DISCLAIMER: the characters don't belong to me, but to Shed. I'm just borrowing them for a while. After I'm done toying with them, I'll give them back in one piece, I promise *evil laugh* Please don't sue, all I have left in my wallet is a couple of Euro' s. Not worth the hassle.
WARNING: 1. English isn't my mother tongue, so you'll probably encounter a lot of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes along the way. It's my way of annoying the hell out of everyone lol. 2. I'm merely a small pawn in a bigger political game (=civil servant for local government), which means I'm neither a doctor nor a lawyer. Don't be surprised if you find huge mistakes in whatever legal or medical things I might have in store for this sequel's sequel.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

A New Life Together
By Piranha


Part 1

Precariously holding on to several shopping bags, feeling them slip further from her grasp with each step she took, Nikki quickly unlocked the door and pushed it open further with her elbow. Kicking it closed with her foot, she dropped her keys on the hallway table and made a mad dash for the kitchen, calling out Helen's name. When no immediate response came, she placed the grocery bags on the kitchen counter, relieved to be rid of her rather heavy burden. Searching the bags, she retrieved the big tub of ice cream and only after a moment's hesitation – the warm weather was giving her an ice cream craving – she put it in the freezer. Knowing Helen should be home by now after her lunch date with Claire, Nikki stepped into the living room, only to find Helen slumbering on the couch, a book still tightly clutched in her hands, the radio a soft background murmur.

Their cat Snowflake purring as soon as she neared, Nikki gave her a loving scratch behind the ears before gently taking the book out of Helen's amazingly tight grasp. Sticking a bookmark between the pages, she furrowed a bit at the topic - immediately knowing a deep and meaningful was on the cards tonight - before placing the book on the coffee table and bending down beside Helen. A pair of feline green eyes following her every move with keen interest, she softly caressed Helen's cheek, curling a lock of hair behind her ear. When Helen stirred, mumbling something incomprehensible but didn't wake up, Nikki pulled the comforter up higher, effectively cradling her in a cocoon of warmth. As Snowflake crept even closer to the dozing Helen, putting a protective paw over her, Nikki walked back to the kitchen.

Groceries unpacked and supper in the oven, Nikki decided to put some washing in, sure Helen, who was still in deep slumber, would sleep through the rhythmic thumping. Hell, the woman would even sleep through canons going off beside her. The hamper with dirty clothing in her arms, she made a quick stop in the living room and had to chuckle at the sight: Helen sharing her pillow with an equally snoring Snowflake. Thinking that this was too good an opportunity to miss, she relished getting her hands on embarrassing blackmail material, much to Helen's annoyance who needed to perform all kind of odd jobs to prevent the material to pop up at dinner parties. Nikki put the hamper on the ground and took their camera out, making sure the sound was on (otherwise Helen would vehemently deny she snored like a freight train). The washing machine soon doing its job, Nikki retreated to the garden, a long cool drink in hand. Her hammock was calling for her.

When Helen finally woke up, the only sounds to be heard were the rhythmic thumping of the washing machine and the distant noise of the busy bustle outside. Not quite ready to face the world just yet, desperately trying to hang on to a rapidly disappearing dream, she kept her eyes closed for a little while longer, lazily stretching her arms over her head. A cat's arse not the most riveting sight to wake up to, she yawned widely before swinging her feet to the ground, the wild, unexpected movement causing Snowflake to quickly scurry away. Rolling her neck to get rid of all the conks, she folded the comforter and put the radio off before shuffling to the kitchen, still rubbing her eyes. Pouring herself a large orange juice, she greedily drank it in one single gulp, Snowflake incessantly rubbing her leg.

"You're a spoilt brat Snowflake," she muttered, opening up the fridge. "You do know that, don't you? Any other cat would be content munching on some dried cat grains but not you. No, your royal highness insists on having special treats. Well… you're in luck today, I just happen to have some tuna. Does that tickle your demanding taste buds?" She looked at the cat expectantly and had to snort when Snowflake threw her a condescending look. It seemed that Snowflake had that trick down to pat and Helen had to admit she fell for it every single time. Putting the tuna on a plate, she gave the cat one final scratch behind the ear before getting up from her crouched position. Only then did she realise that Nikki must already be home, the divine aroma of yet another one of Nikki's delicious culinary creations making her mouth water. A look at the clock and a quick peek in the oven confirming that she had slept longer than she had originally thought, Helen stepped into the garden, knowing she'd have more chance of finding Nikki there.

The sound of footsteps making her look up, Nikki put her book down and couldn't help but smirk when she noticed a rather dishevelled looking Helen standing in the hallway. Thinking that a barely awake Helen looked totally adorable, she motioned for her to come closer. "Hey sleepyhead," she said, "welcome back to the land of the living." As Helen bent down to give Nikki a chaste kiss on the lips, Nikki used her wife's momentary distraction to grab her by the hips and pull her on top of her, the hammock swaying dangerously. Laughing when Helen let out a startled yelp and a rather squeaky 'Nikki', she lifted up a bit to give Helen a passionate kiss. "Now that's what I call a proper welcome home," she mumbled, laying back down, her hand disappearing under Helen's shirt to lazily caress her lower back. "How was Claire, we haven't heard from her in a while. Did she get the promotion she was after?"

Settling down beside Nikki, her head on her shoulder, Helen replied: "yeah, she got the promotion. I don't know, she didn't seem all too happy though, something's definitely off. She was acting rather strangely. I tried talking to her about it, asking her about the promotion and Alex, but she kept changing the subject. I didn't really want to push, you know how she gets then."

"Trouble in paradise again, you think?" Nikki asked, idly toying with Helen's fingers. "Maybe her and Alex are having another quarrel?"

"Yeah, maybe," came Helen's reply. "I guess we'll find out soon enough." Their arms draped around each other, they stayed silent for a while, enjoying the warm summer sun and the gentle breeze softly rocking the hammock. Just when Nikki was about to doze off, Helen turned slightly to look at Nikki and said: "I need to talk to you about something."

"I thought you might," Nikki murmured, her eyes blinking open. "I think I have a pretty good idea what you want to talk to me about anyway."

"You do?" came Helen's flummoxed response.

"Yes, you want us to try for a baby, am I right?" Nikki calmly asked.

"How did you…," Helen started saying, "never mind… the book, right?" At Nikki's nod she continued: "Yes, I would like us to try for a baby. I mean, we've been married for nearly two years now, we've been together for over four years if you count our time in Larkhall, we're financially secure, we have a beautiful home…. I know that last time we spoke about us having children, I said we should wait a while longer, that we should have some 'us time' first but… I think we're both ready for that next step now. Besides, we're not getting any younger."

"Christ Helen, you make it sound like we're teetering on the verge of senility. I mean, I'm not ready for false teeth and a Zimmer frame just yet. There's still plenty of life left in me," Nikki said with mock indignation.

"Oh, you know what I mean," Helen replied, barely suppressing the urge to roll her eyes. "I'm 32, you're going to be 36 in a couple of weeks… The older you are, the higher the risk of complications in pregnancy. Besides I want to enjoy our kids' childhood, play hide and seek with them in the park, teach them how to play football, I don't really see me do that when I'm in my late forties."

"How long have you been feeling this way?" Nikki asked.

"I've been thinking about it for a couple of weeks now," Helen admitted. "I didn't mention it because I wanted to get everything straightened out in my own head first. I mean, it's a big step, a huge responsibility… and there are other factors to consider like will we both continue working or will one of us become a full time parent, do we use sperm of a friend or do we contact the sperm bank, ….. I wanted to do some research of my own first. Now I'm sure, I want to have a baby, more precisely I want to have your baby."

"My baby?" Nikki squeaked.

"Yes, I know that we always said that if we were to have any children, I'd be the one to carry them and that hasn't really changed, I mean I'd still be the one carrying the baby, you'd just be the one donating the egg cell. Just think about it Nikki, a baby with your eyes and curly hair…, " Helen said.

"My temper, my stubbornness, …." Nikki added sardonically.

"Yes, I suppose, but what do you think of the idea? I know it's not what we agreed earlier, but….. I mean, that way we could have children of us both, for the first baby we'd use your egg cell and for the second mine," Helen said, her nervous anxiety plainly visible.

"I think it's a lovely idea, though I think you're rather underestimating the problems we'll have with two Wades running around the house," Nikki said.

"Oh well, I'll just let you deal with the Wade temper, after all, you do have experience with it," Helen joked. "Anyway, kidding aside, you're okay with the idea of us having children sooner rather than later?"

"Yes, like you said, I think we're both ready for the next step. Why don't you call our gynaecologist in the morning and set up an appointment? That way we'll find out all we need to know," Nikki said.

"Oh thanks sweetheart," Helen said, giving Nikki a kiss on the cheek. "I knew I could count on you."

A tiny bead of sweat slowly meandering its way down her back, the sun unforgiving in her scorching golden radiance, Nikki squinted her eyes and threw the delivery guy a nasty, almost threatening glare before signing off the papers he held in front of her. Nervously tapping his foot, Nikki's evil stare, her reputation but especially her rap sheet making him edgy, he snatched the papers out of her hands as soon as she had finished and sped off with screeching tyres, leaving Nikki coughing in a cloud of dust. Muttering something about pimple faced dimwits, she sighed wearily and looked down at the big carton box. <Guess we all have our crosses to bear>, she thought before lifting the box up with a groan, her arms and back protesting at the heavy weight. Undertaking her very own 'via dolorosa' up the stairs to the bookshop's storage space, she cursed under her breath, her knowledge of expletives extensive and very colourful.

The last couple of steps sheer torture, she let the box drop next to a half empty shelf, glad to be rid of the burden. Gasping for a cigarette and a cold drink, but not really having the time, she took a Stanley knife out of a drawer and crouched down beside the shelf. Cutting through the duct tape before ripping it off, the damn tape clinging to her jeans and shoes before she got rid of it completely, she meticulously crosschecked the box' contents to the order list on her laptop, keeping the shop's inventory updated. Occasionally flipping through a book that grabbed her interest, she began stacking the shelf. She was almost to the bottom of the box when she became aware of a presence behind her. Her serious expression softening, she said, never even looking up: "hello Barbara."

"How did you know it was me?" her former cell mate asked, venturing in further. She put her bag on the ground before sitting down on a nearby chair. As a last moment thought she added: "Helen not here yet?"

Looking over her shoulder, Nikki gave the older woman a wan smile and replied: "I recognised your footsteps." The inevitable, but otherwise rather useless consequence of spending far too long in prison together making the other woman chuckle softly, Nikki continued: "Helen's still at home. We have an IRS guy around next week…. Tax time is here again, so Helen and Trisha are going over the books, making sure everything adds up. Anyway, thank you so much for taking over my shift this afternoon Barbara, I really appreciate it. Ever since Gail resigned so unexpectedly last week, we've been short staffed. I mean, she didn't even work her notice and Gemma really can't handle the afternoon rush on her own.

I tried to enlist William's help, thought that perhaps I cold pry him away from Monica's side for an afternoon, but they're having a bit of a crisis at the half way house. Some guy is terrorising one of the women, not taking no for an answer though she repeatedly told him it was over between them. All the girls are pretty spooked apparently, especially after he tried to break in yesterday. The police promised to look into it, but William thought it more prudent to stay at the halfway house this afternoon, just in case he tries anything new. Can't say I blame him."

"No, especially not after all the trouble they had last time," Barbara agreed. "Anyway, like I said on the phone, I'm only too happy to help. I'm going mad sitting at home twiddling my thumbs now Henry's away on that seminar. So…. How are you feeling about the doctor's appointment? Are you nervous?"

Putting the last book on the shelf, Nikki turned around to face Barbara and knowing she could talk to her about anything, she said: "nervous would be the understatement of the century, I'm absolutely bricking it. I mean …. This could turn out to be the best or the worst day of our life. Having a baby together, it's always been our biggest dream. Ever since Helen mentioned wanting children that time in the art room, I've been wishing for this moment. We're going to find out whether or not we can make that dream reality and that's absolutely terrifying, but at the same time also exhilarating. I can't really explain how I'm feeling at the moment….."

Smiling gently at the fervour with which Nikki spoke, Barbara then asked: "when do you have to be there?"

Looking at her watch, Nikki groaned and quickly got up from her crouched position. "In about two hours," she said, "so I'd better get my arse in gear. Helen wouldn't be a very happy bunny if I were late and I still need to shower and change."

Enveloping Nikki in a warm hug, Barbara whispered into her ear: "good luck." When Nikki gave her a bright smile, giving her a quick peck on the cheek, she added: "off you go then, you don't want Helen to send you down the block." Watching Nikki rush down the stairs, Barbara shook her head at her energetic behaviour before going back into the bookstore to give a very grateful Gemma a helping hand.

Slightly out of breath after the brisk walk from the car park to Dr. Howard's private office, Helen having trouble keeping up with Nikki's longer strides, they bypassed the reception and went straight to the waiting room, politely nodding to the three other women present in the waiting room before sinking down on the rather comfy leather couch. Both way too nervous to even contemplate reading one of the outdated gossip magazines on the nearby table, they talked quietly amongst each other, totally oblivious to the women's stares: one of them was clearly disapproving, the woman's face so puckered that you'd think she had just sucked on a lemon while another stare was definitely appreciating with a clear tinge of jealousy. Nikki took Helen's hand into her own and rubbing it soothingly with her thumb she whispered: "see? I told you we would get here on time. We still have a couple of minutes to spare."

Still slightly annoyed at being pressed for time, Helen grumbled: "only because I drove like a bat out of hell to get here. I'm surprised we didn't get pulled over, I was definitely setting some new speed records."

"You worry too much Helen," Nikki chuckled and with a devious waggling of her eyebrows she added: "I found the ride very invigorating, both of them in fact. You've got to admit that few extra minutes in the shower was worth it. I mean, you're totally relaxed now, aren't you?"

"Well yeah, I suppose so," Helen admitted, realising she'd have to defeat that point, but desperately trying to hold on to her initial annoyance – it kept her from focusing on their upcoming appointment, she added: "It's just that I hate being late like this. I'd rather be fifteen minutes early than one minute late. I never manage arriving early for work or lunch dates, Claire likes to call me chronically late for those, but the really important things…. I like to be on time for them."

"That's because you're a control freak," Nikki smirked. "That's not healthy, you know? You'll get an ulcer that way, you're rushing to your own death. You need to go with the flow a bit more, babe. You can't plan your life to the very last minute, you need to live and enjoy it."

Helen wanted to respond to the slight ribbing but a pretty young nurse, a non-silicon version of Pamela Anderson, called out her name. Hand in hand they walked over, again totally oblivious to the dagger looks the woman on the right was throwing them. "Perverted queers," the woman hissed under her breath. "You're all an abomination in the eye of God. People like you don't deserve to have children."

Already on edge by nerves, Nikki felt all her hackles rise and turned around, her nostrils flaring and her eyes spewing fire. You could hear a pin drop in the room, everybody waiting to see how the clearly unbelievably angry Nikki would react to that bigoted comment, the woman cowering away on the couch, realising she had prodded a dangerous beast indeed. Nikki, fuming over the indignant remark, was just about to launch a full blown verbal attack when Helen whispered: "don't, you're playing into her hands. She's not worth it, babe. In the bigger scheme of today's things, her opinion hardly matters, does it?"

Feeling her anger and indignation diminish with every stroke of Helen's thumb, Nikki was about to let go when the woman, toughened by the lack of reaction, thinking the other two women shared her opinion and most probably on a kamikaze mission, sneered: "that's it you big butch, hide behind your dykey girlfriend. You queers are all the same, trying to be a man, but when push comes to shove, you just haven't got the balls."

Anger rushing through her, Nikki was about to pounce when Helen's grip on her arm held her back. Looking Helen in the eye, she whispered: "I know…. I just don't want people talking about you like that."

"Always my knight in shining armour," Helen murmured, before stating a bit louder: "If us holding hands gets the hag upset, let's give her something to be pissed off about."

Taking a totally startled Nikki into her arms, she kissed her shamelessly. Being caught off guard Nikki resisted for a second, but soon relented to Helen's probing tongue. Moaning softly, she wrapped her arms around Helen and kissed her back. They were still standing there, locked in a passionate embrace, when the doctor, who had witnessed the whole scene, coughed before saying their names. Guiltily springing apart, a beet red Helen muttered 'sorry about that' while Nikki threw a menacing glare at the hag and received a big thumbs up from the other two women. Putting her arm around Helen, she followed the doctor into his examination room.

Motioning both to take a seat in the posh leather recliners, the doctor mouthed a silent apology when the phone rang. The one sided conversation dragging on, the technical medical mumbo jumbo going over her head, too complex and frankly too tedious to follow, Nikki tuned it out. The long wait was wreaking havoc on her nerves. From the moment they had left home, her focus had been on this consultation. Sure she had laughed and joked with Helen, even almost blown a fuse over the callous remarks that old bat in the waiting room made, but it had all just been a front. Perhaps her temper had even been ignited because of it; beneath that tiny veneer of strength and relaxed optimism, she was a nervous wreck and now the verdict had been postponed even further! Though she knew it was only a temporary delay, she felt herself grow even more anxious, her heart clenching, her throat constricting. Her left hand still in Helen's, unconsciously squeezing tight, she started drumming her fingers on her knee, letting both Helen and the doctor know exactly how she thought of the long wait.

When Helen shot her a venomous glare, she gave her a sheepish half smile and stilled her hand, but mere seconds later her foot started tapping on the wooden floor on its own accord. A swift kick to the shin later – she was really grateful Helen was wearing sandals and not steel tipped workman's shoes – Nikki forced herself to calm down. Feeling the bile rise, she knew she had to think of something else and started looking around Doctor Howard's spacious and luxurious office, taking in the diplomas and degrees of prestigious schools adorning the wall, smirking a bit at the almost overflowing bookcase sporting well thumbed medical readers and textbooks. Looking over to the wall on her right, she had to smile at all the cute babies staring back at her and felt her heart rate return to normal. Isn't it amazing how cute babies could surrender everyone to mush? Doctor Howard was a rather keen amateur photographer it seemed, keeping track of the many babies he had helped deliver over the years. His wall of fame he had called it and Nikki would have pegged him as the world's biggest egotist if she hadn't known how truly interested he was in the wellbeing of 'his babies'.

"I'm really sorry about the interruption," Doctor Howard said, hanging up the phone before leaning back in his chair, the leather creaking from the shifting weight. Scratching his beard he familiarised himself with their file again, highlighting certain results as he scanned the various charts. Having read the last page, he pushed his glasses up and cleared his throat before saying: "right… okay… Last time you were here, you told me you wanted to have a baby together, more specifically in vitro fertilisation where Helen would receive one of Nikki's egg cells.

Of course before we can go forward with IVF, rigorous procedures need to be followed; not only were you both subjected to extensive examinations to ensure conception and pregnancy are indeed possible, you were also asked to have a long chat with our psychologist to determine whether or not you'd make good parents. I realise that a psychological evaluation might seem a bit over the top and there is no right way to being a good parent, but here at the clinic we take the wellbeing of the child very seriously. So many people decide to have children without a second thought. Also IVF is a very expensive and time consuming treatment where success can't be always guaranteed, we wanted to make sure you realised and understood the ramifications this could possibly have on your lives."

Checking to see if they understood his reasoning, he offered them a small nod before continuing: "right… well… I'm pleased to say that you have passed the psychological evaluation. As I understand you thought that both your sexual orientation as Nikki's conviction could possibly pose a problem, but Miss Summers concluded that a child would be very fortunate to have you both as parents. You have a stable and strong relationship, you're financially stable, you're both aware the impact a child would have on your lives and are willing to make the necessary adjustments. You both have strong convictions and adhere to a strict moral code and although your ideas don't always collide, they aren't diametrically opposed, meaning a child wouldn't be torn in two directions. On the contrary, he'd be challenged to form his own opinion. You also share a similar view on the child's upbringing.

Now for the medical examination…. We had to determine whether it was medically possible for Helen to become pregnant with Nikki's baby. In other words, can you conceive a child Nikki and can you carry a child to term Helen." Readjusting the papers in front of him, Doctor Howard looked straight at Nikki before saying: "medically speaking we find no problem in you either conceiving or carrying a baby to term Nikki. All your ovarian, pelvic and uterine tests came back normal." Relief and joy flooding through them, Helen and Nikki just looked at each other smiling brightly before turning to face Doctor Howard once more.

Clearing his throat again, he nervously fiddled with his papers before saying: "Helen…. Your pelvic tests came back normal. There was a slight abnormality in your ovarian test, but that can be easily remedied with hormone treatment and really isn't something to worry about. However… we encountered a big abnormality in your uterine test, making it virtually impossible for you to carry…." Not even allowing Doctor Howard to finish, Helen sprang out of her chair and ran out of the room. Tears running down her face, she only stopped long enough to hiss at the lemon faced woman "I hope you're happy now, your wish has come through… we can't have children together" before sprinting out of the clinic, totally oblivious to the woman's glee at the devastating news.

Looking up when she heard a chair being pushed back forcefully, Nikki looked straight into Helen's ghostly pale face before she took off. Needing a couple of seconds to comprehend what the doctor had just said and realise that Helen had just run off, Nikki gave doctor Howard a quick apologetic shrug before getting up. Mentally debating whether or not she should pick up the chair Helen had pushed to the ground in her haste, she decided to leave it be and sprinted after her wife. By the time she was on the street outside, Helen had already reached their car and was speeding off with screeching tyres. Cursing under her breath for her slow reactions, she went back inside, knocking softly on Doctor Howard's door before entering. Sighing heavily before raking her fingers through her hair, she said: "what you're saying is that Helen and I can't have children together…."

"No, that's not what I'm saying," the doctor replied. At Nikki's baffled expression, he sighed: "please let me explain. Like I said, Helen's ovarian test showed a small abnormality which can easily be remedied with hormone treatment. She's perfectly capable of conceiving a child. The big problem lies in the uterine test. Helen suffers from Asherman's syndrome or uterine synechiae, a condition characterised by the presence of scars in the uterus. Normally small scars can be treated with success, but in Helen's case the scarring is so extensive that carrying a child could be very dangerous for Helen. Worst case scenario is a 200% mortality rate, meaning the pregnancy could result in the death of both Helen and the baby, too big a risk in my professional opinion."

"So what you're saying is that we can have a child, but Helen's life would be at stake," Nikki surmised.

"Yes and no," the doctor replied," Helen carrying the baby is still an option I suppose, but it's not something I would advise. Frankly, if you were to make that choice, I couldn't remain your gynaecologist. Of course you're free to consult other gynaecologists, get a second opinion, but I highly doubt they'd come to a different conclusion. However… you can still have children together, there are ways…. You could carry the child Nikki, either your own egg or Helens. I know that this isn't how you had planned having a baby, but strictly medically speaking this is the safest way. Due to your age, you'd need extra monitoring but there is no risk. Of course the choice is up to you. If you decide against carrying the baby yourself, then there are still other options: a surrogate mother, adopting a baby, fostering a baby, …."

"This is an awful lot to take in," Nikki stammered.

"I understand," the doctor replied. "Look Nikki…. Go home, find Helen and talk to her. She needs you right now, you need each other. You both need time to come to terms with this. Give yourselves a couple of days, a couple of weeks even… then, when you've talked it through and both feel up to it, make another appointment. I'll answer all of your questions, explain what Asherman's syndrome is…. Should you decide with going through with IVF with you carrying the baby Nikki, we'll talk about sperm donors and ovulation cycles. Should you opt for adoption or a surrogate mother, I'll can give you more information and contact numbers….. But for now, give yourself time to work through this… to grieve what could have been."

Taking out a twenty, she paid the cab driver and watched as he pulled away from the curb before slowly turning to face the house. Knowing she'd need to handle Helen with velvet gloves while diplomacy really wasn't her forte, she sighed wearily and raked her fingers through her hair, leaving it standing on end. Searching her bag for her house keys, she cursed loudly, remembering she had left them on the kitchen table earlier when an irritated Helen had honked the horn a third time, none too subtly letting her know she'd better get her arse in gear. Of course leaving the house without her keys posed a bit of a problem now.

Lighting a fag, she thought about her predicament and soon realised ringing the bell might just be the easiest solution. Nicotine really did wonders for no brainers! When there was no movement in the house after her third attempt, she took a couple of steps back and gave the house a scrutinous inspection, checking to see if perhaps, in her earlier haste, she had left a window open. Finding no windows ajar but spotting an abandoned bird's nest clogging the drain pipe, she stored that little titbit of information for later use.

Taking a final drag of her cigarette before stomping it out on the pavement, she realised that she had no other option than to break in through the back. Hoping no lengthy explanation would be needed, she rang Trisha's doorbell. It stayed eerily quiet for a while, but then the door swung open, revealing a rather dishevelled looking Trisha, dressed in a big flowered pinny, bucket and mop in hand. Bypassing a startled Trisha, not even commenting on her ridiculous get up, she walked further into the house, down the hallway straight to the backyard.

Running after her ex, mop and bucket swinging freely, water dripping all over the floor, Trisha asked: "how did it go Nikki?" Suddenly realising how silly she looked, she put the mop and bucket to the floor before taking off the pinny. When Nikki didn't immediately answer, she took her by the elbow and slowly turned her around, a chill settling into her heart as she noticed the haunted and lost look in Nikki's eyes. Swallowing the big lump in her throat, desperately trying to stave the tears that were threatening to fall, Nikki croaked: "badly… erm … I don't want to talk about it now… Have you seen Helen?"

"No, not since earlier this afternoon when we were cooking the books for that fiscal audit," Trisha said slowly, confusion plainly visible on her face. "Why? I mean…. I thought she was with you… wasn't your appointment this afternoon?"

Her mind not really on Trisha, Nikki replied: "yes, it was but Helen took off without me and now I'm trying to find her. Trouble is though is that I left my keys on the kitchen table and now I can't get in… Would you mind if I hopped over the wall?"

"God no, you go right ahead," Trisha said, holding the back door open for Nikki. "Just be careful…. You know, if you need to talk about it, I'm there for you."

"Thanks Trisha, but right now I just want to find Helen," Nikki replied, placing Trisha's tiny kitchen ladder against the wall. Climbing up the steps, she could just about reach the ledge. Slowly she pulled herself up, her hands holding onto the ledge as her feet inched their way up. Awkwardly laying half over the wall, the tiles pressing hard into her stomach, she tried to swing her leg over, only succeeding after the third attempt. Laying flat out on the narrow ledge, she tried to lower herself to the other side, but totally miscalculated the remaining distance, scraping her hands and knees as she fell into a rosebush.

Letting out a surprised yelp of pain, she cursed loudly when she noticed the tears in her brand new Armani suit. "I'm fine, don't worry," she replied to Trisha's panicked inquiry," I just lost my footing." Dusting off her suit in a futile attempt to appear presentable – a totally useless endeavour as her suit was shredded to say the least – she let herself in through the back door. Calling out Helen's name, she searched the whole house but when there was no reply she realised that, for the moment, Helen didn't want to be found.

Part 2

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