Di stared dreamily into space in the prison officer's room off G wing. They were thrown together every day and had all the chances in the world for romance to flourish but nothing ever happened. Instead of the words of love that she was dying to tell Dom every minute of the day, there came the workaday words of 'locks bolts and bars' or intense discussions of prison officer's problems, every problem but her own or Dominic's. They had so much in common, their opposition to the hated Fenner and Sylvia but when were they to 'come out' or at least Di. The one thing that held her tongue that, desperate as she was to think that Dominic felt the same was the lurking suspicion that Dominic might not feel the same about her. All through her life she felt plain and unloved and while her school friends went out to the discos, she was stuck at home already at that stage looking after her Mum. It wasn't fair, some voice in the bottom of her mind complained.
Dom came into the prison officer's room shaking his head and dying for a cup of tea.
"Thanks Di, though I wish it was something stronger." As Dominic drained the cup of tea with a gulp.
"What's the matter love." Di asked in her friendly open way.
"Yvonne Atkins is the matter, Di" Dominic spoke with feeling."If it isn't Shell Dockley trying it on blatantly, it's Atkins."
"Don't let them get to you, love," Di said in her cosy mumsy fashion laying her hand on his arm. Really she was ready to scratch out the eyes of those tarty women who were dressed in the skimpiest outfits while she was stuck with the same unflattering black trousers and white blouse with the black epaulettes. She didn't feel good about herself when she was dressed that way.
"Thanks Di. I don't know what I would do without you." Dom said gratefully. Di was a great help round the wing. He needed an ally and they could talk all day about the way prisoners should be looked after. He was really glad that Helen Stewart had come back to the prison service even though she occasionally visited the place while she was on Home Office projects. He missed the chance to talk to her, especially that day she invited him to the pub and the way she looked deep into his eyes and his flirtatious manner. Di was a good mate and he felt comfortable about her.
The problem was that Dominic knew he was all fingers and thumbs around women. He worked in a prison where the women there had an invisible "don't touch" sign hung round their neck, partly because the rule book said so, partly because seeing Fenner misbehaving round Shell offended his moral code and partly because the sexual allure given off by the prisoners made him feel uncomfortable. With all the long shifts that he was doing, what time did he have to meet women on the outside. What he didn't know was how good looking he was, especially to Di Barker's lovelorn eyes.
Nikki was grateful that all the privileges she had been denied were gradually coming her way, a room on the 3s, her university course and the presence of Helen who she knew felt the same way about her as she felt for Helen. She'd been lumbered in the past with personal officers who were either hostile or, at best, well meaning but thick like Lorna Rose. Now as she was in the garden smiling fondly at the George Eliot postcard Helen had sent her a friendly "hello" came from the back of her. Nikki hastily stuffed the postcard into her works jacket and Di Barker came up to her with outstretched hand. Nikki politely shook hands with her. It was only recently that she had been greeted in a friendly fashion by prison officers rather than with a sneer and a snarl and, still more, that she didn't verbally lash back at them automatically.
"Hi, I'm your new personal officer, Nikki. I hope we're going to be friends."
"You're keen on gardening," Di said stating the obvious.
Nikki noticed the friendly smile and was wondering if there was more to it than that. She'd run the club with Trish and when Trish wasn't there, some of the new women had tried it on with her not knowing that they were an inseparable item till she politely told them otherwise. At least she knew they were lesbians or they wouldn't be there. Larkhall was different though Denny told her that 'half the prison officers are dykes.'
"Yes well it gets me out into the open," Nikki said, looking uncomfortable.
"Doing Open University as well, Nikki. You've got many strings to your bow." Di simpered. Nikki conceded grudgingly that Di had at least done her bloody homework and had read the file rather than pick up the usual hostile gossip and labelled her the 'black sheep' "If you've got any problems then you know that you can come to me at any time, Nikki. I'm a good listener." Di said earnestly looking into her eyes.
Oh Christ, I think this bloody woman really does fancy me, Nikki thought, getting really worried. As if her life wasn't complicated enough.
"Yeah well, I'm pretty low maintenance on that score," Nikki said casting an eye on the patch of ground she'd been weeding and hoping that this woman got the message.
"Are you married or got a partner," Di asked. Either this woman is a bit nosy or she's trying to persuade me to let my guard down after they had chatted about books and found to no great surprise that their taste in books rather differed.
"Actually, I'm a lesbian." Nikki said with more certainty. She might as well put all her cards on the table and see how she reacts to that one.
"Have you got a partner .or a special friend." Nikki felt the bubbles of humour well up inside her and perhaps she's just hopelessly naïve after all. Her mother used that expression and she and her girlfriend of the moment used to fall about laughing when they were on their own.
"No I haven't well yes I have but it's rather complicated." Nikki stumbled as her jumbled thoughts battled for order in her mind. How could she say she, as a prisoner, and Helen Stewart, a prison Officer, were having a relationship? The answer was tell nobody, not ever but this kindly woman couldn't be given the brush off, least from her. "Now if you don't mind, I'll get on with my work." And Nikki bent down to resume her gardening to Di's friendly offer to be around at any time.
Nikki used the highly effective 'grapevine' as to the gossip on Di Barker. Single woman living at home, no rings on her finger, no talk of partner. It was odds on that the woman was gay or at least didn't know herself. After all, Helen Stewart had a boyfriend and was engaged to be married. She needed to think on this one carefully
"Yvonne," Nikki called out, "what do you make of this new prison officer Di Barker?"
"You're asking me," Yvonne grinned. "You're as sharp as anyone. She's your bleeding personal officer, you would know."
"It's just like I can't make her out. Yvonne, and that worries me so I though I'd get a second opinion and who better than you."
"The Julies know a bit about her. She's bloody sex starved .nearly as much as I am .and she would shag a broomstick."
At that point, Nikki's blood pressure shot way high. The woman really is after me.
" She's always talking about boyfriends and dream lovers." Nikki heaved a huge sigh of relief. Thank Christ, Di's straight and hopefully would stay so.
"I've got a feeling in my mind that Di Barker has got a crush on Dominic." Yvonne smiled knowingly. "Hey, I though you are a lesbian. How come you are taking an interest in the love life of the screws, especially those two." as Yvonne saw a slow smile spread over Nikki's face.
Nikki tapped the side of her nose twice and a huge smile played on her face, Thank Christ she was safe after all and a few nights worrying could be forgotten. She felt a bit sorry that Di was looking for love and had never found it despite her freedom to live on the outside. Everyone should have someone to love. A foolish fancy, Nikki thought, the idea of acting as Cupid for a straight woman for her dream male lover.
"You don't give up do you," Nikki said admiringly. They were sat together in the arts room having a heart to heart talk. Di Barker had conveniently left the library where they were both pretending to read and Nikki's sideways nod to Helen indicated all was safe in the room next door.
They kissed gently as they looked into each other's eyes but Nikki started to go into panic mode as Helen had previously said "Gotta go" and she was thinking how long it would be that Helen would make her exit. In a moment of total confusion, Nikki started coming out with this sort of verbal diarrhoea about how well suited Di and Dominic would be for each other. She dare not tell her that at one point Di seemed to be attracted to her. Nikki found that she was unable to stop talking though the words were extremely well reasoned and touched Helen that Nikki would think so much of other people's happiness. Eventually, mid sentence, Helen laid her finger across Nikki's lips.
"I don't get you Nikki but you are very sweet. Here you are, you've spent months trying to lure me away from men- from Sean if you can call him one. It takes you nearly being transferred out in a cattle truck before I finally get the message. I get my job back and nearly the first thing you do is talk about Di and Dominic. Screw the appointment. Come here love "
Helen was at work on her papers late at night and there is a knock on the door. A bit irritated she went to answer it and Dominic appears out of the blue with a takeaway meal. Jesus Christ, Helen thought to herself. Why in hell has he come out of the blue? Nikki normally phones at this time.
"Dom, this is a pleasant surprise." As Helen put on her insincere smile."To what do I owe this visit?"
"Err I thought I'd pop round and talk to you as there is something on my mind." Dom said looking a bit flustered and embarrassed.
Into Helen's mind flashed the thought that now was the golden opportunity to give Dom a pep talk about Di. Imagine you are a saleswoman and go for it. But first find out what he wants.
After a bit of idle chit chat and after Helen made a couple of drinks of coffee, they both sat down. At that moment, the phone rang. It was situated on Dominic's side of the room.
"I'll get it," Dominic offered.
"No Dom, It's my bloody house. You stay right where you are, make yourself comfortable and I'll be with you in a minute."
Helen picked up the phone and, to her delight it was Nikki's voice.
The next five minutes were moments of pure tedium for Dominic as Helen was clearly having a heart to heart talk on the phone to someone whom she was clearly very fond of. He couldn't work out the name of the guy but they were clearly on intimate terms. Helen, for her part, had to work very hard to ensure that Dominic didn't make his presence known. Even though Helen was going to follow her part of the plan, she didn't want Nikki getting the wrong ideas as who knows what would happen.
"Better go the pips are going" Nikki said hurriedly and put the phone down, a big smile on her face.
"Is that your boyfriend," Dom said in a disappointed tone, as this was a bit of a let down. Helen nodded this being the convenient answer and then brightly asked him what the problem was.
Dom finally came out with it that talking over prison theory was the pretext but he needed some advice on his love life and Helen, being an older woman, would be the sort of woman who would understand him.
At that point, Helen went into sales pitch mode and held forth about Di.
"But she's just a good friend," Dom said.
Helen slipped him a knowing look and told him that Di was the sort of shy woman who was too scared to come out with it. Jesus Christ, 'come out' isn't the best expression she could use but Dom won't know.
"Is that how you feel about her or how you think she feels about you, Dom?"
Dom finally thought that it was his impression of Di. She seemed to him like she wanted friendship but no more. Oh yes, apart from both of them taking the piss out of Sylvia behind her back when she was blathering on about nearly being killed when she accidentally fell down the stairs.
"But how will I have the chance to get off with her ..I mean tell her how I feel about her as I have been secretly in love with her for ages." Dom asked.
"Sylvia's got her golden wedding anniversary dance in Larkhall prison. Chance of a lifetime and she's bound to glam herself up a bit." Helen said with a smile and a wink.
A very much cheered up Dom left Helen's flat and Helen sank back against the inside of her front door in total relief that things had gone so successfully. Di being Nikki's personal officer would no doubt be giving Di a similar pep talk in their weekly chats.
"What outfit do you think suits me best, Nikki" Di asked Nikki as they leafed their way through the catalogue which Di had sneaked in.
Nikki narrowed her eyes and looked from Di to the catalogue and back to Di again and with extreme difficulty tried to imagine what would be attractive in Dom's eyes. Giving that approach up, she went for what made the most out of Di and figured out that the short low cut black dress seemed to bring out the best in Di.
"Now you remember what I told you about Dom. With a bit of luck, Sylvia's dance will give you the ideal chance."
As a cheered up Di left her cell, Nikki shook her head in disbelief. She must be cuckoo in trying to fix up Di's love life when her own could do with some help ..
"You're not on red bans, Wade." Shell said in disbelief. "But Jim Fenner is organising it. You ain't on the list."
"Well get your tiny brain round this, Shell Dockley. Helen Stewart has gone over Fenner's head on this one. I've worked in clubs for years and this do needs a professional around to sort this out. Someone who knows what they are doing." Nikki finished crushingly her hands on her hips with an air of authority that overruled Dockley.
Nikki had an extremely boring evening running back and forth with drinks to an assorted collection of Sylvia's and Bobby's pompous friends. Organizing the event was easy peasy now Shell went off in a sulk and she could catch up on the gossip with the 2 Julies and Yvonne and make snide comments about the guests. Watching Sylvia and Bobby dancing was a right laugh. The music was excruciating as a clapped out dance band played syrupy songs from the early sixties that her mother had played her in a foolish attempt to be 'youthful.'
Nikki's eyes were fixed on the door and a sigh of relief passed her lips when she saw a very glamorous Di appear and Dom came with her. All appeared well when they started to dance. Di was very excited and full of herself and Nikki could tell that she was a good dancer but she had her worries about Dom.
"I'm not much of a dancer, I'm afraid, Di." Dom said sheepishly.
"You need to relax, let yourself go a bit," Di replied.
At that moment, an inspiration struck Nikki as Dom, a stolid pint of beer man indicated for a drink. Nikki bustled over and in the beer served from the bar, spiked the drink to pep it up a bit and Dominic as well. At the far side of the room, Helen was sat in the corner talking to Karen Betts and she was on hand to play her part.
"You've got the hang of it now." as a newly invigorated Dom was carried away with the dancing. He had brightened up and seemed full of pep now, Tonight was going to be the nigh, Di promised herself and if, Dom wasn't going to take the lead, she would. On the slower dances, Di melted into his arms and Dom was conscious of holding Di in his arms, the sweetness of the perfume coming from her and that the night was young. Instead of gloomily looking round him, nursing his pint of beer and being the wallflower watching others enjoying themselves, he was part of the pleasures.
Nikki saw Helen indicating in her direction and in her redban uniform approached Helen.
"A vodka and tonic, Nikki. Everything going fine?" she asked in her coded language.
"Everything's spot on." Nikki smirked.
"The same for me." Helen smiled.
That was Helen's way of telling Nikki that she'd set up her 'lifer's unit' office for Di and Dom and dropped a gentle hint to Dom about it.
Presently the music ground to a halt and Dom and Di stood with their arms round each other and listened to the godawful platitudes that Sylvia and her Bobby were spouting to each other that this was the happiest day of her life but those at Larkhall Prison were really family also. Even with Helen's mocking gaze directly facing her, she came out with this hypocritical rubbish. The redbans were at the back of the room slagging off the happy pair.
At the end of the day, the musicians unpacked their instruments and Dom, now a different person, all fired up pulled Di to one side.
"Come on Di. I know where we can make our own music."
"You mean ." Di started to say.
Dom pulled Di after him along the dimly lit corridors to the lifer's unit room which, though not the ideal place in normal times, was in the gloom with the dim light coming from outside, was the only place to be. Certainly Di with her invalid mother and Dom, at home with his parents at home were out of the question.
"I know it's not the most romantic place to be but .." Dom said apologetically.
"It's almost as if destiny has meant us to be together." Di said romantically.
Dom carefully unzipped Di from her black dress and they gently undressed each other. Di was enraptured at the way that Dom was a considerate lover especially when they lay together in the tangle of clothes on the floor. The prison was dark and quiet now and no sounds could be heard except their gentle breathing. Somehow all the barriers between them had broken down and they felt happier than they had ever felt in their life. Dom felt that the temporary annoyance he had felt at the travel company who had fouled up his holiday application to Greece on his own had been one of those fates of nature that happened that destined them to lie in each other's arms that night.
"But the lifer's unit room" Nikki said disconsolately to Helen.
"I know but there was no alternative. Besides, my office is sacred to us," Helen replied."And at least Dom will be lookout for us rather than gatecrasher until you get out on appeal." And Nikki brightened up as Helen had told her that the application for appeal had been granted and, soon hopefully they would be together. And it means that Di is kept off Nikki's back and Dom off hers. Nikki nodded her head gratefully at that one.
Helen and Nikki were dressed in their smartest outfits, Helen in her two piece Wing governor suit and Nikki in a black trouser suit. Wedding hats, they drew the line at.
"Are you the bride's side or the groom's side," the man in the grey top hat and tails outfit asked them.
"Well, sort of both. We are friends of both of them." and Helen did her best winning smile.
"Oh well, sit where you like." The man said and they took a pew on Dominic's side of the church as Di's family were definitely disapproving of anything or anyone who questioned that the Daily Mail like the Bible, were Holy Writ. The organist played soothing harmonies that they both found soothing and put them in touch with themselves. After listening to Bab's deft touch with the Larkhall chapel organ, they noticed that the church organist didn't have her keyboard technique, however.
They braced themselves as a clutch of the most hideously dressed most conservative people started to fill up the aisles.
"Glad your mate nobbled Dominic's holiday." whispered Nikki to Helen who grinned.
Dom stood at the front of the church, best man next to him and they whispered under their breath. Right at the back were his old mates from Larkhall, Sylvia, who was glaring at Helen and Nikki, Jim Fenner who had his eye on the bridesmaid, and Karen sat next to Jim and was oblivious of his wandering eye. She was smiling encouragement at Dom and wondering why Helen and Nikki were there together. She though Nikki had had enough of seeing the Prison Officers without wishing a social occasion on them. Dom was nervous but not half as much as he was when the debate last night as who was to escort Di up the aisle reared its ugly head. Di's mother was bull headedly insisting on being wheeled up the aisle as Di's father was dead but Di's older brother overruled her on this. Dom double-checked everything was booked as they did not want a screw up on this at the last moment. Came the appointed time and the organist struck up the organ chords and Di, a vision of loveliness in white, proudly paraded up the aisle and stood next to him. He looked at the vicar as he intoned the magic words "I do" and looking into Di's loving eyes who did the same when Di spoke the words.
The organist struck up triumphantly as they led the procession out of the church and round to the back in the bright summer's day with the wind rustling Di's dress. The photographer arranged the couple and snapped away as they stood there still dazed that the day had come to pass. Eventually, the photographer gestured that the rest of the crowd to make up the group.
"Do we have to," Nikki asked, this being a new experience to her.
"We arranged the wedding, we've a bloody right to be there," came Helen's irrefutable logic so they joined the cluster at the back and were preserved forever in Di and Dominic's wedding book as their testimony to their matrimonial bliss.
All the wedding crowd went over to the reception suite arranged by Nikki and Helen and the afternoon passed in a satisfying haze of good fellowship, a hearty meal and plenty of wine.
"Thanks for everything, you two." Di came over and hugged them each in turn."I don't know what we would have done without you. I'm glad you could make it"
Nikki nearly said that they had fixed the whole thing for them but Helen pressed her high-heeled shoe on Nikki's as a gentle hint.
Dom came over to shyly thank them for turning up and helping out. Helen muttered that they would do it for old friends and looked meaningfully in Dom's direction that she expected them to turn up at their wedding in a month or so.
"Only I don't think it will be in church." Helen added.
" ..but the whole thing gave us a few ideas" Nikki chimed in.
" .so long as you don't mind mixing with our friends who look a little less conventional than your relations." Helen smiled and this really panicked Dom and Di
" ..but don't worry Dom, you're safe." Nikki added with false reassurance.
"But what about me." Di asked in real alarm."I've never been to a lesbian wedding. I'd be worried that some of them might get the wrong idea about me."
"Don't worry, you'll be fine." Nikki said, feeling sorry for Di's evident real fears but thinking that when she first met Di, the boot was definitely on the other foot.
As the golden couple were driven off from the reception, the sun was just dipping behind the trees and turning into a golden red ball of flame while behind the sky was shading into the dark blue of the approaching night. Cans rattled from the car and "just married" was scrawled on the car.
And Nikki and Helen set off in their own car to drive off likewise into the sunset.
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