DISCLAIMER: If I had created these characters I would be too busy playing with them to be writing these stories. So - you see where I'm going with this? That's right, not mine, never will be.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have adapted Yvonne's release date slightly (for slightly read 'a lot') to suit my own ends. We don't want this damn series going on forever now do we?
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Yvonne picked up her pen, applied it to the wall and slowly scratched a diagonal line through the four vertical lines that were already there. It was such a bad prison movie cliché but she couldn't seem to stop herself counting the days - not now she really had something to look forward to on the outside.
"Defacing prison property? Tut tut."
Yvonne's head turned sharply towards the door, a smile jumping to her lips. "Karen."
"Good morning," Karen purred, sneaking a quick kiss after Yvonne jumped down from her bunk.
"I missed you," Yvonne whispered when they parted, deliberately taking a step back to avoid things going too far.
"I missed you too," Karen replied. "How many days now?"
"Sixty days, twenty hours," she looked at her watch, "and fourteen minutes."
"So...twelve more of those," Karen said, jerking her thumb towards Yvonne's new wall decoration.
Yvonne blushed. "I know. It's silly. But I just couldn't seem to help myself somehow."
Karen smiled and held out her arms. "Come here."
Yvonne hesitated. "What if someone comes in?"
"Come on, it's just a cuddle," she said. "And besides, who's going to dare barge in when you're having a meeting with the Governor?"
Yvonne grinned and moved into Karen's arms.
"Is there anywhere private in this prison?" Yvonne asked softly.
"Not unless you want to get put down the block again," Karen replied. Yvonne leaned down and kissed Karen's throat just where it met her shirt collar.
"I'll have to ask my own contacts then. I'm sure they know this prison better than you."
Karen rested her head on Yvonne's shoulder and sighed. "Oh, I don't doubt it," she said. "But what did I say about being careful?"
"I know," Yvonne replied. "I just wish we could do more than cuddle."
Karen laughed low in her throat. "Me too, sweetheart. Only sixty days to go."
"Sixty days, twenty hours and...now it's twelve minutes."
Karen laughed again, moving away from Yvonne and back towards the door. "Smart arse."
Well, Lauren mused, stroking the head of blonde hair nestled just under her chin. If this isn't a mood killer I don't know what is.
She and Cassie were in the laundry room. Lauren's plan had been to sneak in a repeat performance of the other day in the chapel. Cassie had seemed willing - more than willing, in fact - but...
Cassie pulled back from Lauren's comforting arms and wiped her eyes. They were red and bloodshot from crying. "I'm sorry," she said. "I...don't know what came over me."
"It's okay," Lauren smiled as she rebuttoned her shirt. "Come on. Sit down and we'll have a chat, okay?"
Cassie folded her arms over her chest and nodded slowly. She walked over to Lauren and hopped up on one of the machines. Lauren slipped her arm round Cassie's shoulders and squeezed gently. "Okay babe," Lauren said. "Let's talk."
Several tremendously uncomfortable moments passed. "Any time you like, Cass."
"Sorry," Cassie said immediately. "Just thinking."
"Okay," Lauren said. "That's a start. What were you thinking about?" Cassie looked away. She seemed to find the far corner of the room very interesting.
"It's not a what. It's a who," she said eventually. Lauren's mouth made the shape of a perfect 'O'.
"Roisin," she said. Not a question.
Lauren sighed. "Okay babe, I'm gonna level with you. I like you. I really like you. And, crazy as it sounds, that means I want you to be happy. The only question is, who do you think you can be happy with - me or Roisin?"
Cassie shrugged Lauren's arm away and ran both hands through her hair. Lauren sighed sadly. "I thought so." They were silent again.
"But I've fucked it up," Cassie said eventually. "I've fucked everything up."
"I take it I can count myself among these fuck ups?" Lauren said, then raised her hand to forestall any protests. "That's a rhetorical question, obviously."
Cassie thought silently for a moment. "I'm sorry."
Lauren laughed, humourlessly. "You've been saying that a lot. Why don't you start saying it to Roisin?"
"Because," Cassie said, then stopped. Lauren waved her hand in a please elaborate motion. "Because I'm scared," Cassie finished, eventually. "I'm scared she won't forgive me."
"She doesn't know about me, does she?" Lauren asked, confused.
"No, I don't think so," Cassie sighed. "But there's someone else she does know about." Lauren rolled her eyes.
"Anyone I know?"
Cassie laughed nervously. "I don't think you want me to answer that."
It took a moment for it to click but when it did Lauren was suitably disgusted. "Jesus, Cassie!" she said. "How am I ever going to look her in the eye again?"
Yvonne trailed into the visitor's room with the other cons, marching in single file. Most of them were looking forward to seeing their friends and family. Roisin looked particularly excited - Yvonne supposed she must be seeing her kids. Yvonne herself was there to meet a business contact - the woman who was running the Atkins business empire while Lauren was inside. Yvonne had been told to expect someone who looked like 'Jim Fenner with tits'. When the visitors started filing in Yvonne was a little shocked to see how accurate the description was.
Roisin leapt up as soon as the doors opened, scanning the faces for her own brood. Her eyes lit up and a huge grin jumped to her lips as she spotted two little blurs barrelling towards her.
"Hello my darlings," she said as she enfolded the pair of them in a bear hug. "Did you miss me?" she asked. The question was met by a couple of enthusiastic 'yes mum's.
"Connor!" yelled Bodybag. "Sit down!"
"Oh, come on miss," Yvonne yelled so the whole room would hear. "Who put your nose out of joint?" The cons burst into raucus laughter, much to Sylvia's consternation. "Oh, I'm sorry miss," Yvonne said innocently. "Did I say the wrong thing?"
"I'm warning you Atkins," Bodybag said, shaking her finger at her. "One more snide comment and I'll have you straight back on the wing, visit or no visit." She looked Yvonne's visitor up and down once or twice, a look of utter disdain on her face.
"Surely a fine upstanding prison officer like yourself, Mrs Hollamby," the woman said, reading from Bodybag's name badge. "Realizes that prison visits are not a privelidge but a guarunteed right. So, I suggest you refrain from making threats of that nature before I make a formal complaint."
Bodybag looked from smirking woman to smirking woman before saying, "I'll be watching you. Both of you."
Yvonne shook her head at Bodybag's retreating back before turning her attention to her visitor.
"Hi," she said. "My name's George, well, Georgina but I hate being called that. Pleased to meet you, Mrs Atkins."
Yvonne took her hand and shook it. "After that little performance with Bodybag, you can call me Yvonne."
George nodded. "Yvonne," she said. "Status report?"
"Yes - oh, and tell me how the legit side is going too."
"Thinking of going straight?" George asked.
Yvonne snorted. "Not in every way."
Yvonne listened with half an ear as George rhymed off a list of Atkins businesses, legal and otherwise. The rest of her attention was focused on Roisin's visit. There was something obviously off about it, something which was apparent to everyone but Aiden. Roisin's body language was defensive, especially when Aiden was talking to her. Her smiles for him were just a little too wide to be natural. The little girl - what was her name...Niamh, Yvonne thought - asked her Dad for money to get a drink. He gave it to the boy instead and told them both to go and get themselves something from the machine. As Niamh was rushing past Yvonne's chair she tripped on a lace.
"Watch it, love," Yvonne said, catching her.
Niamh looked up at her shyly. "Thanks," she said.
Yvonne wasn't listening though, all her attention was focused on the nasty looking bruise circling the little girl's wrist. It had become visible when the sleeve of her jumper rode up. It was, quite plainly, the imprint of an adult's hand. And they must have been squeezing pretty damn hard to cause that. Yvonne frowned as she let Niamh go on her way, then looked up at Aiden with narrowed eyes.
"So, are you doing anything for it?"
Yvonne's head snapped up. "What?"
"You ain't heard a word I've said, 'ave ya?" said Denny, frowning. "I'm talkin' about the Open Day. You know, on the 15th?"
"Oh," said Yvonne, shaking her head. "I'm sorry, love. What about it?"
"Are you going to do anything? Show up a few screws?"
Yvonne smiled ruefully. Ordinarily there'd be nothing she'd like better but...well, she didn't think Karen would approve.
Jesus, she thought. I've been domesticated. Aloud she said: "what, and get myself extra days when I'm a hop, skip and a jump away from getting out? I don't think so. I'll just keep my head down in the library or something." Just then she spotted her daughter walking out of her cell and heading over to Cassie's. "Sorry love," she said to Denny. "Just gotta have a word with Lauren."
She caught up with her just before she stepped into Cassie's cell.
"What th-" Lauren said as she felt her arm being grabbed. "Oh, it's you. What's up?"
"Going to see Cassie?" Yvonne asked with a raised eyebrow.
"What's it to you?" Lauren answered defensively. "You're not still interested are you? Come to warn me off?"
Yvonne was nonplussed. "How did you-"
"Cassie was just being honest with me," Lauren interrupted. "Which is more than I can say for you."
Yvonne looked at the floor. "I'm sorry. But it's not like I lied to you," she said. "I just...ommited certain details." She looked up. "And it's not like you haven't been doing the same."
Lauren was duly chagrined. "Point taken," she said.
"Anyway," Yvonne continued. "I didn't come to warn you off. I just need you to do me a favour."
Roisin had also been following Lauren's progress across the landing. The old familiar stab of jealousy was still there but this time it was softened by...resignation. She loved Cassie, no question. But she'd simply given up. Lauren was proof to her that Cassie could never be the partner she needed. She'd been sure Cassie would have come round to the idea of having the kids living with them eventually. But this thing with Yvonne, and now Lauren... Well, Roisin couldn't get past that. She wanted Cassie to love her enough that she didn't go out and shag every woman who caught her fancy. To Roisin, Lauren was proof that Cassie simply didn't care that much.
"You're looking a wee bit down, hen," came a voice in her ear. "Mibbe you want something tae cheer ye up."
Roisin turned to face Al but not before she caught a glimpse of Yvonne stopping Lauren from entering Cassie's cell. Yvonne. She'd got rid of her last little package from Al, and had made her promise not to get any more. As she thought about Yvonne a memory flashed through her mind.
"I'm sorry," Roisin said, not looking at the other woman. "For the way I acted when I came in. I was angry." She bowed her head. "Jealous."
Yvonne took that in and considered her response for a moment. "There's no need to be," she said eventually. "I'm nothing to her. Just a bit of rough on the side. You're what she really wants. You're the one she loves."
Roisin turned and looked at the other woman thoughtfully. "I love her too," she whispered. "I really do."
"Yeah?" Yvonne said. "Well maybe one day you'll tell her that."
Roisin looked away, shaking her head ruefully. "Yeah," she said. "Maybe."
Maybe, Roisin thought, maybe that was it. She thought of how Cassie had been willing to double her sentence just so Roisin could get out early. Then she thought of all the times she'd brushed Cassie off when they first came to Larkhall. Maybe...maybe Cassie really didn't know how Roisin felt about her. And if that was true she couldn't really blame her for finding a bit of comfort with someone else - after all, Roisin had been unfaithful too, with Yvonne.
"Cat got yer tongue?" Al said, jerking Roisin back to the present. Roisin frowned, confused, then remembered what Al had asked her.
"No," she said. "I don't need anything. Not today and not ever again." She tried to get up and leave but Al pushed her back down.
"You're no gettin' me hen," Al said. "Ye cannae 'just say no' tae me."
Roisin raised an eyebrow, doing her best Yvonne impression. "Rearrange these words to form a sentence," she said. "Bitch, off, fuck." With that she stood and slipped past Al who was still trying to work out what she'd said.
Lauren sat cross-legged at the foot of Cassie's bunk, waiting for the other girl to speak.
"It's the kids," Cassie blurted suddenly.
"Okay," Lauren said, feeling a bit like an amateur psychiatrist. "What about the kids?"
"They're just...kids!" Cassie said, as if that explained everything.
"You don't like them?" Lauren asked.
"No, no, no," Cassie replied, running her fingers through her hair. "I'm sure they're really nice kids. I just..." she trailed off.
Lauren thought she saw where this was heading. "You just never wanted children," she said.
Cassie grimaced. "Yeah. I don't believe in all this maternal instinct bollocks. Kids and me just don't go together."
Lauren nodded. She sort of understood - she didn't see children in her future either. The difference between her and Cassie was that Lauren hadn't managed to fall in love with a mother of two.
"If you want to be with Roisin you'll have to accept them," Lauren pointed out.
Cassie sighed. "Why can't they live with Aiden while Roisin lives with me?" she asked. "Wouldn't they have a better life with their father than they would living with a couple of ex-cons?"
At the mention of Aiden Lauren remembered the favour Yvonne had asked her.
"Cassie," she said slowly. "What if I told you that wasn't necessarily true?"
Cassie looked up. "What do you mean?" she said.
"Something mum told me," Lauren answered vaguely. "But to prove it we need your help."
Karen signed her last piece of paperwork of the day and filed it, humming a jaunty - if off key - tune. It was late - nearly time for evening lock up. Karen had been putting in a lot of overtime lately. Somehow it seemed better to be in her office, under the same roof as Yvonne, than in her cold, empty flat, watching soaps and wishing a certain someone was there with her. She toyed with the idea of going down to Yvonne's cell but reluctantly decided against it. They'd been making a lot of excuses to see each other lately and she didn't want anyone getting the wrong - or rather the right - idea.
Still, despite all the problems in their way right now, they couldn't really complain. They saw each other nearly every day after all, and they had a definite release date to look forward to. Karen couldn't imagine what it would be like if Yvonne was staying inside longer. Imagine if she were a lifer! Karen shuddered. It didn't bear thinking about. Shaking her head to get rid of that horrible idea Karen shouldered her bag and left the office. As she was fiddling with her keys, looking for the right one, she heard a sound.
Surprised, she turned her head towards the gate to the wing. "Yvonne," she said, smiling. "What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for you," Yvonne answered. "I was beginning to think you were never coming out of there."
"You could have just asked to see me you know," Karen pointed out, reasonably. "You did it yesterday. And on Tuesday."
Yvonne smiled ruefully. "Exactly," she replied. "You don't want to risk one of your dippy screws growing a brain, do you?"
Karen laughed softly as she made her way over to the bars, realizing that was exactly what she'd been thinking just moments ago. "I suppose not," she admitted. "So. What's up?"
"Maybe I just wanted one last look at my wonderful, gorgeous girlfriend before I went to bed," Yvonne said, with a sly smile.
"Aah," Karen said. "Flattery. Now I know you want something."
Yvonne shook her head ruefully. "How do you know know me so well already?" she said. "As it happens, I do need a favour."
Karen listened as Yvonne explained what she wanted her to do. Her eyes widened as she did so.
"You want me to go to Roisin Connor's husband's house, camp outside it and get evidence that he's abusing his children?" she said incredulously.
"Yeah," Yvonne said as if it was the most reasonable thing in the world. "Lauren got his address off Cassie. I'm pretty sure I can convince Roisin to do something about it - if I've got the evidence."
Karen was speechless for a moment but she quickly found her voice. "Are you off your bloody head?" she exploded. "Do you know what would happen to me if I got caught, do you have any idea?"
Yvonne scoffed. "Nothing worse than what would happen to you if you got caught doing this, I bet."
With that Yvonne reached through the bars and pulled Karen's head closer so she could kiss her. Karen responded instinctively for a fraction of a second before her brain kicked in and she snapped back.
"Jesus!" she said angrily. "What the hell do you think you're playing at?"
"I'm sorry, love," Yvonne said, in a completely unapologetic tone. "I'm just saying - you're breaking one rule so what's one more?"
"Oh, so you don't think my being with you is risking enough?" Karen sighed, disgusted, and started to walk away.
"Wait!" Yvonne called, grabbing the bars with both hands. "Please, sweetheart. I'm sorry."
Karen stopped and thought for a moment. When she turned back her face was a mask of anger.
"If you ever do anything like that again," she said. "You can consider us finished. I won't be used. I've had enough of that with the men in my life, I won't take it from you too."
Yvonne winced. "I know," she whispered. "I'm sorry." She reached up and trailed her knuckles down the side of Karen's cheek. "I'm just worried about those kids," she explained. "And I feel like I owe Roisin for all the shit I put her through, carrying on with Cassie."
Karen shook her head, wishing Yvonne wouldn't keep mentioning all the women she'd slept with. "I'll call Social Services," she said. "That's the best I can do for them."
Yvonne combed her fingers through her hair, exasperated. "Come on, Karen," she said. "If those kids get taken into care Roisin won't ever see them again. You really think they'll take them out of some nice, straight foster family to live with a gay ex-con? Come off it."
Karen bit her lip. "It might not be like that," she said weakly.
"Yes. It would."
Karen was silent for a long time. "Okay," she said eventually. "Where do they live?"
Karen fiddled with the stations on her car radio and wondered for the tenth time what the hell she was doing here. 'Here' was a quiet, tree lined suburban street filled with semi-detached homes. In short, it was the heart of middle-class-ville and not the kind of place Karen usually hung around on Friday nights. She was parked directly opposite Aiden Connor's house - or rather Aiden Connor's mother's house since he'd moved himself and his kids in with her while Roisin was in jail. Next to her on the passenger seat there were a couple of CDs which she'd got sick of hours before, a London A-Z, a set of binoculars and a rather expensive camera. The binoculars and camera were both remnants of Ross's abandoned hobbies (ornithology and photography, respectively.) Karen was glad for the first time that he'd left most of his junk littering her flat rather than taking it to uni with him because she'd hate to have had to buy a camera for her first outing as an amateur private dick. The A-Z was there so she could grab it and pretend to be looking something up if anyone walked past.
Karen navigated past five thump-thump stations before settling for Classic FM. Karen was an armchair devotee of classical music - she didn't know who the hell any of the composers or musicians were but she found there was nothing better for a headache than turning your dial to 101.7 and closing your eyes. And tonight was certainly turning into one massive headache.
It was nine O'Clock. She'd been acting like a stalker for four hours and she hadn't seen anything but two happy children playing, watching TV and doing homework, assisted by an apparently loving and gentle father. The only time he'd laid a hand on either of them was to give Niamh a hug when she grazed her knee. Karen didn't think he was exactly displaying the hallmarks of an abusive man.
What the hell am I doing here, Karen thought again. The answer was disturbingly obvious and came quickly. Because Yvonne asked me to be.
Karen took a moment to reflect on her romantic choices. Starting at the beginning there was Mike - her first crush. They'd done all the usual teenage stuff - passing notes in maths, kissing behind the bike sheds and all that. Then, when she refused to sleep with him, he'd dumped her and told the whole school it was because she'd been shagging some other guy. Her choices didn't get any better as she matured. Her ex-husband had managed to get her pregnant within six months of meeting her and promptly left her when she wasn't feeling up to sex two minutes after Ross's birth. A short string of alcoholics, bullies and borderline psychos followed and then there was Jim Fenner - the king of all bad choices. Karen couldn't even count all the things that were wrong with that particular choice, though she supposed 'rapist' was as good a starting point as any. And then there was Ritchie Atkins. He was still phoning her and bugging her to meet up with him, though she hadn't told Yvonne that. She'd tried telling him she wasn't interested but it hadn't dissuaded him. Karen had come to the conclusion that he was a bit of a creep and was glad that, for once, she hadn't been months into a relationship before it dawned on her.
And then of course there was Yvonne herself. If ever there was a complicated relationship this was it. There was Karen - a prison governor - and Yvonne - a convict and self-proclaimed top dog who supposedly despised all screws. Not exactly love at first sight. Karen thought there should be a new category - maybe 'love at 1000th sight' to describe the moment you suddenly see someone through fresh eyes. For Karen that moment was when she'd sat down next to Yvonne in solitary and they'd finally lost the barrier of 'us and them'. That was the defining moment. Karen had been falling hard ever since.
The sound of a door slamming shut disturbed her thoughts and she snapped her head round. Aiden was leaving. Probably going to the pub, Karen thought and then felt bad about the Irish stereotype she'd just bought into. Then she remembered she'd passed a pub on her way here and, as he was heading in that direction, it was the only place he could possibly be going.
She was about to give it all up as a bad job and had got as far as practising the lecture she would give Yvonne on Monday about wasting her time and making her sit in a car for four hours for no reason. But something made her take one last look inside the house.
"What the-" she said as she took in the scene the binoculars were showing her. Then she dropped them and grabbed the camera instead.
"Well, that was unexpected," Yvonne understated after Karen had shown her the pictures which proved that it was Aiden's mother abusing the children, not Aiden himself. Karen had had the pictures developed on Saturday and called Yvonne to her office first thing on Monday morning to discuss the results of her weekend of private investigation.
"It certainly puts a different spin on things," Karen said as she joined Yvonne on the sofa.
"Shit," Yvonne continued. "When I saw those bruises I just assumed..." They were silent for a moment.
"What are you going to do now?" Karen said.
"Well," Yvonne replied, beginning to smile. "I think Roisin and Aiden need to have a chat, don't you? And I just happen to know a wonderful and gorgeous wing governor who could probably get the not so happy couple a private room next visiting."
Karen laughed. "Oh really?" she said archly. "Should I be jealous?" Yvonne leaned over and kissed her, effectively stifling any more comments.
"Thank-you," Yvonne said when they parted.
"For what?" Karen whispered.
"For doing this." Yvonne paused then sighed softly. "And for putting up with me. I know I made a complete tit of myself on Thursday."
"That you did," Karen agreed. "I meant what I said about being used." Yvonne nodded her understanding. Karen took a deep breath and continued, as casually as she could manage. "Anyway, you're lucky I'm so madly in love with you or I might not have forgiven you."
Yvonne's head snapped up. "What?"
Karen swallowed reflexively. So much for casual. "I'm in love with you," she repeated softly. She watched Yvonne's face for what seemed like ages, looking for some kind of reaction but finding none. Just when she thought she'd made a horrible mistake she found herself wrapped in Yvonne's arms, being squeezed tight.
"I haven't scared you off then?" Karen managed.
"Impossible," Yvonne replied, nuzzling her neck slightly. "I was just a little surprised, darling."
"Surprised I can handle," Karen said, pulling back just far enough to give Yvonne a quick kiss. "Just don't ask me to break any more rules."
Yvonne lit a cigarette and took a few deep puffs. She was loitering outside Cassie's cell, trying to work up the courage to go in. This would be the first time she'd spoken to Cassie since...well, since the strangling incident. Yeah, Yvonne had been depressed but what she'd done to Cassie had been inexcusable. Yvonne sighed and adjusted her shirt slightly. The photos Karen had taken were tucked neatly into the waistband of her trousers. Karen had kept the negatives just in case.
When her cigarette had been smoked down to the filter Yvonne knocked the door and entered. "Hey, Cassie," she said casually.
Cassie was lying on her bunk staring at the ceiling when Yvonne walked in. She sat up, crossing her legs as she replied. "Hey, Yvonne."
Yvonne coughed. "Thanks," she said. "For giving Lauren that address. We got the proof."
Cassie shook her head. "I can't believe it," she said. "I mean, it's not like there's any love lost between me and Aiden but I never thought he was capable of something like this." Yvonne laughed, humourlessly.
"As it happens," she said, producing the photos. "He isn't."
Cassie looked over the photos, her eyes widening as she did so.
"Whoah," she said eventually. "So granny's the baddy."
"Seems that way," Yvonne replied before they lapsed into an uncomfortable silence.
"Look, Yvonne-" Cassie began but was interrupted by Yvonne blurting:
They were quiet again until Yvonne added: "you know, for eh..."
"Nearly squeezing the life out of me?" Cassie offered.
"Yeah," Yvonne whispered.
"Forget about it."
Yvonne's head snapped up. "What?"
"I mean it," Cassie said. "You were obviously going through something and I probably could have been a bit more sensitive. When it all comes down to it, bruises fade and no other damage was done. So let's forget it ever happened, okay?"
Yvonne's face slowly transformed as a smile formed. "Shit, Cassie," she said. "I don't deserve you." She reached out and grabbed Cassie's hand. Unfortunately, Roisin happened to walk in at just that moment and all she saw was Cassie and Yvonne holding hands.
Roisin looked from one woman to the other and shook her head. "Jesus, Cassie," she said. "Isn't one Atkins at a time enough for you?"
Yvonne left the cell three quarters of an hour later. She'd shown Roisin the photographs and the results had been just as devastating as she'd expected. As a mother she could imagine nothing worse - knowing your children were being mistreated and not being able to do anything about it. Roisin was just lying on the bunk sobbing softly, wrapped around Cassie who was doing her best to comfort her.
"It's true then," came a voice from just behind her. Yvonne started and turned to face Lauren.
"Yeah," she said and motioned for Lauren to follow her to her cell. When they got there Yvonne lit another cigarette and explained everything again. Lauren nodded her way through the story.
"There's just one thing I want to ask," she said when Yvonne was finished. Her mother nodded and motioned for her to continue. "Who took the photos?"
Yvonne smiled softly. "The same person who'll be getting Roisin and Aiden a private room next Monday."
Yvonne could practically see the wheels turning. "They'd have to be a screw...probably a governor...oh Jesus!"
"Not so bloody loud," Yvonne hissed. "Yes, Karen Betts took the pictures."
"But, but," Lauren spluttered. "Why would she...?" The light dawned. "Mum, are you shagging the governor?"
Yvonne smirked in response. "Not as often as I'd like," she said.
"Mum," Lauren whined. "Women I can understand. But why did you have to start up with a screw?"
Yvonne considered the question seriously before answering.
"Because she's a wonderful, caring, beautiful person. And I'm in love with her."
Lauren just stared at her, mouth opening and closing like a blowfish.
"This is the way it's going to be from now on Lauren," Yvonne explained patiently. "Me and Karen are in it for the long haul. But don't worry, you don't have to call her 'mum'."
When the next visiting time rolled round it was a very confused Aiden Connor who Karen led to a private visiting room. Karen had brought Roisin down as well and was planing to take her back too. She couldn't have left this particular job to any other officer because of those damn photos. She knew Roisin would have to produce them at some point and she didn't even want to contemplate the questions that would be asked if anyone else got wind of them.
As soon as she'd got the two of them settled Karen left them alone. It was against the rules but she trusted that Roisin had more important things to worry about than getting anything smuggled in. Besides, Roisin was uncomfortable enough already without having someone listen in on everything she said to Aiden.
"What's this about, Roisin?" Aiden asked as soon as Karen had left. "Why are we in this room? And why did you ask me not to bring the children?"
Roisin was looking at her hands which were clasped in front her on the table. "How are they?" she asked.
"They're fine," Aiden replied. "Apart from missing you. They were upset that I didn't bring them."
"I needed to talk to you alone," Roisin said quietly. Aiden waited.
"Well?" he said, when Roisin didn't say anything.
"Who looks after them?" Roisin asked, still looking at her hands. "Is it you, or Moira?"
"We both look after them. I couldn't manage on my own. Mam's been really good - taking us in, and helping out with the children."
Roisin snorted. "She's a regular saint."
Aiden was offended. "I wouldn't go that far," he said. "But it's pretty close."
Roisin looked up for the first time, indignation on her children's behalf overcoming her nervousness. "She hits them. Did you know that?"
"Now look here, Roisin," Aiden began angrily. "I know you've never liked my mother but-"
"Shut up, Aiden," Roisin interrupted. "A friend of mine saw a bracelet of bruises round Niamh's wrist last visiting. Explain that."
Aiden shook his head. "Is this friend of yours a bloody con by any chance?" he said. "You actually believe this, do you?"
Roisin smiled grimly. "I do. But I don't have to just take her word for it. She got me these." With that, Roisin dropped the photographs onto the table.
They sat there for a few moments, both staring at the unopened package of photos.
"Aren't you going to look, Aiden?" Roisin said. "Don't you want to see what that woman's doing to our children?"
Slowly, Aiden reached out and pulled the packet over to him. Then, just as slowly, he slipped the first one out and looked at it. Then came the next, and the next and the next until finally he'd seen them all.
"And?" he said, putting them back in their package.
Roisin was dumfounded. "And?" she exploded. "That's abuse!"
Aiden squirmed. "She might be a bit heavy handed. Remember in her day it was the done thing to discipline your children. I'll have a word with her."
Roisin shook her head. "She might call it discipline - I call it abuse. I don't believe in that kind of punishment, Aiden and I thought you didn't either. And this isn't a bloody smack here and there. They've got bruises, Aiden."
Aiden's face crumpled. "But," he spluttered. "She's...she's my mammy."
And suddenly Roisin saw everything clearly. He'd known this was happening. He must have known, unless he'd suddenly gone blind and deaf. But he'd ignored it, turned a blind eye. Because, deep down, he was just a scared little boy himself.
"You coward," Roisin whispered. "You bloody coward." Aiden began to sob quietly. "I've already phoned my mother," Roisin continued. "I've told her to expect the children today. They'll live with her until I get out. And then they'll live with me."
Aiden looked up. "You and your bloody fancy-woman?" he spat.
"Whether Cassie and I are together when I get out is irrelevant," Roisin said angrily. "I may be a lesbian but at least they'll be safe with me. You couldn't even protect them from an old woman!"
Aiden bowed his head in shame. The fight seemed to go out of him. "Will you let me see them?" he asked in a small voice.
The anger melted out of Roisin. Suddenly, all she could feel for him was pity. "Of course," she said softly. "I'm not going to deny them their daddy."
Aiden covered his face with his hands and slowly nodded his head.
When the visit was finally over Roisin was drained. She was silent all the way back to the wing but just before going into her cell she turned to Karen.
"You got those pictures," she said. "Didn't you?" Karen hesitated, then nodded once. "Thank-you," Roisin said softly.
"Don't mention it," Karen said. "And I mean, ever. To anyone."
Roisin smiled. "Don't worry," she said. Karen nodded and turned away, heading for Yvonne's cell.
Cassie was waiting for Roisin when she entered. "Well?" she said.
Roisin paused momentarily then smiled. "They'll be at my mother's by the end of the day."
"Yes!" Cassie yelled and grabbed Roisin in a hug, actually lifting her off the ground. Roisin laughed.
"Easy, tiger," she said. Cassie released her.
"Sorry," she said. "I'm just so glad they're out of reach of that poisonous old woman."
"And here I thought you didn't like children," said Roisin with a small smile.
"Hey, I'm not a monster," Cassie protested. "I'm just glad I could help get them out of there."
"Well, thank-you," Roisin said. "And they'll be coming to live with me when I get out too. He tried to throw you in my face but I just told him, they'd be better off living with a lesbian than with a man who can't protect them" She sat down on her bunk and pulled her knees up to her chest. She could barely sit still. She couldn't remember a moment when she'd been happier than this.
Cassie smiled. "You actually said that? That you're a lesbian, I mean."
Roisin reflected and suddenly realized that, yes, that was the first time she'd ever said that word in relation to herself.
"Yeah," she said smiling. "I did."
"Fells pretty good doesn't it?"
"You know what, it actually does."
Cassie kneeled down in front of Roisin. "Roche," she began. "You know what you said about the kids coming to live with you. I'd hoped..." she paused. "Well, I'd hoped that they'd be coming to live with us when we get out." Roisin sobered immediately. "I mean," Cassie continued. "If you think there can still be an us."
"What about Lauren?" Roisin challenged. "And Yvonne?"
Cassie winced. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "You don't know how sorry I am about all of that. I was stupid and immature and selfish. But that's all over now. I want to be just yours....if you'll be mine."
Roisin reached out and stroked Cassie's cheek gently. "What about the children?"
"They're a part of you," Cassie replied. "I understand that now. So I'm sure I'll learn to love them - because I love you, Roisin Connor."
Roisin felt tears forming behind her eyes. "I love you too," she whispered. Cassie started to cry too, even though she was grinning from ear to ear. "Come here," Roisin said, pulling Cassie into her arms.
"Knock knock," Karen said as she stood at Yvonne's cell door. Yvonne smiled in response.
"Make yourself at home." Karen came in, closed the door and sat down on the bottom bunk. "Is Roisin back from her little visit then?" Yvonne asked.
"Yup. Delivered her there and back personally," Karen said.
"D'you think it went well?"
Karen was on the point of saying she wasn't sure when they both heard Cassie shouting 'Yes!' Well, the whole wing probably heard her. Yvonne and Karen started to laugh.
"That answers that question," Yvonne managed between giggles. She put her arm round Karen's shoulders. "So," she continued. "Are you glad you broke the rules?"
Karen turned to face her and realized she wasn't just talking about Roisin. She leaned forward and kissed her slowly. "Very, very glad," she said.
Yvonne leaned her forehead against Karen's and breathed deeply. "Karen," she said softly. "I'm not very good at all this but...I just need to tell you. I love you too. I'm sorry I didn't say it before."
Karen was smiling so widely her face almost hurt. "Sorry? Don't be silly."
"I mean it," Yvonne insisted. "I just got a little scared when you said it. But you probably guessed that."
"Well...that's understandable." Karen pulled Yvonne close to her and hugged her tight. Her eye was drawn to Yvonne's wall decoration. "Have you put your notch in for today?" she said, gesturing towards it. Yvonne shook her head. "Oh," said Karen. "Then allow me." She picked up Yvonne's pen and scratched another vertical line into the wall.
"One day closer," Yvonne whispered. Karen leaned down and kissed her again, a laugh threatening to escape from her throat.
"I'd better go before Barbara comes in," she said when they parted. "Make an excuse to see me tomorrow? I've missed you."
"Just try and stop me," Yvonne said.
Karen stood up and had just got to the door when Barbara came in. She turned. "See you later, Yvonne," she said. "Barbara."
"See you later, Miss Betts," Yvonne replied, a twinkle in her eye. When she'd gone, Yvonne turned and traced the lines on the wall with her fingertips.
Not long now.
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