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“Sierra three to Sierra Two.” Joan looks up from the budget spreadsheet on her computer, reaching across her desk to retrieve her two-way that’s suddenly sprung to life with the voice of her deputy. It’s interrupted her focus, but for once she finds that she doesn’t mind the intrusion. “Governor receiving. What is it, Vera?” Her rich cadance hums through the radio waves, bearing just a touch of gratification. “Your presence is required in strip search three.” Joan quirks a lip briefly at the statement, recognizing how it echoes her own succinct way of speech, but it’s quickly replaced with a sigh of resignation because she knows instantly that this call means there’s an issue. “On my way,” she replies before rising from her desk, doing up her jacket buttons as she quickly leaves her office.

Three minutes later she’s approaching the door to the designated room just as Vera opens it and slips out the slender gap. She looks down on her slight deputy with an expression that says she means business. “What seems to be the issue?” She queries as she crosses her arms and waits for Vera’s assessment. Vera sighs, hands coming to rest on her narrow hips, “It’s Pierson. She’s just had a visit with her sister and she’s refusing the search. Dixon called me in, but I’ve not been able to sway her. She’s been quite irritable since we intercepted that supply last week and I’m pretty sure she’s going through withdrawals, so I suspect she’s holding.” Joan inhales sharply, her lips drawing into a thin line as she shakes her head in disapproval. “They never learn, do they?” She scoffs as she reaches up to adjust her bun in irritation, meeting Vera’s equally agitated expression. Turning to the processing room across the hall, Joan addresses the officer seated at the desk. “Officer Bradley, stay close. We may need your assistance with a transport shortly.” He nods and rises from the desk to move out into the hall to be in earshot of the door. Joan turns back to Vera then and with a tug at the hem of her jacket gestures for them to enter the room.

Sky is standing against the wall, tugging at the cuff of her sleeve, shoulders slumped as her upper body caves in on itself in her normal posture. Officer Dixon stands at her side in the corner. Joan can see instantly that Vera’s assessment was correct and the young woman is indeed in the midst of withdrawal. Her jaw clenches as she approaches the twitchy girl that refuses to look her in the face. “Pierson, look at me.” After a long pause, piercing blue eyes rimmed in crimson rise to timidly meet her gaze. “Deputy Bennett tells me you’re refusing a search. Would you like to tell me why that is?” Her chin juts forward and she tilts her head slightly as she raises her sharp eyebrows in expectation. Sky bites her bottom lip and fidgets with her hands. “I was just seeing my sister; she’s here all the time.”

Joan crosses her arms as her stern gaze stays trained on the slip of a woman. “Be that as it may, that still does not exclude you from standard procedures. So, I’ll ask you again; why are you refusing the search?” Sky squirms, restlessly drawing her teal hoodie off her shoulders before pulling it back up and overlapping the front seams around her body. “I’m on my period,” she suddenly says, eyes wide as if she’s impressed with her own excuse. Joan releases an audible exhale, turning her head to the far wall and lifting it as her eyes close in irritation. Returning her stare to the young woman, her dark eyes take on an even more severe edge and she shifts to try a different tactic. “Inmate, you’re trying my patience. You’ve wasted my time, as well as Deputy Bennett’s, with your insubordination. Now, I will give you one final opportunity to follow orders and, this time, I strongly advise you to take it.”

Taking a step back, she crosses her hands at the vee of her waist and stares ominously at Pierson. “Remove your clothing,” she commands crisply and waits for the anticipated submission. Sky remains still, feet shuffling against the floor as her gaze stays trained on them. Her hands are buried deep in her pockets and after a long pause it’s apparent she’s not going to budge. Joan shakes her head, jaw clenched in vexation at the girl’s foolishness. She raises her chin to look down at the stupid woman with antipathy. “Slot her,” she finally commands and smiles smugly as the young woman’s gaze instantly shoots up from the floor. “But keep her under constant observation. I want whatever it is she’s holding.” 

Dixon and Vera step forward, seizing Sky’s arms just as her thrashing begins. “Officer Bradley,” Vera yells over the young woman’s violent protests. “No, get the fuck off me,” Sky screams as she twists and bucks to break free from their grasp. Officer Bradley enters then, stepping behind Sky to draw her arms behind her in an attempt to restrain the flailing woman. “Fucking let me go, man, fuck off.” She screeches, kicking her legs forward as she leans into his body for leverage. Her wild eyes meet Joan’s condescending stare, “Fuck you, fucking freak,” she screams before suddenly rearing back and launching a large ball of spit in Joan’s direction. It lands on a pale cheek that instantly turns scarlet as the disgusting blob slides down toward her jaw, which is clenched so tightly she can feel the pressure building in her skull. Sky freezes as she sees the rage that consumes the governor’s dark gaze and she’s shocked into submission within an instant.

Vera looks up then, just in time to see the unguarded look of nauseous disgust that briefly washes over Joan’s sharp features and the way she awkwardly stands, hand half-raised to her cheek as if she doesn’t know what to do. Her heart hammers in her chest as she recognizes how vulnerable Joan looks in this moment. Instantly she turns to the others, “Get her to the slot now. I’ll be there shortly to get the paperwork sorted.” She ushers them hurriedly from the room, quickly closing the door behind them before she returns to Joan. She knows, from all the hours of secret observation, that the older woman has an obvious aversion to germs and sympathy tugs at her insides as she sees the slightly bewildered look on the usually controlled face.

Reaching into her pocket, she retrieves a small handkerchief and extends it to the statuesque woman. “Here, use this,” she urges, smiling gently as the older woman takes it with a slight nod. “Thank you,” Joan whispers as she accepts the slip of white material, drawing it slowly down her cheek with a grimace as she wipes the offensive substance away. When she looks back up again, Vera is watching her. “I’m sorry, I know how much germs bother you,” she says, completely devoid of the patronizing tone her father always used when he spoke of it.

Her bottom lip falls open, shocked at how Vera obviously picked up on the unspoken through observation and by the honest concern that deepens the furrow between her brows. She hasn’t received a look so kind in almost twenty years and it nearly makes her speechless, but instead of being put off by the scrutiny she’s unexpectedly moved, though she makes no effort to show it. “I...I’m fine,” she replies modestly before continuing, “Thank you for this, I’ll have it cleaned and returned to you tomorrow.” Vera offers her a soft smile, “I’m not concerned about the hankie.” Not knowing what to say and knocked off kilter by this vulnerable moment, Joan simply nods before clearing her throat and making a move to straighten her appearance. 

Recognizing the moment has passed as she watches the automaton mask slip back into place, Vera retreats toward the door. “I’ll just head down to isolation and make sure they’ve got Pierson sorted.” Joan simply nods, saying nothing as Vera makes her silent exit.

The playback of the event tortures Vera for the remainder of the day, accompanied by the growing feeling of guilt that gnaws at her insides. If she’d only been tougher with Pierson, perhaps she could have convinced the stupid girl to comply and Joan would never have had to intervene. She takes small solace though in the discovery that she was obviously the only one to see the flash of vulnerability dance across Joan’s face; Dixon had rattled on for a solid ten minutes when she reported to isolation, about how she and Bradley thought the governor was going to throttle Pierson with her bare hands. Vera had nodded idly, not bothering to state that there’s now way Joan would have sullied her own skin.

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The smell of strong coffee fills Vera’s nose as she stands at the counter in the staff break room stirring sugar and a touch of milk into her mug. 

“Good morning, Vera.” The small woman jumps in response to the unexpected greeting, turning swiftly, hand clutched to her chest as she looks up to meet Joan’s gaze. “Shit, you scared me,” she confesses with a shaky exhale. Joan dips her gaze briefly before returning it with a small smile. “Sorry,” there’s an air of awkwardness that fills the brief silence that hangs between them.

Vera looks nervously around the room, ensuring they are alone before she finally speaks. “Joan, I’m so sorry about what happened yesterday. I should have been able to handle Pierson on my own and not exposed you to the situation.” Joan lifts a hand in protest with a small shake of her head. “You’ve no reason to apologize; she didn’t respond to my orders either, so now she has a few days to ruminate over that decision.” Surprised by the uncharacteristic dismissal of her failure, Vera blushes and dips her head to stare at the floor.

Joan suddenly clears her throat and takes a step forward. “I uhh, I wanted to return this,” she says with an apprehensiveness that again catches Vera by surprise. Joan extends the handkerchief between them, smiling shyly as Vera collects it from her hand. Noticing the hint of color beneath the folds, she looks up to meet Joan’s gaze with a confused expression. “Oh, this one isn’t mine. The one I gave you yesterday was solid white.” She extends it toward Joan again but the woman doesn’t take it, only offers a small smile as she replies, “I took the liberty of upgrading it.” 

Vera looks on with a confused smile as she looks back at the handkerchief and slowly draws it open. Instead of solid white, the square patch contains a beautiful spray of peach and lavender watercolor flowers that adorn opposite corners. The cotton material is of a fine weave that slips almost like silk between her fingers. She looks up to Joan then, her eyes twinkling with delight, “It’s...beautiful. Thank you,” she says with a shy smile. Joan offers a reserved smile of pleasure before adding, “They’re ranunculus. I thought it suited you.” Vera looks back down to admire the material again before looking back to Joan with earnesty. “I love it,” she whispers, biting her bottom lip as she holds Joan’s intense gaze.

The sound of approaching footsteps suddenly shatters the loaded moment and Joan takes a step back and begins to straighten her jacket. “Thank you, Ms. Bennett. Keep me informed of any developments with Pierson.” She nods, offering the slightest of smiles before she turns and leaves the room just as Will enters. Vera quickly folds the handkerchief and heads to deposit it in her locker, too afraid to carry it on shift for fear of getting it sullied. Placing it on the shelf, she sees her phone and grabs it to do a quick search.

Ranunculus symbolizes radiant charm. It conveys a message that you are radiant with charm or you are attractive