DISCLAIMER: All Characters belong to Shed productions.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Love is Blind
By SimoneIsAnAngel


Chapter One

"C'mon Stewart! Just because you've spent the summer in Spain doesn't mean you can keep slacking now."

"Leave me alone Claire - I'm knackered. You sound just like my Dad, standing there lecturing me."

"Helen, it's the first day of the new term. You can't miss it. You need to pick up your timetable, otherwise you'll be lost for the rest of the year."

"I was lost all of last year too…not picking up my class timetable won't make a difference. Now piss off and let me sleep!" Helen moodily pulled the duvet over her head to block out the naggings of her friend and the bright sunshine that ebbed through the window and disturbed her dream-like state.

"No, I will not piss off as you so pleasantly put it. You're coming with me, and that's final." Yanking back the bed sheets Claire tugged at her friends upper limbs until she gave in and stormed off into the bathroom that separated there rooms.

"That bloody Irish determination in you annoys me, do you know that!"

"Yep, that's why I do" Claire laughed heartily while she ducked to avoid Helen's t-shirt that was projected at her like a missile.

"Oi, never mind chucking things and get a move on lady."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm ready." Helen appeared from the toilet fully dressed, in tight fitting top and jeans that sat snugly around her thighs, her hair and make-up immaculate.

"How is it you can look so good in just 10 minutes?"

"Good genes." Helen smiled seductively, her tongue dancing at the back of her teeth.

"If you weren't my best friend…and straight…" Claire was practically drooling at her roommate.

"Yeah, I know, you keep telling me, just keep those hormones in check Miss Walker!"

Larkhall, North London's premier university was swarming with students, old and new, ready to begin a new year of study.

Helen Stewart was a third year student getting ready to finish her BSC degree in clinical psychology, and if her marks were good enough onto complete a PHD - just like her father wanted.

Claire Walker, her best friend and roommate was also in her third year, studying criminal law. Her hopes and ambitions were equal to Helen's, although when it came down to being studious Claire won hands down every time. Helen, although intelligent, was easily distracted - especially when fun was involved. If Claire hadn't know her, she would have sworn Helen's chosen degree was the history of alcohol.

Both friends were complete polar opposites. Helen the mischievous Scottish girl who made living life to the max an art form, and Claire the quiet Irish girl, born to wealthy parents who put her through the best boarding schools money could buy. How they ever became friends no one understood, but each shared a bond that was unbreakable.

Helen couldn't wait for the end of the week to approach. It just wasn't coming quick enough. First week back was always a nightmare. Getting back into the routine of long, tedious lectures, agonisingly boring slide-shows in badly ventilated lecture halls, taken by pompous know-it-alls, was no easy task. So when Friday afternoon finally came it was with a huge sigh of relief. One week gone, and only another 30 or so to go until graduation, then onto the big, bad world of work experience.

"Fancy a night down the local? My treat for making you drag me out of bed every morning in life." Helen practically skipped her way down the stone stairwell and onto the gravel pathway at the front of the old Victorian building.

"To be honest Hel, I'm not really in the mood. I have some case studies I want to go over before Monday."

"You're joking, right? Come on Claire, it's Friday…the weekend starts here!" Helen threw her hands in the air in an act of celebration, but Claire couldn't muster the enthusiasm to join in.

"I know, I know. I'm a boring bastard, but honestly Helen, I'm not up for it…you go though. You'll have more fun with me not being there to nag you about how much you're flirting, or drinking." Claire's eyes met the gravel, never once looking up to make eye-contact with her friend. She knew if she did Helen would tell she was lying…but this was just as much of a giveaway.

"Wait. You're not going home to go over case studies at all, are you? You're meeting up with that girl you met last weekend!" Claire's eyes bulged from her head in shock.

"How the hell did you find out about that!"

"I may have been in Spain, but I still have my sources at home you know." Helen patted the edge of her nose and laugh infectiously. She loved to get one over on Claire who always played Miss Innocent.


"Yvonne told me this morning when I went to see if she needed any volunteers for student services."

"I don't know what I'm more shocked about…the fact you know about Caroline, or that you actually volunteered for something!"

"Hey, it's a worthwhile cause you know. There's a lot of students out there that need and help and advice…I always fancied being a surrogate big sister to someone." Claire raised her eyebrows and waited on the truth.

"Okay, that and it earns me extra points towards my degree."

"Andddd?" Claire knew there was much more than extra points at the bottom of Helen's new-found enthusiasm to help fellow students.

"And what? isn't that reason enough?" Helen tucked a stray strand of hair behind her right ear, fidgeting under her friends interrogations.

"Nope. I know you too well…now come on, spill…who is he?"

"Why do you presume a man is my ulterior motive?"

"I just told you…I know you too well…a man is always at the root with you. Now are you going to tell me or do I have to find out for myself?"

"Bloody hell Claire…the Japanese would have loved you in world war II. Chinese water torture is nothing compared to you! His name is Thomas Waugh, he's In his last year of an MD, gorgeous eyes and perfect manners. We met in Spain. He was there with his friend Sean Parr. They're a nice couple of guys - pity men aren't your cup of tea or we could have double dated."

"yeah, well I'll stick to Caroline thank you very much."

"Ohhh, Caroline…so where are you both going tonight then?"

"Well, I was planning on taking her for a meal…but since you're going to be going to the pub, we may just stay in and have a cosy night in front of the television instead."

"Nice. I'll stay out as long as I can in that case…perhaps things will get overly cosy." Helen gave Claire a quick kiss on her scarlet cheek as they parted ways. Claire to a perfect night at the start of a wonderful relationship…and Helen to a night that would change her life forever.


Chapter Two

Helen walked into the student union, a smile on her face and a spring in her step. She had been looking forward to this all week. It had been almost three long months since she had last been here, having fun with all her friends from uni'. But the upside was the joys of catching up after 12 weeks apart. There was always so much to talk about, all those stories of the summer holiday escapades - by the end of the night sides and cheeks hurt, and there wasn't a dry eye in the place.

The bar was quiet…unusual for 6.30pm on a Friday night. Helen looked around her, but no one seemed familiar. Even the bar staff looked different - all except one.

"Trisha! How's it going?"

"Helen! Hey! It's good to see you back" The blonde barmaid emerged from behind the wooden counter and enveloped her friend in a tight bear hug.

"Its good to see you too! What's been happening around here…its like a funeral parlour."

"Tell me about it. A new place opened in town, "Enigma" Its prices are competitive and its drawing in the younger crowds. We can't compete unfortunately." Trisha let out a defeatist sigh and smiled.

"But every cloud has a silver lining…I've been promoted to bar manager. Bobby thinks an injection of young blood on the staff will do wonders for this place, but I have other ideas to spice this place up. Theme nights, karaoke, gay and lesbian nights…" Trisha's grin was mischievous.

"That will certainly spice things up…can't wait to see Sylvia's face when you suggest that one."

"Me either, but hopefully I won't have to. The Hollamby's are hanging up their optics at the end of the month. They've bought a funeral home in Morecombe." The girls held their sides in laughter as they imagined the old couple lugging around dead bodies.

"Well Sylvia certainly has the people skills for dealing with the recently departed…I thought one body bag would have been enough for Bobby though!" Helen giggled at her own joke and gratefully accepted a pint of Fosters from a new blonde barmaid, who wore a skirt that resembled a belt and a top that showed more than an ample amount of cleavage.

"That'll be £1.80, love." Helen handed over the money with a smile, but what could only be described as scowl was given in return.

"She's cheery." Helen nodded towards the girls, but there was no need. It was blatantly obvious to Trisha who Helen was on about.

"That's Shell, Bobby's niece. Trust me, once he retires she's out on her ear. She's a right trouble maker. Only last week I caught her in the cellar with the guy from the brewery, and she was certainly rolling out the barrel!"

"Lucky her! I wish I could get someone to take an interest in me." Helen unconsciously played with the rim of her pint glass, deep in thought.

"That guy there looks more than interested. He hasn't taken his eyes off of you since you walked in here." Helen followed Trish's eyes, turning 180 degrees on her chair. She was vaguely intrigued, but when she saw who it was her enthusiasm died on the spot.

"Och, no. That's just Sean, he's a friend." She gave him a smile and a wave before turning back to Trisha, who had an "I know better" look on her face.

"Trust me Helen, I know when someone's interested, and that guy there is. You can almost smell the desperation coming from him. In fact, I bet he's undressing you in his mind as we speak." Slinking off to serve another customer at the other end of the bar she left Helen wondering if she was right. She didn't see Sean in that way, and as flattering as it was, she didn't want him to see her as more than a friend. Not when she was interested in dating his friend.

"I hope Trish is wrong, or this could really put a spanner in the works."

The night seemed to fly by in a flash. One minute it had been 6.30pm and the next the bell for last orders was ringing in her ears. The far of echoing made Helen realise how drunk she had become. The realisation became worse as she tried unsuccessfully to prise herself down from the bar stool she was seated on, wobbling along with it as she held on for dear life.

"Off so soon?" Trisha lifted the several pint glasses that sat empty on the bar and placed them carefully in the sink under the bar.

"I've got to…my legs are no longer connected to my brain."

"Can't hack the pace Stewart…call yourself a Scot?"

"Being Scottish has nothing to do with it…" Helen felt her legs turn to jelly and the room spin around her like an extremely fast turnstile.

"You ok? The colours drained from your face."

"Yeah, I'll be fine once I get a bit of fresh air. Its so stuffy and smoky in here."

"Do you want me to call you a taxi?" Trisha couldn't hide her concern, and Helen was grateful for it. Not many people would have cared.

"No, but thanks. The walk will do me the world of good, and I don't want to get home too early. Claire's romancing her new bird…don't want to be walking in on them in a compromising position now, do I." Helen managed a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.

"Jealous?" Trisha could tell Helen was happy for her friend, but deep down longed for that closeness herself. As long as she'd know her Helen had only ever been in relationships that barely lasted out the week.

"Mmm…something like that. Anyway, I'm off. The sooner I walk the sooner I get to bed."

"Alone I hope." Trisha joked.


Helen had been right, the fresh night air was doing her the world of good. The light rain soaked through her clothes, relieving her of the sticky, clammy feeling the pubs atmosphere has left her with, and the gentle blowing through her fine blonde hair made her feel like she was flying.

This was as journey she had made a million times in the last two years, but never alone. The wooded pathway that normally appeared so beautiful and serene was now tainted by fear. The silence engulfed her, and the ominous rustling of the leaves were like hushed, whispered words that were eerily enchanting.

Shivers ran the length of her spine like someone had just walked over her grave, and uncharacteristically for her, irrational thoughts plagued her mind.

Humming a tune audibly as though it would somehow ward off any psychopaths lurking in the trees she sped up her step, now completely uncaring if she interrupted Claire's evening of passion.

The lights of the far off streets behind her seemed to dim rather too quickly, plunging her into near darkness where all she could see in front of her was the stone-gravel directly beneath her feet.

She halted momentarily, listening intently to the sounds of nature echoing terrifyingly around her, trying to differentiate what was caused by the weather and what wasn't.

The shuffling of stones in the distance immediately sobered her up.

"Hello? Who's there?" the only answer she received was the intense pounding of her own heart.

"Christ, I'm being stupid…" her breathing became less laboured as she allowed herself to laugh unsurely at her own paranoia.

"Wait until Claire hears this one…me alone in the woods talking to myself."

"You could always talk to me …" Helen spun around in shock at the voice behind her. Her eyes locked with her attackers for a split second before his hand clasped across her mouth, muffling the screams that echoed into the silence.

His possessed face was the last thing she saw before her head met with the sodden walkway and her consciousness left her. This was where her life as she knew it would come to an end.


Chapter Three

The beeping of various life saving equipment sent chills to Claire's core as her best friend lay motionless on the pristine hospital bed where she had spent the last eight hours since being brought in to the single room on an isolated ward.

The room was surgically clean and beyond white, causing Helen's pale complexion to fade into the walls, and the bruises that littered her face became frighteningly more apparent against their backdrop.

Watching the on duty staff nurse potter quietly around the bed, changing drips and observing monitors, Claire found it hard to form the words to the questions that rattled unanswered around her tired brain. In eight hours no one had told her a thing, other than that her friend was in a bad way, which she mused at the time was a blatantly obvious statement to be made from someone so educated.

Caroline's hand slid gently around her waist, and squeezed lightly in an act of reassurance that prompted her to attempt to formulate a coherent sentence.

Giving her girlfriend a sideward glance she opened her mouth to speak, but her voice cracked on the first syllable. Embarrassed, she gave a cough and tried again.

"Excuse me?" Her words were merely a whisper, but yet seemed so loud in the silence of the room

"Yes?" The nurse turned her head to stare at the two women who looked at her with a fear she had seen in the eyes of relatives a million times before.

"I was wondering when I would be able to speak to a Doctor regarding my friends condition. Only, its been hours, and no one had been able to tell us what's going on." Claire was as placid as a person came, but tonight there was no hiding the anger and resentment in her words.

"I'm sorry you've been kept waiting for so long, but there's a shortage of Doctors on staff this evening and we are all pretty rushed off our feet." The nurse tried to sound sympathetic, even although it wasn't her problem. To this woman's friends it was a disgrace, but to her it was a common occurrence she had long ago got used to.

"Can you tell me anything?" Claire tried her best to remain patient, but it was wearing thin.

"All I can really tell you is that at the moment Miss Stewart is stable." Claire rolled her eyes and was about to launch into a tirade about the state of the NHS when the door opened and a small, yet handsome male, wearing a knee length white coat strolled in with a genuine smile on his face.

"I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting this abominable length of time Miss Walker, do accept my sincerest apologies." Claire nodded by way of acknowledgment, and feebly shook the Doctors proffered hand.

"I'm Dr. Martin Wallace, consultant Neurologist here at UCL, and I'll be dealing with Miss Stewart from now on in. It seems your friend has sustained a pretty nasty bump to the head, and from what I can see from the MRI scan results there seems to be some unusual activity going on in the temporal lobe area of the brain. What that activity is, we don't know, it's too early to say, and we probably won't know until Miss Stewart regains consciousness and we can carry out some more, in-depth tests." Claire listened intently to each word that was spoken, and let out the breath she was holding as he finished.

"So she will regain consciousness?" Relief shone in her eyes as she turned to Caroline and smiled widely for the first time in hours.

"I don't see why not. Other than the bump to the head, and a lot of superficial bruising your friend seems to have gotten away lightly from what I deem to be a very brutal attack. Helen was very lucky Miss Walker. It could have been far worse, and I'm sure whoever did this to her intended it to be that way." Claire hung her head. She knew just how bad the attack had been on her best friend. The policeman that had turned up at her dorm room in the early hours had filled her in on exactly how Helen had been found. Her clothes torn to shreds, and obvious signs of sexual assault had been inflicted upon her while she had been unconscious. A blessing, Claire thought to herself, knowing Helen was unlikely to remember a thing that happened. But unfortunately that also meant it was highly unlikely she would remember who her attacker was either.

Nikki Wade made her way into the little pub that sat at the end of a deserted pathway that led from the halls of residence, and plonked herself down at bar with a sigh.

"Pint of Fosters, please darling'" The blonde bar maid gave her a smile and did as requested, placing the glass down in front of the stranger.

"You're new around here, aren't you?" Nikki nodded and took a sip of her ice cold beer.

"I'm Trisha Harris, pleasure to meet you."

"Nikki Wade." Nikki returned the smile and let her eyes run over the attractive woman stood before her.

"So Ms Wade, what brings you to Larkhall?" Trisha took a seat next to Nikki and took a quick sip from her bottle of water, which had long gone warm.

"I'm a student. I've transferred here from Oxford to do my final year."

"Oxford eh? Brains and looks." Trisha's flirting didn't go amiss with Nikki but she skimmed over it. Too many pretty blondes had caused damage in the past and she was in no rush to add another relationship disaster to the long list she had already built up.

"Nah, I had rich parents who had friends in high places. It was a classic case of who you know, not what you know." Trisha acknowledged Nikki with a smile, wishing she had had the privilege of an upper class upbringing.

Just as she was about to broach the subject of why Nikki had used the past tense to describe her parents, a very flustered looking male ran into her line of vision, stopping her in her tracks.

"Hiya Dom, where's the fire, or are you just desperate for a pint?" Trisha slid down from the bar stool and began to make her way behind the bar to serve him when his hand gently grabbed her arm and spun her round.

"I've just heard about Helen…what happened!" Dom fought to catch his breath as Trisha stood in silence, a frown creasing her forehead.

"You've completely lost me Dominic, what about Helen? She was perfectly fine when she left here last night." Worry was now beginning to take over her body as she imagined the worst, but nothing prepared her for what Dominic was about to tell her."

"Attacked…raped?" Trisha's eyes suddenly felt moist and a pang of guilt stabbed at her heart.

"I should have made her get a taxi home" Her words were merely a whisper, but loud enough for Nikki to hear and envelope her in a hug of pity.

"Hey, listen, I'm sure this isn't your fault. If your friend had wanted a taxi then I'm sure she would have ordered one herself…"

"But she was pretty drunk, Nikki…I should have made her stay and walked her home…" Trish pulled back from the warm embrace and wiped her tear stained cheeks.

"And if you had done that you may well be lying in the hospital bed beside her. Now's not the time for what ifs…go and see her, it sounds like she's going to need a friendly face when she wakes up."

"I can't Nikki, I only have one bar maid on staff tonight and she's bloody useless. I can't trust her to be left alone."

"Well in that case let me help out. I've worked in bars before to fund me through uni' when my parents cut me out of their lives and their bank balance…and if I do say so myself, I'm shit hot with the optics. Tom cruise in "Cocktail" had nothing on me!" Nikki's pathetic attempt at a joke was enough to lighten the mood and elicit a small, polite giggle from the blonde woman who's face was a picture of sadness.

"If you're sure, and I'll make sure I pay you the going hourly rate."

"What no bonus for being a good Samaritan?" Nikki gave her a toothy grin and a wink.

"Go, go on, everything will be fine here" Nikki stood and made her way towards the optics at the other end of the bar, using a discarded dish towel to wipe away the residual liquid glass stains along the mahogany worktop as she went.

"Ok, and again, thanks, Nikki, you're a lifesaver." Trisha quickly lifted her jacket and ran towards the main exit without further question, Dominic following not far behind her.

Claire and Caroline lifted their belongings from Helen's bedside and silently made their way into the brightly lit corridor outside.

"The Doctors right, Claire, we wont be any good to Helen if we don't get some rest. And, yes, I know, before you say it, you wont be able to sleep…but a comfy bed and some food will do you the world of good, as opposed to sitting in those God awful plastic chairs in there."

"I know, I just don't want her waking up to find no one with her. I can't have her thinking I don't care." Claire rubbed her tired eyes wearily as the 100 watt bulbs on the ceiling burned into her pupils.

"She wont think that, and besides, she wont be alone…look…"

Claire lifted her head and followed her girlfriends stare to see her friends Dominic and Trisha rushing speedily towards them.

"Sweetheart, I'm so sorry…how is she?" Trisha grabbed Claire in a bone crushing embrace that the smaller woman was too weak to return, but welcomed with open arms.

"As well as can be expected I suppose. We're just leaving. I'm going back to get a shower and gather some of Helen's things, so that when she wakes up she has everything she needs."

"She's still unconscious?" Trisha didn't know why her question sounded so exasperated. This was exactly the state she imagined Helen to be in, but the reality frightened her.

Taking a slight glimpse into the single room her eyes were greeted with the sight of her friend. A gasp escaped her mouth which she tried to hide behind her hand. The guilt she felt before was nothing compared to how she felt now. Helen Stewart was the first friend she made 3 years ago when she moved to Larkhall to take up her job as barmaid in the local union, and every since their bond had grown stronger into a mutual love and respect that only best friends could have.

"Oh, Helen, I'm so sorry." Dominic wrapped a loving arm around Trisha and patted her hair down as her head met the crook between his neck and shoulder. He knew exactly how she was feeling, but held his own emotions inside. The only thing he could do now was be a shoulder to cry on when his friends needed him, and now was that time.

"I'll stay with Trisha while she sits with Helen, you guys get off and do what you have to do back at the dorms. I'll call if there's any change in her condition."

"Thanks Dom. We shouldn't be long thought."

No more words were spoken as Claire and Caroline descended towards the automatic doors, and Dominic and Trisha took over their seats by Helen's bed.

Trisha immediately made a grab for her friends hand, which she gently stroked with her thumb, backwards and forwards across a large black bruise that tainted the silken, olive skin that was hidden beneath it.

Her mind replayed their 5 hour catch up conversation from the night before, from the minute Helen entered the pub to the minute she drunkenly left, to walk the path that led her to her fate.

She was far off in her thoughts when she felt Helen's body jerk, and the hand she was holding begin to move…slowly at first, then with more urgency.

"Helen? It's Trisha. Don't panic sweetheart, but your in hospital and everything is going to be ok" Helen didn't flinch, but gave a slight nod of recognition before she tried to sit herself up.

Her face contorted in anguish as the pains coursed through her body at and alarming rate, halting her movements. She resigned herself to the fact she was going nowhere and rested her back once again onto the pillows that were built up behind her.

"Don't try to move, Helen. Stay where you are." Helen nodded again and gave her friends hand a light squeeze.

"I can't open my eyes, Trisha." Helens speech was groggy as she came back to the world of the living.

"Helen, your eyes are open already, sweetheart." Trisha gave Dominic a worried look, which he returned.

"No, they can't be." Helen's head turned, and her eyes met with Trisha's.

"They are. You're looking at me right now." Trisha's voice quivered as she tried to keep her composure.

"I can't see you." A tear slipped down Helen's cheek as the fear of that implication hit her.

"I can't see, Trisha, help me! Please." Dominic was up and out of his chair before Trisha even had a chance to comprehend what was happening, and even quicker he had returned to the room with a Doctor in tow.

"Its ok Helen, the Doctor's here now" She stood back to give the MD better access to the head of the bed and curled herself closer to Dom for comfort.

Both watched speechless as Helen's neurologist, Dr Wallace shone his pocket sized torch into the woman's eyes, which were unresponsive.

"Helen, follow the light for me."

"I can't see a light…what's happening?" Helen sobbed in desperation. She didn't understand why she couldn't see, or why she had ended up laying in a hospital bed. But her doctor understood perfectly. He switched off the light and turned to the two friends who waited for him to speak with baited breath…but his face said all they needed to know.

"Helen, I understand this is frightening, but I have to be completely honest with you. Your eye's aren't responding to the light, and as far as I can see, the bump you have sustained to the occipital lobe when you fell to the ground appears to have caused complete sight impairment."

"I'm blind?" Helen prayed she had misunderstood what she was being told, but she knew she hadn't.

"I'm sorry, but yes, you are. It may be temporary, but I'm afraid the likelihood of you regaining any vision is very slim. Only in very rare cases have I seen a patient recover fully from such a head injury."

The Doctor sidled away towards the door.

"I'll leave you with your friends."

Helen heard his retreat, but didn't acknowledge it. Instead she curled into a ball on her side and cried like she had never cried before.

It wasn't just her sight she had lost…her life as she had known it was gone and things would never be the same again.


Chapter Four

"Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes…"

Four weeks later

"What the hell?" Trisha's gaze was drawn away from the television in the corner of the bar and watched in astonishment as the pubs front door flew open at speed and a tall figure dashed through it like an Olympic sprinter.

"Sorry I'm late!" Nikki halted in front of her and doubled over the bar to catch her breath.

"Calm down, we aren't busy…its Wednesday afternoon." Trisha stifled a laugh at the dark haired woman's unnecessary compassion to her new job.

"I know, but I don't like to let you down, and I hate people to think I'm unreliable."

"Well, you're here now, so make yourself useful…grab a seat and tell me all about what you've been up to since I last saw you and take away my boredom." Nikki did exactly as she was told, perching herself high up onto a bar stool for a well-earned rest as Trisha pointed the remote control towards the wall mounted television to turn the volume down, before turning her attentions back to her new friend.

"I've had a pisser of a week…and things have gone from bad to worse in the space of 24 hours, hence why I'm late." Nikki couldn't suppress the sigh that left her lips in an automatic expression of how she was feeling.

"What's happened, hon'?"

"What hasn't happened would be an easier question to answer. Well, first off I haven't slept in days thanks to the tosser in the room next to mine who thinks its perfectly acceptable to blast out Guns n Roses at 3 in the morning, my studies are suffering because I have to work ever hour that God sends to make ends meet, and to cap it all off my English Lit lecturer has put my name forward for student services. She thinks volunteering will do me the world of good, and I need the extra credits…I just don't have the bloody time for it though, or the patience! It's going to drive me round the friggin' twist having to help out some thicko student, with some kind of mental impairment, 3 days a week."

"Wow, you do have it rough. If there's anything I can do to help…" Nikki shook her head firmly.

"I'll get through it somehow…I don't have any other bloody option. Anyway, enough about my shitty existence, how's things with you? How's your friend?"

"Helen? She's not so good either. She pretends she's fine, but we all know it's just a front she's putting on for our benefit. She knows we're all hurting for her, and she won't have it. Pity isn't something Helen copes well with. It's that stubborn Scottish streak she has running through her." Trisha gave a sad smile and carried on.

" She point blank refused to go back to Glasgow to stay with her Father, so Claire, her room mate is looking after her…well, as much as Helen will allow her to."

"How's she coping with the knowledge of the attack?"

"As well as a person can after hearing you've been sexually assaulted. She doesn't talk about it, and acts like its no big deal, but again its all pretence. She's hurting inside, that much is obvious. She's a different Helen. All the fun has gone out of her, which is hardly surprising under the circumstances…but I miss seeing her smile, and her laugh…it used to be so infectious, she would have us all in stitches just listening to her…but, you know Nik, I don't think we'll ever hear her laugh like that again."

"Hey, you will. Its gonna be a tough journey for her, and its still very early day's. Once she adapts to loosing her sight, and with all the love you guys give her she's got plenty to smile about again. Just give her time, and I'm sure the old Helen you know and love will reappear. She just needs a reason to live again."

"I hope you're right Nikki. I really hope you're right."

"Claire, stop bloody fussing over me!" Helen slapped her friends hand away as she unsteadily reached for the silver kettle that sat far back on the kitchen bunker.

"I've lost my eye sight, not my bloody marbles!" The kettle was pulled hastily from its holder and held under the cold water tap until it was full and replaced to boil.

"I know, I'm sorry Helen, but I'm just trying to do my best by you…I don't want to interfere, but you know as well as I do that there are certain things you can't do on you own, and I want to help."

"Thanks… for making me feel like a useless shit. It's one thing that I already feel worthless…but to have my best friend confirm it…thanks a fucking bunch, Claire." Hearing the kettle's power button switch off Helen fumbled around the bunker with her hands until her fingers entwined with the handle and lifted it from its cradle, pouring the boiling water into the cup, which she had already filled with a tea bag and milk.

"Oh come on Helen, you know that's not what I meant."

"Wasn't it? Helen turned so she was facing her friend, even although she couldn't make eye contact.

"No and you know it! Claire made for the kitchen door, knowing that if she stayed a full blown argument would ensue. Fighting with her best friend had become par for the course these last few weeks and she didn't know how much more of it she could take. Never in the last 10 years had a cross word been said between the two, but now every time Claire opened her mouth Helen chose to take a verbal swipe at her. Well not any more. No longer was Claire prepared to pander and tiptoe around Helen like she were some child wrapped in cotton wool, despite the love she felt for her. If Helen wanted to make things hard for herself then so be it, but she wasn't waiting around to see her fall flat on her face.

Helen lost her train of thought as she spun around to resume her pouring, knowing Claire was about to do a disappearing act on her like she always did when their conversations got heated. Anger and resentment welled in her like a bubbling geyser. Claire was treating her like she was a vegetable, incapable of taking care of herself, and she didn't like it one bit. She didn't need anyone helping her, especially out of pity, the reason, she assumed, Claire was so willing to aide.

"That's right Claire. Piss of to Caroline and had a good old bitching session about me." Helen whispered her words of resentment, not intending for anyone bar herself to hear them.

Her temper was rising up along with her blood pressure, causing her to lose all focus on the concentration she desperately relied on since her vision had so cruelly and prematurely been taken from her.

Claire heard the blood curdling scream followed by the smashing of Glass as Helen hurled her mug against the tiled wall, but she didn't turn back. Instead she walked out of the dorm room and headed straight towards the pub, whilst Helen sat with her back against the freezer door, nursing the blistering burn that covered the majority of her left hand.

Tears cascaded the length of her pale cheeks as she cried in frustration for everything she had lost and was about to lose. If this was how the rest of her life would be, she didn't know if she wanted to live any more.


Chapter Five

The sun was slowly rising on the horizon, its orange hue cast dancing shadows through the semi ajar window of Helen's dorm room window, who's curtains lay open and blew steadily in the gentle autumn breeze.

The single bed in the darkened room lay empty and in disarray; unmade and unkempt. A pile of clothes lay scattered by it's side, dumped in a heap that was begging to be tidied. But their owner was in no fit state to be doing so, not this morning at least. For Helen had bigger things to think about today.

Claire Walker lay in her own double bed in the room next door, sound asleep and wrapped warmly in a loving embrace that only her girlfriend, Caroline, could provide.

Her eyes opened slowly as she restlessly turned to stare at her bedside alarm clock, which read the time to be 7.09am. It was set for 7.30, but Claire knew another 21 minutes of sleep would make no difference, and instead decided to rise from her slumber and try to make herself presentable for her first morning lecture that was over an hour away.

Rolling stealthily away from her lover so as not to wake the sleeping woman who looked peacefully dreamy, she crept towards the bathroom in her bare feet, relishing the feel of the snug carpet rubbing softly against her soles.

Crossing along the hallway she noticed Helen's bedroom door lying open, a sight she was rarely met with in the morning. Helen always liked to keep the door closed tightly, to keep in her privacy and keep out interruptions.

Stopping by the frame she peeked in, a frown quickly creasing on her forehead as she observed the vacant room.

"Where the hell is she," She wondered to herself, a little annoyed at Helen's disappearing act, but at the same time hugely concerned for her friends wellbeing. It had only been four weeks since the attack, and two weeks since Helen had been allowed home, to cope on her own. All in all it was very little time for a person to adapt to and get used to the challenges that Helen had ahead of her. And despite Helen's constant protestations that she was fine and able to manage on her own, there was still a lot of emotions she had yet to let go of or acknowledge.

Claire had not seen her friend shed one single tear in the 4 weeks that their lives had changed. Instead it seemed the only emotions Helen was capable of were anger, resentment, bitterness and a frightening fiery temper that could, and would erupt at the drop of a hat.

She was no psychologist, that was Helen's forte, but it was obvious to herself, and everyone around, that Helen's sudden change in personality was not in the slightest bit healthy. She had gone from being a bubbly, sociable person who was the life and soul of the party to being someone people could hardly bear to be around for fear of their head being bitten off when Helen flew into one of her uncontrollable rages.

Entering the abandoned room Claire felt her heart constrict. A room that was once treated like Helen's pride and joy, a sparkling palace that was kept immaculate was now what could only be described as a dump.

Plates littered the floor along with clothes and various other items that didn't belong there. The bedside table was filed to capacity with cups, and numerous food packages. CD's lay scattered amongst their opened cases on a shelf that used to house Helen's vast book collection, but was now almost empty, much to Claire's confusion.

This wasn't like Helen at all. It was almost as though some evil entity had taken over the body of her best friend…and she wanted her back, just the way she used to be, happy and smiling without a care in the world.

Nikki stretched her arms high in the air, her white t-shirt riding up her torso as she tried to soften the muscles that 8 hours sleep had hardened.

Glancing out of her window as she let her arms fall to her side she let out an audible yawn. How she longed to climb back into the comfort and warmth of her bed, but it simply wasn't to be. Today was going to be a long one, for today was the day she started her voluntary job as student advisor…much to her ire. Her degree was in literature, not bloody psychology, but someone she was roped in and there was no backing out now.

Looking out over the campus grounds she noted how deserted and peaceful it looked. All the students who normally littered it would still be tucked up in their dorm rooms…all except one.

On deeper inspection, Nikki, realised it wasn't as deserted as she first thought.

Two storeys down, underneath a large and ancient looking Oak tree sat a girl, who Nikki surmised was around the same age as herself.

Knowing it was rude to stare Nikki tried to draw her eyes away from the lone figure who had curled herself onto the wooden bench, but found it almost impossible. For some reason she wanted to rush downstairs and bundle the girl into her arms, to take away the pain she could see was etched forlornly on her face. She was too far away to see, but Nikki could tell she was crying.

What could be so bad, she wondered in pity as she made her way into the bathroom to shower.

The hot water cascaded down her back, washing away the sleep that evaded her mind, but it couldn't rid her of the thoughts of the lost looking female she had just witnessed outside.

For some bizarre reason she felt a connection to the girl that greatly disturbed her…but she brushed it aside with a caustic laugh.

"You always were a sucker for a woman in tears, Wade." She verbalised, but somehow the statement didn't seem as funny aloud as it had in her head.

Maybe there was more to this girl than met the eye.


Chapter Six

Nikki emerged from the bathroom, a trail of steam following behind her as she vigorously rubbed at her hair with a dry towel. Her first instinct as she made her way back into her bedroom was to take a quick glance outside her window into the grounds below. The bench that previously had been occupied by the frail, lost looking girl was now empty apart from a few recently discarded leaves which had fallen from the large Oak that shadowed it.

Oh well, she thought to herself as she began to pick out clothes to coincide with the weather. Lets hope whatever was bothering her is now resolved.

Claire had dressed as quickly as was humanly possible and began to scour the almost deserted halls of residence for her AWOL friend, who's welfare she was greatly concerned for. With no sight, Helen, was putting herself at huge risk by wandering away on her own, even in a place that was as familiar as the campus, there were dangers that would pose a massive threat to the sightless girl.

Hearing the bells chime from the nearby clock tower of the local Church, Claire gave a sigh of defeat. It was 9am and time for her to get off to her morning lecture. The search would have to wait, and hopefully, by the time she got back to her dorm, Helen would be there waiting…safe and well.

Everything she touched seemed cold beneath her sensitive palms. Textures, temperatures…everything seemed heightened as her hands reached out to help guide her on her way into the lecture hall.

Her fingers wrapped themselves around a steel doorknob, and she hoped she had the correct room as she twisted it around and pushed the door open.

The talking she had heard from outside seemed to stop abruptly and all that could be heard were a few gasps and whispered comments that she couldn't quite make out. Immediately a faint pink blush spread across her cheeks. She hated the fact she was sudden centre of attention…this weeks latest gossip. Hadn't people spoken enough about her behind her back, since the attack? What did they want, a pound of flesh?

"Helen…it's lovely to see you back, dear." the aging lecturer reached out his hand and rested on Helen's shoulder in an act of comfort that had the opposite effect. He felt her flinch under his touch and wisely he instantly retracted his arm.

"Why don't you come over here and take a seat." Hesitantly he lightly held her elbow to guide her over to the uncomfortable wooden seats, but again she silently let him know she resented his presence.

"I can do it on my own…" Helen's tone was bitter and didn't go unmissed by those who were in hearing distance.

"but thank you anyway." She softened her voice, knowing her professor was just trying to be helpful, but it was help she didn't want, and the quicker people realised this the better.

Edging her way across the room she could feel the stare of hundreds of fellow students boring into her, unnerving her to the core. Even although she couldn't see their faces she knew they would be wearing looks of pity and sorrow for her as they quietly observed the mesmerizing scene of her trying to get to a chair unaided and without further embarrassment.

She wanted to stop and scream from the bottom of her lungs, "have you never seen a blind person before!" but stopped herself…the one thing she had left from this attack was her dignity, and she wanted to keep hold of it. Losing it now was just what these halfwits would want…some more excitement to add to the freak show she was already putting on for them.

Feeling her knees had a hard surface she reached out her hands and began to fumble around the wooden bench, making sure she was in the right position to sit down and that no one was already sitting in the seat she had chosen.

Her hip painfully collided with the sharp corner as she manoeuvred her body into the tight space between the desk, but she bit her tongue and carried on with the agonising stinging coursing through her torso. Her right hand reached out behind her to catch the flip of the chair, pulling it down warily she attempted to sit but missed her desired destination, her bottom sliding short of the seat. She ignored the few gasps of surprise around her as she made a grab for the table in front of her and pushed herself back up, but not before snapping one of her fingernails backwards, breaking it off past the quick. She felt the slight trickle of blood slither down her index finger, and then the sudden rhythmic throb as she desperately tried to remain composed.

The pungent smell of aftershave from a person close by her tickled her nostril's with its strength…its aroma smelt vaguely familiar, but she couldn't place why.

The continued silence was almost deafening, and she couldn't help but let out a sigh of relief as she heard her lecture continue his lesson and the people around her begin to shift back into the comfort of their seats and their gaze return to the front of the room. But she could still feel a set of eyes staring at her…from her left someone was watching her…she knew it, she could feel their look penetrating her soul, sending shivers down her spine.

Coming back to classes was too soon. She knew it herself, but she would never admit it. All she wanted was for her life to return to normal. But that was a possibility any more…was it?

Closing her eyes she protectively wrapped her arms around herself and she could no longer hear the droning on of her teacher. She had drifted far off into a world where no one else could touch her, or hurt her.

Nikki sat in her class, idly playing with the pen in her hand, all her concentration focused anywhere but her studies.

Virginia Woolf's "Mrs Dalloway" sat unopened in front her, and unconsciously she tapped her pen on the front cover, rhythmically beating out an unknown tune. To say she was bored would be an understatement. Being stuck in this stuffy room with 30 other people of similar age was the last place she wanted to be. She felt incarcerated against her will, when all she wanted to do was get out in the fresh air, to be amongst nature, go for a peaceful walk with only her own thoughts for company.

Going to University had been her parents idea. They needed their only daughter to follow in the footsteps on her older brother, to get a fabulous education and become an academic they could be proud of. The wanted another child they could brag about to their friends down at the golf club. But all the had got was a huge disappointment instead. No daughter of the wonderful Admiral Wade and his devoted wife could be a Lesbian. No, his children had to be good Christian, straight, law abiding citizens who did exactly what he told them to do and become what he told them to be.

There really was no need to be here now they had disowned her from their life's. She no longer had anything to prove. She could be the person she wanted to be, and that certainly wasn't a student. As much as she loved literature she found the whole process of essay writing and academia tedious. Working in the student union was more her cup of tea. Easy-going, laid back atmosphere with no pressure, friendly faces propping up the bar, and a lively fun-filled space where people let go, drinking and dancing their cares away.

One day, she mused, she would own her own bar or nightclub…something on a grand scale, preferably in London's Soho…a place where people could spend 5 hours of their life's being whatever they wanted to be, without the prejudices of society weighing them down.

A knock at the wood-panelled classroom door broke Nikki sharply from her thoughts as she looked up to see who was about to enter the room.

A short, well proportioned red head sauntered in with a slight swagger that screamed "Don't fuck with me…" Instantly Nikki took a liking to her. She seemed like just her kind of person…and she was about to get to know her sooner than she bargained for.

"Nikki Wade?" the tutor who's name she couldn't quite recall shouted out her name and in surprise she stood.

"Mrs Atkins' here would like a word with you about Student Services." Nikki frowned at the statement. Bloody student services she thought to herself…the bane of my life.

Gathering her belongings together she made her way out into the corridor and followed the menacing looking student councillor into her room where she reluctantly took a seat.

"Hi, Nikki. My name's Yvonne…I don't go in for all that Mrs Atkins bollocks…makes me feel bloody old." Nikki's face curled into a friendly smile. She had been spot on in her observations of this woman after all, and her no-nonsense attitude she liked. They were going to get on just fine.

"I would like to say it's nice to meet you Yvonne, but I think you already know I'm not exactly thrilled to be here. This supposed "voluntary" councillor position ive been forced to take really isn't my thing…Christ, I'm in no position to mentor anyone…I'm as messed up as all the others."

"Well, according to your tutor you need the extra credits, otherwise you're failing your last year…so, I'm afraid darlin' you don't have a choice."

"I know," Nikki hung her head in defeat and sighed.

"Ok, so what do you want me to do? Follow some pot-head kid around and slap the joints out of his hands?" Nikki's serious expression made Yvonne buckle with laughter.

"No, not exactly, but I do have a bit of a sensitive case I think you'd be perfect for, judging by your attitude in the last 5 minutes." Nikki creased her brows in confusion.

"I have a girl here who needs a lot of care, but from what I hear from the friend who's put her forward for our services she's going to resist it all the way…a bit of a tough cookie to crack by all accounts. You'll need to be firm with her, but at the same time she needs you to be gentle with her. The poor things been through a hell of time, and we're hoping with a stranger to speak to she will open up…something she's not been able to do so far." Nikki liked a good challenge when one was thrown at her, but this sounded like it was way out of her depths. By the sounds of things this girl needed a lot of time and attention…something Nikki didn't think she could give.

"Listen Yvonne, I think I liked the idea of following the pot-head better…I'm really not the best person to get anyone to spill out their deepest thoughts. This girl is going to get my back up, and I have to warn you, I have a temper that makes the Kray's look like the Teletubbies…if she really needs the softly, softly approach then you better assign someone else, I'm not known for my tact either."

Nikki watched Yvonne smile and close over the case file on her desk.

"You'd better read this quickly…her name's Helen Stewart, and she should be here any minute. Welcome to the team, Nikki."


Chapter Seven

Nikki sat mesmerized, reading the file that Yvonne had readily thrust into her hand. She had been about to protest that she would not be forced into this farce for something as meagre as a few extra points towards her degree when she had noticed the small passport sized photograph attached to the front, right hand corner of the brown manila folder. The girl in the picture was the same girl she had seen sitting under her window that very morning, but in the photograph there was no signs of the worry or frustrations she had seen in Helen's face as she sat alone the bench. Instead she looked radiant, and without a care in the world. What had gone so wrong in this poor woman's life?

It didn't take Nikki long to find out the answer to her own question, having speedily digested the contents of the 32-page case file. It didn't take much detective work to figure out that Helen Stewart was the same friend of Trisha's who had been brutally assaulted in the park next to the bar where they both worked.

An instant wave indiscernible sadness and pity washed over Nikki as she closed over the notes and handed them forlornly back to the redhead across the desk, who was watching her with baited breath.

"So?" Yvonne questioned.

"Ok, I agree, she needs a lot of help, and I still don't think I'm the person to do that…" Yvonne snapped her head up ready to argue but Nikki's raised hand stopped her before she had a chance.

"But, I'll give it a shot. I don't suppose it can do much harm. But I'm serious, Yvonne, the first sign of it not working and I'm walking…deal?" Nikki raised her eyebrows in a serious, yet questioning manner. It was an expression that said "I mean business".

"Yeah, alright, alright, it's a deal." Yvonne shook Nikki's proffered hand reluctantly as she let out an exasperated sigh. She knew she had lost this argument, but desperately hoped the pairing of both women wouldn't lead to the outcome Nikki was secretly wishing for. Helen Stewart needed someone as headstrong as herself, and Nikki Wade was her perfect match…she would just have to personally see to it that Nikki didn't quit, deal or no deal.

A chap at the office door startled both Yvonne and Nikki, who had been staring at each other in a stubborn stand-off.

"That will be Helen now. Now Nikki, be nice…don't start the "You fuck with me and you'll be sorry" speech, I'm warning you, don't make this hard for yourself."

"If she's nice to me, I'll be nice to her, that's how things work with me." Nikki drew her body up in defence, her tone as sharp as a needle. In response, Yvonne glared daggers. "Two can play the stubborn game, Nikki." She thought to herself.

"Come in…" both Yvonne and Nikki stood as the door opened and a tall, sandy-haired guy came into view, blocking the doorway.

"Mrs Atkins, you sent me to collect Helen Stewart…"

"That's right Dominic, so where the bleedin' hell is she?"

"I'm right here. I thought I was the one who was supposed to be blind?" The Scottish accent seemed to float to Nikki's ears on a fluffy white cloud, that almost bowled her over, despite the hint of self-deprecated sarcasm that oozed from it.

Dominic shuffled away from the door, and the vision that was Helen emerged from behind. Around 5ft 3 in height, slim, but curvy build, her hair a golden brown bob that shined spectacularly under the overhead lighting, emphasising the dark blonde streaks, and eyes that sparkled like the stars. To say Nikki was awe-struck would have been an understatement.

"Helen, come in and take a pew…I've got a few things I want to talk to you about." Yvonne lifted her hand and pointed her index finger to the plastic seat next to Nikki, fully forgetting the gesture was wasted on Helen.

"It's ok, I can listen to what ever you have to say from here." Helen's lips pursed into a pout and her arms crossed firmly across her torso in a move that made Nikki smirk. This girl was just as pig-headed as herself.

"Ok then, if that's the way you want it. Claire Walker has been to see me, and she thinks you would benefit from our help here at student service…" Before Yvonne could finish Helen found herself making comment.

"She did what! How dare she! I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself, now if that's all Yvonne, I'll be leaving." Helen hastily turned to exit the room, forgetting where she was and felt her body slam forcefully against the doorframe, and before she knew it she was hurtling towards the ground.

"Shit, are you ok?" Nikki flew from her chair and held Helen in her arms, her breasts resting against Helen's back, her hands resting on top of Helen's.

"Get off of me!" Helen struggled free from whoever she felt grab hold of her from behind. A sudden image of the night she was attacked flashed through her mind like a streak of lightening, but it was too fast for her to capture it.

"Don't touch me, don't ever touch me, you hear?" The panic Helen was feeling had rubbed off onto Nikki, who stood speechless, nodding like a dog in fear at the unexpected response she had just been given to her selfless assistance.

"Helen…" Yvonne gently placed her hands on Helen's arms and twisted her around so they were facing.

"This is exactly the reason why Claire came to ask for my help. You may think you are able to do the things the way you used to, but darlin, the harsh reality is you can't, not yet anyway. In time, and with a bit of guidance your life will get back to normal" Helen snorted at the last comment.

"Normal? What's your idea of normality, Yvonne? Because I sure as hell don't think it's the same as mine. Do you know what it feels like for me? Living my life, day in, day out in darkness, not knowing what's going on around me. I'll never see anything again. I wont be able to see what my future husband looks like or my kid's faces at Christmas as they open their present…you don't have a clue what its like to be me, so don't even try to understand." Helen's warm tears brushed against her cheeks as she allowed Yvonne to pull her into a tight embrace.

"Shh, It's ok, no one's going to force you into anything you don't want to do. If you're really against the idea then I'll let it drop and tell Claire to stop hassling you about getting some kind of carer." Hearing what Yvonne was saying nearly sent Nikki into a spin of panic, her earlier opinions now having changed after hearing Helen's recent outburst.

"Helen?" Nikki edged closer to the girl who extracted herself from Yvonne's arms to look in her direction with tear stained eyes.

"My name's Nikki Wade…" She swallowed hard and begged her brain to think of something intelligent to say, which was proving harder than it seemed as Helen's darkened pupils met with her own in a look that almost made her heart break.

"and, erm, I, erm…" She could feel the sweat begin to descend down her forehead as the temperature in her body suddenly began to sore, through no other reason than sheer mortification at the stuttering wreck she was turning in to. Both Helen and Yvonne were waiting to hear what she had to say and as of yet nothing was coming to the forefront of her brain. Shuffling uncomfortably she wished the ground would open and swallow her to rid her of this embarrassing situation.

"Well, what I'm trying to say is, you'd be doing me a massive favour, Helen, if you let me help you out. Basically it all comes down to the fact I'm miserably failing my exams and need these extra credits if I have any chance of graduating this year. So please, if you don't do this for you, do it for me…." Nikki observed Helen as she stood in silence for a moment contemplating what she had just heard, her facial expression giving away no hint of what she was thinking.

The long silence was close to deafening, and Nikki and Yvonne held their breath in anticipation.

"Ok…" Helen's tone was emotionless.

"I'll do it, but only because you need the help…and you'll do well to remember that I don't."

"Great. Thank you Helen. You wont regret it." Nikki grinned like a Cheshire cat and gave Yvonne a quick, sly wink. Reverse psychology…it never failed.


Chapter Eight

Nikki checked the sports watch that curled around her right wrist for the third time in minutes, for no other reason than she was uncomfortable with the awkward silence that was echoing around the University corridors she was escorting Helen along. No one had spoken a word since they had departed Yvonne's office 15 minutes earlier, and Nikki was desperate to break the obvious tension that was permeating the air around them.

"Shit…" Nikki let out the expletive without thinking and at once apologised. Helen's file had stated she was the daughter of a Church of Scotland Minister, giving Nikki the impression Helen Stewart would be delicate to such profanity thanks to a strict religious upbringing. But if Helen was bothered by it she didn't make it obvious, and neither did she comment on Nikki's "Sorry, I shouldn't have said that."

Sensing Nikki had stopped walking Helen followed suit but didn't turn around.

"I have to go Helen, I'm sorry. I work after classes to fund my studies, I hope you don't mind."

"Why should I be bothered that I don't have someone following me around all night like I'm a lost cause?"

Nikki felt her hackles rise but didn't take the bait. There would be plenty of time to put Helen Stewart in her place if she kept up this hard nosed attitude.

"Do you want to walk with me to the pub, maybe get a drink while I work? You could catch up with Trisha, I know she misses you." Nikki saw Helen flinch at her suggestion, her body tensing until it was almost rigid, like a department store mannequin.

"if you don't want to its fine by me, it was just a suggestion. I can walk you back to your dorm…"

"No need Nikki, I know the way. I've lost my sight, not my marbles." Helen barked out her reply, so sharply it made Nikki recoil.

"Well you could have bloody fooled me! Cut the act, Helen. You're not the only one who's been served an injustice in life you know. we've all had it hard in one way or another, but we choose to get on with it, not turn into a bitter, twisted bitch who keeps everyone at arms length." Nikki ended her tirade by slamming the palm of her hand against the hardwood wall by her side, making Helen jump slightly at her action…an action Nikki immediately regretted when she saw how it affected the girl.

"You have no right to speak to me that way. You have been granted no authority over me, and will not dictate to me how I should or should not behave. If I chose, as you so eloquently put it, to be a "bitter, twisted bitch" then I will do so, and if you have a problem with that I suggest you walk away right now and go fail your degree…it really is of no concern to me. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get home and study. Something perhaps you should consider doing sometime also." And with that Helen turned the corner at the end of the hallway and disappeared, leaving Nikki with her jaw hitting the carpeted floor, once again speechless. That had not been the reaction she had been expecting at all. She had imagined her harsh words would cause Helen to break down and admit she had been wrong, that she did need help, and was sorry for the way she had been. But instead the ice queen remained. Nikki knew then that it would take more than just a few nasty comments to tear down the walls of deep despair Helen Stewart was so clearly hiding behind.

Helen cautiously made her way back to her room, keeping her body close to the outer wall to help guide her around the darkened maze of corridors that she remembered had once been brightly lit, cluttered chaotically with eccentric pieces of artwork done by fellow students and hastily scribbled posters advertising everything from student accommodation listings to theme nights in the local pubs. But now these hallways were ominously desolate, with danger lurking in each and every sharp corner she turned.

Finding the main doors after much hassle and many threatened tears, Helen walked through, feeling the breeze slap almost painfully at her pale cheeks. The strength of the gale was enough to take her breath away, but she battled on, down the stairway and onto the gravel pathway where she stopped for a moment of contemplation.

Without thinking she closed over her eyes, and imagined how the walkway in front her once looked, with its heavy, green-leaved trees scattered strategically across acres of freshly-mowed grass, house's dotted in the distance amongst a vast expanse of networking streets.

To her left was the accommodation buildings that she shared with hundreds of others who attended the University, and to her right was the famous student union bar where she had spent many a happy night in the last three years. A bar where her friends gathered for a pre or post lecture drink, a place where she could go to drown her sorrows and lift her spirits, and a place where she now felt terrified to return to.

Nowhere felt safe these days, not after the attack, and no one could be trusted. How could she let her guard down now, not knowing if her attacker was in close proximity, watching her, ready to pounce again when the mood took him.

"If only I could remember," she berated herself for having no knowledge of that horrific night. People took great delight in telling her it was for the best, that she didn't need to know and she should move on. But she couldn't. Not until she knew who had done this to her and why. Although she understood the likelihood of ever finding out was remote she had to at least try and regain some memory, to stop the sick bastard from doing it again to some other poor girl who didn't deserve it.

Opening her eyes she felt a single tear slide down over her cheek and drip off the end of her chin onto her bare neck. It felt like acid, burning its way down her skin, like a self-pitying poison that was slowly killing her from within. No one understood the agonising pain that ached in her heart when she thought of everything that had been taken away from her. How could they when they made patronising comments about how she should be thankful she had lived through the ordeal. Would they want to live the life she was going to have to lead? No, they would have wished they had died too, and their cheery words of wisdom were not helping matters.

Up until now she had had goals, ambitions, dreams…but not anymore. She couldn't let herself think of those aspirations, for they were no longer obtainable to her. Once upon a time she could have been anything she wanted, gone anywhere she wanted, seen anything she wanted. Not now. Why should she fantasise about seeing the Great Pyramid in Egypt, or the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco? Those images would be just that; pictures from storybooks, a fairytale she would never live out.

The only thing she was determined to see out was her degree. She had worked too damn hard on it in the last 3 years to let it sail down the Suwannee when she was so close to the achievement of passing with good grades…unlike a certain Nikki Wade, who seemed more than happy to flush her career down the toilet.

Helen sneered in contempt as the thought of the woman who had wormed her way into her life sprang into her mind.

"Let's see if I care if she fails…would bloody serve her right for speaking to me that way." the memory of Nikki's words replayed in her mind. All the cruel comments and snide remarks…each and every one of them true. She was turning into a hard-nosed bitch, but couldn't Nikki and the others see it was her way of coping? It was all a defence mechanism to keep herself from being hurt anymore than she was already. If she let her vulnerability show then she would most certainly crumble away, piece by piece, until there was nothing left of Helen Stewart and all that would remain would be a ruin; the broken down remains of a woman, whose strength and determination was once enviable, destroyed.

A slight drizzle of rain distracted her from her thoughts and she decided it would be best to head on home before it became a downpour that would soak her to the skin.

Turning left to begin the arduous task of finding her way back to her apartment Helen felt a breeze hit her face that she knew wasn't caused by the roaring wind. Bile rose in her throat as she prepared to scream in fear, but the voice stopped her.

"I've been looking for you bloody everywhere! I'm late for my shift thanks to you!"

"No one asked you to follow me, Nikki! I told you I'd be fine walking back on my own." Helen scowled in the direction of the angry voice that came from a mouth that was mere inches from her own.

"Well I didn't believe you would be, and I'm not prepared to have you injuring yourself on my conscience. So I'm not taking no for an answer. You either let me walk you back to your dorm, or you come to the pub with me…so what's it to be, Helen?"

"Fine!" Helen screamed back, her nose practically touching with Nikki's.

"I'll come to the pub, for one, then I'm going home…on my own!"

"Fine by me…" Nikki shrugged and stormed off, her long legs striding along the path leaving Helen rooted to the spot.

"Well, come on then short arse, keep up." Nikki smiled and Helen couldn't help but return it. It had been a long time since she had felt this alive, and it was all thanks to Nikki Wade.


Chapter Nine

Helen reluctantly followed behind the footsteps she had now come to recognise as Nikki's as they made there was across the campus and towards the cosy little bar which sat on its own beside the main building.

"Here, let me help you…" Nikki turned and reached across to rest her hand on Helen's elbow, which was quickly retracted. Nikki rolled her eyes and scowled at the behaviour of the girl who was determined to make her life a misery.

"No need, Nikki." Helen went to carry on walking but felt a hand against her chest stopping her.

"There was every need. You were about to walk into the wall. Now if you'll just let me guide you in the right direction…" Nikki watched as Helen stubbornly walked around her and through the pubs main entrance like she had full sight and could see where she was going.

"That bloody woman!" She hissed under her breath in a tone that was anger mixed with amusement. Helen Stewart was a feisty one, there was no mistaking it. With that fiery Scottish tempter and obstinate nature she was sure to get herself into trouble, and Nikki knew for certain she would be first to be on the receiving end of it. Her head was telling her to march straight back to Yvonne's office and tell her where to stick Helen Stewart, but her heart was pulling her in an all together different direction.

Barging into the bar like a bear with a sore head and ready to do battle Nikki noticed Helen was propped up on a barstool waiting patiently to be served. Her denim jacket hugged snugly into each curve of her body, her pale, delicate hands resting gently on the wooden bar, her fingers nervously tapping to an unknown beat. From where Nikki was standing she could see the distinct starting of a frown crease along Helen's forehead, but what was causing it she was unsure of.

Helen felt a set of eyes boring into her from the right, but who the belonged to she didn't know. Wrapping her arms tightly around her mid-section in an act of protection she looked around.

Nikki almost let out a gasp when Helen's eyes met with her own, a look of sadness and fear in the glazed over green orbs. Immediately she let her fists relax. Helen had won this fight. There was no way Nikki could allow herself to shout at her now.

"So, no one serving you then?" Nikki smiled and threw her jacket over the back of Helen's seat as the blonde woman shook her head.

"Well, Nikki Wade at you service Ma'am, what would the lady like to drink?" Lifting an empty glass from the shelf she awaited an answer, ignoring the other patrons baying for her attention.

"Erm, I'll just have a coke." Helen tucked a strand of hair nervously behind her ear and looked away. She could feel Nikki's stare burn into her skin and it unnerved her to a point where her stomach flipped in the most unexpected way.

"One Coca Cola coming up, for the pretty lady with the most gorgeous smile." Nikki flipped the can of coke in her hand as she grabbed it from the fridge at her legs.

"How would you know I had a nice smile," Helen snapped.

"You smiled at me earlier, remember?" Nikki poured the brown liquid into a cocktail glass that she had rimmed in sugar and popped in a little yellow umbrella to top it off.

"That wasn't a smile, Nikki, that was a scowl. If I ever do chose to smile at you you'll see the difference." Nikki slammed the glass down onto the bar and grabbed the five pound note from Helen's hand before turning to the till where she took her frustrations out on the buttons. It didn't matter how hard she tried Helen just kept throwing back snide remarks in return. Well, if that was the way she wanted to play it then so be it.

"£3.80 change!" The coins where slammed in front of Helen in the same manner as the glass, making Helen flinch momentarily.


"Don't bloody bother, I've heard enough from you for one day. I have other customers to serve; customers that won't treat me like a lump of shit when I'm nice to them." Helen hung her head in shame as she heard Nikki off at the far end of the bar talking to a guy who's voice she didn't recognise.

"What's eating her?" The guy looked at Nikki and nodded his head towards Helen.

"Good question, Andy, I wish I knew. Seems like I've managed to piss her off."

"Are you friends?" The tall dark haired man hardly had time to finish his question when Nikki answered with a snort.

"Friends? That's a joke…she wouldn't know the meaning of the word."

"But I'm not wrong when I say you're interested in her, am I?" Nikki raised her eyebrow.

"Come on Wade, I know you…she's gorgeous and you're trying to tell me you haven't thought about trying it on with her?"

"Not in a million years. I wouldn't go near her even if she begged me. She's damaged goods, and I've already got someone, so…" Nikki prayed she wouldn't blush or give herself away. Andy was right. Helen Stewart was gorgeous, and for all her fault's there was something about her that made Nikki want to scoop her into her arms and protect her from the world.

"I didn't know that, you dark horse, who is she?" Andy sat up in his chair, suddenly interested in the piece of gossip he was about to receive.

"Well, it's nothing serious yet, but Trisha and I are getting on pretty well, and she's made it obvious she likes me. So even although it's early days I think it could be the start of something." Nikki tried to smile but it didn't quite reach her eyes to be convincing. Yes, Trisha had made a pass at her, and yes she was everything she could want in a woman…but still, she didn't stir the same feelings inside her that Helen managed to after just a few hours of meeting.

Turning her head to look at the object of her desire she sighed. The stool was empty and Helen was gone.

Helen stood outside the student union and clutched her chest to try and ease the pain she felt in her heart. Nikki's words had cut her to the core.

"damaged goods…" Even Nikki, the one person who Helen truly thought could get her through everything she couldn't cope with on her own had passed judgement on her, and in the cruellest possible way.

"I Wouldn't go near her even if she begged…" the harsh words reverberated over and over until she couldn't take it any more and she threw her hands over her ears, sobs racking her body as she slid down the wall.

The barriers she had been ready to tear down for Nikki where back up and that was exactly where they were staying.


Chapter Ten

Nikki kept her eyes on the empty bar stool with a deep feeling of remorse and guilt descending upon her. Her cheeks flushed red with the embarrassment of possibly being caught out in her verbal tirade against the woman she was meant to be taking care of. Had Helen heard what she had said? She had hardly been whispering to Andy. in fact she realised she had been rather vocal in her vicious and somewhat uncalled for bashing, caused by anger that had now dissipated.

A hand on her shoulder broke her free from her thoughts.

"You look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Want to talk about it?" Nikki shook her head.

"I'm fine Trisha, really. I'm just a bloody fool, who has a classic, and seemingly permanent case of foot-in-mouth disease."

"Ah, I see. Well why don't you try and fix whatever it is you've said to the person who was obviously sitting in that chair you've been staring at for the last ten minutes."

"Because I don't think she will understand."

"She?" Trisha raised her eyebrows and slumped; deflated. A sight Nikki didn't fail to notice.

"Listen, Trish, it's not…"

"No need to explain, Nik. It's not as if you and I are an item. We shared a drunken kiss last week, it doesn't make us the couple of the century. I won't deny I like you, Nikki…but I know those feelings aren't reciprocated. All I can say is, whoever she is, she's a very lucky woman." It was Nikki's turn to crumple.

"What? Why the long face? You should be smiling and running off after her."

"I wish it was that simple. For a start I'm sure she's straight, and wouldn't look twice at me in that way. Then there's the fact I've only known her, what, the best part of 6 hours…and to top it all of, all we have done in that time is argue, fight and cause each other pain. Hardly the makings of a lasting friendship. Oh, and I forgot to add that I may just have indirectly told her she was damaged goods." Trisha sighed in defeat. The speech she had prepared in her head about how in time things would settle, and she should turn the negatives into positives, had been forgotten and she had to agree with her friend that it didn't sound like a marriage made heaven.

"I still think you should go talk her. Apologise. Make her see you didn't mean what you didn't mean what you said. I can see in your eyes how sorry you are, and will be able to see it too." Nikki laughed mirthlessly at the last comment.

"That's the problem Trish. She won't be able to see…" Trisha furrowed her brow in confusion.

"It's Helen, Trisha…I've fallen for Helen."

"Helen! Where the hell have you been!" Claire ran towards the front door of her dorm as she heard it creak open and pulled her friend into a hug that was not reciprocated.

"I've been at classes. Where else would I be?" Claire pulled away, but still held onto Helen's arms, which had remained at her sides.

"You've been crying. Are you ok? Are you hurt?"

"Just leave it Claire, it's nothing. Goodnight." Making her way to her room Helen felt more tears moisten her eyes but she held then back with stark composure. But every time she thought about Nikki Wade her resolve began to slip. Less than four hours from making her acquaintance and this woman had gotten under her skin, in more ways than one.

Sitting down on her double bed Helen lifted the receiver of the telephone that sat on her bedside table and dialled 123 before holding it to her ear.

"The time sponsored by Accurist will be 8:47pm and 10 seconds." With a sigh she replaced the phone back in its holder and threw herself back onto the mattress.

It was hours before bedtime and there was nothing to do. Normally she would have been reading one of her vast collection of books, or out in the lounge with Claire and a few other friends, chatting and laughing about the most trivial of things. But ever since her attack she felt that close bond between herself and the other slowly slip away into an abyss of misunderstandings and pain. They couldn't relate to how she was feeling, no matter how hard they seemed to try. All they could offer was sympathy and concern; the two things she didn't want. Instead she wanted the fun back in her life; along with her Independence, freedom, dignity…three things she had once cherished but no long seemed to have.

With Nikki it somehow seemed different. It didn't feel like Nikki's help was out of pity or sympathy. Instead it felt like compassion, mixed with something deeper she couldn't quite put her finger on. So why, she asked herself, do I keep fighting her like she's the enemy. Nikki didn't cause her to lose her sight…none of her friends had and they didn't deserve to be shut out or torn to shreds at every given opportunity.

Perhaps Nikki had been justified in what she had said at the bar. Helen had hardly made her life easy since they had met…far from it. She knew deep down, although it still hurt, that sometimes people said things in the heat of the moment that they didn't really mean.

It was time to start making amends before she lost everyone she cared dearly for.


Chapter Eleven

Helen lay on top of her bed, fully clothed and dozing peacefully in and out of consciousness. The whisper of the gentle breeze wafting in through the open window mirrored Helen's rhythmic breathing. The sun was still lingering on the horizon and flocks of birds chirped contentedly as they soared through the humid night air that was slowly beginning to darken.

The clock tower's bell chimed nine times in the far off distance, alerting passers-by of the time with its voluble ringing. If it had disturbed Helen she didn't acknowledge it. She didn't stir. Instead she remained still, laying on her back, her weary eyes closed and unmoving. For the first time in weeks she had found herself in a calm slumber, where all trials and tribulations were forgotten.

Sleep never came easy these days; not since the night she had woken up in a hospital bed to learn that her life had changed forever. Memories surrounding the incident dominated every waking thought she had, causing her to toss and turn into the wee hours of the morning until her body, spent and exhausted took over and pushed her reluctantly into a dream world. A reverie where terrifying nightmares consumed her. Black, faceless ghosts, clawing at her skin; hands that she could not escape grabbing at her lifeless limbs. The grounds surface rough against her back, tearing strips of skin away from bone as she felt herself dragged along the gravel pathway by a figure she could not see. The unrepentant laughter, the smell of aftershave mixed with freshly mowed grass and dry soil, the eerie silences as she fought to move and couldn't…round and round, over and over, until she would jump in fear, her heart beating rapidly in her chest as her lungs struggled to digest air, her breathing erratic. and her nightclothes soaked in perspiration. Shadows lurked in ever corner of the room, taunting and teasing her into tears, as she curled into a protective ball, where no one could hurt her anymore.

Living in a world that was constantly dark never allowed her a break from her fears. The memories that she could only see in the night carried through into her days. They were so vivid, so real. But were they? She had no recollection of what had happened to her, other than what details her friends had divulged…a lot of which she knew had been omitted to spare her heartache. So why could she see the attack? Was her mind playing tricks? Were these images nothing more than a figment of her imagination? Or had she been awake during it after all, despite the Doctors protestations that she had more than likely been struck unconscious within seconds?

A light rapping sound, that seemed to go on forever began to rouse her back to reality. She could sense someone was in the room with her and immediately she jumped from the bed and stood on full alert.

"It's ok, Helen, it's only me." Claire walked closer to where Helen stood and stopped.

"Bloody hell Claire. Couldn't you see I was sleeping!" Helen ran her hand through her hair in exasperation, feeling a slight tinge of remorse as she heard Claire sigh in defeat.

"I did see you weren't awake, but I needed to speak to you, and I need to do it now."

"What's so urgent it can't wait until the morning?" Claire's statement had gotten Helen's attention, and had her slightly worried.

"I don't know how to say this Helen…." Claire fidgeted on her feet, avoiding the oppressive stare that Helen was unconsciously giving her.

"Has someone been hurt?"

"In a way, yes, but not like you think. Helen, I can't go on like this anymore. You've been pushing me away since you left the hospital, and quite frankly I can't take this sudden attitude problem of yours any longer. Every day you pick a fight with me over nothing and everything…I'm your emotional punch bag. Nothing I do or say any more is right, in fact it seems to set you off into a rage, that I have no more energy to cope with. I'm sorry Helen, but what I'm trying to say is I'm leaving; I'm moving in with Caroline tonight." Claire watched Helen's face for a reaction, fully prepared for a full blown argument but all she saw were tears running the length of her friends cheeks.

"You can't move out Claire. You're my best friend…we've shared this apartment for three years, you can't leave me now."

"I have to, for both our sakes. Because, Helen, if I keep living here I can't see us staying best friends for much longer. Caroline asked me to live with her weeks ago, but I told her no because I felt like I had a duty to look after you. But since you keep telling me you don't want, or need any help, then, well, I'm no longer required here."

"I may not want mollycoddled, but that doesn't mean I want you to leave. I still need you in other ways, I need my friend!" Helen's sobbing had become uncontrollable, but Claire remained poised and calm, knowing if she had to break down she would back down to Helen's pleading.

"I'll still be your friend, I just wont be here, getting in your way." Claire knew she was sounding harsh, but it was the only way.

"Fine. Piss off to you're girlfriend. You're right, you are getting in my way…you're like a bad smell that seems to linger! I've coped on my own so far, and I will continue to do so. Now, if you don't mind, I have sleep to catch up on, and you must have packing to do!" Helen turned her back and stood rigid until she heard her bedroom slam and reverberate with force. Her body slid to the ground in one fluid motion, cries wracking her body.

It was finally happening. People were one by one turning there back on her. Today it was Claire; who would be tomorrow? Nikki? No, she shook her head. Nikki was her one saving grace, and she had to hold onto her for as long as she could.

Part 12

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