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.
FEEDBACK: Kristine

Public stories, Private lives
By Kristine

Part Fifteen

The next morning when Karen went in to work, she felt happier than she had in weeks. When she went in to her office, she found a large bouquet of flowers on her desk. The card simply said,

"I thought these might brighten up your day." On her way downstairs to hunt for a vase, she encountered Jim. He stared at the flowers and then looked at Karen.

"Someone buying you flowers?"

"That's what it looks like," Said Karen.

"Who would that be then?"

"That's for me to know, and you to find out." Karen couldn't resist doing this to him. She knew it might be hard for Jim to accept that Mike and her were seeing each other, but that was his problem not hers. Karen left Jim staring after her with ill-concealed fury. who was sleeping with his Karen. How could she just move on to someone else so quickly. He conveniently forgot that Karen had ended their relationship, because he'd been having affairs with Shell Dockley and Rachel Hicks. His last thought before he made his way to the office was that getting Karen back was what he was going to do. At all costs, she was going to be his again and no one else's.

Karen walked up to where the Julies were again talking to Crystal at reception.

"Do either of you know where I can find a vase in this place?" They all turned round and looked at the flowers and then at Karen.

"Oh, they're lovely," Said Julie J.

"Get them off Mr. Barrett, did you?" Asked Julie s. Karen grinned.

"News travels fast in this place, doesn't it." To Karen's surprise, Julie J gave her a quick hug.

"You'll be all right with him. He's the best there is round here."

Having found a vase and arranged the flowers, Karen made her way back upstairs. She had to pass through the open plan office of the reporters and several heads turned to look.

"Someone's birthday is it?" Asked Jasmine. A snort of sarcastic laughter came from Jim before Karen had a chance to reply.

"It seems that our news editor has a new beau." He couldn't hide the jealousy in his tone and as Karen passed him she said,

"Get used to it."

Back in the reporters' office, everyone's attention had shifted from Karen to Nikki. When she'd appeared a little before nine, she hadn't spoken to anyone. Those who knew Nikki well recognized the look of pure grief mixed with anger. Something had obviously happened with Tash. Nikki went to her desk, turned on her computer and didn't say a word. Everyone's thoughts were confirmed a little later when Tash appeared followed by Kirstie. Tash looked a little wary but Kirstie, who was on her way upstairs, touched Tash's cheek before she left. Victoria had been watching this little scene and Kirstie's clear, unabashed disregard for Nikki's feelings made her see red. Victoria swiftly rose and stood in front of Kirstie.

"You have absolutely no feeling in you, do you!" Kirstie looked down her nose at Victoria but didn't reply. "There is no need whatsoever for you to even be in here, never mind displaying your irrepressible lust as if you hadn't hurt anyone in the process."

"Leave it, Victoria," Said Nikki gently. Victoria moved forward and gripped Kirstie's shoulders. She looked straight in to her eyes.

"Do you have any idea what you've done to Nikki?" She turned an encompassed Tash with her glare. "The pair of you. I've never seen someone as cut up as Nikki's been this weekend." At the same moment, Cassie and Jasmine moved to Victoria and gently pulled her away from Kirstie. Kirstie simply gave Victoria a hard look and left. Tash walked to her desk clearly unnerved by the altercation. Cassie and Jasmine still had hold of Victoria and they realised she was crying. Gently Jasmine took her arm and led her downstairs to the coffee lounge. They were alone as this room was generally empty at nine in the morning. Jasmine made Victoria a strong cup of coffee and Victoria lit a cigarette. Jasmine sat down opposite Victoria and took her hand.

"It sounds like this has affected you more than it has Nikki."

"I'm sorry," Said Victoria struggling to bring her tears under control. "Nikki's just managing to keep a hold on her anger, that's all. I've seen how hurt she's been by this and I think it's just getting to me." Jasmine looked at Victoria closely.

"You don't look all that good," She said, concerned.

"I haven't slept much this weekend."

"What exactly happened?" As Victoria began to describe how Nikki had appeared on Friday and how she was or wasn't dealing with what Tash had done to her, Jasmine began to wonder if there wasn't more to Victoria's outburst than met the eye.

A little while later, Nikki appeared and put a hand on Victoria's shoulder.

"Hey, I thought I'd come and see if you felt like accompanying me to court. All the cases from the weekend will be put before the magistrates this morning."

"That doesn't need two of us, does it," Victoria said, stating the obvious.

"It does today," Said Nikki. "I think we could both do with being out of the office for a little while." Victoria was grateful for Nikki's intervention. She couldn't believe how she'd let her guard down in front of the entire office. She blushed at the thought of it. When they were driving through the center of town, Nikki took her hand.

"Thank you for saying what you did. It meant a lot to me." Victoria stared at her.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I probably shouldn't have said any of it. Kirstie just made me so angry."

"You're not unlike I used to be," Said Nikki thoughtfully.

"How?" Asked Victoria curiously.

"I always used to say what I thought, whether it was appropriate or not. My feelings always overruled my head. But don't be sorry. I think Kirstie needed to hear it."

When Jasmine returned to her desk, Nick Jordan asked,

"What's happened there then?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Jasmine said incredulously. Then she spied Tash looking at her and lowered her voice.

"Nikki came home from the pub on Friday night to find her," She gestured at Tash's back. "in bed with Kirstie." At first Nick grinned.

"Wow!" He said in awe. "A Menage-A-trois." Jasmine glared at him.

"No, you ignorant tosser, Tash was cheating on Nikki with Kirstie." Nick's face darkened.

"That explains a lot," He said. "Looks like Victoria's a bit too touchy about it for just a friendly interest." Jasmine privately thought he was right but didn't say so. Then Julie J appeared and came over to Jasmine.

"Want some gossip?" She asked with a gleam in her eye.

"I think we've had about a week's worth this morning," said Jasmine with a smile but Julie's looked to be a very different kind of gossip.

"Guess who Karen Betts got flowers off this morning?" Jim heard Karen's name and turned to listen.

"Who?" Jasmine was intrigued to say the least.

"Mike Barrett," Julie said this as if it had been a state secret.

"You what?" Came Jim's curt response. Julie turned to him.

"Yeah," She said with a sly little grin. "It seems that Karen Betts has moved up in the world. At least he won't treat her like a toy, to be ignored and thrown away when he gets bored of her." Julie said this with an entirely straight face with only a hint of malice in her voice, but all who heard her knew she meant what she'd said. Jim forgot where he was and immediately lit up a cigarette.

"Get that out of here," Came Tash's reproving tones. Jim stalked out of the office and down the stairs. He was blistering with rage. Mike Barrett, screwing his Karen. What the hell was the world coming too! How could she? How could she kick him in the groin like this. But it was Cassie's lilting taunt which caught him half way down the stairs.

"Oh dear. Someone's clearly losing his touch."

Part sixteen

Sitting in the press bench of the local magistrates' court, Victoria reflected that she would have to keep a tighter hold on her utterly unstable torrent of feelings if she didn't want her friends to look deeper than they doubtless already were. She began to wonder why in the world she'd allowed herself to become so hung up on what Tash and Kirstie had done to Nikki. She was knowing of herself enough to admit that it probably wasn't what she actually felt about the situation that was the problem. She obviously felt for Nikki and hated the barefaced way Kirstie was clearly intent on disregarding anyone else's feelings, but that wasn't it. Victoria came to the conclusion that she had simply used the situation to let out some of her own aggravated hurt and anger which she hadn't had the chance to let out in the usual way over the weekend. But she was going to have to sort that out. If Nikki was going to be staying with her for some time, which it looked like she would be, there was no way Victoria could keep on doing the things she usually did when she had the place to herself. That was another thing. She had to start getting that under control. Victoria knew that what she did wasn't normal, but it was almost as if she was addicted to it. She'd thought she'd had it under control until her finals this year. Then it had reared it's ugly head again and she'd been forced to admit that this wasn't going to be the easiest thing to kick.

Sitting beside her, Nikki was also doing a lot of thinking. There was something going on with Victoria. Nikki didn't really have a clue what it was, but something had to have made her do what she did this morning. She took a little glance at Victoria's face and discovered that she was clearly away in some world of things that haunted her. Nikki wasn't stupid enough to think that this morning's outburst had been the root of it. That had just been the icing on the cake. Maybe she'd learn a lot more about the woman whilst she was living with her. This brought Nikki back to the reason why she was living at Victoria's. Nikki reflected that if Victoria hadn't been so quick to say what she did to Kirstie, Nikki might have done it herself. Tash had definitely looked uncomfortable when she'd appeared in the office this morning. But Kirstie, that brazen little tart, had acted like she had a right to touch Nikki's lover with such affection. Then the little voice that inhabits most people's brains reminded her that Tash was no longer Nikki's lover. But Nikki realised that apart from this morning and when she'd seen Tash on Saturday, she hadn't really felt much anger. She was just hurt. Whether it was hurt because of what Tash had done or hurt because of the fact that Tash had seen the obvious before she had, Nikki didn't know. Her and Tash had been together two years. Sure, there wasn't quite the same amount of raw passion that there had been in the beginning but all relationships were like that. Had Tash got bored? Nikki simply didn't know. She had to see Tash at some point, she needed some answers and some straight ones at that. Straight! Nikki almost laughed out loud. This wasn't exactly a word that could be applied to hers and Tash's relationship. Then she had a thought. So what if it was a Monday and she had the rest of the week with numerous stories that needed investigating and then writing up. She was going to drag Yvonne out tonight for as many drinks as they could handle.

The magistrates finished with their errant clients at around three that afternoon. Neither of them spoke on the way back to the office. They were both immersed in two many thoughts to spare one for each other. As they walked through reception Victoria waved her notebook at Nikki and said,

"Do you want me to start writing these up?"

"Yeah, sure. I've just got to see Mike about something and then I'll get cracking on the others." But as they entered the reporters' office, they walked in to open paper hostilities. Jim Fenner and Nick Jordan were clearly competing for the paper airplane which could fly the farthest and being encouraged from all sides.

"What the hell brought this on?" Said Nikki to Victoria.

"Probably all the tension." Nikki grinned at Fenner.

"Is that your best attempt at a dick extension, Fenner?" Jim immediately stopped laughing and turned to face Nikki.

"At least I've got a dick. You're just a frustrated dyke who's so bitter and twisted that not only did she lose her bit of Asian totty but who will also never get her rocks off the way that all us real men do." Nikki was used to Fenner's insults but this time he had completely stunned her. But she didn't need to respond. They all suddenly became aware of the tall, slightly sinister-looking Anton Meyer. They all knew there boss, but it wasn't often that he spent time in their work space. He had obviously been watching for some time but now he approached Fenner.

"Mr. Fenner, a word. Now!" They were all very aware of the quiet yet commanding tone with which the word "now!" was delivered. Then he turned on his heel and stalked out of the office. Fenner, looking more like a lap dog than he'd ever done in his life, followed. Once out of the hearing of everyone in the office, Anton turned to Fenner.

"If I ever hear a comment like that again in this office, you'll be out of it the very same hour. Do I make myself clear?" Fenner just stared. "I will not tolerate any form of prejudice from anyone. I do not know what has caused everyone to behave like overgrown school children today, but you have gone too far. Childishness, whilst irritating, does not hurt people. You on the other hand, do hurt people and I will not put up with it coming from a member of my staff. Let this be a warning to you." Anton turned and walked up the stairs. Fenner just stood and stared after him. Never, in his whole bloody life had anyone spoken to him like that. After all, it wasn't as if he'd said anything wrong. When he returned to the office, everyone was working silently and nobody gave him even the slightest acknowledgment.

Nikki slipped out of the office and went up to see Mike.

"Nikki, I was wondering where you'd got to?"

"I took Victoria with me to court."

"It doesn't usually need two of you, does it?"

"No, but we both needed to get out of the office today." Mike looked concerned.

"Ah, yes. I heard about what happened this morning. What was that all about?"

"On Friday night, I discovered that Tash has been seeing Kirstie. I've been staying at Victoria's this weekend and she's been brilliant, but I think it's getting to her a bit."

"Nikki, I'm sorry. You and Tash, well, that's been going quite a while now, hasn't it."

"Just over two years. But hey, we all have to move on some time."

Mike knew this wasn't how Nikki felt but he recognized her need to put a brave face on everything. He changed the subject.

"Anything exciting at court?"

"No, not really. I wish that if people were going to commit crime they'd at least be a little creative about it. Just about every Monday you get the same old line of people up for being drunk and disorderly, breaking an entering or speeding offences. There was something interesting though and we'll get a good story out of this one. The police did a couple of raids on the red light area at the weekend. They had quite a few prostitutes in court this morning."

"What do you think your angle might be?"

"Well, we could do the same old thing about prostitution and it's immoral effect on society," Mike grinned. "Or, and I have to say I prefer this, we could look at why so many people and mothers in particular get in to it in the first place."

"Sounds good to me."

"I took down a few of the names and addresses of people who were in court today, and I'll take Victoria and Denny to see some of them tomorrow."

"Is this for Saturday's issue or next Tuesday's." The Lark City Post ran two issues per week. One on Tuesday to catch everyone either on their way to work or in their lunch hour, and if there was anything big from the weekend, and the Saturday one to round up all the news from the working week.

"I thought we could do something for both. Say, we concentrate on the women who were in court today for the Saturday issue and for next week's," Nikki suddenly had a gleam in her eye which meant she'd hit on something good. "I think we should try and track down some of the customers for that one."

"Were there any in court today?"

"No, no curb crawlers. But I've got a friend who works in the court office. I'll ask her to give me a bell if there's anyone scheduled to appear on either offence."

"It sounds like you've got all this worked out."

"Yeah, I think this is going to be a good one." As Nikki went back downstairs, she reflected how a good story to follow up always kept her mind away from other, more painful things. Work always came to her rescue when she needed to avoid anything difficult. She wondered if this approach would help Victoria.

Part 17

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