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like salt infusing the sea

Chapter Text


 

It hurts me the longing
for that time when I inhabited you
like salt infusing the sea
like light contracting
the surprised pupils of the eyes
"Longing", Mia Couto 

 


 

“Good God, woman,” Owen says. 

Jamie is bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet, more nervous than she has been in years. Her palms are sweaty. She wipes them off on her jeans for probably the hundredth time today. “What?” 

He puts both his hands on her shoulders and pushes down gently, as if to settle her physically into the ground. “You’re making me anxious, doing that. Acting like a fucking yoyo.” 

“Oh, let her be, Owen,” Hannah says in that good-natured stern voice of hers, although she’s smiling and rolling her eyes at them. 

“It’s for her own good,” Owen tells her. “Take a breath, seriously. It’s just Dani.” 

“Yeah. I know.” She wants to say, that’s the problem, but he already knows that, and is really just being annoying for the sake of it.

“Hey, you know what,” he says with a faux-thoughtful tap on his chin, “if you get up on my shoulders you’ll have a better view.” 

Hannah shushes him. Jamie is too busy craning her neck to try to see over the crowds at the airport to think of anything witty to say back. It’s late March, spring break season, so Arrivals is full of American college students mulling about, large groups of sunburned twenty-somethings clad in fraternity t-shirts and cargo shorts. She thinks she could probably spot them from a distance, though: Edmund, she knows, is tall enough to stick out over the throng, and Dani is, well, Dani.

Jamie knows that Owen, infuriating as he is sometimes, is probably right: it’s just Dani. They’ve been friends with her for five years, having met during a study-abroad year she took in London. On her first day of class there, Dani had stumbled into the bakery where Owen worked part-time, saving up for culinary school (and where Jamie would loiter on her lunch breaks), and asked for directions. This would not have been anything out of the ordinary — the shop was close to campus, and in a touristy enough area — if Dani hadn’t been so immediately effusive and open, telling them about her studies and her thoughts on London so far as if they were all already friends. Owen had offered her a cup of tea (“On the house, to inaugurate your first day,” he’d said, winking, and Jamie had wondered how long it would take this girl to fall for him), but she’d turned it down. 

“I haven’t quite figured out tea yet,” she said. 

Jamie, sitting at her usual corner table with a book propped on her knees, had overheard. “What’s there to figure out?” 

“Oh, y’know, it’s just a whole different thing in America. I like mine iced,” she said, waiting until Jamie made a face to say, leaning toward her and lowering her voice to an exaggerated whisper, “with lemonade in it.” 

“Sacrilege,” Jamie said, putting a hand to her chest in mock outrage. Dani laughed. 

The next day Dani came in at the same time again, right in the middle of Jamie’s break. Jamie worked at the nursery across the street, and would come in to see Owen every day at noon. He’d save her a lemon tart from earlier in the morning, place it on her table for her to have after her little brown-bag lunch (sandwich, yogurt cup, carrot sticks, the same every day, which Owen thought was sad), and chat with her from his position at the counter in between customers. 

“Ah, the American,” Jamie said when Dani came in again. 

“That’s me,” Dani said. Owen motioned for her to take a seat at the counter and slid over a cup on a saucer.

“An introductory course to tea,” Owen said. 

It was easy for them to decide that they liked Dani. She listened to their banter, laughing or rolling her eyes at appropriate intervals; she nodded along to their stories, taking them in with wide eyes; she was funny, and sweet, and cared deeply about her classes (she was studying education, she’d told them), talking about them at length when prompted. 

She’d also, Jamie learned after a week of knowing her, come to London with a long-term boyfriend. “We’ve been together since high school,” she said one evening, after the bakery had closed and they’d all gone to the neighboring pub. “But it feels like it’s been much longer than that.” 

After Owen and Jamie had walked Dani back to her university-provided housing for the night, he’d turned to Jamie and said, “You heard the bit about the boyfriend, right?” 

She pretended not to notice his tone. “Sure did.” 

“Okay. Cool.” 

“Why?” 

“No reason,” he said, in an unconvincingly casual voice. 

“Owen.”

“James.” He put his hands in his pockets, kicking a pebble across the footpath as they walked. “I’m just looking out for you.” 

She rolled her eyes at him, although secretly a small pit had opened in her stomach when Dani had said it. Eddie , she’d called him, and showed them both a picture on her phone. (He looked alright. Like any other human man, Jamie thought, but if Dani liked him, then whatever.) “I can look out for myself, thanks.” 

Now she stands in the airport in Madrid, hating the way she has to clench and unclench her fists to keep from losing her mind. It feels like her nerves are physically jangling around inside her. She needs a smoke. 

She’s about to tell Owen and Hannah as much, that she’s going to pop outside for a minute, but then she hears Dani’s voice, clear as a bell above the din, and immediately recognizable even though it’s been five years since Jamie heard it not coming through a phone speaker. A second later she spots the boyfriend (Edmund, she reminds herself, and then wonders if she should call him Eddie), a head full of dark curls, an easy grin, and those ugly round glasses. 

“Oh my God,” Dani says once she gets closer and catches sight of them. Something buzzing and hot rises in Jamie’s chest, which she tries to push down by taking a deep breath. Owen and Hannah are beaming and waving, and Owen is already gesturing for her to let him take her bag. She drops it immediately, and does a cute little sprint to give him and Hannah a combined hug.  “You guys! Ah!” She steps back to take them in, says, “Owen, love the beard. Hannah, you look so good, are you ever not radiant?” 

Jamie stands behind Owen and Hannah, feeling a little awkward with her hands in her back pockets, a couple stray curls falling over her forehead (she had, admittedly, spent an embarrassing amount of time and hairspray that morning getting her hair to look perfectly tousled). She catches Edmund’s eye over their shoulders, and he gives her a friendly wave and smile, so she does her best to return it. 

Finally Owen and Hannah part, and she can see Dani up close. Even fresh off an eight-hour flight plus layovers, hair a little rumpled and a neck pillow still resting on her shoulders, she looks like a beam of sunshine bottled up and put on earth. It’s how she’s always looked, except Jamie hasn’t seen her in years and is therefore no longer as inured to the effect as she used to be. 

“Hey, you,” Dani says. “Are you just gonna stand there or are you gonna come give me a hug?” 

Jamie pretends to be reluctant and grumpy about it, but then Dani has her arms wrapped around her, holding her close to her chest. They’re almost exactly the same height and size, all of their limbs matched in length, so that it feels like they could melt into one body if they got close enough. She can feel the warmth of Dani’s cheek against her own. 

“Hi,” she says, sounding more self-conscious than she ever has. She clears her throat. “Flight go okay?” 

“I slept through it, but we made it in one piece, so, probably.” Finally she lets Jamie go and holds her at arm's length, with both her hands wrapped around Jamie’s biceps. She looks her up and down. “Wow, look at you. Have you been working out?” 

“Um,” she says. “A — a bit, yeah, here and there.” The tips of her ears are burning, so she detaches herself from Dani and looks to her boyfriend. “Edmund, is it?” She holds out her hand, and he shakes it, beaming at her. 

“You can just call me Eddie,” he says. Shit, he’s nice, Jamie thinks. 

“Good to meet you, Eddie.” 

He squints at her and then snaps his fingers. “You’re Jamie.” 

“Sure am.” 

“Danielle’s talked a lot about you,” he says. 

“That so?” she says, looking at Dani, who shrugs, smiling. “All good things, I hope.” 

On the walk to the taxi, Jamie tries to get some idea of what Eddie is like. She’s heard plenty from Dani, over the years, but she’s never actually met him for herself. Now she watches his glasses slip down his nose, his arm wrapped around Dani’s shoulder, talking animatedly about wanting to visit the football stadium in the city, and decides, tentatively, that she likes him well enough, if she has to. 

She hasn’t seen Dani in person since the culmination of her year in London. They’ve talked on the phone and over Facetime in the intervening years, of course — often, at first, and then less as time went by — but Jamie is quickly realizing that the experience of hearing Dani’s voice alone, or seeing her pixelated face on a phone screen, differs starkly from the reality of being near her in person. She’d allowed herself to forget, sort of, the visceral rush that she used to get from just the scent of Dani’s perfume or from making Dani laugh, which is probably how she’d convinced herself that this vacation wouldn’t be such a big deal. All the things that passed between them during that year — not only the closeness of their friendship, but also the things that went unsaid, the things they shared but never actually talked about — seemed, before, to have been part of some bizarre fever dream that Jamie and Dani shared, detached from either of their real lives, a rose-colored bubble they’d built for themselves.

Jamie had thought she’d reconciled herself to that. Learned to appreciate the fact that she’d had it at all, in whatever limited capacity. But now Dani is here, in front of her, and everything feels too real and too present.

 


 

Their Airbnb is a large flat, three bedrooms plus a balcony, not too far from the city center. The building’s facade is made of old, worn brick, the door a massive iron thing with a heavy knocker. Their host lets them in and gives them two sets of keys. 

“I forgot how old things are over here,” Dani says, looking up at the ivy that spreads across the brick. “Everything has a history, you know?” 

The building doesn’t have an elevator, so they have to climb up three flights of stairs with their bags. Owen takes Hannah’s, Eddie takes Dani’s, and Jamie carries her own suitcase plus the bag full of food (heavy food) that Owen insisted on bringing. 

“Oh, let me help you with that,” Dani says, reaching for the suitcase. 

“I’ve got it,” Jamie says, hoping the strain in her voice sounds gruffly stoic. 

Dani and Eddie are jet-lagged from the trip — somehow Dani is still tired, despite the six-hour nap she claims to have taken on the plane — and they retreat almost immediately to their room to sleep before dinner. It’s only three in the afternoon, which leaves Jamie enough time to join Hannah and Owen on a walk around the neighborhood, and maybe a coffee. 

“You sure you don’t mind if I tag along?” she asks, not wanting to third-wheel; really, though, she’s been third-wheeling with them for their entire relationship, and they’ve never once minded.

The street that their flat is on is paved with stone, charmingly uneven, and only wide enough to accommodate one-way traffic. There are no cars out, though, and pedestrians are strolling on the road itself, little dogs in jackets sprinting to keep up with their owners, families of tourists with cameras hanging from their necks. They find a small cafe and sit at a wooden folding table on the footpath right outside. Jamie orders tomato toast while Owen and Hannah share a chocolate croissant. 

“So, uh,” Owen says, “how’re you doing?” When she raises her eyebrows at him he says, “Oh, come off it, you can’t keep pretending you don’t know what I’m talking about.” 

Jamie shakes her head. “I’m fine. It was a crush, alright?”  She scrapes tomato jam onto her toast and takes an indignant bite. She sounds convincing enough, she thinks. She could probably convince herself if she tried. “I was, like, twenty-two, it’s been years.” 

“So you’re saying you weren’t a bit flustered, meeting the famous Edmund?” He waggles his eyebrows, clears his throat, and says in a deep voice and exaggerated Northern accent, “Ah, good to meet ya, Eddie.” She laughs and tosses a sugar packet at him, which he dodges. “Seriously, that’s how you sounded! I was like, Christ, who invited Batman?” 

“Someone’s gotta put the fear of God in the man,” Jamie says. “Make sure he stays in line.” 

“He seems nice enough, to me,” Hannah says. “He certainly looks at her like she hung the moon.”

“Well, he should,” Jamie says. “It wasn’t always like that, though. The fights they used to have, d’you remember that, Owen?” 

Owen nods. “Right, yeah.” 

“They seem alright now, though, don’t they?” Hannah says. Hannah had met Dani halfway through the autumn term, after she and Owen had finally stopped tiptoeing around their obvious attraction and stealing silent glances at each other when Hannah came into the bakery for breakfast. By that point Dani had stopped talking as much about Eddie.

“We’ve only been around them for like half an hour,” Jamie says. “He’s fine, I suppose. Bit of a numpty, though.” 

They drop the subject after that. Hannah takes out a little notebook on which she’s listed things she wants to do and see over the course of the week, and Owen and Jamie offer their input. Jamie tries not to think about Dani, who probably has a color-coded Excel sheet of all the museums in the city she’d like to see. She wonders if Eddie likes museums, if he minds waiting next to Dani while she’s looking at the exhibits — she likes to take her time, to read the placard next to each piece, maybe Google the artist, pore over the artwork itself until she’s satisfied by her understanding of it — or if he gets impatient, tries to hurry her along. Jamie isn’t sure which would make her dislike him more.

 


 

The fights between Dani and Eddie were mostly conducted over Whatsapp messages to each other. Jamie could always tell when something was going on because of how Dani’s face would fall when she pulled out her phone, the furious way she’d jab at her phone keyboard, suddenly only half-present in the conversation. After a few incidences of this, Jamie finally asked if everything was alright, and Dani, with an exhausted look in her eyes, set her phone to silent and put it back in her purse. 

“It’s just Eddie,” she said. “Nothing serious, he’s just being annoying.” 

It was a couple weeks into Dani’s first term, and they’d invited her to Owen’s flat for dinner for the first time. He was in the kitchen cooking, while Jamie and Dani drank his beer and watched cricket, at Jamie’s insistence, on his TV. The air in the flat smelled of garlic and caramelizing onions, and they could hear something sizzling from the stove. 

“You sure?” Jamie said. “It’s just, you get this look when you text him sometimes, like —” She did her best impression of Dani’s expression, which was just barely a frown, eyebrows pulled together a bit, lower lip between her teeth. She expected Dani to laugh, but instead Dani just sighed. 

“I’m okay, I promise. It’s typical long-distance stuff.” 

“It must be hard,” Jamie said. “Being apart.”

“It is. For a lot of different reasons.” Dani breathed out through her mouth, so that her bangs fluttered and landed messily over her forehead. “I mean, obviously we miss each other. But it’s also — the longer I’m here, the more I wanna do stuff that’s just for me, and not for us, y’know?” 

“Right, yeah.” 

“He’s grumpy because I told him I wanted to stay a little longer after the semester ends. Before I go home for Christmas. Just to see a little more of the country, or maybe go to France, or Spain. I figure you only get an opportunity like this once, you know?” 

Jamie took a sip from her beer. By then it was warm and disgusting, but at least it gave her something to do with her hands. Around Dani she always felt a heightened awareness of her body; not self-conscious about her looks or anything like that, simply more attuned to things like the way she held herself, the way she stood, which side of her mouth she talked out of. For example, her hands: did they look natural, like they did with a beer in them, or did they look useless and unwieldy, like when she walked Dani home and wasn’t wearing a jacket or pants with pockets, so she had to just let her hands hang there stupidly the whole time?

“Seems like a dumb reason to be angry,” Jamie said.

Dani shook her head. “He just doesn’t get why I’d want to be apart for any longer than we have to, I guess. I’m like, it’s not about that, and plus we have the rest of our lives together, anyway, so what’s a couple more weeks?” 

Jamie remembers this conversation partly because of that: Dani’s casual certainty that she’d be spending the rest of her life with Eddie. The thought had fought its way into her brain and settled like a stone underneath whatever else she’d begun to feel for Dani over the years. Dani had her own plan, her own path she was already on; Jamie was just lucky enough to briefly cross it. 

Months later, in early November, they had their biggest fight that Jamie remembered. They were at Owen’s again, the whole group. They’d been drinking and playing cards when Dani’s phone rang, the buzzy grating ringtone she reserved for Whatsapp calls, and instead of blindly hitting decline like she’d started doing, she picked up the call. 

“Eddie,” she said, in a steely voice. She put her beer on the coffee table and stood, covering the phone’s speaker with her hand. “Owen, do you mind if I use your room for a minute?” 

“Oh, yeah, sure,” Owen said, looking up from his hand of cards with a look of faint concern. 

“Thank you,” Dani said, with an odd formal sort of nod. She pressed the phone back to her ear and left. 

The rest of them continued to play cards in silence; they were in the middle of Go Fish, which Jamie thought was unbelievably stupid, because Owen and Hannah were sitting on the same couch and he’d angled his body toward her in such a way that she could see every one of his cards. He hadn’t noticed yet, just kept staring at her with that awful syrupy smile he’d developed around her. He was disgusting when he was in love. Jamie was deliriously happy for him. 

“Have you got any aces?” Hannah asked Owen sweetly. 

“What the hell,” Owen said, handing over three. “It’s like you’re reading my mind.” 

Jamie laughed at this, although privately she was concentrating on the hallway that led to Owen’s room. It was dark, but she could see a strip of light coming from underneath his door. She couldn’t hear anything, though, and besides it wasn’t any of her business what Dani talked about with her boyfriend, never mind that Dani had, by that point, called Jamie exactly five separate times in the middle of the night, upset about something Eddie had done. (She would never go into detail about what had happened, would just tell Jamie she couldn’t sleep and could she please just talk to her for a little bit, and Jamie would ramble on about her day until Dani fell asleep on the phone with her.) 

A short while later, they heard Dani raise her voice, speaking loud enough that even through the closed door they could somewhat make out what she was saying, which was something that sounded like Will you just listen to me. In their two-odd months of knowing Dani, none of them had ever once heard her raise her voice. Then there was a frustrated-sounding groan, and then Dani threw the bedroom door open so hard that it slammed into the wall. 

“Oh, crap,” she said. “Sorry.” 

“All good?” Jamie said, watching her cautiously. Dani strode into the living room with her fists balled at her sides, her shoulders pulled high.

“Yeah,” Dani said in a high voice. She fiddled with the latch on the front door. “I’m gonna step out and just — get some air, if that’s okay.” 

“Are you sure you’re —” Hannah began, but Dani had already slipped out of the flat.  

Jamie stood before she could even think about it, and then she did think about it, and sat back down. Owen and Hannah exchanged a meaningful look, which they’d begun doing with alarming frequency. 

“Someone should check on her, right?” Jamie said. “I should — I mean, someone should make sure she’s alright. It’s dark out.”

“Go,” Owen said, and then she did. 

The stairwell was cramped and dimly lit, half-blown-out tube lights buzzing over the dirty concrete floor. She found Dani on the landing a couple flights down, looking out of a narrow window, which had been opened. 

“Hey, you,” she said. She kept a safe distance, in case Dani felt that her presence in that moment was an invasion of her privacy. 

Dani didn’t say anything. Her back was turned, so it was only as Jamie took a few steps closer that she noticed the tight, rapid breaths Dani was taking. She could hear them coming out ragged and shallow, could see her shoulders rising and falling. Dani had one hand splayed against the wall, the other hand on her knee, and when Jamie joined her at the window she put one arm around her back, to help hold her up. 

“Dani?” Jamie said, dipping her head so she could see Dani’s face, which was pale. 

“Sorry,” Dani said, in a high, choked voice. “Sorry, I can’t —”

“Whoa, hey. S’okay, it’ll be okay,” Jamie said, although she wasn’t sure what exactly she was reassuring Dani about. Dani blinked at her for a moment and then folded herself entirely against Jamie’s chest, her arms wrapped tight around her own midsection, like she was trying to hold herself together. Her forehead was pressed against Jamie’s neck, and Jamie could feel her breathing hard out of her mouth. Jamie, like an idiot, hoped Dani wouldn’t notice how hard her heart was beating. 

Slowly, cautiously, Jamie put both her arms around Dani. Not too tight, so that Dani wouldn’t feel trapped there, but still firm. They stayed like that for what felt like a long time, until Dani sniffed and said, in a small voice, “Thank you.” 

“For what?” 

“Just being around,” Dani said. 

From this angle, Jamie could smell Dani’s orange-ginger shampoo. “Anytime,” she said. 

Eventually Dani extricated herself from Jamie’s arms, rubbing at her nose self-consciously. She turned to face the open window, and Jamie stood next to her with her elbows on the windowsill. There was a faint breeze which blew back some of Dani’s stray hairs, and which made parts of her face look pink and raw. She was beautiful even under the ugly industrial lighting. 

Later Jamie can look back on this night, turn it over and examine it with the added perspective of five years of age (and free of that initial delirium that she’d fallen under after becoming friends with Dani, the insane spell that caused her to think constantly of things like the half-lidded look she’d get when she was thinking, or how her smile varied based on her mood, or the way she’d fidget when she was anxious, which was always), and acknowledge that this was probably a point when she crossed some sort of mental or emotional line. But in that moment all she could think of was the delicate lines of Dani’s face, gilded by the moonlight coming in through the window. 

“So, ah,” Jamie said. “What’s going on, then?” 

“It’s Eddie,” Dani muttered. “I guess that’s obvious. Just — he’s — I don’t know.”

“Mmm. Men,” Jamie offered, unhelpfully. 

Dani made a sound through her nose that could have been a laugh. “You know a lot about the subject, do you?” 

“Oh, yeah,” Jamie said. “You know me. ‘M an expert.” 

Dani already knew she was gay. She had known from the first week of their friendship, when Jamie had mentioned an ex-girlfriend without thinking, and then been immediately, secretly terrified that Dani would feel weird about it — which was unusual, because Jamie was not prone to giving much of a shit about what people thought of her personal life, and still, the idea of Dani thinking any less of her had been untenable. But Dani hadn’t even acknowledged it as something worthy of special attention; she’d just continued listening to Jamie’s story. Nothing had changed between them. Jamie felt guilty for even having thought that something like that might matter to Dani. 

“D’you wanna tell me about it?” 

“He’s — it’s kind of my fault, too, honestly,” Dani said. “I told him I didn’t know if I wanted to go home for Thanksgiving break. Normally we spend it together, you know, we have since we started dating. Actually, even before that, ‘cause my mom didn’t — anyway, his family always has a big dinner the day of, all his aunts and uncles are cousins are there, it’s a whole thing.” 

“Big family gathering with the in-laws? Sounds lovely,” Jamie said. 

Dani smiled. “It’s not that bad, honestly. That’s not even why I don’t want to go, I just think it’s pointless to spend all that money on a ticket just to be there for barely a week. Like, it’s one Thanksgiving.” 

“He probably misses you too, though, right? That’s why he’s upset?” 

“I guess. We just saw each other, though. It’s barely even been...” Dani paused, looking at the ceiling. “A month. It’s been a month.”  

Privately, Jamie thought that this seemed like a long time to go without seeing Dani. Too long. Sometimes, while doing something mundane like watering her plants at work or washing the dishes, she would remember out of nowhere that Dani would be leaving at the end of the school year; the thought would strike her like thunder, spark something like jealousy, roiling and ugly in her gut, and she’d have to do something mindlessly physical to distract herself (pulling weeds if she was at work; going for a run, otherwise). 

Dani sighed. “Well, anyway. Bottom line is he’s mad. I’m mad. I mean, it’s — I’m not being selfish, am I?” 

“‘Course not,” Jamie said. 

“You know what, even if I am. I’m allowed to do some things for myself,” she said, sounding unconvinced. Jamie nodded. “I mean, I stayed in fucking Iowa so we could go to college together,” — at this, Jamie felt herself flinch, because Dani rarely ever swore and it was jarring when did — “so I shouldn’t have to feel bad about this. Right?” 

“Right, yeah.” 

“I just,” Dani said. “I don’t know, sometimes I just feel, like, trapped. I mean, I — I love him, I do, but I’ve never — we’ve never really had separate lives, you know? And sometimes I —” She pressed her lips together. “I probably shouldn’t be saying this.” 

“It’s alright,” Jamie said. “You can say anything you want, I’m not here to judge.” 

Dani’s voice was almost a whisper, quiet enough that the wind whistling from outside almost kept Jamie from hearing her. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m missing out on something.” 

 


 

They stop by the small grocery store near their apartment to pick up ingredients for dinner, reading from a list Owen has scribbled on a notepad, along with enough bottles of wine to stock a cellar. When they get back to the Airbnb several hours later, Dani and Eddie are awake. Eddie is standing over the stove, fiddling with a Moka pot. His glasses slide down his face when he frowns, and Dani tuts, pushes them back up on his nose. 

“I can help you with that,” Owen says when he catches sight of him. 

“Oh,” Eddie says. “Thanks, man.” 

“Where’d you guys go?” Dani says. She must have taken a shower; her hair is damp, a little darkened. She’s wearing a thick pink sweater, gold hoop earrings, and the same watch that she used to keep on all the time when Jamie first met her. 

Jamie is beginning to think that perhaps this trip was a bad idea. 

“Found a cafe not too far from here,” she says. “You look nice.” 

“Oh, I — thank you. I just got this.” Dani gestures toward her sweater. 

“Pink is your color,” Hannah adds. 

At some point Dani or Eddie must have opened the windows in the apartment; the midday heat and sunlight have saturated the place, soaking everything in a languid summery haze. Jamie rummages in her backpack, which she’d thrown haphazardly on the couch earlier, and produces an old camera. 

“Dani,” she says, holding the camera up. “Over here.” When Dani looks at her, eyebrows raised just slightly, her profile stark against the yellow-white light from the window, Jamie holds the camera up to her eye and snaps a picture. The shutter makes a noise, and Dani starts.

“I wasn’t ready!” she says, trying to sound indignant, but smiling.

“That’s what makes all the best pictures,” Jamie says. She winks. “I like ‘em candid.” 

Dani reaches for the camera, but Jamie pulls it away. “Lemme see.” 

“It’s on film, Poppins, you can’t see it yet.” 

Dani used to poke fun at her, gently, for being willfully old-fashioned — her penchant for 80s rock music, her cigarette habit, her preference for keeping a paper journal rather than just using her phone — and even now Jamie is mostly the same, although the performative aspect of it has worn off now that she’s no longer a twenty-two-year-old desperate to seem cool. She prefers the imperfect quality of photos captured on film, is all. 

“Jamie’s still a bit of a Luddite, I’m afraid,” Owen says over his shoulder. He and Eddie seem to have gotten the Moka pot figured out; it’s bubbling merrily on the stove, and the smell of coffee drifts from the kitchen into the rest of the room. 

“I always liked that about you, actually. I think it’s cool,” Dani says. “You’re, like, timeless.” 

“Ah, well.” Jamie rubs at the back of her neck, which suddenly feels warm to the touch. “Did you, erm, have a nice nap?” 

“No. Eddie snores —” 

“I can’t help it!” he calls from the kitchen, indignant. 

“— so I gave up after half an hour and just took a really long shower. I’m gonna be out like a light by eight.”

“You’ve got to stay awake for dinner, at least,” Owen says. “I’m making carbonara. And” — he points at Dani with a coffee spoon —  “we’re living like Spaniards this week, so it won’t be ready till late.” 

“And you’ll be using us all as your little sous chefs, will you?” Jamie says. 

“Of course. You, my dear, are on cheese-grating duty.” 

“Right, the job that’s impossible to fuck up, thanks.” 

“Precisely.” 

Later in the evening, once Dani has started chain-yawning, Owen finally puts them to work. Eddie, who seems to have taken an immediate liking to him, follows him around the kitchen like an excitable puppy and pays rapt attention as Owen explains to him the contribution of each ingredient, the ratio of egg yolk to whole egg, the importance of reserving leftover pasta water. Hannah, who has conveniently not been given a task, sits at the dining room table with a book and a glass of Cab Sauv, casting occasional fond glances in Owen’s direction.

“Is Eddie much of a cook?” Jamie asks, watching him whisk an egg. She and Dani are set up on the counter on the other side of the room with a couple of cutting boards. Dani chops guanciale into strips that are somehow all the same precise length, while Jamie drags a block of parmesan across the surface of a grater with rough abandon. 

“Not that I know of,” Dani says. “I think he’s just enamored by Owen.” 

“Better watch out, you’ve got competition.” She watches Dani’s deftness with her knife, the way the tendons in her hand flex and move under her skin. “How are you so good at that?” 

“I don’t know, I just am.” 

“Good to know you’re better with a knife than you are with a tea-kettle. Although I suppose that’s a pretty low standard.” 

Dani laughs and holds up her knife in the space between them. “Don’t test me, okay, I have a weapon.” 

The cheese doesn’t take long to grate, and soon Jamie is finished and pouring herself a generous glass of wine. She places it by her cutting board and hoists herself onto the counter, so that she’s sitting right next to where Dani is still slicing the meat. 

“So. How’re things with, y’know.” She nods toward Edmund. Dani swivels around to look in his direction. He gives her an oblivious salute. “Okay, I didn’t mean for you to look straight at him.” 

“Well, how was I supposed to know?”

“I’m trying to engage in gossip .” 

“Oh, are you trying to get me to talk shit about my boyfriend?” Dani says, raising her eyebrows, putting a hand on her hip. For a moment Jamie feels genuinely chastised, but then Dani’s stern-teacher expression drops, and she smiles. “Kidding. No, it’s — things are, you know, good. The same, pretty much. Not much to report.” 

“Yeah?” Jamie says. She tells herself it’s cruel that her heart is sinking a bit at this news, and manages to tamp down the feeling. “You’re not..?” She holds up her left hand, wiggles her fingers. 

“What — oh, God, no. No!” She looks around furtively. Nobody else is paying attention. They’re far enough away from the others that if they talk quietly, no one will even be able to hear them. Dani lowers her voice. “I mean — I — I think he wants to, probably. Soon. He keeps...bringing it up. Like, enough that it seems like he’s trying to test the waters, see how I feel about it.” 

Jamie takes a measured sip of her wine. “How do you feel about it?”

“Mmm.” Dani sighs. The guanciale is all sliced; she puts her knife down and leans on the counter, toward Jamie. “That’s the question, huh?” 

“Some would say it’s a big part of it, yeah. Your feelings on the matter, I mean,” Jamie says. “Unless he plans on carting you to the church against your will.” 

“Y’know,” Dani says thoughtfully, “sometimes I kind of think he wishes he could.” 

Jamie inhales her sip of wine a little too fast and chokes on it, spluttering and coughing. Finally, in a hoarse voice, she says, “The fuck does that mean?” 

“Well — no, not that, exactly, that came out wrong. That makes it sound like I’m, like, being held hostage. I just meant — oh, you know how it is.” She makes a face like she’s just said something blithe and lighthearted. 

“I absolutely do not.” 

Dani chews on her lip, looking over her shoulder. She’s fidgeting the way she always does when she’s nervous, rubbing her thumb against her index finger. Her hand rests barely a centimeter away from Jamie’s thigh. 

“I guess I just wonder if he really knows what I want, sometimes,” Dani says. “Or — if he cares enough to find out.” 

It is dangerous territory, Jamie knows, to be talking so frankly about Dani’s relationship, and not only because half of it is standing only meters away. Jamie is not an objective third party. Still, she says, “And what do you want, exactly?”

“Hm?” 

“What do you want?” 

Dani frowns up at Jamie. Her face is pulled tight, like she’s compressing something inside herself. Jamie can make out the light sheen of Chapstick on her lips. The moment feels like it lasts forever, and then right when Dani opens her mouth to say something, Eddie, from the kitchen, says, “Babe, c’mere, we’ve gotta try this sometime,” and whatever Dani was thinking shatters like ice. She smiles, her mouth drawn wide and tight, and then Jamie watches her go toward Eddie.

 


 

Dinner is magnificent, as expected. They sit around the dining table to eat: Dani and Eddie next to each other on one side, Hannah and Owen on the other, Jamie awkwardly placed at the head of the table. “I’m sure you’re all wondering why I’ve gathered you here today,” she jokes when she sits down.

Throughout dinner, she can’t help but pay specific attention to Eddie. His behavior, the way he looks at Dani, how he talks to her. Does Dani mind that he keeps his arm slung around the back of her chair like that? Is she angling her body away from him, or just trying to reach the salt shaker? Most importantly, is she actually happy with him?

It isn’t any of her business, just as it wasn’t her business in London, when she used to act as a sounding board for Dani’s complaints about him. Even then she’d realized how quickly her feelings had started running hot. She’d tried to distance herself — the smart option, the cool-headed, most Jamie-esque option — and succeeded for approximately three days before deciding she could put up with the feelings, and would simply stuff them somewhere where they’d never have to be seen or acknowledged. Now the same problem has presented itself to her: it’s impossible for her not to care deeply about Dani Clayton. 

“So, Jamie, what do you do?” Eddie asks. 

“Gardener,” Jamie says through a mouthful of garlic bread.

“Use your words,” Owen says. 

She makes a face at him. “I work for a company that does landscaping, gardening, the like.”

“Jamie’s going to have her own flower shop soon, though,” Hannah says, with a warm smile in her direction. “Isn’t that right?” 

Everyone makes impressed, improving sounds at her. “Saving up,” Jamie says. “Hopefully soon it’ll pan out. Fingers crossed, and all that. What about you, Eddie?” Maybe if she gets to know him, like him, form him into a real person in her mind, she can find it in herself to be genuinely happy for Dani. 

“Oh, I’m an accountant,” he says. “Pretty boring stuff.” 

Never mind, Jamie thinks. 

After dinner, she pours herself another glass of wine and drinks it while she washes the dishes. Hannah stands next to her and dries them off. The whole time she has this sense that Dani’s watching her, her skin buzzing with the weight of Dani’s eyes on her, but when she looks up, Dani is listening intently to Owen, who is laid out on the couch and telling a story that involves lots of exaggerated gesticulating. She’d forgotten what it was like, to feel like this. To be in a room with a person who she’s attuned to with her whole being, like the needle of a compass swiveling frantically toward its north. It’s distracting. She’s got dishes to wash. 

 


 

Everybody retreats to their respective rooms a little after ten, which is when Jamie realizes that the room she’s been saddled with is the one directly adjoining Dani and Eddie’s. The rooms share a wall which, Jamie thinks, can’t possibly be thick enough to block out sound. There’s a rickety wooden bed frame holding up a thin mattress, a couple nondescript pieces of artwork on the walls. Compared to her one-bedroom in London, it’s a palace, and plus, there are two massive east-facing windows on the wall next to the bed, so she’ll be able to wake up with the sun. 

Jamie lays in bed for approximately ten minutes before deciding that she isn’t going to be able to fall asleep, so she goes out to the balcony attached to the living room and lights a cigarette. The night air is cool and damp against her skin. A group of teenagers pass by on the street below, laughing and yelling at each other. It smells like a combination of barbecue smoke and rain that makes her suddenly nostalgic, not for anything in particular but in a general, all-encompassing way. 

She’s nearly halfway through her cigarette when she hears the metallic squeak of the balcony door behind her. It’s Dani, wearing an oversized sleep shirt with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She stands next to Jamie and says, “Hi.” 

“Evening,” Jamie says. 

“You still smoke, huh?” 

“Notoriously hard to quit, so, yeah.” 

“Can I have one?” Dani says, nodding toward her cigarette. Jamie raises her eyebrows at her. 

Normally she is not a person who lets others bum cigarettes off of her — they’re expensive, and there’s nothing worse than a non-smoker, “I only smoke when I’m drinking and/or feeling rebellious”-type to waste a cig on — but she has known for a long time that normal behavior doesn’t apply when it comes to Dani, so she just says, “Oh, don’t tell me you’ve started,” already pulling out her packet and tapping one out into her hand. Dani puts it in her mouth and lets Jamie light it for her. She inhales and then coughs once, briefly. Jamie laughs.  “Jesus. I’m a bad influence on you.” 

“What else is new,” Dani says. She bumps Jamie’s shoulder in what is probably supposed to be a playful gesture, but instead sends something painful, static-electricity-heat, skittering along Jamie’s nerves. “Actually, serious question. What is new? With you?” 

Her shoulder feels warmer where Dani brushed it. She takes a long drag to distract herself, watching the smoke curl out when she exhales, and shrugs. “Oh, you know me. Not one for change. ‘S all the same, for the most part.” 

“You might be opening up your own shop soon, right? That’s new.” 

“Yeah, that’s true, I suppose it is.” 

“That’s exciting! You’re not excited?” 

Dani is beaming at her. Jamie can’t look straight at her for long, so she stares instead at her cigarette between her knuckles, watching the cherry glow and then dim. “I am, I am. I just don’t like to, I dunno, brag, is all. Don’t care much for the attention.”

“You should be bragging, you deserve it,” Dani says. “Fine, I’ll brag on your behalf.” 

“Oh, thanks,” Jamie says, smiling out of the corner of her mouth. 

Somewhere in the distance, a car horn honks, and then a man yells something in Spanish. Jamie hasn’t traveled much in her life, but in this moment, on the balcony looking out at Madrid, she can see the appeal. There’s a heady, delicious newness to everything, a distinct sense of possibility in each moment, in this disruption to her usual day-to-day, week-to-week drudgery. Here she’s just a person, having experiences. Here she can stand next to Dani, their arms nearly touching, and feel her heart racing and her skin flushing, and one day she can look back on it as a lovely little interlude in reality. 

“Okay, so,” Dani says. She hooks her elbow around Jamie’s upper arm and leans gently into her shoulder. “Anything new in the, you know,” — she makes a broad gesture with her hand that clarifies nothing — “women department?” 

Jamie gives a sidelong, amused look. “The women department , really?” 

“You get the point.” 

She shakes her head. “Nothing at all, no.” 

“What?! Seriously?” 

“Yeah, no,” she says, wishing they’d move on from this particular subject. In fact, the last time she’d had anything remotely serious with a girl, it had been a year after Dani left London, and the girl in question had gotten sick of Jamie spending so much time on the phone with Dani. Which was fair, obviously; Jamie hadn’t been angry about it. Actually she hadn’t cared at all. Since then, there hasn’t really been anyone else. 

“I remember you being sort of a player,” Dani says. 

“Oh my God,” Jamie says. Dani giggles. “I was not.” 

“Mmm, I dunno. I can name, like, five or ten girls who might disagree?” 

“Not ten,” she protests. Dani is talking about the string of half-hearted hookups that Jamie undertook in February of Dani’s London year, in a misguided attempt to flush Dani out of her system (although Dani doesn’t know that last bit). “Well. Maybe ten.” 

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Dani is teasing her, Jamie knows, smiling with her tongue between her teeth, leaning further into her still. “I’ve, um — I’ve really missed you.”

“We talk all the time,” Jamie says, which is not exactly true. They talk probably once a month now.  

“Yeah, I know, but.” She lowers her voice, as if they’re discussing some sort of secret rather than the very public and un-scandalous fact of their friendship. “You know it’s not the same.” 

For a year after Dani left London, she and Jamie would talk on the phone almost every day, despite the six-hour time difference. Sometimes Dani would call her at the end of her day once she’d gotten back from the library or from her student-teaching hours, and even though it’d be eleven at night in London, Jamie would pick up and they’d talk until two or three in the morning. Often Jamie would fall asleep on the phone with her and wake up the next morning to find that Dani hadn’t hung up even then, had just fallen asleep herself, and Jamie would stay as still as she could in bed, listening to her breathing on the other end of the line for long enough to feel like a creep before hanging up. Other days Dani would call for just a few minutes in between her classes, each time saying something torturous and lovely like, “I’m busy tonight, but I just really wanted to hear your voice for a sec.”

Then Dani graduated from college (summa cum laude, which Jamie had had to Google). Jamie and Owen had wanted to come visit for the ceremony but hadn’t had the money, at the time, for a flight to America; Dani had offered to pay, but Jamie’s pride hadn’t let her accept. She and Eddie — they’d apparently patched up their relationship after the fiasco that was Dani’s study-abroad year — moved in together. And slowly the calls had puttered out. It was understandable, Jamie knew; Dani was falling asleep next to someone else now, next to her actual boyfriend and probably eventual husband, and besides it was probably weird to be spending forty hours a week on the phone with someone you weren’t dating, anyway. 

Jamie knew that. She knew that when the phone calls started and she knew that even before, back in London when Dani started spending the night at her flat and would curl up into her in her tiny twin bed without any acknowledgement of what was happening, and she knew that when it stopped through some mutual, silent agreement between them. She only let it continue for as long as it did because it felt good, because she felt good with Dani, alive in a way she hadn’t before, and the good outweighed the hurt of knowing that to Dani, it meant nothing more than what it was on the surface. Dani was a good friend; Dani thought Jamie was a good friend. The rest of it, the affectionate touches and the late-night calls and the inordinate amount of time they spent with each other, was just Dani being Dani. 

“Yeah,” Jamie says, before the silence can stretch on between them for too long. She looks back at the city, sprawling out before them, alive and glittering with light. “Yeah, I’ve missed you too.”