A/N: Finally dusted off this story and finished it up, together with a couple of my rantings at the end. I could've gone further, but I think this story's said everything it ever will.

Gathering my breath, I restarted the story.

I arrived in Christchurch at 6AM on a frigid Thursday morning. As if dealing me a final blow, Smith's Mart had been obscenely busy the previous night and I hadn't got off until 12.30. I had to get up at 3, because the flight left Palmerston North at 5, and it was an hour and a half drive there. Thankfully, I got driven to Palmy by Grant who was going to visit relatives. It was good of him to get up at that hour, and it proved he found me endearing in an odd sort of way.

"Someone will meet you on the other side. Have a safe trip," he said as he left me to the care of the airport.

"Bye," I waved as he started to walk away.

"Liz?" He abruptly turned back. "Nice to work with you. Hope you have success down there. Don't let them get to you."

"You know I never do," I said and disappeared into Gate 17.

A corpulent, besuited man sat next to me, groaning as he attempted to read the paper in the confined space. Every now and then he would elbow me and grunt an apology. Constantly shifting in his seat, you'd think he would have been impossibly distracting to sleep. That wasn't the case. As soon as we'd taken off I fell immediately asleep, my pathetically inadequate two and a half hours the night before having had no effect on my residual exhaustion. I didn't even feel the turbulence as we soared over my windy hometown and my girl, wondering where I'd gone.

I jolted awake as we coasted towards the terminal, the fat man nudging me.

"Didn't you feel us land? Shit, girl, you must be tired," he said in disbelief.

"Don't forget to drop into the new Smith's Mart while you're in Christchurch. We're the newest and biggest supermarket on the block," I found myself saying. I wasn't really sure why. It was almost disturbing that the first thing my soft, barely conscious mind thought of was Smith's Mart.

My accommodation in Christchurch was a cramped two bedroom flat, jammed in the CBD between a greengrocers and a Starbucks. Another of those ubiquitous things that reminds you you're still in the world of the living. What fun I could've had there with Kat. Don't think of her, my mind reprimanded, slapping itself. You left her and you're not going back. At least not until you can say you're over this whole thing.

As I lumbered up the stairs for the first time, lugging my big backpack full of random junk, I must've been a desperately unimpressive sight. My hair needed cutting, my clothes didn't match, and I'm sure my complexion wasn't exactly sparkling after the amount of sleep I'd had. I wondered what my roommate would think.

She emerged from a door upstairs, shining and smiling. I nearly tripped over myself.

"Louise?" I marvelled, taking her in. She'd certainly changed since the eleven year old I'd hung around with at primary school. One of my closest friends, she'd left to Christchurch and we hadn't been in contact since. At nine, there were bigger things than staying in contact with some disembodied voice who couldn't play with you.

Now, she was gorgeous. Kind of girl that just knocks your eyes out. Tall, wonderfully curvaceous figure, auburn hair curling its way down her shoulders. Good skin like she was still nine, and that roguish grin I remembered well, unhampered by a child's braces. Wearing baggy jeans and a tight little t-shirt, drawing my eye to places it probably shouldn't have been. I'd had a little crush on her back then, following her around as she chased boys and chattered about her favourite Barbie. I'd always wanted to be roughhousing with the guys she pursued, but stayed with her because even at that age I couldn't resist the sacred feminine.

"Liz," she said. "You look...bloody exhausted. Give me that thing and come in." I handed her my bag and clattered into the flat. A gas heater simmered away, and instantly I felt myself beginning to defrost. It wasn't a big place, but there was tons of room for two people. Pretty modern, all chrome and marble and leather upholstery. There was straight-girl paraphernalia scattered about - lipstick, insipid magazines, posters of bronzed, hulking men, those pens that smell like fruit. Yeah, I know I have a stereotyped view on things, but it's so much easier to put people into boxes.

"What brings you down here?" she asked me later as we sat in the lounge. Again I was faced with the choice. Tell people what had really happened, who I really was, what I was running from. Or lie and make myself into a lovable waif with the travel bug. This time, I made that choice for what I thought would be the last time.

"I quit school. My boyfriend and I had this huge fight, so I just decided to leave. School was crap anyway, I mean come on, who actually cares about that stuff? Thought the Smith's Mart could give me a better education than any of that school rubbish anyway," I said, mind racing as lies solidified themselves.

Louise studied me for a moment. I wondered if she remembered me at nine, writing long stories and sucking up to the teachers.

"Well, I guess you've changed then. I seem to remember you as a little nerd. Meh. Are you still with your boyfriend or have you officially broken up?"

"Nope, I'm still with him. He did some really fucked up shit, like drugs and stuff like that and he was always talking to me about that and I really didn't want to know. One day this guy broke into my house looking for him. It was insane. Really scary. This massive, tattooed guy, and I'm betting he had a gun. So I decided to come down here coz I knew they'd be after me. But I didn't break up with Chad. How could you? He's like, sooo hot. I swear. You wouldn't believe him. Yum," I said, feigning enthusiasm. It wasn't hard when I was thinking about Kat. Wouldn't be surprised if I started drooling over myself - at least that would concrete my case about 'Chad'.

"Oh my god. Really? What does he look like? I haven't had a boyfriend for ages so I'm getting kinda desperate. He got any friends down here?" Louise kicked into action, something shining in her eyes. It almost reminded me of some hungry animal confronted with the prospect of fresh meat. How disgusting. She must've been desperate. I should've told her cucumbers are just as good as men for sex, plus they can't get you pregnant. I don't think she would've appreciated that.

"Well, he's six feet tall, black hair, blue eyes, really nice body. Muscles up the Wazoo. And Oh My God. He has the biggest cock you've ever seen! It's kinda scary." I realised I'd gone much too far with the penis comment, but who can resist saying such things when pretending to be a boy-obsessor? I'd never been interested in penis size before, so it was a new thing for me. This life in Christchurch was going to be a new thing for me, so I had to get used to change.

Louise narrowed her eyes at me. "You know, you don't actually talk about how big his cock is. Unless you want me to like go and jump some random guy, coz I will if you remind me about that stuff. Jeez, Liz, I haven't had a fuck for like six months. It's insane. I'm 21 for godsake. This is the time for meaningless promiscuity. I don't know why guys don't ask me out anymore. Have I lost my touch? Oh god," she said. Get a hold of yourself, woman, I thought. You're giving straight girls everywhere a bad name. You're actually supposed to be over meaningless promiscuity by 21. I didn't say any of that. I had to make a good impression if I wanted to put up with her for the next god knows how long.

"Oh, don't worry. They're crazy if they don't go for you. You're really pretty, you know," I smiled warmly, reassuring her. What a mission, to have to live with a creature that constantly needs reassurance.

"Well, thanks, Liz. I just got my hair highlighted. I was hoping Kurt would like it, but he hasn't said anything."

"Who's Kurt?" I asked, saying his name with the primary school tone little kids use - mixture of awe and disgust.

"He's this guy who went to high school with me. He's going to work at Smith's Mart with us and he's like divine. Totally..." As she launched into a monologue about Kurt's divinity, I switched off. There was only room for one divinity in my mind. Kat. And I knew I would have to extricate her if I wanted to live happily.

So I decided to dissociate from myself totally. I would not be Liz, cynical, intellectual, radical dyke, I would be Liz, perky insipid little straight girl totally in the mainstream. That night, I took out my nose ring for good then stood in front of the mirror, staring at myself and practicing cheerful unburdened smiles. I couldn't let on that I had been defeated inside by Nick. I had to appear like I had no cares. Maybe I would become that girl if I tried hard enough and lose all my worries down the plughole along with my red hair dye. I'd always wanted to fit in when I was younger. Here was my chance. All I had to do was go against everything I was.

It was surprisingly easy. If you're trying to fit in, at least you can see the boundaries you have to stay within. I'd been observing mainstreamers for years, so becoming one wasn't hard. I knew what to say, how to act, what to wear. I'd even picked up how to reject guys without crushing their fragile egos.

So I laughed my way through eighteen months of this awful lifestyle that I never want to live again. I became so absorbed in it, it was me. Maybe it still is. I really don't know where I'm at or who I am.

==

"Not very satisfactory, Liz," Kat admonished me. "What did you do, where did you go, what was it like? Eighteen months does not go by that quickly."

"You'd be surprised." I gave a wry smile. "When the only things you have to worry about are your appearance and how to let down guys gently, time flies by. But it's a nothing life. No real concerns. Just these superficial little things that probably mean very little to you or I but consume the lives of people like Louise. She spent hours trying to suck in that Kurt guy. I mean hours. She'd stand around by his checkout trying to talk to him, but he was so busy he couldn't. She'd dog him once he finished work. I mean, come on. The poor guy's exhausted, only wants to get home and to sleep, and here's this pathetic needy girl trailing him and chattering like a kid's toy. I don't see how you could keep that kind of thing up. It was almost fun for me, coz I was acting the whole thing and laughing at how easy it was to fake it. But if you actually lived it... well, I suppose you wouldn't know anything else, but still, it's such a meaningless life. Oh well. I'm here. It's over."

"Yes, yes, that's all well and good, but why did you come back?" demanded Kat.

"Oh yes. Interesting incident."

==

My Smith's Mart workday was drawing to a close. 11AM, I struggled to stay upright after hours of this trudgery. Getting ready to close, I decided to let one more customer through.

"Good evening," I trilled, "how are you today, sir?" Plastering on the requisite smile. It wasn't until I got a proper look at the guy that I registered who he was. Tall, great body, highlighted hair, dazzling smile...

My requisite smile dropped away to a gape. "Andreas? The fencer?" Suddenly here was a connection to Kat. My brain pounded and that familiar longing clawed away at me. She was still out there. So why was I here, trying to be this stupid person I knew I wasn't? Insipid straight girl instantly faded and Liz came back with a violent passion.

He just grinned. Beautiful boy, really. Stunning. But there was an uneasiness in him that was quite palpable. It couldn't have been because of me. This guy was a charmer. I don't think there was a person in the world that could make him nervous. So why was his smile so stunted, his gaze fluttering but never settling?

"Hi Liz. How are you?" he said, his rich voice thinned with nervousness.

"I'm OK, but you're not. What the hell's up with you?" I fixed him with suspicion.

My gaze was quickly deterred by another guy dashing out from the confectionary aisle, clutching a chocolate bar. He ran over to Andreas, but halted when he saw me, his face frozen.

My worst nightmare was staring me in the face. Nick.

I noticed the stupid facial hair he was wearing, the pudge around his stomach where he used to be solid. His eyes hadn't changed. So, so weird looking at him again. It was like a homecoming, but not the kind I wanted. He was still so familiar to me, I still knew every inch of his face. I had never seen an expression like that on him. He looked so afraid. Like I was some crazed mental patient gunning down random people. I do not exaggerate here. It was like the mere sight of me could destroy him.

I threw down my Smith's Mart hat and climbed over the counter. Andreas scuttled out of the way as I bore down on Nick. My fear of him had gone. All that was left was the anger and the violence and everything I'd wanted to do to him. Make him go through the shit I did.

He backed away from me as I stormed up to him. I didn't hit him. That wouldn't have achieved anything. Plus, I don't think I could have touched him even if I'd wanted to. It was glory enough just to have him cower.

"You know what?" I growled. "I'm going. I'm going back to her. Where I should be. And you're going to stay here with your toyboy and keep the hell away from me. I don't want to see you. Ever. If I do, you'll never use that precious dick of yours again coz I will chop it off and bake it into a cake for you. I should do that now. But I don't have any flour." Yes, I know it was a stupid comment. Supermarkets sell flour. But for a triumphant ending, it worked.

I was back in Wellington the next day. My family didn't stop crying for hours. They were so relieved, I was able to make up a totally implausible story about why I'd left and they swallowed it. They didn't seem to want to talk about it, anyway. Having me back was enough, I suppose. I know I've hardly mentioned them. But they do mean a helluva lot to me. We're not exactly intimate - to be honest, my parents don't know me and Kristy doesn't want to know me. I did miss them, though. Familial bonds are strong despite any other stuff that might be going on. Home was amazingly good. It came to me very strongly that it's not worth leaving it behind for the sake of one person, one incident. You have to be tougher than that. I should have been.

Then, I found Kat. Full circle. Here I was again, family and girlfriend, and Nick exiled to some unknown place he probably didn't want to be in. I knew he would most likely come back. That is if he actually lived in Wellington. I wasn't sure. He might have moved to Christchurch. I wasn't about to stay and ask him. As long as I didn't see him I had no interest whatsoever in his life. He no longer featured in mine. I needed to cast him off.

==

"Let's stop talking about him, then," said Kat. "Let's just bring ourselves into the here and now and break those old ties. I know I haven't been able to. Trying to escape in uni but that never works for any decent period of time. Like when you first start liking girls and try to sublimate all that desire into school work... but it never works. The only way is to confront it. So I'm going to. I can't be with you, Liz. We're finished."

Her words almost made me jump. What? I must have said the 'what' rather than thinking it, because her fake-serious expression melted into that smile.

"Revenge honey. I couldn't let you ditch me without threatening to ditch you. We're officially even now. I've forgiven you for the crap. So let's bloody well get on our lives!" So I smiled too, and she was holding me, and we didn't talk. We didn't mention Nick or those two years after that.

There are times when he's not with me at all. Like he never existed and I'm still a carefree seventeen year old in the throes of her first love. Those times are bliss. Everything just seems to come together. When he comes back to me, there's darkness. Even when she's with me, it's not easy to get on with life when he's haunting me. So I try to rationalise it. He was just a confused little boy and the change was mostly in me anyway. It was my choice to run away and go on that stupid formative adventure. It's what made me tough and resilient and so incredibly grateful towards what Kat gives me. Then I've come full circle and I thank Nick for what he did. I can't say I understand, but I can say I try. And that's really all life's about.

********END********

Rantings

Yes I am too but who am I really? It's a song by Team Dresch, the seminal dyke punk band and it's also what must've been assaulting Nick's consciousness. He never had any doubt he was gay. That's where his problem was. We need doubts. Doubts keep us alert. He wasn't alert, too comfortable in the assumption he liked boys. When he realised he was attracted to Liz with a frightening ferocity, everything went wrong. Sexuality isn't fixed. It's fluid. The sooner we accept that as a tenet of society the closer we'll be to being biologically true to ourselves. None of this bullshit about 'natural' and 'unnatural'. There's nothing more natural than attraction and we all feel it in its various forms. Some of us can't deal with it. Nick couldn't. He fucked up and changed this poor girl forever. So the story's not really about Liz. It's about Nick and what he could do with one night and how he could've been stopped from doing what he did. That's my question to you.

This story's obviously about other things as well. But what I want to do is make you think and really question the things you accept as truth. The only truth we can ever really trust is that there will always be untruths.

Whatever. I hope you enjoyed this. Writing is cathartic for me so it's invaluable in my life. I have enjoyed creating this, obviously. Whether it's actually any good technically doesn't matter a damn because I created these people and their lives and that took me away from all the poison brewing within me and all my longing for something else. I made something else here. Unfortunately though writing something doesn't make it reality. I don't have a Katherine Andrews or anyone like her. I don't have friends anymore. I don't have anyone I can trust implicitly and get hurt by. But Liz did and she's created by me, so does that make her an extension of me and give me all the experiences she's had? I don't know. As I've said in my story philosophy at my age is pointless because the conclusions you come to can't mean anything without life experience.

All I know is I need something else so badly and I tried to create that something else in this story, only to discover that the other world is as flawed as the one I'm in at the moment. This all breeds cynicism and that longing in me only gets stronger. It's a longing for connection. I want to feel like there's actually somebody out there slightly like me. At the moment I don't really feel that.

Meh. Youse guys don't care about my life, I'm sure. If you've read this far, many thanks. The fact you've decided to share in my world is great and I hope you've gained some kind of thought from the exercise.

Keep fighting!

Luv jo//