A Little Piece of Paradise.
Victoria Conrad kept one hand on the steering wheel and one eye on the road. The other hand was shuffling through a small pile of cd`s on the passenger seat of her Shogun. The four wheel drive vehicle ground to a halt a millimetre from the bumper of the car in front and the driver of the car glared at her in his wing mirror.
She gave him a sweet smile and took the opportunity to devote all her attention to finding the required CD.
Pulling the finished CD from the player she put that back in the wrong box and loaded the one that she'd found. Flicking through the tracks she found the one she wanted. The sax introduced the song and she sang along with George Michael.
She'd only been in Bath a couple of days but had learned, in that short time that traffic jams were a normal occurrence every day. The city had been developed in the 1700`s, it's streets not designed for modern day traffic. So she sat, watching the face of the man in the car in front as he watched her in his rear view mirror.
Victoria was used to this behaviour. A striking woman, she stood a hairs width below six foot. Her dark hair and tanned skin accentuated her most dynamic feature, her eyes, which were the colour of the sky on a summer's day.
But it wasn't a summers day. It was a dismal, damp Thursday in February. It had been raining all morning, and now the rain was turning to sleet.
The traffic started to move again and Victoria shifted the car into gear and started to crawl forward again.
Thirty minutes later she was driving down Milsom Street. A short street, with some of the more high class shops to be found in Bath. A car pulled out of a parking space just as she was thinking about parking on the yellow line on the opposite side of the road. She shot into the space, ignoring the glares from the woman who was about to reverse into it. Without locking the car she ran across the road and purchased a couple of parking cards. That would allow her an hour before she'd have to worry about being towed away. After buying the cards she scratched away the appropriate time and date and displayed them on top of the dash. She slammed the door and used the remote control to lock it.
Pulling the collar of her long, black Kashmir coat up she walked down Milsom Street before turning right into Quiet Street.
She found what she was looking for almost immediately. Luckily there was a small awning outside the estate agents, and she stood for a while, looking at the photos of the available properties.
The pictures and short descriptions were affixed to hanging boards in the window, and these suddenly swayed precariously as someone inside the offices peered around to look at one of the photos.
It was a girl. She was leaning sideways looking at the picture. She obviously suddenly realised she was blocking the view of a prospective customer and turned towards the woman on the pavement.
She smiled and put a hand to her mouth in a gesture of apology. Then she was gone.
Victoria peered between the hanging boards and watched as the girl went to a filing cabinet and pulled out some details, which she handed to a couple to inspect.
The tall woman went back to examining the photos. She walked to another of the windows, this was where the properties to let were advertised. Some had photos, but most were just a description of the property and the cost of the monthly rent. She made a move to step to her right and walked straight into another body.
She looked down into smiling green eyes.
"Sorry about that." The girl said. "See anything you were interested in?"
Victoria smiled back. "No problem. There are a couple, yes."
"Well, come on in out of the rain, I'll fish out some details for you."
She was lead into the offices and directed to sit in a chair in front of what she assumed was the girl's desk. The nameplate said `Miss E. Gallagher`.
Miss E. Gallagher sat opposite and folded her hands in front of her on the desk.
"What sort of prices are we talking about?"
"Actually I was looking at your properties to let."
"Any particular location?"
"Not too far from the city centre. I'm going to be working here, but I don't think I want to live in the centre. Somewhere on the outskirts I think."
"Large, small? How many bedrooms?"
"Not too big. It's just for me."
The girl nodded and stood to go to the filing cabinet. "Oh yes," Victoria added. "I want somewhere that I can move into immediately."
The girl stood for a moment thinking. "Okaaaay." She took a few files from the cabinet and returned to her desk.
"We have a number of suitable properties that have just become available." She put a few of the folders aside. "Those are all in the centre. This is about two miles outside." She handed the details to the woman sitting across from her. "Do you know Bath?"
"No, I've only been here a couple of days."
Victoria took the details from her and studied them. "Exposed beams, restored cottage." She looked back up to the girl. "When can I look at it?"
"We have the keys, I could take you up there now."
The girl stood and turned to one of her colleagues. "Mark I'm going out for a bit, shouldn't be more than an hour."
The man she'd spoken to looked up from the `phone call he was taking and nodded.
Retrieving the keys from the filing cabinet she grabbed her coat and held the door open for Victoria to exit the offices.
"D`you mind if we take my car? I'll get a parking ticket if I leave it there much longer." Victoria said as they stepped out into the heavy rainstorm.
"No, not at all, where are you parked?"
"Just round the corner." The two women turned the corner into the gale that had blown up in the last ten minutes.
Victoria stepped into the road and unlocked the Shogun. "It's open." She called across the roof to the smaller woman who didn't realise the central locking had unlocked the passenger side already.
They both shook the rain out of their hair as they sat in the plush leather interior of the large car.
"Goodness!" Said the blonde.
"Goodness indeed." Victoria echoed.
"Gosh, I just realised. I didn't take your details."
Victoria turned in her seat towards the smaller woman and held out her hand. "Victoria Conrad."
The blonde girl took her hand. "Eden Gallagher." She said smiling.
"Eden." Said Victoria. "Nice name."
"Thankyou." Said the girl sincerely.
Twenty minutes later Eden directed Victoria to take a right turn on a slight hill. They had climbed south out of Bath and now were heading down the other side into Midford.
"It's just down here on the right hand side, don't go too fast or you'll miss it." Eden was leaning forward, looking for the small turning to the private road that led to a handful of properties. "There!" She said and Victoria turned into the single-track road. "Summer Cottage is at the end."
True enough, at the end of the lane Victoria recognised the cottage she had seen in the details back at the office.
Eden jumped out of the Shogun and unlocked the door so that her client wouldn't have to wait in the rain.
As soon as Victoria stepped into the small cottage she knew she had found her home.
Eden watched the woman as she walked into the hallway.
The cottage as furnished tastefully. Modern appliances in the kitchen blending nicely with the antique looking stove.
The lounge was uncluttered and sported a stone fireplace. A small room just off of that would do nicely for her office. The dining room had large patio doors, which opened into a glass, and hard wood extension, which doubled the size of the room. Upstairs were two double bedrooms, both with king size beds. The bathroom held a large bath and shower unit.
Eden had been chattering away about the property, though Victoria had been lost in thought as she looked around the cottage.
"I'll take it." She said quietly.
Victoria turned back to the smaller woman. "I'm sorry, I said I'll
A half-hour later the two women were back in Bath. This time Victoria didn't attempt to park. She turned right into Quiet Street and dropped the young estate agent off outside her office.
"I'm staying at the Bath Spa hotel." She said. "I'll be in tomorrow to sort things out."
"Ok, it's been good doing business with you." Eden shouted over the sound of rain hitting the roof of the car. She slammed the door closed and ran into the office. By the time she'd turned round the Shogun had disappeared round the corner.
She shook her coat off as she got inside.
"Well?" Said her colleague.
"I just let Summer cottage." She said, a self-satisfied smile
on her face.
It was just after 6 o'clock when Eden got home. She shared a small flat with an old school friend. When her parents had sold their Bath home in order to retire to the south coast Eden had decided to stay in Bath. Her friend, Cathy, had asked her to move in with her when she first obtained the small flat in Larkhall. It suited them both perfectly.
Cathy was curled up on the sofa watching TV when a damp Eden plopped herself down in the chair.
"Bloody buses! Two went past full up before I could get on one." Cathy seemed not to have heard her, so she looked to see what she was watching. It was the local news.
"It's four weeks now, they still haven't found her. She must be dead." Cathy said absently.
She was talking about a local girl who had gone missing after a night out in Bath. Nothing had been heard from her despite appeals from the police and her family.
"I think you're right, surely she wouldn't do that to her family."
Cathy turned to her friend. "I'll make some tea." She stood and went to the small kitchen. "Good day? " She shouted.
"Great day, I'm in love."
"That's good." There was a crash from the kitchen, and Cathy framed the doorway to the lounge. "You're what?"
"I'm in love." Repeated Eden, a comical dreamy look on her face.
"And I'm guessing it's not with a guy."
Eden smiled at her friend. A long conversation in the wee hours of the morning some months previously had brought about her friend's comment.
"You know, you always imagine that one day someone amazing will just walk into your life and change it forever."
"Did that happen today?"
"No, not really. But this really gorgeous woman came into the office looking to rent."
"Gorgeous like what?" Cathy`s curiosity peeked. She sat on the sofa again, the tea forgotten.
"Well, she was tall, close to six foot. Almost powerful looking. She had long black hair, she wore it loose. A tan. And the most amazing blue eyes I've ever seen. And when she smiled...." Eden feigned swooning.
Cathy swatted her on the knee. "Eddie!"
Eden laughed with her friend. It was nice to be able to talk to someone about it. Coming to terms with her attraction toward other women had been hard for her. She hadn't been able to talk to her family about it, and most of her friends wouldn't understand. But she lived with Cathy, and she decided her friend deserved to know. So she'd told her one night after a particularly bawdy party when both of them felt relaxed from the effects of alcohol.
Cathy`s first reaction had been one of disbelief. "But you don't look like a............."
"Lesbian, dyke? So what am I supposed to look like?" Eden smiled at her friend's puzzlement.
"I don't know, but not how you look."
"Sorry. Are you ok with this? I can find somewhere else if you like."
Cathy`s answer was to sit next to her friend on the sofa and snake an arm around her shoulders. "You're still my best friend Ed. You can stay here as long as you like."
Eden remembered the relief she'd felt and the gratitude for her friend's understanding.
"So what are you going to do about tall, dark and beautiful?"
Eden thought about it for a long moment. "Nothing." She finally said.
Cathy was quiet for a while and Eden knew she was working her way up to a question.
"What?" Said Eden, trying not to laugh.
"Well," Cathy exhaled. "How do you, you know, how do you find out if..........." She flapped her arms in the air, suddenly at a loss.
"How do I find out if she's gay, and then how do I find out if she's interested in me?"
"Yeah." Cathy leaned forward on her knees.
"It's in the eyes. If someone looks you dead in the eyes it means they're in love with you." As she was saying this she leaned forward with her elbows on her knees and looked deeply into the eyes of her best friend.
"Eddie! I was being serious." Said Cathy leaning back on the sofa and crossing her arms over her chest.
"So was I, sort of."
Eden got up and went to the kitchen, realising the cup of tea was not going to materialise on its own.
"So what you going to do about it?" Cathy called into the kitchen.
"Do about what?"
"The beautiful stranger."
"Like I said before, nothing."
"But you're in love."
Eden came back into the lounge. "She'll probably be in tomorrow to sign for the cottage, I'll see her then. But I'm hardly going to ask her out, am I?"
"Where is she staying now?"
"The Bath Spa."
"Oooh, money too. Is she from round here?"
"She said she doesn't know Bath."
"So she's all alone, in a city she doesn't know, no friends." Cathy snivelled unconvincingly.
Eden looked suspiciously at her friend. "What do you think I should do?"
"Well, if it was me..........."
Eden laughed and went back into the kitchen as the kettle started to whistle. "If it was you, you wouldn't be thinking about ways to find out if a woman was remotely interested in you."
"No, I mean, if it was me and it was a fella I was interested in, I'd get in his face. Find out where he went at night and make sure I was there."
Eden returned to the lounge with two cups of tea.
"So you think I should just turn up............where? The Bath Spa Hotel? As if that's a regular drinking hole of mine. I doubt I'd get through the door."
"So call her."
Eden's mouthful of tea reappeared quickly.
"Too hot?" Said Cathy in all innocence.
"Call her?" Eden reached for a box of Kleenex and dabbed at the tea on her chin and down the front of her blouse.
"Go on, go for it. Just say you wondered if she'd like a drink as she's new in town. She can only say `no`."
The two girls sat for long moments looking at each other. Then Eden made a decision, and reached for the `phone directory.
"There it is, the Bath Spa Hotel." Picking up the `phone Eden dialled the number as Cathy squirmed in anticipation, clutching a cushion to her chest.
"Hello, I wonder if I could speak to one of your guests...... Victoria Conrad........thank you." Eden looked up at her friend. "Oh my God." She mouthed at her. "Pardon? Oh, yes Eden Gallagher."
Eden waited while her call was put through.
"Oh hi, it's Eden Gallagher......yes, that's right."
Cathy sniggered as Eden coloured up and the blonde refused to meet her gaze.
"No, no problems, I'll have the paperwork for you to sign tomorrow. No, I was wondering if you'd like to, um. I was wondering what you were doing tonight." She closed her eyes and screwed her face up. "I mean, as you don't know anyone in Bath, well, I assume you don't know anyone in Bath. Well, um, I thought you might like to go out with me, um, not out with me, just.......pardon?" Eden's jaw dropped. "Ok, by the fountain. Fine, fine, ok."
Eden placed the handset in the cradle and stared at it.
"What'd she say?" Said Cathy, peering over the top of the cushion.
"She said `great`, and she'd meet me by Laura Fountain because that was the only landmark in Bath she knew."
"Bloody hell. What time?"
"Eight. Shit! It's seven now! What am I going to wear?"
"Casual." Said Cathy. "Wear that white v-neck tee-shirt, with your blue jeans, you always look good in that."
"Ok, but it needs pressing, will you do that while I shower?"
Cathy stood and went to the kitchen to retrieve the ironing board while Eden made for the bathroom, shedding clothes as she went.
"And can I have a squirt of your musk?"
"Since when did you start asking me?"
"Oh Cath, " Eden reappeared wearing nothing but a towel. "Can I borrow your burgundy cardigan?"
"My best cardi?" She said looking up from battling to get the ironing board erected. But seeing the pleading look on the face of her best friend, she relented. "Ok, I'll put it on your bed along with the tee-shirt."
By seven forty five she was showered, hair washed and dressed ready for the evening. Cathy insisted on driving her into town, which meant that by eight o'clock she was standing at the top of Pultney Street next to Laura Fountain.
Cathy did a U-turn around the fountain and stopped allowing Eden to get out of the small car.
"You've got your `phone?" She said, leaning across the passenger seat.
Eden put a hand on the waistband of her jeans, feeling the weight of the small mobile `phone there. "Yep."
"OK, call me when you want picking up." A smile crossed her face. "Or call me if you're not coming home."
"Cathy, I'll be home. But don't wait up, I'll get a taxi." She reached into the back seat and retrieved her black quilted jacket.
"OK, but call me anyway, when you're in the loo or something, just so I know you're ok."
"OK." Eden said and pushed the car door closed.
She watched the small hatchback disappear down the street and made her way to the seat nearby. Unfortunately it was by the bus stop that was for the university bus. About twenty students were waiting, and there was nowhere for her to sit. So she went to the fountain and waited on the low wall that marked its edge.
Victoria had gone back to the Bath Spa after her meeting with Eden.
She was pleased that she'd found somewhere to spend the next few months. Her comment to Eden that she was going to be working in Bath had annoyed her. It wasn't a lie as such, but it wasn't the whole truth either. For some reason she felt a great shame because of a small white lie.
After leaving the centre of Bath she'd driven for a while looking for a suitable pub to have lunch in. She found herself on the same road she'd taken only an hour or so previously. Going past the the turning for Summer Cottage she continued down the hill toward Midford and Hinton Charterhouse. There were two pubs in Hinton Charterhouse, but she carried on until she came to Norton St. Phillip.
The streets were ancient, the houses facing directly onto a road that, in an earlier age would have been fine for the occasional horse and cart, but was now too narrow for the amount of traffic that traversed the road.
At the crossroads the spied an inn called The George. Parking behind the pub she went through the thick oak door. Above it was a plaque which announced, `You are entering the oldest pub in England.`
Victoria sat on a high stool by the bar and ordered a cider, then asked for the menu. After ordering her food she engaged the bartender in a discussion about the history of the pub.
"This place is old then?" She asked. It was quiet in the bar. Most of the lunch crowd that used the pub for their midday breaks had returned to their offices in the city.
"It is," he said, examining closely the glass he was polishing. "The earliest date we have is 1230. It was a guesthouse then, run by monks. They were from Hinton priory, which is about two miles from here."
"I wonder what the monks would think now?"
"They probably wouldn't notice too much difference to the exterior, but they might get a shock when they saw the juke box." He placed the glass on the shelf and retrieved another from the glass washing machine.
"When did it become an inn?"
"About 500 years ago. In those days the cellar was the village jail. During the civil war, around 1685, eight men were held for almost a year in the cellar. There was a big battle fought nearby. When they were eventually found guilty the eight were taken an orchard and burned at the stake. But nine men were executed that day." This was obviously not the first time the barkeep had told the story.
"Who was the other one?"
"Some poor fellow who was holding the gate of the inn open when they were brought out. He just got caught up in the crush and they executed him too."
"That was bad luck."
"It was," said the man, another glass finding its way onto the shelf. "There are people living in the village that are direct descendants of the guilty men. In the church records there is mention of the parish paying 12 shillings for faggots for `ye execution`." He finished with a flourish.
From a side door the landlord's wife appeared with Victoria's meal. She'd decided on chicken Kiev and a side salad.
"Shall I put you here dear?" She said, indicating a seat near the window with a nod of her head.
"That's fine, thank you." Victoria slid from her stool at the bar and followed the woman, who put her meal and cutlery on the table.
"Is there anything else I can get you? Sauces, another drink?"
"I'll have another half pint of cider please, thanks." Victoria handed her the empty glass and started her meal.
An hour and a half later she exited the warm friendly establishment into the darkening afternoon. She got back into the Shogun and sat for a while, wondering what to do.
Starting the car, she left the carpark but turned right, away from Bath. "Might as well see some of the countryside I guess." She said to herself.
It was five thirty when she parked outside the Bath Spa hotel. She walked to the desk and asked for her key.
"Miss Conrad, you have a message." Said the hotel manager, who was manning the front desk.
Thank you." She said, taking the slip of paper from him.
It was a message from her father, asking her to ring him as soon as she got in.
She went to her room, sat on the bed and picked up the phone. Ringing the number, she waited for it to be answered.
"Victoria. Where have you been?"
"Looking for somewhere to live." `Hi to you too Dad.` she said to herself.
"Have you found somewhere suitable?"
"I think so." `But you'd turn your nose up at it.`
"Well, have you or haven't you?"
"Yes, I have."
"Good. Have the details sent to me and I'll sort everything out."
She picked up the folder she'd been given by Eden Gallagher.
"I have the name and address of the owners here if you want it."
"Right, let me get a pen." A pause. " Go ahead."
Victoria gave her father the details.
"Is there a fax number?"
She gave him that too.
"I'll forward six months rent, but I trust you can sort yourself out before then."
"Give me some time Dad. I just need some time on my own."
"And I need some answers from you girl. You can't just run away from your responsibilities. Call me on Sunday."
Victoria held onto the phone even though she's heard the click as her father terminated the conversation. she sat and listened to the steady hum of the dialling tone.
Putting the phone down she lay down on the bed and closed her eyes.
She must have fallen asleep, because she was woken with a start when the phone rang. She looked at her watch. It was ten to seven.
She picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Miss Conrad, we have an Eden Gallagher wishing to speak to you."
"Ok, put her on."
Victoria found herself smiling as she listened to the girl's voice. "Is there a problem with the cottage?" She enquired.
She was assured there wasn't. Lying back down she listened to the girl trying to overcome her nervousness and ask her out for a drink. `Why are you here Tori? Isn't it to be alone, to sort yourself out?` She asked herself.
"Great." She heard herself say. "There's a fountain at the bottom of, um, Pultney Street, I think it's called. I'll meet you there. Eight o'clock be ok? Good. See you then."
Victoria put the phone back on the cradle.
"Why not?" She said to herself. "Why the hell not?"
Just under an hour later she was walking down the long driveway of the Bath Spa hotel. She decided to leave the Shogun behind. She'd already had a pint of cider earlier in the day, so anymore alcohol would put her over the drink/drive limit. Pultney Street was a long wide street. At one end the Holbourne Museum, at the other Laura Place, with Laura Fountain in the middle. As she walked along the elegant Georgian street she could see the outline of Eden Gallagher sitting on the low wall of the illuminated fountain.
She pulled her coat snugly around her and walked towards the light.
Laura Fountain consisted of a large round raised basin. In the middle, a large stone pillar with what could only be described as a ball on top issued forth water, which splashed down into the pool.
Someone, probably a student waiting for a bus at the nearby bus stop, had thrown in a bottle of bubble bath and now the suds were just starting to emerge over the side of the stone rim.
Eden was watching the bubbles as they made their way toward her. She reached out and snagged a handful of them and let the breeze carry them away.
The voice, so close to her, made her jump.
She turned toward the sound and was met by the smiling face and amused eyes of Victoria Conrad.
"Oh, hi." She said, standing and wiping her wet hand on the leg of her jeans. "Sorry, I didn't see you coming."
"That's ok. Where did you want to go?" Said Victoria looking past her and on towards Pultney Bridge.
"There's a pub just down here, The Boater. It's got a nice cellar bar."
"Ok, lead on." Victoria said.
Eden led the way into the pub, veering off just inside the entrance and descending the stairs into the cellar.
The cold weather had kept most people in their homes, and besides the two women there were only a handful of people in the dimly lit bar.
"What'll you have?" Said Eden pulling her wallet out of the back pocket of her jeans.
"A rum and coke I think." Said Victoria and made her way to an empty table set against the wall.
Eden arrived at the table with a rum and coke, which she placed in front of Victoria, and a vodka and lime for herself.
"So Victoria, what brings you to Bath?" Eden said as she took her jacket off and placed it on the seat beside her.
"Firstly, call me Tori." She said with a smile. "And as for why I'm in Bath, well." She picked her drink up, studying it carefully. "Let's just say, I'm on an extended vacation, which might be a working vacation if the opportunity arises."
Eden was sitting opposite the taller woman and rested her chin in her hand, her elbow on the table. "Have you seen much of Bath yet?"
"I went out past the lane with Summer Cottage in after I left you and found an ancient pub." Her brow wrinkled. Eden noticed this, in fact she was taking in every movement the expressive face made. "What's it called?"
"The George?" Eden offered.
"That's it, The George. The bar tender told me an horrific story."
"About the ghosts?" Asked Eden.
"No." Tori looked alarmed. "Not about ghosts."
"Oh, maybe they don't tell that one on your first visit. " She said smiling. "I've been there a few times. They like to tell those down in the cellar bar."
"That's where those men were held."
Tori waited. "So you're not going to tell me?"
"You need to be in The George to hear that, maybe another day." Eden said.
Tori seemed to consider this. "Ok."
The tall woman leaned back in her seat, obviously relaxing in the company of the blonde. "Have you always lived in Bath?"
"Yep, always. My parents moved down to the coast a few years ago. I didn't want to go with them, so I stayed. My friend, Cathy, bought a flat, with the help of her folks. I moved in with her. It worked out ok."
"It's a beautiful city."
"It is, but a lot of Bath people don't appreciate it. I think visitors see more than we do."
There were a few moments of silence before Eden thought of another topic of conversation. "The cottage shouldn't take too long to sort out." She said.
"Mmm?" Tori had been staring through the large glass doors along the back wall of the cellar. Even though they had descended into the bar there was an exit which led to the riverbank.
"I should have the forms for the cottage tomorrow. I'll just need to get some references for the landlord."
"Oh, I put that in the hands of my father. Hess going to forward six months rent directly to the landlord. I should imagine that would be reference enough."
"I expect so. You don't hang about, do you?"
"I was getting fed up with the hotel room."
"The Bath Spa, you were getting fed up with that?" Eden looked surprised.
"One hotel room is very like another."
"I'll take your word for it. The only hotels I've been in are the one's in Spain, I can't imagine they're a lot like yours."
"So where are you from?" Eden drained her glass.
"London, Chelsea to be exact?"
"And you decided to spend some time here." It was a statement more than a question.
Tori was silent for a long moment, and Eden didn't think she was going to answer. "I don't know why I chose Bath. Some things went......." She was searching for a word, "ugly, back home."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean......."
Tori shook her head. "No, it's ok. I'm here to get my head together." She looked up into the green eyes opposite her." That's why the cottage was so perfect. It's secluded and peaceful. If you're going to be on your own, sorting your life out, you might as well be in pleasant surroundings."
Eden suddenly felt uncomfortable that this woman had divulged so much of herself so easily. She didn't think Tori would normally be so forthcoming and wondered why the openness now.
"You, um, don't have to be alone." Eden felt the colour flooding past her neck into her face. It was only made worse when smokey blue eyes captured hers. She remembered a conversation with her flatmate only an hour or so before. "I mean, I could show you the sights, show you all the best pubs and stuff."
Tori stood suddenly, and Eden thought for a moment that she'd offended her. But the dark woman held her hand out to her. Eden felt her own hand move into the woman's long, warm fingers.
"Actually, I wanted your glass, it's empty."
Eden could have fainted on the spot. "Sorry, sorry, um, yes please. Vodka and lime."
Tori took the glass and made her way to the bar. If Eden had looked in the mirror, which was behind the bar, she'd have seen the grin that split the woman's features.
A few people were ahead of her being served, so Tori put the glasses on the bar and waited for the bartender to finish with the other customers. `What's going on here?` she asked herself. She'd been out with enough prospective husbands to know when someone was attracted to her. But this was new. She had been with the woman less than an hour, but was totally at ease with her. When was the last time that happened? No, it hadn't happened before. There was something different here, something comfortable. She smiled to herself. `So, what now Tori?` She asked herself. She thought back to a time long ago. How long? `Jesus, ten years.` She remembered though. Remembered the feelings, remembered the nights, remembered the sex. Oh yeah, the sex. That was all there was though. Love was never an option, she knew that, so did Jodie. They satisfied each other. Satisfied being the optimum word. No words of commitment, they both knew it was temporary. They'd have their fun and move on. Probably to a family life. House, nice car, two point four children.
But here she was ten years later. In the mire, no house, no kids. Nice car though. Two out of three ain't bad.
"I said what can I get you?" The bar tender brought her out of her musings.
"Sorry, rum and coke and vodka and lime."
She watched his back as he got their drinks. `Do you really need anymore complications in your life?` She asked herself. `Exactly,` came the answer. `Of course you don't.`
She turned to look at her companion for the evening. The blonde woman smiled at her. She turned back to the bar. `So much for your iron will Tori. This is not how it was meant to be. What was the plan? Go to Bath. Get your calm head on. Go home............Then what?`
The bar tender brought her drinks and she paid for them. As she went back to the table Eden stood.
"I need the loo, won't be long."
Tori watched her go and sat down again.
`What a time to start debating the meaning of life.` She told herself. `In a cellar bar, in the company of a lovely young woman you think has the hots for you.` She chuckled to herself.
`Jesus you're arrogant Tori. You think that everyone's gonna fall for you, even women. On the other hand, the way she looks at me, those eyes.` She rubbed the bridge of her nose and screwed her face up. `So what you gonna do about it?` She sat back in the chair. `Right then, do you like her? Yes. Are you attracted to her. Yes. Are you ready to go through all that again? No, don't think so. But there again............ Oh dammit! Why can't life be simple?`
She drained her glass in one go and returned to the bar to get a refill before her drinking partner returned.
Eden stood in the ladies with her back against the wash basin, took out her mobile and dialled her home number. "Cathy?"
"Eddie! How's it going?"
"Ok, I think. We're getting on ok."
"Have you found out if....you know."
"I think the answer is no. No, I'm pretty sure it's no. Still we're having a good time, I think I may have made a new friend."
"Oh well, you have a good time. I'll probably be in bed by the time you get home."
"Oh yeah? Is Darren there?" Eden smiled into the phone.
"No he's not! An early night doesn't mean Darren's here."
"Ok, I believe you. See you in the morning then."
"Yeah right, nighty night."
Eden sighed and made her way back to the bar.
Tori was back in her seat by the time Eden rejoined her. Although they didn't know it both women had come to a conclusion.
Eden eased into her seat and picked up her glass. "Cheers." She said, raising her glass to the tall woman.
"Cheers to you too." Said Tori, who leaned forward and stared intently at the smaller woman. "So tell me, any good gay bars in Bath?"
She managed to avoid the fountain of vodka and lime that shot in her direction and made her way round the side of the table towards the girl who was in danger of choking. A couple of hard smacks on her back and Eden managed to get her breathing under control.
"You ok?" Asked Tori rubbing the blonde's back.
"Think so." Eden was still clearing her throat. She looked to her left and into the blue eyes. "The answer is yes."
"Yes to what?" Tori said.
"Yes I know where a good gay bar is, but are you sure you want to go there?"
Tori understood the double meaning to the question. "Yes, I want to go there."
Cathy could hear someone calling her name. She lay still and listened. She looked at the alarm clock on her bedside cabinet. The glowing red numbers told her it was 11.47. Deciding it was her imagination she turned over to go back to sleep. Then she heard the low sound of the tv in the lounge.
She got up and padded across the bedroom and down the short hall to where a soft light was creeping from beneath the lounge door.
Eden was curled up on the sofa. She'd changed out of her clothes and was wearing one of the extra, extra large tee-shirts she'd bought for sleeping in.
"Hey." Cathy said sitting next to her friend. Eden hadn't turned a light on and Cathy peered at her intently, sensing something was amiss. "Did you call me?"
Eden nodded. "Sorry, didn't mean to wake you."
"No, that's alright." She put a hand on her friend's arm. "You ok?"
Eden shook her head no and Cathy pulled her roommate into her arms.
"Didn't it go well?" She said into the blonde's hair.
"No, it went great. I don't know why I'm getting like this." Eden sniffed.
Cathy was at a loss. She decided talking would help. "So where did you go?"
"The Boater. We didn't go anywhere else, it was too cold to walk around."
"Ok, so tell me about her."
"Oh Cathy." Eden smiled, her eyes shining in the light from the tv." She's like..... I don't know." Eden tried again." She's like someone you dream about. You know, what your perfect partner would be. She's gorgeous, funny, and very gallant. She held doors for me. We talked and talked."
"So where's she from?" Cathy was pleased that she'd seemed to have lightened the blonde's mood.
"And? Is he moving here for good?" She pulled her friend closer. When there was no answer she gave her a nudge. "Eden?"
"I've just realised, she didn't tell me anything about herself. " Eden shook her head in sudden wonderment. "We talked all night, but she didn't tell me anything about her, her family, or why she's here."
"What did you talk about?"
"Me, my job. My parents. You." Eden smiled at her friend.
"What did you tell her about me?" Said Cathy suspiciously.
"Only good things. How good a friend you've been to me these last few years, how understanding you've been." Eden leaned more heavily into her. "Thanks."
"Just for being my friend."
Cathy gave her a squeeze. "Always, you know that. So.....what's up?"
Eden shook her head. "It's hard to explain. You know, when I was little, maybe four or five, I got lost on the beach at Bournemouth. I was wandering about, not paying attention to where I was going. Suddenly I realised I'd lost sight of Mum and Dad. I ran and ran, looking for them, but all I could see was a sea of bodies, beach towels and wind breaks. Then I saw Dad. He was frantic, kind of angry with me, but relieved to find me. I cried and cried. I hadn't up to then, I was too scared to cry, but once he found me it just all came out. The relief, the fear, everything."
"Is that how you feel now?" Cathy asked quietly. "Relieved?"
"Yeah. Does that make sense?"
Cathy smiled at her friend. "If this is what you've been waiting for, be sure it's what you think it is. I don't want to see you hurt."
"I'm a big girl Cath."
"Yes you are, best friend in all the world. But you still engage the heart before the head sometimes. I love you Eddie, you know that don't you?"
Eden put her arms around her friend's shoulders and gave her a hug. "Yeah I know. Come on let's go to bed."
"You propositioning me Eden Gallagher?"
"As if." Eden said smiling. Then she looked down at her hands. "I just don't want to be alone tonight." She glanced up at her friend. "Is that ok?"
"Of course it is." Cathy said and stood, holding a hand out
for her friend.
The realm of Morpheus was not going to open it's doors for Victoria Conrad however, but this was a common occurrence.
She'd walked her new friend to a taxi rank in the shadow of the Abbey. They hadn't made it to the gay bar Eden told her about, but, nevertheless, they'd enjoyed their evening in The Boater. Neither woman had felt the need to move from their comfortable little table, and when closing time was announced they'd left by the back door so that Eden could show Tori the view of Pultney Bridge.
The bridge overlooked the weir. Three curved steps constructed to stop the yearly flooding, but which was, at that time, almost obscured beneath the fast flowing water.
The bridge itself was a marvel of Georgian architecture. The only bridge in England with shops on both sides. Infact there is only one other similar bridge in the world, which is in Florence. Eden passed on her sketchy knowledge to the taller woman, who was leaning on the railing taking in the sight of the cleverly floodlit bridge.
"So you'll give me the tour?" Tori asked.
"Of course, when?"
"Um, how about Saturday?"
"Saturday's fine, but I'm working a couple of hours in the morning." Eden damned Mark for asking her to work.
"Saturday afternoon then." Said Tori, turning so that her back was to the railing.
Eden looked to her left and found herself locked in the gaze of cerulean eyes. She returned the gaze and found herself leaning towards the woman, her eyes slid from the blue orbs toward the lips that parted slightly.
A group stumbled out of The Boater noisily, breaking the spell and Eden took a step back. When she looked back at Tori she found the taller woman smiling.
"Come on." Tori said. "Let's find you a taxi."
So Tori had ended up in her hotel room again. She turned the tv on and flicked through the channels, not really seeing what she was watching.
"Eden Gallagher." She said the name out loud. `Who are you?` she thought to herself. `Ten years ago you'd have been here with me now, and in the morning you would have been gone, because that would have been the rules I'd laid down.`
Tori was laying on top of the bed covers, one arm across her eyes, the tv unwatched.
`I don't know if I'm ready for you Eden. I'm here to heal. I don't know if I can give you what you're looking for.`
She sighed a long sigh. `Maybe you can heal me.`
Eden couldn't concentrate. It was 11.30am and she hadn't done anything meaningful at work since she'd arrived in the office at 9am.
Mark watched her as she aimlessly paced around the office. A number of customers had come in and must have thought that all the good property in Bath had been sold, for this young woman had been unable to find them anything suitable. For the twentieth or thirtieth time that day she went to the window and peered out.
"What's going on Eddie?" Asked Mark leaning back in his chair.
"Going on? Nothing's going on." Said Eden returning to her chair and pulling out some details that needed to be posted to prospective customers. "What did the Johansens want, anything up to 400 grand?"
"No, up to 200. Put your estate agent head on Eden, the one you have on right now doesn't work."
Eden dropped the papers on the desk and let out a long sigh.
She gave him an embarrassed look. "Sorry Mark. Hey, you know I said I'd work tomorrow?"
"Yeah?" He said suspiciously.
"Well, can I back out?"
"Depends. Why?" He knew he held the upper hand.
"I'm showing a friend round Bath. I'd like the whole day."
"Just a minute." He turned to one of the other two people who worked in the office. " Jason, can you do a few hours tomorrow morning?"
Jason looked up from his work. "I s`pose so. As long as I'm finished before the rugby starts."
Mark turned back to Eden but her attention was taken. He followed her gaze and saw the woman who had come in the day before walking towards the door.
Eden stood as she entered and held out her hand. Tori took it holding it a little longer than was necessary. Shaking her hand gently she said. "Good morning."
"It is." Agreed Eden. "Please sit down."
Tori let her eyes roam over the young woman. She was dressed in a grey trouser suit with a white silk tee-shirt, and to Tori's eyes was very, very attractive. She'd thought about that a lot the previous night. She'd debated til after 3am whether or not to continue with what she'd begun in The Boater.
But the sight of the girl with laughing green eyes and golden hair kept burning itself into her thoughts. And she found herself wishing the new day was starting so that she would once again find herself in the company of this gentle soul.
But she overslept. It was after 11am when she woke and nearly noon by the time she got to the office.
"We've been faxed the forms for you to fill out for the property, and we've been authorised to hand the keys over to you." Said Eden as she opened her desk drawer and pulled out a small bunch of keys. "They're all labelled. Front door, back door. This one is for the garage and there's an extra security lock on all the doors which this thing fits." She showed Tori a peculiar looking key.
Tori took the keys from her, rubbing her thumb across the back of Eden's hand as she did so. "Thankyou." She smiled, and stood. "When's your lunch break?"
"Whenever you want." Said Eden gazing up at her.
"Let's go then." Said Tori, unable to hide the self-satisfied grin on her face.
Eden looked across at Mark who just shrugged. "So now your lunch break's from 12 and not 1. Ok Eddie, don't get lost." He smirked.
They were outside the office and Eden was pulling on her coat. "Eddie?" Said Tori.
"Some of my friends call me that." Eden said, indicating with a nod of her head that they should walk past the office towards Milsom Street.
"But Eden's such a beautiful name, it seems a shame to change it."
Eden blushed again and wondered briefly if there was any world record for the amount of blushes in any twenty-four hours.
As they walked up the gentle slope of Milsom Street Eden decided to try her luck. "I was wondering why you came to Bath."
She immediately regretted it when she felt the tall woman tense and slow her stride.
Eden stopped and looked back at Tori, who had found something incredibly interesting to look at in a gentlemen's outfitters. The smaller woman walked back and regarded the austere suits with her.
"Sorry, didn't mean to pry." She said.
Tori sighed. "That's ok." She looked down at her companion. "Why do I want to tell you my sad story? Because I do." Tori sounded surprised, and chuckled to herself. "Come on, we were going to do lunch."
The pub used to be a bank and the outside bore witness to its origins, but inside it was plush and comfortable. Eden got the drinks while Tori found a seat.
When Eden got to the table with the drinks Tori handed her a card.
"What's this?" Said Eden taking the card.
"It's my phone number. Well, the mobile one anyway, disregard the London number, that's my old business number."
Eden fished into her bag and retrieved her mobile. "I'm gonna put it in my memory, tell me what the number is."
Eden repeated the number. "Oh hang on, missed the 8. Ok go ahead."
"734." She waited. "251."
"Got it." Said Eden, saving the number and then assigning it a letter. "I'm gonna put you under X."
"Why?" Said Tori.
"No X." Said Eden, as she finished programming the phone.
"No, why X?" Tori sniggered.
"Oh." Another blush. "Well, I have Val under V and Terri under T, so I've put you under X. I shouldn't think anyone I meet will have a name beginning with X. Would they?"
"Stranger things have happened."
They sat and held each other's gaze for a moment.
"What were we talking about?" Said Tori.
"You I think." Said Eden smiling.
"Oh right. So how long is your lunch break?"
"As long as necessary."
"Ok." Tori closed her eyes for a moment, amazing herself that she was even contemplating letting this woman into the sad mess that was her life.
"My father is Gordon Conrad, he owns Conrad and Kemp."
Eden's eyes bugged. "You're not serious! They're one of the largest real estate companies in the country!"
Tori nodded. "My father has pretty strict ideas. Hess adamant that the business should stay in the family."
"That's not unusual, it's an old business."
"That's right, and my father is stuck in the dark ages. He won't have a woman running the business. When old Harold Kemp died father was left in sole control because Kemp didn't have an heir. Now he wants the business to stay in the Conrad family. Kemp gave over control to him on the understanding that the Kemp name would survive."
Eden put her glass down. "So who's going to take over after your father?"
"It would have been Rory."
"My brother. He was two years older than me. Father never really took any notice of me when I was younger. I was packed off to boarding school as soon as I was old enough, and from there went to university. I had a job waiting for me in the business when I graduated, and everything was fine. Eventually Rory would take over and the business would stay in the family."
"So what went wrong?" Asked Eden.
"Rory was killed in a skiing accident in Aspen." She said regarding her glass.
"Oh God I'm sorry."
Tori shrugged. "We weren't close." But the pain showed.
"Anyway," Tori continued." Father suddenly needed someone who would be able to carry on the business after he retired. He wanted to keep it in the family so it meant he had to expand his family."
"He wanted to marry you off?" Eden was horrified.
Tori nodded. "Damien.........."
Eden reached across and grabbed Tori's hand "Damien? Like the Omen's Damien."
Tori was pleased at the lightening of the moment. "Yeah, I hadn't thought of that. Well, Damien and I became engaged. He was ok, very charming. I grew very fond of him. Father thought the sun shone out of his behind. He had a brilliant business mind, so Dad immediately offered him a job."
Tori sighed. "The wedding was set for last September." She saw the alarm in Eden's face and shook her head. "It didn't happen."
"Oh wow, you didn't stand him up at the altar did you?" Eden was engrossed.
Tori shook her head. "No, nothing as dramatic as that. I called it off about a month before. Dad went apeshit, so did Damien. It was gonna be a huge do. Dad was really pulling out all the stops."
Tori fiddled with her glass. "I um, I had a minor breakdown. I haven't worked since then. I've been living in my flat in Chelsea, but just had to get away for a while. I told Dad I'd take some time away and give him an answer in the next few months."
Eden felt her chest constrict. "What are you gonna do?"
Tori shook her head. "I'm not sure. I feel like I'm letting everyone down." Tori suddenly exhaled loudly, making Eden jump. "I can't believe I just told you all that, even my shrink didn't get that much out of me."
"So, why did you tell me?" Eden asked.
Tori regarded her for a long time. "Because I think maybe you're going to figure in my future, and I want you to know what you're getting into."
This time there was no blush. Eden knew exactly what this woman was giving her, an insight into her soul. "Thankyou for trusting me."
Tori took in the features of the woman sitting opposite her, the gentle lines of her face, the small lines at the corner of her mouth. And, above all, the eyes. "I've found you, and I didn't even realise I was looking." She said more to herself than to her companion.
"Well, I've waited long enough." Said Eden leaning forward on the table.
"We really need to talk." Tori stood, and drained her glass. "There's a cute little cottage somewhere. I need to be shown how to turn the electric and gas on."
Eden reached for her phone and dialled the office.
Tori opened the door to the cottage and stepped back so that Eden could enter. They had made a stop on the way to get some groceries and Eden had her arms full of shopping bags.
"It's cold." Said Tori as she entered the cottage.
"You're right." Said Eden and opened a small door under the stairs. Inside were the master switches for the electric and gas. She threw the switch for the electric and pulled on a long red handle which had `gas` written on it. "Try the light switch." She said to Tori.
Tori did so and was rewarded by the bulb flickering to life.
"Looks good." Said Eden who then made her way to the kitchen. "The boiler is in here. I'll have to light the pilot light."
Tori watched her go and went into the lounge to stand by the window.
Eden put some of the groceries in the fridge which had juddered to life, and then rooted in a cupboard and found a kettle which she filled, put on the cooker and lit the burner below it.
Tori had been very quiet on the trip up to the cottage and Eden was wondering if the tall woman was regretting her sudden and detailed story. It was the first time that things had been strained between them and Eden found it uncomfortable. Things were moving very quickly between them, and though Eden had never had trouble making friends, she guessed this was not the case for Tori. Perhaps she was regretting everything. The `date`, the admissions of her attraction towards her, and now bringing her here, to the place that was going to be her sanctuary.
Eden walked the small distance to the lounge. "You ok?" she asked.
Tori turned from the view and faced the shorter woman. "Sit down." Was all she said.
"Just a minute." Said Eden and returned to the kitchen to turn down the burner under the kettle, all the time a twist of fear tightening unbearably in her stomach.
Eden returned to the lounge and took a seat on the couch, Tori remained standing.
It was still chilly and both women had kept their coats on. "On the drive up here I suddenly realised what I could offer you." Tori began.
"I don't want anything from you. Well, nothing material anyway." Eden smiled trying to lighten the tall woman's obviously dark mood. It didn't work.
"I'm a mess Eden. My life is a mess. I've been sent away by my father to sort it out. I've made a mess of every relationship I've ever had. I never cared who I hurt, or the consequences of my actions. I'm rich, and that means I can have what and who I like. Until Rory died my father turned a blind eye to it. He didn't need me then. But when I became the heir to the business he decided that I should toe the family line. I had to become, in his words, respectable. I met Damien at a cocktail party. To father he was perfect. Yes, I grew to like him. Maybe even love him."
"Were you in love with him?" Eden asked.
"No, I've never been in love with anyone, don't know if I can." Tori sighed. "There's the problem Eden. I don't want you to expect something I can't deliver. I use people like you. I devour them and then spit them out." She turned her back on the girl, unable to face her any longer.
"What are you doing Tori?" Eden watched the tense back, confused.
"I'm trying to show you what I am." Tori said, refusing to turn around.
"Why don't you just let me find out for myself?" Eden stood and walked up behind her.
Tori turned and found herself pinned by green eyes. "You won't like what you find."
"I'll be the judge of that." Said Eden, but Tori couldn't meet the trusting gaze. "Look." She said, a little desperation showing in her voice. "Why don't we have another evening in the grand metropolis?"
Tori smiled at the description of Bath.
"Hey, that's better." Said Eden, relieved that she could produce that smile. "We could do some different pubs."
"Actually I can't." Tori saw the instant disappointment in the green eyes. "I'd like to, but I want to go home and pick some stuff up. I was going up tonight and coming back tomorrow morning."
"Oh well, never mind." Said Eden. "You'll still be back for your tour though?"
"Yeah, I'll be back." Said Tori. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what?"
"I don't know, sorry for going all morose on you." She reached a hand out and cupped the blonde woman's cheek. "I like you Eden. I like you a lot. Someone like you deserves something I don't think I can give you. Do you understand that? I want you to be happy."
"Don't you deserve a little happiness too?"
Tori removed her hand from Eden's face. "I wonder sometimes. It's like I'm on the outside when it comes to happiness. I know it's there, but it's always happening to someone else. I don't go looking for it anymore."
"When are you leaving?" Said Eden her eyes never leaving the taller woman's.
"Oh, I thought about 7, then I'd miss all the rush hour. I'd be there by 10." She gave Eden a puzzled look. "Why?"
"D'you fancy some company?" Eden smiled at her.
"Well, I hadn't thought of that. It's just a flying visit really, I want to pick up my computer and some clothes." Tori shrugged her shoulders. "Hey, why not?"
"That's great!" Said Eden a wide grin on her face. I haven't been out of Bath for months. "Then an idea occurred to her. "Why don't we go now?"
"I thought you had to go back to work." Tori said.
"I can fix that, Mark owes me some favours."
Tori nodded. "Ok, I'll drive you home so you can change. Then we'll shoot off. But first," she said making for the kitchen, "let's have that cup of tea."
Eden nodded and reached into her pocket for her mobile. She sat on the couch again and rang her office number. "Jason?" She said when it was answered, "put me through to Mark."
"Eden, how did I know you'd call me?" Mark said, but there was an amused tone to his voice.
"Ok Mark. Listen I'm not going to be back today."
"I guessed that." Said Mark and Eden heard the sound of computer keys rattling in the background.
"Um Mark, I need another favour." The rattling stopped. "You know you owe me those five days holiday. Remember, you called me in off my holiday when Rich went sick?"
"Yeah?" Her boss was suspicious.
"Well, I know it's short notice, but can I take them next week? No-one else is off and the market's pretty slow at the moment." She waited, hoping Tori wouldn't come back in for a moment.
"Eden, you sure like to spring surprises. Ok, but on one condition."
"What?" Eden never liked Mark's conditions, in the past one was going on a date with his brother. She smiled remembering the disaster that had been.
"You introduce me to your new friend."
Eden clapped a hand over her mouth, she took eight seconds to compose herself, then said. "Of course, I'll think of something. Thanks Mark."
"Ok Eddie, have a good week then."
"I will, bye."
"Oh Eden?" Mark said before she could disconnect them.
"Be good, and if you can't be good, be careful."
"I'm always good Mark, bye." She disconnected before he could reply.
Tori returned to the lounge with a tray with a teapot, milk, sugar and biscuits on it.
"The kitchen's well equipped. I had to wash some stuff out before I could use it though. I guess this place has been empty a while." She poured two cups of tea and offered one to Eden.
"Yeah, the rent is a little high for a two bedroomed place. That's more the rent you'd pay for a larger family home." She added milk and sugar to her tea. "I have the rest of the afternoon off, so we can go whenever you like."
"Ok, we'll finish our tea then I'll take you home to get
Eden directed Tori to the flat in Larkhall. She insisted the woman accompany her into the old Georgian building.
"Wait in there while I change." She said pointing towards the lounge.
Tori walked into the lounge, finding it in comfortable disarray. It wasn't untidy as such, just lived in.
"Turn the telly on if you like." Called Eden from her bedroom.
Tori did so and sat back in the couch to await her friend.
She looked up when she heard someone coming and was surprised to see someone she didn't know.
"Oh, um, hi. " Said Cathy, totally stunned. "Are you Victoria?"
"I am." Tori stood, holding out her hand. "But call me Tori."
Cathy took the offered hand, shaking it briefly. "Tori it is then, Eddie told me about you."
"She did?" Said Tori, growing interested. "What did she tell you?"
"Nothing that would interest you." Said Eden entering the lounge carrying a small bag. She looked at Cathy. "You're home early."
"I'm out tonight with Darren, I wanted to have some extra time to myself. Anyway, what are you doing here?"
"I'm going to London with Tori, we're going to collect some of her stuff. I'll be back tomorrow." She handed her bag to Tori who left to put it in the car.
Eden went to the music centre and selected some cd`s to take, having seen the CD player in Tori's car.
"Things are moving fast aren't they?" Said Cathy.
"A little. I just want to be with her. Does that make sense?" Eden looked out of the window at the tall woman who was waiting by the car.
"Yeah it makes sense. You're falling hard Eddie, don't get hurt. OK?" Said Cathy, who then added. "You're right, she's gorgeous."
"She is isn't she? And I won't." Eden gave her friend a hug and left. "Have a good time tonight." She called back before shutting the front door.
"All set then?" Said Tori as she buckled up her seat belt.
"Yep." Said Eden. "I brought some cd`s, is that alright?"
"Absolutely, what do you have?" Tori put the car in gear and wound her way around the narrow street of Larkhall before joining the main road that lead towards the M4, which was the motorway which linked London to the west.
"Um." Eden looked at her selection. "Tears for Fears, Adiemus and M People. Is there anything you have that you'd rather listen to?"
"No, put Tears for Fears on, I haven't got any of their stuff." Tori handed Eden the case for the George Michael CD, which was still in the player.
"I originally bought this CD out of loyalty, but I really like their stuff now. I saw them live once, they're class." Eden pushed the CD in and returned George Michael to the glove compartment.
"Loyalty?" Tori gave her a puzzled look.
"They're from Bath originally. I once passed Roland in Milsom Street."
"Ah, I didn't know that." Tori pulled on the handbrake and waited for a red light to change. "I'm glad you're coming with me." The dark woman said.
"I'm glad you're letting me come."
The first song on the CD started to play. It was called Woman in Chains.
It was 5.30 when Tori found herself in a traffic jam on the London Embankment. Beside her the blonde woman slept. She regarded her companion with affection, gently taking the small hand, which had fallen between the seats, and placing it on the girl's lap.
The movement woke her.
"Oh." She said rubbing her face and peering through the rain soaked windscreen at the traffic banked up in front of her. "How long have I been asleep?"
"Really? Tori I'm sorry. Some company I've been huh?" She shifted in her seat, trying to get rid of the ache in her back.
"That's ok, I'm used to driving alone." Said Tori, as she moved the car forwards another few yards. "Tired?" She asked.
"A little, I didn't get much sleep last night." Eden gave Tori a knowing smile.
"Nor me. Overactive brain."
"Same here." Eden sighed. "But I had Cathy, she's a good friend."
"At last!" Said Tori, startling Eden as the traffic began to move.
By 6.15 they were pulling into the carpark of Tori's apartment block. She manoeuvred the Shogun into the bay marked 72.
Eden pulled her bag from the back seat and followed Tori into a small lift. She pushed the button with four on it.
The doors opened to a hallway carpeted in plush burgundy. Tori opened the door with 407 on it by keying numbers into a keypad.
After entering the apartment Eden lost the gift of speech.
"What's up?" Asked Tori.
Regaining her voice she said, "I've never seen anything like this, it's beautiful." She walked around the lounge, noting the tasteful furnishings. She turned back to Tori. "What drove you away from this?"
"Life mostly. It was closing in on me, I needed some space." Tori took Eden's bag from her and threw it on the sofa. "Listen, you up to a night out? There's a club I know, if you're not too tired that is."
"Yeah, why not? I've never been to a London club." Her face suddenly dropped." I only brought jeans though."
"That's ok, there's no dress code in this club, you'll see." She pointed down the short hall. "You can change in my bedroom if you like, there's a bathroom off of it."
Eden picked up her bag and made her way to Tori's room.
Tori watched her go and sat on the sofa, reaching for the remote, she turned on the tv. This was the first time she'd brought someone to her apartment. She's always thought of it as her own personal hideaway, the fact that she didn't give a second thought to allowing Eden into her space, told her volumes.
`This is the start.` She said to herself. `Don't blow it.`
Tori had called a cab for 9pm. She herself had changed, earning an appreciative whistle from her companion. She'd decided on white jeans and a black vest. She spent an hour downloading and replying to e-mail and checking a few sites in the internet.
"I'm addicted to this stuff." She told the smaller woman who sat on the spare bed in the room, which doubled as a computer room. "All my e-mail chums will think I've abandoned them."
She shut down the computer and held her hand out to the blonde woman. "Ready?" Remembering the first time she'd done that, Eden hesitated before taking the hand and allowing herself to be pulled up.
"You smell nice." Said Tori, bending and sniffing around Eden's shoulder.
"White musk." Said Eden, "I pinched it from Cathy, she has about four bottles of it."
The phone rang. "Yes?" Said Tori after picking it up. "Right, thanks Jeff." She turned to Eden. "The taxi's here, that was the doorman."
It was a longer journey than Eden thought it would be. Travelling from one end of Bath to the other probably only took ten minutes, London was a whole different ball game. After 45 minutes they were getting out of the taxi outside a club called Firefly's.
"Is this a regular haunt of yours?" Said Eden as Tori paid the entrance fee for both of them.
"I've been here once or twice." Said Tori. As she walked into the club she reached back and took Eden's hand.
Eden followed behind, looking down at their linked hands, noticing how hers disappeared in the larger one.
The club was very crowded, and it didn't take long for Eden to realise it was occupied by women and only women. In Bath there were a couple of gay pubs and a club, but both were mixed, she'd never been into an all women bar.
Every seat was occupied, the occupants obviously reluctant to leave incase their seat was taken in their absence. Tori wound her way through the heaving throng until she found a space near a wall.
"Stay here, I'll get some drinks." She shouted over the pulsating music. Without asking Eden what she wanted, she disappeared into the crowd.
Eden stood and watched. One or two women were eyeing her appreciatively, others were more occupied with each other. She smiled at one woman who smiled back and started to make her way towards her. `Ooops.`
"Haven't seen you here before." The woman said, placing one hand on the wall beside Eden's head. The woman had very short hair and a hard face, a stud pierced one eyebrow.
"Haven't been here before," Shouted Eden, "I'm not from `round here."
"Not many are." She looked down and saw the Eden didn't have a drink. "Can I get you a drink?"
Eden didn't like the fact that the loud music meant she had to lean forward to make the woman hear her. "No thanks, my friend is getting me one."
"Oh yeah, and who's that?"
"Her." Said Eden, gesturing with a nod of her head over the woman's shoulder. The woman turned and found her vision filled with the black leather of Tori's jacket.
"Oh.......right." She said, and was gone.
Eden chuckled as Tori handed her the vodka and lime. "Thanks." She said as she took the drink.
"That's ok. Was she hitting on you?" Said Tori, lurching forward as she was bumped from behind.
Eden steadied her own drink. "Yep, thanks for rescuing me."
"Let's see if we can find somewhere less crowded." Tori shouted, and once again took the smaller woman's hand, easing them both through the crowd.
They found a quiet corner with a small shelf where they could put their drinks. "So, what d'you think?" Tori shouted to Eden.
"It's great, we have nothing like this at home." Eden took her drink from the small shelf and took a sip.
They both stood in silence for a while, then spoke at the same time.
"You go ahead." Said Eden.
"Well, I was just wondering where you went with girlfriends in Bath."
"I haven't had a girlfriend. Well, not a long term one." Eden cursed the blush that coloured her face again.
"But I thought............"
"No, I've met some wonderful women in the past few years. But never found `the one`." Eden said.
"I wouldn't have thought you'd have trouble finding `the one`. "Tori said. "You're getting plenty of attention in here." Tori looked around at the glances being shot their way.
"I just never found someone who makes me feel................. like I belong with them. I had one friend, Karen. She was very possessive. She never wanted me to go anywhere without her. I was never actually going out with her, but she told everyone I was." Eden frowned at the memory. "In the end I had to be a little rude. Had to tell her where to get off."
Tori realised Eden was waiting for her to come up with a tale from her past. "I don't get serious." She immediately regretted her words when she saw the hurt look in the green eyes. "I mean, I've never got serious. Not yet. I suppose I haven't found `the one`."
Tori's head shot up as she heard the strains to a very loved song. She reached down and took Eden's hand. "Put your drink down." She said and after Eden had done so she led her towards the dance floor.
"I'm not very good at this." Said Eden as they stood facing each other in the middle of the crowded floor.
Tori took the girl's hands and placed them around her own waist, underneath the leather jacket that she still wore. Then she wound her long arms around Eden's shoulders and pulled the girl close.
Never, never had Eden felt such a feeling of belonging. This was it, she decided. Here in the middle of a crowded dancefloor, she had found her place in the universe. As far as she was concerned, there was no one else for miles. Just her and Tori. Just her and the love of her life. `Wow, that was profound!` she said to herself. `Where did that come from?`
She was brought out of her musings by a finger beneath her chin, lifting her face.
"What?" She said breathlessly.
Tori's answer was to dip her head and nip at Eden's bottom lip. "Do you want this?" She asked her breath warm against Eden's face.
"More than anything." Was Eden's reply.
Eden had never seen anything like the smile that split the tall woman's face, then her mouth was possessed by Tori's, the lips hot and tasting faintly of the rum she'd drunk earlier. She opened her mouth at the insistence of the questing tongue and allowed herself to sink into the sensation of being totally overwhelmed. Her hands bunched up the material of Tori's vest as she felt a weakness in her knees and she felt the hold around her tightening as the kiss continued.
She gasped as Tori broke away from her and rested her cheek on the warm skin of Tori's chest.
They stayed like that, swaying gently to the music, and beyond. Even when the tempo picked up and women gyrated wildly around them, they stayed, locked together, savouring the beginnings of something they both knew was growing.
`I can do this.` Thought Tori, squeezing the woman in her arms. `Please help me.` She didn't know to whom she was pleading for help, but she hoped her plea would be answered.
"Hey there," she called down to the smaller woman who seemed to be dozing. "Are you falling asleep on me?"
"No." Came the muffled response, "I'm just comfy."
"D'you want to go?"
Eden gazed up into the blue eyes, which looked violet in the dim light of the nightclub. "Not really, do you?"
Tori shook her head. "I'm fine if you are." She took a step back and took Eden's hand in hers. "Let`s go find our drinks."
When they got back to their corner they discovered their drinks had gone. So Tori battled her way through the dense crowd to the bar.
As soon as she had left another woman sidled up to Eden. This was becoming tedious, hadn't the woman seen her with Tori?
"Hope you like it rough." The woman said, an unfathomable smile on her face.
"Pardon?" said Eden. She felt uncomfortable and looked past the women, there was no sign of Tori.
"All you'll get is heartache. She plays rough, she likes pain. Get out now while you can." The woman wasn't unattractive. Probably in her late twenties. Her eyes were almost as blue as Tori's but her hair was lighter, and cut short around her neck.
"Look I don't know who you are, but I'm just fine. Ok?" Eden fidgeted on the spot.
"I'm someone who knows her. Someone who loved her. I was like you once, but she used me. Took what she wanted and left. Don't let her do it to you."
"Debbie." Both women looked towards the low voice.
"Tori." Said the woman. "Long time."
Tori handed Eden her glass. "Didn't know you came here." She said to her old acquaintance.
"Well, The Gym isn't half as much fun since you stopped going there. This your new hunting ground?" She looked at Eden. "Your tastes seem to have changed a little, didn't know you went after kids."
"I'll have you know................" A large raised hand halted Eden's tirade. She looked up to Tori who shook her head at her.
"Debbie, I'm only in London tonight. I'm just showing Eden around. Now, if you'll excuse us?" She put a hand on Eden's back and started to usher her away.
"Yeah sure. Don't forget what I said sweetie." She shouted after them.
They managed to find a couple of seats not taken and sank onto them.
"Who was that?" Asked Eden, though she already knew the answer.
Tori rubbed her forehead and then took a long swig of her drink. "Old girlfriend."
"I thought you said you didn't have girlfriends." Eden said, the woman had shaken her.
"I didn't, she's a girl and an old friend. Satisfied?" Tori really didn't need this.
"Ok, I'm sorry." Eden reached over and put her arm around tense shoulders. "She shook me up a little."
Tori stared at the floor, resting her elbows on her knees. "What did she say?" She asked in a whisper.
"She said you like to hurt people, she said you liked pain."
Tori turned to Eden and smiled. "She was right."
Drinking her drink in one mouthful she suddenly stood. "Drink up, we're leaving." Tori said abruptly.
Eden did her best to finish her drink quickly then she stood, swaying a little as she did so. Tori caught her elbow and steadied her. "You ok?" The tall woman asked.
"The vodka's gone straight to me knees." Said Eden, "I should have had something to eat."
"I'm sorry, I'm not looking after you very well am I?"
Eden saw the elegant face tensing.
"I can look after myself." Said the smaller woman.
"Maybe." Said Tori, "come on, let's go."
Eden followed Tori out of the club but had trouble keeping up with her. The woman's long legs took her through the doors and out onto the street, while the shorter woman got caught in a small crowd entering the club.
"Tori!" She called to the retreating back.
Tori didn't seem to hear and carried on walking at a brisk pace.
"Tori, will you stop!"
The angry voice pulled her up short. She didn't turn but waited for Eden to catch up with her.
"Thankyou." Said a breathless Eden as she came level with her. She looked up into the emotionless face. "Where are we going?"
Tori laughed sarcastically. "You tell me." She looked around her and spotted a taxi. Whistling, she gestured toward the driver who pulled in.
The two women climbed into the back and Tori gave her address. The journey was made in silence.
They arrived back at Tori's apartment in quicker time than they'd taken to get to the club, the reason being the lighter traffic flow.
Tori immediately went to her kitchen and rifled through her freezer. "I have a couple of pizzas." She called from the kitchen.
"That's fine." Said Eden who settled onto the sofa.
By the time Tori had retrieved the pizza's from the freezer, read and reread the instructions and put them in the oven, Eden had fallen asleep on the sofa.
Tori found her curled up in one corner, one arm under her head the other curled round a large cushion.
Tori sat in the chair opposite and watched her sleep. `She really doesn't know what she's getting into. What were you thinking of taking her to that place? Best end it here. Save us both some heartache.`
She crept over and sat on the edge of the sofa, brushing some golden hair back from Eden's shoulder.
The green eyes fluttered open and a soft smile lit the small woman's face. "Hi." Eden whispered, and started to get up.
"No, stay there, it's been a long day. I've put the pizzas in, but if you're too tired don't worry." Tori gently pushed her back down onto the soft couch.
Eden lay back and then reached her arms out to the older woman. "Come here."
Tori stood abruptly. "No........... I can't , I have to............."
"What? What is it?" Eden's brows knitted in consternation.
"The pizzas, they'll burn."
"Go and turn them off."
Tori stood for a moment, seemingly uncertain, then left for a moment. She returned and resumed her place, standing in front of the reclining form of Eden.
"Now." Said Eden in a softly seductive voice. "Come here." Again she opened her arms.
This time Tori allowed herself to be pulled down into a soft embrace. Eden wrapped her arms around her, pulling the dark head down onto her shoulder.
"You going to tell me what's wrong?" The blonde asked.
There was silence for a while, then a long drawn out sigh from Tori.
"What Debbie said was true." Tori's breath was warm on Eden's chest, her voice muffled by the smaller woman's denim shirt.
"I hurt people, I'm no good for you." Tori started to pull away from Eden, but the blonde strengthened her grip.
"Oh no you don't." Said Eden. "I'm the only one who decides what's good for me." She gave Tori a gentle shake. "Why won't you give us a chance?"
"I want to, believe me. But..........."
"But what? Let's just see what happens." Eden spoke into the soft ebony hair. "No rushing, no great expectations. Just take each day as it comes." She pushed Tori away so that she could look into her eyes. "What d`you say?"
Tori doubted she'd be able to deny this woman anything. She nodded. "Ok, but don't say I didn't warn you." This was said with a smile but Eden knew there was a serious warning behind it.
"Let's go to bed." Said Eden.
Tori raised an eyebrow. "Bed?"
"Yes, bed, I'm worn out. Like I said before, last night I had a date with the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, and after she left me I couldn't think of anything else. I didn't get too much sleep." Eden smiled as Tori nodded.
"You're right, let's go." She stood, waiting for Eden to join her. "Um, where should I............?" Eden waited.
"With me." Was all that Tori said as she took her hand and lead her to the bedroom.
By the time Tori had finished in the bathroom Eden was in bed and fast asleep. She had donned one of her oversize tee shirts and was flat on her back, dead to the world.
Tori eased into bed beside her and lay on her side facing the blonde. A small chuckle found its way from the dark woman's lips. `You've got a beautiful woman in bed with you Tori, and you're not going to touch her. That's a first!` She turned onto her back and regarded the darkened ceiling. `It's also a first having someone in this bed.`
She looked across at the glowing numbers on the alarm clock. 02.37. She'd get a few hours sleep and then start thinking about what she wanted to take to Bath with her.
Eden chose that moment to turn in her sleep and Tori found a warm soft body snuggling up against her right side.
Eden settled down again and Tori closed her eyes, though she doubted
sleep would find her in the near future.
Eden took a moment to take in her surroundings. Then she realised where she was. She looked to her right at the alarm, the glowing numbers told her it was 10.12am. The thick curtains were pulled but she could see the grey London light filtering through the cracks. She'd known as soon as she awoke that she was alone. She heard noises coming from another part of the apartment and eased out of bed to investigate.
Eden found Tori sitting on the floor in the spare bedroom dismantling her computer.
"Hi." The blonde said.
Tori turned, a smile of genuine affection graced her features. "Good morning, sleep well?"
Eden nodded and made her way over to the seated woman and bent, putting one hand behind the dark head. "Very well." She said and dipped down giving Tori the softest of kisses.
Eden straightened back up and smiled at her friend who hadn't moved or opened her eyes since the kiss.
"You shouldn't have let me sleep so long." Said Eden who sat on the bed.
Tori went back to her dismantling. "You needed the sleep." She looked up to her with a mischievous grin. "And you looked so cute, didn't have the heart."
Eden laughed and stood. "I'm going to get dressed then I'll give you a hand." With that she left the small room.
An hour later they had the back seat of the Shogun folded down and were starting to load Tori's computer into it. She also had a few bags with some of the clothes she'd left behind, though she'd brought three cases with her when she'd checked in to the Bath Spa.
"Let's get some lunch, then we'll make a move. Ok?" Said Tori.
"Sounds good to me." They'd had some toast and cereal, but were both still hungry. The half-cooked pizzas had found their way into the bin.
After a pub lunch Tori went back to her apartment and made sure it was secure. She saw the doorman and told him she wouldn't be back for a few months. She remembered to empty the bins, not wanting the smell of mouldy pizzas to welcome her back when she returned. `If I return,` flashed through her mind.
They did surprisingly well considering it was a Saturday and by 6.30 they were heading into Bath.
Eden had chattered constantly on the journey, becoming increasing frustrated that Tori seemed, once again, to be retreating into that inaccessible place that Eden had no way into.
In the end Eden gave up. The last hour or so of the journey was completed in silence.
"D'you want me to help you unload this stuff?" Eden asked as the Shogun sped down the new dual carriageway that bypassed the small village of Swainswick, much to the villagers relief.
"No it's not much, I can manage." Tori said, not looking at the woman beside her.
Eden nodded. "Ok." She was running out of time. They turned right, towards Larkhall. "What about the tour?"
"I'll call you."
Tori negotiated the narrow streets and found Eden's building without any prompting from the girl.
"Here you are." Said Tori.
"What's going on?" Asked Eden, regarding the dark profile with concern.
"Nothing, just brought you home." The smile on Tori's face was strained.
"Ok." Said Eden pulling open the door and jumping out. She leaned in and snagged her bag from the back. "If that's how you wanna play it, carry on." She slammed the door shut and walked up the steps to the front door, determined not to look back. It took a moment for her to find her keys in her bag, all the time aware that the Shogun was still there, its engine running. She finally got the door open and dove inside, slamming yet another door behind her.
Eden stood with her back to the door, her heart hammering in her chest, and listened to the sound of the car pulling away.
Tori had sat and watched Eden's tense back from the safety of the Shogun and winced when the heavy door slammed. Her fingers were digging into the steering wheel, and her head dropped when Eden disappeared from sight.
She pushed the gear stick forward and sped forward.
The idea had started some time after they'd left London. Eden was chattering away, but Tori hadn't heard much of it. She was lost in her own insecurities. She hadn't had a long-term relationship with a woman since Jodie. She hadn't been in a long-term relationship period. Damien had known why they were engaged. Sure, they slept together once or twice, but both realised that it was a relationship more to do with convenience than anything else. She thought she'd be able to live with that. Damien didn't seem to object to her `evenings out`, and the question of them living together was never raised. They played the `couple` for her parents. But she became increasing uncomfortable with the arrangement, culminating with her calling the wedding off. She'd received a few irate calls from him, a couple downright threatening. Her father got in on the act too, using emotional blackmail and another, even more terrifying weapon, her mother.
So she'd decided on the journey back to her new home that she couldn't bring the young woman into such an already complicated life. She wouldn't be able to commit anything to her, and she guessed Eden was the sort that would eventually want some sort of commitment. She could have used her for a while, she'd done that before. The thought was banished quickly though. She liked Eden, and that was the problem. She wanted her more than anything she could remember. Sharing her bed with her the previous night had been divine. She'd woken to find her face buried in soft, fragrant red-gold hair. She'd pushed the hair back from the sleeping face and watched her for long moments. Her hand crept beneath the white tee shirt and smoothed across a soft hip and down a taut thigh.
It was then that the doubts started to surface. Would she be able to walk away from this woman when the time came? She thought not.
So as she made her way back to Summer Cottage she decided she'd done what was best.
Best for Eden.
Return to The Bard's Corner - Midgit