Nikki gingerly left her bed and went downstairs unsteadily gripping onto the banister for dear life. A brass band was playing in her head and her mouth felt like sandpaper. She got herself a drink of water from the tap and downed it in one before getting another. She sat down at the kitchen table and laid her head on her arms, she was never drinking again.
"Morning." Helen breezed into the kitchen.
"Hiya." Nikki croaked, "Helen, what's that smell?"
"Oh buggery bollocks!" Helen groaned as she rushed towards the oven, she'd forgotten all about Nikki's dinner from the previous evening.
"Bit early to be cooking isn't it?" Nikki eyed the contents of the plate.
"This was your dinner from last night, I forgot all about it." Helen placed the red hot plate down on the draining board and looked at the dried up contents.
"You cooked for me?"
"Yes, but you weren't here to eat it." Helen bit down on her tongue; she didn't want a repeat of the previous night.
"I'm sorry, if I'd known then I would have come home." Nikki downed more water and watched as the room spun in front of her.
"It doesn't matter now." Helen was prepared to forgive her, "I had a call from Sean earlier on this morning, he'll be home today."
"I'll get my things together then," she stood up slowly, her stomach clenched painfully as she felt the water coming back up.
"Don't be daft." Helen turned to face her, "Sean won't mind you staying with us for a while. He can be a bit of a pain at times as you'll soon find out but he's got a heart of gold."
"I think it's best if I find somewhere else to stay," she ran a hand through her hair, "I was rude last night, and to make sure it never happens again, it would be better for me to find somewhere else to stay. I'll just go and pack."
Helen watched sadly as Nikki left the kitchen, it was all slowly crumbling in front of her eyes again, just like last time. Having Sean coming home didn't fill her with any great joy either. She had gotten used to being free of his moaning for a few days and she found she liked it more than she should.
She knew nobody cared how she felt though, not her father, Sean or Nikki. They thought only of themselves and didn't spare a minute to wonder whether she was ok. She was more than tired of it, it had been the same for a long time and it was fast threatening to suffocate her more than ever before.
She put a smile on her face, she was getting good at doing it and it took no thought now, it was automatic. If she kept smiling then nobody would ever know what was wrong, and she could carry on as if everything was normal.
She washed Nikki's glass and put it away in the cupboard while she thought of everything else she had to do before Sean got home. Cleaning, changing the bed linens, washing, shopping and cooking just to name a few. She sighed, would she ever have the time to do anything that didn't involve Sean, her family, or work?
Bill sat watching a film on TV, he was laughing away at the antics of the characters on screen, when there was a tap on his door. He knew who it was before they even came in, he could always sense when Campbell was near, there was something about him.
"Mind if I have a word Bill?" Campbell stood there awkwardly.
"As you wish," he turned the TV off and moved his eyes toward him.
"How are you feeling?"
"You didn't come up here for pleasantries, spit it out man." Bill seldom got angry with anyone but he'd never forgiven him for what he'd put Nikki through.
"Stella and I were wondering what you would think about moving," he fiddled with the cuff of his shirt as he spoke.
"You're not putting me in an old people's home," he knew the subject was going to be broached eventually; Campbell was predictable in that way.
"It's not an old people's home. It's a residential care facility where you'd be looked after twenty four hours a day. Stella can't cope anymore, looking after you is too much for her," he looked at the floor, not wanting to meet Bill's eyes.
"If I thought I was being a burden to my daughter in law then I would put myself in a home. I've spoken to her about it before; she assures me she can cope."
"She would say that, you know she's too kind to say anything, which is why I'm saying it."
"I may be old but I'm not senile. All I ever ask Stella to do for me is to cook and wash my clothes. I take care of the rest myself as you well know."
"That's another reason you need to go into residential care, it's not safe for you to be cleaning and tidying the flat on your own." Campbell tried a different tack.
"Your concern is touching." Bill said sarcastically, "However, I'm sure I can manage and I'm sure Stella would have spoken about this to me herself if it were true."
"Have it your own way," he stood up, he hadn't been all that successful this time but he'd keep trying. He'd convince Stella it needed to be done.
"You're not getting rid of me just yet. This is just as much my home as it is yours, and I can do without your fake concern." Bill persisted to make his point clear, "because if you think getting rid of me will get rid of your problems, you're sorely mistaken."
"Fine!" Campbell shouted, "I'll get you sectioned if I have to but in the meantime, if you die up here in a pool of your own piss then don't expect me to shed a tear over you, I'll be glad to see the back of you," he slammed the door behind him.
"And a great many people could say the same about you." Bill said quietly before turning the TV back on.
Nikki kicked off her shoes and looked around her hotel room. It was nice enough, it was cosy and cheerful looking and she hated it. She had spent enough time in hotels over the years to know that it wasn't a substitute for home. Having said that, she'd never really had a home. She had a house of her own but it wasn't the same thing. A home was a state of mind; it was home if you had someone living with you, someone to share your life with.
When her father died, her had home died with him and then she had simply lived in a house. No fun, no happy times and plenty of tears. And her adult life had been much the same. She spent most of her time on her own, although she socialised at weekends. But when she got back to her house, it was cold, dark and empty. Exactly the way she felt inside.
She'd had quite a few girlfriends, the most serious of which had lasted two years but they'd never lived together. Nikki had made noises about commitment but she'd never really been comfortable with the idea. Everyone she'd ever loved had left her in some way. Her last relationship had been over three years ago now, she'd gotten tired of pretending everything was ok when it wasn't, she needed to sort herself out before she could have any kind of life.
She settled down onto the bed and flipped through the satellite TV channels. She wasn't really interested in watching it, but she needed the background noise to keep her company. She picked up the room service menu; she bypassed the food and immediately looked at what alcohol was on offer. Should she have a bottle of wine, or go for a half bottle of whisky? She decided on a full bottle of whisky, she didn't think half would be enough.
She decided to order some food even though she wasn't really hungry and took a shower while she waited for it to arrive. When it did, she sat holding her plate on the bed, picking at her food. Realising she was wasting her time, she put the plate back down and reached for the bottle of whisky. She tipped a generous measure into her glass and settled back on to the bed.
Helen fussed around in the kitchen while she made sure Sean had everything he wanted. She couldn't settle, she was too busy thinking about the events of the last few days and worried about how Nikki was, and where she was. Sean noticed she wasn't her usual self and it annoyed him that she hadn't been jumping for joy to see him.
"Helen for god sake sit down and eat." Sean said irritably.
"I'm sorry, just making sure we've got everything," she placed a dish of vegetables down on the table and slipped into her seat.
"So where's this sister of yours then?" he said as he attacked his food.
"She's staying in a hotel at the moment; I'm not sure which one, because I haven't spoken to her since this morning."
The telephone rang and Helen jumped, she was about to answer it when Sean held his hand up.
"Ignore it, we're having dinner."
"But it could be important." Helen wasn't actually thinking of work for a change.
"Then they'll ring back if it is. So tell me, what have you been up to since you got back?"
"Nothing much, visiting granddad and catching up with Nikki." Helen didn't want to give him details; he'd only start asking questions otherwise.
"I missed you while I was away." Sean put his knife and fork down, something other than food was on his mind now.
"Me too." Helen replied distractedly.
He stood up and walked towards her, taking her hand and pulling her to her feet. He wrapped his arms around her and began to kiss her neck. Helen normally responded, but tonight she wasn't in the mood. He moved up her neck and placed his lips over her own, kissing her roughly.
"Sean." Helen tried to get him to stop, "Sean please, I'm not in the mood."
"Come on Helen, we haven't had sex for a while." He gave her the 'little boy lost look' he was fond of using; it usually got him what he wanted but not tonight.
"I said no, I've got a headache," she was relieved when the phone rang, "I better answer that."
Sean moodily slumped back into his chair; he continued eating his food in-between big mouthfuls of beer. He'd expected a big homecoming, hoping that the visions of Helen throwing her arms around him and dragging him off to bed would finally become reality. He'd always wished she was more passionate, wanting her to take the initiative and go wild instead of only taking a half hearted interest.
He was brooding on the subject when Helen came into the kitchen looking even more rattled than before. She was searching for something frantically, and he wondered what was up with her now.
"What are you doing?" he threw down his knife and fork and reached for his beer.
"I'm looking for something, what does it look like?" Helen snapped and immediately felt guilty; none of this was Sean's fault.
She found what she was looking for in a drawer. It was a big thick manila envelope, with lots of papers inside. She took them out and began shuffling through them, when she didn't find what she wanted she cursed loudly.
"Are you going to tell me what's up?" Sean retrieved another beer from the fridge and leaned against the countertop.
"I haven't got time now. Look, I've got to go out, I'll be back soon," she rushed out of the kitchen leaving a very angry looking Sean behind.
She jumped into her car and then realised she didn't know where she was going. She picked up her mobile phone and dialed Nikki's number.
"It's me, where are you? I need to talk to you right away," she said before putting the car in gear and driving off in a hurry.
Nikki sat and patiently listened as Helen spoke. Her face didn't give away the fact that she was growing increasingly angry, not with Helen, but with her father. It was obvious Helen was upset about it. Perhaps, for the very first time ever, Nikki realised that Helen really did love her grandfather as much as herself.
"Anyway, he's being calm about it. If it was me though, I'd be panicking wondering what was gonna happen next." Helen sighed and rubbed her hands over her face.
"He's a canny old bugger, he knew it was coming." Nikki replied as she got up to refill Helen's glass, "I could kill him though, how dare he say those kinds of things to him, who the hell does he think he is?"
Nikki hadn't touched any of the whisky in the end, realising it wouldn't solve anything. If she was ever going to sort herself out, she needed a clear head. And since Helen had called, she'd been glad of the fact that she hadn't touched a drop more than once.
"I knew my father was an unfeeling bastard but I didn't know he was this bad." Helen's brow furrowed.
"You surprise me." Nikki wasn't being sarcastic though.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Helen was on the defensive despite Nikki's friendly tone.
"I just mean I always thought you and your father got on well." Nikki shrugged.
"You have missed a lot since you've been gone haven't you." Helen smiled and shook her head, "My father has always been the same, I just didn't realise it till I got older." the unwanted memories were back and she tried hard to focus on the current problem.
"What did he do to you?" Nikki knew exactly what he was capable of, she suddenly felt protective of Helen.
"Put it this way, it was nowhere near as bad as what he did to you." Helen said quietly.
"What did he do?" Nikki repeated the question and shuffled closer to Helen.
"This isn't the time to talk about it." Helen wasn't quite ready yet, despite desperately needing to talk.
If there was one thing she'd learnt about Helen, it was that it wasn't easy to get her to talk. She kept things close to her chest and bottled it all up. Nikki was surprised she'd even noticed. She wasn't aware she'd ever taken that much notice of her till now. She decided the best way to deal with it was to let Helen talk when she was ready, without pushing her.
"I can accept that." Nikki nodded, "Perhaps we should sort granddad out first before we sort us out."
"That sounds like a plan." Helen was grateful, somehow Nikki seemed to understand.
They got comfortable on the bed and shuffled through the papers Helen had brought with her. There was no mistake, Helen had been right the first time, Bill's will had disappeared. She wasn't sure how it could have though, she remembered putting it into the envelope just a few months back when he'd had a new one drawn up.
Nikki thought she knew what had happened, and although they couldn't prove it, it was the only explanation that seemed to make sense right now. She sat and considered it for a minute before she mentioned anything to Helen. It was clear she and her father didn't get on all that well but she would tread carefully anyway.
"And you definitely put it in there?"
"Yes I did. I remember it clearly." Helen sighed; she knew she was right, she had no doubt.
"Does anybody besides you and your husband have keys to your house?"
"What are you getting at?" Helen wondered if Nikki was thinking the same thing.
"Does your father have a key?"
"He does, and you're thinking exactly the same thing I'm thinking aren't you?" Helen's eyes bored deeply into Nikki's.
"I am. I think your father stole Granddad's will." Nikki plucked the glass of whisky from Helen's hand and took a sip as she winked at her.
Campbell slipped out of bed slowly so as not to wake Stella and crept downstairs. He made himself a mug of tea and settled down into his chair. He sat scowling; he should have kept his mouth shut for a bit longer and just waited until Bill had died. He'd been waiting for so long though that impatience had gotten the better of him and he had tried to solve all his problems in one go. He knew he'd been stupid, he'd shown his hand far too early and now he'd have to hope nothing would come of it.
He just hoped Bill would keep his mouth shut, he couldn't afford for Nikki to find out. He didn't want it triggering some old memory, although he was reasonably certain nothing would come out
He placed his cup down and pulled a book from the bookcase. Secreted behind it was a sheaf of papers, Bill's will to be exact. He remembered the day he'd taken it almost three months earlier. He'd let himself into Helen's house using his spare key and had spent all afternoon searching for it. He wasn't even sure it would be there, but he'd managed to search Bill's flat beforehand and had no luck.
Bill was close to Helen and Campbell figured she would be looking after it for him, because he knew Bill didn't trust him. It had been a lucky guess, and it had paid off. He had almost been caught by Sean but passed it off that he'd been there tending to the garden because Helen had asked him to. She was so distracted that he knew he could tell her she'd forgotten about it and she would believe him.
He took the papers out in to the back garden and set light to them with a match. He smiled as the flames ate away at the paper, getting rid of the evidence. Once it had burnt away, he flicked soil over the top of the ashes. Hardly a great way to hide the fact he'd burnt something but he didn't expect to have the police forensics team swoop in and start taking soil samples. He made his way back up the garden to the house and had he looked up, he would have noticed Bill standing to one side with a big smile on his face, he'd seen everything.
It was coming close to 2am and Nikki and Helen were still talking in her hotel room. They'd figured out what they were going to do about Bill, they just hoped he was willing to go along with it. They needed to get him out of Campbell's way; they had to be sure he was safe. Neither of them for one minute even entertained the idea that he would bump Bill off, but it was more a case of making sure Campbell couldn't get him sectioned as he'd threatened to do.
"So we're agreed then? We start looking for somewhere else for Granddad to live." Nikki stretched and tried to stifle a yawn.
"If he agrees to it aye." Helen nodded sleepily, she'd had two tumblers of whisky and it was having an effect on her.
"And what do we do about your father?"
"Not much we can do, have no proof or anything. Best just to keep out of his way, we don't want a repeat of what happened last time." Helen raised a hand and softly trailed her fingertips down Nikki's throat over the faded bruises.
Nikki smiled at her, she was grateful to her for what she'd done. If she hadn't have come in when she did, god knows what would have happened. She pulled Helen into her arms instinctively and gave her a hug.
"What was that for?" Helen said with a big grin on her face once they'd pulled apart.
"Cos you're my sister." Nikki returned her smile.
"Are you sure you haven't been drinking." Helen was surprised but pleased.
"Nope, I'm stone cold sober. I've just come to realise over the past week that I can see things differently now than I did years ago. You and I were always at loggerheads but we're able to talk now."
"And what about forgiveness, do you think we'll ever be able to do that?" Helen could still remember the look of pain on Nikki's face.
She wasn't sure it was something for which she'd ever be forgiven, although it hadn't happened the way Nikki still believed it had.
"Forgiveness takes time, but we're already half way there. Just wait and see what happens when we talk eh?" Nikki was still smiling; maybe she could forgive Helen after all.
"That's good enough for me." Helen stood up and stretched, "I better be getting home before Sean sends out a search party."
"I'll drive you; you've had too much to drink." Nikki picked up her car keys and offered her arm to Helen, "This way madam, your carriage awaits."
Sean was pacing around the living room in a foul mood when Helen eventually arrived home. She'd asked if Nikki wanted to come in but she'd declined, she wanted to get back to the hotel and get some sleep. When she saw the mood Sean was in, she was glad Nikki hadn't taken her up on the offer.
"And just where the fuck have you been?" Sean exploded.
"I went to see Nikki; I had to talk to her about granddad." Helen bit down on her tongue; she didn't want an argument now.
"Why? What's wrong with him?" Sean immediately calmed down.
"Nothing he's fine. I just needed to discuss his care with her, he's on permanent oxygen now along with god knows how many types of medication."
"And it was so important that you had to rush out in the middle of dinner?" he got angry again.
"Sean, it's late and I'm tired. I don't have the energy to stand here for what's left of the night and argue with you. Please can we just go to bed and sort this out in the morning?"
"Go where you like, I'm sleeping in the spare room." He stomped out of the living room and slammed several doors behind him in a temper.
Helen felt like kicking something, she was so angry. It wasn't like her to get angry with people all the time. She had the horrifying thought that she was turning out like her father. It scared her so much that she calmed right down.
The whisky was starting to make her head thump so she went into the kitchen for a couple of aspirins and a glass of water. She heard her mobile ringing in the living room; she quickly put her glass down and ran to answer it.
"Hey you," she'd seen Nikki's name on the display and smiled.
"Hi yourself. How's thing's at home?"
"Sean blew his stack; he's now in the spare room."
"Ooooo somebody isn't getting any nookie tonight." Nikki giggled on the other end.
"All I can say is thank god for that." Helen said with relief.
"Well, I better let you go then, it's late. Sweet dreams Helen, night."
"Sweet dreams Nikki." Helen put down the phone with a smile on her face.
She made her way upstairs and climbed into bed. Nikki's words echoed through her head as she drifted off to sleep with the smile still firmly in place.
Three days after Bill had called Helen and told her what Campbell was up to, they were still no closer to getting him to agree to move out. They couldn't understand why, Campbell was out to get him so why was he refusing? Nikki said as much and waited for Bill to reply.
"This is my home just as much as it is his. Besides, I know that my being here annoys him and I like it." He chuckled.
"Winding him up is one thing granddad, but he's threatened to get you sectioned. God knows what else he'd do." Helen was getting fed up; could he not see that they wanted to know he was safe.
"Helen's right. I enjoy winding him up myself at times but I know it's not safe remember?" Nikki's face clouded over and silence fell.
Bill thought for a minute, they were probably right; Campbell was capable of most things. He'd seen exactly what he could do and would never forgive him for it.
"I know, I see what you're saying," he nodded, "so what did you have planned? Not that I'm agreeing to it mind you."
"I was thinking of selling my place in London and getting somewhere here. You could move in with me, it would be fun." Nikki had been thinking about it, she wouldn't feel right moving him out and then leaving Helen to look after him.
Helen's ears pricked up, the thought of Nikki staying permanently filled her with happiness. On the other hand, it filled her with dread, Campbell wouldn't like it. Did she really care what he thought anymore though? They were grown ups, they didn't have to live with him anymore, he could be avoided if need be.
"I think it's a fantastic idea." Helen smiled warmly, she meant it.
Nikki smiled back at her, "well, there's nothing in London for me any more if I'm honest. At least here I have my family around me."
"Look out Scotland, Nikki Wade is back." Bill chuckled.
"Cheeky!" Nikki stuck her tongue out at him, "so, do we have a deal?"
"Say yes granddad, please." Helen gave him her puppy dog look.
"Oh go on then. But there are conditions," he waited till they nodded, "I'll be bringing my girlfriends home with me for drunken orgies of a weekend, so you'll have to make yourselves scarce. Oh and I'll need the attic space."
"What for?" Helen asked.
"For my bondage gear, what else?" he said it so seriously that they both burst into laughter.
"We'll see what we can do." Helen was blushing slightly as he winked at them.
"So who's going to tell old misery guts you're moving out?" Nikki had been thinking about it for a while now.
"I'll leave that one up to you, because I think you'll enjoy it." Bill smiled at her, "but take Helen with you," he warned.
"I will, don't you worry." Nikki wouldn't even contemplate not having Helen with her.
"No time like the present. I think he's home." Helen said gloomily.
They both stood up and were in two minds whether to do it now or tell him later, their courage faltering slightly. He gave them an encouraging smile and told them not worry, and that if Campbell so much as looked at them the wrong way, to tell him and he would sort it.
Still not feeling entirely brave about it, they made their way downstairs and into the living room. Campbell was already perched on his chair with the ever present newspaper dangling from his hands. There was no sign of Stella, she hadn't been there when they'd arrived and they assumed she was out shopping somewhere.
"Can we have a word please dad?" Helen reached around behind her and gripped Nikki's hand, making sure he couldn't see.
Nikki took hold of it and squeezed it gently, realising just how afraid of him Helen must be. She rubbed her thumb over Helen's fingers, encouraging her to carry on.
"What's all this about then?" he shot a dirty look at Nikki but said nothing to her.
"It's about granddad."
"What's that old bastard been saying now?" Campbell immediately assumed the worst and couldn't keep his mouth shut.
"That old bastard you're talking about is my grandfather, so watch your mouth." Nikki snarled at him.
"I wasn't talking to you, so keep it zipped." Campbell stood up and walked towards her.
"That's far enough." Helen warned him, "You don't need to get that close."
Nikki watched him, he caught her unawares the last time but he wouldn't get away with it now. She let go of Helen's hand and stood slightly in front of her.
"How about you just listen for a change."
"How about you shut up and mind your own business," he bared his teeth at her.
"Helen, do me a favour will you? Go upstairs and pack a few things for granddad. He can come back to the hotel with me; I don't want him staying here."
"In a minute." Helen wasn't about to move anywhere.
"Awww isn't that sweet." Campbell sneered at them, "couldn't stand the sight of each other as kids but you're all palsy walsy now."
Nikki was fast losing her temper and if anything kicked off, she wanted Helen out of the way. It didn't look like Helen was going to move though, and she felt grateful for the support.
"Funny how things work out, especially as it was Helen that told me about your filthy habits," he started laughing, "a very forgiving person aren't you."
Helen shot a look at him, it was a blatant lie. She had never told him Nikki was gay in the first place, he'd found that out of his own accord. He'd let Nikki believe Helen had spilled the beans and she'd never had the chance to tell her otherwise. It had made an already fragile relationship even worse.
"It's old news and I for one don't give a shit what you think." Nikki's veins throbbed in her temples; it had been a long time since she had been this angry.
"Can't blame me for thinking it. You taking a woman to bed isn't natural, it's dirty."
"You've fucked plenty of women in your time." Nikki replied crudely, "I would have thought you of all people could see the attraction."
Helen waited for the explosion, but it didn't come. Campbell just stood there grinning at them. She wished she could wipe the smug smile off his face. He was threatening to force them apart for a second time and she wasn't going to let it happen.
Helen took charge, "here's what's happening. Granddad is coming home with me and Nikki. He's not safe staying here, not after what you said to him. Whether you like it or not, we're leaving."
"Good riddance to bad rubbish," he said as he sat down, he wasn't nearly as calm as he looked though, he could see it all slipping away from him, "I rue the day I set eyes on the bloody Wades."
"It's not over yet." Nikki said defiantly, "by the time I'm through with you; you'll wish you'd never been born. Cos I can tell you right now, I'm gunning for you, you bastard!" she pointed at him as Helen tried to make her move.
"Nikki, that's enough, lets go." Helen didn't want to push their luck; Campbell could still easily kick off.
Nikki allowed herself to be led from the room; there would be plenty of time to get her own back on Campbell yet.
Later on that night, they were all settled at Helen's place. She wouldn't hear of them going back to the hotel and Sean echoed her sentiments, albeit in an obviously false way. They sat down to dinner with him moodily slurping his food at one end of the table, not joining in the conversation even when he was spoken to.
Bill had always tried hard to get on with Sean, and even though he didn't like him, he never let it show. He didn't like his attitude, always trying to tell Helen where she could or could not go, or who she could talk to. He didn't like the way he tried to control every aspect of her life, from what she wore, even down to what she drank. To him, that wasn't love, it was control and control had no place in a relationship as far as he was concerned.
Nikki helped Helen clear the dishes away while Sean collapsed in front of the TV to channel surf. Bill sat quietly and said nothing. Helen had tried to convince him that Sean was a good person, but he wasn't sure. He knew he could be thoughtful and kind when he wanted to be, but that was the problem, he only ever did it when it suited him.
He smiled when he thought of the kind of person Helen needed, he knew somebody not a million miles away who would be good for her. Problem was, did they even realise it? He smiled again, maybe one day; things had a funny way of working out.
The rest of the evening passed pleasantly, they sat and chatted and had a few laughs. Sean still refused to join in and sat watching a programme about gardening that he knew Helen hated. She couldn't understand why he was being like that; he was always the life and soul of any gathering. He was always eager to talk to people and have a laugh with them, but tonight, she was seeing a different side of him. She resolved to let it go for now, she would get him on his own and find out what was wrong with him.
Bill eventually went to bed, claiming he was tired because he'd been up early, but he wanted to leave them to talk. They helped him up the stairs to bed and then left him in peace. When they came back down, Sean was switching the TV off, signaling that he was ready for bed too.
"Night then Nikki, come on Helen," he stood at the living room door.
"I'll be up in a bit," she didn't want to go to bed just yet; she'd wait till he was asleep.
"Suit yourself then," he slammed the living room door behind him.
"I really don't think he wants us here." Nikki sat back down and picked up her glass of wine.
"Then it's just tough, I pay half the mortgage and he can like it or lump it," she sat next to Nikki on the couch and picked up her own drink.
"Mmm?" she took a sip of her wine and rested her head back on the couch.
"Why did you tell him?" Nikki's eyes misted over, a single tear trickling down her cheek, "you knew he'd go mad, what did you do it for?"
A lump formed in Helen's throat and she felt her own tears getting ready to fall, "I didn't tell my dad Nikki, I swear to you."
"You must have or how else did he know?" Nikki quickly wiped the tears from her face, she felt foolish for getting upset.
"Let me get more wine, and then I'll tell you. I hope you're ready for this, cos it's going to take a while." Helen sighed, the time had come, she had to spill the beans at last.
As soon as Helen left the room, Nikki was deep in thought. Things she hadn't thought about in years now played back in her head like an old movie. She could remember the day she'd snuck out to see her girlfriend, she'd made certain nobody was at home, thinking it meant she couldn't be followed. She had been wrong; it turned out to be the beginning of the end.
Nikki ran through the trees making sure there was nobody behind her as she did so. She came to a clearing in the forest and found her girlfriend patiently waiting for her. Lucy was short and slim with dark hair; and Nikki was deeply in love with her. She hadn't seen much of her lately, owing to the fact that Helen's threat was hanging over her head.
"Hello babe." Lucy stood up and flung her arms around her, "I didn't think you were coming."
"I had to wait until everyone had gone out. I don't need Helen following me so she can report back to him." Nikki had pulled a face when she mentioned Helen's father.
"I can't believe that, not of Helen. Still trying to get my head around it." Lucy had spoken to her a few times and thought she was ok, even though Nikki couldn't stand the sight of her.
"It's true, I told you what she said last time. I'll wring her bloody neck." Nikki wondered what was going to happen; would Helen follow through on her threat?
"Well then, let's make the most of the time we have. We don't want her catching us do we?" Lucy pulled her into a kiss.
Lucy pulled Nikki to the floor, the kisses became more passionate and clothes became undone. Nikki was totally absorbed in what she was doing and didn't notice Helen watching them. Lucy did though, and quickly pushed Nikki away from her.
"Oh Christ." Nikki's heart sank, it was all over.
"Helen, why don't you come and talk to us?" Lucy saw Helen looking upset and wanted to find out why so they could diffuse the situation.
"No." Helen had shook her head and backed away from them.
"You better hadn't tell your father." Nikki threatened her.
"I will if I want to, in fact, I'm going home right now to tell him." Helen ran away at top speed.
"Helen wait!" she shouted after her but she didn't stop.
Nikki stood there shaking, the bottom had fell out of her world, and not even Lucy could comfort her.
Helen placed the bottle on the coffee table and sat back down again. Nikki looked deep in thought, she gently touched her arm and she looked up without really seeing her. Helen knew where Nikki was, she was thinking back to the day she had caught her in the forest for the second time.
"I threatened to tell him but I never did." Helen said quietly.
"What?" Nikki had finally come back down to earth.
"When I ran off, I didn't go home. I didn't tell him, I never mentioned it."
"Well how did he find out then?" Nikki snapped. She didn't quite believe her.
"I don't know, I still can't work out how he found out to this day." Helen meant it; she'd wracked her brains many times trying to figure it out.
"If you didn't go home then, where did you go?"
Helen thought back, how much should she actually tell Nikki. Tell her the truth, or give her a glossed over version to protect herself? She wasn't quite sure; she didn't know if she was brave enough.
Helen was watching her reflection from where she sat at the side of the lake. The tears were pouring down her face, and she was sorry she'd even bothered to follow Nikki. She had an ache in her heart that wouldn't go away, and it felt as if it was breaking into a thousand pieces.
She remembered the panic in Nikki's voice as she'd run away. She had wanted to stop and go back to her, but she didn't have the courage to do it. She was hurting inside and the only way to make it stop was to get her own back on Nikki. But it hadn't worked, she felt worse than ever.
She couldn't tell Nikki, she'd be angry with her, even if she apologised. It was too late now, she'd have to accept the fact that Nikki would never talk to her again. She promised herself she wouldn't tell her father, she could never be that angry with her. It was all such a mess; she didn't know what to do. She wiped her tears away slowly and got to her feet. She had to go home sometime; there was no putting it off. She made her way back along the shore of the lake in the direction of home. With each step, her heart got heavier, and she could see no way out.
"Helen?" Nikki had been waiting for an answer for several minutes.
"Oh sorry," she smiled apologetically, "I was miles away there."
"Where did you go that day?"
"I went to the lake. I needed time to think, and I didn't feel like going home." Helen shrugged, she didn't think she could tell her the truth.
"Why did you need time to think?" Nikki was desperate to know why.
"I needed time to think because what I did to you was wrong. I should never have threatened you with telling my father, it wasn't fair."
Nikki didn't quite believe her; it ran a lot deeper than that, "So why did you do it? Cos I've never been able to figure that out."
"I was young Nikki, it was a stupid thing to do that's all I can say." Helen could think of no clearer an explanation than that without letting it all slip out.
"There must be more to it than that, I'm sorry Helen, but I don't buy it."
There was a creaking on the landing that neither woman heard. Sean held his breath and crept down the stairs. Helen had always hidden something from him and it had something to do with Nikki. He knew there was family history he wasn't aware of, and it had bugged him for years that Helen would never talk of it. Maybe now Nikki was back, something would slip out.
He stopped outside the living room door and put his ear against it, he could hear soft murmuring voices coming from inside.
"I was lonely, I never really had many friends, so I thought blackmailing you into spending more time with me was a good idea," she spun more lies and it sounded ridiculous even to her own ears.
"I still don't buy it. What aren't you telling me?" Nikki pushed; Helen was hiding something from her.
"Nikki, don't push this please." Helen didn't want to get any closer to the truth.
"You owe me." Nikki slid to the edge of the couch and looked at her, "I was terrified that day. I got home and I expected to be in trouble. I was relieved when nothing happened. But after a few days you started dragging me all over the place, threatening me again. I hated it Helen, I was scared of what you'd do to me, so don't tell me not to push it!" Nikki hissed.
"Fine." Helen put her glass down and faced Nikki, "But don't say I didn't warn you. I did it because I'm in love with you. I followed you everywhere in an attempt to get you to notice me, but you were so wrapped up in yourself that you never stopped to give me a second thought. I was hoping I could frighten you into staying away from Lucy, and being with me."
Nikki was stunned, she couldn't even think properly never mind speak, "But you hated me."
"I never hated you, I love you." Helen's eyes dropped, all the old emotions flooding back.
From the other side of the door, Sean's eyes were like saucers. Helen had used present tense; she was still in love with Nikki. He was shocked and the idea made him feel sick. But it did explain why Helen had never opened up fully to him, she'd always held something back and now he knew why.
He quietly climbed the stairs again; he didn't want them to find him hanging around. He climbed into bed and buried his head in the pillow, hoping the sounds of his tears wouldn't carry.
"Don't you mean loved?" Nikki had finally caught onto what Sean had several minutes earlier.
"No Nikki, I mean love. I still love you, am still in love with you after all this time." Helen felt relieved, it was good to be able to tell her how she felt.
"Whoa back the truck up." Nikki held her hands up, "You're telling me you're in love with me and that's why you blackmailed me. What the hell were you hoping to achieve?"
"I told you, I was hoping you'd fall in love with me too. I wanted you with me instead of Lucy." Helen's tears threatened to fall but she bravely held onto them.
"Would never have happened." Nikki shook her head adamantly.
"I was fifteen and I was wrong. But it was the only way I could get you to take any notice." Helen's tone was pleading, "Please don't hate me for it."
Nikki was angry, not because of what Helen did, but because of what she'd said, "You had me bloody terrified," she changed the subject, she couldn't think about it now.
"I know, and I hate myself for it. But you have to believe me; I didn't mean to hurt you. That was never my intention."
"Well you did. And as for you being in love with me, I can't even deal with that right now, you're my sister for god sake." Nikki stood up and began pacing the room.
"We're not blood related Nikki." Helen downed her wine and poured more, "It's not against the law. But don't go assuming I want to do anything about it, I'm married. I'm just telling you how it is."
"Good, because I have no feelings for you. You're my sister and I'm fond of you, but that's as far as it goes. And I wouldn't go spreading this around either, because if your father finds out, you'll get the same treatment I did."
"Sit down; let's forget about this for a moment. We've still got other things to discuss." Helen could see Nikki was ready to run off again, and she wanted her to stay.
"Oh no, not now. I'm not ready to talk about that night yet, and now you've given me even more to think about. I'll talk when I'm ready." Nikki picked up her wine and drank it down in one before leaving the room.
Helen leaned back and screwed her eyes shut. She wasn't sure what she'd wanted to happen. On the one hand she'd wanted to fall into Nikki's arms and be told that she was loved, but on the other hand, she didn't want to go down that road.
She was afraid, scared of what her father and Sean would say if she ever told them. And she would have had to tell them, if the feeling was mutual. But it wasn't, Nikki didn't love her, didn't even love her as a sister. The word 'fond' felt like a kick in the teeth. She felt stupid, she shouldn't have said anything.
She picked up the wine and drank straight from the bottle. Getting drunk wouldn't solve anything, it never had the numerous times she'd done it in the past, but at least it would block out the pain for a few hours. The alcohol burned in her stomach, as the pain burned in her heart.
When Bill got up next morning, he found three miserable looking faces sitting around the kitchen table. He wasn't all that concerned about Sean, since he usually looked that way, but Helen and Nikki seemed unusually quiet and it worried him. Helen had noticed him coming into the kitchen and fussed around him getting some breakfast ready.
Nikki gave him a weak smile and greeted him with a good morning, but the smile didn't reach her eyes. Something had happened, and by the looks of it, it was pretty serious. He sipped his coffee, he didn't feel like the breakfast Helen had placed in front of him and decided it was time for a cigarette.
"Nikki, do me a favour, lend me one of your cigs." He smiled sweetly.
She raised an eyebrow at him, "Do you want to blow us all to kingdom come?" she pointed at the oxygen tank, "You're not supposed to smoke in the same room as it."
He turned it off, "There is that any better? Can I have a cig now please?"
"No, you're not supposed to be smoking; you heard what the doctor said," she shook her head at him.
"Oh for god sake give him a cigarette. The world is a miserable enough place as it is without denying him the pleasure of a smoke." Helen snapped as she began picking up plates.
Bill looked from one to the other, yes, something had definitely happened between the two of them. And by the looks of it, they were hardly on speaking terms at the moment. Nikki shot Helen a dirty look behind her back and wordlessly handed over the cigarette to Bill who thanked her for it and lit up.
Sean didn't look too happy that he hadn't been asked if Bill could smoke in the kitchen. Nikki was aggravating him as well; he could barely look at her without wanting to ram her teeth down her throat. He hadn't been anywhere near Helen either, and she didn't seem too bothered about it. He wanted to scream.
"I'm going, I'll be late if I don't get a move on," he stood up and tucked some papers under his arm.
"You're not supposed to be going back to work yet." Helen put down the plate she was washing and turned to him.
"If I sit round the house all day, I'll go loopy. I'm best off at work," he spoke without looking at her.
"Oh ok then." Helen dried her hands and moved towards him to kiss him but he pulled away from her, "Sean?" she gave him a puzzled look.
"I'll see you later," he said and walked away from her.
Bill couldn't help but be secretly pleased by the fact that Helen and Sean didn't seem to be getting on. He didn't deny the fact that Sean loved her, but he could see it wasn't entirely reciprocated. He'd bet money on the fact that Helen wasn't in love with him. It didn't surprise him, he'd seen signs in Helen long ago, signs that if she grew up and married a man; she'd be dissatisfied because it wasn't what she really wanted.
He'd often seen her follow Nikki about, saw the way she looked at her. It was true to say that they had hated each other at first sight, but by the time Helen had matured into a young woman, things had defrosted somewhat, on her part anyway. He was as sure then as he was now, that Helen's feelings toward Nikki were romantic ones. Looking at Nikki though, she didn't feel the same way and it saddened him, because they would be good for each other.
"So what are you going to do today?" Helen said brightly, making the effort to sound normal.
"I'm gonna look for somewhere to rent while I house hunt." Nikki replied shortly.
"Great, I can come with you and give you a hand." Helen had finished washing dishes and dried her hands.
"No thanks, I can manage." Nikki shrugged.
"Ok." Helen tried not to show how hurt she was.
"Don't be such a miserable cow." Bill piped up, "Let her go with you."
"I'm a big girl now; I can take care of myself." Nikki said sulkily.
Bill could tell there was a potential fight brewing so he made his excuses and left the room.
"There's no need to make it so obvious that you can't bear to be near me." Helen said quietly as she fiddled with her watch so that she wouldn't have to look at her.
"At last you're finally getting the message." Nikki's tone was sarcastic, "however, if you want to go house hunting, just blackmail me, cos it worked for you last time."
"That hurt." Helen was upset and angry, she walked towards Nikki, "Are you going to make me pay for it for the rest of my life?"
"No, just for the rest of mine." Nikki snapped.
Helen opened her mouth to say something but thought better of it and slammed the back door behind her as she went into the garden.
"Stupid." Nikki smacked herself on the forehead.
She wasn't acting fairly; there had been no need to twist the knife. She still couldn't get over the shock of Helen's confession though. It wasn't every day your stepsister told you she was in love with you. She realised she could have handled it with a bit more sensitivity.
There had been plenty of times she'd fended off unwanted advances from women she wasn't interested in. It made her ashamed that a total stranger had received a more tactful brush off than Helen. She tried hard to feel something for her, searched for the slightest glimmer of feeling towards her but there were none. She was fond of her, would never want anything bad to happen to her, but she didn't love her, it was as simple as that.
She couldn't leave things the way they were, she'd have to sort them out. She had to make it plain to Helen that although she wasn't comfortable with the way she felt, perhaps they could ignore it and carry on being friends.
She found Helen sitting at the bottom of the garden, staring up at the milky coloured sky. Her shoulders were slumped and she looked tired all of a sudden. Nikki felt exactly the way Helen looked: tired, fed up, and not knowing where to turn next. She approached her but Helen didn't look in her direction as she sat down beside her.
"I'm sorry." Nikki murmured.
"I should be one who's sorry, I should never have told you." Helen furiously wiped her eyes, Nikki had only just realised she was crying.
"I should have handled it better." Nikki felt bad, there had been no need to hurt her the way she had.
"Doesn't matter, you got your revenge." Helen was being sarcastic, she was hurting and she couldn't find it in herself to be nice at the moment.
"Nothing could have been further from my mind." Nikki sighed, "I was shocked, I expected anything but to be told you were in love with me. I'm sorry I can't return your feelings and that's just the way things are."
"Fine, that's twice you've told me, think I can get the grasp of it by now." Helen knew she sounded like a child, but she didn't care.
"I don't know what you want from me Helen; I can't wave a magic wand. What do you want?" Nikki debated lighting up a cigarette or going in search of a drink, decided the cigarette would be better.
"I want to be loved, that's what I want." Helen's shoulders sagged again.
"You are loved. Sean loves you very much."
"It's the wrong kind of love Nikki." Helen didn't bother to wipe her eyes as tears spilled again.
"How can it be the wrong kind of love?"
"It's wrong because I don't want it, I want the love of a woman, and that woman is you." Helen stood up, "and yet, I'm never going to know what that feels like. Even if I was prepared to leave Sean, you don't feel the same way. I have to accept it Nikki, but I can't pretend it doesn't hurt."
Nikki was once again lost for words. How did Helen have the capability to render her speechless with just a few words? She decided it wasn't the words so much as the emotion behind them. But Helen had contradicted herself, she wanted Nikki but it didn't sound like she was prepared to leave Sean. Her mind boggled over that one, what on earth was she thinking?
She took a deep drag of her cigarette, trying to figure out exactly how she did feel about Helen. She was kind, generous, had a good sense of humour. She was beautiful and possessed a quiet gracefulness that not many other women had. She was intelligent, but didn't make a big deal out of it, she was definitely modest.
"And she's my sister," she said almost inaudibly.
There was that word again: sister. It reverberated around Nikki's brain like a ping pong ball. Had Helen not been her sister then she was sure she would have been attracted to her. "We're not blood related Nikki." Helen's words flashed through her mind. It only made her more confused though, she wasn't even sure she liked Helen after the way their childhood had been. Had she or would she ever forgive her for the part she played?
Then all of a sudden, a light flashed on somewhere in her head and the mist of confusion disappeared. She'd spent all these years hating and blaming Helen for something that wasn't her fault. She hadn't told Campbell after all, so did that mean she'd never wanted to hurt her despite blackmailing her?
Her mind traveled back to the worst night of her life. She could actually remember Helen trying to calm the situation. Had Helen helped her? She must have because she couldn't remember seeing much of her mother after what had happened. It had been Helen that had picked up the pieces and made sure she was ok. She slapped a hand to her forehead and told herself how stupid she was, why hadn't she realised last night?
Helen had only done it out of desperation, not through any malice. She loved her and wanted her, had no intentions of ever hurting her. She regretted that she hadn't noticed the signs at the time, felt irritated with herself that she'd never picked up on the signals coming from Helen.
She got up and rushed towards the house, not quite knowing what to say but knowing that the words would take care of themselves when she got there. By the time she entered the kitchen, her face was flushed and her eyes were shining. She'd laid one ghost to rest, maybe now she could lay them all to rest.
Helen bumped in to her and looked up at her with red rimmed eyes, "I was just coming to find you."
"Look Helen, I'm really sorry, I think you and I need to talk," she took her hands away from Helen's arms after she had steadied her.
"It's gonna have to wait Nikki, something has happened." Helen's tone sounded ominous.
"Oh god, what is it?" Nikki was immediately fearful.
"Mum just called." Helen took a deep breath, knew Nikki would go through the roof, "Dad's already gone through a bottle of whisky and he's starting on a bottle of vodka now. She's lying in a corner of the bedroom in a pool of blood. He's beaten her up."
Nikki grabbed Helen's hand and dragged her from the kitchen, "right, it's about time we sorted that bastard out."
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