Three Months Earlier
Xanthe sat on the couch in number 30, her fingers intertwined and resting on her lap as she leant forward, looking in the direction of the door and waiting for Steph to come home so she could talk to her. She'd been trying to figure out who to talk to about her feelings for Yashvi and her sexuality from the moment she realised there was something more than friendship between them but she couldn't work out who the right person was. Especially since there were other things she needed to talk about as well. Things she didn't want those closest to her to know about. So, when Sonya approached her earlier than morning and asked if she was able to look after Nell for the day or at least, until Steph came home, she jumped at the chance.
One, because she didn't have anything else to do with her time. She wasn't working. Wasn't at school and didn't have anyone to spend her days with, especially during the week. Two, because Nell was someone she enjoyed being around. Her innocence was refreshing and it gave her a sense of peace that she was longing for. And three, because in that moment, Sonya just mentioning Steph's name made her realise that Steph was someone she could talk to about her feelings, her thoughts and her struggles. She was an option that she hadn't even considered before that moment. She and Steph weren't close and they barely interacted in all the years she'd lived on Ramsay Street but in a way, that actually made the idea of talking to her easier.
She'd been with Nell for hours. They'd done each others hair. She'd put Nell's hair into high pigtails and Nell placed plastic flowers, which someone had hid in a plastic bag at the back of the cupboard under the sink in her hair. They'd eaten sandwiches and ice cream and gone on to play with her dolls and a toy truck, which had the front wheels broken off before tiring herself out and falling asleep on the floor. Which is where she'd been for just over an hour because Xanthe didn't have the heart to wake her up nor try and move her, so she simply covered her with a blanket and placed a pillow under her head.
The front door opened and Steph walked in, carrying multiple shopping bags and holding one out to catch the screen door to prevent it from slamming shut, guiding it so it gently closed and then proceeded to walk through the lounge room and into the kitchen. As she passed Xanthe, she smiled and mouthed "Hi" at her as she placed the bags on the kitchen counter and started to unpack them. Xanthe continued sitting there, looking up at Steph and smiling as she tapped her fingers repeatedly on her knees and took several deep breaths. She hadn't thought about how she would talk to Steph about this but decided that a direct approach was the most effective.
“Steph…” Xanthe called out, catching Steph's attention as she turned to face her, smiling. “Could I ask you something kind of, um…" Xanthe spoke softly, clearing her throat and coughing multiple times. "personal?”
“Sure.” Steph nodded, briefly looking at Xanthe before walking towards the fridge to put the groceries away.
“Did you always know that you were bisexual? That... that you were attracted to women?”
Steph's eyes widened suddenly as she turned, still crouched down in front of the open fridge to face Xanthe, who was leaning forward, her lips pressed together and forcing a smile. Steph smiled, turning away from Xanthe in an attempt to mask her surprise. She licked her lips and took a deep breath, nodding to herself as she pushed herself up, closing the door and walked over to Xanthe, sitting on the couch opposite her. She wasn't surprised by the question itself, especially coming from Xanthe. She'd seen her and Yashvi together enough times to realise there was something more to their relationship. The way they looked at each, the gentle holding of hands - even from afar, it was undeniable. She was surprised, however by how direct Xanthe was in asking that question and that, of all people she asked her. As she sat there, she tried to find the right words to say, as to not make the situation awkward or uncomfortable. The fact she wasn't close enough to Xanthe to know how to approach her, if she had already come out or was working through her sexuality made it harder but she knew she had to say something.
"Um... " Steph took a deep breath as Xanthe slowly lent forward. " No. No, I didn't. Belinda was the, um... she was the first, actually." Steph smiled. "The first woman I'd ever had feelings for... that I was ever in love with."
"Did you... I-I-I mean, did you question it?" Xanthe asked, her voice subtly shaking. "You weren't confused or... or anything?"
“No. Well, I mean, I'm sure that... that some people do question what they're feeling or are confused," Steph gestured, throwing her hands out in front of her. "especially if you don't realise until you're older but... but, that wasn't my experience. In my mind, all I did was... I was just falling in love with someone who happened to be a woman."
“But there were other women in your life. Before Belinda, I mean. Why was... What made her different?” Xanthe inquired, softly as she tilted her head to the left and squinted.
"I don't know. I just..." Steph shook her head and shrugged her shoulders as her gaze moved away from Xanthe and she spoke softly. "I never felt that way before. Not with a woman, anyway. Maybe... I don't know. Maybe, I've always been attracted to women but never felt that strong of a connection before or… I mistook it for friendship… there are a lot of possibilities, I suppose. All I know is... it was like a piece of me came alive for the first time when I met Belinda." Steph's eyes widened as she smiled, overcome with happiness . "I also know that... you don't need to understand everything that you're feeling or need to have experienced it before, for it to be real. Being something new doesn’t invalidate it." Steph looked over at Xanthe, whose eyes had softened and she was gently nodding her head.
"Why do you ask?" Steph asked, softly and smiling at Xanthe reassuringly. She already knew the answer to the question but she didn't want to impose or push things in case Xanthe wasn't quite read to talk about what she was feeling and allowed her a way out, in the event that she wanted or needed it as well as presenting her with a chance to talk openly with her, if it was what she wanted to do.
Xanthe took a deep breath and looked up, smiling at Steph. There was just something about those four little words that, coming from Steph felt different. It made her think about how she would have felt if someone else asked her that question and she realised she probably would have brushed it off but, she actually wanted to talk to Steph. She wanted to open up and be honest with her and she felt comfortable enough with her to do it.
"It's, um..." Xanthe said softly as she started to blush. "It's Yashvi."
"You like her?" Steph asked, smiling .
Xanthe's whole face lit up, her smile stretching from ear to ear. "I like her."
"Is it... is it serious?"
"I think so. Maybe?" Xanthe squinted as she questioned herself, momentarily uncertain about her feelings before shaking her head, snapping herself out of it "Yes! Yes, it is." Xanthe started giggling. "You know, being with her... it's... it's amazing. I love being with her - around her and having someone in my life who... who understands me. Who gets me and where I'm coming from and who I can talk to and it just..." Xanthe's eyes lit up. " It’s such a beautiful feeling. Freeing even. I feel free when I'm with her.
"Then..." Steph smiled. "Just follow your heart." Steph's words caught Xanthe's attention, snapping her briefly out of her blissful happiness. " I mean it, Xanthe. Look," Steph took a deep breath and sat forward. " you don't have to understand what you're feeling to be happy. Sexuality is ever changing and it can take time to really grasp but that shouldn’t hold you back from being happy and sometimes, you just need to take a chance."
Xanthe smiled and nodded. Steph's words were everything she wanted to hear and more. They helped her in a way she hadn't considered but hearing her say outright that she doesn't have to have everything figured out, it was like a massive weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She hadn't wanted to admit it but she was nervous, worried even about how to identify - if she was a lesbian, bisexual or pansexual and that it was something she needed to have figured out before anything else happened but knowing she didn't need to attach a label to herself, that there was plenty of time to understand what she was feeling and that she could fall in love without having all the answers just made her smile.
It was also when it hit her, that she might be falling in love with Yashvi. She already knew she cared and liked her as more than a friend but the realisation hit her like a freight train. It was like she was seeing everything in a different light. That she shouldn’t be held back from taking a chance, that she could still be happy and in love and figuring out her identity. But it was those words “love” and “happy” that really stuck with her and her smile faded and she was slowly being overwhelmed with a sense of dread, sadness and self doubt. As though, no matter how much she wanted it, there wasn’t anything good associated with those feelings and it was something she was unable to shake and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get herself back to how she was feeling only moments before.
Sitting there, her lips started to tremble and she clenched her mouth shut, her teeth pressing together so hard that it physically begun to hurt and tears slowly filled her eyes. She placed her palm over the left side of her face, turning to shield herself from Steph as a single tear fell down her cheek. Steph was taken aback at the sudden shift in Xanthe's behaviour - how quickly she had gone from being overcome with happiness and joy to being incredibly pale and in tears. She stood up, walking over and sat beside Xanthe.
"Xanthe, what is it?" Steph asked, softly as she placed her hand, gently on Xanthe's left shoulder.
Xanthe took a deep breath, in a bid to regain her composure and turned to look Steph in the eyes as she whispered. “I’m scared.”
“It can be hard, especially when you don’t know if they feel the same but..."
“It’s not that… at least I... I don’t…" Xanthe was blinking repeatedly at rapid speed as she started questioning herself. "What if this isn’t real? What I'm feeling for... for Yashvi? What if I take a chance and... it's not real? It's never been real? What If I'm just seeing something that isn't there?" Xanthe closed her eyes as her breathing stagnated. " What if this is all in my head?"
"Xanthe..." Steph shook her head, squinting and asked softly. "What... where is this coming from?"
“It’s just, since Finn…”
Xanthe's voice broke up as she closed her eyes and shuddered. Just hearing his name, actually saying it out loud made her feel sick to her stomach. Finn changed everything. He ruined everything. Her life. The way she saw the world and the people around her. Herself. Her family. Her relationships. Her future. Her education and career. Everything was gone and even after all this time, she hadn't managed to get it back and just hearing his name, thinking about him was enough to bring everything back to the surface. Was enough to completely erase every ounce of joy she felt and make her doubt everything she was so sure was real.
It reminded her that every person she'd been close to before he came into her life was now someone she couldn't bare to be anywhere near anymore. Her family had become people she forced herself to sit with for dinner and then the first chance she had, she got out of there. Whether that be just sitting in her bedroom or wandering around - it was just easier to not be around them. What happened with Finn wasn't there fault. She knew that but she couldn't help but feel that they saw this as Her fault. That if she'd been smarter, talked to them or hadn't been gullible, things would be different for her. She wouldn't be where she is now and whenever she was around them, she could hear them thinking it - how stupid she was.
It was the same with her friends, her relationships. She didn't want to be anywhere near Ben or Piper or Elly. They'd all meant so much to her at one point but now, they were just associated with Finn - he was a part of those relationships now and she couldn't be near them without thinking about him, being reminded of what happened. She was reminded that Piper saw Finn's behaviour as being concerning and unprofessional, that she'd assumed that Finn had done something to her. She was reminded that she tossed Ben and their relationship aside because Finn made her think it was the right thing to do, that he wasn't something she needed in her life and she was better off without him and Elly, that she knew what Finn was capable of, what he had done to her and didn't support her or even care because Finn had become more important to her.
It also didn't help that they were associated with Erinsborough High. That school, her education had become the same as all of them. They kept trying to convince her to go back to school. That she shouldn't give up on her education and her future but none of them seemed to understand what that place did to her. What it had become. It like Finn was still there. Like an infection that had taken hold of the place - seeping into every classroom, every corridor, every single aspect of that place. It was like he never left and everything was tainted to the point where she couldn't even step foot in there. She couldn’t go anywhere near it. Her motivation, her love and interest in everything had vanished. Even her dreams of being a nurse.
Something happened with Finn, something that destroyed her aspirations of being a nurse, of helping people. It was the thing that made her realise that, if she hadn’t been so determined to help him than she wouldn’t have ended up in that position. But, it was more than that. The day she saved him, she thought she was doing the right thing but once reality set in, she hated herself for it. There were nights where she lay awake, thinking to herself that one day, Finn would be walking around free. That he would be able to do to someone else what he had done to her and Elly and Susan and so many others whose names she didn’t know. Once those thoughts rose to the surface, she realised how much better it would have been if she’d just let him die that day. Then she would have nothing to worry about and it would have been so easy for that to happen too, that made it worse. No one knew she was there and she could have said that she’d run off when he tried to attack her and hadn’t gone back. That she didn’t know he had collapsed and no one would be able to prove otherwise. She could have had her life back and she hated herself and him for thinking and feeling that way. How could she be a nurse if she regretted helping someone? Saving their life? What if it happened again but with someone else? She couldn’t trust herself that she would make the right decision.
Xanthe closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to push the thoughts out of her mind as she attempted to explain to Steph why she felt that way. "Since Finn... I never thought I'd be happy again. Like, it wasn't possible..." Xanthe whispered, as her voice broke up. " wasn't real. He tainted everything." She recalled through gritted teeth, her lips quivering in anger as she spoke slowly, articulating every word. "Every single thing that I had, that I... that I loved, cared about. It's... all of it is gone. Because of him. He did this to me! He... It's like he broke something inside of me - he took something from me and I'm just...
Steph whispered. "Xanthe..."
"I don't have anyone else, Steph. Not anymore. Except... Yashvi." Xanthe said softly, closing her eyes as she shook her head and squinted, trying to rid herself of the thoughts making their way into her mind. "What if that's why I feel this way? What if it's because of him? What if I only like her because... because she's all that I have?" She whispered, sadly. "I mean... Finn didn't do, he didn't..." Xanthe gestured to herself, her body as her hands shook uncontrollably and she scrunched up her face in disgust, as though she was about to be sick. " but I just can't bare the idea of men being near me - touching me. Yashvi is the first girl that I've... What if I've just misread the situation and... I've been wrong before. I was... I was wrong about Finn! About everything that happened. He used me, played me and I thought I loved him, I thought it was all real and it wasn’t and... How can I trust myself? How can I know that I’m not making a mistake. Some days... GOD!" Xanthe screamed out in anger, holding the sides of her face and took several deep breaths, in an effort to calm herself down. "W hy am I still thinking like this? I'm supposed to be over it by now!"
Xanthe started crying, closing her eyes and moving her hands to her mouth and then her chest as Steph moved closer, placing her arm around Xanthe and resting her head against Xanthe's head. "It's okay, Xanthe. It's okay." Steph whispered softly, trying desperately to find the words to help her.
"Trauma... it doesn't have a time limit."