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Part 1

“Come on, Stewart, it will do you a world of good!” Claire Walker poked her friend in the arm. “You’ve done it. Two promotions in less than three years – you’re a star at Lifespring. You’ll be managing director by the time you’re thirty-five... that is, unless you work yourself to death before then.” Lifespring was the private rehabilitation center where Helen had gone to work after she left the Home Office.

“Don’t exaggerate, I will not work myself to death.” Helen started bundling papers to put into the bag that held her laptop, in preparation for an evening of work at home.

Claire looked meaningfully at the thick sheaf of papers in Helen’s hands. “When did you last take a day, or even an evening, off?”

Helen paused, but did not meet Claire’s eyes. “Not that long ago. In fact I was at your house for dinner.”

“That was almost two months ago! You can’t keep up this pace without it eventually affecting your health.” Helen made a small negative movement of her head, and resumed packing work into her bag. Claire made an exasperated sound. “Helen, you can’t work her out of your system!”

Helen looked as though she’d been slapped. Claire was immediately contrite. “I’m sorry. At least I’m partly sorry. It had to be said.”

Helen glared at her. “So your solution is to spend two weeks in a house with ten women who are on a mission to drink and smoke themselves half to death and roast themselves in the sun?”

Claire smiled. “Eight women, including two couples, who want to relax, unwind and enjoy the use of a mansion on a private beach in the Caribbean. Clara’s getting married and wants to spend some time with her friends and do some female bonding before the event. There will probably be alcohol and some slightly illicit substances involved, but the purpose is relaxation, not obliteration.” She put a gentle hand over Helen’s. “We have the house for a month, you’re welcome to stay after the rest of the crowd leaves. One of the people Clara is bringing plans to do the same thing, so you’ll have company, but in a six-bedroom house you’ll also have solitude.”

“I don’t need solitude!” Helen’s voice was husky with pain. She turned away from Claire.

“Then just spend the two weeks with us. We’ll distract you,” she looked down at the waistband of Helen’s trousers, which had fallen below her midriff because she had lost so much weight, “and feed you.” She put a hand on Helen’s shoulder. “Sweetheart, you need to rest. How much holiday time have you accumulated?"

“Just over three...”




Helen flushed. “I took four weeks off last year...,” she said defensively.

Claire knew that the four weeks off had been because of almost a complete breakdown that Helen had suffered after she’d broken up with Nikki, but she wasn’t going to remind Helen that it could hardly be considered a holiday. “I’m not trying to push you,” she said gently, “but it’s a unique opportunity and we’d like to have your company. At least think about it?”

Helen sighed. “Who else is going to be there, apart from you and Gillian?” Gillian was Claire’s partner. They’d been together for six years, of which the first three had been decidedly stormy.

Claire grinned. “Progress! Well as you know it’s all organized by Clara since the house belongs to her future brother in-law - and she’s always good fun to be around. Her best friend Jennifer will be there, she’s Jamaican and promises to help us go native. The other couple, Lisa and Melissa, are Americans but don’t worry you’ll like them. That leaves Alyssa who you met a few years ago at our house: she’s the perpetual student you had the big book discussion with. She’s bringing a woman she knows from a literature course she’s doing for her masters degree.”

“Claire I don’t even know three of these people and I barely know Alyssa!”

“The Americans are very nice, and no that’s not an oxymoron, I’ve met them. Lisa works with Gillian at the university, she’s a visiting lecturer, and Melissa writes children’s books.”

“A lesbian who writes children’s books?”

“Not under her own name. Civilization has not progressed that far. She also likes the irony of not planning to ever have children while making a career of entertaining them. Trust me, Helen, you’ll like these people.”

“What about the other one?”

“I’ve never met her and don’t know her name, but Alyssa says she’s great. Intelligent, well read, political and reportedly good looking.”

“Sounds as though Alyssa is interested.”

“She’s not. Lyss is dating one of the people from her book club. It’s not serious enough to warrant an invite to Jamaica, but I think that’s just as well because spending time with Shirley is about as exciting as watching paint dry!” She made a face and Helen laughed, despite herself. “Alyssa’s guest is, I believe, a member of the sisterhood, but she’s a brooding type who’s been wounded by love. The last thing Alyssa needs is a romantic involvement with some woman who can’t seem to get over her ex.” Helen flinched. “Oh God, sorry, Hel. Don’t let my tactlessness put you off the trip. This woman is the only unknown quantity. Everyone else is fun - even Lyss the bookworm. We just have to get her stoned first...”

Helen smiled reluctantly. “Maybe you’re right. I do like Clara, Jennifer and Gillian… and over the years I’ve even learned to tolerate you.” Claire was too pleased by Helen’s capitulation to do anything but smile at the insult. “And I’ve never been uncomfortable with new acquaintances, so I know that not having met three members of the group is a feeble excuse.” She returned Claire’s smile. “So when do we leave? I have to make arrangements if I’m going to be taking time off… they’re not used to having to do without me around here.”

Part 2

On her way home, Helen was assailed by doubts about what she’d agreed to. She knew she was working too many hours and neglecting other aspects of her life, but she wasn’t sure that surrounding herself with gregarious, happy people for two weeks was the solution. She thought about her life in recent months: she never cooked any more, she almost never went shopping and she had even lost interest in reading. Her home life consisted of various forms of Asian take-away eaten alone, and the errands and chores necessary for existence. Her dry-cleaner saw more of her than her friends did.

Still, she thought as she locked her car and hauled her computer bag up the steps to the front door, she’d reached a sort of comfortable stasis, which was light years of where she’d been a year ago. After Nikki had left. She forced her mind away from thoughts of Nikki, but she already knew that when she lay down to sleep that night, the memories of love and pain would overwhelm her meager defenses, and score and gouge what was left of her heart.

She wasn’t particularly hungry so she peeled off her suit, pulled on sweatpants and a Lycra vest, and decided to go out for a run. As she laced up her trainers, her mind repelled the memory of Nikki taking her running for the first time and laughing at her as she stumbled the last fifty meters back to the house, “Who’s the smoker in the family, again?” Nikki had laughed as she pulled her along.

Helen tied a lace viciously and forced herself to think about the community outreach program she was planning for Lifespring. She planned to spend the evening working on her presentation to the board, an odd mix of upper middle-class housewives and captains of industry. The board members had two things in common: self-satisfied attitudes regarding their roles as directors of a business that essentially catered to the weaknesses of the rich and famous, and a desire to keep all unattractive elements of society as far away from their business as possible. After all, it might be noble to assist the son of a cabinet minister who accidentally became addicted to heroin, but it was unacceptable to cater to the needs of common criminals – especially when those people were unable to pay their way through a treatment program of the type offered by Lifespring.

Her indignation at the smug prejudice of the people who controlled the purse strings at her place of employment fired Helen up, and when she got to the park half a mile from her home, she decided to do some sprints. She also knew that if she exhausted her body and then spent a few hours working on the presentation to exhaust her mind, there was a small chance that she could fall asleep before the memories tore away the last of her control and she ended up crying herself to sleep yet again.

On the other side of London Nikki Wade was starting to feel a lot better about life in general. She’d found that by keeping herself busy and focusing on her daily activities, she could manage to keep herself from thinking about Helen Stewart, the woman who had broken her heart. Tonight was typical: she’d attended a ninety minute lecture that was part of her masters degree program, leaving just enough time to shower and change and head to the club. She’d spend half an hour with Trisha going over whatever management issues needed to be discussed between co-owners and then Trish would go home, leaving Nikki to work until two a.m. Nikki would get home exhausted, sleep until about nine and then spend the day in her study, working on her thesis in between business calls. She and Trisha had leased the rights to use the successful name of their London club to investors in Manchester and Glasgow, in a franchise arrangement that allowed them control over the other clubs’ décor, image, even music. The money was fantastic, but the work involved was more than either had anticipated. Fortunately, the deals had closed just as Helen and Nikki’s relationship ended, so Nikki had easily taken over the consultation work with the other clubs, preferring eighty hour work-weeks to solitude, memories and regret.

As Nikki put the strap of the messenger bag that contained her laptop and library books over her shoulder and unlocked her bicycle from the rack outside the university library, she felt a twinge of apprehension. In three weeks she would hand in her thesis and attend her final lecture. That would leave an enormous gap in her weekly schedule that wouldn’t be filled by work and couldn’t be filled by a personal life because she didn’t have one.


Nikki turned around to see Alyssa Dawson waving at her from the steps of the library. She liked Alyssa. A gentle soul who seemed to have read every book worth reading that had been written in the last three hundred years. She had a master’s degree in philosophy and taught A Level classes at a public school but, like Nikki, was pursuing her master’s in English literature as a mature student, purely for the love of it. “Hello, Lyss.” Nikki smiled warmly. “How’s the masterpiece coming along?”

Alyssa made a face, “I can’t even convince myself that I know what I’m talking about, far less anybody else.”

“That’s called a crisis of confidence. I’ve read the first draft of your thesis and it’s brilliant. Didn’t your faculty adviser tell you so?”

“She said it was good, but she’s not going to have the final say, is she?”

“Worryguts.” Nikki grinned. “Just think, in four weeks all this will be behind you.”

“Yes.” Alyssa smiled broadly. “In four weeks I’ll be toasting my bum on a private beach in Jamaica… sipping a frozen cocktail and toking on a joint.”

“You Hedonist!” Nikki laughed, because the idea of Alyssa doing anything improper, let alone Hedonistic, was very funny.”

“Are you implying that I can’t do Hedonism?” Alyssa pushed her wire-rimmed glasses higher up on her nose, pulled herself up to her full five feet, two inches, and tried for a look of indignation, which made Nikki laugh even harder. “Hmmph.” She snorted at Nikki’s amusement; “well at least you’ll be there to witness my decadence. You are coming along, aren’t you? I’m planning to fly out on the Sunday after graduation. The rest of the girls will be getting there on Saturday.”

Nikki had said that she’d think about it, but considering her earlier apprehension about all the spare time she was about to have, she decided that the timing was perfect. Two weeks of partying with women who were not regulars at her club, knew nothing about her history and were probably all straight, was just the break she needed before she embarked on the next phase of her life. “Of course I’ll come, Lyss. Thank you for inviting me to share your time with your friends.”

“They’re not all my friends. A few of them I barely know, but I did find out that you can stay in the house for up to a month if you need more of a break and don’t want to come right back to London. I reckon that after two weeks of constant company, a loner like you might need time to unwind.”

“Thanks, Lyss. You’re a good friend.”

“So are you, Nikki, and I’d like to see your smile make it all the way to those gorgeous brown eyes.” Nikki was startled, but as though embarrassed by her own forthright statement, Alyssa rushed on, “And speaking of gorgeous eyes, I’ve got a hot date with my girlfriend, so I’ve got to rush off. Maybe I’ll see you in the library tomorrow, yeah?”

“Yeah, sure.” Nikki agreed. She was unsettled by the conversation. Just when she thought she had learned to hide the lingering pain of her breakup with Helen, she found out that people close to her could still see it. She sighed. The trip to Jamaica would be a watershed. She’d take the time to decide how best to tackle her future and fight her way back to happiness in a life that did not include Helen.

Part 3

At eleven p.m. local time, Montego Bay airport was teeming with tourists and just warm enough to be uncomfortable for the new arrivals from England. Helen and Claire had retrieved their suitcases and had fought their way over to an unoccupied tour desk to wait for Clara and Gillian who were still standing hopefully at the baggage carousel, and Jennifer, who was conducting negotiations with a minibus driver in Jamaican patois. “What time are the Americans supposed to get here?” Helen fanned herself ineffectually with a wilted boarding pass.

“They should already be here somewhere. Their flight was scheduled to arrive after ours, but they should have got in two hours ago.” The five women had just checked in for their outbound flight, when Terminal 3 at Heathrow had been evacuated because of a suspected bomb. By the time it was discovered that it was a false alarm, the confusion and backlog of international flights had caused delays that were expected to last well into the next day. The American couple was flying in from Miami after spending a few days with relatives in the States, so they would not have been affected by the London airport problems.

“Hi Claire!” A cheerful American accent called out from the crowd. Helen looked over to see two women separating themselves from the seething mass of humanity and walking towards the counter where she and Claire were standing. Both were of average height; one had curly red hair and a remarkable assortment of freckles and the other was blonde with a light tan. They looked relaxed and unaffected by the heat, humidity and stress of international travel. They were also dressed for the climate in shorts, t-shirts, and sandals.

Claire moved forward to hug them. “Helen I’d like you to meet Lisa,” she gestured at the redhead, “and Melissa.” She smiled at the Americans. “This is my friend Helen.”

They exchanged greetings and Helen apologized for her bedraggled appearance. “I can’t wait to have a shower and put on something…” she looked down at her jeans and cotton top, “less!”

Lisa smiled warmly, “Don’t worry if you feel hot and sticky, you look gorgeous! We have the advantage of just having flown in from a climate that’s hotter and more humid than this one, but three days ago when we landed in Miami and got out of the air-conditioned terminal building, I thought I was gonna die.”

“We got them!” The four women turned to see Gillian and Clara approaching pulling suitcases. The two women made a striking pair, Gillian was Scottish with flawless, almost translucent skin and dark auburn hair cut close to her head, Clara was of South Asian descent with café au lait skin and jet black hair that fell to her waist from a center part. Both were statuesque and beautiful.

“Why do I suddenly feel short and dumpy?” Lisa asked dryly, causing the group to laugh before they all started exchanging hugs and greetings.

“Well I’m glad you’re all here.” Jennifer jogged over, sounding breathless. “I’ve finally managed to convince one of those crooks that we are not naïve tourists, so we’ve got a minibus waiting to take us to the house. C’mon.” They all gathered their luggage and unquestioningly followed her into the car park. Jennifer, at exactly five feet tall and seven stone, was the smallest member of the group, but she had that effect on a lot of people. “I’m not bossy, I just have presence.” She’d once explained when Clara had accused her of bossiness. “I learned it from my grandmother. She was this little Chinese lady, smaller than me, but she ruled the household when I was growing up.”

“Aren’t we missing two people?” Helen asked.

“Lyss and her friend don’t get in until Monday morning. Lyss graduated today and tomorrow’s flights were fully booked.” Jennifer waved a hand impatiently. “Now hurry before some tourist takes over our ride.”

They piled into a minibus and began the journey from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios, travelling along the north coast of Jamaica at reckless speeds. Once the women accustomed themselves to the Kamikaze style that their driver seemed to prefer, conversation resumed. “Where exactly is the house?” Lisa, obviously the more gregarious of the two Americans, wanted to know.

“I’ve only been there once before,” Clara said apologetically, “but I think it will take about two hours to get to by taxi.” A collective groan arose from the women, at the prospect of two more hours in the bone-rattling confines of the minibus.

“The good news is,” Jennifer interrupted them before they could begin to whinge, “when we get there, everything will be ready for us. Clara’s other brother-in-law, the one who lives locally, has arranged to stock the fridge and make up all the rooms. He even said that the housekeeper would prepare a snack and leave it in the fridge, in case we were hungry.”

“Tell us about the house.” It was the first time Helen had heard Melissa speak since they’d first been introduced, her voice was low with the slight drawl of the American south.

“It’s quite nice,” Clara said modestly. It overlooks the beach and it’s built around a courtyard where there’s a pool and a Jacuzzi.”

“The house is stunning,” Jennifer corrected. “The architecture is derived from Moorish designs, complete with tiles imported from Turkey. The design makes the main living area cool and airy, although the wings with the bedrooms are both centrally air-conditioned. There’s also a games room in case it rains, and a fully equipped gymnasium.”

“Wow.” Melissa replied, softly.

“Wow, is right.” Jennifer nodded. “And wait until you see the beach. It’s where they filmed beach scenes in three different James Bond films, so the locals call it the Bond Beach. It’s got a spectacular coral reef within easy swimming distance, and there’s snorkeling equipment at the house that we can use.”

At the mention of snorkeling over coral reefs, Helen felt a shaft of pain pierce her chest. She’d only been snorkeling once before, on an idyllic holiday to St.Barths with Nikki. As the minibus bounced along the road in the warm tropical night, she remembered other such nights. Nights spent making love with Nikki after days when they’d held hands as they’d floated face-down over coral gardens, kicking their flippered feet lazily to propel themselves over the natural phenomena spread out below them. They’d pointed out flora and fauna of exotic beauty and riotous color to each other, grinning around their snorkels. That had probably been the last, carefree period in their relationship before the stress fractures had started to appear; the tension, the disagreements, the tears, and the final, shattering break-up. The indescribable loss.

“I’ve got a good feelin’ about this vacation.” Melissa’s voice cut through Helen’s tortured thoughts. The others appeared to have lost their distaste for the long journey ahead as they’d started to plan their activities for the two weeks. If anybody noticed that Helen had grown quiet, they put it down to tiredness.

Part 4

Alyssa watched Nikki Wade as she dozed in the seat beside her. They’d known each other for seven months and in that time she’d grown very fond of Nikki. At first it had been a massive crush on the gorgeous, aloof woman in her “Political Elements of Romanticism” course. Then unexpectedly, after a lecture one evening, Nikki had approached her apologetically. “Hi, I’m Nikki, and I hope you don’t mind my asking where you got your information on Keats and his Republican sympathies.” Stuttering with embarrassment, Alyssa had admitted that she’d drawn the conclusions she’d expressed in class from her own reading of Keats and his use of classic Greek imagery and structure.

“Really?” Nikki turned the full force of her attention and the intensity of her long-lashed eyes on Alyssa, who could feel herself flushing although Nikki didn’t seem to notice. “I always assumed that he used that as a way to distance himself from the immediacy of life.” She frowned, “Then again, with his background and the prejudices he faced when he tried to earn a living as a poet…”

“Exactly!” Alyssa started to warm to her subject, and her embarrassment was forgotten. “He was a product of the working class, trying to earn a living at something that was considered the exclusive preserve of the nobility, at a time of incredible tension between the two.”

“Yes,” Nikki agreed, “It would have been. The time we’re talking about is what? 1818, 1819 that would have immediately followed the defeat of Napoleon.” Nikki looked thoughtful, the small childlike frown causing renewed hormonal problems for Alyssa. “The thing is, I can see the influences of the times in Shelley, but I’m struggling to find examples in Keats.”

“That’s because nobody’s suggested it to you until now. I promise you, they’re there.”

Nikki suddenly seemed to realize that they were standing in the middle of the hallway, forcing other students to walk around them. “Look, can we meet up some time to talk more about this? Perhaps over coffee? This stuff is important to my thesis and I can’t believe I’ve missed out a whole poet’s worth of information. I’ll buy.” Nikki looked hopeful and appealing, and Alyssa was lost.

Luckily, over the months, her crush on Nikki had faded, to be replaced by deep affection and respect for Nikki’s mind, her gentleness and her sensitivity to political nuances. She was fascinated by the way Nikki could rapidly assess the political content, slant and impact of books they’d both read, where Alyssa had simply admired the use of words and imagery, or the structure of plot and prose. “My life has been profoundly affected by the politics of the times,” Nikki explained dryly, “both in the macrocosm of Western homophobia and its effect on the British penal system, and in the microcosm of prison.” She’d made the statement mockingly, using the ponderous tones and Oxford accent of one of the lecturers they’d both despised. But Alyssa hadn’t laughed.


“Almost four years. Manslaughter… although I was initially convicted of murder, for defending my partner from the copper who was trying to rape her.”

“Oh my God!” Alyssa had never before met anyone who had been to prison and Nikki Wade, despite her use of colloquialisms - seemingly for effect - had a public school accent and an understated style that practically screamed, “middle class.”

“Trust me, prison is as bad as you think it is. But if I’d never been, I would have continued my worship of mammon and never even got my BA. Lots of study time in prison,” she finished sarcastically. But the sadness that Alyssa always noticed in her seemed to intensify as Nikki talked about being in prison.

“What an awful experience it must have been. I’m glad you got your original conviction changed or overturned or whatever…”

“Yes. So am I.” And then for the first time, she’d given Alyssa a hint about her past. “And it would never have happened without the help of one woman.” She took a shaky breath. “The love of my life, Lyss.” She closed her eyes, and seemed to struggle with emotions that Alyssa couldn’t begin to understand. “But it wasn’t meant to be.” Nikki offered a weak smile that was more heartbreaking than tears would have been. “Still, I came out okay. In exchange for love I got freedom, faith in my ability to use my brain, and all this.” She waved her hand to indicate their surroundings in one of the old university buildings. “And I almost got…” She stopped talking and looked down at the floor as though she was again struggling for control. Alyssa waited quietly. Eventually Nikki looked up. “Sorry, I suppose I underestimated how much the prison thing could still affect me. But I wanted you to know, if we’re going to be friends.”

“I’m glad you trusted me enough to tell me,” Alyssa said softly. “And I think we’re going to be great friends.”

As she watched Nikki sleep, Alyssa remembered that conversation and wondered about the woman who seemed to have at once saved and condemned her friend. Saved her from a prison of one kind, only to condemn her to a sad isolation of a different kind. Perhaps this holiday would offer a few weeks away from the treadmill of her life, so that Nikki could see that no matter how much unhappiness haunted her past, there was still the chance of love and other positive things in her future.

Minutes later the pilot announced their imminent arrival at Donald Sangster International Airport and Nikki stirred, opening her eyes slowly and frowning in confusion. She saw Alyssa watching her, remembered where she was and smiled. “Hope I haven’t kept you awake with my snoring.”

Alyssa grinned, “No, not really. Since the flight attendant wiped the dribble off your chin, you’ve been quite respectable.”

Nikki laughed and looked out of the oval window. “We must be almost there.”

“Landing in half an hour,” Alyssa confirmed. “That was the announcement that woke you.” She sighed contentedly. “Newly minted degrees and a holiday in the sun. New beginnings all around.”

“Yes,” Nikki agreed thoughtfully. She’d been dreaming about Helen. Not surprising, she supposed, considering that the last holiday she’d had on the beach had been with her. In the dream, they’d been having a surreal version of one of their many quarrels. Nikki remembered her own intransigence during those quarrels and felt familiar regret. The next time I get involved with someone, I’ll make sure that I give her more support and understanding than I gave Helen.

The thought surprised her. Perhaps Trisha had been right, when she’d urged her to accept the trip to Jamaica. Perhaps she was ready to forgive herself for her part in the downward spiral of her relationship with Helen. “Darling, you went from blaming yourself for everything, to blaming Helen for everything, and back again. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. You should take this time away to think about things like truth and absolution. You are one of the most loving women I know, yet you won’t give yourself permission to feel, let alone love. Go to Jamaica! Get drunk, get sunburned, dance to reggae music, live. Prepare yourself for that woman who is going to open your heart again… not to mention shag you stupid.” She’d grinned at Nikki.

Nikki hugged her impulsively. “I doubt that I’ll find her in a group of Alyssa’s straight friends on an extended hen night, but you’re right, I need to work on letting go of my mistakes with Helen.”

Part 5

As Nikki’s flight touched down, Helen sighed contentedly and let her arms trail in the water as she floated on a Lilo in the pool. She was amazed at what a good time she’d had in the last twenty-four hours with her friends, both old and new. They’d all emerged from their rooms late on Sunday morning to the almost surreal beauty of their surroundings, but they’d hardly had time to take it all in. Instead the emptiness of their stomachs and the smell of frying bacon and fresh-baked bread had drawn them in the direction of the enormous kitchen, since they’d been too tired after the journey to eat the night before.

Helen had walked into the informal breakfast room to find Lisa pouring coffee from a carafe into earthenware mugs. Jennifer and Claire were seated at the table with glasses of orange juice, and Melissa was simply staring out of the large window at the panoramic view of the small bay. “Good morning,” Helen greeted the group cheerfully.

“It certainly is,” Lisa agreed after the others had returned Helen’s greeting.

“Where are Gillian and Clara?” Helen asked after gratefully accepting a mug of coffee from Lisa.

“Gillian’s in the kitchen, of course. Helping out the housekeeper with breakfast.” Claire smiled indulgently. Gillian loved to cook.

“And Clara’s on the phone with Steve.” Jennifer rolled her eyes. “She’s marrying the man in six weeks and will have all the time in the world to talk to him… but apparently she can’t live if she doesn’t get her fix at least once a day.”

“Ah, young love.” Lisa sighed. Helen looked sharply at her, but it appeared that she wasn’t being facetious. You must still believe in fairytales, Helen thought cynically, but she found herself warming to the ginger-haired American. In her late thirties, she had probably encountered her share of life’s setbacks, but her optimism didn’t seem to have been affected by them. Claire was right, I need to recover from those setbacks, as well, Helen reminded herself.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, after the members of the group had said their goodnights and retired to their various rooms, Helen had come out of the shower to find Claire sitting on her bed, instead of tucked away in her own room with Gillian.

“Claire!” She’d said in surprise. After all, it was two a.m. Jamaican time and they’d been awake for twenty-four hours.

“I needed to talk to you before we started this holiday properly.”

“What about?”

“About Nikki.” Helen froze. “More specifically, about your life since Nikki.”

“What life?” Helen asked sarcastically, but she walked over and sat next to Claire on the bed.

“Exactly! You exist. You don’t seem to really see, hear or feel anything except what you’re carrying around inside of you. Some massive load of guilt that you seem determined to bear indefinitely, in a way not documented since Sisyphus!”

Helen laughed bitterly, her shoulders drooping with exhaustion. “But like Camus’ interpretation, I see my burden very clearly. I’ve come to terms with it.” She looked at Claire in the dim light from the bathroom. “I let Nikki down in a way that I could never have dreamed possible. What I did is beyond forgiveness. I don’t deserve to hear, see or feel anything but the pain that resulted.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Helen. You both made mistakes, with terrible consequences. But I don’t think you are allowing yourself to feel that pain anymore. I think that pain was so overwhelming that you don’t allow yourself to feel anything anymore.” She sighed, and struggled to find the words that would get through to Helen, hoping that exhaustion and the change of environment would have lowered her defenses enough to let common sense in. “Helen, all I’m asking you to do is take a chance. Open up again and accept that someone will come along who can make you feel love, who can make you want.”


“No, you won’t give up on being closed and isolated? Or no, you don’t believe that someone exists in the world who can make you feel positive, life-affirming things?”

“No, I won’t take the chance.” Helen’s voice was tight.


“Because I don’t deserve it!” She stood up and walked over to the screened window, hearing the sounds of night creatures she didn’t recognize.

“Don’t you?” Claire got up, walked over to her and put an arm around her shoulders. “Emotionally, you had a pretty hard life before Nikki. Nikki never fully appreciated what she represented to you with her openness, honesty, passion and love. She didn’t always give you the kind of support you needed. That doesn’t mean that Nikki doesn’t deserve another chance at love. So just because you made mistakes, you shouldn’t condemn yourself to a life without warmth, companionship and love.”

“Do you think she’ll ever forgive me?” The sadness in Helen’s voice broke Claire’s heart.

“Yes. In the same way you’ve forgiven her for the things that went wrong between you. But you need to forgive yourself. You need to give yourself permission to feel, again. And I don’t mean feel professional pride or righteous indignation on behalf of drug addicts. I mean feel personal things. Sensual things. The sun on your skin, the feel of the ocean. Friendship. Love. I’m really pleased that you’ve agreed to come on this holiday, Helen, but it won’t do you any good if you don’t let it all in. You deserve it.”

Helen turned towards Claire and hugged her. “Thank you. I’ll work on it.”

“That’s all I ask. And you’ve got the perfect environment in which to work on it – at least for the next few weeks.”

“Yeah.” Helen smiled tiredly. “Now go back to that gorgeous girlfriend of yours. I need my beauty sleep, or anybody who might potentially awaken all those feelings you insist I still have, won’t even look at me twice.”

Claire offered her a relieved smile, before giving her another quick hug, and slipping out of the room.

Part 6 >>