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 VII
By Piranha


"Okay Monica, already looking forward to it. We'll see you both tomorrow then, bye," Nikki said before hanging up the phone with a contented sigh. Happy with the arrangements made, she just sat there for a while, transported back in time to Larkhall and her easy going friendship with Monica Lindsay. The reminiscing bringing a happy spark to her soulful brown eyes, she sauntered back to the kitchen to tell Helen the good news. She was about to speak up and let her presence be known when she spotted the intense concentration in her lover's face. Helen was far too preoccupied to even notice her at the moment, so Nikki took the opportunity to silently observe her, biting her lip to prevent her from giggling out loud, something that would put her in the doghouse for sure.

She watched Helen wipe her floured and wet hands on her 'I'm so sexy' apron, a gag gift from Nikki after the first time Helen had cooked for her, before carefully reading the cook book's next instruction. Leaning against the doorframe, Nikki had to smirk as she took in the total mess Helen had once again made of their kitchen. This happened every time Helen decided to cook, somehow the kitchen always ended up looking like a tornado had swept through it.

Though she was a far more accomplished cook than Trisha- let's face it, almost everybody was a better cook than Trisha – even cooking the simplest dinners proved an arduous, strenuous task for Helen. She always worked herself into a frenzy, determined to get everything just right. She was simply too much of a perfectionist. Her urge to stick to the rules even permeated though to the kitchen: everything had to be diced up to the exact proportions, herbs and condiments had to be measured off correctly, not a pinch more or less.

Though she tried her best to lighten up, the cook book remained holy when Helen was behind the furnace, which was probably why Nikki did most of the cooking. She loved Helen dearly and her dinners always tasted divine, but preparing them took so long that Nikki would wither away from starvation half the time before she could even have her first bite. Nikki was a far more adventurous cook, whipping up tasty dishes in record time by throwing things together in a happy go lucky way, trusting on her culinary instincts to get it right. She hadn't poisoned anyone yet, so she couldn't be that bad a chef. Helen had insisted on making them dinner tonight however and though she could already feel the first pangs of hunger, she hadn't had the heart to object, especially when Helen had looked at her with a twinkle in her eye, making her heart melt when she did that tongue thing again.

Helen's tongue sticking out slightly as she double checked the next step, the streaks of flour in her hair and on her cheek making Nikki smile even brighter, she pushed herself off the wall and slowly advanced on the totally unsuspecting Helen. As she slid her arms around her from behind, softly nuzzling her neck, Helen let out a startled shriek before relaxing fully against Nikki. "I called Monica, she's expecting me and my new partner tomorrow for lunch. I didn't tell her it was you, I thought we could surprise her," Nikki whispered softly into Helen's ear, her hands doing tantalising things beneath the apron.

"Well, she'll certainly be surprised, she only ever saw our antagonistic phase," Helen chuckled before moaning softly as Nikki sensually trailed her ear with her tongue. Goosebumps appearing as small kisses were placed all along her jaw, Helen slowly turned in the embrace. Her hands toying with the hair in Nikki's neck, her lips teasingly close to Nikki's, she whispered, her voice quite sultry: "don't you know how dangerous it is to distract the chef? You'll miss out on a real culinary delight if you keep this up….. remember what happened last time?"

Grinning widely as she remembered the totally cremated dinner, they had been too busy christening the kitchen table to stir the béarnaise sauce, Nikki whispered "I don't care, I'll take my chances" before tugging Helen even closer and kissing her hungrily. Her stomach groaning loudly, letting her know that she couldn't take this much further, however much she wanted to, Nikki reluctantly let go off Helen and took a few steps back. Tenderly wiping the flour off Helen's cheek with the back of her hand, desperately trying no to let Helen's dilated eyes and her slightly heavier breathing get to her, she asked: "what are you making anyway? It smells divine."

Stirring the sauce in a desperate attempt to suppress her libidinous urges, Helen replied huskily: "I thought I'd try my hand at salmon with wild rice and Bask sauce. I know how much you liked it when we had it at Claire's last month." Holding out a spoon for Nikki to taste the sauce, she asked a bit hesitantly: "so… how does it taste? Not too spicy? Claire wasn't exactly clear on how much garlic and oregano I should use…."

Giving Helen a small kiss on the lips to stop her rambling, Nikki replied: "don't worry, you got it just right. Anything I can do?"

Heaving a small sigh of relief, Helen smiled: "no, not really, it's almost ready. Why don't you open the wine and put on some music?"

Nodding Nikki disappeared into the lounge. Standing in front of their rather extensive CD collection, she hesitated for a while; she wanted something to set the mood and opted for a jazz compilation in the end. When the familiar voice of Nat King Cole came on, she listened to the lyrics of 'Unforgettable' for a while, realising how true those words were. Taking out a bottle of white, they were having fish after all, she walked back into the kitchen with a smile on her face. Popping the cork, she poured them both a glass just as Helen brought the plates over. "This is really good," she said after her first bite, seeing Helen's worried frown disappear immediately. It still amazed Nikki that someone as self assured as Helen could be so full of doubts when it came to something as mundane as cooking.

Drying her hands on the dishtowel before hanging it on the oven rail to dry, Nikki took a final look around the once again squeaky clean kitchen before turning out the lights and returning to the lounge where she found Helen curled up on the couch. Helen blinked and lazily opened her eyes when she felt movement beside her only to settle down again with her head on Nikki's lap. Their fingers toying with each other while Nikki's other hand softly stroked Helen's silken hair, they were both silent for a while, totally absorbed by a loving cocoon of warmth, music and togetherness. No words were needed right now, they were content simply being together.

After a while Nikki broke the silence by saying: "I went back to the warehouse today, with Trisha. We needed to finalise one of the lease contracts and thought we'd better check up on the builders' progress while we were there. We could hardly believe our eyes, the warehouse is starting to resemble a shopping gallery. You wouldn't believe the changes they made in only a couple of days. Well.. I guess the rather hefty late delivery clausal we had incorporated in the contract has something to do with that. Anyway, it means we need to start making some decisions about the bookshop's interior. Have you given it some more thought? Which do you prefer: the ultra modern look with lots of metal and glass or the more classic looks with lots of wood?"

The soft stroking slowly lulling her to sleep, Helen drowsily opened her eyes again and replied rather huskily, her accent thick from fatigue: "I don't really like the modern look, it always seems so impersonal, sterile and cold to me. I'd like to think of the shop as a safe haven for literature fanatics, a place where they feel welcome and at home. A place where they can hang up their coat, sit down for a coffee and a chat before browsing through the new additions. I don't know, kind of like 'Cheers', but then a bookshop version…. I'm more inclined to natural woods, how about you?"

"Yeah, me too," Nikki said smiling as once again they were on the same track. "It gives it a more homely feel I think. Not too dark a wood either, it would give the shop a far too gloomy feel. I guess we'd better start browsing the catalogues tomorrow, Trisha has them at the moment I think. Anyway, what about the shop's name, any ideas?"

"None whatsoever," Helen sighed dejectedly, sitting up in Nikki's lap, her arms loosely wrapped around Nikki's neck. "Everything I come up with sounds so lame."

"I know exactly what you mean," Nikki sighed, "the same goes for me. I guess we still have some time, I'm sure we'll come up with something. Who knows, maybe the last minute pressure will lead to a brilliant brainwave?" Nuzzling Helen's neck she continued thoughtfully: "I'm in two minds about tomorrow, on the one hand I'm looking forward to seeing Monica again, especially her gobsmacked face when she realises that we're together, but on the other hand I'm dreading our appointment with the notary. I don't know …. Going to the reading of Alice's will… it feels like losing her all over again."

Wiping away a lone tear that trickled down Nikki's cheek, Helen pulled her into a warm embrace, whispering: "oh baby, you know I'm here for you. You know you won't go through it on your own, both Trisha and I will be there for you." Holding her extra close, lovingly rubbing her back, she knew no other words were needed, that Nikki would draw all the support she needed from the hug. After a while she broke out of the embrace and holding up Nikki's chin to look her in the eye, she gently asked: "feeling better?"

"Yeah, thanks, "Nikki whispered. Giving her a short kiss, she added: "I love you Helen."

"And I love you," Helen immediately replied, "So much more than words can say…. I know I've told you that "I love you" and I have tried telling you time and time again how much you mean to me, but I wonder if you really know how strong my emotions are and how deeply touched I am by your feelings. You are such a tender and special person, you make me feel special just by the way you talk to me and listen to me, I want to give so much in return. There are no words to describe how beautiful and special you are or to describe my love for you. To put these things into words would be to define them, to quantify them, which means to limit them. Our love would have a beginning and an end. I find no definition fitting, nor any limit, nor beginning or end to your beauty or to how special you are.

With my every breath, with all I have left, from the deepest depths of my heart, I love you. I only have to look into your eyes to see your heart. I can simply hold you, not utter a word and find you in this silence, without you near I feel incomplete as I have poured my entire soul into you. I have somehow fallen hopelessly and undeniably in love with you. I'll be forever grateful to you for showing me what love is. At last, I have a chance to love and be loved. "

Just then another song came on and recognising the begin tunes, Helen stepped off Nikki's lap and held out her hand. "Dance with me?" she asked. Immediately granting the simple request, Nikki held Helen tight as they softly swayed to the music. "This is exactl how I feel about you," Helen whispered into Nikki's ear as Norah Jones began to sing.

The nearness of you – Norah Jones.

Why do I just wither and forget all resistance
When you and your magic pass by
My heart's in a dither dear
When you're at a distance
But when you are near, oh my...

Its not the pale moon that excites me
That thrills and delights me,
Oh no
Its just the nearness of you

It isn't your sweet conversation
That brings this sensation,
Oh no
Its just the nearness of you

When you're in my arms
And I feel you so close to me
All my wildest dreams
Came true

I need no soft lights to enchant me
If you'll only grant me
The right
To hold you ever so tight
And to feel in the night
The nearness of you.

The radio a soft murmur on the background, unnoticed by both of them, they hastily drove to the restaurant where they had arranged to meet Monica Lindsay. They were running incredibly late, Claire had dropped in unexpectedly earlier that morning and they could hardly kick her out, especially no in the state she was in. If turning up totally out of the blue on a week day was incredibly unusual for Claire, turning up totally plastered was even more rare. She had pounded incessantly on the front door so a very bleary eyed Nikki had stumbled out of the bed and, still fumbling with the ties of Helen's way too short robe she had grabbed in her haste, made her way to the door, determined to give whomever was outside a good piece of her mind.

Opening the door while yawning widely, she had just enough time the catch the very inebriated Claire in her arms as the drunk lawyer swayed dangerously after miscalculating the final step. Cursing under her breath as Claire engulfed her in an octopus style hug, she called out to Helen that she had better get her arse down there too before lugging Claire to the lounge. She had to half carry, half drag the totally uncooperative lawyer and in the end she dropped her on the couch rather unceremoniously. Awoken by the enormous ruckus in the hallway, Helen came in and looked at Nikki in confusion, but Nikki just pointed to the couch. On seeing Helen Claire had burst into tears and as Helen had taken her into her arms, comforting her as best as she could, talking to her in hushed tones as if she were a child, Nikki had gone into the kitchen to brew them all a strong coffee. She had a feeling they'd need it.

Between the two of them, they were able to piece together the whole story, Claire's hysterical sobbing and drunken slur making it very hard to follow at times. It seemed that Claire had caught Alex kissing another, hence the all night drinking binge and her rather boisterous arrival on their doorstep at seven in the morning, looking for a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. After about four hours of sobbing and cursing Alex, Claire had finally fallen asleep on the couch with a very unladylike snore, the lack of sleep and alcohol catching up with her. Knowing that there was no way they'd get her to the spare bedroom, they had tucked her in on the couch, realising that she'd be out for the count for hours. Leaving behind some paracetemol on the coffee table, they had written her a quick note, explaining their whereabouts and urging her to stay put until they got back before making a mad dash to the car.

The early morning hysteric upheaval made that they only had about twenty minutes to zip through London's busy midday traffic and arrive just fashionably late. Though Helen certainly was a stickler to the rules in most aspects of her life, despite all her best efforts she really couldn't shake it off that easily, it certainly didn't apply to her driving style. She took it as a personal challenge to get them there as fast as she could and drove like a madwoman, constantly flirting with the wrong side of the speed limit and cutting in like a maniac, her rather adventurous driving style annoying the other drivers to no end. If Nikki heard the squealing tyres, she didn't led on; instead she stared out the window, totally immersed in a world of her own. Her thoughts wandered from concern about Claire's dishevelled state to apprehension about the reading of Alice's will. She was so lost in thought that she didn't notice the worried frown on Helen's face.

Now Helen knew they'd just about make it without being horribly late, she began thinking about her impending meeting with Monica and suddenly became filled with dread. It wasn't that she disliked Monica, on the contrary during her short spell in Larkhall Helen had developed nothing but the utmost respect for the woman. She was rather feeling quite apprehensive about Monica's reaction. Would she be appalled by Nikki's choice of life partner? They had been bitter archenemies at one point after all. She knew that Monica had no problems with Nikki being a lesbian, but would the same go for her?

Would Monica tar her a sexual predator like Fenner, veying on innocent women and only using them for her own gratification? Nikki was far from innocent in their affair, but the fact remained that Helen had crossed the boundaries, something totally out of character for her. In a way she was as bad as Fenner and the sad truth that they loved each other did little to alter that fact. Nikki was right…. Monica would be gobsmacked when they walked in together, but would her shock lead to disgust and outrage?

Helen was so lost in anguishing thoughts that she didn't even realise that she had parked in the tiniest spot available, something she would otherwise never have even tempted. Feeling Nikki's hand clasp her own and giving it a light squeeze, she looked up into Nikki's sparkling eyes and gave her a small smile. Following her into the restaurant, she knew that whatever happened, she would always have Nikki and somehow that knowledge was enough to reassure her. She shouldn't have worried though as Monica greeted them both with a warm hug, stating that she had always known they'd end up together. After the waiter had brought them their menus, Helen put her hand on Nikki's thigh beneath the table and asked curiously: "you knew we'd end up together? I don't understand…. All we did while you were in Larkhall was fight and argue with each other."

"Ah, it's quite simple really Helen… you don't mind if I call you Helen, do you? Miss Stewart seems so overly formal," Monica asked with a smile. After Helen's 'no, not at all', she continued: "love/hate relationships are one of the oldest clichés in the book. The greatest love affairs started out of antagonistic feelings, just look at Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Jane' Austen's Elizabeth and Darcy… They couldn't stand to be with each other in the beginning, but at the same time there was something that kept drawing them in. They needed each other to feel whole.

It's a passionate love, exhilarating, devastating and bash your head against the wall frustrating all at the same time. No' one can make you so mad, but in equal turn no' one can make you feel so wanted. The love is frightening in it's intensity, you get the two opposite ends of the spectre, there's no room for mediocrity. The opposite side of love isn't hate, but indifference as both love and hate are fuelled by passion, an indescribable hunger that burns. The anger is often just a means to illicit a passionate response from the other. Love/hate relationships are feisty, exhilarating and passionate, believe me I know …..

When I met my late husband it was hate at first sight, we couldn't stand each other, I hated everything he stood for. Every time our paths crossed, we had explosive arguments but… somehow he got under my skin. I began looking forward to meeting him again and though I didn't want to admit it to myself, I quite enjoyed our altercations. They stimulated me, they made me feel alive. I felt like he was the only one who really understood me. During one of our worst fights, we suddenly just looked at each other and before I knew it we were kissing. We had found a more positive outlet for our passion. I realised that I loved him madly and though we still had heated arguments on occasion, we used it as a means to discover, understand and resolve our differences, not as an opportunity to maintain a emotional distance like we did before.

When I noticed the way you two argued in Larkhall, I knew that there was a strong possibility that you'd end up together. All that bickering was nothing but a show, you just refused to accept, consciously or unconsciously, that you liked each other and used anger as a cover. I suspect that pretty soon the first cracks appeared, forcing you to reveal your true feelings. No doubt you still had heated arguments, often getting out of control, if you don't mind me saying so you're both too hot tempered not to, but mostly they stemmed from being in a prison environment. Being on opposite ends of the bars, the lack of communication inherent to it, no doubt weighs heavily in a relationship….

Anyway, there were other signs of course, the way you looked at each other and always sought each other's company. Then the awkwardness between you after my botched suicide attempt… that aroused my suspicions too and Nikki's speech when she was released just confirmed those for me. It wasn't a big shock seeing you come in together. You're totally compatible, you complete each other. You're fire and ice, impulsive passion and reason. Nikki's fire and passion, alive and filled with intense depth while you're more withdrawn in your reactions, Helen, but you're honourable and confident. You bring out the best in each other. Nikki fires your passion while you quell her more tempestuous urges. Like they say …. Opposites attract."

Astounded by the accuracy of Monica's analysis, Nikki mumbled: "I can't believe that we were so obvious."

"Don't worry, you weren't," Monica smiled reassuringly. "I just knew where to look."

Waiting for the waiter to clear their first course away, Helen asked with a rather small voice, not daring to look up: "so you don't think I've taken advantage of Nikki, the two of us being at opposite sides?"

"God no, you're far too principled for that," Monica laughed. When she saw Helen needed further reassurance, she grabbed her hand and gave it a light squeeze, saying: "I suspect that Nikki had to chase you about for quite some time before you gave into your feelings, not only because Nikki's a woman and this is your first lesbian relationship, but especially because she was a prisoner in your care. I suspect that your feelings really knocked you for a loop and that you tried to deny and suppress them, just because you are so ethical. Look, I know what you're thinking…. You're comparing yourself with the likes of Jim Fenner, aren't you?

In no way are you like Jim Fenner. HE used women for his own pleasure, he didn't care about them… I highly doubt that man feels. There's no doubt in my mind that you agonised over your feelings, the fact that you were attracted to Nikki posed a big ethical dilemma for you, one you struggled with. Fenner is only interested in one thing, sex. There is no love involved in the trysts with his crumpets, a complete depersonalisation of love affairs. To him it doesn't really matter who it is he's …. Well fucking I suppose, because that's all it is. You were and are interested in Nikki as a person and that makes all the difference in the world. You love each other, it's not a sordid little affair. You can't help who you fall in love with, it happens at the most unexpected moment."

Her throat constricted with overwhelming feelings, Helen couldn't find her voice to thank Monica for her kind words, but Monica knew what she wanted to say as the relief was so plainly visible on her expressive face. Her hand shaking lightly as she reached for her glass, somehow Monica's easy acceptance meant the world to her and gave her even more confidence and courage in the whole coming out process, Helen tried to regain her self control by taking a sip of wine. As a silence fell, they all looked at each other, neither of them quite knowing what to say or do to lighten the mood.

Then Nikki spoke up, giving Helen's hand a light squeeze and winking to Monica, she said: "you're right Monica, I really had my work cut out chasing Helen about, it was almost a full time job. She tried to deny her feelings with the same bulldog determination and mule like stubbornness she used when trying to bulldoze me in taking an OU course. How she could withstand my dazzling charm for so long I still can't quite fathom. Fortunately for her, I'm not a quitter, so I managed to lure her into my spider's web in the end. I guess what they say is true… forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest." When Helen looked at her through narrowed eyes, resenting being compared to a donkey and not really knowing whether there was some lingering resentment in that statement, Nikki just looked at her lovingly, making both Monica and Helen smile at the so obvious love expressed on Nikki's face.

The rest of lunch was a fun, light affair with conversation flowing freely, all of them filling the others in on what they had been up to since their release from Larkhall. Surprised to hear Helen speak of her leaving Larkhall as a release as well, she had never thought of her being shackled down there too, Monica was outraged to hear about the travesties Fenner got away with over the years. Pleased to hear about Nikki and Helen's continued interest in prison reform, she informed them a seminar was being held in a couple of weeks time.

"If you want to, I can have you added to the guest list," she said. "A whole range or organisations will be represented there, each on their own way trying to enhance the life of a prisoner. Maybe it's a good idea to attend the seminar, check out what each organisation stands for? I'm sure they'd all be thrilled to have you joining their ranks, either on a professional or a voluntary basis. Between the two of you, you have enough experience and expertise to know what really goes on in prison. You could be the driving force, the catalysts of prison reform. I'm sure you'd be welcomed with open arms."

Thinking the seminar was probably a good idea, that way they could pick and choose the organisation just right for them, they thanked Monica for the invitation, but added it would probably be a voluntary basis for the both of them as they were starting up their own business together, much to Monica's surprise as she hadn't really seen a business woman in Helen. When she heard Helen's enthusiastic account of the warehouse's renovations and the plans they had for the bookstore, all her qualms were quashed. There was no doubt in Monica's mind that Helen would love this new challenge. "I must admit it all sounds wonderful, I'll be sure to come and visit the shop. So, what's the name of the shop? You didn't really mention that," Monica said.

"Well…. That's the only problem we've encountered so far," Nikki said. "We can't seem to come up with a suitable name."

"Oh yes, quite," Monica replied. "I can see how that can be a little bit of a problem. Anyway, I probably have a too romanticised view of a bookshop because of that old move with James Stuart. I think they made a remake of it a couple of years ago with that little blonde actress, Meg Ryan I think her name is. I don't know… I'm just rambling here. Well… I suppose it should be a name that has a special meaning for you both, something you have fond memories of."

"Sophie's world," Nikki said with a smile.

"Juliet and Juliet," Helen countered.

"The potting shed," Nikki smirked, waggling her eyebrows.

"Rule 47a," Helen laughed.

"The great escape," Nikki said pointedly.

"Promises down the block," Helen countered with a defiant smirk. When she caught Monica's flabbergasted expression, she continued: "don't mind us, we got a bit carried away. As you can see, we need to sleep on that one a bit longer. Anyway, how about another round of coffee?"

Trisha stood already waiting for them when they arrived at the lawyer's house. Getting out of the car, Nikki immediately knew that Trisha wasn't as calm and as she made out to be. She had lived with her long enough to recognise the sure tell signs of anxiety and nerves: the way she leant against the wall studying her shoes, the slight trembling of her fingers as she clutched onto her cigarette as if it were a lifeline, the barely visible twitching of her mouth as she noticed Nikki walking up to her… Engulfing her in a warm hug, Nikki whispered softly into her ear: "don't worry Trish, everything will be okay" before clasping her hand firmly into Helen's. She wasn't feeling much better than Trisha if truth be told and needed the close contact with Helen to face this ordeal. Drawing the emotional support she so desperately needed from their joined hands, butterflies fluttering in her stomach in the most violent way, she let Helen take the lead.

Realising that both Nikki and Trisha were too emotional right now, Helen willingly took the initiative and pressed the doorbell. When an old fashioned butler came to answer, she revealed their identity and they were led to a rather luxurious waiting room. In total silence, you could hear the soft ticking of the antique mantle clock, they waited for the notary to arrive. Nikki was far too nervous to sit still and fidgeted about on the creaking leather chair. When Helen threw her a stern look in exasperation, putting her hand on the thumping knee that was driving her up the wall, Nikki mouthed an apology and stood up to inspect the room. She was just admiring a vase in Svarovsky crystal when the wooden double doors opened and a rather short, burly elderly man with a big white beard came in. <Santa's midget brother> was the first thing that shot through Nikki's head and she had to bite her lip to keep herself from bursting into nervous giggles.

"Good afternoon, my name's Archibald Rudolph Tucker and I'm miss Adams' notary. Please follow me," he said. Like obedient little schoolchildren they followed him into the next room and sat down on the rather uncomfortable oak chairs, looking at the man expectantly. Slowly wiping his glasses with a piece of cloth before putting them on his nose, he took a big file from his desk and quickly read it through before looking up again. "Right, let's get started, shall we," he said, looking over the rim of his glasses with an indulgent smile. "You're here today for the reading of Miss Adams' will. Before we do that however, Alice instructed me to show you a little videotape." Getting up, his chair swinging wildly around is axis, he opened up the big oak cupboard behind him to reveal a flat screen television. After pushing a couple of buttons, he sat down again as suddenly Alice's face appeared, making Nikki gasp. As both Trisha and Helen grabbed one of her hands, simultaneously trying to give and receive comfort, they listened to Alice's final message.

Nikki, Trisha and Helen, the three of you watching this means that I have passed away. It feels very strange, surreal even, to sit here and talk to you knowing that by the time you'll see this I'm already gone to meet that great spirit up in the sky and, knowing myself, probably making his existence an utter misery. You know what I'm like…. Anyway, I know that I'm dying, I know that I haven't got long left, the specialist gave me the verdict about three months ago. Hearing that I only had a few months left tops, was a harsh blow and it made me empathise with all those prisoners stuck on death row. Nothing makes you value and appreciate life so as knowing that the end is near. It's a very sobering knowledge, it makes you see right through all the crap, it makes you realise what's really important.

It took me about a week to come to terms with my death sentence, I couldn't get my head wrapped around the idea. It's not like I thought I had eternal life, I am 75 after all and one by one my friends have begun disappearing, but … I thought I had at least another five years left in me somehow. I felt fine, I had the occasional headache, but that's all. When I finally accepted the harsh reality of my impending demise, I started to think and worry…. About my life, my friends, what I had done and what I still wanted to do. Let me tell you, nothing makes you quite so contemplative as knowing that your time left on earth is limited. I've become quite the philosopher in old age, suddenly knowing the answer to life's biggest questions with absolute clarity. The weirdest thoughts ran through my head, how I regretted spending so much time trying to read Salman Rushdie's the devil's verses, how I regretted never having the guts to make the parachute jump I always dreamt of…. Pretty soon I realised however that in the bigger scheme of things, those petty and frivolous regrets were futile.

They don't really matter, they don't diminish the fact that I led a wonderful life. I have no real regrets, I met the love of my life and though our time together was all too short, I treasure it as we had more than others could dream of…. We met our soul mate. Nikki and Trisha, you were the daughters I never had and nothing brought me more joy over the years than sharing my life with you. Trisha, I could talk to you about fashion and interior design, you took me to the opera even though you hated it and always fell asleep during the first act. We often had dinner together, especially when you had managed to cremate yet another meal and I always appreciated your attempts at ballroom dancing, even though it left my toes black and blue afterwards.

Nikki, with you I could talk about music and literature, you challenged my sometimes conservative ideas and opinions with your fresh views and rather liberal stance. You were my partner in crime when it came to mischief and dared me to feel alive again. You turned my wilderness into a garden of Eden and were always there for me when I was in a rut. Helen, though I've only known you for three weeks, I feel like I've known you my entire life. Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing you with Nikki as I know you were made for each other. You share an unique emotional bond that will last not only a lifetime, but even beyond that. You're soul mates.

I asked mr Turner, my good friend Archie, to make this little video as I wanted to say goodbye in person… well as close as it gets I suppose. Don't be sad that I'm gone, there's no real need to grieve as I now am where I truly belong, with Alfred and my little one. I'd like to recite a little poem to you: <When I must leave you, for a little while, please do not grieve and shed wild tears and hug your sorrow to you through the years. But start out bravely with a smile and for my sake and in my name, live on and do all the things the same.>

At the end of the day I made peace with my death, it is as it should be. Like Churchill said <I'm ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared to the greater ordeal of meeting me is another matter.> I'm not afraid of dying, life's a great sunrise, there's no reason to believe that death isn't an even greater one. Nikki, you're such a gentle, sensitive soul and I just know that you're taking my death a lot harder than you should be. Let my parting words to you be a quote from the great Katherine Hepburn:< life can be wildly tragic at time and I've had my fair share. But …. Whatever happens to you, you have to keep a slightly comic attitude. In the final analysis, don't forget to laugh>. Au revoir, mes amis."

As Alice's face faded to black, mr Turner stopped the tape and closed the cabinet, giving the women the time to dab their damp eyes and regain a semblance of self control. Retaking his seat, he cleared his throat to get the attention of his rather dazed audience and said: "right, Alice's will. I'll dispense with the legal technicalities and formulaic sayings and get to the brunt of it. Alice came to see me a couple of weeks ago to draw up her will. She said that she had done a lot of soul searching. She wanted to give the three of you a helping hand in starting up your new business. Basically, she's made you the sole beneficiaries of her estate. I have to warn you that a rather hefty amount of taxes and costs will have to be paid, but all in all a rather substantive inheritance remains. Alice was the only child of a rather affluent family. She had no immediate family members bar a few distant cousins she hadn't seen in years. She said that you were her family, she regarded you as her daughters. She thought it was only right that you should help out the ones she loved. I know this comes as quite a shock, so I suggest that you take these papers home, read them through and then get back to me to get the ball rolling. Don't make any hasty decisions now."

Once outside Helen asked Trisha: "do you need a ride?"

Trisha shook her head and replied: "no, that's alright, thanks for the offer though. I'll just walk, the fresh air will do me good. I never expected this… I mean, I knew that Alice loved us, but this…it's such a shock."

"I know what you mean," Helen said, catching Trisha's hand to give it a reassuring squeeze. "Why don't you come around tomorrow to our place to talk this through? I mean, I guess we have some decisions to make now." When Trisha nodded, Helen added "take care" before giving her a big hug. Turning around, she saw Nikki leaning against the car, smoking a cigarette and staring in the distance. "All you alright?" she asked.

"Yes, no…. I don't know, I never expected this, it's too much to take in," Nikki replied. "Do you mind if we go to that park over there? We need to talk about this and with Claire snoring on the couch, we don't really have the privacy we need for that."

"No, that's probably a good idea," Helen said, taking Nikki's hand.

Alice's poem: an excerpt from Helen Steiner Rice

The End

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