Rita called her gutsy. No one has ever thought that of her before. It feels good to be highly regarded, to be seen as you’ve always wanted to, as you never thought you would. This from the woman who tried to leap over barbed wire fences to try and reach someone she loved. That’s the kind of love Vera’s always wanted in her life. Instead she gets liars and manipulators and monsters who disguise themselves, giving her only what they can, what’s left over after they’ve put themselves first.
Rita bled to get to Ruby. She cried and wailed and sang and broke her heart. Vera felt Rita’s grief, felt it to her core. As Rita’s pitiful cries, the anguish and despair, reverberated off the walls of solitary and echoed down the hall, Vera’s throat tightened and an intense pain burned through her chest. And when Vera couldn’t take it any longer, when she thought of all the things her mother never did for her, all the things Rita does for Ruby without hesitation, that’s when something took hold, something overwhelming and visceral. A need to help this woman. To do all she could.
Rita is the bravest person she’s ever met. Selflessly fearless. It’s awe-inspiring and Vera finds herself impressed by the woman who blames herself for her failings and never acknowledges her qualities.
When she’d offered Rita her hand in the darkened cell and Rita took it, they’d formed a strange bond. Unspoken, unbreakable. It had been such a raw moment and they had shared it.
Rita’s self-recrimination and restlessness in the waiting room at the hospital, awaiting news of Ruby’s condition, had merely solidified Vera’s esteem. Rita was stoic and blamed herself and Vera had reached out, had felt compelled to. Wanted to touch her. Wanted to be seen by her.
At night Vera used to lie awake imagining scenarios where Jake would come back, her knight in shining armour, all his mistakes erased, to save her. Now she pictures Rita. Imagines a life with someone that steadfast and loyal beside her, someone she can trust, at last. Someone to slay her demons.
She’s always had monsters in her life. Under her bed. In her bed. Filling her head with scorn and doling out punishments. Reminding her she’s unloved, unworthy and unwanted. Vera can’t remember a peaceful moment. Can’t remember not looking over her shoulder and second-guessing herself.
Rules are easy. They’re undeviating. Clear. Relationships are murky. People hurt you. There are always consequences when you care, when you invest in someone. A price.
All Vera’s ever wanted evades her: someone to care. Was that too much to ask? But she’s tainted. Her mother was toxic, twisted and snarled and filled with hate. Ferguson dripped poison in her ear, her venom so subtle Vera didn’t even feel it enter her blood stream. Didn’t notice the delicate stripping away of her confidence, her defences, leaving her exposed for Joan’s amusement. And Jake, he infested her life. He was all-consuming, making her feel things she’d never dared and then polluting them.
And then there was Rita.
Rita who keeps drawing her in, unintentionally and pure-heartedly. Rita who asks for nothing and gives everything. Rita who refused medical care when her arm was ripped to shreds because she didn’t want to dull the pain. Rita who smiles brightly at her every time they cross paths in the corridor, who always asks after the baby. Rita who was savvy and instinctive and formidable and kind. Rita who she looks forward to seeing, whose unit Vera goes out of her way to pass more times a day than is necessary.
When Bridget had fallen for Franky Doyle, Vera had pitied her. How could someone so rational fall for a crim? Risk everything? But now Vera understands the pull. The unbearable knowledge that it will never be. Bridget is the exception, she’s the lucky one.
Rita likes her, trusts her - that tip-off about Will and Marie’s clandestine midnight meetings proved it. But Rita does not lie awake thinking of her, does not come up with ways to see her and does not wish that the circumstances under which they met were different. While Vera imagines sneaking into Rita’s cell at night, climbing in bed beside her, just to be close, just to be held, just to feel safe.
Even when she’s alone in bed, Rita makes her feel safe and it’s an unfamiliar feeling, one Vera relishes. Rita chases away her monsters, makes Vera feel fearless and courageous and all the things she’s always wanted to be. Rita is the last thing she thinks about at night. Every night. She no longer looks under her bed before going to sleep. She doesn’t need to, she knows where the monsters are and Rita’s shown her she doesn’t need to fear them anymore.