DISCLAIMER: the characters don't belong to me, but to Shed. I'm just borrowing them for a while. After I'm done toying with them, I'll give them back in one piece, I promise *evil laugh* Please don't sue, all I have left in my wallet is a couple of Euro' s. Not worth the hassle.
SEQUEL: the story is going to be part of a series of one off sequels to Someone to Watch Over Me.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Haunting Memories XI
By Piranha


My funny Valentine – Chet Baker (amongst others)

My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Yet you're my favourite work of art

Is your figure less than greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

But don't change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is valentine's day

Is your figure less than greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

But don't you change one hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is valentine's day

As silence was replaced by soft piano and double bass, it was Nikki's turn to choose the CD's, Helen found herself softly humming along with the old jazz song in the background. She had always loved 'my funny Valentine', to her Chet Baker's deep and sombre, sometimes even monotonous voice made the lyrics more heartfelt. She wiped down a recently vacated table before carrying the dirty cups and saucers to the back room, stacking them into the dishwasher. The first pangs of hunger letting themselves be known, she took a quick bite of her sandwich, knowing it would be quite a while before she could eat. She sighed with delight, Fiona and Isabelle had whipped up a culinary delight again, the brie, watercress and tomatoes tasting heavenly. Finishing the sandwich in no time, pouting a bit after even devouring the crumbs, she ventured back into the bookstore.

She was just about to give a frazzled looking Nikki a hand behind the counter, a rather long queue had formed in her absence, when an elderly woman approached her. "Excuse me miss," the woman asked politely, "I wonder if you could help me find a book?" Before Helen could even answer that question, the woman, surprisingly strong for someone who looked at least eighty, pulled her by the sleeve and all but dragged a rather startled Helen to a deserted corner. Looking over her shoulder to see if anyone was eavesdropping, she leaned even closer before whispering: "I need a book about sex!"

When she noticed Helen's rather shocked look – she opened and closed her mouth a couple of times before squeaking out 'a book about sex' – the old woman had to chuckle. "Damn, I knew this was going to happen," she muttered good naturedly, "that's why I pulled you aside. Anyway dear, it's not for me, I've been married three times, I think it's safe to say that I have the mechanics down. Besides, the men in the old folk's home are nothing to write home about. I know I'm not the picture of beauty myself, my arms are starting to flab a bit and stiletto heels are out of the question since I broke my ankle last year, but let me tell you…. Geriatric Lotharios, dribbling all over the place because they forgot to put their false teeth in, hair coming out of nose and ears…. Well, that just doesn't do it for me."

The rather uninviting visual making Helen shudder, the woman continued undeterred: "now if it was that dishy young doc begging me for a full blown affair, I'd be all over him like a rash, but alas he bats for the wrong team. Real shame, I'm sure I could have taught him a thing or two, but I'm digressing. Like I said, it's not for me. The head nurse of my home is getting married next week. Lord knows where she found a fool brave enough for that endeavour, I mean she looks likes she's eternally sucking on a lemon, the shrivelled up old bat. Anyway, a bunch of us girls wanted to buy her some gag gifts, to embarrass her to death, you know? Valerie's over at that little boutique buying the raciest nightie she can find, Jean has a granddaughter working in one of Soho's sex shops, so the flavoured condoms are already taken care of and me… well you know what I'm after. So, do you think you can help me? The racier the better I say."

"Sure," Helen smiled, "follow me." Giving the old woman an arm, she led her over to the erotica section. "As you can see, we have quite a variety of books on that subject. 'The joys of tantric sex', 'Sex for dummies', a medical expose on the G-spot, the ever faithful Kamasutra, …. But I'm guessing you want shock value? Lots of explicit pictures?" When the old woman nodded, she bent down to take a book of the last shelve. "I think this is probably what you're after," she said, handing the book to the woman, who immediately flipped through it, an excited gleam in her eyes as she thought about the head nurse's shock. <I must remember to tell Valerie to film it all> she reminded herself.

The long queue finally dwindled down to one last customer, Nikki handed the rather burly man a shopping bag with a smile. As soon as he was out of earshot, she leaned back and closed the till with a satisfied sigh. Though she was supposed to be the experienced one, already having several years of business experience under her belt, she had found it quite hard to get used to owning a business again. The challenge of building something up from scratch, handling negotiations with difficult suppliers, staying friendly and polite with customers no matter how obnoxious they were being… it was all still there, but she had to dig deep for it. Helen on the other hand had taken to business like a duck to water, facing every challenge with boundless energy and optimism.

Tracy's mate, though an annoying git all through the opening ceremony – he'd had the nerve to hit on Nikki in Helen's presence, something he utterly regretted moments later as she gave him a tongue lashing he'd never forget – had kept up his end of the bargain, probably because he was scared to death of running into Helen again. Ever since his glowing article had been published in the local rag, they had been rushed off their feet. The book store was certainly off to a fantastic start, they could hardly keep up with demand. The downside of this phenomenal success was however that they both needed to pull long hours. Helen had even joked that she worked longer hours now than when she was a wing governor and that was really saying something as she was dubbed the residential workaholic then.

They didn't have any real regrets, they both found it quite fulfilling watching their 'baby' blossom, but at the same time the long hours were starting to take their toll. They had already needed to cancel a night out on the town with Claire twice, romantic dates were postponed at the very last minute and the scheduled seminar with Monica was ditched for a much needed weekend of rest. Luckily they still had William to help them out at the moment; he might put a huge dampener on their love life, but he proved invaluable as their unpaid cook, cleaner, gardener and general dogsbody. Besides….. what love life? After a day at the bookstore, they were always far too exhausted for anything more than a quick kiss and cuddle, even falling asleep in each other's arms on the couch last night before the nightly news had ended. They both knew that they couldn't go on like this for much longer, especially not now William was going back to Scotland for a couple of weeks to take care of the sale of his house and his retirement. As soon as they were back from their honeymoon, they'd start looking for an assistant.

Pathetically grateful for the momentary lull in the steady stream of customers, Nikki poured herself a cup of well earned coffee, all the while keeping an amused eye on the giggling girls in the kids' corner. As their mothers threw them a warning look, that even would have put Medusa to shame, never even interrupting their gossip session, Nikki settled down on the bar stool behind the counter, casually leaning against the wall as she eavesdropped on the surprisingly entertaining conversation. Never much interested in hearsay and idle chatter, she know found out she desperately wanted to know what the butcher's sister in law's cousin did when he caught his wife red handed, doing the horizontal tango with the butler…. and the maid at the same time, hardly able to contain a sarcastic snort when the woman had apparently claimed to have been a bit bored. Finding the story far more entertaining than your average episode of 'Days of our lives', she could hardly suppress a pout when the women gathered their children and left the bookstore. Now she'd never know whether the titbit of information she had heard about the butcher's sister in law's cousin yesterday, that he had been shagging his barely legal secretary for months, was true or just a vicious rumour spread by his embittered, now estranged wife.

Taking a quick sip of her coffee, her eyes sparkling with pure, unadulterated joy – the coffee was so damn good she intended to savour every single drop of the black nectar-, she looked up to search for Helen, thinking she hadn't seen or heard her in a while. Utter astonishment plainly visible on her face, especially when Helen and the woman erupted in raucous laughter, all kinds of scenarios ran through her head. Though she was gifted with a healthy imagination, she really couldn't imagine why Helen had guided the elderly woman to that particular part of the bookstore. Instead she stared at Helen, feeling the all familiar rush surge though her again. Titillated by Helen's easy grace and disarming smile, she fell in love with her a bit more every day. She hadn't thought it possible, she had always thought that her love for Helen, though all consuming, burning and passionate, was constant, but she was proven wrong every day. Their love simply grew stronger; tiny details mellowed her heart and dared her to hope again. The way Helen drank her coffee gulping it all down in one go only to pout when there's not a single drop left, the smile she sometimes graced Nikki with, one of those she seemed to save just for her, melting her on the spot, the way Helen's hand settled firmly on her hip when meeting someone, as though she were anchoring herself, finding courage and protection at Nikki's side.

I was odd, but nowadays Nikki divided her life in before and after Helen, a bit like the Christian worlds used the birth of Jesus Christ as a milestone. The simple fact of meeting and being with her soul mate had radically changed her outlook on life. Marriage for instance…. Before Helen she had never even given it a second thought, convinced that marriage was not an option for her, but now she found herself counting the days. Though she had loved Trisha dearly and probably always would, she had never even contemplated popping the question, always considering marriage an archaic, stifling institution, only designed to diminish and degrade women. She didn't need a piece of paper to know she loved someone, she didn't need a ball and chain.

She clearly remembered catching the wedding bouquet once in her late teens at one of nieces' weddings. The startled, flabbergasted look soon made room for embarrassment and anger. Her uncles' jeers, the stage whispers of 'look who's going to be next' soon proved too much and she had launched into a heated diatribe against marriage. Though that day she had fully believed what she had said, she was now mature enough to realise the real reason behind her vehement refusal. She wasn't so much spurred on by innate rebellion against societal norm, but rather by fear. She wasn't afraid of committing herself totally to someone, her fear ran deeper than that. She simply couldn't believe that someone would ever love her enough to share that with her.

It wasn't like she had that much experience with love after all, her parents hadn't wanted her, her first girlfriend had dumped her at the first sign of scandal… It was enough to make her doubt if the love she so desperately craved for, an all encompassing, raw, burning, passionate love truly existed. She wanted the love you always heard about in ancient tales, where brave heroes conquer vast armies to be with the love of their life, a selfless love strong enough to overcome all obstacles. As she grew older, she slowly began to lose faith in ever finding her true soul mate.

Helen had changed all that however, she made her dare to believe again. She didn't want to rush Helen, smother her or perhaps even scare her off, she was more than contented to take it slow, especially since some of her fears still lingered. Somehow she was still terrified. Though it showed in everything Helen said or did, Nikki still couldn't quite believe that Helen really loved her like that. Her quest for pure and true love had left her battered and disillusioned, unable to recognise the depth of Helen's feelings.

She'd been hurt so many times before that she hesitated opening herself up fully, afraid of going down in flames once again. Then Helen had proposed and the final wall around Nikki's heart had crumbled down, she finally realised that she had found the true love she had always dreamed about. No longer would she doubt the depth of Helen's love, no longer would she fear that Helen's feelings were fickle…. After the initial shock of the proposal had worn off, they'd had a long talk about their future. They both wanted a short engagement, Helen because she had always dreamt of a summer wedding and Nikki… well she simply couldn't wait to put the ring on Helen's finger.

Now they were getting married in three days' time. Just thinking about it sent jitters down Nikki's stomach. Helen had already bought her wedding dress, she and Claire had gone on a wild shopping spree a couple of weeks ago, only coming back home when it was already dark out, swaying dangerously as they held each other up, both giggling like mad. To Nikki's surprise, they had all sorts of bags with them, but the wedding dress was nowhere to be found. Helen had haughtily replied, as far as that's possible when drunk, that she'd taken the dress to Claire's for safekeeping, far away from Nikki's prying eyes. Not in the least bit annoyed, she found it quite amusing that Helen strongly believed in the old wife's tale, Nikki had retaliated by booking the honeymoon and absolutely refusing to divulge the destination, no matter how much Helen pleaded or begged.

She was so caught up in her own thoughts, she didn't notice a new customer walk into the store and let out a startled squeak when her name was called out. "Shit Monica, you scared me half to death," she admitted, clutching a hand over her rapidly beating heart. "Sorry about that, I was miles away, I hadn't even seen you come in. I guess I wasn't expecting you just yet. I'm afraid William is running a bit late, so we can't leave just yet. The shop gets far too busy in the afternoon for Helen to cope on her own. Why don't we have a coffee while we wait? I'm sure he won't be long."

"I'd love a coffee," Monica replied with a smile, "especially after the way you gushed about your Italian coffee machine. I'm dying to find out how divine nectar tastes like." Giving Nikki a playful wink, she took off her coat and settled down on the nearby couch, watching how Nikki expertly poured her an espresso. Inhaling the rich aroma as Nikki handed her the cup, she took a quick sip and said: "you weren't exaggerating, that's damn good coffee." Watching a bright smile appear in Nikki's face, she looked like a cute puppy dog who'd just been patted on the head, Monica waited until Nikki was settled down in the lounge chair opposite before asking: "so, how are the wedding preparations coming along?"

"Really well actually," Nikki replied, "I think we have everything under control. Tracy, Trisha and Claire have been an immense help, taking care of nearly everything: booking the caterers, hiring the waiters, ordering the wedding cake Helen and I chose. William has been invaluable; he met up with a seminar buddy of his and after he explained the situation to him, Richard was more than willing to perform the ceremony."

"It sounds like you have everything pretty much under control then," Monica said. 'The only thing we still need to do is find you the perfect wedding suit."

"Well… there is one other thing," Nikki said a bit embarrassed. "Helen and I decided to write our own vows, you know…. To make it more personal and though I normally have the gift of the gab, I mean I always know what to say… now I can't seem to put pen to paper. I don't know, it's like everything I come up with is so trivial, it doesn't reflect the way I really feel about Helen…. Do you think you could help me? I don't know… steer me in the right direction or something?"

Grinning at the pleading puppy dog look, Monica replied: "You know I can't write the vows for you, wedding vows are something deeply personal, but not to worry… I'm sure I can help you find the right inspiration."

"Thanks Monica, I knew I could count on you," Nikki beamed.

They talked about the halfway house and several other projects Monica was working on for a while, Helen stopping by a couple of times to offer an opinion or new ideas. Looking at her watch, Nikki was just about to give William a call when he came in through the back door. Waving to Helen who was busy helping a customer, he hurried over to where Nikki was sitting. Panting rather heavily, his face bright red with exertion, he said: "I'm so sorry I'm late, the weather being so sunny, I decided to come on bike and of course the chain broke right in the middle of the high street. As I didn't want my hands and my clothes to get all greasy, I had to carry to carry the bike all the way over here and can I just say that the darn thing weighs a ton. Anyway, sorry again."

"That's quite alright William," Nikki smiled, "it gave me the chance to catch up with Monica, a very good friend of mine. Monica, this is William, Helen's dad."

Automatically holding out his hand, William said " a pleasure to meet you", only to falter over the last word as he looked into Monica's eyes. The silence stretched on for seconds and only when Nikki cleared her throat, watching them both in obvious amusement, did they release each other's hand. "The pleasure's all mine, I'm sure," Monica mumbled rather hastily, not daring to look over at Nikki. As a rather awkward silence fell, Nikki realised that she was the fifth wheel, so she said: "well I guess we'd better get going then Monica, let me just say goodbye to Helen."

Amazed – Lonestar (though I prefer the Bonnie Tyler version)

Every time our eyes meet
This feeling inside me
Is almost more than I can take
Baby when you touch me
I can feel how much you love me
And it just blows me away
I've never been this close to anyone or anything
I can hear your thoughts
I can see your dreams

I don't know how you do what you do
I'm so in love with you
It just keeps getting better
I want to spend the rest of my life
With you by my side
Forever and ever
Every little thing that you do
Baby, I'm amazed by you

The smell of your skin
The taste of your kiss
The way you whisper in the dark
Your hair all around me
Baby you surround me
You touch every place in my heart
Oh, it feels like the first time, every time
I want to spend the whole night in your eyes

Every little thing that you do
I'm so in love with you
It just keeps getting better
I want to spend the rest of my life
With you by my side
Forever and ever
Every little thing that you do
Baby, I'm amazed by you

After a restless night of endless tossing and turning, the ear piercing wail of her alarm clock tore Nikki out of deep sleep. Turning over to her side, she grumbled in annoyance at being ripped out of a rather vivid dream. <Alarm clock>, her still befuddled mind said, pleased at having solved the day's first mental challenge. Only when the wailing continued, the volume increasing with each harsh, metallic beep, did she realise that she had to shut the damn thing up too. Blinking a couple of times, trying to focus on the bed stand, she lazily reached out an arm to give the alarm clock a good whack before stumbling out of bed with a tired groan. Her head was thumping, nerves were getting the better of her again and she had gotten so used to Helen's cuddling presence in bed that she now found she couldn't sleep properly without her.

Why in hell had she agreed to spend last night apart? <Because you love Helen>, that annoying little voice inside her head immediately said,<because upholding nuptial traditions means the world to her>. Rolling her eyes in annoyance, Nikki muttered to herself: "god, I'm getting sappy in old age." She had missed Helen's warm body spooning her, her gentle hand rubbing caressing circles on her stomach, the husky roughness of her voice early in the morning, sending shivers down her spine as she drawled 'good morning" into her ear. She had even missed the gentle snoring throughout the night, though it usually drove her up the wall.

Shaking her head at her own sappyness, she bent down to retrieve her slippers, who had mysteriously disappeared under the bed again, only to groan loudly as something popped in her back. <I'm definitely getting old>, she mused as she grabbed her robe from the nearby chair and stumbled her way over to the bathroom across the hall, yawning widely in the process. Fumbling with the light switch, not immediately finding it in her semi bedraggled state, she had to blink when the harsh lights came on. She splashed her face with ice cold water before casting a critical look at herself in the mirror and sighing wearily in consequence. Trisha would have a hell of a job on her hands getting her presentable on time: hair sticking out in all directions, bags under her eyes the size of Louis Vuitton's latest luxurious travelling set and to top it all off, she had a huge stress zit on her nose.

Wrinkling her nose in distaste, she realised that there as nothing she could do about it now anyway and quickly started brushing her teeth. She wondered for a moment if she should already get dressed, but as Trisha wouldn't get there for another two hours, she decided that the old boxers and the tiny T-shirt, shrunk in the wash and now barely covering her midriff, would have to do. No sense in defying Murphy more than necessary. Padding down the stairs to the kitchen, she made herself comfortable at the kitchen table with coffee, scrambled eggs and toast and of course the newspaper. She was just reading about a new retrospective opening at a nearby gallery, coffee and toast in hand, when the phone rang.

Scrambling to get up, she didn't want the incessant ringing to wake up the still sleeping William, she quickly set her mug of coffee down on the table, completely missing the saucer, while her piece of toast flopped onto the floor, buttered side down of course. Trying to put the mug on the saucer with her left hand while her right reached out to grab the phone, swaying dangerously in her seat, she succeeded in knocking her mug over, sending boiling hot coffee all over the kitchen table…. and herself. Dripping wet, fanning the soggy boxers away from her lightly scalded thighs, she decided to deal with the breakfast mess later and picked up the phone. "lo?", she said gruffly, onehandedly trying to wriggle out of her boxers before fastening her robe around her tightly.

"Hi babe," came the chirpy reply, before Helen's voice deepened adding: so…. What are you wearing?"

"Helen? What are you doing up so early?" Nikki asked, totally ignoring the second part of Helen's question.

"Well, I have a very busy morning ahead of me," Helen said with an amused tint to her voice. "Manicure, pedicure, hairdresser, make up…. This was the only time I could call and I really needed to hear your voice… I've missed you; last night was the first night we ever spent apart."

Cradling the horn close, Nikki whispered emotionally: "I missed you too, so much…." Gathering herself, she added teasingly: "I couldn't sleep without you snoring like a freight train beside me."

"Oi, watch it Wade," Helen said with mock annoyance, "or I'll…."

"Or you'll what?" Nikki laughed when Helen fell silent, unable to come up with an appropriate punishment. "Anyway, how was your hen night? Any embarrassing stories Claire can blackmail you with?"

"It was great. All my mates were there and Claire had invited some girls from uni I hadn't seen in ages. We laughed a lot and drank even more, remembering all the crazy stunts we used to get up to. Then Jill insisted we'd perform an old pagan marriage ritual, which was really weird, but I giggled all the way through and then of course came the opening of the presents. You wouldn't believe the things they gave me, I was embarrassed as hell!"

Intrigued Nikki replied: "do tell."

"Well…. Let's just say they'll make our honeymoon more interesting," Helen said teasingly. "Anyway, what about you? What did you get up to? I guess with Monica and dad being there you couldn't get up to any mischief, huh?"

"Ah, so that's why you insisted that they'd join my hen party, huh? You wanted someone to keep an eye on me?," Nikki asked with obvious humour.

"Of course," Helen smirked, "After the stories Trisha told me about your drunken exploits, I decided that someone needed to keep you in check. I thought dad's presence would keep you on the straight and narrow. Besides… I could hardly have my dad at my own hen night, could I? Not if things got raunchy… which they usually did at uni. His image of me as a little angel would be shattered. Anyway, I guess it was pretty tame, huh?"

"That's what you think," Nikki smirked, laughing as she recalled the previous night's events. "It may have started out that way, we're were all a bit cagey about Monica and your dad being there, we didn't want to shock the hell out of them, you know… but then Monica suggested we'd do a tequila version of 'truth and dare' and let me tell you, I look at Monica with totally different eyes now… what that woman can do with a feather boa! And then there was the stripper your dad booked me."

"My dad booked you a stripper?!?" Helen shrieked, causing Nikki to hold the horn a bit further away.

"Yes, he did," Nikki said, unable to wipe the smug smile of her face. "You can relax though, there was some mix up at the agency. They sent us this hunky cowboy, but it was still great fun, especially when Monica and Isabelle started stuffing money down his G-string. They were a bit drunk at the time of course."

"I can't believe that my dad booked you a stripper," Helen said, a bit miffed that her plan had backfired.

"Yeah, I also thought it was a bit out of character for him, being a minister and all, but he said it's all part of contemporary marriage tradition."

"Well yeah… I suppose, but still….," Helen said before falling silent. "Anyway, I'd better go. Either Claire wants to play of charades or she's trying to tell me to get a wiggle on. I have a hairdresser's appointment in half an hour and I'm not even dressed yet. So …. Erm I guess I'll see you this afternoon? Love you."

"You can count on it and I love you too, more than words could ever say."

As they had only recently bought a house and a shopping gallery, Nikki and Helen didn't really have the money to hold the ceremony at a posh, lavish hotel. Budgetary reasons aside, they weren't so keen on a big, commercial wedding anyway, they'd rather have a small, intimate gathering of family and friends, people who really knew what they meant to each other. Their garden, even combined with Trisha's, too small for their guests (Nikki's whole French connection was making the trip across the pond), Nikki and Helen had in the end decided to hold the wedding on the courtyard behind the shopping gallery.

Though at first perhaps an odd choice – Trisha had needed some convincing as they still had Chix after all – they found the venue strangely fitting, symbolising the new, exciting direction their lives' path had taken. To them it proved that love can be found in the strangest place, the barred fence reminding them of their time at Larkhall.

Once convinced, Trisha and Claire had worked round the clock, performing small miracles with the tiny budget Helen and Nikki had set aside, their energy and inspiration endless. Calling in every favour they were owed, cajoling, begging and sometimes even menacing suppliers, even shamelessly putting friends and family at work, they had magically transformed a concrete wasteland into a paradise of peace, love and tranquillity. With William and Nikki's nimble green fingers giving it that final touch, they now had their very own Garden of Eden in the middle of a busy, bustling city. The weather was perfect too; a warm, cloudless August afternoon, the sun showered the courtyard with its golden rays.

As two o'clock neared, the guests started trickling in, Tracy and Michael, one of Nikki's old pals, both wearing white tuxedos for the occasion, ushering them to their seats. As the catering staff put the final hand on the buffet, little children chased after each other with excited squeals of delight, their parents reprimanding them not to get their Sunday clothes dirty. A little jazz band played soft romantic music while the guests chatted animatedly amongst each other. Nikki didn't have eyes for all that however. As white as her Armani suit, she was having her umpteenth breakdown of the day, pacing the floor and nervously biting her lip.

When she turned to ask Trisha for the millionth time if she was sure she had the rings, Trisha cut her off with a piercing glare. With a friendly smile to the guests on the first row, who were watching the exchange with an amused smile as they knew Nikki well enough to recognise a full blown panic attack, Trisha grabbed Nikki by the arm and dragged her a bit further away. Her determined look even scaring the minister (he quickly scurried away to check something), Trisha forced Nikki to look her in the eye before whispering, quite adamantly: "for heaven's sake Niiki, calm down. Smile! This is supposed to be the happiest day of your life. Anyone would think you're about to receive a life's sentence, not marry your soul mate!"

"Prison and marriage, an aptly chosen comparison" Nikki muttered contritely, "both include loss of freedom and useless eternal suffering." Not even noticing Trisha's frustrated rolling of eyes, Nikki suddenly grabbed her by the shoulders. Her shaky voice betraying her frazzled nerves, she said: "what if Helen has changed her mind? What if she doesn't want to marry me after all? What will I do then? Wha…"

Detangling herself from Nikki's vice like grip, Trisha placed a calming hand on Nikki's cheek and gently said: "you have the incredible luck of parrying your soul mate Nikki, don't let nerves ruin your big day. Helen loves you, she wants you to share her life, have lots of cute, belligerent babies, grow old together, ……Besides, Helen was the one to marry her in the first place, remember?" When Nikki nodded, a watery smile appearing, Trisha continued: "that's more like it. Now …. We're going to take out places again and you're going to stop asking me all these silly questions, understand?"

"I'm sorry," Nikki replied sheepishly, "it's just nerves, you know?"

Putting the final touches to Helen's hair, Claire said: "you look beautiful Helen, Nikki won't know what hit her." Giving Helen a warm hug, careful not to mess up her hair or make up, she added: "before I forget…. I have something for you. I know how much you love marriage traditions, so I brought you something my grandmother gave me…. The garter she used at her wedding…. Now the old and borrowed is taken care off."

"Thank you," Helen replied emotionally, slowly inching the garter up her leg. "Thank you for everything, I could never have done this without you. You really are the best friend I could ask for."

"Oh stop, before we both ruin our make up. It really was my pleasure," Claire said, wiping a stray tear away. "Anyway, are you ready? Your dad's waiting for you." As if on cure, William stuck his head through the door. "You look beautiful Helen," he whispered, "your mother would have been so proud."

"Really?" she asked.

"Really," he repeated, giving Helen a small kiss on her forehead. "Anyway, before she died she asked me to give you something on your wedding day." Getting a box out of his pocket, he continued: "this necklace has been in your mother's family for generations, given from mother to daughter. You already have the old and borrowed, now you have the blue." Opening the box, he took out a delicate necklace with tiny blue sapphires.

After her dad had helped put the necklace on, Helen hugged him, saying: "thanks dad, you don't know how much this means to me." After a short pause, she continued: "I guess I'm all set then. Let's get this show on the road, knowing Nikki, she's about to fall apart with nerves."

"Wait," Claire exclaimed, "what are you going to use for your 'new'?"

"This dress of course," Helen replied, rolling her eyes. "Come on Walker, let's go…. I want to get married."

When Mendelssohn's 'wedding march' began to play, Nikki straightened up, her nerves suddenly gone. Little flower girls ere throwing rose petals down the aisle, but Nikki had only eye for Helen walking down the aisle towards her on her father's arm, smiling brightly, her eyes shining radiantly. As they neared her, she watched William giving Helen a final kiss on the cheek before whispering to Nikki "take good care of her for me".

"I promise," Nikki said before taking Helen's hand into her own and facing the priest.

"Dearly beloved," he said, "we're gathered on this glorious summer day to join Helen and Nikki in Holy Matrimony. Marriage is an honourable estate, signifying unto us the mystical union between two people. A convenant is an ancient form of promise, a public declaration of commitment that binds people in an enduring relationship. Today we're gathered to witness and to bless the public commitment of Nikki and Helen to such a convenant."

Turning to face Helen, Nikki said: "Helen…. There have been times when I thought I couldn't possibly deserve a woman as fine as you. I wished for the trials of a knight so I could slay a dragon to win you or fight an army alone to prove my love for you? There are no dragons and only a fool fights an army alone. Even so, I hope I have proven my deepest love and complete commitment to you. I love you not just for who you are, but for who I am when I 'm with you. I love you, not for what you've done with your life, but for what you're doing to mine. I love you for making me good, happy and whole. Because that's what you do, without a word, without a gesture, without a doubt… just by being yourself. Such a simple thing, but no 'one else in the world could do it…. Only you." Slowly sliding the ring on Helen's finger, Nikki then gave Helen a soft kiss on the hand.

Looking Nikki straight in the eye, Helen said: "Nikki, I thought I knew everything about love, but you've proved me wrong. From the moment I met you, you totally blew me away. You took my hand and taught me not to be afraid of my feelings. With one kiss, you showed me what tenderness could be. Your love became a part of me Nikki and I promise to spend the rest of my years cherishing our love. I can not promise not to be erratic, to always be strong, to be faultless, to never be moody, to always be the same, but …. I can promise to share my thoughts with you, to be supportive, to be honest with you, to understand you…. I can promise to love you with all my heart for the rest of our lives."

After Helen had placed the ring on Nikki's finger, the priest cleared his throat before saying: "may the Lord in his Goodness strengthen your consent and full you both with his blessings. What God has joined together, no man put asunder." Seeing the eager look on both Helen and Nikki's face, he deliberately stalled for a couple of seconds before adding "You may now kiss your bride", which they promptly did.

The End

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