The benefit of the chill mountain air, Niles supposes, is that now she has two excuses for going red-cheeked around Daphne: that, and the heat of the fire. Perhaps even three, if she counts the buttered rum that Dad’s planning to prepare for them all.
It’s been a difficult month (three months? Six months? Year?) for Niles, all in all. Logistically, she should feel a relieving finality from ending her relationship with Maris for good. Realistically, though it’s just a little pathetic that she let it drag on for so long.
As she and Frasier heave through the door of the cabin, dropping their luggage and peeling off their coats in the newfound heat, it’s hard for Niles to miss that Frasier, too, is flushed for reasons besides the cold. When Daphne had insisted on bringing along her “sporty” friend Annie, a part of Niles had imagined the sort of muscle-toned butch she’d always admired but knew she’d never become, some sort of proof that Daphne could be close with someone like her, and a woman for whom Frasier wouldn’t abandon her in a flurry of his own hormones. Annie, however, is a curvy blonde with bright eyes and a dull brain, which means, of course, that Frasier is convinced he’s found the love of his life, and now he’s drunk on his own infatuation.
Not that Niles has been much better with Daphne in the past, but the split from Maris has been a wake-up call: no matter how much you care about someone, no matter how often you dote on them or devote yourself to them, it doesn’t mean that they’ll be grateful, or that they’ll love you, or that they’re going to care for you at all in return.
Still, it was hard to resist ensuring that Daphne would be able to come; a weekend of fun with the whole family, Niles reasons with herself, if for no reason than to ease her own conscience, could better solidify their relationship as friends, nothing more, but also nothing less.
“Goodness, this place is just lovely!” Daphne’s voice calls from behind her, and Niles turns to her and beams (platonically, of course).
Annie’s entered with Daphne, so, naturally, Frasier spends the next several seconds speaking only to her, while Dad waxes poetic (or, as poetically as he can wax anything) about his buttered rum recipe, which, yes, has real butter in it, because “you need a little fat in your booze”.
“Great idea, Dad.” Frasier gives his signature laugh that indicates the imminence of a joke that he surely thinks is hilarious. “After we’re done, I’ll whip us up a nice batch of pork-nog.”
“None for me, thanks,” Annie chimes in. “I’m a vegetarian.” With that, she grins at Niles, for some reason. Niles isn’t a vegetarian. Annie’s stupidity evidently extends not only to a poor understanding of blatant jokes (Frasier had even used his special Joke Inflection), but also inaccurate judgement of others’ dietary habits.
“Here, Daphne, let me help with your luggage,” Niles offers, because friends can offer to help friends with luggage, and just because her love life is dead, it doesn't mean that chivalry should be. Besides, Daphne’s sweet thanks are enough to fill her heart to the brim.
“Uh, which room do you want?” she asks Daphne now, because, again, it’s only fair that she be gracious, and seeing as neither she nor Frasier (nor Dad, for that matter) have chosen their rooms yet, she might as well give Daphne the choice, as any good friend would do.
Daphne points out the room upstairs on the right, and before she has time to think better of herself, Niles speaks. “What a coincidence! That’s the one next to mine.”
Frasier hits her with a knowing glare as he offers to help Annie with her bags (right, as if he’s any better), and Niles bites down hard on the inside of her cheek. She can’t keep fawning over Daphne like this; Daphne is straight, anyhow, which should have killed Niles’s crush years ago.
Well, straight excepting the time she’d played Niles’s girlfriend at that ball. But, see, that was a friendly favor, and any tolerant straight woman would surely have done the same, so getting her hopes up had been ridiculous. There was that one evening during the heatwave months back—surely wishful thinking, Niles scolds herself. They hadn’t done anything, and any moment that Niles had thought that they might was merely a matter of the heat dulling her insight.
Well, no worry of that this weekend, she reasons as she hefts up Daphne’s bags. The biting, snowy cold outside is bound to be enough to keep her sharp and self-aware.
There is one thing that catches her eye as she and Frasier depart to put away Daphne and Annie’s luggage. Perhaps without the cold she might have missed it, but for a moment, as she turns back to grin at Daphne, she could swear that Annie winks.
Niles turns on her heel and makes her way to Daphne’s room. She needs to sharpen up, and quickly; the ski instructor will be in soon, and the last thing she wants to do is make a fool of herself.
Upon his arrival at the lodge, the first two people Guy sees are a blonde and a brunette woman in the living room, faces incredibly close as they bicker. He can’t hear exactly what they’re saying, but the brunette says something about sex and Guy’s pretty sure they don’t know he’s there, or else they wouldn’t be speaking so frankly.
“ Allo ,” he interjects before he accidentally eavesdrops on anything too personal, and sure enough, the brunette whips around, face flushed and eyes wide. Guy smiles in a way that he hopes is reassuring and glances between the two of them.
“Hello,” the brunette says, blushing further still, and introduces herself as Daphne. The blonde (her girlfriend? They were speaking of sex, and they both have a bit of that particular femme air to them, though Guy isn’t yet sure) is named Annie, and after Guy makes his way to the kitchen to drop off his groceries, he gets a look at the rest of the weekend’s guests. In addition to Annie and Daphne, there’s an older, white-haired man with a cane, a taller man with a stockier build, and…
...and the most attractive man Guy has seen in a long time.
He’s blond, and shorter than him, and handsome in a pretty-boy way, and a sweet sunny smile graces his fine-boned face as he shakes Guy’s hand. His stock only rises in Guy’s eyes when he compliments Guy in French—admiration in his native tongue is certainly something over which to swoon.
“ Parlez français?" Guy asks, and the blond man’s face lights up as he briefly expands on his studies in Paris. His pronunciation is wonderful for an American, and when Guy comments on it, he humbly glances down at his shoes, as if a second language is nothing (Guy knows firsthand that it’s not), before smiling back up at Guy. That damned smile.
Perhaps Guy is letting his hope stretch a little far, but he’s been living in the United States for a few years now, and of the American men he’s met who’ve studied French, very few of them have been exclusively interested in women (although, Guy supposes, his circles may be self-selecting). And then there’s the way he holds himself, sort of stiff and poised and self-aware, but with no attempt to be overtly masculine, either. On their own, neither would be damning evidence, and together, it’s still not certain, but it’s intoxicating nonetheless.
And that smile...
“Aww,” the white-haired man says warmly, causing Guy to snap his eyes upward. “Look at that.” He nods to the window. “Two deer in the snow, just kind of nuzzling each other.”
Guy coos along with everyone else, because the deer, after all, look very sweet. With it being winter, neither of the deer have antlers; either one could be a buck, or a doe. Both could easily be the same sex. Guy is no animal expert; he wouldn’t know.
“Yes,” the taller, stockier man comments. “It’s enough to put ideas in one’s head.”
The room agrees, one by one. When the blond man grins and then looks away, almost coquettishly, Guy’s heart skips a beat, and he moves without thinking to follow him towards the window. Quickly, surreptitiously, Guy lets his eyes wander, gaze tracing down the man’s back.
Allo , indeed.
So, he’s a pretty boy with a delightful smile, fluency in French, and a great ass. And Guy’s going to be spoiling him with home-cooked meals, and guiding him along the ski slopes, all in all spending the entire weekend together?
The delicate mannerisms, the grins and the glances away—perhaps if Guy plays his cards right, this weekend could end up being far more exciting than he’d originally anticipated. All he has to do is make a move.
Annie, Niles is quick to discover, has no interest in Frasier. But, in his usual fashion, Frasier is so swept up in his own fantasies that he doesn’t even notice his beloved buxom blonde taking every opportunity to flirt with his little sister. Niles would lord the outcome over him if she weren’t so… uncomfortable. Sure, she'd briefly thought, maybe even hoped, that Rugby Captain Annie might be a lesbian, too, but that had been purely for a sense of solidarity. This… this was something for which she hadn’t prepared.
“Oh, I know the pain you’re going through,” Annie simpers now, leaning in from her spot against the coffee table to rest a manicured hand on Niles’s knee. “I’ve helped quite a few lovers through breakups—or, usually leading up to them,” she giggles.
It’s after dinner at the point (a wonderful meal prepared with love by Guy), and Niles has already changed into her dressing gown, but now she regrets the comfort, because Annie’s hand on her knee is making her entire leg yearn to vacate the room, and she feels too naked , too vulnerable, especially giving that Annie looks the part of a blonde panther ready to pounce.
Being openly hit on is an unusual, uncomfortable experience, and now there’s a new pit of dread in Niles’s stomach: did Daphne bring along her one lesbian friend with the hopes of setting her up with Niles? Because if so, Daphne doesn’t know her as well as Niles would have thought, because, even setting Daphne’s own beauty aside (as difficult as that is), Annie’s not her type. Frasier thinks this is Pygmalion ? Niles’s type only extends to women who can tell Pygmalion from Babe: Pig in the City .
“What you really need,” Annie continues, rising from the table and drawing closer to Niles with dazzling unsubtlety, “is something to take your mind off it.” She starts to lower herself into Niles’s lap, and Niles can feel her chest growing tighter. “I’ll tell you what always works for me—”
“Time to go upstairs!” Daphne cries suddenly, and Niles lets out a breath that she knew very well she was holding. Annie resists, of course, but Daphne drags her to her room with the promise of a birthday present, and Niles is nothing but grateful for the reprieve. Perhaps Daphne wasn’t trying for a setup after all.
After Daphne and Annie shut the door to Daphne’s room, Niles shuts her eyes and takes another moment to herself. It’s all she can do to savor the quiet, one sweet moment without a misguided attempt at flirtation—
“ Allo .”
Niles whips around, and the silky French voice belongs, of course, to Guy (despite Frasier’s tendency to lapse into French, especially around women, Niles doubts that Annie’s the type to appreciate it, and moreover, Daphne has already taken Annie away to her bedroom). He’s closer to her on the couch than he was before, but after Annie’s constant invasions of personal space, it’s still a welcome change.
“Hi,” she breathes, and then stops, because Guy has an oddly inquisitive twinkle in his eye, his gaze flicking across her face. “Can… Can I help you?”
“Perhaps,” Guy purrs, cocking his head to the side. “Your friend Daphne, she did not like the way Annie was flirting with you, no?”
Niles’s breath catches in her throat. Guy’s tone is something she can’t quite parse, the hint of some joke he expects her to know lingering between his words. It could be a gay joke (Niles is no stranger to being the subject of those), but that wouldn’t make sense, logistically, because he’s talking about Daphne, not her. And there’s none of that leer, she realizes, that men sometimes take on when they want to derive their own pleasure from seeing two women kiss. So what’s the hidden meaning? Is he implying that Daphne—
No, no, none of that. Niles curses herself; she promised herself she wouldn’t think about it anymore. Guy is looking at her expectantly, and while her heart may be bursting to inquire further, she wants to crush any wishful thinking under her heel before it gets away from her and spirals into hopeless fantasy—especially in front of a stranger who could very well turn out to be less than tolerant.
“I suppose she didn’t,” she replies after a long pause, because agreeing with Guy, nothing more, nothing less, is neutral, a statement that could be taken as a simple “yes, I’m flattered, but not into women”. That is, of course, in spite of the fact that if a different woman had made those same advances, she’d have thrown herself at her without a second thought.
“And, if I am not being too forward,” Guy continues, “it seems that you did not like Annie’s flirting, either.”
“I was hoping to let her down easy,” Niles admits, which is again true, but still neutral enough to pass for a purely heterosexual sentiment. “Was I that obvious?”
Guy shrugs. “Annie is not your…” He searches for a moment, fumbling for the English phrase. “Cup of tea.” And he winks, his lip caught between his ivory-white teeth.
Tension mounts Niles’s brow. Is Guy… flirting ? With her? She’s never been incredible at telling when men are flirting with her, but, then, her mannish clothes and short hair usually do the talking on their own. Niles fiddles with the collar of her pajamas; her work suits rarely see vacations, but now she misses the clear-cut message their unfemininity sends—damn that girlishly unisex Fair Isle sweater!
“Well, sort of,” she starts, a close-lipped smile helping to measure her words. “There are…” She glances towards Daphne’s room, and as if on cue, the sound of Daphne’s laughter rings out like the clearest bell (Annie is laughing, too, but it is no match for the sweet music that Daphne’s making). “There are other factors—”
“Niles.” Guy slings an arm over the back of the couch, and his voice falls to a conspiratorial hush. “It is all right to admit your inclinations to me. I myself do not… sway towards women.”
“Oh, thank god,” Niles laughs suddenly, the tension releasing from her face in a rush of hearty breath. Guy shoots her a look, and she laughs again, her hand to her temple. “I’m sorry, I’m just—I’m relieved, really! You have no idea how glad I am that you’re gay, too.”
Guy’s bright grin widens ever further. “I have some idea.”
Niles chuckles. “I suppose I was so obvious after all.”
“There is nothing wrong with being obvious,” says Guy. “It helps us find our people, does it not?”
“Well, then,”—Niles raises her mug of rum—”to finding our people.”
The pair of giddy laughs rings out once more from Daphne’s room, and Guy gives the closed door an auspicious glance. “Something tells me that we would have reasonable luck finding our people in the next room.”
“Ah, yes, well. Annie’s been more than a little obvious, too.”
“Yes, Annie…” Guy muses. “And Daphne.”
The rum halfway into Niles’s mouth spurts back into her cup. “What do you mean, Daphne?”
Guy smiles down into his mug. “As I said, it helps when one is a little obvious.”
“I’m sorry, there must be some kind of misunderstanding,” says Niles. “I don’t think Daphne… swings that way.”
“And I think that she does,” Guy retorts. “Explain to me why else she would be so jealous of Annie flirting with you.”
“Jealous?” Niles looks up from her rum; the wishful thinking begins to crawl its way out from beneath her heel. “Do you really think so?”
He raises his eyebrows. “You saw the way she dragged Annie right off to her bedroom.”
“She did, didn’t she?” Niles feels a smile ease onto her face. If she’s being perfectly objective (which she should be, as a good psychiatrist), Daphne has actually dropped a few hints before. Not necessarily about being interested in Niles (that would be far too intoxicating to handle), but about being interested in women as a whole. Nothing major, just a few mentions here and there about how she was probably straight (always the “probably”, left lingering in Niles’s mind for weeks), but there were always her little comments, her exceptions: a woman she met in a tea shop that took her breath away, a few dreams she’d retold about her college roommate, the readiness with which, once upon a time, she had pretended to be Niles’s date, proud to be seen on her arm, pulling her close and kissing her deftly—
Niles had quickly dismissed such criteria as wishful thinking alone. But was it possible that in doing so, she’d dismissed what, to Guy, was obvious? Occam’s Razor: the simplest explanation is most likely to be the correct one. Perhaps the simplest explanation really was that Daphne was truly attracted to women—to Niles . Just the thought is enough to leave her flushed and foolish.
“We always do find each other in the end,” says Guy with a grin.
“Possibly,” Niles muses. “I just never imagined that it would happen this weekend.”
Guy settles back into his seat with a smirk. “ Really .”
Niles can’t help but smile back. Perhaps she should have realized it sooner, but the light, rapid beats of her own heart only seem concerned with the possibility of now.
Frasier steps out from the kitchen to announce the next batch of rum is ready and Guy leaves to refill their mugs, but Niles is still lost in thought, grinning like a fool. Somebody who isn’t her—who hasn’t borne witness to five years of pining, of a struggle over the only real relationship she’d ever known in the face of one silly crush—is saying that Daphne wants her. And, by god, she’s inclined to believe him.
Guy steps into the kitchen, where Niles’s father is stirring away merrily at the stovetop. He seems a nice enough man, although nothing like either of his sons—whereas Niles converses with Guy in flawless French, Martin cannot parse “rum” and “room” in French-accented English. But he knows Niles better than Guy does, so he slides into the topic that he’d really come to the kitchen to discuss.
“So,” he begins. “Your son is a charming man.”
“Yeah, I guess you could say that,” Martin laughs, still stirring. “Apparently, Annie’s hot for him. Go figure, right?”
“Yes, I could see that she was flirting. But, if I am not mistaken, was, ah…” Guy purses his lips. Does Martin know that Niles is gay? “Was her affection for him… misplaced?”
“I mean, if you ask me, I wouldn't say it’s a great idea on her part.” Martin snorts. “Just between us, he doesn’t exactly have the best track record—two divorces, one annulment—can you call it annulment when someone leaves another person at the altar?”
Guy’s eyebrows fly up. Niles must have tried for a while to be with women, the poor thing. Evidently, he’d always left them, though, one even at their wedding. With a shake of the head, Guy clicks his tongue. “You’d think that women would start to catch on to the pattern.”
Martin scratches the base of his neck with the non-rum-soaked end of his wooden spoon and laughs. “Yeah, you can say that again.”
Guy frowns. His pursuit of knowledge has proved to be a double-edged sword; after two failed marriages and one failed engagement, would Niles even be ready for a date, or, hell, for a hookup? Guy himself might not even bother with the complications if Niles wasn’t so handsome.
“So,” Martin says. “Can I get you anything? More rum? Or this?” He holds up a water bottle while stirring with the other hand. “I took it out for Daphne, but she didn’t want it.”
“The water, thank you.” Guy reaches out to nab it from him, and Martin returns to his stirring. “I have had enough rum for now. In fact, I wonder if it has clouded my judgement about something.” He frowns. How to be most delicate about this? “Is it my imagination, or is Niles attracted to… That is to say, is Niles…”
Martin finally turns away from the stove and puts down the spoon, a little miffed. “Gay? You can say the word, you know.”
“Oh, I have no issues saying the word,” Guy clarifies. “I was just curious. I thought I could have been mistaken, but it seemed like Niles was flirting with—”
“Now, hold on a sec, Guy ,” Martin spits out, like his name alone is filth on the tongue. “I don’t know how things are where you’re from, but I love both my kids, no matter what, okay?” Guy opens his mouth in correction, but Martin barrels ahead. “Niles happens to have just gotten out of a long-term relationship—with a woman, by the way—and I don’t give a damn if a little flirting makes you uncomfortable. We've all gone for our hopeless rebounds—”
“I would not say it is hopeless,” Guy finally interrupts, thankful just to get a word in edgewise, but also thrumming with the confirmation of Niles’s returned interest—even the man’s father had noticed. “No, not hopeless. In fact, I would say it is… reciprocated.”
Martin turns back to the stove, chuckling. “No, it’s not. I think I would know.”
Guy snorts, an involuntary response. Does Martin really think he can spot any gay person he passes by, just because he could identify his fastidious and flamboyant son? “Please, Martin. Not every one of us is as obvious as your Niles.”
Martin stops, lifting his head, and then laughs again. “Maybe Daphne’s right about my hearing. I could’ve sworn you said ‘us’.”
Martin turns to gape at Guy, a little dumbstruck. “Oh! Oh, geez, I’m sorry, y’know, for jumping to conclusions like that, I just—”
“No, I understand. You are protective of your children.” Guy gives him a tight-lipped smile. “But in these matters, I may know a little more than you do.”
“So, what, do you really think Niles has a chance?” asks Martin. “With—well, you know…”
“Oh, I’d say he has more than a chance.”
Martin frowns and rubs his ears, but shakes his head as if to clear it and picks up the tray of mugs. “Hey, well, then I’m glad. I say go for it!”
Guy grins despite himself as Martin leaves the kitchen. Although Martin’s back is turned, he breathes out, “You are a wonderful father!” and follows him into the living room.
By the time that everyone has had their buttered rum and gone their separate ways to bed, Niles can hardly take it anymore. If Guy is right—and what reason would he have to lie to her?—and Daphne truly is interested, then what’s stopping her? She can’t blame it on a fear of rejection anymore, only on a fear of change. And she’d left Maris, so, as much baggage as that has, it does prove that change, while terrifying, can indeed be for the better.
This is what she tells herself as she approaches the adjoining door, palms wet and mouth dry. All she has to do is push herself off this ledge, and she can find out just how much fun skydiving can be (metaphorically, of course. Skydiving, could you imagine?). She can almost hear Guy’s voice whispering in the back of her mind, ushering her onwards: “Don’t be timid, go for it!”
Before she can change her mind, she raps on the door. “Daphne?”
There’s no response. Niles scolds herself for failing already at not being timid; of course Daphne can’t hear her if she’s whispering that quietly! Hesitantly, she turns the knob, and with her heart pattering faster than a hummingbird’s wings, she steps into the room.
Daphne is not there. No one is, only a bed with slightly mussed sheets. “Daphne?” she calls again, and this time, there’s a muffled response from the bathroom that sounds something like “Wait just a minute!”
Relief and adrenaline burst in Niles’s chest, and the words come flowing out like a river of rum (is she drunk? It doesn’t matter). “I can’t wait any longer. Listen, I’m still not sure if you’re interested in women, but life is too short for me to not try and tell you how I feel. I just need you to know that I’ve loved you ever since I first laid eyes on you!”
The fact that she’s finally said the words, no mistaking them, still leaves Niles’s hands shaking, but in that moment, her heart is flying with hope, soaring into possibility.
“I feel the exact same way!” Annie cries, emerging from the bathroom, and Niles’s heart is unceremoniously shot down, hitting the ground with a limp, wet thud.
“Annie!” she shouts, because she isn’t quite sure how to take back a declaration of love.
“I see you’re surprised. Typical butch,” Annie giggles. “I’ve been trying to send you signals all night, but the peril of being so feminine is passing for straight, though, isn’t it?”
Annie has certainly not passed for straight at all, given that she’s spent all evening performing every motion of her mouth with as much tongue as possible while making direct eye contact with the most obvious lesbian in the room, but Niles doesn’t exactly have the words for that when Annie is backing her against the wall.
“I don’t mind if I have to make the first move, though,” Annie says devilishly, “as long as you make the second one.”
Niles starts to babble (at this point, not even she’s sure what she’s saying), but Annie is pressing close to her and making her promise not to tell Daphne, and Niles is hoping, praying for someone (but not Daphne, dear god, not Daphne) to come and save her from this onslaught of lust.
Guy is just starting to settle in when he catches murmurs of conversation from the adjacent room. That, of course, is nothing to fuss over; it’s early enough that they’d likely quiet down by the time Guy actually needs to get to sleep. He just prays that Daphne and Annie don’t get too secure in the thickness of the walls, lest they decide to—
“Annie!” a voice cries, and Guy realizes with a start that it’s Niles. He sounds distressed, the poor thing, and Guy can’t quite hear what Annie is saying back but her tone is more than friendly. He rises from the bed, tiptoeing over to press his ear to the door.
“Just promise me you won’t mention this to Daphne,” he can hear Annie say, and suddenly Guy’s just as angry for Daphne as he is for Niles. That cheating bitch! And it certainly doesn’t help that Niles sounds so uncomfortable, too, like he’s wishing that someone would interrupt. It’s a damn good thing Guy’s listening in. He knocks on the door sharply, and the conversation stops.
“Come in!” Niles calls, and Guy sweeps in, feeling particularly chivalrous. Sure enough, Annie is standing, sultry, in the nightgown Daphne gave her (cheater!), and Niles is pressed awkwardly to the wall before her. The second he sees Guy, though, he calls his name and takes the opportunity to wiggle free of Annie, rushing towards Guy with a look so grateful that Guy has never felt higher.
“What do you want?” Annie spits, her voice dripping with venom, and it’s at this moment that Guy realizes that he hasn’t planned this far ahead. He’d been so eager to be the knight in shining armor that he’d forgotten about the dragon standing guard over the prince.
“Niles,” he manages, forging ahead nonetheless, “you told me you wanted to see that… thing.” Very smooth, Guy, very smooth. “You know… in my room.”
Niles, though, doesn’t seem to care how pathetic the excuse is. “Oh, yes, right! Thank you for reminding me.”
Annie demands detail, but Niles smartly keeps things vague, and, with a faux-apologetic air, accompanies Guy back out into the hallway.
“That was close,” Niles whispers giddily, leaning in to Guy. He grabs Guy by the shoulder then, looking into his eyes for a brief, bright moment as he whispers again: “I owe you a big one.”
Guy’s breath skips, and he grins. For all Niles’s bashfulness, he sure knew how to be forward when it counted. So this was it, then—the moment he’d been hinting and winking at all night. But Niles is walking the other direction.
“Your room?” Guy asks, pointing, and Niles, rethinking, turns back around. A brief whispered exchange leads them towards Guy’s room, and as Niles remarks that he’s “bound to make noise”, Guy’s temptation to draw that noise out of him only grows. They just need to pass the threshold of the room and close the door, and then Guy can throw himself at—
Daphne? What’s she doing in Guy’s bed?
Daphne quickly throws the covers over her head before Niles asks what she’s doing here in Guy’s room, and Daphne reveals that she’s really looking for Annie’s room, which makes far more sense.
“Wait for me,” Niles calls as Daphne gears up to leave the room. “The hallway is terribly dark. I’ll show you the way.”
What a gentleman Niles is—this graciousness is what drew Guy to him in the first place. He probably wants to let Daphne know about Annie’s flirtation with him, but to break the news one-on-one. As Daphne steals into the hallway, Guy takes Niles by the arm and pulls him aside.
“Listen,” he begins, resting his other hand on Niles’s shoulder. “Are you going to tell Daphne?”
Niles stiffens under his touch. “What, now ?”
“If you think the time is right.” Guy shrugs. “You’ve known her for much longer than I have. I trust your judgement on the matter. Just… be delicate, in case it’s a surprise to her.”
“I… okay.” Niles nods, eyes fixed on the carpet. “I will tell her. Even if she doesn’t like it, she deserves to know.”
“And she will want to know,” Guy reassures him. Who wouldn’t want to know about an unfaithful partner?
Niles nods again. “All right, thank you. I do feel a lot better about telling her now.”
“It is no issue.” Guy gives Niles a little push towards the door. “Gay men and lesbians have got to have each other’s backs, you know.”
Niles grins. “Yes, we do. Speaking of which, my room should be safe now.”
“Very well,” Guy says with a smirk curling into his lips. “I’ll see you later.” He almost makes a comment about getting on his back, but he leaves it at that. They’ll have plenty of time for dirty talk later.
“Excellent, yes,” Niles mutters, albeit a little distractedly, as he rushes out of the room. Guy can’t blame him; it’s stressful news to have to break to a friend. Luckily for Niles, after all is said and done, Guy will be there to help take his mind off of it.
Niles’s heart is pounding. It’s just her and Daphne now, alone out in the hall, and if she doesn’t tell her now, her own cowardice will eat her alive. “Before you see Annie, can you come to my room?”
Daphne gives her a look, soft confusion, but not a rebuff. “What for?”
Does she know? It can’t matter if she does; the conversation is already in motion. Niles swallows. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
That in and of itself feels like an admission, but if Daphne senses anything amiss, she doesn’t say, only nodding and following Niles into the dark room, closing the door softly shut behind them.
Even in the dark, Niles can feel Daphne’s eyes on her. “This may come as a surprise to you…” she starts, and feels the confession catch in her throat. It should be easier now, to just spit it out, just tell her, and where is that damned light switch—
Her hand catches the switch, and in the time it takes Niles’s eyes to adjust to the light, she's stopped dead. Annie is splayed out on Niles’s bed, clad in her nightie and biting her lip. Any semblance of eroticism, however, falls from her face the moment she spots Daphne, and she scrambles back.
Daphne whips around. “Annie?” She gapes at the bed.
“Daphne!” Annie yells back, and Niles is sure she’ll sink into the floor.
“Didn’t I tell you to leave Dr. Crane alone?” Daphne scolds.
“And now I see why!” Annie stiffens up and glares at Daphne. “It’s enough that you play all your little games, but you had to go after the one woman I had my eye on!”
“She—what?” What Annie’s implying is enough to give heart palpitations to Niles’s pre-existing heart palpitations, and her head whips to face Daphne.
“I am not going after Dr. Crane!” Daphne retorts, and her words are a vat of ice water into which Niles’s heart has once again been unceremoniously dunked, the flames fizzling in seconds flat. It hurts, but it’s sobering. Niles nods, to no one but herself.
“So it’s a play for me, then? To make me jealous?” Annie is quick out of bed and to her feet. “You tell me ‘not to break poor Dr. Crane’s heart’, but you’re fine toying with both of us if you can have your fun!” she cries, jabbing a finger outwards.
Niles’s heart stops beating altogether. Annie is implying a lot of things, from Niles’s daydreams and nightmares alike. If Daphne is “having her fun” with her, then that means that she’s not crazy, that the signals are real, but that the feelings aren’t. She looks to Daphne, searching her face for the the callousness she’d never have expected, or at least some indication of the truth—
“I would never do that to Dr. Crane,” Daphne hisses at Annie, “and I’m certainly not chasing after you!”
This is becoming too much of a roller coaster for Niles to handle, and unless she wants an inflated bill from the cardiologist at her next appointment, she has to have her say. “Um, Annie,” she stumbles, “There’s obviously been a misunderstanding or two at play here—”
“I don’t see how!” Annie crosses her arms. “You barged into my room not five minutes ago and told me how much you wanted me.”
Daphne looks genuinely surprised, which only means that she has eyes, to be fair, not necessarily eyes for Niles. Still, Niles tries to clarify the mistaken confession as quickly as—
“Then, as soon as this one peeps her head out the closet, it’s ‘shove off, Annie’!” Daphne looks like she’s about to protest, but Annie storms off towards the door to her room. “This is the worst birthday I’ve ever had!” she cries, before storming into her own room and slamming the door behind her.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Dr. Crane,” Daphne says with such softness that Niles nearly turns to jelly. “Finding women as a woman is hard enough, and now I’ve ruined everything for you.”
“No, you haven’t,” Niles tries to reassure her. “Listen, what Annie was saying just now, about you, what did she mean by—”
“No, no, it doesn’t matter, this is about you,” Daphne frets, and Niles wants to scream that it could be about them, but she bites her tongue. “Don’t worry about me, Dr. Crane, it’s none of my business.”
“No, no, of course,” Niles stammers. “But, just out of curiosity—”
“It’s all right, I’ll leave you be.” Daphne pulls her robe tighter and heads for the door to her room. “I’ve embarrassed myself enough for one night.”
“Daphne—” Niles protests again, but she’s already stolen into her dark bedroom, leaving Niles no real choice but to dutifully follow behind.
As the door closes behind them, there’s a sound like a gunshot in the dark, and Niles jumps, reaching for Daphne but missing, almost stumbling, but flailing out her arms and barely regaining her balance.
The light flicks on, and Niles sees the champagne bottle first. No guns, and, after all, she should know the sound of a champagne cork anywhere—she’s just anxious, that’s all. But she barely has time to catch her breath before she realizes just who it is that’s holding the bottle.
It’s Frasier, with champagne in Daphne’s room. Frasier, seemingly naked in Daphne’s bed. Frasier, naked, with champagne, in Daphne’s bed.
Some kind of panicked exclamation comes out of both her and Daphne’s mouths, and Frasier can only stammer “Sorry, wrong room!” as he clambers out of the bed, desperately gripping Daphne’s sheet around his waist. The champagne bottle tucked under his other arm is bubbling over, nearly spilling over onto the carpet as Frasier crosses the threshold into Niles’s room and slams the door behind him.
Daphne is frozen in place, simply gaping at her now-sheetless bed. Finally, she lets out a shaky breath and says, surprisingly calmly (although it does not appear to be a natural calm), “Well, that was something.”
A horrible thought occurs to Niles, and it’s all she can do to keep bile down while asking the question: “This was his mistake, right? You and Frasier never…”
“Oh, heavens no!” Daphne shouts. “No, never.” She shudders. “Why would you even—”
“I just had to be sure,” Niles sighs, shaking her head. “Given the way this night has been going so far, I don’t think I can afford to rule anything out.”
The bedroom door creaks open, undoubtedly Niles finally arriving for some well-deserved alone time together. Guy shifts himself under the covers and reaches for the cord of the bedside lamp. “ Bonsoir .”
The light flicks on. “Guy!” someone shouts, and Guy bolts up in bed, because the figure in the doorway is not Niles, but a mortified Frasier.
“You are not the Crane I want!” Guy all but yells, and Frasier takes the opportunity to defend his heterosexuality in protest. If the shock of the wrong brother hadn’t already done the trick, the aggressively straight machismo would have been the fastest way to kill his arousal entirely. “Where is Niles?”
Frasier flings open the connecting door. “Oh, Niles? Company!”
Niles walks in and does an immediate double-take. “Frasier!” He looks so concerned that were Guy at all clothed under the covers, he’d leap up to comfort him immediately. “Are you and Guy —I mean, you’re the straightest person I know—well, I thought , but if—”
“Niles, don’t be jealous,” Guy interrupts. “It’s not what it looks like!”
“Oh, okay.” Niles’s face smooths to normal, but then he freezes. “Wait, what?”
Guy tries to cut back in, just to clear the air, but Frasier launches into some histrionics about how there’s a woman in love with him behind the next door and opens it with a flourish. If Guy’s lucky, Frasier will be preoccupied for long enough for he and Niles to sort out the whole—
“AHHHH!” A high-pitched scream pierces the air, and Frasier bursts back into the room, a shrill “go away!” just on his heels.
Daphne, the brunette lesbian, dashes in from the other door. “What’s going on here?”
Annie storms in after Frasier, clutching a towel around her torso. “How dare you barge in on me when I’m naked! I thought I made it perfectly clear that I’m not interested!”
“Sorry, no!” Frasier cries, eyes glued to the floor in front of Annie. “My father said you were hot for me!”
“Hot for you? ” Annie’s face curdles like bad milk. “Is your father so dense he couldn’t pick up that I’m a lesbian?”
“A lesbian?” Frasier’s head snaps to Daphne. “You told my father that your lesbian friend was hot for me?”
“I said she wanted your sister!” Daphne huffs, tightening her robe around her waist. “And I told you she was a women’s rugby captain!”
Guy shakes his head. “It’s always women in sports,” he quips towards Niles, hoping for a laugh, an eye-roll, something resembling camaraderie.
Instead, Niles frowns, apparently more confused than anything else. “I don’t play sports.”
Sweet, silly Niles. Guy can’t help it; he drops his voice to a sultry whisper. “If you can get everyone out of here, there is one I can teach you.”
“Well, you’re just putting the moves on everyone, aren’t you?” Annie spits, sneering after Niles. “Daphne told me you were gay!”
Guy whips his head around. “He is gay. Can’t you and Daphne fix your relationship problems elsewhere?”
Daphne gasps. “ Our relationship problems?”
Frasier raises his eyebrows. “ He? ”
Niles rushes over to Guy. “Would you kindly get out of my bed? I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”
“I told you, admit your true nature!” Guy gestures at Annie and Daphne. “Stop chasing these lesbians!”
“Guy!” Niles shouts. “ I’m a lesbian. I’m not a man. And I told you Daphne was straight!”
Guy has barely processed the fact that he’s been flirting with a woman all night when Annie scoffs coldly. “Oh, so you’re straight now? You weren’t so straight after my rugby practices in university.”
“I told you, I’m bisexual! And sorry I don’t go around broadcasting that to my boss!” Daphne retorts. “Oh, but you don’t believe in ‘bisexual’, do you?”
“I’m having a hard time believing this myself,” Niles mutters, looking like he—like she’s short-circuited.
“Niles.” Frasier gives her a sharp glance.
“But…” Guy fumbles. “Your father, he said that you were interested—”
“This is ridiculous!” Annie huffs, tugging her towel up farther over her bosom. “You're the worst family I’ve ever met!
“Why would my father think that I was—” Niles starts, seeming to snap out of her stupor, but she flinches at Annie’s volume, seemingly trying to shake the sound out of her head. “That I was interested in you ? Did he not—”
“This is why I never could have dated you!” Daphne hisses at Annie, and Niles appears to lose her train of thought once more. “Blaming them when you got us into—”
“Am I the only one here who isn’t gay?” Frasier howls, and even through his waves of panicked misunderstanding, Guy has to roll his eyes.
“Don’t act like you’ve been so sane!” Annie whirls towards Daphne, dripping with venom. “You’re the one who spent all day drooling over some gay bloke—”
This catches Guy’s ear. “You were interested in me? ”
“No, no, no!” Daphne shouts. “I am not humiliating myself any more than I already have!” But already Annie is shouting again, too, and Frasier is saying something else, and Daphne is blushing furiously and Niles’s head looks about to buzz off of her shoulders.
“Maybe we should all simply go to bed,” Guy calls out, but only Frasier seems to take any notice above the clamor.
“Just a minute, Guy! You’re not so innocent, either!” Frasier fumes. “So you were trying to sleep with my little sister? How dare —”
“Frasier, I’m an adult. I can sleep with whomever I please,” Niles snaps from behind him, then shakes her head and turns back around. “And no , Annie, that doesn’t mean—”
“In my defense,” Guy squeaks, “I did think she was a man at the time—”
The door bangs open, startling everyone into silence. Martin stomps in, cane in hand. “Hey, hey, hey! Keep it down in here, there are people here trying to sleep!” Then his brow furrows, and he clicks his jaw. “Oh, hey, my ears must have popped. I can hear again!”
Guy gapes at him, as does the rest of the room, as the reality of that sentence begins to sink in.
Unfortunately, despite the apparent trouble with his ears, Martin’s eyes seem to be working just fine, and he takes in the scene with near-intrusive scrutiny (every second that passes under his gaze has Guy wishing more and more, even with the covers over him, that he was wearing pants). At last, Martin turns his eyes to the floor, wishes them all a swift “goodnight”, and leaves without another word.
Most everyone is fairly quick to take Guy’s advice to “go to bed” after that. Guy slips on his robe while turned away from the rest of the party, and is eager to get to his own room when he feels a hand clamp down on his shoulder. Guy turns to find Frasier looking somewhat embarrassed, which is a reasonable appearance for a man clad only in a sheet about his waist.
“Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea from this,” Frasier prefaces—always a promising start—“but I do have to ask.”
Guy frowns. “All right?”
Frasier glances over his shoulder to ensure that no one else is listening. “We both know it’s been quite the evening, what the whole lodge coursing with lust and—and hormones, and—” He’s getting a tad flustered now. “Annie is a lesbian, I know that now, and Niles is my sister, and Daphne is—well, Daphne is...”
“I believe she said she was bisexual,” Guy offers, and Frasier gets a little red in the face.
“Well, yes, but more importantly, we have a working relationship that neither of the two of us would ever put in jeopardy. But, then, I must ask, was there any point this evening where you found yourself, ah...drawn to me?”
Guy searches his face for a hint of deception, but the man seems dead serious. “I thought you said that you were not—”
“I’m not!” Frasier snaps, causing Niles to turn to them quizzically. Frasier waves her off desperately, and moves towards the door, gesturing for Guy to follow. “I’m not,” he repeats, much more quietly this time, “but I was simply curious—”
“Ah—I understand.” Guy raises a hand to cut Frasier off. “I have been in this situation many times before.”
“I—no, not like that!” Frasier grows redder still, and he keeps looking back over his shoulder. Both Daphne and Annie have left the room at this point, and Niles appears lost in thought, but he steers Guy and himself out into the hallway nonetheless.
“This should be a simple question,” he grumbles. “None of your affection was ever, at all, addressed towards me?”
Guy purses his lips and gives Frasier a quick up-and-down; even though he is the right gender this time, he is still no Niles (or rather, the man-Niles of his imagination).
“I should be getting to bed,” Guy says lamely.
“Not even a little?” Frasier asks, and he looks so pathetic that Guy almost feels bad that the answer is still no (almost). “Are you sure?”
Guy gives Frasier one last look. “Perhaps you should talk to Daphne—ask her about being bisexual.” And with that, he turns to walk to his room.
“I already know!” Frasier calls from behind him, and then, after a short pause, “What it means, I mean, not—oh, forget it!”
Guy’s glad they’re all going to sleep now; it’s probably best for all of them that they all be unconscious as soon as possible.
The next morning, Niles is unsurprised to find the kitchen table entirely empty. She’d checked Frasier’s room to find him still asleep, and Dad’s coat and shoes are gone, so he’s probably out for a walk in the snow. She’d passed Guy on the way down into the living room, and he’d practically snapped his neck to avoid eye contact with her, sheepishly ducking back into his room. Annie and Daphne’s bedroom doors are both closed. That leaves Niles, still in her dressing gown, to muddle about and make her own breakfast.
There are two dozen eggs in the fridge, so Niles starts heating a pan on the stovetop and busies herself separating egg whites from yolks. Perhaps if she bakes later (and given the stress of the previous night, she likely will), she can use the yolks for an egg wash. What else is in the refrigerator?—strawberries would be perfect, and spinach, too.
Once the ingredients are all out, the dish is relatively quick to cook; after all, it’s key to not let the egg whites burn or crisp too much. By the time she’s finished making her omelette, though, she’s ready to take a seat and give her feet a rest; her nerves have set her pacing about the kitchen again. Niles grabs a fresh knife and fork from the drawer, pulls out a kitchen chair, and gets to work on her breakfast.
“Mind if I join you?” a voice asks, sweet and sincere. Niles looks up, and Daphne has one hand resting on the back of the chair across from hers, near-ethereal as the sunlight from the window caresses her silhouette from behind.
“Of course. Of course.” Niles bursts into a fresh grin, rising from her seat. “Here, I’ll fix you an omelette, too—”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that, Dr. Crane—”
“No, no, here, I insist,” Niles reasserts, the words tumbling out of her mouth before she can remember that it’s supposed to be awkward between the two of them. “Do you want anything special, or…?”
Daphne laughs, in that sleepy morning way, and it makes Niles’s heart ache in her chest. “I’ll just have what you’re having. It looks good—you have good taste.”
“I—yes, of course.” Niles turns to the stove to hide the lovesick smile that she’s certain is on her face and sets to work preparing a second omelette.
“Are the others still asleep, then?” Daphne asks, resting her chin in her hand.
“Frasier is,” Niles responds as she rinses the spinach. “But Dad’s an early riser, like me. I think he’s out.”
“Probably wanted to get away from all us young things,” Daphne laughs. “What a sight he walked in on last night—everyone but the two of us barely clothed! I can’t imagine what he must have thought.”
“I’m hardly sure which level of nakedness is more embarrassing,” Niles quips. Daphne cocks her head, and Niles rushes to clarify. “I mean, one hates to be thought sexually incapable.”
This sets Daphne off, bursting into mad peals of laughter that set Niles glancing towards the living room to make sure Frasier hasn’t stumbled groggily out of bed. “By your own father?” she finally manages through her giggles.
No, by you, comes the immediate answer on Niles’s tongue, but she swallows that thought down in lieu of speaking, going along with the silly premise. It had been such an odd trip already; perhaps the only way to adapt was to play the unlikely comedian. She waggles her eyebrows at Daphne, which is enough to set her laughing again, and that bell-like sound proves contagious as a case of the giggles tears through Niles, too.
As their giddiness dies down again to chuckles, Niles fixes her eyes back down on her egg whites. Should she try to clear things up now, or just leave it be and forget that the previous day ever happened? She has to admit to herself, both are tempting options.
I told you, I’m bisexual , Daphne’s voice from last night echoes in her head, and Niles’s head rushes, and words are coming out of her mouth before she’s even aware she’s thought them.
“I’m not interested in Annie,” she blurts, and as she turns away from the stove, she’s met with those wide, warm brown eyes, gazing expectantly into hers, prompting her to elaborate. “I never was. It was all part of that big string of misunderstandings.”
Daphne cocks her head, then nods. “That does make sense. I was surprised to hear you’d apparently declared your love for a woman you’d just met—I don’t know, you don’t seem like a love-at-first-sight kind of woman.”
“You’d be surprised,” Niles says, and then blanches and curses herself internally. Her mind had filled immediately with visions of four years prior, a beautiful brunette stranger in a denim shirt, but Daphne was certainly the last person who needed to know about that .
Again, to Niles’s luck, Daphne doesn’t seem to notice that Niles has gone the color of a fish belly (or perhaps her face hasn’t paled—perhaps she just feels like it has). “Well, then, maybe you are,” she says with a smile that says she knows better, even as Niles knocks over the salt and pepper shakers as she fumbles to sprinkle in the chopped-up spinach. “But I didn’t see that for you and Annie. Not when…”
Niles hurriedly drops the last of the spinach into the pan, whirling back to face Daphne. “Not when what?”
“Well, with Annie, it’s just... “ Daphne grins up at Niles. “She’s not at all your type, is she?”
In that moment, Niles could take her by the sides of the face and kiss her right there in the kitchen until she saw stars. She smiles instead, nodding. “Far from it.”
She begins to drift towards Daphne then, their eyes locking, and just like that Niles is lost in them, never wanting to leave. The thought that had occupied her mind the entire night before (as she lay in bed, scarcely able to sleep) returns: Daphne likes women, Daphne likes women, Daphne—
“Dr. Crane?” Daphne says.
“Yes?” Niles responds, near breathlessness.
“I think my eggs are burning.”
“Hmm?” Niles hasn't exactly heard that turn of phrase before, but—oh! “Oh, yes, let me—” She whirls back around to the stove. Luckily, Daphne had caught it early, but the very edges of the omelette are already nearing black. “I’m so sorry, Daphne, I can—”
“It’s fine, I’ll take it—” Daphne starts.
“You can have mine if you like.” Niles turns and grabs up her own plate, ready to switch them, but Daphne just laughs again.
“No, it's all right, I like them crispy.” Daphne pats the table, gesturing for Niles to put her plate back down. “It’ll be perfect, I’m sure.”
Niles nods and returns her food to the table before transferring Daphne’s omelette to a new plate. She slices up a few more strawberries, too, arranging delicate slices on the plate with a care she hadn’t given to her own food. Niles glances back towards Daphne, who’s cozied up in her chair and absent-mindedly swiping the silky sleeve of her robe along her jawline, and, before she can second-guess her actions, slices carefully into a final strawberry, forming a little rose—a flourish she’d picked up in years of decorative garnishing. After positioning the strawberry rose next to the omelette with spinach leaves as, well, the leaves, she gifts the plate to Daphne without eye contact and sinks into her own seat.
“Oh, Dr. Crane!” Daphne gasps. “It’s a little flower! How precious,” she coos, and Niles smiles down at her plate.
“It’s the least I could do to make up for burning it,” Niles mumbles back, quickly shoveling a forkful of egg into her own mouth. It’s a tad colder than she’d like it, but she chews anyway. She'd rather withstand the sliminess than have no built-in excuse not to talk and start running off her mouth again.
“I really do appreciate it, you know,” Daphne adds, causing Niles to finally look back up. “The way you’re always looking out for me. I don’t know why I was ever scared to tell you—well.” She blushes slightly, and Niles knows she’s thinking about the previous evening’s debacle all over again.
Daphne sighs and brushes her bangs away from her face. “That I was bisexual. I was going to get around to it eventually, but I just—I don’t know. I wasn’t sure what you’d think.”
In truth, Niles had spent the night thinking only one thing, turning the thought over and over until it had enough rhythm to lull her to sleep. Daphne likes women, Daphne likes—
“You didn’t need to be scared,” Niles says, cutting short her (grantedly repetitive) internal monologue. “You… you know I care for you very much, and I wouldn’t have passed judgement on you. In fact, I dare say”—she gestures to her whole self—“that that would be a tad hypocritical on my part.”
Daphne chuckles and picks up a strawberry slice with her fork. “I’d certainly have sooner told you than your brother or Mr. Crane. I know you’re more… familiar with the area.”
Niles swallows a bite of omelette. “That’s one way to put it.”
“But I’ve only dated men,” Daphne continues, “and I still wouldn't mind meeting a nice man, you know, settling down. I just know now that it could be a nice girl, too.”
“You don’t think that’s silly?” Daphne asks before “That I’m keeping my options open like that? Or that—well, any of it?”
“No, not, of course not!” Niles begins twirling her fork in her hands, shifting its weight from palm to palm so that she can stay centered. “You see, ah, when I was in undergrad, I, for reasons that are obvious now, had a bit of a long-standing fixation on the history of sexology. You know, Kinsey, Hirschfeld, Benjamin…”
“I don’t know, not entirely,” Daphne says, “but continue.”
“Oh, okay,” Niles mumbles, attempting to organize her thoughts. “Are you familiar with the Kinsey Scale for sexual desire and behavior?”
“I don’t need a full history right now,” Daphne teases, then notes, “though I’ve got no doubt you could give it to me.”
Some more little pieces of yesterday only then begin to slot together. Annie twirling about yesterday in her new nightie— Daphne just gave it to me . Guy hitting Niles with a knowing smirk— I’ll bet she did. She hadn’t thought anything of it at the time. And Daphne just now—that’s certainly not what she meant, but it still causes Niles to lose her train of thought completely.
She must be staring into space for a little bit longer than normal, because Daphne speaks again, a guiding tone blooming through her words. “You were saying something about how your studies related to what you thought of me? Or something to do with—oh, Dr. Crane, are you choking? Nod if you need me to give you the heimlich.”
“I’m—I’m all right,” Niles sputters, coughing up a lump of egg white and trying very hard not to think about Daphne’s arms wrapped around her midsection. “No, yes, I mean—I was saying that, in all of those studies—and I read quite a bit on the subject—there were, more often than not, people who expressed desire for both sexes—although there’s a great degree of variation in human sex characteristics, which is actually what the word ‘bisexual’ originally referred to, which is why Kinsey himself didn’t—”
Daphne laughs, and Niles clamps her mouth shut. Daphne had already said that she didn’t need to elaborate, and yet here she is, elaborating, and Daphne is laughing and must think she’s a terrible listener—
But Daphne, as if reading Niles’s mind, shakes her head and waves her hand. “Oh, I promise I’m not laughing at you, Dr. Crane. You’re terribly smart, and you know I love that, but I’m not sure you can expect me to be on your level at seven in the morning.”
“Oh, okay,” Niles chuckles, some of the stiffness releasing from her shoulders. “I suppose I got to my point, anyhow—that is, if you can find it among all the psychobabble.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I was listening.” Daphne’s hands ghost over her plate, coming to a rest by the strawberry rose. “I’m glad you understand. I guess it makes sense that you would more than Annie.”
“Right—she said something last night—or maybe you said about her…” Niles shakes her head. “I don’t know. But you needn’t worry about me having that kind of bias against you.” Against you, I don’t think I ever could. “That’s Annie’s problem, not yours. And besides, Annie is—” She cuts herself off before she can say “dumb” and takes a moment to rethink. “She seems to get set in her ideas of things.”
“Oh, like you’re one to talk about that,” Daphne jokes, and then, off Niles’s subsequent frown, continues, “You know I don’t mean that you’re not a learner. I don’t mind your little routines, I mean; those are for you, not me. I know you’d never want to hurt me, so, thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Niles mutters. “So, that’s why you didn’t tell me, then? People like Annie?”
“Well, that,” Daphne says, “and there was another thing, but—” A giggle escapes her lips as she chomps down on another forkful of her omelette. “Well, I suppose I wouldn’t have had to worry about that, either. All that worrying for nothing!”
“What? What is it?” Niles presses. Had Daphne suspected her infatuation? If so, what had made her change her mind?
Daphne swallows her food and laughs again. “It sounds silly when I say it now, but I didn’t want you to take it as a come-on. I mean, me going to my closest lesbian friend and telling her I’m into the ladies now? How is she supposed to take that?”
“Ah… of course,” Niles responds automatically, nodding just rapidly enough to dizzy herself a little.
“And especially now that you’re newly single, you,” Daphne adds, reaching across the table to swat Niles on the arm. “I’m sure it’s plenty tempting for the women of the world to pounce on you now that you’re unattached”—aside from Annie’s example, Niles doubts this immensely—“but speaking from experience, you need time after a long relationship like that. And I never had one last quite so long as fifteen years, so… the point is I wouldn’t want you to think I was trying to take advantage of you. Does that make sense?”
“Of course.” Unfortunately, it makes perfect sense. Sure, Daphne could be uninterested in her romantically, but did she have to be so kind in looking out for Niles as well? “Thank you, Daphne.”
“Any time.” Daphne gives her a smile before finishing the last of her omelette. “That was wonderful, by the way. Thank you.” She rises then, pops the strawberry rose into her mouth, and, still chewing, rises from the table, plate in hand.
“Hold on,” Niles says, and Daphne stops. “You said… your closest lesbian friend? I’m not sure how many others are in the running, but… closer than Annie?”
Daphne gives Niles a look like she’s lost her mind. “Of course!” she cries. “Sure, I’ve known Annie since uni, but…” She licks her lips. “You’re a very dear friend to me, Dr. Crane. And I damn well trust you over her.”
“You’re a very dear friend to me, too, Daphne,” Niles replies, and there’s no extra, bitter weight in her chest as she says it. No resentment, no tug at her lips from words desperately held back. She hadn’t felt a weight lift from her, but maybe it had been getting lighter this whole time.
“I’m going to go wash up and get a little more rest.” Daphne crosses around the kitchen table to clear her plate to the sink. “I’ll see you later.” And with that, she gives Niles a friendly peck on the top of the head and strolls from the kitchen.
It’s the first time in a long time that Niles has felt this little guilt over Daphne’s tender touch. That alone is enough in which to quietly bask.
But there’s also something else that’s unlocked in her. Yes, Daphne wants to date women, but not her. Daphne could want her, but she doesn’t. And sure, that would be heartbreaking if it hadn’t been a long time coming, and even so, it still is, a little bit. But it’s also a permission to move on. Separating from Maris would have been the right choice even if she hadn’t been consumed by such a silly crush, and now, even though she’s been single for some time, it’s only now that she can truly call herself unattached.
It feels good. For once, she’s unable to get more articulate about the matter—or, perhaps, she simply doesn’t need to.