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!
d a m n a t i o n
Delicious smells were wafting out of the kitchen. Andrew Lim shifted on the couch, half-focussing on the Super Mario game that he was playing on his old Nintendo set, half-wishing that Laurie would hurry up and dish out dinner. When he completed the fifth world of the game, he threw a glance at the clock and saw that it was. . . dinnertime. His stomach rumbled. Unable to take it any longer, Andrew hit the pause button on his controller and stalked into the kitchen. He was going to demand that Laurie let him sample whatever she was making. Damn Peter, he was always late. He could have leftovers.
"Darling, I am starving!" Andrew whined the moment he stepped into the kitchen. Seeing that Laurie wasn't about to respond, Andrew went over to her side. His stomach rumbled again.
Laurie finished chopping up the parsley and turned the stove off. "Well, your boyfriend isn't here yet."
Andrew flicked a stray strand of strawberry blonde hair off his flatmate's face and pouted. "That insufferable latecomer can have leftovers."
"Help me set the table. Then you can decide if you wanna wait for your boy or dig in first."
"Aye, aye, captain!" Andrew gleefully pulled out cutlery from the drawer and hurried into the dining room. As though timed perfectly, the doorbell rang.
Laurie emerged from the kitchen with two big plates of pasta. Peter Kennard waltzed into the dining room with Andrew in tow, a big smile on his face. "Laurie! My, my, that looks amazing!" He planted two wet kisses on each of Laurie's cheeks and reached out to help with one of the dishes. Laurie shook her head, informed him that there was another plate in the kitchen that he could help bring out, then resumed her trek to the dining table.
"I brought your favourite wine!" Peter called out from the kitchen. He placed the plate of pasta in front of his boyfriend, smacked him on his lips again to wipe away the pout, then straightened to uncork the bottle of Hardys. "I got it," he said, stopping Laurie from getting up and going back into the kitchen for wine glasses.
Seated nicely at the small dining table, the trio clinked glasses. "Oh, I'm so proud of you, darling!" Andrew squealed after a sip of wine. Laurie grinned, the bridge of her nose crinkling.
It was the last day of her commercial cookery course. And of course, her flatmate had suggested that they celebrate it by having her cook for him and his boyfriend. She had given in as usual, mostly because she enjoyed cooking for her friends. No matter how many times she did, it still pleased her immensely when they closed their eyes and savoured the flavours in the meal that she had prepared.
"Where is the infamous Julianne Easton?" Peter asked.
Having just started seeing Andrew a few months ago, Peter had never met Julianne but had heard a lot about her from Andrew and Laurie as it was about then that Julianne had decided to return to Sydney. Laurie had mentioned her so much that he felt like he already knew the woman.
"On a date," Laurie replied simply.
Peter rose a brow. "Really? That's quick." He was rather sure that Laurie had a crush on her friend, even if she did not know it herself. He always prided himself on being able to pick these things out rather accurately, and was content most of the time to just sit and wait for everything to unfold.
"Yea, her real estate agent picked her up," Laurie said with a shake of head.
"Speaking of which, darling, when was the last time you were on a date?" Andrew asked.
Golden brows furrowed.
"Deh! If you have to think that long, it's too long ago!"
Laurie snorted, remembering a line of that sort from Sex and the City. Peter seemed to have made the connection as well. He leaned in and pinched Andrew's nose. "You're so cute when you imitate Anthony."
"Maybe you should ask Julianne out," Andrew suggested, speaking Peter's mind.
Laurie's eyes widened, genuinely bewildered by the direction Andrew was taking. "What are you talking about? Don't be silly. Jules is just a mate."
"Oh really." It wasn't a question and Laurie knew it from the raised brow and pointed look Andrew gave her.
"Yea, really," she said nevertheless.
"Fine then. Ask your mate-" there was that infuriating raised brow and pointed look again, "if she wants to come to the Friday the thirteenth party that Peter is holding at his place."
"Alright, I will."
Peter munched on his mouthful of pasta and creamy tomato sauce, keeping his comments to himself. Oh, he couldn't wait to meet this Julianne woman.
It was another busy day at Well Connected. Kirstin was in the midst of clearing up a table when she saw Sam ambling towards her. The normally bubbly woman looked rather distraught so Kirstin immediately felt concerned. She left the stacked-up plates on the table and went up to her friend.
Sam hung her head and began shaking slightly. Even more worried now, Kirstin gently maneuvered Sam to sit on the couch at the table that she was clearing up.
"What's the matter, honey?"
"I did something monumentally stupid," Sam murmured, shaking her head and pinching the bridge of her nose.
"Do you. . . what happened?"
Sam only buried her face in her hands.
"Do you want me to call anyone? Tim, maybe?" Tim Walstoff was Sam's boyfriend. At that, Sam just sobbed harder and Kirstin felt alarmed. Did something happen to Tim? As far as she knew, Sam and Tim were going pretty well. They couldn't have broken up or anything, could they? She voiced her queries, hoping to get a clue about what was going on.
"I cheated on him. Last night," Sam said finally, between sobs. "I don't know what I was doing. It just happened. I-" Her voice broke and she couldn't continue.
Kirstin stared at the top of her friend's head, feeling slightly at a loss. "Oh. Honey, please stop crying." She spied a customer trying to catch her eye and it annoyed her. Didn't the insensitive git see that she had a crying woman beside her? "Okay. Sit tight for a minute, okay? I need to get these out of the way and serve that customer. I'll be right back." Not getting an answer, she heaved a sigh of irritation at the customer and moved away, dirty plates in hand.
After taking the customer's order, Kirstin rushed to the kitchen as quickly as she could. "Toilet break," she told her colleague, then dashed off to the bathroom, mobile in hand. She quickly dialled Keagan's number but there was no answer. Hissing in irritation, she dialled Nikki's number. She was about to hang up when a groggy voice answered. In the fastest way possible, Kirstin rattled off what she knew and asked if her friend could swing by the café.
Sam had always been the free spirited one among the four of them. As long as they had known each other, Sam had never been in any serious relationships. Most of the time, she would go home with people who interested her for the night. Sometimes the liaisons dragged on but whenever things started to get serious, Sam would always pull away. Whether it was insecurity or disinterest for anything long-term, none of them knew. Sam had given her heart before but had gotten burnt; ever since then, she was content to drift in and out of casual relationships, leaving as and when she felt it was time. That was how she was until Tim.
Tim Walstoff was in his late twenties; tall, pleasant and soft spoken, he managed to win Sam's affections. When Sam had tried to pull away after two months of seeing him, he had put his foot down, told her how he felt about her, and had miraculously managed to convince Sam that he was in for the long term. All of them were happy for Sam. It had been the first time they had seen Sam that happy. She began cleaning up her act and, though she retained her love for fun and wild nights, they could see that she was serious about giving the relationship a go.
When Nikki arrived, she was horrified to see Sam's puffy eyes. Sam was tucked away in a corner, however, so she wasn't drawing too much attention to herself. Nikki sat herself beside her friend and put an arm around her shoulders.
"Hey. . . It's okay, I got ya. . ." she murmured softly, stroking Sam's head.
Sam had quietened down by then. She gave Nikki a listless smile and squeezed her eyes shut. "Oh, Nikki. I'm so dumb. Tim's gonna hate me. I don't even know why I did it. I didn't even enjoy it." A hollow laugh.
Nikki continued stroking Sam's head, silent. She did not know what to say and decided to keep quiet until she was sure what it was that Sam needed of her. She quite possibly only wanted someone to listen to her and comfort her.
"I'm okay. Thanks for coming."
"Anytime. Do you. . . wanna talk about it, or would you rather not?" Nikki asked tentatively.
"I'll be fine. I think I just freaked. It's okay. I'll tell Tim, and if he refuses to take me back. . . well, I'll deserve it."
Nikki nodded slowly. "If that's what you want. . . But Sam. . . do you still wanna be with Tim?" she had to ask. Sam looked miserable as she nodded. "Do you think he'll forgive you?" A slow shake of head. "Will you ever see the person you slept with again?" A vehement shake of head. "Well, why don't you just not say anything then?"
Sam sniffled, dark eyes watery. "I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't."
Nikki was silent for a moment. "But. . . wouldn't that be unnecessary cruelty?" Sam kept silent. "Would you be able to live with yourself if you caused pain to someone you claim to love for something that he didn't do?"
As Nikki said those words, an unbidden memory flashed across her mind. She was seated across Julianne, looking her in the eye, and telling her how happy she was with the woman that she was with. Then, she had justified her actions with the logic that she had to be cruel to be kind. There was no point in letting Julianne hope that they could be together again. It would be less painful if she dealt her one fatal blow. Now, she wondered how badly she had hurt Julianne with those words and if it was at all necessary. She blinked the scene away but could not rid the guilt that suddenly weighed down on her.
"You're right." Sam looked resigned, then resolute. She leaned in to hug her friend. "Thanks, Nikki."
Nikki looked away.
The office was brightly lit with fluorescent lights. Partitions separated employees from each other, providing a semblance of order and privacy. Julianne considered herself lucky that her cubicle was beside the stretch of glass panels that ran the entire length of the office. The view wasn't much--unless you were fond of rooftops and busy roads--but at least she got to see the sky and the outside world that seemed so out of reach for most office workers. She went through the stack of files on her table as she waited for her computer to boot up.
She had spent her Saturday at home, rearranging her newly arrived furniture and electrical appliances. Jayne had called her on Sunday and they had spent the afternoon picking out plants for her new home; the memory brought a smile to her lips. They had behaved like infatuated schoolgirls, holding hands and laughing a lot at the nursery near Roselands. Laurie was right--plants did spruce up her apartment. At the moment, she was content with all aspects of her life; it was a good headspace to be in.
Scrolling down her mailbox, she systematically filed and discarded information. Clicking on a mail marked important, she saw that there was going to be a company function in a week's time. Scanning the email quickly, Julianne noted the date down in her diary. Excluding herself, there were about five new additions to the company. The function was designed for the staff to mingle but Julianne knew better; it was just another excuse for a party. She smirked to herself, glad to be in such a fun-loving working environment.
Her mobile went off suddenly and she picked it up. It was a text message from Laurie, inviting her to a Friday the 13th party at Andrew's boyfriend's place. She left the message in the mobile inbox after reading it and her eyes fell upon a text from Kirstin a few nights ago which she didn't reply. She deleted it after a second's thought then went back to her work, effectively blanking out thoughts that she didn't wish to entertain.
"Hey Jules, wanna join us for drinks?"
Some of the staff there were her old workmates and it made her "homecoming" a lot easier. James Tang, the guy who had just spoken, and she had been rather good mates during her days in the Sydney office. As far as she could tell, he was still the same jovial guy with a good sense of humour who always loved a good night out. He was standing beside Ellen Singh, an attractive Indian woman that she had known briefly before she left.
She had plans to start on a new book that evening, but a quick drink and maybe dinner couldn't hurt. The trio made their way down to the Union Hotel which was about five minutes walk from the Newtown train station. Julianne was surprised at how much the place had changed; they had refurbished the bistro section of the pub and it looked rather chic.
"Oh God, the beef pie and mash looks enticing," James murmured, his eyes scanning the menu. Julianne felt her stomach rumble at that. It had been hours since her light lunch at noon and her body was making its needs known.
"So, where are you staying now, Julianne?" Ellen asked with interest after James excused himself to place their dinner order at the counter.
"Oh, right! I heard there're many good Vietnamese restaurants in that area. Have you tried any?"
Julianne's answer died on her lips when she saw a familiar figure walking into the bistro. She felt as though her breath had been knocked out of her and her mouth suddenly felt dry. She looked away quickly. Ellen was looking at her expectantly and she realized that her colleague was probably waiting for an answer. It would help if she could remember what the question was.
"Julianne, are you okay? You look like you've just seen a ghost!" Ellen commented, turning her head around to see what had affected Julianne so.
"Yea. I'm fine. Just, uh. . . thought of something urgent. . . that I forgot I had to do," she said lamely. "I, uh, shit, I have to go. I'll go let James know. Sorry, Ellen. I'll see you at work tomorrow?" The words spilled out of her so quickly that they ran into each other. Not waiting for Ellen's response, Julianne quickly slid out of her seat and made her way towards James as inconspicuously as she could, her head bent. Thankfully, James was still in the queue at the counter. She tapped him on his shoulder and he turned.
"Jules! I was just telling Nikki about you," he said with a wide grin. Groaning inwardly, Julianne took care not to roll her eyes at herself. She had run straight into the person that she was running away from. "Nikki, this is Julianne."
Julianne did not know how James had met Nikki but she didn't particularly care for details at the moment. Her mind was having trouble reconciling the woman before her with the woman in her memories. Past and present collided in a split second and the two years between them melted away--it was a most unsettling feeling.
"We know each other." Nikki's voice was smooth and her expression unreadable. Julianne couldn't bear it. Neither did she want to be around a second more than she had to, knowing that she would revisit this particular point of time excessively in the following days.
"Yea." Julianne's smile was stiff and her heart was thumping painfully in her chest. She avoided meeting Nikki's eyes and turned her attention to James instead, determined to get herself out of the situation that she had blindly fallen into. "Sorry mate, something came up. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Huh?" James looked confused. "You guys know each other? You gotta go? Now?"
"Yup, see ya." She leaned in to give him a light kiss on his cheek, gave Nikki a curt nod and tight smile, then hurried past them.
Laurie could not help humming along to the melody that filled her room even though she didn't have a clue what the artistes were singing. Ever since Julianne had given her the Chinese girl band CD, she had been listening to it every chance she got and she loved their mellifluous voices. Foreign languages always fascinated her. She had attempted to learn Japanese before but it had fallen through due to lack of consistency. Perhaps she could try again and sign up for the Japanese Exchange Teaching program that universities offered which would allow her to teach in Japan. That would be a sure way of learning the language!
"Laurie! Phone!" Andrew called from the lounge room, halting her thoughts.
When she went to receive the call, Andrew pressed the mouthpiece against his chest and said in a stage whisper, "It's Jules." He snickered at her roll of eyes and passed the cordless phone to her. Turning back to the television screen, he hit the "Start" button on his game controller and resumed his game.
"Hey you," Laurie said into the receiver. "How're you doing?"
By the time Laurie went back to her room, she was frowning slightly. Julianne had sounded rather upset at her coincidental meeting with Nikki; it had forced her to assess her reaction at seeing her ex. Laurie did not blame Julianne for feeling this way. She was just concerned as to what she could do to help her friend.
"Listening to me and not judging me is already a whole lot, silly," Julianne had said with a smile in her voice. She had sounded resigned and exhausted.
Her favourite track began playing. Laurie rummaged her desk to look for the card that Julianne had given her together with the CD. It was also Julianne's favourite track and Julianne had gotten one of her Chinese friends back in Singapore to translate the lyrics for her. She had included the translation in the card and Laurie suddenly felt an urge to read it while it was playing.
Flopping onto her bed, Laurie held the card above her. It was a simple square piece of coloured paper that easily slipped into the CD casing. Julianne's neat handwriting filled up both sides of it, telling her little anecdotes and making silly remarks about the most mundane things. It made her gift all the more meaningful to Laurie.
It was another sad love song but, if the translation read correctly, it sang of a break-up in a positive note and that was rare. Laurie wondered just how much of it Julianne connected with. Then it struck her how much Julianne came into her thoughts of late. She shook her head and rolled her eyes skyward at that. Of course Julianne had come into her thoughts a lot of recent; it was because her friend had just gotten back in town! They had hung out a fair bit and it was natural for her to think of Julianne.
"Damn you, Andrew," she said out loud.
It was completely her flatmate's fault for putting thoughts of that nature in her head. Julianne had been nothing more than a mate and that was all she was going to be. Their friendship was too important for Laurie to risk. As much as she did not want to sound cynical, she had to admit that relationships had a shelf life. She didn't want to lose their friendship to another failed relationship. She padded over to her computer, turned it off, then got ready for bed.
Just before she dropped off to sleep, however, she found herself hoping that Julianne wouldn't get too fond of her agent.
It had been a busy week for Jayne and she was glad when Sunday finally arrived. If a real estate agent wanted to earn well, they had to do a lot of networking outside their working hours to try and get more properties to show. Scouting for clients and getting them to let her handle their properties took up a lot of her time and effort but it was starting to pay off.
Julianne had been on her mind a lot and they had corresponded quite frequently via text messages and she had even managed one or two short phonecalls. She did not want to seem too full on but neither did she want Julianne to think that she wasn't interested. On the contrary, Julianne had been one of the most intriguing women she had seen in the past year and she was fully hoping that things between them would proceed further. It had worried her slightly when Julianne declined a meeting the day before but Julianne had assured her that she was just really tired and needed to catch a breather. When Julianne suggested watching a show together today instead, Jayne had agreed immediately.
Smiling to herself, Jayne glanced around the shopping complex, waiting for her date to appear. When she spotted the woman making her way towards her, her heart skipped a beat and her smile deepened. It was odd how Julianne could make her feel this way in such a short span of time but, rather than questioning it, she embraced it.
"Hey." Julianne gave her a warm smile that sent tingles down her side.
"Hello there, gorgeous."
Jayne leaned forward and kissed Julianne shyly on her lips. Happy that Julianne's hand reached for hers easily, she reciprocated by lacing her fingers through her date's. They entered the cinema swinging their arms like two schoolgirls out on an excursion, delighted to be exactly where they were.
A heavy, musky smell rose from the warm concrete as rain splattered down. Some pedestrians hurried out of the rain while others plodded along, seemingly happy to cool off in the rain. Julianne and Jayne were at a café in Newtown after their movie, welcoming the slight breeze but content to remain dry.
A cigarette in one hand and a banana smoothie cupped in the other, Julianne had everything that she wanted at that moment. Jayne was talking about the movie that they had just watched; Julianne found herself enraptured by her date's interpretation of it. This was what attracted her to Jayne the most. Their observations seemed so separate yet were unconflicting. It was almost as though they had gotten different things from the movie but, put together, the pieces that each of them contributed formed its entirety.
"I dunno. Am I making sense?" Jayne finally ended her little speech in a huff.
Julianne could only grin widely as she nodded, taking long drags from her cigarette.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Jayne asked, her lips already forming a smile.
Julianne shrugged, choosing to remain silent, a mysterious smile playing around her lips.
Jayne shook her head and drank her coffee.
"You look really cute when you're all worked up," Julianne said finally as she stubbed her cigarette out. Jayne looked up from her coffee with a slightly startled look that quickly melted into one of shyness.
"I'm not cute."
"Oh, you are."
Jayne couldn't keep the blush and accompanying smile off her face. Having aching cheeks was fast becoming a constant occurrence around Julianne but she wasn't complaining.
It had been a fantastic third date. However, there seemed to be something bothering Julianne and Jayne could not put a finger on it--not that she knew her well enough to do so. Every so often, Julianne would have a shadowed, faraway look on her face. Then, almost as though she would catch herself, she would blink the thoughts away. Just that they didn't stay away. Julianne would get all silent and brooding, like now.
"Is everything okay?" Jayne asked finally.
Julianne turned her gaze towards Jayne, surprise showing on her features. "Huh? Of course!"
"It's just that. . . you look a little troubled. . . and, well, I just. . . I mean, if you wanna talk about it, I'm here to listen." Jayne did not want to seem nosy but she wanted Julianne to know that she was there if she ever needed someone to talk to.
Julianne smiled gratefully. "Thank you. But it's nothing." She leaned over and touched a finger to Jayne's lower lip.
Jayne returned the smile and leaned into the touch, content to let it rest.
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