DISCLAIMER: All the characters used within this story are the property of either Shed Productions or the BBC. I am using them solely to explore my creative ability.
WARNING: This story deals with the subject of rape, reader discretion is advised.
FEEDBACK: Kristine

Public stories, Private lives
By Kristine

Part Twenty Two

On the Friday night of that week, Nikki, Shaz, Victoria, Denny, Danny, Crystal and Barbara met in the house that Shaz, Denny and Ray shared. Danny hated to admit it, but at twenty-five he was still living with his mother. He brought over his drums and a bass guitar, with the others collecting together an assortment of guitars and Victoria's violin. Ray was out on a date for the evening so they had the place to themselves. They'd all been a little surprised to see Barbara, but Crystal knew Barbara through their church going on a Sunday, and had persuaded Barbara to come along with her guitar.

"I took the liberty," Danny said handing out wads of photocopies. "Of digging out all the decent guitar music I have, and Babs being the star she is spent the entirety of this afternoon copying it."

"Jesus, you're eager," Said Shaz gaping at the amount of paper Danny had just handed her.

"Of course," He said brightly. "but there's a real mixture of stuff in there, I warn you. Most of it probably isn't to anyone's taste at all, but hey, you've got to start somewhere." Shaz had been thumbing through the various songs. Then she looked up at Danny with a little worry.

"Some of these say you need a capo. I've never used one of those." It seemed that everyone else had a capo at their disposal.

"In that case," Said Danny, always the one to compromise. "You'll just have to sing the ones that use a capo." Shaz grinned, "Okay."

"Why don't we start with something most of us should know," Said Nikki. Looking through her numerous pages, Victoria said,

"Why not the sound of silence?"

"Don't you need two blokes to sing that?" Asked Denny moving towards Danny's second-hand drums. Danny looked assessingly at Nikki.

"Do you reckon you could sing the higher part?" Nikki looked at the music sceptically.

"Yeah, okay. It's a bit low really but we'll see."

"And it's pretty simple chords so we should be okay," Danny said picking up his bass. As Nikki was the only one not playing, she moved her right hand to give an indication of the speed. Everyone was notably a little rusty and both Shaz and Nikki were very nervous at displaying their talent so openly. But once Denny and her drums moved it in to the song proper, all thoughts of shyness disappeared. Danny had thought that his bass and the drums would have drowned out the others, but with four guitars playing where there would ordinarily be two, this wasn't a problem. Danny's voice seemed to give Nikki more encouragement as the song progressed. When they reached the end, Shaz laughed as if from tension.

"That was great," She said smiling at the others.

"A little rusty around the edges, but yeah, for a first attempt it wasn't bad," Said Danny with his usual lack of tact and diplomacy. When they played it a second time, the majority of the rust had vanished, the rocking motion of the guitars managing to wipe any trace of nervousness from both Nikki and Shaz. Lost in the atmosphere she began to walk round the room, still singing. She stood for a while behind Shaz and Victoria, a hand on each of their shoulders. Not faltering in the least, Shaz looked up at her and smiled.

"Hear my words that I might teach you,
Take my arms that I might reach you,
but my words, like silent raindrops fell,"

Nikki sang as she stood with her hands on the back of the sofa where Barbara and Crystal were sitting. Stood here, singing with a group of friends who clearly loved music as much as she did, Nikki didn't think that anything could rival the feeling of togetherness this inspired in her. When they came to the end, there was utter silence. As ever, it was Danny who broke it.

"Never knew you had it in you to be an honorary bloke," He said to Nikki. She laughed.

"Neither did I." She began flicking through what Danny had brought over.

"Why don't we try this?" She said holding up one of Alison Krauss's cover songs. "I thought it might give Victoria a chance to show off that Strad look-alike of hers." Victoria blushed.

"Wicked, I know this," Said Shaz.

"This one's in E-flat which definitely requires a capo, unless you're Jimmy Hendricks. So, Shaz, looks like you're singing this one." Victoria got out her violin and quickly tuned up. Nikki took her ever faithful guitar and ran her hands over it lovingly. At the lift and downward swing of Victoria's bow, they began. As Denny wasn't playing in this song, she simply sat and gazed at Shaz. As if feeling her stare, Shaz turned to face her, and opened her mouth. Denny had heard Shaz sing before, but to the others, this was a completely new experience. Combined with the clarity of Victoria's violin, the purity of Shaz's voice was exquisite. When she got to the words,

"Now you tell me that you wanna leave me, but darlin' I just can't let you," it momentarily brought tears to Denny's eyes. Even throughout all her clandestine activities with Shell, she had never been looked at or sung to with such love, and though the words of the song suggested Shaz was about to be abandoned like an unwanted puppy on the motorway, Denny knew that this was something she would never do.

After ironing out a couple of the rough edges, Crystal got a thoughtful look on her face. Danny saw her looking at one of the pieces, clearly unsure whether or not to suggest it. He came over and leant over her shoulder to read it. Seeing what she'd been looking at he said,

"How ambitious is everyone feeling?"

"Why?" Asked Victoria, wondering what he was up too.

"Look at the piece on page fourteen," Said Crystal. Shaz took one look and the only response she could come up with was "Bloody hell!" Denny took a look and simply said, "Jesus, I'm glad I don't play guitar."

Nikki ran her eyes over the music meditatively.

"It's possible," She said slowly.

"Anything's possible," Said Barbara, beginning to wonder if that was really true.

"Why don't we try it and see what happens?" suggested Danny.

"Fine," Replied Shaz. "But I'm sitting out on this one." Crystal gestured to her.

"Shaz, why not watch me and Barbara, then you can join in when you feel like it." Nikki grinned.

"You've played this before, haven't you?"

"Yeah," Said Crystal. "It definitely took a bit of practice."

"This looks like it's supposed to have a banjo in it," Said Victoria.

"It does," Replied Danny. "We'll just have to substitute a guitar instead."

"I've never heard that much guitar music without words," confided Shaz.

"Then this is definitely the perfect introduction," Said Danny. The piece began with just Danny on bass and Crystal beginning the melody. But soon enough Nikki and Barbara joined in with a strumming speed that would have rivalled a galloping horse. Nikki took the part that was meant for a banjo and quickly wondered how Crystal could pluck at that speed and still look utterly calm. Shaz, looking over Crystal's shoulder was mesmerised by the hypnotic movement of her skillful fingers. she could hardly tell where Crystal's hands ended and the steal strings began. Over the other side of the room, Nikki was in trouble. She was gradually slipping more and more out of time. Denny, observing this, picked up one of her discarded drumsticks and using it as a batten, gave Nikki a clear beat to keep her going. Nikki smiled thankfully at her. Victoria's part was filled with enough double-stopping to give the impression of two violins instead of one. When they reached the end, Nikki wiped the sweat from her forehead.

"Jesus!" She said. "I feel like I've just run the marathon."

"I think that might be the cue for some beers," Said Shaz walking towards the kitchen. Then suddenly remembering exactly who was there she turned and said, "There's either lager or orange juice." As expected, Barbara and Crystal passed on the lager in favour of something a little less masculine. Nikki, Victoria, Denny and Shaz all lit up cigarettes. Danny grinned at Nikki.

"So that's the secret of how you get down to a third octave E?"

"Nothing like nicotine for retraining the voice," said Nikki with a totally straight face. Danny walked over and put one of his Alison Krauss cd's on the stereo. He moved it to the track they'd just played.

"This is what it's supposed to sound like," He said. When Shaz heard the speed the bass was starting at she said,

"You must be bloody joking." Even Barbara looked a little dubious.

"I suppose it could be done," She said, "With a lot of practice."

"It'd be a challenge," Agreed Danny. Turning the volume up slightly he picked up the drumstick Denny had used as a batten and began conducting the guitars coming from the speakers.

"You'd think you lived here," Said Crystal smiling.

"He does most of the time," Said Denny.

They tried the piece with no words a second time, this time with Shaz as a participant. Both Nikki and Shaz insisted on Denny conducting again and this time it was a passable imitation of the CD. They tried a couple of other random songs Danny had picked out, but returned to Alison Krauss for the last. They didn't need four people on guitar, but Shaz decided she'd done enough singing for one day. So, Victoria found herself singing and playing her violin in the breaks. As Denny played out a gentle rhythm on her drums, she marvelled at how Victoria could play and sing at the same time. Until tonight, Victoria had been something of an unknown entity to all of them apart from Nikki. They'd all heard the results of her swift and complicated bowing tonight but when she opened her mouth they hadn't known what to expect. Her voice soared over the swinging to and fro of Danny's bass and the soft chords of the other four guitars. It is often said that the eyes are the windows of the soul, but in Victoria as in many musicians, her soul was released through the music she made. The simple addition of Nikki and Danny softly adding the harmonies here and there made Victoria feel complete. When she sang,

"There is a way, to make you stay, darlin' don't turn away. Don't doubt your heart, or keep us apart, I'm right where you are. Stay," they could all tell she really meant it. Whatever she was really saying through those well chosen words moulded itself to the accompanying sounds of guitars, making them all feel like they'd come home. As the last chord of G major was played, Victoria looked over Nikki's and Shaz's heads and saw Ray standing in the doorway. He came fully in to the room and said,

"You guys are really good."

"Of course we are," Said Danny, "the next party Meyer decides to throw at work, we're playing."

"Oh, you think so, do you?" Said Victoria teasing him.

"Absolutely," Said Danny with utter conviction. "You're surely not expecting to get away with not showing everyone else what we can achieve in our spare time, are you?"

"It'd really show them we could do something really cool," Said Shaz.

Not long after, Barbara gave Crystal a lift home and Nikki, Victoria and Danny left to walk as they lived much closer. Danny said he may as well leave his drums where they were if this was where they were going to be practicing. As they walked along the street, Danny took Nikki's guitar, put the strap round himself so he could play and started strumming a couple of the songs they'd already played that evening. The three of them found themselves singing in the cold, crisp air of late October. When they reached Danny's house, he handed Nikki's guitar back to her and said,

"We should do something for Christmas. The amount of singers and guitars we've got, we could maybe go round singing carols or something, you know, raise some money."

"Yeah, not a bad idea," Said Nikki. As Nikki and Victoria walked home, they became lost in their own thoughts. Victoria suddenly said,

"I really enjoyed tonight. It made me feel part of something again." Nikki looked at her thoughtfully. She didn't ask, but she wondered just how long it had been since Victoria had felt part of a group of people There had been something in that sentence, something that at that moment, Nikki couldn't begin to analyse. When they reached home, in silent agreement, Victoria put on some soft Tori Amos and Nikki opened a bottle of wine. When she handed Victoria her glass, she sat down on the other end of the sofa from her. Then she brought up the subject she'd been mulling over for most of the week.

"Victoria," She said gently breaking in to the other woman's silent thoughts, "We never really talked about what happened on Monday." Without looking at her, Victoria said,

"And I don't think we should."

"Why?" Victoria took a swig from her glass, as if to give her some thinking time.

"I'm sorry if I was a bit over protective when I said what I did to Tash. I was already pretty wound up and I think she just gave me the excuse to snap."

"Are you going to tell me what you were wound up about?" Said Nikki gently. Victoria couldn't help a slight shudder.

"No. It's not something I could or should talk about." Nikki scrutinized her long and hard. Victoria had to stop herself from flinching under Nikki's steady gaze. She could hardly tell her that she'd been ready to snap after having to hide her secret from Nikki all weekend. She'd had to eat every meal and then conceal her purging of it. That was no easy task when living under the same roof as someone, especially if that someone were as highly observant as Nikki usually was. They continued to sit in companionable silence, with the words of the conservatoire born and bred Tori Amos flowing through the room closely accompanied by her own hands playing a priceless Steinway. But whilst there was no verbal evidence of a pair of active brains, Victoria was feverishly wondering how she could possibly hide her shameful addiction on a more permanent basis, and Nikki sat wondering just what her new friend had inside her that made her so volatile one minute and so withdrawn the next.

Part Twenty Three

All was quiet for nearly a month. Well, quiet in that there were no major ructions in the office or in anyone's private life. Mike and Karen were still happy, Tash and Kirstie were trying to be fairly discrete, and Nikki was beginning to settle at Victoria's and to gradually begin moving on from Tash. The group of players met up at least once a week, sometimes twice. Danny was giving Shaz some extra guitar lessons, teaching her how to use a capo. They'd played a total mixture of music, and it didn't look like they would stop any time soon. But when they'd discovered a few really good songs that required the addition of something vaguely resembling a piano, it was Barbara who came under the spotlight. Danny had asked at one of their weekly practices if anyone there could play the piano. Barbara had announced that she usually played the organ in church on a Sunday, so yes, she supposed she could. Danny had unearthed his ancient but reliable old electronic keyboard from the depths of his mum's garage, but then the question of space arose.

"I hate to say it," He said to everyone. "But we're going to have to find somewhere else to practice if we're going to do stuff with the keyboard as well." They were all left with the task of trying to find somewhere new. It was Crystal who first saw the possibility.

It was the twenty seventh of November, one of the rainiest days so far that year. Karen could remember this. For ever afterwards, every little detail of that particular day would be engraved on her memory. They'd all been sitting in the large, spacious coffee lounge at lunchtime. It was far too wet outside for even Denny and Shaz to think of venturing to the local pub. Karen had been sitting, having her lunch with Mike, and the others had been spread out in little groups all round the room. As Crystal took a swig of the apple juice she usually brought from home, she suddenly looked over at Danny and gestured to him. When he looked up she said,

"What about here?" She waved her hand to encompass the huge amount of floor space in the centre of the room. Danny, his eyes widening, took the hint.

"Not a bad idea, Sherlock," He said to her with a smile.

"What's not a bad idea?" Asked Nikki sitting down next to Danny with her coffee.

"Using this room to practice. We're not going to find anywhere better." Nikki looked a bit sceptical.

"Are you sure Meyer would let us?" She asked.

"Only one way to find out," Danny said standing up. "I'll ask Mike first, sound him out."

Karen remembered she was about to ask Mike something about what they were doing that weekend, when Danny came over.

"Mr. Barrett, can I ask you something?" Mike looked at Danny assessingly.

"Of course."

"Do you think Mr. Meyer would let us use this room to practice in? You see, now Barbara sometimes plays stuff on my old keyboard, we're kind of running out of space." Mike knitted his brows.

"I suppose anything's possible. You could always ask." Mike saw Anton appear in the doorway and gestured to him. "Anton, Danny here has something he'd like to ask you." Danny could happily have cursed Mike to hell and back again, but he took his boss in his stride. Meyer strolled over and looked quizzically at Danny.

"Mr. Meyer," Danny began, "You know that some of us have set up a little group of guitars and singers?"

"Yes, I had heard," Meyer replied.

"Well, we were wondering if we could use this room to practice in, because we're running out of space at Shaz and Denny's." Anton's eyes swept round the spacious ground floor room of his office building.

"How many are there of you?"

"There's me, Shaz, Denny, Nikki, Victoria, Crystal and Barbara." Interesting combination of personalities, thought Anton.

"And how often would you want the use of this room?" He was successfully managing not to give Danny any indication of whether or not he would give them the go ahead.

"Say, a couple of evenings a week?" Anton again ran his eyes over the room and the people who Danny had listed.

"As long as it doesn't disturb anyone working here, including me, and as long as you lock up after you, I don't see why not." Danny's reaction was immediate.

"Wicked! Thanks." As Danny moved away to tell the others, Anton briefly smiled.

"I think you've just made his week," Said Mike. Moving away to make himself a coffee, Anton said over his shoulder,

"I just hope they don't make me regret it."

Karen had felt so contented with life that afternoon. She was in a job that she loved, she was seeing a man whom she was beginning to realise she loved, and even though she had to put up with the still jealous comments from Jim Fenner, this was simply an annoyance she could put up with. At five thirty, Mike came in to her office.

"You know I'm going to see my daughter this evening?" He said.

"Yes, I've got plenty of proofs to keep me quiet," Said Karen, rubbing her temples to try and get rid of the beginnings of a headache. Mike looked out of the window at the still pouring rain.

"You'll be careful driving home later, won't you?" She smiled.

"Of course I will. Just you make sure that daughter of yours doesn't pour you too many glasses of wine." Still sitting behind her desk, she pulled him down and he kissed her.

"Yvonne's going to an antiques auction where she's hoping to catch that dodgy dealer unawares, so you'll probably be the only one here."

"Suits me fine," Said Karen ruefully. "No distractions." She gave Mike one last hug and he left her to it. She worked for a couple of hours her headache getting slowly worse. Knowing that Anton also wasn't in the building, she lit a cigarette and stood by her wide open window, hoping that the freezing November wind would help to wake her up. But this wasn't to be. When she sat down at her desk, she leaned her head on her hand, scanning the story in front of her, but she was soon asleep from sheer exhaustion. As is often the case with an approaching migraine, Karen slept very deeply. Awaking two hours later, tired and stiff, she decided to call it a night. Switching off her computer, and collecting her things together, she opened her office door and moved to switch off the light. Before she could, a hand appeared out of nowhere and grabbed her wrist. There was something unmistakable about that touch, she'd have recognised it anywhere.

"What the hell are you doing here?" She said with an involuntary shudder.

"I thought it was time you and I had a little chat," He said, clearly slurring from the amount of whisky he'd consumed whilst waiting for her to decide to go home. He pushed his way in to her office and kicked the door shut.

"I have absolutely nothing to say to you," Said Karen, the faint edge of fear creeping it's way in to her soul.

"You might not have now," Slurred Fenner, "But I think you might have when I've finished with you."

"I think you should go home and we'll talk when you're sober," Karen said angrily.

"If I want to talk now, then that's what we're going to do," Fenner's voice getting harder every minute.

"We've done all the talking there is to do," Said Karen, trying to reason with him.

"Oh you're not going to talk," Said Fenner icily. "You're going to listen for a change." He made a lunge for her and managed to get one arm round her and his other hand over her mouth. Karen began to struggle, but she couldn't match his drink-induced strength. He moved her towards the desk, and scattering papers all over the floor, pushed her back on to it. All the time she struggled, but to no avail. He tore savagely at the buttons on her blouse, making them land in all four corners of the room. His hands were all over her now, using his own mouth to cover up her screams. As she roughly removed the barriers of her skirt and underwear, he growled out,

"Perhaps maybe now you'll start listening to me. You've had this coming for a long time." Knowing she couldn't possibly stop what was coming, Karen hit back at him with,

"Is this what you did to Dockley, and Hicks and god knows how many others?" His only response to this was to slap her, hard. Then she asked in desperation, "Why are you doing this to me?"

"Because," Fenner replied holding her down with one hand and unfastening his trousers with the other, "Everything we did was always on your terms. I think it's time I got what I wanted for a change."

"Please," She begged him. "If you stop this, I'll listen to you for as long as you like."

"It's too late for that, sweetheart," He growled, leaning over her. All she could do was plead with him, beg him not to go through with what she knew he was going to do to her. When he forced his way inside her, she wished she could die, there and then so as to stop this torment he was putting her through. when he finally moved away from her, still breathing hard, she rose from her prone position on her desk, pulled on her clothes as quickly as possible and not waiting to see what else he might do, ran out of her office and down the stairs. It was only when she reached the car park that she realised her car keys were still in her office, along with her handbag. Well, she would simply have to do without it because no way was she going back in there to have him do that again. She continued running, finding energy surely produced by Adrenalin She ran down the street, the tears running down her face, wondering just where she could go.

Yvonne had had a successful evening. She'd observed her dodgy antiques dealer bidding and purchasing at an auction of pretty cheap goods which certainly weren't antiques. Her next task would be to unobtrusively try and find out how much this guy would be selling them for. It was still raining when she began to drive home, but she was warm and safe inside her red Mercedes with the windscreen wipers doing their job. As she neared the street where the Post had it's office, she saw someone running down the street. As she got closer, she could see who it was. Her exclamation of "Shit!" was accompanied by the screeching of tyres as she drew up beside Karen. Yvonne was out of the car almost before the engine had stopped. She caught hold of Karen's arm.

"Jesus! What the hell happened to you?" Karen couldn't answer. Yvonne looked her over. her blouse was clearly torn and the rest of her clothes looked like they'd been put on in a hurry. Karen was shivering both from the cold and from shock. Yvonne opened the passenger door and gently helped Karen in to the car. She grabbed the car rug from the back-seat and wrapped it round Karen's shoulders. As she returned to the other side of the car, she caught sight of the purpling bruise on Karen's cheek. A cold fear ran over her. She got behind the wheel and turned on the engine. Warm air began coming out of the heater. Making sure her head and fog lights were on, she turned to Karen and took her ice cold hand.

"Karen, what the bloody hell happened?" Karen simply stared back, willing her own emotions not to let her give in. "The last time I saw you," Yvonne said, "You were planning to work late." This seemed to undo any resolve Karen had to keep her feelings in check.

"I did," She said, the tears coursing down her cheeks like the rain had all day. "Really stupid thing to do that was," She said, the irony of the situation taking over.

"Did this," Yvonne gestured at Karen's general state of disarray, "Happen whilst you were still at work?" Karen nodded. In blinding clarity Yvonne saw what must have happened.

"It was Fenner, wasn't it?" She said gently.

"Yeah," that word of final acceptance at what had happened seemed to make Karen slip deeper in to depression.

"What happened?" Yvonne asked again. Karen's tone was scathing to say the least.

"Do I have to spell it out to you, Yvonne, he raped me." Then she took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't take this out on you." Yvonne squeezed her hand.

"It's okay," She said quietly. Then, "what do you want to do?"

"My car and house keys are still in my office. Please can I come home with you?"

"Of course," Said Yvonne, releasing the clutch and moving the car towards her house.

When they reached her house, Yvonne made them both strong cups of coffee. Karen, still wrapped in the car rug, seemed to gather some warmth from the mug in her hands. Karen appeared to have retreated in to a world filled only with her own darkest thoughts. Yvonne took the half empty mug from Karen's hands and placed it on the table. This seemed to bring Karen back to the world of the living.

"I'm sorry," She said, "I just can't stop reliving it." Then she realised just how cold she was. "Would you mind if I had a shower?" She asked. Yvonne, whose daughter was a police officer knew only too well that a shower could remove all evidence of a rape from a woman's body. Karen saw the contemplative look on Yvonne's face.

"Please don't look at me like that," She said. "There's no way I'm going to the police with this." Yvonne, not realising her expression had been so readable, said,

"Do you not think it would be a good idea?" Yvonne tried to ask diplomatically. Karen shook her head decisively.

"No. Trust me, I want as few people as possible knowing about what happened in that office. I can't think of a worse place to be working at the moment. They'd all be fighting to cover the story." Yvonne thought this was a bit much but Karen was resolute. Yvonne showed her to the bathroom and handed her a pair of pyjamas and a dressing-gown. Whilst Karen was in the shower, Yvonne wondered just how someone as level-headed as Karen could turn in to a complete nervous wreck so quickly. Her anger began to boil when she thought of Fenner. She'd have his balls on a skewer if it was the last thing she did.

Karen stood and looked at herself in the full length mirror in Yvonne's bathroom. There were bruises on her arms, thighs and ribs. Her left eye was beginning to close from the brutal slap he'd given her. She stood under the shower and scrubbed every inch of her body. No amount of soap and hot water could rid her of the feeling of filth he'd left her with. She scrubbed parts of her skin raw, but still felt tainted, loathsome, as though an evil presence had penetrated her body and now refused to leave. The tears began to flow again when she realised that this is what he must have wanted. He had wanted her to feel cheap, used and dirty. When she returned to the lounge, she spied Yvonne's glass of Scotch. Helping herself to one, she sat down in one of Yvonne's deep armchairs.

"How do you feel?" Asked Yvonne, then feeling like she could have kicked herself. "I'm sorry," She said, "Stupid question. The truth is, I don't really know what to say."

"Well, that makes two of us," Said Karen. "It might sound strange, but I don't think it's really hit me yet. I guess I've got all that to come."

Part Twenty Four

Karen tossed and turned for most of the night, slipping in and out of dreams of hands coming out of nowhere to hold her down and of offices stroon with scattered papers and discarded buttons. When Yvonne brought her a cup of tea at around seven the next morning, Karen was relieved not to have to go back to sleep. As she turned over and sat up, her bruises which had stiffened over night complained. When Yvonne saw her whince, she put the tea down on the bedside table and said,

"Are you okay?"

"Just bruises," Mumbled Karen. Yvonne looked at the dark circles under her eyes, clearly the result of a very disturbed night.

"How do you feel?" Asked Yvonne, again hating the so innocuous phrase because Karen couldn't possibly feel anything but hurt and betrayed.

"I feel like my ribs have been trampled by a herd of elephants and that my insides have been torn to shreds." Yvonne resisted the urge to whince. Then Karen paled. "Oh god," She said. "My office."

"What about your office?" Asked Yvonne, trying to calm her down.

"It'll look an absolute state. There were papers everywhere. He pushed everything off my desk to..." She couldn't continue, couldn't put in to words what Jim Fenner had actually done to her. Karen tried to prevent herself from crying, but her willpower just wasn't strong enough. Yvonne gently put her arms round Karen and held her whilst the shuddering sobs took over.

"I'm sorry," Karen gasped after a while. Yvonne rubbed her back.

"You've got nothing to be sorry for. You know this is probably only the start don't you?" Karen's slightly rueful,

"Oh yeah," held all the resigned finality of someone destined for only further torment. Yvonne looked at Karen's tired, bruised face.

"What are you going to do today?" She asked.

"I'll have to go in to work. I've got to sort my office out before one of the Julies takes in the hoover."

"Do you want me to do that?" Asked Yvonne, thinking that it probably wouldn't do Karen any good seeing the devastation of the night before. At Karen's slightly guarded look Yvonne said, "I don't mind, really."

"If you're sure?" Karen asked hesitantly, somehow unable to believe that someone really cared about lessening her painful burden.

"Of course I'm sure," Said Yvonne. "Why not try and go back to sleep. I'll let them know you won't be in today. I'll say it's food poisoning or something. I'll come and see you at lunchtime." Then the panicked look returned to Karen's face.

"What about my car? Someone will see it. Oh god, and there's Mike. How the hell do I tell him something like this." Yvonne dreaded the outcome of her next question, but the sheer pain in Karen's eyes compelled her to do it.

"Do you want me to tell him?" She asked quietly.

"Yvonne, I can't ask you to do that."

"But it would make it a bit easier, wouldn't it." This was a rhetorical question as they both knew it would. Then Karen asked,

"Yvonne, was this my fault?" Yvonne's reply of

"You what?" Cut the atmosphere like a knife.

"Did he do this, just because I wouldn't listen to him? That's what he said last night. He said that everything had always been on my terms." Yvonne tried to rein in her anger of how Fenner had managed to totally crumble any faith Karen had in herself.

"Karen, listen to me. Everything wasn't always on your terms. Him sending those pictures of you to the Sun wasn't on your terms, and what he did to you last night didn't even come close. This is absolutely not your fault. You can't blame yourself for what Fenner did to you."

"I just wish it was all that easy," Karen said, her voice taking on more self-reproach than Yvonne had ever heard.

It was a while before eight o'clock when Yvonne let herself in to the office building. She was relieved to find that so far, all was quiet. Dreading what she might find, she walked upstairs to Karen's office. The door was shut but not locked. Walking in and switching on the light, she just stood and stared. Not far from the door, lay Karen's handbag, the contents having been stroon all over the floor. Yvonne collected everything that appeared to belong there together. When she looked at the devestation of the desk, a wave of anger engulfed her. How could Fenner have done this. She began picking up papers, pens and numerous blouse buttons. Once the office again looked vaguely habitable, Yvonne sat down behind the desk and began sorting out the piles of proofs. This was no easy task, but having done it for years, it didn't require too much concentration. At about eight thirty, Mike appeared. He put his head around the door, expecting to see Karen.

"Oh, hello, what're you doing here?" Hearing his voice, Yvonne looked up. Mike must have seen something forbidding in her face because he walked over and looked at her.

"Yvonne, what's happened? Where's Karen?" Yvonne stood up and walked out of the office, followed by Mike. Seeing Barbara arrive, she called,

"Babs, please could you make us some coffee?" She gestured to Mike. Barbara, though slightly surprised at being asked something before she'd even reached her desk, also must have seen that something was very different about this morning because she agreed without question. Yvonne led Mike in to her own office and they sat down.

"What the hell's going on?" Mike asked, more worried than she'd ever seen him.

"Mike, I've got something to tell you. Karen almost certainly won't be in work today. Right now, she's hopefully asleep at my house. You know that she was working late last night?"

"Of course I do."

"Well, when she tried to leave," Yvonne took a deep breath. "Someone attacked her."

"What, you mean in the carpark?"

"No, she was attacked here, in her office."

"That's why you were sorting out all her papers. What exactly happened?"

"I'm sorry," Said Yvonne, "I'm not very good at giving people bad news. She was raped." There was utter silence for a good five minutes. The only thing to break it was Barbara's arrival with the coffee. Mike took a long swallow.

"Who?" Was all he could bring himself to say. Yvonne simply gave him a look that clearly said, who the hell do you think it was. "Fenner." Yvonne nodded. "I'll kill him," was Mike's only response.

"Don't be bloody stupid," Yvonne almost shouted. "Do you really think the best way to help Karen is to broadcast this to the entire office?"

"It'll end up being pretty much public knowledge anyway if she goes to the police about it."

"She isn't going to the police. At least she wasn't planning on it the last time I saw her."

"But she has too."

"No, she doesn't," Admonished Yvonne. "don't you realise? This has to be her decision. What happened to her last night took every last bit of control away from her. You can't force her in to another major decision just because you think it's right."

"Should I go and see her?"

"I'd leave it till tonight or tomorrow. She's only just beginning to realise what's happened to her. It's going to take a very long time before she can even think of coming to terms with it. What Fenner did was only the beginning. She's now got to try and put herself back together, and to do that she's going to need space."

At around eleven thirty that morning, Yvonne couldn't take any more. She walked downstairs, handed Cassie the notes she'd made at the antiques auction the night before, announced to both her juniors and to anyone else who cared to listen, that she would be out of the office for the rest of the day.

"Do you think you can cope without me?" She asked Cassie.

"I should think so," Cassie answered. "And if Alex over there can't, it's about time he learnt." Yvonne collected Karen's handbag from her office, and drove home in Karen's car. Yvonne liked the silver-grey Nissan, it was expensive without shouting it from the rooftops perhaps like Yvonne's Merc did on occasions. First, she called round at Karen's to pick up some clothes for her. When she reached home, Karen was wearing Yvonne's dressing-gown and making herself a coffee. Yvonne thought she looked thoroughly washed out.

"I picked up some clothes for you," Said Yvonne, "And your car's outside."

"Thank you." Yvonne rummaged in her handbag and held up a small package.

"And I picked this up from the chemist." When Karen opened the bag, and saw the packet marked Morning After Pill, she grimmaced. Yvonne, misreading her expression said, "I know it's not something you want to think about but..." Karen hastened to reassure her.

"No, it's fine. Thank you, and yes, you're right. It is something I should think about. Talking of things I'd rather avoid, how was everything this morning?" Yvonne knew this loaded question referred both to the state of Karen's office and to the situation regarding Mike. Yvonne lit a cigarette and Karen poured them both some coffee.

"Your office looked a complete bloody shambles, but it's pretty much okay now. As for Mike, well, that wasn't one of the easiest things I've ever done." She took a long drag. "He's likely to try and persuade you to go to the police, but I tried to tell him that this was your decision. Fenner wasn't in work today, or if he was I didn't see him."

"Thank you for telling Mike for me." Yvonne shrugged. Karen knew that this was Yvonne's way of hiding how much it had pained her to have to do it. "How was he?" Asked Karen quietly.

"Shocked, angry, ready to kill Fenner at the earliest opportunity. He wanted to know if you wanted to see him."

"I'll probably give him a ring later, but I don't know how much I could handle seeing most peple right now." Whilst Karen went upstairs for a long hot shower, Yvonne wondered just how she was supposed to help her. What could anyone do for someone who had been through something like that. Yvonne never thought she would see the strong, competent, independent woman whom she thought she knew so well, crack and crumble before her very eyes. What could she do? How in hell could she even begin to help Karen get to grips with this!

Part 25

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