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
The sky was clear and no clouds were in sight. The sun beat down relentlessly. In her dim room, Nikki was down to her sports bra and shorts, cursing at the busted air-conditioning unit. She had the fan on at the highest speed but it was merely tossing hot air around, doing next to nothing to cool her down. It was too hot to even think. That was probably the only thing that she was thankful to the heat for; she had been thinking way too much of her ex-girlfriend ever since her reappearance.
"You're doing it again," she mumbled under her breath as she wiped her forehead.
It had been an odd experience bumping into Julianne again. She didn't think that she would have any reaction at all--not that she had given that a lot of thought prior to the first mention of Julianne those weeks ago. She had to admit that Julianne looked good in her dark blazer and tailored pants. Her dark hair was longer and a little lighter, and she looked a lot tanner, causing her clear blue eyes to stand out even more. Their meeting had lasted probably three minutes at the most but her mind kept replaying it--so much so that it felt a lot longer than that.
Julianne had seemed so cold and unaffected. Well, considering the way she had treated her and the time that had gone by, it was little wonder, really.
So why was she the one who was affected? Why was she having thoughts of the past--of things that she thought she had already forgotten? Why was she experiencing this persisting feeling of regret?
She picked up her mobile and began scrolling through the phonebook. Her thumb paused when she reached the 'J' section; James had given her Julianne's number at her request. She had told him that they had lost contact years ago and she wanted to catch up with Julianne. It wasn't a tall tale, per se. She had merely neglected to mention that they were lovers and it was a deliberate move on Julianne's part to cease contact with her--not that it was any of James' business.
Julianne. How could someone who was once so familiar to you become such a stranger?
She felt like giving her a call or write her a text message. But what for? She didn't even know what to say; was she to send her an empty text message? Would Julianne, in turn, give her a call to ask what's up? That would be stupid.
Almost as though she was led by an unseen force, Nikki gave in and wrote a simple text message. Before she could change her mind, she sent it, then threw her mobile phone onto her bed with a groan.
"What the fuck did you do that for?"
But even as she asked herself that, she was hoping for a response. The heat was forgotten. Her discomfort was forgotten. Every bit of her attention was on her mobile phone even though she tried to distract herself by turning on the cold water in the shower and jumping under it. Would there be a reply when she got back to her room? Did she want a reply?
By the time she dried herself, she was sure that there was a text message waiting for her on her bed. With a mixture of anticipation and foreboding, she grabbed her mobile.
There was nothing. No missed calls, no text message. Nothing. Her heart fell and she felt silly. Perhaps Julianne was busy. She ignored the niggling voice at the back of her head saying that perhaps Julianne never wanted to talk to her or see her again.
Then her phone lit up.
"Hello?" It was a private number and her heart was beating a hundred miles an hour. She didn't have time to analyze the way she was feeling. Then her face fell. It was Sam.
Sly Fox had yet to fill up at a little past 7:00 in the evening. Sam was already sipping a mojito when Nikki approached her. She sat down on the stool beside her friend after their hug hello and looked at Sam expectantly. It wasn't unusual for Sam to start drinking this early, but Sam had said that she needed someone to talk to.
"Thanks for coming down on such a short notice, girl. Drink?"
"Maybe later. You alright?"
"Yea. No. Yea. Maybe. It's just that. . ." Sam trailed off, then lifted her left hand, letting it speak for itself.
Nikki gasped. There, on her ring finger, sat a simple silver band with embedded diamonds. "Is that what I think it is?" Sam nodded. She didn't look ecstatic though, so Nikki wasn't sure how to proceed. "You're not happy about it?" she asked cautiously.
"I. . ." Sam looked away. "I think it's too soon. Tim was happy enough to let it be an engagement ring."
"Why let it be an engagement ring if you feel it's too soon?"
Sam was silent, her eyes brooding. She finished her cocktail and shifted in her seat. "I'm gonna get another drink. Please have one with me."
Nikki acquiesced and waited as her friend went to place the order. Her eyes scanned the crowd idly. She stopped at a familiar-looking face and tried to put a name to it but failed. The woman was approaching another woman who was seated by herself at one of the tables. As the club was relatively empty, she could kind of make out their conversation. She snorted to herself when she realized that the first woman was attempting to pick up the relatively attractive redhead. A part of her was glad that she was out of the game. It could get so tiresome sometimes. When Sam returned with their drinks, she shifted her attention back to her friend with a distracted smile.
"Failing attempt at pick up," Nikki said, pointing discreetly at the women she was looking at with her thumb.
Sam swung her head around and gave out a soft exclamation. "Is that Julianne?"
Nikki's heart skipped a beat at that and she followed Sam's line of sight. True enough, Julianne had just entered the club. Nikki didn't feel too good when she heard the redhead tell her persistent admirer that her girlfriend had arrived, her eyes obviously on Julianne.
Did she think that Julianne would be single, pining for her, waiting for her? And what did it matter? It wasn't as though she had any feelings left for Julianne. She was in a happy relationship with Casey.
Nikki watched as Julianne made her way towards the redhead, a questioning smile playing on her lips. The woman turned to look at her rival, saw Julianne, then shrugged and walked away. The redhead stood up as well and Nikki turned away when she wrapped her arms around Julianne's shoulders and planted a familiar kiss on her lips.
"Well, well. Talk about blast from the past, eh?" Sam said. She turned back to Nikki with interest. "Shall we say hi?"
Julianne ran her index finger over the rim of her cocktail glass as she listened to Jayne absently. She was really trying hard to put Nikki out of her mind and focus on the possibility of something special with Jayne. But even though Jayne was a fantastic woman, she still felt like there was something lacking when they were together. It had been that way with the few women she had seen over the past two years. The knowledge saddened her. Was she never to move on?
She could sense that Jayne had picked up on her gradual disinterest. Their conversations were a lot less colourful and their meetings less frequent. She had thought that the memory of her coincidental meeting with Nikki would not linger too long but before she could put that theory to the test, Nikki had sent her a text message. It was just a simple, friendly 'how are you doing' text but the content had nothing to do with the way she was feeling now. She felt horrible, expectant, sad, and reminiscent all at the same time. She couldn't even think of a reply; she wasn't sure she wanted to reciprocate Nikki's action. It was affecting her too much for her to even envision a possibility of a civil meeting between them.
"Jules? Are you there?"
Julianne turned to Jayne immediately at that. "Yea, sorry. I. . ." She didn't know what to say. 'Sorry, I was thinking about my ex' hardly seemed appropriate. As the number of dates between Jayne and herself increased, so did her discomfort. She did not want Jayne to think that they were in a relationship--granted that they hadn't discussed it at all--and she did not know how to slow things down to a speed that she was comfortable with. It was beginning to feel as though there was no speed that she would be comfortable with. How did one break up with another when they weren't together in the first place? She really had to sort out her feelings before anyone got hurt.
Their eyes met and a slow understanding began to dawn on Jayne. Before anything was said, however, both women were interrupted by a hand on Julianne's right shoulder. The rush of relief that Julianne felt at the interruption was depleted almost immediately when she looked up and met familiar faces. Her stomach lurched and she was sure that her bodily displeasure was reflected on her face. She quickly schooled her expression into one of nonchalance.
"Jules! What a surprise!" Sam was all smiles when Julianne looked up.
"Hey. . . how're you doin'?" Julianne remained in her seat, a casual smile playing on her lips; she felt anything but. She made herself focus on Sam's face, not giving in to the urge to let her eyes stray to the woman behind Sam. "Sam, this is Jayne. Jayne, Sam," she introduced.
Julianne looked on as Sam and Jayne shook hands. Jayne politely reached out a hand to shake Nikki's as well, even though Julianne made no effort to introduce them. Julianne listened as they exchanged names and pleasantries, but forced her eyes to remain on Sam's face.
"Kirstin said she saw you at Well Connected. So, are you back for good?" Sam asked, noting Julianne's cold manner towards Nikki.
Sighing inwardly, Julianne nodded. She wanted this conversation to end and for Nikki to disappear. Her presence was unsettling and it was making her feel very self-conscious. It was as though every move she made was of the utmost importance and she would rather quit while she was ahead.
Sensing that Julianne did not appreciate their presence--or rather, Nikki's--Sam told Julianne and Jayne that she would see them around. She turned quickly and saw the tensed expression on Nikki's face. They made their way back to their seats behind the bar. Julianne finished her cocktail in one breath and lit a cigarette. She wanted to get out of the pub right away but did not want Jayne to question her abrupt behaviour. So now, she had to bide her time.
"Do you want another drink?" Jayne asked, feeling rather curious at the way Julianne was acting.
"Nah, how about we get outta here? Maybe go to the park or something? I want to get some sun," Julianne lied smoothly.
Jayne acquiesced and they slipped out of their seats. Julianne waited rather impatiently for Jayne to pick up her bag, then reached over to hold her date's hand. Without a backward glance, Julianne let herself out of the dim, cool pub.
Peter's was a huge four-bedroom house in Stanmore that he shared with three other people. Hidden behind leafy foliage, the main door opened into a huge entertainment area with a comfortable L-shaped couch and numerous bean bags. The kitchen was to the left and the kitchen island was currently heavily laden with a wide selection of food. Peter's bedroom--the biggest one--was just off the lounge room, beside an outside porch that led into a large yard. Three other bedrooms were on the second level.
Guests littered the place, most of them in costume. Andrew rolled his eye at yet another Jason from the movie "Friday the 13th" who walked past, an ice hockey stick in one hand and a cocktail in another. It was fast approaching eleven but his flatmate had yet to show. Pushing his dark-haired wig out of his face, Andrew went to make himself another drink. Before he made it to the kitchen, however, he spied Peter with his arms around two ghoulish-looking figures and gave a loud squeal.
"Marilyn Manson. Very nice," Laurie said approvingly, looking Andrew up and down.
White make-up, dark lipstick, a wig of long, dark hair, bandages around his chest and a tight pair of black leather pants, Andrew did a fantastic job of imitating the heavy metal singer. He had been adamant not to have the same costume as anyone else at the party and had even gone to the extent of texting all his friends not to appear as Manson.
"Oh, thank you most kindly!" Andrew tittered, soaking up the praise. Julianne looked on in amusement. "Ooh. And look who we have here!"
"Yes," Peter spoke up finally behind his Phantom of the Opera mask, "I have finally met the infamous Julianne Easton. Or should I say, Count Easton?"
A long, black cloak was draped around broad shoulders, its collar upturned. Under that, Julianne wore a white linen shirt which she tucked into long, dark pants. Her hair was pulled back and a long braid hung under the cloak, making it seem as though she had short, cropped hair instead. Dark rings circled her blue eyes and a dark rouge emphasized her cheekbones, giving her face a gaunt look.
Instead of kissing Andrew on the cheek, Julianne bared her fake fangs and lightly scraped the curve of Andrew's neck, just below his jawline. He let out another squeal and smacked Julianne on her arm. The small company of four broke into soft laughter.
Laurie leaned into Peter's side and asked if there was anything to eat. Julianne and she had spent the last two hours dressing up and she was famished. Peter gallantly led her towards the kitchen island, enjoying her gasp of disbelief at the amount of food the housemates had provided their guests with.
"I heard you went on a date," Andrew said, looping one arm through Julianne's. He noted how Julianne followed Laurie with her eyes before swinging her gaze and attention to him. He couldn't help it; he was a hopeless romantic and, some say, hopeless meddler. "So when are you going on a date with Laurie?"
Julianne's eyes widened, just as Laurie's did when Andrew first brought up the suggestion. He could guess what she was about to say even before Laurie's exact words spilled out of her. "Laurie's just a mate, Andrew." It didn't seem necessary to correct Andrew's impression that she had only gone on a single date with Jayne.
"Didn't you watch "The L Word"? 'For lesbians, friendship is foreplay'," he quoted sagely.
Julianne stared at him, then burst out laughing. She was glad that she had made the effort to dress up for and attend this party. It was taking her mind off Nikki and the situation with Jayne, even if it was just for a bit. Being around Andrew was always entertaining. His happy-go-lucky nature seemed to affect everyone around him. Yes, she felt a lot lighter just by being there.
"Oh come on. Don't tell me you've never thought of her that way?" he badgered.
Julianne's eyes flickered over to the kitchen where a scantily dressed Laurie was laughing at something Peter had said. With a red tube top and a leather mini-skirt on, Laurie looked stunning. Her knee-high boots made her a couple of inches taller and her uneven cut hair had small braids running through it. Her face and body held dark markings that they had made using an eyebrow pencil; a long, jagged scar cut ran from her forehead, under her right eye and down her cheek. She, too, was wearing fake fangs, and they glinted occasionally when the kitchen light caught them. Laurie must have felt Julianne's eyes on her for she paused, turned, and met Julianne's eyes. They shared a smile.
"Not really, no," Julianne said in reply, turning back to Andrew.
"Well maybe you should start."
Julianne shook her head with a smile. Her life needed no further complication.
It was funny how a person could be totally ignorant of something even if it were blindingly obvious to everyone around them; but once someone pointed it out to them, they couldn't stop noticing signs of it everywhere. This was the case for Laurie. Once Andrew planted the idea in her head that Julianne and she could be something more than friends, she would catch herself thinking about her friend on many occasions and that, in turn, would make her wonder if she felt something more than just friendship for Julianne. It was absurd.
Right this moment, she was wondering what was up with herself when she caught herself seeking out Julianne in the crowd of party-goers. As it was, Julianne was seated on the couch with a bottled beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, listening to a conversation that was going on around her. Julianne did not seem to be making any contribution, however, and every once in a while, Laurie noticed that Julianne's thoughts would be somewhere else. She wondered what Julianne was thinking about but instinctively knew that it had to concern Nikki. Earlier that night, Julianne had recounted her last date with Jayne to her and how they had bumped into Nikki and Sam.
Laurie sighed. Would her friend ever move on? When would that damnable Nikki Fairfield stop getting to Julianne? At the very least, it showed that Julianne wasn't really that into Jayne and that thought comforted her.
"Penny for your thoughts."
Surprised at the unfamiliar voice beside her ear, Laurie's head snapped around. A smiling face greeted her and she gave a polite smile in return. Noticing the woman's tilted head, she realized that the stranger was waiting for a reply. "Just thinking that Peter always holds such great parties."
"Ah. Indeed. I'm Tina," the woman introduced herself. Laurie shook the outstretched hand and introduced herself. "So, are you having a good time?"
"Not too bad. I'm pretty much ready to call it a night though," Laurie said honestly.
"That your girlfriend there?" Tina tilted her head again, this time in Julianne's direction. "How long have you guys been seeing each other?"
Laurie didn't immediately correct Tina's misconception. She was rather curious as to why Tina would think that Julianne and she were an item. She said as much. Tina shrugged. "Just the way you guys behave around each other and constantly seek each other out. Please don't think that I'm some kind of stalker. I was just bored and, well, I notice people. Especially when both of them are so attractive."
Laurie found herself rolling her eyes in embarrassment. "No, we're not. . . together."
Tina narrowed her eyes shrewdly. "Sounds like you want to be."
There it was again. Another observation that she liked Julianne--this time, it was made by a complete stranger. "Nah," she said out loud, "we're just mates."
"Well, if you are then you wouldn't be interested to know that she's looking at you again."
Laurie couldn't help it; she glanced at Julianne at that comment and their eyes met. Julianne flashed her a toothy grin, then raised a brow. Tina shot her an amused smile, causing Laurie to laugh self-consciously.
"Good luck, babe. Perhaps you could just tell her how you feel. For a start."
No, she couldn't do that. It would wreck their friendship. Laurie wouldn't be able to bear it if Julianne started acting weird around her or started avoiding her or something. "We'll see," she said noncommittally, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable about talking to a stranger about this.
As Tina moved on from her, Laurie found herself wondering what she had gotten herself into. A crush on one of her closest friends? As though her life needed an extra challenge on top of her work. "Stop this nonsense right now, you idiot," she mumbled under her breath. When she looked up again, she found herself unconsciously gazing in Julianne's direction again. The way Julianne smiled, drank her beer from the bottle, nodded to something someone said. . . she felt as though she was seeing Julianne for the first time--or rather, the first time in a different light. She concluded that she was in so much trouble.
Nikki stared at her reflection in the full length mirror in her room and frowned as she turned this way and that, scrutinizing her outfit. She was getting ready to go to Casey's company function and she wanted to look her best. As a sales representative, Casey Thomas' days were packed with numerous appointments. They didn't spend much time with each other, but Nikki believed that it was the quality and not the quantity that mattered. She loved that Casey was ambitious. It was just that sometimes she wished Casey gave her a little more time and attention; it felt as though their relationship was getting a little stale.
Shoving those thoughts out of her head, Nikki concentrated on getting herself ready. She put on the final touches of make-up and went outside to wait for Casey.
"Hey darling. Ready to go?" Casey said when she exited the bathroom.
"You look good," Nikki murmured, running her hand down the front of Casey's silk shirt. Casey smiled and their lips met in a familiar kiss. Before it could get intimate, Casey pulled away. "Yea, ready to go," Nikki said, squashing her disappointment.
The function was held in a hotel ballroom and the place was swarming with people. Casey and Nikki walked in, arms looped, and made a beeline for the bar.
"Did I tell you that Frank is thinking of expanding the team? I might have to start training a few newbies in the next few months," Casey quipped. She thanked the bartender for their drinks and led Nikki over to a vacant table. They propped themselves onto the barstool and Casey looked around, smiling at the occasional familiar face.
"Does that mean that you'll be spending more time at work?" Nikki asked, dreading Casey's answer.
Casey frowned. "Nah, probably not. My sales target will be cut down some and the company will be paying me for training, so it should be alright. I'm just worried about Dick and Susie making more sales during that time."
Nikki nodded, relieved at the answer. She squeezed Casey's hand. "You'll come out fine, sweetie."
Casey gave her a grateful smile, then turned when someone called her name. "Mark! You know Nikki. Nikki, you remember Mark, dontcha?"
"Come join us at our table," Mark said after he hugged Nikki hello. "They're having a tequila competition, those wankers. It's not even ten yet."
"Sure, come on, baby. Maybe we'll get you drunk, eh?" Casey turned to Nikki laughingly.
They brought their drinks to a table near the back of the ballroom where a small group of people were making a whole lot of noise cheering and clapping. Nikki looked on, bemused at their antics. The three people involved in the competition were attempting to finish seven shots of tequila. Then she gasped. One of them was Julianne.
"Hey Nikki!" James greeted her when he saw her. Seeing him reminded her of the first meeting she had with Julianne not too long ago. That, inevitably, led her to think about Julianne's total disregard for her the second time they bumped into each other. Suddenly, she didn't feel like lingering around the table anymore. She was beginning to associate Julianne with bad nights. She kicked herself mentally for not making the connection between James, Casey and Julianne, and that she might possibly bump into her at Casey's company function tonight. If she had been more prepared, she was sure she wouldn't be feeling this way right now.
Julianne's voice drew her attention back to the table, however. It annoyed Nikki that she still found her ex-girlfriend attractive--even more so after the years of absence. Bedecked in a tailored Armani suit, Julianne looked completely different from the insecure, heartbroken girl that she had left years ago.
Nikki looked on as Julianne, oblivious to her presence, whipped out a cigarette and lit it up in a smooth motion. She found herself wishing for a cigarette herself to take away the stress that was starting to build up inside her. Then, blue eyes swung up and collided with her own.
Their contact must have lasted a mere second but Nikki felt as though she had her breath knocked out of her. She watched as Julianne excused herself and walked away from the table. Something inside her was screaming at her to follow the woman, to ask her what her problem was, but she discarded that thought. Doing that might raise a scene and bring to the surface a lot of emotions that she didn't want to handle.
Turning, she saw Casey engaged in an animated conversation with a few colleagues of hers. Suddenly angered by the way she was being treated, Nikki changed her mind and stalked after Julianne.
Never in a million years did Julianne expect to see Nikki at her company function. She had not bothered to enquire how James knew Nikki; finding out that Nikki was seeing someone--not just anyone, but the best salesperson in the department--from her company completely threw her. She needed some fresh air, and perhaps an early night--to hell with the function.
Hearing her name being called, she swivelled. When she realized that it was Nikki calling out to her, she took a second to regroup. It felt odd hearing her name spill out from this woman.
Nikki looked like she was on a mission. Her jaws were clenched, and her expression stern. Julianne couldn't help noticing with an ache in her chest how good Nikki looked in her dark printed dress that was held up by two thin straps. When the slightly shorter woman reached her, Julianne rose a brow in query, torn between running off and possibly leaving a shoe behind and staying to brave what looked to be a storm.
Whatever Nikki wanted to say before died on her lips. They stood at the lift lobby and stared at each other, almost as though daring each other to utter the first word.
Finally, it was Nikki who took up the dare. "I just. . . I just wanted to say that I hope we can be friends," she said, the words sounding lame even to herself.
"Wh-" Nikki was stumped for a moment.
Over the years, Julianne had conjured up scenarios not too different from this one. Every one of them had a different set of dialogue ranging from Nikki wanting her back to she begging for Nikki to come back to her. Some even had her telling Nikki the kind of hell she had put Julianne through and asking her what she had done to deserve all that. None of them seemed appropriate, however, so Julianne remained silent.
"So we can have closure," Nikki said finally.
Julianne almost snorted at that. "Closure? For whom? It's been a long time. And I thought you had closure a long time ago."
"Don't you think that. . . that what we had. . . deserves at least this?" Nikki pushed, suddenly convinced that if they were to be friends, she would stop feeling so bad. She was taken aback at the flash of anger that greeted her words. It was the first real emotion she had seen on Julianne.
"What we had," Julianne spat out, losing her reign of emotions to the shots of tequila she had just consumed, "didn't deserve any of the things that you did. What we had--or rather, what I thought we had--was completely smashed into pieces years ago. I trusted you. With my heart. And for whatever part I played in the downfall of our relationship, I did not deserve to go through the hell I did--even to the extent of feeling responsible for everything that had happened. So if you're done fucking with me, I'm gonna go. Why would I want to be friends with someone who ripped my heart out and threw it away?"
Without waiting for a reply, Julianne took one last look at the woman she had loved and left, leaving Nikki to stare at her retreating back in shock.