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
Even though she was floating in and out of sleep, Laurie was aware of the presence of a very warm body next to hers. She smiled dreamily, feeling absolutely elated that her lips were pressed on a warm neck, and that her injured arm was resting on the waist of the woman that she had fallen for. Everything that had occurred the night before was still surreal to her and she was content to revel in it and leave the analyzing to a later date.
"Hmm. Tickles," the body below her rumbled, making green eyes flutter open. Laurie looked up and smiled at Julianne's sleepy face. "I can't believe my head isn't exploding. This has got to be the best hangover ever."
"Glad to know," Laurie murmured in reply, wanting to commit this scene to memory. Julianne's eyes were still shut and she had a faint smile on her lips. Her lashes were dark and cast faint shadows on her cheek. Her complexion was flawless, save for the imprints of the pillow, and her long dark hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail. She smelled nice and warm, like toast and sunshine.
"Hmm." The dark lashes fluttered and Laurie felt herself blushing when she met blue eyes. "Is this. . . weird?"
Laurie shook her head, suddenly nervous that it might be weird for Julianne. After all the guests had left Julianne's apartment the night before, Julianne and she had stayed up till six in the morning talking about everything and nothing. It felt like she had just gotten to know Julianne. Even though they had been friends for years now, the emotions that were invoked in her whenever she was in Julianne's company made those years fade away, shedding new light on the woman.
"Good," Julianne said, smiling, calming the worry that was threatening to overcome Laurie. "I like this. I like the way you feel against me."
"I like it too," Laurie found herself echoing Julianne, suddenly feeling stupid and at a loss for words. Bits and pieces of the night before came back to her, making her smile. When they had finally dragged themselves to bed after a quick shower, she had not anticipated the ease she had felt when Julianne pulled her into a warm embrace. She was normally very fidgety when sharing a bed with another, conscious about every move and sound she made. But Julianne just made her feel so comfortable and their embrace just felt so right.
"I like the way you kiss, too," Julianne continued, her eyes shut again, but her smile still playing on her lips.
A flashback of them kissing made Laurie sigh. She was sure that her entire day would be filled with flashbacks from the night before. Julianne had paused a few times while they made out, claiming reality checks; Laurie had been afraid that one of those checks would terminate what was unfolding but none did. Now, hearing Julianne say that in the light of day, under no influence--well, not as much, at least--of alcohol, sent a wave of relief through her.
"Can I kiss you again?" The simple question broke her reverie and made her blush. She could not remember the last time she was so happy. She did not reply verbally, choosing to initiate the kiss instead. Their lips moved against each others in fluid ease, igniting the fire that was banking in the pits of her stomach.
Laurie shifted her body, lifting it slightly so that she was completely on top of Julianne. She fumbled with the loose-fitting T-shirt that was draped on Julianne, mapping her fingers on the warm body beneath it and thrilling at the soft moan that emanated from the back of Julianne's throat. Their eyes opened and Laurie's breath caught at the look of desire that flitted across Julianne's face.
"I think we shouldn't have sex until we're sure of what's going on. Is that cool?" Julianne asked, her eyes searching Laurie's face for any sign of disappointment.
"Okay," Laurie replied. Whatever happened after this, at least she still had the memory of last night and this morning to keep with her. It wasn't about sex for her to begin with anyway, whatever Andrew said, and she didn't want to rush things only to lose the most important thing: being with Julianne.
The answering lazy smile took her breath away, and she leaned down to kiss the lips that she had been craving. "Take this off," she mumbled, pulling on the uncooperative garment that was separating Julianne's bare body from her own. Her own top had been discarded the night before and she was happy for it to remain wherever it was.
"You take it off," Julianne teased, blue eyes dancing.
"Cheeky," Laurie said, laughter tainting her voice. But she adhered to the instruction, pulling Julianne to sit upright before stripping her of the T-shirt and flinging it behind her mindlessly. "All better," she said huskily, then gasped when a hot mouth devoured her breast. She wouldn't complain about getting up again if every morning of hers began like this, she decided, before all coherent thought left her.
Another couple stirred in a house not that far from Julianne's apartment. There were no gentle exchanges of pleasantries or passionate kisses that fanned fires, however; Casey went straight to the bathroom, hankering after a hot shower, and Nikki turned to her side, a distasteful look on her face accompanying the memory of the night before. She felt a sense of loss so acute that she was almost convinced that she had only just lost Julianne.
The entire evening had been disastrous for her. The recollection of what she had said to Julianne made her cringe, and having Julianne laugh in response to what she said. . . that had been a big blow to her ego. What was she thinking then? And more than that, where the hell did those feelings of regret and want come from?
She buried her face in her pillow, groaning softly to herself. Everything felt so messed up and she needed to talk to someone about this, someone who could help her make sense of it all. And that person could only be Keagan.
"You did what?" was the first thing that Keagan said after Nikki finished relating the events that had transpired. She immediately regretted her incredulous tone. Nikki was hanging her head and she looked miserable.
Taking a deep breath, Keagan tried to make sense of what her friend had just told her. "Okay. The last time we talked about this, you said that you wanted to be friends with Julianne again. You said. . . you regretted the way that you had treated her and you wanted to make up for it. You were just gonna tell her how you felt about the situation and. . . and if she never wanted to hear from you again, you wouldn't press it. But last night, you told her that you missed what you guys had and now you're so. . . distraught at her lack of response. It sounds as though you want to get back together with her. Is that it?"
Nikki shook her head, her palms covering her face. "I don't know," she mumbled from behind her hands. "It's just. . . I've been going through all the stuff that she gave me, all the photos that we took when we were together, and. . . I just. . . I don't know. . ."
"You can't honestly think that getting back together is a possibility?" Keagan knew that she was being blunt but she felt that she had to knock some sense into Nikki.
"She was still so angry with me. . . And I thought that maybe. . . Maybe she still has feelings for me. I know Julianne. Her feelings don't just go away. And if she still felt something for me the first few times we bumped into each other, the feelings couldn't have just disappeared like that."
Nikki looked like a petulant child to Keagan right now, blinded by the illusion that the world revolved around her. "Honey, I'm sorry to have to say this but you are really too selfish for your own good. Why would you want her back? You're happy with Casey and she's moved on." Keagan paused when she saw the look on Nikki's face. "Everything is okay between you and Casey, right?"
"Oh Keag. I don't know. She's just so busy all the time and she doesn't care about me like she used to anymore. Sometimes she makes me feel like I'm invisible. But that's got nothing to do with this."
Now things were beginning to make sense for Keagan. Nikki was dissatisfied with her present relationship and had convinced herself that Julianne was who she wanted to be with. "It's got everything to do with this! It's 'cause you're not happy with Casey that you're even thinking about Julianne in this way. It's not Julianne you want; she's just the most convenient candidate, entering your life again," Keagan said, trying to present what she thought in the clearest way possible.
"I was stupid to have left her! I shouldn't have. . ." Nikki shook her head. Keagan wasn't even sure if Nikki had heard a single word that she had said.
Keagan sighed heavily. Dear God. . . "It's too late, Nikki. It's been, what, two, three years now? Let it go. You don't even know her anymore." She couldn't believe that her friend was actually regretting her past actions only now.
"But that's just it. We're virtually strangers now. She's changed. And so have I. Maybe this time we can make it work," Nikki said suddenly. Keagan raised an incredulous brow. How in the world did Nikki reach that conclusion? "I still have feelings for her. God, I think about her so much! And if I still have feelings for her after all this time, it means that she's the one, right? She's the one I cannot let go."
Keagan shook her head, at a loss for what to say.
"How do I get her back?"
"You don't want her back, Nikki. You're just using her as an excuse to leave Casey and that shouldn't be the case!" Keagan said rather vehemently, hoping to get her point across.
"I have to see her," Nikki said. "If we can just spend enough time together again, I know I can make her feel for me again."
Keagan shook her head at her friend and sighed.
The house was decorated with white and blue balloons, streamers and a plethora of lilies, white tulips and blue roses. A few of Tim's buddies were providing the music for the afternoon, doing excellent covers of songs from The Wedding Singer. It was a relaxed, jovial atmosphere, and everyone present was celebrating Tim's and Sam's engagement.
Sam was sitting in the beautifully done-up garden, chatting away with her three best friends. Dressed in a floral white dress, with a lily tucked securely in her hair, Sam looked radiant, nothing like the reluctant participant ever since Tim's proposal. Though surprised at the change in their friend, Keagan, Nikki and Kirstin were glad that she was looking so happy. None of them brought up her indecisiveness or questioned what had caused the change in her attitude. They quickly found out that they didn't have to. As it always was with Sam, she was ready to tell her friends everything that she felt.
"I was just thinking, you know, how my life would be like without Tim. And even though I love and value my freedom, he is the one whom I can turn to, and he is the one who grounds me. And despite everything. . . I love him and he loves me. And that's what's keeping us together, you know. This love. I don't know what's going to happen in the future but right now, this is the right thing to do. And as long as we have this love for each other, there's nothing we cannot work out."
Kirstin grinned and Keagan reached over to squeeze Sam's hand. "Just as long as you're happy, sweetie," Nikki said, glad that Sam was no longer gloomy. She was slightly skeptical at Sam's little speech about love being the answer to everything but she kept that thought to herself.
"You look gorgeous!" Kirstin piped up, always the one to change the topic when it got too sentimental. "And where's the champagne? We have to have champagne! Oh, and we have to take pictures as well! I hardly dress this nice and my mum would be stoked to see me in this dress!" she exclaimed, already on the move to procure the items that she was gushing about. Keagan laughed and got up to help Kirstin, leaving Sam and Nikki in the shade of a large tree.
"I'm so happy for you," Nikki said, smiling. She leaned over to flick a stray hair away from Sam's mouth.
"Thanks for being there for me all the time, Nikki. Talking sense into me, drinking with me. . . God, I would have thrown all this away if I had told him about. . . you know," Sam said, shuddering at the possibility of losing everything that she had with Tim. "You're always so pragmatic and objective. Thank you, baby girl."
Sam's words gave Nikki pause. Pragmatic and objective? These were the last two adjectives that she would use on herself right now. If only Sam knew. But Nikki pasted a smile on her face, accepting the compliment readily. She would tell Sam and Kirstin about what was going on with her feelings regarding Casey and Julianne but today wasn't her day. Today was Sam's day and she wouldn't ruin it with this kind of talk.
"And thank you so much for what you and Casey got us!" Sam continued. "The candle holders are so beautiful! And that matching photoframe. . . You guys have impeccable taste!"
"Actually, Casey said that Julianne helped with thinking up for a gift for you," Nikki said. She couldn't help bringing Julianne up.
Sam's eyes rounded. "Julianne? She and Casey are friends?" she asked incredulously. Nikki nodded. "How do you feel about that?"
Nikki shrugged. "I don't know. Weird. A little jealous? Let's not talk about it anymore. It's your day today and this thing is just messing me up. I'll tell you about it when we catch up next, okay?" Sam nodded.
Kirstin returned with two glasses of champagne and a digital camera hanging off her wrist. Keagan was behind her with two more glasses of bubbly and, after making sure every one of them had a glass, they drank to their friendship and happiness.
"It's good of you to come, Casey. Are you having a good time?" Tim asked. He had only met Casey a few times in the whole length of his relationship with Sam but they had always gotten along rather well. He found Casey charming and amicable, exuding confidence even at the most casual setting.
"Yes, I am! Congratulations, Tim. So, when's the big day gonna be?" Casey normally didn't have the time or energy to attend too many parties and gatherings, so this week had been a breakthrough for her with Julianne's housewarming and this engagement party. It made her realize just how little time she had been spending with Nikki lately. Though they attended the same functions, they hardly spoke to each other, choosing to mingle with different groups of people.
"Oh, we haven't decided yet," Tim said, feeling as though his cheeks were going to crack because he couldn't stop smiling. "But it doesn't really make a difference to me. I'm Sam's forever and nothing will change that."
Casey smiled at that; it was such a romantic notion. "You know," she said finally, "that's how I feel about Nikki." She knew that Nikki wasn't happy that she spent so much time working. Recently, things were a little bit different between them and she was sure that some of it was caused by her neglect. Perhaps she should change her attitude a little and bring back a little spark back into their relationship.
"Then here's to the both of us who have found our soulmates," Tim said, lifting his glass and clinking it with Casey's.
Casey took a sip from her glass, suddenly feeling glad that she had been given wake-up calls, both at Julianne's housewarming and now. Talking with Peter and seeing the look on his face whenever he spoke about Andrew made her miss the way she used to feel whenever Nikki was near. She still felt love towards her girlfriend but the intensity of it was dulled by stability and complacency. She wanted to feel that desire again, that passion. And she wanted to be reminded each and every day just how lucky she was to be with Nikki. With that thought in mind, Casey wandered into the garden to look for her partner.
She found Nikki wrapped up between her friends, smiling widely at the camera. The sight awoken a dormant emotion in her and she realized that she hadn't seen Nikki this happy for a very long time. Had she been that busy, that insensitive? The resolve to bring them back to the way they used to be strengthened.
"Casey! Come take a picture with Nikki!" Kirstin waved her over.
Happy to oblige, Casey was already smiling when she reached her girlfriend. Pulling Nikki into a warm embrace, they posed for the camera. When the picture was taken, Casey was surprised when Nikki immediately pulled away. "Baby," she started, catching hold of Nikki's hand, "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Nikki asked, turning back to face Casey.
"Not spending time with you and all. I miss us. Let's do something together soon, okay?" Casey said, planting a soft kiss on Nikki's lips.
Nikki glanced at Casey, slightly confused at what she was saying, then smiled tentatively. "Okay."
Keagan took the scene in with approval. Perhaps things would right themselves in their own time. Sometimes people just needed to be reminded about the important things in their lives.
Florescent lights, faint yakking, clicking of nails on keyboards. . . the dullness of an office work day magically slipped away under the bouyancy of her mood--the white and grey of the mundane now coloured with passion and romance. Julianne returned from another memory of her time spent with Laurie to the numbers on her screen. Though despairing that she would never get any work done at this rate, Julianne just couldn't make herself concentrate.
"Well somebody's in a good mood."
Looking up, Julianne smiled when she saw Casey peering over her partition. "Hey, how're you doing?"
"Not too bad. And yourself?"
Julianne had to grin at that. "Very well. Gimme a sec, I just need to save this and we can go," she said, returning her attention to her computer screen briefly and missing the knowing smile on Casey's face. "Done," she said cheerily, getting up from her seat.
"So. . . what's been happening?" Casey started as they walked up the street to a café on Glebe Point Road. "Andrew was so excited over that pash between you and his flatmate that Peter and I thought he might keel over right there and then!" Casey chuckled, recalling how Andrew was fanning himself in front of them.
"Oh, that," Julianne said self-consciously, blushing slightly.
"Yes, that." Casey steered them into a small establishment and towards a vacant table for two. "Laurie, right? Your. . . good friend?" she teased.
"Yea, Laurie." Suddenly, saying Laurie's name took on a whole new meaning. It was bizarre and crazy and topsy-turvy. . . but it also felt so right and good. "Uh. . . I don't know if I wanna talk about it," she said shyly. She wasn't sure if there was anything to talk about at this point of time, really. Things just happened--she had no time (or the capacity) to think when they did. Now, Laurie and she were in a whole new place. She didn't know what to think or if she should start thinking. Sometimes thinking messed things up.
"Fair enough, but at least tell me if there's something there or was it just a drunken pash?"
"I think there's something. I haven't really allowed myself to think about it. I mean, I know I should but a part of me knows that once I start, everything'll just get complicated and I really don't want to have to deal with that now, know what I mean?" Julianne said in a rush.
"I don't know how it happened and what this is and if either of us wants it to be something. . . but I think it's too late now to pretend that nothing happened--no, it's impossible to pretend that nothing happened and I don't think I want to pretend that nothing happened--and I'm worried that I'll lose one of the best friendships I have but I think we're already past that and. . . Ugh, didn't I just say that I don't wanna talk about it? Listen to me go!" Julianne exclaimed, putting a hand to her forehead.
Casey chuckled. "Okay, Romeo. Let's order first, shall we? Then, if you still wanna use me as a sounding board to sort out your whirlwind emotions, I'll be happy to oblige."
"Oh, my lovely flatmate finally got herself deflowered again! I'm sooooo happy!" Andrew crooned, dabbing a tissue to his eye. He was reading a magazine at the dining table on Monday morning when he heard the main door creak open. Who cared about TomKat and Brangelina's new baby when there was real life gossip?
Laurie snickered and shook her head. "We didn't have sex, Andrew."
Andrew froze. "What?" He sounded accusing, almost.
"But what we did was really nice," Laurie said, unable to wipe the smile off her face. That redeemed her, somewhat. Andrew felt that he could move again. "I think I really like her," she said, her eyes shining.
"You think? Oh honey, I could have told you that months ago! Hello-o!" Andrew huffed. "Oh, wait till you see the awesome pictures that I took of you guys!"
Laurie could hear the sounds of rummaging coming out from Andrew's room as he looked for his camera. She proceeded to make herself a pot of tea and padded over to the lounge. Throwing herself on the couch, she closed her eyes and allowed her mind to drift. She hadn't been able to stop thinking about Julianne from the moment she left her company. And now that she had actual memories to revise, she was sure she wouldn't be able to keep Julianne out of her mind for a second.
"Look at that!" Andrew said, towering over her prone form, scrolling through his digital camera. "Ohhh Peter is so scrumptious!"
Laurie propped herself up clumsily and reached out for the camera. "Show me."
Instead of handing her the camera, Andrew went over to her side and scrolled through the pictures slowly until he got to the candid picture of Julianne and Laurie. Hearing her gasp of pleasure, he finally handed the camera over and grinned at the look on her face. "We have to get that developed, eh?"
"When did you take that?" she asked, loving the way the picture captured the moment perfectly.
"When you guys were talking, just before Casey and that woman walked in."
That woman. Nikki. Laurie hadn't given her a second thought until now. "Julianne said she told her that she missed what they had. And she apologized or something," Laurie reported as she looked through the other photographs on the LCD screen. "Casey's pretty hot, isn't she?" she commented offhandedly.
"What? And what does Julianne think about all that?" Andrew asked, digging for more information. This was so much more interesting than celebrity gossip, he decided.
Laurie shrugged. "Dunno? But not much, I think. She seemed pretty unconcerned. And knowing Jules. . . if it meant anything to her then we wouldn't have. . . uh. . . you know. . ." She blushed, unable to finish her sentence.
"Go on. . ." Andrew prompted.
"You know. . ." Laurie said, rolling her eyes.
"Sometimes I really wonder how we manage to get along as we do. You're so prudish, girlfriend!" Andrew complained, annoyed that he wasn't going to get any graphic description of what had happened between Laurie and Julianne. But then again, he had expected as much. He was just glad that something had happened. "But I'm so happy you're happy," he said, in all seriousness.
"Thank you," Laurie replied softly. "I'm gonna go get these developed!" she exclaimed, feeling really energetic now that she had a mission to accomplish. "I'll bring the card to the shop before I go to the doctor's."
"Does that mean you'll be going back to work soon?" Andrew asked, pouting slightly.
"A girl's gotta eat, ya know. But I'll talk to Pedro about the hours. Maybe I'll switch to casual or something, or look for another job that gives me most nights off. I have been feeling really burnt out and it took the last week of not having to work to realize it."
"Now that's the best idea I've heard in ages. When are you seeing Miss Easton again?" Andrew asked coyly.
They hadn't made any plans. Laurie didn't want to come across as being full on but she did want to see Julianne as soon as possible. It would depend on Julianne, really. After all, she was the one with the free time--for the time being anyway. "Not sure, but soon I hope." Then, more softly, "I miss her already."
Andrew squealed. "Oh, I always love watching a romance in its early stages!"
Laurie could only grin in reply, feeling immensely happy.
"What are you having reservations about?" Casey asked, munching on her toasted foccacia. They were halfway through lunch and had picked up their initial thread of conversation again.
"Nothing. . . everything? I don't know. It just feels like I've gone through this. . . this whirlwind," she tried to explain, using the word Casey had used earlier to describe her emotions. "It's been, what, five, six months since I've been back? And it's been. . . pretty eventful. Everything that has happened was completely unexpected." Her dates with Jayne, seeing Nikki again, making fast friends with Casey, and now, the possibility of a romance with someone she had always considered one of her closest friends.
"I just don't wanna fuck anything up, you know. And Laurie. . . well, she's someone I don't wanna lose, ever."
"Understandable," Casey acquiesced. "But one thing I know about feelings--you can't stop them. Maybe you should stop thinking and just go with how you feel. And if Laurie feels the same way about you regarding your friendship, then you could never lose her, right?"
Casey's words had a calming effect on Julianne. Not everything had to be complicated. Not everything had to be analyzed. "Thanks," she said gratefully. That wasn't so difficult after all. She had been thinking about Laurie the entire day and all she wanted to do was to see her again.
"Did you enjoy yourself at the party? You were getting along pretty well with Peter and Andrew," Julianne said, moving on to another topic.
"They're lovely! Yes, I had an absolutely fantastic time. We were late for Sam's engagement party yesterday because of that," Casey laughed. "Actually, meeting Peter and being at the engagement party made me realize that I've been a lousy girlfriend to Nikki. I haven't been spending much time with her at all." At the ensuing silence, Casey quickly asked if Julianne was uncomfortable with her talking about her problems with Nikki. "It's not too weird, is it?"
Julianne shook her head. In fact, she was quite surprised at just how little problem she had with it. She thought about what Nikki had said to her at the party and decided not to mention it. Nikki was probably feeling neglected; actually, that made a lot of sense. How could someone suddenly regret having left another person after more than two years of absence?
"We're gonna go out for dinner tonight. I'm so out of practice," Casey said, sounding sheepish. "I ought to be ashamed of myself."
"How can you be out of practice with wanting to spend time with the person you love?" Julianne asked. "And a relationship works two-way. Has she initiated wanting to spend time with you at all?"
Casey shook her head. "I can't remember. Perhaps. But I've always had something work-related to attend to. I can't even remember the last time we watched a movie together."
"Well, it's never too late if both parties are still invested in the relationship," Julianne said. "Take her to the park. The weather's been awesome. I was going to suggest going together but it would just be plain awkward. Go book tickets to watch a performance. There're always things going on at the Enmore Theatre. Buy her flowers, gifts. Leave her notes, tell her you love her."
Casey grinned at the list of suggestions, amused at this side of Julianne that she had never seen before. "You're a romantic, aren't ya?"
Julianne smiled. "As hopeless as they come."
"Then pray tell me why the hell you seemed to be having a small panic attack over your own romance?"
Julianne couldn't find an answer to that.
Jayne Lees frowned at the folder before her. She was sending out letters informing some of the tenants of the half-yearly inspection that was coming up and today, one of them was Julianne Easton. Seeing her name again reminded her of the times spent together and it made her feel. . . shitty--there was just no better adjective.
It was a short romance, but she had really liked Julianne. The swiftness of it had hurt her and she had always wondered about the real reason behind it. Even though Julianne had told her that she just wasn't ready for anything serious, she couldn't shake off the feeling that it was something other than that. It had made her wonder if she was inadequate in any way and that wasn't a good feeling. And the way Julianne had ignored her calls and text messages towards the end of it just added insult to injury.
Jayne quickly moved on to the next folder but her mind was on Julianne the entire day.
Nine o'clock found Jayne at the Sly Fox, having a few cocktails with some friends of hers. She hadn't patronized the pub ever since things ended with Julianne because it reminded her of Julianne. But, this evening, one of her friends had pressed for them to be here because she had a crush on one of the bartenders, so she dragged her unwilling ass down as a favour. It wasn't as though she would definitely bump into Julianne--although a part of her was always aware and expectant.
It was a balmy Thursday evening. The Sly was normally only packed on Wednesdays, being girl's night and all. Her group of friends were seated near the entrance of the small pub, and Jayne was actually having a rather nice time despite her misgivings. She looked up again when patrons entered the pub and scolded herself. This was getting ridiculous. She wondered how Julianne would react if she gave her a call to catch up. It had been a while, after all, and maybe they could hook up again if Julianne was over whatever it was that had stood between her and a relationship.
The women who entered looked slightly familiar. Jayne frowned, trying to place where she had seen them before. A minute or two later, it hit her. Julianne had introduced them to her when they were here last. Wait--Julianne had introduced one of them to her, and she had always wondered about the tension during the introduction and the pinched look on the other woman's face when Julianne completely ignored her presence.
"Your turn to get the next round, Jayne!" Trish, a small redhead, piped up.
Jayne adhered to her friend's request, taking their orders and moving to the bar. Coincidentally, the woman whom Julianne had introduced her to was also there, waiting for her drinks. She hesitated for a split second, then decided to approach her. "Hey. We've met before, haven't we?"
The woman turned, her expression blank. "Um. . . have we? I'm sorry, I don't remember."
"Yea, I think Julianne introduced us before," Jayne said, hoping that she didn't, in fact, get it wrong completely.
"Oh! Oh, I think so! I'm sorry, my name's Sam." Smiling, Sam reached out a hand and Jayne took it in her own.
"Jayne. It's okay, it was only a brief meeting and it was a while ago."
"It's nice when the pub's not crowded, eh?" Sam said conversationally. "I'm here with Nikki. I think she was here when Julianne introduced us."
Jayne turned and saw the woman looking in their direction. They gave each other cursory nods; Jayne was sure that Nikki remembered her by the look on her face.
"So, have you seen Jules lately? How's she going?" Sam asked. Her drinks had been served but she was still standing with Jayne.
After quickly placing her order, Jayne replied, "Actually I haven't seen her in a while. How do you know Julianne?"
"Oh, she and Nikki used to go out," Sam said. Then, feeling like she had shot off her mouth again, she picked up her drinks. "Well, catch you around then," she said with a bright smile.
"Yea. See ya later," Jayne said, turning back to the bar, but not before giving Nikki another look. Maybe there was a story there, she thought. Things between Julianne and herself only ended after Nikki's appearance, she was sure. She didn't know why it even mattered anymore, but she had always believed that no coincidences were just that. Perhaps she would give Julianne a call.
"Wasn't that Julianne's friend?" Nikki asked casually when Sam returned to their seats.
"Yea. She said she hasn't seen Julianne lately though, so I guess they've stopped seeing each other," Sam replied, taking a sip of her white wine. "Oh, God, housepours here suck! Why don't I learn?" she groused.
"I guess. She wasn't at Julianne's housewarming."
Sam rose a brow. "You were at Julianne's housewarming?"
Nikki nodded. "Casey was invited. I was just tagging along, " she said, the sour taste enveloping her mouth having nothing to do with the cocktail that she was sipping.
"So. . .?" Sam prompted, knowing that there was more to come. Nikki and she had arranged to come out for drinks so that they could catch up, and she was sure that there was a lot to catch up on.
"So I blabbed and made a fool of myself, that's what," Nikki said. "I told her that I missed her. It's stupid."
"Do you?" Of this, Sam was surprised. She thought that Nikki was way over Julianne and felt nothing for her anymore.
"Yea," Nikki said slowly. "I don't know, Sam. I kinda went through all the old letters and gifts and it just made me think of the past."
Sam nodded. "What about Casey?" she asked softly.
"What about her? She is oblivious, as usual, only concerned about her work and stuff. But. . . at your party, she suddenly apologized and said that she's been neglecting me and wants us to do something together. I don't know what that's all about. It's weird."
"Do you still want to be with Casey?"
Nikki fell silent. "I don't know," she said finally. "For months, I've been feeling like I'm invisible. Now, I'm not sure if doing things together is going to make any difference. I'm not sure if it's too late."
Sam didn't know what to say to that. They sat in silence for a while. Then Nikki spoke up again. "I'm not sure if it wasn't a mistake, leaving Julianne. With all that memory coming back to me. . . I can't help but feel that no one else has made me as happy as Julianne did."
This was certainly news to Sam. "It's been so many years, Nikki."
"I know. That's what Keagan said too. But I can't help the way I'm feeling right now. And if I still feel something. . . doesn't that mean anything? Shouldn't I at least fight for what I want?"
"Are you sure Julianne is what you want?"
That was, of course, the question, was it not?
"And are you sure that you're fighting for the right thing? Shouldn't we be all fighting for what we have? I mean. . . I might be all wrong, but I would be fighting for what Tim and I have, not for something that I've let go of years ago. Especially when it was what I've let go."
Nikki was surprised at Sam's words. She wasn't normally this in-tune with things and to have her say these things. . . things that she thought only Keagan would say because she was, perhaps, the most objective and down-to-earth of them four.
"Maybe you should fight for your relationship with Casey. Maybe now that she's realized that she's been neglecting you, and is willing to work things out with you, things might change in your relationship. For the better. Maybe then you wouldn't be thinking about wanting Julianne back. Maybe you're just thinking that because you're dissatisfied with your relationship with Casey. Exes are a good source of distraction, baby girl. A new person is also a good source of distraction. But a distraction is just a distraction."
"When did you get so wise, my dear?" Nikki had to ask, laughingly. Normally they were the ones giving Sam advice.
"Having you for a friend, for one. Knocking sense into me when I needed sense knocked into me. It made me see what was important to me. And I'm not wiser, I'm just returning the advice that you gave me."
"Well, for that, you have earned yourself a glass of wine. And not just housepour, too!" Nikki said, getting up from her seat. Perhaps Sam and Keagan were right. She had to stop feeling proprietary over someone who wasn't hers anymore.
It had been another boring day at work. Sometimes Julianne wondered if that was all there was to life--earning money to keep up with bills and lifestyles; where was the fun of it all? What happened to the beautiful sunsets, wind in the hair, blissful nothingness and meaningful work that made a real difference to other people's lives that she had dreamt about when she was younger? At least she was looking forward to seeing Laurie. The thought of it made her smile. They were going down to Jes' and Viv's together this evening, and she was already getting butterflies in her stomach. Even though they had spoken on a few occasions, they hadn't met up since after her housewarming party.
She was sitting on her couch, gazing unseeingly at a television programme, waiting for Laurie to come get her so they could drive down to Balmain together. With her cast removed, Laurie was now able to drive and was going back to work in a few more days. Julianne shifted on her couch, feeling restless. She glanced at the clock; Laurie would be here any second now. She checked that she had her keys and wallet, and reminded herself to take the bottle of wine she had purchased on her way home from work. Where was Laurie?
Her mobile went off and Julianne answered it with a smile on her face. The look changed into one of surprise. The caller wasn't Laurie. It was Jayne.
"Dinner was awesome!" Laurie said, complimenting their hostesses. On her side, Julianne nodded. "Thank you for having us over."
"It's our pleasure! And don't be strangers, you two. I'm glad you enjoyed dinner!" Viv said, smiling. "So, you were saying that you are going to cut down your working hours earlier? If things don't work out, maybe you'd wanna consider coming over to help Jes with her new café. I think they're in need of a chef. And the shifts are morning and afternoon only, so it might work out for you."
"Yea, why don't you come over tomorrow to have a look-see? No obligations, of course!" Jes said.
Julianne looked at Laurie with interest, glad at the opportunity that was opening up for her. "Really? I would love to!" Laurie turned to Julianne immediately, and they shared a smile.
Jes and Viv gave each other 'I knew it' looks before turning back to their guests. "Great! That's all sorted out then. Shall we move on to dessert? Coffee or tea, anyone?"
Laurie was seated closely to Julianne on the couch, where they had moved their conversation to. Even though their bodies were touching, Laurie still wanted very much to hold Julianne's hand and wondered if Julianne felt the same. She didn't make any move, however, for fear that Julianne would feel awkward in front of their friends. And awkward was the last thing Laurie wanted Julianne to feel around her.
Jes and Viv were now looking at the photographs that Laurie had developed from Andrew's camera. When they turned the stack of photos to show them the favourite one of herself and Julianne, Laurie couldn't help grinning. "I really like that picture," Julianne commented.
"You guys look so cute together!" Viv exclaimed.
Julianne chuckled, feeling immensely pleased at the comment, but a part of her was wary; she didn't know where this was going with Laurie, and she was still concerned about numerous things--whether she was ready for a relationship, for one. And she knew inside that, with Laurie, this was the only way it could go. To be fair, it was the same for herself. Laurie deserved all or nothing, not hanging in between.
"So, you never did tell us when you and Nikki became friends again," Jes said, as she came over a picture that caught Nikki in the background.
"We're not. Not really," Julianne said. "I'm friends with her girlfriend, Casey. We work together. And anyway, it's been ages since we broke up." She shrugged. Sometimes she hated explaining herself.
"Ah right. No awkward feelings or anything?" Viv asked.
"Nah. It's all cool," Julianne said simply.
"Good, good. Oh, look! Andrew and Peter! Aren't they sweet?" Viv said, chuckling at the pose that Andrew was in, his expression flighty.
Laurie laughed. "Yea, I love that boy to death, even though he can be a pain sometimes."
"Yea, he's fabulous," Julianne said, smiling at Laurie. "I'm glad you have him to lean on, even if he comes across as someone who isn't at all responsible, eh? Looks are deceiving, especially with this one."
"He is the best," Laurie said softly. "And so are you." Julianne blushed at the compliment. "Whatever it is, I'm glad that I have you both in my life," Laurie continued, wanting to let Julianne know, one way or the other, that no matter what happened, she still felt lucky to have her in her life.
"And I'm glad you're in mine," Julianne had to say, touched at the words and surprised at the assurance. They joined in the conversation again, laughing at certain pictures and groaning at others, both glad at the small but significant exchange.
The restaurant was small but tastefully decorated. Soft, jazzy tunes played in the background, a nice accompaniment to the ongoing conversations. The two women sat across each other, one feeling nervous like this was their first date, and the other feeling awkward because she didn't know what had gotten into her companion. They had already placed their orders, so there was nothing to take the silence between them away.
"I hope you like this place," Casey said finally with a smile.
Nikki nodded, glancing around. "It's really nice," she said. "What is this about?" she asked, curious. Casey had come to pick her up from work, the first in a long time. When she had gotten into the car, she found the prettiest bouquet of flowers in the backseat. Why had Casey gone through so much trouble? Her initial thought was that she had forgotten an important date but it was neither of their birthdays and it was definitely not their anniversary.
"Nothing. We haven't done something like this in a long time, so. . ."
"Okay." Nikki picked up her glass of champagne and took a sip. She didn't know what else to say. This was completely out of the blue. Then her conversation with Sam returned, and she realized that this was the pivotal point where she had to either fight for them or let this go.
"Baby, are we okay?" Casey asked, beginning to feel worried at Nikki's lack of response to her romantic gesture. Nikki's nonchalance was also beginning to annoy her a little, and she didn't want the evening to go in that direction.
"Why do you ask?" Nikki asked, trying to stall as she sorted herself out. This couldn't be the point; she wasn't even sure of what she wanted.
Casey's brows furrowed slightly. "I know I haven't been spending a lot of time with you lately. I just wanted to make up for it. And. . . I also wanted to let you know that I'm sorry and that I love you." Nikki's silence was driving Casey crazy. How long had it been like this between them and how in the world had she been blind to it all this while?
"Okay," Nikki said, deciding to take this seriously. Whatever it was that she wanted, she knew that ending her relationship with Casey wasn't it; at least not now. "But you also have to see that it would take more than just a dinner to make everything okay. I. . . I don't know when things started to change. I used to feel. . . so proud. . . to be yours. And I could feel that you were proud to be mine, too. But lately, I haven't been feeling that at all. . ."
Casey nodded, feeling guilty hearing those words coming from Nikki. "I'm sorry," she said again, having the distinct feeling that this wasn't the first time that Nikki had tried to broach this topic. She had been unwilling, or too busy, to listen to her partner. "But I will try harder now. Please know that."
Nikki smiled for the first time that evening.