A Little Piece of Paradise
"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.
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