DISCLAIMER: The Shed folks own these people and we are glad that they do. I am just borrowing for fun, not profit.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Love is a Battlefield
By raginhoops


Part 2

Nikki knew that things were still tits up from the way Helen slammed the car door and marched to the front door, head bobbing and heels clicking the pavement. Without looking back, she left the door wide open, an unspoken order to follow straight away. Like a puppy caught at some horrendous deed, Nikki gathered up her briefcase and sulked into the house. As she passed the dining room, she stopped short.

The setting was lovely. The good china from Helen's maternal grandmother graced the table; all the silverware polished and gleaming sat atop fine linen napkins. A spray of freshly cut flowers from the garden served watch over the serving bowls filled with desiccated duck and wilted spinach. Oysters on a half shell floated in a pond of melted ice. Nikki cringed. I'm so fucked.

"Well, what are you waiting for, Christmas?" Helen appeared behind Nikki.

Nikki opened her mouth to speak then thought better of it. Silence was better, based on the hard stare of her lover. Eager to please, she started to pick up the bowls. "I can just heat these up. I'm sure that it will be just as delicious as before."

"Put those down!"

Nikki complied and waited for the next command.

"I fixed this dinner. I decide when we eat it."

Nikki cast her eyes down, as the glare assaulting them was too overwhelming. Once again, the governor filled the room and Nikki regressed to an inmate about to be put down the block.

"There will be no more late nights. You will call if you are tied up and I'm expecting you. And you know what else? Stop treating me like I'm some trophy wife, oh wait, strike that, I'm not your wife, am I? I must be your mistress. You wear me like Armani tartan."

"May I say something?"

Helen's mouth tightened, threatening, then relaxed as she saw her magnificent creature shivering, vacillating between fear and anger. "Yes."

Helen felt left out. It was obvious considering her comment about feeling like a kept woman. She considered carefully how to respond her wounded partner.

"My father told me that I would come to nothing the day he kicked me out. No one has given me anything since that day and I built something that one bastard pulled apart in an instant. So, I get out Larkhall with a GED and a few open uni credits and I have to make everyone forget what I've done. I have to be better than the next bloke. If that means playing a role in public, I guess I have. But I've never disrespected you."

"So why do I feel like it's "The Nikki Wade Show" when we are out?"

"My sun rises and sets on you and I want the world to know it."

"That I belong to you?"

"You know that's bollocks. If I was a boring nobody, you'd lose interest."

"Don't be a sodding wanker. I never asked for that kind of life. When have I ever been impressed by status?"

"But it feels good to give you things that I know you'll like, not things that you need, or want. I care about making you happy."

"So you work your arse off to wear designer clothes, drive the right car, and hobnob with the rich and famous? That's what we've been doing. I guess so the Wade Corporation can rule the world and prove daddy wrong. It's got crap to do with keeping me happy. That I know."

"But I like nice things." Nikki's voice choked as she rose up at full height, shoulders squared at soldiers' muster. This wasn't Larkhall where the weight of the days ahead took centimeters off her height. It was time to clear out all the skeletons in their bed. They had never broached the subjects brought up in the dark hallway earlier that evening; however, with what Nikki had planned for this weekend, it was time all the laundry was aired out. "You chucked me over for a man: a doctor, a good one, much better than usually works for the prison service. So don't pretend that you don't appreciate a little social one-upmanship. He comes along; and, suddenly, I'm nothing to you but a bad move. A mistake. A cancer to cut out of your life because I don't fit it. The only reason you are with me is that he dumped you. I believe it was the same week that I was freed. Am I right?"

Nikki's burst of verbosity stunned Helen into submission. Thomas, her greatest regret concerning Nikki, was never going to go away.

"He did. You are right about that but not about being the reason I'm here with you now. He realized that he'd never had me in the first place. He just didn't know who it was exactly, who held my heart. It just wasn't him. Fenner filled in the blanks." She hesitated and continued more softly, "How did you know?"

"Voice mail. He wanted you back, said he'd been too hasty, jealous. I erased it."

"You deleted my message? Not that I would have gone back to him, you know me well enough to know that I wouldn't. Couldn't you trust me? We could have discussed it then."

"Trust you? That's a good one. He could marry you and make a good life, a socially acceptable one. I was terrified. I just spent five years of my life at the mercy of every lowlife employee Her Majesty could dig out of the gutter just to be kicked about like a football by those sadistic creeps. I get one night with you; then you shut me out. I take a stand on principle and you take it personally. Suddenly, there is no future for us because I disagreed with you on one point. In there, every time I stood up, I got buggered. Every little thing capsized our relationship until you decided to right it. Outside, we just started back again, like the last year never happened.

"I wasn't free to do what I wanted. Life isn't like that. You had to be controlled or the system would have done it for me. Someone else would have made it a much deeper hole to crawl out of. You may have never gotten out. That file of yours was pretty damning."

"But you said you'd wait for me. You ran. So much for fidelity and undying love you professed so easily, what… a few weeks earlier?" Nikki waited for the words to sink in before continuing, "Broke my bleeding heart."

Helen wondered if Nikki could ever get past it. How could Nikki understand the fear Helen had of losing control? All Nikki did was lose control; it was natural to her.

How could she have known then how much of a slave she had become to something that felt too much like lust to be true love? To be so compelled to flirt with danger in such an unlikely package was not part of her life plan, to fall into illicit love. In a crisis of faith, she fell, an archangel weighted down with the sin of pride, too spineless to climb out of the hell that she created in a moment of weakness.

"You were my father's favorite sermon, "Temptation in Eden." When I was with you, it was like having no free will. Thomas allowed me to distance myself from wanting you every waking moment. So how could I expect forgiveness for being such a coward? You called me on it, more than once. I could have told you then but I was too ashamed to admit it. I don't know how but I convinced myself that you'd never find out. After all the pressure that I put on you to conform and the shit I had you eat, I just wanted to pretend that Thomas never happened."

"What changed things? Being alone?"

"I saw you on the tele, what you said about hope, made me realize that you were a much bigger person than I could ever be."

"And I always forgave you."

"I was counting on that."

"And I needed you so much that I pretended not to care about your affair. But I heard him on the message… It felt like he pushed you to me. It was like it was happening all over again. Some man with a key was still going to win. I wanted to be your choice, not an afterthought."

"Nikki, sweetheart, I couldn't handle it. It's that simple." Helen stroked Nikki's face, desperate to transmit her devotion to the love of her life. "I have never found it easy to give my soul to anyone. There wasn't a lot to fall back on. Even when my mother was alive…She had a history of being easy; idle town gossip kept that going. She just had the misfortune of developing early and caught the eye of a few older men in the village. She didn't have a chance, small town, no future but marriage and a million kids climbing all over her. I think I'd sleep with any bloke that promised out of that town. But no one took her away. My father made an honest woman of her and he never let her forget it either. He ruled; she drank. I listened to their rows behind the walls every night. Marriage to me was a sort of détente between a nation and its colony. In the pubs, it was no different. Women complained about their dogs of husbands and men claimed that their wives sucked the life out of them. I didn't want that for myself." Helen pulled Nikki to her, "I could feel my father rise up every time you stood up to me and the system. There was no other way to get through. It took me months to admit to myself that I loved you. If we would have kept it up, I would have strung the Queen up to be with you again."

"Maybe the sex should have been terrible that night. We would have had an easier time of it, yeah?"

Both women sank into each other's embrace like exhausted prizefighters awaiting the verdict to their fifteen grueling rounds. Except that after the draw was announced, neither one would want a rematch, no matter what the purse would be. The time for full disclosure was long past due. Relief melded them together. The Pandora's box was open and the world was still upright and their hearts still beat together. The air between them felt hot and heavy like a summer's afternoon on the moors. No question, the gentle stroking and tentative touches were morphing into tugs that telegraphed the common desire to get upstairs; yet, the heaviness of the moments before kept them firmly in place. It was a peace that their short relationship had never had. It felt solid as standing atop a mountain of granite and just as heady.

"I really got you back, didn't I, chasing that nonce?"

"She was pretty. You knew I'd be threatened."

For the first time, she admitted out loud that she had been keeping Nikki on a string, what Nikki had waited so long to hear, that she cared way more than she professed, when she was still going home to Thomas.

"So who has been treated as a possession?"

Helen grimaced at the direct hit.

Nikki immediately regretted the slap of her tongue. She continued softly, "You must have lost faith in me, for going for her? To be so easily fooled by someone that could do such horrible things? She stroked my ego and I was so angry at you for giving up on us."

"I guess that's why I'm so afraid to lose you, now. I see the way women look at you, everywhere, not just at the club. You had nine years with Trish, solid ones. She's always saying how you got on so well. I let you down when you needed me most. You don't need me now. You can have anyone you want."

"Don't say that. Don't ever think that I wouldn't move the earth to be worthy of you. It's why I've been so driven to succeed. I need you now more than ever. Because to be honest, it terrifies me to think that one day you'll tire of the novelty."

"Oh, Nikki. Don't you know by now that there isn't anyone in my life that has made me feel this way. I don't care if you dig ditches for a living. I don't care what Jane in a pub thinks of you, or us. I've been afraid that you'll want someone more sophisticated. You walk into a room and the heads turn. People listen to what you have to say. I'm just a public servant. I've a simple life, fighting small battles for people living on the edge. I'm happy with that challenge. I deal with hookers, junkies,"

"And murderers, like me. You made a difference in my life and Monica's and Shaz's, even Shell's. You cared about doing right by the most insignificant of us on that wing. You still do. Maybe not in the bigger way as number one- you sacrificed that for me. That's a big part of why I love you. And why I want you to be my wife." Nikki placed her hand into the jacket that Helen was wearing and pulled out a box. "I was going to wrap this and do it this weekend, but now seems like the time."

Helen said nothing as she took the box from Nikki's hand, examining it like it was a puzzle to solve. A sigh escaped her lips pursed with the regret of ever harboring thoughts that Nikki would be anything less than fully dedicated and selfless. She placed the unopened box on the table, took Nikki's arm, and led her away out of the room towards their bedroom.

"So, does that mean, yes?"

"You know my answer."

Nikki hesitated in the hall, compelling her lover to look up at her. "I have to hear it."

"Of course, I'll marry you." Helen started back towards the bedroom.

Nikki pulled back, confused. "You haven't even looked at it."

A most seductively criminal tone crept through Helen's Gaelic-accented answer, "I'm sure it's beautiful. Now shut up and take me to bed. I haven't eaten yet and you know how cranky I get when that happens."

The End

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