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Helen Stewart believed in control, discipline, restraint; she was, at heart, a law and order kind of girl. It began with the Commandants, in which she was drilled at a very young age. The first book she read had been the Bible, and the second, and the third. At university, she would joke with her friends who teased her about being a bookworm that she was making up for lost time, and this was not entirely untrue. The Strictures and her father's strictness were all part of the same pool, and she learned at an early age that obedience was the only thing truly valued.
However, she had always been an imprecise adherent of the discipline of her childhood. She always had the best of intentions. On Sunday mornings she would get up an hour early to ever-so-carefully press the dress she was to wear for the day and curl her hair just so. But somewhere between the door of her room and the watchful eyes of her father, her carefully curled hair and starched dress developed creases, frazzles, and stains. His glance would sweep over her, his lips tightening against words he didn't even need to say, focus on his watch as though she were late and not early, and walk out the door, seemingly unconcerned if she followed or not. She would trudge through snow or puddles, head low and eyes focused on the perfectly polished heels of his wingtips, no longer caring that the moisture was soaking her shoes and that they would be even harder to shine after they dried. To this day, the image of her father standing at the bottom of the stairs fills her with a sense of shame and longing.
Now, in charge of her own life, it doesn't matter how early she leaves the flat or how carefully she puts on her make-up, inevitably she ends up a few minutes late or with an inexplicable smear. Chaos seemed to follow in her wake, taking every pile she tidied or every plan she made and giving them a twirl.
This didn't mean, however, that Helen gave in to and just accepted her lot in life. No, the minor catastrophes and daily humiliations made her just that much more determined. She waged hourly battles against the messes and muddles of her life. She never won the war, or even a campaign, but the utter futility of the effort did not deter her. It was like the mud she played in as a child, on those very infrequent times when her father was away and her mother allowed her to play in the backyard, uninhibited. She would sit for hours, but her creations never materialized into the sweeping garden towers of her imagination. Invariably, the harder she tried to grip, squeeze, pull, the more the mud squeezed between her fingers or distorted its shape. Helen, it seemed, never learned the secret of a gentle touch or careful, patient cultivation.
It was inevitable that she would meet Nikki Wade. It was as if the invisible chaos that had followed her throughout her life took corporal form in a pair of devilish dark eyes and twisted sarcastic smile. Of course her black-haired antagonist would be a woman, a prisoner in her charge, and an unapologetic lesbian cop-killer.
On the day she met Nikki Wade, Helen had just begun to believe that her luck had changed; she had a new job, such a position at such a young age that even her father had grudgingly approved, a live-in boyfriend who seemed ready to propose, and an agenda to change the world, or at least Larkhall. The instant she pulled into her parking spot and realized she looked like she had been done up by a circus clown, she knew she should have driven straight home and spent the day in bed with a bottle of Stoli. Instead, she persevered and came face-to-faceliterally, complete with a finger-pointing and steely glareswith her latest ruin, the stubborn, foul-mouthed and utterly unrepentant Nikki Wade. She hadn't known it then, but from the moment Nikki smirked at the predictability of sending the tousle-haired rapscallion to the Block, Helen was already well past the point where 'a-bed-an'-a-bottle' was going to solve her problems.
Yes, Helen Stewart was a believer in control, restraint, and discipline. Unfortunately for her, Nikki Wade was not.
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