July 4, 2004
Crawling on her knees in the green grass of their backyard, Dani made her way around one of the flower beds of their garden, her view perfectly hidden by the rows of three-foot-tall sunflowers before her, and, given the golden hour was upon them, the sun was barely bright enough to shine a vibrant light.
She could hear the tiniest giggles move quickly through the tall flowers, the sound of the brushing leaves on the path.
Dani and the little girl were in the middle of one of their many unsolicited games of hide and seek. Their matches were never planned. Instead, it always played out where Maggie would spontaneously run off somewhere, either trying to get out of something or just solely because she thought it was the most entertaining thing watching her mothers desperately try to find her.
The first time Maggie decided to play the game, it wasn’t so funny as both women were convinced their daughter was somehow kidnapped from their own home when she randomly disappeared one day. They tore the house apart and were about to call a search party for their daughter, when Jamie found she was in their closet the whole time, hiding under a pile of dirty laundry. She laid there, giddy for her mothers to discover her hiding place, only to be very confused as to why both of them were bawling their eyes out when they found her, begging her to never do that to them again. But, the little girl ceased to quit.
Nevertheless, Dani continued with the game, finding it to be endearing the longer she did. The little girl’s mischievous and rambunctious antics were characteristics Dani was sure she inherited from Jamie. She didn’t mind it though. In fact, her heart swooned at the realization that their daughter was already turning into a mini Jamie. Not only that, but she seemed to be infinitely curious and smart as a whip, at least for a three-year-old. Or maybe Dani was just biased because she was her daughter. Either way, the little girl was special in every meaning of the word.
“Maggie,” she called out, drawing out her name in a playful manner. She continued creeping around the flowers, trying to find the little girl. She had an idea of where she was, but she decided to draw it out longer because of just how joyous those little giggles were. Certainly, the tiny laughter was the best song she’d ever heard, and she’d keep it going forever if she had the power to do so.
Dani weaved through a few of the sunflowers and rounded a corner of the flower bed where she could hear Maggie running to. Dani caught sight of her running towards her, blissfully unaware that her mother was there to find her. She could only imagine how clever her daughter felt at that moment, thinking her mother had no clue where she was. But, Dani jumped up, eliciting a startled squeal from Maggie, who immediately turned to run away, not wanting the game to be over just yet. But before she could even take a step, Dani lifted her into the air. “Gotcha, little bug,” she laughed as she tickled her sides and smothered her face in kisses. The little girl erupted into shrieking laughter as she wiggled around in Dani’s arms.
“No, Mama, no!” she squealed through her giggles, and Dani, although hesitantly, obliged by her little pleads.
“Alright, alright,” she smiled, planting one more kiss to the girl’s cheek before settling her on her hip. “Let’s go see Mumma, yeah?” she said as she flattened out the girl’s wrinkled, green sundress. Maggie’s little arms came to link around Dani’s neck and she nodded as she looked over to where she knew Jamie was. Her face immediately lit up at the sight of her other mother who was just inside.
Jamie watched from the kitchen window, smirking as she cleaned up the remnants of Maggie’s birthday, cake and dishes mostly. She watched as Dani spun around with Maggie, dancing through the grass outside to the music they were playing from the stereo on the porch. Just as the pair were approaching the porch, Dani dipped her back quickly to the music and brought her back up leaving the little girl falling into a fit of laughter from the head rush.
Jamie was certain Dani would do just about anything to get their daughter to laugh. Neither of the women could deny how infectious it was. It was a sound akin to the birds chirping in the morning, possibly even more comforting and beautiful than that. And, of course, it was a display of her joy which was all they could ever wish she’d have. They wished she could hold onto that happiness forever, with no sadness or anger to impede on it. To have her avoid any of the pain or struggles they had to endure as children, to just ensure she was kept purely happy. So, if it meant they had to stop at nothing to get those little grins or those tiny giggles, they surely would.
Jamie pulled her hands from the sink water and dried her hands on her jeans. She expected her girls to walk through the backdoor at any moment, but when there was no arrival, she walked outside to investigate. The first thing she saw was the pair sitting in the grass, never even have made it up the porch. Dani had her legs sprawled apart, leaned back with her arms supporting her, smiling in adoration at the sight before her. Which happened to be Maggie, sitting between her legs, already fascinated by the many adornments of their lawn. Happily picking away at the grass and newly grown dandelions that Jamie internally cursed at their return, as she had already picked the last of the pesky weeds just a week before.
Like mother, like daughter, Jamie thought. Both too whimsical and enthralled by the beauties of the world to not be instantly distracted by every little thing. She swore if everyone else settled within their one-tracked minds, Maggie and Dani were barely settling into the ten or twenty they had created for themselves.
Jamie approached the pair which sparked both of them to look up at her, both of their faces immediately radiating with happiness at the sight of her. Jamie bent over to place a kiss on Dani’s lips, then bent further to place one atop Maggie’s blonde hair.
“Thought my girls forgot about me,” Jamie jokingly frowned as she settled beside her wife and daughter. Dani’s face upturned into her special I would never smirk.
Maggie offered Jamie a fistful of all of the dandelions she’d accumulated. “Here you go Mumma,” she said in her sweet little voice that somehow managed to take from both Jamie and Dani’s accents. Some words sounded just like Jamie, others just like Dani. Both knew that she’d fall out of the shared accent and fall into the common Vermontian one, so they held onto what they had dearly: the small, evident parts both women had given their daughter.
“For me?” Jamie asked as she put a hand to her chest in an overexaggerated gratitude as if the gift was the most unique and special one she’d ever received. In all reality, it was an all too familiar moment. Maggie often did that, picked the dandelions, and gifted them to Dani and Jamie. She must have caught onto the way Jamie would always do that for Dani, pick some of the flowers in their garden and bring them to her, each time garnering a heartfelt thanks.
Jamie took the offering happily and smiled sweetly at her daughter. “Thank you, Sprout.” The little girl looked at her triumphantly, and Jamie offered her a reward through the placement of one single dandelion into her hair. “Well isn’t that adorable,” she said as she ran the back of a finger down her cheek then cupped her chin gently with her hand to admire her work. They continued to make small conversation just about the dandelions and little random tidbits of information that Maggie decided to bring up. Just a child's talk. No beginning, no middle, no end; just jumbled information that seemed to form its own little language that Jamie could decipher with ease. Whether or not the little girl could speak so coherently, Jamie still talked to her as an adult, just as she would to anyone else.
Dani observed her wife before her, surprised at the way she had changed so much over the last three years. Emotionally she’d changed since the arrival of Maggie. Her behavior had grown gentler and sweeter. Physically, she changed too. After all, they weren’t getting any younger. Her voice had grown huskier and lower. With each smile came new lines around her lips and eyes, and her now straightened hair was peppered with grey among what was left of her brown. Among all of this, Dani believed Jamie had grown more beautiful. She’d watched her blossom over the years they’d been together. She met a woman so reserved and stony back at Bly, and now, she was tender and protective.
She found herself slipping into old memories of Jamie and little Magnolia, namely the first few months they were home, surprised by how quick she was to settle into the contentment of motherhood. How seemingly natural it was for Jamie, someone who had been so terrified of the opposite happening. It was as if there was a piece of her heart that was empty her whole life that was just waiting to be filled with Magnolia.
Dani could vividly remember the nights where she'd wake up, no Jamie by her side. Knowing there was only one place she could be.
Dani sleepily turned over and reached her hand out towards Jamie, or to where she thought she would be. Only, her arm fell to the bed, finding nothing. The vacant bed woke her up in a jolt, and she patted around. No Jamie.
She sat up, looking around the room to no avail. Turning to the side table, she picked up the baby monitor, and from it, she could hear the softest rustling and whispering. She softly smiled and slipped out from under the covers, sauntering out of the room.
Dani crept down the hall and halted in the doorway of the nursery. She watched Jamie hovering over the crib, the sound of soft cooing coming from within it. The sound of Jamie’s hoarse whispers, still ridden with sleep, were too small to interpret.
“Jamie?” Dani questioned softly, watching as Jamie’s head swung around. The gardener’s usual greeting smile followed, then her attention was grabbed once again by their daughter in the crib. “What are you doing?”
“Bad dream, nothing really,” Jamie said shortly, a voice that possessed that characteristic passive tone. It meant she didn’t want to discuss it. Either it was really bad, or she felt too embarrassed to continue.
Jamie felt two hands squeeze around her middle and a pair of lips meet her bare shoulder. A touch that was so soft that she felt a chill ride from her head to her toes. It was enough to make her unravel, to let all of the emotion that was building up come out. She felt the tears well in her eyes, and she sniffed them away.
Dani’s chin rested on Jamie’s shoulder, and she watched the brunette’s fingers gently run through the tufts of blonde hair belonging to their two-month-old Magnolia, fast asleep in the crib. Jamie’s hand came down to pull the blanket further up to her chin, a hand coming down to rest on her chest, just to feel it rise and fall. The softest, dream-filled sounds came from the infant as she was deep in sleep.
Dani pivoted her head to look at the side of Jamie’s face. The gleam of light shown through the window perfectly presented the glisten in her eyes and the small tear threatening to fall. “Jamie, what’s wrong?” Dani asked.
“Oh,” Jamie began, wiping at her eye with her palm. “Just a stupid dream, Dani. That’s all. Shook me up a little.”
“Yeah?” Dani asked as she placed a kiss on her neck, willing her to continue.
“She was gone. Just gone. No idea where she went, or if someone took her. It was so dark, Dani. And she was-she was gone. You were gone too… I felt so alone,” she murmured with furrowed brows, puzzled by her own nightmare. With a sigh, she tried to find the will to continue through her tired delirium. Obviously presented through her short speech. “So I came in here… to make sure… you know, and, of course, she was here,” she said as her finger gently traced the features of Magnolia’s face. Barely above a whisper, she continued, “I hate that she’s in here, so far from us.”
Dani softly smiled at that. Jamie was so scared that their daughter was so far away even though they only had a hallway’s distance between them. Seconds apart really. But in the maternal sense, a hallway away felt like miles.
It wasn't the first time Dani found Jamie here. Nor would it be the last she’d come to find out. But she could understand, especially because she found herself in the same irrational fits of terror. Running down the hall thinking something awful must have happened.
So suddenly both women were thrown into such extreme protectiveness of their daughter. About every moment they found themselves worrying about her. She was so new, yet they couldn’t imagine life without her. So, constantly they found themselves in fits of baseless fear that something would happen to her. Knowing that this little piece of their being could be snatched away without them expecting. Scared that if they took their eyes off of her that the next moment they’d look back to reveal there was nothing left.
Both of them knew the feeling of it actually happening, and they couldn’t bear the thought of such a thing happening to their daughter, their most important person. It may have been completely illogical and a really depressing thought process, but the women couldn’t shake the feelings.
“She’ll be okay, babe,” Dani reassured into her ear. “I promise.” The blonde stepped back and hooked her index finger around Jamie’s pinky to pull her out the door. Jamie looked at her reluctantly and hesitated to move. “She’ll be crying in another hour anyway,” she yawned. Jamie obliged by her pulling and followed her, not before stalling at the door frame. “Just another hour,” Dani reminded, to which Jamie nodded.
Hand in hand they walked back to their room. “She’s pretty cute, you know?” Jamie said.
“Thank you,” Dani proudly smiled to which Jamie jokingly responded with rolled eyes. “What?” she scoffed in a laugh. “I made her, Jamie.”
“Oh I’m aware,” she said as she kissed Dani before climbing into bed again. They laid facing each other, bodies touching, legs tangled, and arms laced around waists. Jamie’s lips came forward to place a gentle kiss on her forehead. “And I thank you for that, every day.”
The sun had come down, and the little family was laid out in the grass atop a blanket on their lawn. They had been lying there for a while, even past Burlington’s fireworks, the ones they watched every year. Jamie’s arm was under Dani who was on her side, lying closely to Jamie. Well, as close as she could get given their daughter was tucked between them, fast asleep. Jamie’s fingers gently danced along Dani’s arm, both of them staring up at the night sky in their comfortable silence.
“How did we get here, Jamie?” Dani finally whispered, not wanting to wake the little girl in between them.
Her hand came to settle on Jamie’s chest, her fingers tracing her collarbone and dotting every freckle exposed between the undone buttons of her shirt. The soft-touch sent a shiver through Jamie, and she looked over at Dani confusedly, wondering what she meant by her question. Dani reached over just enough to leave a soft kiss on her shoulder. “I think we’re pretty lucky,” she said, her hand stilling right at Jamie’s heart.
Dani was right in that regard. They were lucky. Lucky to fall upon each other the way they did. Just so happened that they both ended up in Bly, both so lost and living aimlessly. Seeing no future, only remembering the misfortunes of their pasts, drowning in them it seemed. But they found each other there, somehow two people among the billions in the world ended up at the same place, at the same time. Who would have thought they were each other’s soulmates?
“I don’t know how we got here, Dani,” she said as she carefully turned over, her arm pulling Maggie closer to her, and she looked into Dani’s eyes before her. “But I never thought I would. Never thought I deserved it.”
Dani furrowed her brow and looked deep into the woman before, her eyes searching. “Why do you say that?” she asked.
“Oh, I was no good, Dani. Bitter, alone,” she explained simply, looking down and away from Dani. She felt fingers run through her hair tenderly, and she gazed back at her wife. “You changed that, though. From the moment I saw you, Poppins.”
She could tell Dani blushed in response to her sweet remark, just based on the subtle, pleased huff she could just barely hear. She rarely kept up with the nickname as time went on. It faded along with their life in Bly, but every so often when it would pop up, it would send a rush of butterflies to flutter in Dani’s stomach. Leaving her to remember that first couple of years, the most wonderful yet uncertain. Neither of them would have thought they’d end up where they did. Still together, glued together really, and they had a family. A child of their own. A dream Jamie never really knew she had; although, quite juxtaposed with Dani’s intense will to have a family.
Jamie peeled Maggie’s latched arm off her waist and sat up slowly, quietly cursing the pressure to her joints as she stood up. She put a hand out for Dani to take. “Come on, I want to show you something,” she said.
Dani took her hand and stood up, following Jamie. “She’ll be fine,” Jamie said, knowing the blonde’s eyes were latched on the sleeping Maggie as they walked, whom they were leaving behind.
They made their way up the slight hill of their yard, past the garden, and to Jamie’s makeshift greenhouse. It was nothing more than an old, paint-chipped shed. The walls mostly knocked out in place for windows.
Jamie opened the door and blindly grabbed the flashlight as if she’d done it a thousand times before. Like it was a nightly repetition for her to come into the greenhouse at this time of night. Quite frankly, it was.
She pulled Dani in further, guiding her through with the light until they were standing just before a portion of a wall with a wooden column, covered in vines.
Dani grinned wide at the sight in front of her. Tens of pointed, blossomed, white flowers staring back at her. So rare to be bloomed as they were, making the moment all the more special. “The moonflowers,” she smiled as she took the petals of one into her hand, her thumb running over them gently.
Jamie wrapped an arm around Dani’s shoulder. “Worth the effort, I suppose,” she said, a content smirk lining her lips, aware that Dani knew what she meant. It meant just the same as when she said it the first time seventeen years ago.
It was a wonder how they could ever converse with such few words. Some days they’d ramble on and on for hours, and other days, with moments just like this, a few words could speak more than a million.
The moonflower, a rare thing, something that took work. A symbol of their love. Symbolizing both parties’ need to accept, forgive, and let go. Things they were too stubborn to do on their own, but the presence of the other… well that was enough. Enough to make them bloom, just the way patience and nursing were necessary for the moonflower’s blossom.
“But tomorrow, they’ll be gone,” Dani said in a voice so small and ridden with disappointment. She wondered how something so beautiful could last so briefly and only exist in these hours of the night. How could nature bestow something so unfair onto the flower?
Truthfully, her disappointment was a façade for the real fear she felt. She was cognizant of the fact that the moonflower represented them, it always had. Once a year they’d go through this little affair over and over again, coming into the greenhouse to see if they’d finally bloomed. It was a tradition of sorts –one that helped them recognize their roots. But she had to face the fact of the other metaphor it carried besides their love. Just like the moonflower’s dying after one night, one of the women would do the same at some point. That one day, one of them would wake up without the other. She was aware that it was inevitable, and also that it was so far away. But she couldn’t help but feel it as if it were impending. She supposed it was the lingering fear of what could have been all those years ago when she came too close to being pulled under. Taken away much to her chagrin. But she hadn’t, she was safe and happy.
“But we won’t be,” Jamie assured with lips close to Dani’s ear after she realized that solemn look on Dani’s face. She wished to remind her that they had so many more years. Decades upon decades.
Dani looked over, and before Jamie could process that yearning look on her face, a pair of lips were sealed to her own, so passionate and eager. Hands reached to hold the other’s faces. Jamie’s thumb brushed Dani’s jaw as she parted her lips, taking all of what Dani had to offer. The overwhelming sensation of every emotion her wife embodied washed over her through that very kiss.
Suddenly, her body was pinned against another wall, hands freely roaming around her. Along every trail Dani took with her fingertips, a track of goosebumps followed.
Jamie gripped Dani’s elbows and pulled away, looking her in the eye, pupils dilated with desire and adoration. “We’ll finish this later,” she whispered huskily, pulling Dani in for one more taunting peck. “We should get her to bed though,” she said as she gestured her head towards the window where their daughter laid just on the other side.
Dani nodded, feeling a bit guilty that they got lost in their ways in the greenhouse when their kid was out on the lawn.
She followed Jamie out the door. She watched as Jamie gently picked up Maggie, evoking the smallest tired groans from her as she sleepily clung to her mother’s neck. Jamie softly hushed her as she ran her fingers through the girl’s hair.
Dani followed them up the stairs, watching as Jamie placed Maggie into her bed. She bent over to pull the duvet to her chin and placed a kiss on her forehead. Dani came over to do the same.
Before they could even make it out the door, they could hear the rustling of sheets behind them, so they turned to see what it was. And the sight before them was of their daughter, propped up and looked sadly at her mothers.
“What is it, Sprout?” Jamie asked; although, she knew exactly what she wanted just based on the look on her face. A face that wondered how they could even dare leave her behind to sleep in that room alone. Especially because it was her birthday. She knew that meant she could get away with anything, not like she couldn’t on usual days, but she knew she was extra special that day.
She rubbed a fist tiredly through her eye, and got out of the bed, frowning up at her parents as she tugged at Dani’s sweater and the blonde sighed, she knew exactly what she wanted. “Okay.”
Dani bent down to let Maggie climb onto her back. Her little legs barely wrapped around her waist, her arms locked around her neck, and her head rested against her shoulder blade. Lifting her up, she meandered her way after Jamie to their bedroom. “The monster’s under there, Mama,” Maggie said softly.
“Oh is he now, even after Mum yelled at him?” Dani asked as she opened the door, smiling to herself of the recent memory. One where Jamie had gone to her knees to yell threats to whatever beast Maggie had dreamt up under her bed. “Oi, get out from under there you creep!” she’d shout as she lifted the bed skirt, leaving Maggie to fall into a fit of laughter.
Jamie chuckled as she remembered as well, lifting up the comforter as she did so. Maggie hopped off Dani’s back and crawled under, settling herself in the middle, her own little spot that seemed to belong just to her. Both women climbed in on either side of her, their arms wrapping around her.
With Maggie between them, so suddenly fast asleep, Jamie and Dani laid awake to talk softly to each other, making sure not to wake her.
“I can’t believe she’s three, Jamie,” Dani whispered as she moved a piece of Maggie’s blonde hair out of her face to reveal her features, so closely resembling her own. It was a wonder how much she looked like her. Same blonde waves, same big blue eyes, same nose, same everything it seemed. “I don’t know what happened, it’s like yesterday she was a little baby and now she’s so big.”
The slight tickle of her touch had Maggie drowsily rubbing at her forehead and turning over to face Jamie.
“She’s going to be a teenager before we know it, Dani,” she said as she looked from Maggie to Dani, the latter’s face looking less than pleased at the thought. Dani shook her head, and before she could protest, Jamie pressed on, much too pleased with teasing her about this. “Then she’ll be eighteen, and she’ll leave us,” Jamie ended woefully but still lightheartedly.
“Jamie, stop,” she said as she cupped her ears. “I don’t want to even think about that,” she laughed softly. “I wish she could be this tiny forever, Jamie,” she said, surprising herself as she became suddenly tearful.
“Well, we’ll get to watch her grow, Dani. Get all big and smart, turning into you and me in her own ways. But she’ll be her own self, and we get to be a part of that,” Jamie said as she gazed into Dani’s eyes.
“She’ll talk right too,” Dani joked in reference to the remnants of Jamie’s accent still in Maggie’s voice.
Jamie scoffed. “She already talks right, until she says something stupid like water,” she said, over pronouncing the ‘r’ in the last word in a nasal tone to mock the American pronunciation of it. “That’s when she talks wrong, Dani, and you know it.”
Dani’s foot came forward to kick Jamie’s shin playfully. Jamie responded by faking a wince.
“I gave her that accent, and I’m very proud of it Jamie,” Dani chuckled.
“Oh, you did huh? Wasn’t all of the Vermont folks brainwashing my child to sound like that?”
“We’ll just blame it on them,” Dani smiled. “And I’ll just happily talk like this around her if you want,” she said in her terrible Cockney accent.
Jamie cringed and put a hand over Dani’s mouth, feeling her softly laugh into her palm. “Yeah no, I can’t have her sounding like Dick Van Dyke,” she said, referring to his poor accent as Bert.
Dani peeled her hand off her mouth, revealing a pleased grin. “Well, babe, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to face her being American. She’s gonna sound like it and she was born on the most American holiday. I’m sorry you’re still in denial, but face the facts,” she said in a jokingly condescending manner with a shrug, lips pursing to portray a don’t know what to tell you face.
Jamie snapped her finger in a false disappointment and shook her head. “I guess I will, won’t I?” she said, ending it with a smile.
Dani bit her lip as she observed her smile, the smile she loved so much, more than most things really. She seemed to adore it so much more when it was mixed with tired eyes. It was cuter in a way.
Her hand reached over and cupped her wife’s cheek, a thumb brushing back and forth just against her soft skin. “I love you, Jamie.”
“Dani, you flirt,” Jamie smiled, her hand coming up to settle on top of Dani’s, sliding her head over so her lips could leave a kiss at her palm. Dani shook her head and closed her eyes with a subtle delighted huff. Jamie embraced her body with her arm, squeezing the small of her back lovingly. “But, I love you too,” she said, then paused to ponder the rest of her words. She reasoned she could come up with an entire chapter of words to express just how much and why she loved her. But she knew Dani already knew that, and she was much too tired to go down that path anyway.
She looked forward, searching Dani’s blue eyes before her, not perceived much as blue given the lack of light in the room, but after seeing them every day for seventeen years, she could perfectly picture them. She could imagine the way they had to be twitching back and forth in response to her statement, taking in Jamie completely. “And I’ll love you tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, ‘til it’s been about a hundred years,” she said.
“You’re going to stop loving me in a hundred years?” Dani laughed.
“God no, I just reckon I’ll have to take a damn breath, Dani,” she chuckled. The blonde mirrored her laughter.
A content moment of silence grew between them, both just gazing at one another.
“Are you happy?” Dani asked, her face turning serious, eyes searching Jamie’s for the answer.
Jamie thought about the question. The answer was obvious, but her mind was filled with the reasons why. Her beautiful wife across from her being the first person who made her genuinely happy. The first in her life to make her feel like something mattered, that there was a reason for waking up every day and living on and on, no matter how repetitive or minuscule.
Then she thought about Magnolia, the one thing she never imagined in a million years she’d ever be lucky enough to have. She may have not been a piece of her like she was Dani, but Jamie’s heart was one of those pesky unfinished puzzles, and Maggie was the piece that put it at all together. The one that fit so perfectly and made the entirety make sense. Jamie considered that for a moment. Magnolia and Dani made her life make sense. Helped her mold her life into something intelligible and worth something.
Jamie felt a small tear run from the corner of her eye, and the slight light peeking through their window shined on it as it fell. Dani recognized it immediately and caught it with her thumb, wiping it away. Her face grew concerned at why she was crying, but before she could ask, Jamie pressed her lips to hers. Leaving one kiss after another, each one like a small message reading every reason why she was so happy.
Jamie pulled back and looked admiringly into her eyes before simply answering, “Yeah.”