DISCLAIMER: The characters all belong to Shed; they are not used for profit etc...
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Zen and the Art of Horseriding
By Rooineck

Part 16

Nikki was leaning against a tall, American style fridge, at odds with the half-timbered, wattle and daub cottage. She was stirring a pot, talking on a mobile phone. Helen watched her through the glass of the door as she talked passionately, gesticulating wildly with the spoon, spattering sauce.

"Am I interrupting?" Helen stuck her head around the door as Nikki put the phone down.

"No, not at all. I was just trying to explain to Antoine that you wouldn't be here tomorrow to sign a Polaroid of you and him together. I think he's besotted with you."

"Poor boy. I'll send a few down to Jackie tomorrow, I promise."

"No one else would get one. He'd kidnap them all and build a shrine to you, then stalk you when you're in panto and throw his knickers at the stage. Think of all those poor kids who are going to be scarred for life."

"What a revolting thought."

"Exactly. Now, create a monster, or sit down and have dinner?"

"Hmm, monster or dinner? Monster or dinner? I'm not sure. What do you think?"

"I think it's unfair to do that to children. I think you should reconsider while you eat. Have a pew." She indicated a chair at a table covered, like most of the surfaces at Terry's and Sean's places, with magazines, old newspapers and bits of tack. The only difference was the teetering pile of books and an ancient laptop

"Clear a space and get your laughing gear round this." Nikki put two heaped plates on the table. "Would you like some wine?"

"Not if you're not drinking. Anyway, I have to drive home later." She took a mouthful. "This is great. Isn't Trish joining us?"

"She's not here right now." Nikki looked down at her plate. "Have you thought about where you're going to learn to ride sidesaddle?"

"There's a place not too far from the studio. I should be able to learn on my days off, now I can at least sit on a horse and point it in the right direction." She smiled and was rewarded with a smile from Nikki.

"Now all you need to do is learn to start and stop and you'll be there."

"Well, we can't have everything, can we? Otherwise then you wouldn't need lessons anymore."

There was a silence as they ate.



"You first." Nikki yielded the floor.

"No, after you, I insist."

"I was just wondering whether you'd heard anything about the storylines for the future?" Nikki asked.

"Not yet. I've been away too long already. I know that if they do get rid of any of us, there should be quite a shake up all round. I guess I'll have a better idea tomorrow, and at least I'm being offered other stuff."

"Is that a good thing?"

"It means that, with a bit of luck, I won't be tarred as a feisty man-eating bitch for the rest of my career. At least, I hope not."

"You seem pretty normal to me, although your name is linked with a different man every time I open the paper."

"Are you judging me?" Helen said incredulously.

"No," Nikki replied defensively.

"My love life is my business. Who I spend my time with is my business, and I don't appreciate a small-minded dyke like you trying to make out that I'm some small time, z-list, ligging, alcoholic slapper." She threw her napkin to the table and stood up. "Thanks for dinner, but I'll let you get back to Trish now, or have you got another relationship you want to wreck?" Her parting shot was deliberately vicious.

She ruined the effect by not knowing whereabouts she was and having to return to ask Nikki. She had expected her to be gloating, but she was quiet as they picked their way across the yard towards the stables.

As they came in sight of the car, Nikki started to peel away without saying anything.

"Thanks," Helen said, unable to think of anything else to say after her tirade. She knew she had over-reacted, but wasn't quite sure why, or how to apologise.

"You're welcome," said Nikki, making it sound as if Helen was anything but.

"Look, I'm sorry, Nikki, I didn't mean…" Nikki stopped dead in her tracks.

"For someone who hates being judged on her antics, you are pretty judgemental yourself. Talk about pot and kettle, you hypocritical cow."

Helen stood there, her mouth hanging open, unable to believe that her apology had been spurned.

"I said I was sorry."

"You were rude and arrogant. No wonder you get so much bad press. Maybe you should just give up the day job and be a professional bitch and party animal. If you'll excuse me, I have better things to do than pander to a spoilt actress." She turned on her heel, vanishing into the darkness.

Part 17

"So, love, how'd it go? Have you worked out which is the dangerous end yet?" She snuggled closer to Sean as they watched some rubbish TV movie.

"Anywhere where Nikki Wade is would be the dangerous end. I'm beginning to wonder if they're paying me enough for this part."

"I take it she's not your number one fan then?" He stretched and she could feel the play of his muscles under his thin shirt.

"More like I'm not hers. She's got no consideration, tact, finesse or courtesy. God knows how she ever pulls."

"I did try and tell you, darling. She takes what she wants and sod everyone else." He got to his feet and pulled her after him. "Come on, let's go and get some dinner. I feel like hiding away behind sunglasses at night."

"Can't we get a take-away? I'd rather spend our last night together 'together'." She snuggled up to him from behind.

"Oh, go on then. Twist my rubber arm," he laughed, reaching for her.

She woke up early the next morning, tired from lack of sleep. It wouldn't matter; she could sleep in the car on the way North. She looked at Sean, asleep diagonally across the bed, his physical presence as dominating as his mental presence.

He had attracted her instantly, with that curious mixture of arrogance and vulnerability he possessed; seeming at once so certain of himself, his ability and his horses, and yet being ineffably shy and uncertain with her. When he was with the horses, he was completely different, as if he and they understood each other instinctively. He was a gentle man at those times, and yet he was also the wild party animal, known widely outside the show-jumping world as much for his antics off the horses as on them.

She loved the dichotomy of the dual nature, the ceaseless changeability of him, which would probably one day see her being brushed aside for someone new. It wasn't love, but it was a lot of fun.

Without intending it, her mind drifted to the quieter, much more intense relationship that Nikki shared with Trish. She envied them the fact that they were together and seemed so certain when it must be quite hard to have that sort of relationship, hated and reviled by others.

Right, enough lying here doing nothing, she had things to do. She got up, and padded to the bathroom. She had already packed and just had to shower and dress before her driver turned up.

She made herself a quick coffee once she was dressed and started studying her script and the shooting schedule. She was going to be busy. But possibly not for long. The rumour mill was working overtime and one of her ex's was hotly tipped to become the new producer. If that happened, she knew she would resign. Maybe it was time to try something new, anyway.

She'd been offered a part in a new dramatisation of some PG Wodehouse, which she quite fancied doing; dressing up in 30's gear and trying out her 'posh' accent. Then there was the film…her agent had put her up for it as a joke, but it may lead onto something, even a small part in a Brit-flick.

The sound of the horn brought her back to the matter at hand and she heard Sean shout a muffled goodbye and then she was on her way to see what the future held in store for her.

Part 18

After a week, Helen was bored. They had re-jigged the shooting schedule five times, and each time they had put her scenes further and further back. Prepared to scream at the producer, she had held her tongue when she remembered Nikki calling her a spoilt actress.

She had gotten a reputation around the set for being demanding, but that was as much about her work as about the conditions in which the work was performed. In no way was she pampered or spoilt.

She read the papers, lying in bed and enjoying her Sunday morning lie in. She had been out with some of the rest of the cast last night and was feeling slightly fragile. She should go out, go for a walk, blow the cobwebs out of her skull. Except she couldn't, not now.

The papers lay discarded on the floor, nearly all of the tabloids open at the same page. Photographs of herself, at varying ages, weights and poses, were on display, under banner headlines all containing the word 'sacked'.

She had never thought that they would do it so publicly, or so humiliatingly. To have leaked it to the press first was unbelievable. She had no illusions that she wouldn't get something out of it, after all, publicity is publicity, but her stomach felt that it would stay in her feet for a long time.

She knew that the answering machine would be full by now, as would the voice mail on her mobile phones. The press, her friends and family would all be baying for her. She couldn't face it, not just yet and thanked her stars that she had crashed at Darren's after the club last night. She had no illusions that her own house would be knee deep in paparazzi by now.

She cast a final, deploring look over the papers, all kindly purchased for her by Darren, her screen boss and a very good friend. There were at least four reasons given for her unceremonious sacking, none of them sounding right to her. She'd know more tomorrow, but in the meantime, she needed a bolthole.

Maybe she should give Sean a ring, see if she could stay at Terry's for a few days? She was sure that he wouldn't mind. If not she could always go away. The Caribbean would be wonderful at this time of the year.

"You still alive in there?" Darren said quietly, through the door.

"Are you checking if I've committed hara-kiri by smothering myself in newsprint?"

"Yes, and I thought you'd want some more coffee by now."

He came in, short, skinny and balding prematurely, his eyes bright as he anticipated the gossip and shredding of reputations that he sensed in the air.

"What should I do?" Helen asked, waving her hand of the papers, as if she could make them disappear.

"Sue for distress and mental cruelty. Or ignore them and come out to lunch with me. I've found this delightful little pub in the middle of nowhere that does divine things with ducks."

She fixed him with a look as she tried not to laugh. Darren was one of the campest men she had ever met, and played it up to the full, but sometimes he wasn't always joking.

"I don't think I should ask."

"Oh, Helen, as if I'd take you to a place like that. It'd blow more than your socks off honey, trust me. You breeders are all so straight about sex." He flounced about the room for a moment, pouting until she laughed out loud. "So it's settled then? Nil make up, nil glamour and some excellent food. Wonderful. I'm going to go and create an outfit."

She dreaded what he would come up with. His idea of incognito was usually anything but and she expected pink to feature heavily. She would settle for jeans and a jumper and hope that all eyes fell on the peacock she would be with.

They drove out into the country, only realising that anything was going on when they joined the slow-moving traffic in the country. Helen sank lower into her seat, unwilling to be recognised, and Darren, unrecognisable in drab polyester, kept up a running commentary on the hoi polloi surrounding them.

"Looks like it's some sort of cross country race. I never knew people cared for that sort of thing, not after their experiences at school, anyway." He gave a theatrical shudder. "We had this huge beast of a teacher. If you were last, he'd chase you round and if you got caught cheating, he'd make you do press-ups in the mud, putting his size twelve's onto your back and pushing you into the mud. Disgusting."

"One of the men PE teachers was fit as hell. All the girls would run where he was, and all the boys with his wife, one of the other PE teachers. It made for a crowded course."

"Can't see the point in it myself. All that running around in the mud. Sounds bloody stupid to me."

"I know what you mean." She gazed out of the window, uninterested, as they crept along, marvelling at the number of people who cared to revisit the trauma of their childhood.

"I think we should go and have a look," Darren announced suddenly as he swung the car into a field doubling as a car park.

"Are you mad? It's cold and miserable." She settled herself down lower into the seat.

"I just thought that there might be half-naked men wandering around." He teased her.


"Oh, come on, just for a minute. You said you wanted to go for a walk, anyway," he cajoled.



They stared at each other until she reached for the door handle.

"Let's go then, but if I get recognised, you can get me out of it." She warned.

"Yes, milady," he said in his best 'Parker' voice.

They wandered around, watching the runners warm up in their gaudy tracksuits, some putting on football boots. From what they could see of the course, mud would feature heavily.

She was surprised when she saw the BBC TV outside broadcast van, and assiduously avoided it for the rest of the afternoon. The low winter sun made her shades all too necessary and she took refuge inside them, knowing that she managed to look completely different from her character.

The men's race was started, and she cheered along with Darren for a gorgeous creature with long, lean legs and a cute goatee. After twenty minutes of screaming her head off, she felt much better, more herself and not some shell-shocked zombie that the news had made her.

She disinterestedly watched the women lining up. They mostly seemed to be whippet thin, but then this was a three kilometre race, hardly a sprint. She recognised the figure of a famous athlete at the front, taking her mark, but it wasn't until the field were on their second lap of the six that she noticed Nikki, head down and arms pumping as she scaled the hill.

"Seen enough? I think we should go now."

"Can we stay a bit longer? I think I know someone running now."

"You number masochists among your friends? And you never told me," Darren sulked. "Which one?"

"Number 86."

"The tall brunette?"

"Yeah, that's the one."

"And how do you know her?" He slyly watched Helen watching Nikki.

"She's my riding instructor." Nikki had finally crested the hill and was out of their sight for the moment. She turned to face him.

"And she does this for fun? She's a sick puppy, Helen."

"She's an athlete. She does the modern pentathlon. Running and riding are part of it."

"Is she any good?"

"I don't know, really, to be honest." She thought back over her experiences with Nikki. She had no real indicator. "She came fifth in the European Championships the other week."

"She's certainly fit," Darren replied as Nikki came into view, overtaking another runner. She wasn't in any of the groups at the front, but by the same token, she wasn't at the back, either, as far as Helen could tell.

They watched in silence for the rest of the race. Nikki gradually moved up the field, finally coming in eighteenth.

"Right, let's go," Helen said, but was being dragged towards the tall athlete. "Um, where are we going?"

"To see your friend." As they walked, Helen noticed that although people surrounded most of the other runners, Nikki was an island of isolation. She wondered where Trish was.

"Hi," Darren said when he got to Nikki, holding out his hand; after it became obvious to them all that Helen wasn't going to perform introductions. "I'm Darren White. I'm a colleague of Helen's."

Nikki shifted her glare from Helen to Darren, her hand automatically going out in its conditioned response.

"Hello." She snatched her hand back as she realised that she was covered in mud. "I'm sorry." She gestured awkwardly.

"It's no problem," he reassured her, feeling discomforted by Helen's continual silence. "Congratulations?" He made it a question.

"Not bad. I have done it faster, but that big hill killed me. I'd never beat the runners, but I'm pretty happy with it."

"Helen tells me you do the pentathlon?"


He stood there for a moment, getting no help from either of the women and gave it up as a bad job. He took Helen's hand, noticing that Nikki's eyes narrowed as she saw the gesture. He didn't miss the look of contempt on her face.

"Well done, Nikki." Helen's voice was barely a whisper.

"Congratulations yourself, Helen. I see you've found someone to console you already."

"Well, you know how us attention seekers can be. One's never enough." Helen turned dismissively, hurt at Nikki's assumption. "Lost Trish, have you?"

There was a silence and Nikki looked down. When Helen turned back, having expected a tart rejoinder, she saw Nikki Wade looking totally vulnerable.

"I, er, that is, we…well, she's gone." She upended a water bottle over her head, but the bitingly cold wind precluded that being for any reason other than to hide her features.

A jag of remorse stabbed Helen. She had only said the words for something to say, to keep the stilted conversation ticking along after Nikki's taunt and now she'd opened a huge can of worms.

"I'm sorry. Are you OK?" She put a hand on Nikki's arm, registering immediately how cold it was. She grabbed a space blanket from a nearby attendant and unwrapped it quickly, coving Nikki's shoulders. "Look, you should go and get showered, warm up a bit. You're freezing. We'll wait for you."

She noticed Darren roll his eyes and gave him a look. She couldn't leave the poor woman like this.

"She went weeks ago, Helen, before the Europeans. I'll live." Nikki started to shrug off the blanket.

"Please, I'm sorry."

"It's nothing to do with you, so why don't you fuck off back to your showbiz life and leave me to mine." Nikki almost shouted, pulling her arm away. She stalked off and Darren grabbed Helen as she was about to follow.

"I really don't think that's a good idea right now," he said as Helen struggled to free herself.

"I can't just leave it like that!"

"Why not?" He raised an eyebrow at her.

"Because she's in pain."

"But she hasn't come to you, has she?" He pointed out. "I'd leave her be, or she'll never talk to you again. But why do you want to comfort her so much?" He grinned.

"She's a friend," Helen muttered.

"Of Dorothy maybe, but she didn't exactly fall on your neck, did she? And you barely talked to her after dragging me off over here."

"Me? Drag you?" She gasped.

"Don't stand there like the proverbial goldfish, Helen. It's very unattractive."

"Darren White, I did not drag you over here, you dragged me, for why I don't know, but you dragged me."

"That's entirely besides the point. Now, what are you going to buy me for lunch to compensate me for the shock of having to talk to a real person, hmm?" He slung his arm around Helen's shoulders and steered her towards the car.

Part 19

Helen gunned the car over the familiar ruts, trying to pick out the line that would do the least damage to her car. There had been a late frost last night and the driveway ruts were solid and unyielding.

It had been a week since she had last seen Nikki, freezing and half-undressed on a moor in Lancashire, although it hadn't been the last time she had thought about the tall athlete. She was more nervous today at the possibility of their meeting than she had been the last time she had done live theatre, which surprised her.

She felt horribly guilty that the Trish/Nikki breakup was anything to do with her, and she had been very careful to keep it from Sean and Terry. From what Nikki had said, it had happened some time ago now, so Trish obviously hadn't gone back to Terry, at least, not yet.

She parked in her usual spot and reached across to get her helmet and newly acquired boots. Sean had started teasing her that the next thing she would be needing was a horse of her own and had offered to buy her a Shetland Pony.

She smoothed her jodhpurs, which didn't need it, and got out and locked the car. Rounding the corner into the yard, she came face to face with a furtive looking Trish.


"Hi, Helen." She didn't stop moving but got into a battered pick-up and drove off without a second look.

Helen assumed Nikki was probably somewhere around and walked towards the school, going straight to the gallery. Nikki was sitting on the ground, a massive horse standing above her, gently nuzzling at her and being ignored.

Her head was buried in her hands and her shoulders were shaking, although the arena was silent but for the jangling of tack and the occasional creak of leather.

Helen was torn between the impulse to call out to Nikki and go and comfort her, or to slink away. She had the feeling that Nikki wouldn't like to be caught in this position, with her emotional pants down, so to speak, but by the same token she was loath to leave her there crying.

She was saved the trouble of making a decision by Jackie, who walked in through the main door, straight up to Nikki.

"Come on. You shouldn't be here today. Go home and get this out of your system. I'll see you in a few days." She rested her hand on Nikki's shoulder briefly before catching hold of the loose reins and leading the horse slowly away. "I should get going quickly, if I were you. Helen will be here in a few for her next lesson."

"I should clean myself up…"

"You should go and eat a decent meal and get some sleep is what you should do, madam."

"Please Jackie, it's better than thinking about it all. I can't stand that."

"Nikki, it's not the end of the world, you know."

"It's pretty much the end of my world."

"Nonsense." Jackie's chivvying was annoying to Helen, but she agreed with the fact that she was trying to look after Nikki in her own way. "It's the end of an era. You've lost your friend, lover and coach in one fell swoop. You put all your eggs into one basket and now you're paying for it. You need to get another coach, carry on training in the meantime and concentrate on everything you've worked for up to now. Trish wouldn't want you to throw it all away over her, you know, and she's not worth it anyway."

"Jackie!" Nikki looked up, shock on her face. Helen pricked her ears up.

"I didn't mean that. Trish is lovely, a beautiful girl. All I meant is that no one is worth giving up your life for, whether it's physical, or your career or dreams, and I am sure that she'd be the first to say that to you."

"She did," Nikki said. "She was perfect for me."

"Maybe she was perfect for you, but you might not have been perfect for her. How do think she felt seeing you do so much better then she ever could?"

"I guess you have a point," Nikki conceded reluctantly.

"There you go then. Now shift your arse so I can take the next lesson. You're making the place look untidy."


"Nikki, I have a client turning up in a few minutes, and I can't afford for you to screw it up for me, much as I like you. I will take Helen today."

"Seriously, I'll take Helen." She forestalled Jackie's next comments as she stood up. "I promise I will go and get a sandwich now, and I'll come over tonight and eat whatever you put in front of me, I promise."

"The whole plateful?" Jackie asked, trying not to laugh.

"The whole plateful, I swear. On Barney's life."

"Very well then, I'll see you at seven sharp. Now go and get yourself cleaned up. I'll put Czar away and get Barney tacked up for you."

"Cheers." The two of them walked out of her sight and Helen sat back, wondering what had happened. Trish had obviously said something to Nikki that had set her off. She felt absurdly pleased that Nikki wanted to teach her so much and set off to the yard.

Part 20

Nikki treated her formally throughout the lesson, as if she was a privileged stranger. She was polite and didn't shout once and Helen felt as if she had learned nothing, in contrast to the times when they had screamed at each other and Nikki had treated her like a complete novice.

She was like an automaton, running on autopilot and not even noticing when Helen deliberately tried to provoke a reaction by doing something wrong.

"OK, that's it. Time's up. I guess I'll see you when I see you." Nikki looked through Helen, avoiding her eyes.

"I barely feel like I've broken sweat."

"Maybe you're just getting used to it." Helen hated the bored tone of voice. Indifference had always been her Achilles' heel and nothing riled her more than Nikki's current tone of voice.

"Maybe you're not teaching me properly." Helen snapped.

"I've got a lot on my mind and it's not a good day, OK?"

"Nice to see that you're such a professional."

"And you've never had a bad day at work, of course," Nikki retorted sarcastically.

Helen looked down as the colour rose in her face. Of course she had, and had been very rude to her colleagues and the public.

"I'm sorry Helen, I'm just not really into this right now."

"Then maybe you should have let Jackie teach me."

"Maybe I should."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Helen asked after a pause.

"There's nothing much to say." Nikki shrugged and busied herself with Barney.

"What did Trish want?"

"She was just giving me something." Nikki didn't look at her, giving all of her attention to the horse.

"Oh." Helen was burning with curiosity, but couldn't bring herself to ask the question.

"And she needed to tell me that she's going away for a while." Nikki laid her head against Barney's neck.

"Really? Where?"

"She wants to go find herself in India, or something. It could have been worse, she could have gone back to Terry, I suppose."

"Did she say if she was going alone?" Helen asked, for want of anything else to say.

"No. Why, do you think there's something she's not telling me?" Nikki turned her head and looked at her. Her eyes were dead, uninterested.

"No, I'm sure she needs to work out what she wants for herself. From what I gather, she went straight from competition to coaching you. Maybe she wants something else."

"I guess we all need a backup. What was yours? Waiting tables?"

"Me? Yes, I waitressed, did some life modelling, stuffed envelopes, you name it, I've done it."

"Life modelling?" Nikki raised an eyebrow and Helen was filled with a disproportionate sense of achievement at engaging her attention. "Does that mean that you're hanging naked on some wall somewhere?"

"I suppose so. I've never really thought about it somehow. Still, it was only the Women's Institute, so I doubt that any pictures are adorning the internet."

"The Women's Institute do life painting?"

"Yes, the same Women's Institute that does naked calendars for charity, remember?"

"Oh, yeah. I remember. Makes a change from jam-making and lectures on corn dolly making."

"I suppose it does. It was just a way of making some money when I was young."

"I worked in factories," Nikki said, unexpectedly.

"Doing what?"

"Making sweets, mainly."

"Sounds like fun."

"No, it was disgusting. All those sweets, wherever you looked. I went right off sugar for about a year afterwards. Couldn't even eat chocolate, it was that bad."

"That's terrible!" Helen was able to sympathise, having more than a taste for sweets and chocolate herself.

"It was good for me, actually, otherwise I think I'd be addicted to chocolate now, so all clouds have a silver lining."

"What are you going to do now?" Helen asked, unable to keep her questions to herself. She felt sorry for Nikki, the sight of her crying alone in the arena haunting her.

"I don't know. Go home and get drunk and then go on. What else can I do?"

"Go home, eat and get some rest. You look pretty rough." Helen said honestly.

"Thanks, it's always good to know that a girl's looking her best." Nikki gave her a comically coquettish look.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be rude…"

"I know. I haven't been sleeping too well really. I can't sleep in the bed and the sofa wasn't quite designed with my height in mind." Her wry smile tore at Helen's insides. She couldn't imagine caring for someone so much that she couldn't sleep in her own bed if they left.

"Do you want to come and stay?"

"With you and Sean? I don't think so, Helen. I have no desire to have my face rearranged. It's very kind of you, but I'll be fine, thanks."

"You don't look very fine to me."

"Jackie makes sure I don't starve, and teaching means I keep myself occupied. I'll be going away soon, to do altitude training, and I'm off Down Under as well, for the Pan-Pacific Championships and then the World Championships."

"How long will you be away?" Helen could feel the disappointment at Nikki's words, although she didn't care to think about why she felt so let down that Nikki was going to be away soon.

"About three months, all told, I guess. If I don't do the competitions, I'll go mad." Nikki finished brushing Barney, giving his rump a heavy slap as she walked past him, towards the half-door.

"So where are you doing the altitude training?"

"Mexico. It's part of a training camp for the equestrian team, so I guess I'll be seeing your young man, then?"

"I guess." Helen thought furiously. If Nikki and Sean were going to be away in Mexico, it would fit in perfectly with her plans. She had a bit part in Zorro 2, and location shooting was in Mexico, starting in two weeks. It was the reason why she had had to learn to ride side-saddle.

"What are you up to?"

"I've got a location shoot over the next month," Helen said non-commitally.

"How's the side-saddle stuff coming along?

"It's going well actually. It's almost impossible to fall off a side-saddle you know. I've enjoyed it."

"That's good. Maybe when everything's quietened down we should go out hacking properly, make a day of it and stop off a pub and have lunch or something."

"That sounds great. I'll hold you to it. Good luck with the competitions."

"It's going to be a long few months." Nikki made a face, bringing a smile to Helen's.

"Just stay focussed. It's all you can do." She leaned up to kiss the taller woman on the cheek. "Good luck. I'll be rooting for you."

"Thanks. I hope the shooting goes well. Keep up with the lessons and I'll see you in a few months."

They stood awkwardly in the courtyard, both knowing that the lesson was long over, but neither wanting to say goodbye.

Nikki held the car door open for Helen, standing leaning over it as they watched each other until finally she shut the door and Helen drove away, looking into her rear-view mirror far more than was safe.

Part 21

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