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A World That's Far Away

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The sun is beating down on her face as she stares out across the ocean, the waves beating on the sand of the beach.

There was a time when water terrified her … The escape by sea, the fragile leaky boat full of desperate, terrified refugees, the tales of pirates and sharks. When she first arrived at the refugee camp in Hong Kong, she had sworn that she never wanted to go near the ocean again.

Now, she wriggles her toes in the sand and closes her eyes, throwing her head back to enjoy the warmth of the sun on her skin.

"You need more sunscreen or you're going to burn pretty badly, Gigi." She opens her eyes and stares at him through her sunglasses.

She's a world away from Saigon, the war … she's also nowhere near New York or the places of which she had dreamed. Here, sitting on a beach in Australia in peacetime, it's almost as though none of the past nightmares ever existed… But they do. When she wakes up screaming and crying in the night, her past is as real as ever and the movie in her mind is a different one now.

"You OK?" he asks her.

"Yes, why?" she asks him warily.

He drops onto the beach towel beside her. His skin is warm and tanned, his eyes, as blue as the ocean before them are steady and smiling. "I could hear you … last night … from across the hall …" She lowers her eyes.

That means the other students would have heard her, too. Heard the crying of the crazy girl from Vietnam.

"I still get those nightmares, too," he tells her. "It's not easy coming back to 'normal' after that fucked up mess…" His eyes drop to the cigarette burns on her arm, to the marks she still has on her body from the over-enthusiastic 'customers' who enjoyed hurting a woman.

She nods.

The various charity and church groups have tried to help her integrate into Australian society. The English lessons, the accommodation – she's always been smart so she managed to get herself a place at university, keeping herself to herself. She sees the way the boys look at her but she finds it hard to trust them and she's had more than enough 'boyfriends'.

Will is different though. He's quiet, introspective and after their first study session together, he tells her that he was in Vietnam, too – as a kid, still in university. He finds himself opening up to her and telling her about things that he can't even tell his mates or the army shrink about. Gigi tells him about things, too – of the person she used to be – of what she used to be.

"That's not who we are now, Gigi," he tells her fiercely. "We have to leave that behind us – we both did what we had to do in Vietnam, but now we deserve to be able to start again."

"The nightmares are getting better," she tells him, still painfully self-conscious of her strong Vietnamese accent. She's never going to sound like everyone else. She'll never be like anyone else. Will doesn’t seem to care or even notice, but Gigi does.

"For me, too," he tells her. "Talking to you about things makes them better," he tells her. He leans in towards her and his lips brush against hers gently. He's been careful not to push things. They're friends and he wants a lot more … but he knows that they both need time. He knows what bar girls in Vietnam did but he doesn't judge her. He has no right to judge a young girl without family or friends who was trying to survive.

He pulls back and she reaches up and touches his cheek before drawing his face back to hers, her mouth gentle and lingering against his.

"Do you think it's really possible to start again, Will?" she asks him, her eyes sad and filled with too many memories.

He cups her face in his. "I didn't … but with you – I do," he tells her fiercely and she smiles and he puts his arm around her shoulder and they lean against one another.

Gigi closes her eyes and thinks of all of those who haven't made it this far, of what she has managed to achieve and lets herself believe that a happy future is possible.