Chapter 1: Figuring it Out
There is a theory that the universe is, in fact, not one universe, but many – a multiverse, if you will. The multiverse consists of an infinite number of universes, each differing only the slightest from the one before it and the one after it. There are said to be an infinite number of any one individual, reproduced over and over again from one universe to the next. These individuals are the same as each other but for a minor detail or two: a choice made by an individual one day, a different shade of a certain colour for another’s fancy dress, a preference for one type of weather over another.
Of course, none of this can be proven as we inhabit only one of the multiverses, and we can only see and explore the one in which we live. Things that cannot be proven either do not exist, or must be taken as a point of faith, and faith is difficult: if something can be proven, there is no argument about its reality. If something cannot be proven, then only the believers will accept it as actually existing.
Fortunately, the multiverse has no need of either proof nor faith. It exists, and it knows that it exists. The Great Intelligence at the center of the multiverse sits, like a spider in the center of Her web, reaching out with Its many levels of energy to feel what is happening in each of Its infinite realities. Sometimes a correction is needed; sometimes there is too much of one type of energy in a given universe and not enough of another. When the Great Intelligence feels such a pull on one of its universes, It sends Its thoughts down the infinite cascade of threads to the one that is unbalanced, sliding at beyond the speed of light to ever so gently tweak the energy of that one thread. It pushes or It pulls as needed, adjusting, correcting and balancing what needs to be balanced. The Great Intelligence does all of this with virtually no effort on Its part. It knows that the easiest way to solve most issues of balance is with a slight pulse of the strongest energy the multiverse has to offer.
Vera Bennett sat at the longest of the tables in the staff break room at Wentworth Correctional Facility. She had leaned her head on her left hand and her right hand was absently tapping the pen she was holding on the metal clasp of the clipboard to her right. In front of her was a laptop, a page open that had been rewritten twice already. The relatively new Governor, Joan Ferguson, had asked her to read, summarize and put down in simple sentences a good chunk of the rule book for CO’s. The Governor had said that too many CO’s didn’t seem to understand exactly what they could and could not do on the job. She had wanted a few important sections summed up and made easy to grasp, as she had put it, “so that even Mr. Fletcher could understand them.”
Vera hadn’t questioned the Governor’s orders, not in the brief couple of months that Ferguson had been in charge. She’d had no reason to. Joan Ferguson was simply the best Governor she had ever seen. Vera had been upset about being passed over for the governorship yet once again, but she had had to admit that if anyone other than Joan Ferguson had been given the job, it would have been hard to take. But this Governor was strong, efficient and infinitely capable. Her first day on the job she had stopped the major pipeline of the illegal drug supply that entered the prison. She had not even been introduced to the women when she had ushered Vera and a group of other CO’s into the laundry room, used her foot to push over the laundry cart containing the latest shipment of contraband and had reached into a seam on the bottom of the cart to pull out the foil bundle containing the illicit material with a latex-gloved hand. The first words that any prisoner had heard from the new Governor were simply, “Slot her.” No more had needed to be said. Joan Ferguson had commanded everyone in the room with her actions and those two simple words.
Vera couldn’t think of a better start to anyone’s stretch at Wentworth than she had seen that first day that Ferguson was on the job. Vera had known what was supposed to be coming, but even she was impressed at how quickly the whole thing had been wrapped up. The Governor was tall, intimidating, and not someone to cross, and she had made sure that everyone knew it before most had even seen her face or heard her voice. Vera had been as afraid of her as the inmates when Ferguson had first arrived, but her speech about being there to “correct” the behaviour of the woman had at least made it clear what the Governor expected. Vera always felt better when she knew exactly what was expected of her, which was why the current assignment was so frustrating.
The laptop had been stalled at the same page for some time, the Word program showing the page she had been working on as being a third filled, and no more. The other rules that she had summarized had been perfectly acceptable to the Governor, but not this part: “Subsection 14B/34: Employee relationships of a sexual/romantic nature: expectations, reporting, acceptable and unacceptable behaviours.” Most of the rules even here were fairly easy to simplify, so why was this part so unacceptable? What was she missing? Why did Ferguson need it rewritten a third time when everything else had been given a nod and brief smile?
Vera sighed. The last thing she wanted to do was let down this Governor who had been more than generous with her. Ferguson had even offered to mentor Vera, an offer that surprised and pleased Vera to no end. That someone with Ferguson’s skill, reputation and impeccable career had seen potential in her, Vera Bennet, the perennial Deputy Governor, was extremely gratifying. That moment had been one of the few highlights of her long-stalled career. The Governor had been true to her word and was indeed teaching Vera the finer points of the job: pointing out how to get the necessary results the best way, showing her how to handle difficult prisoners and CO’s alike, giving her advice on the daily minutiae of the job.
In fact, Governor Ferguson had gone above and beyond for Vera, even trusting her with potentially indiscreet thoughts on the night that she had been invited to have drinks with the Governor. It had been a great evening for Vera, an almost intimate one in a way, as both women had shared their thoughts and feelings about their work in a way that Vera simply never had before, not with anyone, not even with Fletch. Oh God…Fletch. Vera remembered that she had told Ferguson about her relationship with Matt Fletcher, down to describing what she had referred to as “the worst night of her life” and even saying that the brief romance had ended because Fletch had caught her reading his diary. He had written about his affair with Meg Jackson in that diary, and Vera was pretty sure she had said something about it to the Governor. She was only “pretty sure” because at some point the whole evening had become a blur. The two women had talked long into the night after that, but Vera couldn’t remember what they had talked about. The vodka and sodas that Ferguson had poured that night had been far too strong for Vera. The tiny woman had no way to handle that much vodka, while Joan Ferguson had not seemed to hardly be affected. Indeed, the Governor had even driven Vera home that night. At least that’s one thing that Vera was pretty sure about. She wasn’t taking any bets on anything else from that night.
It had been very kind of … Joan (after all, sharing secrets had lead to the sort of intimacy that ended up with Vera calling the Governor by her first name that night) to have driven her home. Joan had expressed concern about how much the smaller women had had to drink, and how affected Vera was by it. In fact, Joan had seemed very concerned about her the next morning at work. Vera had taken a cab to Wentworth that day, and when she had arrived, she had been immediately instructed to see the Governor in her office. Vera had taken aspirin in the morning, had had plenty of water to drink and had even managed coffee before work, but was still unable to hide her discomfort. She had only had a couple of hangovers in her life, and this one had been a doozy.
She had knocked on the Governor’s closed office door and immediately regretted it. It had hurt, both her head and her knuckles. She had wished she could have just sort of, well, ‘rubbed’ the door instead, but she would never have entered that office without permission, so she had to be sure she was heard.
Joan’s cheerful “come in” had seemed loud from the outside of the office. Once in, Joan’s voice, which Vera usually found either commanding, reassuring or even lovely to listen to, had seemed far too loud. Vera winced at the sound of being asked to close the door and sit down.
Lowering her voice to a more survivable level, Joan had softly said, “I want to apologize for last night.”
Vera couldn’t have been caught more by surprise if Joan had told her that she was to process a flamingo for a two year sentence.
“There’s no need, Governor,” she said, wincing yet again as the sound of her own voice reverberated around her skull as if her brain had shrunk overnight. Maybe it had – wasn’t that one of the reasons a person’s head hurt the next day? It seemed like a good working theory at the time.
“Yes, there is,” Joan said, looking at Vera with her head tilted slightly to the side in sympathy.
“No, really, Governor, I don’t see how you could think that,” and here Vera stopped short as Joan had raised her hand to silence the smaller woman.
“Please, Vera, this isn’t easy for me. I’m not used…” Joan paused, surprising Vera yet again, as this was the first time that Joan had ever sounded anything but self-assured and completely confident. “I’m not used to having to say this sort of thing, but I do owe you an apology. I wanted you to…loosen up, last night, not become completely inebriated.”
“I wasn’t,” Vera started, then stopped short as she saw Joan’s expression clearly show disbelief. Yeah, she wouldn’t have been be able to pull that one off… She had paused briefly, then changed her argument, “I didn’t do anything I didn’t want to do. I made the decision to have the drinks I had. I could have said no, but didn’t, so you don’t have to apologize for anything.”
Joan stared off in the direction of the office window for a moment, then looked back at Vera, carefully choosing what she was going to say next. “There is a point at which one owes another person the courtesy of being able to say no. I’m sorry, Vera, that you weren’t given that courtesy. You may have felt somewhat obligated to have more alcohol than you were used to, or indeed, than you could handle. I did not realize that you were unable to process as much as I had poured for you.”
That had been embarrassing. Vera had felt embarrassed when she had walked into the Governor’s office because it was obvious that Joan hadn’t suffered at all from the previous night’s imbibing, but this was worse. It was a bit humiliating to have her superior officer feel obliged to apologize for not knowing her Deputy’s limits. Then she had realized that there were potentially many more reasons for being embarrassed…
“Oh God, Joan, I hope I didn’t do, or say anything…uh…” Vera’s horror at all the awful moments of humiliation in her life paled in comparison to thinking that she could have done something or said something even slightly inappropriate to Joan. She had wanted to sink down in the chair and disappear from the Governor’s office in a puff of smoke rather than hear that she had somehow let the other woman down. Disappointing Joan would have been the worst thing she could have possibly done in her life as far as she was concerned.
Joan had given a very short chuckle, shaken her head ever so slightly, and smiled, “No, nothing like that.”
Vera had almost not heard her, so distressed was she at the idea of letting Joan down. Her outward breath had been audible to both of them before Joan continued.
“It’s just that I really do feel bad about it all. I had wanted, as I said, was for you to loosen up and be comfortable with me, but not to the point of…” and here Joan actually hesitated again.
“Blotto,” Vera said, not thinking before she let the word out.
Joan had looked surprised, then smiled slightly again, “Alright, ‘blotto.’ I should have realized that you had had enough much earlier on. I really was not aware that your tolerance was so low, even for someone your size. It wasn’t fair of me to continue pouring drinks after that fourth one.”
Vera had had no clue how many drinks they’d had the night before, but the throb in her head seemed to think that ‘four’ was an underestimate.
“That’s okay, Governor.”
“No, it isn’t. I have a responsibility to you, to all my CO’s, and I let you down. I also need to thank you for …” Joan stopped, clearly unsure as to how to phrase the next part of her sentence.
Vera had wanted to step in, to reassure her Governor that all was going to be alright, “I promise I will never, ever say anything to anyone about what we talked about last night,” she said with utmost sincerity.
“What? Oh, I know that you won’t say anything I said in private to anyone else. I’m not worried about that. You should know that I will not share anything said last night with anyone else, either,” Joan waved her hand, indicating that she was almost dismissive of the very idea. “No, Vera… I want to thank you for not…uh…now how do I put this?”
Vera had leaned forward, wanting to hear what the Governor had to say, but also afraid of what Joan was referring to. She had wanted to say that Joan could say anything to her, that she didn’t need to thank her, that there was still no need for an apology, that no one could have been kinder or better to her than Joan. She wanted to, but couldn’t speak for fear of interrupting her Governor again and stopping her in mid-thought.
Joan found her words and continued, “To thank you for … for not vomiting in my car."
Vera had not had any idea what to say as a response for that sort of thank you. She merely blinked, then had said, “Um…you’re…welcome?”
“Yes, well, I know it was quite an effort for you to…hold yourself together. I appreciate it,” Joan stated. “That’s all.”
“Yes, Governor,” Vera said, standing up to leave.
“Oh, and one more thing,” Joan continued, as though having an afterthought, “I also promise that such an incident will never happen again. I will never serve you alcohol to the point of being so compromised. I will never put you into such a position without your clear permission again. I can understand that it could be difficult to refuse one’s superior officer if one is unsure about what is expected.”
“I appreciate that, Governor,” Vera had responded. It was an odd promise, really, she’d thought. After all, she trusted Joan implicitly. She had trusted her the previous night, too, when accepting the extra drinks.
It had been some time since that night, and their conversation the morning after. Vera had wondered why she had not had another invitation to join the Governor socially again. Maybe Joan had felt that Vera was too dull to spend that sort of time with. Certainly, Joan had friends and family outside of work. She never talked about them, but then, the Governor was a very private person. The Governor was many things, Vera thought. She was very cool, together and never seemed to doubt herself about anything. Well, anything other than how to thank someone for not vomiting…
Vera poked at the keyboard, getting her screen to light up once more. She could have typed the rules on the computer, but she had gone through school taking notes by hand, and really preferred to work with pen and paper alongside of the laptop. She reread her notes. Again.
“Subsection 14B/34: Employee relationships of a sexual/romantic nature: expectations, reporting, acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. Point the first: while relationships of a sexual/romantic (and not necessarily sexual) nature are permitted to employees of Correctional Facilities (Victoria State), there are limits as to how these relationships (see earlier) may arise and proceed.”
Vera yawned. She’d been through this before. She’d made it understandable, even to Mathew Fletcher, what he could or could not do with his – and here she corrected herself and politely went with - “time.” He could have sex with any other CO he wanted, even the Governor if he so chose. That last thought made Vera smile to herself. (As if the Governor would ever consider Fletch as a romantic possibility. No doubt the very thought would make Joan wretch. The thought of being with Fletch still kind of made Vera feel sick to her stomach, if she were being honest with herself.) He could have sex with anyone but a prisoner, without having to report it to a superior officer. He should report a relationship if there was any chance he could be compromised at work in any way, but that was it. Everyone, even Fletch, could understand what she’d written the first couple of times. Vera pushed down the frustration that she felt rising in her mind while trying to deal with this problem again.
She continued reading through the list but couldn’t find anything that she had missed, nor could she have thought of another way to reword what she had already said twice. She wasn’t even letting the legal wording sink in any more. She just couldn’t. She thought that maybe she should get up, stretch, walk around or even have something to eat.
Vera folded the laptop’s screen down after making sure she had saved her work. Again. She was about to stand up when her eyes brushed over a short fragment of the legal terms she had written out by hand.
“Superior officers are not to approach juniors for the purposes of: 1) discussion of the junior officer’s relationships with other officers unless disruption of the workplace is proven (with evidence) to be present. 2) procuring sexual favours (of any sort) 3) initiation, continuation or expansion of relationships with junior officers…”
Vera blinked. She had skimmed the notes previously because the unimportant points had been buried under the more necessary and obvious rules everywhere else. The fine points were never the parts that employees had to know in detail ahead of any infraction. In fact, nothing had to be said because the Governor and Deputy Governor were the only people concerned with that little part at the end.
Vera couldn’t stop herself from smiling. Even as Linda Miles walked into the break room and made some sort of caustic remark about what the women had done in the shower room again, Vera continued to smile. She walked straight past Linda, ignoring her completely. If truth be told, she didn’t really see Linda at that point at all. She just kept going until she reached the Governor’s office, knocked, and let herself in at Joan’s professional “come in.”
“Yes, Vera, what can I do for you?” Joan said, not even looking up from the form she was signing until she realized that Vera wasn’t starting in on her usual questions or information.
It wasn’t until they made eye contact that Vera spoke, “Governor, I have something to ask you,” she began, her smile broadening even more.
The Great Intelligence touched Its unbalanced thread again, and felt the tiny universe at the end of that line rebalance itself until all was in harmony once more. The state of balance didn’t mean that everything in that particular universe was suddenly happy all at once, nor did it mean that even those directly affected would suddenly feel their worlds tipping back into place. In fact, none in that one universe would notice anything at all after the Great Intelligence had touched it. That was the way it should be: unnoticeable, nothing changed, memories rewritten to see the new reality as the way things were meant to be, the way things always had been. Only the Great Intelligence knew the truth, and that was that a long string of horrific tragedies had been avoided by adding just a little touch of the strongest energy there is to one small time line. After all, every universe can always use a touch more love.
Chapter 2: Not a Waste of Time
Vera has to work up the courage to as the Governor to do something social with her outside of work.
I had originally intended for this story to be a one off, but it kept growing in my head, both as a comedy and as a romance. I have given in to temptation and decided to make it a multi-chapter work after all. The comedy will build as it goes on, I hope, as will the Freakytits relationship. I do feel that since both women have never really been in stable romantic relationships, it would be a bit awkward for them to get together, which is why chapter one started and ended as it did. The Joan in this story is the Joan I wrote the back story for in 'Joan'. The difference in my A/U is as described in chapter one of this story.
Chapter 2: The Strongest Energy There Is - Not a waste of Time
“Yes, Vera, what can I do for you?” Joan said, not even looking up from the form she was signing until she realized that Vera wasn’t starting in on her usual questions or information.
It wasn’t until they made eye contact that Vera spoke, “Governor, I have something to ask you,” she began, her smile broadening even more.
Joan didn’t bat an eyelash. She didn’t even seem surprised at Vera’s grin. She simply said, “Well?” in that deep, smooth voice of hers.
Vera stalled for a moment. She knew what she wanted to say, but it suddenly became very difficult to get out.
“I…uh…I think that…Um… The document I was fixing…,” and here she ran out of words. She was mentally kicking herself. She had been so sure when she’d come to the Governor’s office that she had been right about why the Governor had wanted her to keep rewriting that one rule about personal relationships between CO’s. She had thought that Ferguson had wanted her to catch on as to why they hadn’t spent time together outside of work. Even the one social evening they’d had was in Joan’s office, hardly a place for starting anything very friendly, really, or so it seemed.
“You know, Vera,” Joan Ferguson said, “things would be much simpler if you knew what you were going to say when you came in here. It doesn’t look good to have the Deputy Governor seem uncertain of anything. Remember that for future reference.” At that, she went back to looking down at her papers.
“I did,” Vera began, only to be cut off.
“You ‘did’ what?” the authoritative voice said.
Vera suddenly felt even more awkward. She wished she hadn’t been so certain of her conclusions about the summary and Joan’s intentions. She looked down at her hands that were suddenly feeling clumsy and heavy at the ends of her arms. She fumbled a bit more, trying to find words… Any words. Words that would make her not look smart, nor capable, nor in control… just words that would try and make her look a little less stupid. Times like this made Vera feel as though her Mother were right: she was stupid and a failure. Everything she ever tried would be a failure. She heard the scratch of Joan’s pen on the paper, the click of that pen as Joan had finished her signature and put the pen aside, the sound of a folder closing. She also heard the Governor take a sharp breath in. Vera wanted to shrink until she was so small that no one could possibly see her.
“I assume,” the Governor said with some annoyance, “that you came in here with something to say to me, so spit it out.” At that Joan sat back in her chair and stared at Vera, her eyes virtually burning a hole through Vera’s forehead. At least that was how it felt at that moment.
Vera swallowed, hard, and found what she could of her voice, “I f-finished the summary of the rules … again. I thought you’d want to know. I thought I knew what…” - and her voice ran out, just has her thoughts fell apart like a brick wall hit with a wrecking ball. Everything she thought she’d known before she’d come into this office faltered. She felt her face reddening. All that confidence she’d had a few moments before had gone. All her hopes had faded. Why would Joan Ferguson want to spend time with her outside of work? Why would she have thought that this was the Governor’s wishes? Or the Governor’s reasons for having her rewrite those rules over and over?
“Then, please, let me see it,” Joan said, not seeming to see Vera’s distress, at least not the deep distress she was feeling at that moment.
Vera shuffled slightly, then mumbled, “I…uh…left it on the table…in the break room… I’ll go get it…”
Governor Ferguson pursed her lips slightly, then looked towards the windows in her office.
“Next time just bring me whatever it is that I should see rather than making an announcement about it ahead of time,” the Governor said, a touch of impatience in her tone.
After a quick “Yes, Governor,” Vera turned and left the Governor’s office as quickly as she could. She should have headed back to the break room, but instead headed for the ladies’ washroom. She couldn’t go into the break room until she pulled herself together, at least visibly.
Vera crashed through into the staff washroom, her legs feeling weak beneath her. She lurched to the first sink she could get to, grabbed a hold of it, and started concentrating on trying to breathe. Deep, slow breaths was what she tried for. She managed to gather herself a bit, stopping the spiral that would take her down to a full-on panic attack. She still struggled, but managed to begin telling herself that, though she had looked less than professional, she had done nothing wrong. She had just looked awkward in front of the Governor. Oh…God…
The water from the tap took a moment to cool down to a suitable temperature, but as soon as it did, Vera splashed her face with it. She used the cold water to help her focus, to try and keep herself out of that deadly spiral. Okay, the water helped. It was a shock on the skin, a distraction. She breathed in, taking some water up her nose, and coughed - also a distraction. She began to breathe more evenly, to feel a bit more like she could keep control. More water. More breathing. She kept herself focused until she could be seen in public again. Thank God no one had walked into the washroom at that point. She didn’t want to have to make up explanations for her behaviour to anyone else.
After drying her hands and face, Vera stepped out of the washroom. There was no one in the hallway, so walking back to the break room gave her a few more moments to manage to get herself back into the right headspace. She was the Deputy Governor after all. She had to look in control. She would have to -
Her thoughts were cut short when she opened the door to the break room and saw Governor Joan Ferguson standing over the table with the laptop and folder with the re-written rules. The Governor had opened the file and was reading it, her tall frame leaning forward, holding herself up over the folder with her arms. She lifted a hand and turned one of the pages. She didn’t look up when Vera opened the door. Instead, she simply said, “Vera, come here.”
Vera walked, somewhat stiffly and with false confidence over to the table. Her true state was obvious when she spoke because her voice actually squeaked – squeaked! – when she started talking.
“Uh…yes, Governor?” she managed to get out.
The Governor looked at her briefly, then back at the papers in the folder.
“I gather this is the new re-write?” she asked Vera.
“Yes, yes, it is. That’s the one I did again. Three times. I didn’t –“ Vera was cut short by the Governor lifting a hand to indicate that she should stop talking. She stopped.
The Governor closed the file folder, then picked it up.
“I suppose asking you to do it again is a waste of time, both yours and mine,” the tall woman said, standing to her full height and looking at Vera in what seemed to be an almost pitying way.
Vera could take anything from anyone. After all, her Mother had given her a lifetime of harsh words and reprimands, always taking Vera down from any hope or self confidence she had ever felt. Yet at this moment, she suddenly reacted to the Governor’s tone. She would not be pitied. Certainly not by her boss. Anything but pity would be fine, but not that.
“If you want me to do it again, I will,” Vera said, finding her voice at last. “But I don’t see the point. There is no other way to re-write it that will make it any clearer to Mr. Fletcher or anyone else. There is no real logical reason for you to want it worded differently.” Here Vera stopped, making full eye contact with the Governor.
Joan Ferguson’s lips turned up just a slight bit at the corners. She wasn’t finding this funny; she was pleased about something, Vera knew. There was something to the other woman’s manner that indicated that Vera was doing something right.
“I see. Well, then, I’ll take these with me and you can consider the task finished,” the Governor said. She moved towards the door, walking past Vera, then stopped and only turned her head, and said, “So there was nothing else you could find in there? No other reason for my asking for you to try and re-write it again?”
Vera turned fully around to face the Governor’s back. To be honest, she was actually only looking about mid-shoulder blade, due to her lack of height when compared to the Governor.
“No, Governor, nothing specific,” Vera said.
The woman with the tight, oddly perfect bun on the back of her head started walking again. Vera could see that only a few more of those long strides would take her out the door, only to leave Vera alone again in that room, and something seemed to push her mentally. She kept getting the feeling that she needed to speak up, that it was now or never. She wanted to recede into herself again, but that feeling was getting so strong it was almost as if she could hear words in her head, words that seemed to say, “tell her”. In fact, Vera could also feel that nothing would ever be right again unless she did say just that.
Somehow, from deep within, Vera found the courage and the words: “Except,“ she said, voice strong this time, “I think you wanted me to figure out something.”
The Governor stopped, turned fully around to look at Vera, and said, “You do?”
Vera did her best to haul herself up to her full height, which wasn’t much but it was all she had, and stood nearly at attention as she said, “Yes. I think….,” the short faulter before she was able to continue did not stop her this time, “I think you wanted me to see that the rules require that I ask you to do social things with me rather than vice versa…”
The Governor kept looking at Vera, waiting for her to finish what she was saying, the folder in one hand as she crossed her hands in front of her.
Vera knew suddenly that she could be dead wrong, but in for a penny, in for a pound. She had already said enough that she was either going to sink or swim. After all, he who hesitates is lost… She stopped the mental stream of encouraging proverbs and continued.
“I mean, we can be social, but it has to be me this time to ask you. I know we can talk in your office any time, even with drinks, but if we want to move on and…” Vera stopped.
The Governor’s hard stare almost seemed to penetrate to Vera’s soul. Oh God, had she been wrong after all? Had she just sunk her career? Had she even insulted the other woman? This woman she admired so? All the blood sank out of Vera’s face and down to her gut. She felt her head get a bit lighter, and was starting to feel a bit dizzy when the Governor spoke up.
“I’m glad you were able to understand the rules yourself, Vera. I was wondering if you were ever going to get there. I have no idea if being social might impact on our ability to work together, but since you have made the first move - I assume you have?” Vera nodded vigorously. “Then perhaps we can meet for drinks again, or some such. At least I know that were such a meeting necessary or desired, for whatever reason, you would be amenable to such. Good work, Vera.” At that, she turned and walked out the door.
Vera felt her equilibrium come back. She pulled out a chair at the table and sat down, suddenly and hard. Her smile came back. She had only felt this excited and appreciated once before, when the Governor had offered to mentor her. She shook her head a bit in disbelief at her own ability to find her voice when she needed it. This day had been a roller coaster at the emotional level: she’d gone from frustration, to elation, to humiliation, to near panic and back to elation. Her days almost never included elation.
She stood up and collected the laptop to her, intending to return it to its proper place in the office, and was startled when Linda Miles came back into the room, carrying the day’s cafeteria lunch of a bowl of soup and a limp, sad looking salad.
“Fucking bitches,” Linda snarked, “can’t even make a salad without dousing it in so much oil it’s disgusting. I guess something has to cover the black edges of this shit lettuce.”
Vera just nodded and walked for the door, laptop carefully under her arm.
“Oh, come on Vera, usually you have something to say about how I could bring my own lunch, like a kid at school, you know, like you do,“ Linda taunted, clearly trying to goad Vera into saying something.
Vera did indeed know exactly what to say.
“Fuck off, Linda,” Vera said, and laughed as she left the break room.
Chapter 3: The Voice Finds a Way
How will Vera pay Joan back for the food that Joan took over to her place? And how would she find the nerve to talk to the Governor and ask her out if she's so in awe of the other woman? Somehow, her voice has to find a way.
The Strongest Energy There Is – chapter 3 – The Voice finds a way
Vera didn’t like going home. Work was so much better. Yes, it was a prison, and it could be dangerous, smelly, full of conflict – but it was also where she was the Deputy Governor. Vera had some authority there, and she felt she was slowly learning how to show more as time went on. The strongest reason she liked being at work was that Joan Ferguson was there. Joan was the woman responsible for Vera’s growing authority, the one who had volunteered to mentor her. Vera looked forward every day to seeing the Governor. The tall woman didn’t appear to be warm or caring, but Vera believed she was. The authority the Governor carried was undeniable. Vera had no doubt that Joan Ferguson could stare down anyone, right up to and including the vicious dogs used to sniff out drugs during ramps at Wentworth.
There was also another reason Vera hated going home. She was no sooner in the house than the nurse she had hired was running out the door. The nurse was patient and long suffering, but no one could put up with Vera’s mom forever. Illness and impending death had only made the old woman nastier and more vindictive. It was as if she had to get all the vitriol she had left in her system out before she died. Some people, Vera mused, would want to see a special place, read an important book or pick something else for their bucket lis; Rita Bennett only wanted to abuse the people around her, and none more than Vera.
This evening was no different. Vera had no sooner stuck the key in the lock when she heard the day nurse scrambling for her purse and shoes. She could hear her mother calling out for attention even before she had opened the door. This was going to be yet another l-o-n-g night. The truth of the matter was that Vera was becoming more and more exhausted looking after her Mom, and she was also feeling resentment creeping into her thoughts. She was starting to feel that it was her Mother that had kept her from getting out and accomplishing things. All her life it had been just the two of them. Her Mother had resented having a child and being left on her own, and keeping Vera at home had become her primary revenge. Rita had been very successful. She had used guilt, shame and fear to keep Vera under her thumb and it had worked. Only since being taken on by the Governor did Vera feel that maybe she had more potential to offer to the world. Maybe someone else seeing that in her was the reason she was starting to see her Mother in a different light. If the new, strong, no-nonsense Governor saw her as having potential and only needing a mentor to bring it out, maybe she wasn’t such a waste of space after all. Maybe.
Hearing her Mother’s voice and seeing the desperate expression on the face of the nurse knocked the thoughts out of Vera’s head and she went back to her usual mode at home. She was always the one to look after her Mom. It had been that way for a long time.
“She’s had quite the day,” the nurse, a young woman from the Philippines with a tired expression, said.
“I can imagine,” Vera replied.
They both ignored Rita’s calls for help for a few seconds as Vera took off her coat, let the nurse out, locked the door and put on her own slippers. That was all the time Vera had to herself before having to run into her Mother’s room and take over the care of Rita Bennett.
Rita was lying back in the bed, her legs askew, moaning and writhing a bit in pain. Vera did indeed feel very sorry for her Mother. After all, the woman was dying, and the pain she was in was very real. Yet having to look after the old woman was a chore that no one would envy. Vera had to tip the nurse to keep her working, and she paid hefty tips. No sooner had she entered the room than Rita began her usual cries for attention.
“Vera,” Rita moaned, sounding as pitiful as she was, “the pain is so bad. Vera, get me something for the pain.”
“Yes, Mom,” Vera replied, heading over to check the chart of medications for the last time pain medicine had been used. Both Vera and Rita had a bit of time after the morphine was administered as Rita would calm down for about an hour or so.
Vera was not about to have that break yet. There were two more hours and twenty-three minutes to wait until the next dose. Vera did her best, getting Rita to take a slow release OxyContin, and there were a few moments of peace. Rita settled for a bit, perhaps up to ten minutes or so, before she began her crying out again.
Today, Vera used that precious ten minutes to get changed out of her uniform and to heat up the meals she had put aside for the evening: thawed leftover lasagna. Her Mother’s would, of course, have to be put in the blender before she could eat it. Even pureed, the food was hard for Rita to swallow. Vera did her best to grab a few forkfuls off her own plate before preparing the other meal. The evening would turn out to be as always: an unending, exhausting, emotionally draining production line of messy feeding, changing the adult diaper, making sure the skin was dry enough not get rashes or ulcers, and administering meds and so on. Eventually, Vera would fall into a light sleep in the room next to Rita’s, always ready to become fully awake when her Mother cried out for something.
Vera hated to think it, but there were many times when she wished she could tell her Mom to ‘just get it over with and die’. It would happen eventually, and they would both be free of this nightmare. Then she would mentally kick herself, telling herself that she didn’t really want her Mom dead, that the time Rita had left was all they’d ever have together, and that wishing someone dead was awful. Maybe that meant that Vera herself was awful. Such thoughts were soon interrupted by Rita’s cries and moans for aid. There was very little time for thinking.
After yet another fitful night, Vera really looked forward to going to work. It was no longer just a job - it was an identity. Joan Ferguson had seen potential in her, and that made all the difference. Passing the key off to the nurse was a relief. Vera thanked the young woman overly much as she dashed out the door.
Wentworth was a prison, and a nightmare for most who were within its walls, but for Vera, it was more a home than her own house. She was learning from the new Governor and growing in authority and confidence. She looked forward to seeing Joan, even if it was only to get orders for the day. Most days passed without a major incident, but there was the routine, the paperwork, the meetings, decisions, and so on that meant that she would at least see the Governor a few times. She would then become like a sponge, taking in every bit of information that Joan Ferguson gave to her. Her career would be able to really advance now, but more than that, Vera’s own self esteem and pride was growing in leaps and bounds. She loved being the second in command to this Governor. She never felt without direction or cast loose. Joan Ferguson always knew exactly what she wanted Vera to do and having clear orders meant a lot to Vera. This was such a change from the previous Governor, Erica, and so very different from everything that happened at home. Here, Vera was valued. Here, she was someone important. Sure, she had always had authority over the C.O.’s and inmates, but now she also had real value to someone who mattered. This was something that Vera had needed all of her life, yet never truly knew. Now, it was a lifeline, a reason to believe that her life could be okay after all – that she wasn’t as useless and dull as her Mother had always told her she was.
These thoughts were interrupted when the Governor herself showed up for work. Usually she was early, but on this day, Vera and Joan Ferguson had arrived in the parking lot at the same time. Vera felt both a leap of delight and nervous at the same time. She stood by her car, waiting for the Governor to come over. Joan did cut an amazing figure, Vera thought. The woman was tall, but also fit, and wore her uniform very well. The bun was severe, but it suited the job, and Vera had seen Joan without the bun the night they’d had those infamous drinks. Joan had looked relaxed with her hair down. Actually, she had looked rather nice that night, Vera thought. She was imagining Joan with her hair down again, loose and soft around her face, and that laugh that Joan had that night…
Then Vera realized she was staring at the Governor, and had been staring the whole time that the woman was walking towards her. Suddenly, Vera decided that the toes of her shoes were very interesting. She scuffled on the pavement a bit, moving first one foot, then the other, pretending she was seeing if her work shoes were polished enough. She knew it wasn’t an overly convincing act, but it was the best she could come up with on short notice. She even jumped slightly when Joan said, “Good morning, Vera.”
“G-good morning, Governor,” Vera replied, trying her best not to look incompetent. There were times when her self esteem faltered around Joan Ferguson. These were the times when they weren’t discussing work…stuff….
“How was your night?” The Governor asked as the two of them walked towards the gate to be let in for the day.
“F-fine. I looked after Mom. I…slept,” Vera looked down again, thinking to herself, ‘oh, very good, Vera. You always were pathetic,’ as though her Mom were there saying it aloud into her ear.
Joan gave a curt nod and said, “I see.”
Vera’s shorter legs had to work hard to keep up with Joan’s long strides. At least she was getting exercise just be being next to the Governor.
The rest of the day’s interactions were all about work, until Vera received a phone call from Diane, the nurse. She was desperate. Rita had been calling all day for Vera, verbally abusing Diane, and even smacking her with all the strength she had left. The nurse was almost in tears, and Vera understood the frustration that looking after her Mother could produce. She agreed to try and get off work early to go home and take over looking after Rita so poor Diane could leave. Thankfully, the Governor had stepped in and told Vera to “stop struggling” when she was asking permission to leave. Vera was beyond grateful when the Governor let her go.
She was even more grateful when her boss had shown up that night at her house, bringing food for her and her Mother. Joan had come in, despite protesting that she didn’t want to put Vera to any trouble, then had proceeded to prepare dinner for the mother and daughter. She chatted briefly with Vera while preparing dinner, and then left, without even eating anything herself. She had said that she hadn’t brought enough for three, and that she had to be off anyway. The relief Vera felt in not having to make dinner was strong, but the delight and honour she felt from having Joan Ferguson do something that kind was incredible.
Lying in bed that night, after getting the large dose of morphine into her Mother, Vera couldn’t sleep because she kept thinking about the Governor’s visit to her home. Joan had had her hair back in a low ponytail, which made her look quite different from how severe she looked at work. It wasn’t like the time she’d let her hair down when they had drinks. This time it had been sleek, organized and quite attractive. Vera had noticed, too, that Joan had worn earrings. They were dark, stones or pearls of some sort. Maybe hematite? They had suited her. Joan looked nice with just a bit of jewelry. She had been kind, her voice soft and her demeanor so different from work. It was almost as if she’d been a different person. That she had been able to introduce her Mother to her boss was also very good. Rita could see who Vera worked for, the imposing woman who had taken Vera under her wing. Rita had even seemed nervous after Joan had whispered something to her. Frustratingly, her Mom wouldn’t tell her what the Governor had said, but whatever it was, it had had a strong effect. That Joan had been so kind, had put herself out to go to Vera’s, had brought food – had realized that preparing meals would have been difficult, if nearly impossible, for her was just so…so…. touching. The Governor really cared about her, it seemed, and this meant the world to Vera. She had to think of a way to say a proper thank you, but feared that she wouldn’t be able to do anything equivalent for the great woman.
‘Great woman.’ Vera realized that was how she thought of Governor Joan Ferguson, as a great woman. Because she was. Her height and overall appearance were enough to let everyone know who she was before she even spoke. She was imposing, to say the least. She could be frightening as a boss, even putting fear into some of the men who worked for her. The women, well, they knew they had someone who would be on their side if needed, but that she was not to be toyed with or fooled in anyway. Vera also realized that her mentor was so much more than she had seen at work, or even when they had had drinks together – well, at least what Vera could remember of that. Joan was willing to help out, to bring Vera and Rita something to eat. That had been a kind gesture, but so much more. Vera rolled over on her side and smiled as she thought about her reaction to Joan’s showing up at her door. It had been a shock, then a thrill, then a source of happiness. Vera was running back and forth between the kitchen and her Mother’s room, which was too bad as she would have loved to visit with Joan for a bit. Yet Joan understood, and after preparing the food, had left. She knew there was no time for drinks or other social niceties. It took Vera a very long time to get to sleep that night.
The following morning, Vera arrived at work after the Governor had, as usual. Joan was already in her office, talking with an inmate, when Vera arrived for work. Vera was always on time, sometimes early and, before Rita’s illness and home stay, had often stayed late as well. Too often. She had used work as an excuse to stay away from home. Despite the other Governors and C.O.’s not respecting Vera all that much, the prisoners had seemed to appreciate her. Well, not Jacs Holt, but she was dead and gone before Joan Ferguson had shown up, so there was a time when Vera felt that at least the women appreciated her. It had been for too brief a time before Rita had needed home care and Vera couldn’t avoid home by being at work. Now, more than anything, she wanted to be at work. She wanted to learn everything she could form her mentor and never miss a moment that could be spent with the Governor. Sadly, her Mother needed more and more of her time. That fact alone was going to make it very hard for Vera to figure out how to pay Joan back for the kind gesture of the night before. She wanted to ask if Joan would like to go out to lunch, or for drinks somewhere other than her office, but she really didn’t know how much longer she could impose on Dianne. Sooner or later, the nurse was going to have a break down or have a fit of rage. Still, somehow, Vera had to show the Governor her appreciation. Maybe a gift? Vera had about as much time to go shopping as she did to sail to Fiji. She put the idea out of her head, not admitting to herself that it had less to do with the time factor than it did to do with the fact that she wanted an excuse to spend time with the Governor outside of work. She just wasn’t up to admitting that to herself, not openly at least. Still, she had to do something.
When the door of the Governor’s office opened and Liz Birdsworth walk out to be escorted by one of the male C.O.’s, Vera decided moved on impulse to see the Governor before the door closed.
“Do you have a moment, Governor?” Vera asked, poking her head around the door.
“Yes, Vera,” her boss replied, “what is it?”
Vera walked in, feeling suddenly more nervous than usual, but decided to jump right in with both feet. After all, he who hesitates is lost, a penny…. stop it. That one doesn’t even make sense, she thought, as she approached the Governor’s desk.
“I…uh…wanted to thank you again,” Vera said, only to be cut off by Joan’s raising a hand.
“Nonsense,” Joan said, looking up from her computer screen, “you thanked me last night. No need to say anything further.”
Vera shuffled a bit from one foot to the other. It took her longer than she had wanted to find her voice, but she did indeed find it: “I know, but it was so nice of you. I mean, thoughtful, really, and I so appreciate that you did all that, and you didn’t have to, and I never expected anything like that. You even put everything together and I was so surprised and it was just so…um...nice…I…” her voice faded as she realized she had found just a little bit too much of it.
“I see. Well, now you’ve thanked me, so-“ Joan indicated the door and looked back at her screen. She looked up when Vera didn’t leave right away. “Anything else, Vera?”
“Um…yes…I would…think that maybe I would like to do something for uh…a return of the favour,” Vera said, her voice much more under her control than before. Well, at least as far as the number of words was concerned.
Joan looked up again, a bit impatient and, to Vera’s horror, said nothing at all. She just kept looking at Vera until the younger woman began to feel like she would have a hole bored in her skull from the laser-like glare. Maybe that was an exaggeration, but Vera was too self-conscious to know if it were or not. Before she could think more clearly about what she was going to say, before she even had any real idea what she was going to suggest, her voice decided to jump in and take over completely on its own. In a rush of words, coming out almost as though it was one long word rather than one short sentence, Vera blurted out, “I would really like to treat you to tea and I don’t care where we go or when and I will make sure the nurse is available when you are and do you like Earl Grey or bergamot?”
Since Vera was never so forward with anyone, the invitation came as a surprise to Joan. That, and the sheer force of the words themselves strung together so tightly. The Governor, without changing her expression one little bit, simply replied, “Alright.”
The smaller woman smiled and tried to contain her delight that her offer was accepted. She was, however, unable to control her voice as it once more thrust itself forward and forced out a rather high pitched “Goodie!”
Before either woman could say anything more, and before Vera’s voice decided to act on its own again, she turned and dashed out the door, careful not to slam it as she went.