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 printer finally finished spitting out Julianne's housewarming invitations. She picked up the top sheet of the printouts that she had made and scanned it, feeling relatively pleased with herself. She had forgotten how much she liked doing crafty things. The date of her housewarming party was set on the following Saturday. She had already spoken to Laurie about trying to get the day off; and even if she couldn't, Julianne was sure that the party would still be swinging when Laurie was done with work.
Julianne paused as she penned down her guests' names. She was inviting some of her colleagues and wondered if she should ask Casey Thomas along as well. They had gotten along and she didn't think it fair that she left the woman out just because she was dating Nikki. Perhaps Nikki wouldn't tag along; after all, their last meeting hadn't been very pleasant. And even if she did turn up, Julianne was pretty sure that she was over her silliness. Making up her mind, she wrote down Casey's name on the invite and moved on to the next one.
By the time she was done with her invites, it was close to 10:00 at night. Her first thought was to get changed and go down to Laurie's restaurant to pick her friend up. Then she caught herself; she had gotten so used to doing that that it didn't even occur to her Laurie might have other plans on a Saturday night. The thought gave her pause.
Did she treat Laurie as her best friend or was it something else now--something more?
This was a problem that she was sure most lesbians had--the blurring of the friendship line. She didn't want to ruin a perfectly good friendship just because she could take it a step further. What if it all fell apart because they mistook their feelings for each other as something more? Wouldn't they have gotten together years ago if they were meant to?
She shoved all those thoughts aside. It was getting all too complicated and her life didn't need that right now. She decided that she would spend the night at home. Nodding to herself, she picked a book from her shelf and traipsed upstairs to her bed, intending to read herself to sleep.
When Julianne exited from the bathroom, her mobile emitted a reminder beep, indicating that she had either missed a call or there was a text message waiting for her. She picked her mobile up, half-expecting it to be Laurie. Surprised to find Andrew's number showing up on her mobile instead, she returned his call immediately. The smile on her face fled when she heard what Andrew had to say. She quickly threw on a pair of jeans and ran out of her apartment in near panic. Even though Andrew hadn't been very specific, he was clear on one point: Laurie was in the hospital.
"I'm okay, really!" Laurie said, wanting Andrew to stop fussing over her. She had been given painkillers before the doctor fixed her elbow so she was feeling more groggy than anything else. It was her oversight--the rubber soles of her shoes weren't causing enough friction anymore and she had slipped when she was taking out the trash. Falling hard on her right side, she had dislocated her elbow. The memory caused her to grimace; it was directed more at her own carelessness than the pain, although the latter had been blinding at that time. Andrew, catching the look on her face, proceeded to fuss over her more. "Andrew. . ." she said, exasperated.
Andrew's mobile rang shrilly at that moment, giving Laurie the reprieve that she sought. Laurie shut her eyes, said a prayer of thanks and wished that she was at home, in bed. She could vaguely make out Andrew giving someone directions to where they were but mostly, his words just flew past her. It could have been a second or an hour, she wasn't sure, but a familiar voice jolted her back to reality.
"Laurie, are you okay?"
Laurie's eyes flew open. "Jules? What are you doing here? How did you. . ." She didn't need to finish her sentence. She already guessed that it was Andrew who had informed Julianne that she was in the hospital. Amazed that her mind was still working, she paused for a second to collect her thoughts. "You didn't have to come down," she said weakly, all the same glad to see Julianne.
"What happened?" Julianne looked her friend up and down, worry etched on her face.
"I fell down," Laurie replied, feeling rather silly. "I. . . can you get me outta here? I just want to go to bed." Her thoughts were becoming rather disjointed and everything felt a little surreal to her. She wanted to tell Julianne how beautiful she looked and how happy she was to see her but even in her jumbled state of mind, she knew that she shouldn't.
"Of course. Let's go. Andrew?"
Laurie heaved a sigh of relief. Julianne was here. She would take care of everything. Not that Andrew couldn't--Laurie was touched that her flatmate had rushed down the moment the hospital had contacted him. She was just biased in favour of Julianne, whose presence miraculously made everything better. Laurie allowed herself to be pulled into Julianne's strong embrace and relaxed.
When Laurie opened her eyes again, she found herself in her own bed. The medication had worn off and she was starting to feel her elbow aching. Glancing at the clock groggily, she saw that it was already three in the morning. Then she stiffened; there was someone in bed beside her.
Turning slowly, Laurie saw that it was Julianne. A small smile graced her face. Julianne had stayed over to take care of her. The knowledge made her feel warm inside. Careful not to wake Julianne up, Laurie touched her uninjured hand to Julianne's face, her heart thumping a little faster as the tips of her fingers ran down the smooth, sleeping face to rest on Julianne's lips. Then she snuggled in as close as she dared and allowed herself to fall back to sleep.
The next day found Laurie alone in her bed when she stirred. Disappointment flooded her; had Julianne left already? Then her door opened and the sight that greeted her made her smile.
"Breakfast in bed for the sick and weakly," Julianne announced when she saw that her friend was awake. "I made you toast and scrambled eggs. Or would you rather something else?"
Laurie shook her head, indicating that Julianne's choice suited her just fine. She tried to prop herself up into a sitting position. Julianne put down the breakfast tray hurriedly and went over to help her. "I'm okay, Jules. It's just a dislocated elbow." Even as she said that, Laurie felt pleased that Julianne was so attentive towards her. "Pedro's not gonna be happy that I can't go in to work for at least a week." The doctor told her that she would have to keep the cast on for at least that long.
"You need to rest! He'll find someone to replace you. It's his job," Julianne grumbled. "You're covered by the union, right?" she asked worriedly.
Laurie nodded. At least she didn't have to worry about money during the time that she would be unable to work.
"Good. Now, have your breakfast and don't worry about anything." Julianne laid the breakfast tray on Laurie's lap. "It's nothing as fancy as the stuff you make but you'll just have to put up with that," she rambled on, looking inordinately pleased with her accomplishment.
"It looks great, thank you." Laurie smiled. "You don't have to hang around if you have things to do, Jules. I'll be fine."
Julianne shook her head. "Actually. I was hoping that you might want some company. Unless you wanna rest."
"No!" Laurie said, a tad too quickly. "I mean, we can still hang out. It's not like we're gonna do anything vigorous. . ."
Julianne grinned. "'Kay. How about I go grab us a couple of DVDs? Is there anything you want me to get for you? I could drive down to the supermarket." Laurie shook her head. "Okay. Now eat your brekkie and I'll be back soon," she instructed.
"I'm not an invalid, Jules! If you wait for a bit, I could come get the DVDs with ya."
"Nuh uh. You rest. Take your medication and a nap. I'll be back in a jiffy."
Without waiting for an answer, Julianne let herself out of the room. Laurie munched on her toast with a silly grin on her face.
Julianne returned her attention to the work before her, anxious to get through everything, however bleak the possibility of an early night was. An hour later, her concentration was broken by an even tapping sound. Tearing her eyes away from her computer screen, Julianne looked up and had to blink a few times before the face above her screen registered in her head.
"You look so serious when you're engrossed in your work." Casey's eyes danced, reflecting the mirth on her lips.
"Uh. . . huh." Julianne always found that she took a little time to switch from language of numbers to that of words. She rubbed her tired eyes before fixing a gaze on Casey. "What's up?"
"Sorry to interrupt, but I just wanted to R.S.V.P to your housewarming invite for next weekend. Is there anything in particular that you might want for your new apartment?"
Julianne shook her head, her face finally cracking into a smile. "Sorry, I get a little carried away when I work. Um. No, no. It'll be cool to see you guys there. You don't have to bring anything."
Casey nodded and took a step back from Julianne's partition. "Alrighty then. Don't work too hard," she said before turning to walk away.
Julianne found herself smiling in response to Casey's friendliness and caught herself wondering just how funny life could be sometimes. To think that she would actually be friends with someone who was going out with a woman whom she had wanted to spend the rest of her life with. To think that both of them would be coming over to her apartment in a few days' time at her very own invitation, breaking bread and sharing wine.
Her eyes followed Casey's retreating figure until it was out of sight. Slightly taller than Nikki, Casey had wavy brown hair and rather mesmerizing brown eyes. The more she interacted with Casey, the more she felt the woman's magnetism. Her warmth was definitely very drawing, and her smile. . . Julianne caught herself at that. She must be working too hard to be thinking about Casey in this manner. Shaking her head, Julianne sighed at her screen and decided to make herself a cup of tea before resuming her work.
"Are you stalking me?" Casey asked jokingly from her seat in the pantry. Julianne grinned in reply. "At least you're taking my advice to not work too hard."
Julianne went over to get herself a mug and a teabag. "Well, I am hoping to get out of here by nine. I'm absolutely buggered. It should get better next week." She sat herself down beside Casey and took a sip from her mug. "What are you still doing here anyway? It's past knock off time."
Casey shrugged. "Prepping for tomorrow. Any plans after work?"
Julianne nodded. At Casey's inquisitive glance, she smiled. "Shower, sleep. Get up tomorrow morning and repeat today's cycle."
"The curse of the working class," Casey sighed into her mug.
They shared a comfortable silence, both taking small sips from their mugs. Then Casey spoke. "I hope you don't mind me asking and you don't have to answer if you don't want to, but. . . did you take up the transfer to Singapore because of Nikki?"
The personal nature of the question that broke the silence surprised Julianne. She looked at Casey, debating her answer. Casey didn't seem like she was fishing for gossip and Julianne decided to be frank. "Yup."
Casey nodded. "Did it work?"
A bit taken aback by the lack of discomfort that she felt discussing her past feelings for Nikki with Casey, Julianne shook her head with a wry smile. "I thought it did, but when I saw her again. . . Why are you asking me this?" she interrupted herself.
Casey shrugged. "I enjoy your company and I want us to be friends. I think if we get this out of the way, it'll help."
That was to-the-point enough, Julianne thought. She nodded. "It took my coming back for everything to be resolved, actually," she said with a self-deprecating smile.
"Facing our demons--cliché but true, huh? And definitely easier said than done."
"Mm hm," Julianne murmured.
"You must think me weird to be talking to you about this," Casey said.
Julianne laughed. "Yea, a little. But you know, whatever. What's past is past."
"Let's drink to that! And yes. Now we've gotten that out of the way, here's to us."
Casey sure had a funny way of doing things, Julianne thought. But she couldn't deny that she liked the woman's frankness and the sure way she held herself. Casey's company was surely one that Julianne would like to keep. The conversation turned back to work and, after a few minutes, both women made their way out of the pantry and back to work.
The room looked like a whirlwind had just gone through it. Nikki sat down on the floor and brushed her hair back from her face. A black sports bag in the dark corner of the wardrobe caught her eye. Taking a breath, she pulled it out. Subconsciously she knew that she was wanting to go through its contents--memories of her life with Julianne. She never thought that she would want to see them again but she could never bring herself to throw them away. Now, she was glad that she hadn't.
She made her way to the bedroom door and inched it close, toeing a few things out of the way. Then she went back to her little spot and sat down again. The bag unzipped with some effort; it was full to bursting. She was greeted by happy faces from a time so long ago that it felt like a different life. Her hand shook a little as she began going through the things that she had never found the heart to dispose of.
Albums of photographs taken together.
Little trinklets from Julianne.
Letters, CDs, a few soft toys.
They had been so happy together. She wondered when everything had changed; whether it was she who had changed. A heaviness settled in her chest as she thumbed through the albums, each picture reminding her of times past. When they had broken up, she had packed everything that had reminded her of Julianne into this very bag, effectively shutting it out of her life and her mind. Now, she felt bad about her behaviour and insensitivity. Julianne's words the night of Casey's company function flooded back to her. "Why would I want to be friends with someone who ripped my heart out and threw it away?"
"I'm sorry," Nikki murmured softly, gazing at the not-so-familiar looking faces of herself and Julianne years ago. She had to make things right, somehow. And perhaps Julianne wanted things to be made right too. Feeling impulsive, she picked up her mobile and dialed Julianne's number.
The phone conversation was brief. Nikki had suggested meeting up for a coffee and Julianne had politely declined. There was no animosity in Julianne's voice, however, and for Nikki, that was an improvement from their last exchange. Perhaps if she tried a few more times. . . .
"Baby? What are you doing?"
Casey's voice jolted Nikki out of her reverie. She pushed some of the things back into the black sports back hurriedly before turning to face her girlfriend. "Just looking through some old stuff," she said with a shrug and an absent smile.
"Okay. . ." Casey's eyes swept across the room before resting on Nikki again. "Well, I got dinner. Come have it before it turns cold."
"One sec, I'll just clear this stuff away."
"All right." Casey turned to go, then poked her face into their bedroom again. "By the way, Julianne invited us to her housewarming party Saturday. Would you like to go?"
Surprised at this news, Nikki sat up straight and tried to act nonchalant. "She invited us to her party?" she had to ask. If she had known about this earlier, she wouldn't have made that call to Julianne a moment ago. Casey had spoken about her few run-ins with Julianne and Nikki had been surprised that the duo was friendly towards each other--or rather, that Julianne was friendly with Casey, given Julianne's obvious hostility towards herself. She felt irritated and uncomfortable with this budding friendship.
"Yea. I already told her that I'll be there."
The flippant tone that Casey used irked Nikki more. It made her feel as though it didn't matter if she wanted to be there or not--her girlfriend had already decided that she, herself, was going to be there, with or without her. "And what, if I say yes, I'd be tagging along?"
Casey frowned. "Didn't I say that she invited us? Well, the invite only had my name but I presumed that you were invited too."
This knowledge only served to fuel Nikki's annoyance. "Well then maybe you'd prefer to hang out with my ex-girlfriend on your own!"
Casey looked like she was going to say something before she caught herself and, deciding that it wasn't worth it, shrugged. "Suit yourself. Dinner's gonna be cold if you don't hurry." With that, she left Nikki fuming to herself.
Left alone in their bedroom with her past strewn around her, Nikki wasn't sure what it was that she wanted anymore. Casey had the ability to make her feel like she was invisible. And, for the first time, Nikki wondered if she was really happier without Julianne.
Vivienne Tan and Jeslyn Barnes could hear the music as they were coming up the stairs. Two years had seemed like a lifetime--so many things had happened during that time. They had gotten a house together and were planning to have a baby together. Jeslyn had quit her job of nine years and was in a small business venture with another good friend of theirs. They were moving on to a much more serious phase in their relationship of seven years and, difficult as it could be sometimes, life had been good to them. However, it felt like just yesterday that they had sent Julianne off at the airport. In this aspect, time had flown by so quickly.
They gasped loudly when Julianne answered the door. Throwing their arms around the equally delighted-looking woman, the couple squeezed their friend as they exclaimed how good it was to have her back.
"Your apartment looks amazing!" Jeslyn said excitedly. The apartment felt warm and cosy, littered with Julianne's knickknacks. Candles lined the short walkway that opened up into a large lounge area that currently held a few people. The layout was open and spacious. Pictures of her travels ran down the lengths of the walls. A floor-to-ceiling shelving unit held her books and a few potted cacti, and a glass showcase displayed toys and figurines that she had painstakingly collected over the years.
"You look amazing, Jules!" Vivienne chimed in. "It's so good to have you back!"
"It's good to be back," Julianne said with a smile. "Come on in. There's heaps of food. Laurie went crazy food shopping."
"Oh, Laurie's here too? Where is she? She's been so busy with class and work we were never able to get her out!"
The woman in question was just exiting the kitchen with a drink in hand. Her reddish blondish hair picked up the amber lighting and her face was bathed in a soft glow. Dressed simply in a green racerback that exposed her shoulders and a brown skirt that just fell short of her knees, Laurie was looking very well indeed. Her eyes lit up when she saw Jeslyn and Vivienne.
"What happened to your arm?" Vivienne asked in concern the moment they pulled apart from their greeting embrace.
"Clumsy shit fell at work," Julianne replied before Laurie did, earning her a soft bump on her shoulder.
"Yes, well, if I knew I'd have to suffer your cooking, I would have done everything I could to catch myself," Laurie teased, then laughed at the sad pout on Julianne's face. "Aw. . . I was just kidding."
"Jes! Viv!" The duo quickly moved on to greet other friends of theirs, leaving Julianne alone with Laurie.
Julianne smiled as her friends went to mingle, feeling happy to be surrounded by the people she knew and loved. Catching Laurie's gaze, they shared a smile which made Julianne feel warm inside. She hadn't had much time to think about the way she felt about Laurie, and the little time she did have to think about it, it had been a tad confusing and scary. All she knew was that she enjoyed Laurie's company but that had always been the case. Shoving these thoughts to the back of her mind, Julianne slung an arm around Laurie. "I'm sorry if my cooking couldn't compare to yours, cheffy," she said, her eyes dancing.
"I totally didn't mean it that way, Jules!" Laurie said hurriedly, tilting her face up to meet her friend's eyes. "And you totally knew I didn't," she continued, seeing the cheeky look on Julianne's face. "Thanks for taking care of me, though." She planted a kiss on the smooth cheek before she could lose her nerve.
Surprised at the show of affection but feeling pleased at the rush that went through her, Julianne grinned wider. "It was my pleasure." Laurie's injured arm was resting on Julianne's lower back as they looked at each other with silly grins pasted on their faces.
"Oh my God, look!" Andrew said as he nudged Peter. "It's gonna happen tonight, I can so feel it!" he squealed, eliciting a chuckle from his boyfriend. "Oh my God, I'm so excited! I have to get a picture of them like this. They look so cute together! And if they don't get together tonight, I will show them the picture and. . ."
"Well you better get the picture fast because they're not gonna be in that position forever, you know," Peter said in an indulgent tone, shaking his head at Andrew, who was already snapping away with his digicam. "Lemme see."
"Too cute!" Andrew squealed as they peered at the digicam's LCD screen. "How can they not get together after they see this? I swear, Laurie's just hopeless with this seduction thing! To think that they spent so much time together, in the same bed even, and she's never even made a move! God! I must be living with the last reserved lesbian in this country!" Andrew said, fanning himself in mock frustration.
"Well not everyone's as tuned in as you--what is it?" Peter interrupted his own sentence when he caught a disbelieving look on his boyfriend's face. He followed Andrew's line of sight and saw two attractive women entering the apartment. The slightly taller woman had long, wavy brown hair that hung over her shoulders. Clad in a black, fitting blouse and tan silk pants, she looked stunning. The woman beside her--evidently her partner, from their body language--had short, blonde hair that was swept back from her face in a windblown fashion. Thin straps rested on her smooth shoulders and a flowery dress hugged her curves. Strappy heels completed her chic look. "Sometimes I wonder why I'm gay," he commented, in definite approval of what he was looking at.
Andrew gasped at that, slapping his boyfriend's arm, looking aghast. "That's Nikki!" he said in a distasteful voice, peeved at what Peter was saying.
"What, Julianne's ex? The one that. . . Ooh." Peter rose a brow and nodded. "Well, this is gonna be an interesting party."
"And you're gay because I have a tighter ass, baby," Andrew said coyly, walking away in a saunter to accentuate his point.
Peter chuckled, checking out his boyfriend's abovementioned asset. "That you do," he murmured under his breath. "That you do."
"Julianne!" Casey called out, causing Julianne to break her contact with Laurie as she turned around.
"Hey, glad you made it," Julianne greeted, leaning in for a light kiss. "Casey, this is Laurie. And you know Nikki," Julianne said, acknowledging her ex's presence.
Laurie pasted a polite smile on her face. Julianne automatically took her drink from her uninjured hand so that Laurie could return Casey's handshake.
"Oh, how did you hurt yourself?" Casey asked immediately, seeing the bandaged right arm.
"Work accident," Laurie shook her head. Then her eyes fell on Nikki and she felt a rush of displeasure engulf her. "Hello, Nikki," she greeted politely. Julianne had told her of her invite. In a way, she was glad that Julianne felt comfortable enough to do that but a part of her worried about Julianne having Nikki back in her life.
"Hello, Laurie," Nikki answered, her smile not reaching her eyes. She had seen the way Julianne and Laurie were looking at each other; what happened to the other woman that Julianne was with at the Sly Fox, she wondered. She had taken extra care dressing up for the party, wanting to appear her best. It was a good opportunity for her to get to talk to Julianne and she fully intended to make use of it.
"Your apartment looks great, Jules," Casey commented, her eyes sweeping. "Oh, and here's a little gift from the both of us." She handed Julianne a fancy bag. "It's a photo frame. Nikki mentioned that you like to take pictures. And it's evident that you do," she said with a smile, pointing at the many photographs on the wall.
"She's a photo-freak," Laurie said warmly. "I think she has more pictures of me than I do, actually."
Julianne chuckled. "Speaking of which, I should go grab my camera! Can I get you guys a drink?" she asked, looking to Casey and Nikki. Except for the initial lurch in her stomach at seeing Nikki, Julianne didn't feel too uncomfortable in her ex's vicinity. It was an encouraging start, she decided. "And thank you for the present. It was very thoughtful."
"We brought a bottle of red," Nikki said. "I'll open it," she offered, her eyes not leaving Julianne's face.
"No worries, I got it," Julianne said with a smile as she reached for the bottle in Nikki's hands. "Be a sec," she said, handing Laurie's drink back and paused. "You'll be alright?" she asked her friend, unsure if Laurie would appreciate being left in Casey's and Nikki's company alone.
"I'll get your cam," Laurie offered and they moved away together.
Casey spied a few of their colleagues but before she could say anything, Nikki told her that she was going to help Julianne with the wine. "Sure," she replied, watching as Nikki followed Julianne into the kitchen. She frowned slightly at Nikki's retreating back, then decided that her girlfriend probably wanted to have a chat with Julianne. Shrugging slightly, she moved to greet her colleagues, and a niggling thought came to her mind--perhaps Nikki and she should re-evaluate their relationship. She wasn't sure what had changed but something had. Her trek was interrupted by a well-groomed man who introduced himself as Andrew.
"You have just given my boyfriend second thoughts about being gay," Andrew said with a thousand-watt smile. Casey chuckled, surprised, but took an immediate liking to him. "So I thought I'd come and suss out the competition!"
"Casey," she said as a form of introduction. "And that was, by far, the best compliment I have received."
"Oh, it had better be, girlfriend! Because Peter is as gay as they come!"
Casey laughed and allowed herself to be pulled towards another man who could only be Peter, judging by the mirthful look he was throwing their way, a raised glass in hand. She had only been to the party for five minutes and was already enjoying herself immensely.
Julianne was busying herself with opening the bottle of wine and didn't look up when she felt someone else's presence in the kitchen. A small smile was playing on her lips.
Looking up, Julianne felt another small lurch at Nikki's proximity. It felt odd to be standing in such a small space with the woman. And it was even odder that, familiar as Nikki was to her, she was also a complete stranger now. "Hey."
"I. . . was surprised at the invitation. . . especially after you didn't want to meet up," Nikki started nervously but wanting to get straight to the point.
Julianne popped the cork out of the bottle and shrugged. "I like Casey," she said simply. She hadn't thought about having to converse with Nikki at all, thinking that Nikki would either not turn up or keep her distance. "And anyway, it's been so long since, you know. . . I'm sorry about my outburst the other time but I did mean what I said," she said, deciding to be honest.
Nikki nodded. "And I've been thinking about. . . the past. . . this last month. I just wanted to say that I'm sorry about everything that happened and I do hope that we can still be friends." Julianne remained silent, preferring to concentrate on pouring the wine. "I. . . I still think about us. . ."
At that, Julianne looked up. "There's no 'us', Nikki. It was over a long time ago. It just took a little longer for me."
"So you've moved on?" Nikki wasn't sure why she was asking this; the words were just tumbling out of her mouth on their own accord.
Julianne snorted. "Yea, about time, really." She looked at Nikki curiously. "Why? Did you want me to pine after you always?" She felt annoyance rising and was helpless to stop its progress.
"No! No. . . it's just that. . ." Nikki paused, not quite sure what it was that she meant to say. "It's just that. . ."
"Jules, did you want your digital cam or. . ." Laurie popped her head into the kitchen and stopped when she saw Nikki standing there, looking distinctly uncomfortable. They appeared to be in the middle of an intense conversation. "Sorry," she said, and began to leave.
"The digicam's fine, Laurie," Julianne called out, halting her friend. "Here's your wine," she said to Nikki, handing her a glass. "Do you want to take the other one out to Casey or would you like me to do it?" she asked politely.
"I'll get it," Nikki said silently and she turned to go, not sparing Laurie a glance as she swept past her.
The party was in full swing. Laurie was twirling with Andrew and a few other people in front of the stereo player; she looked happy and relaxed. Casey was laughing at something that Peter was saying. The duo looked like they had hit it off really well. It was getting a little raucous on the balcony overlooking the main road; a few drunken partygoers were yelling at passers-by, either asking them to show some body part or inviting them to come up and join them. Jes and Viv, on the other hand, were making plans to catch up with Julianne, eager to have her see their new abode. They were rather surprised to see Nikki at the party but it had been a long time and it was common for exes to become friends so they left it at that. They were more interested in what might be going on between Julianne and Laurie.
"Are you guys seeing each other?" Jeslyn demanded.
"Who?" Julianne asked, highly inebriated.
"You and Laurie!"
Julianne snickered as she shook her head. Then her voice took on a softer and more whimsical quality. "No."
"But you would like to. . .?" Vivienne prompted, picking up on Julianne's tone.
Julianne merely shrugged, still smiling.
"Well there's definitely something going on!" Jeslyn said hotly. "And you guys look really good together!"
"I don't know," Julianne said noncommittally. "We'll see." Even if things between Laurie and herself could be taken to a deeper level, she didn't want to discuss it right now. Moreover, people who were in relationships were always so eager to matchmake.
Jeslyn and Vivienne shared a look. "Okay. Dinner at our place next week, okay? We're inviting Laurie too."
"Sure. Alright, I need the loo," Julianne said, excusing herself.
She stumbled into the bathroom and locked the door. After dabbing her face with a damp towel, she gazed at her reflection, taking a moment to recognize herself. It amused her how everyone was asking if Laurie and she were an item; she had to say that it made her feel funny in a good way.
Collecting herself, she straightened her top and exited the bathroom only to find herself face-to-face with Nikki.
"How're you doing?" Julianne asked, feeling a little friendlier after the copious amount of alcohol that she had consumed. It had taken a while but she no longer felt weird catching glimpses of Nikki around her apartment.
"Not too bad," Nikki said, relaxing slightly when she saw the smile on Julianne's face. "I really like your place."
"Thanks, me too." Suddenly finding her answer amusing, Julianne began to giggle. Not entirely sure what it was that Julianne was giggling at but not really caring anyhow, Nikki joined in, glad that they were actually sharing a tension-free moment. "Sorry, I think I'm a little pissed," Julianne said finally, steadying herself against the doorframe. "I'll let you pass."
"Um, Jules," Nikki started before Julianne could fully move away. The taller woman halted and looked at her inquisitively, her eyes slightly out of focus.
"Yea?" Julianne prompted when Nikki remained silent, looking like she needed help to spit out whatever she had on her mind.
Finally, Nikki took a breath and looked into Julianne's eyes. It was definitely odd, she thought, looking at something that had taken her breath away many a time. But what was even weirder was that those once familiar blue eyes managed to send a jolt through her slight frame even now. Had they fought a lot? She couldn't remember any of those quarrels now. Was she exasperated by this woman to the point of despair? It was all she could do to not throw her arms around her. Why had she left a relationship filled with warmth, passion and love? She must have been crazy. "I. . . I miss what we had. I'm so sorry, Jules. I've been. . . thinking of us so much lately. I've made so many mistakes. . ."
The shock that hit Julianne at those words did not register on her face. Not entirely sure how to react, Julianne averted her eyes. Finally, she lowered her head and began laughing. The situation was rather hilarious and totally unexpected, which made it even funnier. Amusing situations such as these almost made up for all the crap that she had gone through. Almost.
"What's so funny?" Nikki asked, feeling slightly hurt at Julianne's mirth.
"Sorry," Julianne started. "Sorry. I. . . this is just too funny. Um." She cleared her throat. "You were saying?"
Stung, Nikki bit her lower lip. "Nothing. Forget it."
Julianne cocked her head, studied the closed up face in front of her, then smiled brightly, Nikki's words already forgotten for the moment. "'Kay. Catch ya later," she said before doing an about turn to return to her party. Nikki shut herself in the bathroom and buried her face in her palms, wondering just what in the world she was doing.
Catching sight of Julianne, Laurie felt herself moving in her friend's direction, wanting to be in her company. Andrew saw his flatmate's intent and lowered his head to whisper something in her ear before she wandered off. Tickled by what Andrew said, Laurie paused to roll her eyes at him. "What? You do remember the seduction techniques that we spoke about that night, right?" Andrew could see Laurie's blush even under the dim lighting. "Good heavens, woman! I refuse to live with a celibate lesbian! Please go and get laid like, right this minute!" he huffed, giving her a push.
"You're not pushing my girl, are ya?" a voice drawled from behind Laurie, sending shivers down her side. The warmth pressed against her entire length of body felt intoxicating and Laurie was content to wrap herself in it forever.
"Ooh, big tough dyke to the rescue?" Andrew slurred, batting his eyelashes at the intruder.
A low, thrumming beat vibrated the walls of the apartment, the beginning strands of a sensuous sounding track. Laurie slid her good arm up the warm body that was still pressed against hers and wrapped her hand around a neck. Swaying to the track, Laurie felt her eyes flutter shut; the last thing that she saw was Andrew's surprised yet smug-looking face.
Drifting in a haze of alcohol and contentment tinged with excitement and nervousness, Laurie could not wipe the smile off her face. When an arm snaked around her waist, she let out a soft gasp, then moved her bandaged arm to rest on it gently. She touched her fingers to the one beneath hers, thrilling at the slight jump she thought she felt from the body enveloping hers from behind. Her heart thumped painfully; was this really happening? She was afraid to open her eyes and find out that it was another daydream of hers.
"Is this okay?" the voice was uncertain but the breath on her ear was definitely warm. She finally opened her eyes and turned in the intimate embrace.
"Very much so," she said softly, a blush creeping onto her cheeks. She hated that her elbow hurt if she raised her arm; she very much wanted to link her fingers behind the warm neck, to press herself against the warm body as close as possible, to have Julianne in her embrace as tightly as possible. She wasn't sure what this meant but it had better mean something when she sobered up or else. . .
The fingers felt cool against her heated cheek. Laurie held her breath when Julianne's face inched closer to hers. Everything else fell away. She only saw the smile playing on the lips that were so close to her own. And then they were pressed against her own--soft and warm, then hot and liquid. Her world spun; aided by alcohol, she was in the incorporeal realm for a long moment, reveling in the feelings that the kiss ignited. She wanted to commit every single bit of it to memory but even as she thought that thought, it refused to be grasped and was lost when the kiss ended.
"Wow," she murmured, her eyes opening to a smiling Julianne. Their surroundings came back into focus and the track blended into something more offbeat. They pulled apart, suddenly feeling shy. Julianne immediately began dancing in a goofy manner, eliciting a thrill of laughter from Laurie. Andrew was whooping somewhere around her. She pursed her lips together, blushing again as she joined in her friends' happy albeit uncoordinated dancing, surrendering herself to the music.