There is a woman in the pub. Not, strictly speaking, an oddity--there are people here every night upon Jamie’s return from the manor. People with drinks and conversation, taking up space she doesn’t have the energy to deal with.
This woman, though. This woman is strange simply because she isn’t. Because there is a look about her, too normal, too put-together. Because her eyes are too bright, and her hair too shiny, and she is--most important of all--not of Bly.
Not Jamie’s problem, either, she thinks, pushing past the woman’s table with little more than a glance.
Blue eyes, she registers. Blue eyes, catching hers for a bare moment.
Jamie keeps walking.
The woman is back again. Still looking a bit too clean, a bit too bright to be allowed in a smudgy place like this. She’s seated at that same table, nursing a drink with her eyes on a book, and she is...
Just a woman, thinks Jamie, whose day has been marked by Miles’ attitude and Flora’s perfectly splendid’s, and whose head is in all honesty ringing just a bit more than she can stand.
She could use a drink tonight. Could use a bit more than a drink, really--could use a long rest, a long break from memories of Peter fucking Quint moving about the house like he owns the place. Tonight, she’ll settle for the drink. It’s cheaper than therapy, easier than talking to Hannah or Owen about the whole business. Certainly easier than cornering Rebecca, pressing her toward sense.
Problem is, there is a woman in the pub.
At her table.
She drinks at the bar instead and finds her eyes searching out that woman’s face in the mirror. Finds herself coming back time and time again to the curve of the woman’s cheek, the angle of her nose, the way she bites the edge of her thumbnail as she turns the page.
Her eyes never raise, never seek Jamie’s in return, though Jamie is certain--judging by the insistent tap of one boot under the table, the fidgety quality of her fingers around her glass--she knows she is being watched.
The woman, she supposes, has nowhere else to be. What must that be like? What cart must have overturned, tipping her onto the pavement of Bly, to this pub, to this dark corner of the world?
Jamie can remember all too well what it feels like to have nowhere to be. To just stumble into whatever place will hold a person up. This woman, with her tailored blouse and her hoop earrings, doesn’t much look like Jamie had, living that sort of life. But what does Jamie know?
Blue eyes. Shiny hair. Very little else.
Jamie has taken in a drink every night this week, less for the value of the alcohol, more out of curiosity. Could the woman really be here each time she walks through the door? Could this same woman always set up shop at her table, alone, peaceably making her way through a battered paperback?
So far, survey says yes.
And the week has been long, it’s true: Rebecca, growing agitated as tensions between Peter and the rest of them wind ever-higher. Last night, Hannah had gripped her steak knife as though considering plunging it into Peter’s thigh. Tonight, it had taken every ounce of Jamie not to take a swing with the expensive wine bottle he had produced from thin air.
Deserve better, chick, she’d thought as Rebecca had soothed Peter’s glower with a kiss. You have to see that.
Rebecca, predictably, does not.
Jamie, sitting here with yet another drink, watching the strange woman at her table in the mirror, isn’t sure who she is to talk.
Someone is trying to talk to the woman tonight. Someone--a bulky man in his mid-thirties who Jamie has already marked as endless trouble--is trying to take a seat at the woman’s table.
Jamie watches with hackles raised, glass poised at her lips, waiting. The woman looks like the sort to make polite conversation, to smile warmly, to find herself in a bad situation before she realizes. Not that it’s any of Jamie’s concern. Not that Jamie ought to be making noise in the pub above which she sleeps.
The man is leaning across the table, his huge hand reaching for the woman’s book. His grin is sloppy, his eyes ale-muddled, and when he moves toward the woman’s hand, she recoils. Glances toward the bar.
Glances directly at Jamie.
Hell, thinks Jamie tiredly, because this isn’t the way. This is never effective, never wise. Keep to yourself, keep your bloody head to your own bloody business, that’s the trick.
The woman’s eyes are so goddamned blue.
“Saved me a seat, I see,” Jamie hears herself say, cocking her hip against the man’s chair with a fuck out of it smile. He squints up at her, clearly trying to piece together some bleary vestige of memory.
“You’re,” he slurs, “upstairs.”
“Seem to be down among the locals tonight,” Jamie says cheerfully, and gives him a single jerk of the head in warning. He frowns, pushing himself clumsily to his feet.
“Borin’ conversation anyway.”
Jamie watches him go, raises her glass to her lips, smiles when he shoots a dark look over his shoulder. She does not look at the woman, not until she hears a soft voice say, “Thank you.”
American, realizes Jamie.
Mistake, realizes Jamie.
“Hang a jacket over the seat next time,” she suggests on her way back to the bar. “Dissuades the stupider ones.”
The woman buys her a drink.
She seems, Jamie notes with some alarm, to have registered Jamie’s schedule. How Jamie seems to walk in around eight every evening, her shoulders tense with a day’s battles still hanging tight. How Jamie has long given up trying for her usual table, sacrificing it in the name of pretty blonde Americans.
There is a drink waiting for her--her usual, though in a place like this, it isn’t hard to guess.
“That one,” the bartender--tonight, a fiftyish woman with a smirk--says, and points exactly where Jamie expects. She glances over, finds the American with her own glass raised. Eyebrows arched. Head gesturing for Jamie to come on over.
Mistake, she thinks again, even as she’s obeying.
“Wanted to thank you again,” the woman says, as Jamie hovers beside the second chair. There is, she notes, a denim jacket tossed over its back.
“Not a problem.”
“Sit?” the woman suggests, and Jamie finds she can’t locate a reason not to. She settles awkwardly, trying not to dislodge the jacket, all-too aware of the filthy floor beneath her boots.
“Really don’t think,” she begins, but the woman is saying something. She blinks. “Sorry?”
“Dani,” the woman says again, touching a hand to her chest. “Dani Clayton.”
It’s a bad idea, Jamie thinks distantly, because the woman is so goddamned pretty, it hurts. She’s pretty, and she’s smiling, and there’s something about her eyes that makes Jamie’s pulse do tricks she hasn’t entertained in years.
“Jamie,” she replies, and allows the woman to clink a half-finished glass against her own.
Dani, as it turns out, actually works here.
“Just started,” she says, almost sheepishly, when Jamie makes blustery noises of surprise. “On the early shift. Just to have something to keep me busy, until I figure something else out.”
She’s in England, she says, on a sort of personal retreat. A finding myself sort of adventure, she adds with a laugh that rings in Jamie’s ears like the best kind of music.
“Better places to do it in,” Jamie points out, “than a hole in Bly.”
Dani shrugs. “I like it. The people are nice, mostly. And it’s quiet.”
“Home wasn’t quiet?”
Dani doesn’t answer. Dani doesn’t seem to like to talk about herself all that much, Jamie is noticing. She likes, instead, to talk about the town--the strangers, the clients, the newness of it all. She’ll talk about the beer, about the book resting at her elbow, about the weather. Most of all, she asks after Jamie.
“Not much to tell,” Jamie says--a lie, if you go back far enough, but honest enough for now. “Groundskeeper, over at the big house down the way.”
“What does that entail?” Dani, unlike most, actually sounds interested. She is the oddest bird, Jamie thinks, and is startled to find a sense of light affection behind the notion.
“Gardening, mostly. Keep up the grounds, like I said--minor repairs about the house, too. Make sure everything keeps moving.”
“You like it?”
“Love it,” Jamie says honestly. Dani smiles.
“That’s what I want. Something I really love. Thought for a while it would be teaching, but...”
“Kids,” Jamie says. “Take a lot out of a person. That why you’re here?”
Dani thinks on it, seems to step right up to the edge of a reply before changing her mind. “Couldn’t be at home anymore,” she says instead. It’s a non-answer, Jamie recognizes. A too much truth answer.
“Fair enough,” Jamie tells her, and doesn’t push.
“So--he lives there?” Dani is three drinks in to Jamie’s two, her hair falling across her forehead as she tries to piece it all together. Jamie shakes her head.
“Nah, not most days. Hannah, she lives there--full-time, I mean. And Rebecca, she moved in couple of months back. Kids love her. Quint, though, he’s...” She can’t find a nice way to put it. Isn’t sure why she’s even bothering. “A cockroach. Hard to kill, harder yet to wish away.”
“Sound like you’ve tried,” Dani says with a faint smile. Jamie shrugs.
“Waste of everyone’s time. He’s Henry’s fuckin’ lapdog. Long as he’s pulling at the leash, we all just need to make do.”
Dani mulls this over with the interest of someone who has not a single face to put with any of these names. “Rebecca really likes him, huh?”
“Likes him. Stuck into him. Not much of a difference.” Jamie leans back, pouring the remainder of her drink into a single swallow. The idea of it, of Peter’s hands on Rebecca’s waist at dinner, still makes her stomach sour. “You ever just--you ever meet someone who is like a human pair of handcuffs?”
Something flickers in Dani’s eyes. She nods once. Jamie sighs.
“That’s Quint. Fucker never met a woman he didn’t try to win--and I do mean win. Like a prize. Like women are little more than trophies to be locked behind glass.”
She watches Dani rub absently against her lips with the back of one hand, unable to tear her eyes away until Dani says, “I don’t understand.”
“It’s like,” Jamie begins, trying to find the best way to explain, “like he thinks she’s property, right? Like he thinks any choice she makes without his say-so is a fucking--”
“Not that,” Dani says quietly. “I mean I don’t understand how people can do that. To each other. When they say they love--I mean. It’s the wrong way around, isn’t it? Trying to own someone out of love? You can’t do it. That’s...they’re not...”
“They’re opposites,” Jamie finishes. Blue eyes skip up, hold hers, don’t so much as waver. Dani’s lips turn up at the corners, her head giving a single nod.
“Yeah. Exactly. How do people mix that up?”
“No idea,” Jamie says, and swallows against the clamor of her own heart.
Peter tried to pick a fight this afternoon, out among the roses. Would have succeeded, Jamie thinks with no small amount of shame, had Miles not been lurking just behind him, watching everything.
She is vibrating when she reaches the pub, every motion just a little more exaggerated than she likes. She slams down into her usual seat, hands clenched into fists against the table.
“Bad day?” Dani asks, sliding a plate toward her. Half a sandwich, carefully set aside as if for Jamie all along.
“Not great,” Jamie agrees. She softens, looking Dani over, reading the tension behind her smile. “Look like you can say the same.”
Dani glances over her shoulder, eyes finding the mirror behind the bar and darting jerkily away again. “Hard to explain,” she says.
“Do you want to?” Jamie asks. Dani’s eyes land on her with all the abrasive surprise of an explosion. Jamie taps light knuckles against the tabletop. “Just sayin’. If you want to get it off your chest--”
Dani shakes her head. “It’s...really hard to explain,” she says, almost apologetic. “It--it makes me sound...kinda crazy.”
Jamie has never met someone who looks less crazy. Someone who holds herself with such steadiness, though her hands are twitchy and her smile doesn’t always reach her eyes.
“If you want,” she says, knowing she will, in a moment, let the moment slide. “I don’t mind.”
There’s silence between them, a great comfortable swell of it that shouldn’t exist in a small pub, on a night like this, between two women who barely know one another. Jamie lets it ride, taking a bite of sandwich, watching Dani read her expression with tentative interest.
“I had a fiancé,” Dani says at last, and Jamie feels something in her stomach turn over. And then a second time, when Dani adds, “He died.”
“Dani. I’m so--”
“He died,” Dani says, staring grimly ahead as though trying with everything in her power not to glance toward the mirror again, “and I had just--I had just told him I couldn’t--”
She hesitates, pressing her face into her palms. When she lifts her head, her eyes are blazing.
“I’d just broken--up with him. Broken the engagement, broken the whole--because he wasn’t what I--and then he died. And sometimes, I...I...”
Jamie waits. Dani sucks in a ragged breath.
“I see him. Sometimes. In mirrors, mostly. In--and it’s insane, I know, but I can’t stop.”
“S’why you came here?” Jamie guesses. Dani nods.
Jamie shakes her head slowly. She’s not much for ghost stories, for fairytales, for dreams made flesh. Loss, though? Grief? Missing who a person was, who they could be? Those aren’t the marks of a crazy person. Those are just...
“Sounds like a rough time,” she says, and lets herself reach across the table. Dani’s hand is soft beneath her own, and she is suddenly too aware of her own callouses, of the skid against Dani’s skin when she turns her hand over and squeezes Jamie’s fingers in return.
“Thank you,” she says softly, and looks once more toward the mirror. Jamie watches her: the tension in her brow, the way her eyes seem to narrow. “I think I...needed to tell someone. Finally.”
She’s still holding Jamie’s hand, even as she turns the subject to the day’s customers, to Jamie’s plans for tomorrow. She’s still holding Jamie’s hand, and doesn’t even seem to notice.
There is a fight, but it isn’t Jamie who starts it. Isn’t Jamie who finishes it, even.
Jamie is only stupid enough to step in the middle.
“Your eye,” Dani says in greeting, standing briskly up from the table. Jamie, who is aware she is no longer bleeding, aware that the glass thrown could have done significantly more damage on a less-fortunate occasion, waves her off.
“Bit, ah. Messy at the house tonight.”
Bit messy is a gentle way of putting it. In truth, it had been a horrorshow: Hannah already furious with Peter for having barricaded Rebecca in the bedroom all afternoon, Peter furious with Owen for having enlisted Rebecca’s help with dinner, Rebecca wound tight with the rising pressure of a situation primed to go bad for days. When the glass had been thrown--by Peter or by Rebecca, Jamie still can’t say; she suspects it had really slipped from a gesticulating hand, regardless, given momentum by a moment of frustration more than genuine violence--it had been the bomb they’d all been waiting for.
Rebecca had stormed off to her room. Peter, out of the house. Hannah had collected the kids, both of whom were sobbing, and Jamie had pushed Owen’s helpful hand away and cleaned her own wound.
“Theater,” she says now, aware of Dani’s eyes on her, of the abject concern in Dani’s face. “S’all it was.”
“Not good for the kids,” Dani says quietly. Jamie sighs.
“None of this is good for ‘em. Miles, he keeps...picking up shifty habits from Quint, and Flora’s enamored with the whole rotten mess. Thinks it’s romantic.” Jamie shakes her head, winces when her head rings back in answer. “Like there’s anything fuckin’ romantic about the way he talks to her.”
Dani is quiet a moment. She reaches across the table, presses her fingertips very gently to the place along Jamie’s brow where the glass had landed.
“Lucky it didn’t break,” Jamie murmurs, almost unaware of leaning into Dani’s hand. “Shouldn’t have gotten in the...”
Dani is gazing at her with eyes too blue, an expression too meaningful. Jamie reaches up, closes her own fingers around the hand gingerly exploring her brow.
“I’m okay,” she says. “Really.”
Dani seems not to believe her. Dani, whose palm slides across her own, thumb working a swipe along Jamie’s skin.
“Do you,” she begins. Clears her throat. Tries again. “Do you want to go somewhere?”
She leads Dani upstairs, and even as she’s unlocking the door, she thinks, Mistake? This is, she knows, the kind of thing a person can’t take back. The kind of give that can’t be explained away.
Dani has not stopped looking at her since leaving the pub. Dani has not let go of her hand.
Dani, she is sure, feels it, too.
She’s aware of all the bits of the flat that feel wrong when set alongside Dani Clayton: last week’s shirt tossed over the back of the sofa, last night’s cup on the counter, last month’s dust painting the bookshelf. All the little merits of a life lived alone, she thinks. If she’d known--if she’d planned--it would look different.
Not much different, maybe, but enough.
Dani is looking around with an expression Jamie can’t read. It isn’t unease, or polite interest, or even amusement; it is, Jamie thinks, genuine awe. It is, Jamie thinks, a hunger to belong.
She’d fit in, she catches herself thinking, watching Dani walk slowly around the flat with the faintest smile at her lips. In that house, with the rest, maybe better than I do. She’d fit right in.
“This is yours?” Dani asks, not gesturing at any one thing in particular, and Jamie nods slowly.
“Serves its purpose.”
“I’ve never had this,” Dani says. Her eyes linger on Jamie’s face, and she adds hastily, “A place of my own. It seems...quiet.”
“It is,” Jamie says, and wonders if there isn’t more to it. If I’ve never had this is reaching for more than four walls and a bed Dani wouldn’t have to share.
They don’t really talk about it, as Jamie’s flat commandeers the pub’s place in line altogether. Sometimes, Jamie even finds Dani seated on her steps, book propped upon on her knees, waiting patiently to be discovered. It never feels like expectation, Jamie notes with feelings too big to look at for long. It only ever feels like Dani, warm smile and easy hand accepting Jamie’s for balance, has belonged here all along.
“D’you ever just,” Jamie begins, cutting herself off before the rest of the words can spill out. Dani, curled on the sofa with a blanket half-tucked around her, furrows her brow.
“Feel like someone was always there,” Jamie finishes after a moment’s deliberation. It’s too much, probably, but she walked in on Peter and Rebecca screaming at one another again, and Flora spent the whole day in a sulk, and Hannah’s got a weariness around her eyes Jamie doesn’t like. Maybe it’s just a day for too much.
Dani doesn’t seem to think it’s too much. Dani is nodding.
“Like you don’t even have to introduce yourself, really, because you remember them from another life. Yes. Yes, I’ve...felt that.”
It’s romantic rubbish, Jamie wants to say, something out of one of Flora’s story-time adventures, but the words seem to settle along her skeleton like she needs them. Like they’re offering some kind of strength she didn’t realize she was lacking.
Dani is gazing at her, her expression fixed and unblinking in a manner that should be off-putting, and Jamie finds herself pulled irresistibly in. Finds herself leaning across the sofa, her thigh pressing to Dani’s, twisting at the waist to face her head-on.
“I’ve never,” Dani says softly, though her head is inclining, her lashes fluttering against her cheek.
“Don’t have to,” Jamie replies, though her blood is singing, her fingers itching to delve into thick blonde hair.
“But we could...” Dani is an inch away, and Jamie wants nothing more than to close the gap. Wants to take something for herself, for once, something soft and warm and easier than it ought to be.
She hesitates. Flexes her hands against her own knees, resisting the urge to grab for Dani’s shirt.
“Dani, I don’t want to--”
Dani is leaning back, nodding feverishly. “Right. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry--”
“No, listen.” She allows herself this, one hand reaching for Dani’s fingers, unfolding the instinctive fist she’s made. “I'm not...people don’t make sense to me. Understand?”
Dani shakes her head, puzzlement spreading over her impending humiliation. Jamie closes her eyes.
“There’s a lot to it, and if...if you want to hear it all sometime, I’ll...but for now, just know that people are hard for me. Exhaustive. Complicated. They ask too much and they return too little.”
“Even me?” Dani asks, eyes shining, and Jamie smiles grimly.
“Even you. Even me. Everyone, understand? But sometimes I still want...”
Dani waits. Dani, who never hurries Jamie anywhere. Who never tries to argue Jamie into a corner, or tells Jamie she needs to be kinder, or sneers for Jamie to get out of her way. Dani, who only sits on Jamie’s sofa, watching Jamie with an intensity no one else seems to possess.
“If you do,” Jamie says, almost helplessly, letting one hand brace beneath Dani’s elbow. “I want--”
Some people--some women--kiss to escape. To flee from their lives, to hide inside Jamie’s hands and lips and fleeting desire. Some women kiss to build up armor: to convince themselves they really are brave enough, even for a night, to be someone else. Some women even kiss to shame themselves, because the memory of Jamie on their skin will rise up at unexpected moments and make them feel something, anything, even if it’s terrible.
Dani doesn’t kiss like any of those women.
Dani kisses like she wants. Simple and steady and nothing more. Like she wants to be kissing Jamie, wants to be learning Jamie, wants the want of it as much as the thing itself. There is no shame, in the way Dani kisses her. There is only breathless excitement, Dani moving across the sofa to press tight to Jamie’s frame along the cushions.
“I’ve never,” she says again, only this time, she’s curling the words into the underside of Jamie’s jaw. She’s letting them spill across Jamie’s skin from within the loose grip of Jamie’s arms, her hands wound tight in Jamie’s shirt, her voice jittery with anticipation.
“If you want to stop,” Jamie begins, and Dani is shaking her head, kissing her neck, murmuring against her in such a way, Jamie can’t help but shiver.
“It’s what I--it’s right. The right way.” She lifts her eyes, and Jamie can’t help but grin at the joy reflected back. “I’ve never done it the right way.”
Jamie wants to know what that means, what the wrong way was, but it doesn’t seem a question for now. Now is just Dani, the one golden light untouched by a bleak day, the one bright spot after a tattered house Jamie doesn’t really belong in. Dani, who sighs against her lips, smiling, like she’s never been so happy to kiss someone.
She’s waiting for Dani to reel back, to gasp, to mention the fiancé again--but Dani only presses in closer and lets her mouth linger against the thunder of Jamie’s pulse beating along in her throat. Dani only finds her lips with such a sound of relief, Jamie can do nothing but grip at her back in response.
Have we done this before? she thinks with feverish uncertainty. Have we been here before? Dani is new, each press and slide of fingers along her skin calling forth unexpected sounds, but Dani is also right. Like meeting someone and knowing they were meant to be in your story the whole time.
“You’re sure?” she asks, though Dani is gazing down at her with such obvious desire, it makes her stomach clench.
Dani, in answer, kisses her as no woman has ever kissed her, and Jamie lets herself fall.
Dani is still in her bed come morning.
Dani is still wrapped around her, naked skin and rapturous smile, and Jamie thinks, How can I be so happy, when the rest of it is falling apart?
“All right?” she asks, half-expecting the awareness of the previous night--of their slow stumble across the flat, of Dani’s shirt over her head and Dani’s hands cradling Jamie’s skin--to crash in around them both like a bad dream. Dani only wriggles against her under the blankets, face pressed to Jamie’s shoulder.
“Yes. Are you?”
No one has ever asked that, Jamie realizes dimly. Not even the first girl she’d ever loved, the one who had taken Jamie by the shoulders and kissed her hard enough to hurt. Jamie, who had only been preoccupied with the sense memory of a moment like that, with the teeth buried in her bottom lip and the hand cupped between her legs, hadn’t much cared at the time.
Now, though, with Dani looking at her this way, she can’t imagine being with someone who doesn’t ask. Who doesn’t trail the tips of their fingers along her shoulder, her collarbone, her neck, and smile like they knew all along they were needed here.
“I’m glad,” she hears herself say, morning rasp tracing the words, “you stayed.”
Dani is still beaming when Jamie kisses her, the implication of I am, too buried in the gentle press of her hand against Jamie’s cheek.
“Are you going to be late?” she asks a little while later, when there’s fresh sweat on her breast and Dani is gulping air against her neck. Dani shakes her head, dusting light kisses across Jamie’s skin. She swallows, laughs, groans when Dani finds a particularly pleasant spot in the hollow of her throat and sets to exploring it properly. “Keep doing that, and I will be.”
And would that be so bad? To leave the house for a day. To pretend like it isn’t all imploding around her, a little family divided by one man’s arrogance. Like Jamie doesn’t feel, more and more each day, as though she is the odd one out, the seventh wheel amid three solid pairs.
Dani, still teasing the clench of her stomach with curious fingers, says, “Guess you should go, then,” and Jamie thinks no one has ever said as much to her with less pleasure. No one has ever sounded quite so inclined to keep Jamie close.
“I’ll be back,” she promises, and Dani--spilled across her sheets like she was placed by some grand wish--grins all the wider.
Rebecca spends the day in silent fury, tears running down her cheeks. Hannah spends it trying to keep her lips pursed around I told you so-shaped phrasing. Owen spends it in the kitchen, head down, and Jamie spends it teaching the kids how to properly weed out a garden, just for the distraction of it all.
Peter, they tell her, is gone.
Peter, they tell her, left last night.
“Gone where?” Dani asks when she pushes into the flat that night to find her still here, wrapped in one of Jamie’s favorite shirts and a pair of shorts. She has spent the day, she says, feeling intrusive, feeling as though she ought to be somewhere. Jamie, unable to explain the ease with which she does it, only leans in to kiss her slowly.
“Here,” she says. “Meant to be here.”
As for Peter--she doesn’t much care where he’s skittered off to. Good fucking riddance, in her opinion.
“Rebecca probably doesn’t agree,” Dani says, folded onto one of the sparse kitchen chairs with bare feet and a worried expression Peter doesn’t deserve. Across from her, Jamie sighs.
“Maybe he’s got the right idea.”
Dani tips her head, waiting, and it strikes Jamie that this is an already that doesn’t make much sense. Like the comfortable silences, Dani’s capacity to already understand when she needs to talk something out, when she needs to come to a matter on her own terms without being rushed along, is a thrill.
“Been thinking,” she goes on slowly, giving voice to thoughts she’s been batting around for months, “maybe I’ve outstayed my welcome, as it were. At the house. With the others.”
“You said you loved it,” Dani points out. Jamie sighs.
“Love the work. Love the people, some of ‘em. But there’s something about it--something about being bound to the place that feels...”
Suffocating, she doesn’t say. Like trying to walk against the wind. Like a clock ticking down.
“Been thinking for a while,” she says instead, “about moving on. Traveling some. Can find good work for my hands anywhere, can’t I?”
Dani doesn’t answer. Dani seems to recognize this is Jamie’s future to parse out, Jamie’s thoughts to sift through. Dani having spent a night in her bed is not qualified to deter or convince her.
“It can be lonely,” she says, when Jamie goes quiet. “Traveling without a destination.”
“You’ve been doing it,” Jamie points out, smiling a little, and Dani looks almost embarrassed.
“Seemed the only thing to do, at the time. If I had to do it again...”
“You’d stay home?”
Dani laughs. “No. No, absolutely not.” Her hand slides across the table, tangling with Jamie’s fingers. “But...I don’t know that I’d do it alone again. If I didn’t have to.”
Jamie says nothing, the words revolving around and around between them. It’s too early to say it, she thinks. Even if she feels as though she’s known Dani far longer than these few weeks, these spare bundles of days spent talking, laughing, kissing, it hasn’t been long enough to say a thing like this.
Dani is watching with serious eyes, with a strangely calm expression, and Jamie wonders if she can see it in her eyes, the thing she is deliberately not saying out loud.
She expects to find Peter back again the next day, but his absence is etched into every inch of wallpaper like a smoke stain. Rebecca seems to be moving in slow motion, going about the business of teaching the kids with very little investment. Hannah and Owen exchange concerned looks over the lunch table, and Jamie--who had enjoyed a languorous morning with Dani in her entirely too-small shower--finds herself thinking again of this house, how good it is at building pairs of people. How, without her pair, Rebecca seems lost. How, without Jamie around each morning, Hannah and Owen seem to be revolving ever nearer to one another.
And maybe that’s for the best, she thinks. Maybe it’s like science, like the simplicity of an atom. Maybe without Peter holding her to the structure, Rebecca will ultimately bounce off again, vanish into a space built for, instead of around, her. Maybe Owen and Hannah will finally speak of quiet lovely truths they’ve been dancing around for years. Maybe it will all balance out.
“Where are you off to next?” she asks Dani one night, the two of them curled close in bed. Dani, who had been drowsing against her shoulder, raises her head.
“Kicking me out?” There’s a smile on her lips which, when paired with the genuine edge of worry in her voice, makes Jamie’s heart hurt.
“No, I--I mean, I know it’s...early. And you can say no. Please, by all means, say no if you--”
“Ask,” Dani interrupts gently. Jamie sighs.
“I’m going to call up Wingrave. Let him know he’ll be needing a new groundskeeper for the autumn season. I can’t...”
Keep listening to the walls breathe around me, she doesn’t say. Keep watching Rebecca mope, and the kids checking every window for Peter fucking Quint’s reflection. Can’t keep still in this place that only ever wants a person to stay the same.
“I can’t,” she repeats solidly. “I was wondering if you’d...if you wanted...”
It’s been a week since opening her bed to Dani Clayton, and a week is nothing. A week is barely a breath, in the grand scheme of things, but there are feelings Jamie can’t bury once dug up. Certainties she can’t turn from, once looked in the eye. There is something about the way Dani exhales across her skin in her sleep, about the way Dani kisses her with open abandon when Jamie touches her, about the look in Dani’s eyes when she thinks Jamie doesn’t see. A week in her bed. A month in her life.
Sometimes, she thinks recklessly, you know it’s worth trying for.
“If you wanted the company,” she says finally. “Not even forever, if you didn’t want--”
“Forever’s a long time,” Dani replies, though she’s smiling. Heat winds its way up Jamie’s neck, settling between her shoulder blades, at the small of her back where Dani’s hand seems always to grip tight around her shirt.
“It is. Yeah.”
“Start smaller?” Dani suggests quietly, even as she’s pressing close, one leg sliding between Jamie’s beneath the sheets. “Only, I knew someone once, who demanded forever. It...didn’t work out.”
“Smaller,” Jamie agrees, relieved. Dani smiles against her lips, each kiss a little longer, a little more wanting than the last. “Little at a time, maybe.”
“Company would be nice,” Dani answers, and then she’s kissing Jamie for real, pressing Jamie into the sheets, and Jamie doesn’t care that the summer has been a mess of other people’s feelings, that the house is a cataclysm of old ghosts and unpleasant exhumations, that people are rarely worth the effort sunk into them. Jamie doesn’t care about anything just now except the distinct sound of Dani’s laugh in her mouth, the distinct pressure of Dani’s fingers against her heart.
A woman in her pub. An event built of a dozen tiny accidents, a dozen roads taken without expectation of consequence. Maybe in another life, Dani would have chosen the next village down the way. Maybe in another life, Jamie would have been too wary to meet her eyes. Maybe in another life, Rebecca would never have come to teach those kids, Peter would never have made a misery of that house, Owen and Hannah would have built a love in Paris to put them all to shame. Other lives. Other roads.
In this one, Jamie dreams of adventure, of a soft hand tucked into her own, of blue eyes and a brave little grin, and thinks, Half the fun, isn’t it? Never knowing where you might land.