The first time It happened – well it just happened. It didn't feel like anything at the time, it just was. One minute life was this way and the next it was that way. That there would be a sensation of before and after, that would come later, much later. Right then and there it was Tuesday, it was afternoon and it was an increasingly warm spring day.
Dani wasn't running, not per say. She liked to think of it more as power walking in the opposite direction of an unsolvable equation. That sounded much better and a lot healthier than to say that she was running from expectations, problems, family and herself. However, no matter which way it was worded the reality of keeping the Atlantic ocean between herself and- that other thing, well turns out it cost money. A lot of money. A resource that was growing increasingly thin, she thought to herself as she took another sip of the lukewarm beer she'd been nursing for – she looked down at her watch and winced – close to three hours now. The realisation made her look over at the barkeep in embarrassment. As if the old man could sense her eyes on him he met her gaze head on. She wasn't sure if the judgemental look she saw in his eyes was her own guilty conscious, or if his rheumy eyes really were as full of contempt as she imagined. One part of her wanted to mouth sorry, but instead she looked down into her flat beer and sighed. With yet another current of shame to add to the delta within she reluctantly went back to the classifieds splayed out in front of her.
Money, work and accommodation - all felt like a trifecta of unattainable goals right now, but she kept reading and re-reading hoping she'd missed something. At this point any opportunity sounded like a good opportunity. She had done the math, she'd checked it over, three times, four times. And no she hadn't hit the wall yet, she still had a few more weeks, months maybe, but she was getting closer to it. If she wanted to stay she desperately needed to find a job.
Also the hostel she'd been staying at it had started to lose all of it's initial charm. Sure the Norwegian couple who had spent a couple of weeks living next to her had been nice, but to every nice Norwegian couple there was a group of loud Italian boys partying every day and hour of the week, or a hen party that always ended in tears, screaming and someone blowing chunks in the corridor. Dani was closing in on thirty and she wouldn't say that she was getting old, but she would gladly admit that she was too old for that.
She knew she had options, theoretically at least. She could go back. She had an empty house waiting for her, she could easily get her old job back or something like it, she had a mother who kept insisting she'd stop running and come home “to sort things out”. But Dani back there were also broken promises, an ex-fiancé and expectations so heavy on her shoulders they felt like a straight jacket. Just the idea of it could turn her stomach queasy. No, to go back, to go back to being Danielle didn't feel like an option, at least not a viable one, not even in theory. So she licked her thumb and turned the page, hoping the next spread would hold her ticket, but before she had a chance to begin reading a voice tore at her attention.
“Look, do you mind?” a stranger asked with a nod towards one of the empty chairs across from her. “I'm sure you want to be alone or are waiting for your boyfriend, but I can't deal with Lecherous Larry over at the bar right now and the place is full. I'm going to be quiet, down this and disappear,” the woman promised.
Her accent was pronounced, but not thick. Dani knew it wasn't from London, but that was pretty much all she knew. Languages, especially dialectal accents had never been her strength. This tiny country where you couldn't even swing your bag around without hitting a new one didn't help matters. No, she'd stick to things she knew, like math and how to compartmentalize, and leave dialects to someone else. It was a nice one though, made her relax and subconsciously drop her shoulder. The stranger took her contemplative silence as doubt and added, “All I want is the chair, and silence”.
“No,” Dani profusely shook her head. “No, it's fine.” She wrangled the newspaper back onto her side of the table to make room for the woman. There was a moment of silence between them as the woman looked down at Dani and gave her half a smile before sinking down onto the chair. “Cheers.”
Dani quickly picked up her drink which was probably 75% saliva at this point, but she still gave her a timid “Cheers” in return.
True to her words the woman remained silent and the bustle from the rest of the crowded pub gradually took over and Dani's eyes returned to the newspaper, mostly. She had every intention returning them to the paper at least, but they kept straying, silently cataloguing the brown hair, the slight waves in it, the way it fell down but didn't quite catch the woman's shoulders, giving her both a tailored and a tussled look. She wore a brown jacket, she wore it well, but it did look a little too big on her small frame, but there was something in the way the woman held herself. There was something in the set of her shoulders that reminded Dani of a small dog with a big bite. Growing up they had lived next to a family with a Jack Russell, it was a tiny scrap of a dog, but it put dogs three times it's size in their place. This woman gave off the same sort of impression.
Dani willed her mind back to the newspaper and re-read the ad in front of her for the third time and it still sounded like it was a wanted ad for a drug mule. She tried not to feel defeated. The scraping of a chair tore her from the melancholy and forced her to look over as the woman stood up. The stranger wiped her mouth on the back of her hand and ducked her shoulders to get the jacket to fall into place again. “Thanks for the chair, love.” And with those words she was gone again, leaving Dani with the dregs of her own drink and a slightly befuddled expression on her face.
Something had just happened, Dani was sure of that, but she wasn't sure of what.
Some moments in life felt like background static, others like a chorus. She couldn't quite decide which category this moment fell into. It seemed brighter than static, but if it was a chorus it didn't belong to any song she recognised. Or maybe it was only the lager that had hit her empty stomach harder than she'd anticipated, making her head swim in mild intoxication. Either way Dani did what came natural to her, she closed the door and banished the entire thing to the back of her mind, deciding firmly to herself that it would stay there. All while knowing perfectly well that it wouldn't. But that was a problem for future Dani, current Dani had enough as it was on her plate.
With a sigh she licked her thumb again and went back to looking for a job.
The second time it happened it had felt-- surprising.
It had been a long day, an even longer week. She was done with sneers and dismissive glances and “don't think so, darling”. She was done forcing that smile onto her lips, the one that was so plastic it could be mistaken for a member of the Tupperware family. She was done and she was tired. She wasn't ready to cry, but only because the beer she had been drinking had mellowed her enough to feel slightly detached from-- well from everything.
“I promise I'm not some crazy stalker, but-” the woman from before, the one who was neither chorus nor static, eyed the empty seat across from Dani before throwing another backwards glance at a greasy old man by the bar. Dani followed her eyes before returning her gaze and was unable to contain a small chuckle at the expression of distaste on the woman's face.
“Go ahead,” Dani said and gathered up her things again. “No one wants to spend time with a Larry.”
Without a second's hesitation the woman sunk down onto the chair, not gracefully by any means, but still smoothly somehow. She looked over at Dani with a small smile on her lips as a strand of her hair fell into her eyes. Not that Dani would ever have a reason to describe it, but if she were to be forced by some unseen power, she would have called the display charming.
“Flat, or a job. Or did that boyfriend of yours stand you up so you're looking for a new one?” the brunette playfully asked as her thumb swiped at the condensation on her glass. Mesmerized by the way her finger painted invisible eights on the glass Dani almost didn't catch the question.
“I'm sorry?” she sputtered.
The woman nodded towards the newspapers between them. “You're obviously looking for something, intently looking for something going by that black smudge on your forehead,” she said with a gentle smile, the kind of smile that might have briefly toyed with the idea of being a smirk.
“What?” Dani stammered and had absolutely no idea where her mind had gone or why it had cut off the link to her tongue on the way out the door.
“You've got a bit of-” she said and pointed towards Dani's forehead, looking a little sheepish and a little less sure of herself. “It's nothing. I'm sorry. I should...be quiet.”
“No!” Dani quickly interjected. “Silence is overrated.” She scrubbed her palm against her forehead hoping her cheeks weren't as red with embarrassment as they felt. “I could use not silence.” Her tongue had clearly lost all sense of...anything.
The woman twisted the glass in her hands as she leaned forward. “Rough day?”
Dani nodded. “Week.” With a sigh she added, “Month. Year too.” The charming stranger smiled at her, the kind of smile that made her feel a little lighter, maybe even a little less tired. Not really knowing why, but knowing she needed more of the same feeling Dani continued. “All of the above.”
“All of the above?” now it was the other woman's turn to look a little confused, something she tried to hide behind taking a drink.
“You asked me if I was looking for a place to stay or a job. I'm looking for both.”
“Finding anything good?”
“Depends on where you stand on drugs and how you rate rats.”
“I'm actually embellishing.”
“Sounds harsh, blondie.” She chuckled.
Dani gave her a smile, a real one, not one from the Tupperware clan. “Dani,” she said and reached out her hand. For a second the other woman looked at the hand with something akin to confusion and for a split second Dani didn't think she would return the gesture. But as a slow smile uncurled on the brunette's lips she finally did. “Jamie.”
“Nice to meet you, Jamie,” Dani said and she meant it. Not only that, but she realised that this was the first time in a very long time she was completely and utterly sincere while she had a smile on her lips.
So it wasn't a perfect day, but as Dani released the other woman's hand she felt like maybe parts of it were salvageable at least.
The third time it happened it was Dani's doing.
All day long Dani had been out of sync, constantly one step in the wrong direction, one second too late, one wrong word out of her mouth. And she knew that had shone through in the job interview she had just finished up. She had tried her best to come across as calm, collected and on top of anything thrown in her direction. But unfortunately she had uncharacteristically stammered her way through basic questions and gotten remarkably tongue-tied whenever the woman who was in charge of the interview had looked her in the eye. It wasn't a particularly appealing job, secretary at a company that sold office supplies, but it would have been a job. But no, the woman did not seem to have been impressed by Dani's resume, she mostly seemed baffled by why an American teacher would want to work for them. Worst of all was that Dani couldn't even come up with a decent lie about it either. So no, she didn't have much hope in hearing from Drummer & Sons again.
But it was Tuesday so she was going to stick with her routine and drink her beer, maybe cry a little into it and hope that this was not the Tuesday the old man behind the bar had enough of her and threw her out. As she stepped into the pub she instantly realised her table was occupied. Well, of course it wasn't her table, but she had somewhere along the way started thinking of it as such. Which was presumptuous as she'd probably only frequented the place four times in total, but that didn't stop her. At first a sense of annoyance spiked through her, this was the final “fuck you” in a day riddled with them, but as she took a closer look she realised she recognised the person at her table.
She hurried to the bar and quickly got her drink in hand. For a brief moment she stood stock still with her beer in her hand watching the woman at the table, Jamie with the undefined accent. She was hunched over a newspaper, the tip of her tongue worrying the corner of her mouth as it looked like she was concentrating hard on what she was reading. In her hand she fiddled with a pencil, letting it flick across her knuckles, occasionally banging it against the table. The same jacket from before was this time slung across the back of her chair but judging by how much was left of the beer in front of her she had only just gotten here herself. Dani let her gaze sweep across the room, spotting several other empty tables, but landing on a decision despite that.
Dani swallowed hard and made her way over. “Can I sit?”
With an almost startled expression Jamie looked up, her face quite hard at first, but her features softening as she recognise who the voice belonged to.
“It's your table, blondie.” She smiled at her.
“Dani,” she couldn't help correcting her. “And it's not my-” Jamie nodded towards the seat across from her. “Thank you,” Dani said as she sat down.
“I remember,” Jamie said.
“Remember what?” Dani asked with her beer halfway to her lips.
“Your name.” Jamie smiled, a playful kind of smile that hit Dani somewhere between her spleen and the place which had suddenly started producing butterflies inside of her. Dani tried to return the smile, but her brain was a little too preoccupied with the influx of butterflies to fully cooperate, so instead it turned into a weird little sigh. She took a deep drink from her beer trying to drown whatever was dancing around in the pit of her stomach.
A couple of minutes of silence stretched out between them and Dani managed to down half her beer in sheer nervous energy before she found enough courage to continue the conversation. “Your turn to look for a job?” she asked with a nod towards the paper in front of Jamie.
Jamie grimaced and shook her head. “Flat actually.”
“Find anything good? Anything without rats?”
“Strangely enough none of them seem to lead with rat infestation.”
“That's weird-” Dani leaned over and turned the paper so they both could read the black print. “Ah, then you're not reading the subtext. Like this one-” she said and pointed towards an ad in the corner. “Quaint – rats.” She furrowed her brow and scanned the rest of the ads. “Oh, and this one – modest – definitely rats.”
Jamie chuckled and the butterflies inside of Dani took that as a good reason to start doing ecstasy.
The fourth time it happened it came with a realisation.
It felt like a wave, dark and polluted water that rose high above her, cresting and crashing down around her. The sensation absolutely terrifying and totally overwhelming. And with it there was no stopping the tears, silent and heavy the rolled down her cheeks. Everything felt like a fight, every breathe had begun to feel like a battle. This wasn't how she wanted to spend her birthday.
“You alright?” the voice broke through the surface of the watery cage.
Dani frantically wiped at her tears, in vain trying to hide the traces of her pain and insecurities. But there was no hiding. Dani made a noise, it sounded weak even in her own ears.
“You want me to-?” Jamie threw a thumb in the direction of the door. Dani looked up at her through her tears and slowly shook her head. “Because it's okay if you want to be alone. Sometimes we all need to be alone.”
“I don't want to be alone,” Dani admitted and meant it from her core.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Jamie offered, but Dani quickly shook her head again. Slowly the brunette sat down, almost exaggerationly in slow, as if she wanted to give Dani another chance to change her mind and ask her to leave. She turned her head slightly and peered over at her, fiddling with the beer in her hands. “Do you want to hear about my pile of shit of a day?” she wondered tentatively.
Dani wiped away the straggling tears from her cheek and replied, “I would really like that”.
Jamie was silent for a few moments before giving Dani a small smile as she began. “So-” she let the word drag out. “I got fired today. How's that for a starter?”
“What?” Dani's own anxieties seemed to lessen as she was given a reason to feel indignation on behalf of someone else, even if that someone else in theory was only a stranger.
“Apparently I'm not customer friendly enough. Which is shite. I am friendly as fuck.”
Unbidden the corners of Dani's mouth twitched into a small smile, which was in turn mirrored on Jamie's lips.
“So between us I think we can objectively say that today should eat glass and die.” Jamie raised her glass to Dani and took a long drink.
Dani raised her own glass in a salute before taking her own sip. “We should get drunk,” she decided.
“Not sure if that will solve anything.” Jamie wiped away some foam from her lips.
“It won't,” Dani admitted. “We will still be unemployed and we will still be house hunting. But we will also be drunk.”
A short little burst of a laugh escaped from Jamie's lips. “Is this American logic?”
“Do we have anything to lose?”
“A couple of brain-cells, but I think at this point that would mostly be a mercy killing anyhow.” Jamie gave her a lop-sided smile and raised her glass again. “Sure, blondie, why not get pissed.”
The wave still threatened in the background, it would return, it always did for Dani. For now though, well for now she was going to get absolutely shit-faced with her new friend, her new friend who probably didn't realise that she'd just earned herself that title whether she wanted it or not.
The fifth time it happened however, everything actually changed.
Dani was in a panic. No matter how she twisted and turned the numbers, she was out of money. The only thing left was enough for a return ticket back to all of the things she desperately wanted to avoid. As long as she was on this side of the Atlantic she could dream, she could entertain those thoughts that still felt foreign on her tongue even if her body was getting very comfortable in them. If she went back she knew she would not be strong enough to fight, she would drown in all of the things what they wanted for her. If she went back it would be to the Danielle who would nod and try to plaster the cracks with a smile that hurt and so much selflessness she sometimes would forget her own name.
“Anything good?” Jamie asked as she took a seat.
“Not unless you're a gardener or a sex worker,” Dani replied with a tired smile.
“Give me that!” Jamie unceremoniously snatched the paper out of Dani's hands leaving the blonde with a shocked expression on her face, Dani's eyes continued to grow larger as she saw Jamie skim through the ads.
As if sensing the eyes on her Jamie looked up and over at Dani. “What's that look for?”
Jamie tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. “Really?!” she exclaimed shaking her head. “I'm a gardener.”
“I didn't say anything.”
“Not sure how insulted I should be that you think it's more likely I'd be a prostitute than that I can keep plants alive.”
Dani leaned forward across the table to invade Jamie's personal sphere and pull the paper back towards her. “I said no such thing. I can see you garden.”
“As long as you can't see me selling sex to dirty old bastards-”
“No,” Dani replied unable to repress a shudder. “This one.” She pointed towards the ad in question.
Jamie leaned over and her face took on a serious expression, first with a hint of hope before it turned into something more like distaste. “Well this is crap.”
“What is?” Dani who hadn't bothered to read beyond the first two sentences asked.
“It's an impossible ad.” Jamie pushed the paper back at Dani as if it had offended her personally. She leaned back in her chair with a scoff.
“Positions to fill at Bly Manor. Groundskeeper to be in charge of Gothic revival gardens.” Dani looked at Jamie with a frown. “That sounds like a gardener, right? That could be you, couldn't it?”
“Read the rest,” Jamie grumbled around her sip of beer.
Excited blue eyes went back to reading. “Au pair with teaching experience needed for full-time care of two children.” With an expression of elation Dani looked at Jamie. “That's me! How did I miss this.” She pulled the paper closer so she could get a better look while reading.
“You're a nanny?” Jamie asked in surprise.
“I'm a teacher. Or I was back- home.” The last word felt stale and left a very bitter aftertaste in her mouth.
“Really?” She nodded in a way that could either have been surprise or disbelief, or a bit of both.
“Should I be offended by that look?” Dani asked with a wide smile, enjoying the opportunity to tease back.
Jamie just shook her head, but was smiling. “I guess it doesn't matter.” Her voice sobered. “Keep reading.”
Frowning Dani did as she had been told. “On grounds accommodation included. Jamie, this is amazing!”
“-the last part.”
“Previous experience meriting – what's impossible about that? That's standard.” She shook her head as if she couldn't see the problem.
“You forgot the fine print.”
“Professional couple only,” Dani finished off, her brows knitting together as she let it wash over her.
“And that's definitely not us, blondie.”
Dani pressed her lips together and reread the ad, twice. “What does that even mean?”
“These fools are looking for bloody needle in a haystack.”
“Why couldn't they have put in two separate ads?” Dani asked without expecting an answer from Jamie.
“Exactly. Nobody is going to be able to fill that prerequisite.”
“How many groundskeeper and teacher couples can there even be?” Dani continued, still not expecting an answer.
Jamie shook her head and downed her pint. “You want another?” she asked as she got up.
Dani's mind was lost in thought, but she nodded as Jamie scooped up their glasses and headed over to the bar.
It seemed like a metaphor for Dani's life, this whole thing. So close, so painstakingly close, but not all the way there. The details off in just the tiniest of ways and that throws everything off. It was so easy to give in to that spiral, to lose yourself further.
When she returned Jamie's entire being almost shook with excitement. “I might have an idea, sort of.”
“Uh, huh?” Dani hummed non-committally as she pulled her beer towards her.
"It's an impossible ad. No one is going to be able to fill it."
"Mhm." Another non-committal hum.
“You're an actual teacher!” Jamie continued.
“I am...” She was now turning a little suspicious, there was something in Jamie's tone that was a little too excited to not end in the type of idea you didn't regret the next day.
“And I'm a gardener. I'm fucking good at what I do too, despite what that cock womble says.”
“The cock womble being the person who fired you?” Dani tried to keep up.
“Yeah.” Jamie waved her hand a little in the air as if to say that wasn't important now. “So-” she drew out the word into something that felt a lot more suspenseful than a “so” should be able to evoke. “What's to say we are not a couple?”
“Who are? You and the- wobble?”
“No, of course not.” She gave Dani a look that might have questioned her sanity. “I meant you and I.”
Dani might as well have been hit square in her stomach and it would have been less of a surprise. They were words, uncomplicated words easily out of Jamie's mouth, but the effect they had...She felt the blood drain from her face as that nerve inside of her had been struck so firmly her head felt like a gong.
“But we are not a couple.” The words miraculously did not tremble as they left Dani's mouth.
“Obviously not, but what's to say we weren't?!” Jamie emphasised gesturing wildly with both hands.
“I don't think that's what they meant.” Dani swallowed hard.
“All it says is professional, nothing about heterosexual.”
“It usually is implied...”
“So? Did they specify 'homosexuals need not apply'?”
Dani feelt something drop inside her chest, like an elevator in a free fall. She swallowed a couple of times before she replied, “I don't think it's legal to write it out, but that doesn't mean-” Dani flared her nostrils. “I don't think I could do that.”
Something in Jamie's face darkened. “I didn't mean to offend you.” Her jaw clenched and her words were suddenly ice cold.
“You didn't- that's not-I didn't mean that-”
Jamie leaned back in her chair, arms across her chest. “Your eyes are really loud even when your mouth is shut.” Dani looked at her, her face radiating the doubt she was feeling and as if the feeling was contagious she watched as Jamie's face fell as well. “No, you're absolutely right, it's a dumb idea,” Jamie added self-consciously rubbing the back of her neck before Dani even had a chance to reply.
The insistent and wheedling words “marry me, please” echoed through her mind, again and again, an infinite loop of dread as she looked over at Jamie. She studied her face, the way her lips made that very specific shape as the corners of her mouth pulled downwards, the way her eyes dimmed and became darker, the way the muscles in her jaw clenched, almost shivered - and somehow the echo and the memory of that question, the echo of that plea – it faded. Until she barely heard it anymore, until it was replaced by a single “homosexuals need not apply” in an accent that made her feel good inside.
“It is a dumb idea,” she agreed, she could see Jamie's shoulders sink further and silently willed her to look over at her. When Jamie finally did she smiled at her, doing her best to let everything show in just the quirk of her lips. As if maybe that alone was enough to keep Jamie on her side, to keep her from shutting down further. “It is a really dumb idea,” Dani said nodding her head vigorously. “And- I think I like it.”