It’s dark and humid outside when Jamie takes her dog for their evening stroll. The night sky is like a veil overhead, making the mist that lands on Jamie’s skin feel like flecks of ink rather than water. She relaxes and lets Stevie take the lead, but soon comes to regret that decision.
Jamie doesn’t want to walk down this block. In fact, she’d promised herself a while ago that she would never turn onto this street again. But Stevie keeps tugging on the leash, pointing Jamie in this specific direction like the needle in a compass. Jamie tries to soothe herself, figuring that since it’s dark out and she has her hat pulled down low over her face, she won’t be recognized by the wrong pair of eyes.
But not even a minute later, her worry blossoms into total dismay. It’s her own fault for thinking she would be safe here. She can’t guard her heart from the memories when they’re staring her in the face. Stevie comes to a halt, sniffing intently around the base of a street lamp, and Jamie’s eyes take the opportunity to wander ahead, moving up to the unusually tidy facade of a bar just a few doors down from where they’re standing.
Evening Glory has always been prettiest at night, Jamie thinks. It makes sense that it would be, since it mainly operates in the late hours. When Jamie helped redesign the sign a few years back, she insisted on it being all neon: bright green ribbons of light tangled together to resemble vines around the letters, and the “O” in Glory obscured by a moonflower poking through the middle and unfurling its petals. A bit fussy for a bar, maybe, but this wasn’t just any bar, it was Dani’s bar. She had begged for Jamie to help with the design, so Jamie created something that she hoped would be half as beautiful as the face behind the name.
Stevie resumes pulling and Jamie follows along, never one to hinder her dog’s perpetual quest for good sniffs. But as they get closer to the familiar sign, the deep-rooted ache in Jamie’s chest worsens. Her eyes have already observed the bar from a distance, but seeing her past up close, expired happiness directly in her face— she can’t take it. And she won’t take it.
Without thinking it through, she jerks Stevie’s leash to the left and abruptly exits the sidewalk. Her heels have scarcely left the curb when a car materializes out of thin air like a ghost, loud and bright and sudden. For a fraction of a second, Jamie thinks that this is it. This is her fate— getting flattened in front of her ex-girlfriend’s former bar with words Dani could have said searing on her wrist.
But Jamie never feels the impact of glass and metal crushing bone. The car jerks, its brakes screeching as it barely comes to a stop in time.
Jamie is too stunned to do anything except crouch down, hug Stevie to her chest, and calculate what she must owe the universe in return for this second chance. Stevie is stiff and alert, ears pricked as she stares over at the driver’s door opening. Without looking up, Jamie lashes out through the haze of disconnect that tends to come with near-death experiences. “Hey!” she snaps. “Maybe watch where you’re going, yeah? Could’ve hit my dog.”
As soon as the driver speaks, Jamie realizes she may be getting more than one second chance tonight. (Don’t get her wrong, though— it’s not like she asked for it.) “I am so sorry, okay, I was just trying to park and you came out of literally nowhere and...” The driver’s voice trails off into breathless oblivion. Jamie knows she’s been seen; now they’re at a stalemate.
Finally she glances up. Jamie recognizes the car, and as expected, she recognizes the driver too. They both know this street very well, and it only makes sense that Dani would be here. Jamie’s shop is two blocks away from here, her apartment eight, and it’s a big city, but it has been surprisingly difficult to avoid Dani’s street. It is just her luck that the first time Jamie dares to roam near here again, she runs into her. Or rather, nearly gets run over by her. (Poor sweet Dani has never been the best driver, let alone when people unwittingly throw themselves in front of her car.)
Jamie squints through the headlights; they blaze like dragon eyes in the inky night, slicing a cone of yellow through the shades of navy and gray that the city is painted after dusk. She doesn’t have the best view of Dani’s face, but seeing her is like falling all over again. She stumbles through at least ten different memories in the span of a second, seemingly drawn at random as if from a cruel lottery.
Laughing together over lukewarm pints of beer. Nearly breaking down the apartment door with lips locked. Fighting for the second time (was that the one that did them in? Or was it the third fight?) And last but not least, meeting for the first time.
Three years ago
The first time Jamie walks into Evening Glory, her blood is simmering. She doesn’t pay much attention to her surroundings; all she cares is that it’s one step above a hole in the wall, and it serves alcohol. Her vision forms a tunnel leading directly to a barstool at the end of the counter. She decides to plant herself there and stay until she’s been generously watered, however long it takes.
She pulls herself up onto the stool and leans forward with a couple fingers raised before the seat is even warm. “Hey!” she calls. “If I could get some service that’d be swell.”
The bartender whirls away from a cluster of customers at the other end of the bar and speedwalks down to Jamie’s lonelier corner. Her sleek blonde ponytail wags like Stevie’s tail, and that combined with the frenzied trot would be amusing if Jamie was in a better mood. She comes to a stop in front of Jamie and hesitates. She stares at Jamie, and Jamie tilts her head, boldly staring back. The girl’s cheeks puff out like she’s holding her breath before diving into a pool. Then, at last, the dam breaks and a flood of guffaws pour out of her mouth. Jamie says nothing, just blinks at her until she’s recovered enough to speak.
“I am so sorry,” she says. “It’s just— it’s been such a crazy night, and I haven’t even had a second to breathe, you know, and then you come in with this— this incredible fake accent, and it just... you just really made my night, okay?”
Jamie scowls. What would make her assume that? Isn’t New York City, like, rich with immigrants? Not everyone she encounters will be a brash American. In fact, if Jamie has learned to place regional accents at all in her past couple years living here, she’d guess that Miss Bartender herself is from somewhere due midwest of here.
And for fuck’s sake, what does it take to get a bloody beer around here? Is there some kind of code word she needs to access this unholy grail? “Hate to break it to you, but m’accent’s not fake,” Jamie growls.
The bartender snorts. Jamie doesn’t hate the way this girl wears laughter on her face, but she’s not about to get attached to it or anything. Why should she get used to the water temperature if she’s just going to climb right back out of the pool?
“Right,” the bartender replies. “So, um, people actually say the word swell in England?”
“Yes, we say swell, and we also say things like bloody hell and what do I have to do to get a wretched beer around here?” Jamie slams her palms on the counter and forces a sweet smile at the woman on the other side. “All very common phrases. Now, if I could please get something to drink, I’ll take whatever is the least rubbish thing you have on tap. I just spent the last two hours dealing with a Karen over the phone and I really would love to forget that was two hours of my life I won’t get back.”
Unfortunately for her, bartender girl doesn’t seem frightened yet. Then again, she’s probably seen plenty worse working in a bar in New York City. “Hey, watch it. Karen is my mom’s name,” she says, fetching a glass. She peruses the draft options for only a moment before choosing one.
“Well, this lady blew up on me because according to her, the roses we delivered lost a single petal in transit, and she continued screaming about it for two straight hours, so I think ‘Karen’ is a fitting term for her.” Jamie slumps a little further over the counter. “No disrespect to your mum, though.”
“Hey, I never said I was close with my mom. I just meant that I take accusations of Karen-ing very seriously,” the bartender says, twisting back around to hand Jamie her drink. Before Jamie can close her hands around the frosty glass, the bright-eyed blonde turns around a second time to perch an orange slice onto the rim of her glass. “There you go. All done.”
Jamie takes a sip and nods in approval. Crisp, faint citrus tang. Exactly what she needs. After another couple sips she glances over the edge of her glass to find the girl still peering eagerly at her. Jamie rolls her eyes and hums, “S’good, thanks.” She tips her glass toward the bartender, suddenly wishing this stranger was on her side of the counter, able to sit and have a drink with her and converse for a while. Jamie shoos the thought away.
“Awesome! Now just don’t ask me to make you a hot drink, and I think we’ll get along just fine. Welcome to Evening Glory. And if you need me, just ask for Dani. I’ll, uh... I’ll be around.”
The bartender— Dani— scurries off, and Jamie only lets her go a short distance before she yells through the din from the rapidly multiplying crowd, “Ay, Dani?”
Dani spins on a single foot like a ballet dancer, though with only half the grace of one. “Yeah?”
“The name of this place. Makes me think of morning glories.” She pauses, toying with her lower lip. “Or moonflowers, maybe. They only bloom at night— some call ‘em evening glories.”
Dani moves closer again, something like shyness softening the corners of her smile. “I like that,” she says. “Makes sense, since most people come here in the evening for their little sip of glory. I think some of us only bloom at night too, in a way.” Her laugh is subdued now, as if she’s afraid it’ll be too loud in the already clamorous room. “I... don’t know much about moonflowers. But, I mean, you could... explain it a little more to me... if you like.”
“So you’re still not sick of me yet?” Jamie teases. “Who d’you think you are?”
Dani grins broadly, flipping a bar rag back over her shoulder. She places a fist on either side of Jamie’s little square of personal space, leaning in on the cusp of too close to respond, “The manager.”
Jamie lifts her brows. “The manager? I sincerely hope you don’t think I’m intimidated, Dani. You’ll have to try harder than that.”
Dani pulls away, but Jamie wishes she hadn’t. The bartender pauses for a long moment, looking thoughtfully at her hands with the remnants of a smirk still decorating her lips. “It won’t be for forever,” she says, the last traces of mirth ebbing from her expression when a waving customer snags the corner of her eye. “Just while I’m working on my master’s.” She turns to go again— the customer who’s been trying to flag her down for the past few minutes now looks significantly peeved— but then she stops short and glances over her shoulder again. And damn it, it’s cute. “So, um, that’s me... and you are?”
A devilish thought occurs to Jamie. “Hang around awhile after you get off your shift, boss, and maybe you can guess my name.” Along with her eyebrows, she now raises her glass at Dani. Exactly as Jamie hoped, her words have an effect on her. A deep blush fills in Dani’s cheeks, crayon-red, as if scribbled by a child into a coloring book between lines of soft straw-colored hair and beneath coastal blue eyes. Jamie wants to uncover all of her colors.
“Oh!” Dani chirps. “Yeah, okay. I... I’d like that.” She flashes one last smile at Jamie, this one far less stable than the previous ones, then finally attends to the exasperated customer.
Ten minutes later, she swings by to replenish Jamie’s glass. “Actually, I’m gonna start guessing now, because it’s still a few hours until I get off, and it’s so hard to wait, so...”
Jamie can barely get a chuckle out. “Alright—”
Dani scrunches up her face in concentration. “Um. Theresa?”
Jamie’s affronted look is all the answer she needs.
It’s only after a few more glasses and guesses (each one a little worse than the last) when Jamie remembers the first words Dani spoke to her a short while before; so perfectly molded by her lips and giggled into existence, Jamie almost doesn’t realize that those words are one and the same as the ones wrapped around her wrist. How bizarre. She’d never imagined I am so sorry would be said to her through tears of laughter.
It’s a problem, Dani thinks, that when she’s looking at her ex, she sees the person she is still in love with.
It had been good until it wasn’t. And it doesn’t make sense, because Dani had thought her life would be better without Jamie in it. But it’s been the opposite of better. Now all of their days together fill her mind, both the mundane and the thrilling, both the scenes out of a movie and the unwritten in-betweens. The time she spent with her would never not matter.
“Jamie...” she murmurs, but Jamie won’t look at her now. Her eyes have darted a million miles away. Dani supposes that it’s for the best if she doesn’t get to hold Jamie’s attention in her hands anymore. If she did, the lonely word on her inner wrist would throb, and Dani would never let her go again.
Stevie is here too, and as usual, Stevie does whatever she wants. Apparently what she wants right now is to be the obstacle in Dani and Jamie’s plan to stay away from each other. Nosing her way out of Jamie’s protective hold, she approaches Dani’s feet with a tentative wag of her tail. Dani’s first instinct, of course, is to drop down and give Stevie a very thorough ear scratch and back rub; she’s missed the dog more than she thought she did. But Dani knows better than to just pet Jamie’s dog without her permission. However, when Jamie makes no move of protest— or any move at all, really— Dani takes that as a chilly assent for her to crouch down and peck the top of Stevie’s mottled brown and white head. Instantly her tail picks up speed, waving like a feathery fan over the damp asphalt.
“Hey, baby,” Dani coos, trying and failing not to remember how Jamie used to call her that word. It’s too late for them now, and there’s no taking back anything that’s been said. She clears her throat as if that will quell the stinging behind her eyes, adjusting her squat to a more comfortable position as she continues to massage behind Stevie’s ears. “Hi, sweetheart. I missed you.”
She feels Jamie’s eyes pressing into her before she hears her voice. Dani’s glad she can use the excuse of getting her face mercilessly licked as an excuse for not looking at Jamie’s face.
“Pretty sure she thought you were dead,” Jamie jests half-heartedly. Her voice is contrived, accent clinging to her words tighter than usual.
Dani smiles gently, cradling Stevie’s face in her hands and booping her nose. “Are you taking good care of your mama?” she whispers. Better care than I did?
“Dani, look at me,” Jamie says. Dani freezes. It feels like her saliva has thickened, blocking up her throat. “Please?” Dani isn’t sure how Jamie can crack a one-syllable word painfully in half, but that plea is what urges her to finally glance over.
The regret that swarms Dani’s senses is intense and dizzying, making her stomach lurch and her brain feel like a shaken beehive. She can’t do this. Not now, not ever, probably. She thought she had finally wrenched herself free from thoughts of Jamie, had finally accepted that her soulmate was only meant to be the one for a brief flash of time. But here they are months later, hunched and teary-eyed in the glare of headlights. Dani had just wanted to check up on her old stomping grounds— she didn’t plan on nearly running over her ex-girlfriend, too.
She doesn’t mean to start wrestling with fantasy again, considering the “Maybe it’s meant to be” narrative, but it’s pointless. She’s already halfway up the spiral staircase to panic.
Two years earlier
Dani is in Jamie’s apartment, but she’s home. Home is lying sprawled on the couch with her head resting on Jamie’s lap, occasionally tugging at the corner of Jamie’s sketchbook to check her progress on the logo design for her shop.
“I can’t believe,” Dani begins, shimmying into a slightly comfier position with her ankles crossed on the back of the sofa, “that you really just named the place ‘Flowers.’ I feel like there’s some better options out there.”
“Yeah?” Jamie grunts around the pencil stub shoved between her teeth. Dani has teased her a million and one times about it being gross, but that only makes her do it more often. “Name one, then.” One of her hands crawls down to Dani’s hair, freeing the strands pinned under her head and gently combing them out over her lap.
“What’s the point? There’s no changing your mind,” Dani snorts, her nose crinkling when Stevie joins them on the couch, forcing her way into a tight spot between Dani’s knees. “Take Stevie, for example. You gave your dog a human name—”
“And she quite likes it, I should think! How’s that make me uncreative?” Jamie argues. Dani grabs the hand that’s been playing with her hair and drags it over to her lips, planting a messy flurry of kisses on Jamie’s knuckles. “Y’know, if this is your way of flirting with me, Poppins,” Jamie says, “You ought to step up your game.”
Twenty minutes later, Dani is parked on the living room floor, grading papers from the class she’s student teaching for. Papers are fanned out over the carpet, but somehow she makes the mess look neat. Dani hums softly to herself, tapping her pen— one with blue ink rather than red, because the corrective red ink always freaked her out when she was a kid— on the coffee table with sheets of stickers laid out nearby. Jamie has watched her do this before, has told her she couldn’t be any more beautiful while doing this routine task. Dani will never understand it.
“What?” Jamie peers over at her, still situated on the couch watching some action flick on Netflix. The volume is low so Dani can concentrate; Jamie insists she can follow along fine reading the subtitles between whatever stray sketches may meander from pencil to paper. “You think of a superior name? Suggestion box is open for a very limited time.”
Dani barely cracks a smile at the affectionate bullying. “Leaflet,” she says simply, looking from the half-graded spelling test to her girlfriend.
Jamie blinks. “Leaflet,” she responds, not even a question, not even considering it.
But then Dani says “Sapling,” as if that explains everything. She taps her pen over each respective word.
“Help me out here, baby.”
Dani’s laughter is abrupt and way too eager for the discovery she’s made. “Put them together!” she exclaims. “Plants have leaves, so take the ‘leaf-’ prefix. Then take the suffix from ‘sapling’ to make ‘Leafling.’ Cute, and there’s alliteration.”
Jamie is quiet for a long moment. Then she tosses her sketchbook aside. “You, Dani Clayton, are a bloody genius!”
Dani only really starts savoring the fruits of her mental labor, however, when Jamie dives off the couch and joins her on the floor to pepper her face with kisses. She thinks it’s a perfectly splendid reward.
“You’re happy, right?” Jamie asks softly. If words were material, hers would be a leaves and feathers, gone with the next breeze.
Dani is quiet. She stays low, absently running her hand over Stevie’s shaggy coat. Her wrist burns, the word Hey! stinging like a fresh tattoo, the ink sinking through her skin and leaking into her veins. It could’ve been anyone, Dani thinks; Hey! is such a common phrase, after all. There have probably been a million different Heys spoken or shouted at her over the years, all in a million different voices. Dani had spent hours staring at the word until it looked like something from a foreign language, until she’d convinced herself that it was never something Jamie could’ve possibly said to her, let alone the very first thing.
“I— I should get on, then,” Jamie says. It was always about moving on for her, but Dani could never bear taking that first step. So she stands there, swallowing around the jam in her throat while she watches her ex wind up Stevie’s leash in her hands. Dani stands there, alone with the humming car engine and the headlights and Jamie’s hesitant frown. Dani stands there and lets Jamie walk out of her life for the second time.
Jamie is just moving around the counter to flip over the open sign when the little bell above the door jingles cheerfully, a contrast to her less-than-welcoming sigh. “Sorry, I’m just about to close up,” she calls out, unable to see the latecomer’s face behind the tall floral arrangement next to the register. “I’ll be open tomorrow at eight—”
Jamie stumbles to a halt, immediately matching the broken voice with the face she sees a moment later. Dani Clayton is standing inside The Leafling once again, eyes rimmed red and hair unkempt. (Jamie has never taken her art that seriously, considering it a side hobby compared to the shop, her true career. That’s why she never tried to translate Dani’s face by hand, because Dani is better than nibbled pencil nubs and doodles on torn scraps of paper. But now Jamie wishes she had drawn her in better times, because if this will be the last version of Dani that Jamie sees for the rest of her life, it will stomp her heart into the dust.)
It hasn’t been a full day since their encounter, but I am so sorry, scrawled playfully around Jamie’s wrist like the phone number of a crush, still sizzles like mad, and has been shooting spikes of numbness up and down her arm at random all day. Such a generic phrase, really, but Jamie should’ve known better. It was always her.
“To answer your question,” Dani clarifies, inching closer but still keeping her distance. “I’m not happy, Jamie, I’m...” Her exhale turns into a sob that shudders down her entire body, and the only thing Jamie wants to do is hug her. She thinks of the better times Dani walked through that front door: carrying takeout with her lips already prepared to deposit a kiss, and beaming broadly the first time she saw her name idea on the new sign, tied in seamlessly with Jamie’s logo design. Jamie had never expected it to hurt when she saw The Leafling displayed on the door and the windows and all her business cards and brochures.
“I’m miserable,” Dani breathes. “And I’m sorry. I know things must’ve ended for a reason, but I can’t remember for the life of me what that reason was.” A raspy laugh cuts between her words. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. I never did stop. A- and I think we both know you’re my soulmate,” she goes on, raking down her sleeve to show the simple three-letter word, “but that doesn’t even matter, because I would be so hopelessly in love with you regardless of what’s on my wrist. You’re my soulmate, but more than that, you’re my best friend. I can’t be without my best friend.”
Dani is breathless now, approaching Jamie with overwhelming fervor in her gaze and movements. Jamie already knows there isn’t a universe in which she would say no to her. “You make me laugh, and cry, and you remind me that I’m alive, Jamie. I’m sorry it took nearly killing you with my car to realize it again.”
If she doesn’t have Dani enclosed in her arms within the next five seconds, Jamie will definitely combust. Vision blurring, she holds her arms open. Dani closes the distance between them, and Jamie yanks her into a ferocious bear hug, finally letting the tears loose.
“Please call me baby again,” Dani sniffles into her shoulder. “And Poppins. And—”
“Dani,” Jamie whispers. How did she go so long without this, without Dani’s perfume in her nose and her fingers in Dani’s hair? “Fuck, I missed you.”
The only reason Jamie pulls back is so she can properly kiss her. Dani responds in kind, but Jamie’s lips have a mind of their own, slipping to the side after a minute to lazily peck at Dani’s jaw. Dani curls a fist in Jamie’s hair and god, there has never been anything more perfect.