Danny wonders, briefly, if this is what choking feels like. If seeing Lacey walk the halls silently was comparable to losing oxygen. If apologetic glances and jet black hair bounding away were on par with empty lungs and broken gasps.
He stops wondering when he remembers the way the light left his aunt's eyes. How long he held onto the rope until she let go, his hands on that rope on her neck. Choking turned asphyxiation turned his aunt into a corpse.
So maybe seeing Lacey isn't like choking, but it makes his head dizzy all the same.
Lacey can feel her lungs blacken every time she breathes him in.
It's a new thing, now that they've started talking again. She watches Jo in conversation with Danny, how she glides through the exchange without a care, blonde hair flopping about and attention ensnared by every word he spins. It's effortless. Lacey wonders if Jo ever feels her chest tightening when she talks to Danny.
Because when it's just the two of them (Lacey and Danny, Danny and Lacey), the air becomes thicker. With every inch they close, words become lost, emotions are muddled, and they can't meet each other's eyes. Lacey notices Danny breathing at the same irregular pace as hers.
She reconsiders. Perhaps it's more of a burning in her throat paired with a quickened pumping in her chest. Either way, she's sure it's toxic.
In the third grade, their teacher made them act in a class play about photosynthesis. Danny was the sun, Lacey was the rain, and Jo was the leaf.
It was science turned art which was really just life all along.
The leaf was never meant to be with just the sun or just the rain. They all needed each other. This much Jo understood.
At his party, she exhales slowly. She pretends not to see the rain pulling the sun into a spare bedroom.
Lacey shuts the door behind them and turns the lock. "How long am I supposed to keep this up?" she asks, annoyance tinging her voice.
Danny shrugs, hands in his pockets. "As long as it takes to—"
"Yeah, I know, I remember the plan," she snaps. "Just. Figure it out soon because I'm this ready to confront Archie about it, alright?"
"So what, you're gonna try and fix things up?" he asks, his voice taking on a mocking lilt at the end. He moves his hands out of his pockets and she swallows. Danny's face drops when he hears the silence.
"Are you serious, Lacey?" He scratches his head in discomfort. "You just. You can't. You really can't."
Lacey shakes her head. "Of course. So now I don't get a say in what I do with my own relationship. Cool. Anything else you'd like me to do?"
"It's not that, it's—"
"I'm so tired of spying on him, Danny. We haven't gotten any closer to the murderer."
"I know, but is forgiving him is going to change that?" Danny moves closer to her, and it's almost like everything moves slower; like being suspended in time. He can feel his head start to spin. Lacey begins to feel embers on the inside of her chest.
"He made a mistake," she counters. "You of all people should understand that."
Danny's brows furrow together. "Doing something once is different from doing it for months, Lace," he says, edging closer. "And you know what the worst part is?"
Lacey raises her chin, defiant against his figure. She tries not to shudder when Danny moves toward her, but she sees his chest rise and fall just as hers does. She's almost certain he's going to kiss her, but he moves to the side before their lips touch.
"The worst part," he whispers near her ear, "is that he thought he wouldn't get caught."
When he pulls away and looks at her, his eyes seem darker.
"He cheated on you," Danny says, voice gentle, as though his tone could soften the blow. "He's not worth it."
Lacey's expression remains hard as she clicks the door open. "You should probably go back to your party now," she says flatly. "I'll be out in five."
That's the thing about the sun and the rain, Jo thinks. That's the thing.
When it shines, it burns. When it rains, it pours.
She doesn't need a forecast to know that a storm is brewing. Jo can feel the cold current whipping at her throat. Somewhere, a leaf is being torn in the wind.
It's like that until they realize it isn't—every inhale, every exhale, all of it becomes easier with time. It doesn't hit Jo until all of them—Lacey, Danny, and Rico—are piled in her room, hands adding thumbtacks to strings and photographs. It's Rico's idea to create a visual display; he claims it's necessary for the crime-solving process.
Jo sees the way Lacey's hands bump into Danny's own when they tack new items onto the board. It's those same hands that fidget when she tells them that she broke up with Archie. She picks at her nails when she talks about Sarita being in on the whole thing.
Danny's hand finds her shoulder, and for the first time in a long while, Lacey doesn't draw back. Jo senses the storm clearing.
Lacey wonders if this is where every thumbtack and string was going to lead them. If boxes of clues and interviews with suspects would all lead to Danny coming over to her house on a Friday night, both of them trying their best to make sense of what they have so far. Her mom's out for a few days for a conference, so she plugs her iPod into the speakers, flooding the living room with music as they pour over photographs and charts.
They give up after two hours. Danny starts digging through her playlists after that, which somehow turns into her trying to give him a dance lesson. A few steps and slides later, Lacey's stomach starts hurting from laughing so much.
"If Regina could see this," she states, "she might've reconsidered trying to sleep with you."
He flashes her a lopsided grin. "That bad, huh?"
"Oh yeah," she affirms. "And you used to be pretty good."
"Yeah, well," he responds. "I used to be a lot of things."
He doesn't meet her eyes. The music is the only sound in the room until Lacey pats his knee twice.
"Come on then," she offers. "Let's try to fix that."
Maybe it's the way he looks at her that night, paired with the way their bodies touch every once in a while. Or maybe it's the way his arms form a ring around her waist, catching her before she slips on the hardwood floor.
But really, she knows it's the way her breath catches when he tucks a strand of hair behind her ear.
"Trying to make up for lost time?" she asks.
Danny smirks at her and the slight falter in her voice. He knows she feels the uncertainty in his touch.
"No," he responds. "This is where we are now."
And just like that, their lips crash into each other. It's clumsy and messy and it makes her bubble with laughter, but she leads him to her bedroom anyway.
They move fast.
Her dress is on the floor and so is his shirt. They're making out, his weight on her until he asks and she gives him a frantic yes. Danny slides down and ends up between her legs. It's a new experience for both of them.
He moves so that he's kneeling on the carpet and Lacey's heels are on his back. He rests his palms on her hips before kissing the insides of her thighs and pulling down her underwear. His mouth ghosts over her entrance. Lacey doesn't realize she's holding her breath until he locks eyes with her, and she inhales sharply. A resolve washes over his face. With his steady eyes still on hers, he drags his tongue slowly upward and flicks at her clit. Lacey's hips buck slightly and he keeps licking her, gleaning his pace from her groans and the movements of her hips. Danny looks at her every once in a while, her head turned to one side and chest heaving.
She moves like waves against his mouth.
"Danny," she says, struggling to form words. He grazes her with his teeth and she squirms in pleasure. "Danny," she manages more forcefully, though she's panting this time. "You need. I need," Lacey says, swallowing air. "You need to be inside of me."
He bobs his head in response and Lacey unfolds her legs.
"Condoms are in my purse, under the bed," she says as he rises. She drags a wrist across her forehead as Danny dips under the mattress. When he returns, she snatches the foil packet from his hands and pulls Danny down, straddling him. "This is how we're doing it, okay?"
"Yeah, okay," he says softly, and she thinks she sees something like gratitude in his eyes. She pulls down his underwear and rolls the condom down his length. Lacey guides his tip into her and sinks down with a groan. She rocks against him as his hands find her hips again. Lacey rides him hard, craving the sensation, and it isn't long before he starts to thrust upward to meet her. Lacey grabs at the sheets for leverage while Danny continues to hold her sides.
He moves one hand from her hips to her clit, his thumb gliding circles tentatively over the slick flesh. Her breathing grows more and more labored and Danny moans, feeling Lacey tighten her walls around him.
Yes, she whispers. His breathing is ragged and his face is wrecked but he still makes an effort to look at her.
"Let it out, Lace," he says between breaths. "Please."
She bites her lower lip until she can't anymore. When she comes, she throws her head back and cries out, and it's long and rough and desperate. The grit in her scream reverberates through her chest and rattles her lungs. It sets him off, and she can feel him coming undone beneath her.
She's never felt more free in her entire life.
Lacey wakes up when the morning sun hits her eyelids. She turns to her side and sees Danny, still asleep, part of his face covered by the pillow and hair splayed across the fabric slip. Lacey sits up and drinks in the image, trying to remember the last time she felt this way. She's in the middle of counting his eyelashes when he stirs.
"Lacey," he calls, voice thick with grogginess. "Are you watching me sleep?"
She smooths his hair along his head. "Maybe."
Danny opens his eyes and squints at her then, partly because he's feigning disgust but mostly because of the light. He clears his throat. "So creepy," he says.
Lacey chuckles as his face breaks into a grin. "You are the actual worst, you know that, right?" Her head hits the pillow again and they stay like that, looking at each other.
"I know." Danny tries to smile again, but he just ends up looking tired. He shifts slightly. "So... what do you think about breakfast?"
Lacey raises her eyebrows.
"Oh c'mon," he defends. "I've gotten a lot better at chocolate chip pancakes. Like, a lot better."
"Okay," she responds, nodding. "We'll see about that."
After getting dressed and lumbering down the stairs, Danny goes straight for her mother's apron, and Lacey smiles as she ties it up in the back.
She knows she shouldn't do this. She knows she shouldn't be playing house with Danny. As if they had a shot at normalcy. As if they didn't have evidence sitting in the living room and a murderer waiting to be found. She knows she shouldn't be doing this, but it's been so long since she's felt warmth radiating through her veins.
Lacey opens the kitchen window and breathes in deeply. Somewhere, a green leaf glides through the wind, dancing away from the sun and the rain.