DISCLAIMER: All the characters used within this story are the property of Shed Productions. I am using them solely to explore my creative ability.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This has been inspired by Kristine's fanfic challenge and resulted in me blitzing through the entire fic in one go. It is an off beat comedy "alternative history" of Series 2 Bad Girls.

(extended version)
By Richard


Chapter One

Di stared dreamily into space in the prison officer's room off G wing, feeling down in the dumps. Once again, the refrain that life wasn't fair floated back into her mind. She and Dominic were thrown together every day and they 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 him 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 his. They had so much in common, their opposition to the hated Fenner and Sylvia but when were they to 'come out' or at least when would 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 once again.

At that moment, Dominic came into the prison officer's room shaking his head and dying for a cup of tea and Di broke off from her daydreaming.

"Thanks Di, though I wish it was something stronger." Dominic said as he promptly 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 Yvonne 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 never felt good about herself when she was dressed that way.

"Thanks Di. I don't know what I would do without you." Dominic 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 her Home Office projects sometimes took her elsewhere. He missed the chance to talk to her, especially remembering that day she invited him to the pub. He pictured the way she looked deep into his eyes and liking her flirtatious manner. Without her, things weren't too bad as Di was a good mate and he felt comfortable being around 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.

By contrast, every day that Nikki woke up in her bare prison cell, she felt that spring was coming back into her life after a long hard winter. She was grateful that she was getting her just deserts after more than two years of being treated as an outcast. Her cell on the 3s, and her university course were symbolic of this. What mellowed her most of all was Helen's tangible presence and the knowledge that she knew felt the same way about her as she felt for Helen. It wasn't just a matter of romance but also that Helen shielded her from injustice and cared for her. That alone was a big step up in the world by contrast with past personal officers she'd been lumbered with who were either hostile or, at best, well meaning but thick like Lorna Rose.


Chapter Two

One summer morning, Nikki was out in the garden, daydreaming and smiling fondly at the George Eliot postcard Helen had once sent her. A friendly "hello" suddenly came from out of nowhere 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 hope I'm not disturbing your work."

"No, no," Nikki replied, being dragged rudely back to the present, automatically shaking the outstretched hand.

"I'm Di Barker. I thought I'd introduce myself. I'm going to be your new personal officer from now on. If you have any problems, anything you want to talk about…"

"I think you'll find I'm pretty low maintenance on that score," Nikki said. Some instinct told her to be wary and to keep the conversation to the minimum. She cast an eye on the patch of ground she'd been weeding and hoped that this woman got the message.

"You're a keen gardener," 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 at the club. Larkhall was supposed to be different although, as Denny told her once 'half the prison officers are dykes.'

"Yes well it gets me out," Nikki said, both looking and feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

"Doing Open University as well, Nikki. English Literature. 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."

Oh Christ, I think this bloody woman really does fancy me, Nikki thought, getting really worried. As if her life wasn't complicated enough.

They chatted awhile about books and Nikki found to no great surprise that their taste in books differed markedly. Di next confessed that every plant she touched died on her. Nikki couldn't exactly see what helpful horticultural advice she could give. That set the seal on just what these two women had in common.

"Are you married or got a partner," Di suddenly asked. Either this woman is a bit nosy or she's trying to persuade me to let my guard down. "Actually, I'm a lesbian." Nikki said with more certainty than she felt. 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 concluded that perhaps she's just hopelessly naïve after all. Her mother used that expression and she and her girlfriend of the moment and they 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, the wing governor, were having a relationship? The answer was tell nobody, not ever but she would have to be diplomatic in giving this woman the brush off. This woman was a step up from Fenner's homophobic taunts.

"I'm a good listener." Di said earnestly looking into her eyes.

"Now if you don't mind, I'll get on with my work," and Nikki bent down to resume her gardening.

"Me and you are going to be friends, Nikki."

Nikki crouched down to dig her trowel into the earth. She felt safer at shrub level.

Nikki didn't waste time in tapping into the highly effective 'grapevine' on the gossip about Di Barker. Single woman living at home, no rings on her finger, no talk of partner. It was possible that the woman was gay, in the closet or stuck halfway through the door. After all, Helen Stewart once had a boyfriend and was engaged to be married. She needed to think this one through carefully and cover all possibilities.

"Yvonne," Nikki called out as she passed by her cell, "what do you make of this new prison officer Di Barker?"

"You're asking me," Yvonne grinned, gesturing her to take a seat. "You're as sharp as anyone. She's your bleeding personal officer, you ought to know."

"It's just like I can't make her out. Yvonne, and that worries me so I thought I'd get a second opinion and who better than you to ask."

"The Julies know a bit about her. She's bloody sex starved ….nearly as much as I am. In fact they said that she would shag a broomstick if she had half a chance."

At that point, Nikki fumbled for a cigarette and lit up fast as her blood pressure and paranoia level shot up through the roof. The woman really is after me.

" She's always talking about boyfriends and dream lovers." Nikki heaved a huge sigh of relief along with a cloud of cigarette smoke. Thank Christ, Di's straight and hopefully would stay so.

"I've got a feeling that Di Barker has got a crush on Dominic." Yvonne smiled knowingly.

"That's good," Nikki answered without thinking. The other woman looked at Nikki narrowly between mascaraed eyelashes. There was something up here although even her vast databank memory couldn't make sense of what Nikki was driving at.

"Hey, I thought you are a lesbian. How come you are taking an interest in the love life of the screws, especially those two," questioned Yvonne sharply. She saw a slow smile spread all over Nikki's face. The other woman tapped the side of her nose twice but said nothing. Yvonne let it go as Nikki obviously wasn't talking and the whole thing was her business.

For her part, Nikki basked in her feelings of sheer relief. Thank Christ she was safe after all and a few hours of worrying could be soon 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, laughing at the preposterous idea of acting as Cupid for a straight woman and her dream male lover.


Chapter Three

"You don't give up do you," Nikki said admiringly. They were sat together in the arts room finishing off a real 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 was about to say, "Gotta go" as she always did. She always dreaded the moment when Helen would make her exit.

"Helen, does it occur to you that everyone ought to have some love in their lives?"

"Sure, Nikki. Why else are we here? We hardly get any privacy around the wing," Helen answered with raised eyebrows at the strange tack their conversation was taking.

"I can't help noticing how well suited Di and Dominic would be for each other. It's just something that's been on my mind. Dominic is a great guy and I've felt really sorry for him as he is clearly in love with Di Barker. He's all fingers and thumbs and can't say what's on his mind. Di Barker's my personal officer and she gives the impression that all is sweetness and light but she lives at home with her disabled mother and she's obviously looking for love. I sense that every time she sees me as her personal officer. It's ironic that I'm locked up but my life is just fine or would be if I was on the outside and we were living together. Here they are, they've got all the freedom in the world yet they don't take advantage of it. It tells me how sad life can be. I just feel really, really sorry for them both. Each of them would be so good for the other………."

Nikki sat by incredulously, observing herself jabbering away with this stream of idiotic verbal diarrhoea. It spewed forth without her thinking about it and her mouth was utterly unable to stop talking. She groaned inwardly at the spectacle she was making of herself even though her case was well reasoned. She must be totally mad, she considered, after all the girlfriends that she had had in the past. She was a thirty something, out and proud lesbian, for God sake, not some teenage kid out on her first date. She could only put it down to being in a state of total confusion and tension in being so near to Helen after all these months. It must have gone to her head. Whatever would Helen think of her except that she's a total headcase? She dare not tell her that at one point she had thought that Di was attracted to her. What she didn't realize as her eyes were screwed tight shut was Helen's reaction. Feelings of tenderness were welling up inside Helen that Nikki would think so much of other people's happiness as well as theirs. It was so like Nikki, even at a moment like this.

Eventually, mid sentence, Helen laid her finger across Nikki's lips. With an effort of courage, Nikki opened her eyes and saw the light of love in Helen's eyes and a tender smile spreading across her face.

"I don't get you Nikki sometimes but you really 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 when we're finally on our own is talk about Di and Dominic. Sod my next appointment. It can wait. Come here love……"

Helen's sultry Scottish accent made Nikki go weak at the knees as well as most parts of the rest of her body as well. Besides, she was suffering the after effects of emotional vertigo. In rapid succession she had assured Helen that she wasn't some cold-blooded killer, helped nurse each other's insecurities for the future between kisses and then they romantically declared their commitment to each other. Finally, what does she do at the golden moment but suddenly babble on about matchmaking two sexually inhibited screws? Her ears switched themselves on as she heard Helen finally convince her of her desires. She nodded her head and latched onto the positive. Doing what came naturally, she slipped her arms round Helen's shoulders, as Helen turned round to face her. This must be the weirdest chat-up line of all time but, in some cock-eyed fashion, it had distracted Helen from her errand. Her growing desires erased her confusion in the way that her tongue slipped deep into Helen's mouth and how eagerly Helen responded to her.


Chapter Four

A few days later, Helen was at work on her papers late at night and there was a knock on the door. A bit irritated she went to answer it and Dominic appeared out of the blue with a takeaway meal. Jesus Christ, Helen thought to herself. Why in hell has he popped up like this? She got worried as she had known Nikki phone her up at home round about this time of night.

"Dominic, this is a pleasant surprise," Helen answered after a pause, putting on her most convincing insincere smile." To what do I owe this visit?"

"Err I thought I'd pop round and talk to you as I've got a few things on my mind I wanted to talk to you about. I want to get some ideas from you about prison reform as you work for the Home Office. I don't get time for this at Larkhall." Dominic said.

He looked a bit flustered and embarrassed and that made Helen feel distinctly edgy and uncomfortable. They had recently enjoyed some friendly exchanges and caught up with Helen's period of absence from Larkhall. She would always be grateful for Dominic's support alone among the prison officers when her progressive ideas had been greeted by barely concealed derision by the others. Nevertheless, this visit had come from out of the blue and Helen wasn't sure what Dominic was really here for.

They engaged in a bit of idle chitchat while Helen took the initiative and made two cups of coffee. Helen carefully sat down in her armchair while Dominic claimed the sofa.

"Are you glad to be back here?"

"I've got unfinished business here, Dominic." Helen said, non committally.

"Anyway, It's great to see you around here again."

"I'll be better able to stay around since I won't be in charge of some of those backstabbing bastards. They nearly did my head in last time I was here."

"I'm not one of them, Helen."

"I know, Dominic."

The conversation petered out in an uneasy silence while they ate the curry and rice. After Helen dumped the remains in the waste bin, she took a careful sip of her cold cup of coffee while Dominic looked straight in front of him. Where were these burning questions on Dominic's mind, Helen wanted to ask but didn't. In the middle of this oppressive silence, the phone rang. It was situated on Dominic's side of the room.

"I'll get it," Dominic offered.

"No Dominic, 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 Nikki's voice had come to the rescue.

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. The most attention that he got from her was the very sharp look she directed at him to remain silent. At that moment, Helen was thankful for her period as one time wing governor, which enabled her to achieve the necessary forcefulness when she needed it. She had to make absolutely sure that Dominic didn't make his presence known down the other end of the phone. Even though Helen was following her part of their plan, she didn't want Nikki getting the wrong ideas. She wondered just what might happen if Nikki overheard Dominic's background presence.

"Better go, darling, the pips are going" Nikki said hurriedly and put the phone down, a big contented smile on her face. For once, there wasn't soul about instead of the normal long queue for the phone or her enterprise would have been a definite non-starter. All the others were watching some nameless soap on television, which she normally detested but she made the mental note that it had its uses on this one occasion.

"Was that your boyfriend?" Dom asked in a disappointed tone of voice, as this visit had turned out to be a bit of a let down. Helen nodded, this being the convenient answer.

"So, Dominic, what's troubling you? I can see that you have something more on your mind than picking my brains on prison reform." Helen questioned, in a bright, alert tone of voice.

After some hesitation and false starts, Dominic finally started to speak.

"I admit that talking over prison theory is a bit of an excuse to call on you. It feels the same that time I came round for a drink when you invited me to the pub."

"That was to get you to withdraw your resignation," Helen said rapidly, smiling kindly but firmly on him.

"I really need some general advice about women, or the lack of them. Working all hours in a prison doesn't help. I thought that being older than me, you would be the sort of woman who would understand. I've always got on with women who are older than me."

His head was in a complete spin as Helen was now definitely beyond his reach. He kept on talking while he sorted his head out. Helen was momentarily uncomfortable, being not sure if Dominic was harbouring any residual romantic feelings for her or that she was simply asked to be Marge Proops. Into Helen's mind flashed the thought that now was the golden opportunity to give Dominic a pep talk about Di. Imagine you are a saleswoman and go for it, she thought.

"I have the answer to your dreams, Dominic. Di Barker. She's the woman for you. As soon as I saw you two together in the prison officer's room, I could see that the two of you are made for each other, "Helen replied enthusiastically, going into sales pitch mode.

"But she's just a good friend," Dom protested.

"Is that how you feel about her or how you think she feels about you?"

"I've always thought that Di wanted my friendship but nothing more than that. We talked about all sorts of prison matters and we enjoy taking the piss out of Sylvia behind her back. We had a field day when she was banging on about nearly being killed that time when she accidentally fell down the staircase."

"Di Barker is just the sort of shy woman who is too scared to come out with how she really feels," countered Helen, slipping him a knowing look. Jesus Christ, 'come out' isn't the most fortunate expression she could use, she thought inwardly, but Dominic isn't to know. He sat back in the chair, open-mouthed. Helen's words made him suddenly focus on a number of little subtle hints of Di's, which he'd unaccountably overlooked.

"I think I have been in love with her and not known it myself." Dominic said very slowly to Helen's delight. Helen could see the wheels turning round in his mind. Keep thinking that way, Dominic, and just stay off my patch.

"Well, you've chosen the right woman. I have it on good authority that Di Barker is very smitten by your good looks and charm."

"She is?" queried Dominic, his eyes wide open in amazement.

"Of course. How do you know that she hasn't felt the same about you and been too scared to say it? After all, she's not known for having hordes of boyfriends queuing up for her. Perhaps she's been waiting for Mr. Right all these years and you've been there all along and she's not realized it. You have to make her understand," Helen answered him with smooth precision.

"That's true…..I never thought of that before," Dominic said slowly, the look of dawning hope in his eyes. Thank God the penny's dropped, Helen thought with a sense of relief. It's taken a lot of pushing. It made Helen realize just how much she wanted to make dead sure of her own Ms. Right for herself.

"But how do I get to tell her how I feel about her. I mean Larkhall isn't exactly intimate."

That's all you know, thought Helen impatiently but she pushed that thought to the back of her mind. He means how will I have the chance to get off with her but it would be tactless to put it that way. It would only scare him off.

"Sylvia's got her golden wedding anniversary dance in Larkhall prison. It's the chance of a lifetime and Di's bound to glam herself up. Just think of it. Everyone's bound to let their hair down a bit. The place won't seem like its normal self with soft lights, party music and some alcohol." Helen enthused, with a smile and a wink. She tried to overlook the very obvious point that Sylvia and her Bobby would be most unlikely to organize the rave of the century.

A very much cheered up Dominic left Helen's flat and Helen sank back against the inside of her front door in total relief that things had gone so successfully. She made a mental note to talk to Nikki and make sure that Di, being Nikki's personal officer would be given similar regular pep talk in their regular weekly chats. She smiled to herself at Nikki's powers of persuasion and questioned just who was being the personal officer.


Chapter Five

Over the past few weeks, Nikki had been remarkably patient in sitting through Di's regularly endless stream of homilies and proverbs, which seem to have strayed from the back pages of a woman's magazine. To Nikki's fastidious mind, they were a crude reduction of the psychology that Nikki was immersed in, as a felt experience. She was gracious enough as Di was fundamentally harmless although she took care not to mention anything she wanted to be kept private. It passed the time and was a step up from some personal officers she had had in the past.

"Did I tell you about Sylvia's and her Bobby's thirtieth wedding anniversary dance. I was wondering about going to it," Di suddenly said bashfully.

"That's great news for you. That will be the ideal opportunity for you and Dominic." "But do you think that Dominic will be keen enough?"

"Dominic strikes me as the kind of guy who can be a bit bashful around women. You've got to take the initiative without being too pushy and gently ease him into the party spirit. Besides everyone's bound to let their hair down a bit. I found that from the years of working in clubs."

"I'll remember that, Nikki. I mean, who dares wins," Di answered with a giggle in her voice." Every cloud has a silver lining."

"That's the spirit," Nikki answered heartily, wincing at yet another occasion as Di's most banal proverb, which she hadn't heard from her for such a long time. If there was one thing in her life she wanted to escape from, it was these sorts of unreflective commonplaces, which didn't fit her world.

Nikki could clearly tell during the pause in the conversation that Di was thinking of saying something until, with a sudden gesture, she sheepishly slipped the slim catalogue from out of her handbag.

"You don't mind me asking but I'm going to I wondered if you'd give me your opinion what outfit will suit me best. I'm a bit nervous as it isn't every day that I get the chance to dress up and go out somewhere."

"By all means," Nikki replied cordially, in more enthusiastic tones than Di had expected. Because of the urgency of the situation, Nikki restrained herself from reminding Di of the obvious fact that her own social life was somewhat constricted, being a prisoner. She slowly leafed through the magazine, one page at a time while Di looked bashful and shy. When Nikki had finished, she looked up at Di's expectant gaze.

"What outfit do you think suits me best, Nikki." Di asked Nikki, standing on one foot and then another in a state of suppressed excitement. Nikki thought carefully, narrowed her eyes and looked from Di to the catalogue and back to Di again. She tried to imagine what would be attractive in Dominic's eyes which sounded good in theory but when it came down to it, how in hell could she imagine what a guy would find attractive in Di? Giving that approach up, she settled for what she thought would make the most out of Di. Nikki got the idea that Di's gaze lingered on a fluffy romantic pink dress but her pursed lips and short intake of breath proved to be just enough of a hint to pass that one up. Leafing once again through the catalogue she figured out that the short low cut black dress seemed to bring out the best in Di.

"This is the one for you, the strappy outfit cut just above the knee."

"It's a bit revealing," Di said doubtfully.

'Why not show a bit of flesh, Di? It's your best chance if you want Dominic that much."

Nikki held Di's gaze with that look of bright encouragement until Di thought of Dominic and gradually overcame her inhibitions.

She then nodded her head excitedly and shot out of her cell, quite forgetting to say goodbye. As a cheered up Di left her cell, Nikki felt quite worn out by her overdose in exaggerated positivism and cheerful optimism. She shook her head in disbelief. She must be cuckoo in acting as fashion designer and in fixing up Di's love life when her own could do with some help…..

"You're not on red bans, Wade." Shell said in disbelief, on the afternoon of the party. "But Jim Fenner is organising it. You ain't on the list."

"Well get your tiny brain round this, Dockley. Helen Stewart has gone over Fenner's head on this one. I've worked in clubs for years and this party needs a professional around to sort this out. Someone who knows what they are doing."

"You ain't telling me that Bodybag wants some lezzie bitch anywhere near her and her husband? They'll go mad," sneered Shell.

"Have it your way," Nikki answered softly with a sudden access of patience," I've had it on good authority from Miss Betts that she has agreed this. She has the final say as you know. Now why don't you go to bed early and settle down with a good book. Your mind could do with all the improving that it can get." Nikki finished crushingly her hands on her hips with an air of authority that overruled Dockley.


Chapter Six

It was putting it politely to say that the music wasn't a patch on the club nights that Nikki and Trisha used to run. She hadn't anticipated how excruciating the party turned out to be as a clapped out dance band played syrupy songs from the unhip end of the fifties. It was hardly the sort of music to accompany budding romances on the dance floor and she groaned under her breath as Bodybag giddily popped over to the band to make 'requests.' She had all the reason to despise Bodybag and she now viewed her musical tastes with equal contempt. Nevertheless, there were compensations in secretly laughing at Sylvia and her Bobby dancing as they pirouetted round the dance floor like a cross between the Horse Guards parade and mechanically animated dolls.

Even after the layoff of the last few years, she had no trouble in picking up the threads of her former livelihood in organising the drinks. It was so easy that it was extremely boring and, out of some morbid curiosity, she ran back and forth with drinks to an assorted collection of Sylvia's and Bobby's pompous friends. Nikki restrained herself from curling her lip at the guests that weren't prison officers. They were the sort of stuck up, narrow minded, self satisfied people who used to come round to her mother's bridge parties. They were the sort she used to avoid contact with when she was a child, her limpid expression looking through them with curiously grown up eyes. She did the same, now as then, in serving them in businesslike fashion while minimizing the social contact.

Automatically, the Julies and even Yvonne deferred to her organizing mind and they offered to fetch any drinks for Fenner, who glowered at her, wondering how in hell his hated enemy managed to sneak in. Nikki could tune in on all the gossip with the two Julies and Yvonne and also make snide comments about the guests. The event ran itself especially as Shell had been confined to her cell in a sulk.

Nikki's eyes were fixed on the door and a sigh of relief passed her lips when she saw a very glamorous Di appear alongside Dominic. All appeared well, except for one tricky moment 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 Dominic.

"I'm not much of a dancer, I'm afraid, Di." Dominic said sheepishly.

"You need to relax, let yourself go a bit," Di replied.

At that moment, an inspiration struck Nikki as Dominic, a stolid pint of beer man indicated to her for a drink. Nikki bustled over and in the beer served from the bar, spiked the drink to pep Dominic up a bit.

"You've got the hang of it now." She exclaimed brightly as a newly invigorated Dominic was carried away with the dancing. He had brightened up and seemed full of energy now, Tonight was going to be the night, Di promised herself and, if Dominic wasn't going to take the lead, she would. On the slower dances, Di melted into his arms and Dominic 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.

Helen had made her discreet entrance, thanks to Bodybag's invitation list having been surreptitiously amended. She knew very well that, once she was there and remained in the background, Bodybag was hardly likely to create a fuss in front of all hers and Bobby's lifelong friends. Traditional conservative social mores had its occasional uses.

She sat at the far corner of the room, talking to Karen Betts in a relaxed fashion, as she wasn't required to be in charge of anything. It suited Karen too, as she enjoyed Helen's company and liked the chance to chat to Helen away from the work environment. In the meantime, Fenner was propping up the bar, as he couldn't work out a way to detach Stewart from Karen without being obviously rude. The sodding sisterhood, he grumbled into his beer. Women just have to hang around with women when it is bloody obvious that their friends aren't wanted. Karen was there to please him, not herself, not even if she was her boss. While Helen talked in an animated fashion, she stole glances at Nikki as she bustled around. They had planned out what they were going to do.

Nikki spotted Helen indicating in her direction and in her redban uniform politely approached her.

"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 Dominic and dropped a gentle hint to him about it.

Presently the music ground to a halt and Dominic and Di stood with their arms round each other. They listened to the god-awful platitudes that Sylvia and her Bobby were spouting to each other that this was the happiest day of her life and all those at Larkhall Prison were really family as well. 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 cheerfully slagging off the happy pair. The musicians took a break and Dominic, now a different person, pulled Di to one side all fired up.

"Come on Di. I know where we can make our own music."

"You mean…." Di started to say.

Dominic escorted Di along the dimly lit corridors to the lifer's unit room. Though it was not the ideal place in normal times, at least it was off the main thoroughfare and was quiet. Only the dim light coming from the corridor through a pane of glass from the outside in any way illuminated it. Certainly Di with her invalid mother and Dominic, at home with his parents at home were out of the question.

"You cover me, Yvonne. I've got business to sort out elsewhere."

"Like what, for instance," Yvonne enquired with her widest smile. Her inquisitive nature had come to the fore. Nikki's very well concealed suppressed excitement was obvious to her a mile away.

"Don't ask me questions and I'll tell you no lies. Just trust me and do it for me, as a mate," Nikki argued back forcefully.

Yvonne looked at Nikki and respected her straight talking. To Yvonne, there was no bullshit about the other woman and explained why they got along so well even if their backgrounds were so different.

"I'll be up to boss everyone for as long as it takes. Just don't get locked in somewhere when the party finishes."

"I promise."

Even Yvonne couldn't sort it out in her mind that, as soon as Nikki left the dimly lit dance floor, Stewart discreetly sidled off after her. It wasn't any of her business anyway and, in the Atkins code, a promise was a promise.

"I know it's not the most romantic place to be but….." Dominic said apologetically as he opened the key to the bare office room.

"It's almost as if destiny has meant us to be together." Di said romantically.

Dominic carefully unzipped Di from her black dress and they gently undressed each other. Di was enraptured at the way that Dominic 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. Dominic forgot that the temporary annoyance he had felt at the travel company who had fouled up his holiday application to Greece on his own. It had been one of those fates of nature that happened that destined Di and him them to lie in each other's arms that night.


Chapter Seven

"But the lifer's unit room." Nikki said disconsolately to Helen.

"I know but there was no alternative. After all, the arts room is sacred to us and as much off the beaten track."

A faint smile lightened Nikki's expression. Objectively, it wasn't the ideal place for a romantic get together but emotionally, it was special as this was where they had pledged their love to each other. Helen led the way, her hand clasped in Nikki's and threaded her way through the library, the faint sounds of dance music fading away to nothing. There was absolute peace and silence, no echoing cell doors, no dance music, no muffled music, no nothing. The room was plain and unadorned, with easels propped up against the corner. It didn't look special, except in their eyes.

"Well, I've got a present for you," Helen started to say.

"That's nothing to what I'm going to give to you," Nikki answered in sultry tones, the light of desire in her eyes." Mine will wait."

She crushed her lips against Helen's making further words impossible. They melted into each arms with a fiercer urgency than the last time they were here. They kissed each other's faces and necks and ran their hands over each other's bodies with a frantic urgency. Sexual desire surged up in both of them. Nikki was about to ease Helen onto the floor when she felt the other woman's body suddenly freeze. Nikki felt as if she'd run into a brick wall as the words 'this couldn't be happening to her' framed themselves in her mind in all their stark horror.

"This isn't going to work, Nikki. Not this time."

"I know," Nikki said with as much gentle kindness as she could summon up in her extreme frustration. Her desires were urging her onwards to consummation of their lovemaking and, with incredible difficulty, her sense of reason knew that this wasn't going to happen. It was a test of her fairness and love for Helen not to selfishly blame the other woman. She had travelled far enough down Helen's road to accept her share of responsibility for the situation.

"If somehow we were in my bed, it might be different," Helen said tentatively." Sorry, forget that one, it bloody well will be different. I just get the feeling that someone's going to burst in here. It keeps putting me off."

"Are you sure that's not the only reason?" Nikki asked with downcast eyes though she was encouraged by the tone of suppressed lust in Helen's voice.

"Definitely not, Nikki. It feels perfectly natural touching and kissing another woman. This place doesn't feel right for what I want us to do. Besides, our time will come, Nikki. I mean it."

Nikki looked closer into Helen's eyes. There was a calm certainty in her eyes instead of the apologetic nervousness that she had expected.

"Just what are you trying to tell me?"

A flushed, dishevelled Helen reached for her handbag and pulled out a long manilla envelope from her handbag and placed it excitedly in Nikki's hands." Come on, open it, sweetheart."

Nikki looked doubtfully at the ripped open letter, glanced up at the light illuminating Helen's face and pulled out the letter.

"……….after due consideration of fresh facts that were not before the original trial judge, we set aside the prison sentence imposed on Ms. Nicola Wade and allow her freedom ………."

Nikki's mouth opened wide and her eyes shone like stars. For once in her life, she was speechless. She held the letter before her eyes with both hands and stared at it for ages while Helen slipped her arm round Nikki's trembling shoulders. Finally, she dropped it from her nerveless fingers and wrapped her arms round Helen. Her body was shaking and tears poured down her face as the enormity of the news sank home.

"I can't believe it. This can't be real……." She breathed at last, inhaling and exhaling her breath. "……why didn't you tell me before?" Nikki said at last, giving Helen a playful push.

"You didn't give me a chance. Your hormones got in the way."

For the first time that evening, Nikki laughed out loud. It served her right for being impatient but meant also that the windows of opportunity were flung wide, dazzling her with the possibilities.

"How soon do I get out, Helen, if we've got this right," Nikki asked dazedly.

"Very soon. We need to make dead sure that nothing spoils your release at the last minute, you know what I mean. I got to open this letter too late to find out. I'll get onto it first thing in the morning, you see if I don't."

"Does anyone else know about this?"

"No one but us, not Mr. Stubberfield and not Jim Fenner. They'll hear about it in our own good time," smirked Helen.

Nikki drew in a deep breath and a wide smile spread over her face.

"Well, seeing as I'm not going to be here much longer, let's join the party."

"I suppose we have to put in an appearance," grumbled Helen at the thought of giving up their precious intimacy ", seeing as you're in charge of the catering. The happy couple preening themselves on the dance floor ought to be a sight to see, I don't think."

"Something tells me that Bodybag will really be the life and soul of the party. It might be worth watching if we get there in time."

"Nikki, is there something you're not telling me?" questioned Helen sternly, spotting Nikki's look of misleading innocence.

"Is this something that you want to know officially?" counter questioned Nikki and immediately silenced Helen. Her mouth shut tight as a trap.

"Besides, it's only a rumour I heard. There may be nothing in it."

"In which case, we'd better be there."


"Well, you never know, just in case……..." Helen answered with vague hand gestures.

At last Nikki felt more centred as she focussed her eyes on Helen. The normally sleekly dressed Helen with immaculate hair looked suspiciously rumpled and dishevelled and her makeup and lipstick was smudged. She couldn't look much better herself.

"Before we go back, we ought to freshen up."

"What do you mean?"

"Take a look in the mirror," came Nikki's laconic reply to Helen's bemused expression. "Let's try the toilet."

Helen grinned as soon as she looked at herself in the dim light. If she had come in late at night at the vicarage years ago, her father would immediately have interrogated her about her latest disreputable boyfriend. Impishly, she thought that, for once, her puritan father would now have no need to worry for the future on that score. She slipped her arms greedily around the other woman from who leaned back against Helen, a blissful smile on her lips. She straightened herself as best as she could but she had to admit to herself that her mind wasn't totally on the job.

A doubtfully functioning sense of duty finally took them back to the dance. They couldn't believe their eyes after they slipped inside the party room, unnoticed. A manically excited Bodybag was frantically dancing away with an exhausted Bobby, her eyes glowing and a big smile all over her face. She was oblivious to everything, the other prisoners secretly laughing, her more serious friends trying to pretend that nothing was happening. Fenner was propping up the bar, talking to Ken while Karen circulated, keeping a sharp eye on things in case things got out of control. Helen and Nikki were entranced to hear the sounds of bickering come from across the way and they caught snatches of their conversation.

"Time for another dance, Bobby."

"Give it a rest. I'm exhausted."

Nikki's grin threatened to split her face from ear to ear. Helen was silent, having reached for a large tissue. She knew well that, otherwise she was in severe danger of bursting into very loud uncontrollable laughter. The two women couldn't believe their eyes to see Bodybag cross the floor with a determined expression on her face.

"Jim, you've not danced all evening."

"I'm not a good dancer, Sylv," Fenner started to stammer, backing away from her.

"Come on, don't be shy. We've worked at this dump for all these years. It's as if we're married. We've always been close, Jim, you and I. You can't deny me one dance with me on my special day."

With surprising strength, Bodybag manhandled Fenner up onto the dance floor and his stick like legs and arms were propelled by her agility while she smooched up close to him. Automatically, the band turned the pages of the sheet music for their set list and the saxophone led into the melody line of Englebert Humperdinck's famous backdated romantic dance ballad that "It was the last dance with you…….."

Bobby sat in his chair and his glare focussed on the band's unconscious irony and then across to his wife. Fenner tried to silently communicate back at him with a pleading helpless look in his eye. This was not the public celebration of thirty years of happy marriage. There was a dreadful hush round the room except where Nikki, Yvonne and the Julies were silently convulsed with suppressed laughter. At that point, Dominic and Di made an appearance, holding hands and looking pretty self satisfied. Karen stood frozen where she was, not knowing what to do as wing governor. Helen propped herself lazily up against the bar. For once in her life, this wasn't her problem.

From this point onwards, everything went from bad to worse, especially as the prison officers knocked back the drinks. After all, it was a celebration party.


Chapter Eight

It was a normal morning at Larkhall. The echoing clang of cell doors reverberated off the high glass ceiling as did the calls from prison officers to the inmates. They all came out of their cells much more smartly than normal, as the first rumours of the party were already starting to do the rounds at lightning speed. Yvonne exchanged knowing grins with the Julies while Shell Dockley glowered at everyone and anyone. Nikki's state of heightened anticipation was well concealed by the general high spirits.

"How did the screws party go, Nikki?" Babs repeated to an absent minded Nikki who took her time in recalling the fast moving events of last night.

"Oh…….Fenner and Bodybag made complete tits of themselves, the music was totally boring, the guests stuck up, the speeches from the 'happy couple' was a complete pile of bollocks. If that is happy matrimony amongst straight couples, you can stick it………except of course for you and Peter," Nikki hastily added seeing Babs' raised eyebrows.

"So what exactly happened, Nikki?"

"Well, the word is that Bodybag was completely 'loved up', dragged Fenner onto the dance floor and was all over him, in front of her Bobby. Of course, she may have been secretly in love with him all these years and she just let it all hang out," commented Nikki in ironic and derisive tones.

"So I completely missed the fun."

"I'm afraid so."

"What about you, personally? You seem pretty cheerful" Babs questioned, looking searchingly at the other woman. She could tell that Nikki was especially radiant today.

"I'll tell you about it later."

"How's your quick step, Mr. Fenner?" Julie Saunders called out to a general round of laughter.

"I didn't know that you and Bodybag could make such sweet music together," Yvonne followed up in her most taunting tones.

"Face it, they must have made a lovely couple," Denny interjected.

"Shut it," yelled Fenner, red in the face.

He turned round and glared at Nikki.

"Don't think of saying anything, Wade or you'll be straight down the block."

Nikki's level gaze held Fenner's mad stare for just that length of time to best wind him up before she spoke.

"I wouldn't think of it, Fenner. I want my sausages and eggs before they get cold."

She turned on her heel and headed nonchalantly for the queue. He was totally puzzled at her total absence of reaction as he was sure that she was going to come out with some smart aleck backchat. He had the feeling that there was something up, especially as she appeared to be suspiciously well behaved and inconspicuous at the party.

Karen Betts came out onto the wing and dived straight to the Prison Officer's room to hold her weekly meeting. Helen had tipped her off first thing about Nikki's good news and she got mentally prepared for trouble. Figuring that the best form of defence was attack, it made her all the readier to deliver harsh criticism of the sloppy behaviour of the prison officers. Every pictured face before her of the prison officers certainly told a story. Fenner slouched in early, took the chair in the corner, trying to make himself look inconspicuous. A number of the others wandered in, looking distinctly hung over. Di Barker came in, her hand in Dominic's, their face wreathed in smiles. Bodybag sloped in, looking very sheepish and embarrassed. Finally, Helen slipped in, much to everyone's surprise.

"Helen said at her first meeting that she wouldn't be involved in the running of Larkhall in any way but I've invited her in to make an announcement for all of you to hear for reasons which will become clear."

At the polite gesture from Karen to step forward, Helen looked all the prison officers in the eye.

"You will probably know that Nikki Wade has lodged an appeal against her sentence……"

"Some hope," murmured Fenner.

"……..and I'm pleased to say that her appeal is successful. In my capacity of duty of care for lifers, I picked up the letter from the Home Office late last night. I phoned back this morning and she is to be released with immediate effect. It obviously means that one of your prisoners is to be taken off your hands."

"What?" Bodybag exclaimed. She was speechless for further words and, besides, her head hurt too much. Helen's breezy cheeriness didn't help her much.

"Are the Home Office out of their tiny minds? This gives licence to every lesbian cop killer to stick the knife in. The tabloids will crucify us."

"That is the problem for the Home Office, like it or not. For our immediate purpose, the news will go down well with the inmates, as Nikki is well liked and respected on the wing. Good news for her will cut down on any mindless kicking off for a start," cut in Karen sternly.

"It doesn't matter what the prisoners think of it. If they misbehave, bang 'em up. That's what I say," Bodybag burst out.

"And that's been half the trouble with this wing, going in with jack boots. Anyway, after the hi-jinks last night, I would have thought you'd want to keep a very low profile," snapped Karen. She directed a menacing smile at Bodybag, who shuffled nervously, suddenly aware how she had overstepped the mark.

"Speaking personally, I shall be sorry in a way to see her go as she has been a good influence amongst the prisoners but our loss is Nikki's gain. I'm sure that all of us will wish her well in her future career. Dominic, can you organize the arrangements for Nikki's release. As soon as this meeting is finished, I intend to make the announcement on the wing. The matter is closed," Karen finally concluded in firm ringing tones, glaring at Bodybag.

"I've got some more good news," Di burst in eagerly." Dominic and I, we're engaged."

"Excellent." Helen beamed,"I wish the two of you all the best for the future as no doubt will all your workmates. And if you excuse me, Karen, I won't take up any more of your valuable time."

"Gone to visit the lovebird," Fenner sourly muttered as the door closed, while Karen smiled her appreciation.

"And now, I've got a few words to say about the conduct of the party last night. I don't want to dwell on your superb dancing exhibition, Sylvia, as you were certainly much more energetic than you normally are at work," came Karen's opening salvo with a glare in Bodybag's direction.

"Generally speaking, it was far from satisfactory. My main complaint is of the security for the party, as it did not work out the way that I intended it to be. Far too many of you were queuing up for too many drinks and skiving off duty. We were far too thinly stretched on the ground at a time when we have more prison officers around than we normally have. You're lucky we didn't have a major incident on our hands or we would have been very badly placed to deal with it. The only bright side was that the red bans did a fine job and that side of the party was well organized. I must give credit where it's due to Nikki. If I ever permit another party like this to take place on official premises, then I shall insist on it being much more tightly controlled. Even at a social occasion, you should all remember that you are still on duty."

Most of the prison officers looked sheepishly at their feet, as they couldn't deny the justice of Karen's rebuke and her last stinging words. Dominic and Di looked around from the corners of their eyes and could claim some credit for themselves, as at least they were sober. Fenner glared round in impotent rage as both he and Bodybag felt well and truly stitched up and humiliated.


Chapter Nine

"Can I have your attention please," Karen called out in firm tones." I have an important announcement to make."

Everyone looked around from their private business while Nikki's heart was thumping. She had seen the letter but wanted to hear it confirmed to make it feel real. Somehow she walked over to join the crowd in a leisurely fashion on legs of jelly. Idle curiosity made the others break off from their conversations and gather round, Yvonne taking the lead. Instinct told her that this was no ordinary announcement.

" I have some good news," Karen commenced, a wide smile lighting up her face." I am pleased to announce that following Nikki's appeal against her original sentence, her original sentence has been overturned. Nikki, you are now free to leave."

A round of cheering and banging of blue plastic mugs against some solid surface rang round the wing from the prisoners drowning out Dominic's and Di's clapping. Shell Dockley's face was distorted by an angry scowl as she realized that that Wade bitch had put one over her good and proper. Bodybag's and Fenner's glare cast a lowering presence only in the corner of the wing where they sulked together.

"A part of me feels a bit guilty of leaving you and I'm having all the luck……" began Nikki, totally overcome with emotion, exchanging a glance with Helen who was positioned discreetly in the background.

"Don't be bloody wet, Nikki," yelled Yvonne." You deserve it."

"You're getting out and that's an end to it."

"End to it," chimed in the Julies following Yvonne's nearly unanimous sentiment.

"Speech," called out Babs and the other prisoners echoed her call.

"Anyone would think she's a Hollywood star."

"Isn't Stewart just loving every moment of it. It was what she ever wanted," grumbled Bodybag back to Fenner.

Nikki stood several steps up the staircase to the 2's giving her a good vantage point. All her dear friends were in the front row with a number of prison officers, Dominic and Di being amongst them. Karen leaned against the wall at the side, a friendly smile on her face. Bodybag and Fenner had sulked off somewhere. Right at the back stood Helen, expectantly watching Nikki make her speech from on high. There was a tinge of history repeating itself in her role as orator, but this time the occasion was softened up by the aura of good feeling that surrounded them all.

"What can I say? I'll be as honest with you all as I've ever been. I've seen the best and worst in life while I've been here. There are a lot of you who I'll really miss and a few who I can't wait to see the back of. This place has taught me so much that I'll never forget and other times, has nearly destroyed my faith in human nature. I know very well that I'm getting out for all of you and I want to do something worthwhile with my life. It all seems like a dream but as soon as I find my feet, who knows you won't have heard the last of me but not as an inmate…….."

Helen grinned at that last remark. Eat your hearts out, Sylvia and Jim Fenner, Nikki as a prison visitor would be sweet revenge.

"……I must say that through all this time, I owe my freedom mainly to Helen Stewart. She believed in me when others didn't. She showed me that there is some justice in the prison system. While she and others like her are around, there's some hope for the future. The rest of it is in your hands……."

While Helen's eyes started to fill up with tears, she clearly saw Nikki's clear gaze from the far side of the atrium. It was so like Nikki to put it this way.

She filed through there for the very last time and signed the forms for her belongings to come out of storage. She glanced at the long ago contents of her handbag, out of date bank cards, perfume, mirrors and the smart blue suit she worse when she was arrested. She had forgotten all about it and remembered that this was her favourite outfit at the time. She counted out the cash that was there in her purse at the time she was arrested, forty pounds and a scattering of loose coins.

"All signed, sealed and delivered, Nikki." Spoke Dominic cheerily.

"As was your date with Di Barker?"

"We're engaged, Nikki. Everything went fine."

"More than the happy couple did with their golden anniversary," grinned Nikki cheekily. Dominic laughed awhile before continuing in a more serious vein.

"I hope you find what you're looking for on the outside."

Nikki shook his hand heartily, very much moved by the man's sincerity.

"You are definitely one of the good guys around here. You deserve some happiness in your life after losing Zandra the way you did…….. I think the reception committee are waiting for me."

"Make the most of it, Nikki. You deserve it."

Her progress down the wing was an incredibly tearful and joyful occasions as those dear to her hugged her. The one exception was Bodybag, glaring at her with sheer hatred, as Fenner was nowhere to be seen. She must have heard about her threat to keep contact with her friends. Foolishly she tried to get the better of her for one last time.

"Hurry up, Wade. This isn't a flaming Oscar ceremony."

Nikki stared down at her with contempt. She couldn't resist cutting her down to size one final time.

"I'll miss Bodybag. Taking the piss out of her at least."

There was a general laugh at Bodybag's expense and Nikki felt proud of herself in contrast. After all, she was a free woman now. Those words rang in her mind like a tuning fork. Karen chose the opportunity to wish her all the best for the future and shake her hand and lead her to the gate where Helen stood, unobtrusively, just hanging around.

"Is there anyone waiting for you, Nikki?" Helen said casually sidling up to her as the crowd thinned out behind her. She was a glowing and radiant vision in Nikki's eyes, wearing her very fetching low cut grey trouser suit.

"In case there isn't, I was wondering if you wanted a lift somewhere. Hanging around outside the prison walls can be a dismal place to be."

"I haven't got any other ideas so I might as well just go along for the ride."

"Do you want a hand with your bags?"

Helen led the way across the courtyard and reached for her key to the door inset in the large wooden gates. It swung open as easily as that. To Nikki's entranced eyes, an ordinary street beckoned to her. This was a different world altogether. Nikki turned round to wave at the blank prison walls where her friends were. Tears sprung into her eyes. Her final glimpse was of Fenner's lowering scowl at her. She waved back at him as if she were a film star. She knew that it would needle him.

"It's time to go, Nikki. Your future awaits you," said Helen gently.

Nikki took a deep breath and stepped through the door and past the gate lodge. Truly, freedom never smelt as sweet as this. She trod her way towards Helen's red Peugeot and sat in the passenger seat, limp with emotion.

"Do you want to come back to my place?" Helen asked, an undertone of desire in her voice that was definitely new to Nikki's ears.

"I thought you'd never ask, darling." came Nikki's seductive reply

"I've never slept with another woman. I have no idea what it's like but when we get there, I want to make love to you all night long."

"You're absolutely sure of me, Helen?"

"Dead sure, sweetheart."

Nikki was carried away with Helen's emphatic reply and in the sheer bliss of the moment she made to lean over and kiss Helen full on the lips. To her total shock and horror, the other woman stopped her. This can't be happening again, she groaned to herself.

"I'll drive us round the block out of sight of the gate lodge so we can't be seen and then we'll kiss. What they don't know about us won't make their hearts bleed."

Nikki looked over her shoulder. The line of sight was perfectly clear through the open door through to the gatehouse. She suddenly remembered that Helen was due to go back to work there even if she wasn't.

"Of course, darling."


Chapter Ten

Their first night together had fundamentally shifted the existence of both women on its axis forever. For a start, this was the craziest, desire fuelled drive of Helen's life when she took Nikki back home. She later wondered how they had ever got home without being pulled up by the police. Her eyes hadn't exactly been on the road nor were both hands on the steering wheel. It was just as well that no kamikaze cat had shot out in front of her or she would have had absolutely no chance to break or swerve in time. Their lovemaking had fluidly evolved from the moment they crossed her threshold, to a trail of discarded clothes had led to the double bed, where hours later, Nikki lay ecstatically content cradled in Helen's shapely arms.

'You're amazing."

"So are you."

"I'm so happy. I can't believe after all this time that I've finally got you."

"I've spent so many nights alone in this bed, fantasizing what it would be to make love to you," Helen's sensual voice murmured contentedly just above Nikki's head. For once in her life, the beckoning fingertip of duty over pleasure wasn't prodding Helen to focus on the future, for plans and structures of what she must do. A little voice repeated itself in Helen's head that they were free, free at last, to be whoever they wanted to be. It was that triumphant fact of life which enabled her to live so intensely for the moment. She could immerse herself in the present and not worry for both of them about everything from the progress of Nikki's appeal to looking out over their shoulders for anyone who might spy on them and land them both in trouble. All she had to do was to deliciously give way to her instincts and feelings and finally step over into this highly attractive and different world of Nikki's without any reservation. She had moved through that invisible wall and could conduct herself without strain, without having to make a conscious effort. She could speak her feelings, unguardedly and there they were, the words and feelings right out in the open.

Nikki's ears pricked up at this delicious revelation as the other woman's fingers gently caressed her skin and her hair. She hadn't expected to hear this.

"…….especially when I first read your love letter to me. That definitely fired my imagination….." added Helen, gesturing to the carefully preserved note written on prison issue paper that leaned against the phone. Nikki moved slightly to see it and could tell that it was real, just like everything else around her. Then she relaxed back to where she had been.

"You never told me, darling."

"You never asked me, sweetheart."

Nikki shook her head slightly in wonderment. Her world was inexpressibly comforting to her. She felt as if she were floating on a deliciously comfortable, faintly perfumed white temple of love, lying on fresh white sheets with s soft duvet crumpled around them. Her mouth tasted of Helen's juices. The bedroom she was in towered away upwards the shadowed distance. She was hyper conscious that the bedroom walls did not press in from all sides and crowd her but allowed her that blessed luxury of space. It reminded her just how much of a Spartan existence she had led for the past couple of years, living only on promises of something better.

Most wonderful of all, the woman who she had yearned for was with her with no barriers between them. It was only now that she had time to sense that the months of their relationship was as hard on Helen as it had been for her because of her position as prison officer. In overlooking that, she had mistakenly thought all this time that she was the only one who was forcing and directing the pace of their relationship. Helen had meant every word that she had said, that first time she had promised to 'make things work.' Nikki was as certain as she was of anything in her life that they were in this relationship for the long haul. She gently shifted around next to Helen, who propped herself up on her elbows. She looked up at that sculptured face, that straight nose, the well-marked eyebrows and those expressive eyes. It was a vision of wonder to her.

"So, tell me, do I come up to expectations?" replied Nikki in her most velvet tones.

"We make love all night long like you promised me once and I'll tell you in the morning. I suppose you imagined that I'd be some delicate nervous woman whom you'd have to coax into my bed and show me the ropes, sexually speaking."

Nikki nodded her head. She had supposed that and hadn't the faintest idea that things could be different.

"Well, sort of….." she admitted bashfully.

"I'm a passionate woman but I know that I never knew the half of it till I met you," whispered Helen with that absolute sincerity of tone.

Nikki's desires started to run freely as she lay on her back. In her head Helen's words played back to her, "trust me…trust me….trust me…" She had heard them many times and this was her just reward. In her blissed out state, Nikki marvelled how Helen had so rapidly gained the art of lesbian lovemaking. Helen began kissing her boldly, moving down to her neck and shoulders. She was utterly entranced by the feel of Helen's smooth body next to her and she started sighing in slowly gathering ecstasy, intensifying as Helen's lips started to slowly caress her nipples. Their minds had learned to understand each other and after such a delay, their bodies were starting to understand each other as well. This wasn't the normal way that she had started a relationship but she had long since learned to freewheel her way through new experiences. This was no dream. This was absolutely real.

At another house, Di and Dominic were ensconced in the top room of the family home. They were holding hands together, well aware that Di's mother's hearing was acutely attuned to every sound in the house. Somehow, Dominic had dispersed the atmosphere of loneliness and hopeless longing that had pervaded her room for so long. She couldn't believe in this flesh and blood reality that was next to her and not somewhere in her dreams. There were times when her dreams felt more real than dismal reality, which she

had wanted so desperately to shut out of her life.

"You were marvellous, Dominic. I never would have thought that mum would agree to home helps coming in and taking the weight off me."

"Di, it's obvious that you've been working two jobs so that it would only be a matter of time before it would have got too much for you. Your mum is desperately clinging to you in a way that is wrong and putting her own health in danger while you're at work. The whole thing was balanced like a pack of cards just ready to collapse and it's simply no good in her hiding everything behind lace curtains. Your mum gets the care and attention that she needs, she gets reassurance that you won't run off and leave her and you get some quality time with her while we have a life together as well. It's simple when you think about it."

Di's eyes shone like stars. Dominic had kind heartedly slashed through a veritable bramble patch of jangled emotions that resolved down simple to a love/ hate relationship between Di and her mother. What's more, her mother had gained a handsome and responsible future son in law and even her crotchety nature couldn't overlook it. She had grudgingly accepted Dominic's presence in terms of 'courting her daughter' with all the old fashioned limits that this entailed. However, Di reacted eagerly even to this meagre concession just as a man dying of thirst and wandering round in the desert comes across a small pool of water.

"Before you move in properly after our marriage, I must clear out a whole lot of junk for the bin men. We have to make this room fit for both of us to live in properly."

What Di didn't say was that, concealed in her wardrobes were cardboard boxes of dead memorabilia of former fantasy lovers. She could do with clearing out her romance novels, as they were only an opiate substitute for the real thing. Love was entering Di's life at last and her future was opening out in front of her after years of being immured in her celibate cell. Already she was becoming calmer, more certain of herself and everything around her. The dark open pit of hysteria that had threatened to engulf her was sealed up and buried forever. Her life could now begin.


Chapter Eleven

A week after Nikki's release, Karen climbed the metal double staircase to visit Shell on the 3s. Larkhall had remained calm and stable thanks to the good influence of Yvonne, Barbara, Crystal and the Julies. She found Shaz and Denny's pantomime routines mildly amusing so long as they didn't indulge in practical jokes like breaking out at night and raiding the servery. Generally, the prisoners were the least of Karen's worries, except for a very sulky Shell Dockley who had really got it on her since Nikki's release. Amongst the prison officers, the only blot on the landscape was the equally surly and uncooperative Sylvia Hollamby and Jim Fenner. The two of them were seriously irritating her and they remained an intractable problem although she was thankful that the other prison officers were pretty happy go lucky. With all this in Karen's thoughts, she wasn't greatly surprised that Shell started mouthing off in general as soon as she entered her cell.

"How come Miss Stewart fixed it for that Wade bitch to get out, Miss?"

"That's enough, Shell," she had commanded very firmly." The whole thing went through the proper appeal process and she was released. It's not going to get you anywhere in moaning about the situation or about anything else. It's your sentence plan and your future that you have to worry about. While I'm wing governor, I'll make sure you'll be treated fairly."

"What about Miss Stewart? She's always had it in for me."

"She's there for the welfare of the lifers and, while you are not exactly her flavour of the month, I have every confidence that you will be treated fairly. You play straight with her and she'll play straight with you."

Shell's mouth remained downturned, but she wavered when she saw the uncompromising look in Karen's blue eyes. She knew well enough to give up when she was beaten. She had noticed that Stewart and Betts were working closely together and concluded that she should lie low till better times. She had to console herself with the thought that at least Wade was out of her hair and that had to be a plus even if she was living it up on the outside. She had felt the full force of Fenner's grumpiness when she had moaned to him about her and, true to form, he took his own frustrations out of her. The idea crossed her mind to get back at someone, as her vengeful nature demanded it. All at once, the solution dawned on her as it became obvious how she could cause some mischief today. Accepting a cigarette off Karen, she looked back with her limpid blue eyes.

"You know what I once told you and Miss Stewart about Fenner hitting me."

"You mean the statement that you retracted later on, Shell." Karen said softly. Karen didn't come down harder than that in case Shell Dockley clammed up. If she did that, she could wait for eternity for her to spill the beans.

"He did hit me, miss. You know he did," the other woman insisted, for once looking directly at Karen.

"So why change your statement?"

"I was scared of him. You never know what he might do to me from the outside."

"For your information, Mr. Fenner was suspended pending an investigation, both internal and by the police. He was kept off the premises while that was going on. You had nothing to fear from sticking to the truth," Karen lectured her sternly.

"Men like them get away with it every time. It's the porkies that he tells. Everyone believes him, especially women. He's been shagging us women for years and none of you ever noticed what was going on right under your nose. He does it with everyone. What protection do the girls have against someone like him? He'd have come back in and made my life a misery if I'd kept on grassing him."

Karen's mouth fell open. Before the party, she had started to fall under his spell herself and while Shell Dockley was as twisted as anyone, this time she sensed that Shell was telling the truth as near as she ever got. By the book, what she said about Fenner possibly taking his revenge on Shell couldn't happen. In reality, Shell was speaking the undeniable truth. Karen couldn't shut her ears any longer to what she was hearing. The images of Shell's bruised and blood stained face came back to haunt her and it horrified her to think that this was the man whom she'd been flirting with and had slept with a long time ago.

"You saw my face when he'd done me over, you and Miss Stewart." Shell pursued." Do you really think I'm a big enough nutter to start head butting brick walls for a laugh? He did it to me like he's done it before. You've got to believe me, Miss."

Karen took a deep breath. This gave her time to pull her thoughts together.

"I accept that what you're saying may well be true but, unfortunately, there's nothing I can do to reopen the case, not after this time. I shall think over very carefully what you said and personally make sure that you're protected from him…… Look here, do you want me to talk to Miss Stewart about it as head of the lifer's unit?"

"Suits me," Shell said with pretended nonchalance.

"Leave everything with me then. I shall make sure that nothing untoward ever happens on my watch, whatever it takes."

Shell remained in her cell, reading a cheap magazine, a smile of satisfaction on her face. Fenner was history in terms of power and favours so she might as well earn a few brownie points from Miss Betts. In turn, Karen whizzed out of Shell Dockley's cell and cut Fenner dead, coming suddenly come face to face with her from round a corner. She stalked past him, not being up to exchanging pleasantries with him right now. After smoking a very thoughtful cigarette in her room, she stubbed it out and shot straight over to Helen's room where she was greeted by her usual friendly smile.

"You got a minute, Helen?"

"Sure. Fire away."

"I've been to see Shell Dockley and, you'll never believe it, she resurrected those charges against Jim Fenner that he assaulted her, that time when you were wing governor and I sat in on the interview."

"After all this time….."exclaimed Helen, her eyes glowing with mixed satisfaction and wonderment. "You don't think this is a put up job. You know that Shell carries grudges and I'm definitely at the top of her list, especially since Nikki Wade has been released. I've always got the feeling that I never really know for sure what's going on her mind. Then again you might be luckier in getting through to her than me."

"The blood and bruises looked real enough as I remember. I used to be a nurse once."

"That's true."

"From talking to her and asking her hard questions, I believe her. She was saying that Jim Fenner has been abusing women for years and even if he's been investigated, he will always wriggle out of trouble and take his revenge later on against anyone who speaks out against him."

Helen's face darkened. Karen's words had suddenly unearthed some bitter memories.

"To my certain knowledge, he did the same to Rachel Hicks who ended up committing suicide when Shell Dockley got jealous of him three timing her- that's including Marilyn- and she and Denny took his revenge on her. I took it up with Stubberfield at the time and later again when I resigned over Shell Dockley being beaten up by him."

Karen's jaw dropped a mile. This was the first she'd heard of this. It was getting worse and worse.

"I never knew about Rachel Hicks. Stubberfield put down your resignation to 'man management problems.'

"Some problems," came Helen's cynical and disgusted reply." That's typical of him."

"Just how much has been going on in this dump that I've not been aware of," burst out Karen in rapidly mounting anger. In turn, Helen pulled herself together and focussed in on the essentials.

"The problem is, that you know as well as I do that there's no way that we can resurrect that charge. Like it or not, it's dead and buried. The only thing we can do is to watch him like a hawk and above all, don't ever get taken in by him again. He's a sly bastard as I told you once."

An enormous feeling of satisfaction energised Helen's nervous system as the opportunity to fence Fenner in opened up before her eyes. Her earnest advice was now being listened to all too clearly judging by the angry glint in Karen's blue eyes and the rigid set of her mouth. In turn, Karen took a careful look at Helen. She looked sleek and glowing. It made her feel rumpled, tired out and drained. She wondered how Helen could look as fresh as she did, less careworn than she used to do. A suspicion shot into her mind that she'd bottled up a lot of emotions, which were now struggling to get out. First Fenner and now Stubberfield. At that second, violent feelings of suppressed rage of being done over, cheated by, lied to and betrayed by a succession of smooth talking bastards suddenly boiled to the surface. Suddenly, everything about Fenner's recent amenable cooperative behaviour was suddenly up for grabs, closely scrutinised under the cold light of day and found wanting. Fenner was a smooth talking bastard and had lied and lied, just like all the other men in her life. Most of all, that 'butter wouldn't melt in his mouth' look and smooth talking ways was nakedly exposed to be fraudulent. What sickened and horrified her most was that, despite Helen's warning, she had been seduced into taking him at face value. Most of all, that 'butter wouldn't melt in his mouth' look and smooth talking ways was nakedly exposed to be fraudulent. Fenner had a criminal mentality. It was just that his racket was legal.

"If all it took was a pill, I'd go lesbian like a shot," Karen finally burst out.

"Steady on, Karen, It might not necessarily be as easy as all that. In any case, don't look in my direction," urged Helen, with an undertone of gentle concern in her voice and that unmistakeable look in her eye.

'I'm sorry for laying my personal problems on public display. I should have said it before now but, just to set the record straight, if either of us have a particular work problem, we go to each other, especially if it comes down to anyone's credibility being in question."

"You mean Jim Fenner's."

Karen nodded her head. Without thinking, Karen's fingers fumbled their way to light up a cigarette. She needed it right now, as she felt embarrassed to confess weakness in front of anyone. It was her way to turn it into a practical matter. She wasn't worried personally what Helen might think of her, especially as she was the soul of discretion, both about her personal life and anyone else's.

"There's another one, Dr. Nicholson," suggested Helen." He's also part of the problem round here, especially over that misdiagnosis of Zandra Plackett's brain tumour. His incompetence or downright negligence goes back a very long way so who knows how many inmates have needlessly suffered at his hands?"

Karen shuddered. Helen was dead right. The perspective

"Yeah, he's another one. We'll give him a little more rope before we hang him out to dry."

"That's agreed then and I'm more than willing to back you up on this or anything else."

Karen felt enormously reassured by Helen's strength and sincerity. It was a rare quality these days. She made a mental vow to herself to make sure exactly who her friends and enemies were, not to be seduced away from these resolutions and not be too proud to ask for help. She looked at her watch and realised, regrettably that she was due to interview a new inmate that had been admitted a few days ago. The call of duty could not be denied as it went with the job.

"I'd love to stay and chat but I've got a new inmate to see for her induction."

"I know how it goes, believe me," answered Helen with an emphatic intonation. Karen realised that this was the plain truth and not some commonplace remark.

"I'm glad to have cleared the air with you. We've had a constructive meeting."

"Don't forget that I'm never too busy if you feel like having a drink."

Karen grinned appreciatively at Helen's friendly offer before remembering one particular reason why she came to seek out Helen.

"Oh, before I forget, Di Barker and Dominic McAllister are getting married. They asked if you could come and also if you could dig out a contact address for Nikki Wade. For some reason, they want her there as well."

"Leave it to me, Karen though I can't guarentee that she'll come. From what I understand of her, marriages aren't her thing but I'll try and get her to come if that is what they want."

Karen shook Helen's hand firmly and left the office. Her head was still spinning but she was rapidly readjusting her perspective so that there was more firmness in her stride as she hurried towards her interview. She could see the way forward to getting some perspective on her life. From what she could sense, Helen had got there already. She wished that she could have the secret of Helen's newfound serenity.


Chapter Twelve

The morning of Dominic's and Di's wedding took place only a matter of weeks after Nikki's release. Di had engaged in a flurry of activity to organize it, helped by Dominic's quiet assistance. Much to Fenner's and Bodybag's disgust, Di had insisted on Helen coming and Nikki, if she could be located. They had wanted this to be a social gathering of 'the old school' and, while Helen was an interloper, Wade was an ex-con who had fluked her way out of Larkhall.

The two women were busy getting dressed in their smartest outfits, Helen in her two-piece wing governor suit and Nikki in a black trouser suit. They drew the line at wedding hats although they looked decorous enough. As they put the final touches to their makeup, Nikki looked at her reflection of her face in the mirror and caught a glimpse of Helen carefully applying her mascara. Nikki smiled to herself as it reinforced the reminder that, no longer would Nikki be alone in her cramped prison cell doing what she's doing right now. In a curious way, they were both looking forward to the occasion.

They stepped out of their car and headed towards the large wooden door of the ancient stone church, which stood open and welcoming. Nikki found the peace and calm of old ordered ways curiously restful. Even though Nikki sensed the bad vibrations radiate in her direction from her old enemies, she disregarded them in a state of dreamy haze instead of watching them in a state of acute paranoia. They were all on the outside now and they had no hold over her now. It wasn't just that she was a free woman but that Helen had more than made good everything she had ever promised, both in word and in deed. It was only now that she had realized how tense and incomplete she had felt all the time she had been at Larkhall.

Helen felt on top of the world. After all the months of isolation at home, Nikki had filled up her life and she knew now what had always been missing in her life. She smiled at Karen and the more friendly disposed prison officers and ignored the glares from Fenner and Bodybag. She knew that the fact that they both had the perfect right to be there would be especially galling for Fenner and Bodybag.

"Are you here for the bride or the groom?" the man in the grey top hat and tails outfit asked them.

"Well, sort of both. We are friends of both of them," replied Helen with her best winning smile.

"Oh well, sit where you like," the man said and they took a pew in the couple of spare spaces on Dominic's side of the church, towards the back of the church. They did their best to be inconspicuous and decorous as Di's distant family were definitely disapproving of anything or anyone who questioned that the Daily Mail and the Bible alike were Holy Writ. They noticed the more reassuring presence of Dominic's father who was a duplicate of his son in physical appearance, only more confident and distinguished looking. He was accompanied by his pleasant looking and attractive mother. The organist played soft harmonies that they both found soothing and put them in touch with themselves. However, after being accustomed to Babs' deft touch with the Larkhall chapel organ, they noticed that the church organist didn't have her keyboard technique. They braced themselves as a group of obviously traditional church going conservative people started to fill up the aisles.

"I'm glad your friend nobbled Dominic's holiday," whispered Nikki to Helen who grinned in reply.

Dominic stood nervously at the front of the church, his best man next to him, sharing a whispered conversation under their breath. He was glad that the final arrangements had been finally sorted out. The vexed question had arisen as who was to escort Di up the aisle reared its ugly head. Di's mother had bull headedly insisted on being wheeled up the aisle as Di's father was dead but Di's distant cousin had joined Dominic in vetoing this on sheer practicalities. He had double-checked that everything was booked, as they did not want a screw up on this at the last moment. Right at the back were his old mates from Larkhall, his boss Karen and the thundercloud atmosphere emanating from Sylvia and Jim Fenner. Karen was smiling encouragement at Dominic and was curiously pleased that Nikki was there with Helen as had been promised. She would have thought that Nikki had had enough of seeing the Prison Officers without wishing more of them on herself at a social occasion. However, she reasoned to herself that it wasn't her job to bother her mind about such a triviality. .

At last, there came the appointed time and the organist struck up the organ chords and Di, a vision of loveliness in white, proudly glided up the aisle and finally stood next to Dominic. Time seemed to run in slow motion as the service proceeded with the ancient litanies and hymns, untouched by modern times. Dominic looked at the vicar as he intoned the words of the ceremony and uttered the fateful magic words "I do" while looking into Di's loving eyes. He drew a breath of relief when Di spoke the same words in reply to the vicar. The organist struck up with a triumphant crescendo of chords as they led the procession out of the church. It moved slowly round to the back in the bright summer's day with the soft wind rustling Di's long white wedding dress and her veil. The photographer arranged the couple and clicked away with a succession of snapshots as they stood there, still dazed that the day had finally come to pass. Eventually, he gestured to everyone to join the rest of the crowd to make up the family snapshot for the wedding book. Nikki looked unbelievingly as the man pointed in her direction for her and Helen to join in. It struck Nikki as ironic and totally surreal, being wheeled in as extras into the conventional heterosexual institution of marriage.

"Do we have to?" Nikki asked, this being a new experience to her.

"We arranged the wedding, we've a bloody right to be here," came Helen's irrefutable logic so they dutifully joined the cluster at the back. There they were, preserved forever for posterity in a sequence of photographs in Di and Dominic's wedding book as their testimony to the conventional matrimonial bliss.

The entire wedding crowd went over to the nearby reception suite and the afternoon passed in a satisfying haze of good fellowship, a hearty meal and plenty of wine. The bridegroom and best man made their standard witticisms and praise of the lovely bride, which was dutifully applauded. After the display of exploding champagne corks, they all got stuck into the meal that was set out before them. To Nikki, the taste of good food tasted all the sweeter after a regime of pie and chips. Eventually, the assembled company filtered out into the open lawn at the back of the reception hall and the tall, spreading cedar trees that cast their shade. Everyone remarked on how the ceremony and reception had passed off without a hitch and what a handsome couple they looked. It meant that their future together was assured.

"You must be Helen Stewart," a voice hailed her from behind. Helen turned and Dominic's father shook her hand in a friendly fashion. "I've heard a lot of good stories about how you looked after my son when he first started in the prison service. Thanks to you, he's found his feet quite nicely."

"I'm only glad to have helped him out. He's one of those who cares about other people and there's too few around these days. I must say that he and Di are well matched."

"Indeed so in every way," he acknowledged to Nikki's approving smile at Helen's well chosen remarks. He then turned in his courteous way to address the tall dark haired very striking woman who was standing next to Helen.

"You must be Nikki Wade. My son has often talked about you and he's always had a good word to say. It's only right that both of you are here……and also Karen Betts who is carrying on the good work…." he added, turning to the third woman who instinctively gravitated to congenial company. "I ought to say that take people as I find them, good, bad and indifferent whatever their walks of life."

Nikki smiled warmly in reply at this display of frank generosity and at the last sentiment, which chimed in with her own views of life. His presence neatly solved her niggling reservation of joining in meaningless small talk. Helped by this heartening breath of fresh air, they all joined in an animated general conversation. From the sidelines, Fenner and Bodybag noted with disgust that their enemies weren't confined to the peripheries of the social occasion but were cheekily taking it over. They all chatted awhile till Dominic's father smilingly gave his apologies to generally circulate in the cause of duty.

"Thanks for everything, you two." Di came over and hugged them in each turn." I don't know what we would have done without you. I'm glad you could both make it."

Nikki nearly said that they had fixed up the whole thing for them from start to finish but Helen pressed her high-heeled shoe on Nikki's as a gentle hint. Presently Dominic drifted back to their direction.

"Thank you both of you for turning up and helping us out. It means a lot to us," he said shyly.

"We did it for you as old friends of ours," Helen replied, smiling broadly. "………As it happens, Nikki and I are getting hitched in a month or so and we were wondering if you could do us the honour and return the compliment, so to speak….., "she continued in her most persuasive and forceful tones, looking meaningfully in his direction. She was his one time boss, after all and old associations lingered in his mind.

"….only I don't think it will be in church……." Helen added.

"…..but the whole thing has given us a few ideas….." Nikki pitched in.

"….so long as you don't mind mixing with our friends who look a little less conventional than your relations……." Helen smiled with overdone cheeriness, which really panicked Dominic and Di

"…..but don't worry Dominic, 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. After all, if you turn up on Dominic's arm, it'll be a dead giveaway. Take my word for it, Di." Nikki said, feeling sorry for Di's evident real fears. She couldn't help thinking that when she first met Di, the boot was definitely on the other foot.

Finally, as the golden couple were driven off into 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 return likewise to their sunset and their future together.

The End

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