A Little Piece of Paradise
Tori Conrad closed her eyes, the strength required to keep them opened seemed to desert her. It was too hard, just too bloody hard.
She opened them and looked down at the still figure still held securely in her arms. She was ignoring the shouting coming from outside, her attention firmly secured on the pale face beneath her.
"I need you, you know. I know sometimes I had a funny way of showing it, but it's true." She pulled her lovers body closer. The wonderful feeling she got from doing that was still there.
She nuzzled the soft hair and took a deep lungful of its scent.
"I can't believe you left. Just left. Couldn't you wait? They're here now, they would have made it alright again. I know they would."
Tori's head rose and she regarded the man standing in her doorway with something approaching confusion.
She was kneeling just outside of the lounge door, holding the limp body of her lover in her arms.
The policeman didn't waver. He held the gun steady.
"She's dead." She said to him, as if that would explain everything.
He edged around her so that he could get a view of the lounge. At that moment she heard a window break in the lounge and a loud crash as someone leapt into the room.
Another officer appeared at her side. "Was this the only weapon?" He asked.
She stared at the small gun he was holding by the trigger guard.
"Is this the only firearm in the house?" He said again, shooting a look at the officer in the doorway.
Tori nodded then resumed her position, her face in Eden's hair.
"Two casualties, get another unit here." Tori listened to the communications absently. Then her vision was filled with a pair of legs covered by green fabric.
A hand appeared and felt Eden's neck, Tori tightened her hold.
"I'm not going to hurt her." The voice was gentle and Tori looked up into soft brown eyes. A woman.
"She's dead." Tori croaked.
"Let me see?"
Tori looked at her suspiciously, but seeing only compassion in the dark eyes, she nodded her assent.
Between the two of them they lowered the blonde to the floor. Then Tori moved back slightly as the other paramedic joined his partner and they kneeled beside the stricken woman.
"What have you been doing to yourself then?" Said the woman softly as she began to cut away Eden's teeshirt.
She looked up at Tori again. "What's her name?"
"Eden." Tori smiled, that name always made her smile.
"Ok Eden, we're going to take a look at you."
Tori looked to her right where two police officers were kneeling over Damien. Then the two men stood and their attention shifted to her.
She looked back at the scene infront of her. One of the paramedics had inserted something into Eden's throat.
'Why are they doing that?' Tori thought. "Why?" She said out loud.
The woman smiled at her. "Helps with her breathing."
"She's......." Tori throat closed on the words.
"Alive?" The woman looked away from Tori to concentrate on inserting an IV line. Then she looked back up. "Yeah, she's alive. Can't have anyone dying on my shift today, it's my birthday. We wouldn't want to ruin my day, would we?"
Tori shook her head. "No" She whispered and crawled over to look at her lover. Eden's hair was plastered to her face, which was grey and slack. Her lips were colourless, and the tall woman was mesmerised by them. Those lips, that had given and received pleasure. That had smiled at her and for her. That had told her of love and commitment she thought she'd never know.
She wanted her back, badly. She wanted to reach down and hold the woman, hold her and never let her go. Tell her it would be alright. It would be fine, if she would just hold on for a little while longer.
'Do this for me Eden. Do it for us.'
She was nudged gently aside as a backboard was eased beneath the patient and Eden was lifted onto a stretcher.
Another pair of paramedics entered the cottage and were directed towards her rather than the still figure of Damien.
One knelt beside her and turned her head towards him, manoeuvring his body so that he was between her and her lover.
"No." She said, suddenly realising they were taking Eden out to the ambulance.
"Let me just see to this." He said, pushing her back down to the ground.
"I have to be with her."
"Look, they're taking her to the hospital. We'll take you there in a moment." His hands were heavy on her shoulders, his gaze never leaving hers.
"I don't want her to be alone if she..............." Tori could no longer meet his gaze.
"There's nothing you can do for her now. She's in good hands." Again he turned her head slightly to the side and began wiping the cut near to her eyebrow. "Can you tell me your name?"
Then he placed a dressing on it and put some tape on it to hold it in place. "Can you tell me what day it is?"
She stared blankly.
"It needs a couple of stitches. Are you hurt anywhere else?" He waited for an answer. "Hey there?" He looked into blue eyes that were rapidly becoming unfocused. "Victoria?"
Tori's eyes rolled back in her head and the paramedic lowered her to the ground as the last of her reserves deserted her.
"Whoa." He said, settling her on the ground in the recovery position. "Shock." He placed a blanket over her and stood, walking to the ambulance to retrieve the trolley.
"What about him?" He called to his partner who was standing with a policeman gazing down at the still form of the gunman.
His partner shook his head, and looked back down at the sightless eyes that held no
life. The corner of the metal grating of the fireplace embedded obscenely in the top of
Dammit. Bugger off.
"Victoria." More insistent this time.
The nurse looked down into glazed blue eyes.
"You're in hospital. You had a bang on the head."
Tori's eyebrows knitted in confusion. Then she remembered.
"Eden?" She croaked. She felt a plastic cup against her lips and sipped the cool liquid it held. The nurse reached behind her and she felt the top of the bed rise until her head and shoulders were higher than the rest of her body.
"The doctor will be in to see you in a moment." She said, and turned to find the aforementioned medic.
Tori leaned her throbbing head back against the pillow. The pain was awful and she closed her eyes trying to get a reign on her nausea.
When she opened them again the doctor was striding into the curtained off cubicle.
"Miss.................. Victoria, is all we have here." He said after reading her file.
"My friend was brought in." She said.
"Look straight ahead please." He said, taking hold of her chin and shining a light into her eyes, causing the pain in her head to intensify.
"Good." He said and amended her file.
"Next." He said to the nurse, who followed him out of the cubicle.
As quickly as they'd gone another form slipped into the curtained off area. It was a young male nurse, his blond hair defying gravity. He looked at her file and then replaced it on the hook at the bottom of the bed.
"Please." Tori said. "My friend was brought in. She'd been shot."
He moved to the side of the bed. "A blonde?"
"Are you family?"
"She's my friend." Said Tori, her eyes filling with tears.
"Wait here." He said and turned to leave, then turned back. "I mean it, wait here." He warned.
Tori slumped back on the hospital bed, her shaking fingers exploring the dressing on her forehead.
The male nurse reappeared. "She's out of surgery. She's in intensive care. Beyond that, I don't know."
Tori reached out and grabbed the man's hand. "I need to see her."
"Look, I don't know.............. You see, it's just family allowed in there. I don't think I can.............." He looked over his shoulder, then back at the woman on the bed. "I'll try."
Again he disappeared to reappear shortly with another person. A jolly looking black man with laughing eyes.
The porter pushed a wheelchair into the cubicle, and the nurse moved to Tori's side, carefully helping the tall woman into the chair.
"Cas is going to take you up to the ICU. The nurse in charge today is Joan. Talk to her nicely, she may let you in, but I'm not promising."
Again Tori took the nurses hand. "I don't know your name." She said.
"Jeff." Was the short answer.
"Jeff, thank you so much."
"Don't thank me yet." He said, standing aside to allow Cas to manoeuvre the chair out of the cubicle. "You've still got to get past Joanie."
Tori closed her eyes as she was wheeled into a large lift. The throbbing in her head was intensifying and she began to worry about getting the young nurse into trouble. But then she doubted that she'd be missed in the busy casualty department.
The lift doors opened and she was wheeled down a long corridor. At the end the porter turned left. He put the brake on the chair. "You wait here Miss Victoria. I'll see Joanie."
A nurse appeared from the double doors in front of Tori and she got a brief look beyond into the darkened ward. The nurse disappeared just as another followed Cas out of the office.
She stood before Victoria looking just like the archetypal matron.
"I'm afraid it's not hospital policy to allow anyone other than family to visit the ICU. However, Cas here tells me that you were with Eden when she was injured so we may, on this occasion, waive some of the more archaic rules we're expected to follow."
Tori closed her eyes and nodded slightly. "Thank you." She whispered.
The nurse placed a hand on her shoulder. "She's going to be fine." She said, crouching down so that she was at eye level with the dark haired woman. "Will you be able to give us some personal details for her?"
The nurse gave her shoulder a squeeze and stood up. "I can take it from here Cas." She said, and moved behind the chair. She waited for him to open the door and then pushed the chair into the dim and quiet intensive care unit.
Tori looked at the other patients she passed as she was pushed along the ward. Most of them seemed to be requiring artificial respiration and she was overwhelmingly relieved when she arrived at Eden's bed and her lover was free of any sort of breathing apparatus. Though there were tubes and wires attached to the blonde she appeared to be breathing steadily on her own.
Joan bent and whispered in Tori's ear. "I'll be back for you in a while. She's going to be groggy, so don't expect too much." With a final pat on the shoulder, she was gone.
Tori sat for a long moment, just staring.
The hand closest to her had an IV line attached, and was still. There was still blood under her finger nails, and as her eyes followed the line of her arm she noticed that more blood was on her forearm.
Tori's eyes found the face of her lover. She looked peaceful, almost serene.
She reached out a shaking hand and pushed a lock of blonde hair behind Eden's ear.
"I'm sorry." She whispered.
She watched in fascination as moss green eyes fluttered open and blinked fuzzily.
"Eden?" Tori leaned closer, taking the cold hand in her own. "Eden?" She said again.
Eden blinked a couple more times then followed the sound and found the blue gaze of her love. She opened and closed her mouth a couple of times.
"Eden, can you say my name?" Said Tori gently. It was something she needed. Just to hear her lover say her name. As soon as she heard it she knew everything would be ok. "Say my name sweetheart." She said, leaning forward and pressing her lips against her lover's cheek.
She leaned back, watching the green eyes tracking her.
"Tori." Eden croaked, then closed her eyes again.
Tori's head fell forward onto the pillow beside her lover's and wept.
The nurse found Tori slumped against the pillow of the young woman. She stood for a moment, almost unwilling to disrupt the scene she saw before her.
She leaned close to the bowed head. "Miss Conrad." She whispered. "The Police are here."
Tori wearily looked up at her. "The Police?"
"Yes. They require a statement."
Tori nodded. Looking back at the blonde woman pushed a lock of hair back off of Eden's forehead. "She said my name." Said Tori, never taking her eyes off the pale face.
"She's going to be fine. She's lost blood, and the surgery wasn't straightforward. But with time and care she'll be just like new in a few weeks."
"Good......... that's good." It took a huge effort to release the limp hand, but Tori managed. She turned to the waiting nurse, who walked behind her and manoeuvred the wheel chair away from the bed.
"We've shown the officers to a small administration office on this floor. There are two of them in there. If you'd like a nurse to remain with you we can arrange that. If you don't want to talk to them now, we can arrange that too.
Tori shook her head. "I'd like to get this over with."
"That's fine, but if you feel tired at all, let us know."
The two men stood as Tori was wheeled into the small office.
"Miss Conrad." Said the first, taking a step forward and extending his hand. "I'm Detective Inspector Clarke and this is Detective Sergeant Collins."
She took the man's hand, then gestured for them both to sit.
The obviously senior officer took out a writing pad and a pen. "First things first, can you give me Eden's full name and address?"
"Eden Gallagher." Said Tori. "But as for her address, I'm not sure. It's in Larkhall, and she shares a flat with a girl called Cathy Jones.." Tori put a hand to her throbbing head.
"Miss Conrad, if you'd like to continue this at a later time?............"
Tori shook her head. "No, I'd like to get on." She looked towards a phone book on a high shelf. "Could you see if you could find Cathy Jones in the book? I'd really like her to know what's happening. And maybe she could give you the address of Eden's parents."
The officer retrieved the book and looked up the number. "There's a C. Jones in 24 Victoria Place, Larkhall."
Tori smiled. "I've been there a few times. I didn't realise it was called that."
The detective dialled the number. After a few rings it was answered. "Miss Jones.........this is Detective Inspector Clarke........... No. I'm afraid............."
"Excuse me." Tori interrupted the man. "Could I do this?"
He handed the handset to Tori. "Cathy?"
"Tori? What's going on?"
"Eden's been hurt. We're at the hospital, she's out of surgery and is going to be fine. I'd really like to get hold of her parents. D'you have their address. Or a number I can reach them on?"
"Yeah, I'm sure I do." There was a pause. "Tori, what happened?"
"Cathy, it's hard right now. Can I talk to you about it later?" The pounding in her head was becoming intense.
"Ok, what do you want me to do?"
Tori heaved a sigh. "Can you go to the cottage, get the Shogun, pick up some clothes for me and um........... I think that's all."
"Will I be able to get into the cottage?"
"Just a moment." She turned to the two policemen. "Is my cottage still open?"
"There will be an officer there until you return." Said the Inspector.
"Cathy, you should be able to get in. D'you know the address?"
"Yeah, Eden told me enough times where it was." There was silence for a moment. "Are you ok Tori?"
"I'm a little roughed up. But I'll be fine."
"Ok, I'll get Darren to take me up there. Will I be able to find the keys easily?"
"They should still be on the small table in the hallway. I'll be sure to get a message to the officer at the house that you're coming."
Tori hung up. "Can you let them know she'll be going to the cottage?"
The inspector nodded, picked up his radio and gave a brief message to his headquarters.
"Now then Miss Conrad, can you tell me everything? From the beginning?"
Cathy put her hand on Darren's thigh. "Slow down, it's here somewhere." She said, looking for the small lane that Eden had told her about. "There!" She said, pointing at Summer Lane.
They found the cottage easily. A uniformed officer was standing at the door, and a plain white van was parked next to the Shogun. As she got out of Darren's car two men carried an obviously full black body bag to the van and loaded it inside.
"My God." She said, seeing the activity. "What the hell happened here?"
Darren ended up driving the Shogun, with Cathy following in his car. They arrived at the hospital just after 2 in the afternoon and went to the main desk to find out where their friend's were.
Cathy found Tori in a small waiting room. She was laying across three soft chairs. Cathy took in the bruised face and the dressing above Tori's eyebrow with a frown.
She placed a hand on the sleeping woman's shoulder. Tori awoke with a start.
"Cathy." She said, gingerly sitting up.
"Where's Eden?" Cathy asked.
"She's in intensive care." Seeing Cathy's look of alarm she added. "For now. They say she can go into another ward soon. I'm going to have her put in a private room."
"Can I see her?"
Tori nodded. "I expect so, come with me."
She led Cathy to the ICU, Darren trailed along behind, but ducked into another small waiting room when they arrived at the ward.
Tori found the nurse who'd let her visit Eden earlier. "Joan, this is Eden's friend, can she go in?"
Joan nodded. "We're going to move her soon, so you'd better be quick."
The two women stood over the pale form on the bed. Cathy moved to the opposite side to Tori. "What happened to her?" She asked.
"She was shot."
"Shot!?" Cathy exclaimed. Then quietly added. "Shot? Who the hell shot her?"
"My fiancée." Said Tori, wrapping a small limp hand in her own.
"I think I missed something here." Said Cathy, watching Tori smoothing the soft blonde hair cascading across the pillow.
"He couldn't understand that I'd found the love of my life. Our engagement was a sham, I wasn't willing to lose her because of it." She looked down at her lover. "Was I?" A deep sigh. "And my determination to have what I wanted nearly killed her."
"No Tori, he nearly killed her."
"Because of me."
"No Tori, don't think like that." Cathy was making her way around the bottom of the bed, towards Tori who was becoming increasingly agitated.
"Tori?" Both women became still and glanced down to the still form on the bed.
"Hey." Said Tori, settling down on the chair.
"What's happening?" Eden's voice was little more than a whisper.
"Nothing's happening, Cathy's here."
Cathy moved beside Tori and was glad when the green eyes finally focused on her. "Hi there Eddie, you've really done it this time."
"Not my fault." Said Eden, her eyes beginning to droop closed again.
Tori started to ease her hand out of the smaller one.
The dazed eyes snapped open again. "Where ya going?"
"I thought you'd like some time with Cathy." Tori smiled down at her.
"And you." Said Eden simply.
"Ok." Said Tori and settled back onto the chair. "D'you want water?"
Eden nodded. Joan had told Tori that a small amount of water would be alright for the patient.
Holding the cup and the straw Tori watched as her lover took a couple of tentative sips.
"Enough?" Asked the tall woman.
Eden nodded and Tori placed the cup back on the cabinet.
"So." Said Cathy. She waited for one of the women to start the conversation, but seeing that they were so wrapped up in each other she stood. "I'm going to go find Darren, he's not too good in hospitals.
The silence between the two women dragged out for a few moments. It was broken when Eden tried to move.
"Hey, what are you doing?" Said Tori, gently pushing her back down.
"Trying to see you."
"You don't seem fine."
"Eden." Tori closed her eyes. "I'm so sorry."
"You've got nothing to be sorry for."
"Yes, I do." She pulled her hand from Eden's even though the weakened woman tried to hang on. "I do." She said, standing. "I do."
With that she fled from the room, crashing into a puzzled Cathy as she went.
"Tori?" Said Cathy, trying to get a hold on her arm.
"Everything I touch." Said the distraught woman as she fled down the hall.
Cathy ran into the ward, but slowed when she saw the disapproving gaze of the nurse.
"What happened?" She asked Eden, who was feebly struggling to sit up.
She fell back down onto the bed. "It's Tori on another guilt trip. She won't listen. I put myself in there. In that room.. I wanted to put myself between her and him. It was my decision. She won't see that."
"She'll be back."
"You think so?"
"I know so." Cathy smiled down at her friend. "She can't live without you."
"But she'd try if she thought it was best for me."
"Maybe. But I know you, and I know you wouldn't give up on her. Would you?"
Eden smiled, suddenly exhausted by the events of the last few moments.
"Go to sleep. I'll go find Miss Stubborn and have a word."
"Tell her I love her." Said Eden even as she slipped into sleep.
"No need you silly woman." Said Cathy as she leaned over and kissed her friend on the forehead.
Cathy looked around the corridors but couldn't find Tori. She met Darren returning from the cafeteria.
"Have you seen Tori?" She asked him as he handed her a ham roll.
"She came and found me and took the keys to her car. Why?"
"Bugger!" Said Cathy and made a dash for the exit.
Tori rested her head against the steering wheel, the keys dangling from the fingers of her right hand. It was cold in the Shogun, the afternoon sky darkening and depressing.
She heard the passenger door open and didn't need to look up to see who was easing herself into the seat beside her.
"I don't think they like people with head injuries being alone for a while." Said Cathy, pulling the door closed.
"I'm fine. Eden's the one who needs company." Tori leaned back against the seat back.
"Then what are you doing out here?"
"I'm leaving." She inserted the key into the ignition and started the engine.
"You need to tell her why." Said Cathy.
"I don't have to do anything!" Said Tori, turning towards the stunned woman.
"So you're running away again?"
"If that's how you want to look at it, yes."
"Tori, don't do this to her, not now. Not with her lying in a hospital bed." Cathy turned slightly towards her, trying to get some idea from the tall woman what she was thinking. But the impassive features gave her no clue.
"She'll be fine." Said Tori. "She'll meet someone else. People like her always do."
"But she wants you. Can't you see that?"
"She wants someone who can look after her. She saw the money, the flash car, the nice house. She'll find someone like that again." Tori managed to keep her features emotionless. "She was a nice little distraction for a couple of weeks."
"I can't believe you think that." Said Cathy incredulously. "You think Eden was after your money?"
Tori nodded. "Don't worry, I'm used to it. Now then, I have to go." She nodded towards the hospital. "You'd better get back in there. Tell her I'll have her stuff packed up.. She does still have a room at you place doesn't she?"
Cathy nodded, her mouth suddenly dry.
"Good. You can pick it up from the cottage. I'll be this evening, then I'm heading back to London."
Tori waited while Cathy stepped down from the car, then drove out of the hospital grounds, the pain in her chest matching the pain in her head.
Cathy stood and watched the car disappear. Then she turned and made her way back into the hospital. On the way she met the two police officers.
"Did you want Mr. and Mrs. Gallaghers address?" She asked.
"Yes, please." Said the Inspector, ushering her into the small office.
"Miss Conrad has gone?" He asked, taking a small notepad out of his pocket.
"Yes." Cathy slumped down on a chair, feeling suddenly drained.
"We'll have to catch up with her a the cottage then."
"You'll have to be quick, she's going back to London."
"Really?" The Policeman looked genuinely surprised. "I thought they.............." He waved his hand about, hoping the girl would understand.
"Me too." Said Cathy, shaking her head.
"Shock sometimes does that. I've seen it before after something like this. She shouldn't be alone."
"You try telling her that. I've only known her a couple of weeks, but I think she's the most stubborn person I've ever met."
The policeman nodded. Then turned to his partner. "You go on up there and get a statement, and if she's leaving, get an address, we're going to have to get a hold of her later."
The younger officer nodded, and was gone.
"Right then, that address." Said Inspector Clarke.
Tori pulled up at the cottage. There was a light on in the lounge, and a young policewoman came into the hall as she entered the front door.
Tori nodded. "I've just come to collect some things. Then I'm leaving."
"Um, I'm not sure if you should do that just yet, I..............."
Tori had turned and faced the girl. "I'm leaving." She said, and then just as quickly turned her back on her and disappeared up the stairs.
The young policewoman stared after her until she heard a knock at the door.
"Oh boy, am I glad to see you." She said admitting the sergeant.
"Where is she?"
"I'm here." Said Tori, descending the stairs with a couple of suitcases. "Good, more help."
"I need an address. We're going to have to get in touch with you."
"Well." Said Tori putting the suitcase down. "That's going to be a little difficult. My home in London is on the market, probably sold by now. Give me your number and I'll get in touch when I find somewhere."
The sergeant shuffled from foot to foot. "That's not really.............."
Tori faced him, her eyes darkening. "It's the best I can do for now." She said, slowly. "Here." She handed him one of her old business cards. "The mobile number on that is right. But not the land line." She started back up the stairs. "Make yourself useful." She called over her shoulder. "Start dismantling the computer."
Sergeant Collins looked at the policewoman and shrugged, then followed the girl into the lounge where the computer was situated.
Cathy was sitting in the chair beside a sleeping Eden.
Darren silently pulled up a chair and joined his girlfriend. "What are you going to tell her?" He asked.
"I don't know." She sighed. "Whatever I say is going to hurt." She leaned into him when he put an arm around her shoulder. "I'm not sure what Tori's thinking."
"Do you think she used her?"
Cathy shook her head. "No, I really don't. Tori was as in love as Eden was. I don't................."
Cathy shut up as the blonde started to awaken. "Hey there." She said, taking Eden's hand in her own.
"No Eddie, it's Cathy." She said, squeezing the limp hand.
Eden looked around the bed, only meeting the worried gaze of Darren. "Where is she?" Then she remembered Tori rushing out of the ward. "She's gone?"
Cathy nodded. "I'm sorry."
Eden pulled her hand from Cathy's grasp. "It's ok." She said, her face showing nothing.
"No it's not! It's bloody ludicrous!" Said Cathy, raising her voice slightly, then lowering it when she felt a gentle hand on her back. She smiled back at Darren and patted his thigh. "She's buggered off, just when you need her most."
"I'll be fine." Said Eden, her eyes fixed on the ceiling. "Hey listen, why don't you go home? I'm really tired."
"Eddie, I don't want to leave you now."
"No really, I'd rather be alone now." Her hands we clasped together now, and Cathy could see they were trembling.
"Eddie." Cathy pleaded.
"Please." Said Eden, and turned pained green eyes on her friend.
Darren pulled gently on his girlfriend's arm. "We'll be back in the morning." Said Cathy, her voice breaking.
Eden nodded, then turned her face away from the couple until she heard their footsteps disappear down the corridor.
In a pub in London a tall woman sat at a tall stool against the bar. Her weight rested on her elbows, her hands held an empty glass. As the bartender approached she held the glass out.
"You ok Tori?" Asked the barkeep.
"Getting better by the minute." She said as the woman took her glass.
Tori nodded. "Make it a double."
Tori felt someone settle onto the stool beside her. "You look like shit." The new arrival said.
"Hi to you too." Said Tori, taking a sip of her drink.
"So what does the other guy look like?"
Tori closed her eyes. "I didn't know you came in here." She said, ignoring the question.
"A little bird told me you were in here."
"Figures." Tori turned towards the blonde. "So, what's up?"
"Nothing. Just wanted to see for myself. Where's the little cutie? Or is she history?"
"History." Said Tori and drained the glass.
Debby ran her hand along Tori's thigh.
"Well, I'm leaving now." She gave the woman's thigh a squeeze and sauntered slowly out of the pub.
Tori hesitated for a moment, then followed her out into the night.
"Victoria............Victoria. 'Scuse me luv, we're here."
"Wha.....?" The blonde sat up quickly, regretting it instantly as her healing hip complained at the sudden movement.
"London, Victoria. We're here."
Eden stared out of the coach window and saw the sign announcing that they had, indeed, arrived at Victoria Coach Station in London.
"Sorry." She mumbled to the driver, who was holding a sweeping brush.
"Mind the rubbish." He said, indicating a small pile of paper and drink cans that he'd swept from beneath the seats. "I didn't realise you were asleep back here. Did you have luggage?"
Eden shook her head. "No, I only had the one bag." She patted the black carry-on on the seat beside her.
She thanked the driver and made her way out of the empty coach.
"Now where?" She said to herself and looked for someone to ask for directions to the tube station.
When Tori had left her she'd felt a kind of acceptance. But as her body healed the acceptance turned to curiosity. Cathy had refused to divulge what she and Tori had discussed in the car park of the hospital that day, and Eden suspected that Tori had told Cathy something that her friend felt unable to tell her about.
Her parents had arrived the day after Tori had left. It was all too much for Cathy. She'd had to leave Eden with her parents, unable to watch as her best friend told lie after lie to the elderly couple about how she'd ended up in a hospital bed with a gunshot wound. According to the blonde Tori was a friend who had a jealous boyfriend. He'd attacked them both, and Eden was shot. Tori had gone back to London. No mention of the fact that Eden was living at the cottage was made. And certainly no mention was made of the true nature of the women's relationship.
When she was released from hospital her parents picked her up and took her home with them. She was fussed over for a month by her mother, before moving back to Bath and to the flat in Larkhall.
Cathy had telephoned Mark and told him of the situation. He said he'd hold Eden's position at the Estate Agents office open until she decided what she wanted to do. He hadn't processed her resignation anyway, and he told Cathy that he'd make sure she was paid sick pay.
She went back to work, but her mind wasn't on the job, and, more importantly, her heart wasn't in it.
The police had got in touch with her, and told her she would be required to give evidence at an inquest. Neither she nor Tori were to be charged with the death of Damien.
She'd asked Inspector Clarke for Tori's address, but he refused each time to give it. She'd tried the woman's mobile number, but the mechanical voice told her it was a discontinued number. She'd heard nothing from Tori in over two months.
One cold Sunday afternoon she ordered a taxi and went up to Summer Cottage.
She stood for a long time in the driveway, remembering the time she'd come home unexpectedly and had been taken in almost a desperate manner, right there in the hallway. Her eyes lifted to the bedroom window and a smile graced her features despite the tears that streaked her cheeks.
After walking around the cottage she returned to the taxi and made her way back to Larkhall.
Finally, she decided she had to do something. She would go to London and find the damn woman. One way or the other Tori would explain herself. She'd find out for herself what Cathy had refused to tell her, however painful that might be.
She needed a closure, and until she confronted the tall woman, she wouldn't have that.
So there she was, waiting at Victoria Underground for a tube to take her to Chelsea. She knew Tori had put the apartment on the market, and with the way properties were moving in London she was pretty sure that it would have sold already.
But she'd remembered the address, and an hour later found herself standing on the pavement outside Tori's one-time home.
She rang the bell and it was answered by a woman's voice.
"Oh, hello." Said Eden. "You don't know me. I'm looking for the previous occupier of this apartment."
There was no answer. But the door opened and the security guard that Eden had seen on her previous visit faced her.
"Hello." Eden said with a smile. "Jeff, isn't it?"
"Yes?" He said with a hint of suspicion.
"I was here a few months ago with Tori Conrad. I'm trying to track her down."
"Yes?" He said again.
Eden sighed. "Do you have an address for her? For forwarding mail, that kind of thing."
"I do, but I couldn't give it to you. More than my jobs worth.."
Eden felt her heart lurch. This was her best chance at finding Tori. She'd failed before she'd even begun. "Oh. Well, ok, thanks."
The disappointment must have shown, because as she turned to walk away the guard called her back. "Look Miss, I can't give you her address, but I'll tell you the name of the Estate Agents that sold the place. Just wait here." The man disappeared inside.
Eden almost cried with relief, and waited on the pavement until he returned. "Here." He said, thrusting a piece of paper into her hands. "Didn't come from me though."
Eden reached up on tiptoe and kissed the man's cheek. "Thanks Jeff, you're a star."
She got a taxi to the estate agents office, not trusting her reading of the underground map. She tried to remember the name of the friend Tori had said was dealing with the sale. She was approached by a young woman not much taller than herself as she entered the office.
"Can I help?" Said the woman with a smile.
"I'm not sure, I'm looking for the agent who dealt with a sale for Victoria Conrad."
A young man sitting at a nearby desk stood and approached the pair. He held his hand out to Eden. "Richard Eastman. You must be Eden."
Eden was, for the moment speechless. "Yes, I am. I don't..............."
He lead her to his desk and sat her down. "Would you like a coffee?"
"Please." Said Eden, slipping her jacket off.
"Tori mentioned you. I feel I already know you." He said after returning with a cup of coffee.
"Have you seen her?"
"Not for a week or so. Actually." He said, his brow furrowed. "It's been over a month." He stirred the contents of his own cup, his thoughts elsewhere momentarily.
"Do you know where she is?" Said Eden, not realising she was holding her breath.
"Yes I do." He said. "I found her the flat she's living in now. She's renting, though with the profit she made from the sale she could afford just about anything we have on our books at the moment."
"I need to see her Richard." Said Eden, her hands clasping the coffee cup tightly.
Richard nodded slightly. "I can't leave right now, I have a client coming in in the next quarter of an hour, but I'll call you a cab." He seemed to think for a moment. "Eden, the woman who came in here a couple of months ago wasn't the same Tori I know. She's changed. She's a good friend, I love her very much. She told me about Damien, and about you. I'm sorry."
Eden was about to ask Richard what Tori had told him when the phone on his desk rang. She waited patiently while he took the call, drinking the coffee, which she found to be delicious.
When he'd finished he wrote an address down on a piece of paper and handed it to her.
"This is where she's living."
Eden took the paper and stood, holding out her hand. "Thank you Richard."
"Anytime." He said.
She wanted so badly to talk to him, but it was obvious he was pushed for time. Clasping the address tightly in her hand she waited outside on the pavement for the taxi to arrive.
As she sat in the back of the taxi she began to wonder what exactly it was she was doing.
Tori had run away from her. Hadn't she? She'd left her, just when she needed her most. And Eden had......accepted it. Even though Tori had promised she'd never do that again.
Cathy had been furious. Furious with Tori, and almost as mad with Eden, who seemed oblivious to her friend's anger.
"I wish you'd just get bloody angry!" She had shouted at her one evening. "I can't believe you're just going to let her ruin your life like this. You don't go out, except to work. You don't talk. Well, not to me anyway. What's going on Eddie?"
"Nothing Cath. I'm fine."
"Eddie, I know you're not." She took her friend by the shoulders and shook her. "Please Eddie, I'm your friend. Tell me what's going on with you."
In the end Cathy gave up. She left her friend to brood alone for hours in her room.
Then one morning Eden announced she was going to London.
"I'm going to find her. One way or another I'm going to finish this,"
"Finish this." Said Eden to herself.
"Sorry luv?" Said the cabby.
Eden smiled at his reflection in the rear view mirror. "Just thinking out loud." She said.
The cabby dropped her at a row of three storey buildings, not unlike those back in Bath. He'd dropped her at the end of the road, which happened to be the wrong end.
"One way street luv." He'd said. "And it's got 'umps. Buggers up the suspension."
Eden had smiled at him, even when he drove off with her tenner. Obviously he had no change.
Colston Avenue stretched out before her, and Eden started slowly down the street. As she did so she felt her heart rate pick up. Her doubts began. Would Tori talk to her? Would she even let her in? Hell, would she even be there?
It was in the middle of this internal conversation that Eden spotted a familiar face. Not the one that had haunted her dreams and her thoughts for the last few months, but a familiar one all the same.
Debby spotted her at the same moment.
She took two steps back and then turned, determined to put as much distance as she could between her and the woman who had obviously just come from her ex-lovers flat.
"Eden?" She heard the question in the woman's voice as she walked quickly away.
Eden carried on walking. 'No more.' She said to herself. 'No more.'
"Eden stop." The voice was nearer now, and she felt a gentle hand on her arm.
Debby was breathless. "Please, just stop." She asked.
The two women faced each other for a long moment.
"You've come to see her?" Asked Debby.
Eden shook her head, not trusting her voice. She felt trapped, and stupid. What was she thinking? As if Tori would just have spent the last couple of months brooding like her. 'Dumb, dumb bloody dumb.'
"Bit of a coincidence then." Said Debby, crossing her arms and taking a step back
"I wanted to............... I wanted........" Eden shook her head. "Look, I'm sorry. I didn't know you'd be here. I'll go. I'll............"
Debby sighed. Then she tossed her head slightly. "She's up there."
"I don't think I can............"
Debby didn't answer, but took her by the arm and guided her away from the flat. Eden allowed herself to be pulled along, suddenly too tired to resist. "We need to talk." Said Debby.
The cafe was small, and quiet. It was getting on for lunch time, but it was almost empty just the same.
Debby lead Eden to a table and then went to the counter, returning quickly with two mugs of tea.
"There, you hungry?" She said placing one of the mugs in front of Eden.
"No I'm not." She looked up into the face of the woman opposite her. "Thank you."
Debby shrugged. "You're going to see her, aren't you?"
Eden sighed and her head dropped. "I don't know. I thought so. But now....................."
There was a silence between the two women.
"Now?" Debby prompted.
A shrug from Eden. "Well, seeing you here. I don't want to....................."
"Oh hey, you're jumping to conclusions here." Debby squirmed in her seat. "Oh yeah, you saw me and.............." Debby was nodding animatedly now.
Eden was confused, and it showed.
"Ok." Said Debby. "I'll start from the beginning. A friend told me that she'd seen Tori in the Bull. I thought, 'hello'. She also said she looked like she'd been hit by a bus. Well, my curiosity got the better of me. So I thought I'd take a butchers." Debby paused, regarding the contents of her mug thoughtfully. "I have to be honest here and tell you that I've always had the hots for Tori. It's understandable. Right?"
Eden nodded. 'Understandable.' A voice in her head said.
"Anyway. So there she was. Sitting at the bar, drink in hand. I think she'd had a few. She looked like shit. There were bags under her eyes, a Band-Aid on her forehead." Debby shook her head. "But she still looked like sex on legs to me."
Debby's eyes found the green ones opposite her. "I wanted her Eden, and I made sure she knew."
"Go on." Eden heard herself say, though she wasn't sure she wanted to hear what occurred next.
"I don't know who was more surprised when she followed me out of the pub, me or her. I asked her where she was staying and she told me she didn't have anywhere to go. So we went back to my place. I drove her car. It was then I noticed all the gear in the back."
"When was this?" Asked Eden.
"I think it was the same evening she drove from Bath."
"My God, she must have been exhausted."
"You're telling me! We got back to my place and she just about collapsed. Of course I was going to take advantage of the situation." Debby waggled her eyebrows at Eden, who almost, almost smiled.
Realising humour was not required at that moment, Debby continued. "So there am I. With the woman I've been lusting after for the past five years spread out on my sofa like some sort of offering and what do I do?"
She waited for Eden's guess, which wasn't forthcoming. So she continued.
"I sit and listen to her talking until the small hours of the morning about you."
The tea didn't quite reach Debby's lap as the mug slipped out of Eden's hands and spread across the small table.
"Whoah!" Said Debby leaping to her feet. "I'll get a cloth."
Eden watched her as she went to the counter and returned with a rag with which she mopped up the spillage.
Returning to Eden she placed a hand over the smaller woman's trembling ones. "You ok?"
Eden nodded. "I'm sorry. I saw you and assumed..................."
"Yeah, sure. What else were you to think?"
"So why were you there?"
Debby drew a deep breath. "Eden, Tori told me all about what she did. About her mother, her father..................... Damien. She told me about the hospital."
"Did she tell you why?"
Debby was shocked at the pain she saw reflected back at her from those green eyes. She shook her head.
"You're miserable, aren't you?" She said to Eden.
Eden nodded. "It shows right?"
Debby gave a small laugh. "Well, I've become something of an expert in miserable people. I've spent a lot of time in the last month or so with one."
"Tori." Debby confirmed. "Look Eden. What she did to you was awful. But go up and see her. Listen to her. It seems daft for two people to be so miserable for the same reason."
"She may not want to see me."
"Maybe. But you both need to work some stuff out."
Eden stood and walked around the table. She bent and kissed Debby on the cheek. "Why are you doing this? I remember you from the club."
"That was jealousy. I'm sorry." Another sigh from the seated woman. "I realise now I can't compete with her feelings for you. I love her very much, but she'll never be mine."
Eden put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. "You've been looking after her, haven't you." Eden sat again.
"She'd live on peanut butter sandwiches given half the chance. I did some shopping for her and got a woman to come in a couple of times a week to clean and do some laundry for her."
"Is she working?"
Again a shake of Debby's head. "No, she doesn't go out, doesn't answer the phone. She's just wasting away."
Eden blinked back the tears as Debby took her hand and placed two keys on a simple key ring into it. "I'm no nursemaid." Said Debby, swallowing the lump that was forming in her throat.
"I'd better go." Said Eden as she stood. The two women's eyes met. A small nod from both heads, and then Eden left.
Eden walked up the four steps to the large black door and looked at the six bells beside it. Flat number four bore the name Conrad.
Letting herself into the house with one of the keys, she guessed the other was for Tori's flat.
The brass number 4 seemed huge on the white door, and Eden stood for a while just staring at it. She raised her hand to the bell, but didn't ring it. Debby had said Tori didn't answer the phone, she probably wouldn't answer the door either.
No, there was no way Tori was getting out of this encounter.
She fitted the key into the lock and slipped into the flat.
The first thing she noticed was Tori's computer. Still packed in boxes and piled haphazardly in the hallway. Her leather jacket was draped over the top of the boxes. Then she noticed how hot it was. It was May, and though not warm, wasn't cold enough to require the amount of heating in the small apartment..
She found the lounge. Nothing of Tori's seemed to be in the room. There was a tv and a VCR. The time on the clock of the machine told her it was a little after noon.
She turned and left the room. Across the small hallway was a partly opened door and Eden could just make out the soft breathing of someone inside the room.
She pushed the door slowly open and the light from the hallway illuminated the room. It revealed a large bed and the person who lay in it.
Tori was asleep on her stomach, her face turned away from the blonde. Her left arm hung down alongside the bed, her knuckles grazing the floor. Her right hand was on the pillow beside her face. She seemed to be wearing a white tee-shirt.
Eden silently walked around the bed so that she could see the woman's face.
She stifled a gasp.
Tori appeared to be in pain. Her brow was furrowed as if in thought and shadows darkened her eyes.
Eden sat gently on the bed. The she slowly reached across and took Tori's hand.
The movement woke the sleeping woman. She stared at the joined hands next to her face and then followed the arm until her eyes met those she'd dreamt about for two months.
Eden wasn't sure what she expected Tori's reaction to be. She thought maybe anger, maybe indifference. What she got was grief. Pure, raw grief.
Tori's face creased up and she pulled her hand from Eden's grasp, curling her body into a protective ball.
It was a natural reaction, Eden decided, as her instincts took over. She crawled across the bed and pulled Tori into her arms. The tall woman resisted for a brief moment, before allowing herself to be pulled into Eden's embrace.
The blonde held her while she cried, stroking her hair and making nonsensical shushing noises.
When the sobs finally stopped Tori once again pulled herself from Eden's grasp.
Both women sat with their backs against the headboard. Eden straightening her clothes and Tori wiping her face with the front of the tee-shirt.
"Hi." Said Eden, huskily.
Tori wouldn't trust her voice and shook her head slightly, keeping her gaze her own shaking hands.
Tori took a deep breath. "Why......." She began, but the word came out as a croak. She tried again. "Why did you come here?"
"I needed some questions answered."
"My turn to ask why." Said Eden softly.
Tori rested her head back against the headboard, then turned to look at the blonde. She felt that tightness in her stomach. She knew what it was. "I'm sorry." Said the dark woman.
"I don't want sorry." Said Eden. "I want to know why." She turned slightly so she could face Tori. "I want to know what made you run again. You promised me you wouldn't ever do that again."
Tori moved suddenly, and was standing beside the bed putting on a pair of jeans before Eden could move. "Let's go into the lounge." She said, and was gone.
Eden found her curled up on the sofa, and made herself comfortable on one of the plump armchairs.
"I thought you died." Said Tori after a long silence.
There was a hint of sarcasm in Eden's voice when she replied. "And when you found I wasn't you were so thrilled you ran as fast as your legs would carry you." She shook her head in confusion. "Tori, I really don't understand you."
"It wasn't like that." Said Tori her eyes unable to meet the green ones opposite her.
"Then tell me Tori, what 'was' it like?"
Tori covered her face with her hands. "I couldn't bear to see you hurt." Came the pain filled, muffled voice. "And that was all I could see happening. From the cut hand to the attempted rape. Nothing but pain." She dropped her hands, but still couldn't meet Eden's gaze. "I thought you'd be better off without me."
"So you went."
Tori nodded. "I can't remember driving to London, but I can remember the pain. Here." She put a hand over her heart and looked up at the blonde. "I've missed you Eden."
Eden was quiet for a long moment. There was no hint of emotion as she regarded the distraught woman. "Tori, what you did to me was................................ unforgivable."
Tori nodded and bowed her head. "I know."
"But that was the idea, wasn't it?" Eden watched as her lover's head slowly rose. "Do something so awful I would hate you. Something I could never forgive you for." She smiled when she saw the realisation in Tori's eyes. "I tried to hate you Tori, but I couldn't." She gave a short laugh. "You have my heart." She stood and walked to the sofa standing in front of it as Tori uncurled her long body and sat up.
Eden looked down at her lover and moved slowly forward, pulling the dark head against her stomach. She felt Tori's arms encircle her and then felt the taller woman's shoulders start to shake as she began to cry quietly.
"You can't fool me Tori Conrad." She said.
Eden eased away from Tori and sat beside her. She took the larger hand in her own and regarded the two hands. "Will you come home with me?"
A shake of the dark head. "I'm no good for you Eden."
"And I'm no good without you." She ducked forward trying to see into her lover's face. "So I'll stay here."
"No, this is just a place to live, not a home."
"Wherever you are will be my home. Wherever you want to be."
Tori pulled her hand from Eden's and stood. "Why are you doing this? I don't deserve your forgiveness. Didn't Cathy tell you what I said?" She was becoming exasperated now
Eden smiled up at Tori from her seat on the sofa. "No she wouldn't. And I guessed you said something pretty horrible." She sat back and crossed her arms. "So you see, she sees through you too."
"You saw Debby?"
"I saw her coming out of here."
"She comes here a lot." Tori raised her chin, as if offering a challenge.
Eden accepted the challenge.
"We had a long chat. She gave me the keys." Eden stood and moved within arms reach of Tori "She told me that nothing happened." Another step and their bodies were almost touching. "She wants you. But she wants you to be happy."
Tori concentrated on keeping her hands away from the smaller woman. "I'll end up hurting you again."
"I don't think so."
"Where does this faith come from?" Tori asked. "I've done nothing to deserve that kind of belief."
"Did it hurt when you left me?"
"You know it did."
"In a strange way Tori, I know you were trying to protect me. I know what your motives were." She laughed a little. "However twisted."
One dark eyebrow rose. "Twisted."
Eden nodded smiling. After a pause she continued. "This isn't how I planned this meeting would go."
"Mmm. I thought I'd be screaming at you by now."
"Why aren't you?"
Eden shrugged. "I suppose because the moment I saw you, I knew I was still in love with you. Whatever happened, and whatever happens, I'll always be in love with you." She tipped her head up. "Tori?"
"What?" She asked, drowning in seas of green.
It was dark when Tori awoke and for a moment she wondered where she was and who was in her arms. Then she remembered.
Eden had asked her to kiss her. And Tori hadn't given a second thought before ducking her head and claiming the soft lips of her lover.
"Thankyou." Was all Eden could manage when they took a breath. Then the shorter woman found herself turned and lowered to the sofa.
That was a few hours before.
Her grip on the blonde tightened slightly when she felt the young woman begin to wake. "Ssshh. Go back to sleep." She husked into the blonde hair.
And go back to sleep Eden did.
But it was hot. That was something Eden had commented on as Tori had pulled the blonde's clothes off when they were still in the lounge. The heat of the room was soon forgotten, however, as the two women outdid the thermostat in the heat producing stakes.
Only now did Tori find it a little uncomfortable. Lying beneath the quilt, with the warm, soft, gorgeous body of her lover pressed tightly against her stomach.
She gently pulled her arm from its place providing a pillow for the blonde head, and slipped out of bed.
The controls for the heating were in the kitchen and she made her way quickly there, adjusting the thermostat to a more reasonable level. Then she made a quick trip to the bathroom.
As she came out of the bathroom she heard a noise. She stopped for a moment, listening. She heard it again, sobbing.
Tori rushed into the bedroom to find Eden, her hair in disarray, her eyes darting wildly around the room.
"You left me!" Eden cried between sobs.
Tori eased herself into the bed beside her, gathering the shaking woman into her arms. "Hey there." She said, pulling the blonde close.
"I......, I thought......" Eden couldn't complete the sentence. Instead she tried to burrow herself into the taller woman's body.
"Were you dreaming?" Tori asked.
Eden nodded. "You were running....... I couldn't reach you."
Tori closed her eyes and pressed her lips to the soft blonde hair.
"Then I woke up, and you were.................."
"I was gone." Tori finished for her.
Eden eased herself away so that she could look into the eyes of her lover. She closed her eyes as she felt Tori's warm fingers gently wipe the tears from her cheeks.
"I'll never be able to say sorry enough. I'll never forgive myself." Said Tori sitting back on her heals on the bed.
"Tori, I love you. I know you did what you thought was best for me." She reached for her lover's chin and tipped her head up so she could see the blue eyes that had haunted her for two months. "We have to go on from here. We have to heal, both of us." Eden sniffed and bowed her head. "I don't want to go on without you. Don't send me away."
Tori closed the gap between them and took the blonde into her arms again. "Never," she said. "You came after me. I'm just managing to take it all in. I thought you'd be glad to see the back of me."
Eden snuggled closer to Tori as the tall woman made herself comfortable with her back against the headboard.
"I wanted to die for a while." Eden said and felt Tori's grip tighten. "Then I started to think about it." She looked up at her companion, taking in the gaunt look. "Everything you did in those few weeks was for me. Defying your father. Giving Damien the heave-ho." Eden smiled. "Risking being beaten to a pulp by queer bashers."
Tori shifted uncomfortably. "And just as we started to come out of the other side of all that, you decided that it was better if you were here. Starving yourself to death in a hothouse."
"I.................." Tori began.
"No, you listen to me Tori Conrad." Eden knelt up, positioning herself between Tori's long legs and facing her. "No more, ok? No more sacrifices, no more making decisions on your own. I want you." She reached out a hand, caressing Tori's breast. "Very much. And I think maybe you want me too." She smiled, cocking her head to one side. "Am I right?"
Tori had her eyes closed in concentration.
"Answer the question."
"What question?" The blue eyes were still closed.
"Do you want me?"
"More than the air I breathe." Then the eyes opened and Eden knew her lover was telling the truth.
They stayed like that for a while. Just looking. Taking in the sight of the other. Both coming to terms with the fact that maybe, just maybe they could make things right again.
"Do you really think we can survive this?" Eden asked eventually and resumed her place at Tori's side.
"You've already survived so much." Tori said quietly.
"I'd like to try. I want to know you. Help you when you're sad, love you when you're happy. And I do want you to be happy Tori." Eden felt the tense body beside her take in a deep breath.
"I've made such a mess of this."
"Yes you have." Said Eden, and snuggled closer. "And some will think I've been a fool."
"And you know what?"
"What?" Tori looked down at the blonde attached to her side like a limpit.
"I couldn't give a rat's ass what other people think."
Tori chuckled and the two women enjoyed a comfortable silence for a while.
"Will you come home with me." Eden held her breath.
"You mean Bath?"
"Yeah. Well, it's my home. I want you there."
"I........................" Tori's answer was cut short by the door bell. "Dammit!" Said the tall woman as she eased herself off the bed.
Taking a quick glance at the clock she made her way to the door, pulling a robe on as she went.
She opened the door slightly, then closed it again, releasing the security lock, before opening it completely.
Debby stepped into the hallway.
"You put the lock on." Said the blonde.
"Yeah well.............." Tori shrugged.
"Are you alone?"
Tori shook her head.
"Good, that's good." Said Debby.
Tori took a breath, obviously about to say something.
"No." Said Debby. "It's ok. I'm glad. Really. I knew I was up against some pretty hefty opposition.." She turned slightly. "Hi."
Tori looked over her shoulder and saw Eden framed in the doorway, wearing one of the taller woman's long teeshirts. She held out her arm and Eden fitted herself against her side.
"Debby." Eden began. "Thank you for this."
Debby shrugged and shifted from foot to foot. "So, what's your plans?"
Tori pulled the blonde tightly against her. Knowing that, at last she'd found her Eden, her little piece of paradise.
"I'm going home," she said.
Return to The Bard's Corner