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You're the Only Girl (I've Got on My List)

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“You’re playing with fire there, Poppins. You know that, right?”

Dani thought she should be a little bit embarrassed that Jamie caught her trying to execute her mad scheme, but she wasn’t. Jamie’s never made Dani feel embarrassed or ashamed or anything of the sort in the nearly two years they’ve known each other. She had made Dani feel other things, sure. But never anything negative.

“I don’t have any choice,” Dani sighed. “My mom is insisting that I come home this Christmas, and I really have no excuse and she’s going to shove my high school boyfriend in my face and insist that I get married to him and…”

“Hey, Poppins. You can breathe, yeah?” Jamie looked exhausted- it was two in the morning and Jamie worked three jobs as well as taking some online courses- but she still pulled out a chair at the kitchen table and sat with Dani. “You wanna talk about it? Explain everything to me?”

“It’s hard to explain,” Dani replied.

Except that it’s not hard to explain. It’s not hard to explain because Jamie knows her. She knows Dani better than Dani knows herself, Dani thinks most of the time. Jamie was aware that Dani’s mom had always had high expectations and that the relationship with her high school boyfriend hadn’t ended well. Jamie knew that Dani practically ran away from home, switching majors and schools and moving to the other side of the country to finish off her senior year of college. She knew how to calm Dani down, and how to make Dani smile. She knew that dropping off a tea and a muffin for Dani at the school she was teaching at would put Dani in a good mood for the rest of the day.

So really it wasn’t hard to explain to Jamie how trapped she felt. Karen Clayton was making sure that Dani came home for the holidays that year, and it should have been ridiculous that even at almost twenty-five Dani felt controlled by her mother. Edmund would surely be there- the Clayton’s and O’Mara’s had celebrated Christmas together since Dani was eight. Edmund would be there, and Judy would be there, and her older sister would be there, and the disappointment in Dani’s single, apparently unsuccessful life would be the only topic of conversation. Karen would try to push her into Edmund’s embrace. She’d try to goad Dani about choosing to become a teacher when her older sister went to law school. She’d make Dani’s life truly miserable.

“I get all that,” Jamie said with a yawn. “But I still think that posting online for a fake date to your family’s Christmas is a little risky.”

“I need someone there to take the pressure off,” Dani rambled. “They need to see that I’m happy, that I’m confidently anchored in my life here. Otherwise they’ll try to slip their claws into me again. They’ll try to get me to move home. Mom will try to twist me into the image she wants to see- a happy housewife who provides her with two to four grandchildren.”

“Yikes Poppins. I don’t envy you. But for real…men are scary. Putting this out there online just doesn’t seem like a super great idea. Wouldn’t want you to get a stalker, ya know? Men can be weird like that.”

Dani squirmed in her seat. They’d known each other for almost two years, they’d been roommates for the last sixteen months, but still Dani had never told Jamie one particular bit of information about herself. Which was absolutely ridiculous now she thought about it. Jamie was nothing less than absolutely open about her own sexuality. But Dani had never been brave enough to tell Jamie. She had never been brave enough to tell anyone except for that one time, on that disastrous night when she ran away from Edmund as he proposed at a family dinner and the words popped out and then Dani ran as fast as she could.

“It’s not…I’m not posting looking for males,” Dani mumbled. She didn’t look at Jamie, instead keeping her eyes resolutely on the screen of her laptop. “I’m gay. That’s why I had to leave. That’s why I couldn’t marry Eddie.”

Jamie was silent beside her for a moment. “Well then,” she said finally, “that should clear up the stalker bit.” Her tone was light, almost teasing, and Dani looked up at her with wide eyes. “What?” Jamie chuckled. “You thought I’d care? Be a bit hypocritical of me, wouldn’t it?”

“No it’s not, that I just…” Dani shrugged. “I thought you’d be mad that it took me so long to tell you.”

Jamie shifted in her chair, leaning a bit closer to Dani. “Dani, it’s up to you who you tell and when you tell them. I’d never get upset with you for that. It’s your thing, yeah? But for real…thanks for trusting me enough to tell me now.”

Jamie flashed a grin Dani’s direction and Dani felt her heart do its thing. The fluttery, stuttering thing it always did when the crush Dani’s had on her roommate rears its head.

The crush started on the night they met, when Dani and the first friend she made in Pennsylvania had been out clubbing. Dani and Becca had struck up a conversation with the pretty bartender with an English accent and the crush had been born. And it had grown only stronger since. Dani’s crush grew every time Jamie called her Poppins or shot her the trademark crooked smile. Her crush got stronger when Jamie pretended to like the terrible coffee Dani would make or when Jamie would try hard to not fall asleep on the couch while watching terrible rom-coms with Dani. Almost every little thing Jamie did caused Dani to grow more attracted to her, and it was a problem.

Even just ten minutes beforehand, Jamie had leaned down to read the laptop screen over Dani’s shoulder, and the close proximity had almost sent Dani into a tailspin. She was prone to lose her train of thought around the other girl. She would forget why she had come into a room. She had lost arguments just because Jamie would smile at her and Dani would completely forget her words. It was a problem, but Dani found she really didn’t mind it all that much.

“Ya know Poppins…I could always do it for you.”

“Do what for me?”

“Be your fake girlfriend slash date for Christmas.” Jamie looked earnest, and Dani’s heart began pounding wildly in her chest. “I mean, it beats having some stranger right? At least you can be sure I won’t murder you in your sleep.”

“That would be…it isn’t…I couldn’t…” Dani was sputtering. “Jamie, I can’t ask you to do that.”

“It’s just a friend helping out a friend, Poppins.”

“But…don’t you want to go visit back home for Christmas?”

Jamie snorted. “Yeah that would be a barrel of laughs, wouldn’t it? Which foster home should I visit…number three or four? Actually, home number seven might be a good one…they actually almost remembered my name!”

Dani always got sad when Jamie mentioned her past, even though the other woman usually tried to joke about it. It broke Dani’s heart to think of Jamie having such a difficult time.

“Dani, seriously. My plans are to stay here and work. Probably crack open a cold one on Christmas Eve and cheers my plants. Take advantage of the empty apartment and wear the same clothes for a week straight. So helping you out wouldn’t be a bother. I can fight off your mom easy.”

Dani smiled softly. “Jamie that just seems so much to ask of you. My family is…crazy.”

“Who’s isn’t?” Jamie winked. Then she stood, stretching and yawning. Dani heard a pop from Jamie’s back. She always thought Jamie worked too hard. “Well, I better catch some shut eye. Have an early mornin’. Think about it. For real Dani. Think about it.”

And with that Jamie left the kitchen and wandered into her own room, closing the door behind her. Dani watched her go and stayed looking at the closed door for several minutes. She chewed at her bottom lip. Having Jamie pretend to be her girlfriend really shouldn’t have been such an appealing thought. She shouldn’t be entertaining it really. It would be akin to throwing Jamie into the lion’s den. Karen Clayton would eat her alive. But at the same time…

Dani really shouldn’t consider it. But it was awfully tempting.

***

Dani didn’t consider Jamie’s offer in the days following. She didn’t spend every waking moment fretting and preoccupied with the thought of Jamie coming home with her for Christmas. She really didn’t go to sleep dreaming of all that could possibly happen with them fake dating. Dani absolutely didn’t spend any time dwelling over the thought of Jamie holding her hand or kissing her on the cheek or sleeping side by side in the same bed…

Nope. Dani hadn’t even really given it a second thought.

Dani was so much so not considering it that she deleted the post she had almost put online and had her thumb hovering over the call button on her phone to inform Karen of her plus one before she realized what she was doing. Dani couldn’t ask her best friend and roommate to be her fake girlfriend for two weeks of Christmas vacation.

Could she?

Dani tried telling herself that the entire idea was stupid in the first place. She had read plenty of fanfiction…pretending to have a girlfriend would only end badly (Dani was under no illusions that Jamie might return the crush). They were bound to get caught in a lie, or hurt each other’s feelings, or blur the lines between friendship and something different. So altogether, Dani figured she should just abandon the whole idea.

Except the idea of abandoning the idea caused Dani’s stomach to clench with dread. Her mom had never accepted her reasons for breaking up with Eddie or moving across the country. She had never understood why Dani switched majors or wanted to pursue teaching. Eddie had never accepted their breakup even all this time after. And more than anything Dani wanted to prove to them that she wasn’t a failure. Dani wanted to show them that she was confident and independent and happy with her choices, and no thank you very much Eddie they would never be getting back together. Even more than any of that, however, the idea of having Jamie by her side for the holidays- even if it were just as a friend- was way too tempting a thought.

It was just before dark when Dani finally resolved to talk to her roommate once again about the crazy scheme. Jamie was out on the balcony of their apartment, having a smoke. When Dani opened the sliding glass door to go join her, Jamie looked up with a bright smile that toyed with Dani’s heart.

“Hey Poppins,” she grinned. “Wanna share?”

Dani had on more than one occasion bummed a smoke or two of her friend. But that evening she shook her head. Jamie shrugged as Dani took a seat beside her on the rocking loveseat they had bought for the balcony.

“What’s on your mind?” Jamie asked after a few minutes of silence.

“What makes you think I’ve got something on my mind?”

Jamie smirked. “I can practically feel your panic. And also you’ve got that cute little crinkle right there.” Jamie gently tapped her finger to Dani’s forehead. Instantly Dani felt her face relax.

“I do not have a crinkle.”

“You do. It’s adorable.” If Jamie kept using words like that to describe her, Dani knew her crush would never go away. “So c’mon, spill the beans. What’s got you fretting?”

“Do you remember,” Dani started slowly, “my plan about bringing a fake date home for the holidays?” Jamie nodded. “And did you mean what you said about, you know, helping me out with that?”

Jamie regarded her for a moment with a slightly furrowed brow. Dani didn’t know if she was studying her or looking for something, but finally her expression softened into a smile. “I do remember. And let me guess…you want to know if I was serious.”

“Were you?” Dani asked quietly.

“Of course I was Poppins,” Jamie said. “Still am serious. The offer stands. If you need help, just say the word.”

“It’s not too much to ask? Because if it is I don’t want you to have to worry about it. I know it’s a lot to expect from you, and I know we’re only friends so if it’s going to be too weird…” a calloused yet not rough hand gently covered Dani’s mouth.

“Dani I’m serious.” As Jamie removed her hand, Dani let a smile start playing at her lips. “It’s not too much to ask. The way I look at it you’re doing me a favour…I’ll get an actual Christmas dinner for once! And I promise things won’t get weird. Unless you want them to…never pegged you as having any kinks, but one never really knows.”

Dani felt her face flush, and based on the way Jamie laughed she knew it must have gone beet red.

“Sorry Poppins. It’s just too easy sometimes.”

“Jamie.” Dani spoke softly but seriously, trying to get the conversation back on track. “If you did this for me…you realize how much it would mean, right? You’d be giving me something so amazing and I would appreciate it so much. I don’t know that I could ever repay that.”

Jamie stubbed out her cigarette. Then she reached out and squeezed Dani’s knee reassuringly. Dani shivered, which had only a little bit to do with the cold of the night.

“Dani you wouldn’t owe me anything. Like I said, I’m happy to help. You and Becs…you guys are my best friends. I’d do anything for you.”

At Jamie’s words, Dani felt another little shiver go through her. Jamie put her arm across Dani’s shoulders and pulled her in close to her side. Dani couldn’t resist snuggling in a touch. Jamie’s coat smelled a mixture of smoke, earth, and a touch of beer, and it shouldn’t have been as appealing to Dani as it was. She happily stayed pressed against Jamie’s side, watching as the dark really fell and the stars started to appear over the city.

“I guess we should figure out the details,” Dani mumbled eventually.

“What d’ya mean? What details?”

“You know…like our backstory. How long we’ve been dating, our first date.” Dani blushed. “Whether or not we’re comfortable with PDA,” she said timidly.

“Well you know me Poppins, I’m a regular flirt.” Dani grinned when she felt Jamie give her a little squeeze. “We’ve got time Poppins, we’ll figure all that out tomorrow.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

***

“Are you sure this is a good idea?”

Jamie frowned as she compared two different flannels, wondering which she’d be more likely to wear over the holidays. She wasn’t fully paying attention to her second roommate. Eventually she settled on the slightly thinner one, figuring California was bound to be at least slightly warm. Jamie shoved it into her suitcase before focusing her attention on Rebecca.

“Is what a good idea?”

Rebecca raised her eyebrows. She was lounging on Jamie’s bed, scrolling through her social media accounts. “Are you sure it’s a good idea to pretend to be dating the woman you’ve been in love with since the moment you met her?”

Jamie scoffed. “Love? What the hell you talking ‘bout Becs?”

“Jamie.” She cast her phone aside and sat up slightly. “Don’t play ignorant on me. I’ve known you for two years now.”

“Just because I’m a lesbian…”

“That has nothing to do with anything, and you know it!” Rebecca sighed. “Look, ever since I got my shit together about Pete you and Dani are the most important people in my life. I just want to look out for you both. I don’t want either of you to get hurt. And this whole convoluted plan…don’t you think it has the potential to blow up in your faces?”

“Of course not,” Jamie said, blowing a lock of curly hair out of her eyes as she turned back to her packing. She sounded indifferent, but she felt anything but.

Rebecca, as astute as she was, was right, of course. Jamie had been attracted to Dani since the very second she stumbled up to the bar, slightly inebriated, and asked for the sweetest thing on the menu…aside from Jamie. If that first meeting hadn’t cemented things for Jamie, than the next several months of becoming friends and then roommates most certainly would have. Dani was the most beautiful and empathetic person Jamie had ever met. Her heart was too big, and she was prone to panic over the smallest detail, but her smile could light up any room. And her eyes…Jamie could get lost in those big blue eyes for days.

Jamie would have to be an idiot to have not fallen for Dani by that point.

But it had nothing to do with their plan, Jamie was sure. She could handle a couple of weeks pretending to be Dani’s girlfriend. Better to pretend, Jamie reckoned, and get to spend a bit of time with Dani in that capacity, than to only simply imagine forever. Aside from that, resisting was futile. Jamie would do anything for Dani. The blonde had her wrapped around her baby finger, even if she didn’t realize it. And the thought of Dani reaching out to some stranger online, and said stranger getting to touch Dani, and laugh with Dani, and pretend to be the very thing that Jamie wanted so desperately to be…it would have driven Jamie crazy anyway.

“What’s the plan anyway? Are you guys trying to shock her mom into submission with Dani bringing home a girl?”

Jamie hummed noncommittally. “Something like that,” she said. She didn’t know if Dani had told Rebecca about being gay, but if she hadn’t it certainly wasn’t Jamie’s place to tell.

“Well if her mom is as much of a horror show as Dani claims, that might just do the trick.”

Rebecca was probably right. Dani had always been a little bit tight lipped about her family, and what little more Jamie had managed to draw out of her in light of their future situation didn’t sound all that promising. Jamie didn’t much care if Karen Clayton like her, but her heart went out to Dani for not feeling like she had a supportive home life. Jamie knew what it was like to grow up without a family, and it wasn’t something she’d wish on anyone.

All that she knew about Dani’s mom was that she was always chasing a picture perfect life without ever thinking about what that would really entail. Karen wanted to be rich and get along with the Beverly Hills crowd, but she drank too much and retained too many of her small town roots. She wanted her daughters to obtain successful careers and have perfect marriages, when Karen herself had two failed marriages and lived off the alimony instead of holding down a job. And Dani hadn’t come right out and said it, but Jamie figured that one of her daughter’s being gay didn’t exactly fit into the fairytale image that Karen Clayton had concocted in her head.

Dani had warned her about all of that, and had warned her that her mom would probably use ignorant language. Jamie had been warned that Edmund- he of the failed proposal- would be present throughout the holidays. Still, Jamie yearned to know more about how Dani grew up. Surely there were some good things? Dani had grown into an amazing woman, so there must have been at least a few positive influences or memories, didn’t there?

“Sorry…what?” Jamie had been lost in her thoughts and missed what Becca had said.

“I asked if you were at least looking forward to it a bit.”

Jamie shrugged. “I mean, I reckon it’ll be a proper Christmas. Lots of family time, and big meals, and activities…haven’t ever really had one of those. So it could be fun, yeah.” Jamie zipped up her poorly packed suitcase. “How about you? Ready for the holidays?”

Rebecca grinned. “I’m actually feeling so free to be going home without Peter this year. No more listening to him brag to my cousins about his great job or fake designer watches.”

Peter Quint had been thankfully kicked to the curb by Rebecca just after the summer ended. Jamie hadn’t liked the guy since first meeting him. He was arrogant and entitled, and Jamie would have been ever surprised if he didn’t have other women on the side. Rebecca deserved better, and both Jamie and Dani had been over the moon when Rebecca finally ended things. They spent an entire weekend celebrating, and the hangover Jamie had by the time morning arrived on Monday caused her to take her first ever sick day.

“Look at you, landing on your feet.” Jamie laughed and tried to ruffle Becca’s hair, but her roommate dodged her attempts. “Seriously Becs, I’m happy for you.”

“I’m happy too.” And Rebecca did look happy, genuinely so. She had since breaking up with Peter. “It’s been nice to reset, and I’m looking forward to a quiet and peaceful trip back home. Which is why I’m expecting dozens of daily updates about the drama unfolding around Camp Clayton. You better keep me informed!”

Jamie rolled her eyes. “I highly doubt it will be drama filled enough for you. You watch the Bachelor. I mean, if that isn’t trash…”

Becca gasped and put her hands over her heart. “You slay me! Jamie Taylor, leave my favourite show alone!” They shared a laugh. Then Rebecca abruptly stood from Jamie’s bed and pulled her into a tight hug. “You better take care of yourself. And take care of Dani. I need my roommates both back in one piece.”

“Only because you can’t afford rent without us,” Jamie muttered sarcastically, but inside she was touched. The trio of girls had formed an unlikely but infallible friendship, and Jamie cherished it greatly.

“Well, I guess I better get started.” Rebecca clapped her hands and turned to the door. “I decided I’m going to cook us a big dinner tonight before we all go our separate ways for the holidays.”

Jamie’s stomach growled on cue. Of the three of them, Becca was the only one who any talent in the kitchen whatsoever, and Jamie definitely appreciated it. “Do ya want any help?” she asked as she followed her friend to the kitchen.

“Not at all dear Jamie, I actually want this meal to be edible.”

Jamie threw an oven mitt at Becca’s head, which she easily dodged, laughing. Jamie couldn’t help but laugh with her. She was definitely going to miss Rebecca over the next two weeks. But it was all going to be worth it. Everything with Dani and her family was going to one hundred percent smoothly.

Right?

***

Airports were one place Jamie generally tried to avoid. They were loud, and busy, and if Jamie were being totally honest with herself airplanes scared the crap out of her. She had only ever been on one plane ride in her entire life, and Jamie had vowed she would never get back on one, at any cost.

How ironic that she caved so easily when it came to Dani Clayton.

The pair had checked their luggage and made it through security. They still had over an hour to wait until boarding, and Dani had staked out a couple chairs facing a window. She was enjoying watching the planes taxi along the runway. Jamie was simply trying to not vomit up the piece of pizza she had bought for her lunch. She knew she should have saved the eating for after they landed.

“I love seeing them take off,” Dani said. “It’s always so thrilling, don’t you think?”

“I still think we should’ve driven,” Jamie grunted, trying her best not to look at the gigantic planes as they passed. How did things that big and heavy stay up in the air, anyway?

“Jamie, it would have taken a day and a half to drive!”

“And thirty three days to walk.” Dani looked at her with an expression of confusion and amusement. Jamie shrugged. “I might have plugged it into Google maps. I really didn’t want to have to fly.”

There was silence for a moment before Dani spoke again.  “Jamie…are you scared of flying?”

“I mean, not exactly.” Jamie shrugged again, looking down at the floor.

“Oh my god, you totally are!” Dani looked crestfallen. “Jamie why didn’t you tell me? I was only trying to make sure you didn’t have to take any more time of work and flying’s so quick!”

“Dani it’s fine. Really.” Dani showed no signs of relaxing, continuing to frown. “Poppins,” Jamie said, gently squeezing her friend’s arm. “I’ll be okay. I’ve been on a plane before, coming over from England, and I survived that so…gotta count for something, right?”

“I wish you had told me,” Dani said. “I don’t want you to be nervous.”

“I ain’t nervous. Just…apprehensive. Maybe slightly nauseous. You’re just gonna have to work your magic to distract me, Poppins.”

Dani smiled, and even with just that Jamie felt marginally better. There probably wasn’t a person on earth who could remain downcast with Dani smiling at them like that. Jamie couldn’t help but smile back.

“I’ll take care of you,” Dani said softly. “Nothing bad is going to happen, I promise.”

Dani got up then, hefting both of their carryon bags, and tilted her head for Jamie to follow. She did so, and followed Dani to a different area, which had no windows in sight. They settled into new chairs which didn’t have any view of the runway, and Jamie felt herself relax in increments. Dani got them each a small drink, and that helped further. The two roommates made small talk, and every time Dani made her laugh Jamie grew calmer and calmer. Eventually they started a game of making up stories about their fellow travellers. It grew steadily more ridiculous until Jamie was practically falling over on Dani and the blonde had tears in her eyes.

“You know…we never really did work out the details of this,” Jamie pointed out.

Dani frowned. “What do you mean? We spent, like, eight hours coming up with our dating history and our stories and…”

“And not even a minute on the topic of PDA,” Jamie cut in. Dani fell silent, looking sheepish. “Look Poppins, we’re going to be with your family for two weeks…at some point they’ll think it’s weird if we never hold hands, right?”

“You can hold my hand!” Dani said quickly. She reached across her seat and grabbed Jamie’s hand. It was clearly impulsive, but Jamie kind of loved the feeling. She turned her hand in Dani’s grip to thread their fingers together. “See,” Dani smiled, “hand holding is totally a thing.”

Jamie grinned. “Okay. Hand holding is a check. What about hugs?”

Dani rolled her eyes. “Jamie we’re friends. We hug all the time anyway.”

“Cuddling on the couch?”

“Again, not outside of the realm of the ordinary,” Dani said, but her cheeks tinted a touch pink.

“And kissing?” Jamie watched Dani gulp. “If I were to kiss you on the cheek, would you be comfortable with that?”

“Yep,” Dani squeaked. She shook her head. “Obviously that’s okay. Couples do that.”

“And…” Jamie paused, “on the lips? Couples do that but, do friends?”

Jamie watched Dani think about it long and hard, breathing deeply. Finally she looked back up and met Jamie’s gaze. “Yeah, I think friends could. At least, you know, we can if it helps convince my mom we’re happy together. And you’re comfortable.”

Jamie regarded Dani seriously for a moment. “Dani,” she started, choosing her words carefully, “I know you told me you’re gay. And don’t take this the wrong way; it’s not a requirement of being gay, obviously. But I’m getting the sense…have you ever kissed a girl before?”

“I have!” Dani practically shouted, sounding a bit defensive. Jamie was about to apologize when Dani started speaking again. “If I actually haven’t…is that a problem?”

“Not at all,” Jamie said. “But Poppins, kissing a girl for the first time can be kinda a big deal. I don’t want you to ruin your chance on little ol’ me.”

A smile slowly spread across Dani’s face as she looked at Jamie. She squeezed Jamie’s hand. “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, did you know that?” Jamie shrugged, bashfully. “Jamie if the situation calls for it…we can kiss. It’s okay. I trust you.” They sat in silence for a couple minutes. Then Dani spoke again. “Should we practice?” Her voice was pitched just a bit too high. “I mean, it would look odd if our kisses were awkward and incompatible, right?”

Jamie chuckled softly. “I think we both know what we’re doing, yeah? It’s just kissing right…how hard can it be?”

“Yeah,” Dani echoed, “how hard can it be?”

They were unconsciously leaning closer in their chairs. Dani’s gaze kept dropping to Jamie’s lips, and Jamie’s heart sped up when she noticed. She reached out, slightly cautiously, and tucked a strand of wayward hair escaped from her ponytail back behind Dani’s ear. She watched Dani’s eyes flutter at the light touch. Automatically, Jamie bit her bottom lip. Dani’s eyes latched onto the movement, and they leaned ever closer, their foreheads almost touching…

Jamie had almost forgotten about where she was and what she was about to do when the boarding call for their flight was announced. She jumped a bit and immediately tensed. Dani let out what sounded like a disappointed sigh. But then she smiled at Jamie reassuringly.

“I’ve got you,” she said. “And if you want to back out we can always walk. Thirty three days, right? Might not be a bad idea to skip Christmas entirely.”

Jamie snorted. “Thanks for the offer Poppins, but my luggage is already on that plane and I’ve packed my favourite overalls. Can’t send ‘em off to the west coast without following along.”

In the end it turned out to be both better and worse than Jamie thought it might be. She had forgotten how miserable it was to be stuck in a tin can destined for the clouds. She had forgotten how much the safety demonstration made her tense up. She had forgotten how little leg room there was. Jamie gripped the armrests so tight she figured she had probably left permanent dents in the material. It was altogether a nightmare, and Jamie suddenly recalled why hopping on a plane and flying to America had been such an effective way of outrunning her past- she was bloody unlikely to ever fly back.

But this time on a plane was also better. On her first flight Jamie hadn’t had Dani to sit in the window seat and protect her from the terrifying view. She hadn’t had Dani stroking her knee comfortingly, or whispering a steady of stream of reassurances in her ear. She hadn’t had the ability to just turn her head and have her breath taken away by Dani’s incredible smile. Part of Jamie thought that she might actually end up not minding planes if Dani was always her travel buddy.

Thankfully it was a quick flight, and Jamie succeeded in not throwing up during the landing. She cited it amongst her proudest accomplishments. Surprisingly, however, the nerves didn’t totally subside as she and Dani stood to extract their carry-ons from the overhead compartment. Jamie’s insides still felt rather twisted, and it took her until baggage claim to put her finger on why.

She was about to embark on a two week journey of pretending to be Dani’s girlfriend.

She was about to meet Dani’s mom for the first time. As Dani’s pretend girlfriend.

Reality was starting to sink in, and for a moment Jamie considered turning on her heel and getting back on the plane to fly east again. It suddenly seemed like the lesser of two evils. Then Dani was handing Jamie her suitcase and she gave her friend a weak smile. She only hoped she hadn’t made a grave mistake agreeing to be Dani’s fake holiday date.

***

“I can’t believe this is the car you rented for us while we’re here!”

Jamie shrugged innocently, and Dani now knew why Jamie had insisted on being the one to book their rental car. The brunette was standing beside a classic convertible looking enormously pleased with herself.

“Seemed like a fitting car for the trip,” Jamie said. “I’ve only ever seen California in movies, and everyone’s driving around in convertibles. Figured we’d try to blend in. The sunshine state and everything, right?”

Dani giggled. “Wrong side of the country. That’s Florida’s state motto.”

“Is it really? What the hell’s California then?”

“Eureka.”

Jamie made a face. “Bless you.”

“Jamie!” Dani whined at her friend’s teasing, but she couldn’t stop grinning. Something about the vaguely warm air and Jamie’s dimples made everything seem bright and cheery. “I’m still surprised you picked a convertible. You’re more of a truck or even a Jeep person. I just can’t picture you behind the wheel of this.”

“Ah, you see, there’s the brilliance of it. I bought these just for this trip.” Jamie pulled out a pair of aviator sunglasses and put them on. “What about it, Poppins? Do I look the part?”

The sight of Jamie in her old denim jacket with the collar askew and dark aviators shielding her eyes did something to Dani. Her heart did its stuttering thing and her mouth went dry. She felt like she almost needed to clench her thighs together. It shouldn’t have been as appealing to Dani as it was. Jamie was her friend. But still…

“Very fitting. You’re a regular west coast-er.”

“I knew it,” Jamie joked, popping her collar. Dani started to have the very inappropriate urge to press her friend up against the side of the car and… “Alright, come on then, let’s get our stuff in the boot. Gotta be on time to make a good first impression!”

Jamie drove confidently on the highways as Dani read her the directions. She hadn’t wanted to connect their phones and disrupt the Christmas music Dani had found on the radio. Jamie was a delightful car companion, and Dani thought maybe they should cancel their return flight and just drive back home when the time came. The thought of going on a road trip with Jamie was quite appealing. There was something about her laid back posture behind the wheel that did something to Dani.

“You guys actually string Christmas lights on the palm trees? That seems so weird.”

“What’s so weird about it?”

“I dunno it’s just…I feel like I’m used to evergreens and snow already. Seeing palm trees and a definite lack of white feels odd at this time of year.”

“Maybe we’ll get a once in a lifetime miraculous snowfall on December twenty fourth for you,” Dani teased.

“See Poppins, I know you’re just messing with me, but I actually would love that. Get on that for me, would you?”

As they entered the suburbs and the streets started to become more familiar, Dani felt her anxiety start to rise. “So are there any details we missed? Or anything you need to go over?”

Jamie took a quick glance over at Dani. “I reckon I’ve got a handle on everything.”

“Are you sure?” Dani asked quickly. “We went through everything right? We have answers for how long we’ve been together, who asked the other out, who…”

“Poppins.” Jamie took her right hand off the wheel and reached across the center console to squeeze Dani’s thigh. “We’re going to be fine. We went over the details so much even I believe that we’re dating. And remember, if anything comes up I’ll just follow your lead. They’re your family.”

Dani nodded. “Right. Yeah, that’s good.”

“It’s all sorted,” Jamie said soothingly.

“We’re not going to mess it up, right?”

Jamie shook her head. “Couldn’t mess it up if we tried, Poppins. We’ll be okay. And if something does go wrong we’ll just spend Christmas at a hotel or in Disneyland or something. No matter what, you and I are gonna have a great holiday.”

 

Chapter Text

When Jamie pulled into the drive of the Clayton house, she whistled, clearly impressed by the modestly sized home with the immaculate landscaping out front. Dani, on the other hand, felt like her heart dropped into her stomach. She didn’t feel ready to be back there. The last time she had been in that house she told her mom she was gay and going to be a teacher instead of a lawyer and then ran several states away.

“Quite the house you grew up in Poppins,” Jamie said as she turned the key to shut off the car.

“We only moved here when I was eleven,” Dani pointed out. “I grew up in Iowa. This house was where I became pressured to become…perfect, I guess.”

“Well then, I’d say you’ve accomplished that.” Jamie smiled at her winningly. “You seem pretty perfect from where I’m standing.”

Dani felt herself blush. “Stop it,” she scolded playfully. “Anyway, mom bought this place with what was left of dad’s life insurance money. She’s been able to keep it because of the tech mogul she married five minutes after meeting him in Vegas with him being too drunk to think of a pre-nup. Pretty smart when she wants to be.”

Jamie went around to the back of the convertible and starting pulling out their bags. “Careful there. You’re going to ruin the image I have in my mind of your mom being the spawn of Satan.”

Dani laughed. She loved the way Jamie was able to make her feel at ease even when she was on the verge of panic. Dani opened her mouth to respond when she heard the front door open. When she looked up, Karen Clayton was coming down the stone walkway with a fake grin plastered on her face. She pulled Dani into an awkwardly stiff hug which Dani knew was just to show off for the neighbours. Without an audience, Karen rarely, if ever, showed genuine affection for Dani.

“Danielle!” Dani gritted her teeth at the sound of her full name. “It’s so good of you to come back home!” Karen was slurring her words a bit, which Dani took to mean she was already hitting the bottle, even at two in the afternoon.

“Hi mom,” Dani returned quietly. “It’s good to see you. How have you been?”

“Oh I’ve met the most wonderful man!” Karen gushed. “Wait until you meet him you’re going to love him. And Bev- you know, that Bev,” Karen nodded indiscreetly over her shoulder, “is going through a divorce. Can’t blame her husband though, you know that one. And the Dalton’s eldest daughter is going to therapy.” Dani’s mom said it like a dirty word. “But oh, it’s wonderful to have you home. Eddie is going to be so thrilled to see you!”

Dani didn’t know how to respond to that. Luckily, a hand stole into her own, immediately seeming to comfort her. Jamie stood beside her and cleared her throat.

“Mom,” Dani said. “This is Jamie. My girlfriend.”

Jamie smiled and offered her right hand confidently. “Mrs Clayton. An absolute pleasure to meet you. I’m so grateful you’re having me stay for the holidays.”

Dani beamed at Jamie’s perfect introduction. Karen, meanwhile, shook Jamie’s hand with only the lightest of grips. Dani watched as her mother’s eyes took in every inch of Jamie’s appearance. They flitted over the scuffed and worn Doc Martens, and travelled over the faded blue jeans with the smallest hole at the knee. Critical eyes stole over the band t-shirt under Jamie’s old and almost threadbare jacket. Finally, Karen’s gaze settled on their joined hands, and Dani watched as her mom’s eyes narrowed. She knew Karen wouldn’t make a scene in view of the neighbours- heaven forbid Karen become the subject of the neighbourhood gossip- but Dani could sense the disapproval wafting off of her in waves.

“Yes. Good to meet you Jamie,” Karen finally said, her tone implying the exact opposite.

Dani could tell by the way Jamie bit her lip and the twitch of her jaw that she was trying hard to not laugh. Dani felt a bit lighter at that. If Jamie could brush off her mom’s obvious discontentment so easily, then maybe this trip really would go smoothly.

“Right, well, we should probably head inside.” Karen turned to head back to the front door without offering to help with any of their things. Dani shared a glance with Jamie before they followed her to the house.

Walking through the front door brought back several memories for Dani, most of them unpleasant. But the thing that struck her the most was that her mom hadn’t changed one bit; she was only about the appearances. While the outside of the property was pristine and immaculate, inside the house was chaotic. Karen had too many knick knacks and hated doing housework, even though she had visions of both of her daughters being pristine housewives one day. The space wasn’t dirty, but it was untidy and disorganized. The furniture was all mismatched and Dani could even spy that the Christmas tree in the living room was only half decorated.

“Danielle, I trust you can show Jamie to one of the guest rooms, right?”

Dani stopped short. “Guest room? Why on earth would Jamie be spending the next two weeks in a guest room? She’s staying with me.”

“Danielle,” Karen started in the tone which was supposed to show how obviously obtuse Dani was being, “I just don’t feel comfortable with that. Knowing what the two of you could be doing under my roof.”

“You always let…”

“Your sister is married.”

“But even before she was married. And you had no problems with Edmund staying over in my room when we were only dating.”

Part of Dani wondered why she was fighting so hard for this. Yes, she wanted to call her mom out on being a bigot. She relished in the fight to show how two faced and hypocritical Karen could be. Yet at the same time, Jamie spending their two week holiday in the guest room would solve the issue of the two of them sharing a bed. That particular thought made Dani weak with both intense longing and panic.

“Look mom, Jamie and I have been together for almost five months.” That had been their agreed upon timeline- long enough to be serious but not so long as to have to endure awkward marriage questions. “You have no problems with boyfriends staying over, so Jamie should be no different. Besides…you told me that Izzy was supposed to sleep in the guest room as they want her to learn to sleep in her own bed.”

Karen pursed her lips. “Fine. Go wherever you want, then.” She turned and stalked off into the kitchen, most likely to prepare another drink.

“Sorry about that,” Dani said under her breath as she led Jamie up to the second story of the house.

“She’s just a peach, ain’t she?”

Dani huffed. “Absolutely. The peachiest.”

Dani had been so caught up in their arrival that she opened the door to her old bedroom and stepped inside without preamble. She promptly froze.

Her bedroom still resembled teenage Dani; back when she had been in denial and shoved so far back in the closet she may as well have been in Narnia. It reflected the days of her being too scared to speak up or to push back, and too terrified to explore who she really was. Those were the days of her over-participating in the expected routine of heterosexuality. Posters were plastered on her walls of everything from Robert Pattinson in Twilight to Zac Efron in High School Musical. Dani immediately wanted to slam the door on Jamie and tear everything down before Jamie could see. But Jamie had already made her way in, and judging by the smirk on her face she was thoroughly enjoying herself.

“This is golden.”

“Jamie…”

“Honestly. It’s like a page straight out of a bad 2000’s teen magazine.” Jamie pulled her phone from her back pocket. “I have got to send Becs a picture of this.”

“No!” Dani lunged at Jamie without really thinking about it. She had only been intending on blocking any photo attempts or at worst knocking the phone from Jamie’s hand. What Dani hadn’t been intending on was tripping over her own two feet and sending them both tumbling onto Dani’s old bed. Dani landed on top of Jamie, but one of Jamie’s knees caught her in the side and winded her a bit. She looked down at her friend in dismay, and then they both burst out laughing.

“Never pegged you for a top,” Jamie said once their fit had died down slightly.

“Jamie!” Dani groaned as she rolled off the brunette. “My embarrassment level is already so high…do you have to make it worse?”

“That’s what friends are for.” The word friend coming from Jamie sounded clunky to Dani’s ears. She told herself it was just because she was already in fake dating mode and refused to read any further into it. “Well, I guess we better get a move on unpacking before your mom thinks we’re just fooling around up here.”

Dani didn’t think her cheeks could get redder. “Jamie, do you have to?”

“What?” Jamie shrugged. “You’re cute when you blush, Poppins.”

Dani had evidently been wrong. Her cheeks could get redder.

“C’mon. Let’s unpack and then you can give me the grand tour,” Jamie prompted. “For real though, we’re taking down these posters. Ain’t no way I’m letting some fucking sparkly vampire watch me sleep.”

***

The afternoon was spent unpacking and giving Jamie a tour of the house. After laughing herself silly at Dani’s bedroom, Jamie seemed pretty content with the rest of the Clayton abode. She didn’t seem put off at the disorganization at all. She followed Dani from room to room, throwing around lighthearted comments and jokes that kept Dani feeling loose and carefree. Jamie seemed genuinely eager to make use of the basement, where husband number two had installed a bar and a games room in a decent attempt at building a man cave before giving up half his money in the divorce settlement. She seemed less enthused, however, at the backyard.

“Why?” she moaned. Jamie sounded genuinely distressed. “Why would you all do this?”

Dani was confused. “What’s the matter?” She examined the backyard, and thought it was pretty standard; a large wooden deck with tasteful outdoor furniture and a decent sized pool with stone surround.

“Seriously? Dani, backyards are supposed to be green. They’re supposed to be lush. You’re supposed to grow things!” Jamie spread her hands. “Where’s the grass? The trees? The flowers?”

“Jamie,” Dani laughed, seeing her friend’s genuine disappointment. She thought it was an adorable reaction. “Maybe if we had known a world class gardener when mom was house hunting things would have turned out differently.”

Jamie snorted. “Even I can’t save this backyard, Poppins. It’s toast. An absolute lost cause. Best hope now is that an earthquake knocks it all loose and you can start fresh.”

“If that ever happens I’ll make sure mom gives you a call.”

“And I’ll be sure to charge her double.”

The evening air was starting to cool a bit, but it was still pleasant. Dani had forgotten what it was like to be outside in late December without needing multiple layers. She wasn’t sure she liked it. Mainly because she had come to discover that there was no cuter sight on earth than Jamie sporting a beanie. Or at least, that was Dani’s opinion.

“Oh there you are girls.” Karen had opened the sliding door that lead out onto the deck and stuck her head out. “Supper’s here. Your arrival threw me a bit so I ordered in, I hope that’s okay.”

Dani knew that she had inherited her somewhat dismal cooking skills from her mother. Her only solace was that she could cook a mean breakfast. She had cured many hangovers for Jamie, Rebecca, and herself with a greasy offering of bacon and eggs. Jamie claimed her breakfasts were magical.

Dani and Jamie followed Karen back into the house and through to the dining room. Dani got started at setting the table when the doorbell rang. Karen stood instantly and almost skipped her way out of the room, causing Dani to frown in suspicion.

“You alright Poppins?”

“Did you see that?” Dani asked, eyes still narrowed. “She’s expecting someone. And based on how excited she was, that can only mean…”

“Hi Danielle.”

Edmund and Judy O’Mara had followed when Karen returned to the dining room. Dani looked at her ex-boyfriend and swallowed hard. She hadn’t expected the first real test of their fake relationship to happen so soon. Dani turned to look at Jamie. She was looking at Edmund with a mix of defiance and curiosity, so Dani knew she had clued in to his identity. Dani groaned inwardly. Supper was definitely going to be interesting.

***

“So Miss Taylor, what do you do?”

Jamie felt a bit as if she were in a job interview. While Karen was just openly antagonistic and Judy could pass off a warm and motherly air with the best of them, Edmund clearly didn’t have a flair for small talk. He was stiff and awkward, and the glances he kept sending in Dani’s direction made Jamie’s hackles rise, fake girlfriend or not.

“I hold a few different hats,” Jamie said. “I work in a pub on the weekends and also at a hardware store. My passion lies with gardening though.”

“Wow!” Judy exclaimed. “That sounds like a busy life. You must be an incredibly hard worker!”

“Jamie’s also taking some online business courses,” Dani said proudly. She smiled at her friend. “She’s planning on opening a flower shop one day.”

Jamie grinned back. “That’s the plan anyway. Got a lot to save up still.”

“How ambitious.”

It was said almost politely, but Jamie saw Dani frown at her mom out of the corner of her eye. She wondered if Dani detected something else in Karen’s tone.

“Eddie here is working as a hedge fund manager,” Karen said proudly, as if he were her own son. “Danielle you should see the car he just bought. This boy is on his way.”

“I don’t want to jinx anything,” said Edmund, straightening his glasses as he slid them back up his nose, “but it is going very well. My boss is a wonderful man and is giving me excellent guidance. I expect to be pulling in six figures within a few years at the outside.”

Jamie wasn’t one to ever be particularly impressed by people who boasted about money. Maybe it had something to do with never having much of anything, but Jamie had long felt that as long as you had enough to put a roof over your head, food in your stomach, and had just a bit left over to do something fun once in a while you were already rich, really. She knew first hand that far too many people didn’t even have that.

“Impressive,” she finally said, sensing that Edmund was waiting for some praise. He puffed his chest out smugly, and Jamie had to take a sip of her wine to keep from laughing. He looked like a bloody puffed up mockingbird.

“And Danielle, how is your teaching career going?” Judy asked. “I hear you found a permanent position?”

Dani nodded eagerly. “It’s wonderful! The school I’m at is really excellent. And I have a great group of kids this year. I know they’re only in the fourth grade, but they are honestly a genuinely good bunch.”

Jamie could hear the pride in Dani’s voice as she spoke of her position. It made Jamie proud in turn. She was so happy to see Dani thriving. When they had first met Dani had just finished up school and was almost paralyzed in terror that she had made the wrong decision about switching paths. She had hardly any confidence. But recently Dani had really started to come into her own and figure out her path in life. Jamie was delighted to see her friend finally living out her dream.

“Yes from pre-law to a schoolteacher,” Karen intoned dully, “how utterly impressive.”

Jamie felt Dani slump beside her, and she felt her temper flare. “I think it is very impressive.” She reached over and took Dani’s hand under the cover of the table. She felt Dani clutch her fingers tightly, almost as if they were a lifeline. “Dani’s finally found what she loves to do. You can’t put a price or a salary on that. Once you’ve found your calling and you’re happy…well that’s all that matters, isn’t it? Dani’s excelling, she’s happy, and she’s making a difference in kid’s lives. They’re going to be better people just from having known Dani. Simply put, Dani’s happy. Should be what every parent wishes for their child, right?”

Karen regarded Jamie coolly from the other side of the table, and Jamie stared right back. She could feel the challenge flowing between them. Karen wanted her daughter out of Jamie’s grasp and back into her clutches. But Jamie would never allow that. Present circumstances aside, Dani was Jamie’s best friend. She would protect her for as long as she was allowed to.

“That was really well said, Miss Taylor,” Edmund piped up. “I’m happy for you too, Danielle.” He smiled sappily at Dani, and Jamie resisted rolling her eyes with great difficulty.

“Yes well,” Karen sipped her wine slowly, “you’ll have trouble finding a husband without a respectable career to woo him. You’ll need to find someone making a good amount to live a comfortable life now. Someone like Eddie here.”

Jamie had a hard time believing Dani’s mom could be so forward. She wasn’t even trying to hide or camouflage what she was hinting at. And Edmund didn’t even look embarrassed to be centered out in such a way. Instead he was smiling sycophantically, but he probably thought he looked sweet and endearing.

“Danielle doesn’t need any job to help woo a man,” he said. Jamie noticed he kept his voice a little lower, probably trying to sound smooth and suave. “She’s perfect as she is. I’d marry her in a heartbeat if she’d take me back.”

Karen looked about ready to burst out in happy tears. Jamie was about to speak up, but before she could the woman beside did so first.

“I don’t need help ‘wooing’ a man, because I’m already in a relationship. I’m in a happy, healthy relationship.” Dani hadn’t let go of Jamie’s hand, and she was now gripping it so tight Jamie was starting to feel her fingers go numb. “I’m in love with Jamie, and you’ll just have to deal with it mom.”

Silence followed Dani’s statement. One could have heard a pin drop in the dining room. Even Jamie herself was a bit stunned…the in love part was definitely ad lib. They hadn’t discussed anything of that sort. Jamie’s heart was thundering in her chest. She knew it was all a part of their playacting, but to hear Dani say she was in love with her- Jamie knew she’d never be able to forget the way those words sounded, not even with knowing they weren’t true. It was amazing.

As Jamie was ready to faint from the utter thrill of the moment, however, Edmund seemed ready to faint out of nausea. He was rigid and pale and looked downright shocked. Jamie almost felt sorry for him, except that she really didn’t at all.

“The two of you are…together? You’re in a relationship with her?” Edmund looked repulsed at the very thought.

“Eddie, you know the reasons I broke up with you.” Dani spoke gently, and selfishly Jamie didn’t think the man deserved to be let down easy. “I was never going to be able to marry you. But regardless; I found Jamie and…well I’m happy.”

Dani finally let go of Jamie’s hand, and even as she shook it to get the blood flowing again Jamie kind of missed the feeling of them holding hands. That was going to be a problem.

“I’m happy for the two of you.” Judy did, to her credit, sound genuine. “I’m sorry if we sounded ignorant at all tonight…we simply didn’t know the wonderful news! But congratulations. Danielle you deserve to be happy and settled.”

“Yes,” Edmund said thickly, “congratulations.” Then he stood abruptly. “Please excuse me.”

Jamie watched as he fled from the room, not at all concerned about his feelings.

“Look what you did Danielle, breaking his heart like that.” Karen was practically spitting bullets. “Do you not have a conscience?”

“Mom…”

“Karen, please.” Judy seemed a bit embarrassed. “Eddie is fine, he’s just a sensitive guy and was caught off guard is all. It’s not Danielle’s fault in the slightest.”

Karen still looked like she was in a bad mood, and Jamie couldn’t resist piping up. “You had plenty of warning we were coming Mrs Clayton. Why not warn him if you’re so concerned about his wellbeing? You’re well aware Dani’s in a relationship- seems a cruel set up to me.”

Karen’s stare was full of daggers. Jamie was certain that if Karen actually had a weapon within reach and fewer witnesses she’d be on her way to the hospital. But the stare couldn’t hurt her, so Jamie just held her gaze confidently. It was Karen who cracked first. With a huff she too stood from the table, asking Judy if she’d mind helping with the cleanup. Jamie turned to Dani, eyebrows raised. But Dani didn’t meet her eye. She just stood up and motioned for Jamie to follow her.

Eventually the two made it outside into the grassless backyard. Dark had fallen, and Jamie noticed Dani shiver even though it wasn’t really cold. At least, it wasn’t cold compared to what they were used to back east. Jamie was a bit confused by Dani’s reaction, and suddenly worried she overstepped.

“Hey Poppins, sorry if I crossed a line there at the end. Didn’t mean to have a go at your mom, she honestly just was getting on my nerves and…oomph!”

Dani had thrown her arms around Jamie without any warning. Slightly mystified, Jamie returned the hug, patting her back in a bemused sort of way.

“Thank you,” Dani breathed. Jamie smiled a bit at the way it tickled her neck when Dani spoke. “I haven’t heard anyone talk back to my mom like that in ages. I’m not used to people standing up to her like that.”

“She deserves it more often I think.” Jamie hugged her friend a bit tighter, stroking her hand up and down Dani’s back. “But you’re welcome Poppins. Anytime. You know I’d do anything for you.”

Dani pulled out of the hug a bit, but she kept her arms draped loosely around Jamie’s neck. Jamie let her hands fall to Dani’s hips. They were close, Jamie realized. Their noses were almost touching. It was kissing distance, really. Jamie’s eyes darted down to Dani’s lips without her permission, and she quickly glanced back up, not wanting to alarm the blonde. But Dani was simply gazing at Jamie with a warm smile. It was easy to get lost in her eyes.

“Thank you,” Dani repeated. It was barely a whisper, but Jamie caught it.

“We survived day one,” Jamie said. “Good on ya Poppins.”

Dani laughed. She stepped back, and Jamie tried to not mourn the loss of her presence. Dani slowly made her way down the stairs of the deck and Jamie followed her absentmindedly. She didn’t pay much attention as Dani kicked off her shoes and rolled her pant legs up, instead gazing at skyline. Maybe Christmas lights on palm trees wasn’t so terrible after all. It was kind of pretty, Jamie supposed. She didn’t pay much attention at all until she heard the slightest splash of water. Dani was sitting on the edge of the pool, legs dangling. She patted the ground beside her.

“Um, I’m good here. Thanks though.”

Dani looked up at her, confused. “Are you okay?”

“Don’t like water much,” Jamie mumbled as she fumbled out her pack of cigarettes and popped one in her mouth. “I never learned how to swim.”

“What? Jamie I had no idea!” Dani sprung to her feet, and Jamie almost had a heart attack at the speed at which she did so. Wet feet on the smooth stone surround…Jamie shuddered. But Dani never slipped. “Here, come with me.”

Dani grabbed Jamie’s arm and walked around the edge of the pool. Jamie realized she was leading them to the shallow end, and her heart flooded with affection. Her sweet best friend was always looking out of her.

“Thanks Poppins,” Jamie said quietly. She still wasn’t one hundred percent enthused as she slipped out of her socks and sat at the water’s edge, but at least she knew she wouldn’t drown. Jamie probably would never win any contests with her height, but at least she knew her head wouldn’t be under water if she fell in.

“I know you said we survived the first day,” Dani began as Jamie lit her cigarette, “but how are we going to make it through twelve more days of this?” She groaned.

Jamie took a drag and then offered her smoke to Dani. The blonde took it with a grateful look. “We’ll make it. We’ve got this in the bag.”

“You think my mom will ever accept me?” Dani blew out some smoke and handed the cigarette back to Jamie. “Do you think she’ll ever be alright with us?”

Jamie ignored the fact that there wasn’t really an ‘us’ when it came to the two of them. “I hope so,” she finally said, deciding honesty was her best policy. “But I think if she doesn’t…that’s her loss Poppins. Because you are amazing, and there’s nothing about yourself that you need to change. If she can’t see what a wonderful person you are, that’s not on you.”

Dani leaned her head on Jamie’s shoulder. “I know this kinda sucks and all, but I’m really glad you’re here with me.”

Jamie smiled. She put her right arm around behind Dani and hugged her friend in close to her side. The two sat like that for several minutes in a content silence. Jamie finished her cigarette and they enjoyed the mild night around them. It took a bit for Jamie to notice the sensation of being watched. She tried to surreptitiously turn her head without jostling the nearly sleeping Dani.

“Lover boy is staring at us,” she said quietly after having caught sight of Edmund just inside the sliding glass door of the house, watching them somewhat creepily.

“Ugh,” Dani groaned, “they’re still here? I figured he’d have run home crying by now.”

“Looks like he’s a big boy. He does his crying in the basement of his family friend’s house.” Though Dani was still resting her head on Jamie’s shoulder, the brunette could feel how tense she was. “Want to give him a show?”

Dani sat up slightly, looking at Jamie in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Well…” Jamie shrugged slightly, feigning indifference even as her heart pounded with nerves at what she was proposing. “The whole point of this is to convince ‘em all that you’re happy right? And that we’re dating?” Oh how she longed to repeat Dani’s words of love. Instead she just shifted closer to Dani, leaning in to whisper in her ear. “I’m going to kiss you now, if that’s okay.” Her lips just barely ghosted the shell of Dani’s ear. Jamie felt the other woman shiver. “Ready?”

Dani slightly nodded, and Jamie smiled. She moved her lips to Dani’s cheek, kissing gently. She placed another kiss a bit closer to her lips, and then even closer. Jamie heard Dani’s breath hitch, and she felt rather lightheaded herself. Their noses grazed. Jamie paused, second guessing herself suddenly. Could she really kiss her best friend? And then full, soft lips were on hers, and Jamie thought she had never felt anything more perfect.

Dani had surprised her by making the move to close the gap between their lips, but Jamie wasn’t going to complain. A soft sigh escaped Dani, and Jamie couldn’t help but smile a bit. Their lips brushed together softly, and then a bit firmer. It was a chaste kiss, almost innocent, but it filled Jamie with burning desire nonetheless. When Dani parted her lips just a touch, Jamie couldn’t resist sneaking her tongue out for a taste.

And then the kiss wasn’t that innocent at all. It was still slow, and the heat between them was more of a simmer than anything. But as her tongue was met by Dani’s Jamie couldn’t help but shudder a bit at the sensation. Her body suddenly felt like it was on absolute fire. It shouldn’t have been as perfect as it was- Jamie’s back was practically cramping at the awkward angle she was at. But kissing Dani was like experiencing every single one of her best dreams all at the same time. Jamie really didn’t want to stop, but she needed to breathe. Goodness how she needed to breathe. She didn’t want to stop kissing Dani, though. So she instead moved her kisses to Dani’s jaw, and then down to her neck. The sound Dani made Jamie sucked at her pulse point made her toes curl and her thighs clench reflexively.

“Jamie,” Dani said breathlessly.

Jamie trailed her kisses upward again and pecked Dani on the lips. It was far too innocent considering the thoughts that were now running rampant through her mind. “Hey Poppins,” she said, breathing somewhat raggedly.

“Think we, uh, think we managed to scare him off?” Dani asked.

Oh right. Edmund. Jamie remembered the whole point of their little kiss, and she awkwardly straightened, putting as much distance as she could between her and Dani without actually moving away. She suddenly felt stupid for the rush of emotions she was feeling.

“I think we probably convinced the poor fella.” Jamie ran a hand through her curls, mentally berating herself for enjoying a kiss so much that was just for show. Dani was her friend, not a random girl she had met at the bar.

Except that Jamie was far too aware of the fact that Dani wasn’t just some random girl at a bar…that was the whole fucking problem, wasn’t it?

***

Dani sat on the edge of her bed as Jamie was in her bathroom getting ready for bed, worrying her bottom lip. She couldn’t stop thinking about the kiss they had shared not even an hour before. She knew it had all been for show, she knew it was all part of the deal with fake dating her best friend. But Dani could still absolutely not stop thinking about it.

She just couldn’t stop.

Kissing her best friend who was helping her out with a sticky situation wasn’t supposed to be as alluring as it turned out to be. Dani was supposed to be able to handle the two week holiday without incident, and without her heart doing its weird stuttering crush thing. Except that she had just shared the best ever kiss of her life with her friend and her heart had traded in its stuttering thing for a full on frenzied stampede.

“Fuck,” Dani whispered. She thought about the feel of Jamie’s lips on her skin. “Fuck.” She thought about how their lips felt against one another’s, their tongues dancing… “Fuck,” she breathed. Dani thought about how she was about to spend the night in the same bed as her friend who she now could not stop thinking about inappropriately.

“Fuck.” This time it was more of a groan, and it was far too loud.

“Everything okay in here Poppins?” Jamie emerged from Dani’s bathroom. She was wearing an old t-shirt that was just a bit too big and kept slipping off one shoulder and the shortest boyshorts Dani had ever seen.

Fuck, she thought in her head.

Out loud, she said, “All good. Yup! Totally good. Just…remembered we forgot to take down the posters.”

“Damn.” Jamie wrinkled her nose. “Well, I suppose I can do one night with the weirdo sparkly boy staring at me. I’m too tired to do anything about it now.” She yawned widely. “You got any extra blankets?”

Dani stood and went to her closet automatically. “Are you actually cold in California, Miss I’m-from-England-and-we-have-the-coldest-rainiest-days-ever?” she teased.

“Very funny, you,” Jamie said. “Nah, just figured I could sleep on the floor. Make things a little easier for us.”

“What?” Dani froze in the act of reaching for the top shelf of her closet where she knew a few extra blankets would be stored. She turned back to her friend. “What do you mean by sleep on the floor?”

Jamie shrugged. “Just thought it would be less awkward or something. I mean…this whole thing could turn out awkward enough, so why not try to help out the situation if we can, yeah?”

“Jamie…” Dani turned. “We’re still friends. Regardless of the situation right now, we’re still friends. It’s just like a sleepover. Like that one time when we came home drunk after Becca’s breakup and all ended up in her bed.”

Jamie regarded her closely. Finally she seemed to relax a bit. “You’re sure?” Dani nodded. “Right then. Fair warning Poppins, I tend to steal covers. So hold on tight.”

“That’s okay,” Dani said brightly. She climbed into the left side of the bed while Jamie took the right. “I usually kick people in my sleep.”

Jamie groaned and Dani laughed as she turned off the bedside lamp. She settled beneath the covers, feeling Jamie’s comforting and steady presence beside her, mind drifting back to their kiss. A smile graced her lips. With those incredible images filling her mind, it didn’t take long for Dani to fall into a deep, pleasant sleep.

Chapter Text

Jamie was the first one up in the Clayton house the next morning. She had barely gotten to sleep as it was. She spent the whole night far too tense, only just barely slipping in and out of consciousness, scared to death that she would do something inappropriate in her sleep. Somehow, sharing a bed with Dani had seemed like it would be no big deal when she agreed to the plan. In practice though, Jamie was a mess. What if she accidentally cuddled Dani? Or had a rather inappropriate dream about Dani?

Thus conditioned, Jamie practically jumped out of her skin around three in the morning at the feeling of arms wrapping around her middle. Dani was spooning Jamie from behind and it felt so natural and so, so good. But it shouldn’t have been natural, and she knew it. Dani was her friend, nothing more. After that Jamie really couldn’t sleep. She had bolted out of the bed at the crack of dawn, trying to ignore both the distress she felt at slipping out of Dani’s grip and the way Dani frowned as Jamie made her escape.

As it was, Jamie was essentially exhausted. She felt the time difference, even at only three hours, and her lack of sleep wasn’t helping. She figured a strong brew would help her out, and started fiddling with Karen’s over complicated hot beverage machine. Why did the Americans have to make everything so convoluted? A simple cup of tea did not require an entire enterprise to create.

Jamie decided to Facetime Becca while she was waiting for her tea. To her surprise, Becca answered on the first ring. She was apparently more desperate for dramatic updates than Jamie had thought.

“So? You look terrible. Has there been drama? Come on now, spill the tea.”

“Oh gee, good morning to you too Becs,” Jamie said sarcastically. “I’m wonderful, thanks for asking. You look lovely as well!”

Becca rolled her eyes. “Yeah, okay, blah blah blah, pleasantries and all that. Come on…my dad has been quoting the stock market all morning. Let me live vicariously through you.”

“Well,” Jamie set her phone on the counter as she prepared her tea, “Karen Clayton is about as bad as Dani always made her sound. She even invited the ex and his mom over for dinner without telling ‘em that Dani was in a relationship.” Becca gasped dramatically through the phone. “And then…maybe…maybe we sorta kissed by the pool to show off for the man child and I may have liked it more than I should considering Dani’s my friend and she spooned me in her sleep so there’s that,” Jamie said in a rush.

“Wait…Jamie don’t talk that fast the connection is spotty! Did I hear that right? You actually kiss? Repeat yourself this instant, dammit!”

Jamie sighed but did as Rebecca requested. She took a seat at the kitchen island, slumped on one elbow while she held her phone up in her other hand. “I kissed Dani, Becs. I kissed her and I liked it way too much. No- do not start singing Katy Perry!”

Becca laughed. “Sorry, I just can’t resist. But seriously,” Becca leaned closer to her screen, “don’t beat yourself up over it Jamie. First of all, the two of you both agreed to this. You’re consenting adults in this and now partners in crime.”

“Mm-hmm,” Jamie agreed, taking a sip of her tea.

“Secondly, Dani sounded like she was pretty into that kiss too. And if she was the one reaching out for you in her sleep then…”

“Ugh no, don’t give me false hope!” Jamie sighed. “Things don’t work out that way in real life. Maybe in the movies, but if my life’s ever been like a movie it’s like one of those disaster flicks where everything goes entirely wrong.”

“Jamie! Don’t make me fly to California just to smack you! What have I said about getting down on yourself like that?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.”

Becca shook her head. “You and Dani both, I swear. The both of you like to be way too hard on yourselves. You never see the good.” Rebecca suddenly turned and looked at something off screen. “Shoot, I’ve got to go. I promised mom I’d help her bake today. Stay out of trouble and kiss your girl lots!”

Becca disconnected with a wave and Jamie put her phone face down on the island. She continued to sip her tea, trying to enjoy the peace and quiet of the early morning. Instead she just kept thinking about their kiss the night before, and how Dani had reacted to it. The other woman had seemed just as into it as Jamie, but then immediately her reaction had been centered on Edmund. Which was totally unfair, Jamie realized. That was their whole plan- to put on a show of their fake relationship. It wasn’t fair of Jamie to expect anything else from Dani.

Except that…the kiss had been magical. Jamie felt the spark, didn’t Dani as well?

Jamie sighed. Only twelve more days, she told herself. Surviving Karen would be the easy part. Now she was more worried about surviving her stupid crush that seemed to be growing exponentially stronger as every minute passed.

The sunlight starting to come in through the window over the sink was warm and pleasant, and Jamie decided to take her tea outside. She had never experienced a Californian sunrise before, and didn’t want to waste the opportunity. Based on how hot she had already been when she darted out of bed, Jamie had thrown on shorts for the day, with a flannel over her tank. She was glad she was experiencing the weather in December, not July. She figured she might melt.

Jamie picked a spot out front of the Clayton house, sitting on a rock underneath a palm tree. She sipped at her tea and enjoyed the sun as it warmed her fair skin. Closing her eyes, Jamie leaned back against the rough bark of the tree, simply relaxing. Even though she was on a fake dating expedition, this was still a vacation for her, after all. She wanted to enjoy at least a little bit of it.

“Who are you?”

Jamie startled so badly she almost jumped straight off the rock. Her eyes sprang wide open, and she looked around wildly until her eyes landed on the owner of the high pitched voice that had interrupted her reverie- it was a young, dark haired child, looking at her inquisitively.

“I’m Jamie,” she said. “Who are you?” she asked bluntly. Jamie had never been great with kids. That was more Dani’s territory.

The girl didn’t appear inclined to answer. Instead she replied with another question of her own. “What are you doing here?”

“Er…I’m here for Christmas.”

Instantly the girl’s eyes lit up. “You are? Did you buy me a present?”

“Um…” Jamie was spared by thinking of an answer by another voice breaking the stillness of the morning.

“Isabel! I asked you not to run off!” A woman approached, raven haired and beautiful. She exuded an air of confidence that almost seemed to border on arrogance. She looked down at Jamie and raised an eyebrow. “Did mother hire some help for the holidays or shall I call the cops and report a vagrant?”

“Oh, uh no, I’m Jamie.” Jamie scrambled to her feet, offering her hand in greeting. “Jamie Taylor. I’m, uh, I’m here with Dani.” Her voice rose at the end, almost as if asking a question. This woman was intimidating.

“Oh.” The single syllable seemed to say everything. The woman took Jamie’s hand, her expression turning to something somehow both smug and amused at the same time. “Yes, mother said Danielle would be bringing a guest.” The emphasis she put on the word ‘guest’ wasn’t altogether kind. “I’m Viola. I’m Danielle’s sister.”

Suddenly all the stories Jamie had heard about the sibling rivalries and Dani feeling like an outsider in her house and never being able to live up to the standards set by her sister made a lot more sense. Even within a mere minute of meeting Viola, Jamie could tell she was a force to be reckoned with.

Viola stood tall and proud, her posture impeccable and her stance designed to intimidate. Her very essence radiated power and authority, and yes, arrogance. Her clothes were designer, tailored perfectly, and clearly incredibly expensive. Viola looked like the type of person who knew what she wanted, and always got what she wanted, no matter who or what stood in her way.

“Well, I’m sure this Christmas is going to be very…lively with you joining us.” Viola turned to her daughter, taking the young girl’s hand. Jamie watched her entire demeanour change. She softened like butter. “Come now dear, let’s go say hi to grandma.”

Jamie watched them walk off toward the house, slightly bemused by the whole encounter. Suddenly she jumped again, startled by the unexpected voice behind her.

“Viola is a powerhouse, isn’t she?”

Jamie turned, getting tired of the amount of people sneaking up on her before eight in the morning and before she had quite finished her tea. It was a dangerous game they were playing. The man who stood on the next door neighbour’s driveway didn’t seem to be mocking her though. A wide grin peeked out from beneath his bushy mustache, and he gave off such a cheery aura that Jamie couldn’t help but smile.

“Yeah she’s uh, a little intimidating.”

“You haven’t even seen the worst of it,” the man laughed. “Never, ever, get involved in a game of poker with her.”

“Noted,” Jamie nodded. “I’m Jamie Taylor. Staying with the Clayton’s for the holidays.”

“Owen Sharma.” He shook her hand with a firm grip. “Listen, when Dani awakes, tell her she batter come bring you over for some fresh baked cinnamon rolls.” Owen laughed at the expression of sheer delight on Jamie’s face. “You’re welcome anytime, girlfriend of Dani’s.”

“Wait, what?”

“The fence between our properties isn’t that tall. Just a bit of background info for the next time you two decide to make out by the pool.”

Jamie felt her face burn, and Owen’s booming laugh rang out through the air. She had been right. She’d definitely be lucky to survive the next two weeks, and it had absolutely nothing to do with Karen Clayton.

***

Owen Sharma, as it turned up, had lived beside Dani since the Clayton’s had first moved in. He was her high school friend, and it warmed Jamie to see a little bit of happiness emerge from Dani’s past. Dani was genuinely content in his presence, and watching her anxiousness fall away and her laugh with abandon made Jamie smile.

Owen’s mom had passed away two years before, and he had decided to keep the house. He lived there with Hannah, his girlfriend, and Jamie honestly couldn’t say whether she had ever met two nicer people. They complemented each other well, and they were clearly crazy about each other yet in a subtle, understated way. Their love and affection for each other was clear to see, but they didn’t shove it in people’s faces like so many other couples. And Owen’s cinnamon rolls were to die for. Dani practically had to tear Jamie away when it was time to leave. Neither one seemed to bat an eye at their ‘relationship’ either. Owen and Hannah both seemed perfectly fine with Dani’s sexuality. It was an absolutely splendid morning, Jamie thought.

They left Owen and Hannah with promises to have a drink together later that evening, and Jamie noticed Dani walking with almost a bounce in her step after reconnecting with her old friend.

Arthur Lloyd, meanwhile, was a man that Jamie thought was wound about nine times too tight.

He had a charming smile and an easy going laugh, and he was clearly devoted to his wife and little girl. But he also bent over backwards to do everything Viola demanded and then some, and it was a strange mixture of pure love and dedication while also simply being cowed by his wife. He bustled to and fro from running around with his daughter to waiting on his wife to pressing his phone to his ear to tie up loose ends with his colleagues. He had one of those fancy fitness trackers on his wrist, and Jamie longed to see the step count. She wouldn’t have been surprised if it read twenty thousand steps by lunch time. The man just didn’t seem to have an off button or know how to relax and unwind.

They all ended up at a mall in the afternoon. Viola and Arthur had waited to take Isabel to see Santa until Karen could go as well, and Karen insisted that they make a family outing of it. It all made sense when ten minutes into their shopping trip they unexpectedly ran into the O’Mara’s.

“Judy! Eddie!” Karen’s surprised tone was so obviously fake that Jamie had to cover her laugh with a cough. “How delightful to run into you here! What a surprise.”

Jamie and Dani had been walking hand in hand through the mall- holding Dani’s hand in public was an experience that Jamie didn’t think she’d ever tire of- and Jamie half expected to feel Dani tense up. She thought her friend would suddenly be on high alert, the edge of panic, worried about keeping up appearances or what would happen with Edmund present.

Instead, Dani simply sighed tiredly. Jamie stole a glance in her direction, and saw that Dani just looked mostly fed up. She looked over it, really. Dani looked like was simply done with her mom’s antics, and couldn’t be bothered giving Edmund even a second’s worth of attention. It pleased Jamie more than it should have.

Isabel, as it was turning out, was cute as a button, if a little forward and headstrong. Even Jamie caught her lips quirking into a smile watching the girl’s excitement as she got to meet Santa and read him her wish list.

“She looks pretty stoked, eh?” she said quietly to Dani. “It’s kinda cute.”

“Are you going soft on me, Taylor?” Dani laughed. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you admit a child is cute before.”

“I said ‘kinda’. Let’s not push it too far, yeah?”

Dani tugged Jamie in closer to her side. “You’re going soft. Which is a good thing…apparently mom’s new boyfriend is bringing his two kids for Christmas.”

Jamie groaned. “Nooooo,” she pouted. “Dealing with your mom and your sister is one thing but children…Poppins you’re going too far now.”

“Come on, cheer up.” Jamie wasn’t expecting to feel Dani’s lips land her cheek. She hadn’t expected Dani to kiss her so naturally and easily in public. “I’ll make it up to you.”

It was said innocently. Dani, bless her, had no idea that her words made Jamie shiver. She had no idea that she caused Jamie’s mouth to water and her imagination to be filled with images of what Dani could possibly do to make it up to her.

“Right,” Jamie said weakly, trying to get her mind of the gutter. “I’ll remember that you owe me one.”

They stood watching Isabel finish her visit before dashing back to her parents, who scooped her up with wide smiles. It was sort of a touching scene, but it was also a bit too perfect. Jamie thought they sort of looked like something out of a Hallmark movie.

“We should get a picture together,” Dani said suddenly.

“What, with Santa?” Dani nodded, and Jamie laughed. “Good one, Poppins.” But then Jamie noticed that Dani didn’t look like she was joking. She started to panic. “Dani, seriously? We’re adults. We can’t get a picture with Santa.”

Dani pouted. “But Jamie it would be so cute…our first couple’s photo!”

“Dani, look at the line. It’s all children.” Jamie tried to ignore the puppy dog eyes that Dani was giving her. “We can’t do it Poppins. We wouldn’t fit in at all.” Jamie did not look into those big, beautiful blue eyes that were begging her, she absolutely did not. “Come on, don’t make me do this. He’s terrifying Dani, look at him. Probably a pedo. Dani, no, it’s for the kids. I won’t do it, I swear.”

Fifteen minutes later they were walking through the mall with Dani grinning from ear to ear as she examined their freshly printed photos. Jamie was swearing under her breath.

“If you even think about showing those pictures to Becca I swear Poppins I will end you.”

Dani simply just laughed, putting her arm through Jamie’s and linking their elbows. Jamie wanted to be angry- honestly she was twenty-six and just had her picture taken with a mall Santa- but Dani looked so carefree that she couldn’t even be just a little bit upset. Jamie sighed.

“We can just put those in the bottom of your suitcase, yeah? Never to show a soul.”

“Actually…”

“Dani no.” Jamie looked at her now sheepish looking friend with wide eyes. “You didn’t, did you?” Dani bit her bottom lip, fighting her smile. “You did. Dammit, I’m gonna have to go all the way back to England now. Becs will never let me live this down.”

And Dani’s laughter was such music to Jamie’s ears that she thought she’d take a thousand pictures with mall Santa’s just to hear it again.

***

Dani decided to grab some fresh air while she waited for Jamie to change for dinner. Karen had announced that they were all- Judy and Eddie included- going to go out to a formal dinner, and Jamie had decided that the incredibly short shorts she had been wearing all day weren’t formal wear appropriate.

Dani wasn’t quite sure whether she was relieved or disappointed at that fact- her eyes had been practically glued to her friend’s legs all day. It was both riveting and distracting, but Dani was also going to mourn the loss.

The two of them had spent the day on the periphery of the events. Karen had focused all of energy on the new arrivals and doted on her only granddaughter- the only time Dani could ever recall her mom acting remotely human was with Izzy- which left Jamie and Dani free to drift alongside everyone. It had been relaxing, and Dani refused to dwell on why acting like a couple in public with Jamie felt so perfectly natural. She refused to look any deeper into the way the thought of flying back east was already filling Dani with a weird sort of disappointment.

Dani had her phone in hand, debating on whether she should call Rebecca for advice, when Edmund joined her out on the deck.

“Danielle,” he smiled. “I’ve barely gotten a chance to talk to you all day.”

Dani smiled tightly. “Right, well, it was an eventful afternoon.” It wasn’t a total lie. Viola made a shop employee cry, Karen argued with every single cashier they checked out at, and Isabel threw up after Arthur had snuck her one too many spoonful’s of ice cream from the food court resulting in him being on the receiving end of a verbal lashing from his wife.

“Look, I just had been hoping to reconnect with you a bit while you’re back.” Eddie’s glasses had slid down his nose again, and Dani recalled how she used to find the way he always had to push them back up to be dorkily cute. Now she just found it grating. “Things ended kind of abruptly between us. I know you’re with someone else at the moment, but…”

“Jamie.”

“What?” Edmund looked startled that she had actually interrupted.

“I’m not with someone else at the moment,” Dani said curtly, “I’m with Jamie and I intend on being with her for a long time. Forever, if she’ll have me.”

“So it’s actually serious?”

Dani shook her head incredulously. “What part of this whole thing would make you think it’s not serious? I’ve been dating her for five months, have brought her home for Christmas to meet my family, and said last night I l-loved her.” Dani tripped over the last few words, for reasons she didn’t understand.

“Danielle, when you refused my proposal and said it was because you were gay I always just figured it was a phase. I mean…it’s not normal. She can’t…” Eddie trailed off and Dani found herself getting more and more infuriated.

“She can’t what? Huh Eddie? Jamie can’t what?” Dani’s hands were clenched in fists. “She can’t make me happier than you ever made me? She can’t make me smile and laugh? She can’t make me feel safe or help cheer me up when I cry? She can’t understand me and know me better than anyone has ever known me in my entire life?”

The words all felt natural to Dani. She didn’t feel like she was playacting at all. The truth was, over the two years she had known Jamie, it was all true. Every word was true. Jamie did know her better than anyone and could make her laugh. She was happy in Jamie’s presence. Jamie was her best friend.

“I didn’t mean anything like that,” Eddie said stiffly. “But when you come to your senses, maybe you’ll be lucky enough that I’ll take you back.”

Edmund stomped off, looking rather ridiculous, and stormed straight past Jamie. Dani hadn’t seen or heard her come out to the back deck, and she was suddenly nervous, wondering how much of her conversation Jamie had heard. But she promptly forgot all about that when she took in what the brunette had changed into. Dani thought the shorts had been distracting, but now Jamie was wearing a button down and a brightly coloured bowtie, and Dani felt weak at the knees.

“Are you being mean to the man baby?” Jamie asked with a lopsided grin.

Dani rolled her eyes. “He really is a man baby, isn’t he?”

“All the evidence I’ve seen so far points to yes.” Jamie held out her hand. “A certain already tipsy mother is inside going spare that we’re going to miss our reservations. So would a beautiful lady care to accompany me to dinner?”

Dani smiled and gladly took Jamie’s hand, loving the way their fingers fit together perfectly. She knew she was going to have to start getting a hold of herself. Holding hands with her friend wasn’t something Dani could keep doing once they were back home. But holding Jamie’s hand felt natural to Dani, and she loved the feeling.

“Why the bowtie?” she asked as they made their way out front.

Jamie shrugged. “Figured it would drive your mom the most insane. D’ya like it?”

“Yes,” Dani said a little too quickly and a little too breathlessly. If Jamie noticed, she didn’t say anything. She simply smiled at Dani warmly, and Dani felt her heart stutter away.

The restaurant Karen had chosen was far too fancy. Dani knew that she would never have normally picked it out for dining, and the look on Jamie’s face when they entered read the exact same. Dani felt underdressed, even in her skirt and blouse, and she cursed her mother internally for not giving her more warning about where they were headed. The only thing grounding her was Jamie’s arm around her waist, and she leaned into the touch as best she could.

Jamie pulled out Dani’s chair for her to sit, and she smiled at the thoughtfulness. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Eddie looking put out that he didn’t think of doing that first. Jamie took the chair on her left, and Eddie was on her other side. Dani carefully nudged her chair a little bit closer to Jamie and away from Eddie’s nauseating cologne.

It took all of ten minutes for Dani to realize that their supper was going to be an utter disaster. All Viola could talk about was herself, and her plans for Isabel. All Edmund could talk about was his career. Arthur tried to ignore a work call that Viola glared at him until he answered, and then when he returned to the table she gave him hell that he would interrupt a family dinner to talk business. Karen gloated over her eldest daughter and made nothing but pointed comments regarding Dani’s poor life choices. Dani was onto her third glass of wine by the time the hors d’oeuvres were even served. Beside her, Jamie was in much the same situation. Dani was glad neither one of them were driving that night.

“Isabel’s doing quite well in her ballet class,” Viola was saying. “She’ll be starting to learn her competitive choreography after the break. We’re quite expecting big things from the competition season, but of course we can’t let her slack on her piano or flute lessons. One must keep in mind commitments made and time management.”

“Isn’t she only just six?” Jamie interjected.

Viola fixed the gardener with an icy stare. “Yes, and?”

“Well, the kid should just be having fun shouldn’t she? I mean, great that she’s doing all this extra stuff and lessons and what not but…”

“Extracurricular activities are quite important for college applications.”

Jamie looked exasperated. “College? She’s in the first grade, isn’t she?”

“It’s never too early to start planning for one’s future,” Viola said, her tone cutting. “But I wouldn’t expect someone with your credentials to have any clue about things like that.”

Dani’s anger flared, and she was about to give her older sister a piece of her mind, but Jamie’s hand landed on her thigh softly.

“I assume you’re referring to what some might call a lacklustre career choice,” Jamie said coolly. “Look, yeah, gardening’s my passion. And it’s not gonna earn me millionaire status. But I’m happy. Can you say as much?”

Dani watched Viola’s eyes narrow as she regarded Jamie. She didn’t know how to tell Jamie that she had just potentially started a war with her sister and that Viola was a dangerous opponent. She knew Jamie wasn’t the type of person to simply roll over and take criticism, but Dani could already see the wheels turning in Viola’s mind and she didn’t want her best friend to fall as one of Viola’s targets. Before she could say or do anything, however, Karen butted in.

“Viola, you can’t expect everyone to have the same amount of decorum as the rest of us. I, for one, care very much about my granddaughter’s future. It’s very clear Danielle won’t be providing me with any, so I’m very glad you’re taking it so seriously.”

“Oh Christ,” Dani breathed, gulping down what remained in her wine glass.

The rest of the dinner carried on in much the same way, and by the time the bills were squared away Dani was more than just a little bit buzzed. She actually nearly tripped herself standing up from the table. Eddie tried to steady her by grabbing hold of her arm, and Dani ripped herself out of his grasp so quickly that she collided with Jamie. Jamie’s arms were strong and warm where they caught her, and she easily pulled Dani into a hug to smooth out the situation.

“Easy there Poppins,” Jamie whispered. “Can you imagine what the jackals would say about the scandalous situation of you getting drunk and falling over in a Michelin star restaurant?”

Dani laughed. She pressed herself closer into Jamie, breathing in the smell of her…cologne? It was so much nicer than Eddie’s Dani thought.

“Come on, Poppins, let’s get back home. We’ll have some more drinks with your neighbours and end the night on a positive note.”

***

Karen Clayton’s backyard really wasn’t really winning itself any favour with Jamie. When they arrived back home from the utterly painful dinner, Dani had marched right over to Owen’s and asked him- in a rather loud voice courtesy of too much wine- whether he and Hannah would like to come over for drinks and a campfire. Jamie had been rather excited, as a campfire aficionado.

As it turned out, what classified as a ‘campfire’ was a weird looking glass fire table in the middle of the back deck. It gave off some heat, yes, but it was not a real fire. The only credit Jamie could give it was that it changed colours.

Nevertheless, they pulled the deck furniture in closer and lit the flaming table thing. The four of them passed the drinks around, and Jamie found herself liking Owen and Hannah more with every passing minute. Owen, as she found out, was a chef who had opened his own restaurant in a hotel. Hannah managed said hotel, and that was how the two of them had met.

“You guys are probably the most sickeningly cute couple I’ve ever met,” Jamie said.

“That means she likes you,” Dani added. She patted Jamie’s cheek gently. “This one’s not too good with feelings and words.”

Owen threw back his head and laughed. “Well, I like you too, you emotionally stunted Brit.”

Jamie raised her glass to him before downing the rest of her whiskey. She was lounging on one of the padded couches, arm around Dani’s shoulders. She had unknotted her bowtie but left it hanging untied around her collar, and Dani seemed to be quite taken with playing with the fabric. Jamie had also popped open a couple buttons at the top of her shirt, and every now and again Dani’s fingers would graze the skin around her collarbone. Every single time it made Jamie shiver, and the way Dani’s grin would get more and more devilish made her wonder if it wasn’t being done on purpose.

“How long have the two of you been together?” Hannah asked.

“Since the summer,” Dani smiled. “But I liked Jamie from the moment I first met her.”

Jamie wished that statement was the truth instead of simply a part of their ruse.

“Love at first sight then,” Hannah said, smiling herself. “That’s rare. And special. You two better hold onto each other.”

“I plan to,” Dani said. She kissed Jamie’s temple, and Jamie felt her cheeks burn. Dani’s hand was half tucked inside the collar of her shirt, resting on Jamie’s collar bone. She was a bit curious as to why Dani was being so touchy feely in front of people who they really didn’t need to convince of anything. Was it just because Dani was drunk?

After a while, Jamie felt comfortable enough in everyone’s presence to pull a couple plastic tubes from the pocket of her trousers. “Would anyone be interested in sharing?”

“To be blunt, I would love to,” Owen said, and Jamie laughed at his pun.

Dani, meanwhile, sat up a bit straighter and looked at Jamie with somewhat narrowed eyes. “You didn’t bring that on the plane, did you?”

“No way, Poppins,” Jamie said as she slid two joints out and passed one over to Owen. “Remember that Starbucks you insisted we stop at on our way from the airport for terrible coffee? Turns out there was a dispensary beside it.”

Dani furrowed her brow. “There was?”

“How did ya miss it?” Jamie laughed. “It was called Starbuds!”

Jamie and Owen had just lit up when the sound of the back door sliding open caught Jamie’s attention. Both Arthur and Edmund were making their way over to the group. Jamie thought briefly about hiding her blunt, but she realized she didn’t care. It wasn’t illegal, and it wasn’t like either of them would think more highly of her one way or another. So she simply took a deep drag and sighed in pleasure. Jamie felt a tugging at her sleeve. She turned her head to see Dani holding out her hand for the joint, and Jamie handed it over easily. High Dani was always a delightfully giggly mess. Jamie was more than a little bit enamoured every time she got to see it.

“Mind if we join this little soiree?” Arthur asked.

Owen waved the men to sit down. “The more the merrier!” he said, passing his blunt to Hannah. Jamie was surprised to see her take a hit expertly.

Dani had just passed the joint back to Jamie when Arthur spoke up. “Got another?” Jamie saw Dani’s eyebrows rise so high they almost reached her hairline. Arthur smiled sheepishly. “I love your sister to death, Danielle, I really do, but she exhausts me most of the time.”

It didn’t take long before Jamie was feeling a nice, relaxed high start to hit her. She passed her joint back and forth with Dani, and laughed easily at Owen’s jokes. Arthur, too, seemed to become calmer and calmer as the minutes went by, and Jamie thought she liked this side of him better. He actually seemed to have a bit of a sense of humour which never showed regularly. Edmund was the only one who wasn’t drinking or smoking, and he sat stiffly in his chair, eyes on Dani.

Dani was becoming softer and gigglier, and also a little more handsy with Jamie. Jamie wasn’t going to complain. Especially when she saw Edmund’s eyes start to fill with jealousy in the flickering light of the fire.

“Pass it over here, man,” Eddie said finally. Arthur didn’t question it, handing his blunt over easily. Jamie almost laughed at how prissily Eddie took the joint and brought it to his lips. He hacked and hacked, and Owen looked vaguely concerned.

“You’re supposed to toke it, not choke on it!”

Dani apparently found that very funny, and she started giggling even harder. She shook as laughed, and pressed into Jamie’s side as she was it made Jamie start to laugh too. Pretty soon they were all laughing, even though Eddie looked like he was doing so mainly just to try and fit in. But it felt like the laughter of friendship anyhow, and Jamie was quite content.

They got on the topic of Christmas- unsurprisingly, as it was coming ever closer- and Arthur was lamenting how difficult it was, now that she believed so fervently, to come up complex events and plans to make Isabel think Santa had come throughout the night. They all started shouting out suggestions, each getting more wild and farfetched. It didn’t take them long to all start cracking up again, especially at Hannah’s rather dry suggestion of ending the Santa Claus thing and making all of Izzy’s presents from Batman that year.

That was how Viola found them all, doubled over in laughter while smoking joints on the deck. Jamie saw the furious look in her eyes but couldn’t find it in her to panic. Nevertheless, she thought she should give some sort of warning.

“Fuck,” she groaned, “it’s the fun police! Hide your fucking Canada’s! I mean cannab…ah what the fuck ever.”

Everyone laughed again.

“Well, doesn’t this look incriminating,” Viola said in a stern tone. But Jamie saw something- was it jealousy?- flash through her eyes. “Arthur. Thanks for your help putting our daughter to bed two hours ago.”

Jamie felt a bit bad for the man as he stumbled through an apology with bloodshot eyes and random bursts of giggling throughout. Eventually he followed his wife inside, looking appropriately contrite except when he turned to wave at the rest of them energetically from the doorway.

“Maybe that’s our cue to call it a night too, love,” Hannah said to Owen. He agreed, and the two of them said their goodnights before leaving.

Jamie didn’t notice it was down to just herself, Dani and Edmund at first. She was content to relax on the couch, arm still around Dani. Dani was back to playing with Jamie’s bowtie and it felt perfect.

“When does…” Eddie shook his head. “When does this feeling wear off? Only I should get back home but if mom catches me…”

“Dude,” Jamie groaned. “You’re a grown ass man. So you’re a little high…mommy won’t care.”

“I mean, she might. This isn’t something I normally do. I’m careful, and responsible. I’m not one of these people.”

Jamie shrugged. Dani’s fingers had stopped fiddling with her tie and instead were resting just inside the opening of her shirt. “You can be responsible and still have a night of fun. You can be careful and still let loose for a night. Just relax, man. You’re an adult and you’re having fun. Own it.”

“Thank you,” Edmund said quietly, and not unkindly. But Jamie almost didn’t hear him. She was distracted.

Jamie was utterly distracted because Dani’s fingers had starting moving again, making their way under the fabric of Jamie’s shirt. Her smooth fingertips traced gently over the skin of Jamie’s chest, creeping ever so tantalizingly closer to the material of Jamie’s bra. Jamie’s mouth was dry. Dani’s fingers just barely dipped oh so close to where Jamie wanted them. Dani’s touch was electric. She was throbbing and couldn’t decide whether she wanted to kiss Dani right then and there or drag her inside and up to their room and throw her down onto the bed and…

At the last second Jamie remembered that they had company and she sat bolt upright, almost throwing Dani off in her haste.

“Uh, sorry,” Jamie cleared her throat. “Just, um, have to pee. And it’s late. Dani? Should we head inside?”

It was hard to focus as they bid goodbye to Eddie and made their way inside and upstairs for the night. Jamie was buzzing all over. Her head was fuzzy and her skin was tingling, and the easy smile Dani wore made her ache with want. Dani was so beautiful, so effortlessly gorgeous and Jamie wanted to pull her in close and kiss her and hold her forever. And even though she tried to tell herself she shouldn’t be thinking that way about her friend, she just couldn’t stop.

Jamie was just drunk enough and just high enough that when they were both ready for bed and climbed under the covers, she didn’t pull away when Dani snuggled in close. Dani rolled into her side, nuzzled her nose into Jamie’s neck, and gripped the thin material of the t-shirt Jamie wore. Dani sighed happily, and Jamie felt a smile play its way onto her lips as she too drifted off into a content sleep.

Chapter Text

Dani woke with a start, as suddenly and abruptly as if someone had yelled at her. But nobody had yelled, had they? At least, she didn’t think so. The room was silent, save from the beating of her own heart as it pounded wildly. She was flushed all over. Dani was flushed and she couldn’t get control of her breathing.

Dani was so incredibly and unbearably turned on that she almost couldn’t take it.

She had been dreaming…but was it a dream? It had felt so real, so incredibly real…but it couldn’t have been. She had been dreaming about Jamie. About Jamie’s lips on her lips, about Jamie’s hands on her skin, about Jamie doing what Dani needed the most…

Oh god, Dani thought. She had been having a decidedly inappropriate dream about her best friend while in bed beside said best friend. Not just in bed beside Jamie, though- the two had become tangled together in their sleep. Dani could feel one of Jamie’s legs had slipped in between her own and fuck if she hadn’t been turned on before…

That was when Dani noticed that one of Jamie’s hands had slipped beneath her shirt during the course of the night. The gardener’s hand was splayed against the bare skin of Dani’s back and it was not helping her current situation. Jamie mumbled something in her sleep, and it should have been adorable. The way Jamie’s nose scrunched and her lips pouted should’ve made Dani grin at how cute it was. Except then the brunette shifted just a touch and the slight movement caused her leg to press forward just so and Dani almost cried.

Dani threw her head back, screwing her eyes shut. She had never been so turned on in her entire life.

She needed to move. Dani knew she needed to get herself out of that bed and away from her before she could really do something that really was too far. But the feeling of Jamie’s hand on her back and the thigh pressing against her centre felt so good, so fucking good. Dani didn’t want to leave. She wanted to stay in bed with Jamie and play out for real the things she could only dream about.

Dani’s hand was moving of its own volition. It was gliding up the material of Jamie’s t-shirt, up over shoulder. Then she was running her hand over the smooth skin of Jamie’s neck. Her fingers ran through wild curls and cupped the back of Jamie’s head. Jamie mumbled again. The corners of her lips quirked up in an unconscious smile. Dani wanted to wake her up. Wanted to call Jamie’s name so she could pull her friend forward and kiss her soundly, passionately, never stopping.

Something crashed in the kitchen down on the first floor.

Dani was up and bolting out of her bed before she could think twice. Thanking her lucky stars that her roommate always slept deeply after indulging the night before, Dani sprinted for her bathroom, locking the door behind her. She went straight to the shower, reaching in and turning on the tap, keeping it cold.

Fuck, did she need the water cold.

***

Jamie sat on one of the barstools at the kitchen island, sipping some godawful coffee and having a staring contest with a six year old. It wasn’t how she had pictured starting her day.

When Jamie had woken up to the sound of the shower running, she sleepily pulled on some sweatpants and made her way down to the kitchen. Arthur was already awake and offered her a cup of coffee, and Jamie thought it would be rude to turn him down. But she fully regretted that decision once she took her first sip. Gritting her teeth to pretend to smile, Jamie thanked him and took her coffee and a bagel to the island. She had sat down, and that was when the staring contest had begun.

Isabel hadn’t let up. The six year old sat there coolly, but surely had the intent to drive Jamie crazy. For her part, Jamie knew she was glaring terrifyingly at the child. But it unnerved her a bit. What was with the staring? How was she supposed to ignore it?

Jamie heard someone else come into the kitchen, but didn’t want to take her eyes off the gremlin. For all she knew Isabel was plotting to go in for the kill the second she turned her back. Who knew what was going on behind those dark, seemingly emotionless eyes. They had a sinister look to them, Jamie thought, no matter how adorable the child was.

“Good morning.”

Hearing Dani’s voice was the only thing that could have turned Jamie’s attention. She looked up to smile at her friend and was immediately lost in Dani’s eyes. The blonde’s hair was still wet, and Jamie thought she looked incredibly beautiful.

“Mornin’ Poppins.” She lowered her voice so Arthur, who had moved on to the living room wouldn’t hear. “There’s some truly terrible coffee ready if you want it. Honestly. You Yanks and your penchant for terrible beverages…I’ll never understand.”

Jamie relished in the sound of Dani’s giggle. She was smiling as she turned back around. That was when she noticed her plate was empty save for a few crumbs. The bagel was gone and the gremlin had disappeared from the kitchen.

Well.

That explained the staring, Jamie supposed.

“How did you sleep?” Jamie asked as Dani sat down beside her. She had thought the questions was rather straightforward, but Dani choked on her coffee and blushed furiously.

“Good,” Dani coughed. She didn’t quite meet Jamie’s eye. “You?”

“Like a rock,” Jamie said. “Y’alright Poppins? You seem a little…I dunno, antsy maybe.”

Dani smiled brightly. “Antsy? Nope, I’m perfectly fine! Excited to meet mom’s new beau and maybe get the chance to judge her as much as she judges me, but I’m not antsy.”

“Ugh, no,” Jamie groaned. She hadn’t even gotten used to the one bagel thief yet, and now she was going to be dealing with that cubed. “Are you telling me I don’t even get more time to adjust to one gremlin before I’m subjected to three?”

“Is big, tough Jamie Taylor nervous about three tiny little children?” Dani asked teasingly. She leaned in a bit closer, smiling playfully.

“About children? Pfft no,” Jamie scoffed. “Of losing my sanity? Definitely!”

Dani laughed. “Do you need me to protect you?”

“Always.” Jamie had meant it jokingly, to continue their banter, but it came out a bit too seriously for that. She locked eyes with Dani, and the blonde’s smile softened, the teasing edge disappearing. It was Jamie’s turn to drift a bit closer, eyes flitting down to Dani’s lips.

“Must you do that where my darling little girl could walk in and see?”

Viola had just breezed into the kitchen, wearing leggings and a sports bra and looking like a sportswear commercial wannabe. She went directly to the sink to refill her water bottle. Her cheeks were slightly flushed and just a bit shiny with sweat.

“Do what, breathe?” Dani asked. Her tone was biting, and Jamie came back to reality a bit. She had been trying to figure out why someone would need to wear a pushup bra for working out. Seemed to Jamie like that would’ve made things more difficult. If not difficult, then at least more floppy.

“She’d probably like us to stop that as well. Or at least, like it if I did.” Jamie whispered it conspiratorially to Dani, expecting a laugh, but her friend didn’t even look at her. She simply sat stiffly, refusing to look at Jamie. It made Jamie frown a bit.

“It’s bad enough I had to explain to Izzy last night why Auntie Danielle got to bring a friend to Christmas and she didn’t. So yes please, cool it.” Viola took a sip from her water. “Well, I best go shower. I just ran a quick little three mile route. It’s amazing what you can accomplish before breakfast when you don’t indulge the night before, isn’t it?”

“You haven’t even accomplished coffee yet, you’ve got nothing to brag about,” Jamie said. “Besides, I can look like this without having to endure the torture of running. So who’s really winning?”

Viola’s eyes flashed menacingly, but she turned on her heel and left the kitchen without further comment. Jamie wondered where on earth she would have put her keys while running. Maybe down the bra- maybe that was the point of wearing a pushup bra to run in. Jamie really couldn’t see any other point to it all.

“Do you want a bagel?”

Jamie realized that Dani had hopped off her stool and now had her back to Jamie. She frowned a bit, missing Dani’s presence even if she was only a few feet away.

“Nah, I’m good.” Jamie didn’t want to have another breakfast fatality. “Think I should get in the shower. Someone hogged it this morning without inviting me to join.”

Another joke that fell flat. Was Jamie just losing her touch? Again, she was struck by the thought that Dani seemed off that morning. She wracked her brain, trying to figure it out. When Dani had first come downstairs, she had seemed anxious in Jamie’s presence. Just as she was settling in for that, Viola had lingered, and suddenly Dani was closed off and wouldn’t look at her. Finally, Jamie just shrugged. She decided to head for her shower, hoping that whatever was going on with Dani would simply just blow itself over in no time.

***

One of Jamie’s biggest goals when she had first moved to America was to learn how to ice skate. One of her few happy memories from when she was younger had been going to see an EIHL game and ever since, Jamie had wanted to learn how to skate and play hockey. Luckily for her, the first roommate she ever had stateside was a Canadian hockey player on scholarship, and thus the lessons began. It had been the only useful thing about that roommate, actually. Jamie knew she wasn’t great, but she could skate forward at any speed, skate backwards slowly, could do crossovers like the best of them, and most importantly, she knew how to stop. So if some annoying kid dressed in hockey gear on a public rink tried to plow into her while playing tag with her friends, she had a defense mechanism.

Yeah, she had learned the necessity of stopping the hard way.

Ice skating had been chosen as the activity of the day, and Jamie had actually been quite happy to hear that. Not that she wanted to show off to Dani’s family (and Edmund, who had crashed the party again) or anything. No, showing off definitely hadn’t been at the top of her list.

Jamie was still wrapping her head around the fact that was an outdoor rink in California of all places. Just beyond the boards there were palm trees, and it was messing with Jamie’s head. But ice was ice, she supposed, and she happily did her thing while Edmund could barely go in a straight line. Again, not that she was trying to show anyone up. It was just a happy bonus.

The only problem was Dani. She had been distant all day. The last time Jamie had convinced Dani and Becca to go ice skating with her, Dani had clung to her for the entire hour and it may have been one of the greatest moments of Jamie’s life. But now Dani was resolutely skating on her own, not reaching out for Jamie despite tripping over her toe pick every three seconds. It bugged Jamie, and she was determined to get to the bottom of it. So she dug in and skated up alongside her friend, arriving with just a bit too much of a snow spray than was technically necessary.

“How ya doing, Poppins?” she asked casually. “You want any help?”

“I’m fine on my own thanks,” Dani said in a frosty tone which baffled Jamie.

“Poppins, is there something wrong?”

Dani never so much as glanced over at Jamie. “Why would there be anything wrong?” she asked breezily.

“Oh, maybe just because you’ve hardly looked at me since this morning. And maybe ‘cause we’re here skating with your family, tryin’ to convince ‘em that we’re a couple, and you’ve not even made any attempt to hold my hand.”

“I don’t need to be attached to you twenty-four-seven to make them believe we’re dating, Jamie.”

“Fair enough,” Jamie conceded. “But I’m still sure there’s something wrong. And don’t you want any help at all? I know skating isn’t really your thing…”

“Leave me alone Jamie!” Dani huffed. Then she took off in her knock-kneed gait and sped away from Jamie as fast as she could. Which Jamie could’ve totally caught up to if she hadn’t been so stunned.

What the hell had happened with Dani? And why did Jamie feel like she was inadvertently the cause of it?

“Is there trouble in paradise?” Viola- she of many talents, apparently- glided up beside Jamie expertly. She looked far too pleased with herself. “Are you having a lover’s quarrel?”

Jamie rolled her eyes. “Leave it, Viola.” She put on some speed, trying to skate away, but Viola kept pace with her easily.

“You know,” Viola said, “Danielle’s had a problem with commitment ever since she was little. Whether it was committing to a hairstyle or a favourite colour or her future husband, she’s always run away whenever she has to choose. Whenever things get serious.”

“Dani’s not running away from anything.”

“Sure,” Viola said. But her eyebrows were raised in disbelief. “You know, Jamie, I’d be a little bit nicer to me if I were you. There’s a lot that you don’t know about Danielle.”

Yeah right, Jamie thought. I’d say I know her a lot better than any of you lot. She never got to be her true self until she moved away.

“I also could be a big force in whether or not mother is ever accepting of Danielle’s choices and her new lifestyle,” Viola continued. “And despite what you may think, if mother doesn’t approve, Danielle will never stick with you. She needs mother’s approval more than she knows.”

And Jamie didn’t believe a word that Viola was saying, really. Viola just didn’t like her. She was simply trying to stir the pot. But still…there was a bit of doubt deep down, wasn’t there? As much as Dani claimed she hated the woman, that this was who she was and Karen could either accept that or lose a daughter, did Dani really mean that? Jamie just wanted her friend to be happy, and to be true to who she was. But sometimes Jamie did wonder if Dani wanted the same things.

“Well, I guess I should continue the lessons with Isabel. No doubt Arthur is instilling bad habits for her form already.” From what Jamie could see, the little girl was actually in peals of laughter while skating with her dad, but what did she know. “Remember Jamie, I would watch out.” Viola squeezed Jamie’s shoulder almost patronizingly before speeding up and taking off.

Jamie frowned. She decided to make her way off the ice early. Suddenly the day didn’t feel quite so sunny and showing off seemed to have lost its appeal.

***

Dani had not been having a good day. Ever since she woke up things had been…off.

The shower had not helped Dani cool off from her dream. The cold water did nothing to calm her or soothe her. So biting her bottom lip and promising herself she would picture anyone but her best friend, Dani had turned the tap to hot and tried desperately to get rid of the burning ache in a much more direct way. But that had failed too. Because she couldn’t accomplish anything without thinking of Jamie, and thinking of Jamie was off limits. It had to be off limits.

She was more than a little bit frustrated, to say the least, when she finally left the shower. And then just as Jamie was doing her thing where she calmed Dani down like no one else could, in had waltzed Viola. And Jamie had…Jamie had stared! Dani knew that they weren’t really dating. She knew her friend could gaze at whoever she wanted. But did it have to be her sister?

Dani was so used to always coming in second place to Viola. Teachers who had taught Viola years earlier would expect Dani to accomplish the same grades…yet even if she did there was no fanfare, because Viola had done so first. Viola always had groups of friends following her everywhere she went, while Dani had always had a more difficult time finding people she truly fit in with and felt comfortable with. Viola graduated with top marks and had captained several teams and was named valedictorian…Dani had finished fourth in her class. Good, great even…but not as good as Viola. Viola had gotten married out of high school, and had an already successful career, and had a family already. Dani had run away from a marriage proposal. No matter what it was, Viola always finished first with Dani a distant second.

Dani had gotten used to it over the years, really. She had learned to accept the feelings of shame and disappointed that always came with comparing herself to her sister. But then Jamie had stared, and Dani really couldn’t blame her. Viola was beautiful. She had just always thought, and maybe naively, that to Jamie (fake dating or not) maybe, for once, Dani would finish ahead of Viola.

“Having fun?”

Dani started and almost lost her balance. Eddie laughed and reached out to steady her. She tried not to cringe away from his touch.

“Thanks,” she mumbled, relieved when he let go of her. “I’m not much a skater.”

“Nor am I,” Eddie chuckled good-naturedly. “Your friend though…she seems quite comfortable on ice.”

“Girlfriend,” Dani corrected automatically. “Why does everyone keep calling Jamie my friend? We’re dating, Edmund.”

“Er, right,” Edmund said sheepishly. “I just…it’s weird Danielle. We dated for over five years…it’s weird that all of a sudden you one day decided you were a different person.”

Dani wanted to tell him that she hadn’t just decided to be a different person. She wanted to tell him that she had only revealed the truest part of her that she had been hiding all along. But quite frankly, she wasn’t in the mood. And…why was Jamie talking to Viola? Why were they skating side by side like old friends? Why was Viola reaching out and touching Jamie…Dani was so distracted that she tripped over her toe pick again and went right down. Edmund glided right past, not knowing how to stop. That was just fine enough for Dani, she didn’t want his help anyway. She struggled to her feet, dusting snow off her jeans, and saw Jamie making her way off the rink.

Without really consciously deciding to, Dani took off after Jamie, half walking across the ice rink to an opening in the boards. She ripped off her skates furiously and finally caught up with her friend at the rental counter.

“Are you really leaving?” Dani demanded. Jamie looked at her incredulously.

“I am actually, yeah. Thought it might be better than forcing my company on someone who clearly doesn’t want it.”

Jamie began to stalk away, but Dani followed her easily. She may not have known how to skate as well as Jamie, but Dani certainly could power walk with the best of them.

“Oh, so you weren’t enjoying yourself?” Dani asked sarcastically. “But it looked like you were having so much fun with my sister.”

“Dani…” Jamie had stopped near a palm tree. She looked at Dani curiously. “Are you…you’re not jealous of Viola, are you?”

And with that, the tension Dani had been feeling all morning seemed to explode out of her. “Jealous of Viola? Now why would I be jealous of Viola? It’s not like she’s always the best at everything she does. It’s not like I’ve always been forced to follow in her footsteps my entire life, and even then not being able to live up to her amazing image. It’s not like I have any reason to be jealous of Viola, right?”

“Poppins, hey,” Jamie tried soothingly, but Dani wasn’t having it. She was pacing, somewhat aware that she was starting to cause a scene in public but not really caring at the same time.

“You have no idea what it’s like Jamie! To have both your mom and your sister and all these expectations on you all the time. Nothing I did was ever good enough for either of them. Nothing! And I know…I know you don’t owe me anything. You’re free to check out whoever you want. But my sister? Really Jamie? Why her? Of all people, why Viola?”

Dani finally stopped her rant. She was vaguely aware that a few strangers were giving the pair of them looks, but she really didn’t care. Dani slumped back against the palm tree, rubbing her temples. Jamie approached slowly.

“Poppins, I have less interest in your sister than I do in most men. And I’m the biggest lesbian I know, so that’s saying a lot.” Dani laughed tiredly. Jamie reached up and took both of Dani’s hands in hers. “Yeah I was staring at your sister this morning. I was trying to figure out why someone would wear a push up bra for running. I mean…doesn’t that defeat the purpose? You’re supposed to strap ‘em down, aren’t you? I can’t believe they weren’t hitting her in the face with every single stride, ya know?”

Dani giggled slightly despite herself.

“There she is,” Jamie said with a smile. “There’s the Dani I’m used to seeing.” She brushed a knuckle across Dani’s jaw. “Your mom is looking, so I’m going to kiss you on the cheek now, okay?” Jamie whispered. She waited for Dani’s small nod before kissing Dani’s cheek lightly. It was kind of ridiculous how quickly it made everything feel better.

“Jamie, I’m sorry,” she started to apologize, but Jamie cut her off.

“No Poppins, don’t. Don’t apologize for your feelings. But next time, talk to me yeah? Instead of letting them get you so worked up.” Jamie shrugged. “If you’d told me earlier than I coulda told you that your sister doesn’t hold a candle to you. And maybe this is too forward to say, but as your friend I have to tell you that you are gorgeous. You’re truly incredible. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about looks, personality, talent…you’re the Clayton whom I truly prefer in every single aspect. Dani you are beautiful, you are breathtaking, and you deserve everything…”

Dani grabbed Jamie by the collar of her flannel and pulled her in before she could finish talking. She crashed their lips together perhaps just a bit too roughly, but Jamie rolled with it. Dani’s hands quickly tangled in Jamie’s curls, coaxing her closer. When Jamie’s tongue teased Dani’s bottom lip, she didn’t waste any time in granting her entrance.

Before long Jamie had Dani pressed right into the tree. Her hands were on Dani’s hips and her thumbs were teasing the skin showing there, slowly stroking their way up underneath Dani’s shirt. Dani thought she could have gladly stayed there for hours, kissing Jamie underneath the palm tree. Jamie was pressing forward with just enough force and her hands kept slowly creeping up further and further under Dani’s shirt.

It was Jamie who pulled back first, breathing somewhat raggedly. Dani blindly chased her lips for a moment, before remembering that they were in public. She tried to calm herself down- no easy feat between her racing heart and flushed cheeks.

“Sorry,” Dani said breathlessly. “Mom and Eddie…uh, they were, um, looking in this direction. I should’ve asked.” The excuse came easy to Dani.

Jamie shook her head. She slipped her hands out from underneath Dani’s shirt, and Dani tried not to groan at the loss. “You’re all good Poppins. We’re dating, supposedly, right? That’s uh, that’s what couples do.”

Dani watched as Jamie tried to compose herself. She watched her friend breathe deeply and make a show of pulling her curls back and tying her hair up. Dani watched Jamie shake her head out, shake her hands out. She took in the flush of Jamie’s face, the way her eyes seemed to be a shade darker and maybe just a touch glazed over. Jamie looked just as affected by their kiss as Dani felt. And a thought crossed Dani’s mind.

Maybe Dani wasn’t the only one so affected by her friend. Was it possible, even just the tiniest bit possible, that Jamie returned some of her crush?

***

Karen’s newest man, Dani found out, was a transplanted Englishman who seemed a little bit too fond of the bottle and a bit emotionally stunted. So, in other words, he seemed to be a perfect match for her mom, Dani thought.

Henry Wingrave arrived later that night with two children who it turned out were not his kids but his niece and nephew under his care. He seemed alright, Dani guessed, but she reserved judgment on anyone who could put up with Karen Clayton for more than five minutes at a time.

The kids, however, Dani was taken with right away.

Flora was an adorably cheeky eight year old who pronounced nearly everything as perfectly splendid. Isabel was fascinated with her right away, and Dani thought that might be good for the younger girl. Flora seemed somewhat less bound by rules and expectations than Izzy did. Miles was a bit older, at ten, and seemed to be a bit more reserved than his sister. But he was incredibly polite and had a smile which Dani thought would be able to melt any heart. Dani was enamoured with both kids right away, but what shocked her more was Jamie’s reaction.

There had been several times over the two years they had known each other that Dani could pinpoint as moments that caused her crush to grow. There was the time when they were all moving in together and Dani had first seen Jamie wearing a bandana. Then when Jamie insisted she’d be able to put together all the Ikea furniture and failed massively but did succeed in giving herself an elbow injury. Dani’s heart hadn’t quieted for days when Jamie rescued a baby squirrel and coaxed it back from the brink of death after being abandoned. The first time Dani had heard Jamie’s laugh, the first time Jamie fell asleep on the couch beside her during a rom-com, all the times Jamie had come home from work with dirt smudged across her cheeks- during all of those times Dani’s heart had done its stuttering thing.

But this…Dani thought she would never permanently recover from the sight of Flora cuddled on Jamie’s lap and Miles pressed into her side, all three laughing as they talked about ‘back home’ in England.

As Dani took in the scene she could almost count the degrees by which her crush was growing.

Both Flora and Miles had been intrigued with Dani right away. She had always had a special way with children, and they naturally seemed to gravitate to her more often than not. Neither of the children had batted an eye when Dani introduced Jamie as her girlfriend. Though Karen had grimaced in the background and Viola had dramatically covered Izzy’s ears, Miles simply smiled and Flora had pronounced it as ‘perfectly splendid’ that they were ‘in love’. Dani didn’t think anything had ever made her blush as much.

All it took after that was a comment from Jamie about Dani’s tea making skills and it was like a switch had been flipped. Dani watched her roommate, who by her own admission was not generally a fan of children, calmly start chatting with the kids. She had made them laugh, and they made her laugh. Jamie didn’t even blink when Flora first climbed into her lap. Dani knew her crush was nearing the point of no return. If she didn’t get a handle on things soon, Dani thought her crush might just evolve into something…more. Something she didn’t really want to put a word to at that moment.

Eventually, about an hour after Viola insisted Arthur put Isabel to bed, Henry also announced it was time for his charges to grab some sleep. Flora protested, even as her eyes were drooping with sleepiness. So Jamie simply asked which room the kids would be sleeping in and scooped the drowsy girl up in her arms.

“You’re the coolest,” Flora smiled tiredly at Jamie as she carried her to the guest room.

Dani watched the smile on Flora’s face and the answering one on Jamie’s. Dani felt her heart stutter and stutter, and not stop.

Dani decided she needed some air. She made her way through the Clayton house until she was outside on the back deck. She walked up to the wooden railing and leaned on it, breathing heavily. And then Dani realized she was panicking a bit.

What had she been thinking, asking her friend to come over for the holidays pretending to be her girlfriend? How could she have ever thought it could be a good idea? Seeing Jamie back there, watching her with Flora and Miles…the two kisses they had shared since arriving…the dream Dani had had the previous night and waking up with Jamie in her arms…what was Dani thinking?

Dani knew it was disingenuous to call her crush a crush anymore. She had to be honest with herself. It was more than that. It was more than a crush, and how was Dani every supposed to go back east and fall back into simply being just Jamie’s roommate? How was she supposed to forget what it felt like to hold Jamie’s hand, to kiss Jamie whenever she wanted to? How was she supposed to forget the sight of Jamie melting within minutes of meeting the two sweetest children ever? How was Dani ever supposed to go back to normal now?

“I know that look.”

Dani jumped. She looked around somewhat wildly until she spied Hannah, standing on her own deck in her own yard. Hannah was smiling knowingly at Dani.

“Hi Hannah,” Dani said. “What, uh, what look are you talking about?”

Hannah’s eyes twinkled in the starlight. “The ‘oh damn, I think I just went and fell in love with my partner’ look.”

Dani sputtered. “What? Love…I mean, yeah I guess, we’ve been dating for five months now, but I don’t know…I mean, I guess yeah I told my mom but I…”

“Dani, relax,” Hannah laughed. “I had the same realization about six months into dating Owen. I went from knowing that I really like the man with the terrible sense of humour and weirdly attractive mustache to suddenly knowing that I loved him. And it hit me like a tonne of bricks.”

“I’m not…I wouldn’t say…” Dani sighed. “What did you do about it?”

“I freaked out internally for a few weeks.” Hannah smiled fondly. “Owen had already said the L word, and hadn’t been upset when I couldn’t say it back right away. And then I had my realization, and I tortured myself for the longest time about it. Finally I told him. I just blurted it out one night as we were watching Jeopardy. And the best part was, he already knew.”

“I don’t know,” Dani said quietly. She walked along the railing until she was as close to Hannah as she could get. “I don’t know that I can admit anything to myself. Or to Jamie, for that matter.”

“You don’t have to,” Hannah said. “Nobody has to do anything until they’re ready. But let me tell you, that look on your face tonight? Darling it speaks louder than any words. If she doesn’t already know, or at least suspect, than I’d be really surprised.”

Dani didn’t know whether or not she wanted that to be true. It wasn’t like they were really dating. As amazing as it could be for Jamie to know how Dani truly felt…what if it freaked Jamie out? What if she knew what Dani was thinking and it caused Jamie to bolt for the hills?

“Well, I best be heading inside. I’m trying to surprise Owen with some cooking of my own for when he gets home tonight. I don’t know why I keep trying, but bless him, he never says anything negative.” Hannah turned to head to the patio door. She stopped just before it, turning back to Dani. “By the way Dani, that look on your face tonight? It’s the same look I’ve seen Jamie wear every time she looks at you.”

With that, Hannah disappeared back inside her house, leaving Dani outside alone. She collapsed onto one of the chairs on the deck. Was Hannah right? Did she look like someone who just realized they were in love? Dani had never been in love before…how was one to know?

And did Jamie…did Jamie really look at Dani the same way?

Dani sighed. What she needed, she thought, was some time alone to really examine and think about her feelings. But how was she supposed to get that when there were nine people now staying in the same house for the holidays, two people who were invited along to everything, and the object of her dilemma in a fake relationship with her? How was Dani supposed to know whether or not she was in love with Jamie?

Dani looked through the sliding glass door and saw that Jamie had reappeared downstairs, mingling awkwardly with Karen and Henry. As if feeling eyes on her, Jamie turned and met Dani’s eyes through the glass. Jamie smiled.

Feeling her heart stutter, Dani smiled right back.

Chapter Text

Jamie woke up early, before the sun had even started to rise. She was warm and content and it took her a minute to realize there was a pair of arms wrapped around her from behind. It was a comfortable embrace, and Jamie smiled and relaxed into it.

And then she stiffened.

Those were Dani’s arms. Dani was spooning her from behind again and as amazing as it felt, Jamie couldn’t let it continue. They were friends.

Jamie had made sure to put as much distance between them as possible when they were getting into bed. She wanted to avoid ending up in the same situation she had two nights prior. Despite her precautions, here she was once again, taking far too much advantage of her friend.

Slowly and delicately, Jamie tried to extricate herself from Dani’s embrace. She didn’t want to wake the girl and alarm her, but for her own sanity Jamie needed to slip out of the hold. But every move she made, no matter how gentle, simply seemed to make Dani hold on tighter. Jamie tried one last time, but Dani simply grumbled in her sleep and snuggled in closer yet again. With a sigh, Jamie gave up.

It was still far too early to get up, and she was still incredibly tired. And honestly…friends cuddled in their sleep sometimes, right? What would be the harm about drifting off for just a few more minutes? Jamie was comfortable in Dani’s arms. So what was the harm, really?

***

“Jamie,” Dani sighed at her friend’s grumbling. “Stop complaining, please?”

Jamie wrinkled her nose. “Dani, it’s early. And it’s like three days before Christmas…what’s the point of having a beach day now?”

Dani had woken Jamie up only about ten minutes earlier, and she had been trying to convince the woman to leave the bed ever since. But Jamie was being stubborn and indignant, and Dani didn’t know what else she could do to convince her.

“Come on, please come with us?”

“We should be sledding and cross country skiing. I don’t want to spend a day in the sand this close to Christmas. It’ll completely ruin the feeling of the season for me. Plus…are you forgetting I don’t know how to swim?”

“I promise you don’t have to go in the water! But don’t you want to enjoy a day in the sun? You’re on vacation, remember?”

“Yeah I’m also a Brit by birth, which means I’m basically allergic to the sun,” Jamie said, resolutely keeping a firm grip on the covers Dani was trying to tug down. “I’ll melt in about five minutes.”

Dani sighed again. “Please Jamie?” she begged. “You’re not going to leave me alone with my crazy family for the whole entire day are you?”

Jamie narrowed her eyes. “Do not do the puppy dog look Poppins, I’m warning you.”

Thirty minutes later the two of them were sitting in the back of Arthur’s luxury SUV, Jamie in the middle between Isabel’s car seat and Dani. She looked disgruntled, but Dani was grinning from ear to ear. She hadn’t been to the beach in years. Even before moving to the other side of the country, Dani hadn’t been to the beach much as she got older. The most recent times she had been she either felt awkward as Edmund tried to ogle her in her suit or she had Karen making pointed comments about needing to watch her figure and what on earth was going to do after having kids because the stretch marks will come Danielle…

“Hey Poppins,” Jamie said quietly. “You okay?”

Jamie was looking at her in concern, and Dani tried to smile at her friend convincingly. Jamie didn’t look like she was buying it, though. At least she didn’t comment further…Dani didn’t really want to discuss her lingering insecurities with her sister in the car also. So Dani simply tried to distract herself by looking out the window as they drove, and trying not to let the comments of years ago get to her.

After another minute, a hand settled on Dani’s thigh, just above her knee. Dani didn’t have to look to know it was Jamie. The smile came a bit more naturally to Dani as Jamie’s hand soothingly stroked across her bare skin. It was innocent, meant to comfort, but every now and then Jamie’s fingers would graze just a bit too close to Dani’s inner thigh. Every time it happened Dani couldn’t help but shiver, and she wondered if Jamie knew how much her touch affected Dani. Was it just her imagination, or was it happening more often? Was Jamie’s hand starting to creep just a little bit higher, starting to travel to riskier places? Dani’s mouth went dry and she subconsciously shifted in her seat, her legs parting just a little bit more to offer Jamie just a little bit more room…

“It doesn’t look too crowded yet!” Arthur’s excited statement broke Dani out of her reverie. Jamie’s hand disappeared quicker than a flash and Dani tried not to pout at the loss of contact.

They parked the car and then gathered all their things from the trunk to carry down to the beach. It didn’t take long for them to meet up with the others. The Wingrave children were practically squirming with excitement at the thought of a beach day and Henry had a thermos that Dani was convinced held more than just water or iced tea. Dani was just laying out her towel beside Jamie’s when the O’Mara’s came walking across the beach. She groaned.

“One day,” she complained. “Can’t we just have one day without Eddie hanging about?”

Jamie rolled her eyes. “Of course not. Your mom’s on a mission to break you out of your lesbian relationship and into the arms of a man remember.”

“That’s never going to happen,” Dani said determinedly. “I’m not planning on letting you go.”

Dani hadn’t really thought through her words. There was no one listening in, no one to try and impress or prove their relationship to. Yet still she had spoken the words forcefully. Jamie was looking at her with an unreadable expression, and Dani immediately tried to busy herself with setting up her towel just so.

“I’ve already got sand in every crevice,” Jamie growled after a few minutes. “It’s never going to come out, I swear.”

Dani laughed. “Well why don’t you take off some layers? It’s not the warmest day ever, but it’s definitely not jacket weather.” Jamie was still wearing her jean jacket and Converse.

“Easy for you to say. The sun isn’t on some personal vendetta to get you.”

“It’s called sunscreen, Jamie,” Dani said sarcastically as she held up a bottle. Jamie looked at her sceptically. “Oh come on, I’m pale too! I promise I won’t let you burn…I’ll be your personal sunscreen applier today.”

It took a bit more coaxing, but eventually Jamie started to peel off some layers. As she did, Dani started to regret convincing her a little bit. Jamie untied her Chucks and kicked them off, then shrugged out of her jacket and lifted her t-shirt over her head. She was left in just a bandeau and board shorts, and for several moments Dani forgot how to breathe. Jamie was so astonishingly good looking. Dani couldn’t stop staring at her, trying desperately to at least keep her eyes on somewhat appropriate areas. Then she remembered that she was wearing sunglasses and Jamie likely couldn’t tell where exactly Dani was staring. Except that Jamie’s smirk told her she may have been caught anyway.

Not knowing what else to do, Dani decided to slip out of the cover up she had on. Maybe it could help even the playing field. She took off her flowing wrap dress, uncovering her bikini underneath. Then Dani wasn’t the only one staring. Dani could feel Jamie’s eyes on her, and it was a heady feeling. It filled Dani with a bit of cockiness, but also with desire. Jamie’s eyes felt hungry and hot as they travelled over her skin and it made Dani bite the inside of her lip. Dani had never felt such electricity under Edmund’s gaze.

“Want me to, um, help you with some lotion?” Jamie’s voice was lower than normal, and a bit raspy. Dani nodded, forgetting about her promise to protect Jamie from the sun and simply consumed by the thought of Jamie’s hands on her skin.

And she wasn’t disappointed.

When Jamie’s hands landed on the bare skin of Dani’s shoulders, she had to close her eyes. When her hands dipped lower, rubbing lotion in on her shoulder blades, and then travelled even lower to get the skin of Dani’s back…Dani could feel warmth pooling low in her stomach. Jamie’s hands were sure and confident as they worked to massage the sunscreen in. It filled Dani with so much want. She had half a mind to turn around and kiss Jamie. She wanted to pull Jamie into her lap and feel her skin against Dani’s own, and to feel those talented, amazing hands everywhere.

“Do you two mind?” Karen hissed. Dani’s eyes popped open. “There are children present. They don’t need to have their day tainted by your…scandalous displays.”

Jamie chuckled. “You think this is scandalous? Wait ‘til you see me play beach volleyball.”

And really, it shouldn’t have been so tempting. So far as Dani knew, Jamie had never picked up a volleyball in her life let alone knew how to play well. But suddenly all Dani could picture in her mind was her friend diving into the sand, jumping up to smash the ball, grinning charmingly as she spun the ball in her hands, getting ready to serve…yeah. Dani could see how that could be scandalous. And she then really wanted to play volleyball.

“Just…tone it down,” Karen ordered as she stretched out on a lounge chair. “I can’t have my granddaughter growing up to think this sort of thing is normal.”

Oh. Dani felt her face fall. Her mom was never going to accept her, was she? Karen was never going to love Dani the way she was. She was never going to love her unless Dani did things her way. But Dani couldn’t do things Karen’s way. When she had tried, all she had gotten for her efforts was unflinching sadness.

“Hey.” A shoulder bumped against her own. Dani looked up and saw Jamie smiling softly at her, aviators pushed up onto her head so she could look Dani in the eye. “Poppins, this is normal. You are normal. There’s nothing wrong with being yourself and loving who you love.”

“Yeah,” Dani said noncommittally.

“Dani, for real. I know it seems bad but…”

“I’m just going to walk around for a bit,” Dani said. She got to her feet quickly. Jamie made to follow and Dani shook her head. “You stay and have fun. I just need to clear my head a bit.” Jamie still looked concerned. “Seriously Jamie, I’m fine. I’ll be back soon.”

Without lingering any longer, Dani took off down the beach. She could feel Jamie’s eyes on her, so she shifted course a bit, trying to get lost in the crowd. All she really wanted to do was run back to Jamie and throw herself into her friend’s arms. She wanted to let Jamie hold her and protect her from the world. But Dani was too confused.

Dani was starting to wish she had just refused to come home for the holidays. She could’ve stayed back at their apartment in Pittsburgh with Jamie, watching corny Christmas movies and eating microwave dinners. What had she even thought she would accomplish by coming back home with a ‘girlfriend’? Did she think Karen was going to magically be okay with her sexuality just because she was in a relationship? Did she think Viola would suddenly stop turning everything into a competition between the two of them? Did she really think that she could handle two weeks of pretending to be in a relationship with the woman she was more than only slightly attracted to while everyone else kept putting so much pressure on her?

Before long, Dani had made it to the pier. Seeing it made her frown. It had been on this pier that she had shared her first ever kiss with Edmund. It was the same pier where he had asked her to prom. It was the same pier where she had sat one day, head heavy with confusion, wondering why even just seeing another woman at the beach filled her with more emotion than anything Eddie had ever said or done. Dani didn’t really want to be back at the pier. Nothing good seemed to ever come from it.

“Brings back some memories, doesn’t it?”

Dani turned to see Edmund standing beside her, dorky grin on his face. She nearly groaned. “Yeah Eddie, sure does,” she said flatly.

“This was always my favourite place to come,” Eddie said. He came up to the railing to stand right beside her. “Do you remember how we would come here all the time? This is where…”

“I remember,” Dani said sharply, cutting him off. Eddie looked affronted.

“What the hell, Danielle. I’m only reminiscing, you don’t have to get snarky with me.”

Dani took a deep breath. “Sorry. I’m just…there’s a lot going on right now.”

Eddie shrugged, dorky grin back in place. She used to think that smile looked so endearing on him. Now it made her shudder a bit.

“The holidays, right?” Edmund laughed. “Always a lot to do and a lot of pressure, isn’t there?” Dani only nodded slightly, not really wanting to encourage further conversation. Edmund seemed undeterred, however. “Look Danielle, standing here on this pier with you, it’s got me thinking. I mean, I’ve been thinking ever since you left, really. But Danielle, we were good together. We were friends for so long…I miss that. I miss your friendship, and I miss you, Danielle.”

Dani was distractedly nodding along, not really paying attention to what he was saying. Already she regretted walking away from Jamie. She didn’t need distance…the only time she was ever able to think about things clearly was when she was with Jamie. All Dani wanted to do was get back to her friend.

“I guess what I’m just really trying to say,” Edmund continued, “is that I want to try again. I’ll change whatever it is I need to change. I can even move out east with you, though obviously I’d prefer you to come back here. We can be happy Danielle.”

Before Dani could comment, before she could tell Eddie that he was quite legitimately out of his mind if he thought he could win her back, Eddie leaned in and kissed her. He didn’t ask for permission or waited to see if Dani was receptive. He just leaned right in and pushed his lips against Dani’s.

It felt so wrong. Dani shoved him back straight away, running the back of her hand across her mouth. It felt beyond wrong. It wasn’t just that Eddie was a guy, and it wasn’t just that she didn’t love him. Though both of those things were, admittedly, huge to Dani.

Most of all, it felt wrong because he wasn’t Jamie.

“Edmund, what the fuck?” Dani yelled. He came closer, hands out in a placating manner, and Dani shoved him again. “Edmund we aren’t dating! You have no right to do that, no right to just kiss me without asking and…Edmund what part of ‘I can’t marry you because I’m gay’ did you not understand?”

Eddie looked sheepish then, but only slightly. “I just…people go through phases right? People go through phases, but you’re back now. You had your time to experiment but now you’re back and we can fix this Danielle.”

“There’s nothing to fix!” Dani screeched. She dodged around him and started stomping off the pier and back to the beach. “This isn’t a phase, and I’m not just experimenting. Edmund, I don’t love you.” Eddie looked as if she had slapped him. “It wouldn’t matter if I was back here with or without Jamie, it wouldn’t change the fact that I’m gay and I don’t love you. But you need to respect the fact that I’m in a relationship and most of all you need to respect me!”

And then Dani turned her back on her ex-boyfriend completely. She seethed as she walked back across the beach. She couldn’t believe him! The audacity, the ignorance, the complete lack of regard for anything except what he wanted…Dani could have hit him. She probably should have. Dani felt like she was ready to go a few rounds in the boxing ring.

The walk across the beach and the laughter of the public enjoying the sunny weather did nothing to improve Dani’s mood. She was still boiling by the time she made it back to where her family was sitting. She passed right by Viola and Arthur without acknowledging them in the slightest. Dani’s hands were in fists. Her heart was pounding in her ears. She was so angry, so incredibly angry.

And then her eyes found Jamie’s. And Jamie smiled at her. And just like that Dani felt her anger cool a bit. She felt immediately lighter. She smiled at Jamie, and Jamie smiled back, and Edmund and his idiot self was quickly forgotten.

“Welcome back Poppins,” Jamie grinned. “Hope you don’t mind, but I invited some friends to join us today.”

That was when Dani noticed Hannah and Owen were sitting near Jamie, and Dani felt a thousand times better. Suddenly spending a day at the beach didn’t seem so bad, if she could spend it with her friends.

***

As it turned out, Jamie had stumbled into Owen that morning as she was tiredly making her way to Arthur’s SUV. That was when she had extended the invite. Jamie looked a bit nervous as she explained herself, but Dani was elated. With how dismal the day had begun, finally she was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I bet you didn’t know I’m also a master sandcastle builder, now did you?” Owen boasted. The four friends had joined Flora and Miles horsing around in the sand.

“No you’re not,” Miles said with a giggle.

“Why shore I am!” They had been attempting to build sandcastles for several minutes by that point, but their formations kept falling apart. “We just have to seas the chance to build our masterpiece!”

Hannah shook her head at her boyfriend. “Sometimes I still wonder why I love you.”

Jamie, meanwhile, was seemingly intensely focused on digging a big hole in the sand. She looked determined, and Dani tried to not find it attractive as the muscles in her toned arms flexed as she worked. It shouldn’t have been attractive- she was using a damn plastic kid’s shovel- but somehow it really was.

“What are you doing?” Dani asked eventually.

Jamie grinned. “I’ve always wanted to be buried in the sand, Poppins. I figure this may be my only chance.” She paused. “Unless of course I suffer some catastrophic gardening accident, that is.”

Dani shook her head at Jamie adoringly. As it turned out, Flora and Miles were simply tickled by the chance to bury Jamie in her hole. They were having so much fun that Dani looked around for Izzy, wanting to include her niece in the fun as well. She’d love to get to know the girl better. But Izzy was nowhere to be seen, and Dani figured that Viola had her whisked away somewhere learning marine biology or something of the sort.

Eventually they had Jamie buried. She had sat down in the hole she had dug, and it didn’t look all the comfortable. Her knees were practically drawn up to her chest. But Jamie insisted, and the kids were only too happy to start piling sand on top of her. Dani and Owen had joined in, while Hannah watched and laughed, warning Jamie that the way she was sitting was going to hurt. Finally they were done. Only Jamie’s head, hands, and feet stuck up through the surface. Dani couldn’t resist sending a Snapchat to Rebecca.

“You look so funny!” Flora said, giggling. She looked up at Dani. “Doesn’t she look funny, Dani?”

Dani nodded. “She definitely does.”

“Will you come in the water with me now, Dani?”

“Of course!” Like Dani would ever be able to say no to those imploring eyes. When Flora reached up and took Dani’s hand, Dani felt her heart melt a little bit.

“Oi! Where are you lot going?” Jamie was clearly struggling where she was buried, but she couldn’t shift the sand. “You can’t leave me here like this!”

“Shore we can,” Owen said.

It took a lot of pleading on Jamie’s part. Flora was almost in tears she was laughing so hard at Jamie’s wild bargains. But eventually Miles took pity and started to dig away the sand, and then the rest of them joined in. When they finally had Jamie unburied, Owen had to lift her out of the hole.

“I think my back fused this way,” Jamie whined as he set her down. She was bent over double. “I think I’m stuck.”

“Come on, you big baby,” Dani laughed. She tugged on Jamie’s shoulders, pulling her reluctantly into a standing position. “Better?”

Jamie nodded. “A bit. I think both feet are definitely asleep though,” she winced.

The water, it turned out, was a bit too cold to spend too much time swimming. Dani also felt guilty at Jamie’s apprehensive look whenever she set foot into the ocean. Most of their time was spent fooling around in the sand. At one point Jamie, getting frustrated by the amount of sand making its way into her curls, pulled a baseball cap out of her backpack and put it on. Dani had a difficult time not staring at her after that. Why was a hat so attractive?

After a lunch of pizza from a vendor (Viola brought a salad in a cooler bag and Arthur ate it whilst looking at the rest of them longingly) they did eventually get around to a game of beach volleyball. Unfortunately, Jamie’s many talents did not seem to extend onto the volleyball court. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, however. She dove in so many different directions Dani was surprised her insides weren’t becoming coated with sand.

“Ugh, come on Owen, I’m a rookie!” Jamie called. “Give us a break over here, yeah?”

“I’ve tried going easy on my opponents before,” Owen said with a shrug. “I didn’t dig it.”

More than anything their game was filled with laughter. It was abundantly clear that Hannah played volleyball quite regularly, and her and Owen made quite the team. Dani and Jamie, however, couldn’t seem to do anything right.

“You’re supposed to get it over the net, Poppins.”

“Like you could do better. Your last serve went sideways into the ocean!”

Jamie grinned back at Dani. She settled her aviators, which had fallen off during her last dive, back onto her nose. Dani swallowed hard at the sight of Jamie in her cap, sunglasses, and board shorts. It was nothing less than the most attractive thing Dani had ever seen.

“Poppins! Get it!”

Dani started. She looked up to see the volleyball flying over her head, and she sprinted after it. She thought maybe she could hit it backwards over her head and get it to Jamie at least. So Dani concentrated hard. She put her hands together, reaching out for the ball, swinging them up to drive the ball backwards.

SMACK.

Dani was on her back in the sand. She could hear Jamie laughing above her, and Dani felt her face flush. She hadn’t succeeded in sending the ball spectacularly backwards and over her head. Instead she had hit it directly into her own face, flipping herself in the process.

“That might be,” Jamie wheezed, “the most…hilarious thing…I’ve ever seen!” She reached down and grabbed Dani’s arm, hoisting her up. “Poppins; you slam dunked yourself!”

Dani probably should have been more embarrassed. But then Jamie, still laughing uncontrollably, pulled her into a hug, asking if she was truly okay. The hug could have been the best thing Dani had ever experienced. She could have hugged Jamie forever on that beach.

It was after the game of volleyball that things started going downhill a bit. Despite Dani’s best efforts, Jamie’s shoulders clearly got burned. Viola got mad at Arthur for letting Isabel share a funnel cake with him. And despite their seemingly boundless energy, even Miles and Flora both eventually devolved into an exhausted, ornery mess. They all began to pack up their towels, chairs, and umbrellas around four. Dani saw Judy packing up her stuff and felt a little bit bad she hadn’t spent more time with the woman. Judy was lovely, honestly. Dani just couldn’t handle being around her son.

Jamie was having trouble getting her t-shirt back on. It hurt her sunburnt shoulders too much, and Dani felt guilty. Maybe if she had been less distracted with her staring, she would have remembered to reapply Jamie’s sunscreen more often.

“Do you want to ride back with us instead of the happy family?” Hannah offered as they made their way to the parking lot.

Dani smiled gratefully. “That would be amazing.”

They loaded their things into the back of Owen’s car. They were set to go when Owen looked out at the horizon and sighed. The three women asked him what was wrong.

“Oh don’t mind me,” he said. “This is just my resting beach face.”

***

When they arrived back at the Clayton house, having made plans to have a drinking night with Hannah and Owen, Viola offered up some cream for Jamie’s sunburnt shoulders in an apparent fit of human empathy. Dani quickly intercepted and claimed she would be the one to play nurse for Jamie. The thought of Viola’s hands on Jamie’s shoulders…nope. Dani wasn’t going to let that happen.

“Easy there!” Jamie hissed.

“Sorry!” Dani said. “I’m being as gentle as I can.” Dani was trying to rub the soothing cream in. Jamie’s skin was looking angrier by the minute.

“It’s my own damn fault anyhow,” Jamie sighed. “Should’ve worn a t-shirt all day. I know better than to display this pale ass skin to the sun.”

“Did you at least have some fun today?”

Jamie smiled. “I always have fun when I’m with you Poppins. No matter what else happens this Christmas, I’m having a good time just being here with you.” Jamie’s words filled Dani with happiness. She grinned as she continued to massage the cream into her friend’s shoulders. “How ‘bout you Poppins?” Jamie asked after a bit. “How’re you handling everything?”

Dani stayed silent for a minute or two. Then she spoke softly. “I just wish I knew what I could do to get my mom to accept me. I know that it’s her problem, and not mine I just…I just…ugh, I don’t know. It just sucks.”

Dani was somewhat appalled to find she was on the verge of tears. Jamie turned where she was sitting on the edge of Dani’s bed and pulled her into a hug. The embrace was what finally set Dani off. The tears started falling in earnest.

“All I’ve ever wanted is her approval,” Dani cried. “And I know I shouldn’t, but I do.”

Jamie held her close and stroked her hair soothingly. “You’re okay Poppins,” she whispered. Dani felt Jamie’s lips kiss the top of her head. “I’ve got you. You’re going to be okay.”

“I don’t want to care this much about her,” Dani hiccupped.

“If you didn’t care this much, you wouldn’t be you Poppins.” Jamie began rubbing Dani’s back as her tears kept coming. “You’ve always got me Poppins. I’ll be your family. I know it’s not the same, but hopefully it’s enough for now.”

And Dani really thought it would be.

***

Drinking games were, in Jamie’s opinion, just like all other games- they were only fun if she was winning. She had just gotten her ass handed to her by a game of Kings, and kept her middle finger raised to her drinking mates as she struggled to chug the dreaded cup at the end.

“That was disgusting,” Jamie coughed. Owen, Hannah, and Dani were all laughing at her struggles. “Legit, you all better start drinking faster. That turpentine is probably gonna hit me in like thirty seconds.”

The four were down in the man cave courtesy of Karen’s second husband. Owen had put some sort of sporting event on the massive TV, but Jamie wasn’t really paying attention to that. She was more focused on the drinks and on Dani. The bar was incredibly well stocked, and Jamie knew that if this was indicative of the rest of the night she could be in trouble, high alcohol tolerance or not.

“I hope I’m not too late to join in the fun.”

Jamie swivelled on her stool to see Arthur standing at the entrance to the room, looking tired but still sporting a wide grin.

“Izzy went out easy tonight, she was bushed. So I’m off the hook and free to party for the rest of the night.”

Jamie slid a shot glass across the bar top toward him. “Then drink up, my friend, we’re already way ahead of you.”

It didn’t take long for the drinks to start hitting all five of them. Everyone started to let loose and have more fun. Jamie watched Dani chat with Arthur, and thought it was awesome that she was starting to forge a relationship with her brother in law, even if drinks had to be the catalyst. Owen, Jamie found, was the absolute worst foosball player she had ever encountered. He had already lost thrice to her and was ready to embark on a fourth disaster when Hannah finally put her foot down.

“Unless you stop wagering shots or start playing something different, no more foosball bets for you, love.” Hannah looked at Jamie with a raised eyebrow. “And stop encouraging him, you rascal,” she laughed.

“I didn’t know you were a foosball star.” Dani came sauntering over to Jamie, looking loose and carefree. She perched on the armrest of a nearby couch. “You looked pretty amazing, dominating the games like that.”

Jamie was drunk enough that it seemed like a good idea to move closer to Dani. She stepped in between her legs and Dani didn’t hesitate to wrap her arms up around Jamie’s neck. Jamie played into the flirtatious mannerisms. Aside from the alcohol lowering her inhibitions, she figured Dani was just playing up their relationship.

“I could teach you, ya know,” Jamie said. They were close enough that Jamie was able to rest her forehead against Dani’s. “That and pool. I could definitely show you a thing or two.”

“Mmm I’d like that,” Dani grinned.

Jamie moved closer yet, feeling her nose graze against Dani’s. The alcohol was telling her to just go for it and kiss the beautiful blonde. She could feel Dani pulling at her neck and their lips brushed against each other softly at first, then more firmly.

Something seemed to snap in Jamie at the feel of Dani’s lips. She forgot about the people in the basement with her, she forgot about their fake relationship. Jamie forgot about everything except for how good it felt to kiss Dani. She didn’t hesitate for a second to let Dani deepen the kiss and let their tongues battle. Jamie pressed in even closer to Dani and she felt Dani’s thighs part even further, giving her more room. Jamie’s hands were low on Dani’s back and she took the chance to move them even lower, squeezing firmly. The moan Dani let loose almost undid Jamie right then and there.

It was a boisterous and ear splitting whistle from Owen that finally split the two of them apart.

“Was beginning to think the two of you would never come up for air,” he quipped.

Jamie figured if she were sober she might have blushed at the comment. But she was quite far from sober, so her only reaction was disappointment that the kiss had been cut short. Dani was looking at her with lidded eyes and a not so tiny part of Jamie wanted to steal her away to somewhere private where nobody could interrupt them. She knew there was a reason- or several- why that wasn’t a good idea, but she frankly didn’t really care.

“Well, this looks like a fun party. Why weren’t we invited?”

Jamie turned to see Viola looking haughty and Edmund trailing behind, somewhat meekly. She heard Dani groan.

“Here drink, have a darling!” Arthur clumsily got off his barstool and crossed the room to his wife, grinning playfully. Jamie could’ve sworn she saw Viola smile back before regaining her cool and disaffected expression.

Luckily the two newcomers didn’t seem to affect the atmosphere much. Owen found a somewhat not terrible playlist of Christmas tunes on Spotify, and soon the basement was filled with loud music and raucous laughter. Jamie danced with Owen, and then she danced with Hannah, and she even shared an enthusiastic two-step with Arthur, which she barely survived. She won more foosball, and took an enormous amount of pleasure when she beat Edmund- the self-proclaimed air hockey champion of the world- at his own game. The alcohol kept flowing, and when someone suggested a game of Never Have I Ever- normally her most hated of all drinking games- Jamie didn’t even mind that much.

The seven of them crowded around the bar, and it was a bit of a tight fit. Jamie was taken by surprise when Dani hopped up onto lap without warning, and she almost toppled backwards right off her stool. It took a steadying hand from Owen to keep her upright.

“Easy there Poppins,” she whispered into Dani’s ear, wrapping her arms tight around her friend. Dani relaxed easily into her embrace.

The early rounds were filled with the typical statements, and Jamie found herself laughing and drinking in equal amounts. She raised her eyebrow when Dani drank to the skinny dipping question, and was on the receiving end of an equally as questioning look when she drank for having sex when the parents were home.

“In my defense,” Jamie slurred, “I had no idea her parents were home. And I definitely didn’t know her grandma lived there too.”

Dani laughed so hard she almost made Jamie lose her balance on the stool again.

“Okay,” Edmund said, readying for his turn. He was the only person who didn’t seem to be having any more fun the drunker he got. Instead his expression seemed to be growing darker. “Never have I ever had sex with someone in this room.”

Edmund stared at Jamie as he spoke, and Jamie didn’t know what to do. Dani, too, was stiff on her lap. If Jamie didn’t drink, would they figure out that her and Dani weren’t in a real relationship? Did that mean she should just drink no matter what? She didn’t know if Dani would want her too. And what if Dani drank? Logically, she figured Dani probably at some point would have had sex with the boy she dated for half a decade. But that didn’t mean Jamie wanted any confirmation of that fact.

Cold water splashed Jamie’s side.

“Oops, my bad,” Owen laughed. He had knocked over both his bottle of beer and his glass of water, and the stir of commotion he caused broke up the game. Jamie felt relieved until she looked at Owen and he was looking back at her knowingly. “You can talk to me anytime, about anything,” he said quietly before standing up to grab some paper towels.

Things calmed down somewhat after that. Jamie found herself lazing around on the couch. Dani seemed to be channeling her sleepy drunk persona, which Jamie always found adorable. She did quite like handsy drunk Dani, for obvious reasons, but sleepy drunk Dani was her second favourite. The first time she had ever encountered weepy drunk Dani, Jamie had nearly run for the hills. As it was, Jamie was quite content to have Dani nestled into her side.

“Arthur, I think we had better get to bed,” Viola said when it had just gone midnight. “We have responsibilities tomorrow morning, after all.”

“Christ let the bloody man off his leash once in a while, why don’t ya!” Jamie spoke without thinking it through first. “You’re all on vacation, aren’t you?”

Viola stared down Jamie through narrowed eyes. “You think you’re pretty special, don’t you? You waltz into someone else’s home and make all these new friends…do they know the truth about you, Jamie Taylor?”

Jamie didn’t think much of the remark, but Dani was suddenly alert. She sat up straight and glared at her sister. It didn’t seem to faze Viola much.

“It’s amazing what you can find out about people on the internet these days,” Viola continued, eyes blazing. “For instance, I was amazed to find out that you have a criminal record.”

The silence in the basement was deafening. Jamie sat stiffly.

“I was a minor,” she said, voice not as strong as she would have liked. “I was a minor and the charges were never brought to court. I don’t know how the fuck you found out about that but…”

“Jaime.” Dani’s hand landed on her shoulder, gently.

“Did you know that, baby sister? Did you know your girlfriend is a criminal?”

The look Dani gave her sister would have withered a lesser person. “She’s not a criminal,” she said scathingly. “Like Jamie said, she was a minor. Whatever digging you’ve done Viola, just stop…”

“Then you must know all about Jamie’s brother, right?” Viola spoke above Dani. Her words stopped Dani short.

“Brother?”

Jamie felt nauseous all of a sudden. Her hands were clenched in fists, elbows resting on her knees. She stared down at the floor. She had never told anyone about Mikey. She never wanted to think about him, she only wanted to forget. Jamie wanted to forget everything, so just told her friends she was taken away from her dad and put into the system. She always left Mikey out.

“It’s funny…the newspapers of course didn’t go into much detail. Just reported on severe injuries, life threatening…” Viola leaned in closer. “Was it an accident Jamie? Or did you mean to leave the pot of boiling water too close to the edge? Because one thing is certain, your dad wasn’t at home when it happened. And the newspapers left out your names of course, but I know you have a brother by birth, I know about Michael…”

“Don’t say his name!” Jamie was on her feet. “Don’t you ever say his name! And don’t you sit there and talk about me like you know me. Don’t sit there like you’re so perfect and I’m just some…some scum. I just…” For a moment, Jamie would have liked nothing better than to take a swing at Viola. Then she deflated. “Fuck you,” she said quietly. Then she took off for the stairs.

Jamie ran up to the main level and made a beeline for the front door. She vaguely registered Karen in the living room with Henry and Judy, but she paid them no mind. Jamie ran out into the night, not paying attention to where she was going at all. She wasn’t paying attention to anything, really.

Over and over again images were flashing through her mind. Images of her brother, or at least what little she could remember of him. Jamie had spent a long time hating her dad for putting her in the situation of having to care for Mikey when she wasn’t even old enough to care for herself. She hated her dad for never being home. She resented him for leaving an eight year old to care for a toddler. But he was just trying to work, wasn’t he? He was just trying to make sure there would be food on the table. Jamie hated him, but maybe she should really just hate herself.

Eventually Jamie’s legs stopped carrying her and she collapsed. She seemed to be in some sort of community park, and it was probably a great way to get mugged but she didn’t really care. Jamie hated feeling out of control. She prided herself on keeping her emotions in check. She hated that Viola had been able to elicit such a reaction from her so easily.

Jamie hated that she had never told Dani the truth.

Granted, she had never told anyone. But Dani had become her best friend, her confidant. Just hours earlier she told Dani they were family. Why had never told her the truth?

“Nice night for a walk, isn’t it?”

Jamie wasn’t surprised that Dani had chased after her. She wasn’t surprised, but she tried to fight off the feeling of hope rising in her.

“Guess you could say that,” she sniffed.

Dani sat down on the grass beside Jamie, slowly and almost cautiously. “Jamie, are you okay?” she asked gently.

Jamie shrugged one shoulder. “Fuck it, you know me. I’m always okay.”

“Jamie…” Dani sighed.

“Look Dani, I don’t need you feeling sorry for me or anything. I know I screwed up by fucking lying to you, and I get it. So don’t pretend to feel bad or…”

“Jamie whoa, stop. Come on, slow down for a minute.” Dani tried to wrap an arm around Jamie’s shoulders, but Jamie shook her off. “You didn’t screw anything up! This isn’t on you. It’s your past, and that means it’s your choice who you tell and when you tell it.” Dani was silent for a moment before speaking again. “Jamie I’m not mad at you. I could never be.”

Dani reached out again, and finally Jamie allowed her to touch her. She allowed Dani to pull her into a comforting hug.

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” Jamie cried. “I was just a kid! I was only just eight myself. Dani I’m sorry, I should have told you.”

“No Jamie, no no no,” Dani soothed. She rubbed comforting circles on Jamie’s back.

“I’m sorry,” Jamie repeated. “I’m sorry. I know I messed up.”

“No you didn’t.” Dani pulled back. She put her hands on Jamie’s shoulders, looking the brunette straight in the eye. “You didn’t mess up. You were just a kid Jamie. It’s okay. You’re okay.”

And even as Jamie collapsed into Dani’s arms again, tears wracking her body, for the first time she thought that maybe it was okay. For the first time she remembered Mikey without feeling quite so guilty. Dani made her feel like it really was okay.

 

Chapter Text

Pale morning sunlight was filtering into the room through the crack in the curtains. Dani rubbed at her tired eyes, trying to get them to stop aching. She hadn’t slept much that night. Dani knew by the pounding in her temples that she should have made more of an effort to get some sleep; her hangover was going to be nasty. But she had done her best to stay awake, wanting to keep an eye on Jamie.

Jamie was always so good at looking out for her and Rebecca. She never showed any weaknesses. Anytime over the past two years that either of them needed anything, Jamie was always there without even being asked. Dani wanted to return the favour for once. Jamie had clung to her basically all night, and Dani didn’t have the energy or even the most basic desire to push her friend away. Maybe it was too intimate, the way Jamie curled into her during her sleep, but Dani didn’t care about boundaries. She just wanted Jamie to feel as safe as she always made Dani feel.

Dani heard a phone vibrate on the bedside table. She squinted, and saw it was Rebecca trying to Facetime her. Dani reached over to grab it, trying her best to not jostle the softly snoring figure still clinging to her.

“Hey Dani what’s shaking in Cali…”

“Shh!” Dani said quickly. She whispered into the phone. “Jamie’s still sleeping. Can you talk a bit quieter?”

Becca’s grin on the screen was blinding. “Oh my gosh, are you serious? There’s only one bed? How perfect is that?” she laughed. “Wait…Dani is that Jamie’s hair…is she right there? Are you cuddling? Oh my god oh my god…”

Dani couldn’t help but chuckle tiredly at Becca’s excitement. “Yes we’re sharing a bed. And yes we’re cuddling. But Becs…last night…it wasn’t good.”

Quietly Dani told Becca about what Viola had done and said. She filled her friend in on Jamie’s reaction and how she had never quite seen Jamie lose control like that.

“I hated to see her like that Becs.”

“That’s a bunch of bullshit what your sister pulled. If I were there with you…” Becca balled her hand into a fist and pounded it into her other palm.

“I know,” Dani agreed. She felt Jamie stir slightly against her. With the hand that wasn’t holding her phone, Dani started running her fingers through Jamie’s curls gently. It seemed to settle her.

“You’ve got it bad, don’t you?”

Dani looked back up at her phone, startled. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t give me that,” Becca said, looking at Dani pointedly. “You know exactly what I mean. You’re not the most subtle person Dani. I mean, I’m pretty sure everyone knows the two of you are into each other except for the two of you!”

Dani sputtered momentarily. “That’s not…I…but it isn’t…Becs that’s not the point right now.” But something was buzzing around in Dani’s mind despite her words. What had Becca meant about the two of them being into each other? Did she know something about Jamie? Had Jamie told her something? Dani shook her head. “Right now I just want to focus on making sure Jamie’s okay. And making sure that she knows that I’m here for her.”

“Why don’t the two of take a day and just spend it alone?” Becca suggested.

“I don’t know…” Dani hesitated.

“Dani for real. You’re pretending to be a couple, remember? Couples go on dates, you know. I think it would be less realistic for y’all to be there for nearly two weeks and never have some alone time.”

Dani thought it over for a moment. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve, and Dani knew her mom would be throwing a big party. Karen would probably expect them to help clean and set everything up. But Becca was right. Couples spent time together. Couples went on dates. And this was supposed to be a vacation as well, wasn’t it?

“That’s a good call, Becs,” Dani said finally. “I think we will just spend the day away from everything. Thanks.”

“I just want to make sure my two favourite people make it through this unscathed. And maybe in a real relationship instead of the longing stares and pining I’m used to.” Rebecca grinned when Dani looked confused. “And that’s my cue to go. See ya roomie!”

Becca disconnected from the chat, and Dani turned off her phone. Rebecca had made it sound like the pining and longing were mutual. She had, hadn’t she? That’s what it sounded like to Dani. What did Rebecca know or see that Dani didn’t?

“Ugh, is it morning?” Jamie mumbled the words into Dani’s chest. Her eyes were still screwed shut tight.

“Basically,” Dani said. “How are you feeling?”

“Like I drank too much,” Jamie groaned. “And like I had a bit of a breakdown and cried out just about five years’ worth of tears in one night.”

Dani rolled onto her side, slipping down in the bed a little bit to bring her eyes level with Jamie’s. She cupped her face and stroked her thumb along Jamie’s cheek.

“Seriously Jamie, are you okay?”

Jamie’s lips pulled up into the tiniest bit of a smile. “I will be Poppins. Promise.”

“Good,” Dani smiled. She really wanted to kiss Jamie right then and there, right on the lips. “What do you say that you and I get away from here for the day? We’ll just head out and have the entire day to ourselves. Does that sound good?”

Jamie’s smile became a bit more genuine. “I’d love that.”

***

They managed to escape from the house before Karen put them to work on the one day each year she actually bothered to clean. Jamie had groaned and swore her way through trying to get dressed, the sunburn on her shoulders more sensitive than the day before. But eventually they were able to get ready and get out.

Dani felt freer almost the second she stepped outside of her mom’s house.

They ended up back at the mall for a little bit, finishing up some last minute Christmas shopping. Jamie definitely wanted to get something for Owen and Hannah, having gotten to know them, and they both agreed that Miles and Flora needed gifts as well. Dani was grateful she already had something small for Viola, as her feelings toward her sister that morning were none too warm. As it was she was considering not giving Viola what she got at all.

“Don’t steal my fries, you thief!”

Dani giggled as Jamie swatted her hand away from her food. They were sitting in the food court, finishing up some lunch. Jamie’s stamina for shopping had lasted all of an hour.

“So where do you want to head to next?” Dani asked. “We’ve got the whole afternoon yet to do whatever we want.”

Jamie leaned back in her chair, shrugging. “You’re the tour guide Poppins. I trust your judgement.”

“How do you feel about hiking?”

The drive out of the city to where Dani had in mind took about an hour, but she didn’t really care. She was content to sit in the passenger seat while Jamie drove. Dani sang along with all the songs and Jamie pretended that she hated the holiday music. They chatted about everything inconsequential, and by the time they made it to the trails Dani had been thinking of, Jamie seemed back to her old self.

Neither of them really had the right gear for anything too complicated, but they found some easy paths that were well travelled. Dani had brought a backpack with her from the house, and she was glad she had it to carry some water and snacks in. Jamie had tried to hoist it up initially but yelped when the straps hit her burnt shoulders. She still tried to stubbornly insist that she was fine carrying the bag, but Dani just stared pointedly at her, challenging her, until she relented.

Their trek up to the lookout point took them probably a bit longer than it should have- Dani kept insisting that they stop to take selfies. Jamie glowered and grumbled, but she always ended up smiling. Dani felt a burst of butterflies inside when she looked at their pictures. They looked like genuine couples photos.

“Here we are!” Dani said delightedly when they arrived at the lookout point. It was up fairly high, and Dani went nearer to the edge to see the view.

“Jeez, careful Poppins! Not so close to the edge…are ya trying to kill yourself?”

Dani turned to face Jamie. The other woman was hesitating by the treeline, seeming reluctant to go much further.

“Jamie…” Dani said hesitantly, grinning a bit. “You’re not scared of heights, are you?”

Jamie shrugged. “The plane ride out here didn’t clue you in? And ‘sides, I’m not scared of heights…I’m scared of falling from high places. Which is perfectly reasonable…Poppins don’t laugh at me!”

“I’m sorry,” Dani said, trying to control her giggling. “It’s just…we’re not even up that high Jamie. And it’s a hill, not even a cliff.”

Jamie pouted. “Why do you find my fears so amusing Poppins? Don’t even start…it’s a normal thing to be hesitant of! It’s not like I’m the one who’s scared of spiders. Or birds.”

“Okay birds are terrifying! Don’t even try to tell me they’re not. And spiders…” Dani shuddered. “Okay I promise I won’t laugh at you anymore. But at least come a bit closer and take a look? I swear we’re not up that high.”

It took a bit more convincing on Dani’s part, and the reminder that she held the bag with all the snacks in it, but finally Jamie edged forward a little bit. She even got brave enough to peer over the edge and seemed to relax when she saw they were indeed basically at the top of a large hill. It was a bit steep, but still just a hill.

There were a few picnic tables at the lookout point, but Dani instead found a wide, flat rock to spread out on. Jamie sat down beside her, and they shared some water while enjoying the view and each other’s company. The day was turning overcast and was a bit on the cool side, but it wasn’t raining. Eventually, though, Dani realized she was spending more time gazing at her friend rather than out at the sights. She kept taking in Jamie’s beautiful profile and how amazing she looked when she laughed. Dani could hardly take her eyes off Jamie.

“Y’alright there Poppins?” Jamie asked after a bit. “You got all quiet on me there.”

And Dani had gotten quiet, hadn’t she? She was suddenly analyzing and re-analyzing every moment she had shared with Jamie since arriving out west. Then she thought about her conversation with Becca that morning. She thought about the night Hannah caught her out on the back deck and called her out about realizing she was apparently in love. And then Dani started thinking about everything.

Dani thought about how Jamie knew her better than anyone in her life. She thought about how Jamie made her feel, and how Jamie was always there for her. Dani started replaying all of their interactions. Jamie had seemed into their kisses, hadn’t she? And when Jamie had a terrible night, she had reached out for Dani. Maybe…Dani didn’t want to get her hopes up. But maybe, just maybe, the crush Dani had been harbouring for what seemed like an eternity wasn’t so one sided after all?

“Jamie…can we talk?”

“Uh oh, sounds serious,” Jamie joked. But underneath the joking façade, Dani noticed her friend suddenly looked apprehensive.

And honestly, what was Dani thinking? She was about to destroy their friendship and for what…a stupid crush? There was no way Jamie thought of Dani in the same way. Dani knew she’d rather have Jamie in her life as a friend than not have her in her life at all.

“Poppins. Dani. Hey.” Jamie’s hand came to rest tentatively on Dani’s forearm. “What is it? You can talk to me about anything, you know that, right?”

“I just…I want to…” This was it. Dani tried to psych herself up. This was her big chance to lay all her feelings out on the table and see if Jamie reciprocated. This was it. She could ask Jamie to be her girlfriend for real. Then she chickened out. “I just want to make sure you’re feeling okay. After last night. And with our whole…charade. I want to make sure you’re still comfortable with everything.”

Jamie regarded Dani carefully for a minute. Was that disappointment Dani saw in her expression? But then Jamie smiled, and it was the carefree smile she always wore.

“I’m still good Poppins. We’re still doing fine.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

***

Dani had felt off for the rest of the afternoon. The conversation still flowed easily, and Jamie’s laughter still rang out joyously. Still, something didn’t feel quite right. It was as if Dani knocked something off kilter with her earlier misfire. That was impossible though, right? After all, messing things up was exactly what Dani was trying to avoid with Jamie. That’s why she had chickened out at the last second…she didn’t want to mess anything up.

Dani wasn’t ready to return home when they arrived. She sat in the car for several minutes after Jamie had turned the key in the ignition. She felt Jamie’s eyes on her the entire time, but her friend never said anything. Jamie just sat there patiently, waiting, until Dani finally opened her door and stood up from the convertible.

A panicky feeling started to well up inside of her as Dani walked toward the front door of her mom’s house. It made her almost feel…nauseous in a way. Had she missed her chance with Jamie? What if it had been her only opportunity to tell Jamie about her real, true feelings?

Dani opened her mouth, ready to spill all right then and there…

“Oh thank goodness, you’re back!” Karen exclaimed basically the moment Jamie opened the door. “Jamie, you’re good with the outdoors right? Could you head out back and help dear Arthur clean up the yard? Danielle I need you in the kitchen with me.”

There wasn’t a chance for any further conversation. Karen grabbed Dani by the elbow and marched her straight to the kitchen. Dani threw an exasperated glance back over her shoulder and just had time to register Jamie’s amused expression. But then Dani was in the kitchen, and it looked as if a bomb had gone off. There were dishes and groceries strewn everywhere. If tradition held true, Karen likely had bought a load of pre-made appetizers and dishes and then would heat them up and present them as her own.

“Danielle you’re on dish duty. I don’t know how we’ve created so many dishes, but I really need them clean pronto.”

As Dani took her place at the sink she remembered the time when she had forgotten she was supposed to be on dish duty for the week. She didn’t even realize until the Saturday, when Becca told her Jamie had been doing them in her place all week. When she confronted Jamie about it, Jamie had simply just smiled and shrugged.

“It’s no big deal Poppins,” Jamie had said. “Besides…you’re bloody shite at doing the dishes anyway.”

It was a fun memory, but Dani’s smile faded as she thought once again that she might have missed her only chance to tell Jamie the truth. A wave of anxiety blanketed her again. Dani had told her students at the beginning of the year that she was a lot braver than people gave her credit for. It had all been part of a speech to let them know that they should never be afraid to ask her questions or speak to her about anything at all. And really, it was true. Dani was a lot braver and much tougher than most people thought. But when it came to confessing her feelings for Jamie, apparently she was a lost cause.

“Your sister passed on some interesting news yesterday, Danielle,” Karen said, breaking the silence Dani had quite been enjoying. “Seemed to feel rather sheepish about it this morning, but I’m glad I know.”

Dani sighed. “Mom, it’s not…”

“I know, I know,” Karen said, waving a hand dismissively. “Viola seemed quite contrite about crossing boundaries and breaking trust and whatever.”

Dani nearly snorted in laughter. That sounded so unlike Viola it most definitely had to be a joke.

“But Danielle, honestly, when are you going to settle down with a husband and start building a family?” Dani made to speak, but Karen cut her off again. “No Danielle, listen to me. I understand that you’re confused. You never rebelled as a teenager, so I expect this is a bit of a late blooming type of rebellion. And that’s fine. But you have to snap out of this! You’re getting too old for this sort of nonsense. It’s time to settle down, and end this silly phase.”

“It’s not a phase mom!” Dani finally snapped. Karen frowned.

“Watch your tone, young lady.” Karen shook her head. “Is this your way of getting back at me? I know you have these ridiculous notions that I favoured your sister, but honestly, Danielle don’t ruin your future because of some silly grudge. No, Danielle listen; I’ve found the number of someone who can help you and…”

“Mom stop!” Dani yelled. She felt that she had finally had enough. Hadn’t Jamie been telling her all along that she was normal, and just being her best self? Hadn’t Jamie said that it was up to her mom to accept her, and not the other way around? Dani didn’t know exactly what changed in that moment- maybe it was finally just realizing that she was happy with who she was or maybe it had to do with chickening out of confessing her feelings to Jamie and not wanting to chicken out again. But whatever the reason, Dani finally had enough. It was time for her mom to accept Dani for who she and if she couldn’t…well if she couldn’t that wasn’t Dani’s fault. Right?

“You listen, for once!” Dani demanded forcefully. “This is not a phase, and it’s not a rebellion or some weird form of payback, and I’m not confused! This is just…me. This is who I am. I can’t change it any more than I can change my eye colour. And you know what? I don’t want to change it. I don’t want to change a thing about who I am. I’m finally living as who I’m supposed to be, and I wouldn’t change that for anything.”

“But Danielle, it’s not…normal. It’s not right.” Karen’s bottom lip quivered. “The things people say…even the neighbours. They’ve been gossiping all week about you and your…you and…”

Dani nodded. “I know. It can be pretty terrible. It can hurt because a lot of people are narrow-minded and ignorant. The world is changing, but there are still awful people out there just full of hate. But mom, all I am is full of love. This is who I am, and I’m proud of it. I’m proud of me. So despite everything else…I’m proud to be who I am.”

 Karen seemed at a loss for words. Dani had never been one to speak up for herself much, and she had always struggled with self-esteem issues growing up. To hear her daughter say she was proud of herself must have been a bit eye opening for Karen.

“Mom, I’m happy. And I’m in love.” Dani shoved down the little voice inside telling her that those words were truer than she realized. She ignored that voice saying that statement was truthful, not just part of her act. “I will have a future, and it’s one I’m finally excited for. And despite our differences in the past, I do want you to be part of that future. You’re still my mom. All I want is for you to accept me.”

“I just don’t understand it Danielle!” Karen cried.

“Mom you don’t have to understand it! I don’t care if you understand it or get it I just…” Dani felt on the verge of tears, but she also felt stronger in a way than she ever had. “I just want you to accept me. I just want to know that I’m still your daughter and that we can work things out. Just accept me for who I am. Please.”

Karen turned away from Dani. She busied herself with putting away the groceries. Dani’s eyes trailed her through all her movements. She thought she might have seen her mom’s shoulders shaking just a little bit. Eventually Karen faced Dani again. She faced Dani, but she wouldn’t meet her daughter’s eye.

“I want to,” Karen finally said. “But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to.”

Dani watched her mom walk out of the kitchen. She felt nothing. She wanted to feel hurt. She wanted to cry or scream or something but…Dani felt nothing. If anything, what she felt was pity for Karen. Karen was going to throw away her relationship with one of her daughter’s over something so simple and so natural. It wasn’t Dani’s fault at all. Jamie had been right. It was up to Karen then. Karen could either accept Dani for who she was…or she could lose out on having Dani in her life.

“Is Mrs Clayton upset because you’re in love with Jamie?”

Dani jumped. Flora and Izzy were tucked away in the corner of the kitchen, evidently having been sneaking cookies while the adults all slaved away. Dani wondered how much of that conversation the two young girls had heard.

“I don’t know Flora,” Dani said. “I guess she’s mostly upset because…” Dani hesitated, not sure if the girls were too young to discuss it with. But then she figured the hell with it. There was nothing abnormal about it. “She has a hard time understanding that I don’t like men like most of the other girls do.”

Flora shrugged. “That seems silly. I don’t think it should matter who you love, as long as you’re happy.”

Dani felt a smile tugging at her lips. “I think you’re right Flora.”

“Dani, what will you do if your mom never stops being mad at you?” Flora asked. She looked genuinely distraught at the thought.

“There’s nothing I can do Flora,” Dani said softly. “But I don’t think she’ll stay mad at me forever. I don’t even think she’s mad at me now, really. She’s just confused. Besides, I’m happy, and that’s the most important thing, right?”

“Right!” Flora nodded happily. “I’m so glad to have met you and Jamie. You’re both just so perfectly splendid!”

Dani laughed and pulled the girl into a hug. Flora squealed with delight when Dani picked her up and spun her in circles. It wasn’t until she set Flora down that Dani remembered about Isabel. Knowing her sister’s strictness in how she was raising Izzy, Dani looked up, worried at what the girl would relay back to her parents about the conversation. For all Dani knew, they were raising Izzy with some strictly heterosexual nonsense. Isabel was looking up at Dani with eyes so much like her mother’s, dark and unreadable. And then…

“I think you’re awesome, Auntie Dani,” Isabel grinned. “Can you spin me now?”

***

Jamie was becoming quite happy that she wasn’t due to stay at the Clayton house any longer than the Christmas holidays. It wasn’t doing her any favours with her alcohol consumption.

At least, she conceded, she wasn’t getting flat out drunk again. But she was on her third beer. Dani had asked, almost shyly, if Jamie wanted to watch some Christmas movies with her after all the kids were in bed. Jamie had, obviously, no reservations about spending more alone time with Dani. Karen had kept them so busy after arriving home that Jamie craved some normalcy. So they stole down to the basement to commandeer the big screen and piled mounds of blankets on top of them as they settled on the couch.

“Have I ever mentioned that you have terrible taste in movies?” Jamie asked after their second pick finished up.

Dani giggled. “Not really. But I’ve gotten the idea from how many times you’ve fallen asleep beside me during all the movies I choose.”

“Right. Forgot I did that. Sorry ‘bout that, Poppins.”

Dani seemed different that evening, Jamie thought. The entire day was giving Jamie whiplash honestly. She had woken up feeling pretty knackered still. Between the hangover and the embarrassment of her meltdown the previous night, Jamie would have been quite content to stay in bed all day. She was glad Dani dragged her out, however. It had been good to get away. But then…at the lookout point. Jamie had been so sure Dani was about to say something profound. She hadn’t wanted to get her hopes up as to what it might be about, but Jamie had been so certain.

And then nothing.

Jamie was certain that what Dani had ended up saying was not what she had initially intended on saying. And then the mood switched again. Something had again been off with Dani for the rest of day away from the rest of the gang. Jamie hadn’t been able to put her finger on it, but something had been just not quite right. And now again, something had changed in her friend. This time, however, it seemed to be a change for the better. Dani was downright giddy.

“So what movie do you want to watch next?” Dani asked. She scrolled through her phone, looking at options. “I’ve got both the Home Alone movies and they’d be easy enough to cast to the screen. The Santa Clause is also an option. Or if you wanted to go more classic, there’s Miracle on 34th Street or White Christmas.”

Jamie couldn’t contain a squeal excitement at the last option. Jamie rolled her eyes when Dani grinned at her knowingly. “Not a word, Poppins…I’m not a softy, I just genuinely like that movie.”

“Sure. That was a cute Snapchat video I got of your reaction. I definitely believe you’re not a softy.” That was when Jamie noticed Dani had her phone pointed straight at her during their conversation. “I think I may just have to send this to Becs right now…”

“Don’t you dare! Poppins, no!”

It was mite difficult to lunge across to the other end of the couch from her sprawled out position, but Jamie managed to do it. She landed on top of Dani, both of them starting to giggle, and wrestled the phone out of Dani’s grip. Jamie sat up, grinning triumphantly, waving Dani’s phone above her head victoriously. She felt pretty grand about herself until Dani reached up and started tickling her midsection.

“Fuck Poppins, don’t…no please!”

It didn’t take long until Jamie devolved into a laughing and nearly crying mess. Dani knew all of her most ticklish points and didn’t hesitate in the slightest to exploit that advantage. Jamie collapsed into a puddle on the couch, prone on her back. She was still trying valiantly to keep Dani’s phone out of her friend’s reach. Jamie had her arm extended up above her head, but it was all too easy for Dani to crawl on top of her and grab her phone from Jamie’s hand.

“How dare you try to delete this evidence,” Dani grinned. “This is golden!” She leaned down and pecked Jamie on the cheek. “I’ll grab you another beer before the next movie.”

Dani patted Jamie’s shoulder and went to stand up and that’s when it happened. Jamie grabbed Dani’s wrists, letting out a strangled groan. Dani looked down at her quizzically.

“Jamie? Are you okay?”

Dani shifted again, and the leg that had somehow ended up right against Jamie’s centre pressed again. Jamie whimpered. She goddamned whimpered.

“Fuck, Dani…”

Dani glanced down, and Jamie saw the realization spread across her friend’s face. Jamie screwed her eyes shut in embarrassment. She was sure Dani would be able to feel her heat against her leg; Jaime was absolutely throbbing. The feeling of Dani so close, putting pressure right where she needed it but yet not enough…

“Jamie,” Dani said softly.

“Look Poppins, just get up quickly so we can forget this ever happened and I can go die of embarrassment, okay?”

But Jamie didn’t feel any movement. She opened her eyes to see Dani looking at her intently, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth. Dani seemed to be thinking about something. And then, far too slowly to be anything other than intentional, Dani flexed her muscle and ground down firmly into Jamie. Jamie’s hips canted upward uncontrollably. She moaned.

“Poppins, fuck, but wait…” Jamie swallowed, trying to get control of her breathing. “Dani we shouldn’t, this isn’t…we’re friends and I don’t want to mess anything up.” Jamie knew she was rambling but it was hard to think straight when she was more or less quivering with anticipation.

“Jamie, I can feel how much you want this,” Dani said quietly. She pushed her knee forward again and Jamie’s eyes rolled back at the sensation. “I want it too. Dammit Jamie, I want you and I’ve wanted you for so fucking long.”

Jamie looked up at her best friend in awe. Dani’s expression was frustrated and lustful and excited and even a bit nervous. But there wasn’t an ounce of fear or regret. Her eyes were darkened with desire, and it sent a rush of heat down to Jamie’s core. She felt herself get even wetter.

“Are you sure Dani?”

Jamie had to know. She had to be sure Dani wanted this. Because once they crossed that line Jamie knew there would never be any turning back. Once they went that far they would pass the point of no return. Jamie didn’t want to screw anything up, she didn’t want to lose her best friend over one night or one mistake or…

Dani surged forward and crashed their lips together. Jamie moaned again at the suddenness of it all. Dani’s tongue immediately demanded entrance and it was a bit rough and so, so very hot. Jamie fisted her hands in the material of Dani’s shirt and pulled her in impossibly close. With the leg that wasn’t pinned up against the back of the couch she flexed her knee, causing her thigh to press up into Dani. And that was all it took for the two of them to start dry humping like a pair of hormonally overstimulated teenagers on the couch.

Jamie’s hips seemed to have a mind of their own. All she knew was that she needed contact, she needed to be as close as possible to Dani…and Dani seemed to have the same idea. With every thrust Jamie felt like so close yet so agonizingly far from falling apart.

Dani was kissing Jamie like they had been kissing their entire lives. Every stroke of her tongue made Jamie throb even harder, even more desperately. Jamie thought that she never wanted Dani to stop kissing her. Ever.

Moving her hands to the bottom of Dani’s shirt, Jamie started tugging it up. She hesitated a bit, but then Dani groaned in frustration against her lips and that decided Jamie. She sat up slightly, breaking the kiss to lift Dani’s top up and over her head. She threw it somewhere, not paying much attention. Dani’s lips were again seeking hers almost urgently, but Jamie instead began kissing the smooth skin of Dani’s neck. Her lips were on overdrive, addicted to the taste of Dani. They were still grinding against one another desperately.

Jamie slid her hands up Dani’s torso. She didn’t waste any time in shoving the material of Dani’s bra aside and cupping her chest, swiping her thumb over a pert nipple. When she bit down on Dani’s pulse point Dani swore.

“Fuck Jamie.” The sound of Dani swearing made Jamie want her even more. “Fuck don’t stop…I’m so close don’t fucking stop.”

“Poppins,” Jamie moaned. She could feel herself getting closer and closer to her climax with every movement of Dani’s hips.

When Dani came Jamie felt every second of it. “Fuck,” Dani moaned hoarsely, head thrown back in ecstasy. She looked so gorgeous and felt so amazing in Jamie’s arms that it sent Jamie over the edge too.

Eventually Jamie collapsed back onto the cushions, breathing heavily. Dani followed, landing on top her. She felt boneless in way; completely relaxed and sated. Jamie stroked one hand up and down the skin of Dani’s spine while playing with Dani’s with the other. Jamie’s heart felt like it was about to beat through her chest, and she knew Dani could feel it. She knew that Dani could feel the extent to which she affected her.

Suddenly Jamie started laughing. She couldn’t help it. Dani raised her head and looked at her in question.

“We’re like two fucking teenagers Poppins. Don’t think I’ve rubbed one out on the couch since high school.”

Dani smiled at that too, but reservedly so. “Was it…not good?”

“Fuck Poppins.” Jamie grabbed one of Dani’s hands and brought it up to her chest. “Do you feel that? Can’t you feel what you’ve done to me? Not good…Dani I don’t think I’ve ever felt so amazing in my life.”

The blush that spread across Dani’s cheeks was lovely, Jamie thought. Dani looked bashfully proud of herself, and Jamie couldn’t resist kissing her again. Their lips and tongues met languidly, almost lazily. Jamie loved the ease of it all. She loved how simply and perfectly they fit together, and how seamlessly the chemistry seemed to flow between them.

It didn’t take long for their kisses to turn heated again. When Jamie felt Dani’s nimble fingers popping the button on her jeans she could help but smile against her friend’s lips.

“Dani wait,” Jamie said, even as Dani unzipped her jeans and starting kissing and licking at Jamie’s neck.. Jamie’s hips twitched when Dani’s fingers grazed her center. “Oh god…fuck Poppins, hold on.”

Dani pouted at Jamie and she almost forgot why she had stopped the blonde. “Why?” Dani asked. Her eyes were lidded.

“Because I want you proper, Poppins,” Jamie grinned. “I don’t want to do this on your mom’s couch like a couple of lovestruck teenagers again. I want to take you upstairs and have you in a bed.”

Jamie watched Dani’s smile grow radiantly. “Really?” Dani asked. Jamie nodded. “So you don’t want to stop?”

“No, fuck no,” Jamie laughed. “The furthest thing from it. I want to fuck you all night long to make up for lost time.”

Dani swore and surged forward again, kissing Jamie soundly. The kiss was a toe curling, desire filled, filthy in some ways kiss and Jamie nearly forgot her goal. Maybe going for round two on the couch wasn’t such a bad idea after all. But no. Dani deserved more than that.

Jamie regretfully broke the kiss and pulled Dani’s hand from her pants. It took a bit of searching to locate Dani’s top where Jamie had thrown it, but finally there were, more or less, respectable. Except that Jamie didn’t feel respectable. She was thrumming with yearning and couldn’t stop smiling. One look at Dani told her the other woman felt the same. Wordlessly, Jamie reached out her hand and beamed when Dani laced their fingers together. Then she tugged on Dani’s hand and they took off running, far too anxious to continue their night together.

Chapter Text

Awareness came to Dani slowly, in stages. First she was simply aware of a restful, peaceful feeling. Then she became aware of some sun on her skin. Next it was the sound of soft breathing beside her, and curly hair tickling her skin. Dani was aware that there was a smile gracing her lips, and it fit with the happiness and lightness flowing through her. She realized she was still naked under the covers, an equally bare body up against and intertwined with her own. Dani’s smile grew.

Dani ached deliciously, in the best possible way. The memories of the night- and morning, really- came back to her and Dani clenched her thighs together as they did.

She thought back to Jamie’s head between her legs, working absolute magic with her tongue. Dani remembered how her fingers had gripped Jamie’s curls tightly, probably painfully. She remembered how Jamie’s mouth on her in the most intimate way had sent Dani careening into the most pleasurable, amazing feeling of her life. She remembered the kiss they shared afterward- far too innocent considering what they were doing- and being able to taste herself on Jamie’s tongue.

Dani had been apprehensive to touch Jamie. She was new to everything, completely inexperienced. She thought she wouldn’t be able to give Jamie as much pleasure as her friend had given her. But then Jamie was riding Dani’s fingers, swearing uncontrollably. Dani recalled how Jamie had stretched around her fingers, how Dani couldn’t resist popping one into her mouth after, tasting Jamie’s essence which had drenched her hand. Dani could’ve gotten addicted to that taste, she thought. She also thought she could get addicted to the way Jamie’s eyes darkened with lust as she watched the action.

And then…Dani blushed. She never knew she had a…she didn’t even know what to call it really. Jamie probably would’ve been super blunt and called it a praise kink. But when Jamie had two fingers buried knuckle deep inside of her, whispering decidedly filthy things, it had been the ‘come for me Dani, that’s it, good girl’ that had thrown her over the edge.

Dani didn’t know how long they had stayed up, but eventually both drifted off to sleep in each other’s arms, absolutely spent. Dani knew her crush would never go away now. She knew it had transformed into something bigger, something more powerful, something that seemed long lasting.

It didn’t scare Dani as much as she thought it might. Instead all she could do as she woke up and remembered was smile.

“I can hear your dirty thoughts from here, Poppins.” Apparently Jamie was waking up too.

“Mmm, good morning,” Dani said, grinning. “How did you sleep?”

Jamie lifted her head from where it had been resting on Dani’s chest. She kissed Dani softly, sweetly. Dani thought she wanted to wake up to that very same kiss every single morning from that day onward.

“I slept fucking fantastic,” Jamie said when she pulled back from the kiss. “Had a lot to do with sleeping beside you, I think.”

Dani didn’t think she had ever heard sweeter words spoken. She smiled and closed her eyes briefly, revelling in the feeling of Jamie’s body intertwined with her own. Jamie’s skin was soft and smooth against her own. Dani had never been so intimate with anyone before, and she never thought she’d feel comfortable with it. But with Jamie the intimacy felt natural. Dani loved it.

Kisses started being placed along Dani’s collarbone. She sighed happily and wrapped her arms tighter around Jamie.

“I could get used to this,” Dani said. She could feel Jamie’s smile against her skin. “I could definitely get used to this.”

Next thing Dani knew Jamie threw one leg over Dani’s hips, straddling her. The sheets fell down, and Dani was greeted with the exceptional sight of Jamie’s bare chest. She knew she was staring, and she could feel the smugness almost radiating off of Jamie. Dani sheepishly met her friend’s gaze.

“You can look all you want, Poppins,” Jamie smirked.

“Can I touch too?”

It took them far too long to get ready that morning. They kept getting distracted. First in the bed, where Dani did indeed get to touch. Next in the shower, where Dani learned shower sex was far more dangerous than it seemed, but she also finally got to taste Jamie for real. As it turned out, Jamie was a huge fan of the things Dani could do with her tongue.

Dani had never really thought about the morning after before. She had never experienced it. Dani always supposed it might be awkward in a way. She never expected to be so comfortable with someone’s eyes on her naked form hungrily. She never expected that the insatiable high would carry on and linger, continuing to make her want more, always more. Dani simply couldn’t get enough of Jamie.

It wasn’t until they were both, finally, dressed for the day that Dani felt Jamie’s eyes on her in a way that didn’t fill her with want. Jamie was leaning against the closed bedroom door, frowning at Dani.

“Poppins, when you said, just before, that you could get used to this.” Jamie swallowed. She looked down at the floor nervously. “What did you mean by that? What did last night mean to you?”

Dani panicked. Of course Jamie would be freaked out by that statement- Dani knew she wasn’t one for relationships. In their two years of friendship Dani had never seen Jamie bring home the same girl twice. Jamie wasn’t the type to settle down or trust anyone enough to get into something long term. So why the hell had Dani said that? Of course it would’ve made Jamie uncertain. Dani probably seemed like some insanely clingy chick.

Dani knew, as she always had really, that she’d rather have Jamie in her life as a friend than not have her in her life at all. The night they spent together was amazing. It was beyond Dani’s wildest imagination. But if Dani confessed her feelings, Jamie would probably run. She would bolt, and Dani’s heart couldn’t take that.

So Dani panicked.

“Erm, just sex.” Dani shrugged. “That’s all I was talking about. You know, spending the night with someone…I see why you’ve done it on occasion. It’s wonderful! I was definitely overdue.”

Without waiting on Jamie’s reaction, Dani sidled past the brunette and opened the door to her bedroom. She had no doubt Karen would be starting to panic about the guests due that afternoon and evening, and there would likely be no shortage of tasks to complete.

Dani’s heart was howling at her as she went downstairs. It seemed to be berating her for not taking the opportunity to bare all and tell Jamie about her crush. But Dani dismissed it. No matter what, she would have the memories from the night they shared. And Jamie would continue to be a part of her life. That was the most important thing. Her heart could bear its crush for a bit longer. Right?

***

It was half three when Jamie was finally able to sneak outside and away from the bustle that had filled the Clayton house all day. The guests were due to start arriving within the hour, and Karen had everyone busy all morning preparing the house. All three children had been practically climbing the walls with excitement all day. She hardly had gotten any alone time with Dani, and Jamie felt rather miserable about it.

So the first opportunity Jamie got, she slipped out the back door and went into the yard. She lit a cigarette as she crossed the deck, but waited until she got to the back of the yard- past the blasted pool- before pulling out her phone and ringing Becca.

“Jamie!” Rebecca exclaimed excitedly. She seemed a little flushed and a little tipsy, and Jamie couldn’t resist grinning a bit.

“You hitting the bottle already, Becs?”

Becca shrugged. “Oh hush. It’s later here. And it’s Christmas Eve…my mom tried to set me up with about five different men after the four o’clock mass…so yes, I’m drunk already.”

“Living your best life Becs,” Jamie laughed. Then she remembered her own predicament and mixed feelings all day. The smile slid off her face, and Rebecca definitely noticed.

“Oh no. Jamie what’s wrong?” She didn’t answer Becca for a moment, not sure she wanted to confide in her friend after all. “Jamie, come on, don’t keep it inside. Talk to me.”

“Dani and I…” Jamie sighed. “We might have had sex. Last night. And this morning.”

There was silence from Becca. For a moment, Jamie thought maybe her screen had frozen- Rebecca wasn’t even moving. But then she squealed in excitement, and it hurt Jamie’s ears with how screechy it sounded through the speaker on her phone.

“Jamie! That’s amazing! How was it? Was it absolutely perfect? Did you totally fall in love with her even more? Do you want to do it again? Oh. My. God. Tell me everything!”

Jamie chuckled a bit at her friend’s enthusiasm. “It was…it was beyond everything I thought it would be, Becs,” Jamie said softly. “I mean, yeah the orgasms were out of this world. But…it was so much more beyond that. It just felt right. Perfect. I’ve never felt so absolutely in sync with someone, and it’s never been so intimate before.”

Becca squealed again. Jamie sighed.

When she woke up that morning, Jamie had felt about the same level of happiness that Becca was exhibiting. She had woken up in Dani’s arms, satisfied but still thirsting for me. She felt safe and at ease in Dani’s embrace, yet still excited and craving more. It had never been like that before.

Typically Jamie was sneaking out of bed the morning after, gathering her clothes as quietly as possible and sneaking out the room before her fling could awake. She had never woken up so content beside someone, so fulfilled. She had never wanted to go for round two, then three…to go all day if they could have. Jamie knew she had been attracted to Dani since the beginning. And she had been growing more and more attracted to the girl both inside and out ever since. But that morning…after the night they shared together…Jamie was starting to suspect that her feelings went far beyond attraction. Far beyond liking Dani. She thought, just maybe, she might be in love with her best friend. And it was a heady feeling.

It was also terrifying, though. As a general rule, Jamie didn’t trust people that easily. She had learned from a very young age that people usually weren’t worth the effort. They were exhaustive and Jamie would rather not expend the effort. Dani was different. Dani had already won her trust, already won her affections…and that morning Jamie felt hopeful that she could have it all with Dani. That they could share more than one night. She thought that Dani returned the sentiment. And yet…

“She said, when we were waking up, that she could get used to it,” Jamie said. “And I thought maybe, that meant, you know…maybe she liked me too. Maybe she liked me back.”

“She does!” Becca said quickly. “I’m so sure of it Jamie!”

Jamie shook her head, taking a deep drag of her cigarette. “I asked her. I asked her point blank what she had meant by it. And she…she brushed it off. Made some flippant comment about how nice it is to get laid.” Jamie stubbed out her butt and cast it aside. “Fuck, it hurt to hear that.”

“Jamie…” Rebecca looked at her through the screen sadly. “I’m sure she didn’t mean it like that. Maybe she was brushing it off because, you know, she was scared too. Or maybe…”

“Becs please don’t. I can’t…I can’t keep doing this. Getting my hopes up only for them to be dashed again shortly thereafter.”

“But Jamie if you just talk to her…”

“No,” Jamie said firmly. “Last night was amazing. It was utterly perfect in every way. But it has to end there Becs. I can’t keep doing this. I had my heart broken once when I was just a kid, and I can’t have it broken again now.”

Their conversation lasted a few more minutes, but Jamie’s heart just wasn’t in it. Finally they wished each other a happy holiday, and Becca promised that she would have a nice huge hug waiting for Jamie when she returned. Jamie lit another cigarette after she shoved her phone back in her pocket. She wanted to delay going back inside for as long as possible. Jamie had little interest in meeting the any of Karen’s vapid friends or other relatives, and she had even less interest in seeing Dani again.

That was a lie though. She always wanted to see Dani. She just had to get her head on straight first.

“You know those things are going to kill you, right?”

Jamie rolled her eyes at Dani’s oldest sister. The dark haired woman was walking around the pool towards Jamie.

“Heard it all before Viola. What do you want?” Jamie didn’t have the least bit of patience to deal with Viola then. She would’ve rather jumped into the pool.

“I came to apologize to you.” Jamie stared at the other woman sceptically, and Viola smiled wryly. “I’m serious Jamie.”

“Well you can save your breath,” Jamie said, “’cause I have no interest in ever associating with you beyond this holiday.”

A perfectly sculpted eyebrow rose. “Really. And what if you and Danielle get married? Are you still not going to associate with me?”

“Not if I can help it.” Jamie tried to ignore the sick feeling she got in her gut at Viola’s words. Their playacting didn’t seem so fun to Jamie anymore.

“Look Jamie, I don’t apologize to people. Ever. And it would really suit me to not have to do so now. But truthfully…” Viola sighed. “Look. You waltzed in here with your head held high, and I’m not used to being challenged. You befriended my husband so immediately that all he could talk about was how funny you were, and what a good person you were. Then you had the audacity to speak back to me…honestly, you threatened me.”

Jamie laughed. “Me. A threat to you. That’s a good one.”

“Appearances aren’t always what they seem, Miss Taylor. I might not be as disaffected as I wish I could be. So yes, I looked into your past. I would have anyway, because I’m a bit overprotective of the people who spend time around my daughter, but I know it’s wrong. And regardless, I shouldn’t have aired it out in front of so many people like that.”

“No, you shouldn’t have,” Jamie agreed.

“For what it’s worth, Arthur already ripped into me fairly decently. And he never speaks out to me,” Viola smiled.

“Good for him. The man needs a backbone.” Jamie took one last puff of her cigarette. “Look Viola, truthfully, I don’t care that much for you. And I don’t see a reason to try to care for you if you’re gonna continue to treat Dani the way you do. So you can apologize to me all you want…unless I see that you’re making strides to mend your relationship with your sister, than I see no need to begin building ours.”

Jamie started walking away from Viola, but the woman called her back. Jamie huffed but still turned to face her. Viola wore a sad smile as she held out a folded piece of paper to Jamie. She took it hesitantly, not opening it yet.

“Your younger brother is here in the States too for school,” Viola said. “Notre Dame. I don’t know exactly where, but that’s the name he goes by now. If you ever wanted to look him up.”

With that, Viola brushed past Jamie and made her way back inside. Jamie looked at the folded piece of paper, wondering whether or not to trust it. She debated opening it. Was it legit? Or was this another joke that Viola was trying to pull on her, another thing to antagonize her with? And even if it was legitimate…Jamie wasn’t sure she was brave enough to look at it.

Jamie shook her head. Wasn’t worth thinking about right then anyhow, she thought. She supposed she better get back inside and find Dani and continue playing the perfect girlfriend, as much as it galled her that Dani didn’t want her for real. So Jamie shoved the piece of paper into her back pocket and headed for the back door.

***

“You look like you could use a drink.”

Jamie gratefully took the glass that Owen was holding out for her and took a big sip. She was surprised that Owen and Hannah had garnered invites to Karen’s ‘prestigious’ celebration. But apparently Dani had invited them, and for that Jamie was grateful. It was just the four of them and the two darn Wingrave kids that approached anything near actual humans instead of automatons.

“Don’t suppose you’d be able to get me a lobotomy while you’re at it?” Owen shook his head, grinning from beneath his mustache. Jamie shrugged. “Ah well. Guess the whiskey will do it, then.”

So far Jamie had been introduced to Dani’s great aunt and uncle, her weirdly super religious cousins, and some uppity neighbours whom Jamie had no intention of remembering their names. Jamie played her part well, holding hands with Dani throughout the night, ignoring the ache in her chest. She was trying to play it cool, but it was hard to pretend when she had seen her best friend at her most intimate and vulnerable. For her part Dani had seemed like her regular self. It was almost a relief when Dani stole away to the washroom, leaving Jamie on her own for a few minutes. She felt like she needed the breather.

Karen’s Christmas Eve bash was a big, wild affair, with drinks flowing freely. The chatter was loud and boisterous throughout the evening, and the big event of the night was the gift exchange. Which Dani had already warned Jamie was bound to result in at least a couple shouting matches as her extended family fought over which gifts they wanted. Jamie hadn’t wanted to participate, but Dani convinced her it would look back if they didn’t.

“Well, you and Dani are more than welcome to join Hannah and I for a Christmas luncheon tomorrow if that helps you through the night.”

Jamie smiled gratefully at Owen, before glaring at him when he spied someone in the crowd and took off. She scowled and sipped her drink, not really feeling in the festive spirit.

“Jamie.”

She groaned. Of all the people to come and talk to her that evening, Edmund was pretty much the last person she wanted to see. Jamie didn’t have anything to say to the man, or anything she wanted to hear from him.

“Having a fun night?”

“The funnest,” Jamie replied drolly.

Edmund nodded awkwardly. “Danielle’s family has always been a little intense. You really just have to learn how to deal with them, and then they’re not so bad.”

“Is this what it is then?” Jamie asked. “Did you just sidle up to me so you can brag about how well you get along with Dani’s family and how much better you’d be for her than me?” Jamie had just about had enough of Dani’s acquaintances already, fake girlfriend duties or not.

“No!” Edmund said, looking genuinely surprised at the suggestion. “Not at all! I…” Edmund sighed, pushing his glasses up his nose. “Look Jamie, I’m sorry for how I’ve been acting with you and Danielle. It’s been really hard, still being in love with her.” Jamie’s stomach knotted at his words. “But when I saw the look on her face the other night with Viola I…I know how much she cares for you. And I feel like a prick. Honestly, I don’t mean to be a bad guy.”

“Yeah, well,” Jamie said vaguely. As far as she could tell, he was trying to apologize. But it was hard to tell as he hadn’t said the word ‘sorry’ anywhere in there.

“There’s no excuse. Even if I thought I could win Danielle back, which I know will never happen, I shouldn’t have been acting the way I did. So I’m sorry, Jamie. Truly. I’m sorry, and I’ll back off.”

“Fair play,” Jamie said. “I guess I can maybe accept your apology.” She had no intention of ever seeing him again, so it seemed like a safe thing to say.

“And I want to apologize, as well, for kissing Danielle on the pier the other day.” Jamie’s head whipped around at his words. She narrowed her eyes at Eddie. “It was wrong of me to kiss her knowing she was in a relationship. I’m sorry.”

Edmund left with that, and Jamie stood there frozen, mind reeling. Edmund had kissed Dani when they were all at the beach? But…she had been with Jamie all day. Except for when they first got there, Jamie supposed. Dani had gotten that sad look in her eyes, and then said she needed some space…that must have been when. Eddie must have followed her and…

Jamie closed her eyes. She knew Dani wouldn’t have kissed the guy back, even though she’d be perfectly free to. She didn’t owe Jamie any loyalty- they weren’t in a real relationship, after all. But why hadn’t Dani told her? Did she keep it a secret purposely? Why didn’t she trust Jamie enough to tell her about Eddie trying to kiss her?

Jamie tried to tell herself she was being irrational. She tried to tell herself that it wasn’t fair of her to get mad at Dani, as it probably meant nothing. Dani had probably just forgotten, especially considering Viola’s theatrics later in the evening. But after what Dani had said that morning, brushing off their night together as if it had meant less than nothing…was Jamie being used? She knew Dani, she did, and she knew that she would never just use someone for sex. But still. Jamie couldn’t help how she upset she felt. She couldn’t help how betrayed she felt that Dani hadn’t shared the truth with her. And Jamie couldn’t deny how much it had hurt when Dani had so easily brushed off their intimate night.

Jamie downed the rest of her whiskey. She set her glass down somewhere, she wasn’t totally paying attention, and then stalked off through the crowd of people to the front door. She had enough of Christmas, at least for that night.

***

Dani had been waylaid by a conversation with her cousin when she saw Jamie making her way to the front door. Said cousin had been not so subtly hinting at the supposed religious implications of homosexuality at the time, so Dani felt no shame in cutting her off abruptly.

“Sorry, can we catch up later? I have to use the washroom,” Dani lied, not caring that she had literally just walked out of the room when her cousin had cornered her.

Without waiting for a response, Dani darted away from her least favourite cousin and headed in the direction she had seen Jamie go. She figured her friend was just heading outside for a smoke, and the idea sounded actually appealing to Dani. The traditional Christmas Eve parties had always been exhausting to Dani, ever since she was a kid- there were too many people, it was always too loud, and she had always felt too judged by her family. She preferred the quieter times on Christmas Day without question.

It was dark outside when Dani scrambled through the front door. She located Jamie by the glowing red end of her cigarette. She appeared to be sitting down on the curb of the road, and Dani smiled as she made her way to join her best friend.

“Hey,” she said happily, sitting down beside Jamie. “Can I share?”

Wordlessly, Jamie passed over the cigarette and Dani took a drag. It was a nice, warm night, and Dani felt quite content sitting and sharing a smoke with her friend.

“Are you surviving the evening so far?” Dani asked. “I know it’s always a crazy time. It’s loud and obnoxious. But I promise, everything calms down as soon as they leave. And tomorrow will be super chill…”

“Did Edmund kiss you the other day at the beach?”

Dani started. “Oh, um, yeah. He tried, at least. I pushed him off right away.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“What?” Dani was confused. “I guess, um, I guess it just didn’t seem like a big deal. I mean, I shoved him backwards and basically told him to stay the hell away from me. It just wasn’t a big deal.”

Jamie sat in stony silence after that, and Dani wracked her brain trying to figure out what was going on. Jamie seemed perhaps a bit angry with her…but why? Because Dani hadn’t told her about Eddie? That was no big deal…why would it upset Jamie if Dani hadn’t told her? Unless…unless Jamie had reason to believe that Dani was keeping it from her and lying to her on purpose. But why would Jamie ever think that? Hadn’t Dani given her enough reasons to trust her?

“Jamie, are you…you aren’t mad at me for not telling you, are you?” Dani asked tentatively.

“Dunno,” Jamie said briefly. Dani saw her shrug her shoulders in the pale moonlight.

“Jamie, I swear I basically forgot it happened. It was just a little footnote in an otherwise…”

“Just like last night was,” Jamie interrupted. “A little footnote, I mean. That’s all last night was to you, just a little footnote that you can notch into your bedpost.”

Dani was taken aback. Jamie hadn’t spoken the words harshly, but there was still an underlying tone of accusation there. Why was Jamie suddenly so haughty with her?

“Jamie that’s not what I said.”

“I asked you point blank,” Jamie shouted. “Point blank, clear as day I asked you what last night meant to you. And you just brushed it off like it didn’t mean a fucking thing.”

Dani could feel a touch of anger start to stir in her chest. She couldn’t help it- Jamie was being openly antagonistic. It took a lot for Dani’s temper to flare, but when it did it always happened impressively. She didn’t know why Jamie was being so frustrating, but Dani didn’t really care. She was getting angry at her friend anyway.

“Okay, first of all I’ve seen you with what…at least a dozen girls in the past. You never sleep with the same one twice. Excuse me for thinking I’m just the same damn thing.” Even in the low light, Dani could see that struck a nerve with Jamie. Good, she thought grimly. Maybe she could throw Jamie as much as Jamie was throwing her. “Secondly, it takes two, you know. What did last night mean to you if you’re going to act so high and mighty?”

Jamie was shaking her head, an incredulous smile on her face. “You just don’t get it, do you Dani? You hurt me this morning, casting me off like I was nothing to you. I was just hurt again, finding out that Eddie kissed you and you didn’t tell me.”

“I don’t have to tell you anything if I don’t want to!” Dani said hotly. “It’s not like we’re dating for real.”

“No, we’re just really good friends Dani! Or at least, I thought we were.”

Dani threw her arms up in exasperation. “Why are you being like this?” she demanded. “It’s one little thing that I left out, so inconsequential that it doesn’t even matter. So why in the world are you throwing a tantrum?”

“So me expressing my feelings is throwing a tantrum, yeah?”

Dani shrugged. “I guess it is when you’re being all moody and combative with me. So yeah, I’d say you’re throwing a pretty big tantrum.”

“Look, I’m sorry,” Jamie said softly. She sounded a bit deflated. “I just…I don’t want to think this, ‘cause I know you Dani. I know you and I know this probably isn’t true but...fuck. Between the fake dating and keeping the Eddie thing a secret and then what you said this morning, I can’t help but feel like you’re using me a bit.”

Dani stared at her friend’s silhouette, shocked. Dani, using Jamie? She would never! Jamie had to know that…right? She would never use Jamie or take advantage of her. And that’s when Dani’s own hurt started to seep in.

“So that’s what you think of me?” Dani asked. “You think I’m just using you? That I’m just stringing you along for the ride here to take advantage of you?”

“Dani that’s not…”

“Well while we’re on the topic of using people, Jamie, why don’t we talk about you?” Dani knew her voice was rising, that she was starting to yell. “I mean what the hell, why not flirt with my sister who you know I hate?”

“Dani I already said I…”

“And why not keep pressuring to stand firm with my mom that it’s her problem if she never accepts me…Jamie it hurts! All I’ve ever wanted is for her approval so yeah it hurts and I can’t just turn it off Jamie, I can’t just pretend that her acceptance doesn’t matter to me. You say it so bluntly but it’s easy for you- you’ve never even had a mom!” Dani knew it was savage. Seeing Jamie flinch gave her a bit of satisfaction. “And if we’re talking about last night…how can you say I used you when you clearly used me? You know I’m…Jamie you knew I was a virgin! You knew it was all new to me and all overwhelming and you still decided to use me like one of your one night stands!”

Even in the low light, Dani could tell how stricken Jamie was at that. Immediately she wanted to take back her words, immediately she regretted them. Dani wanted to Jamie that she didn’t mean it, she was just scared. She was terrified because of how strongly she felt for Jamie, and she was terrified that she was going to end up a one night stand and so Dani lashed out. But she didn’t mean it. She didn’t mean any of it all.

How could she mean it? Jamie was her best friend. She loved…

“I would never,” Jamie said roughly, “Dani you know I would never…last night.” Jamie barked out a harsh laugh. “Dani I would never. And the fact that you think I could…” Jamie stood from the curb, brushing off her pants. “Think I’m gonna go find a hotel for the night,” she said, walking to the rented car.

“Wait, Jamie, don’t.” Dani sprang to her feet, chasing after Jamie. She grabbed her friend by the arm. “Jamie I didn’t mean it, I was just scared and afraid so I lashed out. I didn’t mean it; you know I didn’t mean it!”

When Jamie turned back to face Dani she could see how wet her friend’s eyes were, even in the moonlight. Dani could count on one hand the number of times she had seen Jamie cry, and two of them had happened because of her. Whether directly or indirectly, Dani had caused that. Her heart dropped. Dani never wanted to be that reason.

“See, I trust you,” Jamie said quietly. “You know how hard it is for me to let people in but you…Dani I trusted you right away, right from the very beginning. And it took me way too long to realize why.” Jamie opened the door to the rental and got inside. She started the ignition, putting the car in reverse before looking up at Dani once more. “I know why I trusted you so quickly. Turns out I’m pretty in love with ya, Poppins. But right now, I think I just need some space. ‘Cause now that I realize it, and I realize I can’t have you, I just need to think.”

With that, Jamie backed out of the driveway and peeled off. Dani watched the taillights grow smaller and smaller as Jamie drove off. She stood frozen. She stood until they were just pinpricks in the distance. And then Dani ran. She ran off in the direction that Jamie had driven.

“Jamie!” she screamed. “Jamie come back! I didn’t mean any of it!” Dani ran, she ran as fast as she could, tears streaming down her face. “Jamie I love you too! I love you too!”

Saying those words finally broke Dani. She stopped, choking on her sobs, doubling over in the middle of the street. They were true, Dani realized. All those months, her crush on Jamie- somewhere along the line it had turned to love. Somewhere along the way Dani had fallen in love with her best friend, and her own stupidity had ruined everything. Jamie was gone, and she didn’t know. She didn’t know and Dani needed her to know.

Dani started to run again, but a pair of arms wrapped around her from behind, holding her in place.

“No!” Dani yelled, struggling against the hold. “I need to find her! I need to tell her! I have to fix this. Once Jamie knows…once I tell her- we can fix this, I know we can, we can fix this!”

And then Dani collapsed into the arms holding her. She collapsed into the embrace, crying uncontrollably, feeling like she had just lost everything in a matter of minutes and didn’t know how it had happened.

“It’s okay Danielle.” Viola. It was Viola holding her, hugging her, stroking her hair. “Dani you’ll be okay.”

“I ruined it,” Dani rambled, hyperventilating. “I ruined it all I ruined everything!”

“No you didn’t.” Viola was comforting her like an older sister should, and despite everything and their sordid past Dani felt herself softening in her arms. “You didn’t ruin anything Dani. That girl is crazy about you. Everyone can see it.”

“But what I said…”

Dani felt Viola shake her head. “Give her the night Dani. Give her the night and in the morning, I guarantee the two of you will be able to fix things.”

It took too long for Dani’s sobs to calm down, for Dani to finally start getting herself under control. Viola held her the entire time, never complaining. She just held her, comforting her, whispering that everything would be okay. Dani never knew she had craved this sort of interaction with her sister. It did wonders to calm her, and eventually Dani’s tears had slowed to mere sniffles. Viola pulled back slightly, looking at her.

“Bit better?” she asked, smiling. Dani nodded. “Come on. Let’s get back to the house. We can talk about everything.”

“How much did you hear?” Dani asked as Viola took hold of her hand to lead her back to Karen’s house.

“Almost everything.” Viola sighed. “Dani, there’s so much I need to apologize for. So let’s go back home. We’ll talk. We’ll talk about everything. It’ll be okay, little sister.” Viola squeezed Dani’s hand reassuringly. “It will be okay.”

Chapter Text

Viola and Dani pretty much managed to sneak back into the Clayton house undetected. The only people they ran into were Hannah and Owen, heading back to their own house for the rest of the night. Both looked a bit concerned to see Dani’s state, and Hannah was looking between Dani and her sister like she wanted to rip Viola’s hands off her.

“I’m fine,” Dani said, answering their unasked questions. “Everything’s fine. I’ll see you both tomorrow. Merry Christmas!”

She hugged them both. Hannah held her so tightly that Dani wondered if the other woman knew more than she let on. Owen whispered in her ear as he hugged her goodnight.

“When I let go blink twice if you’re being held against your will.”

Dani laughed a bit at that. They waved goodbye and wished each other happy holidays and then Viola and Dani crept into the house. They managed to dodge all their questionable and now drunk cousins. Karen, luckily, was nowhere to be seen. Dani spied Flora snoozing on a corner of the couch, all curled up in a tight ball. The sight was beyond adorable, and it made Dani feel a bit lighter as she followed Viola upstairs. They went into Dani’s room, and Viola locked the door behind them. The first thing she did was order Dani to go wash her face.

“Seriously Dani. Go. If you wake up after a night of crying your skin is going to feel awful and your eyes will burn like crazy. So wash your face.”

When Dani emerged from the bathroom, Viola had changed into some of her sweats and was lounging on Dani’s bed. Dani couldn’t remember the last time she had seen her sister in such casual, mismatched clothing. Viola smiled at her, patting the space beside her. Dani crawled into the bed beside her sister, albeit a bit reluctantly. She didn’t know whether she trusted the all of a sudden empathetic Viola. It wasn’t like her at all.

“Why are you being nice to me?” Dani asked. She hadn’t meant to say it so bluntly, but once it was out there it was out there.

Viola sighed. “Do you remember, before we moved here to California, how close you and I used to be? We’d roll our eyes at mother’s antics, plot against her several boyfriends, water down her liquor bottles so she wouldn’t drink as much.”

“Remember the one time she brought the politician home and we…”

“Pretended we didn’t speak English!” Viola finished the thought. “I forgot about that!”

“He was so frustrated. I thought mom was going to kill us,” Dani laughed with her sister. “What happened to us Viola? How did things change so much?”

Viola sighed. “I don’t know. I think, honestly, we’ve both been after mom’s approval for our entire lives and it just got combative. Truthfully, after you turned down Eddie and came out to mom…I think I became a bit jealous of you, too.”

Dani gaped at her sister. “You, jealous of me?” Dani shook her head disbelievingly. “But Viola you have everything! You’re perfect!”

“I have a wonderful family, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything,” Viola said. “But sometimes I wonder if my husband is still with me because he loves me or because he’s scared of me. And you…Dani I see you make him laugh like I haven’t in years. When you were all out on the back deck, I was burning with jealousy. I know you want mother’s acceptance but Dani, don’t you see, you’re free now. You’re living as who you truly are and I wish I could be that free.”

“I don’t feel free. I feel like I’m always letting people down. You and mom and…”

“We haven’t made it easy on you, have we?” Viola smiled sadly. “I want to fix things with you Dani. I want to get to know you again and have a relationship with you. I don’t just want my daughter to see her aunt once every three years when we convince you to come home finally. I’m so sorry for being such a pain in the ass. But I really do want to fix things. Do you think we could try?”

And Dani knows it shouldn’t be that easy. She shouldn’t be so ready to believe that Viola had some sort of overnight revelation and changed so quickly. But Dani was also desperate to have a relationship with her sister. And for what it was worth, Viola did seem sincere. She seemed honest and open and Dani couldn’t recall the last time she had seen her sister that way. So Dani knew she shouldn’t have been so ready to give in, but she wanted to fix things too. She wanted to have a sister.

“I want to try too,” Dani finally said quietly. “I’d like to have my sister back.”

The smile that spread across Viola’s face was so effortlessly happy. It didn’t contain any of the smugness or haughtiness that Dani had gotten used to over the past several years.

“I’m going to try harder,” Viola promised. “But you’ll have to teach me, too. There are a lot of things that I don’t know much about and I don’t want to hurt you with my ignorance.”

Dani smiled. “Okay. I can do that.”

“Thank you,” Viola whispered. She was on her side, head resting on Dani’s pillows, looking right at her younger sister. “Do you want to talk about what happened with you and Jamie?”

Dani blew out a breath. She could think of several other confidants that she’d usually pick over Viola. She thought she even might take Flora over Viola, really. But Viola was there and she was the one who first comforted Dani, and Dani thought there might be something cathartic for her by confiding in her sister.

“You don’t have to,” Viola said. “I know I haven’t really been there for you, nor have I done anything to earn your trust over the years.”

“I want to,” Dani said. “I just…I don’t know where to start.”

Viola nodded. “From what I overheard…I gather you and Jamie aren’t really in a relationship. Were you pretending?”

“Yeah,” Dani sighed. “Jamie agreed to help me out. I thought that if I showed up here mom would try to sweep my sexuality back under the rug and get me back together with Eddie. I was going to post online looking for a date but then Jamie- she offered to help. She’s always been so selfless and protective of me and Becs so it seemed natural, in a way.”

“I’m so sorry you felt like you had to do that. I’m so sorry I never defended you to mom or stood up for you better. I should be the one protecting you. I’m sorry that you felt like you had to put on a front for us.” Viola paused. “How long have you liked her?”

Dani’s eyes sprang to Viola’s face, looking for the usual mockery or disgust she had come to expect. But none of it was there.

“I’ve been aware of it for about a year,” Dani admitted. “But truthfully I think I started liking her from the moment I met her.”

“Have you told her?”

And that would have been the smart thing to do, wouldn’t it have been? Instead of letting her emotions and insecurities get the better of her, Dani could have just talked to Jamie. She could have just told her the truth about how she felt. But Dani never had.

“No,” Dani shook her head. “We…last night we…um…”

“Had sex? Became intimate? Rounded the bases?” Viola’s eyes glinted with a touch of glee. “Come on Dani, I missed my shot to be able to discuss these things with you when you were a teenager. How was it? Did you see stars?”

“It was perfect,” Dani whispered. “She was perfect. But then…I worried I was being too clingy. Jamie isn’t one to settle down. She’s not one for relationships or dating and I panicked. I just panicked and got scared that if I clung to her she’d ditch me anyway. So I tried to play it cool. But I hurt her. I didn’t mean to hurt her!”

“I know Dani. But she hurt you, too, didn’t she? When she accused you of using her.”

“It did hurt,” Dani agreed. “It stung that she’d think that of me. But I shouldn’t have said what I said.”

“Dani…” Viola trailed off, looking a bit uncertain. “Right before she drove off, Jamie said she loved you. Do you want that to be true?” Dani nodded, biting her bottom lip. “And when you chased after her you said you loved her. Did you mean that?”

“I do,” Dani confessed. “I don’t know how it happened, or when it happened, or…”

“Sweetie, love is something we don’t have to be able to explain. The how’s and the why’s don’t matter. Love should be something that as long as you feel it, and as long as you know it, then that’s enough. From a purely objective perspective, let me just say- I think you and Jamie both got scared. I think you both have been ignoring your feelings for a while, and when they became too big to ignore you both just freaked out.”

“So what do I do?” Dani asked in desperation. “She must hate me now. She must think I’m the world’s worst person ever and I’ll be lucky if she ever even talks to me again, I’m sure I’ve ruined everything…”

“Stop.” Viola pulled Dani into her, hugging her. “Stop that nonsense. What you’re going to do is try to get some sleep, because everything always looks better in the morning. And then, you’ll find her and the two of you will communicate- finally- and things will work out.”

“You think they will?” Dani asked, snuggling into her sister’s comforting embrace.

“I know the will.”

***

The knock on the door in the early hours of the morning is unwelcome. Dani hadn’t gotten much sleep, despite Viola staying with her the entire night. It was almost as if she had gotten used to Jamie’s presence beside her. That, coupled with Dani’s inner turmoil, had caused for a restless night. Viola stirred at the knock, frowning and grumbling much like Dani felt.

The door opened to reveal Arthur, poking his head in. When he saw the two sisters in the room, a big smile took over his whole face.

“Good morning love of my life,” Arthur said quietly. “I thought I’d wake you up before Izzy wakes…I know you’ll want to see her reaction.”

Viola shot up into a sitting position. “Oh my god, Arthur I didn’t set anything up! I didn’t do the cookies or read her letter or fill her stocking or do the presents…”

“Relax,” Arthur grinned. “I know the two of you needed some sister time. I took care of everything. It’s all set up downstairs, ready for Izzy, Flora, and Miles. Did you want to double check everything? I swear I won’t be offended.”

“I trust you,” Viola smiled. She got up out of the bed and walked over to her husband, kissing him. “Thank you. I love you.”

“I love you too Vi. There’s some coffee in the kitchen for you. I know it’s early but…I expect Izzy’s patience will wear out within the hour.”

Viola left the room, and Dani sat up slowly in bed, rubbing her eyes. They did burn a little bit, despite Viola’s recommendations. She also felt only vaguely better. Dani didn’t think she’d feel fully better until she saw Jamie again.

“Sorry to wake you so early too,” Arthur said from the doorway.

Dani shrugged. “It’s okay. I want to see the kid’s reactions anyway.”

“I imagine they’ll be pretty stoked,” Arthur grinned excitedly. “There’s a boatload of presents waiting for them. Speaking of…I’ve got something for you down in the kitchen. It came kind of last minute, but I think you’ll want to see what it is.”

“Okay. I’ll be down in one minute.”

Arthur nodded and then left. Dani sighed, running a hand through her hair. She wished she felt happier on Christmas morning. She went into the bathroom to brush her teeth. As she did she started developing a bit of resolve. This was Christmas, dammit. She was going to be happy. Dani was going to watch the kids open their gifts and then she was going to find Jamie and apologize. She would apologize and then tell Jamie everything, all her feelings. She would lay everything out on the table. Dani was going to fix things.

Thus resolved, Dani pulled a Christmas Sweater over her tank top and made her way out of her room to the stairs. She tiptoed to the main level, not wanting to wake any children prematurely. Dani walked into the kitchen, not sure what to expect or why it couldn’t wait, but she figured at the very least she’d get some coffee.

To Dani’s surprise, the kitchen was quiet. She figured at the very least Viola and Arthur would be in there, if not her mom and Henry too. Dani stepped into the kitchen and froze.

Jamie was sitting at the island, holding a mug between her hands, looking about as tired as Dani felt. But when Jamie looked up and they locked eyes, a relieved smile took over her face. Jamie smiled at Dani like everything had just fallen back into place.

“Poppins,” Jamie said. And then she was on her feet, quickly walking to Dani.

Jamie’s lips were on her own before Dani could really comprehend what was happening. Jamie cupped Dani’s cheeks and connected their lips, and it took Dani a few beats to react. Eventually she caught up to the wonderful reality that was kissing Jamie, and her hands grasped Jamie at the waist. As they kissed, Dani felt all of her anger, all of her frustration and sadness, start to leech away. Jamie’s lips against hers made everything seem a bit better than it was.

“Poppins I’m so sorry I ran off,” Jamie said as they broke apart. She stroked her thumb back and forth across Dani’s cheekbone. “I shouldn’t have gone I should’ve stayed so we could talk.”

“No, I’m sorry Jamie.” Dani felt tears springing into her eyes. They might have tears of relief; it felt so good to have Jamie back in her arms. “I’m so sorry for what I said I shouldn’t have said any of it. About your mom and that night and…”

“Fuck Poppins don’t. I should have trusted you.” Jamie pulled her in again, kissing her soundly. “I do trust you. You’re pretty much the only person I trust, the only person I’ve ever trusted. I shouldn’t have accused you of using me…I know you would never.”

The words and the confident look in Jamie’s eyes as she said them thawed Dani completely. She felt warmer, happier, and lighter all at once. Jamie trusted her. Coming from Jamie, that was as big an admission of love than anything. Dani couldn’t stop herself from smiling.

“And I trust you,” Dani said. She heard Jamie’s breath hitch. “What I said…Jamie I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it, any of it. I was just scared, I guess. I was scared that you wouldn’t return my feelings and it would just ruin everything and then I ended up ruining it anyway.”

Jamie shook her head. She trailed her hand down Dani’s arm before linking their fingers together and tugging Dani over to the stools at the island. They both hopped up, facing each other directly. Jamie took both of Dani’s hands and grasped them tightly, resting them on her lap.

“Poppins you didn’t ruin anything. Truth is I drove around for an hour and came right back. Just didn’t feel right to be without you.” Jamie shrugged. “Owen and Hannah were nice enough to let me crash on their couch. But these feelings…I’d say we’re long overdue for a chat about them, aren’t we?”

Dani felt her heart start pounding wildly in her chest, but she nodded in agreement. They were well passed overdue.

“Dani when I said I…as I was pulling out…I didn’t say it just to try and twist the knife or anything.” Jamie looked nervous, and Dani realized that outside of her outpouring of emotion the previous night, Jamie had probably never uttered those words to anyone, ever. She squeezed Jamie’s hands reassuringly. “Truth is, I’ve had a thing for ya basically since we met. After that first night at the bar I went home and all I could think about was you. Dani fucking Clayton and her incredible blue eyes and habit of rambling when nervous…it’s all I could think about.”

“My heart started doing this thing,” Dani confessed, “whenever you would do- well anything, really- it would stutter a beat or two. It would stutter and I’d go breathless and it took me forever to realize that it was because I had a crush on you.” Dani blushed as she said it, feeling like she was back in middle school talking about her crushes with friends on the schoolyard. Jamie didn’t seem to mind though; she was beaming extraordinarily.

“Somewhere along the line it became more than crush,” Dani continued. “Way more. I should have told you sooner, I know that.”

“I think it’s already been established that we’re shite at communication,” Jamie laughed. She pulled one of Dani’s hands up and kissed her knuckles. “Dani I’ve never…felt…ya know, these things…” Jamie sighed. “I don’t know what love is supposed to feel like,” she said finally. “But what I do know is that when I’m with you I feel better, lighter. I feel stronger and happier. You bring out the best in me, and I know that I can’t stand it when I’m not with you. Getting to pretend with you, these last few days, has just solidified things for me. I’m in love with you, Poppins.”

“I’m not good with feelings either,” Dani smiled. “But I think I’ve been in love with you for a while. I’ve just been too scared to admit it. I love you too, Jamie.”

They both leaned in again, and it was a bit of a disaster of a kiss, honestly. They were both smiling too big, both laughing too much. But Dani thought this was how she wanted to spend the rest of her time- kissing Jamie. Disaster or not, all she wanted was to be able to keep kissing Jamie for as long as she wanted.

“I wish I had told you sooner,” Dani panted between kisses. “We could’ve had months together already.”

“Yeah, well, we’re both idiots apparently,” Jamie grinned. “Becca wasted no time in telling me that when I called her from the road.”

Dani’s eyes widened. “You called Becs…but Jamie the time difference!”

“Yup. We’re gonna owe her a really nice gift upon our return now.”

“We?” Dani demanded. “Jamie…that was all you! You can’t drag me into this.”

“Hey Poppins, the call was about you, so you’re kinda involved. And also…we’re in all this together now, aren’t we? That’s what being a couple is right?” Suddenly Jamie looked nervous. “I mean…if you’ll have me. I shouldn’t have assumed. Don’t feel like you owe me anything, but I mean, if you wanted, I’d love to date ya Poppins.”

“I’d love to date you too.”

“So that means you’re officially my girlfriend now? No more fake label on it?” Dani nodded, and Jamie’s smile was breathtaking. “I should warn you I have no idea what I’m doing with the whole relationship thing. Haven’t had much practice.”

“Neither have I.” Dani shrugged. “I would say, though, based on the last week you’re pretty good at it.”

“The physical stuff I fucking have on point.” It made Dani blush, recalling their night together. Jamie definitely was an expert when it came to the physical stuff. “But the emotional stuff…yeah I’m a fucking idiot. Which, again, I think has already been established.”

“Then we’ll figure it out together. I think we’ll be able to.”

“You promise?” Jamie smiled her adorable crooked smile, and Dani couldn’t resist giving her another quick kiss. She rested her forehead against Jamie’s.

“I promise.”

***

Jamie would have liked nothing better than to drag Dani up to her bedroom and spend the rest of the day locked away together. She had forgotten, of course, that it was Christmas morning.

Dani insisted they both change into the matching festive onesies they had bought before leaving for the west coast. At the time it had seemed like a good idea to Jamie- yet another trick up their sleeve to freak out Karen. When it came time to put the idea into motion, however, Jamie found herself balking.

“I’m going to look ridiculous, Poppins. When we bought them I didn’t think we’d actually be wearing them. Oh come on, don’t pout at me I’m a grown ass woman I do not wear onesies.”

Dani had, obviously, won the debate in the end. Jamie had always been a sucker for that blue eyed pout, even before she admitted her feelings. She was glad for it, too, after she saw Dani in the onesie. The blonde looked absolutely adorable, and Jamie would have liked nothing better than to pull Dani into a deep kiss and drag her to the bed and slowly peel off the outfit little by little and…

A knock sounded on the door to Dani’s room. Jamie swallowed hard, trying to get some moisture back into her mouth.

“The kids are starting to wake up!” Viola’s muffled voice came through the door. “Stop canoodling and hurry downstairs so you can see their reactions!”

Dani, naturally, raced downstairs at that.

It turned out to be a much different Christmas morning than anything Jamie had ever experienced before. The three kids went absolutely mental at the sight of the presents underneath the tree. They took in everything from the remaining cookie crumbs to the footprints Santa had left on the hearth to the overflowing stockings with a wide eyed delight that made even Jamie smile. The adults milled around, watching the kids’ excitement, with the same puffy eyed expressions. Nobody seemed to care about being in their pajamas or having messy hair. Jamie took over the tea making for the morning, and everyone accepted their drinks gratefully.

Eventually the manic pace of the morning gave way to slightly calmer excitement. Gifts were exchanged and peels of crazed laughter gave way to lighter conversation as the kids played with their new toys. Jamie found a seat in an armchair and was delighted when Dani settled on her lap. Dani’s enthusiasm for Christmas was almost at the same level as the children, and Jamie couldn’t resist placing several kisses to the back of Dani’s shoulder.

She could get used to this, Jamie thought. Even if Karen was ignoring looking in their direction at all costs, it felt more like being in the presence of a family than anything Jamie had ever experienced. Something had changed, for the better, with Dani and Viola, and Arthur was acting like a goofy older brother. Jamie thought she’d be okay spending all her future Christmases like this one, and the idea wasn’t as terrifying as she thought it probably should be. Instead of making her insides squirm with dread, the thought filled her with excitement.

Jamie’s thoughts drifted to the scrap of paper, still in the pocket of her jeans, with her brother’s info on it. She wondered if it was worth it to look him up.

Maybe he already had established a new family, and already got to experience holidays like this. Jamie wondered if he’d even want his past barging in on him and potentially messing everything up.

Jamie was startled a bit when a hand squeezed her shoulder. Arthur was grinning down at her, holding out a pristinely wrapped box.

“From Viola and I. Dani mentioned how much you like listening to music when you garden, so we thought these might come in handy.”

And Jamie had never purchased expensive ear buds before, had never thought spending the money would be worth it. But that didn’t mean she had never wanted a pair, and she couldn’t believe that Viola of all people would get her something so expensive and so appreciated. Jamie looked to where Viola was sitting on the floor, playing with Izzy. The dark haired woman looked up, meeting her gaze, and smiled. And goddammit if it didn’t feel sisterly.

Dani and Jamie had already agreed that they wouldn’t spend too much money on each other. Neither loved the commercial nature of Christmas, and neither had much extra in the way of funds, when it came right down to it. But Jamie still hadn’t been able to resist getting Dani a new charm for the bracelet she always wore. And when Jamie tore the wrapping paper off her own gift and opened the box inside, she couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed.

Over the summer, in their fit of celebrating Becca’s liberation from Peter, the three roommates had decided to take an impromptu road trip to New York. They had partaken in all manner of typical touristy delights, and the picture Becca had snapped of Dani on hopping on Jamie’s back atop the Empire State building, both of them wearing I heart New York t-shirts and grinning madly, had become a secret favourite of Jamie’s. To see it printed off and framed made Jamie’s heart clench in the best way.

“You’re the best, d’ya know that?” Jamie asked. She revelled in the soft smile that graced Dani’s lips. “I love you.” Jamie’s heart did backflips every time she said it.

“I love you too.”

***

By the end of the day, Jamie was truly exhausted. She also felt like she had gained about twenty pounds. When she groaned that to Dani, after flopping down face first on her bed, Dani had just laughed.

“No one made you keep eating, you know.”

Jamie turned her head sideways, looking at her friend…girlfriend. “Two free homemade meals in one day…who in their right mind would turn that down?”

And it was accurate. Lunch with Hannah and Owen had been absolute mouth-watering. The food was delicious and the wine was perfectly paired and the laughter abounded. Jamie couldn’t believe the foursome had come together as friends so easily and quickly, but that’s exactly what happened. Jamie hadn’t been able to resist sneaking seconds, and then when Owen produced dessert as well Jamie had been all over it.

Her belt had already felt a bit tight by the time they had the traditional festive turkey dinner at Karen’s just a few short hours later. Again, Jamie wasn’t going to leave anything un-tasted. Though the food was definitely a notch below Owen’s in terms of quality, there was something about the family setting that made Jamie stuff her face even more. She had been sitting between Dani and Flora, making both of them laugh as she played with her food. Perhaps not the most adult thing she had ever done, but the sound of their laughter was music to her ears.

“Well I hope you still have some energy left,” Dani said as she came to lie down beside Jamie, “because we agreed to hangout by the pool after the kids were asleep.

Jamie pouted. “But I agreed to that when I was distracted by food and high on life. Don’t make me Poppins. Just let me lie here and suffer from my food coma.”

Dani’s smile was light as she reached out and pulled Jamie in for a kiss. A thrill went through Jamie at the realization that they could do that whenever they wanted, couldn’t they? They didn’t need to wait for an audience to show affection anymore. She could hug Dani, kiss Dani, hold Dani’s hand whenever she wanted. The realization gave Jamie a burst of energy, and she couldn’t resist crawling on top of Dani, straddling the blonde’s hips.

“You’re beautiful,” Jamie said, gazing down at Dani. Her hair was fanned out on the pillow behind her, and her lips and cheeks were pink from their kisses. Jamie’s comment made Dani’s blush grow slightly deeper.

“Look who’s talking,” Dani returned. “You’re pretty beautiful yourself.”

Jamie felt like her smile was threatening to get stuck, it was so huge. She leaned down again. Dani accepted the kiss easily, and it didn’t take long for it to get more heated. Jamie felt Dani’s hands trailing down her back and then over her jeans. She couldn’t resist the moan that escaped when Dani squeezed.

“Never took you for an ass girl, Poppins,” Jamie teased as she kissed down the length of Dani’s throat.

“Never knew I was until you came along.”

Jamie tugged at the collar of Dani’s jumper, tugging it down as much as possible. She nipped at the skin of Dani’s collarbone, relishing in the soft sigh Dani let out.

“I’ve always been a boob girl,” Jamie said bluntly. She bit at Dani’s skin again. “Which is why I really need you out of this blasted jumper so I can revel in their beauty.”

Half laughing, Dani sat up, almost throwing Jamie off in her haste. Dani’s hands went to the bottom of the sweater and Jamie joined in, fully intending to rid Dani of the offensive garment and bury her face in Dani’s chest, lavishing it with all the kisses she deserved. Slowly, agonizingly slow, she helped drag the shirt over Dani’s torso.

“Hey, you guys didn’t forget about…oh shit sorry!”

The door, briefly open, slammed shut again. Both Jamie and Dani’s heads had whipped around to wear Arthur had been standing, only to promptly cover his heads and whip out of the room. Dani started giggling, and it didn’t take Jamie long to join in.

“Are they ready Arthur?” Jamie could hear Arthur trying to come up with something, but only succeeding in bumbling further. A few seconds later there was a sharp rap at the door. “You overly stimulated ladies have five minutes to change and meet us at the pool,” Viola ordered, “otherwise I will wake up the kids and tell them Auntie Dani and Jamie want a sleepover tonight.”

Jamie looked at Dani in horror. “She wouldn’t, would she?” Jamie did not, under any circumstances, want to share her bed with three kids that night. She had big plans for Dani.

“I think she would,” Dani nodded. Reluctantly, Jamie got off Dani’s lap. She groaned dramatically. “Don’t worry. I’ve got big plans for you later.” 

All in all, it wasn’t the worst ending to the day. The adults were drinking around and in the pool, they were playing Christmas music loudly on a Bluetooth speaker and singing along terribly, and Dani had even convinced Jamie to get into the water. Jamie did on two conditions; first she was staying where her head would be above the water, and secondly she told Dani she had to hold onto her the entire time. That had been a condition which Dani had been able to execute enthusiastically.

Owen had even cannonballed over the fence after a bit, wanting to join in on the fun. Hannah had taken the more traditional route through a gate, and she threw her beau a half exasperated half loving look as she joined them. Owen spent the night making Christmas related puns and trying to goad Dani and Jamie into a game of chicken.

It felt different, being able to touch Dani without the pressure of convincing everyone they were in a relationship. Jamie felt freer to simply act and react rather than plotting out each and every touch and interaction. She also found it difficult to keep her hands off Dani. It was a sentiment the blonde seemed to return. They were sitting on the stairs to the pool, Jamie sitting sideways on Dani’s lap, and Dani had been letting her hands roam into dangerous territory with so many people around. The third time Dani teasingly grazed the underside of Jamie’s bandeau top, Jamie had to grab Dani’s hand and bring it down.

“Easy there, Poppins,” she warned. “You keep that up and I won’t be able to control myself.”

Dani gave her a look. “And that would be a problem how?” she laughed. Even down lower, under the cover of water, Dani’s hands wandered. Jamie felt them now grazing her inner thigh. “Is it always like this?”

“What?” Jamie questioned.

“The overwhelming need to spend every second touching you now that I know I’m allowed to.”

Jamie grinned. She swept some wet strands of hair back behind Dani’s ear. “I wouldn’t know. What I can tell you is that the feeling is mutual.”

Even with everyone else around them, it felt like a private enough moment that Jamie couldn’t resist capturing Dani’s lips. Dani didn’t waste any time in granting Jamie’s tongue entrance, and the feeling of their tongues caressing made Jamie start to ache with want. She felt Dani’s wandering hands sneak every so subtly up underneath her board shorts, creeping up ever so slightly higher.

Mindful that they weren’t in complete private behind locked doors, Jamie reluctantly pulled back from Dani. Dani pouted naturally, chasing Jamie’s lips. It made Jamie chuckle.

“Be patient,” she whispered, letting her lips graze the shell of Dani’s ear as she did so. She felt Dani’s shiver run through her body. “We’ll give it ten minutes. Then we’ll make our leave.”

Dani whined. “Ten minutes?” Her lips found Jamie’s jaw. “I can’t make it ten minutes.”

“Fine then,” Jamie laughed. “We’ll make it five.”

Jamie looked around at everyone laughing and having fun. It was a fun ending to the excitement filled day, but the one person who seemed to not be letting themselves loose was Karen. She was watching Jamie and Dani with a slight frown on her face. Dani must have noticed Jamie tense. She followed Jamie’s gaze and she heard her girlfriend sigh.

“D’ya think she’ll ever be okay with us?” Jamie asked. It was a question she somewhat dreaded the answer to. Their pre-dawn reunion had been the stuff of movie scripts…but there was still so much to work out, so much they hadn’t talked about yet.

“I don’t know,” Dani said. “But I guess I don’t really care.” Jamie looked at the blonde in surprise. Dani looked a bit sad, but overall she just looked at ease. “It’s her choice. If I can start rebuilding my relationship with Viola, then I can also bring myself to try rebuilding my relationship with mom. But it has to be her choice. I’m not changing anything about myself or about my relationship with you. If mom wants to try to figure everything out then we can…but it’s got to be up to her to make the first move.”

Jamie kissed Dani’s cheek. “I’ll be with you every step of the way. Whatever decisions are made, I’ve got your back Poppins.”

“I know you do,” Dani smiled.

Dani leaned in and kissed her again, and Jamie couldn’t recall the last time she had felt so moved by the spirit of the holidays. Best Christmas ever, she smiled to herself.

Chapter Text

Falling into a genuine relationship with Jamie turned out to be both easier and far more difficult than what Dani had expected.

In some ways, it was easy- beyond easy at that. Nothing really had changed from their friendship, except that Dani felt absolutely no need to clamp down on any urges to hold Jamie’s hand or kiss her whenever she wanted. They still laughed together, and Dani still managed to convince Jamie to go Boxing Day shopping with her even Jamie detested the crowds. In some ways, everything felt exactly the same between the two of them, if not a little bit more intimate than previously.

In other ways, however, their fresh five day old relationship terrified and frustrated Dani more than anything else ever had. They hadn’t yet had any deep discussions about expectations or how things would go when they returned to Pittsburgh. Dani was worried, too, by the simplicity of it all. She didn’t trust that something so good could happen so quickly or naturally. She didn’t trust that the lines between friendship and something more could blur and then disappear altogether without more fuss.

Most of all, Dani was terrified that she was going to find some way to screw up the best thing in her life.

Jamie didn’t have the best track record- or any track record, to be honest- with dating. Dani had had a grand total of one serious relationship in her life, and for the vast majority of it she had been pretending to be someone she wasn’t. Dani and Jamie had finally been brought together, and Dani was worried their combined lack of dating knowledge would finish things off before they even got a chance to flourish. Dani had briefly brought up those fears to Jamie. The night was growing dark and Dani had Jamie in her arms and whispered her fears as they were both drifting off to sleep. Jamie had simply grinned at her with that lopsided smile.

“One day at a time, Poppins,” she had said. “Let’s just take it one day at a time. We don’t have to figure everything out this instant. Isn’t it enough to know that we have feelings for each other and we’re giving it a go?”

And it was enough, in some ways. In most ways it was enough, actually. But her tendency to fall into anxious, nervous habits was creeping up and Dani again. Dani was truly, deeply, beyond happy. And she just didn’t trust it. It wasn’t usual for her to be so happy without having the other shoe drop.

Jamie, on the other hand, had seemed positively buoyant since Christmas Day. Dani had never seen her so smiley or heard her laugh so much. She seemed to always want to be near to Dani in some way, which Dani had absolutely zero complaints about. Jamie’s happiness did help ease Dani’s anxieties a little bit. Maybe, like Jamie had said, it really was as simple as the two of them loving each other and taking things one day at a time.

At the moment, however, Dani was having a hard enough time taking things one minute at a time.

It was Owen who suggested that the adults have a bit of pre New Year’s fun. Everyone had rather reserved family based plans for New Year’s Eve, so Owen posited that the adults could go out the day before and have some decidedly non-PG fun. Everyone readily agreed, and Dani felt confident in extending the invitation to Viola- who did genuinely seem to want to make amends with Dani- and Arthur as well. Dani assumed it would be a great night out, getting drunk, and having fun with her friends.

What Dani hadn’t banked on was Jamie coming out of the washroom wearing one of the shortest, tightest black dresses Dani had ever seen.

It should have been illegal, really.

Dani loved Jamie’s style- the overalls, the men’s trousers, the flannels…it all did something for Dani. Something she very much loved. But she had never seen Jamie wear a dress before and the sight made Dani freeze where she was, staring, eyes taking in every inch of her girlfriend.

“You’re drooling a bit, Poppins,” Jamie laughed. Dani immediately shut her gaping mouth. “Guess this was an okay decision after all.”

Dani nodded dumbly. “Very okay,” she said. “The best, really.”

Jamie stepped closer to Dani, and Dani automatically reached out, tugging the brunette closer. Their kiss was instantly hot, bruising. Dani moaned into it, loving the feeling of Jamie’s tongue against her own. It was easy for Dani to slide her hands down from Jamie’s hips, to toy with the bottom edge of the dress, to slowly inch it higher…

A pair of hands stopped Dani’s, and she whined. It was a keening noise of frustration in Dani’s throat, and it made Jamie chuckle roughly.

“Patience, love,” she whispered. “I spent far too long getting into this fucking dress for you to take it off of me so quickly.”

Jamie stepped back. She looked far too cocky considering the aching, simpering mess that she had so easily turned Dani into.

“We have a wild night ahead of us.” Jamie reached out her hand to Dani. “And this is the only fucking time you’ll ever see me in a dress, so I want you to get the full experience.”

Of course, the more alcohol that made its way into Dani’s system, the more trouble she had keeping her eyes- and hands- off of Jamie.

The six of them started off at a regular college bar. It was busy and raucous and some big football game was playing on all the screens. It was only fair, Owen decreed as he came back to their table carrying the first round of drinks, that they all take turns buying rounds. He and Hannah started off innocently enough with beer, but when it was Jamie’s turn she returned with shots for everyone, stating that she wanted to get the show on the road. Dani could’ve sworn Jamie was smirking right at her when she took her shot.

It wasn’t until Jamie challenged Arthur to a game of pool that Dani realized just how truly fucked she was. She had never thought of herself as having any sort of want or desire to be dominating. Even her new experiences with Jamie hadn’t given Dani any sort of further insight into whether that side of herself actually existed. Dani didn’t think that she was an aggressive lover by any stretch of the imagination.

But then Jamie started playing pool. She started leaning over to line up her shots and Dani’s mouth went bone dry. The bottom of Jamie’s dress rode up every time she bowed forward, and the sight filled Dani with the urge to stalk up behind her girlfriend and bend her over the pool table. She wanted Jamie to bend Jamie over and fuck her from behind and every single shot Jamie took the sight of her amazing ass made Dani grip her bottle even tighter. She shifted on her stool. She crossed her legs, trying to tamp down on the flow of heat that was suddenly flooding her center. Was Jamie doing it on purpose? Did she know how badly Dani wanted to grab her from behind, forcing her over, to push her hips into Jamie from behind, to…

“You’re drooling.”

Dani snapped her jaw shut and scowled at Viola’s teasing words. It was the second time in a matter of hours that someone accused Dani of drooling at the sight of the gardener and she didn’t find it particularly fair. How else was she supposed to deal with Jamie looking like that for hours in public and not be able to do anything about it?

“I’m going to get the next round. Any special requests?”

Dani didn’t really for anyone to answer. She simply hopped off her stool and scrambled up to the bar, ignoring Hannah and Viola’s knowing looks. Dani ordered an extra shot for herself and downed it while waiting for the bartender to pour all their drinks. She had been hoping it would take the extra edge off, but if anything it did the opposite. The alcohol scorched Dani’s throat. It made her burn even hotter, made her want Jamie even more intently.

“You look a little stressed out there, Poppins.” Jamie was suddenly beside her. Dani’s eyes zeroed in on the cleavage readily available, and she cursed herself for her lack of subtlety. “Anything I can help with?”

“Stop being so smug,” Dani complained. Her words were slurring slightly. She knew she was already quite drunk, both due to the alcohol and Jamie’s intoxicating presence. “You’re the one at fault here.”

An eyebrow lifted and it was somehow attractive too. “Am I now?”

“Yes.” Dani was resolute. “You know what you’re doing, bending over and letting this dress…this frigging dress…ride up so I can practically see what’s underneath.”

“How do you know there’s anything underneath?”

Fuck.

Jamie moved closer. With the way she looking at Dani, it didn’t take any persuasion at all for Dani to close the distance and capture her lips. She didn’t care that they were in public, didn’t care that their friends were only a short distance away. All Dani cared about was kissing Jamie, and slowly sliding her hands over every curve until they hit the bare skin of Jamie’s thighs.

It was the awkward cough of the bartender that finally broke them apart. Dani stepped back from Jamie sheepishly, not being able to meet the man’s eyes as she picked up the glasses she could carry. Jamie, on the other hand, looked entirely too pleased with herself and even winked at the bartender as they made their getaway. Dani’s face flushed. She had never before seen any merit to public bathroom sex, but she was getting a little desperate.

“Took a while,” Owen commented when the pair returned with the drinks. His eyes were sparkling with mirth. “Was it busy at the bar?”

“Either that or there was something utterly distracting going on,” Hannah suggested with a laugh.

“Shut up,” Dani grumbled. “Not my fault.”

Jamie, luckily, did not subject Dani to another game of pool. Dani didn’t think she’d be able to take it again. It was almost worse though, her staying at the table. Jamie sat a little too close and leaned forward a little too far. It was far too easy for Dani’s gaze to sneak sideways and glimpse down the front of Jamie’s dress. She tried not to, but it was almost impossible. The crooked smirk Jamie wore made Dani think it was being done on purpose.

Two can play at that game, Dani thought.

She waited until Jamie was distracted, half laughing and half groaning at one of Owen’s puns. Then she slipped her hand onto the smooth skin of Jamie’s inner thigh. Jamie faltered a bit at the contact, but she stayed in the conversation. Biting the inside of her cheek to keep from grinning, Dani started drawing tiny designs on Jamie’s thigh, working her way steadily upward. Jamie’s legs seemed to fall open in invitation, one which Dani readily accepted. The higher her touch crept, the more she could feel Jamie’s heat. It was an intoxicating feeling. Was Dani brave enough to move her touch even higher when they were in public? While they were sitting with four other people and only the table to protect them from prying eyes?

One of the football teams scored a touchdown and everyone in the bar cheered, startling Dani. She flinched, and her hand slipped a little too far up too quickly. Jamie choked on her drink, cheeks burning red, and Dani pulled her hand back like she had just been burned. Her heart was racing.

Jamie leaned sideways to whisper in Dani’s ear. “You are going to pay for that later,” she said lowly, under her breath.

Instead of being intimidating, it made Dani shiver in anticipation. What was getting into her?

“We should go dancing!” Owen said suddenly. “Let’s hit a club!”

Dani pictured herself on the dance floor with Jamie, grinding into her girlfriend while holding her hands just a little too low on Jamie’s back, a little too close to the bottom of Jamie’s dress…

Dani nodded eagerly.

“I haven’t been to a club in ages,” Viola commented as they went outside to catch an Uber. “I feel like I’m too old for the club scene.”

“You’re not old, babe,” Arthur slurred drunkenly. “We just became boring after becoming parents, that’s all.”

Viola looked so genuinely offended that Dani started giggling uncontrollably and couldn’t stop.

***

Dani had lost count of the number of drinks she had consumed throughout the night. She was vaguely aware that she was matching Jamie shot for shot- a dangerous proposition when it came to the British woman- but she didn’t really care. She was too happy to be drunk. Or something like that, at least.

Dani’s world had narrowed to the beautiful woman she had finally convinced to join her on the dance floor. The way Jamie’s hips ground into her own as the music pounded made Dani’s head spin. When Jamie encouraged Dani to cup her ass with her hands Dani’s vision swam. Jamie’s lips and teeth and tongue were devouring Dani’s neck and when Jamie slotted a thigh between her own Dani moaned breathlessly. She didn’t think Jamie could hear her over the pounding bass so she squeezed Jamie’s backside a little roughly. Jamie’s teeth dug into her shoulder and Dani thought she might be able to come right there on the dance floor.

Gone were any of Dani’s inhibitions. Gone were her concerns that she was too happy too quickly. Gone were any reservations she might have had about crossing the PDA line in public. The alcohol helped, certainly, but mostly it was Jamie.

Jamie and that amazing dress.

Jamie and the way she freed Dani, made her ache with want, made her burn with desire.

The alcohol coursing through her veins only amplified the want, only made her bolder to act out on exactly what she wanted. She slipped her fingertips under the hem of Jamie’s dress, knowing the flashing strobe lights in the club and the packed nature of the dance floor camouflaged her actions. She kissed Jamie, roughly, messily, dirtily.

The things Dani wanted to do to her girlfriend…

“When we get home,” Dani growled loudly into Jamie’s ear, “I am going to fuck you so hard you’re going to forget your own name.”

Sober Dani would have blushed at that. Sober Dani would have blushed and cringed and shied away from the words. Sober Dani would have apologized immediately for being so crass.

Drunk and horny Dani, however, revelled in the way Jamie’s eyes darkened at the words. Drunk Dani loved being in charge.

***

Jamie woke up with a pounding head and a mouth as dry as cotton. She cracked open her eyes, grateful that the room was still dark. She didn’t think bright light would go well with her roiling stomach. Taking a few deep breaths, Jamie tried to relax to calm her stomach. She never minded yarking while drinking (who did, really) but the morning after was the worst. Eventually Jamie felt a bit more settled. She turned her head to look at her bedmate, and it brought a smile to her chapped lips.

Dani was spread out on her stomach with limbs splayed in all directions like a starfish. Her hair was a wild, tangled mess, and a darkened spot graced the pillow where she had drooled during the night. It shouldn’t have been so endearing to Jamie, but it really was.

“Hey Poppins,” she whispered, wanting to see if her girlfriend was anywhere near ready to join the land of the living. “Poppins, you awake?”

Clearly, Dani was still well and truly out. Jamie flashed back to the previous night- it was more difficult to skip past their bedroom activities than it should have been- and recalled how much Dani had had to drink. Jamie winced. If she was feeling truly terrible, then Dani would definitely wake up feeling like she had been run over by a freight train. Dani never had been able to hold her liquor as well as Jamie, and the blonde had matched her pretty much drink for drink.

As loathe as she was to leave the bed and the company, Jamie made herself get up. A wave of nausea hit her when she first stood, but it passed after a minute of standing completely motionless. Jamie threw on some shorts and an old flannel and made her way into the bathroom.

Feeling vaguely more human after brushing her teeth, washing her face, and popping a couple Advil, Jamie kissed Dani delicately on the forehead before making her way downstairs. She thought a brew would help with her hangover quite nicely, and she wanted to get some water and crackers for Dani as well. The house was completely silent, and Jamie thanked her lucky stars that no one else had attempted to make tea or coffee yet. There were times she could struggle her way through drinking a disgusting brew.

Dealing with a hangover was not one of those times.

Jamie went through her actions fairly mindlessly with a smile playing at her lips. Her mind was filled with Dani. Dani, Dani, all Dani. It filled Jamie’s with so much happiness and lightness. Jamie had heard plenty about the honeymoon stage of relationships, and while Dani seemed incredibly uptight about what would happen when that stage ended, Jamie found she wasn’t concerned at all. Part of it, surely, was just because that was how Jamie was. She didn’t let herself get overly concerned about the future.

But part of it was because she knew how perfectly she and Dani fit together. Since the very beginning, when they had first met, everything about the two of them simply worked. They worked as friends, they worked as roommates, and it seemed that they worked incredibly well as girlfriends. And yes, they were extremely compatible in bed. That wasn’t a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly was an added bonus.

Jamie always preferred to take things one day at a time. The thought of every single one of those days being spent with Dani made Jamie feel warm all over. Jamie didn’t think she’d ever want it any other way.

“Did you propose to my daughter?”

“Jesus fuck.” Startled, Jamie choked on her freshly brewed tea. She turned to see Karen sitting at the kitchen island. Jamie had no idea how she had missed the woman. Though, it was dimly lit. And she was hungover. And she was distracted by thoughts of Dani. Okay, maybe she could see how she could have missed the woman. “Excuse me?”

“Did you propose to my daughter?” Karen’s tone was steely.

Though Jamie was decently confused, she sensed that whatever Karen was on about, she really didn’t want to give the woman the satisfaction of a quick and straightforward answer to her question. Jamie could be a little shit like that, she knew it.

“What makes you ask that?” Jamie asked casually, raising her steaming mug to her lips and taking a sip.

“Something seems…different about the two of you.” Karen frowned. “Since Christmas? I’m not sure when, exactly, but something seems like it’s changed.”

Jamie was vaguely surprised. Considering Karen spent most of her days spiking her coffee and resenting her youngest daughter, apparently she was more perceptive than Jamie gave her credit for. Maybe there was some actual brainpower living behind the permanent scowl.

“I’d like to know, as her mother. If you proposed without my permission then I…”

“Your permission?” Jamie laughed, incredulously. “You think I would ever ask for your permission to marry your daughter? Aside from the fact that Dani is her own fucking person and not your property, why on earth would I care what you think? You clearly don’t give a damn about her if she isn’t doing exactly what you want her to be doing.”

Karen looked vaguely contrite, but only the smallest touch. “She’s my daughter. I would want to…she’s still my daughter!” She sounded vaguely whiny, like a pouting child.

“Then start treating her like it,” Jamie said. “Parents are supposed to love their children unconditionally. It shouldn’t matter whether Dani is a lawyer or a teacher. It shouldn’t matter the gender of the person she falls in love with. If you’re still her mother, then act like it. You don’t get to choose when to love or not to love you child. That’s not how it works.”

Jamie gathered up the rest of the items she was looking for and sauntered past Karen on her way back upstairs. She paused at the edge of the kitchen, looking back at the woman over her shoulder.

“For the record, I didn’t propose to Dani. But someday, I probably will.” Jamie was amazed at how right saying those words felt. They were completely truthful. “And Dani would probably be tickled pink about you being at the wedding. But make no mistake; if you don’t accept her, if you can’t love her…then you won’t be there. Dani’s happy, and that’s all that should matter. So figure it out.”

Jamie made her way back up to her sleeping girlfriend. When she entered the room, Dani was stirring a bit, groaning pitifully. She rushed over to the bedside.

“Hey, hey it’s all good. You’re all good Poppins.” She stroked Dani’s hair back from her face as the blonde sat up.

“The hell happened last night?” Dani mumbled. “Feel terrible.”

“I don’t doubt it. I’ve got some nice cold water for you, it will help…”

Dani shook her head. “Need to throw up. Now.”

Jamie never thought that holding someone’s hair back while they were sick as a dog in the toilet could feel so domestic. But it did. She helped Dani into the shower, helped her rinse off the hangover as best she could. She washed Dani’s hair, revelling in the way Dani relaxed into her touch and trusted her care so completely. This was a different level of intimacy, Jamie thought. There wasn’t anything sexual about it, but it still felt so good, so deeply personal. Jamie loved it. She wanted to take care of Dani, and vice versa, for the rest of her life.

***

Cosmic bowling was apparently the Clayton family’s New Year’s Eve tradition. The kids were beyond hyped about it, and Jamie was initially confused when Dani told her to wear a white tank under her plaid shirt. She understood when the black lights made everything glow.

“I look like a fucking lightbulb,” she complained. “At least I know I’m taking good care of my teeth.”

Karen had booked two lanes, and Dani swiftly negotiated their way onto the lane with the kids. When Jamie saw the bumpers being deployed she couldn’t help but laugh at her crafty girlfriend.

“Poppins, you cheat,” Jamie smirked. Dani smiled bashfully and Jamie couldn’t resist kissing her softly.

As it turned out, Dani was absolutely terrible at bowling even with the bumpers. Jamie had never actually seen someone get a gutter ball with bumpers in play, but Dani had managed it at least seven times. Even little Izzy, the youngest of the group and barely able to get the ball down the entire length of the lane without help, ended up beating Dani in their first game. Jamie, on the other hand…

“You’re supposed to take it easy on the kids, aren’t you?” Arthur laughed from the lane beside after Jamie had thrown her third straight strike.

Jamie shrugged. “Always been a bit competitive, mate. ‘Sides, it’s good for them to experience some pushback in the bowling alley in their early years. Toughens ‘em up.”

Jamie did relent, somewhat, for the second game. She let the kids take turns deciding on which trick shots she should do- backwards, between the legs, spinoramas, eyes closed, hopping like a bunny…anything they could come up with. She also helped Flora and Izzy with their shots, and the tender look on Dani’s face whenever she did made Jamie’s heart skip a beat.

“I think you were always lying whenever you would say that you were scared of kids,” Dani said eventually. Jamie had just sat beside her on the bench, watching Miles try to help his sister.

“They do scare me,” Jamie shrugged. “I don’t have a natural talent for it like you do. If someone handed me a baby I’d have no idea what to do with it. And if you told me I had to teach twenty-five of these things for eight hours a day I’d run for the hills.”

Dani nuzzled into her neck softly. “I don’t think you would. You’re amazing Jamie Taylor.”

“As are you,” Jamie smiled lovingly. “But I do think you’re just a little bit jealous that they’re getting all the help and you’re not.”

“Are you offering?”

The scandalized look on Karen’s face when Jamie helped Dani with her next turn was priceless. Jamie snuggled up against Dani’s back, helping her with her throwing motion. Jamie maybe played it up a little bit. Technically, she didn’t need to run her right hand down the entire length of Dani’s arm while setting up their shot. Maybe she didn’t need to splay her left hand across Dani’s abs. Jamie most likely definitely didn’t need to slot her hips so close against Dani and snuggle in so tight against her back, but the breathless sigh of pleasure from the blonde- and Karen’s eyes bugging out of her head- made it all worth it.

And okay, Dani only knocked half of the pins down, even with Jamie’s help. But the delighted squeal and little dance Dani did afterwards made it all worth it.

“Now it’s time to see how the pros do it,” Jamie bragged. She picked up a ball and promptly threw a strike. She turned and raised her arms above her head to cheer, seeing Dani’s eyes immediately dart down to the skin the move revealed. “Eyes up here Poppins. Don’t want to give everyone a free show, now, do we?”

Dani narrowed her eyes. “You say I’m cheating. But you help me bowl and then wear the world’s shortest top…not fair.”

Jamie laughed. “Patience, Poppins. Later tonight…when all the kids are asleep…I’ll show you the best way to ring in the New Year.”

***

Later on that night they were all gathered in the basement with the biggest TV, watching one of the live New Year’s broadcasts. Viola had tried to get Izzy to go to sleep after watching the Time’s Square one earlier, but the girl insisted on staying up until ‘real’ midnight. She had since fallen asleep on the couch, but the sentiment was there.

They were only minutes away when Henry started passing out flutes of champagne to all the adults. The kids got orange juice, though Miles was eyeing his uncle’s champagne with great interest. Earlier there had been a veritable free for all when it came to everyone trying to claim their noisemakers and party hats. Jamie thought they were apt to wake up the entire neighbourhood.

After bowling there had been pizza, and after pizza there had been board games. The Clayton’s were being their most normal, and Dani looked so happy that in turn it made Jamie happy. That was all she wanted to see.

“What’s your New Year’s wish?” Dani asked, leaning into Jamie’s side.

“If I tell you, it won’t come true,” Jamie smirked. “It’s not like you’re gonna tell me yours.”

Dani shrugged. “It already did come true. On Christmas Day. I got you.”

Jamie’s breath hitched. “Smooth talker,” she laughed. Jamie looked at her phone, noticing how close to midnight it was getting. “Be my New Year’s kiss?”

“Always.” Dani smiled so sweetly that Jamie almost didn’t want to wait for the countdown to start kissing her.

Finally it was the last minute of the year. Flora was sitting on the floor, staring glassy eyed at the screen. Viola was gently coaxing Izzy awake, lifting the girl into her arms so she could ring in the New Year too. Everyone else started getting their noisemakers ready. Jamie saw Dani eyeing her horn with distrust, and it made her chuckle. Yeah, Jamie knew she’d probably break some eardrums with it. She was full of hot air.

The kids didn’t quite make it until the countdown finish before they were already cheering and making noise and shouting ‘Happy New Year’ over and over again. Dani’s laugh was musical, melodic as she took in the scene. When the countdown hit one and the fireworks went off on the TV, Jamie cheered, blowing her noisemaker as loud as she could. And then a pair of hands grabbed her shirt and gave her a tug, and Dani’s lips were on her own.

“Happy New Year Jamie,” Dani whispered between kisses. Her hands had settled on Jamie’s lower back, the thumbs having snuck under Jamie’s shirt and rubbing soft circles into her skin.

“Happy New Year, Poppins,” Jamie returned. She kissed Dani deeply, trying to put all of her feelings and emotions into it. “I love you.”

Dani rested her forehead against Jamie’s. “I love you too.”

And for the first time, Jamie found herself looking more forward to the next year than ever before. For the first time, she found herself anticipating whatever would come over the next twelve months with boundless excitement. She had Dani by her side, and really, that was all that she needed.

***

Dani cried when she hugged Owen and Hannah goodbye. She knew she’d see them again, they had already made tentative plans for the couple to drive out east over the summer, but she was still blubbering dramatically. Even after two weeks she felt so accustomed to their company, to Owen’s terrible puns and amazing baking, and to Hannah’s strong and steady presence and understated sense of humour. Dani was crying so hard, yet somehow still laughing at Owen’s jokes, and she even caught Jamie with a tear in her eyes.

“Jeez Poppins,” she complained, “look what you’re making me do. It’s not like we’ll never see them again!”

“I know I just…I’ll miss them!” And the tears started again.

“Don’t worry Dani,” Owen reassured her, “I’ve given Jamie my cinnamon roll recipe and permission to Skype us whenever you want!”

Dani sniffled, shaking her head. “But she’ll just burn the cinnamon rolls!”

Jamie’s mouth fell open in indignation and Owen’s laugh boomed deeply across the front yard.

Eventually the goodbyes were complete, and Dani had calmed down somewhat. She knew it was ridiculous. As Jamie kept reminding her, real friendships didn’t know any distance. They’d still keep in touch and see each other whenever they could, which everyone promised would be all the time.

“Hell, maybe one day we’ll even move out here,” Jamie had said. Dani raised an eyebrow at her girlfriend. “You’re right, no fucking way I’m dealing with that heat all year round. But it would be nice to live somewhere where my gardens didn’t have to put up with winter.”

Henry and the children had left the day earlier, and Dani had promised Flora profusely that she’d come and visit again. She promised Flora that she wouldn’t forget her, assuaging the young girl’s fear that she kept repeating. Jamie had taken in the whole scene with an adoring smile on her face, and it made Dani blush. When Jamie looked at her like that…well, it was too early to start thinking about buying a ring, anyway. But that look certainly didn’t make Dani want to put the brakes on.

Saying goodbye to Viola was far more difficult than Dani thought it would be. Two days earlier she and Jamie accompanied Viola, Arthur, and Isabel to Disneyland- which Jamie tried her level best to get Dani to delete all photo evidence of their being there- and Dani couldn’t remember the last time she had felt like such an integral part of her sister’s life. They still had their differences, and they definitely still had issues to work through. But they were trying. And it meant the world to Dani. She finally felt like she had a relationship with Arthur, and she was finally getting to know her niece. And she finally felt like Viola was her sister, and not a very strict competitor.

“You’ll keep in touch, right?” Dani asked as she hugged her sister goodbye.

“Of course!” Viola was squeezing her sister reassuringly. “We should try to set up some regular video calls as well…I know Isabel is going to want to see you as much as possible. So will I honestly.”

And then Dani was crying again. So much had changed over the course of the trip. So much had happened, and part of Dani was afraid that leaving would cause everything to reset to the way it had been before the holidays.

But mostly, Dani was just crying due to the ever growing realization that she had people in her life who truly loved her.

Dani could have hugged Viola for an hour. But eventually the sisters broke apart, and Dani watched with amazement as Viola hugged Jamie too. Two weeks ago, Dani would have said that her roommate and her sister would get along like oil and water. Now they were willingly sharing a hug and neither one was trying to suffocate the other. The miracles were unceasing.

Eventually the goodbyes were finished and their bags and suitcases were in the trunk- or boot as Jamie kept insisting- and the two were ready to hit the road. The only person Dani hadn’t said a goodbye to was her mom. But Karen Clayton was standing on the periphery, arms crossed, looking expressionless. Even Edmund, slightly contrite, and Judy had come over to say a brief goodbye. Karen didn’t look like she wanted to. It made Dani’s heart hurt a little bit.

Even that, however, felt different than it used to. Dani’s heart still ached, but it was too full of love to let Karen affect her too much anymore. Dani felt stronger than she ever had.

“Bye mom,” Dani said, deciding to be the bigger person. “Thanks for having us over the holidays.”

“Goodbye Danielle,” Karen whispered.

Dani shared a look with Jamie, sighing. But she got into the passenger side of the rented convertible while Jamie slid in behind the wheel. Jamie started the car, and she hand her hand on the gearshift when Karen called out again.

“Wait!” She jogged up to the car. “Danielle, I…I just want…I don’t want it to be like this between the two of us. I want to do better. I don’t want you to hate me.”

“I don’t hate you mom,” Dani said. “But this is my life. This is who I am. And the judgement hurts. You can either accept who I am or…” Dani shrugged. “I’m realizing I’ve got so many people in my life who love me for me. I’m not going to bend over backwards for your approval anymore.”

Karen shook her head. “You shouldn’t have to. You never should have had to. I’m so sorry, Danielle…Dani.” Karen swallowed hard. “Can we chat on the phone sometimes? And maybe…I mean, you’re always welcome here. Both of you.” Dani stared at her mom, having a hard time believing the words that were coming out of Karen’s mouth. “And maybe, I can come visit you too. See the life you’ve been building.”

“That would be nice, mom,” Dani said quietly. She stepped out of the car and wrapped her arms around her mom, feeling a bit surprised that Karen hugged her back.

“Thank you for coming,” Karen said when Dani pulled away. “I hope you both had a wonderful holiday.”

When they backed out of the drive, Karen stood there, waving to them. She looked vaguely choked up, and it was so unlike her that it shook Dani deeply. She couldn’t forget all the pain and struggle that her mom had put her through. But Dani would love to be able to move forward. Karen had to earn it though. Dani was resolved to make her mom make all the first moves. It was up to her.

Jamie, perhaps sensing that Dani needed some time to collect her thoughts, drove in silence for the first part of the drive. She had one hand on the wheel, one hand stretched across the center console to hold Dani’s. Her thumb stroked softly back and forth against Dani’s skin, and Dani loved how effortlessly natural it felt. And then she realized…

“When you say one day at a time,” Dani began, “it doesn’t mean you’re unsure about our future together does it?”

Jamie grinned beneath her aviators. “Abso-fucking-lutely not. I always take things one day at a time, Poppins. And as long as those days are spent with you, who am I to complain?”

“How many days do you think we’ll get together?”

“Twenty thousand easy,” Jamie said promptly. “As long as you don’t kill me with plane rides first.”

Dani started. “Oh gosh I forgot about that! The past week has been so crazy…Jamie we could have cancelled our flights and drove back, I’m so sorry!”

“It’s all good Poppins. I’m sure you’ll find a way to distract me.” Jamie paused to flip the bird to someone who cut her off at an exit. “Besides, I’ve heard a lot about the mile high club and I’m quite eager to join.”

Dani swatted at Jamie, laughing. She was allowed to be happy, she realized. Dani was allowed to be happy and to be in a loving relationship. Jamie was carefree and in love, and Dani was right there with her. They could be happy together, enjoying whatever came their way and however many days they would get to spend together. And Dani wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m pretty in love with you, Jamie,” Dani smiled.

“I’m pretty in love with you too.” Jamie squeezed her hand. “It’s gonna be fun, Poppins. You’ll. We’ll probably fuck it up in every way imaginable, but we’ll do it together and it’s gonna be fun. Trust me.”

“I do trust you. Completely.”

Chapter Text

Two Years Later

It was full on dark by the time Jamie pulled their old Range Rover into the driveway. Dani, who had been fidgeting and practically straining at her seatbelt for the last thirty minutes of the drive almost cheered in relief.

“Oh thank god,” she groaned, “I’ve had to pee so badly!”

Jamie chuckled. “Well maybe if someone hadn’t insisted on turning left off the interstate when it was clearly right…” Dani looked at her sheepishly. “I mean, we have two phones and a GPS- how the hell did that even happen?”

“I was a bit distracted! It was noisy and I just missed the directions…”

“I can’t believe I agreed to drive all the way across the country with a bad back and that bozo constantly bark- ooph,” Jamie grunted as forty pounds of hyperactive mutt jumped on her head. “Bloody hell, get down you idiot!”

“Don’t be mean!” Dani laughed. She tugged the rescue pup into her lap and started mushing him. “Mommy doesn’t mean it, don’t listen to her buddy, she’s just a little grumpy ‘cause she got lost.”

I got lost?” Jamie asked incredulously. But Dani was fully and thoroughly distracted by their mutt at that point. “Figures,” Jamie mumbled. Though she knew that, as much as she pretended to dislike the newest addition to their family, she honestly loved the stupid dog. She’d never admit that, but she was pretty sure Dani knew it anyway.

And even if she wasn’t in love with the stupid dog, she would have been in love with how Dani interacted with him. She was a goner from the start, basically.

-

Jamie was getting used to Dani bringing home nearly dead plants for Jamie to revive and rescue. It had happened already four or five times already. Dani would walk through the door to their apartment, holding a misfortunate potted plant in her hands, looking at Jamie with big, hopeful eyes. She didn’t know how Dani always managed to find them, but it was almost becoming customary. That’s why it didn’t make Jamie suspicious when Dani called her after work to give her a heads up about a rescue she was bringing home. It didn’t make her suspicious at all until her girlfriend walked through the door with one of the weirdest looking, most hyper puppies Jamie had ever seen.

“Poppins- we can’t have a dog!”

“But Jamie, look how sweet he is.” Dani was on her knees and cupped the dog’s face. She peppered kisses into its thick fur. “He needs a good home.”

Jamie looked on incredulously.

“How did this even happen? What possessed you to all of a sudden think- hey we should adopt a bloody dog today?”

“I walk past the shelter every day on my way home and today I decided to go in for once and I saw him and I just fell in love and…”

“We can’t take care of a dog, Poppins.” Jamie tried to speak softly, but firmly. She could already feel the tugs at her heart every single time Dani smiled at the pup. Jamie couldn’t let herself be overpowered. She couldn’t let the adorableness of the woman she loved win out. Not this time.

“We take care of plants,” Dani pointed out.

“Plants are different!” Jamie exclaimed. “They’re not alive for one thing.”

“You always talk about how plants are living things and that people don’t appreciate them or take care of them properly.” Dani was on her feet again, hands on her hips. “Those are your words Jamie.”

“Dani…”

“Please Jamie.” Dani pouted. She brought out the fucking pout. “Please, can’t we try? We’ve been in our own apartment now for almost eight months; I think we’re ready for the next step for our little family.”

Jamie tried to ignore the way her heart fluttered at hearing Dani call them a family. “Can’t we get a cat instead?” she tried weakly.

Dani stepped closer, cupping Jamie’s cheek and stroking the skin softly. “Please baby, can we try? I know we can do it.” Dani kissed her, and if Jamie wasn’t already resigned to her fate by that point that terribly sweet kiss would have done it. “I’ll even let you name him.”

“Fine,” Jamie sighed eventually. “You temptress. But I tell you this; he will not sleep in our bed. No fucking way am I going to let that happen.”

Over the next few days Jamie tried everything she could think of to make Dani regret the decision, but nothing worked. Nothing daunted Dani. Two walks a day didn’t daunt her. Spending the money on vet bills and pet accessories didn’t daunt her- in fact, their first trip to the pet store seemed to exhilarate her. They left nearly broke. Even the stupidest name Jamie could think of for a dog didn’t daunt Dani. Both Dani and the dog fucking loved it, much to Jamie’s exasperation.

That’s how Jamie ended up with a dog in their bed and stealing the covers every single night. A dog named Cheeto.

Her life was truly something.

-

The look on Karen’s face when she opened the front door to see Cheeto pulling on his leash, paws slipping and scrabbling on the stone porch, trying desperately to get inside to the food he smelled was hilarious. It almost made owning a dog worth it.

Almost.

“Cheeto, get down!” Jamie commanded, or at least tried to. “We’ve had him just over a month now and he still doesn’t bloody listen.”

“He listens to me,” Dani sing-songed as she hugged Karen.

“Only because you feed him the leftover bacon from breakfast,” Jamie mumbled, but she was drowned out by the excited shriek of a ten year old girl.

Flora flew down the hallway toward them, grinning widely at the canine. For his part, Cheeto was on his back in an instant, paws in the air, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth and looking like he was experiencing puppy heaven as he soaked up all the belly rubs Flora could offer.

She had grown a lot since the last time Jamie had seen her. She looked terribly adult in a way. Still cute as a button, but also all grown up at the same time. Miles, on the other hand, didn’t appear and was going through what Karen termed the sullenness of an almost teenager. During the last few calls Dani shared with her mom, Karen kept mentioning how all he ever wanted to do was sit around and play video games online with his friends.

“I’m so happy you both could make it out for the holidays again!” Karen gushed. She sounded genuine, and even pulled Jamie in for a tight hug. “I wish I could see you more often, but it’s going to be so nice to have the whole family together for Christmas again!”

It was still weird to Jamie to see Karen actually acting like an engaged and loving parent. She had had her reservations at first, but she was finally slowly starting to get around to trusting that the change was genuine. Even if she still put her foot in her mouth at times, Karen was truly making an effort to be the type of mother she never had been to Dani. And to Jamie also. Karen had even been there for the grand opening of Jamie’s shop.

-

“Wow, this really is something!” Karen walked the aisles of the little flower shop, taking in all the plants. “It looks like you’ve really figured everything out!”

Jamie shrugged. “I know flowers. Business on the other hand…” she shrugged again. “It’ll be hard. Might take a miracle, really.”

“Jamie, stop that!” Dani scolded her. “We’ve already talked about this. You need to stop talking down about yourself. You’re going to do wonderful with this shop, I just know it!”

“I rather agree with my daughter, Jamie,” Karen smiled. “I see no reason to suspect that your business won’t flourish. You’re one of the hardest workers I know.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Jamie mumbled, feeling somewhat sheepish and a bit awkward. “I mean, I’m going to keep doing landscaping on the side too, just in case. It’ll be busy but…I think it will all work.”

Karen stepped forward and pulled Jamie into a hug, surprising her. “It will. I’m very proud of you for this, you know.”

Jamie looked back at her girlfriend, stunned, as Karen walked off, still perusing Jamie’s set up. She knew that Dani and her mom had been working through stuff, but that was the first time Karen had ever interacted so easily with Jamie. It was the first time she had felt, almost, like she was Karen’s daughter too.

“That was, uh, different,” Jamie whispered to Dani. Her brow furrowed. “Didn’t expect any of this…reaction from her, I guess.”

“She’s doing well, Jamie. Really well. She’s even stopped drinking.”

Jamie’s eyebrows rose. “Well then. Guess miracles really can happen.”

Soft lips touched her cheek. “It’s okay if you don’t trust it,” Dani told her. She kissed Jamie again, sliding her arms around Jamie from behind. “She has to earn your forgiveness too, just like she had to earn mine.”

“Has she earned yours?”

Jamie felt Dani’s shrug against her back. “I think so.”

“Then what the hell…I guess she’s earned mine too.” Jamie turned in Dani’s arms. She wrapped her arms around Dani’s neck, leaning in to capture her lips. “I’m still gonna take every chance I can to give her hell though.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Dani grinned. She kissed Jamie again, and Jamie wondered if it was too early to test out the merits of the back room her little shop had.

-

It felt different not being in their own little apartment, but Jamie woke up feeling refreshed. It might have had something to do with Flora asking if she could sleep with Cheeto that night. Jamie all too readily agreed, ignoring Dani’s protests. So even though the setting was different, she felt more awake than she had in a while.

Owen, however, had seemingly made it his life’s goal to scare Jamie witless at least once per vacation. She had come outside in the early hours of the morning to go on a run and capitalize on her energy (she was trying to quit smoking and Viola had her on an entire training program…Jamie hated every second of it and was convinced the smoking was much less likely to kill her) when the cook had snuck up behind her and called her name loudly enough to wake up the entire block. He was only spared from a punch by how excited Jamie was to see him. They hadn’t seen Owen since the end of summer, when he and Hannah travelled east for a week.

It didn’t take much convincing for Dani to agree to an afternoon coffee with their friends. They sat in the backyard, sipping at their drinks and eating cinnamon buns, and Dani couldn’t stop gushing about Hannah’s baby bump.

“Are you getting excited?” Dani asked, exuding more than enough excitement for everyone.

“I am,” Hannah smiled. “Though it’s nothing when compared to someone,” Hannah looked pointedly in Owen’s direction. “I can only imagine the chaos my life will become when he has progeny to teach puns to. He’s way too hyper already.”

“I imagine being kept up ‘til all hours of the night will dampen some of his hyperactivity,” Jamie laughed.

“That’s what you think,” Hannah laughed. “Why don’t you take him to the mall today and see for yourself. I guarantee you he’ll either be sobbing happy tears into a bassinette or buying out their entire stock of baby shoes within five minutes.”

Owen’s beam was easy to see, even from beneath his bushier than ever mustache.

It was good to spend time with their friends again. Jamie and Dani didn’t get to see them near often enough, though they did chat via text or phone almost daily. There was nothing quite like being able to spend time with them in person, though. Sometimes Jamie wondered if Dani would want to move back to California to be closer with them and with her family. Now that Becca had moved out of state as well, there wasn’t really anything holding them to Pennsylvania. Except for Jamie’s shop that she had opened so impulsively without ever considering that their future might not lie in that city…

Jamie tried to tune out her negative thoughts and instead focused on catching up with her friends and downing enough cinnamon rolls to make Viola yell at her later. She thought about the tiny box hidden in her suitcase. Jamie thought of all her secret phone calls to Viola and Becca and Owen, fine tuning all her plans. She thought about the very important question she had planned and what it would feel like if Dani said yes.

Jamie smiled. Suddenly it was easier to laugh with Owen and Hannah again.

-

Jamie was covered in dirt from head to toe. Her back ached. She knew it was too soon to be going back to work, Dani had told her so repeatedly and tried to talk Jamie out of it, but Jamie was too stubborn. She hated her time spent recovering after the crash, hated how all she could think about was her recent ill-fated reunion with her brother. So yeah, she ignored Dani and went back to work. And now she was paying for it dearly.

Jamie tiredly pushed open the door to the apartment. Becs had only been gone for a month, and Jamie and Dani had recently signed a lease on a new place. One month to go…

As she bent down to unlace her boots, Jamie bit her lip to stop from groaning. She probably should’ve kept up with the physiotherapy too, but it was expensive. They had bills and rent to pay, and Jamie felt more useful bringing home money than spending it on something that would heal on its own anyway. Eventually heal at least.

It took a minute for Jamie to realize that Dani was talking to someone. Jamie strained her ears. Was that…Owen?

“Owen seriously, stop laughing! I called you to help me fix this not to laugh at me!”

Jamie couldn’t quite make out the man’s reply, but based on Dani’s groan it must have been one of his god-awful puns.

“Hannah, make him stop.” Jamie smiled despite her pain. She hadn’t talked to Hannah in far too long. “Jamie’s had a rough few months, and now I’m ruining the cake and I haven’t even thought about supper and I just want her to enjoy her birthday!”

Jamie froze. She had been creeping to the kitchen, planning on surprising her girlfriend and friends. But Dani’s words gave her pause. Birthday? Jamie counted in her head.

“Bloody hell,” she breathed out. How had she not even known it was her birthday? Granted, it had been a hectic couple of months. But still…

“It’ll be fine!” Owen’s voice sounded tinny through what was likely Dani’s phone or computer. “Look, it’s batter to just relax, we’ll fix it! No use giving yourself a head-cake with all the stress!”

This time Jamie couldn’t hold in her groan. “Owen that was fucking terrible!” She entered the kitchen, and Dani turned to look at her in surprise. Jamie’s heart ached as she took in Dani’s red, wet eyes. She also noted the fact that the kitchen was a complete disaster. What could, potentially, have been cake batter- or frosting, or both, it was hard to tell- was spattered across almost all surfaces. Including Dani.

“Jamie! I didn’t hear you come home!” Dani quickly tried to shuffle the mixing bowl and some spoons behind her back. “You’re home early!”

Jamie grinned, though it probably looked more like a grimace. “Someone may have been right about it being too early to go back to work.”

She had meant it jokingly, but Dani’s face crumpled. Jamie panicked. She hurried to her love, embracing her tightly.

“I’m sorry!” Dani sobbed.

“Hey, hey, no.” Jamie was mystified at the reaction. She held Dani close, stroking her palm up and down her back soothingly. “It’s all good Poppins, it’s all good. There’s nothing to be sorry for.”

“There is!” Dani’s tears didn’t slow. “I just wanted your birthday to be perfect! And now you’re in pain again and the cake is ruined and…”

“It’s not ruined!” Without thinking about it, Jamie kissed Dani’s jaw, licking up some splattered cake batter. It tasted…terrible. But Jamie still smacked her lips appreciatively. “See! I can eat it like this! Which, quite frankly, I much prefer anyhow.”

 Dani sniffed. “I ruined the cake.”

“I don’t care.” Jamie kissed Dani again, this time on the lips. “I don’t need a cake if I’ve got you.”

“But dinner…”

“We’ll get takeout.” Jamie kept kissing Dani. Her lips, her nose, her cheeks, her chin…everywhere. Finally she heard a little giggle from Dani. “It’s my birthday. And all I want is you.”

“You didn’t even remember it was your birthday, did you?”

“Absolutely not,” Jamie laughed, and Dani joined in. “There she is. That smile is the only present I need.”

Dani raised an eyebrow suggestively. “The only present…you sure about that?”

Jamie didn’t answer. Instead she just leaned in and kissed Dani again. They didn’t waste any time in deepening the kiss, and Jamie didn’t stop her hands from wandering under Dani’s shirt and exploring the smooth skin she found there. The pain in her back could wait, Jamie decided.

“Um…you guys are still aware we’re here right?”

With a sigh, Jamie broke off the kiss. Dani pouted. Jamie stepped around her girlfriend and bent down to look at the laptop. She grinned at Owen and Hannah.

“Sorry mates. Gonna have to say goodbye for a bit.” She winked at them and closed the laptop on their laughter.

“This is the lamest birthday ever,” Dani said when Jamie turned back around. “I’m sorry. I wanted to surprise you.”

Jamie shrugged. “I don’t like birthdays. But seriously Poppins, I don’t need a cake or a fancy dinner.” She grabbed Dani’s apron, pulling her in close. “All I need is you.”

-

“Is your sister going to show up at the ass crack of dawn again?” Jamie asked as they retired to their room for the night.

Dani snorted. “Probably. She’s going to want to make sure you go on your run.”

“Nooooooo,” Jamie moaned as she flopped down face first onto the bed. “I hate running. Smoking was easier.”

“But this is so much healthier for you,” Dani said as she started running her fingers through Jamie’s curls. Jamie loved the feeling.

“It might be physically but mentally…” Jamie trailed off. “Actually ya know, truthfully my back’s acting up again. I might honestly need to skip a day.”

“Is it bad?” Dani asked. Her voice sounded sad. Jamie knew the memories from her crash and the injury weren’t things Dani liked to remember.

“Not so bad,” Jamie mumbled. “Think all the driving just kinda messed it up a bit.”

“Do you want a massage?” Dani asked. Suddenly she didn’t sound so sad.

Jamie turned her head and squinted up at her girlfriend. “Poppins, you flirt. In your mom’s house even?”

Dani shrugged. “Didn’t stop us before.”

“Well, I’m turning over a new leaf.” Jamie sat up, pecking Dani quickly on the lips. “I will no further defile this poor bed. ‘Sides, I think a bath might be in order.” Jamie made her way into the bathroom. She paused at the door, turning back to look at her pouting girlfriend. “That was most definitely an invitation, by the way.”

Dani grinned and flew off the bed, running to join Jamie.

-

“Shit, I don’t know about this Dani.”

Jamie was shaking. Outside of heights and confronting her feelings, nothing scared Jamie. But here she was, sitting in their car and trembling like a leaf. Even Dani’s hand, confident and soothing as it stroked her thigh, wasn’t helping to calm her down.

“Jamie, you don’t have to do this. You know I won’t think any less of you if you don’t meet with him.”

Jamie breathed out a heavy sigh. “Yeah I know.”

“And if you do decide to go through with it I’ll be beside you every step of the way. You know that right?”

“I know, Poppins.”

“I love you.”

Jamie turned and smiled at her favourite person. “I love you too.”

The folded up piece of paper Jamie brought home from their first Christmas out west had resided in Jamie’s pocket for months. It haunted her, that stupid piece of paper. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to try and reunite with her little brother or not. Eventually she told Dani about it, hoping the other woman would be able to give her some advice. Dani was a wonderful sounding board, able to both calm Jamie down and give her pep talks when needed. She was able to play devil’s advocate, and she proved to be pretty insightful about the whole situation.

But in the end, she left the decision entirely up to Jamie. Dani said she didn’t want to influence Jamie in either direction, but she would support Jamie no matter what.

In the end, Jamie reached out. She was curious, if nothing else. She at least wanted to know that her little brother was happy. That he had a good life in the end, regardless of how it started. Jamie didn’t check her emails for a full three days after first reaching out. When she finally was ready she made Dani check for her.

“He wants to meet with me? Really? That’s honestly what he said?”

Jamie couldn’t believe that little Mikey- or Michael Gallant as he had signed off on his email- actually wanted to meet with her. So they set a date and Jamie and Dani decided they’d turn it into a little road trip and getaway. Now though, Jamie was having severe second thoughts.

“He probably hates me. Or doesn’t remember me at all. Or wants to rub it in my face everything I couldn’t do for him. Or he hates me.”

“Or maybe he’s just like you,” Dani offered, “curious to catch up and see how it’s all turned out.”

“And if he hates me?”

Dani gripped Jamie’s hand tightly. “It’s impossible to hate you.”

Eventually, Jamie got up the nerve to go into the restaurant where she was set to reunite with her little brother. And it was a total disaster. But true to her word, Dani never left her side. And when they got to the little hotel they had booked for the night, Dani drew her a warm bath and lit some candles and washed Jamie’s hair as she cried.

“I’m sorry,” Jamie blubbered. “I thought I was ready, I thought I could handle seeing him again. I’m sorry I made us go through all that.”

“Don’t apologize baby.” Dani pressed soothing kisses into her wet hair. “You have nothing to apologize for. You did great! Michael is just…” Dani sighed. “He’s a typical college boy who grew up with wealthy parents who doesn’t realize all that you sacrificed to make sure he got as far as he did. None of this is on you.”

“I just feel like an idiot.” Jamie shrugged miserably. “Like, what did I think…we were magically going to be happy siblings again? Fuck it, who needs a family anyway.”

“Jamie…” The next thing Jamie knew Dani was climbing over the side of the tub, even in her clothes. She kneeled in the warm water in between Jamie’s legs and cupped her face. “Jamie you do have a family. You have me, and you have Becca. And even if they’re in other states you have Hannah and Owen, and Viola and Arthur. We’re your family. And we’ll be around forever.”

Jamie started to protest again, but Dani cut her off with a kiss. Every time Jamie tried to speak Dani kissed her, and kissed her, and kissed her again until Jamie stopped crying and smiled once more. She kept kissing her until her brother was the last thing on her mind and she accepted that she really did have a family. She kept kissing Jamie all night, long after they moved to the bed. And Jamie once again thought about how damn lucky she was to be able to love and be loved by someone like Dani.

-

Viola arrived in all her glory around six in the morning. Jamie tried to pout and tried to pretend she wasn’t happy to see the Lloyd’s again, but it was all a show. Viola had grown on her like an actually loveable parasite, and it was impossible to dislike Arthur even if he did constantly act like he had downed twelve cups of coffee. Izzy was getting big and even more beautiful. And as for their newest addition…

“Oh my goodness, I’ve never seen anyone so adorable!” Dani gushed as she held three month old Luke in her arms. She smiled down at him. “You are my favourite nephew. You are so special and so handsome, yes you are,” she cooed.

Jamie’s heart did funny things as she watched Dani with the baby in her arms. Even Cheeto was intrigued. He hopped up onto the couch beside Dani- Karen’s eyes almost popped out of their sockets- and sniffed at the tiny bundle in Dani’s arms with a cute look of curiosity on his face. Jamie even snuck out her phone and took a quick picture of the scene. It almost seemed…it could even be…Jamie wondered if she was getting a glimpse of her future. The thought made her heart pound crazily.

“So, are you still planning it?” Viola whispered conspiratorially. “You’re still proposing on Christmas morning?”

Jamie nodded confidently. “Yeah. She’ll never see it coming…she knows I think proposing on holidays is way too cliché.”

Viola grinned. “And the ring?”

“You’ve seen photos.”

“Photos do not do jewellery justice!” Viola seemed offended by the very thought of it. “I have to see it in person, Taylor, please let me see it before you propose.”

Jamie’s protestations were cut off by Dani, looking over at them curiously. “What are the two of you whispering about?”

“Er…” Jamie blanked.

“Jamie here was just saying how excited she is to hold the baby.” Jamie whipped her head around, looking at Viola in horror. Viola’s smile widened. “She can’t wait, right Jamie?”

“No way…I can’t…Viola no. No Dani, come on you know babies terrify me. Fuck, I’m gonna drop it, please don’t…Dani no!”

***

The sight of Jamie with a tiny baby in her arms did insane things to Dani’s heart. It was galloping and stuttering in her chest. Jamie held Luke like he was the most fragile thing in the world, and her eyes were wide in fear that she would drop him…and Dani thought it was perfect. One day Dani hoped Jamie would be holding their children that way, albeit maybe with a touch more ease.

“Like what you see?”

Dani turned to see her mom beside her on the couch, smiling at her softly. Dani grinned, glancing briefly back at her girlfriend. “I do,” she said quietly. “It’s…she’s special.”

“I know she is,” Karen smiled. “Have you both talked about kids yet?”

Dani shrugged. “Casually. Neither of us is ready for kids in the immediate future. It’s going to be years away still.”

“Of course! Marriage does come first after all.” Dani blushed at her mom’s words. “Will you show me the ring?”

“I sent you a picture.”

Karen waved a hand dismissively. “A picture is fine, but I want to see it in person. Really see the shine and the sparkle first hand.”

Viola came and sat on Dani’s other side. “And you talk about me whispering…what are the two of you gossiping about?”

“I think you could probably guess,” Karen laughed.

“Ooh…are we talking about the special question you’re planning on asking on Christmas morning?” Viola’s eyes were bright with excitement. “Have you shown mom the ring yet?”

“Guys, keep it quiet!” Dani shushed them. “I don’t want to ruin the surprise!”

“Are you sure you want to propose on Christmas?” Karen asked. “Won’t Jamie find that a bit…”

“Cliché?” Viola supplied with an odd knowing smile.

Dani simply smiled. “It is cliché. But what hasn’t really been cliché worthy about our relationship so far? We love each other, and I want to marry her, and Christmas is how this all began. So it just feels right.”

Dani couldn’t take her eyes off her girlfriend. Jamie hadn’t really relaxed, still sitting stiffly with Luke bundled in her arms. But she was smiling down at him brightly, with pure adoration in her expression, and when Jamie looked up and their gazes connected, Jamie’s smile only grew.

-

Dani knew she had to try to keep quiet. She knew Rebecca was in for the night, and even though she was playing music Dani knew that wouldn’t camouflage much. Dani knew she had to stay quiet, but Jamie’s lips were on her chest and she had two fingers buried knuckle deep inside her and Dani was just having a really, really hard time not voicing her please.

“Fuck Jamie…”

Dani had the sheets gripped tight in her fists. She had her teeth sunk into her bottom lip, nearly drawing blood, trying to keep the noises from escaping. But then Jamie’s lips moved lower and latched onto her clit and Dani’s back arched off the bed.

“Oh fuck Jamie, yes!”

Any voice in the back of Dani’s mind telling her to keep quiet had long since vanished. All she could think about was the intense pleasure she was experiencing. Jamie’s mouth and fingers were doing magical things and Dani could barely think straight. When Jamie curled her fingers just so and Dani’s orgasm started flooding through her, she couldn’t hold back any longer.

“Fuck! Jamie! Oh god…” Dani panted. Jamie came back up to lie down beside her, smirking. Dani pulled her in for a kiss, tasting herself on Jamie’s tongue, and moaned deeply. “Fuck Jamie. That was amazing. I love you.”

The next morning saw an exhausted looking Rebecca glaring at them both in bleary eyed annoyance. Dani decided the least she could do was cook their roommate a nice big breakfast.

“Sorry,” she said to Becca meekly.

“I’m sure,” Becca said. She was gripping the cup of coffee Jamie made her like it was a lifeline. “Put a sock on the door next time or something so I can just run away for the night.”

“You could try out noise cancelling headphones,” Jamie suggested with poorly concealed mirth.

Becca’s glare was withering. “And crack a window next time, will you, your room smells like a goddamn brothel.”

-

Dani’s skating ability had not really improved in the two years since she had last been out to California. She still stumbled along gracelessly; tripping repeatedly over her toe pick and working up a sweat merely not face planting every five seconds. Her only saving grace was Jamie, dutifully glued to her side and helping hold her upright.

“Honestly Poppins, it’s no wonder you trip all the time…you’re not supposed to push off with your toe pick!”

“Well what’s it even there for then?” Dani retorted.

“It’s there to provide the rest of us with endless entertainment,” Arthur intoned as he breezed past them with little Luke strapped to his front.

Dani frowned at her brother in law. “Show off,” she muttered.

“Jamie, look at how well I’m doing!” Flora skated up to them with a wide grin and came to a flourishing stop, showering them with snow. “I learned how to stop last year!”

“Not too shabby, munchkin!” Jamie smiled. “You might have to teach Dani here a thing or two. Between you and me, she’s a bit heavy to be holding up all the time.”

Dani gasped, offended, and made to shove Jamie. As she did so, her blades slipped on the ice and she wind milled wildly for a moment before landing heavily on her backside. Dani groaned. Jamie laughed up above her.

“You’re mean,” Dani pouted. She ignored the hand that Jamie was offering to help her up, choosing instead to cross her arms over her chest.

“C’mon Poppins, you know I’m only joking.” Jamie grabbed her under the arms and hoisted her back to her feet. Dani couldn’t deny that the show of strength was somewhat of a turn on. “Your skating ability does not factor into the many reasons why I love ya.”

“You won’t laugh at me again?” Dani questioned.

Jamie spun around so she was facing Dani, skating backwards. She held out her hands for Dani to grip.

“Of course I’ll laugh at you! Just like how you laugh at me when I snore in my sleep, or burn my porridge, or…”

“Alright, alright,” Dani laughed. “I get it. We both have our things.”

All in all, it wasn’t half bad, Dani thought. She got to hold onto Jamie for an entire hour, and listen to her girlfriend’s beautiful laughter. She got to see the brilliance of Jamie’s smile, and marvel at the sight of her in a beanie. Skating may not have been her favourite thing to do, but she did admit it definitely came with some perks.

-

“Dani calm down.”

Dani ignored her friend as she raced down the hallway. She scanned each room as they went by, looking at the numbers. They had made her wait hours before telling her which room Jamie was in, hours. Dani hadn’t been able to do anything except for wait, unfathomable scenarios flying through her head at warp speed, each more terrifying than the last. For the longest time she hadn’t even known if Jamie was alive or…or…

“Dani, it’s okay, they said she’s okay,” Rebecca said. “But you need to slow down, just breathe.”

“I’ll breathe when I see her,” Dani said. “But until then I can’t relax. I need to see her Becs. I need to know that she’s okay.”

“I know Dani. She’ll be fine. Jamie’s a fighter and they said…ouch!”

Dani had stopped suddenly and Becca had run into her back. Dani was frozen in place, rooted in spot, staring at the door in front of her. Room 374. Jamie was in that room. Jamie was behind that door. Jamie, her perfect Jamie, who had just been driving home from work when…

“Dani, you alright?”

Dani stared. “Becca what…what if she’s not okay?” she whispered hoarsely. “What if I go in there and she’s not okay? What if she’s…”

“Hey. Stop that.” Becca gripped Dani’s shoulders firmly, turning the girl to face her directly. “Don’t think like that. Jamie’s tough as nails; she’s not about to let something like this stop her. But also…Dani she’s going to need you to be strong. You’re going to have to be there for her and take care of her. So you have to stop thinking like that.”

Dani nodded, but inside her heart was still beating wildly. She had gotten the call hours ago. Dani hadn’t realized she had even dropped her phone until Rebecca was standing in front of her, calling her name, asking her what was the matter.

Dani had been able to conjure up all the worst scenarios in her mind as she rode in the back of Uber to the hospital. All she had been told was that Jamie had been t-boned at an intersection. Some idiot ran a red light and hit Jamie’s truck straight on at fifty and…

“Dani, they told us she was okay.”

“But what if…”

“No. No what if’s. She’s alive, and there’s nothing serious. They told us there’s no serious injuries.”

“They said her back…”

“Is going to be fine, with time. They said she’s lucky, that it’s a miracle there’s nothing seriously wrong. Yes, she’s injured. Dani she’s hurt. But she’s okay now, and she’s going to continue to be okay.”

Dani nodded, swallowing hard. She gave Becca a shaky grin before turning back to face the door. Slowly, ever so slowly, she inched it open. Dani gasped.

Jamie looked so small and fragile in the hospital bed, hooked up to all manner of machines. Her eyes were closed, and there were bandages on her head. Dani had been told that Jamie had suffered a concussion, but there wasn’t any sign of serious damage. But Dani could see the cuts on her skin from the broken glass, she could see where bruises were starting to bloom…

Dani rushed to the side of the bed. She sat in the chair there and immediately grasped Jamie’s hand, squeezing it tight.

“Hey Jamie,” she said softly. “Hey you. How are you doing?” Dani’s eyes, having already shed so many tears that night, started burning again. Jamie just looked so fragile. “They said you’re going to sleep for a bit. And that’s good Jamie, that’s good. You need to heal. So I want you to get all the sleep you need, because when you wake up you need to be as strong as possible. But I’m going to be right here beside you while you sleep, okay? And I’m going to be right here beside you for when you wake up. Okay? I’m not leaving you.”

Dani leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on Jamie’s forehead, right below the bandage. Part of her wanted to crawl into the bed with her love, but she didn’t want to disturb any of the wires or hurt her girlfriend.

“I love you Jamie,” she whispered. Dani felt Becca’s hand squeeze her shoulder soothingly. “I love you so much.”

-

Dani was drunk. It was a lovely feeling, really. They were all in Owen and Hannah’s backyard. The kids were all to bed- in Miles’ case pretending to sleep while surely setting a new high score- and Karen and Henry had said they would be on Luke duty for the night. So they were all gathered around in the warm night air, drinking and laughing and partying two days before Christmas. Even Edmund was there (albeit looking a bit awkward) with his lovely new girlfriend happily leaning into his side.

But Dani was drunk, and Jamie was beautiful. Jamie was beautiful and gorgeous and breathtaking and stunning and every single other complimentary word that Dani didn’t have the mental fortitude to think of right then. Dani was drunk, and she loved her friends, but all she really wanted was to get Jamie in bed.

Alone.

“Poppins,” Jamie said under her breath. “If you keep looking at me like that I won’t be able to control myself.”

“Who wants you to control yourself?” Dani nipped at Jamie’s ear. “I certainly don’t.”

Jamie laughed before taking a long inhale of her spliff. “You say that now, but I think you’d be singing a different tune if I went ahead and did all the things I’m thinking of doing in front of your friends and family.”

Dani simply snuggled even further into Jamie. They were lounging on some of Hannah’s patio furniture, and Dani had essentially claimed Jamie’s lap as her spot for the evening. Jamie didn’t seem to mind, however. When Jamie offered Dani the blunt, she didn’t think twice about taking a hit.

“So are you excited for Christmas?”

Jamie laughed. “That’s quite the change in direction from a moment ago, Poppins.”

“I know,” Dani shrugged, smiling. “I just want to make sure you’re excited for Christmas this year.”

“I am,” Jamie grinned. “Yet another Christmas with my favourite person and our two year anniversary to top it off…why wouldn’t I be excited?”

Dani smiled at the woman she loved. She leaned in and kissed Jamie, closing her eyes at the feeling. She loved every single part of their relationship. She loved every single thing about Jamie. And she absolutely could not wait to propose to Jamie.

-

“Jamie? Becca?”

Dani stepped through the door to the dark and quiet apartment with a sigh. Logically, she knew both her roommates weren’t going to be there- Becca had an exam and Jamie had gotten caught up at work and had already texted her she’d be late. Dani knew that she wouldn’t see her friend or her girlfriend. But she still couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

She didn’t think they’d both forget her birthday so easily.

Dani didn’t want to put any expectations on Jamie, but considering how big of a fuss the gardener usually made about Dani’s birthday she just figured things would be even more of an event. Especially since they were together now.

With a sigh, Dani flicked on the light switch.

”SURPRISE!”

Dani let out a startled yelp. The apartment was full to bursting with people. She put a hand over her heart, now thudding in her chest, and laughed. Owen and Hannah were there, Viola and Arthur too, some of Dani’s coworkers, Rebecca…and there, standing almost sheepishly in the corner, was Jamie. Dani locked eyes with her girlfriend, and she knew instantly this had been Jamie’s doing. Somehow, some way, Jamie had planned all of this and made it all happen without her finding out.

It was probably one of the best birthday parties Dani had ever had. She couldn’t believe that everyone had made it, even those from the other side of the country. The drinks and the conversation flowed easily and there was more than enough pizza and Owen had made a spectacular three tiered birthday cake that was so decadent Dani had already eaten three pieces. Dani was overjoyed.

It took a while before she had made her way through the room, talking to everyone and receiving their birthday wishes. Eventually, Dani made it to her girlfriend.

“Happy birthday Poppins,” Jamie said, flashing her trademark crooked smile.

“Thank you.” Dani kissed Jamie lightly. “And thank you for planning all of this. I can’t believe…I can’t believe you did all this.”

Jamie shrugged slightly, rubbing the back of her neck. “Ain’t no big deal. Was kinda worried you wouldn’t like it actually.”

“Jamie. In what universe would I not absolutely love this?”

“Well in that case, you’re welcome.” Jamie took Dani’s hand and led her into the kitchen. A gift wrapped box was sitting on the counter beside the fridge. “This is your friends and family appropriate gift,” Jamie said as she handed Dani the box.

Dani raised her eyebrows. “Do I even want to know what the inappropriate gift is?”

Jamie flashed her a devilish grin and a look so clearly suggestive that Dani had to clench her thighs together. “Oh trust me, Poppins, you definitely want to know. And you’ll definitely like it. I already made sure Becs had somewhere else to stay tonight.”

-

They got to see Becca on Christmas Eve. She had convinced her family to do their annual Christmas family reunion on the west coast that year, and Dani was thrilled to be able to see her friend again. They hadn’t really gotten a chance to get together with Becca since she had moved to start her new job at a law firm, and when they saw each other at the diner they agreed to meet at for breakfast Dani squealed in delight. Quite a few patrons turned their heads at her uncontainable enthusiasm, but she didn’t really care.

It was good to catch up. Becca was thrilled with her new role, though incredibly busy. She kept shooting Dani furtive glances, and when Jamie went up to the counter to order their food she leaned in close.

“So…are you still planning on popping the question tomorrow?”

Dani’s smile felt like it stretched from ear to ear. She nodded eagerly. “Yup,” she said, popping the p.

It was Becca’s turn to squeal. “Ohmygod I can’t even…I’m so excited for you!”

It was a fun morning of catching up, but Dani did consume far too many milkshakes than was probably advisable. She didn’t want to miss a second of time with Becs, but after several minutes of her bouncing in the booth, Jamie ordered her away to the washroom. On her way back to the table a bit later, she saw Jamie showing Becca something in her hand before carefully sliding it into her pocket. Dani didn’t think too much of it. Knowing Jamie, she had probably found another dispensary with some exciting new strain.

Becca and her parents joined the Clayton’s for their Christmas Eve bash. It was, as always, a wild and crazy affair. The kids were hopped up on sugar in no time- courtesy of Arthur, of course- and the adults maybe only slightly overindulged. To Dani’s surprise, Karen never so much as had a single sip of wine the entire night. Dani couldn’t help but walk up to her mom and give her a warm hug partway through the evening.

“What’s this for?” Karen asked, surprised but clearly pleased.

Dani shrugged. “Just because. I love you mom.”

“I love you too, dear. Are you ready for tomorrow?”

“Absolutely,” Dani smiled. She searched the house for Jamie, seeing her tucked away in a conspiratorial yet animated looking discussion with Arthur. “Do you think she has any idea I’m planning on proposing?”

Karen’s eyes twinkled. “I don’t think so, Dani. I think tomorrow morning is going to be quite the surprise.”

***

Dani had it planned perfectly. For weeks she had been coaching her mom on how to both take care of and not take care of a plant for Dani to hide the ring in the roots. Rescuing plants with Jamie had kind of become their thing and Dani knew it would be both symbolic and fun for Jamie. It was the perfect way to propose, really. Once Jamie found the ring, she’d get down on one knee. She had enlisted Arthur weeks ago to be the videographer. She told Becs she’d have her on standby for a skpe call right after she got her answer.

Jamie also planned out every detail…as unlike her as that usually was. She had scrounged through her phone for a picture of the two of them on Christmas morning the day they sorted through all their messy feelings. She had (poorly) photoshopped a ring onto Dani’s hand and had ordered it as a puzzle. She was planning on hiding the piece with the ring until she was sure Dani would put it in last and then get down on one knee. Viola had already agreed to film everything, with Karen assuring she’d snap lots of pictures. Becca made her promise to call immediately afterward.

As for their family…they stood around, smiles threatening to get stuck on their faces, waiting for the penny to drop for both girls.

When it did- when Jamie and Dani realized they both had the same idea to propose on Christmas- the happy laughter and tears of joy seemed endless. The kids started up some sort of celebratory chant and Arthur whistled sharply in celebration. Cheeto barked along crazily while Karen cried and hugged her daughter and daughter to be tightly. Viola cheered and bounced Luke on her lap who sported a toothless grin at all the excitement.

It took Jamie two tries to get the ring on Dani’s finger, her hands were shaking so bad. It took Dani three.

“It’s so perfect,” Dani breathed, unable to take her eyes off the diamond glinting on her hand.

“It really is,” Jamie beamed. Her eyes, however, were on Dani. “I love you so much Poppins. I’m so happy you said yes.”

Dani kissed her deeply. “Of course I would say yes! I’m so glad you want to get married too…I love you.”

“We’re not bloody getting married on Christmas though. We’ve had enough clichés to last a lifetime.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Dani grinned. “You’re signing up for a lifetime with me…which means all the cheesy and clichéd memories we can possibly make.”

“You know what Poppins? I think I’m good with that.” They shared another kiss, all smiles. “I love you Poppins.”

“I love you too.”

.

.

.

Fin.