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 II
By Piranha


"Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" – U2

Tough, you think you've got the stuff
You're telling me and anyone
You're hard enough

You don't have to put up a fight
You don't have to always be right
Let me take some of the punches
For you tonight

Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don't have to go it alone

And it's you when I look in the mirror
And it's you when I don't pick up the phone
Sometimes you can't make it on your own

We fight all the time
You and I...that's alright
We're the same soul
I don't need...I don't need to hear you say
That if we weren't so alike
You'd like me a whole lot more

Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don't have to go it alone

And it's you when I look in the mirror
And it's you when I don't pick up the phone
Sometimes you can't make it on your own

I know that we don't talk
I'm sick of it all
Can - you - hear - me - when - I -
Sing, you're the reason I sing
You're the reason why the opera is in me...

Where are we now?
I've still got to let you know
A house still doesn't make a home
Don't leave me here alone...

And it's you when I look in the mirror
And it's you that makes it hard to let go
Sometimes you can't make it on your own
Sometimes you can't make it
The best you can do is to fake it
Sometimes you can't make it on your own

Groaning loudly, pulling the covers even more snuggly around herself, Helen woke up for the second time that day, infinitely glad to have taken Nikki's advice of a little lie in. Stretching out with feline grace, she turned to her back and slowly, as if afraid to let go of the wonders of the night, she opened up her eyes. Looking over at the clock radio, her eyebrows furrowed; two o'clock already, that meant that she'd been napping for over five hours! God knows she needed the additional sleep though, the passion filled nights leaving her sleep deprived, they had three years worth of catching up to do after all. At least I'm not working yet, I'd look like the living dead, she mused, a contented smile curling around her lips as she remembered Nikki's whispered words of love last night.

Nikki had convinced her to take an extra couple of weeks off, stating that it had probably been a few years since she'd had a proper holiday. Not that they planned on going anywhere special, well at least not that she knew off, you never knew with Nikki, but it gave them more time to get to know each other. When Nikki whispered into her ear all the things they'd be able to do and then proceeded to put theory into practice, Helen had quickly caved in, agreeing job hunting was not immediately necessary.

They spent almost every minute of the day together – Claire had joked last week that they were practically joined at the hip – but Helen wouldn't have it any other way. She simply wanted to be with Nikki all of the time, she craved the physical proximity with an acute intensity that she had never experienced before. She felt literally lonely when Nikki nipped outside for a fag while with Sean she had been inwardly relieved every time he left, desperately craving a moment to herself. Though she understood Nikki's reluctance at moving in together right away, she knew the refusal was symbolic, Nikki needing a safe heaven in case things didn't work out between them or when she was in one of her solitary moods again. Though Nikki had never said anything, deep down Helen knew that Nikki didn't trust her completely yet, that she was still afraid she'd run away from their love like all those times before. She didn't try to convince Nikki otherwise, she knew Nikki just needed some time, that by being there for her Nikki would soon realise that there was no reason for the distrust.

In the meantime they simply went everywhere together, be it to the shops or to Chix for one of Nikki's shifts. Helen had hesitated for a moment when Nikki asked her to accompany her to Chix for her very first shift. Though it was true she liked spending every waking moment with Nikki, she didn't quite fancy twiddling her thumbs all night in a nightclub while Nikki worked. One look in those big brown eyes though, filled with hope, expectancy and just a tiny bit of fear, she had immediately said yes. Later that night, all snuggled up together in Nikki's small bed, Nikki had confessed her fear of going back to Chix. Although she had taken Trisha's advice of not letting the bastard win to heart and even agreed with it for the most part, Nikki found the prospect of returning to Chix too daunting to face alone. Nikki's anguish, worries and insecurities too much to bear, Helen had held her closer, vowing to herself to always accompany Nikki, a decision she hadn't regretted as it was a pleasure to watch Nikki work. She was marvelled by Nikki's ease around people, the gentle way she talked to them or the polite, but strict way she showed them the door when drunk or trouble.

Grabbing her robe from the nearby chair, Helen got out of bed and padded to the studio's tiny kitchen, surprised to find it empty and deserted. Then she spotted the tiny note on the kitchen table. Ripping the envelope open, she read it and just had to smile.

So sleepyhead, finally decided to get out of bed then? I swear my mattress has a lump moulded to your form already! As it's nice and sunny outside, I thought I'd try taming Alice's wilderness once more. Why don't you come downstairs? Alice promised us lunch for my trouble and you know what a mouth watering cook she is. See you at lunch

XXX, Nikki

P.S. Just so that you wouldn't doubt how much I love you, I've written you a little poem[1].

Is there truly a soul mate?
Someone on whom you can always depend?
Someone who brings sunshine into your life.
More than a lover and always a friend?
When they hear their voice and know that they're safe...
It is then when a smile lights up your face.
To know true love, you want to give of yourself.
Thoughts are of them and no one else
It matters not if the road to happiness is a bumpy ride.
As long as your soul mate is there by your side.
You can handle the storms for you see sunny weather.
Life is beautiful when you are together.
Borrow from tomorrow's sun if there are clouds today.
Pick flowers and savour them, as you pass along the way.
If you find your soul mate
and you love them so ... Never forget to let them know
Love with a fervour full of fire.
Let them know they are your hearts desire.
And if they give it all back to you.
Then you will know that they love you true.
Perhaps it was fate ... For you have found your
Always loving you...

Damn I missed lunch, Helen thought, I just hope they left me with some leftovers. Grabbing a quick shower, she pulled on her jeans and one of Nikki's shirt as she couldn't immediately locate her own before heading downstairs. "Hi Alice," she said, standing rather awkwardly in the kitchen doorway, embarrassed at sleeping so long. "Where's Nikki?"

"You just missed her love," Alice answered, not missing Helen's sudden crestfallen face. "She needed to go to the garden centre and then planned on popping in next door. She said she needed to discuss some things with Trisha. But don't just stand there, sit down, you must be famished."

"Erm yeah, just a bit," Helen confessed. "Sorry for sleeping right through lunch."

"Don't worry about it, you obviously needed the sleep. Nikki didn't give you much sleep last night," Alice answered, giving her a mischievous wink. Noticing the flabbergasted look on Helen's face, she added: "the bed squeaks."

"Oh God," Helen groaned, hiding her face behind her hands, making Alice laugh even harder.

"Don't be embarrassed," Alice finally said, wiping a laughter tear out of the corner of her eye. "I was young once too you know. Alfred and I … well, let's just say that I know how you feel right now." Putting a plate of food in front of Helen, she continued: "here, I saved you some before Nikki ate it all. God that girl can eat, I don't know where she puts it all, she's so thin. Anyway, tuck in. I'm actually glad that I caught you on your own. It gives us the chance to talk. There are some things I wanted to ask you about Nikki.

You know how she is sometimes, she wants to take the worries of the world on her shoulder, she doesn't like asking someone for help. I guess she's so used to doing things on her own that she has forgotten what it's like to share burdens. She doesn't realise that sometimes you can't make it on your own, that you have to confide in others to make it through. I want to know how she coped in prison, what she was like in there. I tried talking about it, but she either tells me a funny anecdote or completely changes the subject. She doesn't like talking about her time in prison. I know why she refused to see me in prison and I can understand her reasons, but … I guess I just want to be there for her and she refuses my help."

Putting her glass of water back down on the table, Helen thought about the question for a while and then said: "I guess that she doesn't like to be reminded of her time in prison or the person she was in there. I don't think she does that on purpose, it's just a part of her life that she can finally close off. Maybe she wants to protect you from the harsh reality of prison life? I don't know… but to answer your question… You know that prison has its own pecking order, right? You either have to fight your way to the top or become one of the leaders' slaves in order to survive.

Nikki didn't need to do that, she was a natural leader. Of course her killing a police officer had a lot to do with that, it triggered some kind of automatic fear or respect among the inmates, but mostly it was because of the person that Nikki is. She had a lot of power and influence over the other inmates. She didn't abuse that power however. On the contrary, she used it to help others. She had a volatile temper of course, in fact the very first time we laid eyes on each other was when we had a shouting match in front of the whole wing. Every time she got in a huff about something though, she always had a very good point. She always did it for the benefit of others, though she was the one to get punished time and time again. She's quite altruistic."

"How do you mean, she got punished?" Alice asked.

"Well, when Nikki and I had our shouting match, she was put down the block, which is solitary confinement," Helen explained. "Anyway, Nikki always followed her own set of rules, even in there and she wasn't afraid of letting anyone know what she thought about prison personnel or the rules that had to be obeyed. I mean, she started a protest over Femi, a fellow inmate. The fact that it led to a full blown riot wasn't really her fault, though I though it was at the time. She did everything in her power to help me too, even though she used rather unorthodox ways to go about it. She saved the life of a fellow inmate who tried to commit suicide without calling for a doctor or an officer, just because she knew if she did it that way it could possibly damage my career."

"It seems to me that Nikki was pretty much the same person whilst in prison: impulsive, caring, always sticking up for the underdog and rebelling against rules applied," Alice commented. "So … Nikki mentioned that you were engaged to be married when the two of you met. How did you end up falling for Nikki, if you don't mind me asking?"

"Oh well, after our shouting match on the landing, I realised what a powerful ally Nikki could be for me. She had single-handedly convinced an entire wing to follow her lead. At the time I was wing governor and I was getting it from all sides. My boss wasn't giving me the support I needed, probably because he had promised the job to a friend of his. Some officers resented me because I was uni fast track, I hadn't been in the trenches like them. I needed a strong ally to consolidate my position and somehow I convinced Nikki to give it a try. I don't mean I bribed her or anything, you know how Nikki would react to a thing like that, she's far too principled for that. Ni, I talked to her, really listened to her, kept the promises I made… The more I talked to her, the more intrigued I became. I began seeking her out more, I was no longer interested in what she could do for me, I was interested in the person she was.

Now I realise that I've probably fallen in love with her that first day, but I didn't know that back then. I became increasingly less interested in my fiancé though, it was like my whole life was focused on Nikki. Sean often complained that all I could talk about was Nikki. I didn't understand why she acted so hostile towards him when he gave a gardening course in prison …. Well, not really hostile I suppose, I mean she did save him from Dockley… Anyway, I asked her about it in the potting shed and when I still didn't get it, she grabbed my hand and put it to her heart…"

"Not exactly shy in coming forward is she, our Nikki?" Alice interrupted her, an amused smile on her face.

"No, I suppose not," Helen laughed. "Anyway I told her off of course, but I kept seeking her out, even started lying to my fiancé when she called me up one day. Then, when I had had a particularly rough day at work, I didn't go to Sean, the man I supposedly loved, for comfort. No, I went to see Nikki. She held me close, let me sob on her shoulder, encouraged me and then she kissed me. It was like I had never been kissed before, I mean fireworks went off behind my eyes, it felt like the whole world faded away, the only thing that was important was Nikki. Then it dawned on me what I was doing and I fled.

I lied to my fiancé again, said she had assaulted me or something, I suppose out of guilt of liking the kiss so much. I couldn't get Nikki out of my mind though, I realised that I didn't love Sean and broke off the engagement. I wasn't ready to admit my growing love for Nikki yet though. Only when I had her shipped out for something I later found out she didn't do, did I realise how much she meant to me. When she was back, I went to her cell and kissed her, finally admitting to myself how much I felt for her. Maintaining a relationship whilst in prison isn't easy, we had our ups and downs, even broke up for a while, but I never stopped loving her. I don't think I ever will."

"You won't," Alice stated adamantly. "What you two share is so unique, it's once in a life time love. I see Alfred and myself in you and you know, I know you'll make it. Thank you for sharing something so deeply personal with me, I know you didn't have to. Anyway, I guess it's only fair that I tell you something about Nikki too. Anything in particular you want to know?"

"Well, do you know anything about Nikki's parents?" Helen hesitantly asked. "Every time I try to talk to her about them, she just clams up or changes the subject. I don't understand, she's always so open and honest about the rest of her past, but her family is forbidden territory. I know she expects total honesty from me, that I can't hide my feelings and fears from her, but how can I open up completely, when she keeps such a bit part of herself hidden?"

Sighing deeply, Alice said: "sounds like Nikki. She's a very open and honest person, she has no qualms in telling most of her past or even her feelings, but sometimes she refuses to talk about some topics. I know she absolutely refuses to talk about her parents. I guess that even after twenty odd years, it still hurts too much. I wouldn't take it personally, I highly doubt Trisha knows the full story and they were together for nearly a decade. I'm sure she'll tell you soon, when she's emotionally ready to battle her haunting memories."

"But you know the full story?" Helen asked. "When Alice nodded, though not wholeheartedly, she pleaded: "can't you tell me Alice, please? I know you'd rather not betray Nikki's confidence, but I feel like I'm walking on eggshells every time I touch the topic of families. I mean, I'm not close to my dad, every family has its problems, but with Nikki I don't know what the problem is. I just don't know which topics are better left alone. I know she'll tell me when she's ready, but I just like to be prepared I suppose. I want to be there for her."

"Though it's not really my place to tell Nikki's story, I guess I can see your point," Alice admitted. "Never mention this to Nikki though, I don't want to lose her respect or her friendship, okay? I guess I'd better start by saying how I found out about it. The only reason I know about Nikki's parents is because I found her crying her eyes out one day. I adamantly refused to be pushed away or turned down. It took some convincing, but I eventually got the whole story out of her. Of course, plying her with Glenfiddich the whole evening helped loosen her tongue. That was the only time I ever saw Nikki drunk come to think of it.

Anyway, Nikki was born in a rather affluent middle class family; her father a high ranking naval officer, her mother every bit the rich socialite. Nikki has an older brother, but they were never close, the age gap too big I suppose. From what I understand Nikki had a very lonely childhood. Materialistically she had everything she could have ever wanted, but she was denied the only thing she craved: her parent's devotion and approval. Her father was hardly ever home and her mother was always far too busy with tea parties and her rich society friends. I'm sure they loved Nikki in their own way, but they never showed it. They never went to her school plays or her footie matches, they never gave her a goodnight kiss or read her a bedtime story. That's what you really want and need as a child, your parents' attention.

She was raised by a whole battery of nannies and then carted off to a posh, exclusive school as soon as she was old enough, as an intern pupil of course. She only came home during the holidays and hardly saw her parents even then, always sent to family members during the vacation. The only time her parents gave her and her brother any attention was when they could show them off, like when her brother was accepted to Oxford. Nikki reacted to her parents' indifference in her usual way, by rebelling. It was all pretty tame though: smoking pot behind the bleachers at school, going through a punk fase, writing scathing articles in the school newspaper,… Her way of trying to get her parents' attention, but to no avail.

When she realised that provoking them didn't work, she tried dazzling them with academic and sports' results. Long distance running was her forte, I guess it allowed her to think while trying to extend her limits. Her father was an avid sports fan, she thought she had it made when she began winning some important races, but still nothing. Not a congratulatory pat on the back, not a 'well done Nikki'…. All attention went to her brother, the first born, the son, the brilliant lawyer to be. Nikki simply gave up, she no longer tried her parents to acknowledge her existence, she started living her own life. She realised that she didn't share her parents' norms, beliefs and ideals. She found them to lead an empty life and started carving out her own path, following her own moral code.

When a new pupil came to school, Nikki was asked to show her around, be her mentor so to speak. It was love on first sight for both of them. After a while Deborah managed to convince the head to let her share a room with Nikki, it would benefit her academically if they were to share as Nikki already was her tutor on some courses. As Deborah was the daughter of a rather influential politician, the head soon caved in, thinking Deborah might be a good influence on the still rather rebellious Nikki. Little did he know that Deborah was even wilder and more adventurous than her. They got up to all kinds of scrapes apparently. Anyway, they were inseparable, soon rousing the suspicions of the teachers. One day they got careless and forgot to lock their room. They were caught red handed kissing by one of the teachers.

Both sets of parents were summoned to the school. As Deborah's parents were far more influential than Nikki's, she got off lightly with a reprimand. Nikki was the scapegoat, she was blamed for everything and kicked out of school. Her parents were livid. She finally got their undivided attention, but for all the wrong reasons. They dragged her back home, all the while shouting she was the black sheep of the family, unworthy of the Wade name. Couldn't she be more like her brother? They gave her an ultimatum: either adhere to their norm – either make them proud or be unseen – or leave the house immediately. Nikki realised that she could never live up to her parents' expectations nor did she want to. Deciding to keep honour to herself, she packed her bags and left that very night, with only a tiny sum of money in her pocket.

Hush money Nikki calls it: her parents knew she wouldn't bother them again, they had made it quite clear that if she left, she was never to return again, at the same time their conscience was appeased, they hadn't thrown her out penniless. From that day on Nikki was on her own, she didn't exist anymore as far as her parents and her brother were concerned. Most sixteen year olds wouldn't know what to do, but not our Nikki. She caught the first train to London, rented a tiny flat and started working as a waitress to make a living. She sat her exams in a different school as she thought it was important to have a degree. After that, she kept working hard, waiting tables at a restaurant during the day, being a bartender in a nightclub at night. It paid off, slowly she started raising on the corporate ladder, managing a bar by the time she was 21.

She was determined to prove to her parents that she didn't need their help or their money to make it, that she could do it on her own. In all that time, they never once contact her. Then one day she read in the newspaper that her parents were killed in a car crash, the obituary not even mentioning her name. She went home to confront her brother, to ask him why she hadn't been invited to the funeral, but he just laughed in her face. She didn't exist anymore he said. He'd inherit the lot as he had played the good, obedient son while she was nothing more than a raving dyke, needing to wait tables to make a living.

Though Nikki couldn't have cared less about the money, she didn't want to give her stuck up brother the satisfaction of beating her, of fiddling her out of what was rightfully hers and she contacted Alexis. Alexis was an ex lover of Nikki and even more hell bent on exacting revenge on the Wade family than Nikki was. They took it to court and Nikki won. She used that money to buy a penthouse flat, the one and only time her parents gave her a home, Nikki said.

So you can understand Nikki's reluctance to talk about her family. Her parents and her brother, she doesn't really consider them as her family. To her family is her grandmother and her aunts on her mother's side. She's still in contact with them. They always stood by her, even when her parents threw her out. She has fond memories of them, of the holidays she spent at her grandmother's. She took me to meet them once and it was the best holiday I ever had. They absolutely adore Nikki and couldn't care less about her sexual preference, not even her grandmother who's now about 85 I guess. To Nikki family is her grandmother and aunts in France."

"France?" Helen asked surprised.

"Yes, didn't I mention that?" Alice asked. "Nikki's mother was French, she met her father in Marseille. Nikki loves going back to France, she considers it her second home."

"I guess I understand Nikki better now," Helen replied thoughtfully after a while. "Her distaste of favouritism, her rebellion against the powers that be, her reluctance to talk about her parents,… I don't understand her parents though …. How could they do that to Nikki? Throw their own flesh and blood out on the street? I mean, my father and I are at odds most of the time, he doesn't agree with the life choices I've made but deep down I know he loves me, that he wants the best for me. He might not have been the best father, but he was always there when I needed him."

"Have you told him about you and Nikki yet?" Alice asked.

"No, not yet," Helen sighed. "I know I have to… it's not like I want to keep Nikki a big secret or hide the love we share, but… essentially I'm afraid. He's a deeply religious man, he's a minister up in Scotland. I don't want to lose him, he's the only family I've got left."

"Have you talked to Nikki about this?" Alice asked gently.

"Yes, I have," Helen answered. "She doesn't want to pressure me, she says I'll know when the time is right to tell him and that she'll be there for me all the way. I want to tell him, I want him to meet the love of my life, let him share in my happiness, but … I just need some more time."

"It'll be fine, you'll see," Alice said. "It may come as a shock to him at first, but he'll come round. Like you say, he loves you, he only wants the best. Soon he'll realise that for you the best is Nikki." Wrapping Helen in a comforting hug, she then asked: "how about some tea? I'm parched."

"Trisha, are you here?" Nikki called out, letting herself into the house with her key. Dropping her heavy bags on the floor, she tossed her keys on the little table in the hallway – old habits die hard after all – before walking staright through as Trisha bellowed "Yeah, I'm in the kitchen." Leaning against the doorframe, anamused grin on her face, she watched Trisha chop an onion in thin slices with a concentrated look on her face; her tongue sticking out as she tried not to cut off her own fingers. "That's something I haven't seen before," Nikki commented, not without humour, "you cooking."

"Yeah, well… after you got sent down, I had a choice: either learn how to cook or starve to death. You can only eat so many tv dinners," Trisha stated dryly, never looking up. "I think I've mastered the basic skills, I'm not quite up to throwing five course dinners just yet, but I make a mean omelette." When she finally looked up, she burst out laughing. "Look at the state of you," she said walking over. Wiping some mud off Nikki's cheek, she asked: "been digging around Alice's garden again, have you? No offence, but you look like you did ten rounds with a sturdy hedge and lost."

"So that's why people kept looking at me oddly," Nikki muttered, shaking some twigs out of her hair.

"Helen not with you today?" Trisha asked, slicing up a tomato before sliding it into a sizzling pan.

Grabbing a can of coke out of the fridge before settling down at the kitchen table, Nikki answered: "no, she's next door, probably still sleeping. Why?"

"No reason, it's just that the two of you are like Siamese twins usually, when you see one you see the other," Trisha explained. "So… to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"

The smile on Nikki's face making room for a worried frown, Nikki gravely said: I need to talk to you about some things. About that fatal night amongst other things. You said I could always come talk to you about it."

"Yes, I did," Trisha replied, "because only the two of us will ever really understand what happened that night. Do you mind if I eat first though? I don't think I can have that kind of conversation on an empty stomach. Besides you really need to take a shower first because seriously you stink!"

Sniffing herself Nikki could only agree, there was a definite pang of sweat noticeable. "Well I did work in the garden all morning," she muttered somewhat defensively. "Do you minf if …."

"No, go right ahead, you know where everything is," Trisha said, putting her pan on the table.

Her hair still wet from the shower, a new shirt and pair of jeans on, Nikki sat down on the couch, suddenly feeling quite apprehensively. "I know that I'm the one who wanted to talk, but suddenly I don't know where to start," she stammered nervously. "I guess I want to know if you blame me?"

"What?" Trisha blurted out totally flabbergasted. Never in a million years had she thought Nikki was walking around with this incredible amount of unfounded guilt.

"What I mean is…. Do you blame me for almost being raped?" Nikki explained, not daring to look Trisha in the eye. "If I hadn't walked Kimberley home that night, if I had stayed to lock up with you, none of this would have happened. You wouldn't have faced Gossard on your own. Do you blame me for killing him? I got sent down because of it, I left you on your own to cope with everything. I wasn't there for you when you needed me the most."

Seeing Nikki close to tears, Trisha immediately scooted closer and wrapped her up in a comforting hug, softly rubbing her back as Nikki couldn't hold back the tears anymore. As the tears began to dry, she whispered softly: "you can't live with 'what if's' Nikki, you know that. What if I had been the one to walk Kimberley home that night? Then you would have been the one to face Gossard on your own …. And don't give me that macho crap of you being stronger, that you could have handled him. Deep down you know that's not true, you had enough trouble as it was getting him off me." Taking Nikki's head between her hands, forcing her to look her into the eye, she very decisively said: "I've never once blamed you for what happened, you hear? Not once. On the contrary, I feel endebted to you… you really saved me that night. You saw what was happening and never hesitated about stepping in. You prevented Gossard from raping me and you saved my life, of that I'm sure. Gossard had a diabolical gleam in his eyes, he would have stopped at nothing. How could you think I'd blame you? You're my hero.

I blamed myself for a while though, I kept thinking I had done something to provoke him. Did I lead him on, had I flirted with him or had I perhaps worn something a little too revealing? Then I realised that it wasn't about me at all, it could have been any woman. Gossard was crazed that night, he needed the kick of power and domination, he needed to validate hos masculinity and it didn't really matter who his victim was. I don't know what triggered it… maybe he had a fight with his wife? Maybe his boss had yelled at him… who knows? All I know is that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was just a case of extreme bad luck. I don't blame you for any of it, I never have and I never will."

"But I wasn't there for you to cope with the aftermath, to help you through it. You had to deal with it on your own," Nikki whispered.

"That's not your fault, if anyone I blame myself for that," Trisha muttered reproachfully. "Maybe I could have gotten you a better lawyer, maybe I could have done more research or investigated a bit more during your trial …. Maybe if I had done that, you would never have been sent down in the first place. I let you down. You lost years of your life because of me and I'll never forgive myself for that."

"Hey, come here," Nikki said, wrapping an arm around Trisha. "that's not your fault. I didn't do myself any favours with that confession or not taking the stand and we didn't even know about Sally Ann Howe back then. I've never blamed you for being sent down, so get right out of your head. And you know, I'd go right back to prison if it meant preventing you getting raped. … So how did you cope with it all, emotionally I mean?"

"Oh, I went through what my counsellor later called the 'reconstitution faze'. At first I felt confused, scared, guilty and numb. I had trouble concentrating and making decisions. I hardly slept, I had nightmares all the time. … When I couldn't cope anymore, when I felt I was losing it, I went to see a counsellor. He helped me through it. I finally realised that I wasn't to blame, that Gossard was the only culprit.

I figured out that I couldn't give into my fears, that otherwise I was letting him win after all, meaning you were stuck in prison for nothing. I didn't go through it alone, all our friends rallied around to help me. They stayed with me when I was to scared to be alone, they listened to me ranting and raving about Gossard and the indifference of the English justice system, they offered me a shoulder to cry on when it all became too much. So don't worry, I wasn't alone," Trisha said.

"Do you still have nightmares?" Nikki asked.

"Yes, sometimes," Trisha admitted. "Not that often anymore though." As soon as I realised that it wasn't my fault, they lessened. What about you, do you still have nightmares?"

"Yes, I do," Nikki said evenly, not divulging anymore. After a moment she continued: "I know that you said that I should give it a couple of weeks, that I shouldn't give into my fears, but … I don't think I can deal with working at Chix anymore. Emotionally I'm just not up to it. I need to do something else or I'll go slowly mad…. Maybe you can buy me out or something?"

Deep down Trisha had always known that there was a possibility that Nikki would feel this way. Giving Nikki's hand a squeeze, she said: "I'm glad you told me. I never meant to cause you anguish when I said to give it a couple of weeks. I just didn't want you to make a rash decision based on a knee jerk reaction. You know how impulsive you are sometimes. Like I told you a couple of weeks ago, there are alternatives. You don't have to do something as drastic as selling me your half. To tell you the truth, I'm beginning to feel the strain of running a nightclub myself lately. I'm getting too old for this. Staying up all night, sleeping during the day, never able to do something normal like meeting up with friends…. It's not what I want out of life anymore. I suppose I want a normal life."

"So what are you suggesting?" Nikki asked. "We sell Chix to the highest bidder?"

"Are you insane?" Trisha exclaimed loudly. "Let go of a little goldmine like Chix? We'd be certifiable to even consider it. No, what I'm saying is, we hire a manager, someone to run Chix on a day to day basis. We pay him or her a handsome salary, maybe even a cut in the profits while we relax and take a back seat. All we do, is check the books regularly to make sure we're not being ripped off. We could retire and still live comfortably if we wanted. I don't know about you though, but I'm not quite ready to throw in the towel just yet. I don't want to manage a nightclub anymore, but I love having my own business, being surrounded by people, being my own boss."

When she saw Nikki nod in agreement, Trisha continued: "we simply take on another challenge. We open up another business, something with more normal hours. I know the perfect spot for it too. You know that old warehouse a couple of streets back? The one old man Henderson owned? Well, he retired last week and offered me first refusal. Just think about it, we could transform the downstairs in a little shopping gallery and convert the upstairs into loft apartments. That way we're sure that there's constant supervision and we'd be able to ask a huge rent. It's becoming a very trendy neighbourhood, everybody wants to live there. The fact that it's so popular already is a big plus for us too, you know. With all those bars and shops already located there, we'd be sure of customers. Just think about it Nikki, you could open up the bookshop you've always dreamt of. Helen still hasn't found a job, has she? You both love books, maybe you could run it together?"

What about you though?" Nikki asked. "What will you do? You hate books, you find them boring, don't tell me that has changed all of a sudden?"

"God no, I still hate books, I still don't understand why you like them so much," Trisha said, wrinkling her nose in distaste. "Give me the movie version any given day. No, like I said, we could open a little shopping gallery. There's enough room in there for four or five shops. I'm thinking about opening a little boutique, you know how much I love clothes. You know Tracy, our barkeeper? She's a fashion designer, well a last year student at London's fashion school. She's interested in going into business with me. She has given me exclusive rights on selling her collection. I think she'll be a huge success too, her clothes are just outside the box, quirky and interesting. The other spaces, we could just rent out, we'll have plenty of offers."

"I see you have it all worked out already," Nikki laughed. "I have to admit, it all sounds good. Can we afford to do it though?"

"Yes, we can, that's the beauty of it all, we can afford it with only a slight risk," Trisha said with a smile. "Wait here, I'll go get the books." Returning with a whole stack of books, papers, blue prints and printed documents, she continued: "I've made a lot of computer simulations, trying to take every factor into account. Financial projections so to say. I've even made best and worst case scenarios. Bottom line is that we can afford it, though it would mean I can't immediately buy your share of the house. As you can see here, Chix has made a lot of profit the last couple of years. Even if there's a dip in Chix' future profits, even if we take the manager's salary into account, we'd still receive a tidy sum each. With our profits and a big chunk out of our personal accounts, we can afford to buy the warehouse and doing the necessary renovations. As it's a very trendy area, we'll receive a huge rent for the lofts and the other shops. Even if the shops are slow to take off, we'd still have enough to get by. We can do this Nikki."

"I always knew I loved you for your brain," Nikki grinned.

"Look, don't decide now, think it over, talk to Helen about it, ask for her input. Don't take too long though, Henderson only gave me until Friday to decide," Trisha said.

"Don't worry, I'll go talk to Helen now," Nikki replied. "I really like your idea, I'd like to give it a try. I'll take all these documents with me, okay? I'll need to convince Helen that our new project won't run us into financial ruin. I'll let you know our answer, okay?" Before Trisha could even answer, Nikki was out the door, determined to convince Helen of the validity of their business plan.

Nikki's bubbling enthusiasm infectious, Helen found herself listening to Nikki's rather lengthy explanation about her new business adventure with great interest. Far more conservative where money was concerned, she didn't like taking financial risks, she wasn't that easily convinced though. "It all sounds wonderful in theory Nikki," she said, "but are you sure you can afford it? I mean, we're talking about a huge investment here, isn't it a bit risky?"

"There's always risk involved when you start up a new business, but the risk here isn't as life threatening as it was when Trish and I opened up Chix. In the beginning, there were a few months we weren't sure we'd still have a roof over our head, but it all worked out. Trisha made some financial models, taking all possible factors into account and even her worst case scenario where builders go hugely over budget, Chix' future profits plummet to unknown depths and we don't have any customers or renters for a couple of months, we're still break even in about 15 months.

I know it's a huge investment, it means investing the majority of Chix' profit of the past couple of years and it'll take a big bite out of our personal accounts, but it'll be worth it. The gallery is a sure hit: it's located in one of London's up and coming trendy neighbourhoods and with all the shops and restaurants already there, we're guaranteed to have customers. Even if business is slow to pick up, we'll still have Chix and the rent money to fall back on. It's not like money's going to be tight or anything, I'll just not be able to afford my share of a house right now as Trisha can't buy me out."

"I guess you're right, Trisha's financial models certainly look promising and you two seem to have the necessary capital," Helen acquiesced. "So are you going to do it then? Are you going to run a bookshop?"

"No, WE're going to run a bookshop," Nikki grinned. "I want you to run it with me, become my business partner."

"ME?" Helen shrieked. What do I know about running a business?"

"About as much as I did when I first started out I expect," Nikki stated. 'You don't have to worry about the business side of things, Trisha and I will take care of that. We have a whole army of accountants and lawyers on retainer for that. Besides, running a business is like running a household, only bigger: you just need to pay your bills on time, make sure you have enough merchandise in stock, place orders, check the inventory, go to the bank… All things you already do when you go to the supermarket. Making a shopping list is running a business on micro level. Besides a big part of being a governor was management, wasn't it?" You've got nothing to worry about."

"You make it all seem so simple," Helen sighed. "I'm sure there's a lot more to it than that. Okay, just for a minute, let's say that I go along with this, what would my job entail exactly?"

"Well, hiring and firing of staff, selling books, helping customers find books, talking to them because most are lonely and just come in for a chat, reading books to the children in the kiddies' corner, organising signing sessions with authors, go to major book conventions with me to buy books, meetings with publishers and last but not least, read a lot of books. Have you ever noticed how people never seem to remember neither the author nor the title of a book? They always end up telling huge chunks of the plot to the shop assistant in the hope they've read it. I find that most fascinating."

Though Nikki seemed to have an answer for her every question, Helen still wasn't totally convinced. She liked the idea of working alongside Nikki and working in a bookshop, but was rather hesitant of being equal partners. "How can I be your partner in the bookstore, I don't have the same amount of capital to invest?" she asked.

"Trisha didn't have any capital when we first opened Chix, that has never been a problem for me. I know I'm a little more affluent than you are, but that shouldn't stop you. We're partners, what's mine is yours. Look like it this way, if we were married, we'd be using a joint bank account, we'd be sharing everything: debts as well as profit. It'll be the same when we move in together. Besides, we'll have to share your flat for a while until I can afford my share of a house. If you still don't feel comfortable with me taking all the financial risks, I guess I could always hire you as an assistant, pay you a salary or something, though I find that a little farfetched. The payment would be symbolic only as it would go from the shop's account to our account, so I'd feel like I was paying myself."

"What if I find out that I don't like running a bookshop? What then?" Helen asked.

"I don't want you to do anything you don't want to. If you don't like running a bookshop, that's just fine. I'd hire an assistant or something to help me out while you find your dream job. All I'm asking is to give it a try," Nikki answered.

"What I liked about my job in Larkhall was that I was helping people, I was making a difference," Helen said.

"You'd still be helping people in a way," Nikki said. "But I know it's not really what you mean, it's not the same. I've been thinking a lot lately about making a difference, helping out. I know there are a lot of charities out there, but I'd like to do something for inmates. Not everyone is as lucky as I was, not everyone has someone like you taking an interest. I want to better their life, give them more chances once they're released. A lot of inmates are scared of leaving prisons as they don't have any security: they don't have a house to live in, no family to take care of them or a job to go to. I guess I'd better call Monica, maybe she'll know some organisations."

"I know that there are a couple of organisations that advocate prison reform. I guess we should both give them a call. I'm sure they'll delighted to have us on board, between the two of us, we know everything there is to know about prison. I guess working for an organisation like that, even if it is as a volunteer, would be enough for me," Helen said.

"So that means…?" Nikki trailed off.

"Yes, I'll give it a go, I'll go into business with you," Helen smiled.

"That's fantastic," Nikki said, picking Helen up and spinning her around. Giving her a sweet kiss before putting her down again, she grabbed Helen's hand and said: "come on, let's go tell Trisha our answer. I'm sure she'll have a bottle of champagne somewhere. This calls for a celebration."

[1] The poem isn't mine, I've found it on the net. It was written by somone called Angelkat50.

The End

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