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 V
By Piranha


This is not goodbye – Melissa Etheridge.

Bravely you let go of my hand
I can't speak yet you understand
Where I go now I go alone
This path I walk these days of stone

And the angels are calling

I must go away
Wait for me here
Silently stay
And don't ask me why
Only believe
This is not goodbye

All of my strength, all my desire
Still cannot melt this breath of fire
I go to meet some kind of test
Bury the truth that scars my chest
And the angels are calling and calling


I gathered all my courage
I shaved off all my fear
With this banner on my shoulder
I hold your essence near

And the angels are calling and calling and calling

The half closed curtains bathed the room in a soft golden glow as the sun slowly rose, Nikki stirred, a soft breeze drifting in from outside making her shiver lightly. Blinking a couple of times to chase away the last remnants of sleep, she opened her eyes slowly only to shut them again as the morning light increased the throbbing in her head. Groaning softly, she slowly pried her eyes open again and tried to roll over, only to notice she was being held in a strong embrace. Only now hearing Helen's strong heartbeat near her ear, she looked down to see an arm draped over her, a hand protectively curled against her stomach. Helen holding her, protecting her even as she slept, made Nikki feel alive again, a hot surge of love rushing through her, warming even the cold recesses of her broken heart. She wasn't a needy woman, but she needed this right now. She needed to feel the warmth of Helen holding her, cradling her in her arms.

Careful not to wake Helen up, Nikki snuggled even closer. She knew that Helen needed her sleep, especially after what they both had been through the last couple of days. Nikki was content just to watch her sleep, the steady rise and fall of Helen's breathing easing away some of the demons that still plagued her. The harsh light of day would bring them back soon enough and Nikki had to close her eyes against that thought. Determined to enjoy the moment, she banished reality and responsibility to the back of her mind. As she tenderly brushed away some stray hairs, Helen mumbled something incomprehensible and hugged her even tighter, without words letting Nikki know that at least this time she wouldn't have to go through all the heartache and pain alone. This time she had someone fighting her corner, a shoulder to lean on and to Nikki that made all the difference in the world. At least this time she had someone to guide her through that dark, scary tunnel and deep down Nikki realised that, although the struggle would be hard, there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Helen's strength, determination and passion had fuelled her imagination in Larkhall, had made her dare to hope again, to dream of a future. But this woman cradling her, the real Helen, not the imaginary Helen she used to dream about during those cold, lonely nights, was so much more. Remembering Alexander Pushkin's poem 'Wondrous Moment' she softly, reverently recited: "The wondrous moment of our meeting . . .I well remember you appear before me like a vision fleeting, a beauty's angel pure and clear. In hopeless ennui surrounding. The worldly bustle, to my ear, for long your tender voice kept sounding, for long in dreams came features dear. Time passed. Unruly storms confounded old dreams, and I from year to year forgot how tender you had sounded, your heavenly features once so dear. My backwoods days dragged slow and quiet —dull fence around, dark vault above — devoid of God and uninspired, devoid of tears, of fire, of love. Sleep from my soul began retreating and here you once again appear before me like a vision fleeting, a beauty's angel pure and clear. In ecstasy the heart is beating, old joys for it anew revive; inspired and God-filled, it is greeting the fire, and tears, and love alive."

Smiling at the truth of the Russian's statement, she snuggled closer still, needing to feel all of Helen. Closing her eyes, her senses full of Helen, she began thinking about Helen, about Alice, about life, …. So deep in thought, she didn't feel Helen stir and startled slightly when she heard a sleepy voice say "morning sweetheart". Sleepy green eyes looking down at her, a smile forming on Helen's lips, Nikki's heart began to beat faster. Helen's lips were so near, beckoning her and she wanted, no she needed to kiss them so desperately, needing to feel some warmth. Reaching up, she pressed down the wrong way, making Helen wince slightly. "Sorry," she mumbled throatily before kissing her lips, pouring all her love and gratitude in the kiss, wanting to convey the depth of her emotions. Slowly manoeuvring down again, she wrapped the blanket around them, effectively wrapping them up in a warm cocoon the real harsh world couldn't penetrate, at least not for now. Her hand caressing Nikki's back in a soothing fashion, Helen asked: "how are you feeling?"

Thinking about the question for a second, Nikki replied: "I'm okay I guess, I'm better than yesterday, at least I don't feel so numb anymore. I miss Alice, but I guess that's only natural. But then again, maybe I miss the idea of Alice and that makes me feel so guilty. I mean, it's so selfish of me, isn't it? Wanting her back just because I still need her and will always need her, not even considering her own needs. Maybe she's happier where she is now? I want her to be happy…. But then the uncertainty of an afterlife starts nagging at me. I don't know, I have all these strange ideas floating round my head. I'm stuck on the meaning of life at the moment. What's the meaning of life? Does it have a meaning? If it does, does it have a pre-assigned meaning or do we give it meaning ourselves? I mean, we do so many things for the sake of something else, we work to pay for a house, food and a car, most of our day to day activity is a means to an end…. If at least not one thing is done for its own sake, then what's the point? At some point life must be valuable in itself…. What do you think?"

Deep philosophical discussions at the crack of dawn not really her forte, Helen had to think about that for a while. What was indeed the meaning of life? After a while she answered: "I guess there can be no final answer to the question of life's meaning as it differs from person to person. There are many things that make life worth holding on to, you can savour a child's smile, your team making the winning goal in the last minute can make you ecstatic, a beautiful jazz song can move you to tears, … We think happiness, success and love makes our life worthwhile and maybe that's true… Sometimes we simply forget to enjoy these things, we're just too frustrated by other events to really appreciate how beautiful life can be. We can think about what it means for life to have value, but when we actually get on with living, the meaning and value become somewhat elusive. What I'm trying to say is that there are reasons to live and those can be found in life itself."

So you don't believe in heaven then?" Nikki curiously asked. "We carve out our own heaven here on earth, simply by enjoying the beauty of life?"

Shaking her head, Helen answered: "no, I do believe in heaven. I know it might sound somewhat contradictory, but … How do I explain this? …. I believe that, although you might not feel this all of the time, life is worthwhile because we're living it. We make it worthwhile with everything we say, everything we do, but …. It's not because I believe life has meaning and value that I don't believe in heaven. I don't imagine heaven to be way up in the clouds with chubby little cherubs frolicking around on soft, cottony clouds or playing harps, no …. I understand that such an image is a religious representation of heaven. I don't expect to walk up to Pearly Gate after I'm dead to be greeted by Saint Peter, I don't expect to be judged or to meet God. To me heaven is a place of complete delight, peace and bliss where kindred spirits meet again. I'm convinced you and I will be together through eternity. Even if one of us dies, we'll meet again because we share the same soul. I know I'll see my mother again…. What about you? Do you believe in heaven?"

"Yes and no," came Nikki's immediate reply. "I know that may sound confusing, but …. I'm an atheist, I don't believe in God. A great deal of violence, including war, has been brought about by religious beliefs and practices, both sides proclaiming they were acting according to the Will of God. I can't believe God, Yahweh, Allah, or maybe even Zeus would want such atrocities to take place in his name. Besides, I truly believe what Marx said, religion is the opium for the masses, it's used by oppressors to make people feel good about the distress they're feeling. It's some sort of an explanation and people always want to know the reason why they're so bad off, why they have to live in poverty, ….

So rationally, no I don't believe in heaven or hell, they're both just concepts to keep mankind in check. To make them refrain from being bad so they don't go to hell or to pacify them during life with the promise of eternal bliss after death. Rationally I don't believe in an afterlife, frolicking around on white clouds and all that… when you die, well I guess that's it. Emotionally however, I want and I need there to be an afterlife. I want to meet all the people again I loved and lost. I guess it's some sort of emotional crutch for me; I need the idea of meeting Alice again to keep me going. Otherwise what would have been the point of meeting her in the first place? Emotionally I agree with you, heaven is a place where souls meet again. I don't mean we'll still have the same body or look the same, no I believe that our essence will meet. I'll be with you again, I'll meet Alice again ….." Giving Helen a wan smile, she then asked: "do you still miss your mother?"

"Yes, I do, every single day," Helen replied. "I think I'll miss my mother for the rest of my life, every day there is a moment where I go 'she would have loved this' or 'I wish she could see me now'. But that doesn't mean I'm living in the past, she's just a part of me I guess. I don't really quite know how to explain…. I read this poem once, I don't know who it was by, but it reflects so beautifully how I feel about her, how I live with her loss: 'You can shed tears that she is gone or you can smile because she has lived. You can close your eyes and pray that she'll come back or you can open your eyes and see all she's left. Your heart can be empty because you can't see her or you can be full of the love you shared. You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday. You can remember her and only that she's gone or you can cherish her memory and let it live on. You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back or you can do what she'd want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.' It took me a long while to realise but my mother wouldn't have wanted me to live in the past, she would have wanted me to look at the future. She'll always be a part of me, a part of my soul and I think of her often, but I don't let her memory determine my life."

"You're right, I shouldn't mourn Alice's death, I should celebrate her life, let her memory live on," Nikki said thoughtfully, feeling slightly better. They both fell silent for a while, Helen thinking about her mother while Nikki thought of Alice. It wasn't an awkward silence though, the presence of the other was enough to chase away the pain that the memories might invoke. When Helen's stomach grumbled loudly, Nikki laughed and said: "I guess someone needs feeding. Why don't you take a shower while I rustle up some breakfast? I just need a couple of minutes." When Helen nodded, Nikki gave her a small kiss before breaking out of their embrace, gently detangling their entwined limbs. Grabbing a robe from a nearby chair, she darted out of the bedroom.

Stretching out with feline grace, Helen settled back under the blankets for another couple of minutes, not really ready to leave the safe haven of her bed just yet. Out there the harsh reality of the big, bad world awaited her and she needed just another couple of minutes more to steel herself for that. Her thoughts wandered to what the day would bring. She had promised Trisha they'd go over later to help her with the funeral arrangements, a subject she still had to broach with Nikki. Yesterday hadn't really been the time, but she knew she couldn't put it off forever, the ostrich approach had never helped anyone.

Alice … Nikki was right, although Helen hadn't known her that long, she couldn't really envision a life without her. Alice had always made her feel so welcome when she spent the night at Nikki's. Oh God, that was another thing they hadn't thought of, where would Nikki be living from now on? With Alice gone, wouldn't the lawyers seal the house until the inheritance was settled, effectively kicking Nikki out of her studio? She knew Nikki probably wouldn't have gone back anyway, but now even the option of going back was taken away from her. Would it be too soon to ask Nikki to move in with her again?

She knew she shouldn't force Nikki to make life altering decisions right now, her dad had told her as much as well, but maybe she could propose it as a temporary solution? Maybe just until Nikki found a place of her own or they both had gotten used to living together? Helen knew Nikki's decline the first time she had asked had been the right thing to do, but they were dealt a totally different hand of cards now. Who knows, maybe Nikki trusted her enough by now to take the big step and make it a permanent arrangement? Knowing there was only one way to find out, she jumped out of bed and went into the bathroom to get ready.

The divine aromas drifting out from the kitchen making her mouth water, Helen quickly buttoned up her jeans. Not even bothering with slippers, she padded barefoot to the kitchen, sinking down on her chair just as Nikki put a full plate in front of her. Waiting on Nikki to sit down too before tucking in, wolfing down her breakfast wouldn't really make the good impression she needed before popping the big question, she poured them both a cup of coffee. Looking around for the milk, she was just about to ask when Nikki put the carton in front of her and said: "well, don't let it get cold." The radio a soft background murmur, Nikki buttered a piece of toast before saying: "I guess we'd better head over to Trisha's later, help her out with the funeral arrangements, think about which coffin and what type of flowers we'll choose…. You don't mind, do you?"

Immensely relieved that she didn't have to broach the subject herself, Helen smiled and replied: "no, not at all. I already kind of promised we'd go over later." Taking a big breath, thinking it was now or never, she continued: "Nikki …. With Alice passing away, her house will most likely be sealed off by the lawyers. Why don't you move in with me?" Seeing the pensive look on Nikki's face, Helen realised that she shouldn't have been so straightforward, that she could have worded that better. Nervously she began to ramble: "I know that you said that we should wait for a while longer before moving in together, that we shouldn't dive in head first. Moving in together should be a promise, a commitment to each other and I'm all for that, but …. We wouldn't have to make this a permanent thing, you know….

It could just be temporary until you found a place of your own, unless you want to move in with me of course. Making this a permanent thing I mean …. You know how much I love you; you mean the world to me. I'd love to live with you. What happened with Alice made me realise how fragile life really is, I don't want to miss a single thing, I want to spend every second with you. I don't want to force you into something you're not ready for however, so I'd understand if you'd say that it's only a temporary thing it's just that …."

Finding Helen totally adorable when flustered, Nikki watched her ramble on with a big smile on her face. Putting a hand over Helen's, she said: "yesterday when I was taking my walk in the park, I thought about a lot of things. Life, love, what Alice meant to me, what you mean to me…. I came to the conclusion that life is indeed fragile, that we need to grab happiness when and while we can. Like Elizabeth Kubler Ross said: <It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth -- and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.> I thought about us moving in together while I was walking around in the park, but … I don't know…. I guess it just thought it would sound so weird, me asking you if I could move in with you…. I mean, it's usually done the other way around. Anyway, what I want to say is….. if you'll have me, then I'd be happy to move in with you. I think we're both ready to take that next step."

Helen couldn't say anything, the emotions coursing through her too overwhelming, she just smiled and sprang up, the chair falling to the ground and her breakfast forgotten about. Stopping right in front of Nikki, getting lost in her inquisitive brown eyes, she decided that action speaks so much louder than words anyway. She sat down on Nikki's lap and planted a soft kiss on her waiting lips. Nikki froze for a second before giving in to the pressure, opening her mouth for Helen's eager tongue to slip in. Pulling her closer, she weaved her fingers through Helen's silken tresses, groaning softly when she felt Helen's tongue slide over her own.

They kissed passionately for a couple of minutes when Nikki suddenly pushed Helen back. "Phone," she mouthed apologetically when she noticed Helen's flabbergasted expression, the answer making Helen groan and bury her head in Nikki's neck as she didn't want to relinquish their connection just yet, she needed to be close to her. Seeing that Helen wasn't really willing to move, Nikki briefly thought about her options, before hoisting her up in her arms and walking over to the far wall of the kitchen. Crossing her ankles behind Nikki's back and wrapping her arms around her neck, Helen giggled merrily before kissing Nikki again as she was carried over and gently placed on the kitchen counter. Keeping Nikki close, placing soft kisses all along her jaw, she heard Nikki say rather breathlessly: "hello?"

"Oh hi, Trisha….. "

"Yeah, we're coming over soon."

"What? What do you mean you found a letter?"

"No, that's alright, I guess we'll find out soon. … Yeah, we'll be about two hours."

"Lunch?.... Yeah, I suppose we can have lunch together, I'll make it though, I still don't quite trust you in the kitchen. …. Yeah, see you then."

Putting the phone back down, she looked at Helen and said: "Trisha went to Alice's to look for some papers and she found a letter addressed to me. I wonder what that's all about…. Anyway, I guess I'd better get ready too, maybe we can pick up my stuff from the studio before we go to Trisha's? No point in putting it off. …. You know, I'll miss that house." When Helen looked at her kind of strangely, Nikki scrunched her eyebrows and asked: "what?"

"I don't know… I just thought…. When you came here yesterday, I thought it was because you couldn't face the studio, that the memories of Alice would be too strong," Helen explained.

"No, I came here because it was closer and I was feeling rather hungry," Nikki said with an embarrassed smile. "I understand what you're saying though, but that's not how I feel. I mean, you said that I can't dwell on the past, and that I have to look to the future and cherish the memories of Alice. That house is filled with those memories, I loved living there. Just like I'll love living here, we'll make memories of our own here. Starting right now! Perhaps I could interest you in a bath?", Nikki said, waggling her eyebrows suggestively and holding out her hand as Helen jumped from the counter.

A freak thunderstorm erupting with ferocious, unforgiving intensity, white, angry bolts of lightning permeated the ink dark sky, only to be followed by deafening cracks of thunder. Rain pelting down in heavy, angry drops, Trisha and Helen quickly got out of the car and started walking towards the chapel, carefully sidestepping the big, muddy puddles forming on the cracked, uneven pavement. Huddled together under Trisha's big umbrella as Nikki drove on to park the car, they walked on in total silence, neither really knowing what to say or do at a moment like this, both too preoccupied by their own thoughts. Nodding to the arriving undertaker, they took shelter in the chapel's entrance, a cold gust of wind making them shiver and wrap their jackets even tighter around them.

The down pipe gurgling loudly as rain water spouted out freely, they watched Alice's coffin being taken out of the hearse with morbid curiosity and fascination, Helen involuntarily making the cross sign as they passed her. At a total loss what to do next, Trisha stared at her umbrella with an odd expression, as if finally realising that she had no use for it anymore. Struggling with the little latch as she tried to close it, she shook the umbrella, accidentally spraying Helen with raindrops. Mumbling an apology, she went inside, looking for an inconspicuous place to hide it. Left on her own, Helen sighed with relief as she finally spotted Nikki. "Ah there she is," she mumbled to herself, "she must have parked a couple of streets over."

Holding her vest over her head in the vain hope to keep relatively dry in this torrential downpour, Nikki ran as fast as she could, rain splashing up high each time she stepped into a puddle. Looking up to the ominously dark sky, raindrops rolling over her face, Nikki thought that the dark clouds reflected her inner turmoil so well and realised that the worst was yet to come, though she was unsure herself whether she meant the funeral or the weather. Slowing down as she spotted Robert Henderson rounding the corner, she hid under his umbrella, feeling her damp shirt cling to her back. Panting heavily, she asked: "do you mind if I walk with you for the rest of the way Bob? It's pissing down. I don't think I could get any wetter jumping in a swimming pool fully clothed."

"Of course I don't mind lass," the old man said, "there's no point in you getting even more soaked. Besides, I see Albert trying to park his car over there, illegally again I might add. He'll be green with envy when he sees me with a young bird on my arm. You know how he fancies himself as the Casanova of geriatrics, the poor deluded sod."

"You daft sod," Nikki laughed, temporarily forgetting about all her worries and fears. "You'll never change."

"I hope not," the old man smiled before turning serious again. "Alice's death shook me up completely, it was such a big shock…. You know I was planning on taking it easy, me selling the warehouse to you and Trisha was the first step, but now I realise that I should have done it even sooner, time is so very precious. Alice's untimely death made me realise that even more …. I talked to her that day, you know…. We bumped into each other in the high street and you know how she was … We talked and joked, promising each other to meet up again soon. I couldn't believe it when Trisha told me she had passed away. You know … Knowing Alice, she's probably laughing herself silly up there when she sees us down here in this rain. She probably orchestrated the whole thing too. I'll really miss the old girl, she was the best."

Not really trusting her voice, a knot in her stomach forming at the thought of hearing more happy memories of Alice, Nikki gave Bob's arm a comforting squeeze as they walked on in silence. The wind picking up again, making her shiver, she was relieved when they reached the chapel. Helping Bob up the stairs, she said: "Bob, I'd like you to meet Helen, my partner. Trisha I don't have to introduce I think." Giving each other a firm handshake, Bob and Helen muttered their hellos, then Bob turned to Trisha. "Bob," she said, bending down to give the old man a kiss on his cheek, "how have you been? How are your grandchildren?" Giving him an arm, she slowly escorted him inside as the rest of the mourners slowly started to trickle in. Helen and Nikki welcomed them all, chatting softly with them about Alice before leading them to a seat.

The undertaker giving her a discreet sign that they should begin, Nikki ushered a little old lady to her seat before taking Helen's hand into her own and slowly walking to the front row seats where Trisha already sat waiting for them. Each step she took feeling like lead, the knot in her stomach tightening even further, she kept her eyes to the ground, desperately trying to suppress the horrid feeling of dread and despair invading her. A solemn, sober, haunting rendition of Amazing Grace on bagpipes filling the Chapel, chilling Nikki to the core and bringing tears to her eyes, she sat down, grateful for the reassuring squeeze of Helen's hand. Finally looking up, she gulped audibly as she took in Alice's coffin. The finality of it all hitting her hard, quite unable to imagine Alice resting there, she felt the bile slowly rise, her body starting to shake. She realised that she needed to turn her attention elsewhere, anywhere but the coffin, for she knew if she kept staring at it, she'd fall to pieces.

As the music died down, the undertaker took a stand behind the pulpit and in a deep, solemn voice he said: "we're gathered here today to commemorate Alice Adams, an acquaintance, a neighbour, a friend. She touched all of our lives in her own way and brought us joy and happiness over the years. We come here today not to mourn her death but to celebrate her life. Death is not the end; birth is a beginning, death a destination and life a journey, our soul guiding us through. Victory is not some high point along the way, but having made the journey step by step. For each one of us there comes a moment when time ceases, a moment when we leave the bonds of time and enter another world, the world of eternity. We simply start walking a different path.

When I was younger my mother told me a little story and I'm still trying to figure out what she truly meant by it. In a harbour two ships sailed, one setting forth on a voyage and one coming home to port. Everyone cheered the ship going out while the ship sailing in was scarcely noticed. To this a wise man asked: <should you rejoice over a ship setting out to sea, not knowing what perils it might encounter or rather rejoice over the ship that has sailed safely to port as it brings its passenger home in peace?> In Spain there's a monument commemorating the great discoverer Christopher Columbus. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the memorial is a statue of a lion at its base. The lion is reaching out with his claws and destroying one of the words that had been the Spanish motto for centuries: no more beyond. The word being torn away by the lion is 'no', making it read 'more beyond'. Is Alice on her voyage exploring that Last Great Beyond or is she the ship sailing into its last port?" Giving them a few moments to think this over, he then said: "before several friends share their memories of Alice with us, let us listen to her favourite song."

(Smoke gets in your eyes – The Platters, Bryan Ferry amongst others)

They ask me how I knew
My true love was true
I of course replied
Something here inside
Can not be denied

They said someday you´ll find
All who love are blind
When your heart´s on fire
You must realise
Smoke gets in your eyes

So I chaffed them and I gaily laughed
To think they could doubt my love
Yet today my love has flown away
I am without my love

Now laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide
So I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies
Smoke gets in your eyes

Nervously shifting on the chair as she knew she was up next, Nikki wiped an invisible speck of dirt off her trousers. Giving Helen's hand a final squeeze for reassurance and comfort, her heart beating in her throat, she stood up and slowly made her way over to the pulpit. Sparing the coffin only a sideway glance before looking up again, her breath hitching as she did so, she reached into her pocket and carefully took out a piece of paper. Her hands trembling with nerves and trepidation, she folded it open, the words dancing before her eyes as she realised that this would probably be the hardest speech she'd ever have to make. Her stomach tied up in knots, she grabbed the pulpit tight and looked up. The nervous coughs and expectant faces a little daunting, she threw a quick look to Helen and Trisha. Their reassuring smiles giving her all the courage and confidence she needed, she cleared her throat and said: "Alice had her very own views on life and death, a topic which we discussed many afternoons. She has asked me to share two of her favourite poems with you today. The first one is a ceremonial prayer used by the Hopi Indians."

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on the ripened grain.
I am the gentle Autumn's rain.

When you awaken in the morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.

So do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there. I did not die.

Putting her piece of paper on the pulpit, she continued: "before I read the second poem, I'd like to say a few words on what Alice meant to me. Alice was my next door neighbour and although she was a bit wary when we first moved in, she soon became one of my best friends. When we were together, the age gap simply melted away like snow before the sun. I could talk to her about anything, philosophy, politics, books, but also the latest plot twists in Emmerdale, our secret addiction. She was the one I turned to whenever something was bothering me; when I needed advice, a shoulder to cry on or someone to cheer me up, she was always there for me. She was my confidante, my neighbour, my friend,… my surrogate mother.

Alice was a great woman, a real treasure. She had a huge heart, a laser sharp mind and a remarkable sense of humour. She loved to laugh and I'll always remember her laughter. A husky laugh that used to send sweet chills through me, a laugh so infectious that it made you smile too, even if you were the but of her joke. And then the twinkle in her eye when she found something amusing, her whole face brightening up and you just knew she'd say something funny again with that dry wit of hers.

What more could any of us ask than to be loved and amused? Alice did both with remarkable ease, she loved us and made us laugh, but of course she was so much more. She had a generous heart and was always up for a challenge. I clearly remember the day she asked me to take her for a ride on a motorbike, simply because someone had told her she'd never dare to do it. Fear and cowardice were not in Alice's dictionary, she simply climbed on and ordered me to go as fast as I could. She loved life, she embraced it with fervour and lead it to the fullest.

A few days ago I had a very strange experience. I went for a walk in the countryside to clear my head and get some fresh air. Even though there was a breeze, it was a very warm day. With the blue skies above me, I left the car and headed for the woods. As I crossed a field, I suddenly became aware of a strong smell which stopped me in my tracks. It smelled like Alice's perfume and even though there was a light breeze, the smell was strong and it stayed right there. Confused I looked around, thinking I was imagining things or that perhaps I hadn't seen someone passing me by, but there was no' one else around. I found the experience odd but comforting, I just knew it was Alice coming to say goodbye to me, letting me know that she was okay now.

She was a wonderful and honourable woman. I don't consider myself merely lucky to have been her friend, I've been downright blessed. She gave me the most profound gift anyone can give, the feeling deep down that I was loved and cherished. So much of her is in me – we were so similar – that perhaps the best tribute I can give, the best way for me to keep her spirit alive, is to honour and express all those positive qualities and live in a way that would continue her essence and make her proud. Live life to the fullest, love with all my might and never cease to be amazed by the wonder and beauty of the world. A beautiful woman filled our hearts and graced our lives. With a series of wonderful memories, I choose to remember her, memories all the more vivid now that she's gone. I love you Alice and I'll miss you terribly."

Her voice croaking, she returned to the pulpit and took her piece of paper again. Taking a deep breath before looking up again, she continued: "I'd like to conclude this memorial by reading one of Alice's favourite poems. It's entitled 'remember' and was written by Christina Rossetti."

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.

Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.

Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Watching Helen and Trisha standing a bit further away, talking to each other softly, huddled under the umbrella as the downpour had diminished to a light drizzle, Nikki kneeled down to put a bouquet of lilies – Alice's favourite flower – on her grave. Touching the headstone, she whispered: "After you left, I felt so lost without you, I just fell apart. My whole world came crashing down and I couldn't take anymore. I felt I was going slightly mad, that I was slowly losing my mind. You know me, I did what I usually do when faced with an emotional problem, I ran and brooded. I just wanted to be alone. Away from all the people and the places that reminded me of you. I just missed you so much, I felt my whole world ended the day you died. Anyway, I was angry with you for leaving me behind. Irrational I know, but I wasn't exactly thinking straight at that time.

But then I talked to Helen about how she coped with her mother's death and that was the big eye opener for me. What I'm trying to get at is that I realised it's time for me to let you go. I can't keep living in the past, I have to live in the present, have to make plans for my future. So I guess what I'm saying is goodbye. I'll always love you, you'll be in my heart and thoughts forever, but I've got to let go of the past. I've got to let go of you….." Getting up, she kissed the headstone and said a final "goodbye, I'll always love you" before walking over to Trisha and Helen. Wrapping her arm around Helen's shoulder, she looked up to the sky and saw the sun peeking through the dark clouds and realised that the hard part was over, she had made her peace with Alice. She knew Alice was safe now and throwing a last look on the headstone, she whispered to Helen: "come on, let's go home."

The End

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