If I Could Turn Back Time
Nikki dropped her rucksack onto the deck and took a look around the marina. She loved being here, especially now it was summer, it was one of the only places she'd found comfortable since leaving Larkhall. In fact the only place she ever felt freer was when she had actually set sail and was at sea,
Her gaze turned into a frown when she saw the yacht that was currently occupying one of the temporary moorings, 'Dazzler' was emblazoned in gold across the back of it. She sighed, it was one of those enormous 'only seen at the boat show' type of affairs, some pretentious twat had no doubt bought it to impress his bit of totty. Still, she couldn't help but admire it!
Her gaze dropped to her own launch, the 'HOT 1'.
Nikki had bought it a couple of months after moving here. She was an English teacher at the local comprehensive. Since her release she had moved from place to place almost monthly. She spent time with Monica and Barbara after she herself had been released, but as always she got itchy feet and moved on. She had been living in this seaside town for almost a year and still no sign of panic, no waking in a sweat in the middle of the night, no overwhelming urge to leave. She hoped she had finally found the peace she had been looking for.
A couple of months after moving in she had been offered a place on the local lifeboat crew, she snapped it up it meant that every now and then she would be able to escape the boredom of the classroom (she didn't like to think of someone's distress as a good thing but on a hot summers day when stuck in a class of rowdy 14 year olds she felt justified to feel a buzz when she saw a distress flare go up) and it had also helped her to 'fit in' with the locals. She grinned as she recalled the day that she had arrived at her berth and discovered that some of her crewmates had decided to rename the 'Helen of Troy' she had considered retouching the name but knew it would be pointless as in the dark of night one of them would doubtless be back.
A woman's laugh disturbed her thoughts. She glanced across to the boat she'd been looking at. Sure enough the bloke looked like a pretentious twat anyone wearing a custard yellow jumper with a yacht emblazoned across the front really could not be anything else! She'd only caught a glimpse of the back of the woman as she'd bent down to kiss the small boy stood in front of her, Nikki watched as she waved the boy and another woman off. She then moved out of sight. Nikki felt unsettled, that laugh.. it sounded like 'stop it Wade!' she reprimanded herself, but immediately her thoughts were taken over.
She still had an ongoing battle to keep Helen Stewart out of her head. She had resigned herself to the knowledge that knew she would never manage to get her out of her heart, but at least now, on good days, she was able to function!
I had taken months after her memory returned and even after her release to finally accept that what they had really was over. Well it was her fault wasn't it, hadn't she insisted so loudly and often that she had left Helen little choice but to accept it and move on, despite her countless requests for Nikki to forgive her, culminating in their final showdown and Helen leaving without saying goodbye.
Nikki had been devastated, almost immediately realising her mistake, but by then it was too late, she didn't try to contact Helen when she got out, she hadn't the guts to.
She had now come to realise that whenever the need to contact her had become all consuming she would move on, distracting herself, she figured that the fact that she hadn't felt that way since moving here was a sign of recovery until today. She shivered; she could feel the old familiar feeling of loneliness creeping over her again. In an attempt to shake it off she prepared to leave the marina. Soon she was free, she hadn't had time to think about Helen and kept herself busy for the remainder of the morning.
Meanwhile Helen was across the other side of the marina having waved off her sister and given Robbie his final hug she found herself all alone with 'Darren'. She was spending a couple of weeks with her sister Jo and Robert the ' current' man in her life, as usual Jo had set her up with one of Robert's mates, this meant a day at sea (all at bloody sea! she grimaced). She hadn't minded going out to dinner when it had been the four of them but when Darren had offered to show her his new yacht and take her out for the day her heart had lurched, he was a creep, Jo and Robert had looked at her in such a way that she had little choice but to accept gracefully.
Now she was aboard alone with him she was regretting not standing up to Jo. Darren, it seemed, was very much a touchy feely type person and Helen was under no illusion about what he was expecting from her by the end of their 'voyage'. Well he was going to be disappointed.
Darren took it upon himself to give Helen the complete guided tour, there was no doubt that the surroundings were fabulous and had she been with anyone else she'd have loved it, but she could not wait to get the day over with. When he popped the cork from a bottle of champagne she inwardly groaned; when he toasted their 'maiden voyage of discovery' Helen nearly laughed out loud. He left her alone while he got them started on their 'trip'. She gazed around, she needed a drink but not champagne, not at this time of the morning, especially if she wanted to keep her wits about her! Opening the fridge turned out to be a big mistake! If she thought her view of Darren couldn't dip any lower she was wrong. Oysters!
The man was as subtle as a slap in the face with a wet fish! Did he think she was some bit of fluff that was going to bowled over by his 'charm', booze and oysters!
She felt them move off and realised that escape was too late unless she fancied a swim!
It had just passed lunchtime when Nikki heard a request for assistance over the radio. It seemed that the owner of the yacht that she'd been 'admiring' that morning had been taken seriously ill and the woman with him had called the coastguard from her mobile (the woman must have some sense Nikki found herself thinking, but not much considering the company she kept..). Nikki pushed her personal thoughts aside and turned her attention to the problem at hand. The yacht was drifting somewhere east of St Benedicts Monastery. Nikki knew she was nearby, she had passed that point about half an hour ago. She picked up the radio and informed the coastguard of her position and offered her assistance. Some minutes later Nikki had turned about and was heading in the direction of the stranded yacht.
Helen was getting seriously worried, she was no medic but Darren looked really ill, he had lost consciousness now and his skin was so pale, she knew help was on the way but how long would they be? This day was going from bad to worse. Bloody oysters! For the first time in her life Helen was grateful to Shaz Wylie, having met the girl and heard what a dodgy oyster could do to someone she had never had the courage to face one!
She leant back against the wall. There really was nothing she could do for Darren now, judging by the retching sounds that had been coming from the bathroom he must have emptied the entire contents of his stomach earlier. She went back outside vainly searching the horizon for some sign of life! After a few minutes she saw a small dot out of the corner of her eye, she strained trying to make out what she was looking at. At the minutes passed she could see that it was a yacht, nothing like the size of the one she was on, more importantly it was heading straight towards them, she felt her shoulders relax, she hadn't realised how tensely she'd been holding herself until now.
'Thank Christ for that' she muttered to herself.
As the yacht neared, Helen was able to see a single figure at the back of the boat, tall dark hair, it looked so much like she pushed the thought out of her head, not wanting to face the pain that those memories would bring upon her.
She rushed below deck to check on Darren again, he was still unconscious, the radio crackled, it was the coastguard informing her that the rescue helicopter had been scrambled and should be with her pretty soon and that one of the locals was in the area and she should be able to spot her pretty soon.
Helen thanked him again and said that she could see a yacht out in the distance.
'Yep that'll be Nikki' he said matter of factly.
Helen shivered. Why did that name still had such an effect on her? It was what 8 years now since she'd seen her, she should be able to hear the woman's name without reacting! Life had moved on hadn't it! She pondered the unspoken question. Had life moved on? It had certainly changed, but could she honestly say she'd moved on?
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the rescue helicopter. She ran back up the steps and was delighted to see a man already being winched down on to the deck. Wasting no time, the rescue crew had Darren in a stretcher and were ready to go within minutes. Helen decided to stay where she was. 'Nikki' was not far off now and it seemed the best thing she could do was to wait.
As the helicopter took off she turned to once again look at the yacht sailing towards her. It was almost uncanny, the name, the dark hair, the build.. as it neared Helen felt a coldness creep over her skin. The muscles in her chest contracted, she was barely able to breathe, by now it was clear that her rescuer 'Nikki' was none other than her former lover Nikki Wade.
Panic set in, she wanted to run but to where and why did she want to run? She moved out of sight, her heart was racing, her head became a mixture of emotions, but deep down she knew there was no running now, they were alone, here, what would happen ..
Nikki carefully manoeuvred the Hot 1 to the rear of the launch, the last thing she needed was to cause any damage, it was a sure thing that the cost of repairs to something that size would run high.
She pulled herself up the steps onto the 'Dazzler'.
'Hello?' she called out as she climbed, 'Is anyone here?' She grimaced, what a stupid question! She knew someone was here, she walked on.
'Hell .en?' her voice rose as Helen stepped out in front of her.
Nikki was stunned, she wanted to reach out and touch her, just to make sure it really was her.
'Hello Nikki' Helen said simply.
'err. Hi.. how.. what? .. sorry. I .. you're just the last person on earth I'd expect to find here, now'
'Oh believe me this is as much a surprise to me as it is to you'
'So what are you doing here? What happened? Do you live near here..? Sorry..' Nikki realised she was babbling.
'I'm on kind of a holiday .. visiting my sister. She decided that it would be a 'great' idea for me to spend the day with the lovely Darren on his yacht, he in turn decided that it would be a 'great' idea if he tried to seduce me .. champagne and oysters.. can you believe it?' she laughed.
Nikki felt the muscles in her jaw clenching, she hated him already!
'Anyway ,part of his plan, namely the oysters turned out to be not such a 'great' idea and he is now on his way to the hospital with a bad case of food poisoning' Helen pointed to the helicopter.
'Are you okay? Did you..' Nikki started to ask
Helen grinned, ' You must be joking! After reading Shaz Wylie's file?'
'Oh yeah I can imagine' Nikki smiled back.
'Believe me there was enough detail in that file to put me off them for life! So how about you?'
'Do you live around here?'
'Yeah, not far from the marina. I'm working at the local comprehensive'
'You don't need to sound so surprised' Nikki replied, feeling slightly hurt at the laughter she saw in Helen's eyes.
'I think I'm more than surprised' seeing the hurt look that flashed across Nikki's face she rushed to clarify what she meant, ' Not surprised that you're a teacher,. You know that I always thought you would make an excellent teacher Nikki, I'm just taken aback to find you here, I mean it's been so long '
The conversation ground to a halt. Both women were racking their brains, trying to think of a topic of conversation that would not lead back to their past.
'So you're here on holiday? Nikki asked.
'Yeah Robbie and I are staying in one of those apartments at the marina for a month or so'
'Oh right. You must have an understanding boss'
'Well to give you a month or so off?'
Nikki noticed the frown that appeared but Helen seemed to shake it off almost immediately, her voice became slightly shaky and she replied, 'It's kind of a long story' she stopped there and didn't seem prepared to explain. Wanting to change the subject Nikki continued..
'Still that's nice for you both, a month doing as little as possible' Nikki added, her mind thinking Robbie? Was he the man in her life?
'Not really I'm having a bit of trouble with Robbie at the moment' Helen added, then cringed, why did she go and start this one off.
'Well often a holiday is the way to sort out problems or so I've heard'
'Yeah well I hope so, I have just about reached the end of my tether'
They were interrupted by a voice on the radio. Nikki recognised the voice of one of her crewmembers, John.
'Hi John. How far away are you?'
'Reckon we'll be with you in a couple of minutes'
'We?' Nikki asked.
'Yeah I brought Steve with me to bring the launch back. We both reckon that if we left it with you you'd be long gone!' she could hear them both laughing at their own joke.
She looked at Helen and smiled, Helen felt her knees weaken.
'It's a tempting thought' she looked away, realising that she was not only talking about the 'Dazzler' she brought her conversation with John to an end and turned back to Helen.
'Shouldn't be long now'
'Oh good. Robbie will be worried' Helen said ' We should have been back ages ago'
'So he knew you were going out with ?'
'Yeah Darren.. and he didn't mind?' Nikki was confused.
'Oh he minded alright.. he wanted to come too.. he's obsessed with boats at the moment'
'Oh right but that's not quite what I meant'
'Eh? What did you mean then?' Helen was puzzled.
'Well didn't he mind you seeing another man?' she said bluntly.
Helen gave Nikki a strange look. It slowly dawned on her that Nikki had gotten the wrong end of the stick.
She laughed, 'Oh no.. I mean .. he's not' Helen was cut off by the blast of a horn, then another then another until the opening few chords to Big Spender had been roughly covered.
They both looked at the boat approaching.
'John!' they both said and grinned.
In no time at all John had drawn up alongside and he and Steve had joined Nikki and Helen. The introductions were made. John offered to take Helen back with him, the boat he had was much quicker than the other two.
Helen was keen to get back to Robbie and much to her annoyance was forced to say goodbye to Nikki in front of the two men. She had wanted the chance to explain to Nikki who and what Robbie was and why they were on this 'holiday' but didn't get the chance.
She grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled her mobile number on a scrap of paper. She handed it to Nikki and asked her to ring her. She was staying for another three weeks and told Nikki that she would like to see her again, to catch up.
Nikki smiled politely and assured her she would ring but once Helen and John has set off on the launch and she herself was back on board the HOT1 she screwed up the paper and stuffed it into her rucksack. She had no intention of getting herself mixed up in the life of Helen Stewart, what kind of relationship did she have with this Robbie fella anyway?
What kind of man was he if he just stood back and let her set sail on a boat called the 'Dazzler' with some prick called Darren!!
The following week Nikki kept herself busy, mainly by going to work early, staying late and basically tiring herself out so much during the day so that she never had any time to dwell on her meeting with Helen. The only trouble was that she could not control her dreams, some were so vivid that she had trouble convincing herself that they were not real.
She decided to take the HOT 1 out for an all day sail on Saturday, she did not want to run the risk of bumping into Helen again, no matter how remote the possibility might be. The way she figured it was that if she kept herself out of town for the remainder of 'the month or so' she wouldn't risk bumping into her. She knew that staying out of town would be difficult particularly as last week was the end of term and she now had the next 6 weeks to herself.
She was up and out by 7 and was a couple of hours out of the marina before she realised anything was amiss. She heard a crashing noise come from below deck, knowing damn well that there was no way, particularly in this weather, such a thing was likely to happen without 'assistance' Nikki put two and two together and figured she had company this was not really good news considering she was stuck in the middle of nowhere with little if any means of protection.
She realised now that small things had caught her attention earlier in the day, things had been moved from where she thought she'd left them, she had not really paid much attention to them at the time but the more she thought about it the more fear began to creep over her.
With a voice that somehow managed to hide the fear she felt she demanded.
'I know you're down there come out right now!'
This is bloody ridiculous she thought.
She heard footsteps, swallowing she stared at the head that slowly appeared.
She didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The head belonged to a boy, Nikki figured he was about 6 or 7, he had clearly been tucking in to some jam sandwiches before Nikki had caught him.
'Who are you? And what the bloody hell do you think you are doing on my boat?' she demanded.
'My mum says bloody is a naughty word!' the boy said indignantly.
'Oh does she now!' Nikki was lost for words, ' I err. . anyway, answer the question'
'My name is Robert and I am running away!' he stated confidently, but when he looked around and realised that he was in the middle of nowhere with no land in sight, the cocky stance disappeared and he looked more like the small child that he undoubtedly was.
'Well Robert, did you know its against the law to hide on someone's boat?'
'Well I wouldn't go to jail' he said indignantly.
'Oh really and why is that?' she grinned.
'Coz that's where my Mum goes to work and she wouldn't let them take me away!' he said confidently.
'Really? And ' as she started to speak realisation dawned, 'Robert? Does your Mum call you Robbie by any chance?' she asked.
'How did you know that?' he eyed her warily.
'Just guessing' she smiled and he smiled back.
'So Robbie, does your Mum and Dad know where you are?'
'Nope! And I'm not going back!' he confirmed.
'Why don't you want to go back?'
'Coz I like it here and she wants to go somewhere else again. She's grumpy and shouts at me all the time'.
'Ah I see, what about your Dad?' Nikki said.
'I haven't got a Dad' he stated simply.
'Well I think we should let your mum know you're okay don't you?'
'She doesn't care!' he was on the verge of crying.
'I'm sure she does Robbie. Shall we give her a call, just in case. Hm?'
He paused, a serious look on his face, then his shoulders slumped 'I don't know how' he admitted and began to cry.
'Great!' Nikki thought, just what she needed.
'Hey come on, I've got a magic phone, it'll find her'
Nikki offered up a silent prayer when, after digging around in the bottom of her rucksack, she found the screwed up paper with Helen's mobile number written on it.
Grabbing her mobile she sat next to Robbie and typed in the number.
As it rang she looked at Robbie, who by now was sniffling and wiping his nose on his sleeve, there was no doubting that he was Helen's the eyes were exactly the same!!
The phone was answered immediately.
'Hello?' Helen nearly shouted down the phone.
'err.. hi Helen it's me, Nikki' Nikki was expecting her to sound worried but not like this!
'Oh .. hi Nikki, look .. I'm sorry. . this really isn't a good time I need to keep the phone free..'
'Robbie is with me Helen'
Helen felt a chill run down her spine, please don't let Nikki be involved in this she thought. Shaking the thought from her mind she spoke.
'He what..oh..he's.. oh God !' Helen broke down.
Nikki waited for Helen to get herself together.
'What the fuck's he doing with YOU?' the combination of terror, worry and relief hit Helen and the tirade was unstoppable. 'Where are you? I'm coming to get him'
'You can't' Nikki started to explain.
Helen panicked, she is involved!!!
'What the hell do you mean I CAN'T , I bloody well can and will, who do you think you '
'Helen if you will shut up for more than five seconds I will explain '
' ..but I..' Helen went on.
'HELEN!! For Christ's sake will you just listen to me!'
An uneasy silence settled over them.
'Right' Nikki continued, 'as I explained Robbie is with me. I am on the HOT 1 and have been sailing for about 2 hours. I discovered my 'stowaway' a few moments ago, now as soon as I finish this conversation I will turn around and bring him back. THAT is why you can't come and get him okay! I just wanted to let you know he was okay, I thought you'd be worried'
'WORRIED! You have no idea .. I thought .. I didn't know.. Oh Nikki thank you' she started to cry again, cry tears of relief that he was alright and also she knew she was thankful that clearly Nikki had no idea about her 'problem and was not involved.
'Hey it's okay, he's okay likes his jam sandwiches doesn't he' she said in an attempt to lighten the tension.
'We should be back by about 3 O' clock okay. You want to speak to him?'
'Oh God yes please!'
Nikki offered the phone to Robbie, he shook his head. Nikki grinned, he was scared now, what had seemed like quite a good idea earlier now seemed to have been a big mistake.
'No she's gonna shout at me' he whined.
Nikki smiled, knowing that Helen would be listening.
'No, she won't shout at you mate' she said loudly enough, 'not yet anyway' she muttered, 'she just wants to make sure you're okay'
He took the phone and put it to his ear, almost immediately the tears started to fall down his face. Nikki could only pick up his side of the conversation but clearly Helen had refrained from reading him the riot act.
'No I'm okay Mum, I'm sorry, I just wanted to see the boats and you wouldn't take me. You kept shouting at me and were grumpy so I thought you wouldn't care if I went anyway'
Christ! Nikki thought, the kid was good at putting the knife in, she felt guilty herself and she'd only just met him! He must have Helen wrapped round his little finger.
He spoke for a while longer and then turned to Nikki.
'She wants you' he said simply.
If only! Nikki found herself thinking.
Taking the phone she started to arrange where to meet with Helen etc.
'Nikki I'm sorry I flew off the handle earlier..I was just so worried, there's something I need to explain to you..'
Nikki cut in..
'I understand Helen, its no problem really. Well I'd best go, the sooner we hang up the sooner we'll get back'
Helen sighed. There was no point trying to explain it all now anyway, maybe later.
'Thanks Nikki, don't let him give you any trouble'
'Oh don't you worry, I think young Robbie might've met his match'
'Let's just say he's gonna learn all about sailing on the trip home'
'I don't think I want to know'
'Probably best' Nikki laughed.
After they'd finished off their conversation, Nikki turned to Robbie.
'So you like boats eh?'
He nodded enthusiastically.
'Well do you think you could help me get this one to take us home'
The smile that broke across Robbie's face only encouraged Nikki further.
The next few hours flew past. Robbie was an excellent pupil, very attentive and obviously keen to learn. Anything Nikki asked him to do he did with enthusiasm, what had originally been a plan to wear him out and teach him a lesson became an enjoyable afternoon of sailing. Nikki liked the kid, he was good company and though she was glad when she was able to point out the marina to him, she was also sorry that their adventure was coming to an end.
Robbie went quiet as they neared her mooring.
'What's up mate?' Nikki asked.
'Nuffing' he said.
'Come on you can tell me You have to I'm the Captain'
Robbie looked up and grinned.
'She's gonna tell me off isn't she?' he asked.
Nikki thought about it and asked 'Do you think you deserve it?'
'Suppose so, but I didn't tell her off!'
'When?' he'd lost her completely now.
'When she got lost and the helicopter had to come and help her'
'But that's different' Nikki tried explaining.
'How? I told her she couldn't go but she did anyway and she told me I couldn't go so I did too, it's the same'
The kid's logic had Nikki stumped. Thinking quickly she tried a different tack.
'Yes but she made sure you had someone looking after you before she left didn't she?'
'And she said good bye and told you she was going didn't she'
'So it's not the same is it?' she tried using his own form of logic.
'No but.. oh I know she's gonna shout at me!' he started to sniffle again.
'Well maybe I'll have a word with her for you, tell her how sorry you are, how about it?'
He looked up in surprise, ' will you?'
'Sure!' she said, thinking to herself.. why am I getting involved.. I should just cut and run, but having spent the day with him she wanted to do what she could to help them both.
Helen was stood at the walkway leading to Nikki's mooring, as soon as they'd stopped she clambered on board, grabbing Robbie into a hug she started to cry.
'Hi Mum, this is my new friend Nikki'
'Hiya darling, hello again Nikki' the smile she gave Nikki was enough to still the breath in her lungs.
She turned back to Robbie 'Promise me you won't do that again sweetheart!'
'I won't Mum. Are you gonna shout at me?' he looked at her then at Nikki, expecting her to jump to his defence.
Nikki cut in ..' I .. er told Robbie I'd have a word with you. He wants to say how sorry he is for worrying you, don't you' she looked back at him.
'Yeah Mum I'm real sorry. I should've made sure someone was there to look after you too' he added.
Helen looked at Nikki a puzzled expression on her face.
'I'll explain some time'
'Okay' Helen nodded holding him close, savouring the feeling of having him wrapped safely in her arms again, she was so glad to get him back, the thoughts that had run through her mind when she had got up and found his bed empty.
'Nikki, I can't thank you enough' she stood and turned back to Nikki, who had been trying to busy herself, turned and looked at her, 'I was so worried, I had no idea where to start looking .. I could only hope that he hadn't been picked up by some ...' she started to cry again.
Instinctively Nikki put her hand on Helen's shoulder.
'Helen, he's safe, nothing happened to him and he won't ever run away again' she pulled her close and let the tears flow. Looking across at Robbie she gave him a look that told him in no uncertain terms that it would be SHE that would kick his arse twice round the marina if he ever did anything so stupid again. He returned her stern glare with a sheepish glance; that was one kid who, she hoped, had learnt a valuable lesson.
Once Helen had regained her composure, she pulled out of Nikki's embrace.
'Thanks.. err sorry.. I er'
'It's okay' their eyes met and the reassurance she saw in Nikki's eyes made Helen truly believe that everything was okay. She took Robbie's hand.
'Let's get you home. I'm sorry if we've spoilt your plans Nikki'
'No problem, I was just bumming around as usual'
'Good .. I mean about not ruining..'
'I know what you meant' Nikki laughed. 'Right mate, you take care of your Mum now okay? No more stunts like this one, you remember all those things I told you?'
Helen looked at Nikki, raising her eyebrow in a silent question. Nikki looked away, she didn't want to go into that and now that things had settled she wanted to get away.
'Enjoy the rest of your holiday' she said and turned to leave.
'Nikki, wait ..I' Nikki turned around.
'Aren't we going to see you again Nikki?' Robbie asked, Helen could have kissed him! It saved her having to think of a way of asking the exact same question.
Nikki looked at them both, it was now or never, she took a deep breath..
'I ..' when her eyes met Helen she nearly lost her nerve '..I hope so', there she'd said it, she'd opened the door, if Helen wanted to walk back in to her life the choice was now hers.
'We do too! We like you, don't we Mum' he looked at his mother
'Yes' she looked at Nikki, trying to tell her so much, 'we do'.
There was a long pause because, frankly, no one knew what to say.
'If we all want it then it's bound to happen. I'll see you soon' Nikki turned and walked away.
The way she figured it, if Helen wanted to get in touch she knew how, she didn't want her to feel forced into anything by Robbie. Time would tell
Nikki spent the following Sunday afternoon in the pub with John, Steve and a few of her mates. What had started out as 'a few beers after lunch' had descended into a major drinking session, culminating in Nikki staggering home late into the night and eventually collapsing in a drunken heap onto her sofa.
She was woken the next morning by what sounded like a digital variation of 'Reveille'.
'..what the fuck?' she mumbled into her cushion, groaning as she moved her head and the room started to spin.
The noise was coming from underneath her, still a bit intoxicated and feeling like shit she pulled herself up, the noise got louder.. her phone? She vaguely remembered the conversation getting round to 'what ring tones does yours do?' and John grabbing her phone. Reveille was John's doing no doubt, he was such a wag not, she thought.
Her mouth was dry and as she answered the phone her hello sounded more like a weak croak.
'Hiya Nikki!' a cheery, much too cheery, voice hailed down the line.
'mmm g'morning Robbie, please don't shout' she held the phone away from her ear.
'Sorry' he whispered.
'S'ok' she managed, wincing as she tried to sit up, her body aching in places she didn't know she had.
'Mum said I can ring you today.. she's in the shower and I know where she put your number so I thought I'd surprise you'
'Oh right' Nikki was still trying to stop the walls from moving round, she tried closing her eyes. Whoa! She opened them quickly big mistake!
'Will you come and see me today. You said you wanted to see me again, you do don't you?'
Direct and to the point Nikki thought.
' I .. err..' in all honesty all she felt like doing was crawling into bed, she heard Helen's voice in the background
'Robbie?' Helen said.. 'I asked who you were speaking to'
Robbie spun round, a guilty look on his face. Helen took the phone.
'Hello!' she demanded.
'Ooh' Nikki groaned again ' Hiya Helen' she managed.
'Nikki? Hi, what's going on here?'
'It seems Robbie found my number and decided to ring me' she said, well it was the truth.
'Oh shit! I'm sorry he nagged and nagged me all bloody day yesterday. In the end I had to give in just to shut him up I told him he could ring you today, but not this early, did he wake you?'
'Hm? Oh . .it's okay' Nikki muttered.
'Are you okay?' Helen asked.
'Me? Yeah.. bit of a heavy night last night' she admitted.
'Oh look I'm sorry'
'No it's fine really' Nikki was trying to ignore the nauseous feeling that was creeping over her body, but as her cheeks tingled and the saliva began to flood her mouth she spoke quickly .. ' I ..er.. Helen I've got to go .. I'll ring you back..' she ran to the bathroom and threw up.
Half an hour later, having showered and started her second cup of coffee Nikki picked her phone up.
'Hi it's me' she said sheepishly.
'So if I were to invite you over for bacon, eggs, fried..'
'Helen!' Nikki stopped her feeling her stomach churn, 'that's not funny'
Helen laughed, 'sorry I couldn't resist. I'm sorry about earlier, little sod!'
'Hey it's no problem really, I suppose it was good in a way stopped me spending the day crashed out on the sofa anyway'
The conversation came to a standstill.
They both laughed, 'You first.. ' Nikki got in.
'We were planning on taking a drive, stooping somewhere for a picnic. I.. err. If you're not busy .. and if you want to.. I mean I'll understand if you don't want to.. but I.. we wondered if you would like to come with us.. if you have plans then..'
'What time do you want to meet?' Nikki asked.
Helen was relieved, Nikki was making this easy for her and for that she was grateful. She needed to see her, needed to talk to her. There were so many things she needed to tell her, about the past and the present.
'Half an hour? Are you sure you feel up to it?' Helen was delighted.
'So long as I don't have to drive I'm fine'
'Great, shall we pick you up?'
'Okay, thanks' Nikki gave Helen directions to her house and they finished their call.
Half an hour later Helen and Robbie were sat in the car outside Nikki's house. Robbie was sulking after being told off for pressing the horn 5 times and made to sit in the back. Helen had got annoyed because she thought Nikki would think it was her getting impatient.
The front door of the house opened and Nikki strode to the car, her rucksack slung casually over her shoulder and a larger bag in her hand.
'Hi sorry, the phone rang just as you arrived, can I put these in the boot?' she asked.
Helen flipped the boot switch and once everything had been slung in Nikki got into the car.
'Hiya' she greeted them.
'You sound a bit more chirpy' Helen looked across and smiled, Nikki felt her stomach knot.
'Yeah, sorry about earlier'
'That's okay, Robbie has something to say..' she turned around giving him a nod.
'I'm sorry I kept pressing the horn Nik, I thought you weren't gonna come and I wanted..' he started to whine.
'That'll do' Helen cut him off
Nikki looked at her and grinned, 'and there I was thinking it was you who kept beeping coz you couldn't wait to see me!'
'I.. it' Helen didn't know what to say.
'Sorry.. I was pulling your leg, not appropriate?'
'No it's just.. oh I don't know, I feel..'
'Nervous, edgy, excited' Nikki asked.
'How did you ?'
'You're not the only one Helen. The way I see it is this, I never dreamt I'd get the chance to see you again. I mean I hoped but after all this time I think I'd pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't.. anyway.. for now, I hope we can be friends again. I expect nothing more from you than the chance to talk, I would like to spend time with you .. both, so let's work from there eh?'
'Sounds good to me.. though I think we need to talk about a few..'
Nikki cut her off, 'we will talk, but when the time is right eh?' she gestured back towards Robbie who was listening intently. Helen nodded, the things she needed to tell Nikki could not be said in front of Robbie anyway, but she needed to confide in her soon, she was worried to death and right now Nikki's shoulders looked liked just what she needed to lean on.
'Okay, so where do we go?'
'The beach' piped up a voice from the back seat.
'Nikki?' Helen asked.
'Fine by me. Mind if I direct you to a particular place?'
'Of course not' Helen put the car in gear and they set off.
A couple of miles away after driving down a few country lanes, Nikki got Helen to turn off the road into what looked like a farm track.
'But this isn't a road Nikki, are you sure we can drive down it?'
Nikki gave her the who's the local look and Helen shrugged and drove on.
Five minutes later they arrived at a small cove, they parked and got out.
'Wow! Mum can I go swimming now, can I? can I?' Nikki had never seen a kid so excited.
'I don't know where he gets it from, he's just mad about the sea' Helen tutted as she opened the boot.
'There's nothing wrong with that. Robbie can you give me a hand with these, she lifted the large bag and her rucksack out of the boot so that they could reach the bags that Helen had put in there earlier..
'Want a hand with the rest?' she asked Helen.
'No, I'm fine, I think you have your hands full there' she laughed as Robbie tried lifting his half of the large bag, 'what have you got in there anyway?'
'It's a surprise .. for Robbie' she added as she put it back into the boot, the mischievous glint in her eye had Helen feeling nervous.
'I dread to think!' Helen laughed.
They set their stuff out on the sand as soon as they'd sat down Robbie started on about getting into the water.
'In a minute!' Helen told him (again).
'But you said that last time' he whined.
'Can I borrow the car keys?' Nikki asked.
Helen looked puzzled.
'The surprise..' was all that Nikki would say.
'Sure' Helen nodded and pulled the keys out of her bag and handed them over.
'Right! You two get ready for the water and I will be back in 5 minutes' she jogged across to the car.
Helen watched as she lifted the bag out of the boot then walked round to the front of the car, she saw the bonnet go up and heard a strange whirring sound. She got Robbie into his swimming shorts and removed the clothes she'd put on top of her bikini, she glanced back to the car as they walked towards the sea she still had no clue as to what the hell Nikki was up to.
After a couple of minutes of splashing round, Robbie pointed towards the car and shouted 'Look Mum!'
As Helen turned round her eyes fell upon Nikki. She was unsure about what was affecting her more the sight of Nikki in her black bikini or the fact that she was carrying a bright orange inflatable dinghy towards them but her heart rate began to increase.
She started to laugh.
'A boat Mum!!! Can I go in it?' he was almost jumping up and down.
'You'll have to ask Nikki' Helen told him, not taking her eyes off the figure walking towards her.
Nikki grinned as she neared them, 'I thought he'd enjoy having a boat of his own to play with'.
'Brilliant idea!' then Helen added, 'you do realise however, that we aren't going to be able to get him out of the water today'.
'It's safe enough for him here, that's why I brought us here'
'Thank you' Helen touched her arm.
Nikki gazed into her eyes, 'My pleasure', she dragged her thoughts back to the here and now..
'Right then young man '
The next hour flew past, Nikki was amazed at how much energy Robbie had for one small child, he just didn't stop. He had jumped and dived off every conceivable point on the dinghy, swum around it, under it, climbed over it and was as enthusiastic now as he was when she'd first put it in the water.
'Is he always like this?' Nikki asked as they stood side by side in the water.
'No he's usually worse!' Helen laughed.
'Wanna get out for a while?'
'I don't want to leave him' Helen frowned slightly.
'We won't be far, AND I've brought a rope to attach to the dinghy so he won't float off!' Nikki added.
Helen laughed, 'Good thinking. Are you always this organised?'
'Nah! I work on a lifeboat remember, you would not believe how many people don't think to do something that simple, come on' she took Helen's hand and led her back up the beach.
A few minutes later Robbie was still happily playing with his new toy which was now firmly attached to a stake in the sand next to Helen and Nikki who sat quietly in the sun.
'Tell me about yourself, what have you been doing? If you want to tell me that is ' Nikki asked and then immediately retreated.
'There isn't really much to tell' Helen admitted.
'What? Eight years later and you've nothing to tell' Nikki laughed, knowing you as I do did.. I find that very hard to believe.
'It's true!' Helen argued and went on to brief Nikki on the major events of the past 8 years whilst keeping one eye trained firmly on her son.
'.. so as you see nothing major, still working for the Government, different office but not much changes' she concluded.
'.. and socially? Is there a Mr Helen .. ' or Mrs even, Nikki wondered .. well she needed to know and Helen hadn't been forthcoming on that subject.
'No, no Mr Helen, no Mrs Helen, No ex- Mr or Mrs Helen's. I have managed to blunder my way through a couple of disastrous relationships but never came across what I was looking for' she admitted, 'how about you?'
'Me? Married, two point 4 kids' Nikki started to laugh, Helen gave her a playful slap, 'sorry.. well where do I start?'
'At the beginning .. or the end I suppose' Helen said sadly, 'I heard about your release after I left, I wanted to get in touch, but .. well.. I was'
'Afraid I'd reject you?' she asked.
'I think by that time I'd realised what a fool I'd been. You know, I've never forgiven myself for turning you away like that. At the time I felt completely justified' she stated frankly, her admission made Helen flinch, ' but after you left I had a lot of time to think and well I finally realised that what you did, you did for my own good'
' I did try to tell you..' Helen tried not to make it sound like an I told you so.
'You and a lot of others ..' Nikki grinned.
'Really?' Helen was surprised.
'Yeah' Nikki grinned, Helen felt a stirring in the pit of her stomach, a feeling felt so long ago but once again so familiar.
'Trish almost disowned me, not long after you'd left she paid me a visit and wiped the floor with me. I tell you I'd never seen her like that, she shot every one of my explanations down in flames. She was and still is very fond of you'
'She was very supportive to me too. I kept in touch for a while, but the connection to you was too strong a reminder. I couldn't speak to her without ' tears sprang to her eyes, she glanced at Robbie in the hope that he might distract her so that she could pull her mind back from the hurt of the past.
Nikki continued to talk, ' .. after you'd gone I got myself into such a state .. I was forever getting into trouble, didn't care that I might jeopardise my appeal .. the screws were loving it.. Fenner especially, he would just light my fuse and watch me go.. fortunately for me Yvonne brought me to my senses ..' Helen saw Nikki frown.
'I heard about Yvonne, I'm sorry' she met Nikki's gaze.
'Mm.' Nikki had to look away.
'Did they ever find out what happened?' Helen took the opportunity to move away from the subject of them.
'I don't think so.. I think the official line was something along the lines of .. she was involved in a boating accident and drowned whilst trying to escape.. ' Nikki muttered briefly.
Helen mistook her quietness for grief and fell silent. She looked out at Robbie again, but there was no sign of him.
'Oh my God!' she was up and running before Nikki had chance to ask what was wrong.
Seconds had barely passed when Nikki joined Helen in the race to the upturned dinghy.
'He was here a minute a go' she started shrieking.
Nikki just got there first, praying that she had guessed right she flipped it over. Sure enough, there, floating in the water, was Robbie.
'Hey Nik, did you know that you can still breathe when you're under the boat' he grinned, proud of his new discovery, little realising the total panic that it had caused.
Little sod! Nikki thought. '.. err not the best idea though mate, coz me and your mum can't see you, remember I said you had to stay where we could see you?'
'Oh, yeah sorry Nik' he looked at Helen who was stood frozen to the spot, 'sorry mum. Why are you crying mum?' he asked innocently.
Nikki looked at Helen who appeared to be visibly crumbling in front of her eyes.
'She's got water in her eyes mate. Look you best come out for a bit, we'll have something to eat eh?'
'Okay' he said, and splashed past them towards the beach.
Nikki turned her attention to Helen.
'You okay?' she asked, Helen looked up.
'I thought he'd.. they'd .. Oh I can't take any more of this' she started to cry.
Nikki stepped forward, wrapping her arms around Helen, she had no idea what the hell she was talking about, but clearly it ran much deeper than the incident that had just happened.
Helen slowly regained her composure, realising she was still wrapped in Nikki's arms she knew she should pull away, but she didn't want to , she hadn't felt this safe for such a long time. She revelled in the feeling of having someone there for her, finally she took a deep breath and stepped back.
'Thank you Nikki, I'm sorry I don't know what came over me'
Nikki didn't speak, Helen looked up at her 'What?' she asked.
'What's going on Helen?'
'I don't know what you..' Helen tried to brush her off.
'Oh cut the crap! This is me you're talking to, I know it's been a long time but I know you and I know something is going on. You might as well tell me now Helen, you know I will keep on at you until you do' she sounded a great deal more confident than she felt but she knew she had the upper hand at the moment.
'I can't..' Helen began.
'Bullshit! You don't want to you mean. Don't you trust me?' Nikki accused.
'Of course I do!' Helen shot back. Sighing she admitted, '.. but I can't talk to you about it in front of Robbie, it involves him and, well, you know what he's like .. I don't want him to overhear'
'Fine. I understand that, but promise me that you will tell me? I want to help you ..' Nikki took her hand, trying to offer some kind of reassurance..
'I know, thank you. I will explain it all to you later, I promise' as she spoke she felt as if a weight was slowly rising from her shoulders, relieved that she was finally going to be able to share this burden with someone.
They walked back up the beach and spent the remainder of the day the way they had planned, having fun. The slight cloud hanging over them remained but both women knew that there would ample time to discuss it later.
Robbie fell asleep during the drive home.
'I can't believe he's kept going all this time' Nikki said as she turned her head to look at the sleeping form who had, moments earlier, been giving them a blow by blow account of the favourite parts of his day.
'Looks like a different child doesn't he?' Helen laughed.
'Yeah, but we know the real truth eh?' they both laughed.
An awkward silence descended on them, neither knowing what was to happen next, neither wanting to suggest anything, neither wanting the day to come to and end.
'Do you want me to drop you home or..'
'or.. will be fine' Nikki returned.
'You don't know what or is yet' Helen laughed.
'Well if it means not going home yet, count me in!' Nikki was determined that the day was not going to end yet, she wanted to know what was going on and she didn't want to leave Helen.
'I was going to see if you wanted to come back for ..'
'A night-cap?' Nikki laughed again.
'Don't take the piss or I'll withdraw my offer. I was going to offer to cook us something to eat.. not so sure I want to now' Helen became serious.
'Oh..look I was joking, Helen?' Nikki looked across, worried that she'd overstepped the mark, she had been trying to lighten the atmosphere a bit.
Helen grinned, turned and winked at her, 'Gotcha!' she laughed.
'Oh ha ha, such a comedian' she managed, but couldn't help the grin that spread across her face.
Once Robbie had been settled into bed Helen joined Nikki in the.
'Okay?' Nikki looked up as she heard her come in.
'Fine, don't think a herd of wild elephants could wake him. Are you hungry?' she asked innocently.
Nikki tried to find her voice, but the combination of her thoughts prior to Helen's return and the way the question sounded coming out of Helen's mouth sent shivers down her spine, she had to fight the overwhelming urge to show her exactly how hungry she was.
'I .. err..' she blushed hoping Helen would not sense the trouble she was having.
Helen could see she was struggling and walked up to her, she stood directly in front of Nikki, their eyes met. Slowly bit surely they leaned closer and closer until their lips touched.
Helen could feel her heart beating frantically her chest the pounding in her ears was almost painful she opened her eyes to see if Nikki was able to hear it, it she didn't seem to. Helen moved even closer and slowly brought her hands to rest in Nikki's, their fingers became entwined each holding the other tightly, not wanting to let go, hoping the moment might not end. The kiss continued for a few minutes more.. until the growl from Nikki's stomach interrupted them. They laughed and drew apart
'Sorry, I just wanted to ..' Helen started to explain.
'Get it out of the way?' Nikki offered.
Helen smiled, slightly embarrassed.
'I know.. I was thinking the same thing myself. It had kind of been hanging above us hadn't it?'
'Definitely.. I'm not sorry that I did it, just sorry in respect of if you hadn't wanted..' Nikki put her hand gently over Helen's lips.
'Sssh. Don't spoil it. It was what we both wanted'
'Hungry?' Helen grinned, knowing the reaction the question had had last time.
Seeing the amusement in her eyes Nikki quipped back 'Careful Miss Stewart, you know what happens if you play with fire'
'Not exactly, but I've a feeling you'd show me'
'Too bloody right! Now enough of this, feed me ' a thought suddenly occurred to her, ' err Helen..'
'What now?' she groaned
'You do know how to cook don't you? I've heard about you professional types and your Weightwatchers frozen meals'
'I'll have you know that my culinary skills are second to none'
'Yeah but how's you're cooking?' Nikki winked.
'You're incorrigible' Helen picked up a bottle of wine and handed it and the corkscrew to Nikki.
'Here make yourself useful', it was more an order than a request.
'Yes miss!' Nikki laughed.
Helen groaned, 'I wondered how long it'd be before that one came up'
'I'm sorry that I'm sooo predictable'
'Predictable? Now that is one word that could never be used to describe you. So are you going to open it or ..?'
'Christ! You know what they say about pushy women don't you?'
'No what do they say?' she asked, putting Nikki on the spot.
'Pushy women err , I forget' Nikki laughed as she ducked the tea towel thrown at her.
Nikki rested her fork onto her plate.
'Very well thank you, how are you?'
'You know that quick tongue of yours is going to get you into trouble one day!' Helen warned.
Nikki raised a suggestive eyebrow.
Helen groaned realising what she'd just said, 'I'd forgotten what it's like being around you, I can see that I will have to choose my words more carefully in future' she blushed.
'Don't do it on my account, you look gorgeous when you blush'
'Well you do!' she argued, making the redness of Helen's face grow ever darker.
They cleared away the dinner plates and settled down on the sofa.
'So' Nikki started.
'So?' Helen asked.
'Something you want to tell me?' she asked, nudging her further.
'Oh Nikki, do we have to do this now? I don't want to spoil today'
'Helen, you have a problem right?' Helen nodded, ' and I am your friend, right?' again she nodded, 'Well how the hell am I going to help you if you don't tell me what it is?'
'I know you're right, but..'
'No buts, just tell me'
Helen stood up, walked over to the corner of the room, picked up her brief case and walked back.
'You're sure you want to get involved?' she asked.
Nikki started to worry, 'Of course I'm sure! Helen?'
She clicked open the briefcase and drew out a large manila folder and handed it to Nikki.
Nikki was confused, she put down her drink and opened the folder. Inside was a pile of photocopies of various hand written letters, each addressed to Helen. Picking up the first she looked at the date, just over a year ago.
As she read it the hairs on the back of her neck rose involuntarily. She finished that one and picked up the next, by the time she had finished her hands were shaking through anger and fear. All were of similar content, hate mail was perhaps an understatement. They had clearly been written by the same person (someone who, in Nikki's opinion, was no doubt very sick) over the span of at least a year, all filled with threats of varying degrees of physical violence.
She took Helen's hand and squeezed it reassuringly, 'What have you done about this?' she asked gently.
'I followed the usual protocol, reported it.. filled out about a hundred forms. It's quite common for people like in my line of work to get sent this sort of stuff Nikki, it's part of the job'
'Bollocks! No one should have to deal with this sort of shit'
'That..' Helen looked at the pile of letters 'I can deal with. This, ' she picked up a smaller padded envelope 'arrived a fortnight ago'.
Nikki took the envelope, inside were a set of 6 photographs, all of Robbie. One of him leaving school, one in a garden, one sat on a swing and the others a selection of him coming out of the house with Helen. In each photograph a red circle with a cross in the middle had been drawn around his head.
'Jesus!' Nikki shivered.
'Now you know why I overreacted when he went missing the other day, why I panicked this morning and why I am on extended leave living here under an assumed name..' her voice broke and the tears she had been holding back started to flow.
'Hey, it'll be okay' Nikki hugged her close, allowing her this moment to let go of all the emotion she'd been holding in check for so long.
While she was crying Nikki wracked her brains for something helpful to say, but all she could feel was rage. She so wanted to get her hands on the little shit who; firstly, had upset and threatened Helen and secondly who had threatened Robbie.
As the tears stopped Helen stood up, 'I'm sorry I don't normally go to pieces like that'
'You don't have to apologise Helen. You say that you've reported this? To the police?' Helen nodded.
'..And?' Nikki asked.
'.. and nothing, they can't figure out who it is'
'.. and the photographs?'
'.. I didn't tell them, the day they arrived I took off. I haven't told anyone about them, until now. I didn't know who I could trust' her head drooped.
Nikki got up, walked over to her and put her arms on her shoulders.
'I'd like to help' she offered.
'Thanks, you have just by being here for me..'
'No, I mean I'd like to try and find out who is responsible for that' she gestured towards the sofa where the pile of letters had been left.
'It's pointless, the police have tried'
'Helen you know as well as I do that the majority of them couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery. Would you mind if I got someone to look into this?'
'I'm not sure who to trust with this Nikki' Helen admitted.
'I am sure that the person I have in mind is completely trustworthy, believe me I won't let anything happen to either of you, okay?'
'Hey that's what friends are for' Nikki told her.
'Are we? Friends I mean?' Helen asked.
Nikki kissed her gently, 'We are more than friends Helen'.
They spent the next hour or so talking, Helen was glad of the opportunity to be able to talk this problem through, by the end of it she realised how true the 'problem shared problem halved' saying was.
Nikki yawned, 'Sorry' she grinned.
'Oh it's me that should be sorry' Helen looked at the clock.
'I'd better get going'
'How are you going to get home?' Helen realised that she had driven her here but could not take her home now as Robbie was in bed.
'I'll walk, don't worry about me'
'Helen it's a ten minute walk, I don't look that out of shape do I?' she held her arms out to the side, Helen couldn't help but look her all over.
'Of course not' far from it , she thought!
'Right then I'd best be off. Can I take that stuff with me?'
Helen thought about it for a moment, realising that there was no reason that she should keep them she handed them over.
'I'll get onto it straight away and let you know as soon as I know anything'
'Will we see you again soon?' Helen asked hopefully.
'Of course, you've got my number'
'Yeah, Robbie will be pleased to see you again' Nikki was a little hurt that she used him to maintain that slight distance, she wasn't prepared to let her get away with it.
'And you?' Nikki asked hopefully.
'Me? I look forward to it too, very much' she smiled.
'Good, me too. Ring me if you need anything, even if it's just a chat okay?'
'Okay, thanks Nikki' she smiled.
'My pleasure Helen' she kissed her cheek and headed home.
Nikki was on the case almost immediately, the friend she needed to get in touch with travelled constantly, more through necessity than choice. Nikki had a number of contact numbers for her and set messages that she would leave at each in order that she would get in touch. The cloak and dagger stuff, though slightly bizarre, was an absolute necessity.
Once the messages had been left it was a case of sit back and wait for a reply, she knew it could take hours or days.
Helen and Robbie spent much of the next week with Nikki. Today they had spent the morning sailing and the afternoon on the beach. Helen had finally discovered, thanks to Robbie (and his big mouth Nikki had thought at the time), that the HOT 1 was in fact christened the Helen of Troy, information that initially surprised and then pleased Helen.
She had found herself able to relax more and more over the last few days. The fact that she had Nikki to lean on had made such a difference, but today it had eventually struck her that this was only a temporary thing. She'd felt panic wash over her at the thought of not having Nikki around, Nikki had sensed something was wrong but her subtle questions to find out what it was had drawn a blank.
She was cooking for them tonight. They had arrived back at the house about an hour ago, Helen had insisted that Robbie take a bath, as he appeared to have brought half the beach home with him. Whilst Helen was bathing Robbie, Nikki called up to her that she was nipping out to the shop, she wouldn't be long. Helen heard the door slam. Less than five minutes later the phone rang, Helen answered it.
'Hiya Nik, it's me. I got your message, sorry I've taken so long to get back to you but have had a spot of bother with some little shit snooping around the villa, 's all sorted now though, so what's up love?' the voice on the other end barely paused for breath.
'I'm sorry this isn't Nikki, ah, I'm a friend Helen, can I take a message for her?'
Helen heard what sounded like a few muffled expletives. The reply that came was short and sweet.
'..Uh no thank you , I'll telephone Nikki some other time. Good bye' the line went dead.
Strange woman, Helen thought.
Shortly afterwards Nikki arrived back, Helen and Robbie were sat watching TV.
'Everything okay?' she called as she walked straight through to the kitchen.
'Fine' Helen called after her.
The suspense finally got to her, she hadn't been able to put the telephone call out of her mind so she got up and followed Nikki into the kitchen. Nikki looked up and smiled as she walked in.
'Need any help?' Helen offered.
'Nope almost done, but you can sit and talk to me if you've had enough of the Cartoon Network'
'That obvious huh?'
'Yeah' Nikki laughed.
'You had a phone call while you were out' Helen tried to sound casual.
'Yeah? Who was it?'
'I'm not sure' she admitted.
'Well, what did they say?'
'She said something along the lines of - hi Nikki its me, got your message, something about someone at the villa and what's up? I know it sounds stupid but the more I think of it the more I feel I recognise '
'Did she say she'd ring back?' Nikki asked whilst trying to avoid Helen's questioning looks.
'Yes she said she'd try another time. I hope I didn't cause a problem by answering it for you' Helen added, knowing damn well she was prying into Nikki's private life. How good a friend was it she wondered.
'Good' Nikki looked up, 'she's not a girlfriend if that's what you want to know' she said bluntly.
'No I didn't, it's none of my..' Helen tried but Nikki cut her off mid sentence.
'She's the one who, I hope, is going to be able to help us with your problem'
'Oh I see. She didn't seem keen to talk to me' Helen continued to dig.
'She can be a bit funny like that with people she doesn't know, but she's a good friend. She's always been there for me'
'Me too' Nikki wanted to change the subject before Helen started to put two and two together.
Shit! She should have thought that she might ring back today.
'Right! Do you want to go and get Robbie and we'll eat' Nikki turned Helen away from the subject and did not allow her to drift back on to it for the remainder of the evening.
After she and Robbie had left Nikki took the folder out again,. She had gone over and over the letters, looking for something that might hint at who might be sending them. Helen had said that it was part and parcel of the job so Nikki figured that they were most likely looking for a con or an ex-con. She was still reading when the phone rang.
'Who the bleedin' 'ell was that, tell me it wasn't who it sounded like?' Yvonne asked.
'And how are you too' Nikki laughed.
'Nik this is serious!'
'It was who it sounded like, but she had no idea it was you' she tried to calm her down, but couldn't help finding it slightly amusing.
'Friggin 'ell I nearly 'ad an 'eart attack when she told me her name, I dropped the bloody phone'
'You mean you Yvonne Atkins actually lost her cool calm confident manner for a moment?' Nikki teased
'Less of the lip you! Especially if you're after a favour, what is it? Another cheap holiday?' the voice at the other end broke into hysterical laughter.
'You know full well that I am quite happy to pay and stay somewhere and have . You love me staying with you, who else do you get to boss around'
'That'll be the friggin day! So come on then, if it's not a holiday what is it'
Nikki became serious, 'I need your help Yvonne..', she went on to explain Helen's problem, reading a couple of the more unsavoury letters out over the phone and telling her about the photo's.
'Bastards! I've never been fond of screws, but threatening their kids, that's shitty. Can you send me the info love? I know just the man to call, might not be cheap though' she warned.
'Money is no object Yvonne' Nikki replied, she agreed to send the information she had to an address that Yvonne gave her.
'So she's back on the scene eh? 'ow the 'ell did you manage that one? You okay?'
'It's a long story. She's not exactly back on the scene, we met up a couple of weeks ago, we're friends that's all'
'Friends my arse! You might try that bullshit with everyone else but this is me you're talking to so out with it..'
'I don't know what's going to happen, honestly. There's no point me telling you I don't still love her because, well because you know the ins and outs of my head you inquisitive old witch'
Yvonne burst out laughing ' and don't you forget it darlin' ' she added.
'Well anyway, I'm not pushing it, she has a lot on her plate at the moment. Maybe, if we can get this mess sorted out, we can think about us. Right now I just want to get my hands on slimy bastard that's been sending her this stuff'
'Well leave it with me for now okay and remember she's not to know about me right?'
'Of course. Besides she thinks you're..' Nikki stopped.
'Fish food?' Yvonne laughed.
'Well that kind of sums it up yeah'
'Excellent! You know I still can't believe they fell for that stunt we pulled' Yvonne said in a selfcongratulatory tone.
'Hey that accident took a lot of careful planning and don't you forget it'
'As if I could! You remind me of your so-called genius every time we speak, like a bleedin' broken record you are' Yvonne joked.
'Me? Hah! As I recall it's you that started on about it tonight' Nikki argued.
'Only so that I could beat you to it for once! Right I'd best be off darlin'. You take care of yourself oh and in the nicest possible way don't say hello to Helen for me' She hung up still laughing.
Nikki breathed a sigh of relief. She knew that if anyone was going to find out who was sending the letters to Helen, Yvonne would. Despite her 'untimely death' she had managed to maintain her contacts with the outside world.
Helen, Nikki and Robbie had become pretty much inseparable over the following few weeks, Nikki could not remember ever having so much fun. The down side to the whole thing was that both Helen and Nikki knew it was not going to last forever, it was an unspoken rule that neither of them thought or talked about the future and whilst they had become close friends they had shied away from anything more, both fearing later separation and the hurt they knew came with it.
The afternoon had been spent in the garden at Nikki's house. What had started out peaceful and relaxed had spiralled into a full-scale water fight. Helen had teamed up with Robbie and they had Nikki cornered, she was completely soaked and on the point of surrender when the phone rang.
'Saved by the bell!' she said and stood up, Robbie didn't quite understand that the 'game' was over and charged at her emptying the remainder of his bucket of icy water over her. Helen collapsed in fits of giggles as Nikki squelched past her into the house.
'Hiya it's me' she heard Yvonne whisper.
'Hi me, it's err a bit difficult'
'Yeah, just outside' Nikki looked out and saw Helen run past the window, Robbie hot on her heels water pistol at the ready. She laughed.
'Sounds like you're having fun'
'Yeah, I am, I really am' Nikki admitted.
'You'd better sit down then love'
'You found something?' Nikki sat on the stairs, wincing as the cold wet shirt she had stuck to her back.
'You aint gonna believe it' Yvonne strung it out further.
'Vanessa Whitehead' was all Yvonne had to say.
'That fucking bitch!' Nikki exclaimed, 'you sure?', Nikki's mind went back to the last time she'd seen Vanessa, the worst day of her life.
'One hundred percent. I've someone watching Helen's place they've sent me a couple of pictures of 'er snooping around. My man followed her back to her place, a right friggin' dive apparently, he had a little look-see when she went out, 'e reckons she's got pictures of Helen and the kid taken all over the shop. She means business love'
'I don't believe it. What the fuck is she doing out? Last I heard she was looking at a lifetime's supply of padded wallpaper courtesy of Her Majesty'
'I dunno love, but she's out, live and well and living about ten minutes away from Helen's gaff. Want me to sort it?' there was no mistaking what Yvonne meant, she would fix Vanessa problem, permanently.
'err.. I'm not sure, I think I need to talk to Helen first'
'Fair enough, I don't think she's going far. Let me know soon though, this is one problem I'm considering taking care of personally'
'No! You mustn't get involved' Nikki warned, 'stay away. Don't risk your own safety Yvonne, promise me?'.
'Hey Nik, this is me your talking to. I know you and I know that if I don't do it you'll get yourself mixed up in it, and Christ only knows what'll happen if you get your hands on her'
'I'd like to..' Nikki growled.
'Well you'll have to join the queue. If there's much left when I'm done she's all yours. I'll ring you tomorrow for your decision okay?'
'Okay thanks Yvonne' Nikki put the phone down and turned to walk outside, she stopped short when she saw Helen staring at her.
'Yvonne? As is dearly departed Yvonne Atkins!' her voice rose with each word.
Nikki didn't know what to say, she'd been caught red-handed.
'Helen, I know this looks bad but..' she tried to explain.
'Bad? Nikki I am still an employee of the Home Office. Do you have any idea of the position this puts me in? I should be on that phone right now, Jesus!'
'What do you want me to say? Yes it was Yvonne. Yes she is still alive and Yes it was Yvonne that you spoke to the other day, that's why you recognised the voice'
'Of for fuck's sake! You mean you have Yvonne Atkins looking into who is sending me these letters?'
'No' Nikki said quietly.
'No?' Helen stopped ranting.
'No, as in she is no longer looking into it, she knows who it is where they live and is waiting to hear from me about what you want done about it'
'She knows who it is?'
'Already?' Helen was stunned.
'Do you want it in writing?' Nikki was getting annoyed.
'Oh my God' Helen's knees felt weak, she leant against the wall, the importance of Yvonne's existence became suddenly meaningless.
She looked across at Nikki, their eyes met.
'Tell me' she asked.
'Jesus! Hasn't that woman done enough to me?'
'Clearly she doesn't think so'
'Vanessa and she's the one '
'Yep. According to Yvonne, Vanessa's place is full of pictures of you and '
'Robbie?' Helen asked, Nikki merely nodded 'So what now?'
'Like I said she's waiting for us to decide how far we want to take it' Nikki shrugged.
'Surely she doesn't plan to ..'
'She will do what it takes Helen'
'Even Kill her?! Oh fuck!' Helen started pacing, 'we can't let her do that'
'So what do you want to do, move back home and wait for Vanessa to have a go at you or Rob..'
'No! I'll go to the police' Helen stood upright.
'Excellent! That'll solve it wont it. They'll go round there and say excuse me Madam would you mind not harassing Miss Stewart and threatening to kill her and her son. Brilliant idea Helen, I'm sure it'll work. Most convicted killers tend bow to police pressure I'm sure!' Nikki started to shout.
'Well what the fuck do you suggest I do?'
'I suggest you leave it to us' Nikki said simply.
'Us? You mean you and Yvonne. No, no way, I'm not having you involved in this, I don't want to spend the next 20 odd years visiting you in prison'
'.. and I don't want to spend the next twenty years bringing flowers to your bloody grave, now please let me deal with it?' she pleaded.
'Mum why are you and Nikki arguing?' neither had noticed Robbie coming indoors.
'We're not arguing' Helen dismissed his question.
'You are I heard you'
'We're not arguing mate' Nikki looked at him and smiled, 'we were just coming outside, come on'
She held her hand out to Helen who brushed past it.
They resumed their discussion later that evening, once Robbie was safely tucked up in bed.
'She's ringing back tomorrow' Nikki wanted an answer.
'I can't condone killing someone Nikki'
'I'm not asking you to condone it!'
'Well what do you call it then?'
'I oh I don't know!'
'This is getting us nowhere' Helen sighed.
'I wish I hadn't bothered telling you now'
'What? Oh I see you take the law into your own hands, do you remember what happened last time you did that?' it was low but Helen was desperate now, she had to make Nikki see sense.
'That was uncalled for'
'No Nikki, it wasn't uncalled for, please see my point of view? I don't want to lose you again'
'And I don't want to lose you, can't you see that!' they started shouting again.
'There must be another way' Helen tried.
'If there is tell, you tell me'
'Can't we try, you know, warning her off' Helen tried.
'We can try, but are you prepared to take the risk? Will you be moving back home?' Nikki scoffed.
'No. I won't be going back there'
'What about your job? If she found you once she'll do it again'
'I'm not sure about my job, I need to think'
They settled into an uneasy silence.
'She wants to try warning her off' Nikki told Yvonne the following day.
'That wont work, the woman's a bleedin' psycho. So Helen reckons if we ask her nicely she'll back off, it'll be a first in my experience luv'
'I didn't say anything about asking her nicely' Nikki said flatly.
At the other end of the line Yvonne grinned, 'Now we're talkin' '
'I want to be there Yvonne' Nikki told her.
'No way! I've told you and..'
'I am going to be there .. '
'Yes! Look I need to be sure that she's going to back off, the only way I can do that is to be there' Nikki would beg if she had to.
'You know the risks?'
'Right then, let's make plans..' Nikki knew that Helen would go mad if she found out, but she wasn't going to find out, not 'til it had been taken care of.
The following Friday Helen tried ringing Nikki first thing, her answer phone kicked in almost immediately, Helen didn't think much of it at first, Nikki was often called out at odd times and probably had been that day too.
She got downstairs and noticed she had missed a call on her mobile, she dialled up her voicemail
'Hi it's me. I've .. err .. well I'm going to be away for the weekend. I couldn't tell you before because I knew you'd try and talk me out of it. Trust me Helen, I'm doing this for us.. I love you'
The stupid bitch! Helen was furious, she immediately dialled Nikki's mobile. It was switched off. She threw her own phone in temper, of all the stupid, idiotic .. all she could do now was sit, wait and pray that nothing went wrong.
Vanessa felt her shoulder being touched lightly, still half asleep she brushed it away gently.
She felt it again, this time more persistent, she opened her eyes slowly.. as they focused they opened wide, she tried to sit up but felt her body being pushed back onto the bed. She tried to scream but as she opened her mouth she felt a wad of, what appeared to be cotton wool, thrust into her mouth.
'Don't make a sound, got it!' she saw the mouth moving, and looked up at the eyeholes of the balaclava that was inches from her face.
'Can you taste that?' she was asked. She nodded, there was a strong flavour to the stuff that had been put into her mouth, what was it.
'Good. Now do as you're told and I wont set light to it right?'
Vanessa's eyes widened in horror, petrol! Realising she had taken the vapour into her lungs and the damage lighting it would do to her she nodded vigorously.
'Now a little bird tells me you've been sending out letters to a friend of mine' Vanessa made a squeaking sound and tried shaking her head, the intruder slapped her hard across the face.
'Don't piss me about woman! Now we both know what I am talking about don't we?' she felt herself being pulled upwards. She nodded.
'I don't like people threatening my friends, do you have any idea what I would like to do to you now?'
Vanessa nodded, the intruder shook her violently as she spoke.
'No you don't! You couldn't possibly imagine the things I'd do to you, but I've promised to give you a chance to .. shall we say change your ways. Do you know how lucky you are?'
Again Vanessa nodded and again she was pulled tightly up until she found herself looking into a set of cold blue eyes.
'I hope you do, because if I have to come back here ..' the voice ground out.
Vanessa squealed shaking her head, making it clear that her intruder would not have to come back.
'You see these' Yvonne held up a set of photographs, each of Vanessa taken over the last few weeks, 'I've been watching you, I'll always be watching you' she warned.
Vanessa trembled uncontrollably as the intruder stood up.
Looking down at the pathetic form she issued a final warning, ' I'll be watching' as they turned to leave, Vanessa managed to spit out the cotton wool and said 'I know you don't I'.
Nikki tried to grab Yvonne, to stop her going back, but it was too late.
Yvonne slowly walked back, Vanessa shrunk back into the pillows behind her. As she removed her balaclava Yvonne watched the reaction on Vanessa's face, as realisation dawned the inquisitive look turned into one of pure hatred.
'You ! But you're '
'Dead? I'm not love, but you will be if I ever hear of you again. Do I make myself clear?'
Vanessa just stared open mouthed.
'WELL!' Yvonne shouted, both Nikki and Vanessa jumped.
'I understand' Vanessa muttered
'Good! I'll be watching.. Kind of like Big Brother only you'll do well to think of me as your Big Sister eh?' she laughed and walked out with Nikki hot on her heels.
'I've never been so frightened in my life' Nikki admitted. They were at a private airfield just outside London, Yvonne was getting ready to return to Spain.
'Don't think she knew what hit her either love' Yvonne grinned, it felt good to flex a bit of muscle every now and then.
'Remind me never to get on your bad side' Nikki smiled.
'I will, don't you worry' Yvonne laughed.
'I'll see you next week then?'
'Yep, don't forget to bring your bucket and spade!'
'Will do, bye Yvonne.. and, well thanks seems such a small thing to say but..'
'No need to thank me darlin', I quite enjoyed it'
'You're sick' Nikki laughed.
'So sue me!' Yvonne chipped back.
The said their farewells and Yvonne left.
Helen had been worried sick all weekend, she hadn't heard a word from Nikki, Robbie had kept on and on about when they were going to see her next, in the end she had snapped at him.
'I don't bloody know! Stop asking me!' the look on his face made her feel immediately guilty.
'I'm sorry darling. Nikki said she'd ring when she gets back', if she gets back Helen couldn't stop herself thinking. It was gone midnight when Nikki opened her front door, she was shattered. She pressed the playback button on her answer phone. Last but one was a message from Helen.
'Can you ring me as soon as you get in, it doesn't matter what time'
She went upstairs, pulled off her boots, sat back on the bed and dialled Helen's number.
It barely rang before she heard her voice.
'Hi it's me', she sounded worn out.
'Nikki, oh thank God, I've been worried sick, where are you ? Are you okay?'
'I'm home, I'm fine'
The relief that washed over Helen was indescribable, 'Where have you been?'
'You know where I've been ' Nikki said simply.
'No she's still in the land of the living, but we put the wind up her big time. I don't think she'll be writing to you again'
'We?' Helen asked.
'Me and .. err Yvonne'
'She was with you!?'
'It was more a case of me being with her if I'm honest, I had to go Helen, I needed to make sure for myself'
'Yvonne was in the UK?' Helen was getting more and more agitated.
'What? Yes, she was! Does it matter?'
'Of course it matters, you know I'm supposed to report this don't you'
'What? After what she's just done for you, what she's risked?' Nikki was amazed, Yvonne had just risked Christ knows what for the woman and all she could think about was what she owed to her employer.
'She did it for you' Helen told her.
'The difference being?'
'The difference being I am an Emplo..'
'Yes I know that what you are. Can't you put the job aside for a minute!' the tiredness was catching up with her and she found Helen's irritating.
'How can I put it aside when I know damn well that someone who has escaped from prison, who is believed to be dead, is in fact very much alive and living in Spain? What should I do? Forget about it?'
'Yes! That is exactly what you should do.. No, in fact I think you should pack the fucking job in since it has brought you nothing but trouble in the time that I've known you' Nikki was sick of pussy footing around.
'Including you?' Helen told her.
'Well it brought you to me didn't it?' she persisted.
'I didn't mean that and you know it'
'Helen, I am tired, exhausted in fact, if you want to have a row then ring me tomorrow. Do one thing for me though? Think long and hard about what Yvonne just risked and much as you hate to admit it, she did it for you as well as me' with that as her parting comment she hung up.
Nikki hadn't heard from Helen for a few days, when she heard the phone ringing she rushed to answer.
'Hiya love it's me, how are you?'
'Hi Yvonne' Nikki answered the depression she felt was clearly reflected in her voice.
'Bloody hell! What's up with you? Oh don't tell me, Helen!'
'She wont talk to me 'vonne, I've tried ringing but she won't answer. She hasn't replied to any of my messages, I don't know what to do'
'Don't seem to be much left for you to do love'
'That's the problem' Nikki sighed.
'Did you get the tickets?'
'Yeah, thanks. Looks like I'll only be needing the one though'
'Hey you win some you lose some' Yvonne tried to sound cheery.
'So why do I keep losing the only one I want'
'Now if I knew the answer to that I'd be able to write a best seller wouldn't I. When do you leave?' she wasn't prepared to let Nikki sit and stew, she needed to take her mind of it all and what better place than Spain.
'Have you asked her to come with you yet?'
'Oh for Christ's sake Nikki, I never took you for a gutless wonder. Ask her' Yvonne pressed, at least she knew that if Nikki arrived alone she had done her best to get her to come.
'You'd better, or I'll kick yer arse from one end of the villa to the other'
'I look forward to it' Nikki smiled, 'See you tomorrow'
As a last ditch attempt to make the peace Nikki called round to see Helen that night.
'Hi, can I come in'
'Of course' Helen opened the door to allow her inside, she was expecting an apology, 'do you want a drink?'
'No I'm not stopping, I came round to tell you I'm going away for a bit'
'Somewhere nice?' Helen tried to sound disinterested, when all she wanted to do was to burst into tears.
'To see Yvonne by any chance?', Nikki nodded.
'Well have a nice time'
'Wait..' Nikki took hold of her arm.
'I was hoping you might come with me' she admitted
'To stay with Yvonne?' Helen almost shrieked.
'Did you not hear anything I said the other night. It's more than my job's worth..' the same old argument came out of Helen's mouth, Nikki felt the anger rise up within her.
'What exactly is your job worth Helen? Is it worth risking your life or your sons? Is it worth what you've lost? Oh I give up! I realise that there's just no point any more. Good bye Helen' she leant forward and kissed Helen squarely on the mouth, the kiss lasted slightly longer than it should have and left them both stunned.
'Is this really it?' Nikki asked, Helen looked away. Taking that as her answer, she put down the tickets she'd been carrying and walked out.
Helen watched her leave, amazed that she could stand there and let her go just like that but she was right wasn't she?
That question kept her up most of the night. By morning she had reached a number of conclusions, reaching for the telephone she started making plans.
Nikki arrived at the airport and took a cab to the village nearest Yvonne's villa, they had arranged to meet up there, Nikki decided to have a drink while she waited, one led to another and by the time Yvonne arrived she was slightly drunk.
'Blimey, you're knocking it back a bit aint ya?' a familiar voice drifted over Nikki's shoulder.
'Please, no lectures' she warned as Yvonne put her bag down on the table and sat next to her.
'Okay, but I hope you aren't going to be moping like this the whole time you're here' Yvonne grinned.
'What have you got to be so bloody happy about anyway' Nikki moaned.
'The sun is shining, the birds '
'I get the idea' Nikki groaned.
'Oh come on Nikki, things aren't that bad, nothing that can't be fixed I'm sure'
'You're wrong this time, unless you've got a bloody magic wand in that bag of yours'
'Well you never know. Come on lets get going' Yvonne stood up as Nikki followed after knocking back the remainder of her drink.
During the drive Yvonne was either humming or singing.
'Do you have to be so bloody cheerful?'
Yvonne looked at her and burst out laughing.
'You know for a second there you looked just like Bodybag'
'Piss off' Nikki laughed and slapped her on the arm.
'See I knew you had it in you, keep that thought in your head, you look much better when you laugh' Yvonne admitted.
'Sorry' Nikki felt guilty, she knew that her misery should not be taken out on someone else, particularly Yvonne.
'Don't be, things'll be fine, trust me'
At the villa Nikki followed Yvonne up the pathway leading to the house.
'You're in the same room as last time'
'Want to take your stuff up now?' she said cheerfully, pushing Nikki towards the stairs.
'Okay' like she had a choice!
Nikki wandered through the house, the gloomy feeling she'd tried hard to suppress once again surfaced, she could not believe that she'd lost Helen again.
As she opened the door of her room a figure on the balcony turned to face her.
'You took your time'
'Helen! What the f' ?'
' .. am I doing here?' Nikki barely nodded, she stood in the doorway not wanting to blink in case she was imagining her stood there. 'I did some thinking after you left and well, a lot of what you said made sense'
Nikki was amazed, 'What about? Your job?'
'Partly, as of this morning I don't have one, I'm not prepared to risk losing the two people who mean most to me in the world' she replied honestly.
'You mean?' Helen nodded
'I'm so sorry Nikki , forgive me?' she held her arms open, inviting Nikki back into her life.
To say that Nikki felt elated was an understatement, she turned and closed the door.
As she walked towards Helen and towards her new life, she could only guess what her future might hold, the one thing that was certain at this point was that Helen Stewart would play a very, very big part in it.
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