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The woman in the denim top stares at you when you walk in. Uncertain of what to say, you stare back until she graces you with a casual nod and her musical name: Daphne, whose beauty surely could bring Apollo to his knees. She, with her easy smile and silvery voice, seems to think nothing of it at all. You return her nod, give your own name, but search her warm, brown eyes until they flicker to the floor. There was something in them, though, you’re certain, for that perfect moment when she met your gaze. The light of a connection made.

So, what was it: recognition or repulsion?

The next morning brings the start of months gone without seeing Maris, uncertain of where you stand. Of course, you’ve never had the most affectionate relationship, or the most public relationship, or even the most comfortable one. But you know Maris, and in these periods, she would always call once or twice, at least to make sure you hadn’t forgotten the risk she’d taken in sponsoring your club membership. For weeks, now, she has not given you even that. A part of you thinks she has somehow detected the brief spark of passion between you and Daphne. At least, has detected the brief spark of passion you felt in Daphne’s general direction. But this would require an interest in your emotional state that Maris lacks.

You, of course, can talk to nobody about this. You show up more frequently to Frasier’s apartment than you care to admit, insisting that you’ve only come for a recipe, or to inquire about those plans you’d had to go to the opera, but desperately craving human contact. And the strange thing is that Daphne is kind to you through all of this, even when she shouldn't be. She confides in you things she shouldn't, things you would never dream of telling anyone about yourself. And if she knew the things you thought about her (knew the way your eyes follow the curves of her cheek, her jawline, her throat), she would never speak to you again. Never share another secret, with a voice low and mischievous. Never tell you another joke, then purse her lips to keep from laughing at it first.

God, you want to see her laugh first.

It's nothing you mean to notice, but her hair smells like oranges when she walks by. It's not a scent you particularly like—one reminiscent of soccer games you always lost—but there's something about it that's almost enchanting. You eat an orange with your breakfast for a week straight, sticky-sweet and childish, until the shame of it starts eating you instead.

Daphne asks you to braid her orange-smelling hair the next time you visit, and you don’t dare ask why she can’t do it herself. When she notices the nervous fumbling of your hands, you tell her your hair has been cut short so long you've forgotten just how to do it.

Daphne hums, some kind of quiet curiosity. "I'd have thought it would be like riding a bike," she says. Of course, you never learned, but it seems like the wrong time to say it.

Instead, you ask her—in spite of Frasier’s many warnings—about her life back home. And of course, she is not facing you, so you cannot speak to the warm light of her deep brown eyes, or to the surely delightful way they must wrinkle at their corners, but you watch the shape of her face change in a way that can only mean that she’s smiling.

Even in all of your trembling, by the time you finish braiding her hair, you long to hear her speak for hours more. But you are a woman of character, or at least a woman who tries to be, and you cannot stand to give her another half-truth in exchange.

Apparently, you do not have to. The moment you wind the elastic around her luxuriant hair, she asks whether you’d like to stay and chat.

The next time you get this close to her, she has a boyfriend and a new shampoo. It's artificially floral and too sweet to be sophisticated, but it occupies your thoughts for weeks. The boyfriend does too, but you can never quite conjure up the same fondness for him. You can’t help but notice the shame when she catches you lingering is gone, too.

They’re broken up soon after, and she calls you—you, Niles Crane, the woman who’s been hoping they would since you first heard his name—to talk about it. Her psychic abilities do not seem to have warned her about your ill will, for she invites herself to your apartment the moment you reveal that your evening plans have been cancelled.

If it were anyone else, you wouldn’t have believed their nerve. When you catch yourself staring at her figure in the doorway, you cannot believe your own.

You spend the evening telling her that he couldn’t possibly have deserved her, that no man on Earth ever could, and her not-quite-inebriated laugh makes your apartment echo in the strangest, loneliest way.

As it fades, she looks off toward the stairway. “If I’m honest,” she says, never quite looking in your direction, “I think that’s why I came here tonight. You’re always so kind to me. I suppose I knew I could count on you to say something like that. And I know it’s selfish—”

“Daphne—“

The sound of her name draws her gaze once more to you. “Not you, Dr. Crane, myself. It’s funny, you say all that stuff, but it’s more like you than me. There’s not a man in all the world fit for a woman like you.”

You flash her a self-deprecating smile. “Yes, I suppose that’s true.”

“Well, there I go again,” she says, and it starts as a laugh until alarm reaches her dark eyes. “I didn’t mean to imply— You know, we’ve never talked about it.”

“Of course,” you say, with what little ease you can manage. “I don’t usually— You know how it is, in my circles. But I am a lesbian, Daphne. I hope that doesn’t change anything about—“

Before you can finish, Daphne wraps you in a hug and kisses both your cheeks. By the time she lets you go, you have lost your train of thought entirely.

Breathless, you tell her at last, “I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve said that out loud.”

Daphne’s giddiness subsides, but she moves close to you once more, so that her hip touches your hip and her hand touches your hand, and she says, “Thank you for trusting me, Dr. Crane.”

You have no idea how to thank her, and Daphne cannot sit in silence. Her voice wraps around you once more before you have the chance.

“For what it’s worth,” she says, still achingly close, “I think any woman would be lucky to be with you.”

You laugh. “Thank you, Daphne.” Just saying her name is intoxicating, but you do not let yourself return her touch. “That’s very kind of you.”

“I do mean it, you know.”

Courage dances in your mouth. “Forgive me, Daphne, but I’ve just remembered that I never cancelled my reservations. I don’t suppose you’d want to go to dinner with me, would you?”

“I’m not dressed to go out.” 

“Of course,” you say. It is obvious: Her tights are torn in three separate places, and her dress is one of those polyester blends with flowers printed on it and a persistent bit of paint stuck on the sleeve. “Then again, the reservations aren’t for another hour. You could always borrow something of mine, or go back home, or… If you meant to say no, it’s really no trouble.”

“I’ve always fancied those suits of yours. You know, the first time I saw a woman dressed the way you do, I thought about her for weeks. I couldn’t’ve been ten years old, but… I’ve never worn one myself.“

(You have your answer to what it was in her eyes that first day you met, at least. Not that you would dare to presume anything about Daphne’s life based on something so insignificant as a liking for a nice suit.)

As you guide her to your bedroom, you remember her boots—Dr. Martens, it so happens, not unlike the ones you bought in your singular, brief streak of rebellion—by their sound. They are, you realize, two sizes larger than anything you have. Gently, you suggest that she try something that would coordinate with their scuffed brown leather, and Daphne takes them off with a nod and a kind of single-mindedness you hadn’t thought her to possess. Standing before your closet, she selects a suit, then drapes it over her arm.

“What do you think?”

“I do own it.”

In the softest gesture, she hits her palm against your arm. Unthinkingly, you bump your hip against hers, and she dares to laugh before you. At last, after you have stepped away from her in a fleeting moment of self-restraint, she says, “Well, we all have our favorites, don’t we?”

The distance you created in stepping backward now feels prohibitory and unwelcome once more. You move closer and reach for a button-up. Passing it to her, you say, “The double-breasted jacket should look wonderful on you.”

“Do you really think so?”

You, of course, think that anything would, and that nothing would, if you care to be crass, but you cannot say either of these things. You watch her deliberate between ties, watch the way her index grazes her bottom lip, clear your throat, and say, “I suppose we’ll have to see."

She places the clothing gingerly onto your bed and, without further warning, begins to pull off her tights. Unwillingly, you become seized by the question of whether you’ve been imagining the whole evening.

As a precaution, you turn your head, and Daphne laughs when she notices. It takes all your strength to keep from looking back. “You haven’t got to do that,” she calls over to you, the warmth and wideness of a smile still lingering in her voice. “I hardly think you’re the type to think anything of it.”

You start to interject, because you’re the type to think everything of it, but realize you couldn’t possibly say so. “I suppose you’re right,” you say. Still, your eyes seek out the freckles on her back with a determination they haven’t known since your most recent trip to the optometrist. You pray that your voice betrays none of this. “It’s silly of me to be so skittish.”

Daphne tucks in her shirt (your shirt, that is, but this conjures up all sorts of images of domesticity more shameful than sex), and grins back at you. Her lipstick has accidentally adorned the collar, and your mind flickers only briefly to Maris before Daphne’s voice draws you back to her. “There we are,” she says, impossibly pleased. Then, slipping suspenders over her shoulders, she walks to your mirror. Immediately, her wide eyes go bright, and she reaches for your arm, pulling you beside her.

“Don’t we look dapper?” she asks.

You know precisely what you look like, what you’re sure to look like to everyone who sees you together, and some part of her must know too, but dapper is hardly it. All the same, Daphne is electrified every time she catches the two of you reflected in a window.

Though it surely says more about you than her, you realize later that no one’s ever been so proud to be seen with you in your life. If this thing were real, you would have to stop seeing her because of it.

For once, you feel relieved that you could never be together.

Not that it was ever anything more than a fantasy; Maris, after all, is all you have ever known, all you could ever want. And it is about this matter which Frasier presses you when you return Daphne to his apartment.

“The truth is, Frasier,” you tell a face sure that you have forced Daphne into some unwitting role-play, “I do happen to be involved with a woman at the moment, but she would prefer to keep our attachment somewhat… clandestine for the time being.”

“And her name would be?”

You laugh in a way you had hoped would carry a hint of derision. Only anxiety radiates from it, and you fumble through your high-voiced defense so clumsily that you have already rehearsed the entirety of Frasier’s retort ten words into it.

He is less predictable than you’d thought. Brushing past every opportunity to mock your cowardice, he clings to the fraction of a syllable you had let slip of Maris’s name: “Mmm?”

Three weeks later, Marjorie Nash accepts a kiss on the cheek at a gallery opening. Frasier spends the rest of the night convinced that she is the object of your affections.

“Please,” you say at last, several hours into his dissection of the gesture. “The woman I’m seeing would never submit to such libidinous displays.”

Were Frasier’s hairline more resolute, his eyebrows might have retreated into it. He says, “Well, Niles, I’m glad you’ve found yourself in such a plainly impassioned union after all your people have had to endure.”

“Oh, yes. We’ve certainly had a difficult run, haven’t we? I seem to recall hearing of a fellow tribade in such deep denial that she went so far as to wed some washed-up psychiatrist-turned-barfly.”

“Your candor moves me. It so happens I know a woman similarly inclined. She does nothing but chase after the strangest women, all in some attempt for human companionship.”

“Tell me, then, do you feel this woman should—Oh, what was it your idol said?—sublimate her desires to achieve normal heterosexual functioning?”

Frasier stumbles for an apology, if only because others are within earshot. You regret resorting to such sophistic, cruel defense only so long as he goes before another of his pseudo-progressive musings.

That is to say, you regret it for just over three minutes.

In spite of your better judgment, you chase the feeling you caught on that heavenly night alone together, and Dad tells you that you are making a horrible mistake each time you near a reproduction. Of course, you come back at him with some quick jab, the way you’ve always done, but it’s harder when he gets kinder with you, the way he hasn’t since you were young. Saying, “Listen, I don’t have a problem with your feelings for her.” And when you brush it off (“Feelings? For Daphne?” you ask him, as though seeing her lipstick on your white button-up hadn’t set your life on a new path), saying, “Whatever it is, I’m sure you know better than to expect anything good to come from these late nights alone with her.” And finally, gentler than anything with the name he did not give you, he says, “There are plenty of women out there, Niles.”

You come close to listening. When Maris formally severs ties—that is, when Marta does, as Maris was unavailable to convey the message herself—she does so in the most amicable way she is able. You are never to speak to her again, and may speak only of her as a fond, distant memory. In exchange, you may choose what to make of the reputation she has built you.

What she means is that if you’d like to date women, you’re free to risk losing every friend you’ve made in the last ten years. You’re convinced you’d like to.

Of course, by the time you’re finally able, it’s just past Christmastime, and your date—one of Seattle’s elite, of course, privy to your burgeoning liberties—loses her nerve at the last moment. Knee-deep in borrowed mambo tapes and your own restless guilt, you confess your situation to Daphne when she is already at your door, eager to teach you to dance.

As you speak, you watch her eyebrows knit together, fixating on the way her forehead wrinkles, fixating on how Maris’s forehead hardly moved at all, on Maris, on Maris, on—

Daphne says, “It would be a shame to let all our work go to waste. To let your chance go to waste as well, really. Not that you won’t have others, of course.” She pauses. It’s terribly rude of you not to invite her in, but would that be too— “I hope you don’t think I’m being too forward, but what would you say about our going to the dance together?”

You think that it would easily be the most incredible night of your life, but you remember what your father said, even as you are taking her coat and ushering her toward your fireplace. “I could hardly ask you to do that for me,” you say, entirely too interested in the way the hairs on her arms turn gold in the firelight, except that Daphne insists that she would like to go, and surely there is nothing wrong with that. And Dad had warned you only of late nights alone, after all, and this would hardly be a late evening, and far from alone.

You are sprawled out together on your pristine furniture in precisely the way your father feared as you arrange the time of your departure. And you are still half-drunk on your own breathlessness when you ask her, “Have you danced with women before?”

Daphne does not answer, but sighs so warmly you nearly forget your own name. Close to laughter, she says, “You don’t need to worry about that, Dr. Crane.”

You laugh, though the emptiness in your lungs has lost its pleasantness entirely. “No, I’m sorry, I just meant—“ You smile briefly, as if no other thought could be on your mind. “You were very comfortable leading.”

“Oh, yes! Well, I learned from my brother, Billy, and he never cared to if he could help it. I do hope it’s not too awkward for you.”

Another polite smile, a sip of wine. You say, “With your talent, awkwardness is the furthest thing from my mind.”

She laughs, hitting her palm to your arm, as though you’ve said something particularly outrageous. “Oh, Dr. Crane! You always do know how to flatter me!” But she leaves the moment she catches sight of your watch.

You’ve never dreamt of anything so vividly as Daphne’s easy sigh, dark hair streaming down the arm of your couch, ready to drown you.

Seeing her—luminous and corporeal—the following night, Daphne is more beautiful than any fantasy could devise, beaming as she opens the door and takes the rose from your hand. Boldly, you compliment the slit of her dress, and she laughs just as she did before, hitting your arm before taking it in hers in a smooth and singular motion. You shut the door of Frasier’s apartment with his voice offering your name as reprimand.

Daphne is as taken by the Snow Ball as you are by her. Every dress, every decoration catches her eye, but she looks only to you with the delight that accompanies them. And with each second glance in your direction, she grips your waist more tightly.

At last, she pulls you onto the floor with both her hands, and you dance. Her body unbearably close against yours, the club vanishes, so that you and Daphne are once more alone. You feel her palm, through it each movement of her body, and you tell her, just as your backs meet, “Daphne, I adore you.”

A moment of aching regret, then: “I adore you, too!”

And she says it again, so that there is no mistaking it. She says it so clearly that, even with her hands pressed against you, these words are all that fill your mind.

Still breathless, you kiss her. What’s more, Daphne kisses you. And you don’t know that you have ever in your life felt so calm, because Daphne Moon adores you.

Daphne Moon does not adore you. The moment her voice belongs only to you, her laugh traces the same parts of her face from which you’d brushed her hair. (Her hair, soft and flowing, smelling now of peach blossoms and lavender and vanilla.) Somewhere, there is a rational part of you, relieved that she hasn’t taken your confession as true. The rest of you, the part that cannot forget the way her hands slid down your chest, wants desperately to tell her a thousand more times, until she is certain that you love her.

You cannot shake the feeling that your kiss on her hand will be the closest you ever come again.

Claire Barnes takes you on three dates before she realizes that the woman she saw at the Snow Ball was someone else entirely from who she thought. Perhaps, you long to tell her when she says this, there was more common ground between you than you’d realized. You do not. Most things you long to say are entirely incomprehensible once they make it into the open.

Months later, as easily as anything, Daphne details a dream about a tryst with an old flatmate to calm Frasier’s nerves, and he gives you the kind of look meant to remind you that Daphne could never—

“Of course,” she says, with a smile in what you can only hope is your direction, “that one did mean something after all.”

“Really?” you ask, certain that you, too, have been dreaming.

Very much real, Daphne beams. “Oh, yes. But back to my theory about the fish—“

You don’t dare ask her about this admission again, but each time you speak to her since is full of some feeling you cannot place, except that is much like reading Proust in Sterling your first year: a strange and wonderful surprise, impossibly familiar. You feel close to telling her this, because surely that is something neutral, but she doesn’t care for Proust, or for your alma mater, or any of the things you do. In the silence of your Mercedes, she asks you whether you’d like to pick up a film at the Blockbuster before bringing her home.

As the credits roll, she says, “So, did you always know, then?”

“The ending?” you ask. “No, I don’t suppose I did. Baby’s Day Out is a little out of my realm.”

Daphne purses her lips, concealing a smile and getting dark red lipstick on her teeth. “I mean about your sexuality,” she says. “If you don’t mind, I mean.”

“Oh! Of course, no! I mean, ordinarily I wouldn’t, but you— Not that you— What I mean to say is this: I don’t mind. I don’t think I did know it. I— I knew that I didn’t want... at least, I didn’t think I wanted to be married. Now I—“ You had sworn it was nothing more than lust, but your thoughts, as always, drift to her. “I don’t know. You know, I think I would like to, if there was ever the chance, if I met someone, if we could.” You pause, suddenly aware of all that you’ve said, then smile briefly. “I’m sorry, that wasn’t what you were asking, was it?”

In a small, slow motion, Daphne shakes her head. You don’t know that she’s ever been so quiet in all the years you’ve known her. All the time you’ve spent hanging on her every word has made you a bit of the same.

You say, “I think on some level, I knew, but I never—I was at Yale, when I finally realized what it was, but…“ If you were younger, this is when you’d lie to her, but you know already that it’s no use. You say, “I never kissed anyone until I was twenty-two.”

You swear her eyes fall to your lips the way yours too often have to hers. Vividly, you remember the last time they did, the moment you’d hovered centimeters away from her. Your last kiss that was anything more than polite. “And you?”

Daphne laughs, covering her mouth, and you wonder if she means to. “Not too long ago, actually. My realizing, that is. I’ve told you about Billy, haven’t I? I think he knew before I did, but he never said anything. Oh, you’d like him, Dr. Crane.” (You already do, of course, because he taught her to dance, and she taught you to dance, and, however fabricated that evening was, it was the best of your life.) “Helped me sneak out a few times, but on the whole, you know, he’s quite a bit like you.”

“You don’t think I would help you sneak out?”

She laughs again. This time, she reaches out a hand to your arm, as if trying to support herself. This is impossible, of course, because you are both seated, but it is entirely distinct from the gentle slap on the arm to which you’ve grown accustomed.

If the gesture does not succeed in steadying Daphne, it does as much in you. Abandoning tact and your first question entirely, you say, “So, your brother knew you were bisexual?”

“I think so. Everyone knows now, at least. All my family, I mean. Your brother, you know, I don’t think he would know if I got a tattoo of the word on my forehead.”

“Oh, no, but he certainly thinks he would.”

She grins, moves her hand back to your arm. “D’you remember my date with Tom?”

“Of course,” you say. “Though I seem to remember it being his.”

“God, it was! How does he do it? I went out with Tom a couple times after that—nothing romantic, of course, but I called him after the whole fiasco, had a laugh about it, all that—and I swear we didn’t find half as many people as your brother courts in all the gay bars in Seattle.”

You drive her back to Frasier’s still laughing. You don’t dare follow her in; you know already how your father will react.

On the hottest day of the year, Daphne comes to your apartment uninvited and asks to spend the night. For a moment, you have the grace to think nothing of it, to think that Daphne is your friend, and that it’s only right to help her. But for three hours, you watch as she stands before your fan, lifting up her shirt, as she walks toward it in your robe, and—this is surely the worst of all—as she takes your hand and speaks of sex. You’d never thought yourself one of those women who would leap at any chance for sex with another, but, God, this is Daphne, and her every word, butting up against yours, is telling you that if you act now—

The alarm on Daphne’s watch is enough to break the spell. Just like this, your chance is gone.

For several weeks, you fool yourself into believing that the whole thing is a result of your extraordinary self control. Then, you have sex with your brother’s ex-wife and order eggs Benedict the next morning. Somehow, Lilith takes more issue with the second point.

“Frasier,” she says, once you can conceal your indiscretion no more, “you couldn’t possibly have believed that I would sleep with you again.”

He could have, and he did, but he does not say so.

Unable to tell Daphne after your near-liaison and unable to tell Frasier for what little understanding you share, you find yourself unable to engage in the kind of salacious tête-à-tête in which you have only ever listened. If this is your penance, it is a fitting one. Daphne forgets any notion of your eroticism within days. When she catches you at last admitting the depth of your feelings for her to Frasier, she seems nothing short of elated that you’re even capable of such carnal emotion. Of course, she does not realize these feelings are for her; if she did, you are quite sure the time has passed for them to be any kind of endearing. Still, Daphne delights in your counterfeit crush. She surprises you at your door thirty minutes before your date with your answering machine, dessert in hand.

“I should expect this by now,” you say. “You coming here like this.”

Daphne slips past you before you have a chance to stop her. With a glance at your apartment, at your stove with not so much as a single pot, she says, “It’s a good thing I did.”

“Yes, well— I know I’m behind, but I’m not used to cooking for two. I couldn’t ask you—“

You do not ask her, but Daphne insists. Together, you prepare a meal for a woman you’ve scarcely seen, and she speaks of first dates the way you do of her, with impossible love for the things she does not know. But Phyllis’s laugh is Daphne’s, her beauty Daphne’s, and each word you say brings you closer to confession. One knock shatters your plans.

Phyllis is less than flattered by the implication when Daphne lets your faux feelings slip. Slam of the door still echoing through your apartment, Daphne sighs. “Isn’t that always the way?” she says. “You think you’ve met someone perfect for you, and they don’t even realize how you feel until it’s too late to do anything about.”

The next time you eat dinner together, she’s brought her boyfriend home with her. Rather, she’s brought your lawyer home with her. When she steals you into the kitchen to hear what you think of him, you find yourself telling her more about your relationship with Maris than you’ve ever dared say aloud. As you return with the coffee, you whisper, “These are the things they make jokes about, you know.”

Daphne presses her lips together in that same way she has for years. They’re mauve tonight, pristine all evening before you. You could spend hours considering the implications of this, but her low voice gives you something new on which to cling. “It’s funny,” she says. “Our love lives all tangled up like that. It’s a wonder we never ended up together.”

Donny notices none of this. You take the rest of your queries regarding your lingering financial ties to Maris to their sources.

The first, her surgeon, is fastidious and beautiful, and her airy voice informs you of four things as you call to schedule a third appointment with her. First, that she would not have expected a woman like you to have such an affinity for her line of work. Second, that she has never met a pair of friends that exchanged cosmetic procedures in the tens of thousands for the holidays. Third, that she is gay, too. (She does say, “too,” with her laugh floating through your cell phone smooth and half-threatening.) But, fourth, perhaps frightening you the most, she tells you that she wouldn’t mind if you took her to dinner sometime.

“You know,” you say, with a just-there laugh, “I’ve been meaning to ask you that very question.”

Frasier, of course, is aghast at each word of your account, but you have, by the end of it, obtained symphony tickets and a somewhat backhanded compliment on your uncharacteristic boldness. You take the opportunity to comment on his substandard squash performance, then fly out the door before he can return the blow with his usual ineptitude.

God, if he knew he was responsible for the best night you’ve had in years. The moment Mel leaves your car, you long to spend hours recounting what a wonderful night you had had. The strange thing is that you long to tell Daphne, long to tell her that you know, now, what she had meant when she told you that she loved first dates, that Mel is exactly like you, and impossibly beautiful and—

“That wouldn’t be Mel Karnofsky, would it?” she asks.

“It is. Have you met?”

“We went on a few dates, actually. Maybe a year ago.”

“Oh!” There are a thousand things you could think in this moment. Instead, you think one, a thousand times: Mel is exactly like you.

What you finally manage to say is, “So, what did you think of her?”

“I shouldn’t say.”

“What is it?”

“No, no! The important thing is that you like her.“ A raise of her eyebrows, a small laugh. “And it seems that you do.”

It arrives, then, the rush of shame that you’ve been expecting, but something else does, too, less familiar but surely more powerful. You wouldn’t call it happiness, not just yet, but it’s something to help dissipate the rest. “You know, Daphne,” you say with a champagne smile, “I think I do.”

And three months later, you tell Daphne that you love her. Love Mel, that is, though you do love Daphne, too. You can say that, now, because Daphne is your friend, one of your closest. You can say that, now, because you love her enough that you told her to marry Donny. You love her enough to keep from being the person in the red bowtie, insisting that she reconsider her fate.

Daphne, bride-to-be, meets you at Nervosa three minutes earlier than she said she would, and your coffee is all wrong (too much chocolate, when you’d only asked for the slightest note of it), and you nearly spill it on yourself handing it back to the barista. When you finally have your order, Daphne leans forward and graces you with what is surely the most radiant smile you’ve ever seen.

“I have a very important question for you,” she says, and, God, her voice is low and excited and everything you’d ever hoped for when you’d imagined those words.

“Yes?”

“Would you like to be one of my bridesmaids?”

Of course, you hadn’t imagined her saying that. For a moment, you are frozen, convinced that you’ve found yourself in a particularly realistic nightmare until Daphne speaks again.

“I don’t mean to be unprofessional, if you think I am being. It’s just that— Well, I think of you as family, Dr. Crane, and if it’s not too much to ask—“

“No, no! Thank you, Daphne, of course, no. I feel… incredibly close to you. I just—I don’t think I could… This is terribly selfish of me, I know, but, you see, I haven’t worn a dress in some time, and I don’t know that I would feel… comfortable doing so, and I of course don’t mean to take away from such an important day, so it’s just for the best, I think, if I say no, but you have to understand… I… I’m very grateful, for your invitation, and of course I’d be glad to help in any way I could but…”

She says, “I don’t expect you to wear a dress.”

You sip your coffee (on the wrong side of warm, now, after your ignoring it) hoping she will say something more, anything more to give you an escape. She does not.

“Well,” you say with your best attempt at a good-natured laugh, “I suppose there’s no excuse, is there?”

Daphne laughs, too, and reaches across the table to squeeze your hand. Her touch is warmer than your coffee. Somehow, your noticing this feels like an intrusion. “It really does mean a lot to me,” she says, and you cannot imagine feeling worse. Then, she releases your hand and says, “I just can’t wait to be standing up there with you on the happiest day of my life.”

You are surprised by how much you mean it when you tell her that you feel the same.

Of course, your brother’s suicidal bent pays you a visit when she finally mentions Donny by name, but that’s only natural.

When you sit down to dinner with Mel four days, seven hours, and fifty-two minutes later, you give your impulsiveness new direction. Taking her hand in yours, you ask her to move in with you. It takes months to come to fruition, faithless regret coiling around you the moment the words leave your mouth, but her things are in your apartment two days before Daphne’s wedding rehearsal. Neither of you tell a soul.

Frasier must sense your delight anyhow; not half an hour into the rehearsal, he steals you into some secluded corner and tells you that Daphne is in love with you. You cannot think of a worse time to hear such wonderful news, and you spend the next hour mingling within a crowd you do not quite understand.

Daphne’s friends are political and vulgar and some of them—you are not being euphemistic—witches. A third of them are fundamentally opposed to the institution of marriage. One asks whether you’d like to be her date, then laughs when you tell her that you are currently attached, as though this is of little significance. Were Mel not on your arm, you would be content to spend the whole weekend with them.

Were Mel not on your arm, were Mel not in your home—

God, you’ve made a horrible mistake.

Daphne hardly pined for six months and already you find yourself wishing it had been less. Six months out of how many years—forty, maybe? You’ve lost one percent of your time together just from being afraid. More if you count all your chances before. How many years did you spend, wanting without acting and wanting without knowing, thinking that you were doing what was right?

Desperate for a distraction, you nod in the direction of a butch woman with a beer in hand, and she returns the gesture before motioning for you to join her. You glance toward Mel, who has entered into a pleasant if vacuous conversation with one of Donny’s cousins, and she flashes you a smile in response. The woman, you realize, just as you join her, is not. A thick Northern accent greets you: “Billy Moon.”

The woman you were four years would go to any lengths to thank him for that night with Daphne. You say only, “Niles Crane.”

“You a woman, then?” he asks.

You laugh, if only to fill the space. “It would seem so.”

“I’ve gotta say, mate, was hoping not but—“ He gives a noncommittal kind of shrug, as though he regularly courts lesbians expecting them to be men. “You wouldn’t be the girl my sister’s been going on about.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Boss’s sister?” he asks.

“I am.”

He slaps a hand to your shoulder in a display of camaraderie you neither understand nor appreciate. “Well,” he says, “I’d buy you a drink, but Daphne tells me you can afford it.”

With your best approximation of indifference, you say, “Is that all she says about me?”

“Afraid that’s between me and her.”

“Of course. As it happens, I’ve heard a bit about you. Do you still teach ballroom dancing?”

Your conversation never does return to what Daphne’s said of you. All the same, you tell her that you love her the first moment you see her alone.

She laughs, the giddy, unconcealed one that comes out only when she’s nervous or has had too much champagne or some combination of the two. “I love you too, Dr. Crane!” she tells you, though certainly not in the way you meant it. “Only I don’t know why you’re saying it now.”

You don’t either, except that you’d fooled yourself into thinking Frasier could possibly know what he was talking about. No, that’s a sentence ended with a preposition. You must be in love. That pattern’s all hers.

Head swimming, your shaking hand finds her waist, and you ask her to dance. Graciously, she nods. Has she ever been so quiet? You can only think of the once, years ago, watching that inane movie and sharing things you shouldn’t have.

“I was thinking,” you tell her as the music goes soft, “that we could step away for a moment.”

You cannot see her face, but you feel the way it moves, like you’ve taken her by surprise. Still, there’s a certain quality to her voice when she agrees that you cannot imagine coming from anything but a smile. Your hand slips from her back only after the door to Frasier and Dad’s shared room is inches away.

Key heavy in your palm, you ask, “Is this all right?”

Daphne says that it is, but her eyes refuse to find yours, and her hands cannot stop moving.(How many times had she noticed you doing the same?) You offer her a drink, and she hesitates, as if she’s answering a question of any real importance. As if she’s answering the question you plan to ask.

She accepts.

“Frasier told me something interesting tonight.”

“Oh, God.”

“I suppose you know what I’m about to say.”

A single nod, impossibly careful, opposite in every way to the one she gave you when you first met.

“But I think we’ve—“ You laugh with a voice unlike your own. “We’ve had enough misunderstandings already. So I want to say this, as clearly as I can: I still want to be with you, Daphne. And I was hoping you might feel the same about me.”

“So, what you said earlier tonight…?”

You nod, trying desperately to ignore the question she has left unanswered. Again, you say, “I love you, Daphne.”

This time, she does not tell you the same, but her eyes dart to the door. “I think someone’s coming,” she whispers, and she takes your hand, rushing to the balcony. The second of motion is enough to make you feel young in the way you’d always hoped you’d be. It is not enough for Daphne to reach a decision.

You feel her watching you as you look anywhere else, feel yourself speaking about a thousand things that don’t matter, then feel something else entirely: Daphne kisses you.

It’s been four years since your first, but you haven’t forgotten what kissing her felt like. Like, for a moment, you could stop wondering, stop worrying, so that all there was was Daphne. Somehow, as much as everything has changed, kissing her now is exactly the same. Only now, there is no one to see you, no one to impress or upset or… The hand that held hers those years ago now drifts to her back, then slowly to her waist, and you feel her come close to laughing before she stops herself the way she always does, except that your mouth is there, instead of her own.

“What is it?” you ask. The distance it takes to look at her feels unbearable after such closeness.

Daphne shakes her head, doesn’t quite meet your eyes. “Six years of fantasizing,” she says, “and I can’t remember the last time anyone’s been so careful with me.”

You feel yourself flush. “I do love you,” you tell her, for this is surely what she is wondering, “but I suppose I’ve always been a bit cautious.”

Daphne laughs. “I wouldn’t call kissing someone else’s fiancée cautious.”

“Oh.” In the few seconds of closed eyes and shaking breath, you had forgotten about Donny. About why you were here. “Of course not. But then, if I’m remembering correctly, I believe that technically, you were the one to kiss me.”

“I was, wasn’t I?”

“I wouldn’t be asking you if I didn’t believe—“

“I can’t,” she says. “I love Donny. And you’re in love with Mel. I’ve heard you talk about her.”

“That was before— She’s not—“ (She’s not the woman you’ve loved for six years, whose hair smells once more of oranges and whose eyes fill with the most remarkable light when— No, they must. Mel’s eyes are lovely. You noticed them the first time you met. Deep brown and always searching. Eyes you could look into for a lifetime, if you had to.)

“You can’t believe that there’s only one person out there for everyone.”

“I don’t. I couldn’t possibly. But I believe that I have more with you than Donny has. More than I have with Mel. And maybe that will change someday, but—“

“Dr. Crane?”

Your heart drops. “Yes?”

“I’ll see you in the morning.”

You nod. Then, something terrible compels you to speak. “Daphne?”

The door is half-closed, but she looks to you, waiting.

“I’m not sure how it would look with the dresses, but I’d be glad to wear a red bowtie tomorrow.”

Daphne shakes her head, does her best to conceal a smile. “I think the time for that has passed,” she says, her lips pressed together. “You should’ve been wearing it just now.”

Just barely, you laugh, if only to give her permission to do the same. “Ah. That would be why you didn’t say yes.”

She hums, almost contented, and for a moment, you swear you see what Frasier saw when he asked you to make this horrible mistake. At last, still smiling, she says, “Goodnight, Dr. Crane.”

You don’t know whether you say it back. For the moment, it seems best to forget the things you’ve told her.

When you return to your room, Mel greets you with a stack of travel brochures and a smile that makes you wish you could forget all others. “I didn’t realize you were wearing lipstick,” she murmurs the very second she gets close. Her fingertips trace your jawline, and you remember half-chilled that her intelligence was the first thing you loved. “But it’s all smudged, darling.” Just so, she kisses you and does not say another word until morning. Even with Mel’s arm draped over yours, all you can see is Daphne on that balcony, the way she’d looked just after she’d stopped kissing you.

Of course, it may as well have been fantasy. When you see Daphne for the first time that morning, you feel such a distance from her that you could almost swear nothing had happened at all, even as you’re weaving your fingers through her hair.

She meets your eyes first through the mirror, and you watch a half-smile flicker across her face. She says, “I just want to thank you for doing this.”

You look once more to her hair, feign an attempt at perfecting some twist in it. “It’s no trouble,” you tell her. And then, quietly: “I did make a promise, after all.”

It occurs to you that this could be cruel only once the words have left your mouth, but Daphne laughs. “You’re horrible!” she whispers, and you are, for one golden moment, convinced that you can go the rest of your lives treating the worst day of yours as a private joke.

Then, just as you’re showing her your handiwork, Daphne’s niece tells her she’s never seen so sad a bride, and you cannot bear to be in the room a moment longer. Wordlessly you make your way to the empty end of the hall. Daphne finds you soon after and takes both of your hands in hers in a way that feels horribly reminiscent of a vow.

“You heard what she said, then?” she asks.

“I did.”

“And d’you think it’s true?”

You know what you want to say, but saying what you want has yet to do you any favors. You say, “I can’t answer that.”

“But you do think so. It’s all right. I think so, too. And I was thinking, you know, that there’s still time to leave.”

You glance awkwardly at your watch, struggling to read the time with your hands still clasped together. Just outside, Mel’s moves in perfect synchrony with yours. The reminder wrenches you from Daphne’s touch, harsher than you’d hoped. “It’s 10:56.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“Oh. Of course not. But, um, for clarity’s sake, what do you mean?”

“I mean, let’s go. We can make it to Canada, or Oregon, or just home, if you want, and get away from this.”

Your wanderings through this daydream had never left you quite so frightened. All of the happiness seems to have been substituted with a kind of duty you hadn’t anticipated. You ask, “Are you sure this is what you want?”

Shakily, she laughs. “No.”

“Okay.” You reach for her hand again, wanting nothing more than to help. “We can—we can fix this, then. We have a few minutes. With your family, maybe no one will even notice we’re running behind. What else do we need to do? It’s fine. Let’s just—“

“Niles.”

The name you stole from your mother’s journal feels suddenly more right in her mouth. “Yes?”

“I don’t want to marry Donny. Please, let’s just go. When he realizes— When Mel realizes—“

“We can’t just leave them.”

And you don’t. When she’s barely able to speak from screaming, Mel smiles and tells you she’ll be in touch about vacating your apartment. “Before that,” she says, “you must understand I have no intention of seeing you there.”

Just like this, you are spending the happiest night of your life sleeping on your brother’s couch in your girlfriend’s sweatpants. She comes out of her bedroom just before three, wrapped in that old pastel robe, flashlight guiding her way.

“Daphne?” You sit up, reaching for your glasses. “I’m already up. You can turn on a light, if you need.”

“Oh,” she says, nearly a whisper. “Niles. You— Are you doing all right?”

“Of course. I’m— I’m ecstatic. Are you—?”

“Just realizing what all of this means.” Back facing you, she adjusts the light, until it is just bright enough to navigate without her flashlight.

You say, “So am I.”

She sits down on your makeshift bed, nearer to you than even those moments of poor judgment. Leaning in closer still, she says, “Did you see that face your brother made, when you said you’d be sleeping out here?”

“Oh, yes, well. You’ve seen his luck with women, so.”

A smile, then: “Can’t leave any stone unturned.”

Reflexively, you say, “Not that I’m much better.”

Daphne laughs near-inaudibly, weaving her fingers through yours. “You can’t say things like that,” she says, and you know what would come next, if this were any other day: some claim of self-fulfilling prophecy, flattery tacked onto the end. But nothing is quite the same anymore, and Daphne knows it as well as you. After a moment, she says, “Thank you, for doing that for me, anyway.”

“Oh. Of course, no. I understand that it’s your space. The pajamas are… more than enough. I don’t usually get to read my sleepwear, so this…”

“See,” Daphne says, “that would be funny, but I’ve seen those silk pajamas of yours with the text of Emma on them.”

“Ah. I suppose I’ve been caught.”

She returns your smile and, low-voiced, says, “Suppose you have.”

In the longest of silences, Daphne moves closer to you once more, so that you can feel her weight on your body. Too much like your old self to take comfort in this, you are left desperate for some sort of diversion. “Did you come in here for something?” you ask. “I can make you some tea, if you’d like. There’s— You know what there is, of course. But I could. Or maybe a glass of water or—”

“You don’t need to do that.”

“I’d like to, if there is something.”

“No, thank you.”

“All right. Did you, um— Did you want to stay out here?”

“Oh.” She gives the smallest of laughs and says, “I suppose I’m in your bed, aren’t I?”

“I wasn’t sleeping much before,” you say. “You know, with…”

“Right. Neither was I. Should probably try, though. You know. Have a lot to figure out tomorrow. Or for the next ten years, what that wedding cost us.”

“The wedding. Of course.” You take both of her hands, helping her up. “Come on, I’ll— There we go.”

Slowly, you walk with her to the bedroom you cannot enter, then kiss her cheek at the door. She wakes you the same way four hours later.

You call Mel after breakfast, still in Daphne’s pajamas, and she answers on the fifth ring. You conceal no desperation; you must return to your apartment.

The laugh you fell in love with not even a year ago is just the same, delicate and razor sharp. “Oh, dear,” she sighs. “Of course you must. You know, that’s always a sign of love, when you can’t stand to be with her for— Oh, lovely. You’re just coming up on a day.”

“Mel—“

“No, no, I want to congratulate you. I mean, with everything Maris put you through, I wouldn’t think you’d dare find out what another woman would do to you, but—“ Another laugh, shorter. “It’s lucky we won’t be going to court. Finding a new lawyer, that could be troublesome.”

“I have nothing here, Mel. You’ve hardly moved out of your apartment. I don’t mean to be cruel, but it’s hardly reasonable—“

“Oh, little is. I mean, to leave the woman you’ve said you love for some housekeeper—“

“Physical therapist.”

In the end, though, she grants you an hour to collect what you’ll need in the short term and herself some undetermined amount of time. (“But don’t worry, Niles,” she says, “I did take that time off three months from now, for that holiday we were going to take together. I’m sure we’ll have worked out something by then.”)

But Daphne wraps her hands around your waist with the sort of easiness that made you love her, and you cannot think of anything in the world so terrible to dampen your happiness.

The surest remedy to such idolatry is time. Your old self withers each time you think Daphne something of a sloppy kisser (for she would dream only of kissing Daphne in the darkness, when she was feeling most bold), or a poor cook (for you remember still the ambrosia they prepared together first years ago). Daphne changes in reverse, as though daring you to hang onto the woman you loved before. First, she is pulling back her hair in that familiar way, just enough to keep it from falling in her face while cascading perfectly down her shoulders. Soon she is again wearing those necklaces close to her throat and tying button-downs over t-shirts. In your apartment at last, lying beside her, you ask whether she feels as though she might be doing this for you. One hand reaching for yours, she props herself up on your pillow and tells you that it’s the first time she’s felt like herself in years. You do not ask when the last time was; you are too afraid you know the answer and know how Daphne feels about dragging such things into the light.

You part ways mid-morning, and the kiss she leaves on your forehead turns your vision to honey. When you see her next, she‘s dyed her hair back to the deep brown of the day you met.

You want desperately to run your hands through it, to embrace her and to love this new-old Daphne, but you’re in Frasier’s apartment. Some part of you still waits to be chastised for getting too close.

Instead, you kiss her cheek, hand barely skimming her back, and say, “Hello, Daphne!” with such a startling lack of intimacy you could swear you were five years younger.

Of course, Frasier and Dad have already seen you together, in your less composed moments, but even this adds an urgency to your secrecy. You’re determined not to move too quickly, to be seen as excessively eager, but, God, Daphne’s laugh when you try is enough to make any woman want to—

“Mr. Crane!” she says as you’re just beginning to reach for her hands. “Look who dropped by!”

“Hello!” You turn to face your father, brace yourself for the disapproval you’ve been expecting since you kissed her four years ago. Instead, he laughs. Dad has not told you he loves you in years, but you feel it now more than any of the times he did. Easily, the three of you joke about it all, and you listen as he reminds you of how little restraint you’d shown before. As he leaves, Daphne reaches for your hand and guides you, for the first time, to her bedroom.

The walls are garish pink and yellow, with unframed prints taped asymmetrically and a calendar with half-nude women posing languidly on cloth-draped furniture. You feel at once as if you are fifteen, trying desperately not to betray the thousand thoughts that fill your mind in this moment, and Daphne collapses onto her bed as though there could be nothing so simple.

She says, “The laundry’ll be out in twenty minutes.”

At the same time, you say, “You have a spectacular gnome collection.”

Vividly, you recall the summer it almost happened and, for the first time, feel extraordinarily grateful that it didn’t. Daphne laughs unhesitatingly before you, then says, “I’d have thought you’d like the calendar better.”

“Oh, well. The mind does wander. And so tastefully done… It’s a shame the year is so brief.”

“That was last year’s theme. The year in brief. They were all wearing—“

“Briefs. I see.”

Staring at the ceiling, Daphne breathes a contented sigh. Then, she says, “D’you remember that summer, when I was fighting with Sherry?”

“Of course. You know, I was thinking of it just now—”

“When we were talking over each other? Yes, that’s what I was thinking, too.” She flashes you a smile and sits up, so that her eyes are on you instead of the ceiling fan. Another of her sighs, then, “That was the most impulsive I’ve ever been about sex. And I know we never did more than hold hands, but we were going to, or I thought we were, anyway, but my alarm went off but… Well, I didn’t know you were in love with me— You were in love with me then, weren’t you?”

Surprised by the easiness of it all, you laugh. “Oh, yes,” you say, “for years, at that point.”

“So, I didn’t know that, but I thought you were— This sounds silly,” she says, “but you felt safe.”

“Oh. Well, thank you, Daphne. I can’t begin to describe…”

Apparently, she does not wish you to. “Because we’d talked, you know,” she says, “I knew you loved me, you knew I loved you, so I thought, ‘Well, if I’m going to do this,’ you know, ‘who else is there?’”

“Yes, I’ve heard that’s what my sexual partners tend to think.”

Daphne laughs, but throws a heart-shaped pillow at your chest. “I mean,” she says, barely suppressing a smile, “there wasn’t really anyone else I felt that with, at the time. I didn’t love you like I do now, but I did love you. But, you know, it wouldn’t have been right. I mean, imagine how you’d have felt, if you’d been in love with me all that time, and then we’ve had sex, and you think— Or if I think— Or if it were horrible all around. Not that it would’ve been our fault, but with the heat, and with Sherry on my mind, and, well, a couple weeks later, you’re telling me you’re in love with some woman from your building.”

You toss the pillow back at her, or try to do so. To save the lamp on her bedside table, Daphne must stretch out her arm to catch it at the last second. She grins, and you say, “That was you.”

Her smile disappears entirely. Somehow, this has come as a surprise. “I’m Phyllis?” she asks.

“Oh, no, that’s just what her friends call her. Her real name is Daphyllis.”

“Daphyllis.” She hums, considering this. “Leave it to you to be subtle.”

A smile. You say, “It’s a family name, you know.”

“God,” she says. “All those years, I never thought anything of it. Not just that, I mean, but everything.”

“It’s quite an adjustment, seeing everything in a new light.”

Daphne says, “You know, you don’t need to keep standing.”

“Oh, yes, well…” You step toward the lone, blue chair in the corner, on which a stuffed bear is seated and a wool blanket draped, and halt. “Is there—? Should I find a place for the bear?”

“You can sit with me if you take your shoes off.”

“Oh. Of course. Okay.” You do so, cautiously settling in beside her. Nothing but your knees are touching. You look once more to Daphne. “I’d like to apologize, for any part I may have had in that. If I’ve made you feel like my friendship with you was in pursuit of something else—“

For a moment, not even your knees touch, and you feel sure that Daphne has realized the depth of your encroachment. Then, she kisses you, the way you’d never dreamed of, and your back is to the mattress, the way you always did. Just as it had that summer, the timer on her watch severs you too soon.

“Well,” she says, hovering over you, “that’ll be ten minutes on the laundry. But you don’t have to say all that—you know, what you were saying before.” Another kiss, then a laugh. “You were a wonderful friend to me.”

“You were a wonderful friend to me, too.”

And Daphne is a wonderful friend to you, but, three days later, she is asking you to act on baseless speculation, and you gently refuse. Less so, you tell her that you can’t possibly go through life following little more than superstition, and, for a moment, you expect everything you’ve desired to disappear. And, for a moment, it does, Daphne speaking to you from another room, refusing to so much as look in your direction. You ask her, then, whether she might like to continue the conversation some other time or place, and she answers, looking nowhere but the dish she dries: “Is hell good with you?”

“I was hoping it could be a bit sooner,” you say, and she doesn’t laugh or even press her lips together. You leave without any promise of when.

But you return three days later, and you give Daphne your old copy of Jung’s Synchronicity, with your seventeen-year-old handwriting crammed in the margins and fresh black ink on the first page telling her that you’ve bought another for yourself.

Placing it in her hands, you say, “I don’t expect you to read it, of course, unless you want to, but I’ve bought myself a new copy, because I think—“ (Your voice aches as you say it, you need so badly for it to be true.) “I think we can find some common ground on this.”

She eyes you with the kind of skepticism she’s never had toward her premonitions, and you feel certain the book will come hurtling back to you in seconds. But Daphne is not Mel or Maris. She’s nothing like any of the women you’ve ever tried to love. She folds the cover backward and says, “You don’t think I’m crazy, then?”

You had realized, somewhere, that this was what she feared—that she was worried about your judgment, your reputation—but hearing it feels somehow entirely new. You say, “Of course not.”

“Well,” she says, “I’m free tonight, if that library of yours is.”

“I think that can be arranged.”

And it is, the kind of night you’d dream of years ago in the wingback chair she’s seated in now, wearing your dressing gown, drinking your wine. But when she calls your name, when she reaches a hand over the chair’s arm to touch your shoulder, it’s with a laziness, a domesticity you would never have imagined.

You find it, in spite of everything, impossibly endearing.

It is another chaste night spent together with her midway through Synchronicity and you, having finished it once more, braving the saccharine storm of Here, Have a Rainbow, that you find Daphne as close a reader as you. In bright purple, she has mapped out rather exactingly the depths of Snow’s most convoluted metaphors. The sight of it, of her handwriting wrapped around the margins, curious and all too inviting, sets your mind ablaze. When you ask her about it, Daphne does not seem to expect your admiration.

Without looking up, she says, “If you’re going to laugh at me, you can find something else to read.”

“Honestly,” you say, “I thought I’d want to, but your notes—“

“And who said you could read those, by the way?”

“You’re reading mine.”

The flip of a page. “Mine are embarrassing.”

“They’re better than the book,” you tell her and mean it. “But I especially appreciated this one, on sixty-four. When you say Dr. Crane—“

Daphne leaves the book open on her leg, then looks to you at last. “Did I really?” she asks.

You move closer to her, place your thumb beside the words, crammed beside the page number. “Right here, top left. I don’t want to assume—“

“It was you,” she says. “This was, what, six years ago? And I just thought you were the saddest woman I’d ever met.”

“Oh! Oh, my God, did you—? You gave me this advice!”

“And it worked! It took you years to follow it, but it did work.”

It’s hardly the way you’d hoped she’d think of you, those nights you’d dream of her dreaming of you, but it’s kinder, too, and closer to the love you never dared crave.

But the dreams are realized anyway, three weeks later to the day, on as much of a whim as one can have after two hours of discussion. Still, it’s awkward and unexpected and unlike anything you had ever longed for. (And, God, did you long for it all, those days of borrowed clothing and chilled champagne.) In the midst of apologizing to your florist for the missed consultation—“If we do reschedule, I’m afraid the motif has changed from one of a new, innocent love with just a whisper of seduction to something passionate—I’m thinking lilacs, but I’m open to suggestion—with an underlying theme of devotion—perhaps some edelweiss, what you wish.”—it occurs to you that you want nothing more than to speak to Daphne the way you’d spoken to her about Mel. You cancel the consultation altogether and order two dozen yellow roses sent to Daphne Moon, 1901 Elliott Bay Towers.

“To clarify,” you tell her when she calls with her thanks, “I do mean them in the sense of friendship.”

“And here I’d thought you were cheating on me. Terribly polite way to say it.”

Briefly, you laugh. Then,“Is Frasier nearby?”

“He’s out, I’m afraid.”

“Would you mind telling him that you knew that?”

“Telling him I knew what yellow roses meant?” she asks. “I’ve been dating you for months now.”

“I know! He knows how I feel about floriography!”

Evidently, so does Daphne. When your couples’ group has parted ways, your secretary presents you with a bouquet of tulips and bouvardia. Fifteen months later, you no longer send flowers to Frasier’s building, but the ones in your apartment turn to orange blossoms and peonies.

You know how silly it is to wait on something you will probably never have. You’d done it for six years, and it hardly suited you. But Daphne wanted a wedding, and a real one, the kind she could have had with Donny. She doesn’t say as much, of course, because she’s Daphne, and she’s wonderful, and she loves you more than to tell you that you are the reason she cannot have the one thing she’s dreamt of since she was a child. (No, what she really wanted was a sister, but even you cannot blame yourself for that.)

When you realize you may someday have the chance—to get married, that is—it’s over breakfast. She sits across from you, reading the same novel she was the day before. And it’s something comfortable and familiar, the way you’d thought it could be with Maris, after all those years together, except that you made the breakfast together, and Daphne’s actually eating it. You pass the paper to her and watch as she realizes just what it is.

“So,” she says.

“So,” you say.

“I’d like to marry you.” You know this, though it’s the first time she’s dared to say it out loud.

Breathless, you say it back: “I’d like to marry you.”

Lilith calls you that evening offering any help you need should you feel any sudden fondness for the state of Massachusetts. “And, Daphne,” she says, though you can scarcely remember when they last spoke, “if you’re looking for a rat breeder, there’s an excellent couple just north of the city. I’d be glad to introduce them to you.”

Somehow, the two of you accept both offers immediately.

By the time you're finally married, you have already exchanged promises and rings and a thousand other symbols. It’s in Boston, of all places, and Frasier invites all sorts of his strange crowd from his days there. They give lengthy toasts and make crude jokes, nudge you, laughing, and say, “Never would’ve guessed Frasier’d be the straight one in the family.” (“Never would’ve guessed Frasier had a family,” another adds.) But what matters is that you’re married, and to Daphne, and you hardly know what part of that statement would have surprised you more ten years ago. For the first time, nothing close to sadness strikes you when you hear her call you family.