Warnings/Disclaimers: This is an original story of alternate nature and depicts loving relationships between individuals of the same gender. If that is not to your taste or illegal where you are residing, please don't continue reading. Please do not lift off any of the material without permission. The characters, plot or the lack thereof, dialogues and whatever other rahrahrahs are mine. I have been told that I am rather possessive.
Once upon a time, a friend and I agreed that fiction at its best is non-fiction. To people who know me in reality, if any of the situations in the following story strikes a chord, try not to read too much into it. Attempts at picking out what really happened and what didn't would completely ruin the reading of a good fiction. Truman Capote once said something along the lines that being a writer means that he is at liberty to use real life situations in his writing. With this story, I am using the privilege to its fullest.
Suggestions/constructive criticism are always welcome.
Acknowledgements and dedication: To the people who believe in me through everything: thank you from the bottom of my pencil case. And a huge "thank you" to glazzal for beta-ing this!
Synopsis: How much do we change, really? Can change be measured by time or the distance that we have travelled? What happens, then, when we meet an old love from an old life? Can we ever change enough to not let it matter anymore?
d a m n a t i o n
06.jan.06 - pending
The café Well Connected was just as she remembered it: small, eclectic, and cluttered with University students. The smell of freshly brewed coffee welcomed Julianne Easton into its embrace and she took a moment to allow the feeling of nostalgia to envelop her. It did not change much in the two years that she had been away--computers still lined the wall at one side of the café and it was still a pain to squeeze between the tables. Four long strides took her to the dim stairways that led to the second level of the café and she took to the steps two at a time, eager to get a seat and a nice cool drink.
Julianne picked a seat on the balcony and scanned the menu, one hand moving to her pants pocket unconsciously, feeling for her pack of cigarettes and lighter. After her order was taken and a cigarette was lit and wedged comfortably between her lips, she relaxed into her seat and began taking in her surroundings.
It was a warm summer's day. Just the day before, it had been damp and miserable but right now the sun was beating down relentlessly; she had forgotten how temperamental Sydney weather could be. It felt good to be back after working in Singapore for two years. People who complained about how fast-paced Sydney was have definitely never been to Singapore. She heard from some of her Singaporean friends that Hongkong was a lot faster-paced than Singapore; if that was the case, she sure as hell wouldn't consider working there in a hurry.
The job transfer to Singapore two years ago had been at her request. Johnson & Johnson, the pharmeceutical company that she was working for, had expanded into Asia and she had wanted a change of scenery. Some of her friends called it escapism but she maintained that she was taking up an opportunity to live in a different culture. It had definitely been eye-opening and she appreciated the efficiency of the small island. The humidity had gotten to her initially but she had grown accustomed to that quickly. As Singapore was a multi-racial country, Julianne had gotten to interact with and befriend people of several different cultures, some of whom she had been sad to leave. But she had missed Sydney too much and decided that two years away from home was long enough. When the opportunity came for her to come home three months ago, she took it.
A waitress arrived with her frappé. A quick glance and murmured thanks later, Julianne expected the woman to move away from her table but her presence remained. Curious, Julianne looked up.
"Jules?" The look on the waitress' face was undecided.
"Hey. . . Kirstin. . . How've you been?" The smile that graced Julianne's features did not reach her eyes.
"Oh, wow! Good! And you?"
"Not too bad."
Kirstin Chang was a friend of an ex-girlfriend, someone that she would rather have forgotten if she had any say in it. The problem was that she hadn't. Kirstin had launched into a mini run-down of just about every mutual friend she could recall them having and dread began gathering in the pit of her stomach. Before Kirstin could get to a name that she most definitely did not want to hear, Julianne quickly interrupted her with inquisition of some of the people that Kirstin mentioned--information that Julianne didn't really care for but which Kirstin happily supplied.
"I think I'd better get back to work," Kirstin said reluctantly when another patron tried to get her attention. Julianne was about to nod in relief when she continued, "We should catch up soon, maybe with the girls! Oh, wait, you should so give me your number. Just gimme a minute, I'll be back." With that, Kirstin went off in the direction of the patron who was beginning to look a little annoyed.
Not really wanting to give out her contact number but not really knowing how to say no, Julianne stared glumly at her frappé. She supposed she could get away with the excuse of not having gotten a mobile number yet but a small part of her did want to re-establish contact with the ex-girlfriend, no matter how much she tried to convince herself that she didn't. It had been two years; the sadistic side of her wanted to see if she still felt anything and the masochistic side craved it. When Kirstin returned with her mobile clasped in one hand, Julianne gave in to her inner demons and provided her number.
The small real estate agency on Marrickville Road was nice and cool, a reprieve from the heat outside. Normally, the agents tried to pack their days with as many viewings as possible--the less you are in the office, the more places you are showing and possibly selling--but today, it was just too hot out there. Jayne Lees was sure that even the bugs were falling out of trees; it was that hot. Just as well that she was waiting for her tenant to come in to the office to sign the rental lease.
Jayne thumbed through her file and stopped at her 3:00 appointment, Miss Julianne Easton. A small smile tugged at her lips at the memory of this particular tenant. Miss Easton was one of the last viewers of the apartment that she had shown the weekend before. Her entrance had definitely gotten a few people's attention. All six feet of Miss Easton had been drenched in the sudden downpour. Her long, dark hair that was pulled into a high ponytail had been gleaming with rainwater and her white t-shirt. . . Jayne licked her lower lip unconsciously at the memory. Well, she would have won the wet t-shirt competition hands down if there was one, that was for sure. A quick glance at the office clock told her that she should be expecting her soon. The heat well forgotten, Jayne got up from her seat and made a beeline for the bathroom.
When Jayne returned to her desk, she was surprised to find Miss Easton already seated there, waiting for her.
"Hello, how are you?" Jayne greeted warmly.
"I'm melting. Everytime I see you, I seem to be wet," her tenant answered ruefully, swiping at her forehead.
Jayne could think of a hundred and one flirtatious comebacks at that statement but decided to remain professional. Julianne, however, seemed to realize what she had just said and turned slightly red. It could have been the heat, however, although Jayne hoped that it was otherwise.
"Yes, well, you do the wet look brilliantly," Jayne replied, her eyes appraising. She hoped to put Miss Easton at ease and was rather delighted at the wry laugh and slightly embarrassed look. "So, you're here to sign the lease for the mezzanine apartment up the road."
Julianne nodded. It had taken her a few weeks but she was glad that she finally found a place that she really liked. The hotel that her company had put her up at had been nice enough but she was beginning to feel a little claustrophobic. Most of her furniture had been sold or given away, but she still had a few boxes of belongings at Laurie's. She was sure that Laurie would be glad to give those back. After all, it had been two years.
Two years. Time sure had flown past. She hadn't been back to Sydney at all, choosing to take her vacations in neighbouring Asian countries. Bangkok, Indonesia and Malaysia had been beautiful. Escaping or not, her experience away from home were ones that she would never trade for anything in the world. It was true, however, that she was a prisoner of memories and not a place. Leaving Sydney had done naught for her, except put distance between her and her pain.
Julianne realized that her agent had been calling her name a few times. She smiled shakily as she brushed a hand across her forehead, collecting herself. "Please, call me Julianne."
"Alright then. And it's Jayne to you. If everything's in order, you just have to sign here, and here."
Jayne pointed to a few lines on the contract which Julianne quickly initialed. She was then given the keys to the apartment. That was all, she was told. Julianne started getting up from her seat after thanking her agent. Laurie was waiting for her with some cleaning equipment. She wanted to move out of the hotel as soon as possible.
"I was wondering if you'd like to have dinner together some time." Jayne's heart was thundering in her chest and there was a weird buzzing in her ears. The decision to ask her tenant out was an impulsive one; she wasn't even sure if Julianne liked women or if she was seeing anyone. She crossed her fingers and hoped for the best whilst bracing herself for rejection.
Julianne looked at her agent in surprise. Was she asking her out? The woman looked rather nervous, her eyes darting slightly, her face rather flushed. "Sure." Feeling rather shy herself, Julianne looked down at her hands before lifting her eyes again. Jayne looked pleased at her answer.
"Great! When's a good time for you?"
Dark brows furrowed for a second as Julianne ran her list of things to do in her head and decided on Friday week and said so. It would give her time to move into her apartment over the weekend, start work, and settle in.
"Sounds fantastic. I'll pick you up at 7:30?" Jayne wanted to make sure that Julianne knew it was a date.
"I-" Julianne stuttered at that, then acquiesced, her heart fluttering slightly. "Okay. See you then."
Jayne watched as Julianne made her way out of the agency. She made a small arm pump behind her desk, then looked around surreptitiously to see if anyone had seen her. Fortunately, everyone was either too engrossed in their work, on the phone, or spacing out; her Vietnamese colleague, Kenneth Van Nyugen, was staring at the office clock with an intense look of concentration, almost as though he was willing time to speed towards 5:00. Chuckling under her breath, Jayne tried to return her attention to the work on hand but found herself grinning every once in a while. Her good mood stayed with her all the way till knock off time.
Laurie Hailey stopped vacuuming to stare at her friend. "Your agent?" Her friend was chuckling in a self-deprecating manner. Laurie shook her head in slight disbelief, then continued with her chore. She had driven over to Julianne's apartment, cleaning equipment in tow, as excited as Julianne was for her to move into the new place. Even though they did not keep in constant contact over the time that Julianne had been away, their friendship had picked up where they left off immediately.
"Yea, I was pretty surprised. Flattered, mind you, but surprised nevertheless." She had just told Laurie about her upcoming date and Laurie had reacted exactly the way she had imagined.
"What can I say, Jules? There's just something about you. All the women just keep coming on to you!"
Julianne rolled her eyes. "No they don't. I haven't had a date in the longest time ever!"
"Oh, they do. You have to fend them off with a stick!" Laurie grinned at Julianne warmly. Laurie had met Julianne through a woman that she was dating years ago. The relationship didn't stick, but her friendship with Julianne did. Now, Laurie considered Julianne one of her closest friends and their friendship was one of the best things that had happened to her. She was very fond of Julianne and was elated that she had decided to move back to Sydney. It just wasn't the same without her.
"Laurie. . ." Julianne shook her head, snorting lightly. Sometimes she was sure that Laurie had a warped view of her.
Laurie unplugged the steam cleaner and started towards the stairs, a ghost of a smile lingering on her lips. It was a relatively new apartment, compact but stylish. The wooden stairway led to the split level that overlooked the lounge area and the double glass doors that led to a balcony. The entire area above the glass doors were fitted with glass panes, making the apartment look a lot larger than it really was. Laurie couldn't wait for the sun to set. The city lights would make a phenomenal view.
"Oh, and guess who I bumped into at Well Connected yesterday arvo?"
Laurie had to think for a second who Kirstin was. "Oh. How is she?" she asked, not particularly concerned. She had met Kirstin and a few other friends of Julianne's ex at some parties years ago. Fiercely loyal to Julianne, Laurie would rather her friend never cross paths with that company of people ever again.
The windows were about done, Julianne decided as she took a step back to admire her handiwork. Laurie and she had tried to think of a way to clean them. It was Laurie who came up with the idea of using the magic mop on the ladder. The loud whirring of the vacuum machine came on again, drowning out the possibility of a conversation so Julianne went to the bathroom instead to empty the cleaning water into the bathtub.
In the last month or so that she had been back, she had been feeling rather displaced. Now that she had gotten a place of her own, she was hoping that she would settle into her new life soon. With that positive thought in mind, she exited the bathroom and went upstairs to start on the mirror sliding doors of her wardrobe as well as continue her conversation with Laurie.
"Are you going to meet Kirstin?"
Pleased that her new apartment was now spick and span, Julianne was more than happy to get dinner to appease Laurie's and her rumbling stomachs. Their hungers fully sated, they lounged on Laurie's comfortable three-seater couch. Soft music was playing in the background, creating a very cozy atmosphere. She would have to leave soon though; a nice cool shower and the hotel bed were beckoning her and she found herself unable to resist them for long.
"Jules, you shouldn't," Laurie continued when Julianne did not answer her.
Julianne peered at her friend and took a sip of her wine. "I didn't know you feel so strongly about this."
"Well, I do. If you meet Kirstin, you'd most definitely meet Nikki. Are you ready to do that?"
Laurie could remember Julianne's tumultuous relationship with Nikki Fairfield quite clearly, mostly from what Julianne confided in her, and she knew how badly the breakup had affected her friend--to the point that Julianne had moved out of Sydney in order to get away from it. Even though it had been more than two years since the break up, Laurie wasn't sure that Julianne had gotten over it. Julianne certainly did not mention her ex at all but, knowing Julianne's private nature, it did not necessarily mean that her friend had moved on.
When the anticipated stab of pain that she normally associated with the mention of her ex's name did not come, Julianne breathed a small sigh of relief. "I don't know," she said honestly.
"Well, don't! I'm telling you not to. Okay?"
Julianne remained silent. She finished the remainder of her wine and shifted on the couch. "Alright, I'm going to make a move. I'll take the trash with me," she said, indicating the takeaway bags on the coffee table.
"Jules. . ." Laurie knew better than to press the issue but felt that she had to try nevertheless.
Julianne sighed. "I won't. I'll see you tomorrow?"
Laurie nodded, finally letting the subject go. They were driving up to the duty free shops at Homebush for furniture shopping with Andrew, her flatmate. She returned the light kiss that Julianne bent down to give her, then got up from the couch to let Julianne out of the house.
Sly Fox, a club along Enmore Road, was packed as usual on a Wednesday night. Wednesdays were girls' nights and the queer friendly crowd was treated to a number of drag performances through the night. Nikki flashed her ID to the bouncer outside the club and entered, looking around for her friends. She spotted them almost immediately at their usual spot by the bar and made her way to them.
The music was loud and the club felt alive. Bass vibrated the walls and floor, synchronizing with her heartbeat. Her friends squealed when they saw her, welcoming her with hugs and greetings.
"How's work?" Keagan McCloud asked, ruffling Nikki's short, blonde hair.
Nikki worked at a call centre for Microsoft. Shiftwork had been taxing at first, but she had gotten used to it and now she enjoyed having odd days off and varying working hours. Today, for instance, she was on morning shift, and she had the next two days off. She could have a big night and not have to worry about going in to work with a hangover.
"Any more stupid customers?" Sam Thomas asked laughingly. Nikki occasionally regaled them with what they called the Tales of the Stupid. Nikki shook her head with a wry smile. That wasn't true, of course; stupidity was rampant amongst customers, especially when you worked in a call centre. It just got harder and harder to retain any memory of the incidents when they happened so often.
"Okay, no more work talk, people!" Kirstin announced loudly over the music. "We're here to party!" She lifted her schooner of beer in salute to which Sam and Keagan responded. Nikki excused herself to get a drink at the bar, groaning under her breath when she was sandwiched between throngs of women. She finally emerged at the bar and took a huge gulp of air. Even though it was probably two meters separating where her friends were sitting and the bar, she felt like she had sludged through ten meters of mud.
When Nikki returned to her friends, Sam turned to her excitedly. "Guess who Kirstin saw at Well Connected?"
Shaking her head, Nikki waited for her friend to tell her. It could have been anyone--how was she to guess?
Her stomach lurched for a weird second but her expression remained bland. "Oh, really?"
"Yea, I got her to give me her number. Thought it'd be cool to hang out again," Kirstin said, eyeing Nikki surreptitiously.
That was one name she had least expected to hear. Julianne's and her relationship had ended rather badly. A mere week after the split, she had started seeing a woman that she had had a crush on while a devastated Julianne had pleaded for her to go back to her. Their last meeting had ended in a shouting match, angry tears streaming down both faces. Months after, she heard through the grapevine that Julianne had left Sydney. Even though she felt a slight pang of regret that things had gotten as they did, she believed that it was probably for the best. Theirs had been a heated relationship from beginning to end, extremely passionate both in their love and anger; the latter had been the cause of its downfall.
Over the last two years, she thought of Julianne occasionally. After the first few months of oblivion, she found herself regretting some of the things that she had said and did, but it was too late. But she had moved on anyway. It was easy for her to do so. She had an uncanny ability to shut down the emotional part of her; it worked marvellously. Now, she felt nothing more than a detached sense of curiosity as one might feel for a stranger. She finished her drink quickly and went to get herself another, missing the looks that her friends directed at her.
"Do you think. . ." Sam started, glancing at Keagan and Kirstin.
Knowing what Sam meant without having to hear the rest of the sentence, Keagan shook her head. "Nah, Nikki's totally over Julianne. It's been so long, anyhow."
"Don't forget about Casey," Kirstin supplied helpfully, bringing up the name of the woman that Nikki had been seeing for the past year. "Julianne looks really good, though," she said thoughtfully.
Keagan rolled her eyes. "Hands off. Friend's exes are off limit!" she said, reminding Kirstin of their rule.
"Aw, it's been two years! I'm sure Nikki wouldn't mind!" Kirstin retorted playfully.
Nikki reappeared with her drink. "Wouldn't mind what?" she asked, glancing at her friends' faces.
"If Kirstin think that Julianne's hot and wants to go out with her!" Sam said gleefully, ignoring the look of annoyance on Kirstin's face. She knew that Kirstin was just kidding around but was curious at Nikki's reaction nevertheless.
Nikki shrugged. "Whatever. I don't care."
"Cool! Call her out now!" Sam jumped at the chance. She had always liked Julianne and both Keagan and she were sorry that Nikki and Julianne's relationship had not worked out. Relationships were tricky, though, and even if both parties involved were good people, it didn't mean that they would definitely work out as a couple.
Kirstin peered at Nikki who had paused in mid-swallow of her vodka and redbull. "Yea?"
Nikki shrugged noncommitally even though her stomach lurched again. She was just uncomfortable at the prospect of meeting her ex, she decided. It wasn't something that she had counted on happening, even if deep in her heart she had known that she would probably bump into Julianne again.
Kirstin responded by taking out her mobile and started pressing on the keypad. The funny feeling in Nikki's stomach did not dissipate.
Nikki's night out had been spoilt. After Kirstin sent that text message to Julianne, she had not been able to concentrate on anything her friends were talking about. She found herself throwing covert glances at Kirstin's mobile which rested on the table, beside her beer. It remained silent throughout the night. When they parted company, Nikki realized that she was probably the only one who remembered that Kirstin had sent Julianne that text message. No one else seemed concerned if there had been a reply. She mentally kicked herself.
She walked back to Newtown, turning into one of the streets where she and her girlfriend lived. The two-bedroom house came into view and she yawned, suddenly eager to jump into bed and cuddle Casey. Shoving all thoughts of Julianne into the deep recesses of her mind, she turned the mental key and her house key at the same time, one locking and the other unlocking.
It felt good to be home.
The French restaurant that Jayne took her to was tucked in Surry Hills. When she looked into the restaurant from the street, Julianne felt even more underdressed. Even though she had been at work the whole day, she had gotten home well before 7:30 and had taken a leisurely shower. Sick of corporate wear, she had opted for a tight-fitting pair of black jeans and a white Levis racerback. Because it had been a rather warm day, she had tied her long, dark hair in a high ponytail and left her apartment with a minimal amount of make-up. When she saw Jayne in a soft, flower-printed, sleeveless blouse and tapered pants, she almost did an about turn to change into something smarter but Jayne stopped her with a laugh, red curls framing dancing green eyes and glossy lips.
She had almost failed to recognize her agent. Both times that they had met, Jayne had had her hair tied back tightly, so she didn't even realize that she had lustrous, wavy hair that spilled like molten fire onto her shoulders. The subtle red prints on her beige blouse matched her hair and complemented her eyes. And her nails. . . Julianne didn't know why, but she always noticed women's nails. Jayne's nails were nicely manicured, painted in an earthy tone. All in all, her date looked completely different to what she remembered.
"This is a really nice place," Julianne said, looking around after they placed their order. "I feel underdressed," she whispered, her head bent forward, her ponytail resting on the crook of her left shoulder. "You should have let me change earlier."
Jayne shook her head with a smile. "You look gorgeous, Julianne." The shy duck of her date's head widened her smile. "Oh come on, you've got to know that," she cajoled, feeling ridiculously happy that her words made Julianne so shy. She had just noticed that Julianne had the most beautiful blue eyes. It amazed her that she was actually on a date with this incredibly gorgeous woman.
They talked all through dinner, eyes frequently resting on each other, laughing, assessing, appreciating. Julianne found Jayne's regard of the world to be most refreshing; even though they spoke of things that have been said, debated upon and pondered on a million times over, the things that spilled from Jayne's lips felt new and different. It was the most exciting feeling.
When the meal was over, Julianne was surprised at the lateness of the hour. They had been talking non-stop for almost three hours and she hadn't even noticed.
"Would you like to take a walk or would you rather head home?" Jayne asked, feeling rather loath to part company with Julianne.
"A walk sounds lovely."
They walked down the street, past Jayne's parked car, and neared a park. Julianne jogged a few steps to the swing with a cry of delight and stepped on it, using her forward momentum to swing herself. Jayne found herself grinning helplessly and followed suit, but she chose to sit on the swing instead.
"I wanted to be a pilot," Julianne revealed mid-air. She whooped slightly when the swing got a bit high and stumbled off it, laughing. Backing herself, she sat on the swing, facing her date. "Hand-eye coordination sucked though, so. . . no go."
"You would have made a fantastic pilot," Jayne said in reply, gazing at the woman she was sure she wanted to see again. Her cheeks ached from smiling so much the entire night, but it was a good ache.
"Nah, I'd have crashed the plane," Julianne shook her head, looking rueful.
Their faces were inches apart. It would be so easy to just lean forward and meet her lips to Jayne's, Julianne thought. She really enjoyed Jayne's company. Jayne was smart, funny and incredibly perceptive. There was no reason why she shouldn't, so she did.
The light touching of lips was soft and warm and quickly turned intimate. Julianne breathed in a flowery scent that she was beginning to associate with Jayne and it made her feel heady. The kiss was making her insides warm, melt, and explode, all at the same time. She raised a hand to cup Jayne's cheek. It was soft and warm, like the kiss. She stroked it lightly, revelling in the connection.
When they pulled apart, both of them were breathing just a little bit harder. They grinned as they touched foreheads. Julianne's hand was still stroking Jayne's cheek. They leaned towards each other again and eyes fluttered shut. There was no more need for words.
Return to the Academy