Series Five Episode 16: as it should have been
Yvonne moved swiftly down the tunnel. The last thing she could afford was to hang around. When they knew she was gone, Fenner would be after her like a bat out of hell. There was a feeling of panic inside her, a feeling that she was being followed.
"Come on," She thought, "He can't know you've gone yet." She had to get out, she had to be free. If she stayed in here any longer, he'd kill her, she knew that now. Colin couldn't have made it plainer where his loyalties lay, with Fenner. She just prayed that Colin had done his job. When she finally reached her entrance back in to the outside world, she thankfully found that Colin had done what she'd asked him to do. Ask, told more like. She eased her way cautiously outside, and keeping her eye out for any potential pursuers, she left HMP Larkhall behind.
She hadn't planned to get on a bus, but she could see one stopping not far up the road. She'd thought she'd have to walk to the nearest tube station, but luck had presented itself in the shape of a cramped, slightly unstable contraption, not dissimilar to the cattle trucks used to transport prisoners. As she approached the bus, she suddenly remembered the distinct lack of money in any of her pockets. In the commotion of a woman with twins in a pushchair and three other young children clearly playing her up, Yvonne managed to slip on to the bus undetected. She moved to the very back of the bus, so as to be near to the exit doors when she reached Tooting Bec tube. Three stops later, she was off the bus and down the steps to the tube station without so much as a backward glance. As it was almost seven in the evening, she was presented with yet another stroke from whatever all mighty was looking down on her today. As with numerous tube stations after hours, the barriers were left open, with not an official in sight. She took a precious moment to look at the enormous map showing the entire underground. Knowing Karen lived not far from Canary Wharf, she rode the escalator down to the northern line and waited impatiently for the next train. It would be just her luck, she thought, if they caught up with her here, on the verge of really getting away. When the train finally arrived, she sat in a corner seat and tried to appear as invisible as possible. At the next stop, another woman got on surrounded by children. Never in her life before had Yvonne found herself so grateful to some women's clear inability to practice contraception. The screaming baby and whinging toddlers only helped to take any possible attention away from Yvonne. Getting out at Bank station, Yvonne's ears were ringing, and she felt heartily sorry for anyone having to travel any distance with that family for company. Crossing the platform, she followed the signs for the DLR. Once seated again in a corner, she took out the piece of paper Karen had given her with her address and phone numbers. Where she lived was halfway between Canary Wharf and West India Quay. Just in time, Yvonne remembered that these days, Canary Wharf was the home to half the national press, and it certainly wouldn't do to be caught by an overenthusiastic journalist. She got out at West India Quay and began walking. The bitter November air bit through her thin silk blouse. Her hands shook as she lit a cigarette.
"God," She thought, "I haven't been this cold since before I got banged up." When she eventually reached Karen's road, she stopped to take a quick look round. Everything was as quiet as you'd expect on a cold November evening. When she pressed Karen's doorbell, she briefly hoped Karen didn't possess the means to shoot her, or anything else equally ridiculous. She figured hypothermia must be setting in to give her thoughts like that. She heard footsteps coming down the stairs, and prayed Karen wasn't entertaining anyone tonight.
When Karen opened the door, she gasped, not unlike Helen had on seeing Nikki so long ago.
"What the bloody hell are you doing here?" Her voice half angry, half incredulous.
"Let me in," Said Yvonne quietly, "And I'll tell you." Karen led the way back upstairs and once in her living-room, moved straight for the whisky bottle. Yvonne took an assessing look round. Not half bad, she thought. Karen certainly had taste. Karen stalked over, handed her the glass of scotch and gestured to an armchair. Having lit them both a cigarette, almost out of habit since that day in the pub, she sat down and said,
"So, tell me why you're on the run, because I'm assuming you're not out on appeal." The bite of sarcasm was clear.
"That isn't funny," Replied Yvonne. "It was either I get out, or Fenner finish me off."
"So, why now, why today?" Asked Karen, feeling slightly like the headmistress interviewing a particularly rebellious student.
"Because some dickhead told him I was the one who nearly got him shot."
"Why not start at the beginning," Said Karen gently, wondering just what Yvonne had got herself in to.
"When you were arrested, Fenner was gloating. He told me he'd fixed you so now he'd fix me. You knew he was behind what the police think you did, and you were right. He was going to kill me, Karen. somehow, someday, he could do it. There wasn't anything stopping him any more." Here, Yvonne took a swig of her scotch, as if needing courage. "So, I got Lauren to arrange a lead topped pizza delivery for him. Only it couldn't be carried out."
"Why?" Karen's voice had assumed an air of total calm.
"Because he wasn't alone. Di Barking was with him." Karen couldn't help but grin.
"I saw them together not long ago," She said, "In a bar. He really is getting desperate."
"So, mission not accomplished, and Fenner either worked out or was told it'd been someone working for me. He told me he was going to see me rot. So, I got out before he could follow through with his threat, and don't believe he didn't mean it. I've never been more sure of anything, and after what he managed to fit you up for, he's capable of anything." Karen sat for a moment, trying to take everything in. After a silence, where she finished off her cigarette, she stood up and moved towards the kitchen.
"I take it you're hungry?" She asked over her shoulder.
"Starving," Replied Yvonne joining her. "It's a long walk from West India Quay."
"How did you get here?" Asked Karen, digging chicken breasts out of the freezer and putting them in the microwave to defrost.
"On the tube."
"Canary Wharf's closer," Said Karen, putting together the rudiments of a casserole.
"Yeah, and full of The Guardian, The Express, The Mail and The Sun."
"True. So, apart from his threat, you don't actually have any proof that he was going to kill you."
"You sound like a prosecuting barrister," Observed Yvonne. Karen threw the knife down on the chopping board and turned to face her.
"And you think that's all one would ask you if you'd been successful in having him shot? Why, Yvonne, Why. What made it absolutely necessary to get yourself even more time in Larkhall?" Karen was really letting go of her fury.
"I had to do it!" Said Yvonne, desperate to convince her.
"Is this because of what happened to me?" Asked Karen, feeling she'd struck gold.
"He had it coming," shouted Yvonne. "You don't rape someone, almost convince them it was their fault, and then fit them up for death by dangerous driving, and expect to get away with it." Karen was stunned. She moved swiftly passed Yvonne and walked out on to her balcony. The bitter, icy wind cut through her thin blouse, but she didn't notice. She gazed out towards where she knew the estuary must be, somewhere in the darkness of the night. Yvonne had almost succeeded in getting rid of Fenner, and it'd mostly been for Karen. Karen didn't know how she felt about that. She used to rely on justice to prevail in anything bad that happened to her, but not any more. Fenner hadn't been brought to justice for anything he'd done to her or anybody else, and after his latest stunt, Karen no longer had any faith that he would be. But was Yvonne's method of dealing with trouble the right one? Karen couldn't begin to say. But she knew one thing, right or wrong, Yvonne was here, in her kitchen, and desperately needing her help. Karen couldn't help briefly smiling. She'd thought never to see or hear from Yvonne again. Sure, they'd developed a friendship to rival that of all other screws and cons, but once Karen had been arrested, she'd known she wouldn't ever go back, and had assumed that on release, Yvonne would simply get on with her life and forget about the woman who had, just for an afternoon, treated her like a normal human being. Karen wasn't stupid. She'd known that day in the pub that she was beginning to have other than platonic feelings for Yvonne. Seeing just how cruel and dismissive Ritchie had been to his mother, had pulled at something deep inside her. Taking Yvonne for a drink was simply the result of following her instincts. She'd thought it was simple compassion that had made her say half the things she had that day. But then she'd stupidly opened her mouth, and said that she'd turn lesbian like a shot if all it took was a pill. But she'd meant it. Sick of blokes entirely, Karen was ready to abandon what she knew, and finally investigate those feelings she'd had on two or three occasions throughout her life, yet had never done anything about. Yvonne had laughed at her and said that she didn't want Karen after her daughter. Karen remembered the irony that had touched her soul, it wasn't and never would be Lauren who would inflame every nerve ending she had, It was Yvonne herself.
Karen came back to her senses with the realisation that if this was all she was ever likely to be able to do for Yvonne, then she had no choice but to let her stay, and to do whatever she could to help her. She shivered as her resolve strengthened. The air really was bitter. When Karen returned inside, she found Yvonne chopping onions, carrots and celery to go in to the casserole. Karen reached over her to retrieve the stock cubes from one of her numerous cupboards.
"Do you want me to go?" Asked Yvonne.
"Of course not," Said Karen in surprise. She casually rested a hand on Yvonne's shoulder, when what she really wanted to do was to give her a hug. "You might have almost given me heart failure when I saw you on my doorstep," She continued, "But I'm not about to throw you out any time soon." Yvonne put her hand over Karen's where it still rested on her shoulder, and gave it a squeeze.
"I'm sorry I sprung this on you," She said, really meaning it.
"I know," Replied Karen, "But we'll get through this," She said softly. Yvonne turned to Karen and put her arms round her.
"Thank you," She said softly. Karen returned the hug, and simply said,
"That's okay. It'll certainly make my life more interesting for a while."
"Do the police still think you did it?" Asked Yvonne, referring to the person who had been run over by Karen's car.
"No, not any more," Said Karen. "Considering my car keys were missing, and whoever took it would have had to get in to my house to steal them, and after their fairly methodical search, they figured that as I didn't still have the keys there wasn't enough evidence to charge me."
"Well, thank Christ for that," Said Yvonne. "I felt pretty useless while I was still inside. I thought that if I got out, I could help you pin this on him."
"You and me against the world," Said Karen with a smile.
"Yeah," Yvonne laughed, "Something like that."
Whilst Karen finished putting the casserole together, Yvonne grabbed a shower, saying it was the only way she thought she'd ever be warm again. Telling her to help herself to the wardrobe, Karen put on some music. She knew it was ridiculous, but for the first time in ages, she felt almost on top of the world. Yes, Yvonne was on the run, and in helping her, Karen was technically breaking the law. But for now, Yvonne was here, they were going to have a meal together, in fact they would be spending the entire night together. Karen had some decent red wine, that she'd been saving for God knows what, and best of all, Yvonne appeared to be happy in her space. Karen usually hated letting anyone invade her flat. It was hers, and not for personal use by anyone else. But with Yvonne it was different. It felt right, it felt normal. Putting one of Heart's albums on the stereo, she began tidying up whilst the casserole and two jacket potatoes crept nearer and nearer to perfection. Karen wasn't naturally a disorganised woman, who routinely left things where they landed, but since her arrest, she simply hadn't seen the point of worrying too much about a place nobody else was likely to see. The never-ending clutter of post, books and CD's on the coffee table belied her usual competent efficiency. Moving in to the bedroom to put away some ironing she had actually got round to doing earlier that day, she stopped and stared at the bed. Realising what the significance of her flat holding only one bed really meant, she couldn't help grinning wickedly at herself in the dressing-table mirror. She found a spare toothbrush for Yvonne, and briefly wondered what her reaction would be to their sleeping arrangements.
Going back to the kitchen to check on the casserole, Karen began singing to what she was hearing. This was something she only usually did when she was happy. She thought the adrenaline of the situation must be getting to her. When Yvonne emerged from the shower, she felt blissfully clean, something never quite possible in Larkhall, no matter how many showers one had. Wrapping a towel round herself, she walked over to Karen's wardrobe and began flicking through her clothes. She decided that if you wanted to see a whole new side to a person, it wasn't what you saw on their coffee tables that mattered, it was what they possessed in the way of clothes, especially underwear. Yvonne settled on a pair of black jeans and a red cashmere sweater. Then she became aware of a new sound, something on top of the music Karen had put on. It hit her that it was Karen herself. She'd never have thought of Karen as the singing type, but then they hadn't been in a situation where Yvonne could have learnt such a fact. Once dressed, she moved towards the lounge to comment on Karen's voice, but the words of the song stopped her from interrupting.
*I'm lying beside you just thinking about us.
Too tired to go to sleep and too much in love.
I know I'm crazy but I can't close my eyes,
I'm scared you won't be there in the morning when I rise.*
Yvonne stood just inside the lounge door and watched Karen as she set the table, still singing these beautiful words, totally unaware of Yvonne's presence.
*Who do you dream about are you alone in your sleep?
To who will you reach out?
Oh, let it be me.
Oh baby, you're my obsession, my addiction, my drug.
Don't want to be without you when I wake up.*
Yvonne couldn't have said how she knew the words were for her, but she did. She could tell inexplicably that Karen was singing these words especially for her. It made Yvonne's whole body tingle. What was it she'd said to Nikki all that time ago? That she'd rather shag Fenner than turn dyke. Looks like anyone can change, she thought. There'd always been something special with Karen, ever since they'd agreed to meet half way. Yvonne had appreciated their little date in the pub more than she'd let on at the time. It had shown her that Karen saw her as more than a con, more than someone destined for a life behind bars. It had told her in no uncertain terms that Karen found something worth holding on to in Yvonne. She was mesmerized by the slick movement of Karen's body as she got two wineglasses out of the sideboard. As she moved around her familiar space, Karen kept singing this beautiful song that Yvonne had known for years, but had never expected to be for her.
*Well, you're so close to me but I feel so alone.
The more I touch you the more I want.
Don't know what to do about me loving you,
but I pray to God that you feel it too.*
As Karen sang this last line, she seemed to feel the presence of another, and looked up to see Yvonne gazing at her. Realising what it was she'd been singing, the colour rose to her cheeks and she moved in to the kitchen and open the oven door. Yvonne moved towards her.
"Didn't know you could sing," She said, trying to defuse Karen's clear embarrassment at being caught admitting to what she was feeling. Karen lifted out the casserole dish and turned to smile at Yvonne.
"There's a lot you don't know about me," She said, the song clearly having left her in a flirtatious mood that she wasn't about to suppress.
"Oh really?" Said Yvonne, finding herself caught up in the type of playful suggestion she hadn't indulged in for far too long. Giving the casserole a stir, and replacing it in the oven, Karen held up the bottle of Burgundy she'd allowed to breathe.
"Like a glass?"
"Please," Said Yvonne, "That's one of the things I've missed, decent wine." When Karen handed her the glass, Yvonne briefly touched her cheek.
"I will still be here," She said, and their eyes locked. Realising Yvonne was referring to the words of the song, Karen said,
"I hope so."
When Karen placed a plate of food in front of Yvonne, she said,
"This ought to be better than Larkhall food, but I can't promise." Taking her first mouthful, Yvonne groaned in pure ecstasy.
"You'll never get rid of me at this rate," She said grinning. They ate in companionable silence, with the music playing softly in the background.
"So, tell me," Said Karen taking a swig of wine. "How exactly did you get out." Yvonne, having finally eaten as much as she could hold, put down her knife and fork.
"One of the new ones, Kris I think her name is, got hold of the plans for the entire place. They showed a very helpful route through the old Victorian part that isn't used any more. Not a journey I'd like to take again in a hurry."
"The things people manage to get up to in there never ceases to amaze me," Said Karen, thinking that this had been the really ingenious part of Yvonne's escape.
"The funniest thing we ever did was slipping an E in to Bodybag's drink at that party she had." A light began to dawn in Karen's face.
"So, that's why she was so energetic that evening. I just thought she'd drunk too much."
"Yeah, the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen was her trying to dance with Dominic." Clearly remembering this, Karen began to laugh.
"She was all over anything with two legs that night," Said Karen, laughter almost consuming her. Then, a memory crossed in front of her eyes, and she stopped. "And that was the night he got stabbed," There was no need to explain who he was. Yvonne remained quiet, because she had the sense to know that anything she said on the subject of Fenner having survived his stabbing, wouldn't be anything Karen would want to hear. "If I'd only listened to Helen, that first day she came back to Larkhall. We had a drink together, and she told me Jim Fenner had the luck of the devil."
"We don't always listen to what's staring us in the face," Said Yvonne, revisiting her own demons.
"We totally vindicated him," Said Karen in utter disgust at herself and others.
"Dockley wasn't raped that night," Put in Yvonne. "Trust me. She lured him up there to finish him off. So, that's one thing you can quit blaming yourself for right now, and even if you had listened to Helen, that wouldn't have stopped him doing what he did to her and you know it."
"How can you be so calm and rational about him?" Asked Karen, clearly mystified.
"Because Fenner has never and will never do to me the kind of thing he did to you and to Helen and god knows who else. He hasn't invaded my space and made me question who I am as a person."
"He controls everything I do because of that," Said Karen quietly. Yvonne reached across the table and took one of Karen's hands, gently stroking the back of it.
"And to some extent, he probably always will," She said, continuing to hold her hand.
"Not a brilliant outlook for future relationships is it?" Karen said miserably. Yvonne grinned.
"Nikki was always telling me I should switch sides," She said, now deliberately goading Karen.
"Good for Nikki," Said Karen with a small smile.
"Well, it certainly made Helen Stewart happier, in the end anyway," She said topping up their glasses. Then, at Karen's questioning gaze, she said, "You're not telling me you didn't know about those two?"
"Helen Stewart and Nikki Wade." Karen was about to take a mouthful of wine, but put her glass back down on the table.
"Are you serious?" She asked.
"Deadly," Said Yvonne, thoroughly enjoying Karen's phase of enlightenment.
"Oh, my god," Karen said slowly. "The one time he actually told me the truth, and I didn't believe him."
"Fenner told you about Helen and Nikki?"
"Yes, the night I went through his bank statements after your story of him collecting from Virginia O'Kane's brothels."
"That was no story," Said Yvonne.
"Oh, I know," Replied Karen, "I just couldn't prove it. Anyway, probably to take my mind off his extremely high income, he told me that Helen had resigned because he'd found out she was having an affair with Nikki."
"He did," Filled in Yvonne, "Babs told all once Nikki had left. He blackmailed Helen in to resigning because he found unbreakable evidence that Nikki got out for a few hours on the night of Bodybag's party. They'd had a fight and Nikki got out to make it up with her. Well worth it by all accounts." Karen's smile broadened.
"Jesus," She said almost in awe. "You learn something new every day."
"I'll say," Said Yvonne suddenly serious.
"How much of that song were you there for?" Asked Karen quietly, finding that the wine was acting for her instead of her brain.
"Enough," Said Yvonne, her eyes on Karen's face.
"I'm sorry," Said Karen, clearly unsettled by the situation. "I didn't mean you to find out like that."
"How did you intend that one to happen?" Asked Yvonne with a small smile. Karen stood up and they moved to sit in armchairs opposite to each other. Karen lit a cigarette and Yvonne dug out the ones she'd brought with her from prison.
"Probably not at all," Said Karen finally. After taking a long drag, Yvonne asked,
"Because you're probably the straightest woman I know, and because I don't want to lose you as a friend." Yvonne was deeply touched. "This wasn't supposed to happen," Went on Karen, now getting angry with herself.
"Why?" Yvonne asked again.
"Can we just forget this conversation happened?" Said Karen.
"That's up to you," Replied Yvonne, "But don't always judge a book by its cover. One thing I've learnt by being inside, everyone, no matter what they were before they got banged up, has the capacity to change. Just remember that."
Yvonne began collecting the plates together, all the time wondering just how she could get Karen to talk about the feelings that were currently tearing her to shreds. She knew why Karen was so reluctant to bring them out and examine them, even in the soft lamplight which provided a subtle, almost caressing glow. It was because at the moment, Yvonne was clearly the only real friend Karen had, and she wasn't about to do anything to jeopardise that.
"They can go in the dishwasher," Said Karen, sluggishly lacking the energy to move. Finding that Karen's dishwasher was very similar to the one they'd had three years ago before her incarceration, Yvonne set it going and returned to the lounge. Perching on the arm of Karen's chair, she briefly put her arm round her.
"I'm not about to disappear just because you're having an identity crisis," She said.
"We'll see," Said Karen, realising she'd reached the depressing stage of having drunk too much.
"And one day," Continued Yvonne unperturbed, "You will learn to trust me." Karen gazed up at the soft smile on Yvonne's face.
"You look different tonight, more relaxed than I think I've ever seen you." Yvonne laughed.
"That's the Burgundy talking," She said. "It'll be okay, I promise."
"Don't make promises, Yvonne," Said Karen, having had far too many broken, mostly by Fenner. Yvonne hated to hear the pain in Karen's voice. She didn't know what might happen on the more than platonic front, that was as new a ball game to her as it was to Karen. But if nothing else, Yvonne knew that she wasn't about to leave Karen to the mercies of anybody. She couldn't put a name to the feeling she had for this woman, she couldn't say it was love, she couldn't say it was just deep friendship. But whatever it turned out to be, she knew she had a bond with Karen, a bond that at all costs must be maintained. She briefly rubbed Karen's shoulder.
"I only make promises I have every intention of keeping, and before you ask, no, that isn't an Atkins thing. I'm only an Atkins by name. I'm a Rayner by birth, and we always keep our promises."
"I'll take your word on that," Said Karen, feeling that she could get lost in Yvonne's eyes, and that this would be no bad thing.
"You do that," Said Yvonne. She yawned and glanced at the clock to se it was after eleven. "I'm sorry to cut this short, but I've got to go to bed." Karen grinned.
"You do realise we're sharing, don't you."
"Oh, yeah," Said Yvonne with a smile. "I ain't done that in years." The irony wasn't lost on Karen that for Yvonne, this really was true. She'd once heard someone say that they missed having someone to hold at night, and thought some company would do her good.
"I'll find you something to sleep in," Said Karen moving towards her bedroom.
"Where did you get that?" Asked Yvonne, gesturing to the snow-white imitation fur that covered Karen's bed.
"My ever-loving mother sent it me for Christmas last year." She handed Yvonne a pair of purple silk pyjamas.
"Will these do you?"
"Yeah, cheers," Said Yvonne holding them up.
"I won't be long," Said Karen, "I just need to lock up downstairs." After cleaning her teeth, Yvonne looked at herself in the mirror. Her perpetual frown seemed to have faded, replaced by the laughter lines Charlie used to love. Why was she thinking of him of all things. Shaking her head at herself, she moved to the side of the bed where there wasn't a book and a clock and various other paraphenalia. The pure indulgence of relaxing in a soft, warm bed and being able to pull a decent duvet plus the fur spread over her was the best thing Yvonne had felt in a long time. Stretching over to Karen's side of the bed, she picked up her book. Patricia Cornwell's Black Notice. Making sure not to disturb Karen's marker halfway through, Yvonne began to read. The book began with a letter from Kay Scarpetta's deceased lover, which he'd asked a friend to give to her a year after his death. When Karen reappeared, Yvonne commented,
"You read really cheerful stuff, don't you."
"She's one of the best," Said Karen, going in to the bathroom to undress. "She writes about a fiercely independent woman, thoroughly irritating men and dead bodies." Yvonne laughed.
"Sounds like your job to me."
"Larkhall certainly felt like that sometimes," Replied Karen.
"So, this guy who sent her the letter a year after his death, is he worth all the tears she's shedding over him?"
"No," Said Karen. "Because he's still alive. I've just read her new one and thought I'd go back and read some of the others."
"Oh, nice guy, then," commented Yvonne dryly.
"That one's a really bad place to start with her books," Said Karen, cleaning her teeth. Yvonne flipped to the back of the book which contained the entire list of Scarpetta books in their correct order. On discovering that Black Notice was the tenth in the series, she put it back on Karen's bedside table and buried herself deeper under the covers. Karen went round switching off lights and finally slipped in to bed beside Yvonne.
"You've got no idea how wonderful it is to be in a decent bed again," murmured Yvonne, sleep already creeping in to her voice.
"At this time of year, you wouldn't catch me giving up this fur for anyone, prison or no prison." As she said this, Karen turned on to her right side. They lay with their backs to each other, Yvonne fighting the instinct to keep her usual one eye open, and the gradually insistent pull of sleep. Karen listened to Yvonne's regular breathing, and wondered when sleep would come for her. She didn't think she'd ever been as tense in her life. The object of all her recent fantasies was lying six inches away from her, and the knowledge of this was increasing Karen's sexual frustration a thousand fold. She didn't know how long she'd been lying there, but sleep was proving as evasive as Grayling on a bad day. Karen thought Yvonne had gone to sleep long ago, but she was wrong. Yvonne gently turned over and edged towards Karen, who stayed resolutely, where she was. Yvonne gently put an arm round her and entwined their fingers. Lying cuddled up to someone for the first time in more than three years, Yvonne knew this is where she wanted to be.
"Did I wake you?" Asked Karen apologetically.
"No," Said Yvonne softly. "The tension's coming off you in waves, that's all."
"It's okay. I'm not gonna jump on you in your sleep, I promise." Karen laughed, knowing that such a release of tension would definitely do the trick.
"I'm too tired to sleep," She said.
"And too much in love," Replied Yvonne, finishing off the words to that line of the song. Karen didn't answer. She slowly began to relax against Yvonne, and eventually the two of them drifted to sleep.
Yvonne was dreaming. She was back in the nightmare scenario of the laundry room. Maxi was stood over her, hands around her neck and slowly squeezing the life out of her. Yvonne had to fight. She clawed at Maxi's hands, trying to dislodge her with feet too used to kicking. Karen was startled awake by Yvonne's body clearly fighting some hidden demon. Switching on the lamp beside her bed, she gasped when she saw the sheer terror in Yvonne's eyes. The only intelligible words coming from Yvonne were,
"Purvis, you'll die for this!" Yvonne appeared to be clawing at her neck, though for what reason Karen couldn't quite fathom. Karen gently shook her, calling her name.
"Yvonne, come on, snap out of it." Taking Yvonne's hands in her own, she gradually forced them away from her clear intention to scratch herself to death. Slowly, Yvonne's fight subsided and she opened her eyes to see a worried Karen looking down at her.
Yvonne took a quick look round the room, as if to assure herself that they were really safe, the thought that Maxi was now dead not quite penetrating. Karen lay back down and put her arms round Yvonne's trembling body.
"Sorry," Said Yvonne, trying to bring her panicked breathing under control. Karen rubbed little circles on Yvonne's back and asked,
"What was that all about?"
"Trust me," Said Yvonne ruefully, "You really don't want to know." Yvonne returned the cuddle, as if desperate to hold on to someone to prove she was still alive.
"I'm assuming it had something to do with Maxi Purvis," Karen persisted, knowing that the best thing was for Yvonne to talk about it.
"You kept saying, Purvis you'll die for this." Yvonne gave a mirthless laugh.
"Yeah, I bet I did. Was I doing that scratching my neck thing?"
"Yeah, good job your nails are short."
"I haven't had that one in a while," Yvonne continued, "Must be the adrenalin rush of being on the run."
"The night Crystal's baby was born, Maxi nearly strangled the living daylights out of me. She'd have been successful if Shaz hadn't pulled her off."
"Sorry I woke you up."
"You're not the only one who has dreams they'd rather forget," replied Karen, thinking of the many times she'd woken herself up pleading with Fenner to stop. "Are you okay?" Karen asked.
"I will be. It's nice having someone there for a change."
"Someone to hold never goes amiss after a dream like that. It was probably the one thing that convinced Mark I was telling the truth about Fenner. Mark was great, but him not being able to move on from the whole Fenner thing meant that I didn't have a chance."
"Was that why you split up?"
"Mark was too cautious, too gentle, always scared I wouldn't enjoy it, which usually meant I didn't."
"So, that's why you hooked up with Ritchie, someone who knew absolutely nothing about who you were as a person."
"You got it in one." A look of horror came over Yvonne's face.
"Tell me he wasn't ever here," She said. Karen understood that Yvonne meant specifically this bed, the very space where Yvonne was now lying.
"No," Karen said, touching Yvonne's cheek. "He never knew where I lived." Karen began running her fingers gently through Yvonne's hair, whilst she simply lay gazing back at her.
"I've missed this," said Yvonne. "Being held by someone."
"You're not the only one," Replied Karen, wondering if Yvonne would have taken this from anyone, or if it was because it was her. Yvonne tried not to dwell on the fact that the last person Karen had been close to like this was her complete wanker of a son. She couldn't afford to think of Ritchie right now, that would really wind her up. Karen briefly ran a finger over the faint red marks on Yvonne's neck, made by Yvonne's own nails in the throws of her dream.
"I have to keep them short these days," Remarked Yvonne, taking note of Karen's observations. "Else I'd probably do myself an injury." As Karen's little finger grazed over the skin just below her ear, Yvonne quietly gasped. Karen didn't need to ask the cause for this. Going by Yvonne's slightly glazed expression, she figured she hit on one of the many erogenous zones the neck can possess. Yvonne knew perfectly well what Karen was up too, and to her amazement, it didn't feel in any way wrong. She simply allowed herself to drift on the gradually building wave of lust. She was perfectly safe, and she knew that Karen would stop immediately if she was asked. But Yvonne wasn't sure she wanted Karen to stop at anything. She filed this turn of events away as the perfect reason to write another letter to Nikki.
With Yvonne's clear response to an innocent wandering of Karen's finger, they both became preternaturally aware of how close they were, of exactly which parts of their bodies were touching. Yvonne wasn't sure where her new level of courage came from, but some need, some instinct, made her do the very thing she'd sworn she'd never do. As their eyes locked in mutual awareness of the increase in sexual current, Yvonne leaned slightly closer and softly kissed this woman who had given her shelter and comfort. The slow, sensual way they learned the contours of each other's mouths was an immediate turn on for both of them. Karen was so happy, that if this was all she ever had from Yvonne, she knew it could last her a lifetime. Suddenly there were brief tears in her eyes.
"I've missed you so much!" On hearing these words, Yvonne had to hold back her own prickling behind the eyelids. She realised that everything that had happened over the last few months had affected Karen more than she'd like to let on.
"Well, I ain't going anywhere," Said Yvonne gently, meaning this one little assertion more than she'd meant anything before. As their mouths resumed their exploration, their legs entwined bringing them even closer together. Karen had to restrain her hands from wandering at will, reminding herself that she had no idea how far Yvonne wanted this to go. She ran a thumb repeatedly over one of Yvonne's shoulderblades, in an attempt to keep it from traversing more inviting, softer places.
"This is totally new to me," murmured Yvonne.
"The feelings might not be new to me," Replied Karen, "But the rest of it is."
"That's good," Said Yvonne between kisses, "means I won't feel too much like a virgin all over again." Karen laughed huskily. Then she became serious.
"Do you want me to stop?" She asked Yvonne, wanting her to be absolutely sure about what they were getting in to. In answer, Yvonne turned on to her back, bringing Karen's hand in to contact with her left breast.
"Stopping is such a bad idea," She said playfully. Karen hadn't expected this type of invitation from Yvonne, but then she supposed she didn't really know what to expect from any of this.
"You're totally transparent," Karen said, a smile in her voice.
"You know where you stand with Clingfilm," Replied Yvonne. Karen ran a slightly tentative hand over Yvonne, her thumb grazing an already erect nipple. This elicited a deep, throaty moan from Yvonne.
"That good, is it?" Asked Karen, knowing only too well the sensations she was creating in her.
"Bloody fantastic," Was Yvonne's slightly slurred response. Karen kissed her way down Yvonne's neck, using her tongue to soothe the areas Yvonne had raked with her nails. When she reached the buttons of the pyjama jacket, she briefly looked up at Yvonne to make sure this was really okay. Noticing her slight hesitation, Yvonne undid the first one herself. Karen continued kissing her way down, until she found herself suckling on the sweetest thing she'd ever tasted. She was surrounded by the aroma of Yvonne's perfume, soap from her own shower, and something that she simply named Yvonne. As she flicked her tongue over Yvonne's nipple, she marveled at the silky softness of female skin. Yvonne didn't think she'd ever had anyone treat her so exquisitely. She moved her right hand down till she found Karen's two finest assets, and began giving one of them the attention it was lacking. As soon as Karen felt Yvonne's hand on her, she kissed a trail across her chest so as not to leave the other breast unattended. Yvonne lightly tugged at Karen's nightdress.
"Can we get rid of this?" She asked. Karen moved back up so she was face to face with Yvonne, both of them breathing hard.
"Only if you do the same," She said.
"Deal." Karen stretched out a hand to switch off the lamp. "You going shy on me?" teased Yvonne.
"Don't want to put you off, do I." They met back under the duvet, mouths and hands following their own paths towards pleasure's peak. Karen briefly spared a thought to acknowledge that Yvonne was a little too thin for her own good, and Yvonne gave a little deprecating smile at the thought of what Nikki would say to her the next time they spoke. It shocked them both when hands gently probed between legs, seeking out each other's hidden entrances.
"Is this really because of me?" Asked Yvonne in wonderment, on discovering Karen's liquid-fire response to what she'd thought would seem a fumbling inadequacy.
"Well, I don't see anyone else here, do you?" Said Karen, her voice thick with arousal. When Yvonne's internal muscles clamped down on three of her fingers, Karen knew they were both nearing the edge. It only took one or two more flicks of Karen's thumb over Yvonne's clit to bring her shuddering and silently to completion. Whilst riding the waves of ecstasy, Yvonne's hand increased its speed. Karen followed Yvonne over the edge, crying out her name with utter abandon.
As they came down from their high, Yvonne said,
"Are you sure you've never done that before?"
"I could ask the same of you," countered Karen.
"Three years of long, lonely nights and only yourself for company's the answer to that one."
"I see," Said Karen, thinking that the thought of Yvonne doing that to herself ought to be made illegal. "To answer your question," Went on Karen, her breathing beginning to return to normal, "No, I promise you were the first."
"I think I'd forgotten how good I could feel," Said Yvonne, and Karen realised she was crying. They snuggled up, with Karen lying on her back, Yvonne's head on her chest and arms around each other.
"You deserve to feel that good," Said Karen gently, "Again and again and again. We both do."
"I just hope we get the chance," Replied Yvonne. Karen laid a hand on Yvonne's cheek.
"I don't care what happens tomorrow or on any other day. You're not going back to that prison, not ever."
"Do you mean that?" Asked Yvonne, laying a quick kiss on Karen's chest.
"Every word of it, because there's no way we're losing this. It's too special." As they drifted contentedly back to sleep, Yvonne began to feel that what they had really was special, really worth holding on to.
Karen drifted in to consciousness, feeling happier than she had done in a very long time. Yvonne wasn't there, but the bed was still warm, as if she hadn't long ago left it. Karen could still smell Yvonne's perfume on the duvet, and feel the dent her head had made in the pillow. Then her other senses began to wake up. She caught the mixed aroma of grilling bacon and freshly brewing coffee and she could hear Yvonne moving about in the kitchen. Giving her body a chance to really emerge in to the land of the living, she got out of bed, put her nightie back on and went in to the lounge. Yvonne was sat at the table reading the morning paper and drinking a glass of orange juice. She was keeping one eye on the grill through the kitchen door. As Karen approached, Yvonne held out her arms. Karen moved in to them with an ease borne of last night's familiarity.
"Hello," Said Yvonne giving her a kiss.
"Are you cooking me breakfast?" Asked Karen with a broad smile.
"I figured we both deserved a bacon sandwich and some fresh Brazilian."
"Keep doing things like that and you can stay for as long as you like," Said Karen flirtatiously. Yvonne became serious.
"Yeah, well, I might have to," She said, gesturing at the front page of the morning's paper. The headline read,
"Police surround house of former gangster's moll, Yvonne Atkins, escaped from HMP Larkhall early yesterday evening."
"Well," Said Karen decisively. "Seeing as I resigned before I was arrested, they aren't likely to look here. You'll have to be careful for a while though." Karen reached across and switched on the radio in time for the eight o'clock news. But it wasn't Yvonne who was causing the stir on the airwaves this morning. They stayed deadly silent as the newsreader dropped his bombshell.
"Early this morning, Principle Officer James Fenner was arrested on the charge of death by dangerous driving, which the police cleared former wing governor Karen Betts of some weeks ago. On conducting a search of James Fenner's residence, Karen Betts' car keys, a jacket of hers and a wig bearing traces of hair from James Fenner were recovered. The chief of the Metropolitan police has said that this was an ingenious crime, and that James Fenner's downfall was keeping hold of the evidence." Karen reached forwards to switch off the radio, feeling that they'd both heard enough. Yvonne couldn't speak, she was in total shock. Neither of them voiced the thought that if Yvonne had waited one more day, she would have had no need to make a break from prison. Karen simply stood and looked at her. Finally, Yvonne opened her mouth.
"Well, at least the bastard's going down for something this time."
"It's long overdue," Commented Karen. Yvonne looked straight at her.
"Do you want me to go back?" She asked Karen in a very small voice. Karen moved forward and put her arms round her.
"No, I don't. Why did you think I would?"
"When Nikki got out," explained Yvonne, "Helen didn't want her in the house any longer than was necessary for a quick shag. She all but forced Nikki to go back. Nikki was a total wreck for weeks after that." Karen lifted Yvonne's face and looked her straight in the eye.
"Yvonne, I'm not and never will be Helen Stewart. After last night, there's no way on Earth I'm letting you go back behind bars. It would break the both of us. With all the fuss over Fenner, the police will probably stop looking for you after a while, because trust me, Larkhall doesn't need continuing bad publicity. I don't know how we're going to get through this, but I promise you we will. I love you, and I'm not about to let anything or anyone destroy that." Tears were freely running down Yvonne's face by this time.
"No-one has ever said anything like that to me and meant it," She said, standing up and putting her arms round Karen.
"Just believe it," Said Karen her own tears not far away. Then she sniffed. "I think breakfast is about to burn." Yvonne laughed a little shakily.
"I vote we take it back to bed," She said, following Karen towards the kitchen, knowing that whatever life threw at them, together they could weather any storm.
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