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 2

Placing a quick call to Monica on the pretence she was checking up on their emergency situation, there was no real need to alarm them even further after all, she found out that Helen hadn't gone to see her dad either and suddenly at a loss what to do next, she sank down on the couch, almost squashing poor Snowflake in the process. Feeling the walls close in on her, she looked around the room, her mind numb. Her eye fell on the coffee table and suddenly a blind, white rage surged through her. The baby book they had flipped through only the night before mocking and taunting her, she picked it up and threw it against the wall in anger, knocking down the crystal figurine William had given Helen for her birthday. Snowflake scurried away into the kitchen, a flight unseen by Nikki as she let out an animalistic scream of anger and frustration, her fists clenching tightly. Her eyes were brimming with tears, but she stubbornly refused to let them fall. She needed to be strong now for Helen.

Knowing how much Helen loved the figurine, she crouched down beside the cabined and felt her knees sting as her pants scraped over the wounds. Ignoring the pain and discomfort, finding it strangely fitting as all she felt was hollow and empty, she picked up the figurine, surprised to find it intact. Staring at it for a while, light reflecting through it in tiny rainbows, she thanked the gods for the tiny stroke of good luck before putting it back on the shelf, hiding the baby book behind some unpaid bills. Bending down to pull up a pant leg, she noticed dried blood coating her knee, the wounds deeper than she originally thought. Knowing they needed medical attention, she walked to the bathroom, shedding clothes along the way.

Watching herself in the mirror, hating the pained, haunted person staring back at her, she opened up the cabinet and placed antiseptic, ointment, gauze and bandages on the sink. Taking a closer look at her hands, elbows and knees, she realised the wounds had dirt in them, so she decided to have a quick shower, the hot water almost scalding her back, but numbing the pain inside. With ointment and bandages everywhere, almost resembling a broken down Humpty Dumpty, she hobbled out of the bathroom, her limbs suddenly stiff. Putting on a faded Levis and shirt, she picked up the shredded clothes on the way down, throwing them in the kitchen bin. Knowing she'd go out of her mind with worry if she stayed at home, she grabbed her keys and left the house. She needed to talk to someone, she needed advise on how to handle Helen when she found her and she knew just the person to talk to.

After a long, emotional talk with Barbara about motherhood, infertility and childlessness – her former cellmate had never wanted children with her first husband and by the time she had met Peter, it had been too late – Nikki walked to the park not too far away from Helen's old house. It was Helen's favourite hiding spot, the place she ran to when she needed to cool down after a heated argument or when she had some stuff to work through. Nikki berated herself for not thinking about the park sooner, but on the other hand it had given Helen some time on her own to think and get things straightened out in her head.

Though it was a rather long walk to the park, Nikki decided against a cab as she needed some time to herself too. Though she relished the idea of having a baby with Helen, never once had she considered carrying the baby herself. She didn't really know how she felt about the idea and knew she had to make her mind up before she talked to Helen about it. Her wounds itching and her legs hurting from the long walk, Nikki limped over to the bench she had secretly dubbed 'Helen's corner'. Sitting down beside her, she said nothing, allowing Helen to come out of her self imposed solitude at her own pace. Another five minutes passed before Helen acknowledged her presence by taking her hand and putting it in her lap. When she noticed the multitude of bandages on Nikki's arms and hands, she finally turned to face her and with red rimmed eyes from crying, she asked: "what the hell happened to you?"

"A rosebush challenged me to a duel and I lost," Nikki replied. When Helen just stared at her with an 'I need more than that' expression on her face, Nikki continued: "I thought you might have gone home but I didn't have my keys with me so the only way for me to get in was to climb Trisha's wall. I miscalculated the distance and fell into the rosebush."

"Are you okay? Does it hurt?" Helen asked with concern.

"Just a bit, but don't worry, I'll live," Nikki replied. "We have to talk about this, you know."

"Yes, I know," Helen sighed before falling silent again. A couple of minutes passed before she let out a strangled sob and said: "I can't have a baby Nikki. We can't have a baby together. It's all we've been talking about these last few weeks and now our dream is shattered." Looking at their entwined fingers in her lap, her thumb slowly caressing Nikki's wedding ring, Helen felt another jolt of pain go through her at having admitted the truth out loud. Lifting her head, she stared into the distance, not really seeing anything, her face a haunted, twisted mask of agony and despair. Her voice laced with pain, she softly admitted:" you know how people always say that you can't miss what you don't have? Well, they're wrong! Right now I feel like there's a big void in me, a huge gaping hole, like a big part of my body and soul is missing…

I've been sitting here for the past two hours and every time a mother passed, pushing a pram or walked by hand in hand with a laughing and smiling toddler, I felt a stab in the heart. A young couple stopped by at that bench over there a little while ago, the woman so obviously pregnant. They just looked so happy, the man caressing her stomach and talking to the baby as if he could hear him. I felt like my guts had been ripped out. I was green with envy, that was what I wanted for us and now it'll never happen. I don't mean to diminish us, I love what we have, I love you…. More than words can ever say, I wouldn't trade for anything in the world, but …. Right now I just feel like a baby would make us complete. I know that sounds very selfish, but I can't help it.

You know … ever since I was a wee child, I've dreamt of having babies. I didn't really have a clear picture in my mind of how my future would look like, where I was going to end up or whom I was going to marry, but children were always there… part of the package deal I suppose. I don't regret my life so far, I'm happy with the choices I've made over the years, I'm especially happy with you but there's still this longing, a strong maternal instinct if you will and I don't know if you can really understand that, I don't know if I understand it myself. This longing has always been there, but now… it seems even stronger, probably because I do know what I'm going to be missing.

I'll never get to carry a baby for nine months, feel it grow inside me or bond with it before it's even born. I'll never experience morning sickness or strange mood cravings in the middle of the night. I'll never get to waddle around like a beached up whale or hurdle abuse at you during childbirth. I'll never feel a baby suckle me as I breastfeed him or pat him on the back for his burp and it makes me sooooo angry! I mean, it's just so unfair…. What have we done to deserve this? Millions of people have children every day and some aren't even fit to be a parent, neglecting or abusing their children whereas we…." Turning to face Nikki, tears streaming from her eyes, she sobbed: "we'd make such great parents Nikki."

Enveloping Helen in a big hug, trying to get as close to her as she could, she tenderly wiped the tears away with the back of her hands before saying: "we still can."

Looking at her lap again, Helen replied: "adoption you mean? I don't know Nikki… I know I'd love the child we'd adopt with all of my heart, but …. Right at this moment, it feels like second choice, you know? I know that 's a very mean and selfish thing to say, but … I had my heart set on a child of our own."

"Adoption is one option, yes," Nikki agreed, "but that's not really what I meant…. When you ran off and I couldn't catch up with you, I went back in to talk to Doctor Howard. Though he said it's far too dangerous for you to become pregnant, he was talking about a 200% mortality rate; we can still have a baby together…. We'd just have to do it the other way around."

"The other way around?" Helen asked confused, not really knowing where Nikki was going with this.

"Yeah, the other way around, I'd be the one carrying the baby. We could even use your egg; according to Doctor Howard you'd have no problem conceiving a child. Don't you see? That way the baby would still be ours, I'd just be the one carrying it instead of you," Nikki explained.

"I don't know Nikki… we've talked about this for days on end and never once did we consider doing it that way. Besides… I don't know how I really feel about it; I had my heart set on becoming pregnant… How do I know I would love this child as much? I wouldn't have carried it for nine months, I wouldn't have formed a bond with it, how do I know I'd really feel like the baby's mother?" Helen asked.

Understanding where Helen was coming from, having struggled with the same doubts ever since they had begun making baby plans, Nikki replied honestly: "I reckon you don't… you can never have that certainty, just like you can never be entirely certain that you'd feel like a mother when you'd be the one carrying it. I mean, you hear stories about postnatal depression, mothers abandoning their babies all of the time. Just because you'd be the one carrying the baby doesn't mean you'd automatically feel like his mother. I struggled with the same feelings. I was afraid that I wouldn't be as much the mother like you'd be, simply because I wouldn't have gone through childbirth, but in the end I realised that men don't go through childbirth either and they still feel like the father. It's not because I'd be the one pregnant, that you'd love the baby any less. It's just the risk we have to take I suppose."

"I understand what you're saying, but I'm still not sure Nikki," Helen said.

"I know, it's a lot to think about, a lot to discuss," Nikki said. "Besides, it's not really urgent, is it? We still have time. Let's just wait for a while…. The pain is still too fresh now to make a rational decision. Let's think about it for a couple of days and discuss it then. What do you say?"

"Sounds like a plan," Helen replied, offering Nikki a half smile. "I guess we'd better head home now, it's getting a bit chilly."

"Yeah, let's go home. I'm getting a bit hungry… what do you fancy? A restaurant or take out?" Nikki asked.

"Let's just get some take out," Helen said, suddenly feeling very tired. "All I want to do is eat, have a warm bath, and crawl into bed."

"Home it is then," Nikki said, wrapping her arm around Helen's shoulder as they exited the park.

Her bed lamp the only illumination in the room, the window ajar to let in a cool, refreshing breeze, making the curtains sway softly, Nikki sat up in bed reading Minette Walter's 'the ice house'. Sighing softly with contentment as she heard the long awaited rumble of thunder in the distance, perhaps now the temperature and humidity would drop to more tolerable levels, she listened to Helen going through her nightly ablutions in the bathroom. The flushing of the toilet, the quick brushing of teeth, the opening and closing of jars of crème sounds very familiar to her, she patiently waited for Helen to come to bed, turning another page and smirking at yet another sarcastic zinger Anne Cattrell threw the alcohol pickled detective. At last she heard the bathroom door close and the soft padding of footsteps down the hallway.

She put her book on the bedside table, sliding a bookmark between the pages and watched Helen walk into the room with a pensive expression on her face. She didn't really know how to deal with Helen at the moment; ever since they had left the park she had been withdrawn and subdued, only speaking when absolutely necessary. As Helen threw her robe over the chair and slipped into bed naked, Nikki leaned over to switch the bed lamp off, bathing the room in moonlight. Snuggling closer, she whispered 'good night Helen, love you' as she felt Helen put her head on her shoulder. Thinking that, given Helen's current sullen mood, it was probably best to leave her be for a while – forcing her to talk would only have an adverse effect – she softly caressed Helen's hair and shoulder, wordlessly trying to convey her love and support.

Feeling Helen snuggle even closer, a leg resting comfortably in between her own, she had to bite back a moan when she felt Helen's hand slip under her shirt, fingertips brushing past Nikki's quivering stomach before slowly meandering their way upwards. The tantalisingly erotic, feather light touches causing goose bumps, Nikki bit her lip when the fingertips brushed past her nipple teasingly, only to return mere seconds later to taunt her again. Desire shot through her like wild fire, Nikki felt trapped: she so desperately wanted to give in to her desire, but at the same time she didn't want to push Helen. Unable to hold back a throaty moan when her nipple was pinched, she whispered 'are you sure' as she tried to catch Helen's eyes in the soft moonlight.

Offended, Helen quickly snatched her hand away, Nikki's apparent rejection of her advances stinging her more than it should, the symbolic stab to the heart fuelling her anger to irrational proportions. "Gone off me, have you?" she sneered bitterly, using anger to mask the pain. "What is it? Am I not womanly enough anymore for you now I'm unable to bear children? Mentally packing your bags already? Planning on trading me in for a younger model, are you?"

The irrationality of the bitter accusation throwing her for a loop, Nikki drew in a sharp breath to mask the unexpected pain. She just laid there for a couple of seconds, unable to respond. Feeling the mattress dip and immediately realising that if she didn't do something, Helen would leave their bed in a righteous huff, marking the beginning of a cold war, she sprang into action. Realising she'd need physical closeness to restore their mental connection, she rolled over, trapping Helen beneath her, unable to escape. Trying to decipher the hidden meaning behind Helen's cruel, unfounded accusation, understanding that the sex had been Helen's way of reclaiming her femininity, self esteem and sense of self worth after the dreadful diagnosis, she just laid still for a moment, desperately trying to come up with a way to convey Helen how much she still desired her.

Apparently she wasn't thinking fast enough as Helen bristled "get off me, you big lug. I said get OFF", drumming her fists on Nikki's back to emphasise her point. "It's too little too late".

"No", Nikki replied deceptively calm, though her heart was racing, "not until you tell me what's really going on here as I know you don't really believe what you've just accused me off." Catching Helen's flailing arms – Helen wasn't giving up so easily, her anger way past boiling point – Nikki trapped them above Helen's head with one hand. Stretching out on top of her, resisting every attempt at being thrown off by a wildly bucking Helen, she waited until Helen had calmed down a bit. "How could you say such a thing? How could you even think that? Do you really think I'm that shallow? Don't you know how much I love you?"

Trailing soft kisses along Helen's jaw, eliciting a hitched breath, she murmured: "I love you, I'll always love you, whether we have fourteen kids or none." She kissed her way to Helens lips, at first unrelenting but soon surrendering, while her fingers wandered over Helens stomach, moving up in ever smaller circles until they reached a swell of breast. "I love you when you're angry with me, your eyes narrowing threateningly and spewing fire. I love you when you're watching a scary movie, squeezing my hand tightly and hiding behind a pillow. I love the warmth of your smile and the full richness of your laugh, the way your eyes shine when you're happy. I love the way you're shy sometimes, biting your lip and curling your hair behind your ear." Softly she kissed Helen on the lips, her tongue trailing over them ever so slow before venturing in, sliding over Helens. Her fingers teased a nipple, squeezing and pinching until it was rock hard.

"I've loved you ever since you wagged your finger at me, throwing me down the block. I love you now, even if you're moody and crabby sometimes or too damn stubborn for your own good. I'll love you in years to come, when we're both old and grey, when making love could mean risking a broken hip and gravity has made everything sag." Zeroing in on a rock hard nipple, she trailed the tip of her tongue over it before sucking it hard, making Helen groan and whimper beneath her. Trailing her fingers over Helen's hips to the inside of her thighs, making Helen shiver in anticipation as she kept the touch feather light, teasing her unmercifully, she dipped her fingers in the abundant moisture before sliding upwards to Helens extended clit, touching the nodule lightly.

"I love you, all of you. You're my world, my life… you're my everything. Without you I'm nothing. You own my heart, mind, body and soul. You're my one true love and I promise you I'll love you until the day I die." Slipping two fingers into Helen, slowly sliding in and out, she kissed her way down Helen's quivering stomach, dipping into her belly button before venturing down even further, her hair tightly held in Helens clutched hands. Trailing her tongue over Helens clit, making her jump and groan loudly, she started sucking the pink little nodule in earnest, her fingers sliding faster, in rhythm to Helens gyrating hips. Feeling Helens climax close in, she curled her two fingers and sucked even harder, hearing Helen scream her name mere seconds later. Gently coaxing her down from her high, she placed a last open mouthed kiss, making Helen twitch before crawling her way up to Helens arms. Wiping away her tears, she whispered: "never doubt that I love you."

Her breath hitched, her eyes still puffy and red from crying, Helen crawled into Nikki's warm, reassuring embrace, needing their physical and emotional closeness. Drawing strength from their re-established connection, absorbing Nikki's love, letting it warm her battered heart, Helen leant up on one arm to look Nikki in the eye. Gracing her with a watery smile, she replied, her voice still a bit hoarse: "I don't doubt your love Nikki, really I don't. I'm sorry…. I didn't mean all those nasty things I've said, I was just angry and lashing out, taking it out on you and you didn't deserve that. It's not your fault, it's not anyone's fault I suppose. I truly am sorry."

Cupping Helen's chin with infinite tenderness, slowly caressing her lip with her thumb, Nikki whispered: "shhh, I know and it's okay. I understand, really I do."

Slowly breathing out, squeezing her eyes closed to shut out the unexpected pain Nikkis carelessly chosen words caused, Helen bit her lip to hold back lashing out in anger again. She knew Nikki didn't do it on purpose. Taking a few calming breaths to suppress the frustration and anger bubbling closely to the surface, she replied: "that's just it Nikki, you don't understand, not really…. Sure you can empathise, but you're not the one going through this, you haven't got a clue how I feel at the moment. I didn't mean to sound harsh, but it's true. One minute I'm crying and the next I'm mad with anger. I feel like my heart's been ripped out. I'm just so messed up right now, I'm all over the place… I don't know if I can explain properly as I don't even understand it myself."

Sitting up, fluffing the pillows against the headboard, she took Helen into her arms and said: "shhh, just take your time, there's no need to rush…. The words will come eventually."

Snuggling even closer, trying to absorb all of Nikkis love and warmth, Helen sighed wearily, thinking about a way to explain the complexity of her feelings at the moment. After a while, she replied: "I don't know… biologically, sociologically and psychologically women are conditioned to have children, there's no escape. Just think about it… One of the first things you are asked is whether you're married and have children. Put four women in a room together and they'll probably start talking about their kids. It's like a woman's self-esteem and sense of self is situated in her womb.

I've always wanted children… I guess that I wanted what society deems the 'normal' life: white pocket fence, a career and 2.5 children. And now it seems I can't fulfil that dream, what being a woman is all about, to society at least, has fallen through and I don't really know what's expected of me now, of who I really am anymore. I guess I could say I'm going through an identity crisis, probably comparable to menopause….I no longer felt like a woman for a moment, I no longer felt desirable. Not only was I mourning the child I'll never have, in a way I was also mourning my loss of self."

Not really knowing how to respond to that, just hoping she didn't say the wrong thing, Nikki took Helen's hand into her own and after giving it a quick kiss, she said: "you're right. I don't really know what you're going through, so I can't fully understand and I know it's easy for me to say not to let society rule you, but believe me when I say that you're always a woman to me. I didn't fall in love with you because of your womb and though I admit that you're the only woman I saw and still see myself having children with, children are a result of a relationship, not the reason for it. Before now, we have never even considered me getting pregnant and I know for a fact that doesn't make me any less womanly than you. Femininity is so much more than that. Having children is not the only thing that defines being a woman, just like motherhood isn't defined by giving birth. They're both transient concepts."

Understanding the point Nikki was trying to make in her own clumsy, roundabout way, Helen said: "rationally I do know that you're right, but emotionally I'm just not ready to accept that yet. It'll take some time."

"And I want to give you that time," Nikki replied; "there's no rush. We'll get through this, together we can get through this."

Helen stayed silent for a while, deep in thought. Then she said: "you wouldn't mind carrying my baby then?"

"I'd be honoured to carry your baby," Nikki replied emotionally. "To see your laugh, your beautiful green eyes, your compassion and determination mirrored in his or hers… it would be like having a miniature version of you, I'd simply be the luckiest woman in the world. All I ask is that you think about it, there's no rush…. Just remember, you have to decide for you, not because you think it's what I want to hear…. It has to be your decision and whatever you decide, I'll back you a hundred percent."


Six months later.

Handing the burly man a shopping bag and watching him walk out the door at last, not even giving her a sideways glance, Helen leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes for a moment, sighing wearily. The man had been a royal pain in the arse to say the least, complaining about everyone and everything. His coffee had been lukewarm and way too strong, the leather sofa had been hell on his haemorrhoids – yes, more information than Helen needed to know too – the adult section was far too pornographic, the kids were too noisy and the bookshop's gimmick, linen shopping bags with literary quotes, too cliché. Keeping a weak, fake smile plastered on her face at all times during his holier than thou speech, continuously repeating ' the customer is always right' in her mind to keep her blood from boiling over, had nearly eroded the last of her patience, but she had succeeded.

Infinitely pleased to be finally rid of the annoying git, with rather expensive purchases under his belt too as Helens powers of persuasion and devious selling tactics had only been spurned on even more by his nagging, she signalled to Gemma she was going home. Shrugging on her winter coat, it was blistering cold outside, she checked her handbag for her car keys whilst walking to the storage space at the back. Flipping open her cell phone, she dialled the all familiar number. "Hiya babe, it's me ….. Yeah, I'm walking to the car as we speak …. how are you? Feeling better? …. Perhaps it was something you ate? You did wolf down your dinner last night. …….. Nah, you wouldn't believe the morning I've had. The cold weather is making all kind of weirdoes crawl out of the woodwork …. Listen, the reason I called. I was thinking about doing the shopping before coming home, that way we can have a quiet afternoon in …. Yeah, I suppose we could do that, but I was thinking more down the lines of spending the afternoon in bed ….. Oh stop it, I'm not… Anyway, I know we need the usuals like fruit and veg, butter, toilet paper etcetera, but anything else?" At Nikki's response, Helen turned white as a sheet and muttered "you're kidding? You think…? Don't worry, I'll take care of it" before flipping the cell phone closed and sprinting to her car.

Finally arriving home after what seemed an eternity – it had taken her ages to trawl through the supermarket and then the woman before her at the check out couldn't find her credit card, ultimately locating it in a tiny side pocket of her huge purse – Helen groaned loudly when she noticed Claires car parked in front of the house. She loved Claire dearly, but she really had bad timing. She never seemed in a hurry to leave, so Helens curiosity wouldn't be satisfied for another couple of hours and she so desperately wanted to know. Sighing deeply at her continued misfortune that day, she got the grocery bags out of the backseat and walked to the door. After a short struggle with the lock, she let herself in.

Stepping inside the house, she threw her handbag and coat on the couch before venturing in further. Guided by the mouth watering aroma of freshly cooked food and the animated chatting, she made her way to the kitchen. Leaning against the door frame, the shopping bags on the floor beside her, the scene before her put a warm smile to her face: her wife and her best friend, standing side by side, cooking and chatting. "So how did your date go last night?" she heard Nikki ask. "Did she live up to expectation? Was she everything you thought she'd be?"

"God no, quite the opposite actually," Claire sighed dejectedly, adding some chopped tomatoes to the pot Nikki was stirring. They both had their backs to the doorway, so Helen was in the perfect position to eavesdrop. "The evening was a total waste of time, money and make up," Claire continued. "If I had known it would be the date from hell, I would never have bought that expensive dress. The night started out pleasantly enough, she had me picked up in a rented black limo, a single red rose and a bottle of chilled Champagne waiting for me on the back seat. She spared no expenses, first we went to a show and then we had dinner in a romantic restaurant. I thought I had picked myself a winner this time, you know? A bonsai tree amongst cacti, a Truffle amongst mushrooms."

Adding some more tomatoes to the soup, Claire fell silent for a while, gathering her thoughts. Snorting derisively, she continued: "I should have known it was too good to be true. Don't get me wrong, Elisabeth is a very nice and charming woman, the epitome of old fashioned charm and class in fact. She played the role of the perfect gentleman brilliantly: offering me her arm, holding the doors open, helping me with my coat. I really can't complain about the way she behaved, she never pressured me or anything, it's just that…. How can I put this diplomatically? She must be an experiment in artificial stupidity, the blue print for building an idiot, the living proof that evolution can go in reverse. Simply put, she isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. In fact, she would even make Homer Simpson look like a Mensa member. She doesn't know anything, nothing even remotely intelligent crossed her lips. It was like talking to a ten year old, although that does actually does my niece injustice: I've had more stimulating discussions with her than I ever could have with Elisabeth. At first I thought it was because she was nervous, I know she's shy and withdrawn, she hardly opens her mouth at work. So I tried to keep the conversation going, you know? I asked her questions on several topics, but had no luck.

Normally in situations like these, when women realize that they can't dazzle you with their brilliance, they try to baffle you with their bullshit. You wouldn't believe the nonsense I've heard these past couple of months: crap tales about wealth and success, macho stories of heroism, megalomaniac fabrications of self importance… You name it, I've heard it, but not last night. Elisabeth didn't waffle on about some boring, stupid subject, she hardly said a word all evening. I felt like I was on a date with a damn mime: visually present, just not audibly. You probably think that I scared the poor woman to death, I know I can be domineering and intimidating at times. But nothing could be further from the truth in this case, I really tried to lure her into conversation several times. Nothing worked. She remained monosyllabic at best. Now I finally understand why she's so quiet at work, she probably doesn't understand what we're talking about half the time. The only thing she has going for her are her looks, I mean the woman's absolutely yummy. Too bad her antenna doesn't pick up all the channels, she's a beautiful idiot."

"Isn't that a bit harsh?" Nikki asked. "I mean, she does work at a law office, she can't be that stupid?"

"Believe me, Elisabeth fell out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on her way down," Claire explained vigorously. "Besides, she's only a glorified secretary, not even that come to think of it. She just sorts the mail, waters the plants and handles the phone. I suspect Richard, that's my boss, wasn't thinking with his brain when he hired her. He probably tried to get it on with her too, I wouldn't put it past him, he's a serial womaniser. Guess dating really isn't my thing. I mean… ever since I broke up again with Alex six months ago, I've been on lot of dates and all I seem to attract are losers and weirdoes."

Laughing silently and shaking her head at her friend's indignant tone, Helen ventured further into the kitchen. Clearing her throat so she wouldn't scare them to death with her sudden presence, she said: "you're a real agent of Satan, aren't you Claire? Passing such harsh judgment on Elisabeth and Richard." Walking over to Nikki, she gave her a searing kiss. "I'm really glad I'm home, I can't wait to find out," she whispered into her ear.

Turning around to face Helen, Claire took note of her friend's wary expression and said: "damn Helen, you look like shit. Rough shift huh? Anyway, in answer to your question, I may very well be one of Beelzebub's little minions, but my duties are largely ceremonial. Besides you know what Richard's like, he slept with the entire secretarial staff before setting his sights on the senior staff. I only escaped his clutches by outing myself on a work do. Anyway, it would be just like him to hire Elisabeth just for her looks, just to prove to himself that he can still pull the girls. When I first started working there ten years ago, I thought he was going through a midlife crisis or something, but by now I realise he just kicks on pissing beside the pot. I just feel sorry for his wife, though I guess she's just in it for the money."

"Well, you might have a good point where Richard's concerned," Helen conceded. "The man's a barracuda always on the lookout for a new pound of flesh. But Elisabeth? Aren't you a bit harsh on her? You should be ashamed of yourself Claire, you're an intellectual snob. Not everyone knows who Nietzsche is, not everyone's interested in books, poetry or theatre. Cut the poor woman some slack."

"I know that not everyone shares my interests, but the woman really didn't know a thing. I tried talking to her about a wide variety of subjects, but nothing. You've got to admit, spending the rest of your life with a woman who has the mental capacity of a toddler, where's the appeal in that? Looks aren't everything, you know? You need some intelligent conversation from time to time," Claire said, trying to defend herself.

"I'm sure you're exaggerating. I mean, every time you went out on a date these past few months, you've always found some fault in the woman. Something you can't possibly live with or so you say. You're on the lookout for a perfect woman, a princess charming to sweep you of your feet. I'm sorry to burst your bubble Claire, but that woman doesn't exist. Nobody's perfect, we all have our faults and little eccentricities. You're way too picky for you own good. If you keep this up, you'll end up a lonely old spinster," Helen said.

"I'm not too picky," Claire sulked, crossing her arms over her chest and giving Helen a death glare.

Nikki remained quiet, as always intrigued by the verbal sparring between the friends. Besides, it probably was safer to butt out, the way Claire was looking at Helen, it was simply scary. "Yes you are," Helen taunted. "Remember Cornelia? You rejected her because she was too short!"

"She was a midget," Claire countered. "She was at least ten inches smaller than I am. She would have needed a step ladder just to kiss me."

"Well, what about Michelle?" Helen asked. "I met her, there was nothing wrong with her."

"Nothing wrong with her? You've got to be kidding me!" Claire guffawed. "She had a nervous tic, she kept twitching her nostrils and eyebrows all through dinner, it drove me crazy in the end. And then when she dropped me off home, she was like a damn octopus, her arms and hands were just everywhere."

"Hmmm," Helen said, doubting the veracity of that statement. "Well, what was wrong with Sandra then?"

"Sandra was a serial womanizer with a wandering eye," Claire grumbled. "She flirted with everything that wore a skirt on our date. She kept ogling my cleavage, I caught her drooling over the woman seated next to us and then had to tell her it's impolite to drool over the cocktail waitress. She kept trying to fondle me under the table and when I swatted her hands away, she was so miffed that she stuck me with the bill, the obnoxious little twerp."

"Oh yeah, I had forgotten about that," Helen laughed. "If I remember correctly she even flirted with me when I gave you a lift to the restaurant. What about Jeanette then?"

"Ah Jeanette, she was a very charming and intelligent woman, we talked for hours and had a genuinely good time. I would have gone on a second date with her if it hadn't been for that huge zit on her nose. I mean, it was monstrously big, a life form on its own. I just kept staring at it and the longer I looked, the more it seemed like the zit took over her whole face," Claire said.

"Claire, I have to admit, by the sound of things, you are very picky. You set your standards so high, every woman is doomed to fail. I don't mean to say that you should have a mad passionate affair with the next woman you meet, but you have to give them a fighting chance at least," Nikki said. "I do understand where you're coming from however. You want to make sure she's the woman of your dreams, the one you want to spend the rest of your life with. But the way you're going about it now, you just set them up for failure. I suspect all that will change when you meet that special woman; you'll be so blown away, you won't even notice her tiny quirks."

"I agree with that," Helen replied. "Love is blind. At first you won't notice her faults and later on, you'll find them endearing just because they're part of her. Just look at me and Nikki, I love her warts and all" When Nikki put her hands on her hips in mock indignation, Helen just laughed and stuck her tongue out.

"You know," Claire laughed, "you two could moonlight as agony aunts, you're both perfect at it and then the way you work in tandem….. I can just picture it now, Helen and Nikki, agony aunts extraordinaire." When Helen and Nikki stared at her in utter surprise, unconsciously adopting an identical pose, their eyes almost bulging out in shock, Claire started to laugh even harder, tears streaming down her face. Not really understanding what was so funny, Nikki looked over at Helen, who was equally clueless and just made the universal 'loony' sign. Nodding her ascent at Helen's hardly professional diagnosis, rolling her eyes in an overly dramatic fashion, she said: "babe, why don't you take giggly butts over here to the living room before she wets her pants? I'll finish up in here and then bring out coffee and biscuits."

When Helen readily acquiesced, realising she unfortunately wouldn't get rid of Claire any time soon – Nikki had invited her to stay for dinner too – she led her still giggling friend out of the kitchen, leaving Nikki alone to her thoughts. Sniggering at the incredible adventures of Claire in date-land, they heard a brand new episode every time the lawyer stopped by, Nikki wiped down the kitchen table with a damp cloth before putting the coffee machine on. As the coffee machine gurgled and hissed, she took out the necessary cups and saucers, putting an assortment of biscuits on a plate. Happily munching on a chocolate chipped cookie, she was feeling a bit peckish already, she suddenly noticed the shopping bags still in the hallway. Putting them on the kitchen counter, she began stacking the cupboards. At the very bottom of the last shopping bag, she found what she had actually been looking for. "Christ," she muttered, 'five of them…. Guess she wants to be absolutely sure." Stirring the Provençale sauce, realising it needed to simmer a little while longer, she turned the stove down lower and took the plastic bag to the upstairs bathroom.

Though she knew she should really wait for Helen, Nikki couldn't control her curiosity and tore the plastic wrappers open. Reading the instruction manuals, she sighed and went to sit on the toilet. Putting the predictor tests on the sink – yes, she had used all five of them, she wanted to be sure too!- she washed her hands thoroughly, needing something to do whilst waiting on the results. So focused on the tests, mentally willing lines to appear, she was startled when Helen called out "sweetheart, do you need a hand with the coffee?". Desperately wanting to stay to know the results, but knowing that would only make Helen and Claire suspicious, she quickly towelled her hands dry and raced down the stairs, soon forgetting about the tests as they spent an enjoyable evening with Claire and then later Trisha and Tracy too, who had just gotten back from a well deserved, sun soaked vacation in the Caribbean.

Alcohol flowing freely and normal inhibitions loosening as the evening progressed, they had all reverted to the living room floor for an, admittedly rather adolescent, game of spin the bottle. A heavily inebriated Tracy – Nikki had just thrown the third empty bottle of Merlot in the kitchen bin – gave the bottle a good spin, all of them watching it rotate at incredible speed. Four of them desperately wished the bottle's neck wouldn't point their way as Tracy was cunningly devious in her dares and masterfully evil in her questions while Tracy wondered with a smirking grin which sordid secrets would be unravelled now. As the bottle slowed down, swinging wobbly after tapping Nikki's foot, it came to a halt right in front of Claire. Groaning loudly as she'd had more than her fair share of shocking revelations that night, Claire tried to sit up properly only to sag against the couch again. Her eyes all droopy, her cheeks beet red and her hair wild and messed up as she raked her fingers through it, she haughtily replied: "truth this time, I'm not doing one of your diabolical dares again, missy. Come on then…. Hit me with your best shot."

Bursting into a fit of drunken giggles as Claire tried to throw her a menacing glare but failing completely as she went into a bout of hiccups, Tracy decided to take it easy on the lawyer. Somehow Claire had received the worst of her dares and questions that night. She hadn't done it on purpose, fate had decided it that way and although the lawyer had been a good sport about it all, Tracy didn't want to overdo it, so she asked her a, for her anyway, very tame question: "what's the weirdest place you've ever had sex and who was it with?"

Turning bright red, hanging her head in embarrassment, Claire mumbled: "uni, the huge table in the law library." Almost as an afterthought, she added: "got caught in the act too by old battleaxe Barkley, the head librarian."

"Christ, that was you?" Helen blurted out. "It was all over campus the next day, a sexual romp that made battleaxe Barkley faint on the spot. We all wondered who the culprits were but the faculty stayed tight-lipped about the whole affair and now you're telling me you were one of them?" Baffled Helen just stared at her friend, with renewed respect now it appeared Claire had caused the biggest scandal that had hit the campus in a long time.

Intrigued by Claire's embarrassment and Helen's shocked awe, Nikki said: "Come on Walker, I think I speak for all of us when I say we need more details, you've made me madly curious now."

Suddenly oddly pleased about herself, not just anyone could say they'd made old battleaxe Barkley, known to be unflappable no matter what happened, faint. Taking another swig of her wine, Claire said: "well, it was in my final year at uni and I had just dumped my girlfriend a couple of weeks before after I had found her fucking her tutor, her MALE tutor I might add, but that's another story all together. Anyway, my emotions were all over the place, add the stress from the exam period to that mix and perhaps you'll understand why what happened happened. I was sitting in the library, studying for my final test, comparative legal analysis if I remember correctly, when the old battle axe told me she had to go for a moment. I thought nothing of it, I knew she had a secret crush on one of the gardeners and that she wouldn't be that long.

Left on my own or so I thought, I diligently continued studying so imagine my surprise when I bumped into someone when searching for Radzinowic's book. We both let out a startled yelp and just stared at each other, trying to get our racing hearts under control. I don't really know what happened, but something just clicked…. When I looked into her eyes, something just snapped in me and I knew I had to have her, there and then. Before I knew it I was kissing her ferociously, adrenaline spurring me on. She was surprised for a moment, but then she gave as good as she got, pushing me into a shelf, books falling to the ground around us. We tore at each other's clothes and by the time we had made our way to the huge desk, never stop kissing, we were both buck naked, clothes strewn all over."

Fidgeting a bit, Claire took another gulp of wine to gather enough courage to finish her story: "anyway, she was … well… erm …. She was going down on me – god what that girl could do with her tongue – when the old battleaxe came barging in, alarmed by the loud profanities I was spouting. It was like a scene from a horrible B movie: Barkley let out an ear piercing scream before turning white as a sheet and dropping to the floor, rather unceremoniously I might add. We were stunned for a moment, but then scrambled into action, grabbing our clothes and quickly leaving the library, trying to get our clothes on while we ran. We had to hide into the janitor's closet when campus security, alarmed by Barkley's yelling, came sprinting down the hallway. It was absolute madness. Anyway, Barkley was so shaken by the incident, she couldn't remember I was the last person she'd seen in the library, so she never knew it was me she'd caught doing the unthinkable on her precious desk."

"What happened in the janitor's closet though?" Tracy asked, sensing Claire had skipped over some bits.

Blushing profusively, a bit miffed at having to tell the rest too, Claire continued: "well…. You know… I was very near the edge when we were so rudely interrupted, so she pushed me against the wall, mops and brooms poking me in the oddest places. She got down to her knees and well… erm… she finished me off. God, I had to bite my hand not to scream as security ran past the closet. Well, afterwards she gave me the sweetest kiss ever, whispered into my ear that her name was Gillian and left. That was the first and last time I ever saw her." As they all stared at her in a mix of awe and shock, who knew the always prim and proper lawyer had it in her – Claire sat back, smiling smugly. Wanting to break the silence that had fallen, she said: "time for one last embarrassing revelation, I think". Giving the bottle one last whirl, she looked at Nikki when she appeared to be the ultimate victim: "what's the most romantic thing Helen has ever done for you?"

"She proposed marriage to me in the rain," Came Nikki's prompt answer.

"No, no, no, that doesn't count," Claire stated, shaking her head. "Proposals are per definition romantic, I meant, what 's the most romantic thing besides that?"

When Nikki's answer wasn't immediately forthcoming, Helen realised that she was severely lacking in that department. Nikki was always the one with the grand romantic gestures: little poems pinned to her pillow, candlelight dinners, bouquets of roses, … Deciding it was high time she did something about it, she got up and walked over to their stereo system. Inserting a disc, she held out her hand to a pleasantly surprised Nikki and asked: "may I have this dance?" Softly swaying to Bryan's Adams' "heaven", they kissed passionately.

Oh - thinkin' about all our younger years
There was only you and me
We were young and wild and free

Now nothin' can take you away from me
We bin down that road before
But that's over now
You keep me comin' back for more

Baby you're all that I want
When you're lyin' here in my arms
I'm findin' it hard to believe
We're in heaven
And love is all that I need
And I found it there in your heart
It isn't too hard to see
We're in heaven

Oh - once in your life you find someone
Who will turn your world around
Bring you up when you're feelin' down

Yeah - nothin' could change what you mean to me
Oh there's lots that I could say
But just hold me now
Cause our love will light the way

And baby you're all that I want
When you're lyin' here in my arms
I'm findin' it hard to believe
We're in heaven
And love is all that I need
And I found it there in your heart
It isn't too hard to see
We're in heaven

I've bin waitin' for so long
For something to arrive
For love to come along

Now our dreams are comin' true
Through the good times and the bad
Yeah - I'll be standin' there by you

As the song ended, Trisha coughed and said: "I think that's our cue to leave. Come on Walker, there's a spare bed with your name on it at our place." Helping Claire to an upright position, needing Tracy's help as the lawyer was a bit more unstable on her feet than Trisha had originally thought, she hooked her arm through Claire's, Tracy mirror her gesture at Claire's other side. The three of them wobbling their way to the front door, swaying like drunken sailors, they needed three times to clear the sitting room door. Bumping into the wall several times before finally stepping outside, Trisha said: "Helen, Nikki, thanks for a lovely evening, we should do it again sometime soon."

The goodbyes over and done with, Helen leaned against the front door, closing her eyes for a moment. Looking over at Nikki, who was yawning widely, she said: "sweetheart, you look knackered. Why don't you go on up? I'll lock up and clear up down here, I'll be right there."

"If you're sure," Nikki replied, not really waiting for an answer as she climbed the stairs, making a beeline for the bathroom.

Sighing heavily as she picked up the clothes Nikki had so haphazardly strewn all over the bathroom floor before entering the shower, her attempts at re-educating Nikki over the disgusting habit so clearly failing, Helen folded them up and put them in the linen hamper in the corner, cursing under her breath as a couple of coins rolled to a near unreachable spot underneath the bathroom cabinet. Crouching down in exasperation, trying to fold herself into an extremely uncomfortable position, she finally retrieved them after a couple of attempts. Putting them into her bathrobe pocket, she got back up, thumping her head hard against the underside of the cabinet. Yelping out in pain – unheard by Nikki who was singing along under the shower to a song only she heard – she rubbed the top of her head, already feeling a rather big lump form. Wondering what else could go wrong, God knows she'd been a Sod's law all onto herself that day, she opened up the bathroom cabinet to retrieve her toothbrush. Applying a fair amount of toothpaste, she began brushing in earnest, her mouth soon foaming like a crazed dog with rabies. Only then her eyes fell on the five predictor tests.

Spitting out her toothbrush, foam and spittle slowly making their way down the cabinet mirror as a result, she let out an ear piercing scream. The deafening yell loud enough to wake the neighbours – Trisha would attest later that it had jolted her awake – Nikki quickly turned off the shower and scrambled out of the cubicle, tying a huge towel around her. "What is it? What has happened?" she asked the dazed Helen, but Helen didn't answer, too mesmerised by the amazing sight Nikki posed. Wide eyed, her mouth suddenly dry and her heart beating a hundred miles a minute, she was hypnotised by the big droplet of water slowly meandering its way in between the valley of Nikki's breasts. Not really understanding what was going on, but not liking the way Helen was staring at her like a drugged up loonie, her foaming mouth wide open and a spaced out look in her eyes, Nikki grabbed her by the shoulder and shook her and said: "what is it? Don't tell me you've seen a spider again?"

Only slowly coming out of her stupor, Helen tried to answer, but when she fumbled over her words, she just pointed towards the sink. "They're all positive," She managed to croak out emotionally, "we're… we're pregnant." At Nikki's elated whoops of joy, she jumped up into Nikki's arms, peppering her face with kisses. "I can't believe it, we're pregnant," She said in between kisses. Suddenly realising what she was doing, she slid out of Nikkis embrace; getting down on her knees in front of a still dazed Nikki, she gently released her of her towel before reverently running her fingers over Nikki's stomach in a loving caress. "Our baby's in there," she whispered, looking up into Nikki's eyes before placing a tender, gentle kiss on her belly button. Pulled up into a searing kiss by Nikki, Helen moaned and started pulling Nikki towards the bedroom, considering making love to her wife a most apt way of celebrating their good news.

The End

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