DISCLAIMER: All Characters belong to Shed productions.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
End of the Road
The wild winter rain lashed down forcefully onto the windscreen of the Articulated Lorry as its driver hauled herself into the driving seat in preparation for a long night ahead. She wasn't looking forward to the 48 hour, cross-country trip that she was about to take - for many reasons - the main issue being the weather, that had taken a sudden, and drastic turn for the worse. In these conditions, in a heavy goods vehicle, with little sleep behind her and 800 miles of motorway in front of her - anything could happen.
She knew what a massive risk she was taking by agreeing to this job. And if her boss had had any inkling that she was as sleep deprived as what she was, then he would never have agreed to her taking it on as a favour. It was her day off. Or was supposed to be, until the garage owner - her boss, and friend, Jimmy, had rang her to ask her if she would she do a special delivery for him on double time. Without hesitation she had agreed. Anything to get out of the house for a few days and away from her partner of 9-years and their 2 year old daughter; who had recently discovered the powers of screaming and what it could achieve. If a temper tantrum could be classed as an art form, then baby Eva was a master.
She cast her sad eyes upwards, onto the photographs of her family that were proudly on display above the sun visors. They were still life images of a happier time, when smiles were genuine and love was a heartfelt emotion rather than an empty word that meant nothing. But those good times were a thing of the past - a memory that she knew she would never get the chance to relive. She and Trisha were merely acquaintances who once had a past, but had no future. The only thing holding them together now was their daughter and it was for her sake that Nikki stuck it out. Sometimes, deep down she wished she had the bottle just to leave home and never look back. Would it be hard to sacrifice your family for the sake of a fresh start? Or would it be easier to stay in a loveless environment that ate away at you with each passing second? She had no intentions to find out just yet. No, she would plod on, doing what she had done for the last 5 years or so; pretending that everything was okay. Why rock the boat?
Shaking her head in a dog like fashion, to rid herself of the excess water that was dripping from her short, jet black hair, onto her bare neck, Nikki put the keys in the ignition, checked her tachograph and sat back into the comfort of the tartan-covered seat.
The front headlights shone brightly onto the garage door ahead; illuminating the dark and dismal surroundings of the deserted warehouse. Nikki observed the familiar surroundings momentarily, hypnotically following the windscreen wipers as they darted speedily across the glass to remove raindrops that were quickly replaced. Everything seemed distorted; a kaleidoscopic array of twinkling lights that morphed into undecipherable shapes and colours. Nothing seemed as it was in the daylight, when the sun shone brightly and everything appeared to be normal. "Just like my life" she mused solemnly to herself as she thrust a homemade audiotape into the player and listened to the music as the first few beats engulfed her senses.
The first song to start stopped her in her tracks as she paused to listen to the lyrics that very quickly struck a chord with her.
They call me Mr. Pitiful,
Baby that's my name now,
They call me Mr. Pitiful,
That's how I got my fame,
But people just don't seem to understand,
How someone can feel so blue,
They call me Mr pitiful,
'cause I lost someone just like you.
A morose smile crept onto her lips - a smile of knowing and understanding.
"I wonder if Otis Redding had the same problems I do?" She asked herself as the engine of the HGV roared into action and began to back out of the depot's parking lot and into the cocoon of the shadows.
It had been a mere 20 or so minutes since Nikki had set off on a journey that would take her at least 2 days to complete - around 20 hours of them spent driving, if her calculations were correct. She had never driven as far as Exeter before and already she was beginning to regret the decision as tiredness got the better of her. Mostly she was used to doing short haul trips for the company, and the furthest south she typically reached was Manchester.
Her boss was forever asking her to broaden her career horizons and take on the long haul jobs - it was where the money was in this line of work. But Nikki had no inclination to be gallivanting all over Europe just for an extra few pounds in her wage packet every week. At least not since her daughter had been born. She had been a typical workaholic before then, but now all she wanted to do was kick back relax, and revel in the pleasures of watching her daughter grow up. Being there for the most important milestones in her child's life meant more to her than an extra £40 per week. Money couldn't buy her her daughter's first words, or the first time that Eva took a step on her own two feet without falling. These were the things that truly mattered in life.
So why was it Trisha couldn't see that? It was okay for her - all she did during the day was sit around, doing the odd chore, making the occasional meal. She got to be there 24/7- to hear every gurgle and see every toothless smile. Trisha didn't have to work, for she had a fully operational cash-machine that was her girlfriend.
Nikki never flaunted the fact that she had money tucked away. Anyone looking at her would have noted that she had a refinement about her, and a class that was unmistakably thanks to a good upbringing, but nothing about Nikki screamed wealth. Unlike her partner who took being a Stepford wife to a new level. Gucci was her shop of choice, and expensive Bollinger champagne was the only alcoholic beverage she would allow to pass her lips. Nikki on the other hand would have easily settled for a pint of beer, whilst relaxing in her Levi's. Though she still had a few items from Armani tucked away in her wardrobe for special occasions.
The pretentiousness of home was a far cry from the world she encountered at work. There she was just "one of the lads". Any mention of Giorgio Armani or Gianni Versace down at the depot of Avonbridge Haulage and Construction would have sent her co-workers, who spent their lives in oil-covered dungarees and overalls into fits of laughter. Not to mention that there would have been more than a few raised eyebrows. Not that the guys would have minded a glimpse of Trisha strolling into their warehouse, with her long, tanned legs on show, a mass of died platinum blonde hair and enough cleavage to fill a Playboy centrefold. Luckily for Nikki, In five years of her working and living in Scotland, there had been no grand enough event for both parties to meet - which suited both Nikki and Trisha just fine. For Trisha would have turned her nose up at the very idea of socialising with the "lower classes", and Nikki would have been embarrassed to admit to her colleagues that the shallow, conceited blonde who was scowling at them was in fact her partner.
Rubbing her weary eyes as she reached down into the glove-compartment in search of spare lighter to light her cigarette, Nikki took one hand off the wheel and took one last glance at the practically deserted road along which she was cruising at a moderate 50mph.
The easy listening Tamla Motown songs still echoed in the background of the cab, though occasionally drowned out by the sporadically mumbled, yet vitriolic swear words that escaped Nikki's mouth, as she trawled through varying items of stored junk, to find anything that would ignite the rolled stick of nicotine and tar that dangled between her lips.
"Come on! I know I put a box of matches in here the other day!" Throwing an old, and thankfully empty Big Mac box onto the passenger seat in disgust she continued to fumble around blindly. With her blood pressure rising rapidly, and a temper tantrum about to ensue, Nikki retracted her hand and reached up to turn on the cabs overhead light to give herself a better view.
As her head lifted her eyes instantly became drawn to the windscreen and what was beyond it. A sudden flash flickered in her pupils as she fought to focus on what she was seeing. It couldn't be could it? Panic rose from the tips of her toes, lurching into her stomach before squeezing at her heart; which momentarily stopped, skipping a beat. In automatic response her right foot left the accelerator and slammed down hard on the breaks - her eyes clammed themselves shut as she prayed for the truck not to skid across the slippery tarmac and hit whatever was in front of her.
Veering slightly to the right as the 38 tonne vehicle came to a grinding stand still, Nikki became aware of the tightness in her hands as her fingers grasped securely onto the steering wheel until her knuckles were deathly white. Her breathing accelerated to match the rapidly beating heart that pounded powerfully, and almost painfully behind her chest bone.
"Shit!" Was the first word she uttered as she regained her composure. She ran an unsteady hand, which almost had to be prised away from the wheel, through her hair and let out a sigh of relief. As full realisation of the seriousness of the event dawned on her, Nikki threw open the lorry's door and ran into the pouring rain without a seconds thought.
A woman stood in front of the Volvo, her right arm only a few millimetres from the engine's grill.
"Are you fucking crazy! Were you trying to get yourself killed!" Nikki was sure she heard the word "perhaps" whispered from the woman's lips before the roaring winds that whistled in her ears carried it away.
"Christ, woman! You nearly had us both six-feet-under. You might have a death wish, but don't involve other people who are quite happy with their lives!" Nikki heard herself lie, but couldn't quite muster the emotion of guilt. Sure, she wasn't happy, but she didn't want to die.
"You stopped!" The woman shot back without turning to face Nikki.
"And bloody lucky for you I did! A few seconds later and " Nikki paused. She didn't want to think of the consequences of the what-ifs. She knew that had she not looked up when she did then this woman would have been crushed beneath her truck - a bloody mangled mess of human remains. Her stomach lurched at the very thought of it, and made her wonder if it had been an accident to walk in front of the vehicle, or if it in fact had been intentional. If it was the later, she speculated, then what was so bad in the this woman's life that suicide was the only option she had left.
The sound of the heavy rain pelting against the ground cut into the silence that surrounded them. Neither knew what more to say.
"Bugger this. I'm off. I'm not standing in the pissing rain waiting on an apology. A simple "sorry" would have been nice!" The statement was said more to herself than to the woman who had yet to acknowledge the severity of the incident. Nikki took one last glance towards her, shaking her head in disbelief as she held into the door handle and yanked herself back into the cab, slamming the door furiously behind her.
She stayed stationary for a moment of quiet contemplation before she turned the key in the ignition once more. The engine began to grumble back to life, vibrating the entire vehicle with its power, mirroring the anger and shock that shook Nikki's entire being.
Taking a deep breath which was quickly exhaled in a throaty sigh, Nikki placed her head beside her hands on the wheel. Her forehead rested uncomfortably on the hard leather, but she couldn't summon the energy or the proclivity to move and drive off. Exeter seemed like a million miles away now - but so did home - wherever that was.
Her thoughts started to drift back to the same place they had been earlier - her family. Suddenly she felt guilty for even contemplating the idea of walking away from them. It occurred to her how close she had come to dying in the last five minutes, and how, if she had, Trisha would have been left alone, and Eva would have been without a parent. The only thing they would both have benefited from would have been a generous inheritance.
Would her partner of 9 years be upset about losing her? That she didn't have the answer for - but she had a pretty good idea.
A sudden and unexpected gust of wind tore Nikki from her silent reverie, and upon looking up she saw the cab's passenger door open wide and a head appear from nowhere. A pair of haunted eyes met her own and for a second the world seemed to stop spinning.
Nikki stared on at the sodden stranger who sat pensively clasping her bag to her chest in the passenger seat of the cab. The only movement the woman made was the occasional shiver that reverberated around her torso, causing Goosebumps to rise on her pale, wet skin. Her eyes were darkened by a haunting, lingering stare that seemed to look past and through whatever she drew them upon. She looked lost, empty and alone, with the weight of the world on her shoulders and a soul that no longer seemed to exist. Tragedy was written across her face in a pained expression that cried out to be soothed. Silently she was begging for help; begging for her misery and hurt to be taken away before it asphyxiated her of the last breath she desperately clung on to.
Breaking free from this woman's entrancing spell, Nikki once again felt the anger rise up in her and fought to control the onslaught of an outbreak of pent up rage that the petite, yet curvaceous blonde had awoken.
"I don't do lifts, darling. I'm not a bloody taxi service." The sarcasm was evident to Nikki, but it seemed to be ignored by the fragile looking female who made no attempt to move or to answer.
"I said " Nikki started to repeat herself but was cut off rather abruptly; mid-sentence.
"I heard you!" The bitterness oozed from the woman in the passenger seat, rendering Nikki speechless and into subservience. Pausing to contemplate her next move, Nikki bit her tongue. She had two options here. One throw the woman out on her ear, back onto the deserted side street where anything could happen to her, or drive her to where ever she was so desperate to get to. The first option was far more tempting, but guilt wouldn't allow her to do it.
"I'm heading for Devon " Nikki finally answered, her tone softer than before.
"That's fine." For the first time the woman turned her head and looked Nikki directly in the eye, catching her off guard. They both stayed like that, observing one another for what felt like an eternity, but was in fact a matter of seconds. Nikki was the first to break the eye contact, as a strange wave of unbridled emotion swam around in her body, making her jitter with something she hadn't felt in a very long time. Something in that woman's eyes called out to her - but somehow she was afraid to answer.
It was still dark as Nikki drove through Carlisle, passing through the Pennine Hills and across the border between Scotland and England. Neither women had spoken a word since they had left Falkirk two hours earlier and Nikki was starting to get more than a little annoyed.
"You could at least say something!" Nikki spoke without taking her eyes from the road.
"What is there to say?" Came the curt reply.
"Well, your name would be a start." Nikki countered in an equally harsh tone.
"Helen." Was all the woman offered in return.
"Well, Helen, I would normally say it was a pleasure to meet you but considering the circumstances I think you will understand if I don't." Nikki snapped, hoping for a reaction of some sort.
"Fine." Helen shrugged her shoulders, nonchalantly.
"Listen, Darling you could try being a bit more pleasant. It's a hell of a long drive to Exeter if you're going to give me one word answers." Nikki stole a quick look over at the dishevelled looking woman, whose normally poker straight hair was in wavy disarray; her state of attire not much better. Her long beige trench coat was still damp in patches, making some of the material darker than the rest,
"Have you got a light?" Helen took a lone cigarette from her packet and placed it shakily between her lips, without bothering to ask if it was okay to smoke.
"Eh, yeah, sure." Nikki handed her the box of matches she had been looking for earlier and watched as Helen struck one on the side of the box; bursting into flame. Her eyes seemed to widen as she held onto the tiny piece of wood, clearly enchanted by the yellowy orange glow that danced in her fingers as it burned down into a mass of black ash that soon fell onto her lap. If the soaring heat had burnt the skin on her fingertips, then she didn't show it. Instead she took out another match and this time proceeded to light her cigarette.
"So, what's taking you down South? Family?" Helen immediately shook her head.
"I don't have family!" Nikki noticed how the stranger's angry, bitter tone hadn't changed, despite her trying to be a bit more friendly. Ignoring the fact it was like trying to get blood out of a stone, Nikki carried on down her line of questioning, hoping to perhaps get a decent response if she chipped away long enough.
"Where are you headed then?" Nikki lit her own cigarette and rolled down the window to exhale the cloud of smoke into the cold night air.
"Ah, nice little town, from what I remember. It's been more than twenty years since I've been there, right enough. My parents took us when we were kids. I remember being so disappointed because my friends were going to Brighton with their parents, and Brighton sounded much more fun than Lands End but it was good. It's got a nice beach, if you get the weather for it. So, is it business or pleasure?" Nikki smiled, but it was soon wiped off of her face as Helen's answer shocked her.
"Neither, I'm going to jump." The words were said with a profound calmness that frightened Nikki to the core and answered her earlier question of whether Helen was just accident prone, or suicidal.
"Oh, right," Was all Nikki could think to say. How did she answer someone who had just admitted to wanting to kill themselves? All of a sudden she felt uneasy around this rather temperamental woman. Throwing her cigarette out of the window and quickly rolling up the window she shivered and rubbed her hands together before replacing them back on the wheel.
"Can I?" Nikki turned to see Helen holding her flask of coffee that she had prepared earlier for when she was on the road and in dire need of refreshment.
"Eh, sure pour me one too while you're at it." If ever she needed a strong hit of caffeine it was now, she just wished she had thrown some whiskey in it too.
"Good thing I have an extra cup. I'm not used to having company, I'm used to being on my own. Thanks " Nikki took the small plastic cup from Helen's hands and for a moment both women paused to look at each other before turning away awkwardly. Nikki could still feel the soft touch of Helen's skin from when her fingers had momentarily brushed against her own. They seemed to tingle long after they had been pulled away.
"You can't be that alone what about them?" Helen nodded towards the numerous pictures that were proudly on display above her head.
"I'm more alone when I'm at home. My girlfriend is too wrapped up in herself and her friends for me. I'm just a live in miss-fix-it. And my daughter, well, she's too young to understand anything."
"Still, you always have the road; an escape." Helen bent her head, her eyes watching the steam from her cup swirl and disappear into thin air; wishing she could just do the same and evaporate. There had to be an outlet other than the one she was heading towards.
"I guess so, but the road can be a lonely place too." Nikki mulled over that thought, wondering if there was any part of her life she was happy with - a part that didn't make her feel so hollow and empty inside. Looking across at Helen, who stared back, she gave her a small smile and threw the audiotape back into its player.
"Though nothing can beat it. A bit of peace and quiet, some music just me and my own thoughts." Nikki smirked. "You'll be thinking I'm soft."
"No," Helen answered with a truthfulness that Nikki found rather endearing. "I think you're lucky."
Nikki was about to tell her how wrong she was when a speeding car shot up past her in the right hand lane to overtake her. The red tail lights zoomed through the blackness, like a pair of angry eyes that watched her. Nikki held the horn down as she cursed in anger brought on by fear.
"Stupid bastard!" Nikki yelled, startling Helen, who flinched. "Bloody boy racers! Obviously in a hurry to die!" The comment struck Helen like a knife sliding into her heart - for she knew just how that felt, to want to be out of her misery. She closed over her eyes as a single tear fell and cascaded down her cheek. In a few hours her pain would all be over.
I want me somebody to hold my hand
Somebody to love me and understand
I want me a woman, I want a lover, I want a friend, oh
I want me somebody to share my love
Loving' is something I gotta have
I want me a woman, I want a lover, I want a friend
I don't want a fancy gal, powder and paint
And I don't want me a woman who thinks she's a saint
I'm looking' for someone who's not make believe
And doesn't mind giving so that she may receive
I want me somebody somewhere around
That's looking for someone
Tee pound for pound
Oooh, i want me a woman,
I want a lover, I want a friend
I want this little girl right now
I want to run away now
Want her really how now
Come on baby
Need you right here by my side now
I need you to protect me
I need you to stand right by me
And I want you
And I want you to just
Come on baby
And I want you
Nikki waited until the end of the song and ejected the tape, filling the cab with unwanted silence.
"There's a service station just ahead about 15 miles away."
"We've already past three." Helen replied, sombrely.
"You keeping count? Must be hungry then?" Nikki gave her an unreturned smile.
"No, I'm fine."
"That's such an automated response. Have you noticed how everyone says they're fine when really their entire world is turning to shit right under their nose. Everybody says it I mean, you could be dying, running away from a bastard of a boyfriend "
"I did that!" Helen answered sharply, stopping Nikki in her nervous blabbering.
"What? Is he following you? Is that why you're heading South?"
"That's none of your business!" Helen snapped viciously.
"I'm only asking! Bloody hell, you're supposed to talk." Nikki was having a hard time watching the traffic around her whilst keeping up an argument with the highly strung blonde she was sitting beside.
"Does the hitchhikers rulebook say so! Eh?" The sarcasm rolled off of Helen's tongue, bitterly.
"If you're working the Lorries, then yeah!" Nikki heard herself make the implication and instantly regretted it, but there was no taking it back.
"Is that what you think? How dare you make an assumption like that!" Helen looked absolutely appalled.
"Well, what am I meant to expect when you won't tell me a thing about yourself!" Nikki's cheeks flushed red. "Listen, forget it I don't think anything. I wouldn't touch you with a cattle prod I wouldn't even remember how! I was just saying "
"Fuck you!" Helen seethed, her teeth on show as her eyes twinkled with bitterness.
"Fine." Nikki backed down, thoroughly embarrassed at herself.
Helen rested her head against the back of her seat and shut her eyes firmly together to block out the unwanted light. Her body was physically exhausted but her mind wouldn't let her sleep. Every time she tried the mental images that haunted would return with a vengeance memories of that night playing over and over on repeat. The ferocious orange glare, the burning heat, the screams, the anxiety, the helplessness over and over. It was all her fault she should never have left them they were dead because of her and her stupidity. She just wanted one little drink, and boy had she needed it. She had only been gone for an hour but that was all it took.
The slowing down of the vehicle as it became stationary abruptly shook her from her vivid dream like state and as her head jerked upwards to look out of the window she saw they had stopped at the services. The panic began to subside
"You coming then?" Helen nodded in response to Nikki and slid herself down carefully onto the cab steps and out onto the wet tarmac.
The "Happy Chef" that sat on Junction three of the M4 was as classy as you would expect a truck drivers' pit stop to be. Garish red plastic was the décor of choice, while the air was filled with the pungent smell of greasy food and stale smoke.
"Hey, how you doing? Long time no see Helen, this is Gregg and Ben " The two men smiled politely before turning to each other, raising their eyebrows in knowing glances as the two women joined them at the table.
"Would you like to order?" An overweight, middle aged waitress appeared by the table in her stained apron, pad and pen in hand, ready to serve.
"Yeah, I'll have two eggs, some bacon, sausage, fried bread, double toast, and a mug of coffee; black and can you fill up my flask while you're at it?" Nikki handed her the plastic vessel and gave the women a gracious nod.
"And you?" The women directed her question at Helen who didn't look up.
"Just a cup of tea," She whispered. She had no money on her to pay for anything - well, she didn't need it where she was going. She had left home that morning with only a few possessions that would see her through until the end.
"No, she'll have the same as me," Nikki interjected, sensing Helen was in need of a good feed, but was too embarrassed to admit it.
"You'll have the same as me," She spoke towards Helen who didn't acknowledge the generosity. She was too busy watching the smirks of the two strange men sat on the other side of her as they held back from laughing. She knew what they were thinking Nikki had thought it too.
"I'll get it. Well you've got to eat," Nikki tried to justify herself to her acquaintances who she regularly bumped into on her night drives down South. They were nice guys, who indulged her in conversation when their paths crossed. Each of them complaining about what was going on at home with the "Mrs" and the kids, and offering titbits of advice when it was asked for. Gregg was a cheeky Cockney, who hailed from Hackney in London, while Ben, or Big Ben as he was known, thanks to his weight and height, was an abrupt, quick-talking Glaswegian, who never minced his words.
"Right, we're off mind out for the Mrs, now " Ben nodded towards Helen, knowing fine well she wasn't Nikki's partner, whom she often complained about. "Enjoy your dinner," He smirked and gave her wink, to which she blushed.
"Here you go, ladies," The waitress plonked the cold plates down in front of them and headed back to the counter to get their drinks before leaving them in peace to eat.
Helen was already a few mouthfuls into hers before Nikki had even picked up her cutlery.
"You'll get indigestion if you keep eating like that" Nikki mused, but was blatantly ignored as Helen continued to stuff the food hungrily into her mouth. This was the first meal she had eaten in almost a week. Ever since her world had stopped turning. - she had no energy left for anything other than tears and anger. Taking the last bite, Helen rested her fork and knife down on the plate and wiped at lips with a small, square napkin that was as rough as sandpaper.
"You were hungry then?"
"Well, I haven't eaten much these last few days," Helen took her cigarettes from her pocket and proceeded to light one up with the matches Nikki had given her earlier. "Bugger!" She shook her hand vigorously to extinguish the flame as it scorched the tips of her fingers. For a moment her attentions had been elsewhere and now the result was two newly formed blisters on her index and middle finger.
"Here, let me have a look," Nikki seeing the discomfort on Helen's face, took her hand tenderly and opened the fingers she had balled into a fist. "Shit! What happened to you?" Nikki winced, furrowing her brow at the seeping, bloody wound in the centre of Helen's palm. It looked fresh - perhaps a few days old, and it looked excruciatingly painful.
"Get off, you; it's nothing!" Helen pulled her hand back with force and curled it back into a fist. This woman was starting to get on her nerves, with her endless chatter, words of wisdom and false concern. All she wanted was to get to Lands End as quickly as possible and get things over and done with. But the more the dark-haired beauty spoke to her the more she felt herself drawn back into life, when all she wanted to do was die. "Let's just go!" Standing from the chair, Helen made her way outside, aware that Nikki was watching her every move. What was it about that woman that unsettled her? What was it about those big chocolate brown eyes that made her feel like melting? She shook her head. She didn't need these thoughts invading her mind not now she had other, more important things to be thinking about and she couldn't let some stranger get in the way.
"If you want I can see if one of the other guys will give you a lift; if you don't want to travel with me?" Nikki tried to keep her voice neutral as she spoke, hoping the wind would disguise any emotion that filtered through.
"No, you're alright," Nikki nodded and started to yank down on the ropes covering the bright orange tarpaulin; tightening them securely.
"You can if you like " Helen's words were hushed, with an air of embarrassment and self-consciousness.
"I can what?" Nikki let go of the rigging and walked towards the driver's door. She knew where Helen was going with this conversation, and she didn't like it one bit.
"To pay for the meal " Helen was glad for the darkness of the car park. Her cheeks were turning scarlet and her eyes were beginning to cloud over - things she didn't want Nikki to see.
"You don't owe me anything " It wasn't the answer Helen had been expecting. For some reason she had expected this woman to readily agree to sleeping with her. Every other person in her life had at some point expected something in return and had just taken it without waiting for the offer.
"Besides, no offence, but how do I know you're clean? My girlfriend, Trisha makes enough fuss if I drop fag ash on the carpet if I went home with an STD, then well, my life wouldn't be worth living." Nikki bowed her head as she thought of the implication she was making. "Sorry, I really don't mean to imply that you're I like you Helen God knows why, but I do. I didn't want to belittle you, but that's exactly what I'd be doing if I took you up on your offer."
"It's okay," Helen felt her heart constrict. This stranger was showing her a kindness and warmth that she had never experienced in her 34 years on earth. The way she looked at her, the softness with which she spoke, the tenderness of her actions - all made her light up and for the first time since she had stopped living, she felt alive.
"Why aren't you driving?" Helen broke into the silence that had befallen them as she slid carefully into the passenger seat.
"I'm not going any further tonight, I need to sleep, and so do you, by the looks of it. You can have the en-suite " Nikki nodded behind her to signal that that was were Helen could spend the night; behind her in the small attached cabin that held nothing more than a mattress, a few pillows and a flimsy bed sheet. Whilst Nikki was preparing herself for a restless night, sprawled across the two front seats.
As Helen nodded in acknowledgement and began to rifle through her handbag, Nikki lifted a copy of "The Sun" newspaper from the dashboard, which she had bought in the service station shop, whilst Helen had waited impatiently on her outside. But none of the words she was reading were being taken in. All she could think about was the gorgeous, yet troubled woman sitting next to her. The mysterious green eyes that sparkled like emeralds, and the sadness that lay behind them - deep set in a doll-like face that had exaggerated features. The cherry-red lips, whose pouting fullness begged to be kissed with unbridled passion. The high cheek-bones, the razor sharp jaw line, the protruding collar bone, the firm breasts encased in a tight white top that gave nothing away everything about her outer exterior was perfect, but the interior was tainted by something horrific. But what that horror was, Nikki didn't know if she wanted to find out.
Prying into other people's business had never really been her style. If someone wanted her to know what was going on in their lives then she would readily lend an ear and a shoulder to cry on, but she never went looking for a bit of tasty gossip. She, herself knew how it felt to be talked about behind her back, having been on the receiving end of countless Chinese whispers. The townsfolk of the small Scottish community, where she had moved to with her girlfriend, after leaving behind the hustle and bustle of London, had, within hours of their arrival taken it upon themselves to dissect and scrutinise her life, just to have the latest bit of scandal to chat about in the post office queue on pension day. But it far from angered her, in fact she found it rather amusing to be the talk of the town. These small-minded bigots, who she was sure would rather see Hannibal Lecter move into their street than a pair of lesbians, could waste their oxygen on her if they liked, for they would never get to know the real Nikki Wade, and in her eyes that was their loss, not hers.
Helen's movements from a few feet away were far too much of a distraction, and as much as her head was telling her to stay focused on the day's news, her heart was pulling her eyes away from the tabloid and onto her companion, who was stripping herself of her still damp clothing. Keeping her jacket tucked over her shoulders as a barrier between her body and Nikki's eyes, Helen slipped her top off and dropped it carelessly onto the floor. The beige coat slowly slithered down her back as she bent forward to unhook her greying bra, which soon joined the rest of her discarded clothing at her feet.
Nikki looked away fleetingly as she caught a brief glimpse of a bare breast - a sight that brought a blush to her cheeks and sent her blood pumping erratically around her veins. By the time she had found a semblance of inner calm and a courage to return her eyes to look at the woman who had sent her emotions into a whirl, Helen had opened the door and had lowered herself to the ground, before slamming the heavy steel door behind her. She padded across the cold, wet concrete in her bare feet, as naked as the day she was born and came to a standstill on a patch of grass by the deserted roadside.
In bewilderment and fascination, Nikki watched every movement from where she was seated, the raindrops on her windscreen obscuring the view of a naked Helen - but she could see enough. The heavy lashings of rain ran down the length of the slightly tanned, and bare skin, as Helen lifted her arms, running her hand, which was clutching a bar of soap, down the length of her limbs, slowly and sensually, before reaching her torso. It was the most simple, yet erotic act Nikki had ever had the pleasure to witness, and was enough to elicit a reaction that had not been stirred in her for a very long time - arousal.
Her heart palpitated wildly in her chest as she unconsciously held her breath in anticipation. Her unblinking eyes stared hypnotically at the curvaceous bare back and below, to a set of shapely buttocks that were attached to small, yet perfectly formed legs that appeared to be rooted to the spot. As Helen lent her head back to capture the beating water on her face, running her hands through her soaked hair, Nikki felt her stomach involuntarily flip. She closed over her eyes as she felt her chin begin to quiver. A small teardrop broke free, running down her cheek before disappearing into obscurity. She had no comprehension of where this sudden onslaught of sensitivity had come from, but he had a feeling that long repressed emotions had something to do with it. She was crying for everything she had lost and was about to lose, crying for the way her life had turned out, crying for allowing herself to feel something that didn't involve her partner of 9 years. But there was no way she could prevent herself from feeling the intense emotion of love that surged through her whole being.
The intrusive clunking of metal freed her from her quiet contemplations and she looked up towards the source of the noise. She didn't need to say a word for Helen spoke first.
"I'm clean now." Helen held her top across her chest unconsciously, before letting it slip onto her lap - her eyes never leaving Nikki's.
Nikki sat transfixed by the image of Helen; wet and naked, lustfully looking into her eyes, silently begging to be taken. This woman, in the short space of a few hours had managed to captivate her like no other ever had. The air of secrecy that surrounded her, the tainted beauty, the sad stare, the cries for help; all had her absolutely mesmerized. The want, the need, she couldn't ignore it. Not even the passing image of her girlfriend, Trisha was enough to discourage the illicit thoughts that were now clouding her senses. As quickly as the image came; it was gone again - just like the love they had once shared.
Her mind screamed out, telling her what she was about to do was wrong, but her heart had a conflicting emotion. How could something so wrong feel so right? How was she supposed to resist when every part of her wanted it? How could she ever deny herself this opportunity to feel complete? That was the last conscious thoughts she had before her instincts took over and she abandoned everything she knew.
Nikki looked deeply into those green eyes that were pulling her in, and without conscious knowledge she reached out and stroked the cheek of the small blonde woman sitting totally naked on the seat beside her. All restraint was now gone as she felt Helen's body, which was still wet from the rain, under her fingers. Small goose pimples covered her skin, even if it was not cold in the cabin. The need was evident in her aroused eyes and her whole body radiated a raw need for physical satisfaction.
She had turned around facing Nikki, who couldn't get enough of the sight of this beautiful woman. She could feel her blood rushing through her body, and hear the rhythm of her own escalated heartbeat thumping away in her chest. Suddenly she felt a warmth emanating from below and a special heat made itself known between her legs.
She needed to touch and be touched with a force that she had never felt before and it almost scared her. Before she knew what was happening the gap between them had been closed as Helen had moved from the seat and placed herself on Nikki's lap. The kiss was not especially loving, but with a true and honest passion which could not be denied.
Helen made a small whimper as the kiss grew deeper and tongues danced passionately together in a fervent awakening. Her naked body scratched against Nikki's clothes and made the sensations in her body more pronounced. But she needed more. She needed to feel the warmth of another human body against her own in order to thaw the anguish that was eating her up inside. Even as the fire swept through her, she still felt chilled to the bone, the emotional ache dominating her - but it wasn't enough to stop her in her ministrations. She wanted this; badly, and proved it by clawing roughly at Nikki's shirt. She wanted it off and she wanted it off now.
Nikki's hands had wandered off on an exploration of their own. She let her long fingers caress Helen's bare back, feeling every little dip and curvature of her spine. She relished in the feel of smooth hot skin, and Helen was like a burning furnace. Nikki could feel the heat through the layer of her own clothes, burning deep into her soul. She could even feel the evidence of Helen's excitement soak through her jeans and dampen her leg as the woman straddled her thigh, grinding roughly against it with unbridled passion.
When Helen started to pull at her shirt she willingly complied and let it slip over her head. And before she knew it her black, lacy bra had gone too. The first touch of their naked torsos sent sparks flying into the atmosphere. Nikki had started to pant echoing Helen's animalistic lust. But for a split second Nikki became scared when she looked into Helen's eyes. They had grown totally dark, with only a small rim of greenish haze. It was not only arousal that was mirrored in her eyes, it was also a deep loss and desperation. But before Nikki could contemplate what she had seen, she was swept up in another kiss sending her mind flying into orbit.
Nikki's hands had moved around and enthusiastically cupped those luscious, firm breasts that she had been admiring all evening, massaging them more vigorously than she would normally do, but something in Helen made her abandon all she knew. She just did what she sensed was necessary. And firm touches were essential. Her right hand had slid down over the flat stomach and tenderly reached for the soft dark blonde curls covering the fiery flesh beneath.
As Nikki's fingers brushed over the engorged bundle of nerves, Helen jolted and let out an involuntary groan of pleasure. Her nails scraped against Nikki's bare shoulders and left definite red marks. It was enough to make Nikki yelp, but the course of her hand did not alter. It made fast and deliberate contact to the hot wetness that was Helen. It didn't take her long to find the entrance to the heated canal. In a swift movement she entered with two fingers. No preparation and no hesitation, but as Helen was more than open and ready it was the only right thing to do. Instinctively Nikki knew it was exactly what Helen needed the most. Needed to be filled and to be taken. An extra finger was added and with a steady increase in the movements of her hand the fingers fulfilled their purpose.
Nikki curled them slightly, and as Helen once more let out a long groan, she knew she had done it right. She sped up and suddenly Helen threw her head back and let out a hoarse cry. Almost a scream making the hair on Nikki's neck stand on end. So animalistic a howl, filled with pleasure but also a deep agony that only a tormented soul could contain.
"Hold me Nikki just hold me." She sobbed into the dark woman's shoulder; completely deflated from the unbridled sex.
"Shh " Nikki lent back until they were horizontal, never letting go of the fragile blonde as she dissolved into silent tears. "Just let it all out. I'm here for you." The compassion made Helen sob harder, her body racking between Nikki's strong arms - where she stayed until sleep finally consumed her.
Nikki observed her quietly and found a certain solace in the peaceful face that lay just inches from her own. The mask of pain and hurt was gone and serenity replaced it. Would it be the same in the morning? She prayed it would be as she closed over her tired eyes and joined Helen in a dream land.
The unwelcome morning sun shone brightly into the cab, waking Nikki from a wonderful, peaceful sleep that had been dreamless and uninterrupted - something she hadn't experienced in a very long time. An unfamiliar weight pressed down onto her stomach, digging painfully into her ribcage, causing her brain to spring from its hazy state into full alert. Sitting up slowly she looked down to see a cacophony of light shining into her squinting eyes, and a halo of blonde hair spread across her torso. Letting out a sigh of relief she slowly removed herself from the makeshift bed, so as not to wake the sleeping beauty, whom she had held until the early hours of the morning, when they had fallen asleep.
She quickly pulled on her discarded clothes that lay strewn across the cabin, and hauled herself into the driving seat. It was the most perfect day. The sky was as blue as the ocean, tainted only by a few sparse clouds that drifted slowly into the distance. There wasn't even as much as a slight breeze in the air, just the warm glow of the sun as it beat down onto her face. It was a far cry from the dismal weather she regularly encountered in Scotland - a weather that equally matched her mood.
Unknown to her Helen's eyes warily sprung open, instantly searching for her companion who was no longer beside her. The bed felt lonely and cold without her, despite the soaring temperatures. Glancing through the shabby curtain that acted as a divide between the cab, she caught a glimpse of Nikki sitting in quiet contemplation looking completely at peace with herself. She was just inches away - within touching distance. But as quickly as Helen raised her hand to reach out to her she retracted it.
The painful red scar in the middle of her palm shone in the light of the orange globe on the horizon. A constant reminder of her one moment of stupidity - something she would have to live with for the rest of her days. It had seemed like such a good idea to leave them at the time and she hadn't planned to be gone so long. Now they were dead because of one bad decision.
"Morning," Nikki turned her head to meet with Helen's eyes. She had somehow sensed she was awake and knew she was being watched intently from behind.
"Morning," Helen echoed, pulling herself into a sitting position, taking her ardent gaze away from Nikki. She made sure the sheet that was wrapped around her came as high as her neck as she crawled through to where her clothes were. She suddenly felt self-conscious under Nikki's gaze - which was quickly redirected as Helen dropped the bed linen to the floor as she gathered up her underwear.
When she turned back to her Helen was fully dressed and her eyes were firmly rooted to the pinned photographs.
"Your daughter is beautiful."
"She is, yes." Nikki looked up at the picture of the two year old with a mass of blonde curly hair at the top of her head; just like her biological mother. "Luckily she doesn't share my DNA," Nikki's lips curled into a smile that didn't quite meet her sorrowful eyes. "Do you have kids?" The second the question left her mouth, Nikki instantly regretted it. Helen's face contorted into look that was filled with an agonising anguish.
"I did," Was all she said in reply. To say any more would be to unlock the demons that swam around in her head and they weren't quite ready to be released.
"Is that why you want to jump when you get to Land's End?" Nikki probed, fully aware she was treading on a very thin line.
"That's none of your bloody business! If I had wanted you to know anything about me I would have told you. Now leave it." Helen snapped.
"You wanted to show yourself to me last night - rather intimately if I remember rightly!"
"Last night meant nothing to me - you mean nothing to me!"
"You don't mean that, Helen, I can see it in your eyes." As if on cue Helen closed over the lids so Nikki couldn't see into her pupils anymore. With Nikki the eyes really were the windows to the soul; she could see everything - every pain and emotion.
"Don't I?" she whispered, unsure herself if she meant it or not.
As the vehicle began to slow Helen snapped out of her reverie and turned back to Nikki.
"We're here. This is as far as I can take you. Keep on the A30, it will take you all the way there " Nikki pressed her foot down on the brakes and brought the vehicle to a standstill in a quiet lay-by.
"Unless " Helen watched her, waiting for her to finish. "Unless, you want to stay on come back home with me well, what I mean is back to Falkirk, and you can go back to your home." Nikki didn't know why she felt such a strong compulsion to save this woman from doing something as stupid as taking her own life, but she did know that if she didn't at least try then she would forever regret it.
"I don't have a home anymore, Nikki." Tears glistened in Helen's eyes but she didn't break down. "This is the end of the road for both of us." Without giving Nikki a second glance she opened the heavy door and eased herself down onto the ground. A powerful gust of wind swirled in her direction, enveloping coolly around her, catching her slightly off guard. She was well aware of the rain pelting down on her, and lashing to the ground so noisily that it almost drowned out the rumbling of the HGV's engine behind her, but it was no distraction to her. She needed to break down away from the caring eyes of Nikki, which burnt into her soul, making her feel a comfort and safety she had never before felt, and didn't want to feel. She didn't deserve sympathy or love. The only thing that was good enough for her now was death - the prefect retribution.
The trails of her tears mixed with the tiny raindrops that poured down her face. Her sobs were painful, wracking her body as she slid to her knees, staring at the cloud-filled sky.
"Why!" She screamed loudly, her finger nails digging into the palms of her hands as she balled them into fists, making the raw scars that lay there burn agonisingly. "Why did you take them away from me and leave me with no one! I didn't mean for them to die; they were my babies." Her cries rang out, echoing between the hills and disappearing into nothingness. And in her mind she could hear the residual screams and pleas for help. "Mummy, please!" She clasped her hands tightly over her ears in a bid to block out the trapped memories that she longed to be rid of. She couldn't take it anymore.
"I'm sorry I'm so sorry " The whispers were barely heard, as Nikki reluctantly drove the truck away from the scene to a chorus of horns being tooted from drivers behind her.
She glanced over to the empty passenger seat beside her, her heart constricting. She couldn't believe she was leaving behind this fragile woman who was in the midst of a breakdown. But whilst her heart was pulling her in one direction, her head pulled her in another. She had a family to get home to, and she couldn't be getting herself embroiled in something she knew nothing about. Some things were best just left alone - or so she told herself.
She tried hard to convince herself that what had happened between them was a silly mistake - a one-night stand between two consenting adults who needed a little bit of comfort right at that moment, and they sought it through sex. But it had been more than just sex, hadn't it? It had been a meeting of bodies, and a connection of minds. Two very different women, with very different backgrounds and problems, but with a similar story to tell - a tale that was bred through loneliness.
It was all she could think about as she made her way to the drop-off depot 3 miles way from the grass verge were Helen still knelt, composing herself and drying the tears from her face.
"Can you hurry up, please?" Nikki quickly scribbled her illegible signature down onto the sheet that was held by a red clipboard and handed it back to a small balding man who drew her a dirty look.
"I'm going as fast as I can, love don't get your knickers in a twist."
"I have somewhere important I need to be " She seethed as she craned her neck to watch the two workers unscrewing the bolts from the back of the cabin.
"Yeah, don't we all " He retorted sarcastically as the last screw was yanked free and the trailer slid away from the vehicle. "Right, you're free to go." he knocked on the driver's door and gave a quick wave, which Nikki dismissed. She was too busy calculating how quickly she could get back to where she had dropped Helen off; before she lost her forever.
Helen stood by the roadside, dishevelled and weak. Almost a week without food, and very little sleep had left her teetering on the edge. It took her all the last remnants of her strength to summon the energy to raise her arm, in the hope that a caring driver would take pity on her and stop his car to pick her up. And it wasn't long before she got her wish.
The silver estate car began slow in front of her, the left indicator light flashing rhythmically as it came to a steady halt a few metres from where she stood. Without a second thought she ran to it and got in. There was no turning back now.
"Where to, love?" The middle-aged gentleman dressed in business suit directed the question at his new travel companion.
"You're in the wrong direction for Land's End I'm heading back North, sorry love. Do you still want a lift?" Helen thought about his question for a moment. If she stayed in the car she would most likely end up back in Scotland - right back where she was trying to escape from. Or she could get out now and complete the journey she had set out on. The choice was down to her.
Nikki raced up the dual carriageway, breaking the recommended speed limit as she desperately tried to get back to Helen in record time. But as she came to the spot where she expected to see the troubled woman still seated, it was empty.
"Fuck!" She slammed her fists against the steering wheel in rage. Her lip trembled as she burst into unabashed crying that had arisen from her own self-pity. She was too late.
Helen was gone.
It had been over a week since her return from Exeter, and Nikki's mood was at its lowest. Banging around in the warehouse, throwing tools back into the box and cursing, she was making a hell of racket - much to her boss' ire.
"Nikki, what the hell are you playing at!" Jimmy McColl, a robust, ginger-haired, middle-aged Glaswegian charged out of his office and strode over where his only female member of staff was taking her anger out on a spanner.
"Before I start shouting at you for disturbing my lunch break; tell me - is this one of your usual temper tantrums or is it PMT related? Because if it's the latter I'll leave you too it. I don't fancy getting hit with that thing " he nodded down at the heavy piece of steel in Nikki's hand, which brought a slight smile to her face.
"Sorry, Jim, I got a bit carried away with myself - didn't mean to interrupt your lunch - I know how much you love your wife's sandwiches." She let out a deep laugh as her boss raised his eyebrows.
"Don't be so bloody cheeky, it doesn't suit you. Anyway, there's nothing wrong with Mary's sandwiches - if she's happy enough to make them, then I'm happy enough to eat them. Even if they are a bit on the dry side." His comical over-exaggerated screwed-up facial expression made Nikki laugh again, and for a second she forgot why she was so depressed in the first place. But it wasn't long before the sadness crept back up on her. Her face fell and she suddenly felt guilty for having fun.
"Hey, what's wrong Lass? It's been a while since I've seen you this down." Jimmy threw his shirt-clad arm around her shoulder and pulled her in close to him. "Is it Trisha? Have you had a fight?" She snorted mirthlessly.
"We hardly talk these days, let alone fight. It's just oh, it's nothing to worry about." The tense look on Nikki's face told her boss all he needed to know - she was keeping something back.
"Doesn't look like nothing to me. I know you can be a moody cow, Nikki, but it's not often I get to see you so upset so come on, out with it." Nikki contemplated spilling out the entire story from beginning to end, but instead she just shrugged. It seemed like that was all she had the energy for. Lacking in her usual enthusiasm and spirit; she felt emotionally drained.
"Do you believe in soul-mates?" She questioned without reason.
"Soul-mates?" Jimmy whistled as he expulsed air from his lips. "I don't know Lass. It all seems like a lot of mumbo jumbo to me, invented by some posh git to sell books, but I suppose you could say Mary was my other half; she knows me better than I know myself. Despite all our ups and downs I could never imagine life without her." Nikki watched her burly boss as he spoke of his devotion to his wife and found she was developing a new respect for him. Not many men would so openly admit their feelings, and especially not about "the Mrs". "But don't be bloody telling her I said that, she'll only use it to her advantage like the manipulative cow that she is." Jimmy grinned mischievously, but Nikki knew he didn't mean it. He was just trying to redeem his hard-man status, which in her eyes was forever lost. "So, what's this all about? Trying to figure out after all this time if Trisha is "the one"?"
"No " Nikki shook her head adamantly. "Because I already know Trisha isn't the one. I think I met my soul mate last week and I've let her slip away. For the first time in my life I think I felt what love really is." Nikki desperately tried to hold back her tears, but her quivering chin let her down. She was too close to breaking point, and letting go now could send her over the edge. For too long now she had played the dutiful wife and mother, showing complete loyalty and commitment to her family - never once putting herself first. That was until Helen Stewart wandered out from the dark and into her life, and knocked her comfortable world completely off of its axis.
"What? When?" Jimmy looked genuinely shocked. In all the years he had known and worked with Nikki he had never known her to even so much as look at another woman. So to hear her declare love for someone other than her girlfriend was a surprise, to say the least.
"Don't blow a fuse, but I picked her up in the Lorry on Monday night, when I took the Exeter job." Nikki shrunk away, awaiting a bollocking from her boss.
"A hitchhiker? Oh, Nikki please tell me you're joking." Jimmy sighed in exasperation.
"I wish I was, Jimmy I really do."
"What have I told you about talking to strangers." He tried to lighten the mood despite the fact that by rights he should have been reprimanding her for her stupidity. Picking up people whilst on the job was strictly forbidden, and every member of his staff had been warned of the consequences of such actions. But Nikki was in such turmoil that he didn't feel it was the right time or place to give her a lecture. Besides, he was sure there was a perfectly reasonable explanation behind it all, for Nikki wasn't one to break the rules purposely. "So, what happened then?"
"Even I don't know the answer to that. She just appeared out of nowhere " Nikki looked to the sky with doe eyes in reflection. "You should have seen her so beautiful, but so troubled." In a turn of temper she slammed her fist onto the corrugated iron structure behind her. "Why do I always fuck everything up!"
"You don't, you just think you do. Now think about this rationally. If you really want this woman as badly as I think you do, then why can't you get in contact with her?" The answer seemed so simple to Jimmy, but then he didn't know the entire story.
"Because, one: I didn't get her contact details, and two, oh, just a silly little matter like the fact she planned to top herself. She was going to Land's End to jump."
"Oh, Nikki, you really do pick them, don't you." Jimmy pulled her in tighter to the crook in his arm. "Do you think she went through with it?" Nikki shrugged her shoulders.
"I have no clue, but she did seem pretty adamant about it. I've been checking the news for reports of a body being found, but there's been nothing. I've had to hold myself back from phoning the Cornish Coast Guard to send out a search party for her."
"Well, that's a good sign, isn't it? Maybe she's changed her mind and come home?" Jimmy replied optimistically, but it didn't seem to help Nikki, whose face remained sullen. She couldn't see the positive in anything that was said.
"She doesn't have a home here, so she says. This is shit!!" Nikki tried to prise herself away from her boss' strong grasp but he just held her tighter.
"You believe in soul mates, right? So you must believe in fate too?" Nikki thought abut his question for a second and nodded. "Ok, so trust that if she really is meant for you then destiny will make your paths cross again. Trust in your heart, Nik and it will happen. I just know it will. You deserve all the love you can get, and if this women is the one you want, then I'm right behind you - 100%"
"What about Trisha and the baby, Jim? I can't just bloody walk out over some woman who I knew less than 48 hours, and who for all I know could be lying at the bottom of a cliff! She's even more screwed up than I am!" Nikki took a deep breath to calm herself. "I have to let go. It was a childish fantasy - a wild romantic fascination - falling in love with a stranger. It's not realistic, I'm pissing in the wind!"
"So you plan to stay in a loveless relationship, for what?"
"I never said my relationship with Trisha was loveless!" Nikki gave her boss a look that would intimidate the hardest of people, but it didn't make him shy away from being brutally honest.
"No? Maybe not directly. But use that brain of yours Nikki. Would you have fallen for this other woman otherwise?" Jimmy raised his eyebrows knowingly to make his point. "You will only hurt yourself and Trisha more by staying, Nik. Do the sensible thing; you know I'm right."
"I guess I better go home and face the music then?" Nikki gave a half-smile. "Wish me luck - I'll need it." She didn't know why she dreaded that which was inevitable, but her stomach churned at the mere thought of what awaited her at home. She needed to know how Trisha felt, and if they had a relationship worth saving.
"No you won't. You're a fighter, Nikki. So fight for what you want!" With a quick kiss to the forehead, Jimmy let the woman he had grown to look at as a daughter go.
"What would I do without you, you soppy big git?"
"Be an emotional wreck?" Jimmy dodged the loving punch that was directed at his upper torso from a laughing Nikki. "That's better. Smile; it makes things seem better than what they actually are." Nikki wanted to believe that everything Jimmy had just told her was the truth, but to her the future looked bleak.
It was 6am when Nikki sauntered wearily into the warehouse where she was due to start work in 2 hours. Her black-rimmed panda eyes were heavy-lidded as she struggled with the sturdy metal door that led her into the staff quarters at the back of the building. With the last bit of energy she possessed, she yanked on the rusted handle and threw it ajar. The lights inside were dim, and the entire place was dead to the world. Not a sound could be heard - just deathly silence and the distant hum of electricity. It was only herself and her thoughts, and these days she had plenty of them to keep her company. Not a moment passed when she didn't have something troublesome to agonise over, and as usual the root problem was a woman.
Ever since she had come out to her parents at 16, and began her first relationship with a woman 5 years her senior, Nikki Wade had gone from one disastrous partnership to another, and in between a few one-night-stands that had meant nothing to her.
It hadn't been until she had met Patricia Harris, daddies little girl, who had never wanted for anything; spoiled yet beautiful, that she felt she had finally found the one she would be able to settle down, and spend the rest of her life with - but how wrong she had been.
Yesterday, after her talk with Jimmy she had been on top of the world. Things seemed a lot brighter, and certainly a lot more positive, after listening to his words of wisdom. For the 40 minute drive home she had been able to put Helen Stewart out of her head, and concentrate on working at congealing the broken foundations of her relationship with Trisha. But all it took was one glare from her partner, as she entered the home they shared, to knock every last bit of hope and faith out of her. It was then she knew it was finally over. The love had dissipated and there was no use trying to desperately cling to something that wasn't there any longer.
"Morning Nik " Nikki spun around on her boot-clad feet, her eyes as wide as saucers.
"What the fu " Seeing her boss standing before her made her sigh In a deep, relief-filled gasp. "You scared the shit of me, Jim!" Her boss laughed heartily as she set down his work bag onto the concrete floor and began to remove his jacket. "What are you doing in at this time anyway?" She questioned, her heart still beating wildly behind her breast bone. "We aren't normally graced with you presence until at least 10am." She smirked cheekily.
"Aye, well, Tam called in sick last night - dodgy belly again. He say's it's Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but I say it's Irritable Bastard Syndrome that's the third time this month I've had to get someone to cover his shift. But no one was available last night, so I had to do it." Jimmy shook his head in disdain. "Anyway, I could ask you the same bloody question, missy. What's up? Things not go well with Trisha last night?"
"That's an understatement!" Nikki nodded towards the pile of suitcases and bags in the corner of the room. "I've left her; for good this time."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that Lass." Jimmy gave her a look of pity, but she didn't feel she was worthy of it. She felt no remorse, sorrow or pity at having ended the long-term relationship, it had been a long time coming. "It's for the best though, I'm sure."
"Yeah, well, that's the way I see it, and I'm pretty sure Trisha does too - even if she blames me for everything. She was her usual, bitter, twisted self right to the end." Nikki gave a mirthless chuckle as she thought back a few hours to the screaming match that had broken out between the newly separated couple as she had packed her bags, to leave as quickly and with as much dignity as possible.
"Ach well, at least it's over now. You're young, free and single again," Nikki took the playful words and light punch to her ribs with good-humour. "Watch out ladies, the infamous Nikki Wade is back on the pull!" Jimmy watched Nikki stiffle a huge fly-catching yawn behind her hand and shook his head. "Maybe not then. Listen Nik, go get a sleep. The sick bay has that spare bed."
"No, it's ok, I'll be fine." Nikki's last words were unintelligible as she yawned yet again, this time unsuppressed.
"It wasn't a question, it was a command. Now, shift your arse, you're making the place look untidy. I'll come and wake you at lunchtime and we'll go down the café for some grub and a natter, alright?" Too tired to argue, Nikki nodded and sauntered off slowly to the nurse's room that hadn't been used in years. The room was stuffy, lacking ventilation and natural light. But it didn't stop Nikki from falling into a peaceful slumber. Laying down on the bed, still in the clothes she had been wearing for 48 hours, she snuggled into the thin duvet, and dreams overtook all her problems the minute her head hit the pillow.
Even in sleep, Nikki was never truly free from the image of the young Scots woman who had come into her life and turned it upside down. Helen Stewart; an enigma. A mystery that had puzzled her from the start and continued to haunt her even although it had been almost a week since their fateful and rather bizarre first encounter.
The haunting video played in slow motion at the forefront of her brain. Like she was watching a home movie projected onto a television screen, she observed herself as she stood prostrate at the bottom of the cliff. Her feet were sinking deeper and deeper into the small patch of quicksand that was rapidly taking over the entire expanse of the beach and threatening to swallow her up in one swift bite, whilst the sea lapped ferociously at her ankles, teasing her with its fresh yet foreboding sting. The waves clashed violently behind her in reminder of its dangers as she grappled with the rocky edge of the cliff in panic to free herself.
Her legs felt weak as she tugged with all her might, her fingers bleeding under the grey shards of stone. But it was no good. She needed to pull herself out before it was too late and she sunk into a deep chasm of nothingness, but she was sinking faster and faster by the second.
As her eyes met with the cobalt blue sky a ghostly figure which caught her eye from the cliff's edge. Her entire being was cocooned in a cacophony of white light. Her arms were spread like wings, and her head held high; like an angel about to take flight. The angel looked down at her, their eyes connecting for the briefest of seconds. There was no mistaking the green orbs that pierced her soul - the angel was Helen. But before she could see what was happening, or scream for help she was pulled under into an all-consuming blackness where she could hear Helen begging for her help.
As the bizarre mental images began to fade, and her senses began to slowly return, Nikki became aware of her name being called; at first quietly, then with more gusto.
"Nikki, wake up " Jimmy stood in the doorway looking a little agitated. His face was a picture of nerves, mixed with trepidation. "Nikki!" Finally losing his patience, Jimmy shouted her name as loud as he could without scaring her.
"What, what is it?" She asked in a slurred voice as her tongue fought to work. "Is it lunchtime already?" She questioned as she rubbed her dry, stinging eyes and blinked to try and adjust them to the bright light that shone from the 80 watt bulb hanging overhead.
"No, it's only 10am Nikki, you need to get up," Hearing the urgency in her boss' voice Nikki sat bolt upright in the bed. The picture of Helen, robed in white, in an angelic haze shot back into her mind. "Help me, Nikki " The desperate plea ringing in her inner ear.
"She's dead, isn't she?" Nikki's chin quivered as she bit her lip.
"Is who dead?" Jimmy scrunched his forehead in confusion. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Helen! The woman I drove down to Lands End " Jimmy stayed silent and Nikki took his lack of words as an affirmative to her question. "I knew it I knew she would jump. I should never have let her leave." Nikki's fist covered her mouth as she sobbed, but her tears were soon to come to a stop as Jimmy finally found his tongue.
"She's not dead Nikki " Jimmy shook his head.
"She isn't?" Nikki sniffed and rubbed her eyes in confusion.
"No she's alive and kicking and sitting in the office, waiting for you."
"Helen?" Was all Nikki managed to say as she stood with a blank expression, her mouth agape, staring in complete disbelief at the small blonde woman sitting at her boss' desk. Helen had been the last person she had expected to see sitting in the office, but here she was, in the flesh, looking the same as she had done a week ago.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have just turned up like this," Helen made a gesture to get up but Nikki gently stopped her with her right hand.
"No, don't go," She said quickly with a hint of panic. "Stay, I've missed you!" Nikki blurted out the statement without thinking and immediately regretted it as Helen's face fell. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say that; well I did, but I didn't say it to upset you."
"It's okay," Helen whispered quietly as she hung her head. "I missed you too; that's why I'm here." Nikki didn't know whether to laugh, cry or jump for joy in response to Helen's admission. It felt like all her Christmases has come at once. But instead of showing the elation she felt inside, she took a seat and tried to suppress the gleeful smile that was slowly etching across her face. She felt like it was the right thing to do under the circumstances.
"When I thought I would never see you again; I didn't know how I could live; I know it's crazy, we only spent one night together; but in those 40 hours, you gave me more than my girlfriend has given me in 9 years; you gave me hope! A hope that true love still existed out there somewhere." Nikki grabbed Helen's hand and forcefully held it to her heart.
"You don't know anything about me, Nikki," Helen sharply retracted her hand from Nikki's grip. "and if you did you wouldn't feel this way, trust me." Helen could hardly bring herself to meet Nikki's eyes, for she was terrified of the love she would see reflected back at her.
"Well then tell me, Helen! I won't think any differently of you; you could be a mass murderer for all I care; I love you!" Shock, panic and the sudden, yet pleasant flipping of her stomach made Helen's head shoot up at the mention of the three little words; and her eyes met with a pool of chocolate brown adoration that she could have happily drowned in.
"Don't say that. You can't love me!" Helen pursed her lips stubbornly, but her outer appearance defied what she felt inside. For there her heart was slowly but surely melting.
"Why not? What's this secret you're hiding?! What's happened to you that is so bad?" Helen shook her head in defiance as Nikki pleaded with her to be honest. But for Helen honesty wasn't something that came easily these days; because the truth hurt like hell. "Fine, be like that!" Nikki stood and walked to the door, which she opened with a force that shook Helen to the core. "Do what you do best, go on, leave; run away from everything! But I'll tell you something Helen, you can run from your problems all your life, but they will still be there. You can't hide away forever." Nikki tried to stay firm but slowly she felt her resolve slip away as she watched the dejected look shadow Helen's face. Her plan to goad Helen into snapping and revealing everything hadn't work the way she had expected, but much to her surprise the woman started to open up as the words hit a nerve.
"I was so fucking stupid!" Helen sobbed loudly, the words coming out in a cracked, mumbled scream "I should never have left them alone!" Nikki closed the door gently this time and retook her seat in silence.
"You shouldn't have left who?" She asked in almost a whisper.
"My children," Helen stopped to swallow the lump in her throat and wipe a few stray tears from her cheeks. "Mark was 9 and Dylan was 4...they were just babies; they didn't deserve to die, Nikki." Nikki felt her stomach turn as she took in the enormity of what Helen was saying and an image of her own daughter flashed through her mind. Guilt washed over her as she remembered back to the night before, when she packed her bags and said a final goodbye to the two-year old; whom she loved like no other.
"What happened?" Nikki was afraid to ask the inevitable question but couldn't stop the words from leaving her mouth.
"I was only away for 20 minutes " Helen fought to catch her breath. "When I got back they were gone I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye." Before she finished the sentence Helen had already crumbled again, all signs of composure were finally gone and all that was left was a broken woman overcome by grief. Without hesitation Nikki bundled her into her arms and Helen didn't resist. Instead she clung on like her life depended on it.
"What happened, Helen?" Nikki repeated the question that Helen had yet to answer, and again got no response. Instead Helen lifted her left hand to Nikki's face and turned her palm forward. "What's that? A burn?" She felt Helen nod in affirmative against her shoulder as she continued to stare at the fresh and excruciating looking scald.
"I tried to get to them, but they wouldn't let me in." Nikki tried desperately to interpret Helen's clipped sentences and the uninformative pieces of information to try and structure an entire story in her head, but the integral chunks of the bigger picture were missing.
"The house burnt down?" Nikki asked in questioning assumption and Helen nodded again in confirmation.
"It all started about 5 months ago " Helen sniffed back the remaining tears that had gathered in her eyes and sat up to look at Nikki as she prepared herself to recount the entire tale that had transformed and ruined her life. "My ex-husband showed up at the house one night demanding to see the boys. He was drunk, as usual, and he was being abusive; banging the front door screaming I was terrified of him Nikki. Our entire relationship consisted of him going to the pub, and then coming home to "put me in my place". I ended it when Dylan was a baby, because I just couldn't take the violence any more. He was slowly killing me with every punch and put-down, and I didn't want to end up another battered-wife statistic - it was for the best. Of course, Sean didn't see it that way. He didn't like it one bit when I took that one last bit of power away from him. He had an iron like grip on me, from the day we met, until the day I left. I was told what to wear, what to say, who I could be friends with, where I could and couldn't go I was a prisoner; physically and mentally; and I had no one to turn to for help Sean had made sure of that." Nikki shook her head in disgust, feeling sick to the stomach at what she was hearing. This was the kind of thing that you read about in magazines; they didn't happen to people you loved and cared for dearly. "Anyway one day I finally snapped. While he was at the pub I gathered up all the belongings I could and I took the boys and myself to a woman's refuge in the next town. It was the pokiest little place, but I was so thankful for it. I didn't care that we had no money; not as long as we were all safe." Nikki passed Helen a hankie which she accepted gratefully with a tense smile. "We were all so happy for the first few months. I got a part-time job office job to help make ends meet, and to get me out of the hostel a few days a week. I even made a good friend; Karen. I was starting to relive my life until Sean found out where we were and it all came crashing down around me. He wouldn't leave us alone. Day and night he was there; pounding on the door like a mad man. I had to give up my job to stay with the boys, and I had to take them out of school for fear that Sean would turn up there and do something stupid. It took weeks to get the police to take notice, and even longer to get a restraining order, which of course didn't stop Sean. Twice he got a month in prison for harassment and each time he got out the first place he came to was the refuge. I was getting so desperate, Nikki. I couldn't picture a life for myself, not with Sean constantly on my tail. Everywhere I went he was ten paces behind me, and I knew it was only a matter of time before he acted on his threat to put myself and our sons "out of our misery". So when Karen offered to loan me money for the three of us to move abroad and finally get rid of Sean, I couldn't refuse I had to take the risk that he would find us again, because it was the only way to ever be truly free."
"Was that where you were the night the house burnt down?"
"Yes," Helen fought to stay poised long enough to finish the story, even if it was dredging up with most horrid memories that she wanted to lock away. "I waited until it was dark and the boys were in bed and I snuck out of the back door in case Sean was watching the house. I didn't want him following me and getting wind of what I was up too. It would have ruined everything and we would have been back at square one again. When I got to Karen's she had the money waiting for me, but I was so shaken that she poured me a whiskey to calm me down. We talked for a little while, maybe a few minutes, and I told her I had to leave and get back. The minute I got out of the door I could see the smoke rising over the estate. I don't know why, or how, but the second I saw it I knew it was my house that it was coming from. Sean had stuck to his promise."
"What happened?" Nikki asked pensively.
"He apparently threw a petrol bomb through the front bedroom window. He thought we were all in bed except I wasn't, was I? I was out gallivanting, drinking and joking with Karen I never deserved to me a Mother." Helen berated herself harshly.
"No, Helen, that's crap and you know it. You were out trying to make a better life for yourself and your sons. That sound like a bloody good mother to me! And you shouldn't be blaming yourself for what happened. There was nothing you or anyone else could have done to stop your ex. He was crazy by the sounds of it. Anyway, if you hadn't gone to get that money, you would be dead too." Nikki hated herself for sounding like a harsh bitch, but she had the feeling that it was the only way to get through to Helen and make her stop cutting herself up about something she wasn't responsible for. It was nothing more than a tragic set of circumstances that no one could have prevented from happening, no matter how much Helen believed the opposite to be true.
"But if I had been there I could have "
"No, before you say it, you couldn't have saved them. Do you know how quickly a petrol bomb spreads fire?" Nikki ran her hand through her hair in frustration. "Shit, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that."
"No, you shouldn't have!" Helen pulled away from the embrace that she had been enveloped in. "I know all too well how quickly a fire spreads, because I stood there helpless, watching the flames rage through my home while my two babies perished inside!" Helen's temper bubbled like a steaming-geyser, but sorrow soon took its place and she deflated back into Nikki's arms for a much needed embrace. Those two strong limbs encasing her offered her more comfort than she could have imagined, and since the night Nikki had first unselfishly held her after they had made love, she never wanted to held by another person.
"I couldn't do it I couldn't jump " Helen mumbled into Nikki's damp shoulder. "I wanted to, so badly, to be back with my babies; but every time I thought about dying I saw your face. I knew it wasn't my time, that I had a life I had to live. You proved to me that it wasn't the end, and you gave me something to live for." Nikki could sense a but coming and she wasn't wrong. "But all I need is a friend right now, Nikki I can't give you what you want not until I sort myself out; and I don't know how long that's going to take. It could be weeks, months maybe even years."
"Helen, I'll wait for however long it takes. Even if it means I'm old and grey and starting to lose my marbles
I want you Helen Stewart and I'm not going anywhere until I get you." Helen gently caressed Nikki's face as she spoke with such sincerity. "Let's take things slow
"Yeah, dead slow " Helen beamed, her mind free, for the first time in months, of the fears and grief that had been haunting her. "So, where do we go from here?" Nikki didn't need any more words to answer Helen's question, and instead used her lips in another form of communication.
"Girls, I'm so sorry to interrupt, but, Nikki, can I have a quick word?" Jimmy looked suitably embarrassed at disturbing what looked like a loving, yet passionate kiss between the pair.
"Sure, what is it?" Nikki stayed as close to Helen as she physically could as she waited on her boss overcoming his uncharacteristic shyness and continuing with his speech. The interruption had not been welcomed by anyone, but Nikki couldn't bring herself to be mad at the middle-aged man standing averting is gaze, with a scarlet blush on his cheeks; for her happy haze she found it adorable.
"Tam's just phoned in sick again, but this time he's telling me he doesn't know when he'll be back he's going on long term sickness."
"Ok, but what does that have to do with me?" Nikki asked apprehensively. She had a rough idea where he was going but didn't want to get her hopes up.
"Well, that's the thing I wondered, now that you don't have any commitments, if you fancied going long haul permanently? I'll understand if you say no, but I wanted to give you first refusal." Nikki didn't know what to say. It had been a dream for so long, but with Trisha and the baby to think about she was never able to consider it before now. But now she had Helen to think about too. How could she ever wish to start a relationship when she would be on the road 5 days a week. Unless
"Helen?" Nikki turned away from Jimmy, who was awaiting an answer and looked Helen in the eye. "Do you have anywhere to stay?" Helen furrowed her brows in confusion but answered nevertheless.
"No, I don't, not yet why?"
"Join me on the road? We can get to know each other better " Nikki spoke so enthusiastically that it pained Helen to say what she was about to.
"I'm sorry, Nikki, but I can't. I need to start a new life; here. Being cooped up in a truck for days at a time isn't going to help me sort my head out." Nikki's eyes suddenly lost their sparkle and her shoulders visibly slumped; a gesture that didn't go unnoticed by Helen. "But Nikki, don't refuse an opportunity like this because of me. I saw how excited you looked just now when you thought you were going to be doing the long hauls. You need to do it "
"No Helen, that's where you're wrong what I need is you." Nikki turned to her boss with a sudden assertiveness and no further thinking required. "The answer's no, Jimmy, but thank you. It's about time I sorted myself out too. I'm afraid it's the end of the road for me my driving days are over. I want time to concentrate on the things that matter; like my daughter, and Helen." Nikki turned her head and Helen could see the tiny glistening of tears in her eyes. Within seconds she had pulled Nikki into her arms and in a whisper that only they could hear, Helen uttered four little words that told Nikki she had made absolutely the right decision.
"I want you too " Helen drawled quietly before their lips resumed the passionate entanglement that said more than any other words could..
"Take all the time you need," Jimmy offered with a huge smile, but the words fell on deaf ears as he closed over the plastic partitioned door leaving the two women alone in their silent moment.
He was sad but not surprised that Nikki had made the choice she had, for it had been a long time coming in his own opinion. What was a great loss to him and his business was a massive gain to Nikki. She was a young girl with a world that was her oyster, and Helen Stewart was the pearl in the middle.
It may have been the end of one road but another beautiful one was just beginning.
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