Once Bitten

Set after "Rescue Me".

She couldn't take it. Not again. Never again. She knew Kim had feelings for her, she had for some time, but she hadn't wanted to admit it to herself. Not after the last time.

Michelle. Her best friend from high school. Her maid of honour at her wedding. God, that wedding. The night before they'd had some fun. That was the night it had all started. They'd been drunk. Typical. Alcohol did things to people, made them act differently, loosen up. Sometimes this was a good thing. Sometimes, bad.

Michelle, a petite brunette with a sweet smile and the ability to know whenever something was up with Kerry. That night, something had been up. She was nervous, the typical pre-wedding jitters that must have struck countless brides-to-be ever since time began. Out with a large group of friends, she hadn't expressed her feelings, but Michelle had known. She always did.

Returning to Kerry's house, the two young women stumbled up the steps and finally collapsed onto Kerry's bed.

"What's wrong?" Michelle asked with a smile. "You're getting married tomorrow, you're meant to be happy!"

Kerry hadn't been able to express her feelings. Just a vague sense that something wasn't right, that she wasn't meant to be getting married, that this was terribly, terribly wrong. In retrospect it hadn't been helped by the alcohol consumption, but the emotions had been there anyway, lurking beneath the surface.

Instead, she found herself crying. In front of anyone else, she would have been embarrassed, in front of Michelle, it didn't matter. Her friend started soothing her, taking Kerry in her arms and stroking her back.

It was then that they'd kissed for the first time. It was only momentary, and at first Kerry thought she'd only imagined it, that this was ridiculous, this was her best friend . . .

Michelle had pretended as if it hadn't existed, either, and neither of them mentioned it as Kerry began talking about the wedding and wondering whether she had the traditional something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.

They hadn't brought it up the next day either, acting as if everything was normal. It was easier for both of them that way. Kerry hadn't given it a second thought. They'd been incredibly drunk, it meant nothing.

Apparently Michelle had thought about it, though. Kerry had no idea. As the months passed by, she grew used to being a married woman, although there was something slightly unsatisfactory about it. Not anything she could put her finger on, but a feeling that the niggling worry she'd experienced the night before her wedding was being confirmed, only she wasn't sure how.

After a year she began to notice that her husband was growing more and more distant. Whenever she tried to confront him, he made excuses. His job was tiring him out and he wasn't up to talking right now. Looking back, she wondered how she'd been so stupid. Her job tired her out. Being a med student was not an easy, nine-to-five job. And yet she'd had time to worry about her marriage.

She'd had to handle too much. She knew she shouldn't have gotten married so young. She'd always been so determined that she'd put her career first, and not settle down before she was ready to.

Pouring out all her woes to Michelle, all she received was support and the kindness that her best friend had always been able to provide. Not an inkling about the way Michelle felt.

One day they'd had a joky conversation about why Michelle never seemed to have any men in her life. Kerry couldn't remember the last time Michelle had had a boyfriend.

"Oh, for God's sake, Kerry, haven't you figured it out by now?" Michelle had sighed.

And she hadn't. She wasn't sure what exactly Michelle meant by that.

"Nothing, forget it," her friend muttered when asked. Kerry didn't want to press the subject, but she slowly began to figure out that maybe Michelle was interested in her. Of course, it was a silly idea, completely impossible, but . . . it made sense.

Everything started to slide into place, but she was nervous about confronting Michelle. She wasn't sure how to go about it. She didn't return Michelle's feelings for her. Although she kept telling herself that, sometimes she doubted herself. Sometimes, like when she would lie in bed beside her sleeping husband after making love to him, and longing for Michelle instead. She wasn't sure of anything anymore. She'd always considered herself pretty open-minded. She didn't have anything against lesbians, but at the same time everything seemed strange when she thought she might be one.

Despite her conflicting emotions regarding Michelle, Kerry still turned to her when she learnt of her husband's affair.

That night, staying in Michelle's spare bedroom, she couldn't sleep. Twisting and turning endlessly. And then, suddenly, she knew exactly what she wanted.

Slipping into Michelle's bedroom, she found her friend also awake. That night - their second kiss. And more. A night that Kerry would always remember. She didn't care what anyone thought of her. All she knew was that she did love Michelle, and she was happy, maybe happier than she'd ever been.

By the time she woke up the following morning, Michelle was already up and had dressed. Kerry found her downstairs in the kitchen.

"Coffee?" Michelle asked rather brusquely, pouring out a cup.

"Sure," Kerry nodded, slightly confused. "Michelle, is . . . everything okay?"

"Kerry, I know you have been my best friend for years, but don't think that what happened last night - don't think it means we're together. It was just sex. Nothing else. Don't get any ideas."

Kerry had only been able to gape dumbly at the woman she was in love with. The initial hurt she'd felt then was nothing compared to the pain that was to follow. Michelle refused to acknowledge from then on that anything had happened between them. Their friendship disintegrated rapidly. At one point, without her best friend or her husband, Kerry had contemplated suicide. Afterwards she couldn't believe how depressed she had been, how weak.

The solution was so simple, of course. Not to get close to anyone ever again. She'd failed at that over the years, had made friends, had lovers. She cared about people. But never had she let anyone get as close as Michelle had. Never.

She couldn't understand how Michelle had rejected her so coldly. She'd thought Michelle had feelings for her, and when they'd finally realised how the other felt, everything had seemed perfect. But then everything had fallen apart.

She was terrified that Kim was going to become that close and then hurt her. Despite how much she really did care about Kim, how much she wanted her, the reminder of Michelle stopped her. She remembered the staring in disbelief at her former friend and lover, she remembered the temptation of pressing the razor against her wrists. She wasn't willing to relive the lowest point in her life.

Any hope Kim had of a relationship was pointless. It wasn't going to happen. Kerry wasn't going to let herself, not again.

And then she pictured Kim in her mind and her resolve wavered, just a little. She headed into work the next day with the intent of avoiding her friend. That smile, those eyes . . . they weren't much good at preventing her from getting close. In fact, they made her want to get far too close for her own good.

She couldn't let it happen, she told herself firmly, preparing for another day in the ER. Without Kim, an empty day, but the risk was too great.

Sometime around midday she ran into Kim and her once bitten, twice shy policy suddenly seemed pointless.

When Kim suggested dinner the following week, she agreed.

"Don't worry," Kim smiled as she walked away. "It's not a date."

"No. It is," Kerry called after her, and with a smile at the look of delighted surprise on Kim's face, she left.