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The Chameleon

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“I was always an unusual girl. My mother told me I had a chameleon soul, no moral compass pointing due north, no fixed personality; just an inner indecisiveness that was as wide and as wavering as the ocean.” ―Lana Del Rey
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She moved through life on an odd vibration, set up from childhood by shitty parentage and economic circumstances. Franky Doyle was a chameleon. It started young--on the playground she learned that pretending to be tougher than she was protected her and in prison it also served her well. Later, with Wentworth in the rearview, Franky began to let down her guard. Bridget’s maternal way was comforting and beguiling, it was the tenderest emotion and Franky felt their connection grow deeper each day they were together in freedom.

It wasn’t easy--they’d been through a lot. Prison, once was hard enough, but twice was agony. Franky had done her best to push Bridget away in a fit of self-deprecation but Bridget saw right through her all the way. Until that day Franky went too far. She’d never expected Franky to lash out the way she did but more than that she hadn’t anticipated what feelings would arise from that experience.

Love was about trust and Bridget knew at her core Franky was trustworthy, but she also knew that Franky had been conditioned to protect herself and, like a cornered animal, she had also proven herself to be dangerous. Meg Jackson had been an accident she’d said, but Bridget knew first-hand that there was nothing accidental about the way she’d ripped open her shirt and groped her in Franky’s cell all those months ago.

Prison had hardened a woman who had learned the world was everyone for themselves from a very young age. Having a dad who abandoned her and mother who tortured her was just the start, but the foster system had chewed her up with the perversions of its halfway houses in young adulthood. She was just getting herself together--on her own, thankyouverymuch--when all of the anger that had been building from years of mistreatment exploded in that dickhead chef’s face and the rest, as they say, was history.

Now, as they ate lunch al fresco in Bridget’s garden, she watched Franky poke a grape tomato off her plate with her fork. Bringing it to her lips, Franky glanced at Bridget who was rapt. She smiled at the psychologist as the tomato disappeared into her mouth.

“Mmm,” Bridget dabbed her mouth with a napkin. “Lunch was delicious.”

“Ta.” She smiled and then assessed her seriously. “You’re quiet today.”

“That’s my line,” Bridget said smiling back at her.

“Ha.” She stood, sparing a glance at Bridget again as she cleared their plates and went inside to the kitchen.

Bridget leaned her face to the sun and sighed. Bridget wasn’t innocent either. After all, she needed something from Franky, too. She needed the strength of her personality and the challenge of her willful mind--someone to keep her guessing. She found it easy to see other’s motives and often felt bored in relationships or just plain annoyed. To be able to predict another person’s actions minutes or even weeks before they commit to them was a burden and a gift. In Franky’s case, she’d been blinded by who she was out of the confines of Wentworth. She was different inside. Outside, Franky loved Bridget. Inside, Franky was a loner, she couldn’t--nay, wouldn’t--let anyone know about their relationship.

It had been two years since she set eyes on her in group therapy at Wentworth, and nine months since Franky had been cleared of Pennisi’s murder. They lived a quiet existence, Franky maintaining a bedsit for appearances but spending most of her nights with Bridget at her bungalow. Franky resumed her work at Legal Relief and Bridget continued to take on clients at her practice--things were peacefully dull. It wasn’t exactly how she imagined things would go. Hell, it was nothing like she expected from the woman who chucked books at her in the prison library less than five minutes after they’d met.

Still, there was something about the enigmatic inmate that called out to Bridget. It was rough going getting Franky to trust, but at the end of their first month together, Franky had blurted her deepest, darkest secret and shocked Bridget to her core. Strangely, Bridget wasn’t scared off by the revelation, nor did she question it. She accepted it, as she had accepted so many of the things Franky had done during her incarceration. She was extraordinarily dangerous when backed into a corner and her reign as Top Dog may have been short, but it left its mark on her.

It left its mark on Bridget, too. When Franky had overpowered her in that cell at Wentworth everything changed. Before that moment, Bridget ignorantly felt safe in the cage with her. But she had chased Franky, questioned her, and pressured her and Franky had pushed back, told her to stay away until finally she warded Bridget off in the worst possible way.

The clatter of dishes in the sink shook Bridget from her thoughts. “What d’ya wanna do this arvo?” Franky poked her head out the patio door.

Bridget squinted through the sunshine at her lover. “C’mere.”

Franky grinned and obliged, crossing the patio to slouch into the chair beside her. Bridget smiled at the easy way Franky moved. “Just say it, Gidge.”

“Wh-what?” Bridget hadn’t expected Franky on the offensive.

Franky picked at the tablecloth. “You’re bored with me.”

“Franky--” She tried to interject.

“I know things have been a little dull these past few months but I thought that’s what you wanted.”

“Franky…”

“Gidge…” Her eyebrows raised hopefully.

“We need to talk.” She reached for Franky’s hand.

Franky’s face fell and she withdrew her hand from Bridget’s reach. “That’s never good.”

“Just listen… I’ve not been honest with you.”

Bridget told her everything--the rape in her twenties, the depression that followed and how she’d been holding back telling Franky for months now. The worst part was watching the expression on Franky’s face change when she worked out why Bridget had gone on without mentioning it.

“Shit.” Franky gulped.

Bridget could see the emotions play out on her face and let her digest before questioning her one-word response.

“I dunno what to say. I stuffed this up, didn’t I?”

“No,” Bridget shook her head. “You didn’t know…”

“I shouldn’t have treated you like that. Full stop.”

“Franky, I didn’t tell you to make you feel guilty.”

“I feel sick.” Franky stood and walked inside.

Bridget followed, finding her leaning over the sink. She quietly made her presence felt with a hand on Franky’s shoulder. “Come sit with me.”

Franky turned to face her slowly, her expression still a puzzle. “How can you even look at me?”

“How could I not?” She said cheerfully, taking Franky’s hand in hers and tugging her toward the lounge.

She didn’t tell Franky that she almost walked away from Wentworth immediately after,
She didn’t tell Franky that she came home that afternoon, drank a bottle of wine, and cried herself to sleep. And she certainly didn’t tell Franky that her counselor told Bridget to let the relationship die a natural death with Franky stuck in prison. Instead, Bridget had hung in, not because Franky had asked her to, but because Bridget harbored a great love for her. Yet, she wasn’t so foolish to think it could never happen again. And though she wasn’t a risk-taker by any stretch of the imagination, Bridget refused to label Franky a risk.

They sat together, Bridget leaning into Franky, pulling her arm around her front. She inhaled deeply, centering herself in the moment. She felt safe under the weight of Franky’s arm, something that seemed counterintuitive after everything that had happened, but it had been months and Franky had been nothing short of wonderful since.

Franky exhaled a whoosh of air into her hair and Bridget smiled at the ceiling. “For the record, there is never a dull moment when you’re around.”

Franky’s laugh was a welcome sound as her arm held Bridget closer. “Gidge?” Her voice was unsure. “Do I scare you?”

“No,” Bridget said, shaking her head.

“Did I, you know, scare you when I--”

“Never.”

She wasn’t lying to spare Franky’s feelings. She had never been scared by Franky’s bravado, even glimpsing her at her worst all those months ago. It wasn’t what she had done that made Bridget break down, it was every horrible flash of a memory she’d retained from the earlier assault that took the opportunity to unnerve and upset her. She knew why Franky did it but it didn’t make the feelings of betrayal or the agony of the hurt she felt remembering the pain she thought she had already overcome.

“I reckon that’s why I didn’t last long as Top Dog,” Franky said with mirth in her voice.

Bridget chortled. “Long enough.”

“Isn’t that the truth.”

Bridget turned her head to look back at Franky whose expression was pensive. “Where’d you go?” Bridget asked.

“Nowhere.” Franky shook her head.

It wasn’t as if Bridget actually expected Franky to tell her what was on her mind, but Bridget had an inkling. Top Dog talk always elicited a strange reaction in Franky. It was less pride, more guilt and shame, with a sprinkling of arousal.

“What I did to ya, I want you to know I never… did that to anyone.”

“I believe you.”

Bridget settled back against Franky and let herself be held. Sunlight drifted across the wall as the afternoon faded. There was time enough to appreciate the quiet moment they were sharing, but more than that there was time to soak in her love. In the shadow of that day everything had dimmed, but there had been time for understanding and space for healing, and what they were left with was this tangle of arms and legs on the lounge at the dinner-hour. Stomach rumbling, Bridget stretched.

“I should make dinner,” Franky said, taking her cue.

Bridget didn’t move. “Why don’t we take away.”

“Sure,” she said. “But you’re going to have to move so I can make the call.”

Bridget smirked at the ceiling. “What if I call?”

“Be my guest,” she said playfully. “But the phone’s over there.”

“Shit.”

Franky laughed again and it was the most magical sound Bridget had ever heard from her. Pure in its amusement and tone, Franky chortled as she sat forward. Up until now, Franky’s chameleonesque behavior had been maladaptive, always helping her avoid bad situations. With Bridget it was different. She was embracing the good and matching Bridget’s frequency. All her questions had answers then and she felt safe for the first time in a long time. Franky would always feel the challenge of love, not as a problem but as something she aspires to. And Bridget knew it was enough--together they were enough.