“When we find a place to call our home, I want us to open up your flower shop. The Leafling. I would love to do that with you, if you’ll let me. That’s what I want.”
Jamie began crying. “Yes, Dani, yes,” she said, pulling Dani into a tight hug. She couldn’t believe Dani had remembered that, much less wanted to make it a reality.
“We’ll do it together,” Jamie said. “We’ll do everything together.”
“Together,” Dani repeated, hugging her tighter. “I love you so much”
“I love you, too.”
And so they began the next chapter of their adventure… together.
5 Years Later…
The clock read 4:59am, one minute before the alarm would blare, signaling the start of another day. In the dark of their bedroom, Dani held Jamie as they slept, their bodies perfectly fitting together as they had since that first week. Even in sleep, Dani nuzzled closer to Jamie, breathing in her familiar scent. To Dani, Jamie smelled like home. It didn’t matter where in the world they were; when she was with Jamie, she was home. In front of her, Jamie’s hand was resting atop of Dani’s across her stomach, instinctively reaching for her, even in sleep needing the sense of peace and security that she only felt when she was with Dani.
5:00am— BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
“Bloody hell!” Jamie exclaimed, reaching over and blinding smacking in the direction of the alarm clock until she silenced it. “How is it morning already?”
“Mmmm,” Dani muttered, as she pulled Jamie closer against her body. “Five more minutes.”
“We need to get up, Dani,” Jamie responded, making no move to move away from Dani.
“We had a late night. We can lay here for a few more minutes.”
Jamie smirked, remembering the night before. “We had a late night because you couldn’t keep your hands off of me.”
“And I didn’t hear you complaining. Heard some other things, but not complaining,” Dani whispered into her ear.
“I’m still not complaining,” Jamie said, rolling over to face Dani and placing a soft kiss on her lips.
Dani smiled and pulled her closer. “I love you, Jamie Clayton-Taylor.”
“I love you, too, Dani Clayton-Taylor. And I never get tired of calling you that.” Despite being exhausted, Jamie couldn’t help but smile.
“And I never get tired of hearing it.”
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
“Dammit!” Jamie rolled off Dani and turned the alarm clock off. “As much as I want to stay in bed with you, and trust me I do, we have to get up.”
“Uggg!” Dani took her pillow and pulled it over her head.
Jamie gently pulled it down to see Dani’s face. “I’m sorry, love.” She kissed her on the tip of the nose and rolled out of bed, walking towards the bathroom. She turned to look over her shoulder and saw Dani still laying there, her arm over her eyes. “If you get up now, you can join me in the shower.”
Dani moved her arm and locked her eyes on Jamie. She sat up straight and threw her legs over the bed, walking towards Jamie. “You play dirty,” she said as she walked past her into the bathroom.
“Works every time,” Jamie said to herself, smirking, as she followed after Dani.
An hour and half later, Jamie was waiting for Dani in their living room. They had both gotten ready and had breakfast together, as was their tradition before they left for work at The Leafling each day. Dani was still brushing her teeth and Jamie found herself staring at the photos of them around the room. She smiled as she remembered each one— the selfie she took of them under the Eiffel Tower when she kissed Dani on the cheek at the last second and earned a huge smile from the blonde, the two of them kissing and holding hands in a gondola in Venice, Dani smiling in Stonehenge with childlike wonder, the two of them clinking pints of beer in Berlin, the photo of them holding hands and looking out over the Pacific Ocean at sunset that a kind stranger had taken for them, Jamie smiling as they kayaked Lake Superior, both of them in front of the castle at Magic Kingdom wearing silly Minnie Mouse ears with huge grins on their faces, a selfie at the Grand Canyon with their cheeks pressed together, a photo in front of the Statue of Liberty with their arms around each other, a collage of their wedding photos… Jamie smiled as her fingers trailed along each picture frame. She couldn’t keep from smiling as she remembered each special moment with Dani. Every moment with Dani is special, not just these. But we did everything we said we would do and more. We’ve lived more in these past five years than most do in an entire lifetime. I’m so damn lucky. Don’t know what I ever did to deserve all this love and happiness.
Jamie was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t notice Dani watching her. Dani didn’t need to ask her to know what Jamie was thinking; it was written all over her face. Dani understood the feeling all too well. She, too, could not believe that this was their life. Dani was standing in the home they had built together. They had both left England with a sizable sum of money, Jamie from MI5 and Dani from Henry Wingrave, who seemed to show his regret at abandoning Dani to Viola with enough money for Dani to live more than comfortably for the rest of her life. They had taken their money and used to it build both The Leafling and their home in the Vermont countryside. They owned all the land around them for miles and their house had been built to Jamie’s very specific specifications. Dani humored her on almost all of it, including the panic room, training room in the basement, and the myriad of hidden compartments to hide weapons. Dani smiled as she remembered it.
“Jamie, why do we need all of these things?!”
“I just like to be prepared is all, Poppins,” Jamie responded, slightly defensive.
“Do you think we’re going to be invaded? Is a panic room really necessary?” Dani asked, trying to keep from laughing.
Jamie was serious though. “Yes, it’s necessary, Dani. Your safety is the most important thing to me.”
It was hard for Dani to respond to something so sweet with sarcasm, so she stepped closer to Jamie, putting her arms around Jamie’s neck. “Okay baby, we can keep the panic room.”
“And the gym?” Jamie prompted.
“And the gym,” Dani confirmed. “The way you ‘train’ with me, we probably need our own private gym anyway.”
Jamie winked. “Ahh yes, that’s my patented ‘hands on’ curriculum that you’re referring to.” She wrapped her arms around Dani’s waist and pulled her closer.
“Yeah. Big fan of it,” Dani admitted. “And you know what? I’ll even let you hide your weapons all over the house.” Jamie’s eyes lit up. “I know all this stuff is important to you, even though you’re retired. I knew what I was getting into with you.”
“Dani, you had no clue what you were getting into with me. You just thought I was a sexy agent.”
Dani laughed. “Maybe that’s true, but I signed up for a life with you, no matter what that entails. And apparently it entails biometric safes and swords mounted on the wall. However, there is one thing I am drawing the line at.”
Jamie’s eyes narrowed. “And what’s that?”
“You are absolutely not, under any circumstance, keeping your explosives in the house. In our house.”
“No. No C4 in the house. I shouldn’t have to say that, Jamie.”
Jamie huffed. “Fine. No C4 in the house then.” She paused for a moment, thinking. “What about in the shed?”
Dani smiled at the memory. There had been so many conversations like that in the early days of their relationship. Jamie may have left MI5, but Dani accepted that it would always be a part of who she was. And secretly, Dani found it adorable. She loved the beautiful life and home that they had built together. Her gaze moved to the claddagh ring on her left hand, a reminder of the vows they had made two years ago. Marrying Jamie was the happiest day of Dani’s life. I love this woman so much. How did I get to be this lucky?
“You’re staring.” Jamie’s voice brought Dani out of her thoughts.
“Can’t help myself,” Dani said, unbothered that she had been caught staring.
Jamie smiled and held her hand out. “Ready to go?”
Dani walked across the living room and slipped her hand in Jamie’s, immediately feeling the electricity of their connection. Even now, after five years, touching Jamie and being touched by her always sparked a reaction in Dani’s body. Whether it was a feeling of desire or contentment, it was always something good. In this moment, it felt like peace.
“Yeah, I’m ready.”
Jamie led them into their garage. They took turns driving to work. It was a thirty minute drive from their home in the country to The Leafling in town.
“Want me to drive today?” Jamie asked.
“Sure, that’d be great,” Dani replied as they climbed into Jamie’s forest green Land Rover. Dani’s little red Toyota Prius was parked next to it. In the corner was Jamie’s motorcycle. Dani loved it when they rode it together. She loved clinging to Jamie as the wind kissed their cheeks. Thankfully, their rides these days were a far cry from their first motorcycle ride in Cairo. They buckled up and Jamie was soon backing out of the garage. The sun was just beginning to rise, and Dani was reminded how each new day with Jamie was a gift. Once Jamie put the SUV in drive and began their journey, she placed her hand in Dani’s, where it was waiting for her, palm up on the center console. They both smiled when their hands connected and Dani gently ran her thumb over Jamie’s knuckles.
Some mornings they talked the whole way into town, other mornings they were quiet, most mornings it was a combination of the two. The one constant was that they always held hands. They never spoke about it; it was just something they always did and they both loved it.
Jamie pulled around to the back of The Leafling. As usual, they were the first people in. The Leafling had become so successful that Dani had to convince Jamie to hire more help. Jamie was reluctant at first, but she eventually admitted that Dani was right. Plus, the additional employees gave them more opportunities to get away and spend time together. Dani let Jamie take the lead with the hiring process, as she insisted on “extensive background checks,” which consisted of Owen letting Jamie use MI5 resources to investigate each potential employee. Dani had only rolled her eyes, but in the end, she more than approved of each of their three employees— Maria, Luis, and Amber. They had become family to Jamie and Dani.
Jamie unlocked the back door of The Leafling and they began their morning tasks. Jamie checked on each plant and tended to their needs while Dani worked on the business side of things. Shortly before 7:00am, Amber was dropped off in front of the store by her mother. At sixteen years old, Amber was their youngest employee. They hired her for extra help during the summer with the promise of weekend and afternoon hours once school started back up in the fall.
Amber bounded into the store, her eyes lighting up when she saw Jamie. “Good morning, Bosstie!”
“I’ve told you not to call me that, Sprout,” Jamie replied dryly.
“She loves it. Keep doing it,” Dani whispered conspiratorially as she walked by, winking at Amber who gave a big smile in return. She headed into the back room to put her lunchbox in the fridge.
“Can’t believe you encourage that,” Jamie said playfully.
“It’s adorable, and you know it. Jamie, you know she idolizes you.”
“It’s true. I mean, look at her overalls today. She’s even starting to dress like you now.”
“Well, I reckon I’ll write her a great letter of recommendation when she goes off to uni. The kid’s clearly got taste.”
“Clearly,” Dani replied. “And you have clearly not gotten any more humble in your retirement,” she added, playfully smacking Jamie’s arm.
“And you love me this way,” Jamie said confidently.
“I do. I really do.”
Dani leaned into kiss Jamie.
“Oh! Sorry, boss ladies! I didn’t mean to interrupt!”
They both looked over to see Luis. They had been so caught up in their flirting that they hadn’t even heard him walk in.
“I swear I’m putting a bell on you, Luis,” Jamie said, jokingly pointing at the 40-something year-old man.
“So you keep saying!”
All three laughed. Things always felt so natural for everyone at The Leafling. Amber came back into the store from the back. “Hey, what did I miss?!”
“Just the usual from these two,” Luis teased.
Before Amber could respond, Maria blew in. Maria was a force of nature. A Greek woman in her 50’s, Maria was the motherly one of the group, always looking after each member of The Leafling, mostly by cooking. There wasn’t a problem that couldn’t be fixed with a little feta cheese and a hearty Greek dish, at least according to Maria.
“Jamie! Dani! There you are! I made you baklava for today!” She handed Dani a Tupperware of the the delicious dessert. “You two are getting too thin! Baklava will help!” She poked Dani in the ribs as she walked away, chuckling to herself.
“Did she say baklava?” Jamie asked, her eyes widening. She loved everything Maria made them. She lifted the corner of the Tupperware to sneak a piece and Dani gently swatted her hand.
“Jamie, it’s not even 8am yet.”
“Don’t care. That baklava is calling my name.” She took a piece and then pretended to run away from Dani.
Maria watched from a short distance, beaming that Jamie enjoyed her cooking so much. Nothing brought Maria more joy than seeing someone enjoy something she made for them.
And so they all settled into their daily routine. They worked hard but also had fun. Jamie and Dani had created a wonderful and safe place within the walls of The Leafling. Not only was it Vermont’s most successful flower shop, but Jamie and Dani had added a community room. Once a week, Jamie taught a women’s self-defense class. She made no secret of being a former MI5 agent and her classes quickly became popular. Her students loved her for her expertise, patience, and her northern British accent. Jamie always used Dani for her demonstrations, frequently trying to see how flustered she could make the blonde without anyone noticing what was happening. On those nights, Dani usually couldn’t wait until they got home and would pull Jamie into the back room as soon as the last person left. Jamie loved self-defense class nights.
Jamie locked the front door of The Leafling, her last student having left. She turned off the lights and walked towards Dani, who was leaning against the wall near the door to the back office. She was biting her lower lip. Jamie knew what that meant. She sauntered towards Dani, eager to see what the blonde would do. She walked past Dani, making sure Dani saw her eyes slowly raking up and down her body as she brushed past her and into the back room. Dani quickly followed behind her, grabbing her by the shoulders, spinning her around, and pinning her against the wall. Her pupils were already dark.
“I swear, Jamie, these classes are torture. You touching me like that, in front of all those people. You know exactly what you’re doing and you can’t tell me otherwise.” Dani was breathless, her lips inches away from Jamie’s.
“I’m just teaching the fine ladies of this town how to defend themselves, Dani. I’m not sure what exactly it is you’re referring to,” she replied as calmly as she could. “I could always use someone else for my demonstrations, if you’d prefer.”
“I do not prefer that. I don’t want your hands on anyone but me,” Dani replied, her hands dipping under Jamie’s shirt to graze her stomach.
Jamie put her hands on Dani’s hips, pulling her flush against her body. “Good. Because I feel the same.”
Dani groaned. “Be honest, Jamie, these classes are just a way for you to get me to have sex with you.”
“You be honest, Dani. I don’t need an elaborate setup to get you to have sex with me. Ever,” Jamie replied, smugly, her own heat growing.
“Oh, just shut up and fuck me already,” Dani said, her lips crashing into Jamie’s, who passionately returned the kiss.
Jamie brought one hand between Dani’s legs, cupping her over her yoga pants and feeling the wetness that was already soaking through. She never got tired of the effect she had on Dani. Dani moaned at the contact, breaking the kiss and burying her face in Jamie’s neck.
“With pleasure,” Jamie whispered in her ear.
Self-defense classes were indeed a highlight of the week for both Jamie and Dani.
And, twice a week, Dani offered free after-school tutoring in the room, working with children of all ages. It brought her so much joy and fulfillment. Sometimes Jamie would lean against the door frame and just watch her, in awe of the beautiful, kind, giving, and insanely smart woman she had married. The way Dani could explain things in a different way to help each student understand was a gift and Jamie marveled in it.
It was Friday and The Leafling was busy with everyone getting last-minute arrangements for special occasions over the weekend. Jamie and Dani barely got to speak to each other, but they always made a point to touch when they walked past each other— the brush of hands, a hand grazing a waist, anything to convey to the other I’m here. Having been confronted with the fragility of life so early on in their relationship, they learned to never take anything for granted.
They finally hit a lull mid-afternoon. Dani left Amber in charge of the register and joined Jamie out back in the greenhouse.
“Hey you,” she said, slipping quietly into the tranquilly of the greenhouse.
“Hey yourself,” Jamie said, smiling. “What’s on your mind?”
“Nothing. Just wanted to watch you work is all.” Dani sat down in a chair. “It’s been so busy today. I’ve missed you.”
Jamie walked over to her and leaned down for a kiss. “I’ve been right here. But, I’ve missed you, too. What do you reckon you want to do this weekend?”
Dani slumped down further in the chair and let out a deep breath. “Honestly? I’m beat. Can we just hang out at home this weekend? Maybe sit by the lake for awhile?”
“Mmmm. Sounds perfect to me,” Jamie said, placing a kiss to the top of Dani’s head. “One other thing though?”
“Would you mind cutting my hair at some point this weekend? Getting a bit long again.”
Dani smiled. “Of course, Jamie. I’d be happy to.”
“Thanks. Appreciate it.”
The first time Dani cut Jamie’s hair was several months after they arrived in America. Dani had noticed Jamie’s hair had gotten long and she was wearing it pinned back all the time. Dani thought it looked beautiful no matter, but she overheard Jamie getting frustrated with it in the mirror one morning when she was getting ready.
“Stupid hair, won’t do anything…” Jamie muttered.
Dani had been reading a book in bed and decided to go in the bathroom to check on Jamie. The door was open but she knocked lightly on the doorframe, afraid she might be intruding.
“Hey… everything alright in here?” Dani asked gently.
Jamie huffed, blowing the hair out of her eyes. “Can’t get my hair to do anything these days. It’s fucking frustrating.”
“I thought maybe you were growing it out on purpose,” Dani offered. “It looks nice.”
“It looks like shite. Lost all its curl.”
Dani had noticed that the longer Jamie’s hair got, the less curly it became. But, she felt like she was missing a key piece of Jamie’s frustration.
“What do you normally do when it gets like this?” Dani prompted, trying to get to the root issue, just somehow knowing there was more going on than just Jamie’s hair not cooperating. She was still getting to know Jamie and she didn’t want to overstep though.
Jamie grew silent, the frustration immediately replaced by sadness. A tear slid down her cheek. She tried to quickly brush it away but Dani had seen.
“Oh, Jamie,” Dani said, immediately moving behind her and wrapping her arms around her waist. She rested her chin on Jamie’s shoulder and looked up at their reflections in the bathroom mirror. “Please tell me what’s wrong. I can’t help if I don’t know. And I really want to help.”
Jamie looked up and met Dani’s eyes in the mirror. “Umm okay. Suppose I have to tell you now. It’s just, uhh, Rebecca always cut my hair for me. She was good at it. I’ve never even been to a proper salon.”
And I killed her, Jamie thought.
And she killed her, for me, Dani thought, squeezing Jamie tighter from behind.
“Jamie, I had no idea. I’m so sorry.”
Jamie sniffled. “So here I am not knowing how to fix my own hair and it looks like shite and I miss her, Dani. Like, it just hits me sometimes, ya know?”
Dani nodded against Jamie. “And you didn’t want to tell me this.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Didn’t want to make you feel bad. Didn’t want you to think I regret what I did. Because I don’t. I’d do it again. In a heartbeat. But still, she was my friend for a long time. And sometimes I miss her. And my hair really misses her.” Jamie laughed a little at her own comment and Dani nuzzled into her neck.
“It’s okay to miss her. She was an important part of your life and what you had to do was awful. No one should ever have to do what you did. I’m sorry you had to do it. I recognize the enormity of what you did, what you lost, for me.”
Jamie turned around in Dani’s arms, leaning back against the counter to face her. Dani placed her hands on either side of Jamie against the counter, as if she was shielding her from the world.
“Thank you, Dani. For understanding.”
“Of course, Jamie. I want you to tell me these things, okay? I hope you know you can trust me.”
“Yeah, okay. And I do know that, I do.”
“Good.” Dani ran her hands up and down Jamie’s arms and then pulled her into a tight hug. Her hand held the back of Jamie’s head, fingers lightly scratching her scalp. “Now about this hair? Do you trust me enough to cut it for you?”
Jamie pulled back just far enough to look Dani in the eyes. “You would do that for me?” She said quietly, in disbelief.
“I’d do anything for you, Jamie. And, I just so happen to be very good at cutting and styling hair. So, will you let me?”
Jamie smiled at her. “Yeah, I’d really like that, actually.”
Dani tended to Jamie’s hair so carefully, touching her gently as if she were something precious, as if she mattered more than anything. It was enough to make Jamie’s heart burst and she couldn’t believe she had waited so long to talk to Dani about this.
And so that was the first of many times that Dani cut Jamie’s hair, and Dani appreciated the trust placed in her each and every time. And every time Dani did it, Jamie felt herself heal a little bit more. She still missed Rebecca, but knowing she could talk to Dani about her and about what happened meant more than she could tell Dani. But yet somehow, Dani still knew.
It was finally almost closing time. Amber and Maria’s shift had already ended, and Luis was busy bringing in all the plants that had been part of their outdoor display. Jamie was closing out the cash register.
“Blimey, Dani. I think I’m too tired to cook tonight. What about you?”
Dani was sweeping the floor, her head popping up at the sound of Jamie’s voice. “Pizza then?” She asked hopefully. “From Frank’s?”
“You seemed a little too ready with that suggestion,” Jamie said, chuckling. “But Frank’s sounds good, yeah.”
“If you want to call in our usual order, I’ll go pick it up,” Dani offered.
“Deal,” Jamie said, picking up the phone.
Twenty minutes later, Dani headed out to pick up their pizza. She said goodbye to Luis on her way out, knowing he’d be gone by the time she got back. Jamie was just finishing up in the store. Frank’s Pizza and Subs was only a short walk from The Leafling, so it was one of their favorite take-out locations. As she reached for the handle on the door, Dani felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She suddenly had the strangest feeling of being watched. She stopped in the middle of opening the door and glanced up and down the street, her eyes narrowing, searching for the source of her unease. There were people bustling around the sidewalk, but nothing appeared out of the ordinary. She shook her head, clearing it of the unwelcome thought, and stepped inside. Get it together, Dani. Don’t be paranoid.
“Hey, Frank! Got our pizza ready?” She asked the restaurant owner in a cheery voice.
“Of course I do!” He replied from behind the counter. “You know I wouldn’t keep my favorite Brit waiting. Jamie’s orders are always a top priority. I don’t want her threatening to shoot me again,” he added, winking to Dani as he handed the pizza box to her.
“Come on, Frank, that was one time a long time ago and she was hangry! You know how she gets,” Dani replied, enjoying the friendly banter about her favorite person. Just talking about Jamie put a smile on her face, a smile which Frank easily returned.
“And I’ll never let her live it down! You gals have a nice weekend and enjoy the pizza. I put a few extra toppings on there for you, too.”
“You’re the best!” Dani waved as she headed towards the door.
As she left carrying the extra large pizza, her feeling of paranoia only moments earlier was already forgotten. Dani walked quickly back in the direction of The Leafling, the smell of the pizza wafting up to her nose. She was eager to get back to Jamie and focused only on heading home to enjoy their dinner. She never noticed the man watching her the whole way from his car parked right across the street. As soon as she was out of sight, the man picked up his cell phone and dialed. The person on the other end answered almost immediately.
“I’ve found her, Sir. I’ve found the blonde.”