A Stewart Christmas Carol
The pitter-patter of rain hitting the window went unnoticed as Helen Stewart's fingers flew over the keyboard of her laptop. She was preparing a report for area management and she had been working on it for weeks. When it was done she was never happy with the final result which meant she would scrap it and start all over again. It was beginning to verge on obsession, she had to make it perfect even though there was so little to find fault with. But that wasn't unusual these days; Helen's life was pretty much the same right across the board.
When at last the report was finished, she clicked her mouse to save the file to disc and then gave it to her secretary to print out and put in a folder. Helen realised it was time for her weekly tour of the wing she now governed at Darrow prison, 40 miles north of London. She had left Larkhall a year before, and accepted a position at Darrow as Governor of C Wing when her relationship with Nikki Wade had become too much for her to handle.
She waited as the officer opened the gate and then stepped on to the wing. She surveyed the inmates, and her surroundings. It could so easily have been Larkhall, there was basically no difference but for one exception. There was no Nikki Wade. Helen had never been sure whether that was a blessing or a curse, for her head was still so mixed up about it all even now. One thing was for certain though, Helen had refused to think about it and so far she had stuck to her guns, Nikki didn't often feature in her waking thoughts because she had trained herself not to think about her, as difficult as that was.
Dreams were another matter though, she had no control over those and Nikki often featured in them. When Helen woke up the next morning she refused to let herself believe that she had been affected by it and blanked out the feelings that the dreams had dredged up. Helen Stewart was very adept at hiding her true feelings, she always had been, but during the last year she had become very skilled at hiding them even from herself. She made her tour of the wing, never for one second stepping over her professional boundaries. She was damn sure that she wasn't going to repeat the same mistake that she had with Nikki, for hundreds of different reasons, but the biggest reason being that deep down she knew she would never feel for anybody else what she felt for the tall, dark and gorgeous lifer.
She played things by the book these days, never giving more than she had to and never agreeing to more than she thought was necessary. Her old colleagues back at Larkhall wouldn't even recognise her, the change was that dramatic. Although Helen was fair, she was no longer naïve and idealistic, all those things had gone out of the window when she finally woke up and saw what the world was really like. She still worked for a system that had prevented her from having the one thing she had always wanted but strangely she still felt a sense of loyalty to it, but had she thought about it, she would have realised the way things really were. She owed more to Nikki than the service, and should have remained loyal to her; instead she had chosen her job and opted for being loyal to a system that didn't give a shit about her.
The one thing that Helen's colleagues all agreed upon was that she was cold, distant and impossible to get to know. Little did they suspect that this was by design, not through any real personality faults. People had often remarked that Helen lit up a room when she walked in to it but these days, the total opposite was true. Helen had never really noticed how she had changed and she went about her daily work without putting in any more effort towards people than was generally necessary. She wasn't very forgiving of other people's mistakes, just like Stubberfield hadn't been of her own. She had turned in to a person she wouldn't like, the sort of person that her father was. But had she known then she wouldn't really have cared anyway.
"Miss Stewart! Can I have a word please?" the prison doctor Thomas Waugh came striding towards her.
"What can I do for you doctor Waugh?" Helen didn't see the point in smiling and stood stony faced.
"I just wondered if you were going to the staff Christmas party? And if so would it be ok if I escorted you?" he smiled coyly at her, he was the only one who wasn't put off by her manner, he fancied her far too much for that.
"No I'm not and no you can't escort me." Helen said abruptly and began to walk off but then turned around, "look I have other plans, I'm sorry." she lied.
"Oh well lets say no more about it then." he smiled, "I hope you enjoy wherever it is that your going to and maybe next year eh?"
"Yes maybe next year." Helen replied absentmindedly, she had already forgotten him and was thinking about something else. He grinned like an idiot, he thought he was getting somewhere with the ice maiden wing governor.
Helen could have kicked herself, she didn't want to be nice to anybody and particularly not Thomas Waugh, who she knew would definitely get the wrong end of the stick. He seemed to be a nice bloke but Helen wasn't interested. She meandered about the wing for a while and then went back up to her office. She sat there for the rest of the day, cocooned in her own little world.
She tackled the huge pile of papers on her desk and before she knew what was happening, it was 9pm at night. But Helen wasn't all that interested in going home, it wasn't a place where she spent a lot of time. She spent less than 8 hours a day there and that included sleeping and eating. There wasn't much to go home for, she hated going home to a dark empty house and consequently spent most of her time at the prison.
She knew it would soon be Christmas which was an even bigger reason not to go home, it had never been one of her favourite holidays and right now it was even less so. She looked up abruptly when she heard the computer bleep, announcing that she had e-mail. Her heart sank when she saw the name of the sender but curiosity prevailed and she opened the e-mail up.
From: Karen Betts
To: Helen Stewart
Date: 21st of December
Subject: Where are you hiding?
Where are you hiding these days? I haven't heard from you in months, and haven't seen you since you left Larkhall. The reason I'm e-mailing is because I'm having a party in a few days time on Christmas Eve and I wondered if you would like to come? It would be really good to see you again, I'm sure we have a lot to catch up on. Oh and I'm not sure whether you already know or not but Nikki Wade was released today after a successful appeal, she will be coming to the party too, the two of you always seemed to get on well so I thought you would be pleased. Give me a call and let me know if you're coming.
Helen sat rigid; she didn't know what to think, except that she knew there was no way she would go to Karen's party unless hell froze over and even then it would be highly unlikely. All she could think about was Nikki, she'd had no idea that her appeal had been granted much less successful but then she should have realised that if anyone could have helped get Nikki out of there then it would have been Claire. She would have stayed and helped if she could have handled it but that was water under the bridge now, she hadn't and she couldn't change that.
She thought back to how it had all started, and even though she didn't want to remember, it continued to play on and on inside her head like a video without a stop button. It had all started when she and Nikki had a fight over Dominic, then Nikki escaped from Larkhall to try and apologise to her. That was when the real trouble started, Helen found she could no longer cope trying to divide herself between her personal life and her job, and it had been getting steadily more complicated because the two of them were inescapably linked.
Helen had ended it with Nikki that night and six weeks later, she left Larkhall for good. She remembered telling Nikki she was going, not six weeks before like she had planned but more like twenty minutes before and Nikki understandably was torn between grief and anger. Helen wished she had never opened her mouth, seeing the look on Nikki's face made her feel so guilty. She was supposed to be the woman she loved and yet she was hurting her, why was that? Simple, Helen couldn't cope, so she did what she had always done and run away.
Even now that Nikki was free, it was too late to change anything, Helen doubted that she would even want to be in the same postcode as her, never mind talk to her. It was all too late anyway, Helen was tired of battling with her inner demons, and she had ignored them without really solving anything and simply stopped thinking about it all. She had come too far to go back now, even if it had been possible. Helen wasn't going to rock the boat, she had managed to find a perfect balance and she knew that if she rocked either way then it would all come crashing down around her ears and she would be back to square one. She didn't bother to reply to Karen's e-mail and gathered her belongings in preparation to go home.
Two days later, Helen was on the wing talking to a couple of her officers, there had been an incident earlier on that needed dealing with. She knew the officers didn't feel comfortable talking to her; she had bollocked them both on a few occasions for minor cock-ups. It hadn't really warranted her going as far as she had but she knew that if she didn't keep on top of them then it would be like Larkhall revisited. And she couldn't afford to have another Jim Fenner on her hands.
"Anyway ma'am, the prisoner was taken down the block and you will have my full report by Friday."
"Today will be fine." Helen said curtly and then walked off.
The officers looked at each other and smirked.
"Looks like Ms Scrooge is still in desperate need of getting laid." the older one of the two, who looked to be about 45, laughed harshly.
"If you ask me she's a dyke. I mean lets face it, she don't wear no wedding ring, and I've made a pass at her a few times and so far, she hasn't taken me up on the offer." the young officer placed his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet.
"Don't mean she's a dyke, just means she don't fancy ya, and to be honest, who would? You're an ugly bastard!" the officer laughed as his colleague pulled a face.
"You ask me, she needs a real man to show her a good time, might put a smile on that face of hers. Miserable cow." the officer rubbed his hands together and then went back to work.
Helen was back in her office sorting through her paperwork when there was a knock on her door, it was her secretary.
"Excuse me Miss Stewart, have you got a minute?"
"What's the problem?" Helen said tersely, she wanted to be left to get on with her work.
"Doctor Waugh would like to see you."
"Could you please tell him that I don't have the time? I'm snowed under here and I'll get back to him." Helen had no desire to see him, if the guy hadn't gotten the message before then there wasn't much else she could say to convince him she wasn't interested.
"Of course." the secretary smiled and closed the door.
Helen should not have even been at work that day, she was supposed to take a two week holiday over the Christmas period, but as usual these days she found herself at work, through having no desire to do anything or be anywhere else. The e-mail from Karen had thrown her off kilter, she had thought she was done with the past, but it kept coming back to haunt her. People referred to her as Scrooge and her behaviour seemed to reflect that but deep down inside, the old Helen was still in there somewhere, hiding like a lost and frightened child.
She was again working late when her computer beeped, she had a feeling it would be another e-mail from Karen, and she wanted to ignore it. But deep down she knew she couldn't and she opened it.
From: Karen Betts
To: Helen Stewart
Date: 23rd of December
Come on Helen, give me a call. I really would like you to come to this party. You know my number; I'll be waiting to hear from you. If you don't call me then you'll get a visit from 3 ghosts like scrooge!
Helen binned the e-mail and switched the computer off; she still had no intention of contacting Karen. She thought about Karen's previous e-mail, and got a little jealous. She wondered how come Nikki and Karen were close enough for her to get invited to the party. She wondered if Nikki had tried to pick up with Karen where they left off. The more she thought about it, the more outlandish her suspicions became, and in the end she really didn't know what was fact or fiction. She knew she had no right to react that way but it didn't stop the jealousy from burning deep inside of her. Tonight, the past had managed to catch up with her at last.
She did what she always did in a similar situation; she reached for the bottle of vodka she had hidden in a cupboard in her office. She downed several shots in quick succession and collapsed on to the sofa in her office, realising that she wasn't in any fit state to drive home. She sat drinking and going over things in her head, and when she next looked up at the clock, she saw it was just after midnight.
"Christmas Eve eh? Merry fucking Christmas." she said bitterly as she raised her glass to the empty office.
Helen was soon in a vodka assisted slumber and was perched precariously on the sofa. It was a dreamless sleep, which she would have been grateful for, because her dreams haunted her. The room suddenly became bitterly cold as the window of her office flew open. She was startled from her sleep and it took her a while to sit up because the alcohol was slowing down her reactions. She walked unsteadily to the window, and instead of shutting it, she leaned on the window ledge and stuck her head out.
It had started to snow, and the streetlights cast a yellow glow over the ground where it had fallen. The cold air stung her face and took her breath away, but it helped to clear her head. Not for the first time, Helen felt completely alone, there was a part of her that knew she had screwed up and she wished she could go back, but you couldn't turn back time and you can't always fix things that are broken.
When she could no longer feel her face, she closed the windows and returned to the sofa.
"At last, I thought you were going to be there all night." a voice said from the shadows, startling her.
"Who's there?" she shouted as she jumped out of her skin, she shrank as far back in to the sofa as she could, and squinted as she looked in to the corner, where the light from her desk lamp didn't quite reach.
"I am the ghost of Christmas past, nice to meet you." Sean Parr held out his hand smiling as he stepped out of the shadowy corner she had just been looking at.
"Sean? Oh my god what are you doing here?" Helen couldn't understand why he was there; she hadn't seen him for two years and wondered why he had turned up now.
"I'm not Sean, I'm the ghost of Christmas past." he smiled again, privately thinking she wasn't as clever as she appeared if she couldn't grasp who he was.
"Have you not been taking your tablets?" she said sarcastically. She hadn't got a clue how he had found her but he sounded a bit mental, and how did he even know she was here at that time of night?
"I'm not Sean, I look like him but I'm not really him. We assume the form of somebody you feel comfortable with, so that it reduces stress. You wouldn't believe how many times I've had to do Elvis." he rolled his eyes at the thought.
"Look Sean, this isn't funny. I don't know how the hell you got in here or how you even found out where I was but I'm ringing down to the gate to get you removed from my office."
"I told you, I'm not Sean!" the spirit gestured wildly with his hands.
"Never mind who the hell you think you are, I want you out of here." Helen picked up the phone and the ghost disappeared, and re-appeared as Elvis.
"Do you believe me now?"
"Er I er." Helen didn't know whether what she was seeing was alcohol induced or whether she was just mentally unbalanced. In any case, the phone was dropped back in to its cradle, while she stood there gawping as she tried to figure out what was going on.
"Oh for goodness sake woman! I'm not Sean Parr, and I'm most certainly not Elvis. Boy could that man sing, and me? Well I just can't, I suppose its all in vocal chords really but I'm just tone deaf .and always hav ."
"Excuse me but can I just say? You're rambling. And it still doesn't explain why you're standing in my office, after midnight I might add and it certainly doesn't explain how the hell you managed to break in to a prison!" Helen looked thoughtful for a second, "mind you, it's been done before."
"Yes that's right, you did it with Nikki. You forced her to go back didn't you?"
"Yes I did." Helen still felt guilty about it, even though deep down she knew she had made the right decision.
"Was it easy?" the spirit forgot he was supposed to be doing a job.
"Well it's not easy; you have to think on your feet. But of course it was easier because there was a hostage situation going on at the time, and when you've been called in to work on an emergency and just happen to have a nurse with you then who's going to question it? Mind you we almost didn't get there, bloody good job that copper batted for the same team as us and fancied Nikki in her uniform or I would have been serving a ten stretch with her, mind you it would have been fantastic if I had been assigned to the same cell." Helen allowed herself a wistful smile. She hadn't realised she had just referred to herself as being gay, which the spirit noticed but didn't decide to mention quite yet.
"She fancied you as well." the spirit said casually, "she has a thing about uniforms, but then again she also has a thing about leather and you were wearing that jacket. Besides you're petite and blonde and Nikki is tall and dark, she wasn't really the copper's type. You wouldn't believe what she was thinking about." the spirit grinned.
"I shudder to think!" Helen pulled a face at the thought, she didn't want to imagine what the copper had been thinking.
"We haven't got much time so listen up, this isn't hard to understand but I'll put it as simply as I can for you. I'm the ghost of Christmas past; I assumed the identity of somebody you are familiar with, as I was told to because you needed some help.."
"And you had to pick him?"
"Who did you want me to pick? Lordy! Why do I always get the hard jobs?" the spirit was getting a little pissed off as he muttered to himself.
"You coulda picked anybody except Sean the prawn. I'd have been more pleased to see Bodybag." Helen smirked.
"You'll be sorry you said that." the spirit looked smug, which wasn't hard because that's how Sean always looked.
"Meaning what?" Helen looked suspicious.
"Meaning that's who your next spirit is." the spirit delivered the coup de grace, and then morphed in to Bodybag. Helen had to admit, it was frighteningly realistic, right down to the look of a bulldog chewing several wasps that were concealed in a bag of lemons.
"Oh bollocks, why can't you keep your trap shut Stewart?" Helen groaned.
"You've always been the same and you'll never change." 'Sean' studied his fingernails casually.
"Thanks for that." Helen stood up and began to pace, "what do you want anyway?" Helen still wasn't entirely believing despite what she had seen, she was tempted to drag 'Sean' off to the muppet wing.
"I already told you! I'm here to help you! I'm the ghost of Christmas past!" the spirit was getting thoroughly exasperated at this point.
"Yes you said, I'm not deaf, I heard you the first time. I'm trying to ascertain what it is exactly that you want with me." Helen was back and forth across the office as was her habit, and the carpet showed evidence of it.
"First of all stop pacing; I know you can't help it but it's annoying, oh by the way, that's something else that will never change."
"Look Mr. Spirit, I really couldn't give a fu .."
"Ah ah ah! Don't go off on one! I'm to show you the error of your ways, a la Dickens. Catch my drift?"
"So you appear in front of me looking like Sean to remind me I have made mistakes? Jesus, I could have told you that! The fact I even stayed with him for longer than a week was a bloody big mistake in itself." Helen shook her head.
"Far be it from me to interrupt you but some of us have work to do. Now, are you going to zip it and let me show you the error of your ways? Or are we going to stand here all night while you flap your lips?"
"I bet Scrooge never had to put up with all this shit." Helen couldn't help smiling.
"Honey, Scrooge is a fictional character! Don't they teach you anything at university these days?" the spirit smirked and walked over towards the window.
"Yeah but if the spirits are real, how come Scrooge wasn't?"
"Well the big man upstairs heard about Dickens' story and thought it would be a good idea to get a scheme going. Sort of like what you do down here, it's a rehabilitation program that tends to work very well."
"In that case, how would you like a job? We've got a few vacancies." this was the longest conversation she'd had with anybody since her last long conversation with Nikki over a year ago.
"Nah, when you're done with them, if they don't change then they end up coming to see me anyway. It's thanks to you that our waiting list has been cut down somewhat. Nikki Wade for instance, was just crying out for a visit and you worked wonders with her."
Helen's face fell, she regretted leaving her, and the feeling was getting worse with every mention of her name. But she wasn't supposed to be thinking like this, it was all over and done with as far as she was concerned. The spirit then placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Don't look so glum, things are never as bad as they seem. As I said, I'm going to show you a few things from your past, obviously I can't show you everything but I've picked a few things that I think are relevant. Are you ready to go?"
"Yes, I'm ready." Helen looked slightly nervous.
"Ok, not many rules to remember. A) Keep your hands inside the vehicle, B) there are no emergency exits and C) if I do happen to fall asleep, don't worry I will probably come around before we hit the ground. If not then just scream 'oh shit we're gonna die' that should wake me up.."
"You got to be kidding me." Helen backed away from 'Sean' she was as white as a sheet.
"I'm joking, don't get your thong in a knot." the spirit looked very pleased with himself.
"This is fantastic, every time I look at you, I feel so happy I gave Sean the boot. Do I prefer my gardeners in y-fronts? No bloody way!"
"Are you quite finished making fun of my looks?"
"I wasn't! I was making fun of Sean, what do you really look like anyway?"
"Can't show you, if I did I'd have to kill you! I'm kidding! If I showed you my real face then you'd go all drippy on me, even though you're gay. I can't even look at myself otherwise I would stand staring all day and I wouldn't get anything done. God I'm too sexy for this robe." the spirit chuckled.
"I never said I was gay! Ok I slept with a woman and I thoroughly enjoyed it, no enjoy is not a strong enough word, it was like no other feeling on earth and I would do anything to feel that way again. God what that woman could do with her tongue not to mention her hands . sorry! I'm rambling on here. Just let me have a quick drink and then let's go." Helen picked up the bottle of vodka and had a couple of mouthfuls. She had finally realised she was probably gay after all but kept quiet on that score.
"Haven't you had enough already? If you let go of my robe and end up as a greasy spot on the road, then we will be forced to resurrect you and you won't even believe how much paperwork is involved, it's a total nightmare."
"Don't get antsy, I'm perfectly sober. Come on wee man, let's get going."
"About time!" the spirit exclaimed and waited for Helen to grab his robe.
As soon as Helen took hold of the robe, she felt weightless. They hovered up in to the air and then through the window, they flew up in to the night sky and Helen could see the streets far below her. The landscape had been turned totally white and she could see the tiny spots of light from streetlamps shining against the snow. Strangely enough, she didn't feel cold, she felt warmth spread through her, quite like the feeling she got when she had been close to Nikki.
She immediately put the thought of her from her mind, she had a feeling she would be seeing Nikki soon enough and till then all thoughts could wait. She wanted to see what the spirit had in store for her.
"Here we are, as soon as we get to the ground, you are free to go where you like. But I warn you, time is limited and we can't spend too long in one place, however much you would like to."
"I understand." Helen replied.
"Good. This is your childhood home. Just walk through the wall."
Helen did as she was told and found herself in the living room of the house in Scotland where she had lived as a child. She took in the sight of the great big fireplace that dominated one side of the room, and the stockings that hung from it. The fire was roaring up the chimney and it gave off a warm glow that made the room seem so cosy. She saw her five year old self come running in to the room; it was then that she noticed her parents.
She gasped, her mother looked exactly as Helen did, at the age she was now. She had never realised that the resemblance was so strong, but then again she didn't really remember her mother and her father had never shown her a picture. She watched as she approached the chair, her mother was sitting on her father's lap and they were smiling at each other, it was obvious they were deeply in love. As soon as they noticed her, their faces lit up and Helen was lifted on to her mother's lap where two sets of arms were wrapped around her and held her tight.
"This was the last Christmas before your mother died."
"I remember, well vaguely at least." Helen spoke quietly.
She watched the happy family scene for a couple of minutes longer until she was told it was time to go. Time advanced slightly and she found herself sitting quietly at the side of her mother's bed as she lay dying.
"Oh god, not this, please not this." Helen's hand flew to her mouth.
"I'm sorry, you must see this. This is when your troubles started, this is why you have never given your heart to anybody, you were afraid that as soon as you did then you would lose them, just like you lost your mother and eventually your father, although you didn't lose him in a physical sense." the spirit looked sadly on, he hated having to do this but it was the only way.
"Mummy?" little Helen whispered.
"Yes angel?" Helen's mother opened her eyes and smiled weakly at her daughter.
"Are you ever going to get better?" as little Helen spoke, the adult version of her let out a sob.
"No I'm not sweetheart. I'm going to be with the angels in heaven soon. But I will always be with you, in here." she pointed to Helen's heart.
"Will I ever see you again mummy?"
"Of course you will, when it's your turn to go to heaven, I'll be waiting for you." little Helen climbed on to the bed beside her mother where she was enveloped in the tired woman's arms and was held on to with all the strength she could muster. "I'll always be with you sweetheart, no matter where you are, I'll always watch over you and love you."
Helen sobbed quietly, having to witness this was breaking her heart, and the fact that she was identical to her mother was making things worse, it was like seeing herself lying on that bed.
"I can't take any more; please can we go somewhere else?" Helen pleaded.
"Take my robe." the spirit replied and they once again moved on to somewhere else.
Helen found herself standing in the living room of her father's house, she saw herself sitting at a table, studying. She must have been about sixteen at the time. Her father sat looking miserable and stern while he read a newspaper.
"What on earth is up with you girl?" he bellowed.
"Nothing dad, I'm fine. I'm just doing my homework." Helen tried to sound normal.
"Don't lie to me."
"It's nothing to worry about." in facts Helen's heart was broken at that time, nothing much wrong in the grand scheme of things but at the time it felt as if she was never going to be ok again.
"What's the mater? Is it that boy you seem to like hanging around with? I've warned you about him."
"He just told me he never wants to see me again; I really thought he liked me you know?" Helen struggled to keep her tears at bay; she had learned never to cry in front of her father.
"Liked you? You mean you thought he loved you?" Helen's father uncharacteristically softened his tone.
"Yes, he told me he did and I believed him." Helen was surprised at her father, ordinarily they never spoke, he never wanted to.
"Well more bloody fool you! Boys are only after one thing and if I find out he got what he wanted then I swear to god Helen I will come down on you like a ton of bricks! Do I make myself clear?" he very quickly turned nasty again.
"Yes and before you start worrying, I didn't do anything with him, I promise you." Helen felt a tear trickle down her face and quickly wiped it away before her father noticed.
"I hope that's true. Just remember, men are only after one thing and when they tell you they love you it's lies, love doesn't exist." his face was a dangerous shade of red, "and if you ever do anything to embarrass me then you'll be sorry!"
"You're right; love doesn't exist, not in this fucking house anyway!" Helen shot up and ran from the room as far away from her father as she could.
The spirit turned to see Helen looking angry but sad at the same time.
"And that was when you first had your heart broken; somebody had told you they loved you and you had believed it. It was a painful experience for you and you vowed never to let it happen again. Between that and your father, it made you cynical towards love. You felt as if your father was going to comfort you, but he turned on you and that also taught you something else you have always lived by. And that was to keep everything bottled up inside and never to share it with anyone. That also hasn't helped you in your adult life. Come on, there is more to see."
Helen didn't like any of this, her faults were being pointed out to her, and she didn't much like criticism. It seemed that all her father had ever done since the day her mother died was continually take pot shots at her, it wore away her confidence but she had managed to bluff her way through life by pretending to be the confident woman she wasn't. The only person who really understood her, the only one who had ever listened was Nikki and she had repaid all that she had done for her by running away. What kind of a woman was she? Knowing that her childhood explained the way she acted didn't make her feel any better, it made her feel worse because she hadn't realised how things were.
She now felt worse than she ever had, she hadn't just let Nikki down, but she knew she had let down a lot of other people as well. And as much as she didn't like to admit it, she had caused a lot of her own problems. But was she willing to accept her mistakes and try to put things right?
Helen was whisked off once more, she next found herself at her father's house, preparing to leave for university.
"I've got to go dad."
"Are you still here?" he snapped.
"Come on dad, please don't be like that. I'm going to miss you, you know."
"Pity you didn't think about that before you decided to go swanning off to university."
"I've got no choice dad, if I want a good job then university will help." Helen watched as the younger version of herself stood in front of her father.
"You don't need a job; you should find yourself a husband who will take care of you. A woman's place is in the home." he said gruffly.
"That's old fashioned bullshit dad, I want a career for myself and there is absolutely no way I'm ever going to rely on anybody to look after me when I can look after myself." she stormed out without saying goodbye, she knew her father wouldn't care anyway.
The spirit turned to her.
"And that was when you decided that you would never rely on anybody, you promised yourself that you would struggle along irregardless. Apart from you being gay, it was a contributing factor as to why you were unable to commit to Sean, or indeed commit to anybody. That's why you always fought against Nikki whenever she tried to protect you, even though you appreciated it, it was something you weren't used to. You passed it off as Nikki being too hotheaded and telling her she should concentrate on fighting her own battles while you fought yours."
"I get the point." Helen said, before turning away.
"I'm sorry but it really is vital that you understand why your life went the way it did." the spirit genuinely sympathised with her. She wasn't a bad person, not like a lot of the people that he saw, she had made a few mistakes because of what had happened during her childhood and he was determined to get her as far back on track as he was able.
"Is this over yet?" Helen said wearily, she had visited several awful points in her life and it was taking its toll on her. She had two other spirits to get through and she was pissed off with the present one, although she knew deep down he was only doing his job.
"There are a few more things to see." He held out his arm and Helen grabbed his sleeve.
Time fast forwarded and she found herself at university, she was in the hallway on the phone when several of her friends came running past and they greeted her loudly. She told her father to hang on a minute and stood talking to them for a short while, there was one girl amongst them, whom Helen was pretty close to. Her name was Claire, she was a law student and so far they had gotten along pretty well, they had been out to the pub together a few times and liked each others company.
"Hey Helen, what are you doing tonight?" Claire asked as the others moved off and it quietened down.
"I wasn't doing much really; I thought I would stay in and stare at the TV for a bit."
"Why don't we get a takeaway and a couple of bottles of booze, my roommate has gone away so we will have the room to ourselves."
"Great, say about seven then?"
"Brilliant, see you later Helen."
"Bye Claire ..hey dad sorry about that .just one of my friends yes dad it's a woman and no I don't have a boyfriend .she's a law student oh come on dad that's not fair!...I don't know why I bother, if I never came home again I'm not sure you would even notice well thanks for that ..if that's how you feel then fine, I won't bother you again." Helen slammed the phone down, and it was the last time she had spoken to her father in a very long time.
Helen was puzzled, why was the spirit showing her having an argument with her father on the phone. Surely there had been more important things to show her?
"What was the point of that, I've had loads of arguments with my father, why is that one special?" Helen couldn't see the significance.
"You will soon see." the spirit clicked his fingers and they were confronted with the vision of Helen's father putting the phone down.
"Oh Mary my dear, I've made such a mess of things. I always manage to say the wrong things, and I've said some hurtful things believe you me. I told the poor girl love didn't exist you know, how could I betray you like that? Your love for me was the sweetest most pure thing in the world and I never told her. Trouble is, she looks so much like you, in fact I would say she looked exactly like you. I've not been able to handle it, every time I look at her I see you staring back at me, and I want to forget but I want to remember too. I was so angry with you when you died and I became angry with Helen. I'm an old fool but I don't suppose I will ever change, she won't forgive me and to be honest she has every right to feel that way. I just wish she knew how much I loved her and how much I regret ignoring her and pushing her away. Oh well that's enough of me blabbing on, time for me to sort out the garden and leave you in peace my love." he stood up and left the room.
"Now do you see why your father was so distant? It doesn't excuse what he did but maybe it helps you to see how it really was now. You never did make it up properly with your father, it was years before you went to see him again and you only ever phoned him once in a blue moon. You were both too stubborn to talk to each other and the result is that now you are distrustful of any interest anybody shows toward you in case it is snatched away, like your father snatched away his interest in you. You loved Nikki deeply and you still do, but even that wasn't enough to convince you that you had nothing to fear. Nikki's love for you was true, you won't ever find another who loves you quite the same way, she could have been the one to heal all the hurt but you pushed her away." the spirit could see his words were having an effect.
"I wasn't ready to have the whole world think I was gay and especially not my father. I've spent my life trying to make him proud of me while telling myself I didn't care anyway, and I wanted him to notice me for something I had achieved, not notice me for something he would see as disgusting and unnatural."
"You don't feel comfortable in your own skin, that much is obvious. But ask yourself this, if you have never felt this way when you were with anybody else, then wouldn't it be such a lot to miss out on because of what other people, your father included might think? Surely your thoughts and feelings as well as Nikki's are the most important thing?" he could see Helen was thinking about it deeply, "Don't think about it too much now, wait till you have seen all you need to see."
Helen nodded, and took a deep breath as the spirit prepared to take her somewhere else. Facing up to the past was harder than she had thought it would be, it was teaching her things about herself that she hadn't been aware of, it was also teaching her things about herself that she didn't like and she wasn't sure if she was strong enough to cope.
The spirit moved them forward, and soon they were flying again. Helen didn't even notice the journey because she was too wrapped up in thinking about what she had just seen. This night had certainly thrown a few revelations her way and she was certain there were bound to be more. They soon came to a stop outside a place Helen knew well, and she had wondered when she would end up there, she had been aware it was only a matter of time.
She felt a chill run through her as she stood looking up at the old stone building that had made a few of her dreams come true but had also destroyed quite a few of them at the same time. She knew she had to go in there, there was no running away from it.
"Back in Larkhall." Helen said quietly.
They walked through the wall and soon found themselves on G-Wing. Helen could see many familiar faces and just for a second she felt comforted, which she found strange because she had never particularly liked the place when she worked there. The only attraction it held for her, aside from her career of course, was the fact that Nikki was incarcerated there. She could see Jim Fenner sliming his way up and down the wing and Bodybag was hollering at a few of the inmates as usual. Then she heard the gate to the wing clang open and saw herself step through on to the wing.
"Nice soot!" said the spirit as he eyed up Helen's smart charcoal suit.
"Yeah yeah, very funny." Helen managed a smile at her own words, as she watched herself walking up the wing.
She saw the look of love in her own eyes as she spotted Nikki who was playing pool, with Denny and Shaz. Her breath caught in her throat when she saw her, she was beautiful and her heart ached to hold her. She walked closer and heard herself say that she wanted to see Nikki in her cell. She followed across the wing and up to Nikki's cell. She saw the look of adoration on Nikki's face and her heart leapt even though she knew it was all in the past.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit then Miss?" Nikki was flirting.
"Seeing as how it's Christmas Eve then I thought I would bring you a wee present. This is for you." Helen reached in to a file and brought out a copy of Sophie's World as Nikki gasped.
Helen had written inside it on the first page.
Merry Christmas Nikki
Till we meet on the outside
A tear trickled down Nikki's cheek when she saw what Helen had done for her.
"Oh Helen, I don't know what to say. This is just fantastic, I never expected this. I have nothing to give you in return though." Nikki looked apologetic.
"Hey, you don't need to give me anything. Seeing the look on your face was a pleasure. As hard as it is for me to say this, I've gotta go, you won't see me till after New Year now." Helen was genuinely sad at the thought, she didn't want to leave Nikki.
"Ten days won't kill us, it's going to be hard but I've got phone cards, and it'll be ok." Nikki tried to comfort Helen even though she was in need of comfort herself.
"Which reminds me." she handed a stack of phone cards to Nikki, and a packet of cigarettes, "not that I approve of you smoking, and nor do I approve of you rambling on like a lovesick puppy on the phone to your mistress, but what the hell, it's Christmas." Helen smiled as she joked around with Nikki.
"My mistress eh? Trouble is Helen, you don't look like a mistress." Nikki raised her eyebrow seductively.
"Give me half a chance sweetheart and I could be anything you wanted me to be." Helen flirted back and couldn't help but take a step closer to Nikki even though she had made it clear she wouldn't get physical with her when there was a chance they could get caught.
"Hmmm, I kinda adore you the way you are."
"I really gotta go. Hey come here and give me a kiss before I do." Helen wrapped her arms round Nikki and stared deep in to her eyes.
"Are you sure? You said we shouldn't." Nikki was doubtful.
"I know but bollocks to it, it's Christmas." Helen pulled Nikki closer and they shared a tender loving kiss for a couple of minutes before she reluctantly pulled away.
"Go on, off you go. Merry Christmas darlin'." Nikki tried to remain cheerful.
"Will you ring me tonight?"
"Course I will, and in the morning and tomorrow night, and every night after that. You've got me enough phone cards there to keep me going for months!" Nikki smiled.
"I knew there was a reason I went mad! Talk to you tonight then. Bye sweetheart. Merry Christmas." Helen placed one last kiss on Nikki's lips and left the cell.
"Bye." Nikki called out after her, "thank you god! I wasn't expecting those kisses but I'll gratefully take any that she wants to give me." Nikki did a little dance around her cell.
Barbara Hunt came in and looked at her strangely until it clicked what was wrong with her.
"Ah Miss Stewart has been to see you. I wondered why you were acting strangely."
"Oh she definitely has Babs. I'm telling you, that woman is an angel; she got me a Christmas present and everything. Christmas is normally shit but she's just made mine I can tell you. I'm feeling so happy, and I think I will go and spread my good cheer, well to everybody except Dockley of course. Come to think of it, I'm so happy that even Dockley couldn't spoil my mood." Nikki was practically hopping from foot to foot.
"You really love her don't you?"
"I've never loved anybody this much, Helen is a very special woman and I don't think she knows just how special she is. But I'm going to make sure I tell her tonight. Do you believe in soul mates Babs?"
"Absolutely, Peter was mine and I'm sure Miss Stewart is yours. You only have to look at her to know she cares deeply for you."
"I'm the luckiest woman alive, I know that much. Right come on, let's go and have a bit of fun." she pulled Babs from the cell and they marched down the wing singing Christmas carols much to Bodybag's annoyance.
"See the sort of impact you had on her life? You only gave her a simple book but to her it meant the world, because it was a gift from you. Her life in prison was a bleak existence till you showed up, and then finally when you gave in to your emotions, it put the light back in her life. She felt so lucky and proud to have you, and yet you doubted it all, doubted how she felt for you and doubted your feelings for her, even when deep down you knew the truth." the spirit spoke softly.
"I've made a right royal fuck-up of things, Christmas was hard for both of us that year, but nice in a way because we knew we had each other. But a year later, I left her and broke her heart and I wish I hadn't. But I still think I did the right thing, she is better off without me." Helen began to cry again, she was amazed she had any tears left.
"Don't be so hard on yourself, listen this isn't normally something I would say to someone but you aren't like other people. You made a mistake, which is in no doubt, but you didn't do it with any malice, you did it because you cared about her, even if you did go about it wrongly. You aren't the first to make such a decision and you won't be the last, but at least you have had the opportunity to see where you went wrong."
"Yeah I know, I've seen the film. I see the error of my ways and everything turns out fine, except I doubt it will and I can't have the one thing back that I'm devastated about throwing away." Helen began to wake up to what she had done.
The spirit patted Helen on the shoulder, she needed to be shocked in to breaking the pattern and he felt sure that she would but at the moment even after all she had seen she needed to be convinced.
"The two of you never communicated in any real depth, there wasn't time and that was one of the biggest factors in the failure of your relationship. You both had a vague idea of where the other was coming from but there were misunderstandings left right and center and things always seemed to go wrong."
"Tell me something I don't know." Helen wearily rubbed her forehead, "time to go?"
"Yep, gotta go." the spirit smiled, he had a couple of more things to show her before they were done
"You sound just like I used to." Helen smiled sadly.
"Where do you think I got it from?" the spirit chuckled, "right you know the drill, lets get this baby back on the road."
Helen watched as time fast forwarded in front of her and she found herself in Stubberfield's office. She groaned, his meetings were bad enough the first time around but here she was being forced to watch it a second.
"I don't need to tell you Helen that this is a very delicate matter. It must be handled very carefully and discretely." he droned on.
"Which I fully intend to do but I will not take part in a cover up Simon. If Jim Fenner is guilty of any wrong doing then Area will be informed of my findings." Helen had felt as if she was being treated as a child at the time, it had been no different when she had been Wing Governor. And when she had been promoted to Lifer Liaison Officer, he still treated her like a wet behind the ears recruit even though she didn't answer directly to him.
"That goes without saying; you know I trust you to do an admirable job. Jim is a good officer and it's unfortunate that this allegation was made but I know you will handle it with the utmost professionalism." Simon was almost as oily as Fenner.
"He's a fully paid up member of the 'all men are bastards club' just like Fenner." Helen said quietly.
"What?" the spirit looked puzzled.
"Nothing, just something somebody I used to know said." Helen replied and then carried on listening.
"See that's funny because when I worked here as Wing Governor, you did all you could to get rid of me, you didn't seem to trust me then. You constantly questioned whether I was capable of doing my job and so on. Somebody, somewhere, must have confidence in me, I was promoted after all and thank god the choice wasn't yours." Helen stood up and left his office.
She watched herself as she walked up the corridor and she entered her old office. She saw herself sit down and wipe a couple of angry tears from her face, she had forgotten all about it till now. Then she remembered scores of incidents, as Wing Governor and then Liaison Officer, where she had been insulted professionally, and the hint was there that it was also on a personal level, and she would break down in tears afterwards. Stubberfield and Fenner had systematically chipped away the little bit of confidence that she possessed but she had never let them see how much it got to her, not even Nikki knew about it, it was something that she kept to herself. She had no desire for anybody to know that Helen Stewart wasn't quite as tough as she made herself out to be, she felt as if it implied weakness on her part, a feeling that she now knew stemmed from her childhood.
"It was at times like that, that you became disillusioned with your job. Basically, the inclination to do your job was still there but you were fed up with the underserved negativity about your abilities. It added to the load on your shoulders and trying to maintain a forbidden relationship that you had fears about anyway, under that kind of strain, was more than anybody could cope with, but you did admirably well. You felt all along that you chose your job over Nikki, but that's not really true, deep down you know it's not. You chose to leave Nikki, thinking she was better off without you, that you couldn't give her all that she deserved because of the restraints you were both under. You wanted your job and you wanted Nikki but you realised you couldn't have both, so you chose your job because you felt that option was the best thing for you both, if you had been caught then you knew you would have been split up. Granted, your feelings scared you sometimes and you found it hard to get to grips with them but that's not why you left, you left because your primary concern was Nikki and you didn't want her to get in to trouble because of your relationship."
"And the result is, I'm doing a job that means nothing to me, and I'm without the person I really wanted and all because I was too stupid to realise it." Helen shook her head angrily, "I cared more about failing at my job and being caught out than I did about how Nikki felt, that's the bloody truth." Helen spoke bitterly.
"If you keep telling yourself that then you'll end up back at square one. I just told you the real reason why you left her, no matter how much you think differently. I know you cared about your job, but the fact is whether you know it or not, you cared more about Nikki. Come on, one last place to go and then thankfully my shift is at an end and I can pass you over to Bodybag." the spirit chuckled.
"Oh god, can I still not get out of this? What if I said I know what you're trying to say and I promise to go see Nikki and apologise? She might not want me but at least I can say I'm sorry for what I put her through and try to make things right."
"Oh no, you don't get out of it like that. You can go to see Nikki if you really want to, but you still have to go through all three spirits first."
"Oh bollocks." was Helen's reply.
Helen grabbed the spirit's robe and they were off again, in truth she was glad that this was all nearly over. She had seen more than enough, but even though it was painful, it was strangely liberating. She really understood herself for the first time, she knew now why she behaved the way she had, whereas before it had been a total mystery. She could only imagine how hard it must have been for Nikki, trying to understand her strange behaviour. But she was fearful what the next two spirits would bring, seeing the past was one thing, it was all done with and you couldn't change it but the present and the future were really bothering her.
"I know I should probably ask the next couple of spirits but you're here for the moment. I know the past and the present are unchangeable but .the future can be changed can't it? I mean I've seen the film; Scrooge doesn't die unloved in the end, Tiny Tim lives and so on .because he stops being such a miserable git. Can I change the future, just like in the film, if I change my ways?"
"This isn't really in my job description to tell you but yeah, you can change the future. But it won't be an easy task; you will have to be committed to wanting to change. Normally people don't give two hoots about changing until they get to the future but I can see you are different, maybe we should have scheduled you for just a chat instead of a 3 spirit slammer? I bet some dopey beggar in admin screwed it up, oh well never mind, you will get the benefit of the full monty!"
"That's good to know." Helen replied smiling, he may look like Sean but that's as close as he got to the original floppy haired git.
"Right, on to the last location. I'm warning you, you won't like it."
"It's ok, I had a feeling where we were headed." Helen said quietly, she had been resigned to the fact for some time.
Nikki was lying on her bunk attempting to read, she hadn't been able to stop thinking about Helen, when the object of her now crushed affections walked in. The last six weeks since Helen had forced her to come back to the prison had been hell. She was aware she had been pissed off with Helen at the time but she had never expected her to go overboard and end it all. One minute she had been on cloud nine after making love to the woman she loved more than anything else, and then she had been back at Larkhall, dumped and locked up again.
"Nikki, have you got a minute?" Helen tried not to be too formal.
"Yeah sure." Nikki replied after throwing her book down on the bed and sitting up.
"Look, this isn't easy but I may as well come right out with it. I've resigned as Lifer Liaison Officer here at Larkhall and I've taken a job as Wing Governor in another prison. It's a bit of a step down but I need to get out of here." it all came out in a rush, and she felt horrible for saying it.
"Right." was all Nikki said, she looked blankly at Helen for a few minutes, not being able to take it in, "when are you leaving?"
"In twenty minutes." Helen looked at the floor.
"Twenty bloody minutes! And you never told me! How long have you known?" Nikki exploded.
"Six weeks." again came the quiet reply.
"Oh that's just great! Jesus Helen, I know we were never the perfect couple but you could have had more respect for me than that, you at least could have told me sooner. It didn't have to be like this you know, we could have taken a step back that night and cooled things between us for a bit, you didn't have to end it all." Nikki said sadly.
"You know why I ended it Nikki. It was getting too hard for us to hide how we felt, we could never have cooled it between us and neither of us could afford to get caught. We would have gotten in to trouble, I would have lost my job and they would have split us up." Helen was desperate for Nikki to understand.
"See what I'm talking about? I was telling you the truth." the spirit stood behind Helen, "Don't try and fool yourself in to thinking you didn't or don't care about her, because you know that you do."
"It doesn't matter, I let her down, and I deserve everything I get." Helen looked downcast as the spirit placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and they turned to watch what was happening.
"I should have realised, you obviously think more about your bloody career than you do about me. Save your excuses for somebody who believes them darlin'."
"If that's what you want to think then fine, hate me for it."
"It's not what I think, it's what I know. You couldn't give a damn about me, all you care about is whether your lifers program is running smoothly." Nikki knew that particular statement was untrue and she felt guilty as soon as she had said it.
"Sod you Nikki." Helen snapped and went to leave the cell.
"What?" she whirled around looking angry.
"Is this really it? Am I never going to see you again?" the prospect was killing Nikki.
"I told you once before, you never know what's gonna happen." Helen didn't want to say what she knew to be true and tried to gloss over it for both their sakes.
"It wasn't an answer then Helen and it isn't now. Are we ever going to see each other again?"
"I think it's unlikely." Helen was forced in to being truthful at last.
"I thought so. And the fact that I love you counts for nothing does it?" Nikki's face softened, and she looked as if she might cry. Helen knew how she felt.
"Don't bother Helen; at least I know where I stand now. Take care, I hope you have everything you ever wanted." Nikki turned to the window and blocked Helen out.
"Nikki please ." Helen didn't want them to part that way, they had shared too much to leave it all like that. She wanted to explain but Nikki didn't want to hear it.
"Goodbye Helen." Nikki struggled not to cry, she didn't want Helen to see her lose it.
"Goodbye Nikki." Helen said and before she left the cell, she whispered, "I love you." but it was spoken too quietly for Nikki to hear it. She left the prison knowing that Nikki watched every step from her window, but she didn't look back, she couldn't. And that had been confirmed, as she saw the tears stream down Nikki's face as she looked out of the window of her cell.
Nikki then sat heavily on her bunk and sobbed her heart out. Helen looked on horrified, she couldn't believe what she had done, and it hit home even more powerfully than it had the first time because now she had witnessed Nikki's distress. She walked over towards Nikki and reached out a hand to touch her but her hand went right through her, it was silly really because she knew she couldn't feel her but it didn't stop her from wanting to try.
"Oh god Helen, why did this have to happen? Why couldn't you love me as much I love you." Nikki's sobs got worse and she buried her face in her pillow.
"Is she serious? Does she really think I don't love her that much?" Helen was shocked.
"Yes she does and frankly you can't blame her. In the entire time you two were together, you only told her you loved her once, which was said a few hours before you forced her back to the prison and ended it. Nikki may have her faults but she believed in you Helen, she opened herself up to you after what Trish did to her, and even though there were times when she was unreasonable, it was only because she was afraid of losing you. You both suffer from having been abandoned by various people in your life, even though it was for different reasons. That's what drew you together, you were essentially two halves of the same person, you were kindred spirits and even though you didn't realise it at the time, you were slowly beginning to heal each other. Simply put, you are soul mates." the spirit spoke passionately; he had very rarely found two people who were made for each other as perfectly as those two.
"Oh Nikki what have I done?" Helen's tears began to fall; they ran down her face without resistance.
"It's not just Nikki, you hurt a lot of other people too. Friends, colleagues, and your father. Although to be fair, your father was equally as guilty because he was the primary cause of it and you simply retaliated to the way he was treating you. It's not just things with Nikki that you would be required to change; you would have to talk to your friends and so on. But you know who they are and what you did and I'm sure you would do that."
"I'll do anything I have to, to make up for what I've done. But Nikki is my primary concern, you can understand that can't you?"
"Of course I can, and if you felt any differently then I would be worried. Let's get you back; my work with you is finished.
The spirit waited until she gripped his sleeve and then Larkhall disappeared and she was back in her office at Darrow. The wind rushed in through the windows and turned the air icy. She shivered, but it wasn't entirely due to the temperature.
"That's me done then, I can clock off now." the spirit smiled.
"Thank you, I'm grateful for what you've done for me. The only way I can repay you is to promise that I will never forget what you have shown me and I will do my best to change."
"Good, you can only do your best, you can't do any more than that and that's all we ask. Take care, and I hope everything works out for you." he smiled as Helen stepped closer to hug him, he hugged her back, safe in the knowledge that if Helen Stewart followed her heart then everything would be just fine.
"You never told me your name." Helen said as the spirit prepared to leave.
"Well you see the funny thing is, up in heaven my name isn't a name really it's more a sort of a sound and humans can't pronounce it. If I was to make the sound of my name then I would shatter the windows and burst your eardrums. So just call me Sean, that's how you know me really."
"Ok Sean it is then. Thank you Sean."
"You're very welcome." he smiled as he waved and then disappeared.
Helen smiled; he seemed like a really nice guy, he had helped her more than he would probably ever know even though it was his job to know. Then it set her thinking, at some point she would track Sean down and go to see him. She knew they were never compatible but it didn't change the fact that she had hurt him, no matter how much of a pillock he had been and she wanted to apologise. She would also have to see Claire and Karen but the most important person was Nikki. She didn't even want to contemplate the enormity of sorting things out with her father at this point. That would come later, when she had her life on more of an even keel.
She lay down on the couch and closed her eyes, she knew that for the next spirit to come she had to be asleep. She thought of all the things she wanted to say to Nikki, she thought about how she was going to apologise to her and she silently prayed that she would forgive her. It wasn't long before she had drifted off again; watching her past had physically and emotionally tired her out and she couldn't keep her eyes open.
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