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Zen and the Art of Horseriding
By Rooineck

Part 6

Trish was waiting by the car and Helen unlocked the doors and let them in, unsure of what to say. She was saved the trouble of thinking of anything by Trish.

"I hope Nik didn't give you too much of a hard time? She gets a bit carried away sometimes, I'm afraid." She smiled apologetically.

"She did rather. I'm going to be in a lot of pain tomorrow." She smiled ruefully.

"She's a bit overprotective, that's all. She thinks that this is all some scheme cooked up by Sean or Terry."

"I was honestly sent here by Sean to learn to ride." At least that was the truth, originally, anyway.

"Yesterday, yes. Not today though, were you?"

"No." Helen decided on the honest approach.

"Did they know that Nikki was back in the UK before yesterday?"

"No. Where was she before?"

"We've been travelling for a couple of years. We were in Hamburg for a while, and Budapest. There were competitions and it just seemed sensible to stay out of the way. I understood that Sean was away skiing, so we thought we'd come back and lay low for a while."

"We were supposed to be, but one of the horses has been ill, so we cut it short." Helen saw Trish glance over at her.

"So how long have you two been going out, then?"

"About a year now. We met at the Commonwealth Games. I was part of the opening ceremony."

"Really?" There was an uncomfortable pause as they both searched for a safe topic. "So what are you doing with Sean?"

"He's fun. He's a nice guy, we get along. We have a lot in common."

"You don't ride and you're scared of horses. How can you have much in common?" Trish sounded surprised.

"We're quite similar, I think, underneath. You know, we both like to be successful."

"So do half the people I know, but that doesn't mean they'd all go out with Sean." Helen bristled, Trish was definitely laughing at her.

"Maybe I see a different side to him, not being related to him," she pointed out coolly.

"Touché. You're probably right," Trish agreed. "So how's Terry?" She asked a little too casually.

"Not too good since he found out you were both back." Helen admitted.

"Poor guy. I feel pretty guilty about it all, actually," Trish confided.

"No offence, but I'd really rather not know too much. I'd rather not be caught in the middle. But please, just call your rottweiler off me."

"Nikki's all bark and no bite. She sees you as a threat. If she realises you're not, then she'll be OK, but you've got an uphill battle proving it to her. Just drop me off here, please."

She let Trish out and drove away, already regretting having become involved. This was one mess she didn't want to get involved in, and fortunately she had a way out for the next few weeks.

She wasn't looking forward to telling Sean, but the way that Trish had talked about Terry indicated that she still had some feelings for him. Bizarrely she found herself feeling fleetingly sorry for Nikki. She obviously cared very much for Trish, and this was one story that looked like there might not be a happily ever after.

Part 7

"So, how did it go, then?" Sean asked as she staggered in, barely able to walk.

"I'm fine, thanks Sean. I didn't fall off more than five, six times. I'm not tired and barely able to move and I've missed you too." She snapped.

"I'm sorry, love. I just got carried away. How was the lesson?"

"A nightmare. I think she's sussed out your plan. Probably something to do with dressing me like a slapper."

"What? I suppose you told Wade everything?" He asked angrily.

"Of course not. She's not a complete moron, you know, Sean."

"Did you speak to Trish?"

"Yes. I gave her a lift into Colchester."

"What did she say?"

"Nothing much. I slipped the letter into her bag, so she'll probably get to read it away from Nikki."

"At least you've done something right, then," he muttered, turning his attention back to the television.

"I beg your pardon?"

"I said," he said looking at her and obviously changing his mind, "thanks for your help." He stood and came to kiss her. "Can I run you a bath? You look a bit stiff."

She accepted his ministrations and slid gratefully into the water, enjoying the bubbles up to her chin. She wasn't entirely certain about this horse-riding lark, but she filed away the memory of Nikki telling her that she wasn't too bad at it.

She wondered idly what the modern pentathlon was and made a mental note to look it up when she got in front of her computer, as soon as she was able to sit down again.

She'd have to go back, anyway, simply because she'd taken on the role in a new drama that required her to at least sit on a horse like she knew how to ride. Then she still had the challenge of learning to ride sidesaddle ahead of her. Still, after a few weeks, at least Nikki might have calmed down.

Part 8



They stood there in silence, each looking at the other as if at a stranger.

"I got your letter."

"So I see."

"Terry, this was a mistake. I should go." Trish watched him regarding her steadily, his face expressionless.

"If you want to, that's up to you."

"I shouldn't be here."

"Then why are you?"

"Because I still care about you. I loved you."

"Past tense, Trish. It's over. Your decision."

"That's not fair. If you had given me even a fraction of the attention you had given that horse…" she said angrily, the old hurt evident in her voice, face, posture. "But you didn't, and Nikki was there for me," she said tiredly.

"I have regretted that every day for the past two years, that I wasn't there for you."

"It's too late now."

"I know, but I'd like to be friends, at least. We were always the best of friends, weren't we?"

"Terry," she said, exasperatedly. "Why are you doing this, now, after so long?"

"I'd have done it earlier if I could have gotten hold of you. You hid and then moved around so much that you were always gone by the time I found out where you were. Then you both just vanished. I went to events where she was entered, but there was never any sign of you."

"You went abroad? You actually left the horses and went looking for me? What did Sean say to that?" She asked, incredulously, knowing her ex-husband's loathing of flying, boats and tunnels.

"I would have done anything for you, but I didn't know what I had until it was gone."

They sat in silence for a moment. Trish knew that she was playing with fire. Nikki wasn't the most jealous person in the world, a fact that bugged Trish, but she sure as hell was insecure of her relationship with Terry.

Just knowing that they were meeting in secret gave the meeting itself the frisson of forbidden love. Montagues and Capulets, without the swords. She smiled to herself. Of course there were swords – that was what Nikki was doing today, fencing. She was bored after a month of saddle work and wanted time off to practice her favourite discipline. Trish suspected sometimes that there were frustrated pirate dreams inside Nikki Wade.

"But it has gone."

"No," he said simply. "Or you wouldn't be here."

They contemplated each other.

"This is ridiculous, Terry. I'm with Nikki now." She saw him wince at the mention of her lover's name.

"But you should be with me."

"I don't want to be with you, making up a poor third behind Sean and those bloody horses."

"You wouldn't."

"I can't do that to Nikki."

"You did it to me."

"You withdrew from me first. By the time I left you, there was nothing left to salvage."

"It didn't stop me hurting. I haven't been with anyone since you."

"You're a man, Terry. I can't believe that." She gathered her bags. "I have to go. Don't contact me again."

"Trish…" he pleaded.

"Terry, it was good to see you again. I've worried about you, believe it or not. But you need to move on."

"Like you did? Straight into someone else's bed?" He spoke viciously.

"I left you two years ago. I didn't go to Nikki's bed until a year ago. I was her coach that's all." She spoke quietly, aware that people around them were listening.

"You think I'd believe that? Sean said you were always a conniving bitch, and it looks like he was right, wasn't he? Manipulating people all the time. Making them do what you want. You know, I always assumed it was Nikki who seduced you. I'm starting to feel sorry for her now. You've got your claws so far into her I reckon she can't breathe without you telling her how." He turned on his heel and walked off, the picture of offended dignity, at least, until he staggered and she realised he was crying.

She sighed. She hated confrontations and scenes and wondered why she had even agreed to meet him in the first place. It had been ugly and messy. She hoped that Nik wouldn't ever find out. It would hurt her badly, and she didn't deserve to be hurt.

It wasn't her fault that Trish wasn't as satisfied with their relationship as she was. She missed the life that she had once had, the competing. She felt that everything was on hold and that she was living her career and her life vicariously, through Nikki.

There was no question but that Nikki was a much better athlete than she had ever been. She had peaked just before her injury, knowing that she would never improve any more, that she would never be the best, and that had driven her away as much as Terry's failure to acknowledge her pain, physical and emotional.

Nikki would go on. She had four, five years of competition left in her. She was already the British Champion and had just missed out on a medal in the last Commonwealth Games. There was the European Championships later this year, followed by the World Championships and then the Olympics to come. She should easily win a medal in one or more of them.

She was jealous of Nikki's ability. She could admit this to herself in the darkness of the night, when she was alone. She was a born athlete to whom the five disciplines came easily, even if she wasn't a star in any individual aspect. Her stamina was incredible and she gave so much more of herself to her sport than Trish had ever done, despite the upheaval of the last two years. She had put everything on hold to be with Trish, to look after her for those years, and she knew that Nikki would grow to resent it soon, although the break from competition had been spent in intense training.

Their days together were finite, as lovers and as coach and student. Nikki had so far surpassed her that the only thing she could help her with now was her show jumping. But what did she want next? For herself, she didn't know, only that she wanted Nikki to do well. But any change to the fragile balance of their relationship would mean a change for Nikki, and that would affect her, but she did not know how, and so couldn't force the change.

Nikki knew it was coming, she thought. She wasn't a fool. She had been throwing herself harder and harder into her training for months now. She had no interest in anything outside that, except for her devotion to the television and the endless novels she read. Even Trish had been unable to rouse her, although it was because she was more unwilling than unable, as she was the cause of the malaise in the first place.

She gathered up her shopping bags and walked slowly towards the car park. Back to … well, what? A girlfriend obsessed with winning, as she herself had once been.

She just wished she knew what her problem was, these days. She had been more and more down, unfulfilled. There seemed to be no end in sight. She couldn't go on as things were, that much was certain. She had her own path to tread. What was that poem?

"No matter how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul."

She whispered the words to herself as she walked, like a mantra. She needed to find herself, to get away and work out what she wanted.

Part 9

"You what?" Nikki said furiously.

"I need to go away for a while," she repeated stubbornly.

"This isn't a good time," Nikki pleaded. "I have competitions coming out of my ears. Can't it wait and then I'll take you for a holiday or something?"

"Nikki, I don't want to go away with you. I want to go on my own. I want you out there, competing. You've spent too much time away from the circuit as it is." She ran her hands through her hair.

"Hardly wasted though, was it? I'm better than I've ever been." She came forward and tried to hold Trish, but she was having none of it and pushed her away.

"You don't understand. I need some time to myself, work out what I want to do. I don't want to just coach you anymore. It's not enough."

"You used to say that I was all you'd ever need." Nikki said quietly, moving to the fire and leaning on the high mantle, staring down into it.

"I know. I'm sorry."

"How long have you known for?"

"Known what?" Trish was confused.

"That you didn't want me."

"I never said that," Trish said after a pause that she knew told Nikki far too much.

"You didn't have to." She stood up and stretched. Her muscles were tired. She had swum five hundred metres, run three miles cross country in the bitter, stinging winter rain and fenced for nearly an hour. She was tired, hungry and angry, and still hadn't changed from the fencing.

"If it will make you happy, you should go." She said, so quietly that Trish almost didn't hear her. "I wish I could give you that."

"I don't think it's any one person who will give me that. I need to make peace with myself. You helped heal me, but I need to heal myself."

"Will you go back to Terry?"

"How…" Trish caught herself, too late.

"You shouldn't leave letters like that in your jeans. You know I always empty the pockets before doing the washing because you never do."

"I'd never make an adulterer, would I?" Trish smiled slightly, making the small joke because she wanted to see anything other than that blank, shell-shocked look on Nikki's face, knowing that it was she who had put it there.

"No, you'd be pretty useless, unless you did your own washing." Nikki turned to face her, carefully wiping all expression from her face. "So, are you going back to Terry?"

"He wants me to."

"And what do you want?" Trish was touched. Nikki had always asked that, all along, even before they had become lovers, before she had reached out to Nikki, asking her to come to her, surrender herself to her.

"I don't know. That's the problem."

"Just not me; not this?" She indicated the room with a sweep of her arm.

"No, not this. I don't know what I want, Nikki, just that I want to be friends right now."

"Your timing is impeccable. It's the Europeans in Seville next weekend."

"I know, and I'm sorry." She felt her eyes fill with tears. Nikki was hurting, badly. She knew the other woman so well, had almost watched her grow up really, let alone been her lover.

"Shh, babes, please don't cry." Nikki was upon her in a moment, wanting to take away her pain. She was held, tightly, as Nikki had held her so many times before. There was safety and refuge in those arms, and once more, she couldn't understand her desire not to be a part of it.

She was led upstairs, Nikki guiding her so that she didn't hit her head on the low ceilings, and gently undressed and put to bed. She was so used to their life together that it took her a moment to realise that Nikki wasn't going to stay with her.


"I need to eat and shower, Trish. Then I'll sleep on the sofa." She was gone in an instant, but not before Trish had seen the empty look in her eyes. Whatever else she had done, she had destroyed this.

Part 10

Nikki cantered in a tight circle and set Barney at the combination, trying to make him put in the extra half stride that had been their downfall three times already. Once more he didn't and once more she cursed him.

"It's not his fault, Nik."

"Jackie, how long have you been up there?"

"A while." She came and stood by the railing of the balcony. "Why don't you put him away and try it with Czar? He's a much better jumper."

"No, I want to ride Barney today." She set her mouth stubbornly.

"Helen's coming in for a lesson, so maybe you shouldn't tire him out." Jackie understood Nikki's need for Barney. He was her last link with Trish, a gift from the other woman.

"Sorry." Nikki gave her a rueful smile that belied what was in her heart. For the last two days, Jackie had seen her push herself, and her horses, to the limit. Trish was still in residence at Nikki's cottage, so Nikki had moved into Home Farm with her.

"Will you teach her?"

"I think you should, somehow. I'm liable to scream at her, or burst into tears, and we don't want that, do we?"

"You'll be OK, Nikki. When's Trish leaving?"

"I've asked her to be out by the time I get back."

"That's very forgiving of you." It was more than a statement, almost a question, but not quite.

"I owe her a lot, Jackie. Pretty much everything, really."

"But still…" Jackie demurred.

"Still nothing, Jackie. I make my own decisions, for my own reasons." By now she had ridden Barney right up to the balcony wall and they were staring at each other. They stood there for a moment, looking at each other, until they were interrupted.


"Helen, hi." Helen noticed that Nikki said nothing, and sensing the tension between the two women, was curious as to the cause. He mother had said that she was worse than a cat, and the interaction between people had always fascinated her.

"Sorry about the short notice, but I hope that the lesson is still on?" she queried, noting that Nikki was astride Barney.

"Of course. I was just warming him up for you." Nikki slipped off the pony, not in the way she had taught Helen, but throwing her leg casually in front of her body and jumping down, landing gracefully and comfortably as the stable cat which had chosen that moment to mimic her movements and jump from the balcony to the floor.

"Right then, I'll leave you two to get started," Jackie said as she got up. She was clattering down the outside stairs before Nikki could protest, so she settled for scowling at Helen instead.

"What?" Helen asked after a moment.

"Nothing." Nikki sighed and turned to Barney, shortening the stirrup leathers for Helen. "Have you got your hat?"

"I went out and bought one this week." Helen held up her bright, shiny new crash helmet.

"You must be serious. How's the backside?"

"Not as sore. You were right. I've only booked an hour today." She was confused. Nikki's arrogance and combatism seemed in abeyance today, which certainly made a nice change.

"It'll be long enough. Right, it's not raining, so let's go outside. I need fresh air. Can you hold Barney and I'll go and tack up."

"You're going to ride as well?"

"Yes, we're going for a hack."

"A hack?"

"Would you mind not repeating everything I say? We're going for a cross-country ride, commonly called a hack. It just helps if I have a horse too. Or would you like to double up?" Nikki's sarcasm was mischievous rather than antagonistic and Helen found herself thinking that she wasn't all bad. She shook her head quickly as she remembered that mad dash at the end of her first lesson.

The ride was pleasant and Helen found herself really enjoying herself as they rode out onto a bridleway, crossing a muddy field. Of course, after five minutes of Nikki's constant criticism, she felt that she was the bitch from hell again.

"Come on, heels down and back straight. If you're supposed to look like some kind of lady to the manner born, you're going to have to act it." Nikki said. "What are you doing back here so soon, anyway?"

"I was kind of suspended."

"Kind of suspended? Isn't that a bit of a misnomer?"

"Well, I had a bit of a fight with someone at work, and then I went out for a few drinks afterwards and expressed my opinions a little forcibly."

"I see. 'Hels-bells brawl over pay', perhaps?" She quoted the headline from one of that morning's tabloids, her voice a little too innocent.


"I do read the papers you know. I'm not some muscle bound oik that has no life outside my work." She sounded amused and Helen tried not to bridle. Sean had merely been pleased to see her and had accepted her story that the shooting schedule had been amended. He never read anything that wasn't a stud book, a form book, Horse and Hound or the Racing Post.

Part 11

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