It is rare, Dani Clayton believes, that a single action can define a life. Rare, unlikely, prone only to situations where the action is life-or-death in and of itself, she believes. Most others are a matter of small steps leading down a long road.
In the event of dumping Edmund O’Mara not three months before their wedding was meant to take place, those steps start to look a whole lot less small.
In the event of dumping Eddie, informing him--and his mother, and her mother shortly thereafter--that she’d done so because she didn’t love him that way, that she wasn’t sure she could love any man that way, and wasn’t entirely certain she was willing to try any longer to convince herself otherwise, those steps start to look much more like a leap.
Off a cliff.
Into thin air.
If you’re going to do it, she tells herself grimly, might as well do it the right way. Which, in some cases, might mean a fresh dye job, a flight to a distant country, the making of a wild and unreasonable purchase. In this particular case, it means looking what it means to be Danielle Clayton in the eye, turning on her heel, and doing absolutely anything else.
The club? Packed. The music? Aggressive. Dani?
Several shots in, not nearly as drunk as she’d like, and completely out of her depth.
Even so, there’s a lot about this experience she actually finds herself enjoying. The music, though slamming into the side of her head like a vaguely-melodic sledgehammer, is easy to dance to. The dark atmosphere of the place means she doesn’t feel as though anyone is getting a chance to really stare--or, if they are, they’re staring for good reasons. Reasons she’s never allowed herself to entertain before now.
It is, after all, the right kind of club.
If she thinks about that fact, she’s going to turn and head right back out the door, and the line had been way too long for such a casual surrender. The only choice, Dani understands, is simply not to think--not to let her nerves get the better of her, not to allow adrenaline to push her into flight mode. Not this time.
Adrenaline, instead, becomes the thing she closes her fists around and twists to suit her needs. The thing to act as lightning in her bones, charging every inch of a woman who spent nearly thirty years play-acting in someone else’s show. The drinks help, wearing away the part of her that says she doesn’t fit here, doesn’t belong here, might have been wrong all along in telling Eddie she couldn’t do it anymore. The dancing, too, makes her feel better--makes her feel like someone new, someone with all the shine of her mother’s expectation scrubbed away. Someone who can throw her arms in the air, swivel her hips, laugh with delirious joy.
She can’t remember the last time she flirted with someone on purpose, but she’s certainly doing it now--with one young woman in particular. She wasn’t the first to dance with Dani--there have been a truly stunning number of women dancing with Dani, in fact, making her feel at once special and like running straight out of this club--but she is the one who has taken to it most naturally, somehow. Her eyes are bright, her curls tied back from her face, her smile the kind of charming Dani has never allowed herself to look at too closely before tonight.
They haven’t exchanged a single word, and there’s something remarkable about that--about how easily the woman seems to read her body language, tailoring her distance according to Dani’s comfort. Unlike several of the others, this woman did not immediately push against Dani’s body, too warm, arms slinking around her waist. She did not attempt to pull Dani into herself, her hips setting a theme for the evening against Dani’s better judgement. This woman, instead, had only reached out a single hand, eyebrow arched--a silver bar punched through had caught the light and Dani’s attention at the same time--and had waited.
Dani hadn’t quite been able to resist. Something about the woman’s grin, just this side of roguish, just this side of dangerous, had held too great an appeal. She had moved with a confidence Dani couldn’t imagine possessing, a swagger in her walk Dani hadn’t been able to look away from, and Dani thought, They’re pretty, but she is unreal.
She looks at the woman now, at her green-gray eyes and the shade of abs beneath a cropped tank top. There are tattoos, she notes--a vine of some kind rising from the low ride of her jeans, a pattern of tiny flowers traced around her left wrist. Dani trails her fingers along those flowers now, letting her hand slide recklessly up the woman’s arm in time to the twisting beat, and wonders what else she’s hiding beneath her jacket, her jeans, her boots.
She’s never in her life allowed herself to wonder what might lurk beneath a woman’s clothes. Never in her life let herself look at the sweat skidding down a woman’s neck and wondered what it might taste like, were she to bury her face against soft skin.
The woman is smiling, she notices with a thread of embarrassment--but it’s a good smile, as Dani wraps loose fingers around her upper arm and urges her closer. A good smile, one which teases, but doesn’t mock. This woman, with four piercings in one ear, with hands that smooth around Dani’s hips only when Dani edges in close, with eyes that watch Dani like she’s the only person in the room, is a marvel.
Who are you, Dani asks herself, almost trembling with the simple delight of this woman’s hand twirling her around, this woman laughing when Dani slips an arm around her neck and twists brave fingers into her hair. Who are you, doing this with a stranger, with a woman, in a place like this?
Happy. A single word, enormous and bright. She’s happy, with the song under her skin, with this woman moving against her like they were cut of a single cloth. Like she understands, more than anything, Dani’s need to jam a lifetime of feeling electric into a single night.
She kisses the woman first. It feels almost like a game of chicken, gazing into her eyes, letting her hand settle between jacket and tank top. Almost like a dare, letting her fingers dig into the woman’s shirt, pushing her nearer. Almost like a wish, her eyes skimming from the heat of the stranger’s gaze to her lips and back again.
She kisses her, and wonders if it was always supposed to feel like this. The woman’s arm around her waist soft and strong, the woman’s lips parting for her like the next beat of a conversation--and there is something hard and warm to the kiss, a gentle curve of metal beneath her tongue. I am, she thinks dizzily, kissing a strange woman in a gay club, a woman with a tongue piercing, a woman who is kissing me like she’s never wanted to do anything else.
She kisses this stranger, eyes closed, breath quickening as the woman’s hips push against her own, and she thinks, It wasn’t like this with him. Not once.
Happy, as the woman leans back just enough to breathe, her forehead slick against Dani’s. Happy, as the woman’s hand trails up her neck gently enough to leave shivers in the wake of her fingertips. Happy, as the woman cups her jaw, thumb pressing just hard enough to make Dani sigh, kissing her with slow, hot wonder.
She wonders what they look like to the others, to the women who had twisted and twirled away from her winces, her apologetic smiles, her tiny shakes of the head. How must she look now, in the arms of a woman she suddenly can’t get close enough to, her kiss hungry and hopeful, her hands digging into reckless curls.
She hears herself panting against the woman’s ear as her head bows, as her lips trace the edge of Dani’s jaw, her kiss smooth on Dani’s neck. She’s gripping the woman’s hair, pushing her face into Dani’s throat with shameless excitement, and she hears herself say, “I’m--”
The woman raises her head, meets her eyes, shakes her head once. Dani’s heart sinks--but the woman is taking her by the hand, pulling her off the dance floor, away from the rapid-fire pulse of music.
This isn’t me, Dani thinks, her heart in her throat. This isn’t me, as the woman guides her past the bar, past piles of writhing, necking strangers, past the line to the bathroom. This isn’t me, as the woman guides her through the back exit, out into a brick alley and the warmth of a June night.
“Easier,” the woman says, “to hear out here. Hope that's all right.”
Dani sways, the thunder of the music and the cacophony of other people replaced by a muted ringing in her ears. The woman’s voice is soft, accented, skipping a little with breathless energy.
Dani opens her mouth, uncertain of what to say--her name, maybe, or this isn’t me, or I’ve never-- “You pierced your tongue.”
The woman’s eyes widen, a laugh rolling out of her like summer rain, and Dani feels herself go hot with embarrassment. “I did, yeah. Years back. You, ah. You like it?”
Not trusting herself, Dani only nods once, too fast to look natural. The woman takes her hands, which Dani realizes she has been wringing against the front of her skirt in nervous anticipation, and sidles closer.
“Would it be easier,” the woman says, close enough to kiss, close enough for Dani to count the colors in her dancing eyes, “if I didn’t ask your name?”
Dani bites her lip. No, she thinks, and yes, and-- “I don’t know.”
“S’all right.” She believes her, this woman who speaks like she’s already got all the answers to a test Dani’s only just signed up to take. “We don’t have to. Can just be a pleasant memory, if you prefer.”
Dani shakes her head sharply, already leaning in again, and the woman tastes different out here. Better, somehow, without the fuzz of other people pressing close, without the tang of a sweaty crowd on the air. The woman tastes of new, of excitement, of metal and menthol, and she’s kissing Dani like she doesn’t need a name to cherish her.
If you’re doing the thing, might as well do it right. Her back is against a brick wall, her hands pushing under the woman’s shirt, her head tossed back with the rapture of soft lips at her throat. She hears herself making a low sound through clenched teeth as the woman pulls at her hips, slides a thigh between her legs, pushes up.
“Is there,” she gasps, one hand gripping the woman’s belt loop, one shoved into the woman’s messy hair, “is there somewhere we can--” Because this is new, this is all new and fresh and beautiful, but the idea of letting this woman fuck her against a brick wall is simply too much for a single stab into the dark.
Those eyes look into hers, the woman’s breath hot across her lips, and she almost changes her mind. Almost yanks her back in, almost says it would be enough to ride her thigh in full view of anyone who steps out for a smoke, enough to give her anything she asks for beneath the sparse suburban stars.
“My place isn’t far,” the woman says, her voice husky, and Dani nods, presses her forehead to the stranger’s, exhales shakily.
The walk is quiet, her hand looped into the woman’s, and Dani feels--impossibly--free. Free to hold tighter or let her hand slip away. Free to knock into the woman’s shoulder with her own or balance along the curb as she walks. Free to look at the stars, to look at her feet, to look at the woman’s profile in the glow of the streetlights.
“Dani,” she says. “My name is Dani.”
The woman smiles. “First night out, Dani?”
“That obvious?” She ought to be embarrassed, but the woman’s smile is still a good one. A teasing, gentle, comfortable one.
“No,” the woman says after a moment of what is evidently legitimate consideration. “No, not obvious. Just a feeling.”
The apartment is small, clean, full of potted plants and well-loved blankets. The woman, pushing the door open, ushers Dani inside and stands back as if to say, Go on. Take it in. As if to say, I know what we came here for, but you can still back out. Her hands are in the pockets of her jacket, her posture loose, as though she isn’t thrumming with the impulse to get Dani pinned against another wall.
Dani can’t quite relate.
“Do you do this often?” she asks, as she moves into the woman’s arms again, as she slides her hands into the woman’s hair, liking the weight of her head cupped in Dani’s palms. The woman smiles almost sheepishly.
“Do you know their names?” She’s kissing the edge of soft lips, feeling the woman sigh, feeling her head turn in search of Dani. There is power here, she thinks, unlike anything she’s ever felt. Power, and assertion, and desire.
And laughter, when the woman says, “Not usually. No.”
“Honest,” Dani says approvingly, aware she’s still flirting, aware of the caress of the other woman’s hands around the back of her skirt. Her hips press forward once, and the woman grins.
“Never tell ‘em mine, either.”
“Because you don’t want them to come calling in the morning,” Dani guesses. The woman shakes her head.
“The kind of woman I bring home rarely wants that. Easier on everyone, to keep it to skin.”
Her fingertips are tracing beneath Dani’s shirt, a light pattern up her back. Dani feels her brush the clasp of her bra almost carelessly, not even trying to unhook and remove it, and shivers. There is a warmth to the idea that this woman, for all her brazen want, is just as interested in this conversation as in getting Dani naked.
“What if I wanted to know?” she breathes, her lips barely brushing the woman’s, watching her eyes flutter in response. “Your name. What you do when you’re not bringing strange women to bed.”
“Do you?” An honest question, she thinks, not a challenge. Strong fingers stroke down her back, tucking beneath the waistband of her skirt, resting without further pressure. Dani isn’t sure anyone has ever held her like this, standing in the living room of an apartment, waiting for her to take the lead.
Strike that: she’s very certain no one has done this. Very certain she’d remember the intimacy of it, of hanging suspended between a kiss taken and a yes given.
“Please,” she says, leaning back just enough to look at the woman with clear eyes. That smile again, tilting crooked on pink lips.
“Jamie. It’s Jamie.”
It’s enough, Dani decides, just to know that much. Just to know this woman, who is letting Dani kiss her, letting Dani push the jacket off her shoulders, letting Dani repeat the name against her lips, is willing to give Dani this small gift. She doesn’t have to. There’s nothing saying a one-night-stand requires names exchanged, a look beyond the curtain. Dani’s never done this before, but she’s certain of that much.
A gift, it certainly is, and she gives herself over to it gladly. Likes the way Jamie’s kisses increase in intensity, her hands roaming under Dani’s shirt, her voice coiling into a groan when Dani experimentally rolls her tongue past Jamie’s teeth. The brush of metal elicits an unexpected heat in her, matched only by the way Jamie says her name in question as she guides the t-shirt up over her head.
Just knowing her name has a place on this woman’s tongue is remarkable. Just tasting the woman’s name in her own mouth--two simple syllables extended in a surprised moan when Jamie presses her toward the bed, follows her down with seamless grace, her body soft and warm and willing--is remarkable. She hears herself repeat it for the simple joy of watching Jamie shiver, of feeling Jamie’s kiss grow hotter, her mouth sliding across Dani’s each time as though trying to swallow down the sound of her own name.
The world has never been quite so vibrant as in this tiny apartment, under the warm glow of a single lamp with Jamie’s shirt pulling up her body, Jamie’s jeans unzipped under her shaking hand. The world has never offered quite so much sensation as with Jamie blanketing her, Jamie’s hands removing her bra, pushing up her skirt, mapping along the spread of her thighs. She presses up into Jamie’s kiss, hands restless on Jamie’s skin, and wonders why it took so long to open this door.
There are more tattoos, she finds with delirious pleasure, and Jamie rolls over to allow her the freedom to inspect each. Jamie, breathing shallowly under her kiss as she traces the bracelet of flowers with the tip of her tongue. Jamie, arching into her hand as she explores the roses stamped across her ribs. Jamie, uttering a rough cry when she bites gently at the vine flourishing along her hipbone.
More tattoos, and more soft skin, and more of Jamie’s easy, eager interest. Jamie, who rolls her over and slides the skirt off her hips, following it down with a path of long, slow kisses. Jamie, whose tongue works magic across her breasts, down her stomach, hesitating between her legs.
Dani is nodding, and Jamie closes her eyes, presses down with a single sweet kiss that makes her feel as though she might collapse under the weight of its tenderness. It’s too much, she thinks, for this woman who has been pressing her into the mattress with firm, steady want, to be this gentle. For this woman who tells no one her name before taking them to bed, who has metal in her tongue and ink on her skin, to be this kind.
She hears her breath sharpen, hears herself say Jamie’s name again in a voice so unlike her own, it takes her by surprise. She folds a hand across the back of Jamie’s head, pressing her in, urging her to kiss harder, to roll her tongue across the whole of Dani, and still, when Jamie complies, she jumps. Jamie raises her eyes, and Dani pushes her closer still, her heart hammering at the particular look on Jamie’s face. The particular need on Jamie’s face, as she watches, as she flicks her tongue. The metal bar brushes swollen nerves, and Dani makes an undignified noise in her throat that drags a grin across Jamie’s lips.
Oh, Dani thinks distantly. That’s why.
The muscles of her stomach are trembling, the muscles of her legs clutched tight, and still, she can’t tear her gaze from Jamie’s. Can’t stop watching the way Jamie’s lashes flicker against her cheeks, her head bobbing gently between spread legs, her tongue tracing and stroking, pressing and curling. There is something beyond intimacy to the way Jamie’s hands flex against her thighs, her fingers splayed, her thumb stroking up and down in time with her tongue. Something beyond seduction to the way Jamie groans against her, a simple gratification that makes her twitch under Jamie’s kiss.
She winds her fingers tighter in Jamie’s hair, dimly aware she’s pulling, vibrantly aware of Jamie’s mouth wrapped around her. There is no speed, no dire rush, no pressure to come and be done with it. There is only Jamie taking her time, the flat of her tongue trading off with the brush of her lips, her eyes drinking in Dani’s expression all the while.
She knows my name, she thinks with a rush of heat, and then: She told me hers.
She’s using it almost without thinking, one hand across her own mouth, Jamie’s name staining her skin. She rocks harder, urging Jamie deeper, her voice rising as Jamie adds her fingers beneath the coaxing pressure of her tongue.
She knows my name, she thinks again, as Jamie curls deep, as starbursts go off behind her eyes. She told me hers.
Jamie hauls herself back up the mattress, drops down beside her with a contented sigh. Her lips glisten, her expression tinged with pride. “How was--”
Dani grasps her face in both hands, jerks her in for a kiss, their voices mingling in a muffled ring of pleasure. Dani, almost dizzy with the taste of herself in this woman’s mouth, presses a hand between them, pleased to find Jamie as eager for take as she’d been for give.
“I want,” she says, kissing Jamie’s neck, stroking Jamie with nerveless, uncertain fingers, “to make you feel--like that. Like you--”
Jamie makes a sound of agreement, reaches down, covers her hand gently. “Try this,” she offers, and Dani’s eyes roll back at the pressure of fingers guiding her in, at Jamie showing her with a hand that shakes exactly how she likes to be touched. She gazes at Jamie’s face, at her parted lips and tight brow, watching the tension coil, watching her smile give way to soft, repeated sounds of urgency as they work in tandem.
If you’re going to do it, do it the right way, she thinks as Jamie bucks into her hand, as Jamie’s fingers slide away, dragging up her own stomach, leaving Dani to keep up the rhythm. She presses her face onto Jamie’s pillow, lips close to Jamie’s ear, murmuring her name like a melody as Jamie’s breath catches--as Jamie’s hips jerk--as Jamie wraps a hand into her hair and pulls her close to kiss the gasp off her lips.
“I’ve never,” she says, her hand still resting against wet skin, Jamie’s hips twitching every so often as she traces with the tips of her fingers. “Before. With a--”
“Couldn’t tell,” Jamie says. Dani raises an eyebrow in disbelief, and she grins. “Didn’t mind, then.”
“You, uh.” Distracted, she traces a light circle around Jamie, liking the heat of her. Jamie sighs.
“Keep doing that, conversation’s gonna get tricky.”
“You sorry?” Dani asks, letting her fingers still. Jamie turns her head, eyes questioning.
“Sorry for...which part, exactly?”
“Taking me home,” Dani says. “Telling me who you are.”
“Didn’t tell you who I am,” Jamie says. Dani frowns, moves to take her hand back, wondering if she’s somehow read the woman completely wrong--and Jamie reaches down to gently grasp her by the wrist. “I told you my name,” she goes on mildly. “Who I am is a much longer story. One I...haven’t told in a while.”
Dani stretches out beside her, letting her fingers notch comfortably between Jamie’s, the join of their hands resting along Jamie’s stomach. “How long a story?”
“How much time d’you have?” Jamie asks, almost idly. Dani smiles.
“Sort of trying something new, with all of this. I think...that means there are no rules, until I make them.”
“Well,” says Jamie, her voice thick with exhaustion. She’s curling toward Dani, bare skin and vibrant ink and muffled yawn. “Maybe if you’re still interested in the morning? Not much of a cook, but I make an impressive brew.”
She doesn’t say you don’t have to. She doesn’t say we can pretend it never happened. She only presses close into Dani, one hand curling to tuck the hair behind Dani’s ear, her fingers spreading around the back of Dani’s head in a gesture of soft support.
She told me her name, Dani thinks, her heart in her throat as she watches sleep loosen Jamie’s features. I slept with a woman, and she told me her name, and she’s...she’s...
It is rare, she thinks as she lets her head bump Jamie’s, eyes drifting shut. Rare that a single action can define a life. It doesn’t happen often; consequences are small, tricky things. But a single action can certainly start a person walking. Off a cliff. Into thin air.
Or down a road.