Disclaimer: This is the second part to my original story Snap Shots part 1.
Language warning: Not often but yes.
Love and sex warning: This story definitely portrays a loving relationship between two women.
Violence Warning: Yes definitely more than a projectile camera this time and from about chapter 8 onwards.
Thanks: First of all I would like to thank Garnet for Beta reading this story. Tammy for once again provided me with all the relevant horsey information, and her patience in explaining to me the purpose of a girth!
And to everyone for the overwhelming feedback I receivedJ
Let me know what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org
As the sun disappeared behind the horizon and the marble moon rose gracefully into the darkening sky, the city centre became alive with the buzz of excitable expectancies. Out along Warwick Street, the air was thick with anticipation, and the grandeur of the approaching exhibition brought a feeling of exhilaration, even to those who weren't attending the showings.
The gallery was lit with a multitude of illuminated white lights shining down upon the building. On the roof was a wide beamed spotlight, which lit up the cloudy night sky with a wide circular swirling ray. Tess looked up at the beam shaking her head, almost picturing the 'Batman' symbol moving around the sky. Andrew Spencer had really pushed the boat out this year, making it the most spectacular event so far.
The gallery itself was decorated with even more multi coloured lights. Wrapped around the handrails that ascended the wide stone steps was a long train of what Tess assumed were blinking fairy lights, which although may have looked aesthetically pleasing, took away rails primary use. The stone steps themselves were covered with a wide red velvet carpet, spanning the width of the grey ascending structure. Tess couldn't help feeling that there was just way too much of pretentiousness about the whole setting, and if she was honest with herself she really didn't want to be here. Though on the plus side, she wasn't the only artist there this evening which meant plenty more to take the spotlight away from herself. Still...why the hell did I agree to this? She thought.
Looking through the right hand side window of her taxi, Tess watched the gentle flow of guests as they made their way into the gallery. They were stuck behind a row of seven cars, all waiting in a line as each cab was emptied of its occupants and the vehicle drove away. She sighed and adjusted the hem of her short dress as she looked over at a quiet Nikki. The blonde appeared to be deep in thought, her head facing forward as she fiddled with the strap of her shoulder bag. Tess placed a soft hand on her arm, "Hey Nik, are you alright?"
The smaller woman nodded, "Yeah, just feeling a little nervous with all these people being here," she shrugged. "So what is it like out there, describe it to me."
Tess turned her vision back towards the gallery, "Well, there doesn't appear to be that many people swarming around, still I am thinking there will be around a hundred people inside tonight." Her eyes wandered towards the scenery, "The Gallery is a very large, old stone building; though there are no windows apart from the wide glass doors at the front. Instead there's a row of carved stone coats of arms running along the front of the structure. Some of them are Royal, some belonging to generations of families who have contributed to the financial success of the gallery over the years."
"What do coats of arms look like Tess?"
The photographer frowned, "Well for the most part they are shaped like shields, for you know...in battle. The Royal ones can have gold crowns above them...if they are in colour. Inside the shields are different symbols, for instance...animals, usually lions like with the England football team, or birds of prey. Swords and weaponry, more crowns, little patterns like those fleur-de-lys, I used to have one on my blazer at school, it was an eagle, poised above a scroll which had two crossed over quills upon it." She smiled in thought, "God I hated wearing school uniforms...even more than wearing a dress!" Tess frowned, "Do you um...know what any of these things look like...or feel like?"
"We used to have lots of models of things in school, I was able to get perceptions of how many animals appeared...kind of like my wooden horse you know."
Nodding, "Ah, I was just wondering."
"Uh huh." Nikki smiled as she thought for a while, "And what is the atmosphere like out there, you know like the decorations and such?" Asked Nikki.
Tess sniggered, "Well let's just say that Andrew definitely spare any expenses this year." She looked once more over the array of ostentatious trimmings. "Have you ever been to the gallery your self?" After Nikki shook her head Tess continued, "Well there is a very plush looking red carpet spanning the entire set of steps; it's very warm looking, inviting. The handrails are decorated with rows of beckoning lights. Oh and on the roof there is a large spotlight directed towards the sky, reflecting off the dark clouds."
"Sounds very picturesque."
"Well it's definitely a sight to behold." Tess replied rolling her eyes. The taxi started moving again and she looked out noticing they were now, finally next in line. She fiddled with her hair, pulling on a loose dark strand that wasn't tied up in the French roll Nikki had styled for her. The photographer was quiet surprised, Nikki had done an excellent job of fashioning her hair and she had to admit, it looked quite chic...a look she would never usually have associated with herself.
The taxi moved forward again, stopping outside the carpeted ground. "Are you ready?" Tess asked the quiet blonde.
"Lets go." Nikki replied, and followed Tess as they excited the car.
The night air was cold, and being as though Tess knew the gallery was going to be very warm inside, neither of them had opted to wear any form of outer layers of clothing; a decision that both were now beginning to regret. Shuddering against the chilly breeze, Nikki wrapped her free right hand around the photographers as they headed towards the steps. They mounted them slowly; Tess carefully making sure Nikki was comfortable in her surroundings. The blonde had decided to take her cane, but left it folded in her left hand, only intending on using it if she so needed.
Once reaching the top of the steps, Tess pulled open one of the wide glass doors and they stepped inside. The chill soon left their bodies as they were assaulted by a wave of soothing heat. The photographer looked around the foyer. For the most part the main desk had been cleared of the clutter that usually covered it during open hours. Leaflets, information booklets, small history books for children and the odd trinkets that you could find in the galleries shop; even the computer had been removed. Instead, were trays of drinks to welcome the night's guests, glasses of Champagne, red or white wine, and for those who didn't wish to drink alcohol, glasses of orange juice.
The red carpet came through the glass doors and carried on its journey towards the function room, which in turn led into the showing room. Tess walked towards the main desk, "Would you like a drink, there is Champagne, wine or orange juice."
"Oh I would love a glass of Champagne please."
Tess smiled as she disengaged from the blonde and picked up two glasses of the bubbly liquid, smiling at another couple as they also took two glasses from the same tray. She turned to the blonde and placed one of the glasses in her out stretched hand, before placing her left hand around Nikki's back and on her opposite side so she could still guide her around the gallery.
"Thanks." Nikki took a sip of the fizzy drink, "Wow, this is pretty good stuff."
Tess tried her drink, "Oh yeah, certainly better than the fizzy wine I usually buy that's for damn sure."
Together they slowly followed the red carpet towards the function room, Tess taking in the sights. There was a large board by the entrance, which named all the artists that were exhibiting this evening, and on a low table sat a pile of programs for the night. Tess stopped, placing down her drink as she picked up a program, "I just want to look at one of the brochures." She told Nikki as she flicked through the colourful pages. It listed the artists once again and the pieces of work they were showing. Her eyes scanned down to the very last name and a smile graced her lips. Placing the brochure under her arm Tess picked up the drink and led Nikki into the function room.
The noise level increased considerably as then entered the main gathering area for the evening. It seemed that many people had already arrived, mingling around and chatting with each other animatedly, almost excitedly. Tess scanned the area taking in the main layout. It wasn't an incredibly large room, but still big enough to hold a hundred to one hundred and fifty people. At the far end was a small stage with a microphone in the middle, and as Tess took in the main design of the rooms' presentation, she described the sights to Nikki. They continued walking further into the crowds of people, Tess nodding polite hellos to people who were currently engaged in conversations, but she was sure would accost her as soon as they were free.
"Well, would you look at this!"
Tess turned to see a shocked looking Andrew walking towards them, "Andy, I was beginning to wonder where you were."
The gallery curator stopped in front of Tess, looking her up and down approvingly, "Tess I cannot believe what I am seeing my friend, you in a dress! Did I miss the headlines this morning, did hell actually freeze over?"
"Oh 'ha de ha' Andrew you are as side-splitting as usual." Tess glared up at her friend with a hidden smile.
Andrew looked towards the blonde securely encased by the photographers side, "And this must be the infamous Nikki that I have heard so much about...Nikki, it is an absolute pleasure to finally meet you, I take it the dress was your influence?"
Nikki smiled, "Well actually I suggested it but it was Tess's choice in the end. And it is a pleasure to meet you too, I was beginning to wonder whether you actually existed, I have heard quite a bit about you as well."
"Well then it is about time we met." Andrew looked briefly around the room, "Tess told me your father is Mayor Richard Morris, of course I already knew this...what with your mother and the volunteer work she has done here in the past. I saw him arrive earlier but I am not sure where he is at this precise moment. He will be making the official speech just as soon as I think everybody has arrived...maybe in another ten minutes or so." He looked towards Tess, "It is quite a turn out tonight, there's some guy from a big TV station, I am not sure which one it is...but he is on the look out for a certain person...rumour has it, that he is after you Tessa girl."
Tess looked at him surprised, "Me! What the hell for?"
He shrugged, "Like I would know, the info came to me second hand; it's only hearsay, but I have a feeling it is true." He looked towards the stage, "There are also guys from seven different newspapers here as well, of course I invited four of them but the other three asked for invites." He moved closer to the two women, "And I should warn you, two of those guys are tabloid."
Tess sighed, "Oh our favourite."
He moved away, "Well if you will excuse me, I see my other half seems to be on the look out, and I can only presume it is for me."
Blinking in shock Tess felt her friends forehead, "Other half...since when have you ever considered any woman your other half?"
Andrew sighed, "Since she decided to make an honest man of me."
"And you said yes?"
"Yes...I thought about if for a while and realised that my feelings for this woman were more than I have ever felt for any of my conquests." He shrugged, "We all have to settled down at some point Tess, might as well do it when you are still good looking enough to attract the babes." He wiggled his eyebrows.
Nikki laughed as Tess shook her head, "I should have known. And she doesn't mind your warped taste in colourful ties?"
Andrew pulled the vibrant neck garment out from his grey fitted suit jacket; it featured a picture of Winnie the Pooh eating honey, "Nope, which of course was the decider." He looked down at the tie, "Anyway you brought me this so don't start on me woman."
Tess looked down, "Oh yes, so I did...was I drunk at the time?"
The curator chuckled, "I think we both were a little."
"Anyway, I better mingle until the rest of the guests and artists arrive. Tess I will see you later, Nikki you too and it was very nice to finally meet you." Andrew looked at Tess giving her an approving nod and wink. The photographer sighed as he walked away.
"What's with the sigh?" Nikki asked
Tess shook her head looking down, "Oh nothing...but I told you I would have the most stunning looking woman on my arm tonight."
They walked around a while longer as Tess introduced Nikki to many acquaintances of hers. Most of them were artists that she had met at one function or another. In the far corner Tess spotted a long table with a selection of finger foods and breathed an internal sight; she hadn't gotten around to eating all day and was famished.
Soon the final guest entered the function room and the lights dimmed a little as the cities Lord Mayor mounted the stage. Nikki placed her arm around Tess and smiled as her fathers voice echoed out over the speakers, she didn't often get to experience the official side of him and was enjoying it very much. She felt proud, and wanted to tell everyone listening and laughing at his light-hearted jokes that the man standing up there was her father. Soon the Mayor finished his speech declaring the viewing room ready to enter, and he left the stage to a round of applause. Tess bent towards Nikki's ear, "Ready to go inside?" She asked. Nikki nodded excitedly, and together they made their way towards the exhibition room.
This room was just as large if not slightly bigger than the function room. Pictures and paintings covered every wall with little plaques underneath telling the title and artist. In the centre of the room, stood nine sculptures ranging from clay, stone to what Tess considered junk metal and in one case...junk plain and simple, still it drew her attention. The room was brightly lit with diffused lighting that was unable to cast a shadow in the large, predominantly white room.
They started at the beginning of a long selection of paintings and Tess described each picture to the Nikki. Five minutes into their perusal the blonde felt a tap on her shoulder. "Finally I get a chance to see one of my favourite daughters." The Mayor exclaimed.
Nikki turned and was engulfed in a gentle hug by her father, "Dad, I was wondering when you would get time to come a see us, I was beginning to get paranoid!"
Richard laughed, "Oh please, I have been trying to get to you both since seeing you arrive, but what can I say...everybody wants to speak with the Mayor." He fingered the official golden chain and crest around his neck, "Sometimes this thing is a curse, it stands as a beacon to all those who have grievances with this damned cities council. Now although I have a lot of power even I don't think I am able to move trees with conservation orders on them, just because the nit-picker thinks it overshadows his swimming pool."
"Somebody mentioned this tonight?" Nikki asked.
"Yes can you believe it?"
"And this is supposed to be an arts exhibition!" Tess remarked. "Not a councillors surgery!"
"Hmm." Richard looked around, "And speaking of arts," his eyes glowed with excitement, "Nikki I..." A sudden movement by Tess caused him to pause and look in the brunettes' direction to find her standing there wide-eyed and a finger placed over puckered lips.
"What?" Asked the blonde.
Richard looked back at his daughter, "Oh um nothing..." He looked at Tess confused, "I was just going to say how wonderful it is to see you here."
Nikki frowned not quite believing her father, "Uh huh?"
Needing a quick change in subject, Tess looked around the room, "Oh I see the press are making their way around." She spotted a familiar figure, "Ah I see Hugh Stein has arrive, he takes pictures for 'The Social Scene' the magazine that does articles on all the large events around the country."
Richard looked up, "Really? Oh I do wish to speak with him, girls if you will excuse me, I have to go and see a man about a dog?"
Tess looked down confused, "See a man about a dog?"
Nikki shrugged, "It is one of my fathers sayings, you know...when he has to go and do something, but doesn't necessarily want to say what that something is, he just says he is 'going to see a man about a dog'."
Nodding Tess looked at the retreating form of the Lord Mayor, "Strange, but there you go I suppose!" She smirked.
"Anyway." Nikki prodded the taller woman's arm, "What was my father about to say that made you shush him up so abruptly? And don't tell me nothing because I may be blind but I am not stupid Miss Tess." She tapped her foot in expectance.
Tess smiled at the endearing sight of an indignant Nikki, "You really want to know huh?"
"You know it is a surprise."
Nikki folded her arms, "For me?"
Tess tapped the blondes' nose, "Of course for you."
"Then before I die with curiosity tell me wh..."
"Come on then." Tess interrupted, "I can see you are just aching to know." Taking Nikki's arm she began to lead her towards the far wall that situated her own prints.
On their way over a small round man stepped into their path effectively blocking their progress. Tess looked down at the short man with a receding hair and a thin moustache, staring with a hit of menace.
"Miss Alexander I was wondering whether I could have a few moments of your time, my name is Jared Green and I work for..."
Tess cut him off, "I know whom you work for Mr Green; I've seen your work." She glared at the man who in her opinion worked for one of the worst tabloid papers in the country. Not that she ever brought the paper, in fact she wouldn't even spit on a copy, in fact she wouldn't even use one as...Whoa calm down Tess no need to go there, she thought. Still she was well aware of his writings as Jason had a tendency to buy that paper purely for gossip reasons; it gave him something to talk with Kat about during the day. "Like I said Mr Green, I am well aware of the kind of 'news'," and she used the term very lightly, "you like to report, which makes me wonder; what are you doing here, and why you wish to speak with me?"
Nikki gave Tess's arm a reassuring squeeze.
Jared smiled, "To be honest Miss Alexander I am not sure why I am here actually, my editor ordered me to come, said it would be in my best interest, but he never said why. Anyway, I though that while I was here I would do a bit of reporting."
"You still remember how?" Tess asked sarcastically.
The man laughed, "Oh Miss Alexander I see you do live up to your reputation...I like that." He turned his attention towards Nikki, taking in the close proximity of the two women, "I don't believe we've had the pleasure?"
Knowing he was indeed talking to her Nikki smiled politely, "Nicole Morris."
His eyes glowed with wonder, "Not Richard Morris's eldest daughter?"
"That would be me." she replied.
"Interesting!" Jared said, his mind working overtime.
"Well I do apologise Mr Green, but Nicole and I were just about to look at something so if you will excuse us?"
The journalist bowed his head and moved to the side, allowing the women past. Jared watched them leave with a frown, he did indeed have no idea why he had been given this assignment, all he knew was that his editor had been given a tipoff and he was sent to follow through. Looking around the rest of the room Jared searched out his next target...one way or another, he was going to get a story here tonight.
Tess led Nikki past a row of small canvases, "I can't believe the gall of that guy, what the hell is he doing here anyway?"
"Calm down Tess it maybe nothing at all, he could be just grilling everyone here tonight to find a story."
The photographer looked back to see the reporter engaged in conversation with another artist, "Hmm...you could be right."
Tess walked past a few more pictures, just passing a woman with red hair, before coming to a halt. She stopped before a specific shot. "Well here we are Nik...your surprise."
The blonde rolled her eyes, "Tess you are going to have to do a little better than that if you want me to find out what it is, I have no idea what you are talking about."
The photographer took a quick look around and after seeing nobody apparently looking in her direction she stood by the blondes right side, putting her left arm around slim shoulder, before taking Nikki's right hand within her own and kissing the sensitive fingers, "Feel." She said and guided the small hand towards the shot hanging on the wall.
Nikki reached out, her brows drawing together in concentration as she came into contact with a wooden frame. She bit the corner of her lip as her fingers moved over the surface, feeling the swirls and edges of a pattern etched so lightly into the grain that the human eye would have to get very close indeed to make out the design. Still not sure what she was in fact supposed to find, her fingers carried on their journey, moving to the right across the bottom of the frame. Suddenly she felt the recognisable raised indentations of Braille. Nikki frowned as she read the heading, "The Beauty of Age, captured by Nicole Morris and Tessa Alexander." She pulled her hand away, "Tess?"
The photographer sucked on her bottom lip, "Um remember that big old tree you found in the forest, and how it's peculiar swirls and knotted patterns in the bark captured you...and how I took a shot of it?"
"Well I developed it at work a couple of days after Christmas with Robert and well lets just say that is turned into a really beautiful shot."
"That tree I found?"
Tess smiled, "Yes...it really is something Nik, this beautiful old tree surrounded by smaller plainer ones. I enlarged it and put it on a canvas to give it a kind of painted effect. Anyway when Andrew saw it, he said it had to go in the exhibition, but I said no because it is really your shot...then I thought that maybe I could include it anyway as a sort of surprise...for you."
"But you took the picture Tess."
The tall woman shrugged, "I pushed the button on the camera Nik, it was your shot, it captured you remember."
Nikki's sudden smile was blinding, "I have a picture on display...at this exhibition!"
"Uh huh." She couldn't help the warm feeling she received looking at the unreserved joy upon her lovers face, "but that isn't the best part...somebody has already placed a purchase offer upon it."
Innocent blue yes turned to saucers, "Really...how much?"
The brunette took a deep breath, "Well actually... fifty."
"Pounds! Wow hey that's not bad...do you know who placed the offer?"
Tess shook her head "No...Nik not fifty pounds, fifty thousand."
Nikki was silent as her mind processed the last piece of information, "Fifty thousand pounds, really...who on earth would wish to pay such a price? I mean no offence but..."
"Beats me." Tess shrugged, "The offer was placed before the exhibition even opened this evening, Andrew said it was an anonymous collector who admired my work. Apparently after he explained to the collector about the nature of this picture he was adamant to buy it...that's why such a high price I guess. I did want to meet this guy, but Andrew said he couldn't be here tonight."
"I'm in shock!" Nikki stated placing a hand over her chest, "I can't believe somebody would offer you fifty thousand pounds."
The brunette roller her eyes, "Nikki...not offered me...offered you. Like I said I only pushed the button, you are the one that found the shot."
"Us then." Nikki said, "We took it together, it was a combined effort, so the offer was to both of us."
Thinking for a moment the photographer folded her arms, "Okay us, though only because I know that no amount of persuading is going to change your mind about this."
The blonde nodded, "Very true." She blew out a surprised breath, "Wow, fifty thousand pounds huh!"
"I know!" The photographer said, still amazed herself. When Andrew had first told her the news she had thought him joking, but it soon became apparent that he was indeed earnest.
Tess turned at the sound of her name being called across the room and saw Andrew Spencer standing with another old college friend. She waved quickly before turning back to Nikki, "Hey Nik there is somebody over there I haven't seen in a while, want to go over and say hi?"
"Do you mind if I stay her for a while Tess, I am still trying to get my head around this." She reached out again, her fingers connecting with the fine detailed surface of the canvasses wooden frame.
"Okay, are you sure will you be alright here for a moment?"
"Of course I will, just don't be too long though, I wont go anywhere."
Tess nodded and leaned down, discreetly kissing her on the cheek before pulling back and heading off to speak with the Andrew and the woman she hadn't seen since college.
From the location of secluded corners of the rooms, Rosalind had watched her daughter and that woman as they had circulated the area. Meeting different people, talking with them and between themselves. She watched intently as her husband approached the women, and saw the easy way in which all three of them interacted with each other. She waited, knowing the moment would come when Nikki would be left on her own, she knew that woman wouldn't be able to put up with her for the whole night. Finally it arrived, and Rosalind watched as Tess was called over by Andrew Spencer and a tall longhaired woman. At last, she thought.
Nikki stood quietly by the row of Tess's prints, her fingers once again moving over the Braille especially carved into the corner of the frame. It was obvious Tess had the frame made especially, and she couldn't help smiling at the brunettes' continual thoughtful gestures.
Nikki froze, her heart fluttering excruciatingly in her chest. Pulling her hand away from the frame she turned to face the woman she had been half expecting all night. "Hello mother."
Rosalind smiled, "I must say it is a surprise to see you here."
"You knew I would be." She said confidentially.
The older woman looked intently at her daughter, "Yes you are right of course, I did hope you would be. Why else do you think I would be here?"
"That is actually what I would like to know." Nikki stood firm, hoping to keep her nerve.
"I am here because you are my daughter, I know what I said just before Christmas but I didn't mean it dear...you will always be my daughter; I love you, and only want what is best for you, surely you have got to know that?"
Nikki felt her nerve slip as she detected the hint of force in her mothers voice, she recognised the inflection and knew the woman was restraining herself. She needed to get away, but had no idea where Tess was and didn't want to cause unnecessary attention to them both, especially with a certain Jared Green stalking the place. "What do you want mother?"
"All I want is a chance for you to hear me out...to prove to you once and for all that Tess Alexander is a bad seed, I can prove to you that what I said is correct and that she has lied to you all this time." Rosalind advanced on her daughter forcing Nikki to back up. It didn't take the smaller woman long to know that she was against a wall and needed to get out of her current situation quickly. Snapping her cane into place, Nikki moved sideways away from her mother, "I don't want to hear anything you have to say mum for I know you are wrong, please just leave me alone."
Rosalind followed her daughter, "You wont even allow me to prove this to you...all I am trying to do is save you hurt in the long run Nicole, why can't you see that?" She asked angrily
Nikki carried on moving, knowing her mother was keeping pace, she increased hers; trying hard to get away from the woman who still managed to intimidate her. Finding herself against another wall, she let her free hand travel across the smooth surface until she found a corner and not knowing what else to do, Nikki took the bend, disappearing from the main viewing room. She found herself in an alley that although she was not aware, led to the emergency fire escape.
"Nicole would you please stop this and just talk to me."
Knowing there was no way out of it, Nikki stopped and faced her mother, "Fine." She said, her eyes glistening with tears, "Tell me what you have to say."
The woman smiled, "Finally...I knew you would see this my way." Rosalind paused and Nikki heard the sound of approaching footsteps, her hopes that it was Tess were short lived when she didn't recognise the short pace. "Nicole I would like you to meet Jennifer Baldwin."
"Who?" Nikki asked, wondering why Rosalind spoke as though she should recognise the name.
The older woman sighed impatiently, "Jennifer Baldwin...the former Jennifer Moon?"
Suddenly it dawned on her, Jennifer Moon was the girl Tess shared a dorm room with at college. "I don't understand?"
Jennifer walked forward, "I'm sorry Nicole that I have to come here like this, under such awkward circumstances, but when Mrs Morris contacted me and told me what was happening to you, I knew I had to see you and stop you from making a big mistake."
Nikki walked backwards finding herself up against the wall, "Mistake? I don't know what you have been told Jennifer but I am not in any kind of trouble with Tess. How could I possibly be making any kind of mistake with her?"
"By trusting her." Jennifer said simply, "She is a woman who will do anything to get what she wants, not caring who may get hurt along the way. I have known her a hell of a lot longer than you Nicole and she is trouble. When I was in college she got me mixed up in drinking, drugs and many other perverted acts just for the possibility of getting her hands on my inheritance."
Rosalind watched the woman's interaction with her daughter, hoping that Nikki would see the error of her ways and the obvious truths in Jennifer's words. It was the whole reason she had invited the woman over from Oxford after all, knowing this woman knew the truth about the genuine nature of Tess Alexander. How could a good mother stand idly by and watch money that by all rights belongs to her in the first place...go to a nobody, a compete stranger.
"Your wrong!" Nikki stated forcefully.
"I wish I were." Jennifer said, "But I have been in your position myself. She will lie to you, sweet talk you, give you what she can...but it all comes at a price. She will make you think that together you are a team, though she will lead you to believe it is you that makes the shots." Jennifer paused for effect, but it was this pause that made Nikki realise Jennifer was the unknown person she sensed standing near by while Tess was showing her the surprise. Nikki knew Tess, in every sense of the word, and knew that in no way was the photographer capable of the things both her mother and Jennifer where implying.
"Is that all...have you finished?" She asked.
Jennifer looked at the older blonde confused as Rosalind stepped forward, "Nicole haven't you heard a word Mrs Baldwin has said to you"
"How could I not!"
"And yet you choose to stupidly ignore our cause's for concern?" Her voice rose an octave in anger.
"I heard you out like you asked me to mother, but you are wrong...both of you. I know Tess, and she just isn't like that."
Rosalind felt her anger rising, "Nicole I shall tell you this just one more time." She took a hold of her daughter arm, "Tonight when you leave here it will be with me...do you understand?" She moved her face to within an inch of Nikki's, "Don't make me have to force you for your own good Nicole, I am your mother...you will do as I say." Her fingers gripped painfully around the blondes upper arm, "Got it?"
Nikki whimpered as the feeling sharp nails penetrate her soft flesh.
Standing in the centre of the function room Tess scanned the mass of people involved in a multitude of different conversations. She was hot; the gathering of bodies increasing the rooms' temperature, and beads of sweat trickled down her forehead. She was looking for Nikki after not being able to find her in their designated position. The photographer knew she had been longer than expected, but that was purely because the man who worked for a satalight TV station had accosted her. His company was hosting the next British Music Awards and he wanted her to be the official photographer that night. Of course she had accepted instantly, feeling it would be a great opportunity, so they exchanged phone numbers and he said he would call her within the week.
Now she was looking for Nikki, and as every second passed she began to get a little more worried. Looking to her left Tess spotted Richard, "Hey have you seen Nikki?"
The Mayor frowned, "No, has she done a disappearing act on you...you know she was always doing that to us when she was younger."
Tess smiled trying to appear outwardly calm, "It seems so...I am sure I will find her though."
"Have you tried the buffet table?" He asked.
"Good idea." Tess said, and headed towards the food. Once there she spotted Andrew talking with a young blonde. "Andy have you..."
"Tess finally I am able to get you two to meet. Annabel this is my college friend Tess, Tess...Annabel, the woman who has turned me into an honest man."
The women shook hands, "Hi Annabel...listen Andy sorry I can't stick around and talk, but I was wondering whether you have seen Nikki?"
The man nodded, not knowing the detailed history of what had happened between mother and daughter, "Yeah sure, she was with her mum last time I looked."
Tess was certain her heart had just stopped beating within her chest, "Her mother...are you sure?" Tess asked disbelievingly.
Andrew folded his arms, "Tess I am able to recognise one of the charity heads of this gallery. Yes Rosalind Morris was with her daughter when I last saw her; I think they were standing near the hallway that leads towards the fire escape."
Tess blanched as she spun around and headed back towards the exhibition room. Suddenly she remembered why she hated dresses so much, because they were so damn awkward to move in!
Nikki tried to free her arm from the painful grasp of her mother, "Let me go mum. Please just let me go." She tried to wriggle free, but the woman's grasp was too strong. She hoped Jennifer would intervene, but the woman stood back keeping very quiet.
Rosalind ignored her daughters' pleas, "Not until you understand that every thing I do is for your best interests Nicole. I am your mother, doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"It certainly doesn't mean anything to you." Nikki spat.
At her words Rosalind's anger rocketed and she slammed her daughter hard against the wall, "I bet it's that woman who has instilled such ill respect into you. Who do you think you are talking to." She pulled her daughter away from the wall, "You must do as I say."
"I will not." Nikki stated much to her own pain and regret as she was once again thrust against the wall. She closed her eyes, trying so hard to stop the tears that succeeded in flowing forcefully down her face.
Jennifer had been watching the scene with a small amount of horror at the older woman's actions, "Maybe we should just..."
"No!" Rosalind stated, "I can get through to her." She released the daughter, leaving her slumped against the wall, one hand covering a face covered with tears. She wanted to run, to escape, but in the array she had dropped her cane and was completely disoriented having no idea where she was or how to get away. Pulling the hand away from her face, Nikki let her head fall back against the wall breathing heavily.
The Mayoress shook her head, "You are as spineless as your father Nicole; I approached this situation all wrong I know that now." Rosalind's mind drifted, speaking aloud her thoughts without actually realising she was doing so. "I should have paid Bradley White to take a harsher action...maybe by removing Tess from the scene permanently." She whispered
With the most unexpected force it happened, SLAP...the impact hitting her hard across the face. Rosalind stepped back stunned into silence, clutching her suddenly throbbing cheek.
Tess, who had rounded that corner at that precise moment, froze as she witnessed the scene ahead of her. Routed to her spot, she stood muted, jaw almost hanging in disbelief.
Nikki pulled her hand back, shock evident across her features. Never in all her life had she ever had the desire to hit anybody, but as she heard her mothers whispered thoughts she snapped, anger forcing her to take action. Dropping the stinging hand back to her side, Nikki realised she felt no remorse for her actions. The hurt and pain she had felt for many years under the hand of her mother had taken away the respect she had at one point in her life held for her.
Blinking away her surprise Tess ran forward, "Nikki?"
Through the haze of emotions that clouded her mind Nikki heard the desperate sound of Tess's voice, and it was this that brought her shocked mind back into focus. "Tess?"
"Yeah sweetheart...are you okay" Tess grabbed a stunned Nikki pulling her into a fierce hug, "God I am so sorry." She pulled away looking into the pained expression on the blondes face, "I should have been here Nik." Tess noticed the bruised fingernail marks on her upper arm and cursed herself for leaving Nikki alone. Leaning forward she kissed her forehead gently, "I'm so sorry." She looked over her blonde head to the silent woman still holding her cheek in shock. Cold jade eyes stared at the woman with overflowing contempt, "If you know what is good for you Rosalind you will go now." She really wanted to say more, to do more, but Nikki was more important and right now the blonde needed her.
The silent woman moved past the couple and headed back towards the function room, she had only one option left now.
Tess looked to the redhead standing mutely against the wall, "Jen?" she asked in question.
The redhead nodded. She had watched the interaction between her old roommate and the Mayoress's daughter and just couldn't place her with the woman her parents had spoken so much about. The woman who had used and abused her, for the intent of wanting her money; what had really happened to her in that rehabilitation centre and why did she suddenly feel so confused about her past?
"What are you doing here?"
"I thought I was helping, from what I remember of my college days, I though I had to stop Nicole from ending up the same way I did."
"But it wasn't..."
Jennifer interrupted, "I know...you are not the woman I have in here Tess." She said tapping her head, "I'm sorry." She started to walk away.
"Hey wait." Tess called, "What...I mean how...I don't understand."
Jennifer shrugged, "Neither do I...yet. But I soon will." She turned, wanting nothing more than to leave, wondering why had she even come here in the first place. Suddenly, it seemed like everything she knew from her past was a lie, and Jen had no idea of what was true anymore. When she had received the call from Rosalind Morris, she thought she was doing the woman and her daughter a favour, but she soon changed her mind. Just seeing the way the woman treated Nikki began to sew the seeds of doubt into her mind. Then seeing Tess again and the obvious tenderness she demonstrate towards the small blonde was enough to convince her that the woman she thought she knew was not this woman. Was the Tess Alexander she knew, nothing more than a portrayal of her parents over subjugated views? Shaking her head, Jennifer carried on walking and the photographer let her.
Tess turned to the blonde nestled against her chest, "Nikki, are you alright?" the blonde nodded, but Tess could feel the tears flowing onto her chest, "Talk to me sweetheart."
Nikki pulled away slightly, "I am just like her Tess, I got angry and I hit out. I am just like her," she cried.
Taking the blonde by the shoulders Tess looked down into watery blue eyes, "No...you...are...not."
"But nothing Nik, what you just did came from years of mental abuse from a woman who seemed to resent you for whatever her warped reasoning was. It was probably physical as well if you count the fact that you had had to go through that damned operation at such a young age, purely because she wanted a perfect looking daughter. You are nothing like her Nik...nothing." Tess pulled Nikki close and kissed the golden locks, "What was the final straw...what did she do or say to you that forced you to make a stand?"
Nikki closed her eyes, every fibre of her being telling her not to tell Tess this, not wanting to upset her lover. But she could deny the brunette nothing, and would always be truthful with the woman who had battled her own self-doubts and fears to be truthful with her. "She...more or less stated that she wished Bradley White had taken care of you in a more permanent way."
Nikki shrugged, "I presume he was the guy from the shopping centre."
"So that was his name." Tess pulled Nikki away from her chest, "Thank you...for sticking up for me then. I think this is the first time anybody has ever bothered to stand up to somebody else on my behalf." She leaned down and kissed lips still moist with tears.
The blonde smiled, "It's not the first time Tess, your mother told us about the time on the beach when a couple though you were the infamous Tess Alexander and you had your little tantrum about how you hated people thinking that." She chuckled, "Apparently those people defended you pretty well too."
Tess smirked, "I guess so." Pulling away Tess spotted Nikki's shoulder bag and cane lying on the floor. Bending down she picked them up, handing them over to the blonde, "Here's your things...so do you want to leave?"
"Hell no!" Nikki shook her head as she accepted the bag and cane, "I want to get out there, and try and enjoy the rest of this evening."
"Are you sure you are alright?"
Nikki placed her arm around the brunettes back, "For some reason I feel like a huge weight has just been lifted off my shoulders."
"You feel that too huh?"
"Ready to go back out there?"
"Does my face look alright?" Nikki asked patting her cheeks.
Tess kissed her nose, "Hey you look beautiful...stunning, as always." She put her arm around the smaller woman and together they headed back towards the exhibition room.
As soon as she had made her way back into the function room Rosalind eyes scanned the mass of attendants, searching out one person in particular, and as her eyes fell upon the form of her husband she headed in his direction.
Rosalind approached the man from behind, tapping him on the left shoulder. Richard turned around with a questioning smile that soon faded as he saw his wife standing before his very eyes. "Rosa...well...well...well."
"Richard...have you missed me?"
The Mayor looked evenly at his wife, "I cannot say that I have I'm afraid."
Rosalind's face turned to a scowl, "I should have known you would still be angry with me for leaving. Not that I blame you of course, I would be too I am sure, but I am not here to start arguments...I have a proposition."
Richard looked disbelievingly at his estranged wife, "Oh really, please do fill me in."
"If you want me back I only ask one thing of you."
Rosalind straightened her peach cotton jacket, "All I ask is that you talk to Nikki. Try and persuade, make her see the truth about Tess Alexander, the woman is evil Richard evil. That is all I ask of you, and if you do this I will come back to you." She licked her lips as she stepped close, "If you don't do this small favour then I will no longer be your wife. And what is more I will sell my house, and you and Lisa will have to leave."
The Mayor kept his face even, "You would remove your own daughter from the home she has grown up in...lived in her entire life?"
"When I know I am right I will do whatever it takes to get what I want Richard, you should know this by now...how else do you think I was able to force the issue with us getting married. I knew if I were to get pregnant you would do the decent thing."
Richard glared at his wife, jolting slightly forward as a crowd of people behind bumped into him. He turned around looking to see what had just jarred him, and after receiving an unexpected apology from a young man, he turned back round to his wife, "All you ask is that I no longer give my consent to Nikki concerning Tess."
"It is a simple enough request."
Rosalind smiled knowing she was getting through to the man, "That it is, and as soon as you do this, I shall return home and things can get back to being just like they were before all of this unpleasantness happened. I know Nicole values you opinion for some reason, but whatever it takes to get her back, I am willing to do."
To the left of the couple a voice called out to Rosalind and she turned to wave a quick hello to the unknown person. At the same time Richard looked over his wife's shoulders to see Tess and Nikki approaching, he shook his head slightly indicating that they not come over. Tess stopped, and spoke quietly into Nikki's ear. The blonde nodded slightly in agreement.
Looking back at her husband, Rosa stared at him in question, "Well I trust you will do this as soon as possible Richard."
He'd had enough. Enough of Rosa's spiteful ways, her domineering personality, disregard for her own daughters well beings, but most of all, enough of his own weakness that had allowed him to turn a blind eye to just how callous his wife really was. With sudden anger as much towards himself as his wife he took a firm hold of the woman's arm and dragged her over to the entrance of the gallery. Pulling open the glass doors and dragging Rosalind out into the cold night air. "The only thing I have any intention of doing Rosa is removing you from our lives once and for all." He pinned her up against the grey stonewall.
Shock evident on the small woman's face, she looked at him with an expression of almost fear, "Richard, what are you doing?"
"Something I should have done a long time ago."
"You are making a big mistake Richard I am warning you."
The Mayor laughed, "I have made plenty of mistakes in my past, it's now time for me to put some of them right. So first of all, there is no way in hell that I would ever oppose my daughters' relationship with Tess. She has never been happier and for that I am eternally glad. Glad that she is away from you, and glad that she has found somebody that even I can tell worships the ground she walks upon. Secondly, go ahead and sell your damned house, do you really think I cannot simply go and buy another? It might even be a blessing in disguise as I will be able to move closer to work and Lisa will love living in the city. And last and most importantly, now that I know you are back in town, you can expect notification from my lawyer concerning our divorce...I shall arrange the papers as soon as I am humanly able." He took a step away from his wife, "I think that just about does it, and of course remember Rosa, you have dug your own grave here, and I have enough ammunition to keep you down there...got it?"
Rosalind drew her fist back ready to hit out at her husband, but he caught the hand mid air, "Goodnight Rosa...and thankfully goodbye." Richard released her hand and turned away, heading back towards the warmth of the gallery. He stopped as he noticed Jared Green standing by the doors, "Well I guess I should have known you would be here." Richard stated, "Want a scoop do you."
The reporter grinned, "Always."
"Well how about this...City Mayor starts divorce proceedings against his estranged wife for the years of mental abuse she afflicted on her daughter."
Stunned Jared looked to Rosalind before moving his vision back to the mayor, "Excellent."
Richard nodded, "For me and my girls yes." He took a step towards the reporter, "And if you do print a word of that you shall lose your job quicker than I can say 'slander'."
"The truth isn't slander Mr Mayor."
"No that is right, the truth isn't slander." He smiled, "And neither is my knowledge of how you managed to obtain those tapes in the Parliament scandal."
The reporters face dropped, "How did you..."
"Mr Green I am the Mayor, it is my job it keep one step ahead of things." He looked back at the quiet form of his wife standing shocked by the wall; "Of course it is a pity I never kept one step ahead of my wife." Richard looked back at the reporter "Now I trust there will be no word of what you overheard out here tonight?"
"Of course Mr Mayor." The stout man said through gritted teeth.
"Good, I knew this is something we could both agree upon...well if you will excuse me...goodnight." And with that he left his soon-to-be ex-wife and the reporter standing in the icy chill of the night air.
The bedroom was silent, and due to the lack of outside street lighting... incredibly dark. There was a certain amount of unspoken tension in the air, and as Tess lay unmoving in the large bed, she wondered what Nikki was thinking. The blondes light breathing told her that she hadn't yet fallen sleep, and due to the circumstances, Tess wasn't in the least bit surprised. She wondered whether she herself would sleep tonight.
Lacing long fingers behind her head, Tess was startled out of her thoughts by Nikki's quiet voice. She turned to the still blonde, "Hmm?"
"I said...do you think there is a meaning to life? Everybody speculates about the fact like it is some life changing question...but I was wondering... do you really think there is one?" Her voice was light and distant.
Tess turned back to the unseen ceiling with a smile; Nikki had the strangest ability to surprise her with the most philosophical questions at times, "Why wondering...you weren't after another kiss were you?"
Nikki frowned in the darkness, "Huh?"
"Well if I seem to remember correctly, the first time you came out with an unexpected question like that, we ended up in our first kiss."
The small woman smiled, "Well however much of a nice idea that sounds, I was actually just wondering. Tess, ever since we met it seems that things have been against us...we have always had to fight. It's almost as if something is opposed us being together, that is why I was wondering." She turned to the photographer, "So what do you think?"
Tess arched her eyebrows and sighed, "I really don't know Nik, I mean in this huge world of infinite possibilities, were every living being is different, how can there be a single meaning. Who can say if we have a fate, or destiny, when we live with the unknown every day." She rolled onto her side, facing the blonde, head propped up in one hand. "How could there be one meaning, we are all different and we all have our own offerings for the world...things that we can give, and do for the good of others."
"Maybe that is the meaning."
Nikki imitated the brunette, rolling onto her side to face her lover, "To give for a superior purpose, to create happiness and harmony in the world." She sighed, "and not hate."
Tess smiled, "Maybe it is, after all...love is the greatest gift one can bestow, and to give it so freely can only create more right?"
The blonde shrugged, "Not everybody wants to see love so freely given though Tess...my mother for one."
The photographer reached out finding the soft skin of the blondes face. Gently she cupped the smooth flesh, "Remember what you told me about your grandfather and what James said about his relationship with your mother. It wasn't very close right?" At Nikki's nod Tess continued, "Well maybe your mother finds it hard to give love, because it wasn't given to her when she was a child. With her mother dying during childbirth, maybe your grandfather lost his ability to love when he lost his."
"Is that her excuse?" Nikki asked evenly, "Because I sure didn't feel she had any love for her less than perfect daughter."
Tess moved forward, sealing her body with Nikki's. She leaned forward kissing her forehead, nose and lips, "Well all I can say is that she missed out, and I myself know that I have enough love inside me...for you...for the both of us. You are the most perfect thing in my life, and without you I know mine wouldn't have any meaning. If there is a meaning of life then maybe that was yours." Tracing her hand over Nikki's arm she circled the bruising mark of Rosalind's grip on her daughter, leaning forward she kissed the forming contusion.
"To what?" The blonde asked intrigued.
Tess looked back at Nikki in the darkness, "To awaken the heart of one lonely fool, who had already given up the prospect of loving another purely because of her own selfish fears."
"They are not selfish Tess, we all fear losing the ones we love."
The brunette nodded, "I know, but I was stupid to think I would be happy closing my heart to the possibility so I could never get hurt." Tess kissed Nikki's lips once again, "Because I know that I could live the rest of my life alone with just the knowledge of what your single presence in my life has meant to me."
Nikki smiled shyly, "I would rather live with you...than alone."
"Me too." Tess affirmed.
Nikki wrapped her free arm around the longer body, "Then maybe the meaning of life is love?"
"It would be wonderful if true." Tess said with an indulgent smile.
"And making love?"
Tess's smiled widened, "That's just a wonderful experience in itself." She moved forward touching her lips with Nikki's, gently pushing the blonde back to the softness of the pillows, "Care to share in the experience?" She whispered.
"With you..." Nikki replied "Always."