DISCLAIMER: Bad Girls and its characters are the property of Shed Productions. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Huge massive thanks to Colbalt Librarian, Cindy & Rachel for their beta help, feedback and patience . Also to Ralst for posting and anybody taking the time to read it - much appreciated. By pure coincidence, I started to write this end Dec 08 and the opening & climatic scenes were already laid down and were not influenced by the tragic event & devastation that befell Victoria, Australia in early 2009 - my heartfelt wishes go out to the people of that area. I hope one day to return for another visit.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
They rose early to a simple breakfast. Sean said goodbye to Helen as he set off on his trip with Dan, instructing her to take as many pictures as possible.
"He seems excited," Nikki said to Helen, as Mayrah's brother loaded up the tent in the truck.
"Yes, he's doing a boy's thing. Since Ben told him about the mine visit, he's been almost hyper. It's very kind of your brother to do this. I bet it took some special arranging, getting clearance to show him around?"
"Probably, but Dan's able to pull a few strings. Sean will get to see more than most people do. I hope he enjoys himself."
Mayrah's brother drove them out to the camp site near Ayers Rock and helped to set up the tent. Some exclusive hotels were nearby and Nikki explained they could eat there in the evening.
Helen's excitement rose as she saw the mighty Rock. She'd been taking plenty of photos on the drive towards it, but now Mayrah's brother drove them away and headed to the Olgas, another group of smaller rock formations. He dropped them off and Nikki made arrangements with a tourist bus driver to catch a ride and drop them at Ayers Rock.
Helen still couldn't get over the blood red earth and the dust of it now coloured her boots. She snapped frame after frame on her digital camera and was grateful she brought a spare memory card.
They wandered around the rock formations before making their way to the bus Nikki had procured.
When they arrived at the Rock, they both walked over to its base.
Helen looked up at the massive sandstone formation and the people ascending and descending. It appeared a daunting task.
"Think you're up for climbing it?" Nikki asked.
"Come on then." Nikki smiled. "We'll check out the native paintings when we come back down."
It was hard work on the knees; the incline was quite steep and at one point Nikki pulled Helen up by her hand. They stopped every now and then to drink water and for Helen to take pictures of the view as they got higher.
As they neared the top, Nikki disappeared from Helen's view as she reached the summit first.
Helen pushed herself on, slightly out of breath and found herself at the top. Nikki stood as she waited for her and Helen was struck by Nikki's smile. As Helen looked at her, it was all she was focused on, but then her eyes focused beyond and Helen's mouth fell open, as she took in the view behind her.
She was rooted to the spot, unable to move, convinced she was looking out across the whole of Australia. It took her breath away and she momentarily felt emotional at the experience.
Nikki came and stood by her side. "I felt the same way, my first time up here. It still gets me everytime."
Helen swallowed hard. "It's just incredible," she mumbled.
"Here," Nikki took Helen's hand. "Let's go over there and take a pew."
Helen willingly followed and sat beside Nikki, near the edge as it sloped away.
The view stretched out for miles and Helen knew her camera would never capture it. And a part of her didn't want to. It was a spiritual sight she had experienced and she didn't feel it would be right to photograph it.
They sat for a long while and said nothing. Just took in the view.
"I don't think I ever want to leave here." Helen murmured.
Nikki looked at her and saw the awe on her face and smiled. She handed Helen a bottle of water and they continued to sit.
After a while, Nikki looked at her watch.
"Let's make our way down. We can gatecrash a tour group below for the paintings. Then hitch another ride to see the sunset on the Rock." Nikki suggested. "Then we can have something to eat before bunking down."
The descent was much quicker and the guide concerning the artwork informative.
The viewing for the sunset was a good distance away and for good reason Helen discovered. From where they now stood, the rock was visible in its entirety. The only thing standing in the vast landscape.
Nikki stood away from the crowd and despite the amount of people, it was eerily quiet as they all anticipated the event they were about to witness.
At first, as the sun started to set, Helen was not convinced that the hype was justified, but then suddenly she saw with her own eyes, the phenomenon that left everyone that saw it speechless and understood why native Australians down the centuries would have regarded this as a spiritual happening. She reached out her hand to grab Nikki's arm, hanging on, lest she be spirited away by some unseen force.
The Rock started to glow, not faintly, but brightly like a poker pulled from a fire. A deep burning orange, all the more highlighted by the vast landscape and darkening sky. It was as though the Rock was on the verge of bursting, like a volcanic eruption.
Helen stood open mouthed as she watched it begin to change; the brightness faded and slowly changed back to its original deep red colour. She realised she hadn't taken a single photo, so captivated was she by the spectacle. She turned to look at Nikki and inwardly gasped.
Nikki's face was total serenity and peace. Her eyes were filled with tears that slowly edged their way down her cheeks and she seemed oblivious to them. There was a soft smile on her lips and Helen thought that in the fading light, her face was the most beautiful sight she had ever seen.
Nikki slowly turned her head and smiled at her and Helen felt her knees weaken.
"I think we should now go and have a drink to celebrate what we've just seen." Nikki said.
Helen could only nod in agreement.
The plush foyer of the Sails in the Desert hotel was welcoming, as were the restaurant staff.
They ate, enjoying the atmosphere and agreed with the tourists at nearby tables, what a wonderful spectacle Ayers Rock had provided. A bottle of wine later and they slowly made their way off to the camp site, the way lit by a full moon.
Inside the tent they bumped into each other and laughed at the absurdity of trying to disrobe and then redress into pyjamas in such a confined space.
Finally in their sleeping bags, Nikki sighed contentedly and heard Helen do the same.
"What's the plan tomorrow?" Helen asked.
"Mayrah's brother will pick us up and we can stop off and see her. Then he'll drive us back to Alice. Overnight there and then leave the next morning. Dan's arranging to get Sean straight to the airport."
A part of Nikki dreaded the fact they would be leaving and that back on the farm, it would be back to normal. She'd enjoyed this time with Helen, something about it felt right. As did all the times they shared alone.
"Did you enjoy today?" Nikki asked as she turned off the small camping lamp.
"Very much. I don't think I will ever forget this day. I'm only sorry Sean didn't get to see it," Helen said.
Nikki felt deflated. Of course Helen would be disappointed at not sharing the experience with Sean. But Helen's next comment surprised her.
"But I'm glad I saw it with you. It means more." Helen said quietly and Nikki heard her turn onto her side, facing away.
Nikki closed her eyes. Her heart felt as though it skipped a beat. She couldn't tell in what context Helen meant her comment.
She lay awake for a long while in the dark and replayed the day in her mind. The look on Helen's face when she reached the top of the Rock, her reaction over the sunset. She knew Helen sensed the same wonder that she did. Apart from Mayrah, nobody else Nikki knew seemed to be affected. Even when Nikki brought Trish out this way, Trish had found the whole trip boring.
Then Nikki laughed at the notion, that if she could turn into a man, she could give Sean a run for his money. Maybe Helen would be more open to the idea.
They spent the majority of the next day with Mayrah and her family. By the time her brother was ready to drive them back to Alice Springs, Helen was laden with artifacts none of which Mayrah allowed her to pay for. They were gifts and Helen was overwhelmed.
Back in Alice Springs Nikki checked them into a small motel for the overnight stay. Then she took Helen out to eat and they ended up in a small bar.
Nikki was surprised at the ferocity with which Helen was drinking.
"Trying to drown something?" she asked.
Helen gulped down another vodka. "No, just enjoying myself and relaxing."
She knew she was lying. She didn't want to leave. Once back at the farm things would be as they were. Someone else would take up her time.
"That's not the impression you're giving." Nikki smiled. She meant it jokingly.
Helen narrowed her eyes. "What is this, a psyche test? What are you deducing from my drinking?" Even Helen was surprised by her anger. It was her fear that Nikki sensed something.
"Whoa!" Nikki held up her hands. "I'm not sussing out anything. I meant it as a joke. Just not used to seeing you intent on getting hammered."
"Well, as you told Ben, I'm a big girl. I can look after myself." Helen signalled the barman for a refill.
"I wasn't saying that you couldn't." Nikki also signalled him for another beer. "Is everything okay? Are you unhappy that Sean's not here?"
"What makes you think my overall happiness revolves around Sean? My life wasn't incomplete before I met him. Just because we're now engaged, doesn't mean I can't function without him!"
Helen took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
"This isn't like you." Nikki said gently.
Helen looked at her while her fingers stroked her glass. "I'm just saying, that because I'm engaged doesn't mean there are things I can no longer do. But there are certain things I can't." Her speech started to slur.
Nikki frowned. "You're not making much sense, I'm afraid. So, if you weren't engaged, what could you do that you can't now?"
Helen downed the drink. "I shit, I don't even know what I'm talking about anymore."
"Perhaps we should go." Nikki finished her beer and paid their tab.
Helen stumbled off the stool and Nikki caught her.
"Do you want me to get a taxi or can you walk?"
"I'm fine. Motel's not that far." Helen smiled at her and linked her arm through Nikki's.
The walk wasn't too bad Nikki thought. Helen leaned heavily against her but they made the short distance back.
Helen fumbled for her room key in her pocket as they stood outside her door.
"Goodnight." Helen reached up and placed her hand on Nikki's shoulder and they both leaned in. They misread their approach and Nikki's lips accidentally touched Helen's.
Nikki froze for a moment and waited for Helen's reaction, convinced there would be some objection. Her eyes met Helen's but instead, Helen moved her hand to the back of her head and pulled her mouth towards hers.
"If I wasn't engaged, I could do this." Helen whispered.
The kiss was soft but not unsure. It was confident and surprised Nikki. Confusion raced through her mind, the longer it continued. She knew Helen was drunk and had no real idea of what she was doing. But in the morning she would remember.
Nikki grabbed Helen's waist and gently pushed her away. She took the room key from Helen's hand and opened the door for her and handed it back.
"Get some sleep," she smiled. "Goodnight, Helen." Then she turned quickly and walked away to her own room.
Helen woke suddenly and it took her a moment to remember where she was. Her mouth was dry and she desperately needed some water. She sat up on the bed and discovered she was still fully clothed.
She reached for the bottle of water on the bedside table and drank it all. She saw the time on the clock and knew she should get ready. She hoped a shower would help the raging headache and wash away the night before.
The taxi ride to the airport was in silence. Nikki could tell Helen was in pain from a massive hangover. She'd asked her earlier if she was alright and Helen had just mumbled yes when they left the motel.
Nikki refrained from saying anything about what happened. If the silence was part of it, then Helen obviously didn't want to talk about it.
At the airport Sean excitedly told tell them about his trip and Helen told him about Ayers Rock. She appeared to Nikki to have livened up but once on the plane they fell asleep for the duration of the flight.
Nikki was sitting in the row in front and turned to see Helen asleep; her head rested on Sean's shoulder.
Dan picked them up at Melbourne and Nikki talked to him about Mayrah, who was going to return shortly herself.
Dan asked Helen and Sean if they had enjoyed themselves and Sean once again enthusiastically told him all about it. He dropped the couple off first before he took Nikki home.
Helen and Sean ate a light dinner and relaxed into the evening before they unpacked from their trip.
In bed, Sean whispered her name against her ear as he moved on top of her. She tried to concentrate, to feel him inside, but she found she was distracted. He lifted his head from her neck and looked at her. He blinked and in the semi darkness of the bedroom, Helen no longer saw his face. It was Nikki's hovering in front of her.
Helen gasped with shock.
"What's wrong?" Sean asked.
"Where are you?" He frowned.
"I'm right here."
"Do you want me to stop?"
"No," Helen kissed him and then heaved him onto his back and straddled him. "Don't stop."
She closed her eyes but the same face kept appearing. Her hands pushed into his chest and she began to move faster, grinding harder, trying to exorcise Nikki from her mind. But the image wouldn't leave her and she gave in to it. She took Sean with her in an explosive climax.
"Jesus, Hels!" Sean smiled at her afterwards. "We should visit Alice Springs more often."
Helen eased herself off him but didn't speak. He kissed her neck, turned on his side and looked at her.
She managed to smile. "You have an early start in the morning. Go to sleep" She sat up on the edge of the bed.
"Where you going?" Sean asked.
"I'm not tired. I'm going to take a shower, see if it will help me relax."
Helen put on her bathrobe.
"Okay." Sean smiled and turned over.
Helen headed straight downstairs to the lounge. She poured a large measure of scotch into a glass and sat on the sofa. The gulp of alcohol made her draw in her breath as it burned the back of her throat, then its warmth eased down into her chest.
She pinched the bridge of her nose and rubbed it between her fingers. But try as hard as she could, she wasn't able to stop the shaking and tears that followed.
Helen knew that whatever was wrong with her, she had to find a way to get a grip. Find a way to hold it together. But at the moment she was fighting with herself to stay in control.
And the one thing she knew she could never control was the force of Nikki.
Nikki hadn't seen Helen since they got back two days ago. She rode over to the Parr house and tied Charlie up at the front. She brought some cold beers from her fridge, thinking that Helen might like to join her in one as another scorching hot afternoon set in.
She knocked on the front door but nobody answered.
"Shit." she mumbled. She knew she couldn't just leave them, so thought she'd see if the back door was open.
As she rounded the back of the house, Helen was pottering in the garden, tidying up some plants.
"Hey!" Nikki said.
Helen turned and saw her. "Oh, hi." She wiped her forehead with her hand.
Nikki heard the brusque response. "Thought you might like a beer? Another hot one today." She held up the cans.
Helen stared at her for a moment. "Thanks." She stepped closer, took the beers and lowered her eyes. "I'll put these in the fridge."
Helen walked towards the door. "D'you want to come in?"
Nikki didn't think the invite sounded welcoming but accepted the offer anyway.
In the kitchen, Helen separated two cans and placed the rest in the fridge. She quickly handed one to Nikki and stepped back.
"Is something wrong?" Nikki said.
"No." The heat of the day had permeated into the kitchen and the air felt stifling to Helen. So did the small distance between them.
Nikki took a step closer and Helen retreated.
"You're acting like you don't want to be near me. Why?" Nikki asked.
"You know why." Helen didn't look at her.
"No, I don't." Nikki narrowed her eyes. "Is this about what happened at Alice?"
Helen didn't answer.
"Nothing important happened, Helen, if that's what you're worried about. It's not worth getting uptight over." Nikki reassured her, trying to dismiss it for Helen's sake.
"Well, something did happen."
"Then why am I being blamed for it?"
"You took advantage of me." Helen shouted.
Nikki looked at her incredulously. "What? If that wasn't so bloody ridiculous, it would be laughable. If I remember rightly, it was you who kissed me. Not the other way around. I wasn't the one who was drunk."
"You could have stopped it." Helen knew she was spiralling; trying to palm off blame onto Nikki.
"Oh, so it was all my fault? And you expect me to apologise?" Nikki slammed her can of beer down onto the table and Helen jumped.
Nikki moved closer until she stood toe to toe with Helen. She grabbed the beer from her hand and placed it on the counter beside her.
"Well if that's the case, at least give me the opportunity to have something to apologise for!" Nikki grabbed Helen by the waist.
Helen reached for the edge of the sink behind her. She couldn't move. Her breath quickened and she felt Nikki's warmth against her face. She stared at the defiant brown eyes as they held her gaze.
Nikki slowly moved her mouth closer to Helen's until their lips barely met. She waited for Helen to push her away, but green eyes locked on hers. She moved her mouth, placed it on Helen's neck and softly kissed the skin there. She heard Helen gasp and felt her body buck as she pushed herself further into the cabinet behind her. Then Nikki moved her lips to Helen's cheek, before she took Helen's mouth with her own.
Helen moaned as soft lips touched hers. Nikki's tongue slid gently into her mouth. The tip touched hers, nudging it, teasing it to join Nikki's and Helen found herself responding.
Nikki's fingers started to undo the top buttons on Helen's shirt. After a moment Nikki stopped and looked at her.
"Does he kiss you like this?" Nikki said softly but didn't wait for Helen to answer as she returned her lips back to Helen's neck. With the shirt partially undone, she pushed it open and brushed her hand across the bra inside.
Helen's body jerked again. She leaned back and pushed her body into Nikki's as the hand caressed her.
"Does he touch you like this?" Nikki whispered in her ear. Her other hand wandered down to Helen's thigh, and she pulled the leg outwards and eased her own between Helen's legs.
Helen felt herself falling and it was only resting against Nikki's thigh that stopped her. She finally let go of the sink and put her arms around Nikki's neck in another attempt to stay upright.
As Nikki's soft assault continued against her neck and breast, Helen's breath caught in her throat. She felt the loss of control, unable to stop her desire. She roughly pulled Nikki's head from her neck and looked at her.
Nikki's eyes didn't waver from her own. "Does he make you feel this good?"
Helen closed her eyes and moaned again. She rested her forehead against Nikki's and drew in her breath as her fingers massaged into Nikki's scalp.
"No he doesn't" She wanted to say but the sensation rippling through her body was so intense, she couldn't speak.
"Kiss me again." Nikki softly commanded.
Helen opened her eyes and crushed her mouth against Nikki's. She felt a bead of sweat trickle down between her breasts. She moved against Nikki's thigh, feeling trapped by it, restricted, unable to move.
Helen wanted to scream. Every sound in the kitchen was amplified. The small drip from the tap, the humming of the fridge, the sounds of birds outside. The sound of their kiss; wet lips sliding against each other. All filled her senses like a rushing river. There was only one sound she didn't hear straight away.
Nikki heard Sean's cheery call and broke away immediately.
Helen was surprised by the sudden interruption but then a split second later, her ears registered Sean's voice.
Nikki saw the terrified look on Helen's face as she frantically tried to re-button her shirt. She stilled Helen's hands and shook her head and grabbed the can of beer and thrust it at Helen's chest, and placed Helen's hand on it. She quickly pulled her own shirt open and did the same with the other cold can and rolled it around her neck. Helen realised what Nikki was doing and did the same.
"Oh hi, Nikki," Sean said as he entered the kitchen. "I thought that was Charlie outside."
He saw them cooling themselves with the cans and noticed the perspiration on both their necks and faces.
"Hey, good idea. Bloody hot today isn't it. Got another for me?" He smiled and moved towards Helen.
"Sure." Nikki said and opened the fridge for him and reached in for another one.
Helen couldn't believe how calm Nikki was being. Her heart pounded in her chest and she was sure Sean would sense the sexual tension between them. He surely must, for Helen was convinced she could smell it.
He leant towards Helen and kissed her. Nikki balked at the embrace and wondered if Sean would taste something else on Helen's lips, even notice they were slightly swollen with arousal. She felt a surge of jealousy and thrust the can at him.
"Thanks." he said. He pulled the ring open and took a long draught.
"Well, I'd better be off," Nikki announced.
"Oh, you don't want your beer?" Sean asked.
Helen was praying Nikki would leave and Nikki saw it reflected in her face.
"No, I'll save it for next time thanks. Keep it cold for me." She looked at Helen as she spoke, then walked out of the kitchen.
Helen felt relieved and relaxed, still unable to believe Sean hadn't noticed anything.
"Are you okay, Helen? You do look very hot." He reached out and touched her forehead.
Helen roughly pushed his hand away and then felt guilty when she saw the surprised look on his face.
She sighed deeply. "I'm sorry, I am hot and tired and irritable. I think I'll take a shower."
"That's okay." he smiled. "Do you want company?"
"No, you finish your beer. I won't be long. Then we can have something to eat." Helen just wanted to get away from him.
He shrugged and made his way to the living room.
Helen turned and gripped the edge of the sink again. She hunched and tensed her shoulders. She took a few deep calming breaths, still unable to comprehend how she had reacted to Nikki touching her. Her body felt alive like en electrical pulse. She remembered the feel of Nikki's mouth, her hands and the feeling building in her own body.
"Stop it!' Helen told herself as she screwed her eyes shut. She pushed away from the sink and headed to the bathroom.
Nikki wiped Charlie down vigorously in the barn, working hastily to release the frustration and tension of what happened in the kitchen. Forking some hay into his stall, she was drenched in sweat and headed into the house.
Standing in the shower, she hoped the cool water would dampen the arousal she still felt. Her work out in the barn had done nothing to temper it.
She had had no intention of seducing Helen in the kitchen. Another few moments and she would have stopped even if Sean hadn't arrived. She wasn't prepared for how eagerly Helen had responded. Half of her hoped she would and the other half told her Helen wasn't interested. Now she felt guilty at how far she'd taken it. Helen was possibly interested but not ready. There were too many issues for Helen to deal with. Notably Sean.
Nikki stood as the water bounced of her body. She could still taste Helen's skin at her neck, the slight saltiness that was there, the feel of her breast in her hand, Helen's mouth. How her body felt against her. The cool water wasn't working so Nikki gave in to the ache and reached down with her hand.
It was a hurried release and she murmured Helen's name as an aching, almost painful climax ripped through her body.
Nikki was unaware that 2 miles away and 20 minutes earlier, Helen had experienced the same thing as she took her shower.
"Are you sure about this?" Sean asked Helen.
He was surprised but ecstatic at her suggestion. They stood in the kitchen preparing dinner together.
Helen nodded. "But I think we should just do something quietly here."
"But, Helen, this is major. I'd like our family and friends to be a part of it."
"Sean, I don't want a big ceremony. Let's just do this quickly."
"You sound as though you just want to get it over with. Most women plan it down to the most minute detail."
He moved towards her and pulled her against him.
"This is supposed to be your big day. Our big day. I don't want to just pop into town. I'd really like us to fly home. We can do a registry office service there, if that would make you happy. But I want our family and friends to be there." He kissed her softly.
Helen knew she was being selfish in wanting a quiet, quick ceremony. She thought if they got it over with, it would make something else go away. If she was married she'd have a stronger will and reason to fight it. Control it. It had been a week since the incident in the kitchen and Helen kept herself busy, avoiding Nikki deliberately.
She smiled at Sean. "Okay. We can fly home. We'd better let Ben know."
"When did you want to go?"
"As soon as we can."
"Shame everybody here can't go. Hey, what about Nikki? Wouldn't you like her to come over, perhaps she could ."
"No. I think just close family and friends as you said." Helen almost froze at the idea.
"But you've become really good mates ."
Helen interrupted him again. "Let's just keep it simple." She smiled at him and he seemed happy not to push it any further.
The following evening Helen and Sean went over to Ben's house and he greeted them at the door.
"Come on in." Ben smiled as he led them towards his favourite room.
"What brings you two here?" he asked as they all entered the study.
"Well, we actually have some good news." Sean said. He held Helen's hand and looked at her.
To Helen's surprise, Nikki sat in one of the leather armchairs, drinking a scotch.
"Oh," Ben's eyes widened. He pointed at Helen and smiled. "You're not?"
Sean laughed. "Oh, no!"
"Oh." Ben sounded disappointed.
"We came to ask a favour."
Nikki stood up. "Perhaps I should leave you in private." She had seen the look on Helen's face at seeing her there. She placed her glass on Ben's desk.
"No need," Sean said. Helen tugged his hand but he took it as a sign of reassurance.
"Helen officially popped the question and I said yes," Sean beamed. "So we wanted to tell you, we're going back to the UK to get married and to clear with you about taking time ."
Ben interrupted him. "Of course! Well, this is wonderful news. Isn't it, Nikki? Hell, let's all have a drink to celebrate." He hurried over to get some more scotch.
Nikki stood looking at Helen and noticed she avoided all eye contact.
Helen wished they could just leave. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Nikki move towards them.
"Congratulations." Nikki held out her hand to Sean.
After they shook hands, she moved to Helen and leant towards her. "Congratulations."
Nikki said it softly and was allowed to kiss Helen's cheek, although it was turned away from her.
"So, she's finally going to make an honest man of you?" Nikki joked.
Sean laughed. "Yes, I suppose it should be the other way around. Me making an honest woman of her."
Nikki wryly smiled. "Oh, I doubt that's possible."
Sean laughed and Helen finally looked at her, glaring at the comment.
Ben handed out drinks. "By the way, you are coming back aren't you?"
"Yes, we won't be gone long. Just a quick ceremony. Helen, practically wanted us to elope here but I convinced her we should allow our families to be a part of it."
Helen closed her eyes as she sipped her drink. She wished Sean would shut up and was aware of Nikki looking at her again at this snippet of information.
"Well, that's alright then," Ben sounded pleased. "Here's to a long and happy future." He raised his glass and Nikki repeated the toast.
She downed the scotch. "Well, I'll leave you to discuss arrangements." She held out her glass to Ben.
"There's no need to leave ." Sean started to say.
Nikki saw the look on Helen's face. "This is family stuff. You stay and keep Ben company. He knows all about married life. How many years was it, Ben?"
"Thirty-five, till Marie passed away."
"You see, Ben can give you all the tips you need to make it last." Nikki smiled at them both and headed out the door.
Nikki walked over to Ben's barn and led Charlie out. She mounted up onto his back and sat for a moment and closed her eyes. Then she dug her heels into his side and commanded him into a run.
She steered him towards the fence and he leapt it and she didn't let him up. He raced towards their home, running happily, showing off; letting her know how he loved this freedom she gave him.
When they got there, they were both out of breath. Nikki dismounted and patted his neck and he nudged against her.
"You enjoyed that didn't you?" she said against his ear. She led him into the barn and removed the saddle. He continued to play with her as he gently nipped her shoulder as she hung his saddle over his stall.
Nikki wiped him down and his tail swished happily. She wished she could feel the same simple happiness at such a small gesture. Before she left him, she kissed his neck and went into the house.
Inside, she grabbed a bottle of beer from the fridge and sat on the sofa, and picked up the book on the coffee table. She flipped to the page she was reading and held it open and sipped the beer.
After reading the same paragraph three times, she still couldn't remember anything from it. She shut the page and slammed it down on the coffee table. She took another gulp of beer, then picked up the book and hurled it against the far wall.
She stood up, took her beer and went and sat on the porch steps outside.
Their plan was to leave in three weeks and Helen began to relax at the thought. It wouldn't be long before she was back amongst familiar things. She was convinced now, that these new surroundings were partly to blame for why she had become so unsettled in these last six months. At least, that was what she told herself.
They would be home for a month, but she knew deep inside, that it would be the longest month of her life. To be away from this place and the people in it.
She continued to do her best to avoid one person in particular.
Helen checked one of the cows that had been brought in for milking.
"How long before you fly home?"
Helen turned abruptly to see Nikki leaning against the doorway of the milking shed. She carried on with her examination.
"Three weeks." Helen said without looking at her.
"Not much time to organise a hen night." Nikki pushed away from the door and made her way over. "Besides, wouldn't be a huge crowd would it?"
The animal didn't want to cooperate with Helen and Nikki held its head so Helen could examine it.
"I mean, it would only be me and you anyway. And I don't suppose you want a party at your place or mine for that matter?" Nikki waited for a response.
Helen stopped what she was doing and looked at her.
"I'll have one in the UK with my friends." She knew the comment was brutal and saw the sting it caused its recipient.
"Nikki snorted. "Wow. So I've now been excluded as a friend. How did that happen exactly?" She tilted her head and pondered.
"Oh yes, I remember. It seems that once your friend kisses you when she's drunk, that's it. You're dropped."
"Oh and I suppose what you did in return is forgivable?" Helen reacted angrily. "I'm supposed to forget it, like it never happened?"
As soon as she said it, Helen knew she had fallen into a set trap.
"So you haven't forgotten it then?" Nikki smiled at her.
Helen began to breathe angrily. "I'll admit I was drunk and didn't know what I was doing! But that didn't give you the right to do what you did to me."
"And I quote: you could have stopped it. I wasn't aware of any resistance from you." Nikki shot back.
Helen was so incensed she couldn't think properly. "I didn't know what to do. I felt confused and."
"Thanks," Nikki smiled again. "At least I know you feel something." She patted the cow, which was now cooperating and started to walk away.
"By the way," Nikki looked at Helen again. "I do believe we've just had a lovers tiff."
With that parting shot, Nikki smiled broadly and left.
Helen stood there and rubbed her forehead, irritated. She couldn't concentrate any more on what she was supposed to be doing.
"Shit." she mumbled to herself.
The days dragged and their encounters were always polite when in the company of others, which Helen tried to ensure. But even then Nikki managed to make some comment that she knew would get to Helen.
For Helen there was only one course of action. She needed to confront Nikki.
Helen managed to track Nikki down and found her at the shearing shed. She entered and heard Nikki and another female voice laughing.
She made her way in and saw Nikki showing the unknown woman the equipment. They stood close together. Unusually close, Helen thought. She cleared her throat to signal she was there.
Nikki and the stranger turned in her direction. The long haired blonde was young and very pretty and Helen couldn't hide her surprise. Nor stop the feeling of jealousy.
Nikki smiled. "Oh hi Helen, this is Michelle. She's on work experience from Agricultural College. Going to be here for a few days. Michelle, this is Helen, our vet."
Michelle greeted her enthusiastically. "Nikki's been telling me about you."
"Really?" Helen tried to remain polite but had no idea what Michelle had been told.
"Yes. I considered veterinary but I feel more in love with agriculture."
"I love it, too. Sounds like you're my kind of woman." Nikki joked and Michelle laughed.
Nikki saw the look on Helen's face.
"Can I have a word?" Helen asked brusquely.
"Sure." Nikki just stood there.
Helen motioned with her head towards the door.
"Carry on looking around," Nikki said to Michelle and followed Helen outside.
"What's up?" Nikki asked.
Helen took a deep breath. "You know what's up"
"Oh," Nikki looked back towards the shed. "You're jealous. Don't be, she's not my type."
"Stop being so bloody stupid. That's not what I meant." Helen saw Nikki trying not to laugh.
"This is difficult for me, as you well know," Helen said angrily.
"What's difficult for you, Helen?" Nikki moved closer. "You're getting married. That will solve everything. Although I have to say just lately, you've looked the most miserable bride to be I've ever seen."
The brown eyes were defiant as usual and Helen knew she would lose this round.
"Do you actually know what you want?" Nikki said. She reached out and touched Helen's cheek. The question hung in the air between them and went unanswered.
Helen turned and walked away.
The rest of the day was a blur for Helen. She was unable to concentrate on anything she did. She was determined to find the strength she needed to settle this once and for all.
When she got home in the early evening, she found Sean out in the barn.
"What you doing?" she asked as she went over to him.
He was mucking out the stalls. "Thought I'd tidy up a bit." He dug the fork into the hay.
"Everybody went into town for the night."
"Why didn't you go with them?" Helen asked.
"Didn't feel like it. Saving myself for the stag night next week." Sean smiled at her. "Have you got anything organised? Nikki going to take you out?"
"No. I don't think that's going to happen."
Sean stopped and looked at her. "Is everything alright between you two?"
Helen was surprised by the question. "What makes you ask?"
"I dunno, you don't seem to spend much time with her anymore. You two have a falling out?"
Helen wrung her hands. "I think Nikki's having a hard time about us getting married. I'm not sure, but I think she might be jealous." The words tumbled out of Helen's mouth, the only explanation she could give.
"Really?" Sean looked surprised. "Do you want me to have a word with her?"
"No. I'm actually going to go over there now. Talk to her."
"Alright. Will you be okay?"
Helen saw his worried look. "Yes. Everything will be fine. I can handle it."
Without bothering to kiss Sean, Helen turned and walked back over to her truck. Sitting behind the wheel she took a deep breath and turned on the engine. She felt confident that this was a round she was going to win.
Sean continued mucking out the hay. Slightly heavy handed, the fork constantly connected with the concrete below. He dragged the old straw outside and put some fresh into the stalls. The two horses normally stabled there had been used during the day and dropped off at Ben's barn.
Happy he had done a decent job, he went into the house and drank a cold beer. He was hot and sweating and the alcohol gave him a nice buzz. He drank another one, before heading off to take a shower.
He settled in front of the TV, not bothering with dinner. He thought he'd wait until Helen got back. Instead he helped himself to another beer.
He realised he must have dozed off, when he woke up on the sofa. Helen wasn't home and he assumed she was trying to do her best to mend her friendship with Nikki.
He yawned and made his way upstairs. He stumbled slightly, feeling drunk, and collapsed onto the bed and fell into a deep sleep.
Helen screeched to a halt in the truck, the dust billowing behind. She opened the door and stepped out and headed up onto the porch. She raised her arm to bang on the door but took a calming breath and rapped against it firmly.
"It's open." Nikki called out from somewhere inside.
Helen turned the handle and entered. She stood in the small living area and was about to call Nikki's name when she appeared from the back.
Helen's resolve waned at the sight. Nikki was drying her hair with a towel as she walked into the living room. She wore a man's white shirt, one of Dan's cast offs, only buttoned halfway up from the bottom. Her feet and legs were bare and Helen wasn't sure if she had anything on under the shirt.
"Helen?" Nikki stopped rubbing her head, surprised to see her standing there.
Helen pulled herself together. "This won't take long. I want you to stop. Just stop!"
Nikki frowned as she came closer.
"Whatever you think there is between us, there isn't. I'm engaged to Sean. I can't "
Helen hesitated and realised it was the worse thing she could have done. Even she heard the doubt in her own voice and saw that Nikki had, too.
Nikki gently threw the towel onto the couch and stood in front of her. "Can't what?" she asked softly.
Helen clenched her fists to stop herself from trembling.
"You can't stand the sight of me? You can't stand to be close to me?" Nikki spoke quietly, and reached out to touch Helen's face. "You can't want me? You can't need me, you can't love me?"
She rolled her thumb over Helen's mouth and smiled. "You can't fight this?"
"Stop." Helen pleaded.
"I can't, Helen. Because I can't fight this. I don't want to. I've fallen in love with you."
Helen closed her eyes. She didn't want to look at Nikki's face. See her liquid brown eyes.
"This has to stop, Nikki. I mean it." Helen opened her eyes again.
For a moment Helen appeared resolute and Nikki narrowed her eyes trying to figure out if Helen actually meant it.
"Okay." Nikki backed away. She saw Helen sigh with relief.
"If you really think you can walk away from this, then go ahead. But what we feel is too strong. It's not going to go away. It's not all one sided. I'm not in this alone. I know I'm not."
"Yes, you are, Nikki." Helen saw an opportunity, but it was fleeting.
"Then tell me you don't feel this."
Nikki moved so quickly that Helen was unable to react. She found herself in Nikki's arms and Nikki's mouth covered hers. The feel of Nikki's lips made her body pulse and for a moment she lost herself to the sensation and the strength in the arms now holding her.
Nikki felt Helen's initial resistance and then felt her yield to the kiss. But suddenly she was pushed away.
"No!" Helen wrenched herself free. She stood, breathing heavily, like a scared animal.
"You can't tell me, you don't feel anything, 'cos I know you just did." Nikki said.
Helen looked at her and knew she was right.
Nikki took her in her arms again. "Tell me you love me."
Helen slowly shook her head, unable to speak.
"Say it." Nikki quietly commanded.
"No." Helen still shook her head.
"I can't. I'm engaged ." Helen felt light headed. She couldn't think straight. Her head willed her to go on, to walk away, but her heart betrayed her.
"You can't marry him." Nikki brushed her lips against Helen's.
"I have to." Helen's voice grew quiet as she tried to convince herself and she held on to Nikki's arms for support.
"Fine, marry him then. But say you'll be mine." Nikki kissed Helen's face.
She saw the look of shock in Helen's expression, a surprise that Nikki would consider such an arrangement.
"I don't care if I have to share you. I'd take whatever I could get of you." Nikki said.
Helen felt dizzy. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. She had it all worked out. She was going to tell Nikki, in no uncertain terms, that there could be no relationship between them. But now Helen knew it would be impossible. She was fooling herself. Nikki was right. What they felt for each other was too strong, and it would never go away.
She made one last effort to wrench herself away, but Nikki held on fast.
"Stay with me," Nikki whispered. "Don't run away. Don't be afraid of this. Stay with me tonight. Please."
Helen heard herself whimper. She knew she couldn't leave even if she wanted to. She reached out and took Nikki's face in her hands and kissed her deeply.
Helen's kiss became hungry and Nikki pulled her tight against her body. When she felt Helen push her away, Nikki opened her eyes, fearing that Helen was about to run.
She watched as Helen slowly started to undo the buttons on her shirt and stood still, allowing Helen to take control.
With all the buttons undone, Helen slowly parted the shirt and gasped softly. As she had suspected, Nikki was naked beneath it. She pushed it down over Nikki's shoulders and watched it slide from her arms to the floor.
Her eyes took in the sight of the tanned skin, the goose bumps now appearing on it. She slowly lowered her gaze, seeing the flat stomach, slim hips and dark curls of hair. She saw a thigh muscle twitch and watched it ripple under the skin. Tentatively she reached out and lightly touched Nikki's left breast, letting her fingers tips stroke it. She looked at Nikki and saw her eyes were closed and a solitary tear was making its way down her cheek.
Helen moved her hand to touch Nikki's face, but Nikki grabbed it and held it against her breast as she opened her eyes again.
Nikki closed the small gap between them and swayed her body with Helen's as her other arm supported Helen's back. She kissed her forehead, then the tip of her nose, before she kissed her mouth.
Helen drew back breathless. Her heart pounded and she could feel Nikki's pounding against her.
"Nikki, I ."
Nikki stroked her hair. "What, darling?"
"Take me to bed."
It was a confident request and Nikki closed her eyes briefly.
"Now." Helen told her and Nikki knew she didn't need to be told twice.
Helen gripped Nikki's head, as she felt her kiss her neck.
"What are you doing to me?" she asked in between gasps.
"Loving you." Nikki whispered. She was bathed in Helen, as she teased her, slowly taking her time.
"Oh, Nicola." Helen murmured and her eyes filled with tears at the admission.
"I want to move." she said. Nikki's body pinned her to the bed and trapped her beneath it. She desperately wanted to move her hips.
"Please, I need to move. I need to feel you." Helen lifted Nikki's head and Nikki saw the imploring look in her eyes.
"No," Nikki said again, softly. "It's too soon. Stay with me. Don't let go just yet."
"I can't, I need to ."
"Look at me," Nikki kissed Helen's mouth. "I want to make the first time last. I want to make love to you all night, till you can't take anymore. I want to hear you scream my name."
Helen's eyes rolled back and she succumbed to Nikki's wish. She willed herself to hang on, to savour the sensation. She concentrated on the feel of Nikki's body as it moved against her, feeling it mold perfectly into hers. The softness and heat of her skin, how Nikki's muscles strained against her own. The undulation of their two forms together.
When Nikki finally allowed her, Helen moved her hips slowly to begin with and gazed at the brown eyes staring at her.
"Nikki!" Helen was suddenly fearful at what she was about to feel; an overwhelming rush cascaded through her body, like nothing she'd ever felt before. A feeling she was convinced would rip her apart.
Nikki heard the panic in her voice and saw it on her face. "I've got you," she said softly. "Trust how it feels. Let it go."
The last coherent thing Helen remembered was the sound of the headboard. She heard it, as it gently thwacked against the wall. She reached behind her and grabbed its wooden slats, hanging on with all her might.
As Helen headed over into sublime oblivion, she screamed for Nikki.
The tiny little spark was cosily nestled amongst the dry straw. Created from the iron fork hitting the concrete in the barn, it now smouldered. It needed just one more element. The breeze picked up and filtered through the straw and fanned the tiny red glow. The spark embraced it and spread out, and before long, the pile crackled away. Not happy at this, it reached out a flickering flame to the next clump and in no time, that one joined it.
But the fire was greedy. It wanted more. And the wind complied with its earthly element. It lifted a few burning cinders up into the air, and they sailed onto the roof of the barn.
And also the dry roof of the house. The fire was blissfully happy now, and sent more of its architects of destruction to join it. Cinders flew up and rained down and fed the fire as it spread across the roof.
The fire needed to feed its ravenous appetite and didn't care about the sleeping occupant below, oblivious to the event above him.
Nikki lay on her stomach and propped her head in her hand. The fingers of her other hand traced around Helen's face as she stared at her. They lay completely naked, the bed covers long banished to the floor. Helen looked totally serene, as she lay on her side. Her hair was slightly damp from perspiration and her skin glistened from it. Nikki leaned in and kissed her lips.
"What are you thinking?" Nikki asked. They hadn't spoken much at all. The only sounds had been their own sighs and whispers.
Helen's hand stroked down Nikki's back. The dim lighting in the bedroom gave Nikki's skin a burnished look. Her fingers gently caressed the scar on her shoulder blade and Helen smiled as she remembered kissing it a while ago.
"What a gorgeous baby you must have been. I can imagine a mop of dark hair, and those large brown eyes of yours. That little frown you get." Helen touched Nikki's forehead and a wave of emotion suddenly hit her.
Nikki saw Helen's expression change. "What's wrong?"
Helen shook her head. "Nothing."
"Yes there is." Nikki gently pushed Helen onto her back and rolled herself on top of her. She eased her thigh between Helen's legs and moved her hands either side of Helen's face and stroked her hair. Her eyes searched Helen's face waiting for an answer.
Helen closed her eyes, as she felt Nikki's thigh between hers; felt the warmth of her body, her breasts against her own. Her hands wandered up and down Nikki's back.
"Tell me." Nikki said softly.
"I was just imaging what your baby would look like."
Nikki smiled and kissed her. She reached down pulling Helen's leg up and rested it across the back of her thigh.
"You want children?" she asked.
"Yes, I wanted them some day. But ."
"But what?" Nikki kissed Helen's neck, while her hand wandered over the raised leg. "You don't think it would be possible in this situation?"
Helen found herself unable to resist Nikki's touch and turned her head, allowing her better access to her neck.
"How would it be?" she half moaned.
"It's possible. You can still have them. There are ways."
Helen felt Nikki's hand make its way inside her thigh. Her body reacted immediately and she found it remarkable that just a simple touch from Nikki could arouse her so quickly.
Their love making was one of the most amazing, sensual and deeply emotional experiences Helen had ever known. She discovered parts of her body she never knew existed. They were brought to life under the tender touch of the woman now caressing her. Helen knew she had to stop this now before she couldn't.
"Nikki," she stilled the hand. "I have to get back."
"What?" Nikki lifted her head and frowned. "Why?"
"Sweetheart, I have to talk to Sean. This isn't fair to him. I've been here for hours ."
"Talk to him tomorrow, just don't leave me now." Nikki begged.
"I have to...we're due to fly back in a few days. I'm cheating on him Nikki and I don't like the feeling. I'm about to hurt him deeply. He's done nothing wrong and he deserves me to be honest with him."
Nikki shook her head slowly.
"What?" Helen held her face, seeing the tears in Nikki's eyes.
"I just know if you leave I'm afraid you won't come back. You'll regret this."
"You mustn't think like that. Just let me go and talk to him. I'll come back when we've sorted everything out, okay?"
Nikki nodded and rolled away, lying on her back. She watched Helen pick up her clothes. When she sat on the edge of the bed, Nikki sat up and kissed Helen's shoulders.
"You taste sweet and salty." Nikki murmured.
Helen turned to look at her and smiled as she put on her bra.
"He's going to know as soon as you walk in the door what happened here," Nikki tried to comb Helen's hair with her fingers. "Perhaps you should try getting rid of that smile on your face."
Helen laughed. "That obvious?"
Helen stood up and pulled on her underwear then her jeans.
"I'll freshen up." she said as she slipped her T-shirt over her head.
Nikki followed her to the bathroom and stood as Helen did her best to disguise her appearance. They heard the wind whistling outside.
Just as Helen finished, the phone rang in the lounge and Nikki padded over to it and picked it up.
"Nikki!" She recognised Dan's voice, heard his panic.
"Have you seen Sean and Helen?" Dan asked.
"Helen's here with me, why?"
Helen appeared in the lounge and picked up the truck keys. She looked at Nikki at hearing her name.
As Dan started to explain, Nikki's face couldn't hide the shock.
"What?" she exclaimed. "We're on our way." Nikki hung up. She rushed over to the door and pulled it open and stepped outside.
"Shit!" She turned and ran back in.
"What's going on?" Helen asked as she saw the look on Nikki's face.
"Darling, stay calm. That was Dan. The old Parr house caught fire. They can't find Sean."
"Oh God." Helen's hand flew to her mouth.
"Wait, I'll get some clothes." Nikki ran to the bedroom and appeared again pulling on her jeans, a shirt in her hand.
"Let's go." She picked up her boots by the door, and still half naked, pulled the shirt over her head as they rushed outside.
Helen saw the faint orange glow against the darkened sky and a wave of nausea hit her stomach.
"Let me drive." Nikki said and Helen handed her the keys.
Nikki swung the truck around and floored it. She left the driveway and headed straight across the field.
As they neared the house they saw the farm fire tender attempting to douse the flames and the farm hands all trying to help. She smashed the truck through the low fencing and slid to a halt.
"Oh dear God." Helen murmured as she saw not only the house alight, but the adjacent barn.
They both got out and Nikki pulled on her boots.
"Dad." Nikki called out. They ran over to Dan.
"What the hell happened?" she screamed.
"Not sure, hard to tell if it started in the barn or the house. Took hold quickly either way. The wind's not helping." Dan looked as pale as Helen and Nikki knew he was recalling the same event from years ago.
"Has anybody seen Sean?" Helen asked.
"No, we think he's inside." Dan said.
Helen's eyes filled with tears. Nikki looked at her and saw the guilt and shock written all over her face. Nikki knew what was going through Helen's mind. What would happen if Sean didn't survive.
"We'll get him out Helen." Dan assured her, as he put his arm around her shoulders.
Neither of them saw Nikki slip away.
Helen put her arm around Dan's waist as he pulled her closer. As she looked around she couldn't see Nikki.
"Where's Nikki?" she said.
Dan started to look around and then the realisation hit him.
"Oh Jesus, no. No. Nikki!" He let go of Helen and ran forward.
Nikki ran to the back of the house and before any of the farm hands could stop her, she opened the back door and headed into the house.
Her eyes immediately started to smart from the smoke and her first breath choked her. The smoke was thick but she could still see her way. She covered her mouth with her arm and tried not to breathe too heavily. She made her way through the kitchen and into the hallway.
"Sean," she called out and coughed. "Sean."
She heard his faint reply and knew he was upstairs. She ascended the stairway. The smoke was now thicker and she couldn't see or breathe.
She felt her way with her hands and suddenly connected with a body.
"Sean!" She grabbed his arms and pulled him back with her.
At the top of the stairs, she saw him more clearly. He was coughing and choking; his eyes running, unable to see.
She helped him down the stairs. As they got to the bottom, the heat from the flames was intense and Nikki saw their way out was now alight.
"Wait here." She told him. She went to see if they could dodge the flames that were now licking their way up the doorframe to the kitchen exit. She knew they had a good chance. Just as she was about to go back for him, she heard the creak of the ceiling over head and saw it begin to fall in.
"Sean, watch out."
He looked up and jumped back and stumbled as he did so. A portion of joist fell down and caught him across his lower legs. He yelped in pain and Nikki ran over to him. The joist was alight with flames and she knew it wouldn't take long for Sean's trousers to catch alight.
Without thinking of herself, she grabbed it quickly; the searing pain of the flames scorched her hands. She threw it aside, her adrenaline helping to hide the pain.
She reached down and grabbed Sean's elbow.
"Are you hurt?"
He winced as he stood up. "My shin, it took the brunt."
"Okay, hang on. We're going to have to make a dash for it. We'll go out the kitchen."
He saw the exit she had planned; noticed the flames around the door. He wasn't about to argue. If it was to be their only chance he was prepared to take it. Either way, they could perish.
He put his arm around Nikki's shoulder and she gripped the waist band of his trousers.
They pushed forward. He limped and it slowed their progress. As they neared the flaming doorway, Nikki gave them one final push and the momentum kept them going all the way to the back door and out of it.
They collapsed on their knees on the ground and both of them coughed violently. Sean fell onto his side, and Nikki gagged, retching as fresh air filled her lungs.
"Jesus Christ," Dan exclaimed. "What the hell did you think you were doing?" He knelt beside Nikki, relieved to see her. He looked at her hands and saw the burns and the dirt from the earth sticking to the blistered injury.
"Sean, are you okay?" Dan asked him. Sean just nodded.
Nikki looked up and saw Helen standing a few feet away. She was shaking uncontrollably, a look of horror on her face. Nikki saw her look from her to Sean, a look of indecisiveness on her face.
It was Dan that unwittingly put Helen out of her dilemma. He had seen the scorched section on Sean's trousers
"Helen, check Sean's leg. See if he has any burns," he instructed. Helen moved quickly and inspected his leg.
"Can you stand?" Dan asked Nikki. She closed her eyes and nodded. He helped her to stand and started to escort her to the waiting ambulances that had arrived.
"Nikki," Sean called out to her and she turned to look back. "Thanks. I " He didn't know what else he could say in gratitude. "Thank you."
Nikki didn't say anything, just nodded. She looked at Helen who closed her eyes, unable to look at her.
Dan gently pushed Nikki away, eager to get her the medical aid she needed.
"You were lucky, Nikki, only second degree burns," the doctor said as he finished treating her hands. "These should heal up nicely in about three weeks."
He finished the bandaging. Her left hand was completely covered, while the upper fingers of her right hand were exposed, allowing her partial movement.
"I'll give you some pain killers and will see you in a few days." He stared at her, ensuring she would comply with his wishes.
"I want you to keep your fluids up. And any sign of leakage from your hands, you're to come straight in." He now looked at Dan, who nodded.
"We should keep you in, make sure your lungs ."
Nikki interrupted him. "I'm fine. I just want to get home and sleep."
The doctor sighed. "Okay. Dan, just make sure she does as she's told."
Dan snorted. That would be nigh impossible he thought.
"Have you been treating the other casualty?" Nikki asked, as she flexed the fingers she could move.
"No, one of my colleagues was dealing with him. We'll be keeping him in overnight. He took in a lot of smoke and we want to make sure his lungs are okay. But apart from that, he's fine. He's a very lucky guy, thanks to you." The doctor smiled at her and squeezed her shoulder. "He owes you his life."
Dan helped Nikki off the bed and supported her around the waist as they made their way out of the Emergency room.
Nikki put her head back and closed her eyes as she sat in the truck and Dan looked over at her. She hadn't said much at all and he put it down to the shock of what had happened.
He was still angry at her for risking her life.
"That was a bloody brave thing to do, and a bloody stupid one. What the hell were you thinking?" he asked.
Nikki didn't answer.
"The doc's right, Sean does owe his life to you. So does Helen. There might not have been a bloody wedding."
Nikki pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed deeply. The comment hurt her, but she couldn't tell him why.
"Anyway, you'll stay with me and your mother. We'll take care of you."
"No. I want you to take me out to the old homestead." Nikki said.
"What on earth for? You can't be on your own, how will you cope?" He looked at her like she was mad.
"I'll be fine. I'd rather be alone."
"Nikki, that's ridiculous. What if you need more medical attention?"
"Then I'll contact you."
Dan shook his head. "I don't like the idea."
"Please, just take me out there."
Dan persisted. "What's gotten into you? What's this all about?"
"Please. Just do as I ask." Nikki's voice rose.
"Not until you tell me what's wrong."
"Dan, just drop it. I don't want to talk about it, okay?"
Dan knew something was definitely wrong. The only time she ever called him Dan was when she was upset and angry about something and the last time he had seen her like this was when Trish left her. He tried to figure out what situation could have caused her to be like this now; as far as he knew, it wasn't the same as the one that had caused it before. There was no woman involved.
He drove to Nikki's house and picked up Mayrah on the way. Between them they loaded up the truck with supplies and clothes for Nikki, as well as the mattress from her bed. Mayrah noticed the state of the tangled sheets all over the floor and looked at Nikki but said nothing. Dan was oblivious.
It was dawn when they reached the old foreman's house at the old homestead. They unloaded everything, and Dan put the mattress on the floor by the fire at Nikki's request. Mayrah put up the food supplies; packets and tins that Nikki could open with her good hand. Dan also checked the water tank and heater.
"Are you sure about this?" Dan asked.
"Yes, I'll be fine. Come and get me in a few days." Nikki said.
"What if you need to change the bandages?"
Dan heard and saw the tiredness on her face.
"All right then." He pulled her to him and hugged her. Mayrah did the same, and as they got to the door, Nikki spoke again.
"I don't want any visitors. Absolutely no one to come here. If anybody should ask where I am, say I'm in Melbourne. Staying with Trish."
Dan frowned but nodded. Nikki closed the door and leant her forehead against it. She felt exhausted.
She wearily made her way over to the fireplace and climbed into the bed Mayrah had made up for her.
Slowly, her tears stung her eyes at the choice Helen had made. Nikki knew it had been too good to be true. Helen wouldn't leave Sean now. How could she? She obviously loved him. They would probably still fly back to the UK and go ahead with the wedding.
She would stay out here, hidden out of the way, avoiding Helen so she wouldn't have to see her before they left.
Nikki lay there and remembered the last time she had been here; lain on the same floor, feeling Helen's arm resting comfortably around her waist. She turned on her side and wept.
"Helen," Dan smiled at her as he opened the door. "Come on in."
Helen entered the house and Mayrah appeared from the kitchen.
"How's Sean? Heard he was out of hospital." He indicated a chair for Helen to sit.
"Very well these last couple of days. No permanent damage. Thanks for asking." Helen sat down.
"Well, that's good news. Would you like a cuppa?"
"Actually, I came to see Nikki."
Dan saw the anxious look on Helen's face. "I'm afraid she's not here right now. Can I give her a message?"
"Oh," Helen said softly. "Will she be long?"
"Well, what I meant is, she's not actually here on the farm. She's in Melbourne, staying with a friend." Dan smiled.
Helen's expression dropped. "Trish?" she asked.
"I see." Helen was thrown at the news. But it made sense that Nikki would go to someone she cared about.
Dan heard her disappointment. "Is everything alright?" he asked.
Helen closed her eyes briefly. "Yes."
"You must be getting excited; you fly home soon for the wedding."
Helen didn't answer. She suddenly felt sick. Her chance had gone.
As she looked at him, Dan was surprised by the anguished expression on her face. She looked pale.
"Well, if you speak to Nikki, will you tell her I came by to speak to her?" Helen said and stood up.
"Yes of course. You sure you don't want a cuppa?" Dan stood up also.
Helen shook her head. "No thanks. I'll leave you to get on." Her words trailed off.
Mayrah had been watching Helen the whole time. She reached out and touched Dan's arm.
"Tell her the truth. Tell her where Nikki is."
He gave her a reprimanding look, knowing Nikki had specifically requested no visitors. But Mayrah gently smiled at him.
As he looked at Helen again, he saw her eyes searched his; pleading, full of hope at the news that Nikki hadn't left. His brain began to register the situation and he stood, surprised at the realisation. A woman was involved. And it was the one standing right in front of him.
He smiled softly. "Nikki's at the old homestead."
Helen sighed with relief and he saw her eyes well with tears. She rushed towards him and hugged him and then hugged Mayrah.
"Thank you!" she said then turned and quickly left.
Dan looked at Mayrah. "How long have you known? Did Nikki tell you?"
Mayrah smiled at him. "It's not what Nikki says, Dan. It's what she doesn't say that matters."
Nikki wrestled with the tin of peaches against her body as she worked the can opener with her good hand. Unable to get a good enough grip, she was getting annoyed and frustrated with herself.
The can opener slipped from her grasp and clattered across the floor.
"Shit." she yelled.
"Let me help you."
Nikki spun round to see Helen standing in the doorway. She walked towards her and picked up the can opener.
"Helen? What the f ?"
"I need to talk to you." Helen interrupted and took the can from Nikki and started to open it.
"You needn't have come all this way. You could have left a message." Nikki said dismissively. "Who told you I'd be here?"
"Dan." Helen emptied the contents into the dessert bowl.
"Damn it, I told him ."
"It's not his fault, he wanted to help me." Helen looked at her. "What else are you having with this?" she pointed at the peaches.
"Look, why don't you just get this over with." Nikki stared at her defiantly.
Helen stared back. "Why did you do it? Why did you risk your life to save Sean?"
Nikki was surprised by the question. "I did it for you," she said quietly.
Helen frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I saw the look on your face. The guilt. I knew if anything ever happened to him, you'd never forgive yourself. There'd never be a future for us. I guess there never was going to be one anyway." Nikki looked at the floor.
"What makes you think that?" Helen moved towards her.
"You had a choice to make. You chose the one you wanted."
The quiet fiery undertone in Nikki's voice surprised Helen. But Nikki's eyes told another story. They couldn't hide her pain.
"You're wrong, Nikki. I did make a choice in that moment, but not the one you think. I came here to explain."
"Explain what? That it was all a mistake?" Nikki said angrily.
"If you'd just let me bloody finish, perhaps I can tell you." Helen's voice also rose. "God you can be impossible at times!" she took a calming breath.
"I came to tell you that I told Sean I couldn't marry him, that I didn't love him."
Nikki snorted. "Well, that was obvious. I could have told you, you'd picked the wrong man."
"Jesus," Helen mumbled. "Just let me say this," She moved closer and touched Nikki's face. "I'm trying to tell you that I don't want a man. I want a woman."
Nikki's eyes fluttered and her insides tumbled.
"What?" she managed to say. She needed to hear it again; make sure she wasn't dreaming.
Helen smiled at the crease in Nikki's brow and her fingers brushed the hair at the back of Nikki's neck.
"I love you." Helen said softly.
Nikki's chest filled with air, almost suffocating her and her eyes welled with tears.
"It's okay sweetheart." Helen said and pulled Nikki into her arms.
"Are you sure?" Nikki pulled back and looked at her. Helen nodded and smiled.
As Helen wiped away her tears, Nikki took hold of her hand and kissed the palm.
"We'll take things slowly."
"Yeah, dead slow." Helen's smile widened. She released her hand from Nikki's and held her at the waist and kissed her.
Nikki bent her knees and put her arms around Helen. She tried to hold on, but the bandages restricted her hands and she winced.
"Are you in any pain?" Helen asked concerned.
"Not really," Nikki smiled. "It's better now you're here."
Helen gently took hold of her hands and kissed them, her lips softly touching the exposed fingertips.
"I love you so much." Nikki whispered. "Are you sure about staying here with me? You wouldn't rather go back home, or ."
Helen cupped Nikki's face in her hands and saw the worry, planted there from another person. "I'm not someone else, I actually like this life. I want to be here." she said.
Helen's voice remained steady but her eyes conveyed her emotion. "Besides, there's this lovely house I know of. It needs some work but it's going to have new bedrooms and a couple of bathrooms. It has the most spectacular views and when it's finished it's going to be a wonderful family home. A home for kids to run around in."
Nikki half sobbed and laughed at the same time.
"What's for dinner?" Helen asked. "Just peaches?"
"Couldn't get to grips with anything else. There's packet stuff."
"Ah, now then. Packet stuff. That's a speciality of mine." Helen winked and let Nikki go. "Stay right there and I'll wipe us up something."
Nikki leant back against the counter and smiled as she watched Helen prepare dinner.
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