"God I hate Mondays." Nikki Wade mumbled to herself as she searched her desk for her car keys.
She'd had them five minutes ago but she had no idea where they were now. She couldn't actually remember what she wanted her keys for anyway.
"Bugger it, why bother." She flopped down into her chair and lit a cigarette.
She wasn't really supposed to smoke in her office but she often did and not many people complained. She looked around the room, it wasn't huge but there was plenty of space to move about in and the view from the window wasn't too bad either. She spent most of her time tapping away on her computer anyway.
She was getting bored with her job; it was the same thing day in and day out. She was bar/restaurant General Manager of a busy London hotel and was in charge of the day to day running of things. She'd started off as a bartender and throughout the ten years she'd worked there, she'd slowly climbed the ladder.
It was no fun being stuck in an office all day though, she'd have much preferred to be downstairs dealing with the public. Dealing with supplies and invoices wasn't exactly exciting; she could do it with her eyes closed. She longed for a change, doing a job that she'd actually want to get out of bed for in the mornings.
There was a tap on her door, "Nikki, the boss would like to see you."
Nikki nodded to her secretary and picked up her suit jacket. Visits to the boss weren't rare, but if he requested it then it was usually going to be something she didn't like. She made her way to his office and rapped on the door.
"Enter," a public school voice echoed sternly from inside.
She pushed the door open, "Good morning Mr. Langley, you wanted to see me?"
"Ah Wade, do sit down," he pointed to a chair, "Coffee?"
"No thank you Sir, I'm fine," she smiled politely at him, and wished he'd get it over with.
"I'm afraid I have bad news," he laced his fingers together and smiled sympathetically.
Several heads turned as Nikki came charging through the maze of offices heading back to her own. They'd heard rumours she'd been sacked, and it looked to be true. She slammed her office door in a temper and paced back and forth in front of her desk.
Whilst it was true she didn't like her job, it hadn't meant she'd wanted to lose it. And the way in which she lost it was what had upset her most. Her boss had told her she was too old. Thirty years of age and she was too old? He wanted to give the job to an up and coming university graduate who at the age of twenty two was deemed far more suitable.
She'd sue him from arseholes to breakfast, and by the time she was done, he would regret sacking her. But five minutes later when she'd calmed down slightly, she'd decided not to. It would be a long and expensive process and for what? She knew her boss was a pig; she didn't need a judge to tell her that. And it wasn't as if she was desperate for cash. All in all, it might not be a bad thing, nothing tied her down now and she could do whatever she wanted.
Her secretary knocked on the door and walked in, "so it's true then?"
"Yep, I've had the elbow." Nikki started emptying her desk drawers as she spoke.
"I'm sorry Nikki." Louise was fond of her, she was a great person to work for and she was fair.
"It's not that big of a deal really, you know I was getting fed up working here anyway," she shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
"I get worse as time goes on, I nearly forgot to tell you." Louise held a hand to her forehead, "There's a young woman waiting in reception. She reckons she's your sister."
Nikki's head snapped up, "what?"
"She arrived while you were in with the boss. She's asked to see you as soon as possible."
"You better show her up then." Nikki's heart sank she couldn't deal with this, not now, not here.
Five minutes later Louise showed the woman in and left quietly. They stared at each other for a few moments; it had been over ten years since they'd last seen each other.
"Hello Nicola." the woman said stiffly, "You're not an easy person to find."
"Hello Satan, can see you haven't changed." Nikki said dryly and gathered her things together.
"I'm not here through choice; I'm here because I think there's something you should know."
"Go ahead then Helen, what do I need to know?"
Helen Stewart faltered; it had all seemed so easy until she was confronted with the woman who'd helped to make her childhood a misery. She was twenty eight years old and yet she was back to being ten, wanting to run away and not look back.
"It's granddad, he's ill in hospital. They don't expect him to live much longer," she said quietly.
"He's not your granddad." Nikki snarled, "He never was."
"You've never grown up have you? Granddad is ill and all you can do is rake up the past." Helen's temper flared.
"Don't you dare!" Nikki pounded her fist on the desk, "As far as I'm concerned the past is over with. He's my granddad; you're nothing to do with him."
"Fine, have it your own way." Helen nodded, "But at least I see him every day which is more than can be said for you," she left the office slamming the door behind her.
"It's official, I bloody hate Mondays!" Nikki resumed the search for her car keys, she wanted out of there and quickly.
She found them in her pocket and rolled her eyes as she picked up her box and left the office.
"You and your sister don't like look alike." Louise called out to her, "and where are you going?"
"She's not my sister and I'm out of here. Tell Langley to shove his month's notice, I'll be in touch." Nikki waved and disappeared from sight.
She walked towards her car and almost bumped into Helen who was hovering outside the entrance and still looking pissed off. They had always irritated each other beyond belief, and it was still the same now even though they were adults. They looked at each other stupidly for a few minutes, not quite knowing what to say.
"Er I forgot to ask if you were going to visit Granddad." Helen refused to call him anything else.
"I'll go up to Scotland first thing tomorrow. I take it you still live nearby?" Nikki felt awkward, and she didn't really care where Helen was living anyway.
"Not far away aye." Helen replied just as awkwardly, "I'm staying with my husband's parents at the moment, and I'll be flying back tomorrow."
"Ok, well I'll see you there then." Nikki hadn't known Helen was married, she hadn't received an invite to the wedding but even if she had, she wouldn't have attended.
"I'm sure you will." Helen said frostily and turned around to leave.
"Helen wait." Nikki couldn't believe she was about to say it but, "Thanks for coming all the way to London to let me know, I appreciate it."
"I didn't come down here for you." Helen said frostily, "I was down here to see my in-laws when I got the call about granddad."
"Well thanks anyway, so nice of you to take the trouble." Nikki said sarcastically and left Helen standing there.
Helen bit down on her tongue and resisted going after her to say what was on her mind. The last time she'd set eyes on Nikki had been shortly after her sixteenth birthday, which was twelve years previously. Nikki had been trying to escape the house for a long time and when she was eighteen she finally managed it. Helen was glad to see her go; it was bad enough living at home as it was without having to put up with Nikki as well.
She watched as Nikki drove away and debated whether to go and have a quick drink before she got a taxi home to Sean's parent's house. She decided against it, Sean didn't like her drinking alcohol and he would smell it on her when she got in. She hailed a taxi and gave the driver the address, she sat in silence all the way there going over her childhood in her head.
She'd been glad when Nikki Wade had left her life, and now that she had re-entered it, she was back to square one. How much of it was Nikki's fault though? Looking back, she'd been just as much to blame and events had been beyond their control. She and Nikki would never be great friends, although she was certain they could be civil to each other if they tried. Somehow though, she couldn't see that happening.
Nikki drove home as if she was on autopilot, all the things she'd tried to bury had come rushing up to meet her again. It wasn't fair; she'd spent the last twelve years of her life trying to be somebody else, trying to escape everything. She blamed herself partly, but Helen was far worse in her eyes, her and her bloody father.
Life had been fine until her mother had married Campbell Stewart, things weren't perfect but life had been a damn sight better. She wouldn't stay long, she'd see her grandfather and then she'd be out of there again. Things would be tense, a lot of harsh words had been thrown around when she left and she had no desire to have an action replay.
Seeing them all again for the first time in years would be strange, but she wouldn't hide who she was, those days were long gone. And if Campbell Stewart thought she was going to be a pushover then he had another think coming.
It was a gray cloudy morning when Nikki pulled up in front of the hospital where her grandfather had been admitted the previous day. She pulled a bag from the back seat and hurried towards the building just as it began to rain. She nervously waited for the lift to arrive; she was desperately worried about him. He was getting on in years and he seemed to be in and out of hospital a lot lately.
She got out the lift and followed the signs to ward sixteen, stopping to ask a member of staff where he was. The nurse kindly escorted her to a side ward that contained six beds, and pointed her grandfather out. He was next to the window and he gazed out at the clouds while Nikki took in just how fragile and tired he was looking.
"Getting admitted to hospital just to chase the nurses around again eh granddad?" Nikki tutted playfully.
"Nikki!" a smile lit up his face and held his arms out, "come and give an old bugger a kiss."
She bent over the bed being careful not to hug him too tightly and placed a kiss on his wrinkled cheek. She sat down beside him on the bed and handed over the carrier bag of goodies.
"Thanks love," he smiled when he looked at the contents, "where's my copy of playboy? You know can't do it at my age so I have to settle for looking at it," he laughed and then had a coughing fit.
"Don't you think leering at nurses is enough?" Nikki patted him on the back gently, "did the doctor say anything?"
"Chronic Emphysema, reckons I'll have to carry oxygen around with me for the rest of my days."
"Oh granddad." Nikki's face crumpled.
"It's not that bad, but the downside is I'll be breathless even when I've not had sex. And I can't have a cigarette while I'm thinking about it either." He began to laugh again.
"What are you like?" Nikki covered her mouth with her hand and giggled.
"You turned up then," a Scottish accent cut into Nikki like crystal.
"Ah I see you're personally collecting souls from hospitals now." Nikki said sarcastically.
Bill Wade looked from one granddaughter to the other, he was fond of them both, he loved them equally but it was plain to see they brought the worst out in each other. He'd hoped that when they grew up they'd learn to appreciate each other but his hopes had been dashed when Nikki had left home and cut all contact with her family, apart from himself.
Nikki was openly hostile, always pushing for an argument whereas Helen was quiet and always tried to avoid conflict if she could. That wasn't to say that she would back down from an argument, but it took a lot to make her blow her top. Nikki on the other hand was quick to anger, just like her father. Nikki's mum was a quiet gentle woman and she possessed some of her qualities too, she just didn't show any of them toward Helen.
"Come on girls, you're both grown ups now, try acting like it," his voice was gravelly from coughing so much.
"Sorry granddad." Helen bent down to give him a kiss, "How have you been?"
"Never mind how I've been," he winked at her to soften his words, "take your sister for a coffee, plenty of visiting time left yet," he sank lower into the bed, "go on then, bugger off, let your old granddad have a quick kip."
Nikki bent down to kiss him again and left the room, without waiting for Helen to follow. She didn't head for the café but instead headed straight outside, she needed a cigarette. It was still raining so she stood underneath the exit and lit up. She sensed Helen beside her but didn't turn around to look.
"Where are you staying?" Helen didn't really care, but thought it was polite to ask.
"I haven't found a place to stay yet, I thought I'd come and see my granddad first." Nikki slid a hand into her pocket and carried on looking the other way.
Helen rolled her eyes, did she never stop? "I take it you're not going home then?"
"I've just come from home, London is my home, always has been and always will be." Nikki blew out smoke huffily.
"Oh for god sake grow up." Helen didn't raise her voice, she didn't want to cause an argument, "you can't keep cutting everyone out of your life forever. I don't give a damn what you do but mum and dad don't deserve it."
"Mum and dad? Since when have you called my mother anything but an old bag? And anyway, you must remember what happened or have you chosen to forget it?" Nikki was still hurt by it; the wound had never healed over.
"It was a long time ago Nicola, things have changed." Helen wouldn't meet her eyes.
"You're damn right things have changed." Nikki stubbed her cigarette out angrily, "things changed the day my mother married your father and ruined my bloody life. And unlike some people, I can't forget it so easily."
"You think I wanted them to get married? I'd have been happy with the way things were, but like I said, it's ancient history." Helen rubbed her temples; she didn't want to have to deal with all this now.
"You're right. Which is why I don't want to discuss it, as far as I'm concerned, that's all there is to be said. I'll see them if and when I'm ready." Nikki walked off leaving Helen alone once again.
Before Helen had time to say any more, her mobile phone rang, it was Nikki's mum. She was eager to know if her daughter would be visiting but Helen had to tell her that there was no improvement, she still hadn't forgiven them but that she may drop by if and when she was ready.
Nikki's mum got tearful and ended the call. Helen thought of how she could quite cheerfully strangle Nikki for disturbing things she thought were long buried. But in all fairness, she hadn't sought them out; Helen had been the one to initiate contact.
She was about to switch her phone off when it rang again, "Hello."
"Tell Nicola to get her arse over here now." Campbell Stewart's voice was gruff, "I have no desire to see her but your mother is upset."
"I can try dad but I'm not sure she'll come." Helen sighed, this was just what she didn't want.
"You tell her from me, that if I have to come down to that hospital to personally drag her back here then I will," he snapped at her before putting the phone down.
"Fuck!" Helen swore loudly startling some passersby, she ignored their looks and went back into the hospital to try and persuade Nikki to go home so that world war three didn't kick off.
Campbell sat brooding, as his wife wept quietly in a chair. He sat thinking of how Nicola Wade was a thoroughly bad lot, like a carbon copy of her father; he'd been bad news as well. She was stubborn, she'd never see sense and her attitude was one he wouldn't tolerate under his roof.
"Stella, don't get worked up so." it was his attempt at comforting his wife, he'd never been any good at it.
"I can't help it Cam," she said before fresh tears flowed down her face, "she's my daughter and I love her no matter what."
"Even after everything that's happened?" He couldn't understand it.
"Yes, even after all that," she stood up, she knew he'd never understand, "I'll go and make up the spare room, just in case she does come to stay."
"Aye ok." Campbell nodded and picked up his newspaper, he buried his head in it, and the outside world ceased to exist.
Nikki outwardly looked calm, but inside she was shaking. She'd had no choice but to agree to go and see her mother, because she knew Campbell would follow through on his threat. She was still afraid of him after all this time, well, maybe afraid wasn't the right word now. Wary of him may have been a better way to describe it; she knew what he was capable of although she was sure she could cope with it better now than she had when she was younger.
How did Helen cope? Did she and her father still get on well or had things changed when he no longer had Nikki to pick on? A feeling of guilt stabbed her insides; she'd never really stopped to think about the fact that Helen had been left behind when she'd moved out.
Why should she though? Helen had played a big part in things and Nikki held her responsible for how things had turned out. It wasn't like they had ever been close anyway, she and Helen had fought from the moment they'd set eyes on each other and she was pretty sure she'd been glad to see the back of her.
That hadn't been strictly true all of the time, but it wasn't something Nikki wanted to think about, it was way back in the past. The fact that Helen had done what she did, had felt like betrayal at the time, and if Nikki was honest, it still did.
She parked her car in front of the house she'd despised living in when she was growing up. It held so many bad memories for her, and it sent an unpleasant shiver down her spine. She could see Campbell Stewart in her mind's eye, sitting reading his newspaper and sending out disapproving vibes like he always did.
She watched in wing mirror as Helen got out of her car and locked it. Was that fear on Helen's face? Couldn't have been, Nikki took a second look and Helen's face was expressionless. She took a deep breath and got out of her car, the sooner she got it over with, the better.
She stood beside Helen as she knocked on the door, her hands were shaking and she clenched them tight. Helen's were shaking too by the looks of it, it was obvious she was shaking from head to foot and trying hard to hide it. Nikki could plainly see Helen was afraid but she couldn't work out why. Her father had always been ok with her; it was Nikki he vented his anger and displeasure at.
"Are you alright?" Nikki asked quietly, she had never seen Helen this rattled before.
"I'm fine." Helen said stiffly.
"Look, I know you and I don't get on and we probably never will, but if there's something you should tell me, I'm listening." The words almost stuck in Nikki's throat, she owed Helen nothing.
"I told you, I'm fine." Helen snapped but felt guilty, Nikki was trying to make the effort and she knew how rare that was.
"Ok, but don't say I didn't ask." Nikki's bad temper was back.
"Look ." Helen was interrupted when her father opened the door and glared at them both.
"Don't stand there all day." He growled before walking off back into the living room.
Helen took one last glance at Nikki before she walked through the door, leaving Nikki to take yet another deep breath, before she followed her into the lion's den.
Nikki felt the icy atmosphere in the house as soon as she walked in. Helen's father was sitting in his armchair again with hands clasped and a stony look on his face. Nikki wondered if cracking a smile would kill him, and if that was the case, she'd have to try and tell him a joke just to finish him off. The thought made her smile and she had to bite down on her lip to hide it.
Helen had caught it though and wondered what she was smiling at, "where's mum got to?" she asked trying to break the tension.
"Upstairs making up the guest room." it was an effort for Campbell to speak.
"Right, in that case I think she could do with a cup of tea, I'll put the kettle on. Nicola, you can help." She caught hold of Nikki's arm and pushed her into the kitchen.
"Will you stop calling me Nicola," she said grumpily, "my name is Nikki."
"I only do it because it annoys you." Helen realised what she's said and quickly shut up.
"What?" Nikki had been surprised at the remark, and even more so because she'd heard the trace of a smile in Helen's voice.
"You heard." Helen was frosty again, "anyway, what were you smiling about a minute ago, I don't think any of this is funny," she said as she filled the kettle and switched it on.
"Oh that, it was nothing." Nikki shrugged.
"Tell me." Helen turned around and looked at her, for some strange reason, she found that she liked talking to her. This was the longest conversation they'd ever had without shouting.
"I was just wondering if it would kill old misery guts in there to crack a smile. And if that was the case, I'd have to tell him my best joke just to see if it was true." Nikki said with a straight face.
Helen couldn't help herself and snorted before clamping a hand over her mouth, "how do you take your tea?"
"Was that a laugh?" Nikki cocked her head to one side and regarded Helen curiously.
"It might have been." Helen turned her back on Nikki, she didn't want her getting ideas of them being friendly, it would never work.
"White, no sugar. Was that a laugh?" a small smile curled up the corners of Nikki's mouth despite herself.
"Alright yes it was a laugh." Helen nodded, "don't go getting any ideas though."
"You just had to bring that up didn't you." Nikki shot her a disgusted look.
"No I didn't mean ." Helen blushed bright red, "I just meant don't go getting any ideas about us being friends."
"And why is that Helen, because I'm gay?" Nikki whispered harshly.
"No, because you're a complete shit and you annoy the hell out of me." Helen's eyes blazed with anger, and she didn't like it, she never lost her temper with anyone.
"Even shit has its uses."
Helen closed her eyes and tried not to smile, what was it about Nikki that made you hate her one minute and like her the next? It had sometimes been the same when they were kids, but Helen would never have admitted to it back then and she wasn't all that keen to admit to it now either.
"I'm sorry about what happened all those years ago, it would never have happened if I'd known the effect it had on you." Helen's voice softened, with all the wisdom of her grown up years behind her, she could understand it must have caused Nikki great pain.
"We were kids, what's it matter now?" of course it mattered but Nikki wasn't going to let her see that it did.
"It matters because I hurt you." Helen had felt the pain herself for a long time. She moved to touch Nikki but thought better of it.
"It's all been forgotten about." Nikki said casually.
"I promise never to mention it again then." Helen knew she was still hurting, even after all this time, it was written plainly on her face.
"Suppose we better get back in there, he'll be preaching fire and brimstone if we don't." Nikki picked up the cups and left a thoughtful Helen in the kitchen beside her.
Nikki's mum had come downstairs not long after and thrown her arms around her daughter. There were tears from them both, and Nikki was disgusted with herself for letting go of her self control. She shouldn't have let them see how upset she was. Helen's fault again, why couldn't she just keep her mouth shut?
They had lunch shortly afterwards and Nikki was asked a million and one questions by her mother. Campbell remained silent as did Helen, but she had actually been listening whereas he had blocked it all out, he didn't want to know.
"Your employer has been very good at letting you have indefinite leave." Stella smiled brightly, having Nikki back home felt good, even if it did create an atmosphere.
"Yeah they have." Nikki nodded and looked uncomfortable.
"Do they do the same for all their employees or are you one of the lucky few?" Helen knew she shouldn't be pushing, she could see Nikki was awkward with the subject, but carried on anyway.
"Lucky few?" Nikki laughed humourlessly, "I doubt that very much, I was sacked yesterday," she couldn't be bothered to hide it any longer, they would find out anyway.
"Some things never change." Campbell said smugly.
"For your information, I was sacked because they think I'm too old to be doing the job and they brought in a kid just out of university. I have an excellent record and I'll be happy to let you see it any time you want just to prove it wasn't my fault." Nikki threw down her napkin and left the table.
"Cam." Stella looked at him disapprovingly, "was there really any need for that?"
"Just telling it like I see it," he shrugged and carried on eating.
Helen had cleared away the lunch things and filled the dishwasher, trying to resist the urge to find Nikki and see if she was ok. Why did she care so much all of a sudden? She was older now, she could see things differently than she had when she was younger and maybe that was it. Deep down she knew the truth, but it wasn't something she was going to give any thought to.
She took a walk outside into the garden and saw Nikki sitting on the grass resting against a tree. The weather wasn't exactly great and it had rained earlier on in the day but Nikki didn't care, she was thinking of one thing and one thing only.
Helen squatted down beside her and rested a hand on her shoulder; she very quickly removed it, feeling it was a line she shouldn't cross yet. Nikki barely noticed. She was reliving old conversations in her head, conversations much like the one that had taken place a short while ago.
"Nikki?" Helen waved a hand in front of her face.
"What?" Nikki snapped back to reality.
"Why didn't you tell me you'd lost your job? Dad need never have known, I wouldn't have told him."
"You can't keep secrets though can you Helen." Nikki snarled, "Despite being begged to keep something a secret, you still tell."
"I've already apologised for that Nikki, I can't spend the rest of my life saying sorry for something I did when I was younger. I told you I was deeply sorry and I am."
"What did you want anyway?" Nikki changed the subject.
"I was thinking my husband Sean runs his own business and I know he needs help. I could ask him to have a word with you about it."
"I don't need charity."
"It wouldn't be charity." Helen stood up and folded her arms, Nikki was impossible, "you'd be working for your money, but if you're not interested then fine, wallow in self pity just like you always have."
Nikki watched Helen's back as she walked away, the words had been spoken with venom. And those words had hurt. Maybe Helen had struck a nerve, or maybe it was because she'd been the cause of it and didn't seem to give a toss. Nikki knew thinking like that wasn't exactly fair, Helen had apologised, but the trouble was, she couldn't bring herself to believe her.
An uncomfortable afternoon followed and Nikki hadn't been able to escape the offer of staying at the house during her visit. Even though Helen had shown some thoughtfulness and offered her a place to stay in her own home. Campbell pounced and told Helen that as Sean was away at his parents still, she could stay too and keep them all company. Helen's stomach churned uncomfortably at the thought. She didn't want to stay with her parents, much less Nikki after the day they'd had.
At 8pm that night, just after they'd had dinner, Nikki's mum announced it was their bridge night and that they'd going out. Nikki breathed a sigh of relief, peace at last. Helen would be there but she could avoid her, she'd have an early night and stay well away from her.
"Help yourself to anything you like." Nikki's mum said cheerfully, "we'll be back just after midnight."
"Yeah, don't want you both turning into pumpkins." Nikki said under her breath and noticed a quick glint of a smile in Helen's eyes before it was gone.
The front door closed and she and Helen were left alone. Silence fell; neither of them knew what to say or how to act around each other now that there was nobody else around. Nikki wasn't going to sit there all night while Helen gazed around the room looking like she wished she was somewhere else.
Helen wanted to talk to her, she wanted to find out what she'd been doing since they last saw each other, but Nikki didn't look as though she wanted to talk.
"I'm going up to bed, I could do with getting some sleep," she stood up and thrust her hands into her pockets and looked at the floor.
"Oh ok then, well have a good nights sleep and I'll see you tomorrow." Helen looked disappointed but Nikki thought she must have been mistaken.
"You will, night Helen." Nikki thankfully left the room and climbed the stairs to bed.
Nikki tossed and turned for what seemed like hours, but in reality was only just over an hour. She struggled with the covers as she struggled with her thoughts. She could hear Helen moving around downstairs and had the urge to go back down and talk to her. She couldn't see what it would achieve except peace of mind. Maybe that's what she'd be struggling to find all these years, nothing else had worked and maybe this was worth a try.
She went back downstairs and found Helen in the armchair staring blankly at the TV with tears in her eyes. She stood rooted to the spot, she didn't know what to do. Her gut reaction was to comfort her but Helen probably wouldn't allow it, so she settled for pretending not to notice.
"Hiya, I couldn't sleep." Nikki tried to sound casual.
"Nikki." Helen quickly wiped her eyes, "would you like a coffee?"
"Yes please." Nikki curled her feet up under her on the couch while Helen went to get her drink.
Helen waited for the kettle to boil, tears leaked out again, she couldn't stop them. It had taken her a long time to put everything to the back of her mind and seeing Nikki again had brought it all back. She was no more equipped to deal with it now than when she had been younger. There was nothing she could do about it though, the only option she had was to let it go and try to forget.
She placed Nikki's cup down on the coffee table and instead of sitting back down in the armchair, she chose a seat next to her on the couch. If Nikki was uncomfortable with her sitting so closely then she didn't show it. Helen cradled her cup, not noticing the burning sensation in her hands from the hot liquid inside.
"What have you been up to then?" Nikki took a sip of her coffee and sat back again.
"Not much, just been watching TV." Helen replied.
Nikki chuckled softly, "Not since I've been in bed. I mean what have you been doing since the last time I saw you?"
Helen blushed, "oh that, sorry, my mind was elsewhere. I left home when I went to university. That's where I met my husband, we hit it off straightaway and we moved into together once I'd finished my degree."
"What did you get your degree in?" Nikki was interested; she'd always wanted to go to university herself but had needed to work to support herself.
"Psychology, I passed with honours." Helen didn't usually like talking about it, she wasn't one to brag.
"That's brilliant. So what do you do now then?"
"Believe it or not, I'm a Wing Governor in a prison."
"No way!" Nikki shuffled around so she could see Helen properly, "You work in a prison?"
"I do. First female wing Governor in HMP Coniston." Helen beamed proudly.
"That's fantastic." Nikki was genuinely pleased for her.
Helen changed the subject because Nikki was in a better mood, "I spoke to Sean, he's happy to have you onboard if you're willing to do it."
"I told you Helen, I don't need charity." Nikki exploded.
'So much for that idea' Helen thought, "Just piss off then!" she shouted as she picked up her car keys and marched out of the house leaving Nikki on her own.
Nikki sat there staring at the clock, wondering how long it would be before Helen was back. Eleven pm came, and then midnight and still no sign of her. She knew she was in for a bollocking when Helen's father came back.
She got up to flip the kettle on and spooned coffee into a mug. If he was going to have a go then let him try, he wouldn't get far. But the same old feeling of fear danced around in her stomach, things hadn't really changed at all. She heard the front door close, her heart sank. She went into the living room hoping it was Helen ..it wasn't.
"Where's Helen?" Campbell asked straight off, an accusing look in his eyes.
"She's gone out." Nikki said quietly.
"Gone out where?" Stella's brow knitted in puzzlement.
"She's gone for a drive, that's all." Nikki hoped he'd believe it; she didn't hold out much hope though.
"And why is that?" He took a step closer to her with a menacing look on his face.
"I don't know. Ask her yourself when she gets back." Nikki shook her head and went to go back into the kitchen.
"What have you said to her?" He snarled and she turned around again.
"That's between Helen and I, it's got sod all to do with you." Nikki stood up to him, but she was afraid.
"She's my daughter and it is my bloody business!" He walked towards her and she could smell whisky on his breath, she wasn't surprised, she had seen that look in his eyes before.
"Back off." Nikki was uncomfortable with how close he was.
"And what if I don't?" he took a step closer.
"Cam! Please don't." Stella put a hand on his arm but he pushed it off.
"Where is my daughter?" He shouted as he grabbed Nikki around the neck with his hand. He had to stretch a bit because Nikki was a few inches taller than him.
"I'm here and take your hands off her!" Helen's tone was full of authority; it was the one she used at work. It had been a split second reaction, she hadn't thought about it.
He released her as he looked at Helen in surprise. Nikki took several steps back while she held onto her throat and tried not to cough. Helen went to her and had a look at the red finger marks he'd left there. She tenderly rubbed Nikki's throat as she checked to make sure she was ok.
"Get your things Nikki, you're not staying here." Helen turned to her father; "there was no need for that whatsoever! Mum, are you staying or coming with us?"
"There's no need to leave dear, your father didn't mean it did you Cam?"
"I'm not apologising," he slurred his words as he spoke.
"Fine." Helen nodded at him, "Nikki, get your things," she told her again, she seemed to be rooted to the spot.
Nikki finally nodded and went to collect her stuff.
"I'm taking Nikki back to my place, because it's not a good idea for us to be here right now. We'll be back when things calm down." Helen was shaking inside; she didn't like the look on her father's face.
"Go then, good riddance to bad rubbish but I'm surprised at you," he staggered to his chair as Stella began weeping again.
"I'm gonna get my things, I'll call you tomorrow," she patted Stella on the arm before heading upstairs.
She met Nikki on the landing, she was quiet and Helen didn't push her to say anything. She got her clothes together and put them in her bag before making her way outside. She offered to give Nikki a lift but she preferred to follow in her own car.
Nikki was quiet when they arrived, and Helen decided it was best to leave things as they were at the moment. She showed Nikki to the spare room where she immediately made it clear she was tired and wanted to sleep, so Helen left her to it.
She went downstairs and poured herself a glass of wine, not caring that Sean would notice the bottle had been opened. It was like everything else, he made sure he expressed his opinion and he expected Helen to adhere to his wishes. Nine times out of ten, she'd go along with him for a quiet life, but tonight she needed a drink and bugger what he thought.
She curled up on the couch and swirled the wine around her glass as her mind drifted. All sorts of memories came flooding back, some good, some bad and some she'd wished she'd never have to think about again. She couldn't escape it though, Nikki had only been back five minutes and already things were back to being the way they had been before.
To be fair to Nikki, Campbell didn't need an excuse to kick off, but with her being back he would certainly think it was justified. Helen sighed, she couldn't believe how blind Stella was when it came to her husband, not even seeing him lay his hands on her daughter had done anything to open her eyes.
Helen got up to get another drink; she'd need it if she was going to keep having these kinds of thoughts. She'd promised herself earlier on in the night that she would let it all go, but it was proving to be more difficult than she'd hoped. She picked up the bottle and carried it back with her into the living room. It was going to be a long night, she had many things to think about and it wasn't going to be easy.
Nikki had been kneeling in the garden fixing a puncture on her bike when Helen had kneeled down beside her. It had been a hot summer's afternoon and the heat was making Nikki even more irritable than usual.
"What do you want?"
"I've just come to see what you're doing." Helen at fifteen years of age already looked older than her years.
"Fixing a puncture, what does it look like?" Nikki growled.
"Are you not seeing your friend today?"
"Which one?" Nikki carried on tinkering with the bike.
"The one you kiss all the time." Helen said casually.
"I do not!" Nikki was worried, if Helen knew she'd tell her parents and there'd be hell to pay. She'd only recently adjusted to being gay; she didn't want the added stress of having to come out to everyone.
"You do, I saw you both kissing in the woods near the lake." Helen's face was like stone.
"I don't know what you think you saw, but you're mistaken." Nikki wiped her hands on an oily rag and stood up; she towered over Helen and hoped it would intimidate her enough to keep her mouth shut.
"I know exactly what I saw, I'm not stupid." Helen suddenly changed from innocent to looking pissed off, "And whether you like it or not, I'll tell my father unless ."
Nikki was panicking big time now but tried to be calm, "Unless what?"
"You'll have to wait and see." Helen smiled at her and walked away.
Helen could feel her face burning with embarrassment, it wasn't a pleasant memory. Nikki had obviously been terrified although she'd tried hard to hide it and it made Helen feel about two feet tall. She'd known exactly what she was doing, and she knew exactly what effect it had had on Nikki at the time even though she'd told her she hadn't realised.
Helen was disgusted with herself, as she had been many times in the past when she'd thought of it. She wondered why she had done it. Why had she blackmailed Nikki in exchange for staying silent?
"You know exactly why you did it Stewart, don't try and pretend you don't." Helen said to herself as she set about pouring herself another glass of wine.
It was a week after Nikki had first arrived that Bill was finally allowed to go home. He had to have several different types of medication and he had to carry an oxygen cylinder around with him, but he didn't once complain. That was one of the things Nikki loved most about him, he loved life and nothing ever got him down.
She'd traveled to the hospital with Helen to pick him up and take him back to their parents house where he was put back in to his 'granddad flat' as they called it above the garage. He had his own bedroom and sitting room and he was as happy as Larry. They wanted to make sure he was comfortable and had everything he needed before leaving him in peace.
"Remember to feed me every now and again. And Nikki, don't forget drop by with my issue of FHM later," he chuckled.
"How do you know about FHM?" Helen was astonished.
"I may be old Helen but I know more than I crack on." He winked at them.
"You keep looking at Playboy and FHM and you'll be using up that oxygen faster than you should." Nikki shook her head and smiled.
"I'd be using it up a damn site quicker if your Gran was still alive," he looked up towards the ceiling, "sorry about that Lizzie, I know you wouldn't appreciate me giving out details of our sex life."
"Get some rest you randy old bugger." Nikki winked at him and gave him a kiss, "and if you behave, Helen and I might find you a girlfriend."
"Nikki!" Helen was shocked.
"Well make it quick girls, I'm nearly ninety, there's not many shags left in me," he kept a straight face and Helen blushed bright red.
"I'm not listening to this. I'll see you later," she scooted from the room.
"How are things between you two?" he asked as he kept an eye on the door.
"We've spoken a bit but not all that much. I appreciate the fact she let me stay at her place after what happened. But she and I will never be friends; it's always been the same so why worry?"
"Look Nikki, I'm not going to be around forever and my lasting wish is that you two sort it out and become friends at last. I know you can both do it if you really want to, I think it's about time you started mending fences. And sod what Campbell thinks, because he'll never understand."
"I dunno granddad, we'll see. Take it easy and I'll be back later to check up on you," she waved to him and went in search of Helen.
She found her in the kitchen still blushing bright red. Nikki was amused, she hadn't realised Helen was such a prude. She poured herself a coffee and sat at the table while Helen pottered around in the kitchen.
"The colour of your face." Nikki tried hard not to laugh.
"Shut up." Helen had a slight smile on her face but kept it hidden from her.
"You looked like a tomato." Nikki nearly choked on her coffee when Helen turned around and gave her the finger.
"I can't help blushing. It's not normal to hear your granddad going on about sex." Helen saw the funny side, but it embarrassed her slightly.
"Well keep on blushing, cos it's cute." Nikki couldn't believe what she'd just said, her own face went the colour of a fire engine and she didn't know what to do.
"I er really?" Helen was at sixes and sevens.
"Yeah." Nikki shrugged and downed her coffee, "I've got to go out, I'll see you later."
"No Nikki, don't." Helen walked towards her and took hold of her arm, "if we don't talk we'll never be friends."
"Who says I want to be friends?" Nikki became aggressive to hide her discomfort and took her arm back.
"I'm saying it. We're supposed to be sisters and if we don't talk about what happened then we'll never get past it."
"No, I don't want to." Nikki shook her head, she couldn't talk about it.
"You can and you will." Helen moved away from Nikki and poured herself a coffee.
"No Helen." Nikki took her car keys from her pocket, "I said no and I meant no. Besides, I want to be out of here before he gets back."
She left Helen standing there, feeling frustrated again. She needed to talk about it; it was getting too much for her to keep inside. But then again, if she did, it might open a can of worms and she could do without it right now. Helen didn't know what to do for the best, but one thing was for certain, it was all going to come out in the end.
Helen had spent an uncomfortable hour with her parents before she made her excuses and left. Campbell was obviously still in a foul mood and Stella was quiet, weeping every now and then quietly when she thought nobody was watching. She had felt as if her father was interrogating her, he seemed to ask endless questions about Nikki and she had to be careful as she answered them.
"Is she behaving herself at your place?" He'd asked, "Because if she's not, I'll come down on her like a ton of bricks."
"She's fine, she's a very good house guest." Helen had replied, and for the most part it was true.
The problem was, Helen never saw her, they'd have the odd word or two but that was it. Nikki would either spend her time in her room or she would go out, never telling Helen where she'd be or for how long. Despite telling herself she didn't care, Helen was worried about her.
"It won't last." Campbell had said, "She can't help herself, she causes trouble wherever she goes."
Helen had ignored the comment and left shortly afterwards to pick up a few bits of shopping for dinner. She loved cooking and forgot all about her troubles for a while as she chopped and stirred ingredients.
It was almost 7pm when dinner was ready and there was no sign of Nikki. She hadn't called and Helen was now even more worried than before. She tried to calm down, realising it wouldn't do any good to start panicking just yet.
She picked up the phone and dialed Nikki's number, but after several rings, she got the engaged tone. She put the phone down in a temper; Nikki had obviously rejected her call. She dished out her own dinner and sat down to eat, she had put Nikki's in the oven and if it was ruined when she came in, it was her own fault.
After dinner, she tidied the kitchen and settled in front of her computer to check her e-mails. There was a few from work, telling her of minor skirmishes that several prisoners had been involved in but on the whole it wasn't too bad. She'd be back to work in less than a week anyway.
She'd originally booked two weeks off to go down to London to visit Sean's parents. They had been planning a few days away in Devon but she'd had the call about her grandfather and it had all been put on hold. She'd assured Sean she would be fine and convinced him to carry on with his holiday. In truth, she was glad he was away; she couldn't cope with him and Nikki at the same time, never mind her parents.
After replying to the e-mails, she wondered what to do next. The house was tidy, she'd caught up on her correspondence and there was nothing on TV as usual. She picked up a book she'd been meaning to read for a while but she'd never had the time. She settled onto the couch and smoothed the pages open as she began to read.
Helen jumped as the front door slammed, she looked at the clock: 1:03am. She must have fallen asleep because the last time she remembered looking at the clock it had been 9:30. She sat up and looked to the doorway of the living room as Nikki walked in, she was drunk and finding it hard to walk in a straight line.
"Where the hell have you been till now?" Helen snapped, "on second thoughts don't bother answering, it's obvious you're pissed."
"Just the one or two." Nikki chuckled drunkenly.
"Bottles aye." Helen threw the book down on the coffee table and stood up, "Don't tell me you drove home in this state."
"Well." Nikki swayed, "I didn't walk."
Helen snatched the car keys from her hand, "That's so bloody irresponsible! What if you'd had an accident?"
Nikki immediately sobered up a little, "Helen, I'm not that stupid. Check the driveway, my car isn't there, I left it in town."
Helen opened and closed her mouth a few times but words wouldn't come, she felt like strangling her once again.
"Oh lighten up, it was a joke."
"Do you see me laughing?" Helen stormed into the kitchen to put the kettle on.
She made two cups of strong black coffee and handed one to Nikki without a word. She accepted it gratefully and sipped it in silence. She was still drunk, but not so drunk to know that it was wise to keep her mouth shut. Helen stared at the wall, not wanting to look at Nikki for fear of saying something she would regret.
Time ticked on and still they said nothing, but the silence was getting to Nikki. It was beginning to eat away at her, she felt guilty now for what she'd done. She placed her cup down and leaned forward with her elbows on her knees.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have gotten drunk. It won't happen again." Nikki said quietly.
"Why bother apologising? It's never bothered you before." Helen shot back and immediately regretted the look on Nikki's face, "I'm sorry, that was out of order."
"I deserved it," she stood up and then sat beside Helen, "I shouldn't have walked out this afternoon. I wasn't ready to talk but I am now," she took hold of her hand.
"You'll just have to wait till I'm ready to talk then." Helen panicked and snatched her hand back, "I'll see you in the morning."
Nikki sighed and leaned back, she only had herself to blame. If she had talked when Helen wanted to then maybe this mess would have been sorted by now. But instead she'd chosen to go on a pub crawl and drink enough to knock a horse out.
She tried to kid herself that everything would be different in the morning. But the only thing she had to look forward to right now was when her hangover wore off. She thought of going back to London but it wasn't an option, her granddad was still ill and it wouldn't feel right leaving him. She could put up with things for a while longer she was sure. But maybe it was best if she found somewhere else to stay for the moment.
She carried the cups through into the kitchen and placed them in the sink. She switched the lights off and climbed the stairs to bed. As she reached her bedroom door, Helen's opened and she stood there in her pyjamas. Nikki waited for her to say something as they stood there looking at each other.
"Nikki I .goodnight." Helen quickly closed the door again.
"Goodnight Helen." Nikki said quietly before climbing into her own bed and falling fast asleep.
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