Jamie swore she’d never go back to Bly the moment she graduated high school. She would forever be content to spend each holiday in whatever city or town she’d managed to land in at that moment (but more often than not, she’d just ended up visiting Owen and Hannah instead). She had been successful in her avoidance of her hometown for seven years and had no plans to stop that streak. The only bump in her plan had been her death of her father that Fall. After seven years of stilted, inconsistent contact, Denny had suddenly turned into a grown man with a house and a job and a long-time girlfriend he was probably going to marry while Mikey was barely a teenager, still a little kid that barely came up to her chest in Jamie’s mind. But Jamie was still Jamie and had decided that even the demise of their father was not enough to call Jamie back to Bly. Denny had assured her all the arrangements were being taken care of. That they wouldn’t need anything from her. Which Jamie had been thankful for, working on the day her father was being lowered into the ground instead of being among the few crying theatrical tears. After successfully avoiding that mess of unresolved trauma and mourning, Jamie had thought that if even her father’s funeral wasn’t enough to call her back to her hometown, then nothing could compel her back. Until she receives a call from Mikey two weeks after the funeral.
The first hesitant sounds of his voice, deeper now, crackly as puberty was starting to make its mark, put the initial cracks in her foundation of strict evasion. It had been almost a year since the last time she had heard his voice. She wasn’t good at maintaining contact with anyone, let alone the kid brother she could only look at with guilt and unavoidable shame. Over the phone, Mikey had begged her to come home for Christmas, had said it was the only thing he really wanted. And that’s what finally broke Jamie’s careful resolve. Seven years and one “pretty please” from her little brother is what did her in.
It’s not that Jamie didn’t miss Mikey. Throughout her day, she was pretty good at placing any thoughts of him or Denny or Bly at the back of her mind, compartmentalized safely away from her regular life of tending to plants and harassing Owen. But the ache was still there in her chest whenever she spotted a little boy in the street with the same curly hair and quirk in his crooked smile. Always reminding her wistfully of a little boy whose diapers she had changed, food she had cooked, scrapes and bruises she had bandaged and kissed better. She even missed Denny sometimes too, even if he had grown up to resemble their father too much for her liking. All hard lines, impassive face, a small-town husband and father in training except without the alcoholism. Mikey had said over the phone that Denny missed her as well.
“Bullshit,” she had scoffed.
“Well, he doesn’t say it but I can tell, trust me,” he had said. And Jamie believed him. It took very little for her to agree to come home after that.
Her family was not the main reason she avoided Bly like the plague. Their fucked up history and dysfunctional dynamics was definitely a factor but only one of many. Jamie had detested Bly most of the years she had spent living there. The only people that had made it bearable were Owen and Hannah. And, Dani, of course.
Dani, another reason she avoided Bly, and if Jamie was being honest with herself, probably the main reason she avoided Bly.
Jamie found herself begrudgingly thinking of Dani Clayton in the back seat of Owen’s car as they cruised along the highway towards their hometown. A four hour trip in total. Jamie had originally planned to nap, let Hannah and Owen have some semblance of alone time together, but her mind was restless. Dani Clayton wouldn’t stop berating her thoughts, attempting to slip through any crack in the thick barrier Jamie had carefully cultivated over the last few years. A barrier that kept anything having to do with the blonde woman and their shared history in a dark spot at the farthest corner of her mind. Images, cuts of memories, familiar voices and sensations were threatening to overtake her, to flood her brain and wash away any sense of indifference she had maintained over the years. She pulled out her phone instead. Doing the thing she usually did when thoughts of Dani threatened to take her under, farther than she was really to go. She pulled up Dani’s instagram.
A minute or so of scrolling usually satiated her curiosity enough to quell her thoughts without struggle.
Jamie and her hadn’t spoken since they were eighteen. And, mostly due to Jamie’s staunch avoidance, they hadn’t maintained any sort of contact. The only thing resembling a correspondence that they had had been a notification Jamie received on her phone year two years after they had graduated. It dinged a little after midnight, letting her know Dani Clayton had just followed her on instagram. And, of course, not wanting to be rude, Jamie immediately followed her back. She tried not to spend too much time scrolling past the brief glimpses of Dani’s life now available to her. She only allowed herself the odd glance every few months or so, if she didn’t want to torture herself too much. Dani didn’t post too often anyway. Her instagram over the last couple of years mainly consisted of food pics, student drawings from her teaching elementary school kids, and photos of the same two people whom Jamie had come to gather were co-workers and roommates. She tried not to think about how her only connection to Dani’s life was now through the pathetic leering of a tiny screen.
Dani had posted a new slew of pictures that morning, at the same time Owen was attempting to wrangle her into the car. A photo of her mom’s house, followed by her and her mom, nestled in front of a Christmas tree in what looked to be the Clayton living room, a picture of freshly made Christmas cookies decorated in a haze of sprinkles and bright frosting. All letting Jamie know that Dani was, indeed, in town for the holidays. At the same time Jamie was due to be there as well. She knew it was a probable occurrence but she hadn’t let herself truly believe so until that very moment.
Jamie couldn’t look at Dani’s face, through the confines of her phone screen, for more than a few seconds without having the urge to throw her phone. She keeps scrolling instead, quickly passing photos and posts she’s already seen before from previous peaks at her profile. It was pathetic really. The way Dani could still tangle herself up in Jamie’s gut, twisting and coiling around her center so she always felt unbalanced, discombobulated. Jamie couldn’t wait for this Christmas to be over. She was already itching to be back in the city, back in her own apartment, far from their hometown and the troubles Dani Clayton usually brought with her.
Much to Dani’s surprise and dismay, there wasn’t a single drop of alcohol in her mother’s house. Growing up, Dani often saw a glass of red wine in her mom’s hand more often than not, constantly waiting to be refilled. But Rick, her mom’s boyfriend of four months, “was in recovery and we thought it best if there was no alcohol in the house from now on.”
Dani was happy for her mom and Rick, of course. Her mom could probably benefit from cutting back on the wine and a sober boyfriend. But Dani had only been in her mom’s house for a little over an hour and was already in desperate need of a drink. Rebecca was at her own family’s house, in the next town over, and wouldn’t be able to meet up for a drink until after dinner. But Dani couldn’t wait that long.
“I think I’m gonna go, uh…” Dani struggles to think of a reasonable sounding excuse for needing to escape her mother’s house. “I think I’m gonna go see how Eddie is doing, you know, and catch up.” A blatant lie but one that brightens her mom’s face. Just like Dani knew it would.
“What a great idea,” Dani’s mom says, glancing up from organizing more gingerbread men onto a quickly growing plate. “Judy said he’s back in town for the week and I’m sure he would love to see you again. It would be just like old times.”
“Yeah, I’m sure he would,” Dani says, cracking a smile that felt like stiff plastic. “Well, I’m just gonna head out then.”
“Okay, dear,” Dani’s mom says, already reverting her attention back to the bundle of sweets that needed to be decorated. “Oh, remember, dinner is at six.”
“Yup, wouldn’t want to forget.”
Dani often thanked God that she lived far enough (four hours away) to justify not being able to visit her mom as often as Karen Clayton wanted her to. Scheduling conflicts with work or the outrageous price of gas often were good enough reasons to get her out of a trip home. Which was requested of Dani every other week by her mom. Dani tried to keep her time spent in Bly strictly to holidays or family events. Dani loved her mom but their relationship was a complicated one.
Throughout high school, her mom had spent more time drinking in the den with friends from work than time with Dani, opting to skip parent teacher conferences for “promising dates” or adults-only game night at one of their neighbors' houses. After Dani had moved an hour away to go to college, taking advantage of instate tuition, her mom had finally started to show some semblance of a maternal instinct. She started by sending Dani the odd care package every now and then, composed of random hygiene products, makeup that Dani never wore, and granola bars. After that, it was a sudden demand that a phone call be made home once a week. A call that usually consisted of asking Dani fleetingly about her classes before launching into spiels about the latest guy she was seeing or new gossip spreading through the neighborhood. Dani recognized the phone calls and care packages as a last ditch effort of sorts on the part of her mom to show that she cared. Being a little over an hour away with a new space that was mostly her own, it was easy to accept the small olive branch being extended to her. The distance made dealing with her mom a lot easier as the years wore on. She viewed her mom in a much more sympathetic and generous light now that they were living apart from one another and Dani didn’t have to come home to her passed out drunk, on the living room couch or find a strange man seated across from her at their dinner table.
Especially now, as the holidays roared on, Dani knew her mother was trying to act more like a “traditional” mom in the conventional, warm, nurturing sense of the word. But even though their relationship now was a lot less tense than it had been while Dani was still living in Bly, Dani couldn’t help the familiar pangs of suffocation start to come over her. Whenever she was in her mother’s house, surrounded by the same walls she ached to escape in high school, a restlessness writhed within her. An overwhelming need to put distance between herself and her mom’s tactless questions and neighborhood rumors she couldn’t care less about.
It was that anxious restlessness that propelled Dani out onto the street, to start walking without thinking. Dani’s feet weren’t following any particular route, not one she had in mind consciously, anway, when she left the house. But she soon found herself treading a familiar path as she cut around side streets and residential roads until she was walking between the looming brick building of her old high school and the chainlink fence of the football field.
She knew her body had taken her here for a reason, unable to resist revisiting older, happier memories. The happiest memories she probably had of her hometown. Not relegated to any specific building or street, but contained within one person, a person that still held parts of Dani that she had accepted long ago would never be given back. Not that she wanted them back anyway. She could easily recall the bliss and carefree electricity that surged through her back then, wandering down this particular street after school on her way to wherever that dirt-speckled hand would lead her. But Dani refuses to let dark curls and a well-missed smirk slip into her mind. She wasn’t going down that road. Most times that she came back home, she refused to think of Jamie at all. Even to think of her name. But more often than not, she failed horribly.
Even though any thoughts of Jamie made Dani uneasy, especially within the confines of their hometown, she felt safe walking down the streets she and Jamie used to wander down together, back before either of them could drive or had a car. Her fear of running into Jamie was almost nonexistent. She knew Jamie never came back to Bly for the holidays. Or for any other occasion for that matter. The one upside (or downside, depending on Dani’s mood) of her mom being an unbridled gossiper was that she never failed to inform Dani of any talk about Jamie or her family that had circulated through various neighbors and friends. Dani knew Jamie’s dad had passed away less than a month ago. She also knew that Jamie hadn’t gone to the funeral, the one bit of information that seemed to be emphasized the most. Speculation quickly ran rampant through the neighborhood. Of course, Dani was one of only a handful of people privy to the actual truth of their relationship. She had witnessed firsthand the tension and animosity that dominated their interactions. She had also witnessed the aftermath of plenty of fights that ended with Jamie curled up Dani’s bed, hands running through dark hair as she made promises of a brighter, imminent future, one where they both fled Bly and were making better lives for themselves outside of their dysfunctional families.
If no one else understood Jamie’s absence from the funeral, Dani did, at least. Sometimes, Dani felt she understood better than anyone else that often, throughout high school, at least, Jamie’s only means of exercising control in her life was her avoidance. Jamie fled any situation she couldn’t get a handle on, any occasion that caused any inkling of instability, where Jamie was overwhelmed by emotion, a sensation she hated. Like her father’s funeral for example.
Elusion was an answer to a family situation that was never secure or particularly warm. And Bly was where Jamie had felt the most powerless, the least able to help herself or anyone else. It was a place Jamie absolutely loathed.
It would take a miracle to bring her back to their hometown.
Her first sight of Mikey on the front porch almost causes Jamie to burst into tears. He’s sprouted up like a weed, standing several inches above her and looking exactly like their mother. She swallows the uncomfortable lump in her throat and barrels forward. A grin overtakes her face as she shakes her head, throwing an arm around her baby brother’s shoulders to bring his head down to her shoulder level.
“Christ, you are a giant, aren’t ya?” Jamie says, running her hand through the dark curls on top of his head. “Aren’t you like fourteen?”
“Sixteen,” Mikey smiles, knowing Jamie does in fact know how old he is. “I grew six inches last year.”
“Jesus, you look like a scarecrow.”
Mikey laughs, grabbing the duffle bag from Jamie’s hand. “Come on, Denny’s inside.”
He keeps a smile on his face, still laughing, as he leads Jamie into her childhood home, but Jamie’s shock isn’t a gag. The last time Jamie had seen her little brother, she had been two inches taller much to his chagrin. Granted, he had been fourteen at the time. But still. Jamie is utterly mystified as she studies her brother a bit more closely. She can see the beginnings of manhood starting to present itself in the scruff along his chin, the broadness of his shoulders and the baby fat that seems to have been sapped from his face. It's a bit too much for Jamie. Especially with how much he’s grown to look like their mother. Same eyes, same nose and mouth. Even the same smile if Jamie paid close enough attention. A spitting image of Denise. Which is probably why their dad had never given Mikey a second thought while he was alive.
When Jamie sees Denny in the living room, he looks just how he had always looked in Jamie’s mind. Somber and stiff. A boy who had grown up into a man far too early. Same hard set mouth like their dad’s. Sharp features that scared the boys from school and won over plenty of girls. The only signs of aging Jamie could spot were the lines around his eyes.
“Denny,” Jamie says, anticipating a brief and indifferent greeting. She isn’t expecting her older brother to step into her space, wrapping both arms around her shoulders. Both of Jamie’s brothers now tower over her, she thinks, as she pats his back half-heartedly. The only thing she can think to do with her brother’s thick arms wrapped firmly around the top half of her body.
“Hey,” he says when he steps back. “It’s good to see ya’.”
“Yeah,” Jamie says, nodding with what she hopes isn’t a perplexed expression. “Good to see ya’ too.” She looks over at Mikey who is watching the whole interaction carefully. “Yeah, I’m gonna go get settled in my room then,” Jamie says, stepping back towards the hall and away from her brother.
“We’re gonna have dinner at seven,” Denny says, a hand coming to rest on the back of his neck in what Jamie recognizes as a nervous tick from their childhood. “My girlfriend, Emma, she’s coming over. Really wants to meet you.” Denny looks almost like he’s posing a question as he says this, as if he’s asking Jamie’s permission. Which is something Denny has never asked for before.
“Great, well, I’ll be there then, I guess,” Jamie says, still tip-toeing backwards towards her room as gracefully as she can. “Mikey, can you?” Jamie gestures him over.
“Oh, yeah.” He follows Jamie down the hall with her duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
“Doesn’t his girlfriend already live here?”
“Basically,” Mikey says. “She stays here almost every night but she still has an apartment downtown.”
“Haven’t they been dating for like five years?”
“Aren’t they due to get married soon?” Jamie asks. “I thought he would have already proposed years ago”
“I think he’s just waiting for me to graduate to ask her to get married and move in,” Mikey says, following Jamie into her old bedroom. A bedroom that looks like it hasn’t been touched since the last time she was in here seven years ago. “I don’t think he wants to ask her to live with a teenage boy.”
Jamie turns to face him as he dumps her duffle bag onto her bed. “Yeah, well, you are a little weird. And you don’t smell too good.”
Mikey laughs, shoving at Jamie. “Okay, well, I’m gonna go shower and get ready.”
“Ready for what?”
Mikey stares at Jamie for a second, eyes wide, before sputtering out, “d-dinner, obviously.”
“Dinner is in three hours.” Jamie knew Mikey’s definition of ‘getting ready’ consisted of a ten minute shower and throwing on an unstained t-shirt.
“Yeah, well, I want to be ready,” Mikey says, crossing his arms over his chest.
Jamie scoffs. “Why? Are you also introducing me to your girlfriend?”
Mikey’s face turns a conspicuous shade of red.
“Are you?” Jamie asks again, all humor vanishing from her voice.
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“I mean, yes, technically.”
“We’ve been dating for a week.”
“You’re only thirteen.”
“Still a baby.”
Mikey holds his hands up. “Look, I’m gonna go shower. You can interrogate me about my love life later.”
“What love life? You’re not even done with puberty yet,” Jamie calls after his retreating back. She shakes her head, mumbling about, “Fuckin’ kids, man.”
Dani’s walk only allows her an hour of reprieve from her mom’s house before she’s due back to shower and help set the table. Although her mom never really embodied any of the traits of stereotypical, caring, doting mom, she was a surprisingly good cook. A skill she had claimed to acquire only because “back when I was growing up, you needed to know how to cook to get a husband. But look how good that turned out for me.” Although most nights she preferred to leave money on the counter for Dani to order pizza, her mom had mandated a ‘family dinner’ at least once a week to keep up the facade of a loving, close relationship between the two of them. Twice a week if there was a man in her life she was trying to impress.
This year, her mom and Rick had whipped up several courses of various steamed vegetables, chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy. All of which was delicious. But while the food was amazing, interacting with Rick and her mom proved to be quite taxing. Rick, who Dani had never shared more than a handful of sentences with, tried to engage in various small talk that mostly went nowhere before giving up entirely and aiming his full attention on her mom. Which was fine with Dani. Her mom, for her part, tried to rope Dani into the conversation via pieces of gossip concerning people she used to go to high school with. But Dani wasn’t biting. After most of the food was cleared from their plates, she was quick to grab her sweater and keys.
“Sorry, I promised Eddie I would meet up with him later,” Dani says, only feeling moderately guilty at using him as an excuse.
“But we haven’t had desert yet,” her mom says. Dani can see in her expression that she wants to scold Dani on leaving dinner so early, showing such impolite manners, especially in front of Rick. But at the same time, not wanting to take away any possible time she could be spending with Eddie.
“Yeah, I’m sorry but he said this was the only time he was free” Dani says, hand already on the door jam. Swinging the door open, she calls a final goodbye to her mother before she could get another word in. She wastes no time rushing across the lawn in case her mom decides she wants Dani to stay home more than she wants her to see Eddie.
She had already texted Rebecca during dinner, underneath the table while Rick and her mom were too distracted by each other to notice Dani staring down at her lap. They were meeting at a bar in town. A bar Dani had visited a handful of times over the last few years of her scattered and rare trips to Bly. A place Rebecca was also familiar with. It operated as the only gay bar within town limits.
“Sorry, I’m late,” Dani says, sliding into the booth opposite Rebecca. “Dinner was agonizingly slow.”
“Tell me about it,” Rebecca says, drink already in hand. “I had several relatives asking me whatever happened to the law degree I was supposed to be getting. Nevermind the other half that kept asking if I was seeing anybody.”
Dani groans. “Families are the worst,” she says, glancing towards the crowded bar. “I need a drink.”
Just then a waitress walks by, sliding a glass onto the table. Rebecca smiles up at her in thanks. She slides the glass towards Dani. “I already ordered for you. You’re welcome.”
“You’re a god send.”
“Don’t I know it.”
Dinner went much better than Jamie had expected, she had to admit. Denny was still too serious most of the time, his voice and expression too rigid as if he were a statue. But something in him had loosened the subtlest amount when his girlfriend came into the room. Emma had shook Jamie’s hand, gushed about how excited she was to be meeting her, and wouldn’t stop asking Jamie questions upon questions. About herself, her job, her likes and dislikes. Normally, Jamie would find such incessant intrusion into her personal life irritating. But, Emma’s blatant nervousness mixed with the clear desire for Jamie’s approval, charmed Jamie enough to cut her some like. By the end of dinner, she had decided she liked the girl. If only for the heavenly apple pie and stuffing she had brought over. Jamie had decided that if she was going to be cooking food like that for them, she could grow to like her quite well.
Mikey, for his part, mostly avoided any topic concerning whatever love life he might possibly have. But Jamie hadn’t forgotten. She was planning on ambushing him at some point over the next few days, biding her time. She also wondered if anyone had given him “the talk” yet. She was glad neither of her parents had ever bothered to talk to her about that kind of stuff. The kind of sex she was having, she reconed neither of her parents knew anything about that anyway. Denny had been the one to tell her “use a condom, don’t get pregnant,” which had been unnecessary since Jamie, fifteen at the time, was not a virgin and not into men. She hoped Denny had given Mikey a little bit more than that, if they had had any kind of talk at all.
After dinner, Denny and Emma slink to the living couch to watch Christmas movies, inviting Mikey and Jamie to join them.
“No, thanks,” Mikey says. “I’m gonna meet up with some friends at the mall. Do some late Christmas shopping.”
Jaime raises a brow in his direction. “Any special friends?”
A pink tint spreads across his face. “Shut up.”
Denny glances between the two of them, confused, before turning towards Jamie.
“Yeah, I also gotta go out,” Jamie says before Denny can even open his mouth. “I’m meeting Hannah and Owen for a drink and I probably won’t be back until late.”
“Okay, well, that sounds good,” Denny says, his voice giving the tiniest indication of disappointment. Jamie feels a small pang of guilt but not enough to make her stay home and awkwardly watch Christmas movies with her brother and his girlfriend.
“Have fun, you guys,” Emma says, waving as her and Mikey flee out the door.
A short while later, Jamie is sliding into a booth at the back corner of a bar she has never been to. But apparently Hannah and Owen had frequented the place many times over their recurrent trips to Bly. Unlike Jamie, Hannah and Owen both had family they actually enjoyed spending time with, enough to make it a point to visit almost every month.
The place was dim, bodies filling the place as 90s pop hits were flowing from the speakers above them. A rainbow flag hung from behind the bar where a girl with a pink buzz cut was serving Christmas-themed, red and green shots.
“I didn’t know Bly had a gay bar,” Jamie says.
“Been here for years,” Owen says. “They just didn’t start getting a lot of business until recently.”
“Good for them,” Jamie says, glancing around at the assortment of people milling around her. “I’m gonna get a Christmas shot, you lot want anything?”
The bar is packed with bodies when Jamie gets to the counter. The only opening is at the far end of the bar, opposite of where the bartender is making drinks and taking orders from the mass of people. Anticipating a long wait, she makes herself comfortable on one of the unoccupied stools lining the bar. Jamie lets her gaze take in the Christmas decorations and general decor, studying the place, until her eyes sweep over a familiar head of blonde hair. Blonde hair that falls across a pair of blue eyes that Jamie was well acquainted with. Eyes she had spent the bulk of high school dreaming about. And a good amount of her adulthood as well, if she was being honest with herself.
Jamie averts her gaze, twisting her neck so fast she’s sure she got whiplash. She doesn’t know if Dani had seen her. Or if Dani had noticed her at all. She hopes not. This was not something she was equipped to deal with. She was still sober, unable to get the attention of the bartender yet. And Dani Clayton was less than ten feet away, looking even more beautiful in real life than she did through the filtered screen of instagram. Jamie sits with her back angled towards the blonde girl, hiding the panic contorting her face. She prays to whatever God or entity can hear her that Dani Clayton doesn’t see her. That she can avoid an awkward and painful interaction like she’s been doing for the last seven years.
Dani’s breath catches itself in her throat. She can’t speak for a minute.
“Are you okay?” Rebecca asks. “You’ve only had one drink.”
Dani forgets how to talk momentarily. It takes her a few seconds to stutter out any coherent words. “I, uh, I just saw, uh- there, over-” Rebecca follows Dani’s line of sight towards the brunette leaning against the bar, facing away from them.
“Is that who I think it is?” Rebecca asks. She turns back towards Dani, eyes shining with excitement. “ Thee Jamie Taylor.”
“She’s not royalty,” Dani says. “She’s just-”
“Your first love,” Rebecca says. “Your first foray into the female body. The girl who first brought you to org-”
Dani slaps a hand over Rebecca’s mouth, face burning. “That’s it. I’m never getting drunk at PTA meetings with you ever again.”
Rebecca laughs, leaning back in her seat. Too relaxed in comparison to the anxious nerves entangled within Dani’s ribs.“But that’s her, isn’t it?”
Dani chances a glance back up towards the bar. “Yeah. Definitely.”
“Well, why aren’t you going up there and saying hi?”
Dani widens her eyes, brows rising in disbelief. “Hi?”
“Yes, hi,” Rebecca says, as if it were an obvious suggestion. “A simple, common greeting.”
“We haven’t talked in like seven years. Since we graduated high school. I literally only followed her on instagram like four years ago. And she doesn’t even post anything.”
“All I hear are excuses,” Rebecca says, shaking her head. “You’re two grown adults. I’m sure you can manage a simple ‘hey, how are you’ for a few minutes. People do it all the time with people they hate.”
“It’s easier with people you hate,” Dani says. “Jamie is...complicated.”
“Jamie is just a girl alone at the bar and you are acting like a wuss. Go say hi. It’s not as big of a deal as you’re making it out to be.”
“I’m pretty sure I might die if I go over there.”
“Oh my god, you’re so dramatic,” Rebecca sighs, bringing a hand to her forehead. “Dani, do you want to go seven more years without ever talking to her again?”
Dani ponders the questions silently even though she already knows the answer. “No.”
“Good, then go talk to her like a grown up.”
“But I don’t wanna,” Dani whines.
“God, you’re worse than the third graders,” Rebecca says. “Your chances of talking to her again are diminishing by the second. Soon, she’ll be gone forever and any hopes of closure are gone with her.”
Dani’s face falls, resembling that of a wounded puppy. “Sorry, but you need some tough love,” Rebecca says. “I believe in you. Go be a mature adult. Sexy and confident. Go.”
Dani has never thought herself to be sexy or confident throughout her whole life. But she stands up nonetheless. On two shaky legs that take a second to move her in the direction of the bar. Jamie is settled at the far end of the bar, away from the busiest section of the crowd vying for the bartender's attention. Dani eyes rake over the dark curls she’s tried not to think about. The shoulders and arms underneath a simple t-shirt. As she gets closer to the bar, she can hear the faint mutterings of curses underneath Jamie’s breath, the familiar accent tickling at something within Dani’s chest. There’s an open stool right next to Jamie. She slides onto the vacant seat before she can talk herself out of it.
The voice sends a jolt throughout her body, a rush of static that crawls up her neck and tightens her jaw. The blue eyes peering intensely at the side of her face aren’t doing her any favors either. But Jamie keeps her expression calm, measured. She hopes she does, at least. “Poppins,” Jamie says. The name leaves her mouth before she can even formulate a mental objection, before common sense could stop her from making such an avoidable error.
An old nickname from high school. Something she called Dani as often as her actual name. Jamie couldn’t come up with a reason as to why she didn’t just say her actual name. ‘Poppins’ seemed to slip from her mouth so naturally. She couldn’t help it. But the way she said it. She couldn’t tell if her tone was too stiff or too aggressive. She didn’t want to engage with Dani but she also didn’t want her to think that Jamie was upset with her. She definitely didn’t want to hurt Dani Clayton’s feelings, especially given that these were the first words spoken to each other in seven years. She also couldn’t find it within herself to blow her off.
She quickly follows up with a strangled, “how are you?”
Jamie bites the inside of her cheek as soon as the words leave her mouth, regretting how forced the cliche sounds. Dani doesn’t seem to mind it though. “Uh, I’m good. Uh, yeah, really good,” she swallows. Pauses. “Visiting my mom for the next few days. You know.” She pauses again. Her eyes scan Jamie’s face, uncertain and cautious, as if talking to a strange animal. “How are you?”
“Good, can’t complain,” Jamie says, unable to fathom how this conversation is teetering along like a stilted game of hopscotch, their words hopping along a pattern already laid out before them, leading them to a clear and swift end. “Visiting Mikey and Denny for Christmas.”
“That’s great,” Dani says, lips curving into a small smile. “How are they?”
“Uh, Mikey’s a teenager,” Jamie says, unsure how to answer the question. “He's fine. And, uh, Denny, you know, is Denny. Hasn’t changed much.”
“Yup.” Jamie expects the silence to linger and an abrupt, awkward goodbye but Dani powers on.
“I, uh, heard about your dad a while back. I’m sorry. I know how you- how, uh, you guys-”
“It’s alright, Poppins.” Jamie stops her clumsy condolences before she can bumble along any further. “Appreciate the condolences but I don’t really need them, thanks.”
Jamie knows she’s being a jerk. But she can’t seem to stop herself. And the bartender hasn’t glanced in their direction the whole time she’s been seated against the bar. Dani doesn’t seem deterred though. “Well, you look, uh, you look good,” she says, clearing her throat. “Really good.”
Jamie turns her head towards Dani, actually taking in the whole of her face for the first time since she saw her sitting in the booth. Her blue eyes are glistening with a mild manic quality Dani gets when she’s nervous or restless, as if her whole body was buzzing. An anxious, beautiful mouth. Cute nose. Every strand of blonde hair framing her face like it was meant to be there. Every detail that Jamie’s tried incessantly over the years not to think about. To suppress and forget. Jamie notices her hands, nestled together in her lap. Picking at the skin around her nails. A familiar habit that has the corners of Jamie’s mouth twitching upwards. Jamie clears her throat too. “Thanks,” she says, her eyes looking over Dani once more. “You don’t look too bad yourself, Poppins.”
Jamie watches a pink tint spread across Dani’s cheeks. She can’t help the rush of satisfaction that floods through her.
“Thanks,” Dani says, glancing down at the hands in her lap. “So are you drinking wi-”
“I’m just waiting for this bloody bartender to notice me,” Jamie says, sending glares across the bar that don’t seem to phase the girl in question. She glances back at Dani. “Owen and Hannah are in a booth in the corner, I’m supposed to be getting drinks.”
“Owen and Hannah are here? I haven’t seen them in ages.”
“Yeah, well, they’re basically the same. Owen still telling terrible jokes. Hannah tolerating him.” She stares at Dani. “Are you here with-”
“Oh, I’m with my friend Rebecca,” Dani says, gesturing to a girl chatting up a waitress in a booth across the room. “We work together. Her family lives about thirty minutes from here.”
“Cool,” Jamie says. Silence hangs between them after that.
Dani can’t stand the silence. Has never been able to. And she’s not used to this awkward, flailing feeling with Jamie, this inability to read her, to not know what every quirk in her expression means. She’s basically a stranger after seven years of radio silence. But at the same time, Dani can’t help but feel that that’s not entirely true. There's something familiar, comforting even, about the tempered set of her jaw, the curl of her mouth and the way she holds herself as if trying to blend into the background. A calm and composed air still surrounds her, an aura that begs not to be approached but can’t help but draw people in. It still retains its pull on Dani. A pull Dani is unable to fight as she tries to keep afloat in uncharted territory.
“Listen-” Dani starts but the bartender has seemingly finally noticed the two of them waiting at the end of the bar, drinkless. “What can I get for you?” she asks, facing the two of them. Jamie quickly orders for the both of them, Dani nodding her head quietly along as the bartender’s eyes glance towards her for confirmation.
“You were saying something, Poppins?”
Everytime that nickname leaves Jamie’s lips, a spark is lit within Dani, heat seeping into her bones. It had been years since she had heard that nickname. The only person to ever call her that was Jamie. A flush flows down her neck, warming her body everytime Jamie has used that nickname tonight. She hopes Jamie hasn’t noticed.
“Yeah, I, uh-” Dani doesn’t really know what she was saying. Dani was a light weight in every sense of the world. Easily overwhelmed by many things. She had gotten better over the last few years but with one drink already in her system, the hot, buzzing atmosphere of this bar and Jamie’s eyes, nose, lips, chin only a few inches away from her own face was getting to her. “I, uh-” She clears her throat. If this was gonna be the last time she could have an actual conversation with Jamie, she better make it count. “I was wondering if…”
Jamie’s eyes sparkle with amusement, taking on a mischievous glint that has Dani recalling stolen kisses beneath bleachers, hot hands teasing at the hem of her skirt. “Finish the sentence, love.”
Love . Not an entirely new term of endearment between them. One used sparingly throughout their adolescent years. Dani can conjure up a handful of times the word was whispered into her skin, heat emanating from Jamie’s mouth each time as her teeth bit a path down her chest, along her navel and downwards-
“Do you wanna get a drink?” Dani rushes out, another wave of pink spreading across her face. “Together? With me? I mean, you don’t have to, I just thought that since you’re in town, we, uh, we could catch up and, uh, I mean, unless-”
“Easy, Poppins,” Jamie says. There’s a drink in her hand now. Dani doesn’t know when it got there, only noticing it as the rim meets Jamie's lips. “Why don’t we have that drink now.”
“But Owen and Hannah-”
“Can wait a bit. They’re probably too enamored with each other to notice my absence anyway.”
Dani swallows. “Okay.”
“Okay, then,” Jamie says, her lips curling into a smirk as she gestures back towards the bartender. “What are you having?”
Jamie orders for the both of them again when the bartender comes around. She doesn’t know why she does it. It isn’t that big of a deal to order for Dani (she’s not even gonna think about how she still remembers the only alcohol Dani drinks). She understands the impulse that guided the orders out of her mouth but it feels pointless since this drink with Dani isn’t going anywhere.
Jamie knows Dani likes the small things to be handled for her, likes being taken care of in the simplest of ways. She knows Dani relishes in the mild responsibility lifted from her shoulders of having to make a decision about where or what to eat, what movie to see. At least, in Jamie’s experience with Dani. Dani’s appreciation of having Jamie order for her could have changed over the years but the ease with which she lets Jamie order for her, looking unbothered as if it were a normal occurrence, told her that it hadn’t changed.
Jamie’s logic had been sound a minute ago. Before she could feel the heat radiating off Dani, feel the familiar gravity that seemed to wrap around her, attempting to swallow Jamie whole. She couldn’t stand the permanent blush in her cheeks, always tugging at something within Jamie’s chest. She hates all the sensations rushing through her body, all the ones she thought she had buried and repressed years ago. Some she didn’t even know she could still feel as she avoids looking directly at the girl sitting beside her. She had wanted to get this ‘drink’ over and done with, the obligatory catch up. A painful, regular ritual of being in her hometown for the next few days. Figured it was better to do it quick now instead of drawing it out in the severe stretch of daylight. Jamie might’ve been wrong. This might’ve been worse.
“So what have you been up to?” Dani asks. Casual, routine question. Nothing too personal yet. Jamie squashes the urge to roll her eyes. The careful way they creep along the script already laid out before them to avoid stepping on any toes, getting stuck in any emotion that might be too thick to manage.
“Just doing what I always do,” Jamie says, raising her glass to her lips. “Playing with dirt. ‘Cept now I get paid.”
“Yeah, I saw you have your own business now.”
Jamie raises her eyes at her. “You saw that?”
Another blush overtakes Dani’s cheeks. Jamie ignores the rush of warmth, tinged with satisfaction, that blazes through her chest. “Yeah, I, uh, saw on your instagram that you, you know- You seem to be doing pretty good for yourself.”
“It pays the bills. Keeps the lights on.”
“Don’t be so modest,” Dani says, resting her empty glass on the bar in front of them. Jamie hadn't noticed she’d already gone through her drink. “Owning a business is really impressive, Jamie.”
And there’s something about the way Dani says her name. Jamie as if she was still downplaying her good grades while Dani wanted to celebrate them. As if Jamie was still not letting herself take pride in a job well done and Dani was abhorred by her modesty, by her lack of self-congratulations. Jamie drags her eyes over Dani’s face, simultaneously unsettled and elated by the earnest sentiment she finds there. “What about you, Poppins?” Jamie asks. “What are you doing these days?” As if Jamie didn’t already know. As if she didn’t check instagram every few months, engulfing every new post, every word of a caption. Always followed by a swell of bitter self-loathing at how pathetic she had become over the years.
“I teach fourth graders at this elementary school a few hours away from here- Oh, thank you.” A new drink is placed in front of Dani. As well as Jamie. She doesn’t recall either of them asking for a refill but figures they’re both due another one anyway.
“The kids are really great,” Dani says, smile splitting across her cheeks. Her whole face lights up, eyes glistening like they always did when she talked about something she was passionate about, enthusiasm filling every word that seemed to couldn’t leave her lips fast enough. “They’re all really great but there’s a couple especially that are, uh, well,-” Dani clears her throat, pausing. “I just feel honored I get to teach them anything. The kids are, well, they’re wonderful.”
“Sounds fulfilling,” Jamie says. She means it, amazed by the clear affection and devotion evident in Dani’s face. “Those kids are lucky to have you as a teacher.” She’s urged on by the slight furrow in Dani’s brow, a movement she knows that expresses undue skepticism in Jamie’s praises. “They could've had someone like me.”
Dani smiles as if Jamie just told a joke she didn’t quite get. “You’re not so bad.”
Jamie laughs, unable to help herself. “You know I feel about kids.”
“I remember you claiming to hate them.”
“From what I recall, you did a pretty good job with Mikey.”
Dani knows as soon as the words leave her mouth she’s made a mistake. A miscalculation somewhere. Just as soon as some ease had worked itself into the conversation, Dani had started getting comfortable, too comfortable, forgetting the things they used to talk about freely weren’t spoken between them at all anymore. Not for some time. She had let the elation, the high of talking to Jamie again, misplace her judgement, lower her usual filter. A shadow falls over Jamie’s face as the words hang in the air. Dani’s stomach instantly drops. She’s fucked up.
“I wouldn’t say that, Poppins,” Jamie says. “Pretty sure he’s turned out alright in spite of me. And dad. And Denise.”
And Dani, against her best judgement, doesn’t change the subject or flee the conversation. Instead, she goes with her first instinct, the one that always rises when she goes along with Jamie down this path. It’s almost like muscle memory as Dani’s hand covers Jamie’s on the bar. “You did your best,” she says. “And I’m betting most of the good in that kid came from you, single handedly. I mean, I might be biased, but I, uh, I did see you practically raise him.” Dani pauses, unsure of whether or not to continue. But she’s made it this far, might as well barrel forward to the end. “I wish I had had someone to look out for me like you looked out for him.” She waits, watches Jamie to see if she’s totally fucked this up. If she’s pushed too far to come back from this.
Dani feels Jamie’s hand squeeze hers after a few seconds. Holds it for a moment before letting it go to pick up her drink. “I guess shit parents can make good kids sometimes. If Mikey is anything to go by.” Jamie glances up at her, bringing her glass to her lips. “Or you.”
Dani smiles. “You’re not too bad yourself. A little grumpy but still pretty sweet.”
Jamie laughs, trying to brush off the compliment but a blush is working its way up Jamie’s neck. Dani watches as it spreads towards her cheeks. She continues to watch as Jamie stares hard at the empty glass in front of her. Without looking at Dani, she gestures to the bartender for another drink. “Careful, Poppins,” Jamie says, smiling but eyes still angled away from her. “Some might think you’re flirting with me.”
Dani doesn’t respond to that particular comment. At least, not right away. She knows Jamie says it as a joke, a way to lighten the air that is growing increasingly tense, that’s causing a reckless energy to boil within Dani and Jamie to fix her eyes anywhere but on the girl right beside her. Instead of responding, Dani turns her body, angling herself so that her knee presses against the denim of Jamie’s outer thigh. She sees Jamie’s grip on the glass in her hand tighten. A familiar cockiness rushes through her. It’s ignited by the knowledge that she still has some kind of effect on Jamie, the same effect that convinced Jamie to let Dani tease her to the edge of sanity during football games and pep rallies, at the very far back of the bleachers. It reassures Dani enough to keep her leg pressed against Jamie. She can’t help the particular satisfaction she takes in watching the pink tint sweep across her skin. Nor the immediate desire she feels to follow the flush with her tongue.
Jamie’s hands are clasped together in front of her, elbows balanced on the bar. “Dani,” Jamie speaks into a closed fist. The tone she uses is a familiar one, usually heard at times when Dani was guiding Jamie along that edge of sanity, unable to help herself as she watched Jamie struggle not to fall apart. One that is meant to convey reproach but historically, never holds up under when aimed at Dani. Always a futile tone. Dani ignores it.
“Bring anyone home with you?” She asks instead.
Jamie’s eyes snap towards Dani, gazing at her as if she had asked about the weather or politics. “No,” is all Jamie says. Followed by a tentative: “You?”
“No,” Dani shakes her head, ignoring the look Jamie is giving her. “I haven’t really had time for dating this school year. The kids really need all the extra attention they can get.”
“Right,” Jamie says. She doesn’t say anything more, staring at the half empty glass in front of her.
“So you’re not seeing anyone?” Dani asks.
“You’re not seeing anyone?”
“No,” She clears her throat. Pauses. “I’m not.”
“Okay,” Dani says, maneuvering her body to face the bar again, removing her knee from Jamie’s thigh and immediately missing the heat. She glances at the alcohol remaining in her glass. She exhales a small breath before bringing the glass up to her lips, downing the last half of the glass in a quick succession of swallows.
Jamie’s expression is a mix of awe and confusion as she brings the glass back down onto the counter. Her eyes track the movement of Dani’s lips licking at the excess liquor around her mouth. Jamie opens her mouth then closes it. Pauses. Repeats the motion once more before speaking. “Listen, Poppins, I’m not sure what-”
Dani can’t really help it, she thinks. She’s propelled forward by some impulse, some force that she can’t exactly pinpoint or name. Unyielding sexual frustration? overwhelming nostalgia? The unmitigated loss of a friend finally catching up with her? A primal, base need to feel Jamie’s hands on her again? Maybe a mix of all four. But whatever it is, Dani barrels into Jamie with all the force she can manage while still being seated. For a second, Jamie doesn’t respond to Dani’s lips pressing against hers. And Dani allows herself a second of doubt, of fear of misread cues that starts up in her stomach. But it's quickly alleviated when Dani feels the pressure returned against her own lips. A fire takes the place of doubt within her gut, burning up her ribs, inflaming her throat and mouth as she feels Jamie’s tongue slip past her lips. A small whine escapes her. Jamie pulls back. Only a few inches of space is put between them, Dani’s hand somehow grasping Jamie’s knee, keeping it tucked between her own.
“Dani,” Jamie breathes, exhaling a rough breath. She glances up to hold Dani’s gaze. Dani is unprepared for the immediate anticipation of familiar loss that hits her in the chest at the look in her eyes. The uncertainty and subdued panic that swirls along the dark hues. Takes her back briefly to the one of the last times they saw each other, in Jamie’s high school bedroom. A memory that hits her just as hard, of a plea that Dani never voiced and Jamie’s unbearable silence. She buries the flashback and the feelings that go along with it at the back of her mind. She readies herself or the familiar pang of rejection.
“We can’t go back to my house,” Jamie says. Her hand, hot and steady, covers the one Dani has rested on her knee. “And I also got a lift here with Owen and Hannah.”
Jamie sends a quick text to Owen and Hannah to let them know that she was alive and leaving as she follows Dani out of the bar. The decision to go back to Dani’s house is an easy one. Jamie and her brothers were night owls. Her whole house was more than likely bound to still be up and about at this hour. Luckily, Dani’s mom, as Jamie had learned throughout years of sleepovers and late night cram sessions where Jamie tried to remain as quiet as possible as Dani ravaged her, was a deep sleeper. Always in bed by nine and practically dead to the world, the only thing that could wake her up was the pinching of her nostrils or a splash of water to the head.
The house is dark by the time they slip through the front door. The only lights illuminating their surroundings come from the Christmas tree in the living room and the twinkling lights lining the windows at the front of the house. They cast a soft glow across Dani’s face, highlighting her features in a way that has Jamie’s arms wrapping themselves around her waist, her nose nestling into her neck. She giggles, her hands gripping Jamie’s as they rest over her stomach. She shushes Jamie as she angles her head towards her, cheek almost pressing against Jamie’s nose.
“Be quiet. Rick could still wake up.”
“My mom’s boyfriend.”
“I thought she was engaged?”
“She was but, you know her.”
“Heartbreaker like her daughter?”
Dani laughs, a loud, infectious sound that rips through Jamie. “Please, don’t ever compare me to my mom,” Dani says. “Especially when you’re trying to snake your hand up my shirt.”
Jamie laughs. They’re halfway up the stairs when she notices the outline of Dani, the way her jeans are hugging parts of Dani that are only inches away from her. Parts of Dani that Jamie would rather really be touching at that moment. She doesn’t know when her patience was replaced with that of a teenager again, but she can’t really help herself when she hooks a finger through one of the loops on Dani’s jeans, halting her ascent up the stairs. She tugs at the loop, testing the sturdiness before pulling Dani’s body flush against her own, leaning back against the wall for support. She moans at the taste of Dani’s tongue against her own and the feel of her hips, ass, thighs passing underneath her hands, trying to feel as much of Dani as possible.
“Ssh,” Dani whispers, breaking away. She stays close enough so that their foreheads are still pressed together, noses brushing against one another. “We still have to get to my room.”
“Hurry up then,” Jamie grins. “You’re taking your sweet time going up these stairs.”
Dani pinches Jamie’s side, earning a surprised squeak. “I’ll remember that,” she says before grasping Jamie’s hand, pulling her along the rest of the way. There’s a mischievous glint in her eyes that only manages to test Jamie’s patience further. Luckily, Jamie’s room is situated right off the top of the staircase. They stumble in without too much noise, Jamie positioned at Dani’s back again, her free hand already sneaking past the hem of her shirt to graze the skin of her stomach. The small gasp Dani lets loose almost has her falling to her knees. But they make it inside her bedroom before Jamie can embarrass herself like that. Jamie, if she was more sober and less sexually frustrated, might normally take this moment to see what, if any, changes there were to Dani’s childhood bedroom. A place she had spent many hours and nights of her life. A refuge for her throughout her adolescence, sometimes the only place she felt safe and comfortable when she couldn’t take it at home.
But Jamie’s back is pressed against the bedroom door as soon as it’s clicked shut. She groans into Dani’s mouth, basking in the feeling of Dani seemingly all around her. Her tongue tracing the inside of her mouth, hands tight in her hair before sliding underneath her t-shirt. One hand scratches at the skin of Jamie’s stomach while the other slides past the waistband of her jeans, brushing along the skin of her hip. Dani’s hands forge a hot, unrelenting path all over her body, tugging at the root of her hair, sliding down her chest and teasing the skin underneath her clothes before starting all over again. Her mouth is forming a similar pattern. Jumping back and forth from licking inside Jamie’s mouth to nipping at her jaw, her neck, soothing the skin with her tongue before sinking her teeth into it again. It’s unending. Almost as if Dani can’t get enough of her.
Jamie feels like she’s on fire. Every inch of skin searing underneath Dani’s attention. It’s amazing she’s still standing. Jamie knows she wouldn’t be upright if Dani’s body wasn’t pressing her against the door with such force. She’d probably be a puddle on the floor.
Dani only steps back after tugging at Jamie’s shirt, attempting to ask a question without removing her mouth from Jamie’s jaw just yet. She nods her silent consent. Dani pulls the t-shirt over her head, throwing it somewhere Jamie can’t be bothered to notice. She quickly steps back into Jamie’s space, licking and biting at the newly exposed skin.
Jamie tugs at Dani’s shirt, her previous impatience coming back in full force once she realizes Dani is still fully clothed. It doesn’t take long for her to get the message. She steps back, flinging off her shirt as if it were a piece of lint to be brushed off. She attempts to press Jamie into the door again but Jamie places a hand on both of her shoulders. She exhales a small noise of agitation, looking at Jamie with the expression of a disgruntled child. Jamie laughs.
“Easy, Poppins, we have all night,” she says. “I just wanna look at you for a second.”
The pout on Dani’s face is quickly replaced by a sheepish smile and a blush that Jamie can see blooming across her chest. She’s hit by a strong impulse to lick at pink tinted skin.
“Sorry,” Dani says. “I didn’t, uh, I-I’m just a little impatient.”
“No need to apologize. I’d just like to savor-” Jamie rakes her eyes over all the visible parts of Dani in front of her. Earning another full body blush. “As much of this as possible.”
“Okay,” Dani says. She grasps Jamie’s hands within her own, stepping backwards towards her bed and tugging Jamie along with her. “Bed?”
“Yes, please, dear God.”
Dani manages to kick off her pants by the time the back of her thighs hit the edge of her bed. Jamie, apparently, is having some trouble. Sitting on top of the Wonder Woman sheets she never bothered to change, she watches Jamie curse at her zipper. “Damn thing is stuck,” Jamie says. “I swear to-”
“Here,” Dani says, reaching out to pull at the waistband of her jeans. “Let me help.”
Jamie lets her arms fall to her side as Dani bends her head forward, tugging at the zipper. She can feel Jamie’s eyes above her, drinking in every move. Pure, greedy, want coils in her stomach, an insatiable ache hammering away at her patience. She tries to keep her hands steady as she feels the heat flowing off Jamie’s skin less than an inch away from her face. After a few agonizing seconds, she finally manages to loosen Jamie’s zipper. She unfastens it all the way down to reveal black boy shorts. Heat pools between her legs.
She presses an open mouth kiss to Jamie’s stomach, feeling Jamie’s body tense underneath her mouth. She hears a sharp intake of breath above her. She begins to nip at the skin, grasping the back of Jamie’s thighs to tug her closer.
“Fuck, Dani,” Jamie says above her. A hand finds its way onto the back of her shoulder before tentatively resting on the back of Dani’s head. She laps at the redness that soon starts to grow across the pale expanse of Jamie’s skin. She relishes in the curses Jamie lets loose above her, kissing a trail from the tensed muscle of her stomach to the edge of her hip bone. She hooks her fingers onto the waistband of Jamie’s underwear, tugging them down just a little bit to lick at a particularly favorite spot of Dani’s.
“Jesus Christ,” Jamie groans. Two firm hands are pushing lightly Dani’s shoulders, easing her backwards. “Try not to kill me just yet, Poppins.” Dani, with a huff of frustration, allows Jamie to move her backwards onto the bed, Jamie trailing after her. When her head finally meets her pillow, she hooks a knee around Jamie’s hip, nestled between her legs, and brings her mouth down to meet Dani’s. She makes quick work of unclasping Jamie’s bra before focusing on her own.
Satisfied that she can finally feel Jamie’s bare skin against her own, she takes Jamie’s lip between her teeth, nails digging red lines down her back. Jamie groans. She buries her head in Dani’s neck, teeth scraping at the skin of her collar bone. Dani whines. She rolls her hips up, seeking any friction. Snakes a hand into Jamie’s hair and pulls. “Fuck, baby,” is groaned into her neck. And Dani can only roll her hips again, the desire building and burning too quickly for them to take it any slower.
“Jamie,” she whines. “Fuck, please.”
“What do you need, baby?”
“Fuck,” she groans, losing her mind at the feeling of Jamie’s hips moving to meet her thrusts, the pressure overwhelming. “F-fingers. Your fingers.”
Jamie takes her time kissing her way down Dani’s neck before slowing to explore her chest. She takes a nipple into her mouth, swirling her tongue tortuously along to the whines escaping Dani before repeating the action on the other one.
Jamie continues working on her breasts. The noises that leave Dani’s lips are high-pitched, mewls of wanton need, desperate and aching. She cants her hips upwards to meet Jamie’s, attempting to find any pressure, any relief. But Jamie’s hand wraps around her hip, holding her down steady against the bed. “Jamie,” Dani nearly screams.
“Patience,” is all Jamie says. Dani can’t believe the whimpers and pleas leaving her mouth. She would be embarrassed if her whole mind, body and soul weren't being dictated by a singular, aching pulse centered between her legs. After a few seconds, Jamie’s hand finally slips from her hip to tug down her underwear. Dani wriggles her legs free, helping Jamie take them off of her. Her hand slides up to cup Dani. She lets out a moan, too loud and too filthy for just foreplay.
“Are you really that wet for me?” Jamie’s voice, pressed into her chest but felt throughout her whole body, asks.
“Yes.” Dani feels like she might implode, her body a slow simmering flame, balancing precariously over the edge.
“You’re so beautiful, Dani.”
Dani can’t do anything but whine and lift her hips, moaning at the pressure of Jamie’s hand. “Please, baby,” Dani says. All of a sudden she’s become a throbbing, melting bundle of hunger underneath Jamie, a mess of heat that only wants to take whatever Jamie is willing to give her. Her whole mind, body and being focused on the point where Jamie’s hand is touching her. Jamie is leaning up to press her mouth against Dani’s. Dani sighs eagerly into the kiss. While her tongue is flicking along Dani’s lips, she slips a single finger into Dani. She lets out a sharp cry into Jamie’s mouth. Jamie pulls away to drop kisses along her cheek, sprinkling them further along her jaw and the column of her neck. “You feel so good, Dani,” Jamie hums into her neck.
Dani drowns in the sensations of Jamie’s body, her teeth nipping at any skin she could reach, her finger, soon becoming two, curling inside of her, bringing Dani to a sharp edge she hasn’t experienced in years. All she can do is pant a mindless combination of expletives and Jamie’s name into her ear. Dani can feel the heat building. An explosive peak in sight. She digs into her nails into the skin of Jamie’s back.
“Jamie,” she groans, weak and full of need. “Please. I- I can’t-”
Luckily, Jamie seems to read her mind. A third finger is added. Dani’s head flies back, burying itself in the pillow, gasping at the new feeling of fullness. Jamie’s hand increases in tempo, her fingers curling at a particularly wonderful spot. At the same time, her thumb comes up to swipe at her clit. And Dani can’t hang on anymore. Her whole body tenses, writhing over the edge. She feels almost as if she’s floating above herself as Jamie helps her ride out the waves of pleasure wrecking her body, her arms winding themselves tightly around the body above her, pulling Jamie’s chest flush against her own. Unable to stand any space in between them in that moment.
If there wasn’t a tight knot still tensed within her, Jamie might’ve thought she reached that same peak along with Dani. The full body experience she watched unravel beneath her left Jamie panting as well, desire still coiled tightly within her own body at the sight of Dani falling apart at the flick of Jamie’s hand.
“Jesus.” Jamie couldn’t help but swear at the way Dani had ridden her orgasm out against her hand, almost demanding it as she flailed against her.
Now, in the humid aftermath, Dani clung to her like she always did after sex. Arms draped across Jamie’s back, pulling their bodies flat against each other, limbs becoming a languid mess as they became intertwined in one another. The warm calm of their breathing, the collective relaxation seeping into the sore joints and muscles of their bodies only lasts a couple of minutes before Jamie is flipped onto her back.
Dani, for all the undoing she just experienced, seems to have recovered quickly. Which is more than Jamie can say. Dani, perched firmly on Jamie’s lap, lowers her body flat against Jamie’s once more, slow in her descent so Jamie can feel the lingering, deliberate drag of Dani’s skin against her own. Her tongue burning a path up from her navel to the valley between her breasts before finally stopping along the space where her jaw and neck meet. She only lifts her mouth to take Jamie’s earlobe between her teeth. “Jesus, Dani,” Jamie moans. Her hands fly to palm Dani’s hips, trying to find some anchor to hang onto lest she lose herself in the motions of the other woman’s mouth. It proves to be futile when Dani grinds her hips down against Jamie’s. “Fuck,” Jamie moans, eyes rolling to the back of her head. She’s already at the end of her rope, the residual frustration still left unresolved from carefully taking Dani apart a few minutes ago. She’s already soaked through her underwear. She knows all it would take is some mild pressure from Dani and she would be a convulsing, smouldering mess of sinew and embarrassment. A puddle in her hands, really.
Dani’s hand palms one breast, earning another moan from Jamie. Her other hand burns a trail down her stomach, nails dragging along her skin. Jamie hisses. Reaching her underwear, Dani’s hand doesn’t slow in its descent before dipping below the waistband. Dani continues playing with her chest as her other hand works at lowering Jamie’s boy shorts. She eagerly kicks off the soiled garment, awaiting any touch from Dani. But Dani seems content to take her time marking up her stomach, staining the skin red beneath her teeth and tongue. “Dani,” Jamie whines. She normally would be mortified to use such a tone of desperate pleading. But she was a woman on the edge. And anyone would be weak with Dani Clayton making a canvas out of their body with her mouth.
“Yeah, baby?” Dani asks, sounding almost indifferent, unwilling to take any attention away from the skin beneath her mouth.
“Dani,” Jamie pants. “Please.” With one press of Dani’s hand, one flick of her tongue, the fire roaring inside of Jamie would be extinguished.
Dani sits up, thighs bracketed in between Jamie’s. She barely manages to stop herself from arching herself up and against Dani’s thigh to seek any relief. She knows Dani would just hold her down, draw it out longer to punish her. Jamie watches as Dani’s gaze rakes over Jamie’s body, dark and hungry. Jamie can feel herself tighten further underneath those blue eyes.
Dani lowers herself back down, one arm anchored near Jamie’s head, holding her body up above Jamie’s. Her other hand slides down Jamie’s thigh at a cruel pace, blue eyes still observing her from above. Dani’s fingers tease at her entrance, eliciting a pained groan from Jamie. A few seconds later, they’re both groaning as they watch Dani’s fingers finally sink into her. She doesn’t move right away. She keeps her fingers still as Dani leans over Jamie, nose brushing her cheek. “What do you want, Jamie?” Dani asks, in a tone that only drives Jamie further up the wall than she thought was already possible.
“Use your words, baby.”
“Fuck me,” Jamie pants. Afraid it won’t be enough, she adds. “Please, baby, I need you-”
Her words are broken up by a strangled cry retching from her throat. Dani has curled her fingers, just enough to barely press at the spot where she needs her the most.
“Like that?” Dani asks, words hot and airy against the side of her face.
“Fuck, yeah. Just like that, baby.”
Jamie needs urgency and pressure. But Dani keeps the movement of her hand slow and steady, almost brushing the place that’ll send her over the edge with each stroke. But never quite hitting it. Jamie feels like she could cry. She’s not entirely sure she isn’t already.
“Please what?” Dani asks, nipping at her ear.
“Fuck me,” Jamie whines. “Harder. Please, I-I need more.”
Dani finally seems to take some pity on her. Her hand soon starts swiping at where Jamie needs her exactly, establishing an unrelenting pace. She’s close, so very close. Dani’s name is the only thing that leaves her lips, panted indecently into Dani’s shoulder which only seems to encourage Dani’s movements. It only takes a few more strokes before she’s flying off the edge, getting swept up in a wave of pleasure that threatens to take her under. Her legs clamp around Dani’s thigh, keeping her hand in place as she rides out the best orgasm she’s had in a long time, Dani’s fingers continually curling within her until her body slumps backwards.
“Jesus Christ, Dani,” Jamie says after she’s collapsed beside her on the bed, half of her body nestled on top of Jamie’s.
“Thanks,” Dani says. “I was afraid I was gonna be a bit rusty. But I still got it.”
Jamie exhales a tiny laugh, turning to throw an arm around Dani’s middle. She closes her eyes, letting her head fall against Dani’s. The gradual slowing of their breathing and Jamie’s pounding heart are the only sounds that can be heard throughout the room for a few minutes. Every muscle and limb within Jamie’s body seems to be sore. But in the best way possible. A level of complete physical exhaustion she hasn’t felt in awhile overtakes her body as she leans into the warmth of Dani.
“So are you too tired for a round two?” Dani asks. A grin breaks out across Jamie’s face.
They manage to fall asleep sometime around three in the morning, according to Dani’s bedside clock. It’s a little past eleven when Dani wakes up. She knows she’s already missed breakfast and can anticipate the disapproving head shake from her mom. Jamie is stretched out beside her, still asleep and tangled up in the Wonder Woman bed sheets that were now a bit embarrassing in the bright daylight peeking through her curtains. She takes a moment to admire her handiwork along Jamie’s body. Well, the parts she could see with Jamie laying out on her stomach, sheets wrapped hazardously around her waist and only one of her legs. A scattered maze of angry, red lines where Dani dug her nails particularly hard into the top of Jamie’s back. A multitude of bite marks overlapping at her shoulders and the space where lower neck and collarbone met. Dani would feel bad if there weren’t similar marks along her inner thighs and chest. Jamie and Dani both relished in the marking of skin, of creating red, burning flesh where there used to be blank skin. Something they had figured out in high school. And something, they both apparently, still enjoyed. Dani can’t help but get lost in a familiar train of thought that she’s tried to avoid over the years. She knows Jamie. Knows how difficult she can be when she feels she’s already lost or backed into a corner, choices stripped from her. Dani picks at her nail, letting herself ruminate fully over something that had been at the back of her mind throughout all of last night.
After letting her eyes roam over the pretty girl laying next to her, Dani notices she’s dehydrated and hungry. And a headache is quickly forming. Dani tugs on a pair of shorts, glancing in the mirror, making sure there aren’t any visible hickeys peeking out from underneath the collar of her t-shirt, before slipping out into the hallway. She stops first at the bathroom, brushing away any possible morning breath and downing an aspirin. Luckily, there doesn’t seem to be anyone downstairs as she tiptoes along the foyer. She finds a note on the fridge informing her that her mom and Rick had gone out for an emergency grocery shopping trip. Dani takes the opportunity, not knowing when her mother was coming back home, to swipe a glass of water, some fruit and granola bars from the pantry before making her way back upstairs.
Jamie is upright and awake when she slides into her room, her hair a mess of curly bed head as she stretches her arms above her. She eyes the bundle of snacks precariously balanced in Dani’s arms.
“What ya’ got there, Poppins?”
Dani hands the glass of water off to Jamie, watches as she gulps down half of it. She then proceeds to dump the snacks at the center of the bed, on top of her Wonder Woman comforter. “I’ve got a couple of apples, a banana, two chocolate granola bars and one peanut butter granola bar.”
Jamie eyes the selection carefully. “I’ll take the apple, and one of the chocolates. And the peanut butter one if you’re not gonna eat it.”
Dani hands them off to Jamie without objection. They eat in silence as Dani contemplates the thought that’s been stuck in her mind since she woke up, an idea that she hadn’t fully entertained until she was waking up next to Jamie for the first time in seven years.
They hadn’t talked about it last night but, if Dani were to guess, Jamie was only interested in a one night stand. What had happened between them last night was only meant to last one night before they inevitably went their separate ways again. But Dani didn’t like that idea. Especially not after having such a short taste of Jamie. A taste that had reignited years of carefully repressed and subdued longing. Watching Jamie finish off her granola bar, Dani figures this is the last time she’ll get a chance to talk to Jamie like this again. Mustering up all the courage in her body, she opens her mouth to speak when Jamie beats her to it.
“What’s up, Poppins?” Jamie asks, still chewing on bits of peanut butter and granola. “I can feel you thinkin’ from all the way over here.”
She twists on the bed so she’s facing Jamie, scooting so their knees are almost touching. Jamie eyes her curiously. “So, here’s the thing,” Dani says, anxiety already thickening in her throat. But she powers on. She keeps her eyes squarely on Jamie. “I, um, I don’t, uh-” she coughs, trying to clear the sudden dryness in her mouth and find the words for what she’s trying to say. “I, uh, I know that- That things didn’t end well between us, you know, seven years ago.” Dani coughs again, a bit rougher this time, hand coming up to smack her chest a little to rattle the tightness blooming there. “And, uh, I-I know that we haven’t kept in touch, and, uh, I- I don’t know how to say this-” Dani takes a deep breath, exhaling long enough to try to force the next words out of her mouth without difficulty. “ Jamie, I-I don’t- I don’t-”
“Don’t what, Poppins?”
“I don’t want a one night stand.” The words are spoken with quick, aggressive force when they finally leave her lips. At Jamie’s silence, she forces herself to continue. “I-I don’t want to be just a one night stand. A-and I know we didn’t talk about this last night. We kinda, just, you know, but we’re sober and it’s daylight now and I don’t want to just sleep with you and never talk to you again, Jamie.” With silence still permeating on Jamie’s end, Dani’s increasing anxiety pushes her to continue filling the empty air. “I just- I want more than that. And I think you might too.”
“Dani,” Jamie says. Voice heavy with defeat and anguish evident across her face. “We’re not eighteen anymore. We’re not the same people.”
“I know,” Dani says, nodding her head. “I know that. We’re grown up. Well, I can only speak for myself, but I’ve grown up. I know what I want. I’m getting better at asking for it. I’ve changed in ways for the better, I’d like to think. Or at least, my therapist says so. And knowing what I want, I want this” Dani gesturing between the two of them. “To be more than a one night stand.”
“Dani,” Jamie says, shaking her head, avoiding staring directly at her. “I think you’re being a bit rash. I think us seeing each for the first time in so long stirred up some old, complicated feelings, confusing feelings and you might be-”
“Jamie, I haven’t stopped thinking about you since the day I left Bly.” Jamie doesn’t have anything to say in response to that. Dani watches her, unable to read the emotions flickering across her face.
“Dani, it’s been seven years,” she finally says. “We’re completely different people. We can’t just pick up where we left off when we were eighteen. We live in different cities. We have different lives. We can’t just try to create what we had when we were teenagers.”
“I’m not asking you to. I’m just asking you, adult Jamie, to give me, adult Dani, a chance.” She waits as silence hangs between them. “Jamie, none of the reasons you’ve given have anything to do with how you feel about me now. You haven’t said you’re not into me anymore, that you don’t miss me. If you don’t, then I understand.”
Jamie gives her a look. “You’re asking a lot of me, Dani.”
“Jamie, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I’m just asking for a chance to be more than a one night stand. I’m not trying to recreate what we had when we were teenagers.” She reaches over to grasp Jamie’s hands within hers. Jamie lets her. “I want a chance to start something new ‘cause I still like you. I know it’s been seven years but it's hard to imagine that everything I adored about you has disappeared or warped hideously in all that time.”
Jamie remains silent, staring at their hands clasped together between them.
“Look, I’m not interested in forcing you to do anything you don’t wanna do,” Dani says. “If you really don’t wanna give it a shot, I understand and I’ll respect that. I just had to try and see if there was any chance that you…” Dani takes a breath. “Missed me like I missed you.”
“Dani,” Jamie exhales a tired breath. Dani waits as Jamie runs a hand through her mangled curls, matted to one side of her head.
“I can’t promise you anything,” Jamie says.
“I’m not asking you to.” Dani says. “I just want-”
“A chance, yeah,” Jamie finishes. Dani’s nerves threaten to swallow her whole as she watches Jamie contemplate her next words. “Look, I’m willing to...consider it.”
Jamie sighs, shoulders slouching forward. “I’m willing to,” Jamie gestures at the air, trying to pull the right words together, “think about it. It’s really early, too early to be having this conversation and I need to shower. But I’m not saying no. I’m not saying yes, either. I’m not saying anything.” Jamie rubs at her face, the exhaustion of the previous night and this morning evident throughout her body. “I’m willing to talk about this later but not right now. You gotta give me some time.”
“Time, yeah, I can do that,” Dani says, nodding. She exhales a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding, a smile quickly overtaking her face. It’s not exactly what she’d been hoping to hear. But it wasn’t her worst case scenario either. “And poppins,” Jamie says, reaching out for Dani’s hand as she goes to step up from the bed. Dani turns back towards her, unprepared for the earnestness in Jamie’s eyes.
“Of course, I missed you.”
Dani managed to sneak Jamie out of her mom’s house before she came home, fortunately. She couldn’t imagine the interaction that would follow running into Karen Clayon, clearly sneaking out of her daughter’s bedroom and looking utterly ravished.
Sneaking into her own house is a whole other ordeal. It’s almost noon by the time Dani drops Jamie off. A quick peck on the lips that stuns Jamie momentarily before she’s wandering up the lawn, dressed in the same rumpled clothes as yesterday. There’s also a fresh slew of hickies along her body, most easily hidden under her clothes, but a couple managing to peek past the collar of her shirt. Jamie doesn’t want to deal with her brothers. Especially looking like this. And especially with only two granola bars and an apple in her stomach.
A quick glance of the driveway shows that Denny’s car isn’t there. It’s noon on a week day so he must be at work. It’s more likely that Mikey would be home. And Mikey would have no qualms about poking fun at his big sister doing the walk of shame. Unlocking the front door, Jamie can only hope he was out at the mall or with his secret girlfriend he was too young to have. The house is quiet as Jamie shuts the door behind her. No annoying teenage brothers seem to be lurking around. Jamie tip toes down the hall, almost making it to her room when her stomach growls. A quick stop in the kitchen before a hot shower couldn’t hurt.
Quickly, warms up some of the leftovers from last night’s dinner. She’s waiting in front of the microwave, tapping her fingers impatiently along the counter when she hears the click of the front door lock. So close, she thinks, the microwave finally beeping.
Mikey strides into the kitchen, raising his eyes at Jamie. He glances her over from head to toe. A smirk breaks out across his face. If only Jamie were close enough to wipe it off. He crosses his arms, leaning back against the other end of the kitchen counter. “Well, look at you,” he says. “It’s almost noon and you’re just getting home now.”
“Hey,” Jamie says, waving a disgruntled fork in his direction. “I’m a grown up. I do what I want,” for lack of a better come back.
“Watch it, I can still kick your ass six ways to Sunday.”
“What’s that on your neck?”
“Mikey, don’t you have homework or chores or something to do instead of bothering your big sister?”
“Who's the girl?”
“There’s no girl.”
“Someone left those bite marks on your neck. I don’t think you bit yourself.”
“Mikey, I swear to God.”
He only laughs, pushing himself off the counter. Not being nearly as intimidated by Jamie’s threats as she would like. But he does at least, leave her alone in the kitchen to finish off the left overs in peace. But she only gets a couple bites in before her phone starts to go off. She sees Owen is calling. Followed by a long string of texts from him and Hannah that she hadn’t noticed since she hadn’t bothered to check her phone throughout all of last night and this morning (technically, afternoon). She groans, letting her head drop onto the kitchen counter.
“I can’t believe you went home with her!”
“Becs,” Dani says, glancing around the diner. “Keep your voice down.”
“I can’t believe, you, Dani Clayton, shy, adorable, haven’t had sex in-”
“We don’t need to mention that-”
“-Took Jamie Taylor, your big, high school, one that got away, to bed last night. And on your first night back in town, no less.” Rebecca shakes her head, wearing a proud smile. “Honestly, I’m impressed. The one time you have a one night stand and it’s with your high school love. That’s overachieving.”
“It wasn’t a one night stand,” Dani says. “Well, not entirely.”
Rebecca quirks an eyebrow. “You’re gonna have to explain yourself a little more, please.”
“I might’ve…” Dani trails off, playing with the rim of her coffee mug. “Asked her to, kinda, try out dating, I guess?”
“Try out dating? Like with you?”
“Again, you’re gonna have to explain this one to me a bit more.”
“Well, I told her I wanted more than a one night stand.”
Rebecca nods. “Okay, yeah, I’m following.”
“And then she said she didn’t wanna recreate what we had as teenagers, that we were different now, grown ups, and several other reasons why we shouldn’t. I told her I wasn’t trying to do that.”
“And then we kinda went back and forth and then she agreed to revisit the conversation later after I give her some time.”
“Give her some time?” Rebecca asks. “How much time? And I’m still not entirely sure what you asked of her.”
Dani sighs from the onslaught of questions and the lack of any concrete answers she has to give. “I honestly don’t really know but it's something and it's a lot more than I thought I was going to get from Jamie.”
“Yeah, I didn’t even know you wanted that from Jamie.” Rebecca doesn’t it say it outright accusingly but Dani is familiar enough with the look on her face to feel a little guilty.
“I didn’t know,” Dani says but that doesn’t feel entirely truthful. “I mean, I hadn’t planned on it. I didn’t even really wanna talk to her last night. But then I did. And, I don’t know, I’ve been trying to tell myself for years that there’s a reason it didn’t work out, that there’s a reason we never got in contact after high school. But then she was sitting right next to me and we were flirting and it all seemed so possible, you know. A lot more possible than it’s been in years, since…”
“High school,” Rebecca finishes, eyes soft with understanding.
“Yeah,” Dani nods. “I just- It felt easier to think it was impossible than to actually go out and try. And last night, I don’t know, she was there and it felt good and I just couldn’t understand anymore why I wasn’t trying, at least, to pursue something I haven’t ever really stopped wanting. I couldn’t make it make sense anymore.” The words feel heavy, almost as if they’re landing right on top of Dani’s chest as she speaks. There was a raw honesty in her voice as she spoke that she hadn’t anticipated, an emotional transparency she hadn’t been ready to feel or hear herself. But it was the truth and she felt it all the same.
A silence hangs between her and Rebecca after she’s finished her rambling. “Well,” Rebecca says. “What’s the plan then?”
“I don’t know what you mean?”
“I mean,” Rebecca says, punctuating the remark with a roll of her eyes. “What is the plan for you and Jamie? What are you hoping to accomplish? What do you want?”
Dani takes a minute to contemplate her answer. She hadn’t fully worked that one out herself yet. “I don’t know really,” she says. “When I asked her for more I was mostly just winging it. I didn’t really have a plan in mind.”
Rebecca furrows her eyebrows at her. Dani would shrink under her gaze if she weren’t already used to that look. “Jesus, Dani.”
“What? I panicked. I was running out of time and I didn’t have a lot of options. I was just speaking from the heart.”
“Yes, well, that’s very romantic and all but terribly impulsive. You guys haven’t gone on a date in what? Seven years? You just decided to go all in after one good lay last night?”
“Technically, we never went on any dates in high school.”
“What if the chemistrys’ gone? Sure, sex over the holidays is one thing but what about romantic and social compatibility? What if she’s developed some nasty habits over the years that are repulsive to you now? Or vice versa? What if she doesn’t like your friends or can’t fit into your life? What if she hates cats?”
“Becs, calm down, I’m not asking her to marry me,” Dani says, the line of questioning succeeding in exacerbating her already worsening anxiety. “I’m just asking for a chance to get to know her as an adult outside of social media. Also, she doesn’t hate cats. She doesn’t particularly like them but she doesn’t hate them either. She’s indifferent to most things that aren’t plants.”
“So she wouldn’t get along with Peter is what you’re saying?”
“No, she’d get along fine with Peter,” Dani says, recalling Rebecca’s cat Peter whom Jamie probably wouldn’t like on second thought. Peter had a bad habit of ripping up and effectively killing most plants within his immediate vicinity.
“When are you going to see her next?” Rebecca asks.
“I don’t know. I haven’t texted her since I dropped her off this morning to make sure she got in okay.”
“Well, you only got three and a half days left to make your moves. Better do something quick.”
“She said to give her time. I’m giving her time.”
“Don’t give her too much, the clock is running.”
“Do you think I should text her? Call her?”
Rebecca shrugs. “I don’t know Jamie. She might’ve meant one hour or one day. You have more insight into her psyche than I do.”
Dani rubs at her temple, her brain tied in knots. “I have no clue either. She’s never been an easy one to read. And add that’s before we spent seven years not talking to each other.”
Rebecca places her hand on top of Dani’s across the table, her eyes sympathetic. “It’ll be okay, babes, no matter what she says,” she says. “Not knowing much about her, my advice is just text her before tomorrow. We’re working under a ticking clock and it’d be best not to waste any time.”
“I cannot believe you would abandon us for the fleeting pleasure of a random woman,” Owen says as soon as Jamie slides into the seat across from him and Hannah. They’re tucked into a booth in the back corner of a diner that’s been in Bly since before any of them were born. The lunch rush is in full swing as several families are seated in the tables surrounding them. The cacophony of parents talking over children, children begging for something extra sugary to be put on their plate, and the overeager, underpaid voices of waiters juggling orders are buzzing all around her. Jamie sinks down into her seat, sun glasses perched on her face as she fights off a hangover from the previous night and waits for the several painkillers to kick in. She raises a single finger in response to Owen.
“I mean, we’re your best mates, you’re only mates, really, and to think you would leave at the wink of a strange woman-”
“What are you going on about?” Jamie asks, already finished with this non conversation. “What makes you think I left with a woman last night?”
“There’s some things on your neck dear,” Hannah says, glancing towards the collar of her shirt. A collar which Jamie had thought effectively covered the two red blotches along her neck. “Maybe next time a turtle neck might be better.”
Jamie starts to think that lunch might’ve been a mistake.
“So who was this mystery woman who stole you away?” Owen asks.
“No one stole me away,” Jamie says. “I left of my own accord.”
“No, we don’t doubt that, dear. We’re sure you left very willingly,” Hannah says and Jamie regrets ever thinking of her as the kind, well-mannered one in their relationship. “But it is a small town and for the most part, it's the same clients that circulate there.”
“We just wanna know if we know her,” Owen says. “Make sure you didn’t leave with a complete weirdo.”
Jamie knew that at some point she was going to have to divulge who exactly she went home with. She had briefly considered withholding the information, even after Dani had made her grand, drastic confession. But she knew keeping this to herself wasn’t really an option. She had to tell someone. Adn Owen was right. Hannah and him were basically her only friends.
“You do know her,” Jamie said. She glances down at the menu set out before her on the table to avoid the eager and waiting stares of her two friends. “We went to high school together.”
“Really?” Owen asks. “That’s exciting, who is it?”
Jamie chews on her bottom lip for a second, pretending to read the menu. “Jamie?” Hannah asks, her eyes curious and tinged with concern. “Who was it?”
Jamie figures it’s like jumping into the deep end of a pool instead of wading in slowly at the shallow steps. “Dani,” Jamie says, eyes trained on the words before her but not retaining any meaning. Silence follows for a few seconds.
“Dani?” Owen asks. “As in Dani Clayton?”
“Yeah,” Jamie says, not taking her eyes off the laminated paper in front of her. “That very one.”
“Dani Clayton like the girl you were in love with in high school Dani Clayton?”
Jamie would protest that statement but knows its futile. Plus, it’s true. “Yes, that Dani Clayton,” she says instead. She lets her head fall into her hand on the table.
“What happened, dear?” Hannah asks, tone gentle as if she knows the turmoil coursing through Jamie, the emotional confusion she’s tip toeing along, trying not to fall into the deep end and let the water rise over her head.
Jamie recounts most of the previous night (leaving out the more explicit details). She keeps her eyes lowered, avoiding the stares that are searching her face, and fighting the blush that wants to burn across her cheeks.
“So she asked you to go on a date, basically?” Owens asks. “And you blew her off.”
“I’m not exactly sure what she asked me to be honest,” Jamie says. “And I didn’t blow her off, I said I’d think about it.”
“She asked you for more,” Hannah says, raising a cup of tea to her lips. “I think she just wants a chance to be in your life. You were best friends in high school. I’m sure she’s missed you terribly over these last few years, especially with how it ended between you two.”
“But dating is implied in ‘more’, right?” Owen asks. “I was under the impression a romantic connection was implied.”
“I don’t know,” Jamie says. “I haven’t talked to her since she dropped me off at my house this morning.”
“Maybe you should give her a call or text,” Hannah suggests. “You said you needed time. But I think you know your answer already.”
Of course, Hannah would be able to read her like a book. “I don’t wanna talk about this right now,” Jamie says. “I’m starving. Can we order?”
After tabling the conversation about Jamie and Dani’s situation for another time, lunch with Hannah and Owen goes rather smoothly and quickly. With Christmas Eve tomorrow and Jamie realizing she hadn’t gotten Denny anything for Christmas, it clears up Jamie’s schedule to drag Mikey to the god forsaken mall with her.
“You didn’t think to get him a present before you came back home?” Mikey asks, dragging his feet along the linoleum of the food court. They dodged past bustling bodies, the mall far too crowded for Christmas Eve and the amount of late, late night shopping that was taking place. But Jamie shouldn’t judge too harshly since she was also swiping a gift at the last second.
“It slipped my mind,” Jamie says. “And I also had no idea what to get him. Figured I’d wait until you could help me out.”
“You mean you just want me to pick out something?”
Jamie gives him a look. “If you would be so kind.”
Jamie doesn’t really know what Denny was into besides work and his girlfriend. The last thing Jamie had gifted Denny was a spiderman comic book when she was in the eighth grade. And Jamie doubted Denny was still into collecting comic books. They went from store to store, glancing at shoes, clothes, various electronics and tools. They eventually settled on a new tool set that cost a pretty penny but Mikey assured her that Denny would love it. “He loves collecting power tools he doesn’t really need,” Mikey had said. Jamie also got him an ugly Christmas sweater for good measure.
They were making their way across the mall to Zumiez as requested by Mikey when an abrupt, excited “Jamie?” cut through the throng of people surrounding them.
Dani hadn’t expected to run into Jamie. She hadn’t expected to see her again at all until either one of them mustered up the nerve to text the other one. It had only been a little over seven hours since they last saw each other. Dani definitely wasn’t prepared to see her again so soon. And with her mom present, no less.
“Poppins?” Jamie asked, pausing in the middle of the foot traffic. Dani noticed a teenaged Mikey standing beside her, older than the last time Dani had seen him, the spitting image of Jamie except male and a few inches taller.
“Jamie Taylor?” Dani’s mom asked. “As I live and breathe.”
“Mrs. Clayton,” Jamie said, grinning the smile that always managed to delight her mom. She stepped towards them, closing the gap between them so they were standing off to the side of the bodies swarming past them.
“I haven’t seen you since you graduated high school,” Dani’s mom said. “Not a phone call, post card, nothing. How are you? And who is this handsome young man? This can’t be little Mikey Taylor.”
A blush takes over Jamie’s face as she looks properly admonished for not keeping in contact with Dani’s mom. A similar flush reddens Mikey’s face under Dani’s mom's praises. Dani can’t help but find their matching faces, both fighting blushes and shrinking under unexpected attention, utterly adorable.
“Hi, Mrs. Clayton,” Mikey says, shyly slipping his hands into his front jean pockets, a gesture reminding Dani of his big sister.
“We’re just getting some last minute Christmas shopping done,” Jamie says, slipping the hand that isn’t holding a bag into her back pocket.
“Us too,” Dani’s mom says. “Can you believe this one forgot to get a white elephant gift for our Christmas party?”
Jamie’s eyes flicker to her as her mom gestures towards Dani. Jamie tsks, shaking her head. “Irresponsible, Poppins,” she says.
Dani scoffs, about to reply before her mother beats her to it.
“Speaking of our Christmas party, you should come,” Dani’s mom says. “I would have already sent you an invitation but I didn’t even know you were coming home this year. But since you’re here right now, you and your brothers are invited, if you guys don’t have any plans already in place.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Clayton, that’s very generous of you-”
“We’re also having dinner tonight if you would like to join us,” Dani’s mom says, before Dani can add anything to this exchange. She feels as if she’s just watching the whole event unfold, a mute observer. “I don’t know if you have dinner plans but your brothers are also welcome to come over tonight. I don’t know how you and your brothers get along with cooking but we’ll have plenty of homemade food tonight.”
Only by having been well acquainted with the many subtleties of Jamie’s face over the years can Dani tell that Jamie is becoming increasingly overwhelmed. But like usual, she’s doing a good job of maintaining a calm, easy going demeanor. Punctuated by soft eyes and a curl in her lip that’s always charmed her mom and most girls who interacted with Jamie.
“That sounds lovely, Mrs. Clayton, but I’ll have to ask Denny if we have any plans for tonight,” Jamie says, the perfect picture of proper manners and polite charisma.
“Well, let me know so I know how many place settings to put out,” Dani’s mom says. “The home number is still the same or you can call Dani.”
“Yeah, you can also call me,” Dani says, awkwardly adding on to the end of her mom’s statement. “If you, uh, need to.”
Jamie holds her gaze for a beat longer than seems necessary. “Sounds good,” she says. “Well, I’ll leave you guys to it. Mikey and I’ll best be going.”
“It was good to see you, dear,” Dani’s mom says. “Hopefully, we can see you again tonight.”
Jame glances back towards Dani. “I hope so too.”
“So Dani is the girl,” Mikey says as they exit the mall.
Jamie gives him a look. “What are you talking about?”
“She’s the girl who did that to your neck,” he says, eyes dropping to where a scarf was hanging deliberately around her neck.
“That’s none of your business,” Jamie says, too tired to play dumb.
“Hey, I’m happy for you,” Mikey says, cheerfully ignoring the part where it wasn’t any of his business. But Jamie’s interest is piqued, regardless.
“You’re happy for me?” She asks. “Why?”
“I always liked her. I thought you guys were a good couple back when you were in high school.”
“We weren’t a couple in high school.”
Mikey gives her a challenging look. Jamie returns it. “Well, whatever you were,” he says. “It was cool. I thought she was good for you.”
“You were like ten.”
“I could still tell when my big sister was happy or not,” Mikey says. “And you were happy whenever she was around. Definitely grumpy and insufferable whenever she wasn’t.”
Jamie smacks his shoulder although he’s only stating what she knows to be the truth. “You’re quite annoying, you know that?” She says.
Mikey grins, dodging her hand out to swipe at his shoulder again. He laughs as he easily maneuvers away from her. Jamie grins although her brain is racing, trying to decide what to do about the dinner invitation extended by Karen Clayton. She couldn’t get a read on what Dani was thinking throughout their whole exchange, most of the talking having been dictated by her mother, as per usual. She also didn’t know whether or not she herself wanted to go to dinner at Dani’s mom’s house. As far as Jamie knew, Denny had no formal dinner plans ready for them and Mikey had already let her know he had plans with friends already in place. So Jamie was available, at least, if she wanted to go. She contemplated texting Dani. Decided against it. Then contemplated texting again. Jamie wasn’t used to communicating along these lines with anyone. The two closest people in her daily life were Hannah and Owen. She’d known them for ages and communication was never a big issue in their relationship. Jamie next really kept secrets because she was a terrible liar and Hannah and Owen never really made her feel like she had to. They were quite honest and clear with one another. But outside of her only two friends, she had never had to practice open and honest communication with anyone. Definitely not in a romantic sense. And sex with Jamie never went farther than a late night fumble that ended in her slipping out by dawn. Her, whatever she was doing with Dani, was unfamiliar territory. Even when they were in high school, neither of them ever discussed what it was exactly that they were doing. Throughout middle school and into high school, they were best friends. Then, at some point, they were kissing and not talking about it. Then they were having sex and not talking about it. They were both very good about not discussing the sexual or romantic aspects of their friendship, usually outright avoiding them.
Back at the house, after having Mikey properly wrap the gifts they got Denny since Jamie, according to her brother,“couldn’t properly wrap a gift if your life depended on it,” Jamie pulls up Dani’s phone number, a number she knows hasn’t changed since high school. She stares at the blank, text screen for a while before she makes a decision. And musters up the courage to type out what she wants to say.
hey poppins , is how she decides to greet Dani for lack of anything better. what should I wear to dinner tonight? Is what she follows up with.
She stares at the text screen for a few seconds before realizing Dani probably wouldn’t respond right away. She was probably still out with her mom, running errands and keeping busy. She slips her phone into her pocket and tries to distract herself by doing the few dishes left in the sink. If she keeps her hands busy, maybe they won’t itch for her phone, to wait with bated breath for a notification signifying Dani has responded. Jamie, instead, lets her hands wash away at plates and silverware with much more vigorous force than necessary. About three minutes after starting on the dishes, Jamie feels a vibration in her pocket. She barely manages to wipe some of the water off of her hands before she snatches her phone out of her pocket.
whatever you want
i mean jeans and a sweater is fine
Jamie grins down at the screen. so a naughty santa suit is out of the question?
Jamie is both delighted and antagonized by the stream of dots that appear and reappear underneath her text message.
you would never wear that is what finally appears on her phone screen.
you don’t know what I would wear , Jamie types out.
you wouldn’t dare wear that to my mom’s house
try me, poppins
the look on her face would be priceless
I could say the same for the look on your face
No stream of dots appear following Jamie’s text. Instead, her phone begins buzzing as Dani’s number flashes across the screen. She makes a mental note to add the number to her contacts later.
“Hello?” Jamie speaks into the phone.
“Hi.” Dani’s voice sounds soft, unsure, fragile even, over the phone.
“Hey, Poppins,” Jamie says, after Dani fails to speak any additional words. “What’s up?”
“Hey,” Dani pauses, coughs. “I-uh, I was calling to make sure you don’t scandalize my mom and the whole neighborhood tonight.”
“Is that so?”
A sigh of breath. “No, not really. I was, uh- I wanted to make sure you know that you don’t have to come tonight. If you don’t want to. My mom was a bit pushy at the mall today.”
“You’re moms’ always a bit pushy.”
Dani exhales a laughing breath. “Yeah, but still, I don’t want you to feel pressured into coming. Don’t be afraid of upsetting my mom, she’s always upset about something.”
“And what about you?”
“What about me?” Dani asks, voice tilting back into shy, uncertainty.
“Will you be upset if I don’t come tonight?” Jamie coughs. “To dinner, that is.”
Dani laughs. She can hear the grin in her voice as she speaks her next words. “I won’t be mad if you don’t come over tonight. My mom is a lot. I don’t take it personally if anyone wants to skip dinner with her.”
“But do you want me to come to dinner tonight?”
A pause. Quiet filled with uncertainty and anticipation, at least for Jamie, waiting to hang on to Dani’s every word.
“Yes, I mean, of course, but-”
“Then I’ll come over,” Jamie says. “What time is dinner again?”
The next several hours pass in a blur for Dani. Jamie hasn’t been at her dinner table since they were eighteen. Jamie had grown up coming over to Dani’s house for most meals which her mom had no problem with (“It’s all boys and no mother in that,” Dani’s mom would say. “She needs a little feminine energy and a home cooked meal.”). Most dinners, especially in their senior year, Jamie’s hand would remain firmly on Dani’s thigh throughout the entire meal while Dani’s mom was none the wiser. It was usually a teasing preamble to the quick, furious, rumpling of clothes and wrestling of bed sheets that would occur as soon as the girls excused themselves from dinner, locking Dani’s bedroom behind them. The memory has Dani blushing and dizzy most hours leading up to dinner. Although she knows it won’t be like that this time. With so many years between their impatience, reckless, teenage selves and now, dinner with most likely bound to pass in a subdued haze of niceties and awkward questions posed over way too much food. Jamie and Dani would keep their hands off of each other, as much as Dani savored the thought of Jamie’s burning palm gripping her thigh underneath her mom’s snowman-riddled table cloth.
When the doorbell finally rings, Dani rushes to the door before her mom or Rick could.
“Hey, poppins,” Jamie says, grin tearing across her face. Dani is unable to move or speak for a second, her entire being short circuiting. Jamie, as promised, did not show up in a scandalous Santa costume. Instead, she’s perched on her doorstep in a simple black sweater, jeans and boots, which doesn’t sound too extraordinary, but with Jamie’s mouth curled in a way that coils within Dani, eyes twinkling, and gripping a wine bottle, Dani can’t help but feel a surge of warm, renewed attraction tug at her gut. Jamie quirks an eyebrow at her. Dani realizes she hasn’t replied to Jamie, just stared at her.
“Hey,” Dani says, stepping back into the foyer. “Come in.”
She watches Jamie step inside her house again, this time with the lights on and their hands kept deliberately on their own bodies. She watches her glance around her house as if she hadn’t just been there last night, hands hungry over Dani’s body as they stumbled up the staircase, Jamie’s hands insistent as they slid down her back, dipping down-
“-Bring so I brought this.”
Jamie’s mouth is mouthing but Dani’s mind is struggling to catch up, coming back to reality.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that,” she says.
Jamie smirks, as if reading Dani’s mind. “I said I didn’t know what to bring and I can’t cook for shit so I picked this up,” she says, lifting the wine bottle in her hand.
Dani grimaces. “Sorry, forgot to tell that my mom and her new boyfriend don’t drink. Apparently, it's a dry house now.”
“You’re kidding,” Jamie says.
“No, sorry, I totally forgot to mention that.”
“No worries, we can still drink, though, right?”
“Jamie Taylor.” At that exact moment is when Dani’s mom decided to round the corner into the foyer, Rick in tow adorned in a Christmas sweater with flashing lights sewed into the fabric depicting Santa's sleigh.
“Hey, Mrs. Clayton-”
“Jamie, you’re a grown woman now,” Dani’s mom says, resting a hand on Jamie’s arm. “You can call me Karen.”
Jamie’s expression takes on a brief uncertain expression, her eyes bounce towards Dani. She shrugs.
“Okay,” Jamie says, maintaining her bright, easy going smile. Dani watches as her mom pulls Jamie into a hug that Jamie awkwardly returns followed by a formal meeting and handshake with Rick. Upon seeing the bottle clutched awkwardly in the arm hanging at Jamie’s side, Jamie’s expression turns sheepish while her mom gushes over Jamie for possessing such good manners, praising her for bringing anything at all. Dani watches an embarrassed flush over take the skin of Jamie’s neck, becoming flustered under so much positive, parental attention. It had probably been a while since Jamie had experienced anything like this in a while. Dani’s mom had always been fond of Jamie, insistent on being a “good, motherly, feminine influence” on the girl when Dani had started bringing her around in middle school and learning that Jamie’s mom had run out on her, leaving her alone with a house full of boys and no maternal presence. Dani’s mom had never shown her as much brazen and warm attention as Jamie, consistently presenting her with a more subdued, still loving, affection. Dani chalked up to her mom trying to make up for Jamie’s lack of a mom. Dani didn’t take any offence because she agreed that Jamie needed all the positive attention and affection she could get. Just like her mom, Dani couldn’t help gush over Jamie, albeit in a less motherly way.
After the introductions and greetings are over and done with, they’re quickly seated at the table. Dani’s mom and Rick place the food along the table as Dani watches Jamie out of the corner of her eye, seated on her right. Soon enough, Rick and her mom are seated right across from them. Dinner flies by in a rush of pleasantries and polite questions, mostly exchanged between her mom and Rick with Jamie on the receiving end. Her mom and Rick, predictably, manage to hold a monopoly over most of the conversation which Dani is grateful for, more than anything. She allows herself to relax more and more with each sip of wine and passing second that’s spent not being forced to engage in stifled chit chat that feels like its tip toeing around the tension in the room. Tension that must only be felt between Jamie and Dani. Or just Dani. It’s hard to get a read on what exactly Jamie is feeling.
Jamie, like Dani predicted she would, offers to wash the dishes after they’ve finished eating. Her mom, of course, profusely declines the offer, telling Dani to instead give her a tour of the new renovations of the house, the decorations, etc.
Dani jumps on the opportunity to be alone with Jamie without the gaze of her mom and Rick. She tugs her down the hall, guiding her along by her wrist. With Jamie’s wrist wrapped within her hand, Jamie trailing close behind her, the heat coming off of her body being felt through the fabric of her shirt, a frenzied energy that had grown and simmered over dinner begins to rise in Dani. Something about Jamie sitting beside her, being polite and cordial with her mom over dinner, seated close enough to press their thighs together, does something to the nerve ending throughout Dani. A sort of buzz she can feel throughout her whole body. She knows her mom had meant for Dani to show her the new furniture, the new lights and flooring of the living room, but Dani changes course towards the staircase. She feels Jamie lurch unsteadily in her steps behind her, the turn unexpected. She can hear a tiny exhalation of surprise as they make their way up the stairs, Jamie’s wrist still firmly within Dani’s grip. It’s only a few seconds before they reach Dani’s room.
She has Jamie pressed up against her bedroom immediately upon entering.
Dani’s tongue is tracing along the inside of her mouth in a way that has Jamie burning up much similar to the way she was last night. Jamie isn’t really surprised Dani Clayton still has this affect on her after seven years. She has still retained all the charm, warmth, kindness, determination, all the things that made many people fall in love with her, from what Jamie can tell. Her laugh, how little it takes to make her blush, the greedy nature of her desire, seemingly endless when Jamie was on the other end of it, the honesty steeped in almost every word she uttered. It has Jamie’s head feeling full of gas, light, airy and ready to catch fire any second at the slight provocatio. The heat threatening to swallow her whole.
“Blimey, poppins,” Jamie breathes when Dani breaks away to take a breath, resting her head along Jamie’s jaw. Dani’s hands are tickling the hairs at the back of Jamie’s neck. Jamie’s arms are wrapped loosely around Dani’s waist, keeping their bodies pressed together. “You know, when I said I didn’t wanna recreate what we had in high school,” Jamie says, lips ghostly along the skin of Dani’s temple. “I’m completely okay with making out in your room after dinner with your mom.” Dani exhales a short laugh into the skin of Jamie’s neck, sending a shiver throughout her body. She tightens her hold around Dani’s waist.
“You know, this is the first time we’ve been alone together since-”
“Last night, yeah,” Jamie says. “That actually reminds me. I think there’s something we need to talk about.”
Dani pulls back, apprehension clear on her face. “Oh, yeah,” she says. “Right. That.”
“Yeah,” Jamie clears her throat, suddenly feeling like a flustered school girl. It wasn’t helping that Dani was watching her with bright eyes, hanging onto her every word, still pressed against Jamie. “I just wanted to, uh, continue the conversation we started this morning,” Jamie manages to get out.
“Yeah,” Dani says, nodding her head. “Right. Yeah, that’s a good idea. Let’s talk about it.”
Jamie immediately regrets bringing it up when Dani steps away from her, going to sit on the edge of her bed instead.
“I’m not very good at this,” Jamie says, sticking her hands back into the pockets of her jeans. “Talking about this kinda stuff.”
“Yeah, I know,” Dani says. Not rudely but an honest and accurate, matter-of-fact statement concerning Jamie’s historical avoidance of emotions and all things emotional. Which is fair, she guesses.
“Right,” she says. “My question, I guess, is, uh, what do you want this to be?”
Jamie watches as Dani takes a minute to gather her thoughts. “I’ve been thinking,” Dani says, fiddling with the hem of her shirt. “We’re both here for the rest of the week. First time we’ve been in the same place in seven years.”
“Kinda be crazy not to take advantage.”
“Take advantage how?”
“We could…”Dani trails off, seemingly bracing herself for the rest of the sentence.“Try for the rest of the week. Go slow. See how we feel.”
“Dating, I guess.” Dani says. “Casually, nothing too serious, no commitment.” Dani’s eyes search Jamie’s. “Just to see how it is between us, I guess, if it’s still something we both want. Something that could work, maybe.”
“That sounds fair,” Jamie says, nodding her head. “Reasonable.”
Dani glances up at Jamie, scans her face. “So you’re okay with that?” She asks. “You’re willing to-”
“Yeah,” Jamie says, nodding. “Casual sounds good. Not too complicated. Just like two normal people dating normally.”
“Right,” Dani says. “Dating normally.”
“Uh-hmm,” Jamie agrees, stepping a bit closer towards Dani. She observes Dani noticing her movement.
The gap between them is closed within seconds as Dani rises up to meet Jamie just as Jamie lowers herself down to Dani’s mouth. The rest of the conversation gets lost as their bodies become entangled in Dani’s Wonder Woman sheets once more.