DISCLAIMER: Bad Girls and its characters are the property of Shed Productions. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Ann for the beta. You really are the Queen of commas.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author
A Match Made in Larkhall
"I know what you need," said Yvonne.
"What?" It was cold in the cell. Nikki's skin was puckered and chafed with the memory of coarse soap and frigid water. She snapped open another chapter in her book, the yellowed pages limp with the memory of a lifetime of grubby fingers.
Nikki snorted. "Is that an offer?"
"Only in your dreams, love." Yvonne made herself at home on the foot of Nikki's bed. "But there are plenty out there who'd gladly volunteer."
Nikki grunted. "Kids and junkies," she dismissed, her eyes never leaving the cold confines of her precious book. "I never took you for a Cilla Black wannabe."
"How long's it been?"
"Since you had your end away."
"I'm not having this conversation," said Nikki. "Don't slam the door on your way out."
"A year? Two? Three?" Yvonne stretched across and lowered Nikki's book. "So long ago that you've forgotten?"
Nikki shot her a dirty look. "For pity's sake, Yvonne, why don't you go bother one of the screws."
"Where's the challenge in that?"
Nikki let the book drop into her lap. "It's been five months," she said. "And I remember every single moment of it."
"Was is Stewart?" Yvonne asked casually.
"I thought you were leaving."
"She's got that look about her."
Nikki looked up warily. "What look?"
"That look." With a dismissive wave Yvonne reduced sexual identity to little more than a fashion statement. "She never takes her eyes off you."
"Is this conversation going anywhere, because I'm not getting any younger."
"Got a hot date or something?"
"Look," Yvonne said. "You're a good looking woman, but if you keep pining away for the one bird in here who you can't have, you'll end your days a dried up old battle-axe like Hollamby."
Nikki's temper flared, but she managed to douse the flames. "This conversation is over."
Nikki let her tray drop onto the table. "What?" she asked grimly. "Do I have a sign on my back or something?"
Barbara gave her a maternal smile. "Is something the matter, Nikki?"
"Yeah, Nik, is something wrong?"
"Something wrong?" the two Julies enquired.
Exasperated, Nikki began to shovel the unappetising food into her mouth.
"Morning, Nikki," called a passing blonde.
"Hey Nikki," giggled her bald headed companion.
Nikki pushed her plate away in disgust. "That's the seventh 'hello Nikki' I've had this morning." She looked across the cafeteria towards the leather clad moll holding court on the opposite side of the room. "I know Yvonne's behind this."
The teasing smile that accompanied the words caused Nikki's heart to race. "Miss Stewart?"
"Hello Nikki." Helen spared the other women a brief nod of greeting. "So, what's Yvonne been up to this time?"
"'Von's been playing matchmaker," said Julie Saunders.
"Got all the girls interested," added Julie Johnson.
Barbara readied herself for a quick getaway, afraid that Nikki's next move would be to strangle one of the obvious co-conspirators. She'd known the plan was ill-advised the moment she'd heard it, but the boredom of prison life had worn away her common sense and left her open to the other women's reassurances.
Helen laughed, the sound brittle in its falsehood. "I would never have taken Yvonne for one of Cupid's little helpers."
Nikki ran her hands through her hair. "She's just trying to be funny."
"No, straight up, she wants to help Nikki find someone."
"Yeah," Julie Johnson concurred. "She said Nik's been a moody cow lately 'cause she's not gettin' any."
"I don't think..." Barbara tried her best to intervene, but her two friends had grown enthusiastic about their subject.
"That Rita on the Twos is a nice girl."
"And she's always got 'er head stuck in a Jackie Collins."
"Be perfect for our Nik."
Helen could vaguely picture the woman in question; a twenty-something brunette who was serving five years for embezzlement. She was attractive, in an obvious sort of way, but she could hardly picture Nikki being taken in by someone so blatantly interested; however, Helen had no doubt that Rita and half a dozen other women on the wing would be more than interested in becoming Nikki's little friend.
"It's nothing," Nikki insisted.
"A harmless bit of fun," agreed Barbara.
Helen looked towards Yvonne. "If you say so."
Helen rapped on the outside of Yvonne's cell, the rhythm just the wrong side of natural. "Can I come in?"
"Can I stop you?"
Yvonne leaned back against the wall, her hands behind her head in a devil-may-care attitude. "Welcome to my humble abode." She indicated the end of the bed. "I'm sorry I can't offer you tea and biscuits, but it's the butler's night off."
"Exactly how bored are you?"
The question was unexpected, but Yvonne made sure to give every appearance that she'd known it was coming. "I'm locked up in here twenty-four, seven. What do you think?"
"Is that why you're messing with Nikki?" Helen had planned a more subtle introduction, but Yvonne's flippancy had derailed her script. "You're bored, so you're taking it out on her."
Yvonne smiled predatorily, ready to trip Helen with her own words. "I'm not the one playing with Nikki."
"So, you deny trying to set her up with women?"
"I didn't say that."
Helen's composure began to slip. "She doesn't need you interfering in her life."
"Is that so?"
"She's perfectly capable of sorting out her own love life." She started to shake inside. "So why don't you just leave her alone."
"Like you do?" All traces of humour drained from Yvonne's face. "I don't know whether you're just some confused dyke playing out her little coming out drama, or another sick bastard looking to get their kicks by taking what's on offer. But, you either front up and see Nikki right, or move out of the way and let someone else make her happy."
Tears stung in the corners of Helen's eyes, but she refused to let Yvonne see them fall. She was meant to be the one in control, but prison gates and iron bars couldn't protect her from the truth of Yvonne's words, and she hated her for it.
Without another word, Helen left.
"See you later, Nikki."
"Do you want to watch me play pool, Nikki?"
And one, "Do ya fancy a shag, Nik?" had all combined to set Nikki's teeth on edge and guarantee that she spent every moment she wasn't in the garden or eating her meals, locked up in her cell reading something old and heavy going.
"'Er, Nik, 'ave you got a minute?" Julie Saunders asked, having finally tracked the woman down after an afternoon of searching. "Only me and Jue 'ave got something to show you."
Nikki sighed, but as the chances of either Julie propositioning her were slim to none, she decided to indulge her friends' request. "What is it, Julie?"
"It's in our cell."
Nikki hoped it wasn't another cat.
Julie led the way to the Threes, purposefully avoiding the areas populated by Nikki-crazed hopefuls, and knocked three times in a prearranged manner. "That's our signal," she explained. "So Jue knows it's me."
Julie Johnson quickly opened the door and stepped aside to make room for Nikki before once again deferring to her shorter friend.
"Nik, we'd like you to meet Rita," said Julie Saunders. "Rite, this is Nikki."
A push to the back prompted Nikki's entrance into the cell, which was soon followed by the Julies' swift exit.
Nikki wanted to scream.
"Do you come here often?"
The scream was short in duration but long on pent-up aggression.
"I told ya she'd prefer a blonde," said Julie Saunders, from her hiding place on the other side of the landing.
"Yeah, a blonde," her friend agreed.
Helen paused at the entrance to Nikki's cell. She'd had two days to stew on Yvonne's words and watch the, apparently never ending, stream of single women try and make their move on Nikki. Two days in which she died a little more inside every time she overheard a coquettish 'hello' or witnessed a saucy wink.
"Are you planning on staying out there all day?" asked Nikki. "Only the neighbours will talk."
"I'm sorry. Woolgathering."
Nikki looked her in the eye. "You okay, Helen, you look tired."
"I haven't been sleeping."
Nikki tried not to think about the new doctor and whatever he might be doing to keep Helen entertained into the small hours. Life was so much easier when she could forget the world outside and its hold over the woman standing nervously in her doorway.
Helen obeyed automatically; her response triggered more by the understanding in Nikki's eyes than the words themselves. "I've been selfish, Nikki."
"I've kept you at arms length but refused to make the last cut that would set you free."
"I don't want to be free."
"But don't you see? That's the whole problem. You should be free. Free of this place. Free of me." Helen looked away. "You deserve so much more."
Nikki gripped the edge of her bunk and hoped to God that her world wasn't about to come tumbling down. "But what I want is you."
"I'm not enough."
"You're enough for me."
"For how long? A week? A day? How long until you resent the walls between us? How long until not being able to touch you drives me insane?" The tears that Helen had kept in check for days began to fall. "Being close to you tore me apart, but being away from you is killing me."
"You have the chance at a life in here." She stood to distance herself from Nikki's concerned arms. "Women who can love you openly. Freely."
"Yes," Nikki said. "I could."
The shadow of loss fell across Helen's eyes, her lips trembling as she forced herself to say what was right. "Then you should be with one of them. They can give you what I can't."
"No they can't." Nikki took her place beside Helen, her body rigid with frustration and pain. "If you want me out of your life, Helen, have the decency to tell me straight. Don't try and pretend you're doing this for me, because the only thing I've ever wanted, is to be with you."
Looking up, Helen saw the fury in Nikki's eyes; the cold, hard anger doing more to break down her barriers than all the love and devotion she knew lay within. "I'll make your life a misery."
"That's nothing new."
"And, I'll go on and on at you about your appeal."
"I would expect nothing less."
"And insist you keep your nose clean."
"Comes with the job."
Suddenly, unexpectedly, Helen reached out and brought Nikki into her arms. "And tell you 'I love you' when we're in the middle of an argument."
"I'll look forward to every squabble."
Their tears mingled as they came together in a kiss; the last of their new beginnings finally having taken shape.
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