It was poetic, really. How many books has she read in which the heroine had thought she had found peace, beheld the sought out perfection in her hands, just to have it crumple at her feet in an inevitable twist of faith? She hated those trite novels, the twists were so damn predictable. Yet here she was. Life imitating art, huh? Strangely enough, it all made sense somehow. All except this calm detachment she was experiencing, standing in the middle of Ariana McKinnon's (or was it Shaw?) room, the taste of the woman's sex still coating her lips. That calmness and the thought of what the letter in her hand meant were simply incompatible. She could see the girl shakingly place the tray she was holding on the floor, and look up at her with trepidation from her crouching position. Marissa had to smile, a tight stretching of her lips, at the melodramatic situation they were in. It was as if she was reading one of those books, noticing and cataloguing emotions as they emerged, but not truly feeling them. Until she heard Ariana's voice. "Marissa?" The piercer had straightened up, her hands griping each other nervously, and Marissa could see the purple mark her teeth left on the girl's shoulder. "I... I didn't know how to tell you, but I was going to... it...ju-ugh..." With a frustrated sigh the blonde ran her hands through her hair, gripping handfuls of it in frustration. "Look, I... C-could we please just sit down and talk about this? Please?" She had taken a step towards Marissa, one hand outstretched, but the look from the taller woman stopped her in her tracks. Oh, she was angry now. Marissa could feel a chilling fury expand her chest with every breath that filled her lungs, and seep through the skin in a cold sweep with every slow exhale. She clenched her fists, marveling at the feeling of her skin stretching across her knuckles. The full realization and effect of what she just found out still eluded her. It just... she couldn't even begin to deal with the fact that she had been lied to and deceived by Syd... by Ariana like this. The sickness in her stomach finally made her move. She turned around, trying to find her jeans. She could feel Ariana haltingly approaching her. "Marissa... Please, just let me explain." Her jeans were lying haphazardly on top of her boots, her socks nearby. A soft touch on her shoulder made her halt her progress towards her clothes and she savagely turned, a snarl on her lips. "DON'T touch me, Ariana." Her voice was low and menacing, the venom in it taking both of them aback. The girl recoiled, retrieving her arm and wrapping it around her naked torso. Marissa bent down, donning her jeans with detached precision, not bothering with looking for her underwear. She had to get out of there before she threw up. She stepped into her boots, not bothering with laces, socks in her hand. "Marissa, please stop. I wanted to tell you, but I was scared, for God's sake, can't you just listen to me?!!" She turned around again, bearing down on the girl. "What the FUCK were you scared of?!!" Ariana took a step back, eyes wide. Marissa was shaking, anger making her thoughts incoherent. All this time... She lied to me, it was all a game... God, and I fell for it. I fell for her. "Were you scared I'd figure out what was going on?! Or that you wouldn't get laid?!! What were you afraid of, tell me Ariana!" She spat the name out at the girl, towering over her. Ariana just stood there, head bowed, shoulders slumped, blonde hair cascading down her bare shoulders. The sight of the nude body before her brought back the memory of the happiness and satisfaction of their lovemaking and she could feel the bile of betrayal rising in her throat again. I need to leave. Clenching her jaw, she brushed past Ariana, going down the stairs. Her boots clumped emptily on the wooden stairs, the air chilling her exposed torso. She was getting dangerously close to losing what little was in her stomach, anger and shame pushed back by the shock and surprise of the whole situation. At the bottom of the stairs she took a right turn, finding herself in a dark room, a black form rushing at her feet. She jumped back, her heart beating wildly. A small black cat ran past her feet and up the stairs. "Shit!" Pushing her hair back shakily she exited the room, going through the door on the other side of the hallway. The kitchen light was still on, their clothes strewn haphazardly across the floor. She pulled her T-shirt and sweater on, groping in the dark of the entrance hallway for her coat. She was out the door in three strides. The frigid November air assaulted her skin, bringing with it clarity and surging emotions. She let the door slam behind her, rooted to the spot on the porch, unsure of what to do, where to go. Bending, she quickly tied the laces of her shoes, stuffing her socks in her coat pocket. She started moving then, unconsciously, her coat flaring behind her, welcoming the cold that numbed her skin. A right, a left, another turn on a dark street, her eyes unseeing, the wind slapping her face with every move, but Marissa was not aware of where she was going, what was happening. At last she stopped and leaned heavily on the post of the street light, burying her hands in her hair. She couldn't think, the whole turn of events was just too unbelievable to grasp rationally. Sydney Shaw is actually Ariana McKinnon. What the fuck is going on?! How can... The same conclusion always emerged. She led me on. She used me. The anger returned full force, cold fury tightening her chest with every breath. Memories of their encounter in the piercing studio, the meeting in the bar, dates they had all flooded her mind and now every smile she recollected, every sentence Ariana had told her was viewed from the new perspective. "So, what is it you do for a living anyway?", Ariana had said, asked her about her work, her daily routine. God, she pretended not to know anything about me, and all this time… What kind of a sick fuck would do that? She had started walking again, anger dictating the fast tempo of her footsteps. Residential blocks passed in a dark blur, her mind assaulted by a myriad of conflicting images and thoughts. Ariana's face above her, hovering on the edge of release, full bottom lip caught between her teeth in the attempt to stop the cries of pleasure escaping her; the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach when she realized what the letter on Ariana's dresser meant; the soft looks and tender touches the girl had given her in the past weeks; the guarded quality of green eyes. It was too much. With a start, she stopped, taking in her surroundings. She had found her way back to the T stop unconsciously. It was past 1:30 AM and the trains had stopped running. Great! Reaching in the coat pocket, she pulled out her cell phone and selected a taxi company phone number from the memory. "Yes, hi, I would need a taxi at the Jamaica Plain T stop, please… Going to 1389 Comm. Ave." She checked her watch. "Marissa. Okay, how long?… I'll be right in front of the station, ok? Thanks." She sat down on the curb with a thud, propping her elbows on her knees and covering her face with her hands. The darkness behind her palms seemed to subdue the torment in her head, and she sat enjoying the blankness behind her eyelids. It couldn't keep the swarming thoughts away for too long. I can't believe this. How the f… Why? Her legs cramped with tension and she stood up and started pacing without realizing it. She is the poet. No matter how often the thought reverberated through her head, she just couldn't make herself grasp the stark reality behind the words. Sydney is Ariana. Ariana, the verses, Sydney… all this time. The anger rose together with the bile in her throat again. Goddamit! Goddamn her! Stopping midstride, she let the melodrama of it all wash over her, bitterness pulling at her lips. Slumping on the curb again, she let an acid laugh escape her lips. "Oh, Marissa, you know how to pick all the mind-fuckers, don't you?" Jolted by the raw quality of her voice, she stopped, frowning. "God, do I dare think what could possibly happen next?" Before her brain had a chance to form an answer to the rhetorical question, headlights of the approaching taxi stopped it short. Climbing in wearily, she sunk into the soft seat and let the passing headlights lull her into stupor. Twenty minutes later she was standing in her living room, blankly staring through the window, not seeing the meandering river of cars below her. I just don't understand. She leaned her forehead against the cool surface. Why? What did she want from me? Why the lies? If she wanted me to help her publish, all she had to do was tell me. She didn't even reply to any of my letters. After her first letter to the poet had gone unanswered, the letter I found in her room, she had sent another one which got returned with the stamp "Undeliverable: PO Box closed". Further inquiries and attempts to locate an Ariana McKinnon all failed. There was no one with that name in the phone book, internet name searches all failed, and all of her literary contacts came up blank. By that time she had gotten distracted by a certain blonde piercer and searching for a ghost author was placed on a back burner. Those poems… She wrote them? The incongruity of it all, of the woman she thought she was getting to know, of the lies, of the new identity, was baffling her. The anger and shock were still there, tearing at her consciousness, but what gave her no peace was one simple question. Why? Why lie? Letting her coat slide off her shoulders, she wearily made her way across the living room towards the kitchen. The blinking of the answering machine caught her attention and she found herself waking towards it instead. Quiet flickering of the red light on the machine reflected the rapid beating of her heart. She didn't want to hear the message, certain beyond everything that it would be Ariana's voice on the recording. Yet she could do nothing to stop herself from listening to it. A beep, and then a few moments of electric silence before a voice could be heard. "Hey hon, I guess I missed you before your big date. Well… what the hell, go get her tiger!" Caroline's voice spread through the empty living room, soft mewling of the baby coloring the background. "You go and ravage her, girl! Show the little dyke what us big ole lesbians can do. Yeah!" A murmured protest, and Caroline's voice came back, indignant. "She's just three weeks old, Anne, she won't understand what the mommy's saying, will you? Will you? Yes, yes, that's momma's baby, yes it is, yes… Oh, ahem, well, hope you had fun love and gimme a call in the morning, kay? Details, remember? And we have a date tomorrow night, you and I. Kay, bye!" Tears came suddenly, softly wetting her face. She let the plush leather of the sofa envelop her, tears quietly splattering on the cotton of her shirt. The thought of facing Caroline and telling her about what happened tonight was stifling. She felt she couldn't breathe. She was going to tell Caroline that the girl was different, special, that she was kind and gentle and deserved her affection. She was going to tell Lin how different Syd… how different Ariana was from Kristin, how she could glimpse the girl's soul through her eyes. God, Lin, what am I going to tell you now? The staggering sense of disappointment enveloped her, a numbing emptiness of shattered hopes she didn't even realize she possessed. The sudden sense of unidentified loss was so full that for a second she didn't hear the halting voice coming from the machine. It was Ariana, voice pleading and tinged with urgency, soft syllables conjuring image of deep green eyes with no volition from Marissa. "Marissa, it's… it's Ariana." The name held a strange quality, a new identity attributed to a familiar voice. "Please… I didn't know how to tell you, I was … afraid that you'd … that you'd walk away. I wanted to tell you, but I just, I …" The struggle in her voice was evident, words tumbling over each other. Marissa could hear the girl forcing herself to keep talking. "I thought when… if you knew who I was, if you saw… I didn't think you'd… I just didn't know how to tell you, Marissa. I'm sorry." The last part came with such quiet resignation, she had to strain her ears to hear it. "Will you just let me explain? Please?…I'm just, I'm gonna… Oh, for Christ's sake." The message ended with a final beep and Marissa was left enveloped by the silence that followed it.