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do i look lonely

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Kelly does the sensible thing and breaks up with Jonah.

After what Amy’s mentally referring to as the Great Tornado Security Cam Footage Reveal Incident of 2k18, shortly followed by the I Kissed Jonah Again and It Was an Accident but I Hadn’t Noticed How Soft His Lips Were During the Tornado Mishap of 2k18 (she should probably shorten her titles, but they’re catchy, so eh), it really doesn’t come as a surprise.

Amy knows of their breakup because she hears it. Kelly and Jonah are in a dressing room (and really, when did those become a venue for emotionally charged conversations between employees, anyway), and the sound carries to where she’s folding and unfolding the same lace panties in Softlines over and over again. Kelly sounds resigned, even calm, with a tone Amy’s heard her use with children separated from their parents in the store. Jonah, meanwhile, is fretting and agitated. Amy hears her own name come up a lot. She doesn’t react to this. Well, she tries.

She hears Kelly say “…clearly still have some work to do,” and edges in a little closer, swiping more clothing off the table to look busy as she does.

“-don’t agree, but I respect-” Amy catches from Jonah.

A customer – boy in his late teens, Amy guesses – closes in on her by the table where she’s currently double-fisting women’s underwear. “Where can I find those towels that don’t need to be washed?” College Boy asks.

“Uh,” Amy says.

“My parents gave me laundry change, but I spent it on pot,” he tells her proudly.

“-valid-” Jonah says.

“Sorry, we’re out of stock. Check Kirkwood?” Amy suggests, trying to maneuver around him and closer to the dressing room.

“Tight,” College Boy agrees.

“-take some space,” Kelly says, and there’s a finality to her words that makes Amy take a few hasty steps back. Sure enough, the door opens and Kelly emerges.

Amy ducks behind a mannequin. Fortunately, Kelly doesn’t look her way and disappears out of sight in a few quick strides. She still looks marvelously composed, Amy observes, not a curl out of place and chin held high. You go, girl, she thinks drily.

It takes Jonah a bit longer. Amy’s back to folding clothes for real by the time he actually does.

“Hey,” he says. His voice is scratchy. Amy glances up at him and sort of wishes she hadn’t. There’s nothing sadder than Jonah’s kicked-puppy face, the one where his eyes get all droopy and his lips pout. Amy’s thoughts trail the tangent about Jonah’s lips and she shakes herself before she gets lost in it. Inappropriate timing.

“So.” Jonah squeezes his fingers. “Kelly and I broke up.”

“That… is brand new information,” Amy says.

Jonah frowns at her.

“Okay, fine, I heard. Hey, I’m sorry. I, uh, never meant to come between – I mean, I can go talk to her, if you want-”

“It’s okay,” Jonah cuts her off, and there’s something so gentle and sad in his voice it makes her heart ache. “She said it’s something she would’ve done even if – uh, you know. So.” He shrugs, and Amy can see how hard he’s trying and failing to seem unaffected.

“Take some time off, okay?” she says. “Here. I’ll come in tomorrow and cover for you. Get some like, non-dairy ice cream or whatever. The almond milk shit is on sale right now.”

Jonah’s eyes widen, an expression that always seems cartoonish on him. “On your day off? But – you should go home! What about Emma?”

“At Adam’s,” Amy answers with a little smile. “And all I would’ve done is sleep till noon, watch The Good Place, and eat a lot of pasta. And now you get to do that instead!”

Jonah has that stubborn, you-deserve-better look on his face, the one he usually gets when Amy tells stories about cleaning up after Adam or signing up for one too many PTA events, but Amy shuts him down before he can speak. “Ah ah ah, no, I insist. I did the sad breakup thing, and now it’s your turn. Go. Get out of my face. If I see you tomorrow, you’re fucking fired, got it?”

Jonah’s face dimples when he smiles, and Amy squashes the absurd urge to run her thumbs along them. “I will. Thank you. Seriously.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says with a dignified sniff, and strides off to fold some more clearance SuperCloud g-strings.

*

True to her word, Amy clocks in the next morning, and true to his word, Jonah does not. She takes her usual seat in the break room for the morning briefing, trying not to feel the weight of Jonah’s absence, and trying harder still not to look Kelly’s way.

“Good morning, everyone,” Glenn chirps. “I have some news.”

“Jonah and Amy, finally?” Corey bursts out at the same time Justine says, “Jonah totally dumped Kelly for Amy!”

This draws murmurs from the assembled employees. Amy buries her face in her hands, wishing desperately to be anywhere else right now, like eating Marcus’s boob cheese or dead.

“Alright!” Dina interrupts. “You all have five seconds to give half a crap about this, and then we’re moving on. Ready… go.” She sets her watch.

The break room erupts into noise around Amy, who still isn’t looking and is trying not to listen. She catches gleeful clapping – Sandra, probably – Marcus saying “I fucking called it, bro” (or maybe it’s “I fucking called her,” but she wills herself into thinking that’s not true), and Garrett’s “didn’t this happen six months ago?” When she does peek, she sees Mateo on his phone, looking thoroughly uninterested in the proceedings.

“Okay, settle,” Dina says. Amazingly, everyone does. Amy looks up, grateful, and catches Dina’s wink in her direction.

“Thank you, Dina,” Glenn says. “Now, I have some sad news for everyone.” He nods and Jeff, who’s been lurking in an awkward little corner during the preceding hoopla, steps to the front. “Due to personal reasons, Jeff is leaving us as District Manager. I thought it might be nice if we could go around and share memories of him. Anyone?”

There are murmurs again, and Amy takes the opportunity to glance at Kelly. She looks the same as the day before – beautiful as always, hair and makeup far more on point than average humans could hope to achieve at 6:30 in the morning – but she’s got a faraway look in her eyes. Cloud 9 hasn’t been nearly as kind to her as she deserves, Amy realizes, thinking that it’s a little too eat-or-be-eaten for someone with Kelly’s sweet constitution. And perhaps that’s a silver lining to her and Jonah’s breakup. Amy or no Amy, they would have never lasted: Kelly needs someone more defined, more assertive and protective and clear-headed; Jonah needs someone a little more willful.

Or maybe that’s just her confirmation bias showing.

Sandra wraps up a speech about Jeff and her breasts (Amy doesn’t begin to unpack that one), and they all stand. The employees carve a wide path around Kelly, a river of blue vests around one small blonde rock, and Amy battles with herself whether to approach her and say something. She makes up her mind a second later and slips out with the rest of her coworkers.

*

Jonah comes back the following day. He seems… better, actually. On his day off, he’s gotten a haircut and what looks to be a new button-down.

“Red’s a good color on you,” Amy says to him as they’re by the coffee maker, and a blush immediately creeps up her collarbones. “Oh, I don’t mean, uh. It’s just, I’m glad you’re back.”

Shit, that’s worse, she thinks, but Jonah takes it in stride. “Thanks. Hey, is Kelly around?”

“Kelly?” Amy laughs, a little too high-pitched, and Jonah raises his eyebrows. “Actually, I, uh, might have changed her shifts so that you guys don’t overlap. For, um. The next week?”

Jonah opens his mouth as if to protest, then deflates. “Okay. Yeah. Fine. I guess it’s for the best.”

“Has she texted?” Amy asks gently.

Jonah shrugs, shakes his head, looks at the ground. “I haven’t heard from her since we broke up.”

“I’m sorry,” she says, sincere. Jonah doesn’t answer and awkwardness swells in the space between them.

The door opens, and Justine, Corey, Sandra, and Isaac file in. Their faces register identical glee at seeing Jonah and Amy standing side-by-side. Justine, ever shameless, literally elbows Corey in the ribs.

“Leave him alone,” Amy snaps before any of them can draw breath, surprising herself in her fierceness.

The group titters, but it’s effective. “We just wanted coffee,” Isaac says in false innocence. He reaches between the two of them, wagging his eyebrows at Amy and Jonah in turn.

Amy rolls her eyes and heads back into the store, but not before she catches sight of Jonah’s face, open and trusting and thankful.

*

Of course, the mother-bear routine only works once. The moment they return to work, the ribbing picks right back up again. Amy can’t go closer than six aisles of wherever Jonah is without some coworker or other wolf-whistling or playing smooth jazz through the speakers in Electronics. She grits her teeth and bears it until an employee who’s probably half of Cheyenne’s age starts asking her if they’re going to name the baby Jamy.

“Are you an intern?” Amy asks, horrified, wondering about the child labor laws being broken in this girl’s employment contract.

She finds Garrett instead. “This sucks,” Amy confesses, ducking underneath the customer service counter to get a break from the stares.

Garrett shrugs down at her. “Why not just embrace it? That’s what Dina and I did, and none of y’all acted up.”

“We tried that,” Amy says glumly. “It was going great, until – well, you probably heard.”

“I did not,” Garrett says. “What happened? No, wait, don’t tell me. I don’t care.”

She’s grateful for the ensuing silence.

“They’re just bored, you know,” Garrett tells her after a while. “You might not know this, but our lives here are sort of mundane. They’ll find any source of entertainment and blow it up big-time.”

He’s right, of course, and Amy relays the same message to Jonah when she finds him a couple hours later. They’re out back by the loading dock. Amy had rounded up all the trash she could find and lugged it to the dumpster, where she was sure no one else would find her. But Jonah was already here, turning his phone over and over in his hands without unlocking the screen. It feels a little funny to be the one comforting him, when just a few days ago the roles had been reversed.

“You’re probably right.” Jonah sighs and stuffs his phone back in his pocket. “They’ll get tired of this. We just need another drama.”

*

It comes sooner rather than later. Over the next few days, her coworkers’ leers and lewd hand gestures (or attempted lewd hand gestures, in Sandra’s case) taper off. People start to approach Amy to ask about actual shift assignments and product codes, even when Jonah’s standing nearby sniffing at organic candles or extolling the virtues of bread makers to customers, or whatever the fuck he usually does.

Then Justine’s cat has kittens, and she decides it’s a good idea to bring them into Cloud 9 for the purposes of pawning them off on the other employees. That kicks off the Jennifer Clawrence and Bradley Pooper Got Loose in the Store Oh God Mateo’s Allergic and Screaming and Dina Tackles the Animal Control Dude Debacle of 2k18.

“A catastrophe,” Jonah says to her, pleased with himself, as they watch Mateo barricading himself in the break room and Glenn apologizing profusely to Randy from Wildlife Removal St. Louis, whose nose may or may not be broken. Dina’s got two handfuls of kittens and a triumphant gleam in her eyes.

Amy groans, which only broadens Jonah’s grin.

The kittens get their happy-ever-afters, unlike Amy, who’s left mopping nose-blood splatters off of the glass in the frozen aisle. Garrett takes one, not so much asking as telling Jonah he’s going to have to share his bed (since he doesn’t pay nearly as much rent as he should, anyway), and Marcus is the lucky grand-prize winner of the tiny black mewly one he names Miss Sparkles.

“That’s a boy cat,” Cheyenne says, rolling her eyes.

“So? Feminism.” Marcus holds Miss Sparkles up to eye level, who promptly sneezes on his face.

*

So it’s all par for the course. Over the next few days, the only abnormality is that Jonah comes in with more pictures of Erik Killmonger than someone who’s allegedly so animal-neutral should conscionably have.

All the more reason that that Sunday morning Holy Shit What Did I Just Do Disaster of 2k18 takes Amy by surprise.

Like most things, it’s Garrett’s fault. He’s the Discordia of Cloud 9, a Greek deity in disguise coming down to sow chaos among employees and customers alike. Or so Amy tells herself later, when all is said and done.

Besides, anyone wielding that level of power over the loudspeaker is not to be trusted.

They’re in the break room, ticking down the last fifteen minutes or so before the store opens for the day. Now that the teasing has largely died off, Amy’s resumed her usual spot by Jonah’s side, and has taken over his phone to look at memes on Reddit.

“You can download that on your phone,” he says.

Amy upvotes a corgi gif. “Should I get a dog?”

“The Reddit app is free.”

“I just don’t know who’d take care of it when I’m at work and Emma’s at school. Maybe I can start with a fish?”

“We do stock bettas,” Mateo volunteers.

“What if someone, like, sent me a naked photo while you had my phone?” says Jonah, though he doesn’t make much of a concerted effort to take it from her.

Amy scoffs. “Literally, who?”

“I have… admirers,” Jonah defends himself.

“So true.” Amy turns the screen toward Jonah, where an email notification just popped up. “The Goodreads newsletter. Ooh, saucy.”

Jonah snatches his phone back.

Garrett looks over at them. “So you guys are like… over, right?”

They turn to him. “What?” Jonah says.

“Yeah, you know.” Garrett wheels so that he’s facing them squarely, and Amy can see a conniving glint brewing in his eyes. “You kissed during the tornado. Then people found out about it, and then you guys found out you were madly in love with each other, then Kelly dumped Jonah, and now you’re just… not doing anything about it?”

“I discussed my feelings with you in confidence,” Jonah whines.

Amy feels heat rushing into her ears. “Like we’ve said, it’s all in the past.” She doesn’t look at Jonah when she says it, and most of all, she tries not to blink.

“Yeah, in the past,” Jonah echoes. And then, ever suffering the need to prove a point, adds, “I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with her, anyway. It would be unstable.”

That stings, but Amy takes the remark for what it’s worth and buries it in the same place as her divorce and anxiety about paying bills and Emma’s growing up. “And I wouldn’t want to date Jonah either. He’s had, what, six girlfriends since I’ve met him? Clearly,” she laughs humorlessly, “some commitment issues there.”

“I’ve had four!” Jonah blurts.

Most of the employees are watching them now, enraptured.

“Four- wait. Who was the fourth?” Amy ticks off Naomi, Kristen, and Kelly in her head.

“Didn’t you just say I had six?”

“This is juicy,” Dina contributes. She pulls up a chair directly across from them and sits on it backwards, clicking her fingers over her shoulder. “Marcus! We rehearsed this.”

“Right.” Marcus scrambles and reemerges with a pen, yellow legal pad, glitter glue, and a jar of pickles.

“Do you just… keep those around?” Amy asks, momentarily distracted.

“This is just for me,” Dina says with respect to the pickle jar, which she opens and starts drinking from. Everyone else recoils in horror. “You know. Pregnancy cravings, the usual. The rest is for this.” She waves the pen at the admittedly minimal space between Jonah and Amy. “Proceed.”

“I can commit,” Jonah insists, and Amy is horrified to see his chin wobbling a little bit. God, it’s like kicking a baby chinchilla.

But she’s all in now, so she retaliates. “And where’s the proof of that?”

“I doubt you would last,” Jonah counters. “Just divorced? All that stamina’s run out?”

The employees gasp.

“Too good,” Dina murmurs, sketching something elaborate on the legal pad.

Sandra is eating honest-to-god popcorn. Cheyenne is filing her nails and watching them, head swiveling like she’s at a tennis match, mouth slightly open.

“Stop it!” Glenn wails. “Stop fighting, you- you love each other too much to act like this!”

“Oh, Glenndive Salad, love’s got nothing to do with it.” Garrett rubs his hands together.

Amy is seized by a heady recklessness, one she hasn’t felt since crashing Adam’s date on Christmas Eve. “I’ll bet you couldn’t date me for a month.”

Jonah jumps up. There’s a feverish gleam in his eyes she usually associates with discussions of homemade tahini, Syrian refugees, or Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “I’ll give you excellent odds on that.”

“Now kiss!” Justine crows.

“Wrong timing,” Cheyenne tells her kindly.

“Why stop there, guys?” Garrett asks with feigned nonchalance. “Stakes are low if you’re just dating, right?”

“Living in sin is a sin,” Glenn chants, nodding sagely. “No premarital you-know-what.”

“Sex?” Marcus says, helpfully and hopefully.

“Why are you doing this,” Amy hisses at Garrett.

He smiles. “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”

“That doesn’t fucking make sense.”

“Marriage!” Jonah exclaims, still standing. An awed hush falls over the room. “I propose a bet of… marriage. I propose marriage.”

“Doesn’t count if there’s no song and dance,” Cheyenne points out.

Dina is wiping tears from her eyes, looking as though she’s just been told there’s a shoplifter on the loose who can only be stopped through the right combination of stealth tactics, psychological manipulation, and forklifts. “Hush, sweet summer child. This is getting good.”

“You want to… marry me?” Amy asks. She means to sound brazen, even dismissive, but her voice comes out small and startled.

Jonah’s eyes are darting about like a caged animal’s. He takes his seat, and Amy can see his chest rising and falling rapidly under that stupid flannel shirt. Still, he doesn’t back down. “Thirty days of marriage. Terms?”

“This is beautiful,” Glenn says, sniffling.

“This is going on Twitter,” Mateo says.

Amy’s mind and heart are racing. “If you bow out at any point, you – have to concede I’m right in every single argument for the rest of the year.”

“That’s it?” Garrett yawns.

She glares at him and at her new fiancé in turn. “And – you can’t date for the rest of the year.”

Jonah holds up both indexes. “Can we get a definition of ‘dating’?”

Everyone groans.

He shrugs. “Loser’s choice, then.”

Dina’s broken out the glitter glue. “Your terms?”

“Amy can’t make fun of my clothes, my food, anytime I talk about an article I read,” Jonah reels off, a little too quickly for Amy to believe he’d never thought about this before. “For the rest of the year. You have to use the word ‘sexy’ unironically in conversation at least… five times. No assigning me to the gun counter.”

“That’s right, dream big,” Garrett says drily.

“And you have to clean the men’s toilets anytime I’m assigned to do it for the length of the punishment term. Because, gross.”

“No fair, you got like, ten things,” Amy complains. “I want the toilet one too.”

Jonah looks at her, and Cloud 9 collectively holds its breath.

“Deal.”

Cheyenne gently nudges Justine, who stares at her in confusion for a second. “Now kiss?”

“Right,” Cheyenne encourages.

Jonah sticks out his hand. Amy takes it and feels his fingers, long and warm, wrap around her own. Her palm is clammy.

They shake.

Chapter Text

It’s a little unnerving how quickly Cloud 9 employees can pull together a wedding.

Also unnerving is everyone abandoning their jobs, Amy supposes. Under ordinary circumstances, this lack of work ethic would never fly with Glenn and Dina, but the former is busy alternating between crying and calling half of the greater St. Louis area to invite them, and the latter is running around barking orders into a headset Amy’s pretty sure isn’t connected to anything. She looks like she’s having the time of her life.

“Alright,” Dina says, pausing in front of her and slightly out of breath. “As your maid of honor-”

“I don’t-”

“As your maid of honor, I’m getting everything organized. Wedding starts at thirteen-hundred hours sharp, which gives us exactly five hours and thirty-three minutes to prepare, so we’ll need to fast-track some things. I’ve decided we can skip invitations, the EDM deejay, and the 3D-printed cake-toppers of you and Jonah, but as of now the male stripper and the live flock of doves are still a go, okay?”

Amy sits down on one of the floor model lawn chairs in Furniture.

“Attention Cloud 9 shoppers,” Garrett’s voice says from overhead. “We are currently organizing a wedding, so if you happen to go to any of the checkout lanes, you will notice nobody is there. Feel free to keep shopping, or just take your purchases straight out the door, if you can get past our new security guard Psychopath Sam, who just graduated from prison last week. Sam, we’re all so proud of you. Have a heavenly fuckin’ day!”

Amy feels nauseous. Nauseated, the Jonah in her head corrects.

Oh god, he’s in her head now.

“Hey.” Dina is snapping her fingers in Amy’s face. “Are you listening? I’m calling up the Recorder of Deeds, I got a friend there. We’re gonna expedite this marriage license.”

“Marriage – license?” Amy asks faintly.

“Yeah, duh. What, you think this is some kind of fake-marriage deal? You call each other husband and wife but legal marriage is too ‘political’ for you? C’mon, Sanchez. I befriended Cynthia twelve years ago in preparation for this very event.”

“For my bet with a coworker you hadn’t met yet he couldn’t last in a marriage to… me?” Saying it out loud makes it infinitely more real. Amy’s glad she’s seated.

Dina scoffs. “For my own wedding. But that one’s definitely having a bigger flock of doves, so can’t really take place today, can it? My dove guy’s only offering me twelve. I said fifteen, Vladimir, don’t stiff me, I know you’ve got ‘em,” she snaps into the headset.

“Okay, whoa.” Amy stands up, too sudden, and feels the blood rushing to her head. “But in a month we’ll have to file for divorce.”

Dina pauses and looks at Amy. Her expression is suddenly inscrutable, which is particularly unsettling for someone so transparent Amy knows her entire bowel movement schedule, despite repeated pleas not to. “Yeah… sure.”

But Amy can’t even begin to puzzle out what that one means before Dina’s gone, thwacking Marcus over the head with her clipboard. “Orchids, you incompetent pillock! I said orchids.”

*

Glenn officiates, because of course he does.

(“That was the nineteenth wedding I offish- offishated,” he proudly tells Amy and Jonah, later. They’re celebrating in the break room, and Cheyenne’s drudged up some two-buck chuck from the liquor aisle she most definitely did not pay for. At Glenn’s betrayed sputtering about underage drinking, she’d taken a sip from her Solo cup, looked him dead in the eye, and told him it was grape juice. This probably explains Glenn’s six cups of the stuff – he would’ve had a seventh, but most of it landed on his shirt instead.

Dina finds him one of her own blue polos to wear, a gesture of kindness that leads Glenn to burst into messy, boozy tears. She gives Cheyenne an approving look. “That’s my girl.”)

Given that Glenn is officiating, Garrett self-appoints as Jonah’s best man, Marcus shouldn’t be entrusted with anything ever, and Amy’s actual father is blissfully ignorant of the impromptu marriage his daughter has decided to enter, Mateo is chosen to walk her down the aisle by process of elimination.

It’s absurd, the whole thing is, and as such Amy can’t justify to herself why her heart is pounding so ferociously as she hangs on to Mateo’s arm. Mateo seems to be enjoying his role, to say the least. He’s wearing a tuxedo a few sizes too big on him and is princess-waving to the assembled crowd, which, Amy doesn’t fail to notice, is bigger than that of her first wedding. They’ve set up in the Garden Center, and as much as she hates to admit it, the atmosphere is sort of… nice. The floor model fountains are all running, and someone – Cheyenne, she suspects – brought out all the hanging potted plants, their tendrils snaking over the walls and onto the Astroturf below.

Much to Sandra and Justine’s dismay, she had refused to put on the bedazzled white dress with the long train that they had picked out for her, feeling revulsion at the memory of the last time she wore such a dress with its cheap fabric scratching the barely-there bump. Instead, Amy keeps her blouse and black jeans, the only nod to decorum having been to ditch her Cloud 9 vest.

She puts one foot in front of the other, breathes, walks. Pachelbel is playing from a portable speaker. Among the two sets of folding chairs on either side of the aisle, Amy sees all of her colleagues in their blue vests, Jeff, some strangers she doesn’t recognize who are undoubtedly Glenn’s relatives, Pastor Craig smiling serenely, little Harmonica in the arms of Bo, and a few lost customers holding on to shopping carts and babies.

And there he is, at the end of the aisle under the arbor that Marcus and Cody had dragged up from the last wedding day sale. It’s wreathed in white roses that Amy’s decently positive are fake, but it’s hard to tell with the afternoon sunlight streaming in just so, limning in gold the flowers and the fountains and Jonah.

Amy stumbles and has to grab on to Mateo for balance.

Jonah is dressed in a sleek black tuxedo that, unlike Mateo’s, seems to have been tailored to fit his narrow frame. He’s wearing a blood-red cummerbund and matching bowtie that would have been laughable on any other man, but this is Jonah, and the overall effect of his outfit is one of tremendous, enviable poise. His hair is combed back and he’s apparently shaved within the last few hours, not a spot of stubble on his face.

Amy can’t remember the last time she’s held a razor.

They arrive at the front; Mateo gives her hand a few quick pats and goes to stand behind Garrett and Marcus on the groom’s side. Amy takes her place across from Jonah, with Dina and Cheyenne in matching mint-green dresses at her back, feeling wildly out of her element.

“Nice dress,” Jonah whispers to her with a smirk as the final notes of Canon in D blare out.

“Nice tux,” she retaliates, but the sarcasm falters as Jonah takes both of her hands in his own. He squeezes her fingers a little and she realizes he’s trembling.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today,” Glenn begins. He’s wearing a tailcoat, an actual tailcoat. Amy’s not sure what she should be doing or where she should be looking, so she stares down at her feet. A thousand apt clichés are bouncing around in her head, but the only one she can fixate on is that she’s marrying her best friend.

Somehow, Amy thinks it’s not supposed to work like this.

She realizes she’s missed what Glenn’s saying when he pauses and beams expectantly at the two of them.

“Amy Sosa, I vow to thoroughly kick your ass,” Jonah says. Amy starts. “By the end of one month, you’ll have divorced me so hard and I will never clean a toilet again. …For the rest of 2018.”

Right, the bet.

“Jonah Simms, I vow to be infinitely better at commitment than you,” she says. “Which we all already know I am. I hope you enjoy being single the rest of the year, because you clearly won’t be able to handle marriage.”

“So romantic,” Dina sighs from somewhere behind her.

Garrett leans forward and presses a set of rings into Jonah’s hands.

“Jonah,” Glenn says. “Do you take Amy to be your wedded wife, to live together in marriage? Do you promise to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her, so long as you both shall live?”

“Uh,” Jonah says, and he slides one of the rings onto Amy’s finger. It’s surprisingly not awful, a thin silver band studded with little gemstones, and it actually fits. “Not really?”

“And Amy,” Glenn says to her. “Do you take Jonah to be your wedded husband, to live together in marriage? Do you promise to love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to him, so long as you both shall live?”

“Definitely not,” Amy says as Jonah passes her the other ring and she puts it on him.

People are clapping. Celebration from Kool & the Gang is playing over the speaker, and somewhere in the audience, Amy can hear Bo shouting “love wins! Wha-wha-whaaa!”

She looks down at the ring again and up at Jonah. “Plasticlear?” she asks him above the commotion.

“This?” Jonah pretends to be affronted. “I got you the good stuff. This is pure cubic zirconia.”

“Ah, you splurged.”

“I mean,” Jonah says, “to be fair, the diamond industry is just riddled with blood diamonds, can you imagine basically funding a civil war in a developing nation just for the sake of having something that gaudy-”

“You may now kiss the bride,” Glenn says with satisfaction, and Amy surges forward, seemingly to heed the instruction but mostly just to shut Jonah up.

Their third kiss is dry, chaste. It’s not at all how Amy would have imagined their third kiss going, if she’s ever imagined such a thing at all. Which, of course, she hasn’t.

The crowd becomes impossibly louder, hollering and stomping their feet. Dina whistles through her fingers. There’s a whooshing overhead and Amy draws back, spooked, just in time to catch the doves fluttering free of their cages. There’s nowhere for them to go in the garden center; they settle on the potted plants.

Amy looks back down to where she and Jonah are still just inches apart and sees in his eyes an expression she’s sure is mirroring her own: watchful, fierce, afraid.

Chapter Text

Amy helps clear the empty bottles and cardboard plates from her own after-party. She’s scraping cake crumbs into the garbage as Garrett wheels up.

(Marcus had ordered a custom cake from the Cloud 9 bakery. JUST MARREID, the writing said. “Please don’t get that tattooed,” Jonah told him as he licked vanilla icing off of his thumb. “Don’t get anything tattooed, for that matter.”)

“Mazel tov,” Garrett says to her and Jonah, who’s nearby rinsing cups in the sink to be recycled. Mercifully for Amy’s blood pressure, he’s changed back into his flannel and skinny pants.

“Hey, that was… actually correct,” says Jonah.

Garrett pulls a face. “You think I’m ignorant?”

“No, I didn’t mean – I just, you know, because you’re-” Jonah scrambles.

“I’ll have you know I’ve been to several bar mitzvahs,” Garrett informs him.

“Yeah, I wasn’t-”

“What’s up, Garrett?” Amy says in her very best de-escalation voice.

There’s a brief pause as Garrett folds his hands in his lap and sits up straighter. “Now that you’re newlyweds, I think it’s only appropriate for Jonah to move in with Amy.”

Amy’s jaw drops. Several things click into place at once.

“…You set us up,” Jonah hisses.

Garrett gives them an unconvincing pout. “I’m just keeping the spirit of the bet, you guys! How would this ever be a challenge if you’re not actually living together as a married couple? What would be the difference?”

“I don’t have any room,” Amy says automatically.

“Bullshit,” Dina’s voice says from behind them, and where the hell did she even come from? “Amy’s got a spare bedroom. I know because that’s where I crashed for fourteen hours after that, uh, extremely successful Golden Globes party.”

“Traitor,” Amy accuses.

Dina holds up her hands. “All’s fair.”

“But – what would we say to Emma?” Jonah adds, panicked.

Garrett shrugs. “You tell her that Jonah’s old roommate kicked him out on short notice and he needs a temporary place to crash. Which is technically the truth, anyway.”

“This wasn’t in the terms,” Jonah sputters.

“Well, as your bookie, I say it is.” Dina’s face splits into a big, shit-eating grin. “You’re moving tonight, unless you want to call the bet right now.”

Jonah is turning redder and redder. He’s at an uncharacteristic loss for words.

Do enjoy your wedding night for us.” Dina turns to Garrett; they have the audacity to fist-bump. “He’s so cute when he’s mad,” she says.

“Adorable,” Garrett agrees.

“Dina,” Amy pleads.

Dina rolls her eyes. “Don’t be such a baby. Listen, you owe me after I had to cancel the male stripper because of your stupid ‘budget cuts.’”

“Oh, do we need a male stripper?” Marcus materializes out of nowhere. “I know, like, a ton.”

“This conversation is over.” Amy stomps off.

“Or I could just do it myself. Ask me about my friends and family discount!” Marcus offers.

She hears Jonah’s footsteps hurrying after her.

*

Most of the employees trickle back to work with varying degrees of sobriety. A small group of them gather up all the pillows and blankets they can find and nest Glenn in his own office. He goes to sleep like a baby, mumbling happily about consummation.

“Ew,” Mateo says succinctly as he shuts off the lights.

Amy assigns Jonah to relieve Sandra, who had been delegated to man the checkout counters during the after-party, so that she doesn’t have to see him on the floor. She herself goes and hides somewhere in the office supplies aisle.

Dina finds her anyway, even as Amy’s doing her best to blend into the Bic pens. “Haven’t you done enough damage?” Amy asks.

Apparently not. “Here’s the marriage license,” says Dina, handing Amy a crumpled piece of paper. Amy unfolds it to see her and Jonah’s signatures, passably forged at the bottom.

“Don’t you need, like, social security cards and all that to get this?” Amy’s got a vague memory of standing in City Hall with Adam and feeling queasy, whether from her life decision or from the morning sickness that, untrue to its name, plagued her at all times of the day.

“Yeah, I have that information.” Dina rolls her eyes. “And told you I’ve got a friend.”

“This seems illegal,” says Amy, but she folds up the paper and tucks it into her pocket, right next to the cubic zirconia ring she isn’t allowed to wear on the clock.

“Illegal – or just immoral?” Dina challenges.

“…Both?”

Dina sighs and turns to leave. “Amy, this is the best day of my life. Try not to ruin it with your Amy-ness, okay?”

Amy watches her go, then takes out her phone to check the time. There are still three hours left in her shift. Suppressing the urge to scream or cry, she breathes in deeply instead and does what any mature adult would do in her situation: hide in the stockroom until it’s time to go.

*

At six on the dot, Amy speed-walks out of Cloud 9 and to her car, successfully keeping her head down and avoiding her colleagues.

Well, except for one. In his infinite Jonahnity, her husband (yikes) is standing at the passenger-side door and grinning at her. “Ready to go home, wifey?”

“Eat a dick,” she responds tiredly.

The smile slides off of Jonah’s face. “Everything okay?”

Now there’s a loaded question. Amy amuses herself with the mental image of Jonah’s reaction if she said something like “no, actually, I got hitched on a bet to someone I probably maybe somewhat definitely have feelings for, and now we’re just going to go home and live together with my teenage daughter from a previous failed marriage and play house for a month instead of communicating properly for once in our sad, sad lives.”

“I’m fine,” she says. “You’re not coming with me, are you?”

Jonah drums on the hood of her car. “Nah, have to go pack up all my stuff at Garrett’s. He’s so excited, he got me this housewarming present.” He holds up an I <3 NY keychain. “It’s a little ironic because I am from New York, but I don’t think he was really going for that deep sentimentality, you know?”

Amy’s not sure how to respond to this, or respond at all to the fact that Jonah’s acting so goddamn normal in the first place. “Cool, well. See you later tonight.”

“Hey,” Jonah says quietly just as she’s climbing in to her car. “I know what happened in there was… kind of a lot.” He waves toward Cloud 9.

“Oh, you mean Cheyenne and Mateo’s Drunk in Love karaoke? Or wait, was there something else that happened at work today that I missed?”

Jonah ignores this. “But listen, between the two of us, it doesn’t have to be weird.”

“You’re making it weird,” she points out.

“We can just, like, see this as a roommate situation. Hey, it can’t even be that bad. You know, in college, my freshman year roomie was this Russian dude who spoke zero English and only ever played card games and drank vodka with his Russian friends. Last day of frosh year, he picks up his phone and calls his mom, and guess what? Perfect English! Turns out, he just didn’t want to interact with me.”

“…Riveting,” Amy says. “But sure, we can be casual-whatever roommates. Fine. Can I go now?”

Jonah holds up both hands in acquiescence. Amy’s distracted by a glint of silver: he’s put the wedding ring back on. Or maybe never took it off in the first place, defying corporate policy.

Amy slams the door shut, turns the key in the ignition, and peels out of the parking lot. She doesn’t check her rearview mirror to see where Jonah’s off to, and strong-arms the churning in her gut into submission, silencing the thought that a just-roommates situation had been the least of her desires.

Chapter Text

The first thing Amy does at home is pour herself a nice cup of tea. With a healthy dash of brandy.

Emma’s at volleyball practice, meaning she won’t be home for another half hour. Amy debates the merits of taking expired Xanax.

She decides against it, and busies herself cleaning up instead. She washes Emma’s dishes from this morning, throws out some moldy vegetables in the fridge, straightens the couch cushions. She breathes deeply and enters the guest room, not thinking about its future occupant as she airs it out and changes the sheets and makes sure the closet is empty.

Amy’s wiping down the mirror when Emma comes home. “Hey, Mom,” she hears, followed by the thunk that tells her Emma’s thrown her backpack down and the fridge door opening.

Amy goes into the kitchen. Emma’s sitting at the counter, eating a slice of cold pizza and texting.

“Em,” says Amy. Emma looks up, brow furrowed. She can tell something’s off, Amy knows, but when she doesn’t ask, Amy continues, “we’re going to have a new roommate for a little while.”

“Huh?”

“You remember Jonah, right?”

Emma blinks a few times, but her expression shutters just as quickly behind a practiced mask of teenage indifference. “…’Kay?”

“He’ll be living with us for a bit. So… if that’s a problem, you know, just let me know-”

“It’s cool, Mom. Jonah’s fine.” Emma shoves the rest of the pizza in her mouth and is already back to texting as she takes her stuff upstairs to her room.

Amy takes her spot at the counter, defeated. She can’t deny a part of her was hoping Emma would have a freak-out, and then she could text Jonah and call the whole thing off. Instead, her phone dings:

Jonah Simms
On my way! :)

“Fuck,” she sighs, heartfelt, and goes back to fluffing pillows.

When she hears a door slam in her driveway, Amy steps out to look. She fully expects him to be driving a Prius, but Jonah’s pulling a few boxes out of an old, thoroughly average Honda Civic.

“Sweet ride,” Amy says, stepping out barefoot to help him.

Jonah turns at her voice. “Hey, don’t hate on Rita,” he protests, but he’s smiling.

Amy smiles back on instinct, and the tightness in her chest eases a little bit. “Rita, seriously?”

He points at the license plate, which is indeed RI9 T4A. “Alternately for Rita Skeeter, if she’s acting shady that day. It’s also a celebration of Teach for America, which I did for a year out of college.”

“Of course you did. Alright, come in. Do you need any help?”

Jonah doesn’t. As it turns out, he’s only brought two boxes of stuff and a carry-on sized suitcase, which he brings inside in a couple of quick trips. “Funny story, a lot of your material possessions get destroyed when a tornado levels your place. It’s sort of freeing to be this minimalist. I miss my books, though.” He follows her into the guest bedroom. “Oh wow, this is a lot nicer than Garrett’s place.”

“Why, is he super messy?”

Jonah shakes his head and puts down the boxes. “Clean as a whistle, actually. But his second bedroom was unfurnished, so I bought my own crappy mattress and didn’t have a bedframe or anything. Or… whatever this is.” He’s nodding at the mantelpiece, where three little fairy statues are lined up next to a decorative Jesus on a cross.

Amy pinches the bridge of her nose. “Shit, I forgot about those. My mom thinks they make good Christmas presents. Ugh, I should probably move them, it’s like, sort of offensive, right?”

“On the contrary,” says Jonah. “I feel my Judaism slipping away by the second. Tomorrow, I’m gonna shake off the chains of my heathen religion and cook bacon for the very first time. I’m ready.” He clutches at his chest, dramatic. “Ready to let Jesus into my life. My… heart? Soul?”

Amy rolls her eyes.

“Sorry, what part of me is Jesus supposed to enter?”

“Just don’t let my mom hear you talking like that.” Amy heads to the kitchen and Jonah follows. She realizes she’s ravenous. “Hungry?”

Jonah nods. Amy’s suddenly intimidated – who knows what Jonah eats most of the time, freaking kale smoothies with hemp seeds or deconstructed burrito bowls that don’t actually have tortillas or whatever – so she pulls out the classiest thing she can find in her fridge, which is some leftover chicken and broccoli. Luckily, Jonah makes no comment as she microwaves it and separates it onto two plates.

They eat mostly in silence, avoiding each other’s gaze. At work, they had been spurred on by adrenaline and the thrill of performance, of being not Jonah and Amy but Jonah and Amy (or Barbara, as she was today), whose lives are dramatic in a one-dimensional fashion open to easy consumption by others. Here at home, the veneer’s come off, and they’re left with no one to perform for. Their impulsive agreement just seems all the more absurd for it, and now make-believe and reality have come to collide right in her own house. It raises Amy’s territorial hackles in the most unpleasant way.

Jonah seems to sense her discomfort. It’s barely eight when they’ve finished eating, so not as if they could just tell each other goodnight. “D’you… wanna watch a movie?”

“Oh God, is it another one of your cuttlefish documentaries or French indie films or-”

Jonah gets his sad puppy face, like he always does when her teasing is a little too on the money. “I was thinking just some good old-fashioned Spirited Away.”

Amy blinks. “I… love Studio Ghibli, actually.”

That’s how they end up on the couch, as far apart from each other as the space allows. Jonah figures out how to connect his Macbook to the TV and get everything up and running properly; Amy doesn’t even need to call for Emma.

Speaking of which, though, Emma comes downstairs fifteen or so minutes into the movie, gives Jonah an awkward “hey” which he returns in equal awkwardness, and clambers onto the couch next to Amy. They sit like that, Amy and Emma on one side of the couch and Jonah distant on the other, for the rest of the film.

*

Amy’s always been the first one awake in her household. She’s a morning person by necessity, getting up early to make breakfast for Adam and Emma and be at work on time. So it’s odd to step out of the master bedroom and find another person already there, the scent of something delectable sizzling in the pan.

Jonah’s grilling bread. He looks up and smiles when she enters, then goes back to plating the food. Amy sits at the counter and watches the muscles shift under his plaid shirt, drowsily enraptured. It’s too early for this.

He puts down the finished product in front of her. A thick slice of sourdough bread, fried, topped with neatly sliced avocado, a drizzle of oil, salt and pepper, paprika, cilantro. Amy didn’t even know they had avocado; Jonah must’ve brought it along.

Adam never cooked, unless he was barbecuing.

Amy’s throat is suddenly tight, stopping the words she doesn’t have from spilling out: that she’s been the adult for so long, that even in high school she sometimes cooked for her dad, that she loves looking after her family but there are days when she wants to pack a bag and move to New York and disappear into the crowd forever and ever. That no one’s ever really taken care of her before.

“Thanks,” she says instead.

Jonah shrugs self-consciously. “Don’t get too used to it, yeah? I only have two avocados.”

This startles a laugh out of her, and she takes a bite. Then another, and another, and has to stop herself from inhaling the whole thing at once.

Emma comes down a few minutes later, squinting. She heads straight for the pantry, but just as she’s pulled out the box of Frosted Flakes, she catches sight of what Amy and Jonah are eating and double-takes. Emma glances first at Amy, then at Jonah, and it seems to dawn on her what the situation is. She hesitates a little before turning to Jonah.

“Can I get one?”

“Yeah, of course,” Jonah says softly. He sets down his half-eaten toast and turns the stove back on.

The three of them eat in silence, and Jonah stacks their plates in the sink when they’re done. “Do you want me to drive us to work, then?” he asks, stilted. Emma watches them curiously.

“I gotta drive Em to school. I can meet you there.”

“Oh, I’ll come.”

If Emma’s miffed at being relegated to the back of the car, it doesn’t show. Amy turns on the radio and Elvis is crooning about not being able to help falling in love. She switches the channel, and Ed Sheeran has found a love just for him. They drop Emma off. The next channel is in the middle of a condom commercial.

Amy shuts the radio off.

She parks at Cloud 9 and steps out; Jonah follows. Amy reaches the doors and hesitates, overcome by a sudden burst of nerves.

“Hey,” Jonah says. “It’ll be alright.” He puts his hand on the small of her back, briefly.

Amy exhales and nods. They go in.

The break room bursts into applause – seriously, when will these people move on? – as Amy and Jonah enter. Amy glowers.

“Congratulations on the start of a beautiful union!” Glenn tells them, to which the others cheer and whistle.

“We’re gonna break up, you know that,” says Amy.

“May you go with courage into this wonderful journey that God” – Dina elbows Glenn – “that You-Know-Who has chosen for you.”

“Voldemort?” Garrett asks, intrigued.

“Who?”

“So how was the sex?” Marcus leans forward. “Asking for a friend.”

Amy and Jonah take their seats. She wishes fleetingly that he’d touch her lower back again.

“I think your babies are gonna be really cute, but Mateo’s betting that their eyes are gonna be like, too big,” Cheyenne confesses.

“Alright, fine. The friend is me,” says Marcus.

Justine waves her phone. “I Instagrammed so much of the wedding yesterday. The videos are getting more views than some of Kelly’s,” she says.

The chatter stops.

Amy spins to face Jonah. She grabs his arm – huh, surprisingly firm, could it really be the case that she’s never felt his bicep before – and catches his look of abject horror.

“Kelly,” they say together, numbly.

“You didn’t tell her?” Sandra asks, managing to look both distraught and gleeful.

Dina and Garrett burst into identical cackles.

“Oh, you’re gonna get wrecked,” Carol breathes.

“R-E-K-T,” Mateo adds.

“What?” Carol asks.

“Did no one tell her?” Amy says. “Nobody texted her?”

There’s silence. “We don’t have her number,” Justine says finally. “None of us do.”

“When does she come in?” Jonah asks Amy, quiet.

She inhales sharply. “Now.”

Jonah goes impossibly paler. He stands and nods, as though he’s a character in a shitty war movie who’s just accepted a death sentence and is going to face it like a man. “I’ll talk to her.”

*

This time, Amy doesn’t need to pretend to be working by the dressing rooms. She can hear them just fine.

It’s a little scary, because she’s never heard Kelly yell like that. Actually, up until now, Amy wasn’t sure Kelly could yell at all.

“SO YOU GOT MARRIED!?” Kelly shrieks.

There’s a small knot of curious employees assembled around the door. A few of them have their phones out, recording.

“Back the fuck off, seriously?” Amy hisses. Nobody listens to her, so she dives into storage and comes back with a mop. Only when she starts landing a few good thwacks do they finally disperse, with some grumbling here and there.

Kelly is still screaming. Amy hasn’t heard Jonah’s voice at all.

“Amazing,” Dina murmurs as she approaches, staring at the dressing rooms as if she’s in front of the Taj Mahal. “I love drama that doesn’t involve me.”

Unlike last time, Amy has no interest in being around for this, so she’s about to make a tactful retreat when the door slams open.

As it turns out, it is possible for Kelly to look less than composed. In fact, she seems sort of crazed, red eyes and streaks of mascara running down her cheeks. Amy doesn’t blame her in the slightest.

But then Kelly catches sight of her and stills. Amy’s blood runs cold.

“Youuuuu,” Kelly spits, and Amy panics, trying to make a fight-or-flight decision in the three seconds that it’ll take for Kelly to reach where she’s standing.

Dina steps not-so-subtly between them, putting one hand delicately on her stomach as if to emphasize the state of innocence that pregnancy bestows on her. “Problem?”

With great effort, Kelly tears her eyes away from Amy. “I quit,” she gasps, and then, thankfully, pivots on her heels and storms off.

Dina looks on serenely. After a moment, the dressing room opens again and Jonah comes out, jaw set in a grim line.

“She can’t actually, you know,” Dina tells them.

“Huh?” says Amy.

“Quit.” Dina winks. “There’s like, fourteen different clauses in permanent hires’ contracts that prevent you from just walking out the door.” She bites her lip in mock thoughtfulness. “Technically, we could sue?”

Jonah scrubs a hand over his face. “Just let her go for the day, Dina. She’s been through a lot.”

“But have you ever seen corporate counsel? They’re all really hot,” Dina says. Jonah turns and leaves without a response. “Okay, fine, only Manish is hot. Everyone else is a solid three. To five. Andrew’s a six, when he’s not hungover,” she calls after him.

Amy’s just about to follow her husband when another voice from behind stops her short again.

“You mean I’ve been your mistress this whole time!?”

“No – what? – God, we were never-”

“I thought we had something special! I thought you cared!” Tate howls, and Amy looks to Dina, despairing.

“No quitting,” Dina reminds her cheerfully. “Only suing.”

*

Amy doesn’t see Kelly again the rest of the day; then again, she’s doing a good job of not seeing anyone at all. She has an unusually productive shift, mopping floors that Cheyenne had said she couldn’t because of her “postpartum depression,” folding all the towels and sorting them by color, switching out dead lightbulbs, throwing out some of the more visibly expired produce, and finally fixing the broken toilet in the ladies’ room.

It’s a little hard to avoid the fresh scandal, though, especially once Sandra’s remixed some of the dressing room footage with the tornado footage, and somehow turned it into a five-minute trailer for a Lifetime movie. Cloud 9 employees congregate in Electronics to watch, still no less enraptured than the first time.

Amy considers going to Glenn, but it’s not as if she needs more of a brown-nose reputation than she already has, and he in any case seems fairly enchanted with Jonah’s recent transition to Christian values. So instead she takes a more direct route and goes behind the wall to unplug all the televisions.

“Oh no,” Amy says flatly as a handful of customers give up on trying to make the TVs function and take their business elsewhere.

It’s Monday, so she heads out of the store a half-hour earlier than usual. She’s in the driver’s seat before she remembers that she came with a plus-one.

“Let’s go home,” she says to Jonah when she finds him back inside. Unlike her, he seems to have wound up with quite the audience today, and as per his original advice is trying to make the best of it.

“-and when I saw her coming down the aisle, that’s when I knew,” he’s saying, to the collective wistful sigh of Cheyenne, Sandra, and the rest of his female entourage. Nearby, Carol is shooting daggers at him. “Hey, there she is. Oh, uh, home?”

“Bo said he knew I was the one when he got me knocked up,” says Cheyenne, a little jealously.

“Yeah, home.” Amy gives him a closed-mouth smile. “Or did you not want to make sweet, sweet love…?”

Jonah gapes at her for a second. “Oh! Um, yep. Let’s, uh, go make… that.”

They exit to a soundtrack of giggles.

“So,” Jonah says in the car, overly casual. “The thing you were saying-”

“I got some errands,” she cuts him off. “So you get to go home early too, if you want, every Monday and Thursday. Consider it my wedding gift.”

“Oh,” he says, and Amy snorts at the fact that there’s actual dismay in his voice. “Can I ask what you’re-”

“Nope.”

“Alright, then I won’t pry,” Jonah says magnanimously. “You don’t have to tell me stuff if you don’t feel comfortable. But you know, if you ever wanted to talk about anything, I’m a safe space for you.”

“Uh-huh. Thanks.”

There’s an expectant pause; Jonah’s clearly waiting for his reverse psychology to set in. When it doesn’t, he says, “There’s a yoga class I go to at 8:30 on Mondays. You’re welcome to join.”

It doesn’t surprise her in the least. “I won’t be home by then. But thanks anyway.”

“Okay.” Jonah’s got his wounded face on again, which she ignores as she pulls onto her street. Amy knows he’s trying, and she wishes there were some way for her to credit him that. After the divorce, though, her walls have come back up, and Jonah’s forced domesticity just makes her want to shut down further.

To compromise, she pats his knee as she’s parking, hoping to reassure him. But Jonah just looks all the more confused for it as she exits the car and leaves him behind.

Chapter Text

Amy had expected Jonah’s presence to be a disturbance, something that would throw her and Emma’s home life out of whack. After all, Jonah isn’t Adam, as evidenced by things like the increase of fermented foods in their fridge since he’s moved in. But barring the kombucha and sauerkraut and kimchi – the latter of which Emma tried one single time and then resolutely refused to touch again – it’s less of a shift than Amy had imagined. Maybe that shouldn’t surprise her. After all, it hasn’t been enough time since the divorce for her and Emma to have much of a home life of their own to speak of.

Still, by the end of the first week of her second marriage, Jonah’s become an abnormally, well, normal part of their household. They alternate who drives to and from work. Jonah buys hand soap and toilet paper and trash bags without being prompted. He doesn’t always make breakfast, as he’d warned her, but he does consistently wake up before Amy and Emma. He tends to be in the kitchen by the time she rolls in, drinking tea and smelling of soap from his shower.

Amy tries to be less disappointed than she is that she never catches Jonah before his morning routine. There’s a small – alright, respectably-sized – part of her that’s curious about what he’s like when the dredges of sleep are still softening his features, disheveling his hair. And maybe, just maybe, she wants to know what he wears to bed – a vintage t-shirt and pajama pants, probably, or just a pair of old boxers.

Or nothing at all.

She tries to push these thoughts down, though her mind is prone to wandering in those initial days when they spend their commute in silence or listening to music. After the first few drives, however, Jonah asks her with unreasonable levels of anxiety in his voice if it’s okay to play a podcast. Amy ends up liking Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me more than she cares to admit, particularly when she gets to blurt out the answer faster than Jonah can.

Work once again returns to whatever counts as normalcy in Cloud 9. There are a few exceptions: Kelly’s still MIA, for one, and Dina remains tight-lipped about her whereabouts. The latter seems to be loving the chance to play God, holding tight to the one juicy piece of gossip everyone else is vying for.

“Who knows?” Dina says in exaggerated mysteriousness. “Maybe she ran away. Could be as far as Arkansas now, if she escaped on your average trail pony.”

Glenn’s also calmed down since the wedding day, but he does find a way to drop unsubtle hints about children into nearly every conversation.

“Amy, could you go restock the canned seafood aisle? It’s urgent,” he says.

She does. In the middle of the shelves is a pack of diapers, a pacifier, and a book of nursery rhymes.

“Oh, weird,” says Glenn when Amy brings these back to him, eyes narrowed. “Dunno how those would’ve gotten there. No, don’t put them in go backs! You might find them… useful.”

“Think you and Jerusha are gonna need them a little sooner than I will,” she says, slamming them down on his desk and only feeling a touch guilty when he pouts.

Then, of course, is the time she tries to pick up her prescription from Tate. He sniffs and hands her a white paper bag, resolutely not looking at or speaking to her. When she opens it up in the break room, she only finds a pack of Viagra with a Post-It note attached. FOR J*NAH, BECAUSE HE NEEDS IT, the note says.

Jonah takes this from her with interest. “I don’t, though,” he says, so uncharacteristically confident that her libido raises its slumbering head and takes a few sniffs.

“I’m just gonna go get my prescription filled at Walgreens,” Amy mumbles, and goes to find the first thing that will turn her off. “Oh, Marcus, hey.” Perfect.

“I’ll take this if you don’t want it,” Marcus says, looking over Jonah’s shoulder. “But do one of you mind sticking around for a bit afterwards?”

Jonah gags and hands him the box.

So all told, things are mostly normal again, at least on the outside. Sandra and Carol pick up their feud; Garrett streams Bulls games during work and only takes customers during time-outs; Dina’s pregnancy is responsible for the shortage of vegan ice cream in the frozen aisle.

On the inside, Amy’s life is casually falling into pieces. She isn’t sure if something counts as a crisis if it’s happening continuously, but ever since the wedding she’s felt herself in a state of sickening freefall.

The worst part is that Amy doesn’t know who she can talk to. Her go-to is Jonah, and she wants nothing more than to drag him into the break room to split shitty box wine with her, but she can’t talk to Jonah about Jonah so that idea is right out. She doesn’t tell Dina because she’s not ready to face her pitying smirk, or any other Cloud 9 employees because they’ll blab and she’s sick of having her feelings be official company business. Garrett would be the only one who wouldn’t spread anything, but there’s also the caveat that he doesn’t care. Emma’s her daughter, and Amy is still desperately clinging on to the hope that Emma sees her as an authority figure. She has a brief moment of insanity in which she considers calling Adam, but even she isn’t that desperate just yet.

Finally, she dials Henry.

“Who died?” her brother says by way of greeting.

Amy snorts. “No one, asshole.”

“And so you’re calling in the middle of the day on a Saturday because…?”

“Fine. Maybe it was my dignity that died,” she concedes.

“Aha!” Henry says triumphantly. “Sooo? What’d you do this time?”

She tells him.

There’s a long silence on the other end after she’s wrapped everything up. She’s huddled in the back of the stockroom, having taken refuge on the upper rungs of a stepladder. Amy’s checking to see if the call dropped when Henry finally speaks.

“Jonah, huh?” His tone is thoughtful, but otherwise ambivalent. “That’s the guy you keep sending me pictures of?”

Her face is burning. “Not that many.”

“I like the one of him next to the giant chess board pieces that look like butt plugs,” Henry muses. “But the six or seven where he’s sort of sitting there in his plaid shirt looking like he just graduated from Berkeley with his PoliSci degree are good too. And now that I think about it, it’s kind of telling that you’d have so many like that. The last time you sent me that many candids of someone doing absolutely fucking nothing was when Emma was a baby.” There’s a pause. “He’s cute, though.”

“Uuuugh,” Amy whines. “Just fix it.”

Henry laughs softly on the other end of the line. She takes comfort in his laugh; it’s one of the earliest memories she has of her childhood. Growing up with Henry seven years her elder, Amy often tried to keep up with him to mixed results, but he was mercifully easygoing. When she inevitably failed at whatever it was – baseball, reading middle-school level books, trying to persuade their parents to let her attend theater camp with him – and ended up in tears, he’d just let out his merry little laugh. Even now she still takes it as a sign that things will be okay.

“Also, if I didn’t reject the institution of marriage and every shitty thing it stands for, I’d be more offended I wasn’t invited.”

“Oh c’mon, you heard the story. There was no way you could’ve made it from Chicago that fast,” says Amy, kicking her heels against the steps.

“Only joking.” Henry’s quiet for a moment; she can hear the faint clicking of a pen in the background as he thinks. “You already know what my advice is.”

“I can’t just talk to him,” Amy protests, feeling panic rising in her throat.

“Okay, okay, calm down. What’s the alternative?”

“We both keep on ignoring the elephant in the room, we finish the month and neither of us lose the bet, we divorce, Jonah leaves Cloud 9 to go get a ‘real job’ and we never talk again,” Amy reels off.

“Mm,” Henry agrees, his voice neutral. “What’s the other alternative?”

Amy considers this. “We don’t say anything, but one night we just magically end up in each other’s bed and things, uh, go from there.”

“Sounds like my Friday night,” Henry deadpans.

She groans. “You’re no help.”

“I can’t help you if you don’t want to help yourself,” Henry says, as always cutting right to the core of the issue, but his tone is gentle. “The only solution is if you guys can sit down and have a straightforward talk and figure out where you want to take this thing. And I’m not saying it has to be right now. It sounds like you and him both need some time to process where you’re at and let the platonic friendship come back first. He probably still has some feelings about the Kelly situation, and you just got divorced, too.”

“Funny,” Amy says. “Those sound an awful lot like the reasons we made this bet in the first place.”

“I strongly suspect there were other motivations,” Henry says politely.

Amy lets out a long exhale. “So that’s my life! Any fuckups on your end?”

As Henry talks, filling her in on new clients at work and his latest boyfriend, Amy feels herself relax. Things hadn’t always been this rosy between the two of them. Amy had found out about her pregnancy just days before Henry graduated magna cum laude from law school; the contrast in their life trajectories had sent her careening into an existential crisis that lasted for months. Their relations thawed after Emma was born. Despite Amy’s delinquency, her parents and Henry had loved Emma instantly. Even more helpful was Henry’s cheerful refusal to either settle into a relationship or have children, whom (except for his niece) he generally avoided like the plague, marring his otherwise perfect track record of being the more successful sibling. Nowadays she takes heart in their differences, knowing that he’s on call for her and vice versa.

“I should get back to work,” she says after he’s done. “Hey… thanks.”

“Anytime,” Henry says easily.

Amy bites her lip. “Am I totally screwed?”

“Nah.” Henry laughs again. “Not in the good way, but not in the bad way, either. You just need to communicate more.”

“That’s your job,” she reminds him.

“Lawyers do love talking. Alright, Ames, gotta bounce. Love ya,” Henry says, and the line goes dead.

She holds the phone until it’s no longer warm in her hands, and then heads back into the store to do some actual work for once.

*

Amy and Jonah have different shifts today, so he takes the bus and is home by the time she leaves. Emma is at Adam’s for the weekend so she’s expecting it to be quiet, but there’s music playing as she walks in the front door, and a most delectable scent makes her mouth water.

“I could get used to having a housewife,” Amy says as she enters the kitchen, dropping her purse on the floor. “Did you wash the dishes too, dearest?”

Jonah turns around and glares at her; the effect is undermined by the fact that he’s wearing an apron (on top of clothes, this time) and oven mitts. “Don’t you think calling someone a housewife as an insult is sorta antiquated and counter to all the advancements of feminism these past few-”

“Easy, don’t get all liberal arts college on me,” Amy cuts him off, brushing by him to investigate what he’s just placed on the cooling rack. “Oh, hell yeah. What’s in these, almond butter? Cacao nibs? Weird bean liquid?”

“Okay, aquafaba is a perfectly good and healthy egg replacement,” Jonah says, and she can tell she’s bruised his pride again. “But, if you must know, eggs. Flour. Butter. Brown sugar, white sugar. Salt.”

“So, normal-ass chocolate chip cookies.”

“Vanilla extract,” says Jonah.

“What is this, your family’s thousand-year-old secret recipe?”

“Sure,” Jonah snorts, taking off the apron and mitts. “Passed down through the generations in secret code.” He taps on the back of the empty chocolate chip bag.

“Who needs real dinner?” She pours them two glasses of milk and they dunk their cookies into them. Amy moans out loud shamelessly at the first bite.

Jonah fumbles and drops the remaining half of his cookie into the milk.

“I like drinking the soaked crumbs at the bottom of the glass, anyway,” he says after a couple of fruitless seconds trying to fish it back out.

“You’re a monster.” Amy tears off a few sheets of paper towel and throws one at him. “Come on, I really need to veg out. Let’s go watch something.”

They settle on the couch and Jonah flips through the channels. Amy thinks about her earlier conversation with Henry, the miles-wide gap between her desires and reality.

Fuck it, she decides, and burrows under Jonah’s arm to nestle her head onto his shoulder. She slides her hand around his back and splays it over his hip.

Amy can feel Jonah going very, very still.

“Chill,” she grumbles, giving a mental middle finger to Henry, to Dina and Garrett, to Jonah, to herself. “Can’t a wife cuddle her husband on a Saturday night?”

“Compelling point,” Jonah says, and his voice only quavers a little. He shifts to accommodate their new position, and she can feel his fingertips slowly begin to sweep up and down her arm where his hand is resting.

“So what are we watching?” she asks, staring intently at the TV like this is normal behavior for the two of them. On screen, some middle-aged dude is daring another middle-aged dude to shop out of strangers’ carts in the convenience store. “Impractical Jokers, really? You like this shit?”

“It’s not all cuttlefish documentaries all the time,” Jonah murmurs. She opens her mouth to make some biting remark, but then he tangles their feet together and whatever it was evaporates at the back of her throat.

They don’t move for hours, until some commercial break in which Amy separates them to make her tactful retreat. She doesn’t look back as she tells him goodnight: she knows exactly what Jonah’s expression is without needing to see his face.

Chapter Text

They take the leftover cookies to work the next morning.

Dina stands over the platter and takes a sniff, her face disdainful. “There’s definitely butter in these.”

“Eggs, too.” Jonah looks repentant.

“Wait, eggs aren’t vegan?” Glenn pales. “I think I owe Tracy from my church book club an apology.”

“Next time, Dina,” Jonah promises. “Also, I make this really good veggie meatloaf out of seitan. I’ll bring it in for you someday.”

“What the fuck is seitan,” Dina says.

The cookies go quickly. It’s been a while since they’ve shared sweets other than those Mateo palms from the Cloud 9 bakery, and it loosens the mood for a moment as they sit around the break room, laughing and chatting. Amy and Jonah are next to each other; they haven’t spoken about the events of last night, but his posture is relaxed and he isn’t avoiding her gaze. Amy gives herself a point in her mental HENRY – AMY spreadsheet.

The rest of the workday is fine, too. After the wedding, Amy may or may not have finessed the shift assignments so that she and Jonah don’t overlap too much, but they gravitate towards each other anyway. Even when she’s on Photo Lab duty and he’s all the way on the other side of the store in Baby & Toddler, Amy wanders a bit and then she wanders some more until suddenly, she’s straightening the rubber duckies while she waits for Jonah to finish entertaining Cloud 9’s littlest customers.

“That is an NBA star in the making,” Jonah says to some two-year-old’s parents as the kid in question grabs a rubber basketball from the shelf and duly drops it onto the floor. They beam at him, a look he shares as the kid dissolves into a fit of giggles.

Gross, Amy decides as she watches Jonah out of the corner of her eye. He squats to pick up the ball, fake-dribbles it, and returns it to the kid’s outstretched arms with an exploding noise. The toddler squeals in delight. Absolutely disgusting.

The family leaves, their shopping cart noticeably fuller, and Jonah watches them go with a fond smile on his face.

“Hey,” says Jonah, straightening up as he sees her. “Happy one week. I got you a present.”

“You shouldn’t have,” Amy says. It’s meant to be sarcastic, but her pulse speeds up anyway.

“Sorry I didn’t have time to wrap it or anything. It’s from the recall room. You remember.” He reaches behind the shelf of baby formula and pulls out a thin book.

Amy scans the cover, which is featuring some abstract silver lines and the words ADULT COLORING BOOK. “Oh, these are really popular. They sell better than a lot of our kid crafts. Wonder why they were recalled?”

“Take a gander.” Jonah twirls his index.

Amy flips to a random page. It takes her a few seconds to figure out what she’s looking at, and then she recoils. “Holy crap.”

“Oh yes,” Jonah says with a shit-eating grin.

Recovering from her initial shock, Amy takes a closer look. “Huh. That lady is quite flexible.” She turns the page. “And that’s an extremely anatomically correct-”

“Yup.”

“I get why it’s an adult coloring book now.” They flip through the pages together, laughing at some of the more outlandish positions the sketched characters have found themselves in.

“Well, at least it’s LGBT friendly,” Jonah says of the drawing of two women in a, uh, mutually pleasing position.

Another family, pushing a stroller with a sleeping baby, wanders into the aisle. Amy closes the book with a snap.

“Sorta fucked up to keep it in the baby aisle anyway,” she mutters to Jonah.

He blinks at her innocently. “I think it’s beautiful. The stuff in there will lead to the stuff out here.” And he heads off to intercept the parents. “Are you finding everything alright?”

Amy takes the book back to the break room with her, figuring it’ll provide at least some entertainment if they can keep it out of Glenn’s sight (he’d once gotten in trouble with Dina for “losing” a big shipment of Fifty Shades of Grey back when it was first released). But when she arrives, there’s already a crowd gathered around Sandra.

That can’t be right, Amy thinks. She leaves Jonah’s present in her locker and goes to look.

Sandra’s holding a manila envelope. “It’s wedding photos,” Justine says giddily. “Sandra has a vintage film camera.”

Our wedding?” Amy swallows. “There are photos?”

“I’m pretty into photography,” Sandra explains. “I’ve got a blog you guys can follow if you want. One of my wildlife shots is actually getting featured in National Geogra-”

“Can we get to the point?” Marcus says.

“I just got them developed,” Sandra says. “Well, there was no one in Photo, so I did it myself. It took a really long time.” She holds out the envelope to the group.

The crowd grabs at it, but none faster than Glenn, who pulls out one of the pictures and promptly gets choked up. “I can’t look! Someone else do it!”

Amy takes the picture from him. “Glenn, this is just one of a dove.”

“Such beautiful memories,” he sniffs, dabbing at his eyes with his tie.

They spread the pictures out on the table, and the room goes uncharacteristically quiet as everyone gathers closer. Amy does, too, and for the first time sees what the wedding must have looked like through someone else’s eyes: there’s a shot of Jonah, straightening his bow tie in a mirror; there’s several of the guests, milling around the Garden Center before the procession; there’s one of Jonah whispering into Amy’s ear under the arbor, which she realizes with a start must have been when she was mocking him over the rings. In the shot, she’s smiling, and she seems… genuinely happy, actually, and Jonah’s eyes are lidded in a way that makes the whole thing look more intimate than even their kiss.

Sandra had captured that moment, too, and it’s just as jarring to see. In Amy’s recollection, it had only lasted a second, but in the photo she’s cupping his face and he’s got both of his hands around her waist.

The noise gradually picks up again as those assembled start laughing, exclaiming over some of the pictures, pointing out their favorites.

“Look,” Cheyenne says to Mateo, pointing of a photo of him and Jeff gazing at each other as Mateo walks her down the aisle.

Mateo grabs another one featuring just him, beaming at the crowd in his too-large tux; Amy is just out of the frame. “Wow, slay,” he says, and hangs on to it.

“I vote this one for Wall of Fame,” Garrett says of the shot where one of the birds is clearly gunning for Glenn’s head.

“I figured I’d bring these to Jerry,” Sandra says quietly. “You know, since he wasn’t functional enough to come to the wedding himse-”

“I need these,” Glenn insists, and sweeps the lot back into the envelope. “I’m putting them all on my bulletin board.”

“Isn’t that full of your family photos?” Amy asks.

“They can go fluff a pillow!” Glenn blasphemes, and then claps a hand over his mouth. “I mean, I’ll go get another board.”

Amy’s glad to see the photos go, since they’ve kicked up that ache in her heart that’s only too familiar these days. She’s both relieved and not that Jonah isn’t witnessing this, and she doesn’t think she’ll tell him about the pictures anytime soon. While everyone’s still distracted, she slips back out on to the floor.

*

A bit more purposely this time, Amy heads back to where she left Jonah, but he’s nowhere in sight. She roams the aisles for a little while, helping a few customers, correcting the work of whoever put a row of Nair in the shampoo shelves.

She hears Jonah before she sees him. He’s letting out his bright laugh, the one she’s sure must cure cancer or at the very least prevent heart disease or something.

Amy rounds the corner and there he is, talking to a customer who’s emphatically his type.

His type – Amy herself doesn’t even know what that means. In her experience, it’s best described as “hair for days” or “model-thin” or some other phrases that don’t generally apply to her. And it’s not like she has a cause to be bitter, no, hasn’t Jonah admitted to once having a crush on her, anyway? But the woman standing a touch too close to Jonah is some unfair Ariana Grande-lookalike that Amy didn’t realize could exist outside of Hollywood or much less shop at a place like Cloud 9, and seeing him so happy, so flirty, is sending her into a panic and she has to get out of here right now.

So she spins on her heels right as Jonah is saying “hey!” and goes off, as is her wont now, to hide in the stockroom.

*

Amy knows she may have overreacted. But Jonah’s his own person, and it’s not like they’re legitimately married, even if they are legally married, and he can do what he wants. She can, too, Amy realizes, and it’s this parade of bitter thoughts that probably incline her to do what she does next.

The beverage guy tends to come around near close of business to restock. They’ve had a few polite conversations here and there, but today she injects a degree of intentionality into their meeting. Amy’s disastrous Groundhog Day notwithstanding – a moment in which, really, she had been caught by surprise and should hardly reflect her capabilities – she considers herself a good flirt. Sure, she’s out of practice having been married for so long, but knowing how to make a man squirm is as deeply-rooted as how to ride a bike.

So it doesn’t take much. A few witty jokes, a bit of laughter, a subtle but deliberate touch on the arm.

“I hope this isn’t too forward,” the guy says after a few minutes, and Amy smiles benignly like she has no idea what’s coming next. “But if you don’t mind, maybe we could grab a drink tonight? I mean, not this kind.” He blushes as his own question catches up to him, gesturing to the stack of Red Bulls towering above eye level.

Amy breathes out. “I’d like that.”

“I’m Alex, by the way,” he says awkwardly. “And you… change your identity every day, I’ve noticed.”

She smiles. “Amy.”

*

Emma is gone for the whole weekend, so it’s the first time they’ve walked through the door together into an empty home, greeted only by the humming of the fridge and the irregular stutter of the A/C Adam had always insisted needed fixing but never did anything about.

Amy slams her purse down on the counter with perhaps more force than is strictly called for. Sandra’s photos are still bouncing around in her mind, as if their negatives have been burned into her retinas, superimposing themselves on Alex’s sweet, babyish face.

Maybe if she knew how to talk about her feelings, the way Henry does, as openly and easily as breathing. Maybe if she had taken Pastor Craig’s speech as counsel and not as an indictment. Maybe if Jonah weren’t so fucking smug all the time, maybe if she were a better person. Maybe then they could be crossing the threshold now as a couple, a normal-as-dirt couple in the first few weeks of a promising relationship, not a bizarre faux-marriage that’s isolated them from each other to the same degree that her failing matrimony did with Adam. Then they could kick the front door shut behind them, and he’d lift her onto the counter – okay, fine, she’d hop onto the counter – and he’d slide between her legs and kiss her, tenderly, sweetly, until she swatted at his arm and demanded that he fuck her properly. He’d never care what she looked like when she took off her jacket, shirt, bra. Wouldn’t care that she hadn’t showered or put on eyeliner today.

Amy goes into her room without saying anything more to Jonah. She rummages around the depths of her closet until she finds a nice white dress, tight, fitting. No stains – in fact, the price tag is still on it. It’s from Goodwill. Probably intended for a date night with Adam they’d ended up canceling.

She puts it on, then stands in front of her mirror for ten or so minutes doing her makeup. She hasn’t been on a first date in a while, so she’s not quite sure what to use beyond foundation, eyeshadow, and mascara. She finds a questionably-aged tube of lipstick and smears that on. It’s a deep pink; the overall effect is a little slutty. She wipes it off again.

When Amy returns to the kitchen, Jonah is still there, eating some leftovers and scrolling through his phone. He sees her and does a double-take.

“Going somewhere?”

“Yeah.” There’s a beat. Amy can feel herself sharpening the dagger and hates herself for it. “I’m going on a date. Actually.”

Jonah’s fork clatters to the table. Amy usually finds it comical the way he wears his heart on his sleeve, how she can read his emotions on his face as if it’s an electronic billboard broadcasting one of three ads. Right now, it’s just depressing.

He’s put down his phone.

“…Oh,” Jonah says, finally. “Oh, that’s. Oh. Uh, okay. Wow. I didn’t know you, this, a date, huh? Okay.”

Amy can see Henry, clucking his tongue at her. She sees Cheyenne and Mateo, equal parts scandalized and enthralled. She sees Glenn, stunned and hurt as if he’s the one she’s quasi-openly cheating on.

She sees Jonah, wringing his hands.

It’s the way his fingers fold over one another and squeeze, like there’s all the blood in his skinny little body to be wrung from them, that melts whatever coldness had taken her heart hostage.

There’s a dozen things she could say to him. Yeah, I still have a right to see whoever I want because we’re not actually married. Or yeah, maybe you should’ve asked me out when you had the chance. Or right, and what about that girl you were hitting on? Can’t I have my own Ariana? What about me, Jonah?

“Okay,” she says. She takes the seat next to him and slides one hand between his, rubbing his thumbs to still them. With the other, she takes out her phone and texts Alex. Canceling on him doesn’t hurt at all. “Okay, let’s talk about this.”

*

It’s not a productive conversation.

They don’t go deeper than surface level. Jonah stammers out that Amy can see whomever she wants, that exclusivity is not in their terms. Amy returns the sentiment, dully. She doesn’t ask him what he actually wants, and neither does he.

After twenty, thirty excruciating minutes in which they talk a lot and say very little, they decide – couched in tempering phrases like “it might just be easier to” and “we don’t want to complicate things” – not to see other people during the extent of their marriage.

Amy’s exhausted. After a perfunctory volley of “okay,” “sounds great,” “works for me,” “cool, me too,” she half-stumbles over to the sofa and flops onto it, turning on the TV.

“More Impractical Jokers?” Jonah’s followed her there, of course. His anxiety is rolling off of him in waves, the overwhelming need for assurance writ large on his face. Amy knows exactly what he must’ve been like as a child.

“I dunno about you, but I’m in the mood for something a bit stronger.” Amy tries on a faint smile, and he smiles back at her tentatively.

She opens up Barbarians’ Gate 3.

“Seriously?” Jonah blurts.

She’s already got the disc in and configures the screen to multiplayer. “Sure. I mean, you got it for me, right? Might as well see what it’s all about.”

Jonah sits down. There’s still some space between them, but not too much. “It seems so… violent.”

“Exactly the point.”

Predictably, Jonah sucks at video games.

“You suck at video games,” she says. She lobs a grenade at him and watches his side of the split-screen fade to black. “You ever game before, ever?”

“I game,” Jonah says defensively. “I’ve played through all of Portal and Portal 2.”

Amy laughs, which turns into a cackle as she blasts Jonah’s character into smithereens. Again. “Doesn’t count.”

“I guess not,” Jonah concedes as his character gets dropped at the save point and promptly starts running in place. “What the fuck?”

It doesn’t take a lot of work to absolutely decimate him, so Amy spends some time watching him out of the corner of her eye, the way he sits cross-legged and keeps a white-knuckled grip on the controller. She was right: the violence does soothe them, airs out some of the bad vibes.

She knows she’s spending too much time with Jonah if she’s thinking about vibes.

Amy’s still in her white dress. She can feel Jonah’s eyes on her more than once, and capitalizes on his state of distraction to rake in another DECAPITATION BONUS.

So they steal glimpses of each other, and Amy royally kicks his ass at Barbarians’ Gate 3. And all the while, she thinks. Thinks that maybe, they’re too far apart to ever work out, and she’s got a daughter and he’s got ambitions, but this space is hers alone and she could live in it, embrace the fantasy for a little while longer.

And after she’s coasted to her final victory and Jonah looks over at her, eyes gleaming with the reflected blue light of the screen, they share a private smile, one that Amy hasn’t seen him use on any female customer before.

Well then: maybe she’ll lean into it after all.

Chapter Text

So Amy’s in love with Jonah, or whatever the fuck.

Sure, she’s openly admitted to crushing on him on more than one occasion. But now there’s something new and alive and euphoric to the point of painful that’s taken up residence in her chest, and she’s being grown-up enough to even acknowledge its presence.

And it’s fine. It is so fine, in fact, that she even feels comfortable showing a scrap of vulnerability in front of Cheyenne and Mateo.

“Can you say that again? I wasn’t paying attention,” Cheyenne says.

They’re in the break room, and Amy’s pinching the bridge of her nose in a futile attempt to ward off the imminent headache. “This was a mistake,” she says.

“So, tl;dr, you’re having feelings?” Mateo summarizes.

“Honestly, I think you just need to get laid.” Cheyenne nods wisely. “And you’ve got a husband! That’s the best part of marriage, is just like, instant sex whenever you want it.”

Amy flashes back to the endless final months with Adam, in which that was patently untrue.

“Yeah, I don’t get what the big deal is. Just bang Jonah,” says Mateo.

“He’s even sort of cute,” Cheyenne says, tilting her head as if this is the first time the thought has ever dawned on her. “I mean, not as much as Bo.”

“Or Jeff,” Mateo adds, and Amy wonders idly if she’s astral projecting into some alternate plane of reality.

“You guys do realize it’s not a real marriage, right?” Amy says, though given the amount she’s been repeating those words, they’re beginning to feel a bit trite.

She’s rewarded with twin looks of pity. “I mean, is there exclusivity?” Mateo asks.

“Yeah, have you DTR’ed?” says Cheyenne.

“What?” says Amy.

“Defined-the-relationship,” Cheyenne articulates slowly.

Amy thinks of their conversation the night before and says nothing. Mateo raises an eyebrow at her, lips pressed together in a thin line that can only mean see?

“This has been helpful,” she says.

“Well, if it’s not real, then nothing’s stopping you from getting any side action, right?” Mateo says. “The St. Louis Tinder scene is kinda a bust, but every once in a while you can get a solid piece.”

Amy does not want to think about Tinder, or pieces. She realizes she has no idea if Jonah has it on his phone anymore. The thought is sobering.

“I don’t want a one-night stand from a dating app,” Amy says. “I want….” She doesn’t know how to finish the sentence.

“You want a deep, meaningful connection with someone who really understands you. You want to provide a loving and supportive home environment for Emma, with adults she can look up to. You want to be able to come home every night to the love of your life, and see their face just light up when you walk through the door, because they can’t wait for you to tell them how your day was,” Cheyenne offers.

Mateo and Amy stare.

“Oh, look.” Cheyenne’s phone buzzes and she holds up the screen for them to see, beaming. “H&M is having a sale.”

*

Despite recent events, Amy doesn’t get the chance to act on any of this. There’s a bigger problem demanding all of her attention, which is how she finds herself in the break room a few days later, hunched over a hefty book.

Jonah enters. Amy’s noticed the statistically significant amount of times he’s been ending up in the same place as her, moseying into her space all casual like a cat. She smiles at him out of habit, then lets out a long-suffering sigh.

“Rough day at the office, huh?” Jonah says upon approach.

“You could say that again.”

“Rough day at the office, huh?” Jonah grins when she rolls her eyes at him.

“Anyone ever tell you you’re the worst?” Amy asks.

Jonah imitates her eyeroll, somehow conveying sarcasm with a wordless gesture. “Just you, constantly. Though I am dying to use that joke on Emma if the occasion ever presents itself and see if her reaction is the same.”

“You’re such a dad.” The words slip out before she can bite them down, and her face warms.

He just smiles. “Sorry you’re stressed. May, uh, may I?”

“Sure,” Amy says, uncertain as to what she’s agreeing to. Before she knows what’s happening, Jonah’s pulled up a chair behind her and starts to massage her upper back.

“Oh, hey, whoa.” She startles, then relaxes a tiny bit, realizing to her chagrin that Jonah seems to know his stuff. Jonah hasn’t asked her what’s wrong or tried to pry into what she’d been doing just before. She appreciates the healthy silence, and relaxes further. “Huh, you’re not too bad at this, actually.”

“In my Thursday yoga class, the instructor’s all about the importance of physical connection. Learning about others’ bodies not only makes you more empathetic, but also teaches you about yourself.”

Amy groans as his thumb finds a particularly stubborn knot in her shoulder. “Wait, you go on Mondays and Thursdays?”

“Well, they’re obviously different,” he explains patiently. “Mondays is vinyasa, and Thursdays-”

“I get it.” Amy yelps, then sighs in relief as the knot comes out.

“It’s tonight, if you wanted to tag along.”

Amy shakes her head, giving her neck muscles a glorious stretch where Jonah had just loosened them. “Gotta leave early again.”

“Oh, right,” Jonah says, and his fingers hesitate for a second.

She takes a deep breath. “I should tell you where I’m going.”

“If you want,” he says slowly.

“Actually,” she says, flipping the book to its front cover: Understanding Business. “After all the, um, strike drama, I’d sort of let college classes fall by the wayside. But, now that Emma’s in high school, I wanted to prove to her that getting an education is important. And prove it to myself, I guess. So… I got serious, and enrolled at St. Louis Community College to get an Associate’s Degree.” She doesn’t turn around. “Go ahead, I know you’re dying to say it.”

Amy worries for a second he may have swallowed his own tongue in excitement. “Amy, that’s amazing,” he raves finally, fingers fluttering arythmically on her shoulders. “I’m so proud of you. Seriously.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Amy grumbles, but she’s smiling. “And don’t get too hot and bothered by this, but the degree is in Business Administration. The final for my first class is tonight, so I’m sort of cramming last-minute.”

Now he’s positively quaking. “Oh! Well, what’s the class? Do you have questions? Or do you need any study help?”

She covers his hand with hers. “Think I’ve got it, but thanks, bud.”

“That’s so cool,” says Jonah, and resumes his massage with renewed vigor.

“The class is just Intro to Business,” Amy says. She’s not sure why she’s saying all this to him, but he’s the first person she’s told. Maybe she had kept quiet out of a desire not to jinx anything; now that she’s started, it’s hard to stop. “It’s been fun, but pretty easy. Next up I’m gonna take Business Law, and I’m actually really looking forward to it. If this doesn’t work out, maybe I could get a paralegal certificate.”

“Or go to law school,” Jonah suggests.

Amy laughs. “Okay, hotshot, let’s not get carried away, yeah? Anyway. I’m not sure what the end goal is, I just don’t want to be a floor supervisor forever. I’m a single mom now, you know? Emma’s going to college in less than four years. Maybe someday I want to be a Regional Manager. Or leave Cloud 9 entirely and go manage something else. I don’t know.”

She expects Jonah to tell her to dream bigger, or offer some other advice, or jump in with an anecdote from business school. But his fingers gentle, and all he says is, “I know.”

She finally turns to look at him, and he offers her a smile. She smiles back.

They’re sitting there, Amy in an awkward half-twist and both grinning like idiots, when Glenn enters the break room. “Urgent question,” he says anxiously. “There’s a young man who’s being very pushy. Do we carry Juul? Also, what’s a Juul?”

Amy and Jonah half-rise, but then Glenn’s eyes flicker back and forth between the two of them and his mouth falls open. His face breaks into an expression of pure joy. “Oh, nevermind!” He backpedals out of the room. “Someone else can deal with it! Keep doing what you’re doing!”

*

Amy knows whatever energy she’s been putting into the universe must be particularly strong when Henry actually initiates a phone call with her later that day.

“Just wanted to see how your life’s going,” he says vaguely.

“Yeah, sure,” Amy says. “Um, things with Jonah are fine. Ish.”

“Did you have a conversation?” Henry presses.

Amy sighs. “Uh… sort of. We’re not gonna see anyone else until this thing is over.”

“So there’s exclusivity?”

“Why does everyone keep using that word?”

“Well,” Henry says, “if you have exclusivity, that’s basically a de facto relationship.”

“Great.” Amy chews on her thumbnail. “Come represent me in court.”

“Congratulations!” he says. “I’m excited to meet my new brother-in-law.”

He’s still laughing when she hangs up on him.

*

The final isn’t too bad. Thankfully, it isn’t her first college-level exam, and Amy knows she’s prepared herself well. So she’s cautiously optimistic when she comes home later that night.

Emma and Jonah are sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by empty plates and half-empty pots and pans. She sinks into the seat next to her daughter and grabs for the first dish she sees. “You guys made dinner?”

“Emma made dinner,” Jonah says quickly, and Amy raises a skeptical eyebrow at him. “I, uh, helped a little.”

There’s eggplant parmesan, and garlic bread, and a big, half-eaten plate of caprese salad that definitely didn’t originate with her daughter. Amy helps herself to a little bit of everything, feeling Jonah’s questioning gaze on her all the while. She meets his eyes and mouths later.

“Em and I were just talking about math,” Jonah says. “I asked if she wanted help with her homework, but she ended up teaching me some things I don’t even know.”

Amy knows he’s exaggerating, but can’t help the familiar flush of pride she feels whenever anyone compliments Emma. “Oh yeah, she skipped a level when she was younger, so now she takes math with the sophomores.”

“Wow,” Jonah says right as Emma says “ugh, Mom, stop.”

“But you should be talking to him about books,” Amy says. “He’s a huge literature nerd.”

“I was actually an English major,” Jonah says, puffing up his chest a little bit, and Amy wonders how often he gets the chance to mention it to strangers. Probably not often enough, per Jonah’s standards.

Emma, to her credit, looks intrigued. “I like English too,” she says. “Right now we’re reading The Iliad. It’s been interesting, except for all the times they just list ships.”

“Oh, yeah, definitely skip those books,” Jonah says. “I mean, they’re interesting from a historical perspective, all those debates over authorship and the information they give us about the geopolitical situation in Greece at the time… but they don’t really add anything to the plot, you’re right. If you like this, you should definitely read The Odyssey.”

It’s fascinating to see Jonah coming into his element; for the first time, she feels a slight pang at the opportunities he’s missing by working at Cloud 9, something she previously only ever felt for herself. For a second, she flashes into some alternate world in which Jonah’s obtained his PhD and is standing in front of a crowd of students, lecturing animatedly. The visual makes her smile.

Emma and Jonah keep talking for a little while, and Amy lets the sound of their conversation fade into the background as she eats. Finally, Emma brings her plate to the dishwasher and excuses herself to finish homework.

Jonah turns to her. “Well?”

“I think it went okay,” Amy responds. “I’ll find out next week if I passed. And I really need to, because I don’t have the time or money to retake the class and I can’t move on to the next set of courses without it. So if I didn’t….”

“You did,” Jonah says firmly, and she smiles at him. He looks at her and there’s a moment, an invisible current of electricity running between them.

Upstairs, Emma’s door closes, and the moment’s passed.

“Well,” Amy says awkwardly, standing up to collect their dishes. “Thanks for, uh, dinner. I’m pretty sure Emma’s never touched a stove, so I know whose handiwork this really is.”

“It’s my job as your housewife,” Jonah says, and cracks up when she stares at him incredulously.

*

Amy’s not sure how, but Glenn manages to get most – if not all, she doesn’t want to confirm – of the Cloud 9 employees a day off for Easter.

“This is deeply, deeply illegal,” says Dina. “You could get arrested.”

“Pish-posh,” Glenn says. “Anyway, corporate owes me after I didn’t bring that workers' comp suit last month.”

Dina’s gripping her clipboard so hard she’s about to break it in half. “You were. Never. Injured.”

“That’s the official story!” Glenn says with a wink. “Anyway, now that we have a day off, Jerusha and I thought we could pamper you and the baby a little. We’ll start off at church, of course, but after there’s a birthing class downtown-”

“Don’t test me, Glenn, I can basically puke on command now,” Dina warns. “Okay, eugh, I’m manning the store tomorrow. Who’s in? Sandra, you’re on register.”

“…Okay,” Sandra says meekly.

Amy hides a smile behind her hand, ducking out of the break room before Dina can draft her next.

So that’s how she and Jonah come to have a rare day off at the same time. (“And it’s our two-week,” he reminds her importantly.) She wakes up at a not-too-early hour on Sunday, and heads into the kitchen to start making breakfast.

Amy hears the shower start up a few minutes later, letting her know Jonah’s awake as well. She’s just taking the last pancakes off the pan when the doorbell rings. Her heart sinks; she wonders if it’s Adam coming by to collect Emma for the day, unaware that she’s home. But no, Adam still has a key, meaning it could only be-

“Mommmm,” Amy says. “Dad. This is a surprise.”

“Hi, sweetie,” Connie says, giving Amy a kiss as she breezes past her. “Happy Easter. We were going to take Emma out to brunch today, we had no idea you’d be home.”

“Looks like you already made brunch, though,” her dad observes, unceremoniously sticking his finger into the bowl of whipped cream. “This is quite a lot for two people! Expecting company?”

“Amy?” she hears from behind. “I’m out of body wash. Can I borrow some of your-”

She turns and freezes. Jonah’s in the kitchen, dripping wet and covered in nothing more than a towel.

“Oh, uh, hi, Ron. Connie,” he says with a stilted nod of the head. “Good to see you again.”

All this time, Amy had imagined that Jonah shirtless would be perfectly cut, sporting that skinny white-boy set of faint abs. The reality is that he’s a bit curvy, and that… that is, apparently, vastly superior to fantasy.

“Uh,” Amy says. “Oh, um, yeah, sure, go ahead, that’s fine.”

Jonah vanishes again with a wave, and Amy lets out a long breath.

“An overnight guest?” her mom asks pointedly. Amy wants to expire.

“Um, Jonah’s been living with me the past few weeks,” she says, knowing full well that she doesn’t have control over her what her face is doing. “His roommate kicked him out and he needed a temporary place to stay.”

“Hm. Rude of his roommate,” her dad decides, and she couldn’t agree more. “Alright, let’s go set up outside, then?”

Connie gives her a lingering look, but luckily follows Ron sans commentary. Amy, still mortified, seizes bowls and plates at random and starts carrying them into the backyard.

She’s spared further embarrassment when Emma comes downstairs, sufficiently distracting her parents as they pepper her with questions. Jonah joins them a few moments later, fully clothed now except for his feet, which are bare.

Her mind hitches on this detail, the domestic scene formed by her parents, Jonah, and Emma all seated around the table in the late morning sunshine.

“We need drinks.” Jonah jumps up. “Connie? Mimosa?”

Her parents watch him as he goes inside; they turn their eyes back on Amy and she makes a show of cutting her pancakes with élan. “He’s just here for the month, okay? And since it’s Easter, we did this.” She waves her fork at the assortment of fruit and cheese on unmatching plates.

“No, no, honey, we get it, but…” Connie glances at her husband.

“Has he met Henry?” Ron asks, her parents’ well-intended but problematic euphemism for is he gay?

Amy laughs, feeling some of her tension dissipate. “I mean, not yet.”

“Good,” her dad says with a measure of satisfaction. “Nice boy.”

She looks over to where Jonah’s walking through the door, bringing them orange juice in two Mason jars that definitely don’t belong to her. “He sure is.”

Chapter Text

Something’s wrong.

It’s pushing time to leave for work and Jonah hasn’t emerged from his room yet, a first for their roommateship. Initially, Amy assumes he’s overslept, and is mentally preparing a dozen ways to rub it in his face. Human after all, she’ll say. Followed by at least eight jabs about his messy hair he won’t have had time to gel into place.

But the minutes tick by, and still nothing happens. Emma waits by the door, fiddling with the straps of her backpack. Amy had French-braided her daughter’s hair in the interim.

She leans her ear against the door, not really knowing what she’s listening for, but frowns when she can hear the faint ringtone of Jonah’s alarm. With a glance back at Emma, she knocks gently on the door, and then opens it when there’s no response.

Something’s definitely wrong.

The blinds are still drawn, morning light filtering in through the slats just enough to let Amy see. The room is still, but carries the faint smell of disease Amy recognizes from so many years of motherhood.

Amy approaches the bed. Jonah is tucked firmly under the blanket, eyes shut. She puts one hand on his forehead. It’s clammy.

Quietly, Amy ducks back out into the foyer where Emma is hovering, a touch of anxiety on her face.

“I think Jonah’s sick,” says Amy, mustering all the calm she can feel at the moment. “Can you-”

“I’ll text Mikaela,” Emma says before she can finish the question. “I think her mom can pick me up.”

For the hundredth time – that year, that month, since waking up this morning – Amy wonders what she did to deserve such a fantastic daughter. She drops a kiss on Emma’s head, smoothing down her braid before re-entering the room.

This time, Amy takes a careful seat on the edge of the bed. Jonah is abnormally pale even for him, nearly translucent. Beads of sweat are collecting on his forehead, but he’s wrapped himself in the blanket regardless.

Jonah’s eyes flutter open. “Amy?”

“Hey,” she says, and it’s far more forceful than she intended, a reproach and a reassurance and a question all wrapped up in one. Jonah frowns. Seeing him this responsive, Amy exhales a breath she didn’t know she was holding. “What’s going on, bud?”

“Did I oversleep?” Jonah mumbles. He reaches one arm over to shut off his phone; he’s wearing a sweatshirt. “God. I couldn’t fall asleep all night….”

“Do you need to go to the hospital?” Amy says evenly. Almost like a real adult who handles situations calmly, without panicking.

Jonah takes a moment to consider this. “My stomach hurts,” he says, voice scratchy. “I was really hot. Now I’m cold. I’ve got this sharp pain… here-”

Amy feels a surge of anger. “And those particular symptoms didn’t call to you, Mr. B-school?”

“I mean, I did drop out,” Jonah says. His laughter at his own joke turns into a groan of pain.

“Alright,” Amy says, standing. “We’re going. No arguments.”

“Don’t,” Jonah says, and upon seeing her raised eyebrows amends, “don’t call an ambulance. Too expensive-”

“I’m driving.” She pulls back the covers. “Can you stand?”

He does, albeit slowly and wincing in pain. “Hang on, I, uh, threw up in your trash a little,” Jonah says.

“Leave it,” Amy snaps. “Jesus. Why didn’t you wake me up? Damn idiot.”

“I didn’t wanna inconvenience you,” Jonah says, pouting. The traces of sickness etching lines into his face make him look even more soulful than usual.

Amy softens. “It’s okay,” she says. “I can deal. I’m no stranger to puke, anyway.” They shuffle out of the room, a strange contender in the world’s shittiest three-legged race.

“Right, because of the pregnancy thing. And childrearing thing,” Jonah says.

“No, actually.” Amy opens the front door for them both. Emma’s standing at the edge of the driveway, watching. “Three or so years ago, I had the craziest, most awful stomach flu. It was so bad, I projectile vomited onto the walls.”

“Gross,” Jonah says. His voice is weak, but when Amy glances at him his lips are twitching into a wan smile.

She settles him on the doorstep for a second and dashes inside, casting around for something suitable. She seizes a scented trash bag from under the sink and heads back out.

They take Rita.

“Siri,” Amy barks at her phone. “Call Dina.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand-”

“Call Dina Fox. God,” she says, and Jonah’s laughing softly beside her, leaning his head against the passenger-side window.

Dina picks up on the first ring. “You and Jonah are eight minutes late. Hope the morning sex is worth the official warning,” she says conversationally. “Never really cared for it myself. Morning breath, you know.”

Amy breathes out heavily through her nose. “Don’t even – okay. Dina, we’re gonna need the day off, Jonah’s sick. We’re going to the ER.”

“Aw, did his fragile immune system finally give up?” Dina says, tone unchanged. “I told him kale chips aren’t the be-all, end-all of Vitamin C, but does anyone ever listen to me? Typical. Anyway, you know the corporate policy. I’m gonna need longer notice of any sick leave and personal days.”

Anger flares again in Amy’s belly, low and hot. “Okay, well then you’re just gonna have to fire us-”

“-please don’t get me fired,” Jonah interjects weakly-

“-because we’re on our way and that’s that. You can find someone to cover for us or nah, that’s your choice, but either way we’re going. And we’ve known each other long enough,” Amy snaps, pausing to take a breath, “that you know I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t serious.”

There’s a long silence, and then Dina’s voice comes back a bit quieter. “Okay. Go take care of this. I’ll see what I can do.”

Amy hangs up. “Thank you,” she says to the dead line, realizing belatedly that Dina had actually passed up the rare opportunity to punish them both.

There’s a brief silence, punctuated by a long, wordless whine from Jonah. “I feel like I’m dying,” he groans.

“Don’t you dare,” Amy says, and tightens her grip on the steering wheel. “If you die, I’ll kill you.”

“Aw, Amy,” Jonah says. Even from here she can hear him taking quick, shallow breaths. “Love you, too.”

Amy presses harder on the accelerator.

They get to the ER in what Amy can only assume is record time. Somehow, she’s expecting a scene – rushing into the hospital yelling “someone get this man into surgery,” doctors whisking Jonah away on a stretcher, pressing up tearfully against the glass while surgeons swarm around his limp body. Maybe Cheyenne is finally rubbing off on her.

What actually happens is that they walk into the waiting room, Jonah a little slower and a lot less peppy than usual. Amy gets forms from a receptionist who speaks in a low, bored voice, and then they wait.

She’s finally gotten her answer to what Jonah wears to bed, and apparently it’s a gray sweatshirt and red flannel pajama pants. Admittedly, the fever might have something to do with his current style choices. “You look ridiculous,” she hisses, pinching at his sleeve.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Jonah gripes back. “I didn’t know that appendicitis was a black-tie event these days.”

“You smell ridiculous,” Amy mutters by way of retort. He doesn’t actually, but he should, all things considered, so Amy chalks it up to a win.

People come and go. Jonah and Amy watch with morbid fascination: a tiny, ancient man in a wheelchair caterwauling at the nurses the whole time he’s stationary; a woman in labor; a teenage boy with his arm bent at an unholy angle, tight-lipped about what may or may not have caused it; a child burbling merrily, half its face covered in blood.

A curvaceous and perfectly healthy-seeming blonde woman, wearing stilettos and the sharpest winged eyeliner Amy’s ever seen, gets called before them. “Wow, for real?” Amy growls as she clacks by, and Jonah steps on her foot.

The process speeds up considerably when Jonah starts throwing up again. He’s finally called in, and Amy is left to fend for herself.

It’s been a long time since Amy’s felt even remotely religious, but now she feels that the waiting room of an ER is the closest thing Earth has to Hell. She wishes she had brought a book, or downloaded a podcast, or even remembered her headphones; a rush of shame follows these thoughts and obliterates them. Amy occupies herself reading the news on her phone instead, which she’s not sure is any less depressing.

Eventually, she settles on a game of Kwazy Kupcakes. Amy had explicitly forbidden Emma to get into it, but it’s not like she’s here now to witness Amy’s hypocrisy. Besides, if there’s ever a time she should allowed an opiate, it’s now.

It isn’t long before a doctor comes out. She casts around for a moment and approaches Amy, one of the only few remaining in the room. “Mrs.-?”

“Uh. Amy,” she says.

The doctor shakes her hand. “May I ask your relationship to Jonah?”

“I’m his wife,” she says instantly.

“Okay. Your husband has acute appendicitis. We’re bringing him into surgery now. Sit tight, it could be a few hours.”

Just like that, she’s gone again.

Amy entertains the absurd notion of returning to work, but it’s at least half an hour to that part of St. Louis. So she alternates between the news, Kwazy Kupcakes, and the dated magazines on the coffee table, her sanity slipping away bit by bit. As her phone battery drains, she switches it to airplane mode, opens a note, and types to herself:

Its funny how you think marriage is for getting a +1 to go through tough times together, but when theyre the one having a tough time youre just on your own again

Family is hard

She thinks about the last sentence, and eventually erases it and types:

Family is vulnerability

At 6%, Amy turns off airplane mode and texts Emma to let her know everything is okay and will she please get a ride home, too. Emma confirms and Amy’s phone shutters off.

Well. No one outside of the hospital to communicate with, anyway.

*

The time goes by. Amy dozes in and out of a fitful sleep. She’s sure that sunsets and sunrises must be passing by outside this windowless room with its fluorescent lights, entire kingdoms rising and falling; her watch shows that it’s barely even been three hours before the doctor returns.

“He’s fine,” she says when Amy jumps up. “He’s sleeping in the recovery room. You can come in.”

Jonah is indeed sleeping, his ridiculous clothes replaced by an even more ridiculous hospital gown and an IV drip hanging from his arm. The doctor leaves them be, and Amy pulls up a chair.

This is the moment in every book or movie, she thinks, where the one protagonist stands over the other and confesses their love, or at least interlaces their fingers with silent longing. Jonah’s hands are by his side, under the blanket. Here among the several other occupied beds and nurses milling about, she can’t think of anything to say.

At the very least, a love confession would feel redundant.

He stirs and sees her. “Heeey,” Jonah slurs.

Amy stands. “Hi,” she says. “How you feelin’?”

“Oh,” Jonah sighs dreamily, “real good. So good. No more pain.”

She can’t help but smile, and he smiles back, dopey. “Good. Then it worked.”

“Bye bye, ‘pendix,” Jonah agrees.

She takes a seat again and they talk, meaning mostly Amy talks at him while he phases in and out of consciousness. “This is my best friend,” he says at one point, waving the arm attached to the IV drip, and Amy attributes the irrational spike of jealousy to sleep deprivation. Her chatter is menial. It’s the first conversation they’ve had in a while that isn’t laced with meaning, and she gradually relaxes into her chair.

It’s during one of Jonah’s periods of wakefulness that an unfamiliar woman rushes towards them.

“Jonah,” she says, and even in his docile stupor Jonah’s face cycles through a series of emotions.

“Hi, mom,” he says thickly.

“I took the first plane from Detroit,” Jonah’s mom says to no one in particular, disregarding Amy to lean over her son.

“How’s Benjyyy,” Jonah asks drowsily.

“He’s good, kids are good, but we were so worried!” she says. “Who’s your… visitor?”

“Amy’s my wife,” Jonah says proudly, and all comfort she had felt over the past few minutes vanishes in spectacular fashion.

Amy reddens as Jonah’s mom, for the first time, turns the full force of her attention on her. “Wow, um, those are some good painkillers they got you on. I’m his work-wife, he means-” she forces a laugh, “-just, always stepping on each other’s toes! At work!”

There’s a long, pregnant pause.

“I’m Amy,” she says finally. “I’m Jonah’s, uh, floor supervisor. Nice to meet you, Mrs. Simms.”

Jonah breaks into drunken cackles. “Wrong,” he says in a surprisingly passable Trump imitation. “That ain’t no… her name!”

“Please. Call me Catherine,” Jonah’s mom says stiffly.

Amy shakes her hand, face burning, resolving to keep her mouth shut before her foot can slip back in it.

“Where’s Dad?” Jonah asks, and Catherine straightens even further.

“Your father is in Singapore on business. He’s been texting. I’ll let him know you’re well. And he’ll be glad that your, uh, boss is with you.”

Miserably, Amy leaves behind their two-person family tableau and wanders for a while. She ends up taking a seat in the waiting room again, thinking that if she didn’t set foot in this space for another lifetime, it would be too soon.

This time, she has no trouble falling asleep, even in the comfortless embrace of the plastic chairs. She awakens when the scent of something smoky and delicious floats up into her nose.

“Rise and shine,” Garrett says drily. “You look like you’ve seen better days.”

“I took my not-even-real husband to the ER this morning, so yeah, whaddaya expect,” Amy says, and it takes her a second to realize that they aren’t back at work. Garrett looks just the same here as he does in Cloud 9: slightly bored, as if this is a mundane but necessary part of earning a paycheck. “I don’t think Jonah can have coffee right now.”

“It’s for you,” Garrett says, raising his eyebrows. “Are you sure you aren’t the one who had… what did Jonah have?”

“Appendicitis,” Amy says, gratefully accepting the cup and taking a big gulp. It scalds her tongue, but it’s worth it.

“Okay. People were betting,” says Garrett. “Most of us guessed hypochondria, but we got a few broken bones, a syphilis, LSD overdose, Molly overdose, and Myrtle put down polio.”

“…Right,” Amy says. “Anyway. Thank you.”

Garrett shrugs. “No big. I’ll let everyone know. Cheyenne was so excited.” He mimes administering a defibrillator. “I need 20 ml’s of oxy, stat! Clear!”

They talk for a few minutes more, and Garrett fills her in on what she’s missed at work, which can apparently be summarized as “not much.” It’s jarring to see how the world has kept going even as hers stood still, just for a moment.

“Lunch break’s over,” Garrett says, and Amy startles to realize that it’s hardly noon yet. “Imma head back. So I guess no Jonah for a bit, huh? Tell him I’ll miss him.” He starts to wheel out, then pulls up sharply and shudders. “Ugh, nevermind, strike that from the record. If you tell him I said that, he’ll never let me live it down. He might even want to move back in.”

“He won’t,” Amy says automatically, and Garrett smirks at her. “Uh, I mean, will do.”

“So you’re the designated driver here, right?” Garrett asks, and Amy smiles to herself, picturing Jonah’s face when she tells him how uncharacteristically concerned he’d been.

“Yeah, we’ll see. I don’t think he’s gonna be mobile for a while. We might have to take him out in a wheelchair.”

“Can’t imagine,” Garrett says.

Amy cringes. “Okay, well... see you tomorrow, I guess.”

She watches him go, and eventually makes her way to the recovery room, where Jonah has passed out once more. Catherine is by his side, stroking his hair; she looks up when Amy enters.

“They’re going to hold him here for a night or two, to monitor him,” Catherine tells her in a low voice. “And then he needs to stay home for some time. At least a week.” She punctuates the sentence with a glare, as if daring Amy to force Jonah back to work.

“Noted,” Amy says drily. She expects there to be more, but Catherine turns to Jonah again and says nothing.

After several long moments, Amy shoves her hands into her pockets and exits quietly. She takes another aimless lap around the hallways before snapping back into it. There’s nothing she needs to wait for, and no reason to stay.

Outside, it’s started to rain. Amy finds the car on autopilot and drives in silence, back to an empty home.

Chapter Text

Just as quickly as it began, the Jonah Almost Died Before We Could Confess our Love Fiasco of 2k18 comes to an end.

Amy drives Jonah home a few days later. The car ride home is relatively quiet, which means Jonah is still chatty by anyone else’s standards.

“Getting sick, emergency surgery,” he muses, staring out the window. He’s wearing a clean flannel and sweatpants Amy had brought him, and looks disgustingly, unfairly good for someone who was released from the hospital twenty minutes prior. “Really puts things into perspective. I’m so much more grateful for things now.”

Amy makes a noncommittal noise. She wants to roast him for the faux-deepness à la Jonah, but it’s not like she didn’t have similar fits of drama the past few days. There may or may not have been one particular low point where she had lain on his empty bed for several hours, staring at the ceiling.

“Like you,” Jonah says, turning puppy eyes on her.

“Okay.” Amy inhales sharply and swerves onto the nearest exit. “Look, it’s the pharmacy,” she says of nothing in particular. It’s another ten minutes before they get to CVS.

Over the following days, her home life remains largely unchanged, due to an offhand remark she had made on the way home about now having two dependents. That, of course, sends Jonah into a frenzy of cleaning and cooking and doing laundry and generally performing every household task she wished so often Adam would have done without repeat prompting.

The first few times she comes home to a spotless house, she chews Jonah out for it. But he pouts at her and pulls the near-death experience card enough that she relents in the end.

Besides, it’s nice to come home and have to do nothing at all.

“It’s not like I’m actually dead,” Jonah says when he starts driving Emma to and from school, and Amy’s left to glare at him in consternation. “I can still drive, it’s not hard.”

At work, it’s different. She knows, intellectually, that she used to have a work life before Jonah, and that whatever’s happening now is substantively the same as then. But emotionally, his absence shades every corner of Cloud 9, casts the too-bright aisles into shadow and reminds her of what she’s missing.

Alright. Amy definitely doesn’t get to label Jonah the dramatic one.

Her coworkers tread gingerly. It might have something to do with the fact that she’s been snapping more easily, to the point where Marcus can give her a look nearly as soulful as Jonah’s.

Still, she can’t help but notice the way everyone has been softening around her, in their own way. Glenn brings a literal casserole courtesy of Jerusha. Cheyenne gives her and Jonah a card she made with Harmonica, filled with more glitter and stickers she thought a single 8.5x11” piece of paper could hold. Garrett artfully dodges her foul moods, but every once in a while she finds a Kit Kat in her locker that only the two of them have the combination to. Dina doesn’t acknowledge Jonah’s absence, doesn’t change her manner in the slightest, but when Amy goes in to discuss the change in her sick days, Dina looks at her blankly and says “what sick days?” Amy startles and Dina gives her a tiny wink before turning back to the surveillance cams.

She’s on the cusp of staging (another) walk-out in protest of not getting to spend 80% of company time with her work-flirt, when Jonah makes his only somewhat triumphant return.

“Oh good, you’re back,” Mateo says to him as Jonah and Amy come in. “Can you go clean up aisle 12? Someone vomited.”

“Good to see you too, pal,” Jonah says, giving Amy the oh-well shrug.

When they finally reconvene in the break room for the morning briefing, part of the reason for Jonah’s lukewarm comeback is revealed: Kelly’s back.

Cloud 9 employees pull up chairs around her, buzzing like a hive of blue bees. Jonah and Amy, on the underpopulated side of the room, try to make themselves invisible, but there’s a fair amount of glancing back and forth between them.

“Okay everyone, quiet, please,” Glenn says to no avail.

“Where have you been!?” Justine asks, her tone awed as if Kelly is Demi Lovato, fresh out of rehab.

There’s a long pause. “…Kirkwood,” Kelly says finally.

“Kirkwood?” Garrett echoes, eyebrows raised.

“I authorized a temporary transfer for Kelly a few weeks ago,” Dina says firmly, edging just in front of Glenn. “She filled in for an employee who was put on leave. Her boss hit her with his car. Shattered her whole pelvic bone.”

The muttering from the crowd intensifies.

“Yep,” Dina continues. “Knocked Marcus and his thumb clean off of the top ten most gruesome Cloud 9 workplace injuries list. Sorry, Marcus.”

Marcus bows his head in solemn acknowledgment.

Kelly clears her throat. “I learned a lot about myself,” she ventures, and the room grows quiet. “Really focused on self-care, being more independent-”

“Yeah, whatever,” Isaac says, yawning.

“So.” Marcus turns and puts his elbow on Kelly’s table.

“Nope,” she says.

“Anyway,” Glenn says, struggling to get out from behind Dina. “Welcome back Kelly, welcome back, Jonah! Kelly, you didn’t really miss all that much. Jonah and Amy are still married-” he looks at them proudly, and Amy resists the urge to hide her face in Jonah’s elbow, “-it’s been twenty-nine days!”

Glenn starts to plow on to the order of the day. Amy and Jonah raise their heads and look at each other.

Twenty-nine days.

No one’s reacting to the significance of this: most of the employees are shuffling out to work or to the coffee machine, while Kelly seems to have retreated back into some shell, alone and stationary at the table while everyone else is on the move. Amy and Jonah stay seated, too; Amy is thinking of words that won’t come when Dina intercepts them.

“Well, the good news is that our rat infestation seems to be gone for the moment,” she says after Kelly finally exits with her gaze trained coolly beyond them. “The bad news is that they’ve been replaced by a cockroach infestation. We’re still investigating signs of foul play, but in the meantime, Jonah, you’re in charge of live traps.”

“Who- who would want to live trap cockroaches, ever,” Jonah says.

“Me? The Humane Society? Anyone with a conscience? I don’t care, just go find Brett and Cody and work this out amongst yourselves,” she says. Jonah leaves, a shade paler than before.

“And Amy,” Dina says sweetly. “Someone threw up in aisle 12, could you be so kind?”

“Jonah already cleaned that,” Amy says, relieved.

“Oh, no, they did it a second time,” says Dina. “Repeat offender.”

Amy stands to go accept her fate.

“Also,” Dina calls right as she’s leaving. “I know your bet ends tomorrow, so I’m giving you and Jonah off until 11 to get your annulment. No need to thank me,” she says with a jaunty little wave.

It’s in this moment that Justine trickles back in for coffee. “Ooh, divorcing already?” she says, detouring from the coffee and shamelessly taking a seat beside her. “Well, tell Jonah he’s got my number in case he’s lonely tomorrow night, right? Holla!”

“Mm,” Amy says. “Pretty sure my appendix’s bursting now.”

*

She mostly doesn’t see Jonah. All the other employees are suddenly behaving as if they’d been severely understaffed in his absence, even temp hires swinging by to tell him exactly what they need a hand with, when only yesterday the store had been quiet and dead as ever. Amy had spent half the day playing cornhole with Cheyenne and Myrtle.

Justine had done her part in spreading the word. Over the next few hours, particularly when she finds herself within an aisle or two of Jonah, they approach her in spades.

“Of course, I’m still hurt and angry by your infidelity, but should you need a shoulder to cry on…” Tate brushes at an invisible spot on his pristine lab coat. “Text me. No- sext me. I might find it in my heart to forgive you.”

She sees Cheyenne and Mateo next. “Don’t cry,” Amy says, patting Cheyenne’s shoulder a little awkwardly. “There, there. It’ll be okay.”

“‘There, there’?” Mateo imitates with a snort, looking up from his phone for just a moment. “Anyway, sorry about tomorrow, or whatever. Guess no one’s perfect.”

His comment stays with Amy much longer than Cheyenne’s crying does, settling under her skin as Marcus finds her and Jonah.

“Sorry, you guys,” he says sincerely. “Even if we never got around to my fantasy threesome, I was still rooting for you to work out. Really.”

“Thanks,” Amy says as Jonah says “uh.”

They don’t see Glenn at all. He’s barricaded himself in his office, refusing to come out when Jonah and Amy take turns knocking on his door. “Glenn’s not in,” he says in an angry falsetto barely above his regular voice. “This is his assistant, Glenndolyn. Leave a message!”

“A shame,” Myrtle says as they’re folding clothes. “Which one was Jonah again? Was he the handsome one?”

“Um,” Amy says just as Jonah walks past, giving her a smile that seems more like a grimace. “That one.”

“Oh, not the one I was thinking of,” says Myrtle, dismayed.

Amy’s drained by the time the work day ends. She waits in the parking lot for Jonah, staring down at her phone to avoid any other colleagues with unsolicited opinions. He shows up a moment later, seeming disgruntled.

“So, tomorrow,” Amy says.

“Yeah,” Jonah says.

“Um. Well, Dina’s giving us the morning off. So.”

“That’s good,” Jonah says, not meeting her eyes as he climbs into the passenger seat.

The car ride home is silent until they park in the driveway.

“I guess I should move out, then,” Jonah says quietly.

“You don’t have to,” Amy says in a rush. “I mean. Where would you go?”

“Garrett’s? Cheap motel?” Jonah shrugs and averts his gaze. “I’ll work something out later.”

“Later,” Amy repeats, not sure whether it’s a question or a warning or a prayer.

*

They don’t really talk for the rest of the evening. Amy makes dinner for the two of them and Emma, and then Jonah excuses himself to his room, waving the new Kindle he’d bought during his leave of absence by way of explanation.

“Want to watch some TV?” Amy turns to Emma. “I’ll even let you pick the channel.”

“Oh,” Emma says. “Actually, I have a lot of homework….”

“Right, yeah,” Amy says with a forced chuckle. “Do your homework first. Obviously.”

So she ends up on the couch alone, staring without seeing at whatever crappy reality television drama is unfolding before her. After a bit, she gets up to make microwave popcorn; not even that is enough to tempt Jonah or Emma back out. So she finishes the bag, turns off the TV, brushes her teeth, and puts on pajamas.

On autopilot, Amy washes her face and sets an alarm for the next morning. Her calendar app still reflects that she’ll be at Cloud 9 at 6:30 AM tomorrow. She stares at it for a long moment, then shuts off her phone and heads quietly up the stairs.

“Come in,” Emma says when Amy knocks.

Her daughter is sitting on her bed, reading and wearing headphones she slides off when Amy enters. Amy realizes with a start that it’s less than four years now until Emma will be doing just the same in college, a roommate standing where Amy is now, the two of them laughing about some joke the professor made in class that day. The image fills her with joy and devastates her at the same time.

Amy takes a deep breath and sits on the edge of Emma’s bed. “I just wanted to let you know that Jonah’ll be leaving tomorrow.”

“Oh.” Emma’s face fills with confusion as she sets the book on her night stand. “Is everything okay?”

“Uh, yeah,” Amy lies. “Like I said a month ago, he just needed a place to stay for a while. Now he’s gotta… move on, I guess.”

“Okay.” Emma still looks dubious, but she slides under the covers and squirms closer to Amy, a gesture of trust and openness Amy hasn’t seen from her in a long time.

Amy hesitates. “I also wanted to… you know, check in on you. See how things are, ask if you’re okay. I know there’s been a lot going on, between, uh, everything.”

“Uh, alright?” The confusion is back on Emma’s face, but she doesn’t move.

“And… are you okay?”

Emma shrugs and twists away from her uncomfortably. “Everyone always asks me that. What am I supposed to say? The counselor asked me that too. They make you go see one, when your parents divorce.”

“I didn’t know,” Amy says softly.

“I mean, I’m fine,” Emma says. “Like, I don’t love that my parents got divorced. But I wish people would stop treating me like I’m fragile? Or like, like one of you died. Yeah, it sucks. But it sucked before you divorced, too. You know? Like, I’m not stupid, I knew it was gonna happen a long time ago.”

Hearing this stream of consciousness, longer than anything Emma’s said to her these past few months, makes Amy’s heart clench.

“I’m sorry,” Amy offers, not sure how clearly she’s managed to convey these words over the past year, if they’ve stuck with Emma at all.

Emma shakes her head and looks away. “You don’t have to- it’s fine, Mom. Seriously.”

Amy’s not sure what else to say. She swings her legs up so that she’s lying next to Emma in this bed her daughter is rapidly outgrowing.

“Can I ask you something?” Emma asks after a while, so quietly Amy nearly misses it.

“Of course. Anything.”

“Are you and Jonah dating?”

The words come out in a rush, as if Emma’s been holding them in for weeks now. Which, Amy thinks, she probably has been. She opens her mouth and closes it. “No,” Amy says finally, truthfully. “No, we’re just friends.”

“Oh.” Emma rolls onto her side, facing Amy. “I thought you might, you know. Like him.”

This time, Amy doesn’t say anything at all.

“Sophie likes Josh,” Emma volunteers. Amy stills. She’s never heard of these people, but it’s not often Emma talks about her own life, and she listens as hard as she can. “We all think Josh likes Sophie back. But he hasn’t asked her out yet.”

“Does that still happen, in 2018?” Amy interjects, and Emma looks at her quizzically. “Boys having to ask girls out? I mean, can’t Sophie ask?”

“I guess, yeah,” Emma says. “That’s how Ava and Ryan started dating.”

They talk. Gradually, Emma opens up more. Amy asks questions, listens. She doesn’t find out much about Emma, but she learns who’s dating who, who didn’t make varsity volleyball, which friends aren’t on speaking terms right now.

There’s a point where the conversation tapers off, and a long silence in which Emma closes her eyes and her breathing deepens.

“You’re right,” Amy says quietly after a long while. Emma looks at her, sleepy and questioning. “I do… like him.” She rolls her eyes at the phrase, recognizing how much the confession has put her on an emotional par with her teenage daughter.

But Emma’s face lights up in a genuine smile, the first Amy’s seen from her all day. “Told you so.”

“Sure, suuure,” Amy says, but she’s laughing and so is Emma, and in this moment nothing else matters.

*

They fall asleep on Emma’s bed, facing each other.

Amy wakes after some time from a crick in her neck. Stretching and yawning, she closes Emma’s door behind her and sneaks downstairs. The neon light of the microwave tells her it’s the middle of the night.

Amy pours herself a glass of water and drinks. She goes back into her room, lies down, and closes her eyes, but sleep refuses to come. Amy normally prides herself on the ability to fall asleep anytime, anywhere, a trait Emma inherited. Now, an awful insomnia is holding her captive, thoughts clamoring for attention in her mind in a noisy, indistinct blur. She thinks of Emma, of Adam. She thinks about Mateo saying “no one’s perfect” and of spending a third of her life in a mostly loveless marriage.

Half an eternity later, Amy gives up. She swings her legs out of bed and tiptoes down the hall.

The door to the guest room sighs on its hinges when Amy opens it.

It’s mostly dark. Amy lets her eyes adjust. Jonah is sleeping on his back, his bare chest shining in the moonlight filtering through his shitty blinds.

She walks towards him. In the past three years, she’s never felt this calm, this assured. Her heart pounds ferociously in her chest.

The bed dips a little with Amy’s weight. Jonah’s eyes open. He arches his back in a stretch and freezes, registering her presence.

“Amy?”

She crawls on top of him, hovering just a bit so as not to put any weight on his wound. One of his hands comes up to catch her shoulder. Jonah’s eyes widen; his expression registers astonishment, and the beginnings of awareness.

“What are you-”

“Shut the fuck up,” Amy murmurs, low and fierce. “I love you so much, did you know that?”

Jonah’s hand slides from her shoulder to the nape of her neck, and tangles in her hair.

“I didn’t know,” he whispers, and in the darkness their eyes meet.

It’s Amy who starts the kiss. Amy, who puts both of her hands up around Jonah’s face if not just to bring him closer, closer. Amy, who presses her hips down when Jonah makes a broken noise against her lips.

Amy, whose choked sigh is nearly a sob, who opens her mouth to meet Jonah’s tongue as he surges up against her.

“So fucking much,” she breathes against his mouth, and Jonah groans and pulls her down by the waist to settle fully on top of him.

“I love you too,” Jonah says, eyes wide as he takes in her face, her throat, her body pressed onto his. “Amy.”

“Say my name,” she demands, breathless and giddy and aroused, running her hands down Jonah’s arms to trace the inside of his wrists.

“Amy,” Jonah says, and then says no more as she kisses him again.

If there had ever been a time she worried about Jonah’s inhibitions, his indecisiveness and inability to commit, that time and its fears dissipate like smoke. Jonah kisses like it’s his last day on Earth, like he’s been awake for hundreds of years instead of sixty seconds, waiting for the moment Amy enters and claims him at last.

This possessive thought catches her by surprise and makes her shiver. She squeezes her thighs around Jonah, who breaks off in a strangled moan.

“God,” he whispers, running those long, long fingers down her thighs and back up, to where they’re pressed together. He’s hard beneath her in those stupid flannel pants, rocking up slightly, and heat pools low in her belly. “Amy, you’re so-”

“Yes, Jesus, what,” she says, intending for it to come out slightly mocking. Instead, her breath hitches and she just sounds like she’s pleading, which, given that Jonah’s thumbs have lifted up her sleep shirt enough to find her bare hips, she suddenly is.

“-beautiful,” he finishes. It’s such a cliché, and so Jonah, but he’s gazing up at her slack-jawed and open, and she leans down to bite at his shoulder before she can get choked up. He groans again, wholehearted, and Amy will probably die if she doesn’t get to come in the next ten minutes or so.

Jonah tugs at her until their faces are level again. Amy thinks he’s going back to making out, but he only offers her a single sweet, close-mouthed kiss before gently extricating himself from underneath her.

“What-” Amy barely has time to miss the contact before he’s turned them over, her lying on her back with her head nestled in the subpar guest room pillow, and Jonah kissing her collarbone, her sternum, the juncture of her throat and shoulder. She had never imagined him so authoritative and he’s not quite, still pausing before every brush of his lips as if to think it through fully, but there’s nothing hesitant about the way his fingers slide under her shirt to lift it over her head in one smooth movement.

“Fuck,” Jonah breathes, and it’s shock and appreciation all in one, leaning back to drink in the sight of her. She isn’t wearing a bra underneath, and her instinct is to reach for the blanket and cover herself, but something about the way Jonah’s eyes rake up and down her body makes Amy grow still. She arches up a bit and realizes after the fact that she’s not just okay with this – being half-naked in front of him – she’s enjoying it, his gaze making her want to perform.

Well then. That’s something to unpack at a later date.

Jonah does exactly what she expected him to, and brings his mouth down to close over one of her nipples, his other hand cupping her breast with the utmost softness. Amy would knee him in the thigh for this show of tender emotion if she weren’t so turned on, especially when she looks down and sees Jonah’s eyes closed and breathing deep. His tongue sweeps over her nipple and she hisses in surprised arousal. Amy can feel his mouth turning into a smile.

She slips in and out of time as Jonah kisses her, losing herself in the rush of sensation. Jonah, ever so restless at work and in life, has slowed nearly to a standstill, his steady, patient ministrations so agonizing and so, so good. He seems to want nothing more in the world than to lie here, touching and tasting, pressing down a little more firmly every time a whimper escapes her throat.

Finally, Jonah lifts his head up to look at her. His lips are already a little swollen. Amy runs her thumb over them without thinking, and now it’s his turn to shiver.

“Amy,” he says, quietly and pleading. She knows what he’s going to say, but nothing in the world can prepare for the way he leans down to her and kisses her and says, “can I go down on you, Amy, please-”

“Yes, yeah, yeah,” Amy says, shifting her hips up and tugging at her tacky pajama pants, unable and unwilling to hide how eager she is. “Yes, God-”

“Alright, okay,” Jonah says, and laughs a little and she laughs, too. She knows how absurd she must seem right now, and that she should be playing it cool, but then Jonah pulls her pants off and any sense of cool flies right out the window.

Besides. She’s been feigning disinterest for far, far too long to hold back now.

If Amy’s being fully honest with herself, she’s imagined this moment a thousand times, the one in which Jonah slides carefully down the bed to settle between her thighs and runs a finger along the seam of her underwear. But she’s always stopped halfway through, due to realism or fear or God knows what, and so she had never once figured what it would be like when Jonah nudges her panties aside and pushes one finger slowly inside of her.

She makes a noise at the back of her throat, deep and honest. Jonah looks up with interest, and with one hand pulls her underwear the rest of the way off. She brings up a leg to help him out, trying not to think or breathe or move, because now she’s naked in front of Jonah fucking Simms and three years of pining have not done this moment justice.

“Fuck,” Amy sighs when Jonah finally gets a tongue on her, arching toward his mouth. “Yeah, okay.”

Amy’s trying to avoid being too crass with it, but can’t help the thought that Jonah eats out like a starving man, like someone who gained the sense of taste for the very first time. She tries not to think about how he’s come by this skill, about the women with thighs smaller than hers he’s gotten to practice on. But then he opens his jaw a little wider, presses his tongue a little firmer, and Amy doesn’t think much at all after that.

It’s not entirely perfect. After over a dozen years, she and Adam had the oral routine down. Jonah’s starting from square one, sometimes hitting spots that make her leg twitch unpleasantly, switching things up a bit too often for her to find a good rhythm. She realizes after a second that he’s doing it on purpose, dragging it out just to see how the timbre of her moans will change. There’s nothing perfunctory about what he’s doing, and his sheer eagerness, his pleasure at her pleasure, make her cry out.

Jonah stops.

“Please,” Amy groans.

“Please what,” Jonah insists, managing to look smug despite his hair going seventeen different directions and lips that look red even in the dark. Of course he’s obnoxious about this part.

“Just,” Amy says, far too gone to play the game. “Let me come. Please. Asshole.”

Jonah laughs softly and returns to work, and oh, yep, apparently he’s gathered enough data on her by now to reach a scientifically sound conclusion. He sweeps his tongue up and down firmly, rhythmically, keeping pace with Amy’s helpless thrusting upwards. That alone would do it, but he adds one clever, clever finger and starts to stroke that spot Amy always had to rely on her most tricked-out vibrators to find.

Amy cries out again. With the hand that’s not currently occupied, Jonah reaches up and interlaces their fingers.

He holds Amy’s hand as orgasm whites out her vision.

Amy comes down slowly and reluctantly, taking deep breaths through the aftershocks. Jonah resurfaces with a wet, decidedly unsexy popping noise, and sits up to watch her face.

“Good?” he finally asks, cocky, and she throws a pillow at his face. It misses and flies off the bed.

This is the part where self-consciousness should start seizing her, but even as Amy lies there, naked and flushed, she can’t find it in herself to want to cover up. Jonah strokes her hip, her ribs, her bicep as he lies down next to her and nuzzles into her shoulder.

She could sleep for a million years.

“I could sleep for a million years,” she says.

“Okay,” Jonah says, eyes wide, and she laughs at the earnestness in his face.

“Kidding. It’s your turn.”

“You don’t have to-”

“I want to,” she cuts him off, and turns the full force of her gaze on him. He shuts up.

Jonah lies back on the one remaining pillow, and now she gets to be the one kissing her way down his body. Amy has no recollection of what it’s like, this sense of mystery and suspense and longing. It makes her feel awkward and virginal, but it also rekindles some of the arousal from before she came.

She can work with that.

Amy pauses at his stomach, taking a moment to run her fingers over the softness there even as he squirms. “Tickles,” he says politely, and she laughs and moves on.

Jonah’s acquiescent when she tugs his pants down, though she has to stop in momentary surprise. He isn’t wearing any underwear.

“It’s comfy, okay,” Jonah defends sheepishly when she whips her head up to look at him. “I wasn’t expecting company tonight.”

“I like it,” Amy says, and means it.

And another thrill to be had: he’s bigger than Adam.

Not that he needs to know. Here, of all places, Jonah seems to have shed his usual air of faint embarrassment along with the rest of his clothes. Amy takes his dick in his hand – Jonah’s dick, that’s Jonah Simms’ dick she’s holding holy crap – and gives it an experimental pump. When he tilts his hips up in response, she takes as much of him as she can fit into her mouth.

Size difference aside, Amy lets herself by guided by autopilot. It apparently hasn’t been long enough since her divorce for this to hurt her neck or jaw; she starts to bob up and down in earnest, adding a bit of suction from the back of her throat. Jonah groans, his hands finding the top of her head and sweeping aside her hair.

A few seconds or later, she feels a gentle tapping on her shoulder and pulls up. “Oh! Am I hurting you?”

“No, ah, it’s good,” Jonah says. His dick twitches in her hand as if for emphasis. “But uh, maybe a little, um, too enthusiastic? It’s not a race,” he says gently.

“Oh,” Amy says, face burning. “Right.”

“You’re doing great!” Jonah says with sincerity, and she groans and plants her forehead into his thigh. “Really, almost too great.”

“Stop talking,” Amy mutters. She takes a breath and lowers her mouth down again, this time going almost comically slow. But Jonah makes this quiet, desperate noise, and suddenly all she cares about is hearing it again.

Amy takes Jonah’s approach and experiments. She observes what happens when she sweeps her tongue around the head of his dick, when she moves her hand and mouth at the same time. She gets particularly good results when she starts twisting her hand.

Good to know.

Jonah’s just the right amount of vocal. He’s not loud enough to be porny, but he also doesn’t lie there silently like Adam did until he came without much warning. Amy realizes she’s obsessed with Jonah’s moans, wants to record them and make them her new ringtone if she could.

Amy works herself back up to the speed she was going at before. It’s better now, wetter, messier, and it’s hard to tell who’s enjoying it more. When Jonah taps her shoulder again, it’s with a lot more desperation.

“Wait- logistics-” he says.

Amy pulls off. “You can come,” she says. That’s apparently all the urging Jonah needs, and she gets her mouth back down on him just to catch his orgasm.

Jonah goes completely silent as he comes, everything in his body taut; he makes noise again after he’s finished, gasping for air. “Damn, Sosa,” he pants. Amy swallows down his come, feeling the bitterness sting her throat. She draws off Jonah’s dick gingerly and he twitches.

“Okay,” Jonah says when she settles beside him. He slings one sleepy arm over her bare torso. “You said something about sleeping for a million years?”

Amy smiles, and Jonah leans over to kiss her. She kisses back, dizzy with exertion and joy. It feels surreal, being curled up here next to Jonah, their bare skin sticking together with sweat. And yet, it feels like they’ve been here for a lifetime.

*

They sleep. Amy wakes up to the faint gray light of morning, still far too early to go anywhere. Jonah’s fingers are sweeping slowly across her ribcage, just under her breasts. His erection is bumping against her butt.

Amy turns her head. His eyes are closed, but he cracks one open when she moves.

“Hi,” she says, and rubs against him meaningfully.

“Hi,” Jonah says back. “No pressure.”

“None taken,” Amy says. “Do you have a condom?”

It’s worth it for the way his breath hitches. It’s worth it, too, for her second orgasm. Being on top has always been her favorite position.

The box of condoms is empty; Amy goes to chuck it with the used condom. Jonah catches her wrist, looking anxious. “Wait,” he says, and she feels a sense of dread at whatever he’s about to say. “Recycle that.”

Amy bursts out laughing and kisses him.

The box ends up on the floor after all.

They drift back asleep. Some time later, she’s awoken by the sound of Panic! at the Disco.

Death of a Bachelor, really?” Amy asks, swiping fruitlessly at his phone. “You do this.”

Jonah wraps himself around her to shut off the alarm. He shrugs. “Seemed fitting.”

Amy yawns and gets up to collect her clothes and get dressed, sticking her tongue out at Jonah for pouting at her. She ducks into the bathroom to pee and retrieves her own phone from her room.

Checking email in the morning is infinitely better when she can do it next to Jonah. Naked Jonah, no less.

“Hey!” Amy says, opening the top email and breaking into a wide grin. “I passed my final.” She squirms happily into Jonah’s arms, allowing herself a celebratory grab of his tummy.

“Told you so,” Jonah says, sounding proud rather than smug. “Oh, I can do this now!” He traces her lips. “I mean, can I do this now? Kiss you?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Amy says, laughing until his kiss shuts her up, until the kissing turns into heavy petting turns into Amy cutting them off, since they’re out of condoms. “I can give you head again?”

Jonah blushes, but his pupils grow dark. “Let’s not get divorced,” he says in a rush, biting at his lip and looking so filthy Amy would be willing to make any number of poor life decisions for him. She tears her gaze away.

“Guess we have to talk about this, huh.” She sighs, tracing circles on Jonah’s bare chest. Above them, she hears footsteps, Emma preparing to come downstairs. Despite the conversation with her daughter last night, she figures they shouldn’t come out of Jonah’s bedroom together if Emma’s in the kitchen to witness it. “Well, good thing we have the morning off.” She sits up. “Later?”

Jonah smiles.

“Later,” he says, and it sounds like a promise.