The moment Jamie wakes up, she immediately wishes she could sink back into fitful, dreamless sleep. Every part of her body aches, especially her head (no surprise) and, oddly, her upper right arm— a mystery that could probably be solved if she opened her eyes, but forget that, it’s too bright. Why does the world have to have so much light in it? It’s wicked and cruel.
She lets out a sigh, effectively announcing to the room that she’s (partially) back among the living, and then groans, “What the fuck happened last night?”
Even through closed eyes and a pounding head, Jamie takes notice of Rebecca’s unrelenting annoyance. Her roommate, despite her own collection of faults, has never shied away from scolding Jamie’s poor judgment. But there’s no use arguing with someone studying law.
“Well, go on, give it to me straight,” Jamie grunts, peeling open one eye. But the morning (or possibly afternoon?) light slicing through the blinds may as well be the surface of the actual sun sitting right outside their window, so she lets her crusty eyelid fall shut again.
“You are gonna be the death of me, I swear,” Rebecca sighs.
Jamie lays there facing the ceiling, picturing all the memorized cracks and paint marks she usually sees above her bed. “No, actually,” she says, shifting up onto her elbows and cracking at least three different joints in that small movement, “I think I will be the death of myself.”
“Fair point,” Rebecca agrees. “You and your shitty life choices.”
“Mhmm, ‘ight, I get it. ‘s what I deserve for drinking on a Sunday night.” Jamie fully sits up, rubbing at her sore arm and squinting in Rebecca’s general direction. Her friend wobbles into view— in actuality she’s standing still, but in Jamie’s hellish hangover reality, everything tilts and spins— and wordlessly shoves a lukewarm water bottle and two aspirin pills into Jamie’s hands. Jamie drops the pills on her tongue, letting them dissolve there for a few seconds to quicken their effect, then washes down the bitter tang. “Christ,” she mumbles. “The hell did I do last night?” She looks up, and Rebecca’s turned back is a classic please-don’t-make-me-repeat-what-you-did-last-night-Jamie move. “Oh, god, Becca, what did I do?”
Rebecca glances over her shoulder, biting her lip. She puts all her focus into sorting papers on her desk, then says, “Why don’t you check your arm.”
Jamie angles her head, aiming a long, dubious look down at her right bicep. Somehow she completely missed that there is a bandage currently stuck to her skin. There’s only one thing it could be covering up— well, technically, there’s many possibilities here, but Jamie isn’t keen on thinking those through. “Shit,” she hisses. If she really got that drunk last night, drunk enough to forget about a fucking tattoo, then it’s a miracle that she ended up back in the safety of her own room. She starts to peel at the edge of the bandage, then stops and shoots a glare over at Rebecca, who raises her palms in surrender.
“Don’t ask me what’s under there! I wasn’t with you last night.”
“Then who the bloody hell was? I couldn’t’ve talked myself into it,” Jamie says, scooting to the edge of the paper-thin mattress. She reaches down to yank open one of the drawers in the chest under her bed, grabs a random t-shirt, and pulls it on over the tank top she’d passed out in. “And we both know if I was by myself,” she adds, hopping down and wiggling into the pair of jeans she’d left crumpled on the floor, “I wouldn’t have ended up sleeping here overnight.”
“Oh no, you definitely weren’t alone,” Rebecca replies. Ah, at last she’s clueing her in. “In fact, I had to vacate my own room at three in the morning because you weren’t alone.” Okay, maybe not so much clueing her in, but rather calling her out.
“Touché,” Jamie mutters. “And, uh... my apologies.” She presses her hands together in a less than sincere show of regret, then hesitates, surveying her surroundings. It looks like her side of the room— and only her side— was chewed up and spit out by a twister of some sort. But Jamie has her system, and nobody else needs to understand it but her. After a moment of searching, she plucks a belt out of the mess and slides it into the loops around her waist.
“Sure. Just give it a couple weeks before you bring another one-nighter back here. My sleep schedule can’t take it.”
A flash of genuine remorse crosses Jamie’s conscience, but another feeling quickly overtakes it. “So...” She bites back a smirk, hastily tucking in her shirt and securing the belt buckle. “Y’don’t happen to know... who was here, do you?”
Rebecca shrugs on her bookbag and serves her roommate with the thirtieth judgy look of this morning. “Do you really wanna know?”
Jamie lifts her shoulders. “If you know, then yeah, I wanna know. Who was she?” A few possibilities roam her mind, the web of options nearly as extensive as the possible things her new tattoo could be.
“It was Dani from down the hall.” Rebecca says it like she’s simply informing Jamie of the weather— or maybe even less enthusiastically than that. She starts toward the door, but Jamie stumbles across the room to clamp a hand on her shoulder. “Jamie, I have to get to class—”
“Very funny,” Jamie snaps, grimacing at the high-pitched lilt emerging in her voice. But anxiety has her tongue trapped in its reins, and there’s no escape in sight. “Now tell me who it really was.”
Rebecca meets her eyes, and finally it sinks in that she’s not joking. Holy shit, she’s not joking.
“Oh my god. Holy fuck.” Dani. Dani Clayton. Dani, their neighbor three doors down who Jamie somehow always runs into in the showers, every single time. No way it was her.
Jamie slumps back against her wardrobe, staring distantly out the window. On her side of the room the blinds are tightly drawn, but Rebecca has her blinds pinned up and the window is cracked, allowing swords of sunlight to poke at Jamie’s sensitive hangover-crippled senses. Jesus fuck, can the aspirin just kick in already?
“Are you done?” Rebecca asks. She waits a minute, and when she speaks again, her previously flat tone has softened somewhat. She steps closer to Jamie, a frown resting on her lips. “What’s the big—”
“Dani Clayton is untouchable, Bec. Even to me. Especially to me,” Jamie interrupts. Her eyes flick over to her friend, showing more white than green and practically bulging. “Please tell me you have a hint of an idea how I ended up shagging the shy American who also has a long-term boyfriend?” She lowers her voice for the last few words and is barely able to even say the last one. It’s her own mouth and yet Jamie can hardly believe what she’s hearing. What kind of twisted daydream is this?
Rebecca remains tense, but removes the razor blades lining her slanted brow. “They broke up. Long distance doesn’t ever work, you know that.”
Jamie rubs her arm again. “So they didn’t break up because of, y’know, last night?”
“No, J, their break-up wasn’t because of you.” And Rebecca has the gall to look almost amused by the notion. Jamie can feel herself shutting down, her motherboard short-circuiting from the flood of new information. So she flicks on the only switch that still functions: dark humor that’s more misses than hits.
“Probably ‘cause it wasn’t my own break-up,” she quips. She stays frozen as Rebecca joins her in leaning against the wardrobe.
“Stop that. Anyway, I think they ended things a few weeks ago, at least according to the gossip chain on our floor. So there’s no guilt necessary, unless you wanna start feeling guilty about my ruined sleep schedule anytime soon...?” She trails off when an almost manic grin appears on Jamie’s face.
“Only a few weeks?” At Rebecca’s perturbed nod, a bark-like laugh tears through Jamie’s lungs. The pain from it is almost enough to cover up the metaphorical pain in her arms from reaching so far for... what, exactly? An excuse? An explanation? A release? “Good. Great. That still places me safely in rebound territory.” Jamie turns to face Rebecca directly, gripping her friend’s shoulders. “So I’m free! It really was nothing. No strings attached. Thank fuck.”
The stare Rebecca pins on her just has to complicate things, however. “Really?” she asks. “You’re glad not to mean anything to her?”
“I mean... she’s nice and all. And pretty, I s’pose,” Jamie fumbles. She earns an eye roll from Rebecca, but still presses on, “But it’s called a one night stand for a reason, yeah? So all I have to do is avoid her in the laundry room and common area for the rest of the semester, and I’m golden.”
“... right,” Rebecca says. Jamie feels like she’s dangling off a cliff edge, and Rebecca is standing right there within reach but refusing to extend a helping hand. Alright, fine, she’ll struggle a little bit more.
“Well, you know her better than I do, don’t you? She isn’t the type to just...” Jamie waves a hand in the air, unsure what she’s even reaching for. “I dunno, hit it and quit it?”
Instead of leaning closer, Rebecca backs even farther away from the edge and crosses her arms. “She’s been in a few of my classes. We’ve talked a little. And she’s not completely useless in group projects. That’s about the extent of my knowledge.” She begins moving toward the door again. “But hey, you two were very drunk, right? There’s a chance she doesn’t even remember it.” Her phone chirps, and she fishes it out of her pocket. “Now I’m gonna be late and Peter’s texting me non stop. Wonderful.” Jamie wrinkles her nose at the name. Ugh, Peter. That knobhead.
Rebecca gives Jamie’s hand a supportive squeeze— about damn time— then swings open their door. “We can analyze this all you want later, J, but I have to—” Her sentence, along with her feet, come to a screeching halt. Curious, Jamie leans around the wardrobe to see what’s blocking her.
Standing in their doorway is Dani Clayton, tucking hair behind her ear and wearing that tentative grin of hers like she’s not used to smiling often. She looks remarkably well put together for someone who is surely just as hungover. When Jamie tilts into view, Dani’s eyes immediately land on her, darting like sparks straying from a bonfire. Jamie stares back. Just looking at her is surreal; Jamie doubts she’ll ever be able to wrap her head around this whole thing. Dani is someone who has been so close yet so far away for the couple of months Jamie has known her. It’s the type of peripheral knowing that barely counts— passing each other with a nod or half-grin in the dorm hall some mornings, and having overlapping followers on Instagram but not actually following each other.
Jamie wants to believe that Dani was her one night stand last night. She can almost believe it, can almost take Rebecca’s word for it, can almost draw up diagrams in her head explaining how Dani ended up not waking next to Jamie this morning in her rumpled twin bed. She can try to explain it or justify it all she wants, but it just couldn’t have been Dani Clayton. She’s too... Dani, and Jamie is too Jamie. They’re just incompatible enough for it to be ridiculous; the kind of incompatible where a puzzle piece looks like it should fit in, has all the right cutouts and edges to fit, but when it’s shoved into place, there’s something just a little bit off.
Rebecca clears her throat, and the noise saws through the rope of tension woven between Jamie and Dani. “I’ll leave you to it, then,” Rebecca says. She gives a friendly nod to Dani, then squeezes around her out the door, officially kicking away Jamie’s hand and leaving her to tumble off the cliff’s edge.
“Hey.” Dani rubs at her elbow, and Jamie’s eyes try not to follow the sloping neckline of her striped pink tee. She can’t help it, though; the neckline is off-center just enough for a bit of lace underneath to peek out—
Jamie dips her head and swallows hard enough for it to hurt. Get it together, you fucktwat. “Hey,” she spits out after a painful delay.
“Um, can we talk?” Dani asks. Jamie knows that if she can just steer clear of those blue eyes, then she won’t be sucked in, and she’ll be able to say No Dani, sorry, have a nice life. All she has to do is not look into her eyes.
But then all of a sudden Jamie hears herself saying “Yeah.” She steps away from the door, moving one arm in a stiff gesture to invite Dani in. She doesn’t even remember looking up; the blue swept her away quicker than a reflex, and now Jamie is utterly screwed. Hopefully she can hang on for the ride, but she isn’t seeing any lap bars or seatbelts. This hasn’t happened before. She’s always had an excuse to fall back on. Why is it different this time?
Dani walks in and lingers in the center of the room. “Sorry it’s a mess,” Jamie mumbles. She snaps the hair tie off her wrist and claws her curls back into some sort of knot.
To her surprise, Dani plays with Jamie’s apology instead of overtly accepting it. “Yeah, I...” She chuckles softly and leans all her weight onto her heels. “I remember.”
Jamie sets her hands on her hips, working her jaw and looking anywhere else in the room. “Right, so, last night. That was...”
“That was... a thing that happened,” Dani fills in rather unhelpfully. When Jamie says nothing, she adds, “So, uh, the reason I’m here is something I actually can’t remember.” Before Jamie can find any words, Dani turns around and starts stripping off her shirt. All the wires in Jamie’s brain are exposed and frayed, crackling with dangerous electricity. Since when did she get like this? She never gets like this. And what the hell is happening, anyway? Is Dani trying to retrace their steps last night down to the finest detail? Jamie doesn’t make a move, instead continuing to watch until a new problem becomes visible.
“Oh.” Jamie doesn’t feel that word on her lips, but what she does feel are about a hundred more less coherent words rumbling at the base of her throat. Dani is standing with her back to her, that loose-fitting striped tee bunched up over her shoulders, holding her hair out of the way to show Jamie her own bandaged tattoo, covered by that clear film that distorts it just enough to be imperceptible. Instead of her upper arm, Dani’s new ink rests just under the nape of her neck, stretching humbly across her upper back but not going past her shoulder blades. Jamie only gets to blink stupidly at it for another moment before Dani lets her shirt and hair fall again and spins back around. A pleasant pink has filled her cheeks and leaked into her ears, rubbing the shells of them an irritated red.
“I have these brief flashes of memory. Most of it’s just black. But the parts I do remember all have you,” Dani explains. Her eyes snag on the bandage poking out from Jamie’s sleeve. “And, um... no offense, but I’m a little worried about what our drunk selves thought would be good tattoos to get together.” Her blush deepens and the ends of her hair seem to frizz on their own as her agitation grows. “I- I mean, I don’t know about you, but I never wanted to get a tattoo in the first place. Just pierced ears at the mall when I was eleven. That’s it. I never—”
“Hold on,” Jamie cuts in, resisting the urge to rest a placating hand on Dani’s shoulder. (Which is weird because, well, who knows where Jamie’s hands were last night?) “Slow down. There’s no need to go mad about it, ‘ight? I’m sure we couldn’t have gotten something that awful.”
“But we don’t know that, I mean...” Dani redirects her train of thought. “Isn’t this your first one, too?”
Jamie tilts her head at her. “How d’you know that?”
“Uh, just a guess.” Dani swipes at flyaway blonde strands, then launches into a feverish pace. “So... I guess we should just bite the bullet and look now, right?”
“S’pose that’s a good plan,” Jamie agrees. “Can’t hide it forever.” For another endless moment, Dani continues to stare at her, and Jamie can’t help squirming a little under her skin. With the squirming comes a bitter thought, raw and freshly mined from the cave-in actively occurring in Jamie’s brain. Maybe it’s because of Dani’s enigmatic and ever-absent ex-boyfriend, or maybe it’s the gossip chain repeatedly branding Jamie as the sole lesbian on their floor. But before she can stop it, the thought escapes her lips and hangs heavy in the stuffy air between them. “Bet you know a thing or two ‘bout hiding, don’t you?” Jamie hums, evenly meeting Dani’s eyes, vast and blue like twin lakes.
“Maybe you could—” Jamie bites her tongue, but that can’t plug up the flow of emotions behind her eyes. — teach me how to not care, because for some reason I now can’t do anything but care and I don’t fucking know why. She coughs into her fist and angles her body away from Dani slightly. They’re practically strangers, after all. Just neighbors in this run-down dorm building, nothing more in common than being students at the same mediocre university. How can Jamie yearn so much for something she can’t even remember? “Right, anyway. Just a one-time deal. We all experiment in uni, don’t we? No harm done.” She rolls up her shirt sleeve over her shoulder and turns her arm toward Dani. “How about you get mine, and I’ll get yours?”
Dani says nothing, just nods, and begins to gently turn up the edge of Jamie’s bandage. Her fingertips are fire starters, sending sparks careening to every corner of Jamie like her body is a pinball machine. Dani peels it off slowly, gingerly, like it’s a band-aid stuck on the skinned knee of a child. The stinging sensation lessens slightly when open air touches the angry skin surrounding the tattoo. Jamie hears Dani’s intake of breath— and it really could be anything out of an assortment of reactions, a box of chocolates filled with shock, horror, dismay, disgust— but she stops her before she can describe what it is. “Don’t say anything yet, let me get yours.”
And Dani complies, repeating her earlier motion of gathering golden waves in one hand and using the other to tug her top onto her shoulders. Jamie couldn’t get the image of Dani’s bare back out of her head, and now here it is in front of her again, offering so much in such a sliver of a view. Jamie tries to swallow, but conflicted desire has a chokehold on her.
She holds it all in until she trembles from the intensity of it, forcing her eyes not to stray, not to draw made-up constellations between cute little birthmarks and freckles and wandering strands of pale hair. Fuck, maybe Jamie should drop out. Better yet, flee the country. Or she can just start small and run out of the building—
“Jamie?” Dani always speaks her name tentatively, like she’s asking a question she thinks is dumb. Jamie wonders what it would take to change that.
She only hesitates a second longer before she peels away the bandage.