A/N: For an alphabet challenge ages ago. "W" is for "Warped".
But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them
-Jim Croce, "Time in a Bottle"
Nikki stood on the flat ground, a small patch of earth in the middle of an army of trees, and with her hands on her hips, proudly looked around. The beauty of the moment made her close her eyes and smile. Tilting her head towards the sun, she basked in the warmth on her face, then looked down the escarpment and shouted, "Come on, you hardy Scot!"
Helen took a moment to blow a wisp of hair from her eyes and glared up at the brunette. "Some of us don't have legs that go on forever!"
"Dream about my legs later," Nikki quipped. "Move your arse."
As she clamoured up the steep hill, tangled with roots and stones that both helped her progression and hindered it, Helen muttered, "I thought you said this was going to be a nice relaxing walk through the woods."
Nikki stretched her long arms above her head. "I'm quite relaxed."
Figuring it was in her best interest, when Helen was within arms reach, Nikki bent over and helped her the rest of the way. The shorter woman was just about to open her mouth to continue her complaints when she looked around and saw the view.
Her lips moved silently before she was able to whisper, "It's beautiful."
Nikki slid her arms around Helen's waist and pressed into her back. Dropping a kiss on Helen's shoulder, she inquired, "Am I forgiven?"
With a hint of awe still in her voice, Helen asked, "When did you find this place?"
The brunette shrugged. "About five minutes ago." Helen twisted around in confusion and Nikki laughed. "That's why they call it 'exploring'. You set off God knows where and you discover things."
Helen took in the beauty of the area once more, then narrowing her eyes said, "You do remember where the car is, yeah?"
"Of course." She pointed below them. "Through that field, over that little hill and round the bend. You can't find your way from our flat to Tescos; I wouldn't be out here unless I knew how to get back."
"Oh, very funny," Helen drolly replied. Something caught her eye among the trees about 40 feet away and now it was her turn to laugh. "Put your flag away, Columbus. Somebody's been here first."
Nikki turned and followed Helen's gaze with her own. Sure enough, though nearly reclaimed by nature, the trace of a foot path was still evident.
"Damn," she swore, "I've been waiting forever to whip out my flag." Helen rolled her eyes at the double entendre given to the word and Nikki winked. "Come on, Dr. Livingstone, there are many more places to explore."
"The path's got to lead somewhere, yeah?"
Helen could only smile. "Lead on, Stanley."
Though quite overgrown, the path was still visible enough that the two women could follow it with little difficulty. It snaked through the woods for several yards until they both saw it- a small cabin nestled in the arms of nature. Nikki continued forward until Helen put her hand on the brunette's arm.
"Where are you going?"
Nikki tilted her head towards the building. "It's obvious it's vacant." A quick look at the state of the windows and grounds confirmed her statement. "Let's go check it out." The Scot remained rooted at the spot and Nikki laughed. "You watch too many horror movies." She leaned in closer. "I'll tell you what- I'll go in and if you hear a chainsaw starting up, run."
Helen slapped Nikki's arm. "Not funny. Besides, I've already forgotten where the car is."
They paid close attention to their footing on the rickety steps and small wooden porch. When they got close enough to a window, Nikki wiped away a layer of dust and cupped her eyes with her hands to peer through the glass. She smiled in amazement. "You're not going to believe this." She stepped aside and let Helen look.
Rising up on her tip toes, Helen held on to Nikki's shoulder for balance and looked inside. It was as if it had been frozen in time. Back on her heels, Helen wondered, "Maybe someone does live here?"
Shaking her head, Nikki replied, "I don't think so. Look at the state of the place. It's as if someone walked out and never came back." She tested the handle of the screen door and it turned. Pulling it back on protesting springs, she held it open with one knee and went for the handle of the solid door.
"Nikki…" Helen cautiously warned.
"You can tell which one of us is the criminal," Nikki quipped.
"Not a great one, though," Helen volleyed back. "You've left your fingerprints everywhere."
"Yes, Miss Marple," the brunette smiled.
Both were quiet when the handle turned and the door lightly jerked open as the bolt slid away from its partner. For the first time in ages, the cabin welcomed in the beam of sunshine through the door and it seemed to spread throughout the small place. As both women had witnessed outside, it appeared as if the inside had remained untouched for an untold number of years. There was no plastic on the furniture to indicate a long term absence was planned. Everything was left as if a return was only a matter of time; time that had long passed.
The cabin was small enough; a one floor setup where all four rooms were within an easy pace or two from each other. It was perfectly square, with the living room and kitchen area as one open half, and the other two rooms- a bedroom and a bathroom?- making up the other.
Nikki pointed to the large window in the kitchen. "I was wondering how anyone got here."
Through the streaks of dust, Helen could see what Nikki had discovered- a stone and dirt road could be seen on the other side of the window, leading up to a bare patch that at one time had been a makeshift car park.
"I wonder where that road comes from?" Nikki asked aloud.
"One adventure at a time."
Grinning, Nikki conceded the point, then noted, "The sun would come up through the kitchen window..."
"… and would set on the porch side," Helen finished. "Beautiful."
Though there wasn't much to explore, each woman gravitated towards a different part of the cabin. Not surprisingly, Nikki went to the huge oak bookshelf that took up a large section of the tiny living room. Helen let her eyes wander through the kitchen and then, with quiet respect, slowly opened the door to a bedroom.
As with the rest of the inside, it was untouched, as if simply waiting for the owners to return. A simple knitted quilt lay folded at the foot of the bed that was neatly covered in a patchwork blanket. Two white pillows looked lonely, waiting to cradle heads that never came back. The room was adorned with two pictures. One, a large photograph of the very same breathtaking view that Nikki and Helen had taken in at the top of the escarpment, hung on the wall directly across the head of the bed, so it would be the first thing the occupant would see when they woke up. The second picture was set in a simple silver frame on the night table. Helen picked it up, leaving a dark void where the frame had sat, and she gently brushed the glass to reveal the photo. Smiling back at her in black and white exposure was a man and a woman, perhaps 60 years old or more. He wasn't looking at the camera- he only had eyes for the laughing woman in his arms. Helen couldn't help but smile back.
"Rrrrrrrrrrr!" came the feeble chainsaw noise from the door.
"Jesus Christ!" Helen jumped, due more to the silence being broken than the authenticity of the sound.
Nikki slipped her arms around Helen and chuckled into her neck. "What have you found there?"
She lifted the frame to show the taller woman behind her. "I think I might know what happened," the Scot said sadly.
Softly kissing Helen's cheek, Nikki turned her around and said, "Come with me; I've found something of my own."
Helen went to return the frame to its home when she stopped. "I wonder if it would be wrong of me to take this?" she asked. "Maybe we could find them?"
This time, Nikki placed her kiss on Helen's lips and held the moment before whispering, "And people think I'm the sensitive one." She tucked an errant strand of hair behind Helen's ear. "I think that would be fine, sweetheart. There are some books with a man's name written in them; we could play detective. Would you like that?"
Helen smiled and gave Nikki a kiss of her own. "I would. Thank you."
As Helen carefully pulled the door shut behind her, Nikki said, "Close your eyes. I've got a surprise."
Dutifully doing as she was told, her eyes closed and she listened intently. There was nothing to indicate what Nikki was doing except for a slight whirring sound. And then… her eyes snapped open.
Nikki stepped in front of the Scot and guided Helen's hands upward. Without hesitation, Helen slid her arms around Nikki's neck and purred at the feel of the tall woman's arms around her waist.
"It's a manual player," Nikki explained. "You have to give it a good crank to get it going. Rather like you."
Instead of protesting, Helen whispered, "I love you."
As with most things between them, Nikki understood the meaning of the moment, and she simply let it be. They swayed together in the small space, the room warm with music and life. It was like this for several minutes until Helen remarked, "I'm not entirely familiar with this song, but has it always been this slow?"
"No," Nikki confessed as the song about love and desire wafted through the cabin, albeit slightly longer than the singer had intended. "The official reason is, the record was warped so I had to put a 50p on the needle arm to keep it from skipping."
"And the unofficial reason?"
"I wanted an excuse to dance with the love of my life just a little longer."