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
Laurie buried herself in her work. It was easy to do that. Being a full-time sous chef meant long hours and no weekends. By the time she got home after cleaning up, she didn't have energy for anything other than giving herself a good scrub down and making her way to bed. However, she wasn't oblivious to how her heart would skip a beat and a smile would grace her face when she received text messages or calls from Julianne.
She was infuriated by the way she was acting, especially since she knew very well that Julianne was going through a rough patch--what with the disastrous meeting she had had with Nikki and the awkward situation with Jayne. So whatever it was that she was feeling for Julianne, she had to shove it aside and concentrate on being a friend to her instead. It pained her that Julianne had become more withdrawn in the past few weeks but at the very least she was comforted in the knowledge that her friend hadn't closed herself off completely.
It was a Sunday night and Laurie was busying herself at work, trying to keep up with the head chef. Tonight, she was in charge of making tapas, pizzas and pasta and the rate the orders were coming in was astounding. There were many hungry people to feed and they had to be fed as quickly as possible. Laurie felt her mobile vibrate in her back pocket but had to ignore it until rush hour was over. Once, a kitchenhand had gotten himself fired on the spot when he answered his mobile in the kitchen.
The next time Laurie glanced up at the clock, it was past 9:00. She sighed a breath of relief and moved away from the stove. After letting Pedro, the head chef, know that she needed to use the toilet, she dashed off and checked her mobile. It was Julianne, asking if she wanted to be picked up after work for a drink. Mondays were the only day in the week that she had time off and Julianne knew as much. What Julianne didn't know was that no matter how tired Laurie was, she would still conjure up enough energy to meet her.
There was hardly anyone around in the pubs along King Street this late on a Sunday night as they had to close at midnight due to bar regulations. Laurie and Julianne were at the Townie near the station, and Julianne was already into her third schooner of beer.
"Don't you have to work tomorrow?" Laurie asked, knowing that Julianne really couldn't care less about work. True enough, Julianne gave her a shrug and a wry smile, then emptied her schooner.
"I met up with Jayne earlier," Julianne said finally, her first words after a brief hello.
"Oh?" Laurie said neutrally, neither encouraging nor discouraging Julianne to continue. She knew that Julianne had to open up at her own pace. She sighed inwardly when Julianne got up to get them another round of drinks.
When Julianne returned, she lit up a cigarette and leaned back in her seat. "I feel like a shit for not sparing her any thought the last few weeks so. . ." Laurie waited with bated breath. "It's off. It was never on past the first two dates. I should have told her sooner instead of avoiding her calls and stuff. I just wasn't in the right headspace to tackle that."
"Better late than never," Laurie quipped. She knew that she was being rather unsympathetic towards Jayne but she had never even met the woman. "Moreover, you never promised her anything."
"She didn't think the same way though." Julianne grimaced at the memory of their meeting. "I probably deserved all the names that she called me."
"She called you names?" Laurie asked disbelievingly.
Julianne nodded ruefully. "I hope it made her feel better. It made me feel better, even though I know she didn't intend it that way." She chuckled bitterly. "Aren't you glad you're just my friend? At least I'm not an asshole to you."
"Oh Jules. . ." Laurie didn't know what to say to that.
"Oh look. It's a quarter to midnight. I think we should get more drinks before the bar closes."
Laurie shook her head. "I don't think you should drink so much, Jules."
How could she say no to that face, those eyes? Laurie gave in.
"You are not driving and neither am I. We're trashed!" Laurie slurred but tried to pin her unfocussed eyes on her friend to relay her insistence.
"I'm fine, really."
"I refuse to die young just cos Nikki Fairfield stepped back into your life again, albeit briefly." The words came out before Laurie realized what she had said. She froze, as did Julianne.
Then Julianne sighed. "You're right. It's just not worth it. She never was. Actually I feel a lot better now after meeting her, did I tell you?" Laurie shook her head. They had begun walking down King Street, towards Laurie's place in St. Peter's. "Yea, I do. For what it's worth, I finally told her what I felt. It's like a load off my chest. I feel so stupid, though. All this time and. . . I thought I'd be over it by now. Never in a million years. . ." she trailed off without completing her thought.
"I'm glad you feel that way," Laurie said finally when she was sure that Julianne wasn't going to say any more.
"Thank you, Laurie. I know I haven't said it much but thank you for being here for me. It means a lot to me."
The night was cool and the streets were almost empty. A light breeze skimmed the surface of the concrete and rustled the trees that were lined up along the road. The duo walked closer to each other, their sleeves brushing each other's occasionally.
"Well, I'm your friend, silly. That's what friends do, right?"
"You're more than just a friend, Laurie." Julianne said quietly, her voice losing some of its drunken quality. Laurie remained silent as they plodded along, unsure if Julianne was going to say more. She did. "You're my best friend."
Well. Laurie chuckled at herself, feeling silly for expecting something else.
"What? What's so funny?" Julianne stopped in her tracks, her hands on her hips.
Laurie backtracked a few steps to stand in front of her friend. "Nah, it's just that. . . I haven't had someone say that to me since I was fifteen or something," she said quickly, "that's all." Julianne was so tall. Her dark hair fluttered in the light breeze and Laurie reached out a hand to push it behind Julianne's right ear. It was wrong to have these thoughts about her friend but Laurie couldn't help herself. She caught herself and quickly pulled her hand away when she saw Julianne giving her a curious look.
She never expected what happened next; Julianne dipped her head and planted a soft kiss on her lips, causing her heart to ram painfully against her chest. When her eyes fluttered open again, Julianne was already a few steps in front of her. "Come on, slowpoke! I wanna get out of these smokey clothes! I'm calling in sick tomorrow. I can't be arsed to go to work," she announced. Her nonchalance made Laurie wonder if what had happened was a drunken illusion on her part but the lingering warmth on her lips told her otherwise.
Laurie had to jog to catch up to her friend's long strides. She had a million incoherent thoughts running around in her head but no capacity to sort them out. Tomorrow. She would do that tomorrow. Her lips curled into a soft smile as she touched two fingers to them.
"Sorry I'm late, guys," Kirstin said as she slipped into the only vacant seat at the table for four. "We were short-staffed today."
"We've ordered a whole bunch of things. I hope you're hungry," Keagan said.
Kirstin nodded vehemently. "Starving! So, what were you guys talking about?"
Sam and Keagan shared a look. "Nikki was just beginning to tell us about Casey's company function."
"Oh, was it fun?" Kirstin asked, finishing her glass of ice water in a few large gulps.
"Guess who was at the party?" Sam paused dramatically, not expecting an answer from Kirstin. "Julianne."
"Oh! So you guys finally met up. How was that?" Kirstin chirped on, oblivious to the tension on Nikki's face.
Sam looked at Nikki expectantly. The others did not know how Julianne had completely failed to acknowledge Nikki's presence when they bumped into her at the Sly Fox. Julianne had affected Nikki and she was curious if anything had happened at the company function.
"She walked off when she saw me."
"Oh." Kirstin was all ears now, as was Keagan.
"Then I went after her. I shouldn't have. I dunno. Anyway she told me exactly what she thought of me. She was so. . . angry. It. . . wasn't very nice," Nikki finished. She didn't particularly want to elaborate; in fact, she didn't even want to bring the incident up but she had been mulling over it for the last few weeks even though she had tried not to. Some days she could even pretend that she had forgotten about it. But now in the company of her friends, she felt an urge to talk about it.
"She's not over you yet?" Kirstin shook her head.
"Is that what you think it is?" Nikki asked. She hadn't thought of it that way. She could still remember the contempt in Julianne's voice and it had first infuriated her. However, in the following days, she had begun to feel chastised. Even though she tried to put the incident out of her mind, it kept replaying itself in her head. The way their relationship--or the lack thereof--had become felt so unsettled.
"Well, duh! Where there're no more feelings, there wouldn't be anger, right?"
"Sweetie, forget it. It's all in the past anyway. It's not as though you're going to see her again," Sam patted Nikki's hand.
"Unless you want to," Kirstin quipped. All three friends looked at her. "What? You said you went after her, right? Why did you do that?" Kirstin was just full of insight this evening.
"I. . . I wanted us to be friends."
Sam nodded understandingly. "You can't help it if she doesn't want the same thing."
"But why not? I mean, it's been so long already. I just don't want to have to feel lousy in the event that I see her."
"She didn't want to breakup with you. But you went ahead anyway, didn't you? Why do you expect her to give you the courtesy that you didn't extend to her?" Keagan said in a soft voice, her first contribution to the topic. The blunt statement silenced everyone at the table. Then she continued, "Why should she make you feel better?"
Nikki felt as though her face was being slammed into a wall. She hadn't thought of it that way either. If possible, she felt even worse than before. "Why didn't you guys tell me what a bitch I was when I did that to her?" she asked despairingly.
"We did. You didn't care," Kirstin said with a shrug. "Ooh, the food is here!"
"It's your life, your decision, Nikki. We're your friends and we'll support you in whatever you do, but what you do is up to you," Keagan said after the waiter left.
"So are you really gonna marry Tim?" Kirstin turned to Sam now that she had tired of this strand of conversation. It wasn't often that they all had time to catch up in a group and she wanted to get all the gossip before the night was done.
Nikki remained mostly silent during the meal, making appropriate contributions only when necessary. There was really nothing left to do about this situation with Julianne, she supposed. She could only hope that she never saw her ex again.
Nikki followed Keagan to her car after the meal. She was getting a lift home. Of the four of them, Keagan was probably the most down to earth. She didn't say much most of the time, but when she did she was brutally honest. Nikki felt that she needed that right now.
"Do you wanna go for a drink before we head?"
Keagan glanced at her and understood. "Sure."
They made their way to a pub and ordered some drinks. Deposited in a small street, the pub was relatively empty. A few patrons lounged around on the couches provided, their conversations low-keyed. It had a good ambience.
"Do you really think I'm a bitch?" Nikki went straight to the point. "No, wait. I know I was. But now I just want to be friends."
Keagan was silent for a moment as she thought about what she was going to say and how she was going to put it. "Things don't always happen the way you want them to, Nikki. You wanted a breakup, you got a breakup. She didn't have a choice; a relationship takes two. But now you want to be friends, and bam, she has to be your friend?"
"I know, but can't she put it all behind her?"
"Couldn't you have not left her?" At the surprised look on Nikki's face, she continued, "I mean, it's the same thing, isn't it?"
Nikki nodded slowly.
"She had to accept your decision, no matter how hard it was for her to do so. Now you have to respect hers. She doesn't want to be friends. So just leave it at that. She has no responsibility to make you feel better about yourself. You never made it easy for her."
"But. . . I feel like I need this. I feel like I don't have closure without her friendship and I don't want to feel this guilt anymore."
"It's all about you, isn't it?" Keagan observed. She decided to stop giving her friend a hard time. "Well since you claim to want this so much, then do something about it. Wanting her to just turn around and accept your friendship, giving you closure. . . well, I can honestly tell you that it will get you nowhere."
Nikki thought for a moment. "Maybe I don't need it as badly as I think I do," she said finally. "I don't even know why it's affecting me at all, given that it was me who left her and everything."
"The truth?" Keagan peered at Nikki, not sure if it would make a difference anyway. Nikki nodded. "Ego. You can't stand the thought of her not wanting you in her life, even as a friend."
Nikki sighed, bringing her glass of wine to her lips. "Perhaps you're right. I still have no idea what to do anyway."
"Nothing," Keagan said simply. "You never did anything. Why start now?"
Why indeed. This was getting to be a lot more confusing than it needed to be. Perhaps she should just leave it as it was. If Keagan was right and this was about her ego, then her bruised ego would heal in time. But even as she thought this, Julianne's words came back to her in all its clarity: 'Why would I want to be friends with someone who ripped my heart out and threw it away?'
She thought about Sam crying the other day at Well Connected; she recalled Julianne's face that night at the lift lobby, her anger and contempt exposed; she remembered her own words to Sam about not being cruel to someone you claimed you loved. She felt that she had to make amends somehow. Keagan was wrong. This wasn't about her ego. It was about her needing to show that she was sorry. Things didn't just go away in time and absence--she had learnt that much from this.
"I'm gonna try and talk to her again," she told Keagan. "I'm just going to tell her that I'm sorry for everything that I did. I know that it's too late now to say that, but at least she'll know. And I won't bother her again if that's what she wants." It was odd how she never felt the loss when Julianne was away but now that she was back, she occasionally found herself missing what they had.
"Your life, your decision," Keagan said again, this time with a smile. "For what it's worth, I'm glad you decided to do this. It's getting it done that's the hard part."
There was a ton of paperwork waiting for Julianne when she got to work on Tuesday. She pinched the bridge of her nose, taking a break from staring at the computer for the better part of the day.
"Join us for lunch, Jules?" James called out from his cubicle.
Julianne agreed, then stretched in her seat. She glanced at the gray sky; dark clouds were looming overhead. It was a miserable day to be at work. Laurie and she had spent Laurie's day off together, lazing around watching rented DVDs. She hadn't felt this lighthearted in a long time and she was glad to have some of her good humour back. She picked up her wallet and work pass and made her way towards James.
A few of them decided to have lunch at a sandwich place near the office. Just as she was about to make her way to her colleagues after collecting her food, a lone figure made its way into the shop. It was Casey Thomas. Unsure how she felt about this woman--or if she felt anything at all--Julianne stopped in her tracks for a moment. Then she decided that she was being silly. It was one thing to tell Nikki to piss off; her girlfriend never did Julianne any wrong.
As expected, James invited Casey to join them. After preliminary introductions, everyone settled down for lunch. Casey was training a bunch of people for the new sales team and would be in the office for the next month or so. They would probably have more run-ins during that time. Julianne munched on her sandwich as conversation washed over her. Her colleagues were speculating if a new guy in the office was gay and the topic held no interest for Julianne; she barely had any recollection of the person.
"So, Julianne, I heard from James that you were working in Singapore for a bit?"
Startled at being addressed by Casey, Julianne stopped in mid-chew. She nodded as she swallowed her food.
"How was it? I've been there a few times but only for stopovers."
"Humid. Busy." Julianne shrugged. "Good food though. And fantastic public transport." Casey looked very confident and had a friendly air about her. She looked genuinely interested. Julianne took a liking towards her. Her next question, however, surprised her.
"Did you hear about Sam's engagement party?"
It was a casual switch of topic but it revealed that Casey knew of her connection to Nikki. "Um, no." She didn't plan on giving such short answers but she didn't feel any need to elaborate.
"I have absolutely no idea what to get her! The first idea that popped into my head was alcohol, but that's a given, really. It's probably too early to get them household appliances, eh?" Casey said laughingly, the corners of her eyes crinkling.
Julianne found herself returning Casey's mirth, her brief moment of discomfort dissipating. "Nah, save that for the wedding. Perhaps some scented candles or massage oil. If memory serves me right, Sam likes things like that. And it's romantic too."
Casey looked thoughtful. "Great idea! Thanks! So how long have you been back for? I bet you're looking forward to winter after experiencing Singapore."
"Actually I'm just enjoying autumn as it is. Winter gives me the shits," Julianne said ruefully.
Lunch hour was coming to an end, Julianne noted with some surprise. Casey was easy to talk to, full of vibrance and charm. Julianne could see them becoming good friends if the situation had been different. They shared a laugh at a story that Julianne told about her overseas friend's virgin experience of winter back in her university days. Casey looked at her warmly, as though she had never had such a good conversation with anyone else before. It was certainly what made her such a good salesperson, Julianne decided.
"It was great talking to you, Jules," Casey said when they parted ways back in the office. "Maybe we can talk over drinks some time."
"Maybe," Julianne replied noncommittally with a smile.
"Darling, you work too hard," Andrew said, shaking his head sympathetically at his flatmate. Laurie was sprawled on their couch, half-asleep. She had attempted to watch some television after getting back from work but her body couldn't even summon up enough energy for that.
"When's your next day off?"
Laurie grunted. She was so tired. Did Andrew really want her to think about something as complicated as dates? Wait, was it just yesterday that she had a day off? Oh Lord, next Monday felt like a million years away.
"We have to do something about this. You haven't gone on a date in, like, forever, and I don't think we even need to talk about sex, huh." Andrew plonked himself down on the armchair as he nagged away at Laurie. She made no reply; it was like talking to a wall. Although, the occasional grunts did indicate that she was a lifeform. He toed her tummy and she shifted slightly.
"Come on. Let's go out for a beer," he coaxed. "Laurie!"
Laurie finally found the energy to flip herself onto her back. Her hair was mussed up and she looked dwarfed by the large t-shirt that she had on. "You're kidding, right?" she said finally. "I have to work tomorrow. I need sleep, not beer."
"You need a life, darling. I'm worried about you. And here I was, thinking that you could finally take a breather now that your course has ended. But no, your full-time shift at the restaurant is destroying any chance of you having a social life!" Andrew rolled his eyes.
"Pedro hasn't been out on a weekend for the last six years," she said sleepily. Pedro was the head chef at her restaurant. It was a sad truth; chefs lived to feed the hungry masses. They were not entitled to social lives.
Andrew looked aghast. "I will not let you go down that road! You are coming out with me tonight!" he huffed. "Come on!" He jumped up and began dragging Laurie off the couch. "Laurie," he said warningly, "you better come out with me this evening or else. . ."
A green eye peeked at Andrew. "Or else what?" she challenged.
Andrew looked flustered for a moment, then resumed his dragging. "Or else I'll tickle you awake and then call Julianne and tell her that you need her to give you a good shag right now!"
Andrew could sense that he had his flatmate's attention now and he grabbed onto it. "Oh, I would. You know me. I am an scheming queen and I will do anything to get my way." He began tickling Laurie to state his point. She began squirming and giggling but was too tired to fend off his assault.
"Okay, okay! I give!" she shouted out finally when she got a lungful of air.
"Good! Now go powder your nose or whatever you dykes do and I'll meet you here in half an hour," Andrew said, pleased at his small victory.
As Laurie made her way to her room, she grumbled about overbearing, bitchy gay boys.
Laurie had to admit that it felt good being out. After she jumped into the shower and felt more human, a beer didn't seem as bad an idea as before. Andrew had been bugging her to tell him if anything had happened between Julianne and herself after he had seen Julianne coming out of Laurie's bedroom the day before. He refused to believe that Julianne had merely crashed over and had been giving her not-so-discreet winks throughout the day while Julianne and she hung out at their place, watching DVDs.
"If you're so adamant that I've slept with her, then why do you keep asking if I have?" She growled.
"I need to hear it from the horse's mouth, so to speak!" Andrew narrowed his eyes. "Speaking of which, Laurie I think you need to go for a facial. Your skin is starting to look horsey."
Laurie almost spat out her beer trying not to burst out laughing. "What the fuck does that mean? How does someone's skin look horsey?"
Andrew rolled his eyes. "I'm sure those brutes have got rough skin, darling. Anyway, humans give meaning to speech, not the other way round."
Laurie didn't even want to attempt to understand what that last sentence meant. It had always been Andrew's way to do as he pleased and he was no different when it came to words.
"Don't think you can change the topic, missy. So, have you shagged Jules? And if you're adamant that you haven't, pray tell me why not? If she had to crash at ours, she must have been trashed. You should have just jumped her!" he said shrilly, getting just a tad agitated.
"She kissed me though. I don't know what it was or if it meant anything." The kiss had been on her mind the whole time since it happened. For her, things have definitely changed. But Julianne didn't act any different. It was almost as though it didn't happen. Perhaps it was just a friendly kiss and she should stop thinking about it.
"Pash?" Andrew leaned in, interested.
"No. . ." Laurie shook her head. "Just a kiss. On the lips." She smiled at the memory.
"Oh God, you have been celibate for so long that a peck on the lips is making you moony!" Andrew threw his hands skyward, as though lamenting at the injustice of heaven. "You're behaving like some teenage virgin!"
"Andrew!" Laurie looked around them hurriedly, slightly embarrassed at the decibel of her flatmate's voice. "I don't know, okay? I mean, she's been having a rough time and all. . . I don't want to be another rebound girl."
"Thank God I'm a healthy homosexual male!" Andrew tutted. "All you dykes and commitment. Sometimes all you need is a good shag--to hell with whether you're a rebound girl, blablabla," he said, feigning a yawn.
"I want what you have with Peter. Is that too much to ask for?" Laurie said softly. Her words paused Andrew's dramatics.
"Okay, fine. You win. I wouldn't trade Peter for a good shag. But then again, I don't have to because he is such a fantastic-"
"Andrew!" Laurie covered her ears. "Too much information!"
Andrew fanned his face, a smug grin on his face--no doubt put there by his lewd thoughts of Peter. "You dykes are a slower species, really. Well, at least we've moved you from the lowest rung of 'I don't like Julianne that way' to 'I want a relationship with Julianne, I'm just waiting for her to come around'. She's definitely into you, Laurie. She just has to see it. I can't believe she's even slower than you! And here I thought that my flattie is the slowest lesbian around."
"You think?" Laurie was unsure about that. She had to caution herself; Andrew was extremely talented in the area of making something out of nothing. She did not want him to inflate her hope. The memory of the kiss returned to her at this point, however, and it made her smile. She hoped it meant something, that it wasn't just a 'best friend' kiss.
"Yes! Alright, we have to come up with a plan of seduction. Now, first you have to. . ."
The two flatmates had their heads bent over their drinks, one scheming, the other listening and occasionally grimacing at some of the more outrageous suggestions. They laughed and shrieked at the ideas, both having an unexpectedly good night, even though Laurie was sure that she wouldn't be executing the plan anytime soon, if ever.