flashy, but so beautiful.”

Jamie ducks her head, grinning. “Help me with it.”

Dani does, pleased when the cool metal on Jamie’s warm skin elicits a soft sigh. Even more pleased when Jamie reaches up to cup her cheek, her kiss open and sweet as she presses Dani onto the mattress—

“Dani,” says Jamie with a small nod. “Long time.”

“It’s you.” Not the best opening line, she has to admit. Jamie’s smile is thin, brittle, nothing like the easy grin she remembers.

“It is. Sorry for springing it on you like this, I, er—wasn’t entirely sure you’d turn up, if you knew.”

She sounds guilty, Dani registers. The old Jamie would never have left a thing like this to surprise; the old Jamie reserved surprises for pleasant things. Skipping class to sweep her off to a lunch date in the park. Turning up with her favorite movie and lemon-rice soup when she was meant to be staying over at a friend’s while Dani rode out a nasty flu. Bribing the psych TA to give her keys to an auditorium, propping Dani against the teacher’s desk, fucking her with practiced grace like the whole of campus belonged only to them—

Well, she thinks darkly, there was one surprise. One massive surprise. Sort of took the prize, didn’t it?

“You’re friends?” Rebecca is gaping at Jamie, every angle of her posture stunned. “You’re friends with Dani Clayton, and you didn’t tell me?”

“Friends is a strong word,” Jamie says, a bit weakly. Dani has the distinct impression she’s watching her control over the situation go off the rails, and is surprised to find herself pleased by the notion. Good, Jamie. See how it feels to be shocked out of your skin, for once.

“We were roommates,” she says before Jamie can correct her. “In college.”

“You were roommates,” Rebecca repeats in that same shell-shocked fashion. “With Dani Clayton. And you didn’t say.”

She smacks Jamie’s shoulder hard enough to echo. Jamie winces, ducking away.

“Oi, go easy. I didn’t think it would help, that’s all.”

“Help? You watched her tape like you’d never seen her before, you absolute—”

“Would you like me to step away?” Dani asks with forced politeness. “Give you a moment?”

“No,” they snap at the same time, which would be funny under any other circumstance. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Owen exchange a look with Viola.

Jamie. Jamie is directing. Jamie watched her tape. Jamie, who walked out five years ago and never looked back.

“You okay?” Owen whispers as the conversation, steered largely by a desperate-looking Jamie, tips away from her and toward the subject of today’s table read. Dani nods. What else can she do?

Be professional, she tells herself firmly. She’s an adult. They both are, and just because she didn’t plan on Jamie Taylor slouching back into her life this fall doesn’t mean she can’t handle it. She’s a damn fine actress, a damn capable human being. She can handle anything.

Jamie glances up in time to catch her glaring, and Dani looks sharply away.

Goddamned plans.

4

JAMIE

She doesn’t know what she was thinking. This is a terrible fucking idea.

“I am correct,” Hannah says idly, presenting Jamie with yet another rack of potential costumes, “in saying you made this decision of your own accord? No one grasped your limbs and signed on those dotted lines for you?”

“Don’t be cheeky,” Jamie groans. “I’m too tired for cheeky.”

Hannah gives her a pleasant smile. Good at her job, like everyone on this shoot, but they’ve worked together on too many projects for Hannah Grose to bother holding her tongue. If there’s something to be said, she’s sure to say it, and waste no time mucking about. It’s one of Jamie’s favorite things about her; that decisive energy outfits casts to detail-oriented perfection, ensuring everything looks exactly as it should.

It also tears open Hannah’s friends when they are, to her mind, acting a bit too much like children.

“I knew she’d be good for it,” Jamie protests. “You saw ‘em at the table, they’re already electric.”

Possibly a little too electric, she doesn’t say. Viola Lloyd is a pinnacle of her craft, an indie darling in her own right. Both women have made a career on giving their all so completely, they vanish into their roles. Viola’s quick wit and rakish humor would meld beautifully with Dani’s heart-on-sleeve approach to inhabiting her characters. Of course. Seeing them together, Viola with expensive sunglasses nested in her hair, Dani in a pink crop top and beanie, she could already visualize it perfectly. They’re a filmmaker’s dream.

And we like that, she tells herself firmly. They have chemistry. They need to have chemistry for this all to work. So what if it makes Jamie’s jaw clench just a little, to see Dani covering Viola’s pale hand with her own?

“Stupid,” she mutters. Hannah frowns, and she waves her off. “Not you. This whole—I shouldn’t have done it. Stupid, to think it’d be easy.”

“Oh, I don’t believe for a moment you were aiming for easy.” She doesn’t appreciate the humor behind the words, the knowing smile Hannah flashes. “But you were right about one thing. She is excellent.”

They both are. They’re already learning one another’s tendencies, Viola hitching when Dani fills the silence, Dani leaning in toward Viola’s gravity. Already, they are falling into character: Dani into Eleanor’s stiff posture and vulnerable heart, Viola into the cool seduction of the Lady. It is not, to put it bluntly, a far stretch for either party. If Jamie’s honest—something she’s tried for five years never to be with herself when the lights go out—she imagined Dani in this role from the very start, reading Rebecca’s novel on her back porch with a bottle of merlot forgotten at her side.

A bad sign, she should have realized. A bad sign, to be imagining her ex-girlfriend in the lead role from the jump. She couldn’t have known the opportunities would line up so perfectly, but even so…

Even so nothing. Chemistry between her leads is invaluable in any story; in this story, of love found in the bleakest of shadows, it’s critical. She’s glad Dani and Viola have it. She’s glad she talked the studio into taking this leap.

It’s easy to tell herself this as she moves about the house, making adjustments to props, mental notes on lighting, plans for the best use of the space. Easy to tell herself it’s all going to be great—wonderful—splendid, to pluck a word from Rebecca’s pocket—as she squares her shoulders and sets her jaw in preparation for the first day of shooting.

It is, like so much regarding Dani Clayton, easy—until she walks into the kitchen to find Dani waiting there, resting her elbow against the counter as she leans over her script binder. Her hair cascades down her back, perfectly styled, the lines of her tucked-in blouse expertly arranged. It’s too easy to imagine her back in that dorm room, chin on palm, frowning down at last week’s biology notes.

If she closes her eyes, she can see the scene unfold as it was always meant to: Dani, lost in thought; Jamie, slipping up behind her; arms easing around middle, mouth pressing to the back of a long slim neck—

She clears her throat. Dani glances up. Her expression goes rigid.

“Mornin’,” Jamie says, like it’s the easiest thing in the world. “Feeling ready?”

It’s important to build a repertoire with her actors. A director gets the best performance possible out of people who trust her—to have their best interests at heart, to understand the characters, to put the story first—and Jamie has always prided herself at being on top of her craft. She’s always been a good listener, a dab hand when it comes to observing the human condition. It comes in particular handy with this mad world of play-pretend they’ve made into a career.

And that’s all, she tells herself as she moves beside Dani and leans her weight against the counter, she’s doing now. It is only the job, with its usual parameters and demands.

The job, admittedly, has Dani looking at her with a furrowed brow. Her what are we doing here expression, equal parts irritated and curious. She wore that look the week Jamie spent talking too loudly, dropping mugs of tea on their dorm rug, stumbling over the furniture.

Wore it right up until Jamie said something inane about people who are a bit too pretty, never know what to do with that. And then, abruptly, that expression had cleared away.

It isn’t clearing now.

“Yes,” she says. If Jamie didn’t know better, she’d think this particular tone pleasant. Polite. Professional. Not the least bit icy. “I’m excited.”

You sound it, Jamie thinks sardonically. Aloud, she says, “Glad to hear it. Know it’s not your usual—”

“It’s a great story,” Dani says, as if daring her to keep up that train of thought. Go on, Jamie. Keep telling me about my usual, see where it gets you. “I love the book. That sense of dread giving way to devotion is unmatched.”

“Yeah. Yeah, Becca knows what she’s doin’—”

Dani lets the binder clap shut, tucking it against her chest like a shield. “I should get some water before we start. Nice seeing you, Jamie.”

We’re in a kitchen, Jamie thinks dumbly, twisting at the waist to watch Dani stride from the room.

Nice seeing you, Jamie. Like they’ve run into one another at the grocery store. Like they’re passing the same bus stop. Like it doesn’t matter.

Well. To her, maybe. She’s not stupid. She’s been watching the news, the magazine circuit, the gossip blogs. Try though she might not to, one eye seems forever primed to watch for Dani’s name on a screen. Charting her meteoric rise. Her accolades.

Her arm candy.

Not that Jamie cares. Not that Jamie can care. Dani’s girl-next-door charm was always going to lead her down this road, eventually; it’s impossible to meet the woman and not fall a little bit in love with her. And, of course, America’s Sweetheart can’t be seen alone on the red carpet. It would be depressing. Jamie doesn’t—can’t—care about the speculation, the quick-fire shots of Dani in magnificent dresses with a dark-haired man leaning in to make her laugh. Jamie doesn’t—can’t—spare the energy. Dani, after all, has long moved on.

And now Jamie is simply an inconvenient bit of furniture, a required appointment, a means to an end. And she can’t care. It would be childish, to care. It would be childish, to grasp Dani by the arm, swing her into the nearest cupboard, say, Look, I know how we left it was pretty shite—I know I was pretty shite—but can’t we just fucking take it back?

They can’t. Of course they can’t. Scripts get revisions; real life gets forward momentum, choices made and lived with, exes pasting on smiles in front of their colleagues for the good of the project. There’s no rewriting history.

She sighs, switches on the tap, and counts to thirty as the water runs clean. Then she straightens up, takes a breath, and sets off to do her goddamned job.

DANI

It is far from a perfect project. The crew is much smaller than anything Dani’s been party to in her career, many of them pulling double-duty; the costume designer, Hannah, sometimes steps in to hold a boom mic or duck below the camera’s sight line to pull a prop off a shelf to prevent need of CGI in post. Owen is only too delighted to assist wherever an extra pair of hands is needed, and even Jamie spends just as much time fussing with lights as she does staring into the monitor during takes.

Dani wonders if she shouldn’t be doing more herself, matching the energy of these people who have made transforming The Lost Lake into a cinematic experience. She says as much to Viola between scenes one day, mainly to distract from the impulse to work her thumb between her teeth and bite at the nail.

“Don’t be silly.” Viola manages to sound amused and haughty at the same time. It’s taken some getting used to, her whole demeanor running opposition to Dani’s, but she’s nowhere near the worst co-star possible. They just come from such different worlds.

“I just feel so guilty, standing around while they run all over like this.”

“Darling, when there are only four names on the call sheet, we put our energy where it’s needed most.” Viola taps her chin with two fingers, watching the camerawoman, Charlotte, stoop down to speak to her daughter. “Sweet girl, isn’t she?”

Flora and her brother Miles only have a handful more scenes to film, which saddens Dani slightly. It’s easier to ignore the Jamie of it all when there are children on set, both new to acting and enamored of their elder castmates. Flora in particular loves to follow Dani around, peppering her with questions (How did you know you wanted to be in films? What was your first movie? What’s your favorite color? Will you move here after?) until Dani can’t help but laugh.

They’re good kids, excellently cast as the young children Dani’s au pair is caring for when the Lady appears in her lake. She looks at them and wonders what it would be like to start so young, with a cinematographer mother and composer father working in tandem on projects. She looks at them, this little family built within the industry, and imagines what it would be like to build one of her own.

“Do you have kids?”

Viola smiles, unlocks her phone, shows Dani her home screen with a flourish. “Isabel. She’s eight. Stays with her father while I’m on location.”

This last comes with a slight edge Dani can’t entirely read. She waits, head tilted, until Viola sighs.

“Divorce is a nasty business. He wanted to work through it, but…” Her fist clenches around the phone. “Some things you simply cannot forgive.”

Dani gets the impression forgiveness is not one of Viola Lloyd’s strong suits. “Well, maybe with some time—”

“Would you forgive your husband for taking your sister into his bed while you were on a shoot?” Viola asks archly. Dani coughs.

“Ah. Um. That sounds awful.”

She’s rescued from needing to say more when Charlotte straightens, turning to Jamie. “Right, We’re ready.”

Tonight’s shoot is one of the more complex arrangements. Up until now, Dani’s work with the children has been entirely in daylight: an establishing sequence including her arrival at the manor, a picnic staged on the back lawn, a conversation about her ill luck with love while gazing out the window. Easy. Straightforward. Minimal blocking required.

Tonight’s scene gets the ball rolling on the plot. Eleanor wakes in the night to an loud thumping sound—the front door banging shut—and an eerie melody twisting the night air. The children have left their beds, gone out to investigate the odd music, and find the Lady standing in her lake. Eleanor leaps to action, charging into the fog-addled waters, rescuing her small charges before they can swim too far out to the mysterious figure and drown.

“Sure you don’t want a stand-in?” Jamie asked yesterday, like she really believed Dani would say yes. “No one would think less of you.”

“I can swim,” Dani pointed out. “And Viola’s doing it herself.”

“Yeah, but—”

“You picked me to do the job.” Try as she might, Dani couldn’t keep the ice out of her voice. “Let me do it, Jamie.”

Jamie had opened her mouth to rebut—and then, shaking her head, closed it again. The director mask slipped down, concealing the ex-girlfriend from view. “Right. Looking forward to it.”

She didn’t say what Dani knew they were both thinking: ‘Course I know you can swim. I was there.

Jamie in a sleek green one-piece, smiling crookedly, waving at her from the student activity center pool. “Come on. You can do it. Wee kids do it every day.”

“There’s less of them,” Dani grumbles. “Don’t sink as easy.”

“You’re not going to fuckin’ sink. C’mere.”

Her hand is the only reason Dani does it. Her hand, stretched out above the near-motionless water, droplets falling from the tips of her fingers. She smells of chlorine when Dani joins her, trying not to shiver, trying not to fear waves that barely crest over her belly.

“See? Feet on solid ground. You can touch the bottom, you can always find the sky again.” Jamie squeezes her hand. “Now. Lie back.”

“No way.”

“Dani.” Her eyes are nearly green in the dim blue light. Her skin is warm, her hand steady as it presses lightly against Dani’s middle. Urging her back. Urging her to rest her shoulders across Jamie’s extended arm. “I’ve got you. You trust me?”

Now, Dani faces the lake with jaw clenched, trying not to shiver in the cool September air. Trying not to fear a lake which is not a pool, which is not the usual fare for this kind of stunt. The coordinator has taken every precaution; Viola will be rowed out, the boat hovering just out of frame with two divers ready to follow if she should slip off the wooden platform braced beneath the waves. Dani, for her part, only has to splash in up to her armpits. The children are wearing floatation devices beneath their nightclothes.

“Whole thing will take minutes,” the coordinator promises her for the eighth or ninth time. “Anything goes sideways, I’ll have you out in a flash.”

She draws a breath. Viola waves grandly to them all as she eases her Elizabethan-gowned frame into the rowboat, and Dani laughs. Viola has the harder task by far, and she isn’t concerned. It’ll be easy. It’ll be nothing.

“Action!” Jamie calls. She’s seated in a folding chair behind the camera, boxy headphones over her curls, looking for all the world like she was born for this. Behind her, Rebecca leans into the monitor, giddy.

The children splash out. Dani rushes up behind them, shouting, plunging into the waves. The wind is gentle tonight, the water shock-cold, but otherwise kind. Ahead of her, Viola stands like a statue, imperious and terrifying. Dani counts her beats: one, two, three into the lake, four to grab Miles around the waist, five to wheel him around and urge him to shore. Turn back, spot Flora, bobbing gently in place. Reach—

“Great!” Jamie calls when they’ve splashed back to the shoreline. “Quick change, one more?”

They do three more takes, easy as pie, and on the fourth, Dani gets cocky. She doesn’t mean to, doesn’t even realize she’s slipped her guard; it’s just going so well, so straightforward, the water embracing her like an old friend. She counts her beats: one, two, three—and her left foot slips out from under her, tangled on some underwater vegetation. She goes down in a windmill of arms, a surprised shriek snagging on the water like a skipped stone.

“Dani!”

She’s already up again, blustering, spitting lake water. An arm is around her middle, a familiar hand splayed along her ribs. Jamie, soaked to the waist, headphones still over her ears, stares at her from inches away.

“What,” Dani asks blankly, “are you doing?”

“You went under,” Jamie says. Her arm is still around Dani’s body, her fingers bracketing the underside of one breast beneath a flimsy nightgown. Dani is hyper aware of it all, suddenly: the pink silk plastered to her frame, the chill of the air, the eyes of their colleagues drinking them in. Jamie, in a black shirt, suspenders, that goddamn silver necklace, looking at her like all the oxygen has gone out of the world.

“I tripped,” she says, because she can think of nothing else. “Water’s only up to my thighs, Jamie.”

Jamie makes a sound like a puncture wound opening. Her hand hasn’t moved. Dani suspects she can’t remember how to move. They are trapped here indefinitely, suspended, Jamie’s body tipped in toward her own like she’s ready to hike Dani into a bridal carry and heft her back to solid ground.

Except you don’t do that, do you? Dani thinks, her heart pounding a wounded tattoo. You walk away and leave me to carry myself back.

“Sorry,” Jamie mutters as Dani takes a step back, careful not to upend herself a second time in the process. “Sorry, I—panicked.”

“You’ll leap in to rescue me next, I trust!” Viola’s hands are cupped around her bright red lips, her eyes shining. The crew titters. Jamie blinks, a flash of anger crossing her features before a grin bodies it aside.

“Nah. That dress doubles as a life vest,” she calls back. “Had to have it insured!”

They’re all laughing, the children giggling as they doggy paddle back to shore. Dani laughs with them, rebelling against the embarrassment warming her skin—and, worse, against the instinctive heat between her legs. Jamie has gone out of her way to keep distant since the project began, hands always in pockets or behind her back. To have her that close, even for a moment, holding Dani against her lithe body like she belonged there…

She walked away, she reminds herself. She left. Never looked back. She doesn’t get to have that kind of effect, not anymore.

Some things, Viola had said, you simply cannot forgive.

Dani shakes her head, accepts the towel Owen offers, and readies herself for another take.

5

JAMIE

The days pass in a blur. The children’s scenes are out of the way, the mini wrap party held in their honor over and done with. Flora laughed through tears as her father bundled her into the car back to London. Miles reached up and solemnly shook Jamie’s hand like a boy on the bridge to adulthood.

She’d thought she’d be relieved, having them gone; kids are notoriously difficult to work with, beat out only by animals, and she prefers to keep her time with under-twelves to a minimum. Still, Flora and Miles were terrific, capable, full of joy—and, in a way, they’d commanded the kind of attention she hadn’t minded sparing. Better to worry about them, whether they knew their lines and could hit their marks, than to let her focus drift to where it really wants to be.

She’s been unable to keep her eyes off Dani since they left, and doesn’t that just prove the point?

She hasn’t been able to shake that night at the lake, the horror engulfing her good sense when Dani had slipped for a beat beneath the waves. She’d known the facts, of course: the water wasn’t deep—the lake is man-made, not even all that dangerous out where they’d situated Viola—and Dani is a capable swimmer. She’d learned at school, with Jamie cheering her on, rewarding every successful breach into deeper waters with long kisses. More importantly, she wouldn’t take on a stunt she didn’t feel capable of performing. That just isn’t Dani’s style.

Except she always thinks she can do it, a voice in the back of her head had murmured. She always believes she really can handle it. And usually she’s right, but—

But she’d slipped, and the water wasn’t deep, and there were people on hand for just such an accident, and still. Still, Jamie hadn’t been able to stop herself. She was in that lake before she could think better of it, hauling Dani into her arms, pulling her against a heaving chest like she had any right.

And then she’d just stood there like a twat, eyes wide, breath short. Stood there, fully dressed, her phone still in her pocket—thank Christ for Hannah and her trick with a bag of rice—her entire world reduced to Dani in a dripping nightgown.

Some part of her had almost ruined it all in that moment. Some part of her had almost grasped Dani by the waist, pulled her close, let her in on the ultimate secret: walking away doesn’t mean going, not really, not always. Sometimes it just means stretching a thread until you think it must, must, break—

And finding, bewilderingly, it never quite does.

Thank Christ for Dani, too, then. She’d had the common sense to step back, to break the spell before it could damn them both. It would, after all, have been unforgiveable on multiple levels. As the director, yes, who needs to earn Dani’s trust as a performer—but as an old friend, too. As the person who once knew her best. The person who knows all too well what Dani hasn’t told the world.

She won’t spoil that here, not for anything. Dani deserves to do it on her terms, in her own time. Wasn’t that why Jamie walked away in the first place?

The kids are gone, and Dani remains. Jamie needs to keep her head on straight, needs not to obsess about a pink nightgown, droplets weaving down the deep neckline, the press of soft breasts against her side. Jamie needs to think about the story, the scenes, the work.

“You’ve got a crush.”

She won’t bludgeon Rebecca Jessel with a copy of her own script. She won’t, because it’s unprofessional, because the studio would be vexed to replace both writer and director in a single shot. She won’t—though that grin isn’t making it easy.

“Don’t you have scenes to revise?”

“Wanted to talk to you about that.” At least she knows how to let things go, Rebecca. She leans an arm on Jamie’s shoulder, stretching to point at the day’s scene. “I was thinking we could move this to the bedroom.”

Jamie frowns. As-is, the sequence is meant to play out in the parlor, a roaring fire setting a romantic atmosphere against which Eleanor and the Lady have their first argument. The Lady has allowed the children to leave if Eleanor stays with her, but she hasn’t been pleasant about it. She has, in fact, made Eleanor feel small, berated, trapped within the walls of a once-beloved manor—and Eleanor has had enough.

“Why the bedroom?”

“Think it could make for a good bookend.” Rebecca’s eyes are sparkling. She’s in her element here, watching the world she’s built leap to life. “You know, for when they have their first love scene.”

Jamie nods distractedly. The love scenes, yes—the very point of the narrative, for some readers. They’ve been carefully choreographing those in every spare moment, shaving excess, adding nuance, plotting exactly how much skin can be allowed and what tricks might be employed to convince the audience they’re seeing more than what’s on screen. She’s been obsessing about that, too, those scenes. In the book, they are remarkably steamy, but sweet, too. You really believe Eleanor and the Lady care for each other, not just for what’s going on beneath their skirts. You have to believe it, Jamie thinks, to make it worth everyone’s time.

Easy enough to do on the page, if you have Rebecca’s talent. Far less simple onscreen, with real bodies, real people who might not get along half as well as their fictional counterparts.

Or, she thinks darkly, maybe they get on fine.

Dani has been spending an awful lot of time in Viola’s trailer, after all. Not that Jamie’s got a problem with that. Certainly, a believable love story requires effort and time, both parties getting to know one another off-screen as well as on. Certainly, to make the world believe Eleanor and the Lady will have their happily-ever-after, Dani and Viola should at least be friends.

The kinds of friends who spend hours together, laughing, whispering, seeing the set through a lens Jamie can’t borrow. The kinds of friends who grasp each other’s hands, bow their heads close, gaze at one another with secret glee.

It isn’t her business. Isn’t anyone’s business, how the two conduct themselves. They’ve been wonderfully present on camera, barely dropping a line or a cue. Viola’s reputation for minimal bloopers meshes nicely with Dani’s determination to get things right the first time. A director couldn’t ask for a better match.

This director needs to stop worrying what they’re doing behind the scenes and think about the finished product.

“Bedroom,” she repeats. “Right. Make the changes, I’ll let crew know we’re budging over.”

She needs a break. Just a quick one, to get her head on straight. She taps a cigarette out of her nearly-empty pack, holds it up like a get-out-of-jail card. “Back in five.”

She shouldn’t smoke. She’s been trying to quit, leaning into toothpicks and lollipops to stabilize her oral fixation. Back at the inn, she’s got a little bonsai tree, the only plant she allows herself to cart around on the road. Keeps her hands steady, having something to focus on aside from the nicotine.

Today, though. She’s already tipping today, and it’s barely ten o’clock. They’ve got three scenes to get through before sunset. A. break now and then is acceptable.

She’s already outside, lighting up before her feet touch cobblestone, when she realizes she isn’t alone. A groan catches in her chest, tamped down by the first inhalation.

“You all right?”

Dani looks up from her phone, letting the thumb she’s been absently nibbling fall from her mouth. Her lips are flushed, her cheeks pink, and for one staggering moment, Jamie wonders if she and Viola have been practicing.

Well within their bloody rights, she tells herself, and drags deep. Dani’s mouth angles up at the corners.

“Thought you were gonna quit.”

“Did,” Jamie says. “But these things just have a way of appearing in pockets.”

She digs the pack out, holds it toward Dani, who hesitates.

“Give me one.”

“You don’t smoke,” Jamie points out. She’s laying on her back on the floor, the texture of their rug digging agreeably into her bare skin. Dani, draped over her like a blanket, rocks her hips warningly against Jamie’s thigh. She’s still wet, still warm, and when her fingers pluck at a peaked nipple, Jamie thinks she might have been a bit hasty engaging the post-coital habit.

“Let me try yours, then. You always make it look so sexy.”

“It’s not,” Jamie pronounces, craning her neck to aim a blue streak toward the ceiling. “Deeply unsexy. Terrible for your breath control.”

“You manage just fine,” Dani says suggestively, hips rolling again. “C’mon, this is college. I want to say I’ve tried things.”

“Try all sorts of things. Never fucked in a classroom before this year, did you?”

“I don’t know. Did I?” Eyebrows raised in challenge, Dani holds the sober expression for all of four seconds before it collapses in on itself. Jamie laughs.

“Just don’t want you to stumble into the habit, is all. It’s a nasty one. Doesn’t have a great finish line when all’s said and done.”

Dani props herself up. She fits perfectly along the length of Jamie’s frame, one thigh slipping between Jamie’s legs to press into damp curls. Jamie inhales, her free hand rising to grasp a smooth hip.

“Whatever finish line you’re racing toward,” Dani says in a low voice, rubbing against her with leonine pleasure, “that’s the one I want, too. Where you go, I go.”

Wordless, unable to think between the stutter of her heart and the spreading of her legs, Jamie lifts the cigarette to Dani’s lips and watches her take a drag.

“No, thank you,” Dani says, though one hand twitches as if in rebellion. “You really should quit.”

“I really should,” Jamie agrees. If she closes her eyes, she can still see that dorm floor. Dani’s hair sweaty against her forehead. Dani’s hand notched between her breasts. Dani shifting her hips, straddling her, moving against her with mounting friction. If she closes her eyes, she can smell sex, and smoke, and sweat—

“We’re moving the scene,” she says, cutting off the film reel in her head. “Today. To the bedroom. Becca says it’ll make for better symmetry.”

Dani nods. “I can see that. That’ll be good.”

“Mm.” Another drag. She forces her eyes to the horizon, the brilliant sun squinting shut her eyes. “Listen, Dani—”

She waits a beat, expecting to hear the crunch of Dani’s sensible flats on gravel as she wheels away from whatever Jamie could possibly offer her. Dani doesn’t move. Jamie’s heart careens, a hopeless mess of an organ doing its best to end her prematurely.

“You’re doing great,” she says. It wasn’t what she was aiming for, what she’d set out to say when she’d opened her mouth, but it’s not untrue, either. “At all of this, you’re—you’re doin’ great.”

This is Dani’s cue to say, Did you think I wouldn’t? You did hire me, Jamie. Instead, she hears only a soft, “Thank you.” She allows herself one brief look, a beat to devour Dani’s small smile, pink lips, blue eyes.

“Welcome.” Now say sorry. For all of it. For leaving, for staying gone, for damn-near picking her up in that damn lake— “Right. Back to it?”

Dani crosses the threshold as Jamie stubs out her cigarette, tossing it into the tiny trash can near the door. She follows, careful not to keep too close to Dani’s heels, her head ringing. Thank you. It wasn’t much, but at least Dani had smiled.

DANI

“I don’t know what you want from me!” Dani bellows. The words tear from her throat, aching. She squeezes her fists at her sides, her head angled to stare into haughty eyes. “You say you’re lonely, but then you act like this?”

“Like what?”

“Like you’ve never cared for another living person in your life.” Dani laughs, sharp, acidic. “Jesus, you keep me here with you like it’s ever going to change. Two weeks, and you haven’t said a kind word!”

“Untrue—”

“It is true! You say you’re lonely, but isn’t it better to be lonely than to stay with someone you despise?”

A beat, oppressive in its stillness. She feels it press down, a weighted bar on her shoulders, and presses indignantly back. Her spine is straight. Her cheeks are flushed. Some battles, you fight even knowing you can’t possibly win.

“I don’t despise you,” Viola says quietly. The depth of pain in four words is incredible. Dani nearly jostles out of the scene, hearing it. Viola makes every word out of the Lady’s mouth feel so authentic, so true to a woman cursed to live an endless existence on her own.

“Well,” she says, fumbling a little—and that’s fine, that’s Eleanor, headstrong yet off-balanced by this sudden glimmer of truth— “You have a funny way of showing it.”

Viola turns from her, shoulders tilting toward the exit—then back toward Dani with the smallest shift—and then she’s gone, pulling the heavy door shut behind her. It slams hard, and she pokes her head back through, the Lady’s misery replaced by amusement. “Shit, was that too loud?”

Jamie flaps a hand. “Easy to fix in post. That was incredible.”

She’s looking at Dani when she says it, her eyes unreadable. Dani looks away, back toward Viola.

“I really felt that one. You’re good at this, should think about going pro.”

Viola tosses her head, the picture of feigned elegance. She has proven to be a tough woman, true, aloof and beautiful, but Dani’s spent enough time with her of late to see what lies beneath. The real Viola is someone she’d never want to cross, someone she almost fears at times, but when she cares about something, she does not do it by half measures.

And this film, she really cares about. Even now, she’s looking at the monitor, saying to Jamie, “Play that one back, please, I want to make sure it’s perfect.”

“It is,” Jamie assures her, gaze slipping back to Dani for a furtive second. Viola makes an impatient hand gesture, and they watch it back together: Eleanor invited to dinner without fanfare, as though it’s a foregone conclusion, losing her temper. On the small screen, Dani watches herself step nearer to Viola, marveling at how close the framing makes them appear. Eleanor, in her body, had felt furious and strangely betrayed. Eleanor on the screen looks like some part of her wants badly to grasp the Lady’s face in her hands,  make her see reason.

“How’d you do that?” she asks the side of Jamie’s head. “Make us look like we’re going to tackle one another. We weren’t even that close.”

Jamie brightens. “It’s the push, see? Up close, erasing all that extra space. It’ll be even cleaner when we get the secondary angle with close-ups edited in. You really look like you’re going to go at her in that take.”

“If the spirit moves you,” Viola drawls, “by all means. Though I suppose our coordinator would have something to say about that?”

She looks over Dani’s shoulder to the young person with a clipboard, an intimacy coordinator Jamie and Rebecca had both insisted upon hiring. They lift a hand in a sardonic little wave, lips pursed.

“Let’s please not put me out of the job?”

Dani snaps off a salute. She likes Eden, the level-headed presence they bring to set. There have been precious few intimacy coordinators in her career thus far; after this experience, she thinks she might work a clause into her contracts demanding one. It’s the most comfortable she’s felt feigning interest in a colleague, easily.

“If you’re both happy with that one,” Jamie says, “we’d like to get the bookend out of the way while we’re all set up. Just need to make some tweaks to lighting and we’ll be good to go.”

Dani glances at her, surprised to hear a note of stiff sobriety. Jamie as a director is shockingly at-ease. She leans and slouches, moves with deliberation around the outskirts of a scene or settles behind the monitor like she was always meant to reside there. When she cuts off a line to suggest an actor go at it from another direction, she somehow never makes it feel like an interruption. She is gentle, smooth, stable, and she makes even the most vitriolic of scenes feel the same.

Dani has never heard her tighten up this way, like she suddenly doesn’t want to be here. It’s beyond strange.

“She okay?” she asks Rebecca, and that also feels strange. Rebecca is sweet, but they hardly know each other; asking a relative stranger how Jamie is doing, instead of asking Jamie herself, is just wrong.

Rebecca, thankfully, doesn’t seem to feel it. “I don’t think she’s sleeping well. I tell her, normal people use the beds in hotel rooms, but she insists on those awful little sofas they always include. The ones in Bly are horrific.”

Dani frowns. “Why wouldn’t she sleep in the bed?”

“Beats me. She’s an odd duck, that one, but no one can argue with her results.” Rebecca makes witchy fingers, eyes wide, and laughs. “She’s got the magic. Guess it requires a little sacrifice, huh?”

She putters off to help mess around with light stands, adjusting the mood of the room from afternoon to late evening. Dani leans against the wall, unable to coax her eyes off of Jamie’s back.

So much is the same, is the thing that gets her most. So much of Jamie is precisely as she remembers: the eyerolls, the hands in pockets, the teasing jabs crafted to sound grumpy, though they are couched in kindness. Her dress sense, admittedly, has shifted toward the more fashionable, more adult; in school, she was all ripped jeans, baggy overalls, thrift store band t-shirts. Now, she irons her shirts, shines her boots, caps her curls with the occasional lopsided hat Dani herself wouldn’t dare try to pull off. But under all that, there’s so much Jamie present. A Jamie who has traded botany for cinematography, who refuses to sleep in hotel beds, who can’t quit smoking or hold Dani’s eyes for longer than a few beats…is still Jamie. Unequivocally. Unavoidably.

You’re doin’ great, she’d said, and Dani had been launched back in time without warning. How many times had Jamie said those exact words to her in school? It had been her catchphrase for a while there. She’d tailored it to all occasions.

Marching up the steps to the fifth floor, the elevator dead in its pen, her arms overloaded with a laundry basket full of books. Dani doesn’t think she’ll make it. Doesn’t think she has it in her. She stumbles on the top step, catches herself by pinning the basket against the cinderblock wall. The door flies open to reveal a long hall, bright lights, a dark-haired girl wearing a bandana and a smirk.

“Hey there, Poppins. How was your holiday?”

“Holiday was fine,” Dani says breathlessly, relieved as she follows her roommate to the middle of the hall. Jamie unlocks their door, holds it open. “Think it’s the moving back in that’ll kill me.”

“Nah.” Jamie’s eyes sparkle. “You’re doin’ great.”

Dani smiles, remembering. Roommates, they had been, and damn good ones. Two people thrown together by fate and a computer’s algorithm. It shouldn’t have worked. She and Jamie were nothing alike, and yet, within the first month, they were already becoming fast friends.

Groaning, her head rolling to the side, she squinches shut her eyes. She doesn’t want to look. Can’t look. This is the kind of terrible that turns her stomach.

“Easy, Poppins,” Jamie says against her ear. Her breath is warm, tinged with the orange juice Dani had forced them both to chug before the appointment. We don’t want to pass out, she’d insisted, and Jamie had obediently drained an entire little bottle of Minute Maid.

“I have to look,” Dani says breathlessly. “I’m going to look.”

“You probably shouldn’t,” Jamie advises, but Dani’s already turning her attention to the crook of her own elbow, to the needle embedded in the flesh. She groans again, stomach lurching.

“Why did you convince me this was a good idea? Who sells their plasma?”

“You did want to afford books this semester,” Jamie points out, her tone perfectly reasonable. Her hand squeezes Dani’s.

“This is what kills me,” Dani mutters. Jamie bows her forehead gently against Dani’s hair, laughing against her ear.

“Nah. You’re doin’ great.”

Friends they had been—falling asleep over their books, staying up late on the quad, counting stars, telling stories. Jamie’s childhood had been hard. Dani’s had been no picnic, either. There was solace in finding someone who, while unable to entirely understand, was willing to listen.

And then, near the end of freshman year, the April Jamie had started acting strange. How she’d stumbled over her words, flushed bright any time Dani touched her arm, laughed just a little too loudly at Dani’s jokes. How she’d muttered, Some people are just a bit too pretty, that’s all. Never know what to do with that.

How her eyes had shone, when Dani had grasped her hoodie sleeves and kissed her. A wild kiss, reckless, sleepless nights and warmth in her belly colliding in a supernova of bad idea. Except it hadn’t been. It had been a wonderful idea. Jamie had pulled back, dazed, beaming, and friends became something so much deeper.

Arching in her chair, shaking her head, thumping the desk lightly with one fist. It’s glorious outside, a brilliant Saturday. She should be out with Jamie enjoying it, not trapped in the clutches of  an online exam.

“All right, Poppins?” Jamie, flipping through a magazine on the bed. Dani’s bed, which is somehow also Jamie’s these days. They’ve been at this for five months, three of which were spent apart—Jamie subletting from a classmate, Dani begrudgingly home for the summer—and it’s…the best. The best thing Dani’s ever been a part of.

So much better than this stupid math test.

“I’m bored,” she groans. “I’m trying to care, but—” But she’s a drama major, not a mathematician. She doesn’t know what she’ll do with her diploma (teach, maybe?), but it won’t be quadratic equations.

Jamie slides from the bed, tossing the magazine aside. She whistles, leaning over Dani’s shoulder to frown at the laptop screen. “Ah, yeah, that looks miserable. Shame. Such a beautiful day.”

“You could go out,” Dani says regretfully. “Enjoy the sun. No reason you have to stay cooped up with me just ‘cuz I’ve still got—” She scrolls. Sighs. “Fifteen questions left.”

“Is it timed?” Jamie asks. Her voice is weirdly light. Innocent. She’s grasping Dani’s chair on either side of her thighs, spinning it away from the desk, pulling back so it rolls across the cement floor. Dani raises her eyebrows.

“Why?” she asks suspiciously as Jamie shuffles between the chair and desk, settling down in the shadows and tucking the chair back into place. She’s smiling, tongue darting out to wet her lips. “Jamie. Jamie, I’m taking a test.”

“And?” Jamie’s hands, deliciously warm, pushing up her skirt. Jamie’s hands, deliciously deft, plucking at the band of her underwear. “Scoot forward.”

Dani does. Dani, against her better judgment, a hand rising to clamp down on a smile as she lifts her hips so the material can slide away. Jamie leans in, breath on her skin.

“I hate for you to be bored,” Jamie murmurs, tongue tracing the muscle of her thigh. “It’s such a waste.”

“Can’t have that,” Dani says breathlessly. One hand is on the keyboard, trembling. The other fists in Jamie’s hair. Her chest is tight, her legs spreading under the desk, welcoming Jamie in. Two fingers stroke her once, testing, and she groans.

“Teasing like that is gonna kill me.”

“Nah,” Jamie whispers, muffled. Her lips close around Dani in a slow, languid kiss. Dani gasps; the screen blurs as Jamie’s tongue flicks, her fingers pressing up and in. Her eyes are bright, her voice ragged when she pulls slickly away and crooks those fingers in slow thrusts. “Nah, Dani. You’re doin’ great.”

“Dani?”

She doesn’t jump. She’s very proud of herself for not jumping. She meets Viola’s eyes, squeezing her hand into a fist, trying to focus on the impression of her own short nails in her palm. Anything but the pounding between her legs, the memory of thighs slick with desire, of Jamie pulling her nearly off the chair, into her mouth, sucking her gently as Dani struggled to quite literally put two and two together—

“You look…”

“What?” she asks, too quickly. Her breath is caught in her chest. Her eyes dart to Jamie, crouched to adjust markers on the floor.

“Mildly insane, if you want my honest opinion,” Viola says lightly. “Where, pray tell, did you go?”

Into the forbidden memory of my ex-girlfriend’s mouth. She cringes inwardly. Nope, can’t say that. “Just a bit nervous. First, um. First one of these in a long time.”

This much is truth, or some brand of it. She hasn’t done anything beyond a kissing scene in two movies. It is a little bit strange to know she will, in the fullness of the coming weeks, be getting mostly naked with this woman.

Stranger still, to imagine Jamie watching. Jamie, just off center, eyes tracking every motion, brain whirring to figure out how to spin their clumsy miming into something screen-appropriate.

Her stomach does another flip, her thighs pressing together beneath the hem of her dress. Viola looks amused.

“And how long has it been?”

“Um. A year, maybe?”

“And how long has it been?” Viola repeats meaningfully. Dani’s face goes hot.

“That has…nothing to do with it.” Viola can’t honestly be insinuating she’s looking insane because of hormones. She can’t honestly think that’s appropriate, to drive a crowbar into Dani’s personal life that way, to flat-out ask when last she was bedded off-screen.

“Mm,” Viola says, following the burning line of her gaze to Jamie: stretching her arms above her head, arching her back. “She was your last, I take it?”

She was supposed to be. “No!” Dani splutters. Viola tsks.

“You’re Academy-nominated, I’d expect a better performance than that.”

“Can we not talk about this?” Dani grasps her elbow, pulling her through the open door into the hall. “We are at work.”

“Yes,” Viola says, like this is nothing at all to blink at. “And you are doing an admirable job, working alongside your ex. Truly, we are all very impressed.”

“Who is we?” Dani hisses. Viola shrugs.

“I may have a bet on with the cinematographer. And costume design. Oh, what, you didn’t really think you two were being subtle?”

They have, in fact, been doing a great job of keeping things above board. Jamie almost never touches Dani; Dani almost never allows herself to be alone with Jamie. They are cordial, on task, conversational at absolute best. They are—

“—in dire need of stumbling into the same bed,” Viola says boredly. “Trust me, all the best revelations are between the sheets. It’s where I decided to leave my husband. Admittedly, this had more to do with the name he pretended he hadn’t moaned…”

Dani can’t handle this right now. In five minutes, they need to take their places, bringing Eleanor and the Lady into their very first embrace. It’s a chaste scene, as these things go (compared, at least, to the rest of the film), a cut-to-black as they fall onto the mattress, but even so. She needs to be in her right mind.

She needs to forget Jamie’s crooked little smile, the glint of her eyes beneath a desk, out in the sun, a cigarette between the very lips she can so easily imagine urging her toward a climax as her hips jerk, her knee slamming the underside of the desk, her whole world irrationally bound up in Jamie Taylor and her inexplicable ability to slip beneath Dani’s skin.

She groans, head falling into her hand. Viola gives her a perfunctory pat on the back.

“There, there. We all dream of shagging our directors from time to time. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I don’t dream—” She stops dead. It’s not going to come out as she needs it to. Why bother? “It’s over,” she says instead. “It’s been over for five years. She walked out, I never heard from her again. What else is there?”

“Chemistry?” Viola asks, her voice dripping with faux innocence. Dani, before she can think better of it, slaps her arm. Dark brows knit. “Ooh. She really brings it out of you.”

“Brings what?” Deep breaths, she reminds herself, deep breaths are the key. In for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four…

(And who had taught her that little trick? Who had sat with her, breathing in time, counting in a low rolling accent she wanted so badly to tuck away in her heart?)

“Fire,” Viola says, and it might be Dani’s imagination, but she thinks she hears a drop of sorrow in the word. “And good for you both. That’s rare, a thing like that. I ought to know.”

“Hey.” Jamie appears in the doorway, concern creasing her face. “We ready?”

Dani nods, grabbing for Viola’s hand before the older woman can impart her unwanted observations to Jamie, too. Jamie steps hastily aside, twisting before Dani’s shoulder can collide with her own. Dani is certain she hears the breath catch in her chest, hears Jamie clear her throat the way she had the very first time she came back from class and found Dani waiting in her bed wearing nothing but a regulation twin-size sheet—

Eleanor, she reminds herself. I am Eleanor. I am in love with a doomed woman. It’s her I want.

She hopes she is the only one savvy enough not to believe it.

6

JAMIE

Dani has always been a fantastic kisser. It’s inappropriate to recall, especially now, but she can’t help it. She’s been watching Dani’s form for three days.

She’s only gotten better, Jamie would wager, and it kills her to think it. Kills her to watch Dani’s fingers cradle a strong jaw, card through thick black hair, fold around the back of another woman’s skull. If she closes her eyes, it would be so easy to step into Viola’s shoes, feel those fingers tugging at her curls, feel those lips part beneath her own.

She’s taken to sitting with legs crossed, a hand over her mouth, watching these scenes play out. It’s easier that way—holding back, keeping herself out of focus. Easier to cover her slack-jawed expression, fix her glazed eyes on the monitor instead of the flesh-and-blood women moving together across the room. Thankfully, no one is ever watching her. Why would they?

Dani and Viola are over here spelling out a love story for the ages. What do they need Jamie for?

They’re in the dining room today. Rebecca’s script is saucy, careful to work in as many rooms of the house as possible—mostly for the long second-act montage of lovemaking that they have been shooting all week—and Jamie’s impressed despite herself. For a woman who presumably has no interest in other women, Rebecca writes this sort of thing beautifully.

Almost as beautifully as Dani is playing it out.

She’s shirtless today, a black lace bra and skirt the only vestiges of costume. She is currently perched on the edge of the cherrywood dining table, one stocking-clad foot braced on a chair, answering emails and chattering away with Owen. She looks so at home here, as if she might at any moment turn to Jamie and ask her to see if the mail’s been delivered yet.

We could live here, she thinks distractedly, fidgeting with cables to keep from staring. We could live in a place just like this. Every room our playground. Whole place to ourselves. It could be real.

It can’t. She needs to stop thinking that way. Midway through a shoot, it’s ridiculous to still be having these thoughts—and, worse, the dreams. She’s gone out of her way to sleep as uncomfortably as possible, propped in a rumpled armchair or on a lackluster sofa, trying to keep her unconscious mind on its toes. Hasn’t mattered. Every night, she dreams of Dani. Every night, a replay of whatever they’d shot that day.

Eleanor in the Lady’s lap before a roaring fireplace, her hair loose, tastefully topless? That night, it’s Jamie beneath her, Jamie’s nails raking down her arched spine, Jamie’s mouth closing around a tight nipple until she cries out.

Eleanor in the grass, holding her skirt around her waist as the Lady gently bends her knees, angles down between them, drinking her in beside the very lake in which they’d met? That night, Jamie is between those pliant thighs, pushing them as far apart as Dani can stand, her tongue sunk deep.

Eleanor in the kitchen, grinding playfully against the Lady’s backside, hands cupping breasts through an unyielding corset and gown? That night, Dani’s hands tease under her t-shirt, Dani’s breath tickling her neck as she kisses Jamie’s neck in wild, exploratory paths that leave her clutching the countertop.

She wakes with hands cramping, one partway into her sleep shorts. She jerks it guiltily free, throwing both above her head to grip her pillowcase instead, and spends the rest of the day vibrating around set like she’s inhaled six pots of coffee.

Bad. It’s bad, and getting worse all the while. The scene today is erotic, the Lady teasing Eleanor until she screams; Jamie doesn’t dare let her mind brush the beats (Jamie in the chair, Dani’s ankle pressed between her spread legs, Dani grinning, Dani tipping her head back, Dani’s collarbones, cleavage, stomach on display as Jamie leans in to kiss her way up, up, up with agonizing slowness).

Or: she doesn’t mean to brush the beats. Doesn’t mean to imagine Dani in that black bra and canary skirt, her stockings mussed, her chest flushed. Doesn’t mean to imagine herself toying between Dani’s legs, stroking, barely touching her, watching Dani’s mouth slacken as she lays back—

“Oh, you’re hopeless,” Rebecca says in her ear, and genuinely, it’s not going to be Jamie’s fault when she accidentally flails a hand into the woman’s nose. It’s unsafe to be going around muttering at unwary people, that’s all. Rebecca ought to know as much.

“I’m not—I didn’t do—”

“No.” Becca sounds sympathetic. “No, doesn’t look like you’ve done anything about it. Which is frankly upsetting, the way you look at her.”

Jamie grits her teeth. Few more weeks. Few more weeks, and it’ll be all in the can, post-production rushing up to meet them. She’ll see Dani again at the wrap party, on the premiere carpet, here and there for marketing purposes, and then…

Never again. She’ll leave Dani to it, as she’d promised herself a long time ago. She’ll walk away—again—and it’ll all be for the best. Dani can have her career, the one she so richly deserves, and Jamie will have her own. It’s been good enough for five years, knowing she wasn’t standing in the way of any of that. It’ll be good enough again.

Dani looks up, meets her eyes briefly. Jamie lifts a hand in a silent wave, her heart juddering when Dani returns the gesture with a smile.

“She’s been warming to you,” Rebecca observes. “Little more every day, I’d wager. You could…”

“Could continue being her director, making the best movie we can manage? Terrific advice, Becca, think I’ll take it.” She edges away. Rebecca follows.

“Now don’t get snappy with me just ‘cuz you’re in love with the talent—”

“I’m not in love with anyone.” Lie. Lie. She’s such a tragic liar. There’s a reason she’s always fancied a spot behind the camera. “Anyway, what do you propose? I spend my day watching her fall for someone else and then sidle on over, ask her for a round of drinks after?”

“Pretend,” Rebecca says quietly. Jamie scowls.

“What?”

“Pretend to fall in love with someone else.” She’s nodding toward Viola, laughing at something on Dani’s phone. “They’re good at what they do, Jamie, but what they do is pretending. Start to finish.”

“Yeah.” It is. And then, sometimes, it isn’t. How many times have those stories cropped up? Two beautiful people paid to feign affection for one another, and then: oops, we’ve simply tripped and tumbled onto the same mattress. Showmances aren’t exactly rare, and though Jamie generally doubts the fortitude of such unions, she can’t judge actors for it. Especially when Dani’s involved. Who wouldn’t fall for Dani?

“Jamie—”

“Let’s get started, shall we?” She doesn’t need Rebecca to pity her. Doesn’t need anyone to tell her not to worry, not to be jealous. Even if it’s true, even if there’s nothing between them, it wouldn’t matter. She has no right to jealousy. She left Dani.

Yeah, but you only did it because she sounded like she wanted it, didn’t you? You only did it ‘cuz you’d had that conversation—go on, call it what it was: a fight. You had that fight, and knew she’d never ask you to go, because that’s not what Dani does—so you did it on your own. Protected her. Protected her career, and look what’s come of it.

Selfish, to put it in that light. Like it was all this noble, heroic act on Jamie’s part. Like some part of her wasn’t packing her bags because it was safer to run than to admit the truth: that she was helplessly, infinitely in love with a woman who did not know how to come out in the public eye. Who still hasn’t come out, all these years later, and who turns up to parties with a handsome chiseled man on her arm. So was Jamie right to do it?

She doesn’t know. Every day, she’s wondered. Every day, she’s waffled back and forth, unable to decide. In the end, right or wrong, it doesn’t mean much. She did it, and there’s no going back to edit over that footage.

“Just like we rehearsed,” Eden is coaching them when she reaches the table. Viola, in her exorbitantly beautiful gown, taps Dani’s knee.

“I don’t have to bite you.”

Bite?” Jamie repeats before she can stop herself. Three pairs of eyes lock on target, bewildered. She clears her throat. “Sorry. Missed that conversation.”

“I’m fine with it,” Dani assures Viola, though her eyes are narrowed in Jamie’s direction. “Just not too hard, please.”

“Long as you don’t get swept up,” Jamie mumbles. Viola gives an imperious smile.

“Don’t worry. That is rule number one on the no-no list.”

Eden taps their clipboard. “Damn right.”

They assume their positions, everyone else shuffling out of the way, and Jamie falls into her own role as completely as possible. Jamie may know what it feels like to hold Dani Clayton. Jamie may know all too well how her skin warms, where she’s ticklish, where she’ll be unable to stop herself crying out if teased. Jamie may know that Dani likes to be bitten, especially if it’s an accident, especially if they’re meant to be quiet because they’re staying over a friend’s apartment after a party runs late, and that friend left their bedroom door open, and the couch isn’t quite big enough for two people to be rutting against each other on this way—

The director doesn’t know any of this. The director knows how to light a scene, how to urge the camera in closer than seems considerate, how to pace a moment so it transforms from dirty to sensual. The director is the one at the wheel when she gives instruction:

“Slower—” When the Lady is cupping Eleanor’s cheek and tilting her head back.

“Bend with her—” When Eleanor instinctively presses toward the chair instead of backwards onto the table.

“Pause—smile—” Between kisses, eyes meeting, a self-conscious laugh building not on Eleanor’s lips, but the Lady’s. An entirely organic moment, one that will easily melt hearts. The director can evoke a moment like that.

Jamie can’t, and so Jamie can’t be allowed intrusion. Because, for Jamie, this isn’t a fantasy setting. Jamie is watching the love of her life drift away, Jamie is watching the love of her life fade under the grasp of an outside force, Jamie is watching the love of her life surrender to the Lady’s lips at her throat, fingers unhooking her bra, hand coasting up her skirt.

Jamie is watching Eleanor and the Lady, Dani and Viola, and it’s hard to tell them apart, sometimes. They’re so good at what they do. They’re so in it, and Dani looks like she always did in Jamie’s bed, writhes like she always did under Jamie’s mouth, looks up at another woman with eyes that have always seen Jamie when no one else could—

“Cut!”

Why, she wonders, would someone do that? Interrupt a scene with so much promise out of nowhere? Was it Eden? Did someone’s hand slip?

They’re looking at her, she realizes. They’re all looking at her. She swallows.

“I—”

“Something wrong?” Dani twists to look at her upside down, shoulders flat against the table, and Jamie nearly laughs at the absurdity of it all. She shakes her head.

“Lighting, uh. Slipped. Out of focus. We’ll take it from the neck kiss, one sec—”

No one calls her on it, this blatant lie. No one says a word out of the ordinary. She pretends to push a button, then another, fighting to get herself under control.

The old Jamie—the one she’d been before ever meeting Dani Clayton—might behave this way, with so little self-control. The old Jamie had been queen of poor self-control, poor self-preservation. The adult version knows better. She is better.

“Hey.” Dani’s fingers ghost over her shoulder, barely touching before they’re gone. She’s holding a t-shirt against her chest, eyes hooded with concern. “What’s going on?”

Jamie shakes her head. “Rookie mistake,” she says, steeling her voice. “Won’t happen again. Go on, get back to her.”

Dani frowns, but she doesn’t reach out again, doesn’t push. Jamie’s grateful. She doesn’t know what she’ll do, in the event Dani Clayton offers even a scrap of the old affection. Fall apart, maybe. Shatter, maybe.

“Sorry,” she says loudly, pulling the headphones back over her ears. “Let’s go again.”

It is the one and only interruption.

7

DANI

“No, that’s not quite what I—” Eden’s voice is muffled around a pen. Dani feels like a Barbie doll under their hands, pulling her into place. “Dammit. This isn’t working. Hey, Jamie?”

“Mm?” Jamie, perched on a pew with one leg folded beneath her, is checking over the afternoon’s sides. She glances up, bleary-eyed, and Dani wonders if she even bothered going to bed last night.

“Can you get over here? Need another body.”

Jamie hesitates, but Eden’s expression leaves no room for argument. She sighs, sliding from her seat, and positions herself obediently at Dani’s side. “What’s up?”

“Push her up against the wall,” Eden commands.

“I’m—sorry?”

“I need to see it play out. We factored this scene for the house, there’s all this furniture I didn’t account for. Be my choreography assistant, or we’re gonna lose an hour making sure this is perfect when Viola gets back.”

Viola, off on an emergency phone call with her daughter, would be furious to find they’ve wasted precious time because Dani and Jamie can’t be trusted to touch one another. Unacceptable. Anyway, they’re adults.

“Just do it, Jamie,” Dani sighs, holding out her arms. “Come on, I trust you.”

The thing is, she understands why Eden needs to see it all rehearsed before the cameras roll. Any intimate scene comes with its own challenges, but this one—a particularly aggressive make-up sequence in the manor’s personal chapel—is more daunting than most. The floor is composed of old stone, the pews unyielding wood. There are lit candles everywhere. It’s an OSHA violation waiting to happen.

Jamie is looking at her, inscrutable. “You’re sure?”

“You’re not going to hurt me,” Dani assures her, and spares them both the obvious addition of again. “Go on. Get rough.”

“Wall,” Eden commands. Jamie’s hands fold loosely around her hips, urging her back. She strikes stone far too gently. Eden rolls their eyes. “Take that again, but this time, try pretending she isn’t made of dandelion fluff.”

Jamie scowls. Dani touches a hand to her shoulder, unsurprised to find her running hot beneath her t-shirt. Outside, a storm is building, the air electric with oncoming lightning.

“Jamie,” she says quietly. “You know the scene. Play it out.”

“Wall,” Eden repeats as they return to the starting marker. Jamie takes a deep breath. Her hands dig into Dani’s hips this time, trembling through the fabric of her dress. She pushes, and this time, Dani feels the weight of the action in every atom. She meets the wall with a crash, wincing slightly. Eden makes a note on their board.

“Little easier on the next one. Kiss her neck.”

“I—” Jamie’s eyes are wide, panicked. Dani reaches up without thinking, cradling her cheek.

“Acting,” she murmurs, and draws Jamie’s face down. Her heart bounds against her ribs as Jamie’s hands slide up her sides, one folding instinctively around to cup the base of her spine. Her mouth rests lightly on Dani’s bared throat, unmoving, her body pushing Dani harder against the wall as if on instinct.

“Hair,” Eden calls, and Dani fists a hand in frazzled curls, pulling Jamie in closer. She feels the gasp against her skin, the pressure of Jamie’s lips once—there, and then, as if in shame, gone again. Her own eyes close as she struggles into character.

Eleanor. I am Eleanor. The Lady has done me wrong, and I’m furious with her—she didn’t tell me the truth. And she’s furious with me, she thinks I was trying to leave her, and this is the culmination of so much anger, so much hurt, so much wanting—

“Knee,” Eden instructs. Jamie complies, shifting a thigh between Dani’s legs and pressing instinctively up. In the scene, Viola will hold back before making actual grinding contact; Jamie does not. She seems to realize her mistake, but Dani’s hands are already responding, grasping at her belt loops, pulling her closer. She releases a low moan and thinks, Eleanor, I am Eleanor, Eleanor wants her so badly, but there’s so much hurt

“Pivot,” Eden calls. Dani pushes hard against Jamie’s chest, feeling thunder beneath her palms, fingers tightening around the crumpled front of her neatly-ironed shirt. She propels them backward, taking lead in the dance, aiming for the first row of pews.

Jamie drops into place with a grunt, landing at an angle and tumbling back against the wood. Dani follows her down, skirt fanned around her hips, grasp tight on Jamie’s collar. She hears Eden’s next directive, but doesn’t need it. She’s already wrenching Jamie up to meet her, gazing down into pupil-blown eyes. They are breast to breast, breath mingling, lips not quite brushing. Not quite bridging the gap, even as Dani grinds down, fumbles for Jamie’s hand, pulls it under her dress to rest against the clenched muscle of her thigh.

Jamie’s eyes are closed. Her hand flexes against Dani’s skin, the other gripping the back of the pew for balance. Her face has a desperate quality about it, hungry and hopeful and utterly lost.

The scene is torrid, all firelight and thrashing storm. Eleanor rides the Lady’s hand, holding her close, but never quite kissing her. Never quite admitting defeat, not until the very end, when she whimpers and arches and lets the Lady back in.

 (“It’s symbolic,” Rebecca had said proudly, even prouder when Viola drawled back, “It’s the hottest goddamn scene in the book.”)

“Perfect,” Eden calls over their clipboard. “Y’all need to be careful with the turn, the stone’s uneven, it could take you out. Dani, when you follow her, have her give you a little sign she’s landed okay before we go on—three pulls on your skirt out of frame or something, coordinate with Viola before we start.”

Jamie is looking at her, panting slightly, her hand still beneath the skirt. Dani realizes her nails are digging into the back of Jamie’s neck. She winces.

“Sorry. I’m sorry. Was that too much?”

Jamie seems to have lost the power of speech. She blinks twice, retrieving her hand from Dani’s leg and looking at it like it belongs to someone else.

“Your back,” she says at last. Dani cocks her head.

“My back…?”

“I bruise you?” Her hand moves slowly, tentative, touching between Dani’s shoulder blades with such ginger care, it almost makes her want to cry. She shakes her head.

“I’m good. I’m okay.”

Jamie nods, but whatever she’s about to say is lost under Viola’s entrance, a flurry of words Dani can’t quite make out. Her daughter is upset, evidently. Something about Viola’s sister trying to take her to a show Viola had promised for her next time home.

“Oh,” she says at last, registering the jumble of limbs. Dani, still straddling Jamie’s lap, gives her a small smile.

“You missed choreo.”

“How depressing for me,” Viola says, staring. “It looks like a real party.”

JAMIE

“Dani.”

She shouldn’t be here, she knows. Shouldn’t be staying after the shoot for anything these days, not with the way her brain keeps latching onto aspects of the story and threading them into her dreams. She’s already blurred the line between director and actor far more than is comfortable; if she ruins the rest of the show, she’ll never forgive herself.

Even so. She can’t quite bring herself to leave, not yet. Not after today.

The rest of the crew has run for it through the storm, the world awash in lashing sheets and brilliant lightning. The most expensive items will remain in the chapel overnight, wrapped in plastic casing to be recovered in daylight. The whole scene will need ADR; every time a particularly great moment erupted on screen, it was matched by vicious bursts of thunder. Jamie doesn’t mind. It’s going to look incredible.

“Can we talk?” she asks. Dani, watching Viola sprint ahead of Rebecca toward the house, nods.

In her mind’s eye, Jamie can’t unsee this afternoon. Can’t unfeel the way they panted into one another, lips parted and shining, hips meeting in reckless momentum. She can’t shake the burn of Dani’s fingernails in her neck, tiny red moons beneath her hair.

“Look, today—when Eden asked—I shouldn’t have—” She stops, frustrated. Dani glances toward the house, folding her arms over her chest, and leans back against the wall.

The very wall, Jamie can’t forget, she’d pushed Dani against. The rattle of shoulders on stone. The gentle firmness of Dani’s hand pulling her down. The absolute confidence with which Dani tilted her head back, baring her throat, daring Jamie to sink.

The warm silk of her thighs enfolding one of Jamie’s. The raw sound of her voice, muffled against Jamie’s shoulder.

“I should have told them no,” she says, choosing her words carefully, letting them out in a slow reel. “I—with our history, it was inappropriate. It wasn’t…a boundary I meant to cross.”

Dani’s arms are still folded. Under one of them, in the sleeve of her sweater, Jamie can see her thumb jammed into her fist. A sure sign of stress Jamie herself has only added to. She sighs.

“I thought it would be easier,” she says. “Having you here. I knew you’d do incredible work, I didn’t think about how…the reality of it would go.”

“Yeah?” Dani sounds almost angry. “It’s not as easy as it used to be? To just make choices without talking to me first?”

“Dani—” She didn’t mean for it to go this way. She doesn’t want it to go this way. If she’d wanted a fight, she wouldn’t have avoided all those texts, calls, letters, emails.

She doesn’t want to fight. She just wants it all to smooth out.

But Dani is glaring at her now, hugging herself around the middle like it’s the only thing stopping her from tackling Jamie to the floor. “Three years,” she says, enunciating every syllable. “Three years, Jamie. And then you just…bailed. Middle of the goddamn night, you went without a word. Because we had one fight.”

Jamie shakes her head. The door is still open, the storm soaking the stones at the entryway. “That isn’t what happened. Isn’t why I went.”

“Okay,” says Dani thinly. “Enlighten me. What happened, Jamie?”

“This!” Jamie explodes. She’d meant to keep this short and sweet, keep a level head, apologize for crossing professional lines. That was all. She doesn’t want this, this hashing out of long-dead ghosts, but fuck it. They’re here now. The graves stand empty, the ghosts crowding the chapel. No getting away unscathed. “This happened! This career, this world we’re in now!”

Dani stares at her, unmoved. Jamie groans, rubbing a hand over her face. Dani’s perfume clings to it; she drops it to her side as if letting go of a hot poker.

“You wanted this,” she says helplessly. “You wanted this, and you wanted me, and you couldn’t have both. Not with the way this industry looks at young queer women. You already had trouble telling people at school—”

“It was new,” Dani says, and while she sounds angry, she sounds miserable, too. “It was new, Jamie, I was learning on the fly how to even be myself. You helped with that. You made it safe to be me. And then, one conversation about being out and proud in Hollywood, and you were gone. Do you know it took me a week to realize you’d actually dropped out?”

“I—”

“A week, Jamie! I just sat there like an idiot for a week, waiting for you to come back. I had to find out from the RA that you’d turned in your keys!” She takes a step forward, and then another. Jamie backs up. “You ran away. You ran away from me. You swore you never would.”

“I was trying to help—”

“No,” Dani says, a sharp laugh bisecting the word, “no, that wasn’t helping. Leaving is never what helping looks like.”

Not true, Jamie wants to protest. Sometimes, it’s the only way. Sometimes, it’s leave or drag you down.

“I didn’t want to ruin you,” she says miserably, eyes on the floor. “How different would your career be, if you’d started off shackled to me? Blue collar dropout, as openly gay as it gets. Would they have cast you in any of those big-budget historical dramas?”

“Yes!” Dani cries, still advancing. “Because I’m good, Jamie. I’m so good at what I do, I thought I could even convince myself. Do you know how deranged that feels, to think you can even outrun your own mind?”

“Yeah.” Jamie rubs her nose, smiling a little despite herself. “Yeah, I do.”

“I’m good,” Dani repeats. Her hands rise to Jamie’s suspenders, clutching. She smooths them out, gives Jamie’s shoulders a wry pat. “But I’m not that good.”

Jamie wraps shaking fingers around her wrists, unable to resist. The stroke of skin on skin is maddening in its perfection. Dani leans up, her forehead firm against Jamie’s.

“I didn’t want to be in your way,” Jamie whispers. “I didn’t want to mess up your life.”

“You messed it up,” Dani replies, “by not giving me a say.”

They stand for a moment, silent, the rain pounding the roof. Dani tips her chin down, angles her head, smiles a sad, striking smile.

Then she steps back. Lets her hands fall. Shakes her head.

“Love of my life,” she murmurs. “How could you possibly think leaving wouldn’t mess me up?”

She strides to the door without looking back, plunging out into the storm. Jamie waits a beat, her heart in her throat, the phantom press of Dani’s forehead against her own pounding like a headache.

“Wait,” she says, too softly. “Dani. Wait.”

Running in the rain is the most alive a person gets to feel, she thinks. Numbingly cold, painfully solid drops berate her from all sides, and she runs, slips in the grass, keeps running. Ahead of her, Dani is a shadow with a swirling skirt. Ahead of her, Dani is getting away.

She skids into the house, boots squalling, a bedraggled mess. Dani is nowhere to be seen. She slumps against the doorframe, weak-kneed.

“Hey.”

Her head snaps up, water trickling into her eyes. Rebecca holds up a ring of car keys.

“We’re getting drinks. You’re coming along.”

Jamie sighs. “Yeah. All right. Might as well.”

8

DANI

She’s too tired for a pub, but the idea of going back up to her room alone is worse. She’ll only wind up laying on top of the covers, one hand thrown over her eyes, replaying the greatest hits of the day. How Jamie’s body had felt too right against her own. How Jamie’s eyes had looked too wet after. How she’d run, splashing through puddles, wanting all the while to turn and fling herself back into that chapel and that woman.

That maddening, too-noble woman. I didn’t want to mess up your life. She even believes it, Dani can tell. She believes it with the fervor of five years, and it doesn’t matter how stupid it was—she really thought it was the right call. Sacrifice her own joy—their joy—for Dani to be a movie star. She really did.

So, no, she doesn’t feel like drinking, exactly. But even less does she feel like sitting around with that conversation on a loop, Jamie’s hands holding tight to her wrists, Jamie’s lips so close and so unimaginably far. Wouldn’t end well, taking that road, either.

So here she is in the pub, dressed in her own clothes—still rain-soaked; this storm isn’t letting up—and nursing a glass of red wine. The others are having a much better time, milling about. They’ve more or less got the run of the place, the village of Bly tucked cozily into their beds, and they’re taking advantage of it. Owen and Hannah are playing what appears to be a game of strip darts. Eden is deep in conversation with the bartender. Viola is regaling half the crew with tales of old shoots.

And Jamie. Jamie is sitting alone.

Because of course she is.

Sitting alone, fingers tracing the rim of her glass. She’s staring out the window like it’s playing her favorite movie. Every few minutes, her hair drips on the table.

“You’re going to catch cold,” Dani tells her playfully.

“Oh, are you immune?” Arms around her, Jamie spins. They laugh: a little bit drunk, a lot in love, twirling through the enormous puddles collecting all over campus. “Have you know,” she adds, “I’m English.”

“You hide it so well.”

“And we,” Jamie goes on, ignoring this, “are raised on rain. S’in our blood.”

“You know what’s in my blood?” Dani grins. “Whiskey. Lots of it.”

“Drank me under the table,” Jamie confirms. Her eyes roll back as Dani splays open her collar with one clumsy hand, bowing to lick the joint of neck and shoulder. “Hey, now. No having your way with me in the rain.”

“No?” Dani glances down at Jamie’s hand teasing up her shirt. “So what’s that?”

“I said with me.” Jamie spins, pinning her against the brick of the English building. Water sluices in waves off the roof, missing them by inches. Dani winds a leg around Jamie’s hip, shivering when cool fingertips slip up, up, cupping a bare breast beneath one of Jamie’s favorite shirts. “I am most certainly having my way with you.”

“She looks pitiful,” Viola says. “Like a puppy someone didn’t want.”

“Everyone wants puppies,” Dani says distractedly, sipping wine. Viola snorts.

“No, you want puppies. That’s entirely different.” She prods Dani in the shoulder. “So?”

“So…?”

“We are at a party,” Viola says, like Dani’s stupid. “Go party. And wipe that look off her face, she’s genuinely intolerable when she’s in a mood.”

“She’s never intolerable.”

“That,” Viola says, and gives her another push, “entirely proves my point, Ms. Clayton.”

She shouldn’t go over there. They’ve already hashed it out once tonight; what more could they say that alcohol couldn’t actively make worse? She should go upstairs. Go to bed. Forget this whole confusing, complicated day—

Jamie’s getting up. Moving toward the door. Dani, without thinking, sets down her glass and gives chase.

“Where are you going?”

Jamie stops in the middle of a puddle, dead in place like she’d truly thought herself invisible. She glances back, her face done up in shades of grief.

“You’re getting wet,” Dani points out. Jamie shrugs.

“Feels good.”

“It’s cold,” Dani goes on. She’s only a few feet away now, and closing the distance fast. She doesn’t know what she’ll do when she reaches Jamie, who is looking up at the sky like she sort of wants it to fall on her.

Jamie mutters something she can’t make out. Dani is almost on her now, close enough to see the shadows under her eyes, the raindrops collecting on her lashes. Even soaked and miserable, Jamie is so beautiful, it hurts.

“Go back in,” Jamie says.

“You first.”

“Dani, don’t be stupid, you’re practically the only person on the call sheet. What’re we meant to do if you get sick?”

“Blame the director,” Dani says reasonably. “For being stubborn first.”

Jamie kicks a rock. It sails a foot or so and plunks down in a deep puddle. Dani waits.

“You may have forgotten. I have the willpower of an unbroken stallion in one of those movies for little horse girls.”

Jamie doesn’t smile. “Go back,” she says wearily. “I’m sure Viola is missing you.”

“Viola?” Dani glances back toward the pub. Beyond the window, Viola and Rebecca are engaged in conversation. She shakes her head, “I think she’s fine, actually.”

“You look good together,” Jamie says tightly. “Natural. It’ll really help the film.”

“Help the—” It dawns. Like a creeping sunrise struggling to push through winter clouds, it dawns. Dani gapes in disbelief. “Oh, Jamie. You’re not seriously suggesting—”

Jamie hunches her shoulders. “She’s gorgeous. She’s famous. You’re both established. Why not?”

She’s trying so hard, Dani can tell, to look easy in her skin right now. So hard to pretend this is a natural conversation to have with your ex in the pouring rain, knowing you both have to go back to work tomorrow. There’s so little jealousy in her face, in fact, that it must be an act. Dani knows from experience the effort that goes into polishing an expression that way.

She can’t help it. She laughs.

“Oh, yeah, it’s hilarious,” Jamie says, a little sarcastically. “Whole world’s small and weird, but it’s bloody—”

She shuts up. Dani’s hands are on either side of her face. They are chest to chest, pressed flush, Jamie’s pushing out when she exhales shakily.

“Jamie. Just apologize.”

“For thinking you’d look good paired up with—”

“For leaving,” Dani sighs. “Apologize for leaving. For thinking you knew best what I needed without even asking me. For staying away all these years. Just apologize to me so we can move on to the next part of the story.”

Jamie licks rainwater from her lips. “Which is…?”

“Jamie.”

“Sorry. I’m sorry. Felt stupid right away, but I thought it was the only way to help—”

The rest is muffled, sunk into the first real kiss Dani’s tasted in five years. She should have let her finish, she knows, should have let the rest of the apology spiral out—but haven’t they been through enough? Isn’t life too short to wallow in shame? Isn’t Jamie the only person she’s ever loved, the only person who’s ever seen every piece of her and smiled?

How could she resist looping an arm around Jamie’s neck now, opening to the desperation of her kiss? She presses herself against Jamie’s waterlogged frame, feeling the muscle of her back beneath the paper-thin plaster of her shirt, and makes a terribly undignified sound into Jamie’s mouth. The arms around her are strong, less tentative than she’d have imagined—and she has imagined. Every day for five years. Every night of the past weeks, especially. Every time a scene played out, her clothing cast aside, her voice wrapped around another woman’s name, it was Jamie playing opposite her in her dreams.

Jamie, who right now seems to have quite forgotten where they are. She’s gasping into Dani, breathing hard into a kiss that might never end, and her hips are firm against Dani’s, her hand cupping one breast through a flimsy shirt. Dani arches into the fingers gently twisting one nipple and pants her name.

“Not here,” she laughs when Jamie’s mouth dips to her neck, her hands striving to travel everywhere at once. “Jamie, I want to fuck you, not get us arrested.”

Jamie makes a coiled sound in her chest that almost convinces her to take it back. She raises her head, cheeks flushed, already walking Dani backward down the street toward the inn.

“They’re going to ask,” she warns. Dani grasps a handful of soggy curls, yanks her down into another kiss.

“They’ve got eyes. I’m sure they can answer all their own questions.”

They manage to disentangle long enough to get through the pub and up the stairs. Jamie’s room is closest; she swipes the keycard two, three times without success. Dani is nibbling her earlobe, whispering, “Come on, it’s like you don’t want me,” and feeling just excellent about her choices when the lock finally clicks open and Jamie shoves her inside with a growl.

They don’t make it to the bed. They barely make it into the room at all before Jamie is slamming her against the wall, hands scrambling at the pleats of her skirt. Dani groans, Eden’s directives ringing in her head (Wall. Neck. Hair. Knee.). She grasps for Jamie’s collar, hauling her down, baring herself. When Jamie’s teeth sink in, it isn’t gentle. It will leave a mark. She’s perfectly fine with that.

The pressure of Jamie’s knee between her legs is enough to send starbursts behind her eyes. She rocks down, feels Jamie press her harder into plaster, feels Jamie wrench her thigh higher around Jamie’s own hip. They are a fevered, animal tangle, all friction and whine, and Dani almost laughs. She can count on one hand the number of times they’d had make-up sex in college. It feels somehow right to start here, with the charged choreography of a too-long day.

Feels right to cry out, her hand clutched at the back of Jamie’s neck for support, her hips jerking. Her underwear drips when Jamie sinks to her knees and pulls the skirt with her, exposing black cotton to the air. Any embarrassment Dani might feel evaporates on the spot when Jamie’s tongue darts out and sucks ruined cloth between her lips.

“Bed,” she begs, because fucking against a wall is one thing—one very good thing—but she hasn’t had Jamie in five years. Five years of an empty mattress. She needs this to make it all feel whole.

Jamie licks her again through the cotton, hand wound for purchase in Dani’s shirt hem. Her tongue presses up, merciless. Dani bucks, says it again: “Jamie. Bed.”

And Jamie, who once made a choice she thought would only help, who will never again make the mistake of not listening to the words Dani gifts her, nods. Stands. Kisses her with slow, deep confidence. Every stage kiss in history is the palest imitation, Dani understands, of a kiss like this one. Every love scene played out for a camera is a school dance compared to the way Jamie reaches between her legs, guides her toward the bed, lays her down upon clean, unused sheets.

It is so familiar, every beat, even the new ones. Jamie, standing beside the bed, hands shaking too badly to unhook her suspenders. Dani, shifting to push them off her shoulders, rocking up onto her knees to unbutton her shirt. Every inch of skin made available is claimed, her lips parted, her tongue testing. She searches for hints of new: unfamiliar tattoos, unnoticed freckles, scars with untold stories behind them. Jamie’s head falls forward, her hand combing Dani’s hair restlessly back from her face, watching with hungry anticipation as Dani kisses the tip of one bare breast, lets her tongue roll over the nipple, draws it deep into her mouth with a satisfied groan. It’s the same, the way Jamie shakes, the way the muscles in her abdomen contract. The same as ever, a perfect homecoming.

She tastes the same, and she smells the same, and she still gets her leg stuck in the left side of her pants, like always. She laughs, standing with arms spread. Wearing nothing but a silver chain, tilting her head as if to say, Still pass the test?

Dani reaches for her, pulls until Jamie’s legs hit the frame. Knees dimpling bedspread, she presses as close as she can with Jamie still standing on the rug, the wet of her crotch against Jamie’s skin. Jamie shivers, a helpless sound trembling in her mouth, and Dani accepts it gladly. Her hand finds Jamie’s, knits their fingers together for a heartbeat before bringing it between her legs. Jamie remembers the patterns she likes best without needing to be shown. Jamie’s fingers fill her like the warmest memory, drawing her tight as Dani grips her shoulders and rides.

All the dreams can’t compare. Not with Jamie’s thumb coaxing against her, rubbing back and forth until the room dissolves into starlight. Not with Jamie’s mouth at her shoulder, her voice low and musical, saying, “I’ve missed you, god, I’ve missed you, you still feel so good—”

She crests when Jamie kisses her, hips losing rhythm, tongue catching on Jamie’s teeth. Her knees give way, sending her down onto the mattress, and Jamie follows without hesitation. Her sticky fingers trace Dani’s lips, dipping inside, her eyes rolling back when Dani diligently cleans them with one hand sinking back between her own thighs.

Jamie tastes the same when Dani settles between her legs, too. She is dripping, joyous, carefully trying to hold herself in check. Same old Jamie, trying to make it last. Dani smiles into her, eyes closed in bliss, lapping at her until she feels Jamie tense around her ears, against the palm of the hand laid low on her belly. She eases off, opens to see Jamie grinning down at her.

“Thought you’d forget—” She releases a wordless strangled cry as Dani starts in again without mercy, a finger teasing her open in time with the rhythm. Jamie likes the sensation of veering up to the edge, being told to wait, being told to take it, and there will be time for that—plenty of time, Dani has decided—but she hasn’t heard this jumble of half-wept curses in five years. Hasn’t felt Jamie clench around her this way in too long. She wrings everything she can out of the moment, relishing the press of Jamie’s hand behind her skull, the mess of her soaking into the sheets, and wonders if this might be a dream.

“Is it?” she asks when Jamie sags, boneless, against the devastation that was her bedding. “A dream.”

Jamie shakes her head. Jamie is shaking all over, and Dani is sure of something. So sure, she almost doesn’t ask.

“When was the last time?” She nuzzles the crook of Jamie’s thigh, licks a freckle she’s always particularly liked. Jamie swallows.

“With anyone? Five years ago.”

Dani laughs. “Were you really going to wait forever? Just put yourself in permanent chastity time-out?”

When she raises her head, Jamie isn’t laughing. She merely shrugs as if the answer is obvious and says, “I left the love of my life. What else was there?”

She could cry, or they could stumble back down that road of apologies and explanations, wallowing in time lost. They could give over to the pain, the mistakes, plans gone awry and branches twisted in an unknowable tree.

Or: they could laugh. Laugh until Dani’s stomach aches, until Jamie says, “C’mere” and pulls her up, until Dani is in her lap, kneecaps pressing into the headboard, fingers twining in still-damp curls.

They could laugh, and they could kiss, and Jamie could grind up to meet her when she thrusts her hips in search of any contact she can find. They could move together in this bed, arms wrapped around shoulders, mouths seeking new treasures, voices mingling in urgent, rapturous song. And again, when Dani wraps around Jamie from behind, thinking they must surely sleep. And again, when Jamie has come so hard, the walls rattle, and it is only fair to allow her to coax Dani to meet her where she lands.

Not all things brook forgiveness, Dani knows. Not all people are worthy of getting it, or capable of giving it. Life with other people is complicated. Love is messy. The world spins on through all the choices: good, bad, simple, inane.

But this was always in her heart, forgiving Jamie. She thinks she forgave her a long time ago—five years, even.

She was only waiting for her to come home.

9

JAMIE

The lights are blinding. She’ll never quite get used to that—or to the shouts, voices rising in a cacophony of names. Viola’s. Dani’s. Her own, even. The world is red velvet and counterfeit stars, and Dani holds her hand like a beacon.

“You’re sure?” she asked when Dani suggested they turn up together. “It makes a certain kind of statement, director and lead actress spilling out of the same car.”

Dani raised an eyebrow. Jamie shrugged.

“Hey, just making sure.”

Some things about Dani are different these days. She’s confident in herself, in her skills. She doesn’t need Jamie to protect her from a premiere; hell, she’s been to more of these than Jamie has, and to considerably more high-profile degrees. She doesn’t need Jamie to be a white knight, she has made clear. Not on any subject.

It doesn’t stop Jamie wanting to keep her safe. The world is a fucked up place at the best of times; tabloid bloggers and nasty anonymous Twitter accounts are far from the worst of their problems. Coming out is the right answer if Dani says so—only Dani has any right to say—but it will change things. Might put her on more magazine covers. Might send her careening through every talk show circuit in the nation. Might mean fewer scripts turn up in her mailbox. It’s impossible to say what the road ahead will bring.

“Which is as good a reason as any to just start walking,” Dani pointed out. She’d kissed Jamie’s knuckles, pulled the blanket higher, and changed the subject like that settled matters. Jamie supposed it did.

If nothing else, she’s held tight to Jamie’s hand the whole way down the red carpet. Behind them, boards display the logo and poster for The Lost Lake. A seemingly endless post-production, a few fights with studio heads over how much gay content is too much gay content (Jamie is delighted to report herself the victor on all counts, probably because both leads and the author stood over her shoulder wearing menacing expressions the whole time), and now they’re here. Surrounded by cast, crew, and unrelated celebrity, preparing to see it all unfold on the silver screen.

“Nervous?” she asks into Dani’s ear. Dani shoots her a furtive smile, squeezing her hand.

“Confession: I kind of…hate watching myself on screen.”

“We’ve watched all your movies,” Jamie points out. “We did a whole marathon. There was sex at every intermission.”

“On a little screen, it’s fine. It’s just when I’m all…towering up there, thirty feet high, and oh my god, I’m going to be giant and topless.” Dani rolls her eyes heavenward. “This was a terrible idea. Can I take it back?”

Jamie kisses her cheek. “It sounds like an ideal position to me…”

She wriggles when Dani jabs a finger into her ribs, laughing. Dani pastes on a formidable (and not unconvincing) scowl.

“Yeah? You still gonna feel that way when you see me up there with my illicit lover—”

“Okay,” Jamie complains, “Let’s not—”

“—with whom I’m simply so gorgeous, we must quit the industry to go make scientifically-improbable babies immediately—”

“I,” Jamie says primly, “will not be sharing my popcorn with you this evening.”

Dani dissolves into laughter. Her hand slides beneath Jamie’s open collar, fingers brushing the links of a silver chain. “Are you feeling sufficiently silly about that yet?”

“I felt silly enough day one, Poppins, you could stop taking the piss literally any time—”

“Guys!” Rebecca is standing on her seat, a gold gown held slightly aloft to prevent her stumbling over it on her way back down. She waves both hands above her head as if anyone in their right mind could miss that. “Over here!”

“Yes,” Jamie tells her cheerfully, “we have assigned seating, thanks. Owen, Hannah, lovely as always.”

“What about me?” Viola feigns snippiness. “Is it not lovely to see me, O Grand Director?”

“Especially lovely,” Jamie tells her wryly, leaning in to accept the customary cheek kiss action Viola bestows upon anyone she deems worthy. “You are, after all, the central sun around which we all orbit.”

“True,” Viola laughs. Beside her sits a small dark-haired girl in a dress the same shade of blue as her mother’s. “Isabel, say hello.”

Jamie dutifully kisses the back of the child’s hand, then Flora’s, then—to his chagrin—Miles’. She makes her way down the row, shaking hands, exchanging hugs and smiles and good to see you’s all around. These people worked miracles on a very small budget and even smaller staff. They deserve some attention, too.

When she returns to her seat, she finds Dani holding out an enormous tub of popcorn. She sighs in relief, stuffing a handful into her mouth and plopping down.

“Still nervous?”

“Excited,” Dani says. “And nervous. You don’t mind if I hide in your shoulder for all the filthy bits, do you?”

Jamie slides a hand up her thigh. There’s a remarkably deep slit in this dress, running nearly to Dani’s waist. It makes this Jamie’s favorite dress in perhaps all of time and space.

“I could always distract you,” she offers. Dani retrieves her meandering hand, guides it back to the relative safety of her knee, gives it a soft pat.

“There are children present, Jamie Taylor.”

“Ah, it’ll be dark, and—” She winces. “Wait, good fuckin’ point. Who let them in?”

But,” Dani says, tilting in to press a searing kiss just above her collar, “I could be persuaded. To take an intermission. You know: in the spirit of Dani Clayton film screenings.”

“Right. Can’t—” Jamie feels her breath going shallow already. Dani’s hand is playing with the buttons of her vest, sliding up to tease beneath the gap in her shirt. “Can’t go breaking tradition.”

It’s going to be good, she senses as the lights flicker and the crowd gradually settles. They’re going to like it; it’s a damn fine adaptation of a damn charming book. It’s going to take the summer cinemas by storm, this tale of two unlikely women and a love affair for the ages. But even if it doesn’t—even if it crashes and burns, picks up the worst possible critic score, destroys her career and Dani’s along with it—would it really matter? You can’t plan for life, after all. The wrenches will come no matter what path you take. You’re never actually steering the car, merely settling as comfortably as you can into the driver’s seat to project the illusion.

You can’t plan, she thinks as the lights go down and Dani’s hand slips into her own. You can only take it one day at a time, making art and accepting love. That’s all there is, really. All anyone ever gets, when you get down to it. One day at a time.

The movie begins. Jamie inhales.

And, she thinks giddily, we’re off.