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Inside Out

Chapter Text

God, she was nervous. She wiped her damp hands on her thighs for the third time and gripped the steering wheel. Come on. Move it. One step at a time. For Debbie’s sake. That got her moving. She stepped out of the car, swung her bag onto her shoulder and locked the door. Walking over to the reception she looked around. Despite the bright sunshine this place was unremittingly grim. Concrete, high walls, strings of barbed wire: it all had an oppressive effect. Imagining Debbie coming here gave her a queasy feeling. She had fully supported her desire to visit, but now she was here she wondered if she should have cautioned her against it or prepared her for this. She appeared to be coping well enough, but with a teenager it wasn’t always possible to be certain.

Signing in at reception she was given a locker key so that she could leave her belongings safely behind. She wasn't allowed to take anything with her into the visiting room. She sat on a hard plastic chair, waiting until a guard could show her in. The room smelled strongly of a falsely sweet cleaning product. Trying to breathe through her mouth, she watched the guards in their black and white uniforms. They were not exactly unfriendly, but nothing about them invited you to relax or share a smile with them. Every visitor here looked tense and pale. Maybe that was just the effect of the fluorescent tube lighting. There were no windows here and one of the lights was flickering nauseatingly in her peripheral vision.

An authoritative voice called her name, making her flinch. She got to her feet, eyeing the guard cautiously. Enormously tall with buzzed hair, his name badge read "Fletcher". Seeing her rise he looked down at his clipboard and read out three more names. Once they were all assembled, they were led into another room where a dog handler and her dog waited. 

"Owing to an increase in drug activity in the prison all visitors will need to submit to a search from a sniffer dog. If anyone does not consent to the search, I'm afraid you will not be allowed inside the visitors’ room," Fletcher announced.

Debbie hadn't mentioned anything about this. Even though she knew that the dog would not smell anything on her, her heart still picked up anxiously. Force of habit, probably. Huh! Habit. She should be a comedian. She tried to breathe more evenly. A young fair-haired man gave a rueful grin. 

"I'll come back another day," he smirked. Officer Fletcher nodded without looking at him and marked something on his clipboard. Pressing a button on his radio he spoke to another officer. 

"Mr Holt will not be joining us today. Could I get an escort please?"

Once the young man had been led back the way they had come, the officer passed the clipboard to the visitors and they all signed to give their consent to the drug search. Tensing, she looked straight ahead as the dog sniffed her, only relaxing when the handler gave Officer Fletcher the nod and they were all allowed to file through to yet another row of hard plastic chairs. As she sat down, she couldn't help but remember the night a few weeks ago when Debbie had come home reeking of cannabis ...

"Ms Novak? The inmate is ready to see you now. Follow me."

“Debbie?” she called after the denim-clad flash that had scampered up the stairs. The girl slowed, then turned reluctantly. “Could I speak to you for a minute before you turn in?” Debbie tramped back down slowly, attitude in every step, the way only a teen could.

“I’m not late,” she protested with a flash of defiance in her eyes. Allie consulted the clock.

“True,” she said with a smile. “But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Oh.” She sounded a little deflated.

“Come and sit down for a moment. I think you’ll be pleased …” Now she looked curious, although, as she sat down, she still crossed her arms across her chest in a classic closed off pose. Allie wasn’t worried. Debbie had her troubles, true enough, more than most in fact, but in many ways, she was better adjusted than the majority of young people she had cared for. “I’ve found a teacher who can take you on for lessons. After school on Wednesdays. That won’t clash with anything else you have on, will it?” Debbie leant forward, her eyes lighting up.

“Really? No … track is on Tuesday, band on Friday … but, isn’t it too expensive?” she asked, clearly preparing herself for the worst.

“Debbie, I wouldn't even have mentioned it if it couldn't be managed from your care allowance," Allie explained. Debbie still had low expectations for her life. Hardly surprising, she supposed.

Allie wrinkled her nose at the smell she was becoming aware of. With a feeling of dread, she knew she had to tackle it right away. It was a shame that this moment of positivity would be ruined. 

"Debbie … I’m not accusing you of anything, but you're giving off the smell of weed," Allie began. With these troubled young people, it was important not to destroy the trust you had banked by jumping to conclusions. "Care to explain?" After a pause, Debbie spoke.

“I’ve not been smoking Allie, honest. Just … someone I was hanging out with was.” She sniffed at the shoulder of her jumper. Allie sighed internally. She could tell Debbie a very personal cautionary tale right now, but was that the right approach?

“And … what stopped you from joining in?” Allie asked. Debbie was quiet for a moment.

“My mum. She always says drugs are for mugs.” Allie smiled.

“She has a point,” Allie replied with a slight laugh. “So … the druggie? Is this someone I need to worry about?” Debbie shook her head, looking at the carpet.

“Nah. I hardly know him and … he was kind of a spud tonight, wanting me to do stuff …” Allie felt her scalp prickle with shock.

“What kind of stuff?” she asked, doing her best to disguise her alarm.

“It doesn’t matter,” Debbie shrugged. “I already decided to avoid him from now on.” Allie nodded.

“Okay. Good,” she said. As far as she could tell Debbie was being honest with her, she just hoped she wasn’t being deceived. “You’d better have a shower. Wash the smell out of your hair. Leave your clothes outside the bathroom and I’ll wash them for you.”

“Thanks Allie.”

“And ... after school on Wednesday I’ll pick you up straight from school and take you to your lesson.” That would give them plenty of contact time whilst in the car. The best time, Allie had found, for talking to teenagers: they couldn’t escape, but they didn’t have to look at you.

When Allie had first got the call about Debbie, she had been in two minds about whether to take her on or not. Not that she had anything against Debbie, or her circumstances. The opposite in fact: it was one of those situations she felt most strongly about. It was that she had only just completed a particularly tricky placement a few days before. She felt as though she was still catching her breath and had been looking forward to spending some time with her dad and the boys.

“When I tell you what happened, I think you’re gunna want to do it, Allie,” Michelle told her.

“Is it an emergency placement?” Allie asked. Short stay emergency foster placements were her specialty.

“Yep. The mother got arrested today … for killing the father no less, so the kid has no one.”

Shit,” Allie said, with feeling. “Poor kid. How old?”

“Sixteen. Right in your sweet spot Allie. You’d be perfect for this one.” There was a pause while Michelle waited for the inevitable reply.

“I’ll be right over.”

Allie unlocked the front door.

“Here we are Debbie. I know you’ve had a hell of a day, so I’ll just point out the main features and then you can decide what you want to do next. Here’s the lounge room ... the kitchen … come on up … this one’s mine … bathroom … here’s your room.” Allie preceded Debbie into the room. It was light and airy, painted a soothing sea green. “As you can see, you have your own en-suite …” Allie didn't point out that there was no lock on the door, or explain the very good reason why not. “I’ll leave you to make yourself comfortable. I’ll be downstairs if there’s anything you need, or if you’re hungry.” Allie looked at the girl sympathetically. She had had the rug of her life pulled from under her young feet, and her face was pale, her eyes huge. She had hardly said a word either at the Social Services offices or in the car on the way home. “I want you to know that you’re very welcome here Debbie …”

“When can I see my mum?” Allie felt tears prick at her eyes.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know. Perhaps we can find out tomorrow …”

“My dad … he beat her, you know,” Debbie blurted out, and suddenly she was sobbing in a way that made Allie’s heart ache. She wrapped her up in a hug. Teenagers. They acted like they were all grown up, but they were still children on the inside, and needed as much love as any child. Allie’s job description was to give a teen a place to stay, stability, calmness, clean clothes, good food … all that. But they needed a hefty dose of love too.

“Allie … there’s a cat trying to get through the window,” Debbie said with a note of amusement in her voice. Allie looked up from the toast she was buttering to see Nova standing in her usual pose, on her back legs with her front paws pressed against the glass of the patio doors, a beseeching look on her face.

“Oh, the most important member of the family, and you haven’t even met her yet!” Allie exclaimed. “Let her in will you?” Debbie slipped off her stool and slid the door open. Nova ran in with her tail raised in greeting and rubbed against Debbie’s ankles. Debbie bent down and gave her a fuss. “This is Nova,” Allie said proudly. “Officially the best cat in the world. You do like cats, don’t you?” Not that she really needed to ask, seeing Debbie stroking her. Nova was a real asset and had put in as much time with her foster kids as Allie had herself, and maybe to more effect.

“Sure. She’s a real beauty,” Debbie said. Nova purred more loudly.

“Well, she certainly likes you,” Allie responded. After chewing on her toast thoughtfully for a minute, Allie continued. “I have to speak to your school today. Explain what’s going on, and that you’ll need some time off, and maybe some special considerations when you do go back.” Debbie said nothing but continued to pet the cat. “Is there anything in particular you want me to say to them? Or want me not to say to them?” Debbie sighed.

“Tell them I’ll be back next week.” Allie’s gut lurched. The stubborn kind, huh?

“Are you sure? That’s really soon,” Allie said, as neutrally as possible.

“It’s better for me to keep busy,” Debbie said. Allie knew that the therapist that Debbie would be sure to be assigned might have something to say about that. “Plus, I can’t afford to stuff up my exams.”

“Well, how about I ask for some work from your teachers so that you can keep up with your studies, and … we’ll worry about fixing a date when you’ve had a bit more time …”

“A bit more time’s not going to help,” Debbie butted in hotly. “My dad’s dead. My mum’s in prison. I just have to suck it up … the sooner the better …” Her words were tough, but the look on her face told a different story. Allie dropped the topic.

“What else do you need today Debbie?” she asked. “I can leave you in peace, or keep you company, or we can go somewhere …” Debbie stood up, brushing her hands on her jeans, looking uncertain. “Are there any practicalities that need sorting out? Clothes? Toiletries? What’s your priority for the day?”

“I need to know where Mum is. If she’s okay. When I can see her …” Debbie stuffed her hands into her back pockets self-consciously. “And Dad. I … I guess I need to think about the funeral,” she said, the tears beginning now. “There’s no one else to do it …” Allie was momentarily taken aback that Debbie would think that such a task would fall to her.

“No, Debbie. No one expects that of you.” Allie stepped up to her, tentatively offering a hug. Debbie sagged against her and sobbed. “Don’t worry. I'll sort all that with Social Services. And I’ll find out about contacting your mum. I’m sure she wants to hear from you just as badly.” Allie held her and rocked her for long minutes until the tide of tears began to subside. And then she held her some more, until Nova mewed loudly, making them both laugh. They drew apart. “Someone wants their breakfast,” Allie commented.

“And my phone,” Debbie said, wiping her face. “It got smashed when … when Mum was arrested, and … it would really help if I could talk to my friends.”

“Of course. So, a new phone,” Allie said with a smile. Debbie looked uneasy.

“I have a few dollars, but not enough for a phone,” she confessed.

“Don’t be silly. I couldn’t cope without my phone, and I don’t expect you to either. Anything you would usually have asked your mum or dad for, I’m here to provide.” Allie told her. “Within reason, obviously.”

“So, no diamond encrusted jewellery …” Debbie said with a grin.

“Exactly. And, before you ask, no you can’t get a tattoo …” Debbie laughed. Allie’s heart did a little dance.

 ⁂

Allie glanced sideways at Debbie. She wanted to ask how the session with the therapist had gone, but Debbie seemed preoccupied with her thoughts, so she let her be and drove towards home.

“Allie?” Debbie asked after a while.

“Yes?”

“When I visited Mum yesterday, she asked if … you would go and visit her.”

Me? Why? ” Allie asked, taken aback. Debbie shrugged.

“She said she just wants to meet you,” Debbie replied, looking out of the side window. “But probably she wants to ask you about me. Make sure I’m doing my homework and stuff,” she added apologetically. More likely she wants to check if I’m looking after you properly, Allie thought. And she could hardly blame her. Which mother wouldn’t want to check up on the person looking after her child?

“I’m not sure …” Allie hedged, trying to figure out what would be appropriate. And what would be in Debbie’s best interests.

“Yeah, well. If you decide to, I have a spare request form,” Debbie replied coolly, turning on the radio and effectively ending the conversation.

 ⁂

"How'd it go?" Allie asked as Debbie swung her trumpet case into the back of the car. 

"Really good," Debbie said, throwing herself into the passenger seat. "I learned loads already." Allie pulled out into traffic feeling pleased with herself for setting up these lessons for Debbie. She had had the trumpet on loan from school for a couple of years, but had never had any proper lessons before, managing to teach herself from online tutorials and from attending the school's swing band. "The valves need cleaning and oiling," Debbie commented, looking at Allie meaningfully. Allie looked back. 

"You know how to do that, right?" she asked uneasily. 

"Not really. Mum always did it. Will you help me figure it out?" Allie laughed. 

"I guess so. What else is YouTube for?"

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Allie had the feeling that there was more to come. 

"Do you want me to move to a new foster placement?" Debbie finally asked. 

" What? No, of course not. What would make you think that?" Debbie shrugged, not looking at her. 

"Just … Michelle said you usually do short-term emergency placements. And I'm not that anymore." Allie coloured up. It was true. She didn't usually have anyone live with her for this long. But Debbie was different somehow. Somehow Allie wasn't ready to let her go. Somehow Allie felt that she was the one who would help her through this.

"Do you want to move placements?" Allie asked, struggling to watch both the road and Debbie's face. 

"No. But it's not just down to me …"

"Listen. I'm happy for you to stay with me for as long as you want. We get along pretty well don't we?" Debbie nodded. 

"Then … you need to visit my mum." This time Debbie did look at her and Allie felt terrible, having put off making a decision about the visit for a couple of weeks. Allie nodded slowly. 

"Okay," she said faintly, alarmed by the prospect. Her heart thundered. For Debbie: she would have to visit Wentworth Prison and get the seal of approval from the formidable Bea Smith.

Chapter Text

“What’s up your arse?” Franky asked with her trademark grin.

“Nothin’,” Bea replied, hunching forward in her chair and scoring her fingernail mindlessly against the table top.

“Can’t fool me, Red. Something’s bugging you. Spill it.” Bea sighed. When Franky wanted something from you she could be very insistent.

“Debbie’s foster mother is visiting this arvo …” she began.

“Well, that’s good right? You’ve been wanting to meet her for weeks.”

“Yeah,” Bea replied in a flat tone, wondering if her desperate desire to cancel the visit made her, not just a coward, but the worst kind of indecisive idiot.

“But now you’re worried that she’s gunna think you're a bad mother, right?” Bea clenched her jaw tight. Bad mother. That pressed all her buttons. Franky might come across as a dangerously over-sexed, couldn't care less hard case, but underneath all that she could be pretty perceptive. 

“Well, what should she think?" Bea shot back. "I’m the woman who was stupid enough to leave her daughter all alone. No parents, no home, nothing.”

“You did what you had to do. And if she’s got an ounce of sense, she’s gunna see that. Besides, why should you care? It’s not what she thinks of you that matters … it’s what she thinks of little Deb.”

Bea nodded slowly. Franky was right. It was something she was learning on the inside. Outside of your family, it didn’t matter if people liked you, so long as they respected you. And those were two things she was gaining in here: a family, and respect.

When she was first brought to Wentworth, on remand for Harry’s murder, she was in shock. In the van on the way her head was full of the sound of Debbie’s screams as she was dragged away by the police. And now all that remained of that first day were scattered memories: her shock and revulsion when the prisoner in the van with her gave the screw a gobby for some smokes; losing it in intake when Officer Jackson asked her to name her next of kin; the sedative she was administered blurring everything, but cruelly leaving behind the image of Harry, taped to the steering wheel, breathing his last.

She had been a fool. If only she had left Harry years ago when the abuse first started. Instead she had stayed, trying to keep the family together, until, eventually, she was so beaten down and messed up that she could see no way out for herself or Debbie. No way out but to get rid of Harry. She had sent Debbie to a friend’s and tried to make it look like suicide, but the tape marks around his wrists gave it away and, as ever, the spouse was the police’s main suspect.

So here she was on the inside, while Debbie was out there, living with a stranger, a situation Bea could no longer bear. Even though Debbie was insistent that she liked her foster carer and that she was good to her, Bea couldn’t rest without seeing it for herself. You heard about terrible things happening to kids in care after all, and Debbie had been through enough already. Bea had to be sure.

Bea gave Franky a shaky smile and a slight nod of gratitude. Just then Boomer sped onto the unit.

“That bitch from C block finally paid up,” she exulted, waving a packet of Monte Carlos. “Wanna biccy, Franky? Bea?” 

“Thanks, Booms,” Bea said, and meant it. The first week in prison had been a rollercoaster, but now she was solid with the women on her unit. They needed each other and they stuck together.

Her first introduction to the unit had been to discover that the room that was supposed to be hers was occupied by Franky and Kim, engaged in what could only be termed a non-PG activity. Being exposed to the more intimate sides of people’s lives, in the showers, the dunnies, on the unit, was just the first of many things she had to get a handle on now she was inside. Most intrusive was the constant noise, which was wearing, then annoying, and finally infuriating. Shouting, door slamming, furniture throwing, coughing, snoring… it was unending, until Bea learned to filter it out.

Then there was the fitting in and learning the ropes. Don’t take anything from someone else’s room. Never press the panic button. Never judge another woman’s situation. Learn the best way to deal with each type of woman: the junkie, the aggressor, the flake, the manipulator. Next, pick up the lingo: screws, not officers, the slot, not solitary. And the big, unwritten rule. Don’t lag. Never, ever lag. Luckily, Bea had a good instinct for self preservation - granted by years of living with Harry, no doubt. Being on remand she could have kept wearing her own clothes, but instinct told her it was better to wear the uniform and blend in as much as possible.

But there were times during those early days when Bea found herself cornered and placed in a position where there was no good option. Bad situation number one was when Franky forced her to receive drugs from a bogus visitor. Bea would never have got involved with something like that, but Franky, like lots of the women in here, could sniff out a vulnerability in a heartbeat. Debbie. Franky had the power to prevent her from phoning her daughter and Bea just couldn't leave Debbie wondering why she hadn't called. So she did it. Got caught of course. Mrs Jackson was no fool. But Bea had the sense not to lag and that earned her the respect of the women in her unit, Franky included.

Bad situation number two came along when Jacs Holt was released from the slot. Holt was determined to show Franky who was top dog and chose Bea as the "teachable moment". Bea decided she would submit, pursuing her policy of blending in. But Jacs had to push it just that little bit too far. Bea had seen and taken worse, but something about the way Jacs kept on pushing reminded her of Harry. She had ruined Debbie’s life and her own to stop him. And now it seemed that since she had killed him she had lost all tolerance for just taking it. When she put Jacs in her place she simultaneously gained an enemy and the loyalty of her new prison family.

During the riot that followed on from this confrontation, Bea's unit kept her safe by leaving her to babysit Doreen's charge, Kaiya. Bea could hear the whole prison erupting in violence but didn't leave the little girl for a second, even when she wanted her teddy fetching. When the riot was over Mrs Jackson was discovered dead in a pool of blood and the police had so far been unable to discover who was responsible, though the screws clearly suspected Holt and her heavies.

Erica Davidson replaced Mrs Jackson as governor, much to Franky's delight, and the balance of power shifted away from Jacs towards Franky and her crew. Jacs was still claiming the top dog slot and that signifier of power, the laundry steam-press, but was under such intense scrutiny from the screws that she was unable to keep Franky and her girls from consolidating their influence amongst the women. Franky could be fierce and violent, but she didn't have the cruelty of Holt, and the women knew this. Bea supposed that now she must count herself as a member of the crew but, whilst Franky demanded her loyalty, she didn't seem to expect her to get involved in her drug business or her beef with Jacs. For now, at least. 

Bea chewed her biscuit and tried not to think about the upcoming visit. The first time Debbie had visited she had been nervous too. She had wondered if her daughter would look at her differently after what she'd done. Could she even meet Debbie's eye, having killed Harry? He was a total bastard and a waste of space, but he had been Debbie's father. It had to change everything, didn't it? And was it even fair to ask her to come here? Prison was no place for a child. Doreen had finally convinced her that Debbie needed to see her, needed to see that Bea was still her mother and had not given up that role despite being in prison. 

When Bea walked into the visitors room and saw Debbie sitting there, she was almost afraid to touch her. Debbie looked just the same as always, even down to those familiar jeans and that ratty jumper. But what if she didn't feel the same about Bea? Maybe she wouldn't want to hug her now. But Bea was so happy to see her that she pushed her fears aside. Debbie stood up as she approached, looking as nervous as Bea felt.

"Can we …" she asked uncertainly. Bea nodded.

“Yeah, yeah. Come here.” She drew her into her arms. The sense of relief was immense. To hold her child again and know that she was safe even if just for this short time was a balm that almost undid everything she had gone through in the past weeks. Debbie’s slight frame trembled as she sobbed quietly into her mother’s ear for a moment. They sat down and smiled into each other's faces and Bea knew that nothing had changed. Her little girl still loved her and relied upon her. Debbie rambled on about not knowing if she could bring anything in for Bea. Bea just smiled until she thought her face would split.

“I’ve got everything I need.”

An hour was all they had and Bea had an agenda to get through. Firstly, to find out everything she could about how Debbie was managing without her, and secondly to make sure that she understood that Bea was fine and that she didn’t need to worry about her.

“So … how are you? How’s things at … home?”

“I’m fine.” For a minute it seemed like Debbie would leave it there. “It’s good. Really,” she added when Bea continued to scrutinise her face. “I have a nice bedroom and my own bathroom. I just really miss you Mum.”

“Oh, I miss you too sweetheart,” Bea told her, squeezing her hands. “And how’s school?”

“Fine. Allie is taking me and picking me up every day so that I don’t have to get the bus.” Debbie was looking down as she said this and Bea surmised that she felt awkward talking to Bea about this new mother figure.

“Allie. Your foster carer. What’s she like? You get on okay with her?” Bea asked with one long breath. Debbie shrugged.

“Sure. She’s kind. Not stern or anything …” Debbie trailed off.

“Are there other kids there?”

“No. Just me and Allie. And Nova. That’s the cat.” Debbie smiled shyly. Bea’s heart thumped. Debbie had always wanted a pet but Harry would never allow it. And now, although she was pleased Debbie finally got to experience living with an animal, she felt uncomfortable that it was someone else, some stranger, who had made that dream happen for her daughter.

“A cat, huh?” she said with a smile. “That’s great.” Bea swallowed heavily. “I’m sorry.” Debbie looked at her questioningly. “For what I did. I … I wasn’t thinking clearly.” Bea closed her eyes against the memories. 

The rasp of the tape as she pulled it off the roll.

"I couldn't see another way out …"

The stink of the exhaust fumes.

“It’s okay mum. I get it."

The metallic clang as she closed the garage door on him and walked away.  

"He was getting worse," Debbie continued, "and … recently I … Recently neither of us were safe from him.” Bea nodded, averting her eyes and pursing her lips to try and contain her emotions. No one knew about the sense of satisfaction she got that day, knowing that he could never hurt her again, knowing that he could never make good on his promise. She could never tell anyone, Debbie least of all. 

“I’m sorry that I didn’t find a better way. It was stupid … and now I’m in here, and you’re out there and … you’ve come here to visit me in this horrible place. You don’t have to come, you know Deb. We can write and talk on the phone.” Bea gave her an imploring look. She would save her this experience if he could.

“It’s fine, Mum. I wanted to come.”

“How did you get here?”

“On the bus.” Bea looked at her steadily.

“Does your foster carer know you’re here?” she asked. Debbie nodded and then smiled.

“She was the one who organised the paperwork and everything. She wanted to drive me, but … I don’t know … I felt like I wanted to do this on my own.” Bea smiled tearfully.

“You don’t have to grow up all of a sudden Deb, just because I’m not there to baby you. If … Allie wants to help you, then, for God’s sake, let her. Be a child for a little longer. While you still can.”

“Yeah, well. I am going to grow up, Mum.” Debbie didn’t say, While you’re in prison or And you're going to miss it, but Bea heard it anyway and closed her eyes against the wave of grief.

“I know. Just … it’s going to be difficult for me to help you from in here, so, take whatever help’s on offer …”

“It’s not the same, Mum. I miss the things we used to do together. I miss your cooking. I even miss you nagging me.” Bea huffed out a laugh.

“Doesn’t Allie nag you then?” she asked with a smile.

“Not yet. But we are kind of new …” Bea leant forwards.

“Is her cooking really terrible?” she asked conspiratorially. Debbie laughed and shook her head.

“It’s just … not the same.” They were silent for a moment. “What’s the food like in here?”

“Grim,” Bea replied, without thinking. Seeing Debbie’s face drop, she smiled and attempted to brush it off. “It’s fine, really. Just a bit unimaginative.” Debbie nodded. “But I’m in with a good bunch of women. There’s six of us in our unit: Franky, Kim, Liz, Doreen, Boomer and me …”

Boomer?”

“Don’t ask … We each have our own room and share a communal area with a couch, telly, kettle … all that, so don’t go thinking it’s like in the movies. It’s really not that bad.” Debbie nodded again, willing to be convinced. “And we get to go outside in the yard. And we get visits.” She smiled at Debbie, so happy to be able to look at her lovely face, despite where they were.

“And your lawyer? Have you had a visit from him or her yet?”

“Yeah. I qualify for legal assistance, so they appointed someone to my case. He came in last week.” 

“What did he say Mum? Is there something they can do?” Bea looked away. She had found the meeting discouraging and the lawyer dismissive, but she couldn’t lay that on Debbie.

“It’s early days sweetheart …”

“They need to know what Dad did to you. That’s got to count for something …” she said, almost desperately. Bea nodded.

“Yeah. I’m sure you’re right. It’ll all take time. The trial is probably months away.” Debbie continued to gaze hopefully into her face. “Let me worry about that,” Bea said, squeezing her hand reassuringly. “You should only be worrying about school … and boys …”

Mu-uum,” Debbie said in a horrified tone, rolling her eyes to make Bea laugh.

“And selfies, and friends, and music …”

“Talking about music, Allie has arranged for me to get some trumpet lessons, at last!” Debbie was lit up now and Bea rejoiced for her. Debbie had always responded to music, even as a baby, and as soon as she could articulate what she wanted, had longed to play an instrument. Harry would have no truck with it, hating the idea of noise in the house. When Debbie had learned that she could borrow an instrument from school, Bea had given her permission, promising to make it right with her dad. It was supposed to be a flute or a clarinet, but the only instrument left was a trumpet. The night Debbie brought it home Bea copped a severe beating. But it was worth it. Debbie could only practice when Harry wasn’t around and there was never any money for lessons, but she fell in love with playing and Bea didn’t regret a second of the pain, worry and fear that trumpet had caused.

“That’s great, Deb! There’ll be no stopping you now …”

Too soon their hour was up and Bea gripped Debbie tight once more, breathing in her scent, hoping it would last her until the next visit.

“I’ll call you,” Bea promised. “Oh, and Debbie … will you ask Allie if she’ll come and visit me?” Debbie looked shocked.

“What? Why?” Bea shrugged, doing her best to play it down.

“Just to set my mind at rest. That you’re being looked after …” Debbie looked doubtful. “Please.” Debbie’s shoulders fell in defeat.

“I’ll ask her, but I don’t know …” Bea gave her a bright smile.

“That’s all I ask.”

"Smith! You have a visitor," Miss Miles yelled from the door. Bea got to her feet, tugging her hoodie straight, wondering about her hair, knowing it was too late to fix it. Franky made a kissy face at her. 

"Go get her Red!" she said with a leer. Bea gave her a withering look as she walked away. 

"You'll be right, Bea," Liz commented as she passed her, giving her arm a quick squeeze. Bea nodded uncertainly, grateful for the comment but not reassured. What if Allie Novak was some kind of super mum? Where would that leave her?

Chapter Text

Allie knew what Bea Smith looked like. She had seen her picture in the newspapers and on the TV news. But most of all she knew her from the photograph on Debbie’s bedside table. She had gone shopping with Debbie to choose a frame for that picture, which showed Debbie with her mum, curly heads pressed together, identical smiles illuminating their faces. But somehow Allie still wasn’t prepared when she finally saw her in the flesh.

It wasn’t that she didn’t look like her photograph. She did. And yet ... When Allie thought about it, she decided that, in her mind, she must have elevated Bea Smith to the status of some kind of superhuman. Debbie had been telling her bits and pieces about her mum over the weeks and, in every telling, she was so much more than the battered wife who took whatever her husband meted out. More, even, than the tiger mother who would do anything to protect her child. Allie had clearly allowed Debbie’s feelings about her mother to affect her more than she had realised, because, although Bea Smith was, at first glance, just a medium build woman in badly fitting prison-issue tracky dacks, the sight of her still made Allie’s heart twist in her chest in an all too recognisable way. 

As Allie walked over to her she did her best to push her reaction to one side. She was here at Bea’s request. She was here as Debbie’s foster mother. She was an experienced professional, she reminded herself, not some star-struck groupie. Still, Bea was undeniably striking, with that mane of red hair, sculpted lips and defined jaw. And when Bea looked up and met her eyes, before flicking her gaze away, Allie was surprised at the rush of sympathy that ran through her as she recognised her trepidation. She had assumed that Bea Smith needed to vet her, to make sure she was good enough to look after Debbie, but was there some part of her that feared Allie’s judgement?

Bea diverted her eyes. That couldn’t be her, could it? Weren’t foster mothers solid maternal types? Weren’t they, above all, older? The young woman who was walking towards her with a look of recognition on her face was tall and slim, glamorous, in a professional way, and, confounding Bea’s expectations, young. Very young. Old enough to look after, say, a hamster, but not old enough to look after a teenager going through the most difficult part of her life. To Bea she appeared enviably self-possessed in her tailored black trousers and off-white tie-neck blouse, her blonde hair sleekly arranged against her head. A head that was now cocked questioningly on one side. Bea scrambled to her feet.

“Mrs Smith,” the young blonde said, holding out her right hand. “I’m Allie Novak.” Bea raised her eyes and met her gaze briefly. Her startlingly blue eyes were full of humour. Was she laughing at her? Bea looked away and slipped her cold hand into Allie Novak’s warm one for a perfunctory shake. She sat down quickly, hoping to conceal her agitation, and the other woman followed suit. Bea knew she should say something. After all, she was the one who had requested the visit. But for the moment her voice had defected, and neither could she make herself meet that amused gaze again. Imprisoning her hands beneath her thighs she interrogated the tabletop. Please say something, she begged silently, but the other woman seemed in no hurry to begin, casting her eyes around the room, taking it all in.

Bea took the opportunity to steal another look at her whilst she was occupied. Her hands were soft, Bea already knew that, but now she could see that they were perfectly manicured and well cared for, with long, shapely fingers. She darted a look at her face. Not only was Allie Novak beautiful, but she was enviably made up in that barely there, totally natural way that was almost invisible. Her generous lips were a rosy shade of pink. Was that their natural colour? Bea couldn’t decide. She groaned internally to think how she looked in comparison: skin sallow, shadows under her eyes, hands dry and scaly from her work in the laundry. And this terrible uniform. She felt ashamed of the way she looked, and then annoyed with herself for feeling ashamed. She was in prison for God’s sake. What she looked like hardly mattered. She sat up straighter.

By the time Bea’s eyes made it past the straight nose and the full cheeks to her eyes, that extraordinary blue gaze was back on her again. Bea startled to be caught staring, but this time the woman’s amused scrutiny was shot through with compassion. Bea looked away in confusion.

“It’s okay, I get it,” her visitor told her in a teasing tone. “I’m guessing I’m not what you expected, but I want to reassure you that I’m well qualified to be looking after Debbie.” She waited a beat, but Bea was still recovering herself. “Not as well qualified as you, obviously, but she’s a great kid and no trouble.” Diplomatic . Bea resisted the smile that tugged at her lips. Was she to be the target of a charm offensive? Finally managing to compose herself a little, she swallowed and found her voice, attempting to answer in kind.

“No trouble? Are we talking about the same Debbie Smith?”

Allie gave out a surprised huff of laughter. Suddenly, this nervous woman who stared and then couldn’t meet her eye, who startled and yet arrested her attention, had found her voice. And what a voice. Pitched low in both tone and volume, Allie savoured it as an unearned privilege, coveting every sound. She leaned forward a little, forearms on the table, to be sure she would not miss whatever came next. She thought about what Bea had said and gave a shrug, aiming for insouciant.

“Comparatively …” she said, copying Bea’s deadpan delivery. Bea nodded thoughtfully; her lips compressed. Allie felt a burst of happiness at the idea that maybe, just maybe, she was suppressing a smile. She glanced up and noticed an unmistakable sheen of amusement lighting up Bea’s dark brown eyes. Allie’s heart thudded as her gaze was returned until, abruptly, Bea looked away, shifting uneasily in her chair and rubbing her left forearm. Wow . So cagey. Her arm. Allie sobered herself, remembering she was not here to flirt but to … what? Reassure? Be appraised? Breathing out down her nose, she clasped her hands together.

“So. What can I do for you Mrs Smith?” Allie asked, professional mask firmly back in place. Bea was silent for a moment, leaning forward on the table, almost mirroring Allie’s pose.

“I suppose I need to be sure,” she began gruffly, hesitantly. “Debbie … she talks to me on the phone, and it’s great to hear her voice, but it’s all superficial stuff … and when she comes in here … it’s hard to talk openly. She tells me some things, but I feel like there’s plenty she’s not telling me.” She swallowed audibly. “I just need to know she’s okay. Really okay. I …” she sighed in frustration. “It sounds like I’m asking you to spy on her, and that’s not it. I trust her, and I don’t expect you to break any confidences, but if there’s anything you think you can tell me I … well, I would appreciate it.” During this speech Allie dropped her gaze to the table, trying to make it easier for Bea to say what she needed to. Listening to the gravelly contralto hitch and catch on certain words it was obvious that Bea was sincerely worried for her daughter, and when Bea added, “I feel so powerless in here,” Allie felt her heart leap up in sympathy. But her responsibility to Debbie had to override her natural impulse to cooperate.

“I’d like to help, but I can’t break Debbie’s trust. You do understand, don’t you?” Allie replied, praying Bea wouldn’t be offended. “Creating and maintaining trust is a massive deal in fostering …” Bea was nodding.

“I get it. Sorry … I shouldn’t have asked,” Bea sputtered as a deep blush suffused her cheeks. Allie’s conscience was plundered again and before she had time to censor herself, she found herself conceding … something.

“But I can ask her and … if she agrees I can, you know, come again next week …” Allie felt herself blushing now, and wondered at her eagerness to help this stranger.

"I couldn't ask you to do that. I'm sure you have better things …"

"If it helps you, it helps Debbie, which is kind of my job right now," Allie replied, putting off examining her motives until later. "My work is flexible."

"That's …" Bea began. "It must be pretty shocking. Coming to a place like this. Visiting someone like me."

"Someone like you?"

“A murderer." Bea spoke it flatly and met her eyes fearlessly. Allie scoffed. For a moment she had forgotten why Bea was in here and, having met her, the word “murderer” seemed ridiculous.

"You won't be surprised to hear that Debbie has talked to me about her dad and how he treated you. I know a little bit of what he did." Bea's lips were twisting and suddenly she looked very pale, but Allie felt bound to say it. "I know why your left arm still bothers you. It's the one that he shattered with a cast iron pan whilst trying to get at Debbie when she was late home one night." Bea threw her head back with a faint sound of exasperation. Her gaze dodged from one side to the other as if seeking an escape from that memory, whilst her right hand unconsciously rubbed at her left forearm. Allie looked away to give her the moment. She really shouldn’t be annoyed, she reflected. Debbie needed to talk to someone, and Allie was the natural recipient for her feelings of guilt, powerlessness and sorrow. “I also know about the bottle attack … Debbie has a very vivid memory of that, understandably.” Bea’s lips had now twisted up into a humourless grin. It looked so pained that Allie immediately stopped talking. Shaking her head regretfully she continued. “Sorry. All I mean to say is … that you’re not a murderer. You did what you did in self-defence, or in defence of Debbie, and I’m sure all that will come out at your trial …”

“Hah!” Bea laughed contemptuously. “You clearly haven’t met my lawyer.” And she dropped her face forward, pushing the heels of her hands into her eye sockets. Allie’s hairs all pricked on end at this reaction.

“What do you mean? He’s going for self-defence, isn’t he? Or diminished responsibility?” Bea took her hands away from her face and fixed Allie with a sardonic look. She shook her head.

“No. He reckons I should plead guilty to murder. Premeditation , you see.” Allie was horrified. More than anything, it was the triumphant look on Bea’s face that scared her. Did she think she deserved to be in here? “Any evidence of abuse will maybe give me a reduced sentence.”

“But … “ Allie’s mind rebelled. “You can’t serve a long sentence. Debbie needs you,” she said angrily. Bea nodded sadly. 

"That's why I'm furious at myself." But she didn't look furious, she looked defeated. "I killed him. I … I got so mixed up towards the end. It's all much clearer now. I should have found a better way." 

"Maybe I can help."

She had killed a man. No one could help her. What was done was done and couldn't be undone. Bea looked at this strange woman in surprise. A stranger who wanted to help her. Who knew more about her than was entirely comfortable. Who put Debbie before everything else. How was she even real? Bea examined those peculiarly blue eyes in puzzlement. Still no pity. All she could read there was sympathy, the teasing humour having evaporated as the conversation had deepened. Bea sighed and made a half-hearted "go on then" gesture.

"I have contacts in Social Services, and they know lawyers. Some of those lawyers, really good ones, take on cases for free sometimes … if they think it's a deserving cause." Bea scoffed. 

"Is that what I am? A deserving cause?" she asked, the idea making her stomach lurch nauseatingly.

"Yes," she replied, so firmly Bea was taken aback. "Deserving of proper representation if nothing else." Bea must have looked unconvinced because her next words were, "Even if you find yourself undeserving, Debbie deserves everything ." Bea sat up in her chair. That was inarguable at any rate. 

"What do you suggest?" she asked, the tide of her resistance beginning to ebb. 

"Let me look into it. See if I can find someone who's interested. It's a high-profile case and it will surely play into someone’s agenda for justice for women,” Allie said in a reasonable tone.

“I don’t want to be the poster girl for battered wives,” Bea protested angrily.

“But neither do you want to spend twenty years in this place,” Allie replied, unperturbed by what Bea recognised as her unreasonable attitude. She sighed.

“Okay then,” she replied. Allie did a poor job of concealing her satisfaction with this concession and Bea was left with the feeling that she had had her pocket picked while her back was turned.

“So, in other news Debbie aced her history test …” Allie began, knowing that Debbie would not object to that piece of information being passed on. It seemed wise to change the subject before Bea could change her mind. Bea gave a faintly knowing smile.

“Good. She’s doing her homework then? Watch her with chemistry … she sometimes struggles with that and tries to avoid it if she can.” Allie nodded. “And I hope she’s pulling her weight around the house. Don’t let her fool you. She knows how to cook and do laundry,” Bea said, emphasising her point by jabbing her finger into the tabletop.

“Yeah, I’ve got her ironing her school uniform and emptying the dishwasher. I don’t want to give her too many chores. I’d rather she spent her time studying and with her friends. Plus, she’s got track and music practice to fit in …” Bea’s face suddenly split into an enormous smile, making Allie’s stomach swoop as though she was riding a rollercoaster.

“Debbie told me about the music lessons. Thank you so much for organising that." Bea uttered these words with an intensity that made Allie's heart stutter and catch. "Harry always hated that trumpet and said lessons would be a waste of money.” Feeling her eyes glaze with emotion, Allie couldn’t stop a pleased smile from taking over her face.

“She’s coming along great. She’s practising a piece called “Mexican Chill Out”. I tell you; I’m humming it everywhere. In the shower, in the car. It’s starting to sound really good.” Allie hummed a bit of the tune to give her an idea, amused when Bea looked around self-consciously. "Catchy, huh?" She hummed a bit more, mimicking a trumpet sound and Debbie's trumpet-playing face, just to see Bea squirm, which she did, until finally she burst out laughing, shaking her head at Allie's antics. Allie grinned back at her, satisfied. Was there any better feeling in the world than making a beautiful woman laugh?

Oh shit.

Allie’s smile was infectious. Her cheeks had pinked up and the way her eyes glittered put Bea in mind of sunlight on a tropical sea. Her face was stiff from smiling. Her cheek muscles ached and would not obey her instructions. She felt strangely light. Giddy. Like she usually only did with Debbie. This woman was a clown, she realised. The serious professional she had appeared to be when she had entered the room had disappeared, had been some kind of disguise.

"What got you into fostering?" she asked. Allie's eyes clouded over, and Bea silently cursed herself for dousing her happiness and turning the electric blue to a stormy grey; if only she could unask that question and resurrect the joyful Allie of a moment ago.

"Nothing good …" she ventured. Bea could see that Allie’s smile was slipping. The part that really got to Bea, though, was the way Allie tried to pretend that the question didn’t bother her. It was the counterfeit nonchalance on her face that caused Bea’s stomach to dance like a fish caught on a line. It was a mask that she might have worn herself once or twice, at the hospital or in front of a concerned neighbour.

"You don't have to answer that …" she put in hastily. Allie waved a hand dismissively. 

"It's okay," she interrupted, blinking away her anguish. "Lots of things really. My mum died when I was thirteen, so I guess I missed out on a lot of mothering myself. I have three younger brothers," Allie held up three fingers to emphasise this point, rolling her eyes, "and I did my best to fulfill the mother role for them. So when the opportunity to foster came along, I knew I could do it and that …" Allie locked eyes with her but underneath the tropical blue, Bea could see the pain and fear she was attempting to smuggle out of sight. "And that, in a weird way, I could maybe help someone else … a bit like I was helped once when I was younger and … in a difficult place." This last was spoken faintly but intently, and Bea didn't know what she meant and could only take the statement as a forging of trust between them. It was like the proverbial iceberg: more was left untold than told. But looking at her face, Bea couldn’t ask for any more, given what saying that much had clearly cost her. Bea just nodded her head rapidly. She had an impulse to reach out and grab her hand, to comfort her. She quashed it.

"Time's up, ladies," Mr Jackson boomed.

Bea watched Allie's face drop for a split second, before she grinned and got to her feet. Bea stood and braced herself in case Allie went in for a hug: she seemed like a hugger. But Allie just looked at her face thoughtfully for a long moment. 

"Nice to meet you Bea Smith. I'll be in touch."

Chapter Text

Allie hummed to herself and glanced at the time. She was early. Very early. The traffic had been unexpectedly light, she told herself. But if she interrogated her conscience, she knew the real reason that she was so early was that she had been looking forward to seeing Bea all week. This was bad: a crush on her foster child’s mother. That had to be unethical. Also, having her whole week revolve around a single hour-long meeting couldn’t be healthy. Still, a crush was just a crush, and as long as it didn’t go any further, what was the harm? Anyway, maybe it would fade with time. She scoffed. Who was she trying to fool?

The minute she had left the prison last week her brain had begun working on ways to improve life for Bea. Admittedly, as she was in prison, there was a limit to what could be done, but Allie knew that even something small would help Bea enormously given her current situation. So, as soon as she got Debbie home from school, she asked her if it would be okay for her to share some agreed information with her mother. Debbie looked shocked to even be consulted and agreed straightaway. Allie told her that if there was ever anything she didn’t want her to discuss with Bea she should just say so. As soon as that was decided Allie requested a second visit with Bea, knowing that next time she would be able to satisfy her need to know exactly how her daughter was doing.

Next came the part that Allie considered the most vital: getting Bea a lawyer who would fight for her. And not require payment. Allie put all her work on a back burner, hit the telephone and shamelessly exploited every contact she could think of until someone mentioned Josephine Pym. Looking her up online Allie found that Ms Pym had a reputation as a crusader for women’s rights and had already fought two cases in which a woman had defended herself against an abusive spouse. 

Telephoning Ms Pym's practice just allowed her to "enjoy" several conversations with an obstructive assistant who insisted that Ms Pym could not take on any more cases at the moment. Eventually Allie resorted to loitering outside the law office for several hours, armed with a folder of news stories about Bea's case. When the woman finally appeared, Allie thrust the folder into her hand before she could object. When Ms Pym looked at her in surprise Allie just told her, "I think you'll be interested in this case." Meeting her eyes, she laid it out baldly. "She needs your help." Sensing some kind of concession in the lawyer's eyes, Allie smiled. "My number's in the file," she said and walked away. 

The unorthodox approach worked. The lawyer called her back a few hours later. Allie took the call up to her bedroom and explained why she thought Bea needed and deserved proper representation. 

"What's your interest in this case, Ms Novak?" Ms Pym asked after a long pause. Allie felt herself blush. What was her interest?

"I … I'm fostering Bea's daughter," she explained. "Debbie's a great kid. She's had a tough time of it. She deserves a normal life, and for that she needs her mother back." Allie had spoken as convincingly as she was able, but she could sense Ms Pym's scepticism. 

"You speak a lot about what people deserve, Ms Novak, but in my experience the criminal justice system doesn't work that way. It's not about Mrs Smith deserving her freedom, or about Mr Smith perhaps deserving what he got. It's about what can be proven; what can be suggested; and what a jury can be convinced of." The woman spoke confidently. Allie could easily imagine her in the courtroom. She would do wonders for Bea's chances. She braced herself for a rejection, wondering what she could say that might change her mind. "Having said that, I am interested in the case. I'm prepared to meet with Mrs Smith in the first instance. If I find her credible …" But Allie was already grinning with delight and relief. 

"Thank you. Thank you so much," she gushed. 

"You should prepare yourself, and the daughter, for a gruelling case. If I take this on you should expect a long preparation period. I will most likely need both of them to testify to some extremely unpleasant facts. And there is no certainty of success …"

"I know," Allie assured her, but her heart was light and, for the moment at least, she felt sure that one day, not too far in the future, Bea would be back on the outside, where she belonged. 

After that first visit to Wentworth, Allie had driven from the prison to Debbie's school in a daze, hardly registering the traffic or the turns she made until she suddenly found herself outside the school and parked in her usual spot. She switched off the engine to wait for Debbie and sat thinking about all the things she had said and not said to Bea. No doubt there were also things that the other woman had kept quiet about, but Allie felt bad for chickening out of telling her the truth about her past. It could be argued that it was none of her business, but Allie knew deep down that the things that she had not told Bea were the exact things that a mother would want to know about the person who was looking after her child.

It was unlike her to shy away from revealing those ugly truths when people needed to know. She had exposed it all mercilessly when she went through the process of becoming a fosterer, certain that it would disqualify her. Instead, Michelle had seen the potential of having someone with her experience on the team. What she had been through would allow her to connect with young people from some very difficult backgrounds. And so it had proved.

Debbie had flung open the door and thrown herself into the passenger seat at that moment, complaining loudly about some impossible homework she had been given. Allie smiled at her. 

"Is it chemistry?" she asked, with a sly look. Debbie stared at her. 

"How did you know?" Allie shrugged and smiled, remembering what Bea had said about Debbie's antipathy to chemistry. 

"Lucky guess," she replied, turning the car towards home. "Let me know if you need some help. I'm good with chemistry."

As they drove Debbie told her about her day, speaking fluently and excitedly about her friends, her lunch, and a composition project that had been set by her music teacher. Allie kept her eyes on the road and nodded along, playing it cool, but internally thrilled that Debbie now felt able to spill out the contents of her head so freely. For now at least, the painful silences and monosyllabic answers were gone and Debbie seemed just like any other ordinary teenage girl. She was squirrelling these moments away to replay later, maybe when Debbie was less communicative, maybe to share with Bea on her next visit, when a change in Debbie's tone caught her attention. 

"So. How'd it go?"

Allie was tempted to pretend that she didn't know what Debbie meant. Would admitting that she knew that she was talking about her visit to her mum betray the fact that Bea was too much on her mind? Or would it seem more suspicious to play it dumb? Allie shifted in her seat, aware that if she left it any longer to reply Debbie would guess that something was going on.

"You didn't go, did you?" Debbie said in an accusatory tone. "I knew it …"

"Hold on," Allie put in placatingly.

"You never wanted to go; I could tell …" Debbie's temper was ratcheting up now. "You don't want anything to do with her because of what she did …" Debbie's voice was becoming raised in both volume and pitch. 

"That's not …"

" … so maybe you should just ditch me too …"

"Deb …" The girl was spilling angry tears down her face by this point. Allie glanced in her mirror and pulled over to the side of the road. It wasn't safe to drive while she was so distracted. She just hoped that Debbie wouldn't take the opportunity to run off. 

"I should just go to one of those group homes," Debbie said bleakly, wiping her face with an impatient hand. 

"Please listen …" Allie tried to interrupt, pulling on the handbrake. 

"I'm nearly an adult anyway, I don't need …" Debbie began, but trailed off when she glanced at Allie's face. Some of the pain Allie felt at Debbie almost saying that she didn't need her must have shown on her face despite her best efforts. Debbie made an angry noise of frustration and Allie recognised that it was directed inward at herself. Allie gave her a moment. "Sorry …" Debbie wiped at her face some more and took a few deep breaths. 

"It's okay," Allie replied calmly. "I understand that you may not always trust me. Hopefully I can earn that, in time," she said, picking up Debbie's hand and giving it a squeeze. Debbie looked up and they exchanged tentative smiles. Debbie sighed.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to lose it. So … did you see Mum?" Allie nodded, frowning as she remembered the barbed wire, the concrete and the sniffer dog.

"I should have gone with you," Allie said regretfully. "That first time. You shouldn't have had to face that horrible place alone."

"It's fine Allie. And it gets easier. So, did Mum give you the third degree?" Debbie asked nervously. 

"Not at all," Allie said with a smile. "She was perfectly charming." Debbie snorted.

"I doubt that ," she replied with heavy emphasis. Allie pulled a shocked face. 

"It's true!"

"What did you talk about?"

"Hm. I wonder … Could it have been a certain person that we happen to have in common?" Allie asked archly. Debbie laughed. 

"Well. It can't have gone too badly as you're still smiling." Allie regained her seriousness. 

"I liked her," she said simply. "Truly." And it was true - just not the full story. 

"I'm glad," Debbie replied with a grin. Allie grinned back, happy that she seemed to have relieved Debbie of one worry at least.

"How about we go home and I make us some jaffles?" Allie suggested. 

"Yes!" Debbie replied with an excited fist-pump. "With extra cheese!" Allie nodded. 

"Extra cheese," she confirmed. 

“We just go well together,” Allie confessed. “I think she’s the one …”

“It’s early days bubba,” Kaz interrupted, piercing Allie with her icy gaze.

“I know. But I just know I’m the right person to help Debbie, just like you were the right person to help me." Allie swallowed hard, remembering what she had put Kaz through, how patient and constant she had been with the damaged kid that Allie had been back then. It was an approach that Allie still used today with her own kids. "And leaving behind the emergency fostering for a while might be good for me. Now things are settling down with Debbie it should give me more time for you and Dad and the boys. And for work …”

“And for romance?” Kaz put in cheekily. Allie scoffed. Kaz continued, giving Allie a penetrating look. “Seriously, Allie. I know how much love you have to give. You pour it out unstintingly … but I also know that needy heart of yours. You should get yourself a girl. Look at you. You’re gorgeous, kind, talented … Why deprive some lucky woman of all that?” Allie blushed and looked at the remains of her sandwich. “Oh,” Kaz breathed. “Got your eye on someone have you?” Allie shook her head wishing that an image of Bea Smith had not popped into her mind at that moment.

“Of course not,” she protested.

“Well, good. Because a new girl just started volunteering here. She’s young, pretty and I’m not sure, but I think she might swing your way …” Kaz told her with a mischievous glint in her eye. Allie knew who she meant. Entering the refuge this morning she had noticed the new girl folding laundry as she walked through on her way to Kaz's office. Young, petite, with her dark hair cut short, she was undeniably cute. And undeniably gay, Allie having caught her interested glance. But not Allie's type. She seemed too … untried for Allie. What could they possibly have in common? Though, perhaps she shouldn't judge. Who knew what might have happened to her in her young life to lead her to volunteer at a women's refuge. 

Kaz ,” Allie protested, glaring. “Stop trying to fix me up with people will you? I can sort out my own love life …”

“Could've fooled me.” Allie tossed a grape at Kaz's face, missing by a mile. Kaz laughed and held her hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay . I won’t meddle.” They both chewed in silence for a minute. “So what else can you tell me about Debbie?” Kaz asked. “I know a lot of what you do is confidential, but there must be something.” Allie thought for a moment.

“Well … she’s sixteen. Smart, hardworking. She’s funny, talented …”

“Sounds perfect. Does she have an older sister for you?” Allie’s traitorous brain showed her an image of Bea sitting at the table in the visitor's room, smiling shyly at something Allie had said.

Kaz!

“Sorry. That was inappropriate.” She took another bite of her sandwich, swinging a little on her desk chair. “So why’s she with you? What happened with her family?”

“Um. Not sure I should say. It’s been in all the papers," Allie began. "Let's just say that her mum's somewhere where she can't help her right now." Kaz nodded thoughtfully, her eyes clouding over. Allie knew she was working it out. She dropped her sandwich back down, having suddenly lost her appetite. What if Josephine Pym couldn't get Bea's sentence reduced? Wentworth was a dangerous place. Only a few weeks ago there had been a riot in which the Governor had been murdered . The less time Bea spent in that place the better. Allie, suddenly restless, screwed up her sandwich wrapper and napkin and dumped them, with the remnants of her lunch, into Kaz's bin. "I'd better let you get back to work …" she said, standing up and looking away in an attempt to hide her mood from Kaz. Kaz just nodded but Allie knew that she had intuited something of her change of heart.

"It was good to see you, Allie. We should do this again soon." Kaz stood up and gave her a tight hug. "Make sure that you say hello to the lovely Freya on your way out!" Allie scowled.

Allie tapped on Debbie's door. "Come in …" Debbie called out. Opening the door Allie found her lying on her bed with a book in her hand, Nova nestled in her lap. 

"So that's where you got to," Allie said, talking to the cat. Debbie ran the fingers of her free hand through Nova's fur.

"She likes a good book," Debbie explained. 

"Of course she does," Allie rejoined. "I couldn't have any kind of cat except a book loving cat." She reached over to give Nova a stroke, smiling to hear her purr ratchet up a notch. "Do you know what Mark Twain said about cats?" Debbie shook her head. Probably couldn't care less, Allie thought, but ploughed on anyway. "Something along the lines that you can have a happy, comfortable home but the only way of proving that you have a happy, comfortable home is by having a well-fed, content cat." Debbie smiled. 

"I like that."

"What have you got there?" Allie asked, gesturing to the book in Debbie's hand. Debbie held it out so that Allie could read the title on the spine. " Little Women , huh?"

"An old favourite," Debbie replied. Allie nodded. Comfort read , she thought.

"I didn't have you down as a fan of classic literature," Allie admitted.

"I'm not usually . I just love the idea of those four girls growing up together. All the fun and noise and mess …" Allie scoffed. 

"I hate to break it to you but being one of four isn't as much fun as it sounds."

"That's right," Debbie said. "You have all those brothers."

"And it was definitely noisy and messy! Sometimes I just longed for some peace and quiet." Allie thought about Debbie growing up as an only child. True, she didn't have the bother of younger siblings, and she had the loving mother that Allie had missed out on, but her childhood had been far from peaceful. She sighed. "The grass is always greener, huh?" she said ruefully. Debbie didn't answer, just blinked rapidly and concentrated on stroking the cat. "Anyway," Allie continued. "The reason I came up was to tell you that there’s a possibility of a new lawyer for your mum." Debbie's eyes flew up to meet Allie's. "Nothing's certain yet, so don't get your hopes up, but if she takes the case, she'll fight against the murder charge." Debbie surged to her feet, depositing Nova on the bed.

"Really ?" Allie nodded. "But that's … brilliant ." Allie smiled and nodded. 

"But the thing is … If it goes ahead … you and your mum will be asked lots of questions. Intrusive questions … about your dad. Questions you might not want to answer." Debbie's face had paled. "So, I'm raising it now to give you some time to think about how that would feel. And which things you might be prepared to talk about. And which things you wouldn't. You should probably get into it with your therapist." Debbie nodded her understanding but looked so disconcertingly like Bea in that moment that Allie felt her heart rattle against her ribs. What was that shared emotion that Allie had seen on both of their faces? A hot rush of realisation ran through her. Shame . That's what that was. And the injustice of either of them being ashamed of what had been done to them took her breath away.

Chapter Text

Bea was restless, pacing the unit. Some kind of urgent chemical was racing through her veins making her heart operate at what must be approaching double its normal rate. It was an unfamiliar feeling, but she knew it for what it was. Excitement. And with good reason: she had them all lined up beneath her breastbone. Her thank yous. For Allie.

She knew she was making a show of herself but didn't seem to be able to stop. Boomer loitered in her doorway chewing on a Cherry Ripe. Her head followed Bea from side to side as if she was watching a tennis match, a look of mild entertainment on her face. Liz and Doreen were sitting on the sofa, pretending not to notice. But Franky … Franky was grinning. Draped around Kim, who was trying to get her full attention, Franky could scarcely contain herself.

"So, Red. Who's the hot blonde?" she called in a teasing tone as Bea passed her again. Bea scowled and tutted. 

"You know who. Debbie's foster carer," she replied sullenly. Franky grinned triumphantly. 

"Good to know you think she's hot, but I meant yesterday's hot blonde." Bea felt herself flush up dramatically. She'd fallen into one of Franky’s traps again. Franky guffawed gleefully at Bea’s discomfiture. Allie was just on her mind, that’s all, Bea thought, her visit due any minute.

Truthfully, Allie had been on her mind all week. Immediately after Allie had left last week, as soon as she was alone in her room, she had replayed the visit and everything that was said. Lots of what happened made an irrepressible smile spread across her face. But other parts made her want to pound her head against the wall or tear her hair out in embarrassment. Why did she have to be so useless at talking to people? Allie must have come to the conclusion that she was some kind of social inadequate, what with the silences and the blushing and the staring. Bea did have a tendency to be a little socially awkward but, unless she was imagining it, it was worse than usual around Allie. That would be the last she would see of her, she had concluded.

So it was something of a shock to receive, first of all, a visitation request from Allie herself, followed by a second, from a new lawyer that Allie had identified: Josephine Pym. Josephine Pym was the “hot blonde” that Franky had spotted.

“My lawyer,” Bea muttered. Franky frowned in confusion. 

"What happened to the gormless, sweaty guy?" she asked. 

"Allie found me this new lawyer who reckons she can knock the charge down to manslaughter and minimise my sentence."

"Oh, miracle worker, is she? How's she gunna do that?" Bea shrugged, preferring not to reveal that she had agreed to see a forensic psychologist. Getting a reduced sentence would depend on the shrink determining that she was suffering from diminished responsibility when she killed Harry. He or she would need to say that her judgement had been impeded by years of living under Harry's violence and control. Just thinking about talking about all that had happened made her turn hot and cold.

Then she remembered the photos. Distracted from thoughts of Harry, she gripped her own ribs in a delighted hug. This was another thing to thank Allie for. In the mail she had received three new photographs of Debbie: honest to goodness glossy prints. Bea had been made up when she had tipped them out of the envelope onto her bed, as her only photo of Debbie had been damaged during a ramp and, although Doreen had fixed it for her, it was still looking a bit tatty. The new photographs showed Debbie sitting on a strange couch with a white and tortoiseshell cat in her lap; reclining in an unfamiliar, sunny backyard; and, in the third shot, sitting at a smart, new-looking desk in what must now be her bedroom. At first Bea had found it unsettling to see her daughter in these unknown settings, but once she had got used to it, it was actually comforting to be able to visualise Debbie's new life, to see that everything appeared to be clean and well ordered. And safe.

And then there was the letter. Bea couldn't remember the last time she had received an actual handwritten letter. Allie's loopy scrawl was unexpected and her turn of phrase unusual, but the thoughtful contents and teasing tone were exactly in line with the woman Bea had met in the visitors’ room last week. It was chock-full of the kind of incident and detail that only a parent could relish, so Debbie must have given permission for Allie to share pretty much whatever she liked. She had read it over and over, and already the paper was beginning to soften and wear at the folds.

“Maybe you can get your hot new lawyer to rescue Franky too,” Kim suggested. Turning to Franky with a pout she added, “You need to get out of here soon, baby. When I’m released, I’ll be missing you so bad …” Franky grinned at her, hooked her arm around her neck and pulled her in for a long, messy kiss. Bea looked away, uncomfortable.

She turned her thoughts to Debbie, wondering what news of her Allie would bring today, remembering how buoyant she had seemed at their last visit. 

"Hi baby," Bea whispered into Debbie's ear as she hugged her. 

"Hey mum," Debbie said self-consciously, glancing over her shoulder nervously. 

"Everything okay?" Bea asked. Debbie smiled and focussed on her face. 

"Sure." They sat down.

"Thanks for the package you sent in. The teabags and everything. All my favourites …"

"No problem."

"When Liz saw it, she said that you were one of the good ones …"

"It's the least I could do, Mum."

"Little luxuries like that go a long way in here. So, thanks Deb." Debbie rolled her eyes. 

"Allie picked them up for me when she went to the supermarket."

"But I know it was your idea …"

" Mum …" Debbie complained in that special tone of voice teenagers reserve for embarrassing parents.

"Okay, I'll stop going on now," Bea allowed with a smile. She pressed her lips closed, anxiously scanning her daughter's face. Was she really alright? She waited for Debbie to volunteer something. Anything. Something from the outside. Something that wasn't a grudge or a hustle. A shove on the basketball court. A surreptitious drug hand-off. A dining hall power play over pudding. But the silence stretched out. 

"So …"

"Allie said …" They both began at the same time. Bea huffed out a laugh, Debbie smiled. 

"What were you going to say?" Bea asked. Debbie shrugged. 

"Only that Allie said that she liked meeting you." And just like that Bea's lips started to curve up into a smile. She tried to make her face muscles hold the line of her lips horizontal. It was a losing battle and Debbie watched her twitch and grimace with a dubious expression on her face. 

“Oh, yeah?” Bea said, once she had managed to get her face in order. Debbie nodded. “Well, I have to say I was surprised by how young she is. But impressed by how professional she seems …” Debbie started laughing. "What?" Bea asked. Debbie shook her head, a broad smile on her face. 

"You wouldn't say that if you saw her clowning about in the house." Bea thought about how, by the end of the visit, Allie had made her laugh and eased her fears. 

"What do you mean?" Bea asked, her head suddenly fizzing with curiosity.

"Ugh," Debbie groaned in mock despair. "She's a total klutz, so accident prone. And such a child sometimes … in a fun way. Last night when she was cooking dinner and dancing around the kitchen as usual to that horrendous music she likes, she hadn't noticed that her shoelace had come undone. So she nearly wipes herself out tripping into the table, then she burns her wrist putting the pizza into the oven. All the time she's singing at the top of her voice, apart from when she's swearing like a trooper …" Bea listened attentively, unable to prevent her smiles and laughter from mirroring those of her daughter. "And then some song comes on the radio and she drags me into the kitchen saying that I have to dance with her because this is the best song ever …" Debbie was dissolving into laughter, remembering what had happened. 

"What was it?" Bea asked, too eagerly. "What was the song?" Debbie waved her hand airily. 

"Oh, I don't know. Some old-timey thing. The kind of thing you'd listen to." Bea pulled a shocked face, pretending to be offended by Debbie's comment, but at least half of her brain was visualising the scene that Debbie had described. Imagining the way Allie's eyes would have shimmered with pleasure; how the pink bow of her lips would have parted in a smile, showing her straight white teeth; how Debbie would have resisted at first, laughing … "Mum …" Debbie's concerned voice brought her back to the present. "You know she'll never take your place, right?" 

"What? I wasn't thinking that," she denied quickly. Debbie scanned her face anxiously and Bea became aware of the tears that were standing out in her eyes. She took her daughter’s hand and squeezed it in reassurance. "It's not that Deb … It's … I'm happy that you have someone who doesn't just look after you but who you can have fun with. It sounds like the two of you get along and that she likes having you around." Bea clenched her jaw hard, until her teeth ached and the tears dried where they stood. When she spoke again her voice was full of salt and gravel, the words dredged up through her throat from some silted-up emotional estuary. She swallowed painfully. "As I can't be with you right now, I'm glad you've got Allie," she admitted, nodding to herself, recognising the truth of those words. 

"Yeah, me too," Debbie said in a close whisper. "Especially since she's put herself on a mission to rescue you." The hugeness of that mission and the generosity of Allie’s impulses caused Bea’s eyes to close involuntarily for a second and required another heavy swallow for the importance of the idea to be ingested. She cleared her throat and spoke again.

"Yeah, I got the paperwork about this lawyer she's found. Think she'll be any good?" Debbie nodded vigorously, her hair bouncing.

“Sure to be. Allie spent days being very secretive on the phone. I only found out afterwards that she was scouring Melbourne for the perfect lawyer. Someone who will fight for you, she said.” Bea felt her face heat up. “What?” Debbie asked. Bea shrugged helplessly.

“I was going to say that I don’t know why she bothers, but it’s obvious when you think about it,” she said hoarsely. 

“She wants to help you …” Debbie explained as if she was talking to a small child.

“She wants to help you,” Bea countered. Debbie tsked impatiently.

“Is it not possible for both things to be true?” Debbie asked, as if she was talking to an even smaller child. Internally, Bea had to concede that it was possible. Her lips began to twitch up again. She quickly glanced at her daughter to see if she had noticed. Debbie’s eyes were watchful, but what she made of what she saw Bea couldn’t tell. “I think she might be the friend we never knew we needed,” Debbie said seriously, her eyes scouring Bea’s face. All Bea could do was nod humbly.

Dear Bea,

Here it is, a letter you never asked for, from a person you hardly know, about God only knows what. I hope that the enclosed photos will justify the liberty I’m taking in writing to you. I don’t know what your room is like, but I’m taking a guess that it’s bland enough to be enlivened by a few pictures of Debbie. Also, I hope that by now you have received a visitation request from Josephine Pym. She's the lawyer that I said I would try to find for you. She hasn’t promised to take your case, but if she is as impressive in person as she was over the phone, I think you would be well advised to try to get her to represent you.

It hardly seems appropriate to ask someone in your situation how they are and what they have been doing, which would be the traditional opening for a letter, so instead I will tell you what's been going on here. Debbie is fine (sorry, I should have opened with that, shouldn't I?). She brought her friend Chloe over after school yesterday. I think you know Chloe: with the pink streaks in her hair, the piercings and, well, the piercing voice. She's a lovely girl but I was a little worried that my neighbours, who are extremely tolerant, even of Debbie's trumpet practice, would be banging on the door to complain once Chloe started up. Anyway, it makes me happy to know that Debbie feels relaxed enough here to bring her friends round for me to feed.

Boy these kids can eat! Sometimes it seems like Debbie is going to scrape the glaze off the plate at mealtimes. I’m now discovering that a more substantial breakfast helps reduce the whining later in the day. So, it’s Weet-Bix followed by eggs and toast or one of my ultimate bacon sangers (featuring a fried egg, grated cheese and tomatoes - don’t worry, I’ll give you the recipe sometime). I thought Debbie was going to barf the other day when I gave her an egg mayo sandwich for lunch. Turns out she can’t stand the smell and never has been able to. A little warning would have been nice, Bea! Seems I can’t go wrong with pizza though. I didn’t know it was possible for someone of her size to disappear quite that many slices. She doesn’t approve of pineapple on pizzas though. Does she get that from you, I wonder?

You could also have warned me that your daughter is a total ninja at Monopoly. She bankrupted me three times in a row …

...

Before I go, I wanted to ask you what you thought about my dad and brothers meeting Debbie. I don’t want Debbie to think I’m excluding her from the rest of my family, but at the same time I’m aware that you might be concerned that she could integrate too much. I’m very conscious that I only have Debbie ‘on loan’. You mustn’t worry. I know she’s your daughter and I’m very invested in the two of you being reunited as soon as possible. I’m not trying to steal her or anything, but she might benefit from being in a larger family circle. My youngest brother, Joe, is only a few years older than Debbie, and I think they might hit it off. I’ll be seeing you in a couple of days, anyway. Hopefully. I’ve sent in a visitation request. I’m assuming you got it. Anyway, I’m rambling, so I’ll stop now and we can discuss it when I see you.

Love, Allie.

Pausing in her pacing for a moment, Bea turned over in her mind Allie’s request for Debbie to meet her family. It was uncanny how Allie had identified her insecurities so accurately. It made her anxious to imagine Debbie being pulled into a loving family containing all the things that Bea hadn't been able to give her: a devoted dad and brothers who would tease her and look out for her. 

Bea had become pregnant again when Debbie was three. She survived the beating that Harry gave her when she told him, but she was uneasy about the health of the baby. She booked a scan and was informed that the baby had ceased developing, which turned out to be code for "dead". Bea was forced to go into hospital for what was termed a "medically managed miscarriage". That was another way of saying that she would be given a drug that would force her body to expel the remains of her dead child. Harry didn't come with her of course, and whilst most women wouldn't want to go through something like that on their own, Bea was grateful to be able to mourn in peace.

After that Bea never conceived again. For a few years she had puzzled over whether Harry had damaged her so badly that she couldn't get pregnant again. His sexual interest in her had dwindled over the years, thank goodness, so perhaps that was the reason there were no more children. But Bea preferred to think that it was her hatred of Harry that prevented his seed from taking root, an idea that gave her a certain satisfaction. 

But even now, all these years later, she thought about the child she had lost, tracking its age, wondering if it was a boy or a girl, and in her bleaker moments deciding it was better off unborn. What would it have been like to have had a second child? Would it have made any of them happier? Was it possible that that child could have eased their explosive family life? Or would it just have been one more person in the firing line? One more young life blighted by violence. One more bottomless hole for Bea to shovel her guilt into. 

Bea knew that the right thing to do was to allow Debbie to benefit, not only from Allie's care, but from the normalcy that becoming a part of a larger family unit would bring. Bea had, out of necessity, begun to build her own family inside Wentworth and it would be perverse not to allow Debbie to do the same on the outside. So Debbie would become part of the Novak clan for a while, but Bea would reclaim her the moment she got out of here. The campaign for her freedom was about to be launched, thanks to Allie, and Bea was abruptly determined to do whatever it took to make that campaign a success. Stilling, she shook out her shoulders, clenched and unclenched her fists, and waited calmly for Mr Jackson to fetch her for her visit. 

Chapter Text

Allie looked different this week. Bea hardly recognised her, practically doing a comic double-take as Allie crossed the room towards her. Today that shiny hair was down around her shoulders, swinging a little with her step. She must have caught the sun, as her cheeks were quite pink making the blue of her eyes a more shocking shade than seemed possible. A rapid rake of her eyes down Allie's tall frame revealed her to be dressed casually in faded cropped jeans and a fitted old-gold t-shirt with some kind of printed graphic. Her feet sported a pair of new-looking bright turquoise runners over tiny white socks. She looked like what she was: a beautiful girl, and the informal outfit emphasised her youth to a startling degree. 

Bea got to her feet, her nerves jangling. Once Allie reached her they both dithered for a moment. Allie looked surprisingly flustered, and Bea wondered what greeting was appropriate given everything that seemed to have happened in the past week: a handshake or a hug. In the end she opted for a wave that invited Allie to sit. Once they were both seated Bea opened her mouth to begin with her thank yous, but the smile that now kindled in Allie’s eyes and crossed her face like a trail of beacons caused the words to dry up in her throat. What could be making her smile like that? After a moment Bea became aware of that strange ache in her own face which meant that, unexpectedly, she was smiling, hard.

"Hi!" Allie exclaimed, so delightedly that Bea could only shake her head and, with a slight laugh, avert her eyes to the table top. Who could be so pleased to be in a place like this, even for an hour? Looking up without raising her head she could see that Allie was still smiling at her, looking not at all embarrassed by either Bea’s silence or her own abundant cheer.

“Hi …” Bea finally said, her voice coming out not much louder than a faint croak. She cleared her throat self-consciously, but Allie seemed hardly to notice, lifting her hands to tug at her own t-shirt.

“Look! I wore this for you!” Bea focussed on the design on Allie’s chest. At the top was a large bee in flight, and beneath its tail was a looping trail that seemed to spell something out. She turned her head to one side to decipher the twisting script. “Let it,” Allie said before she could make it out. “Let it bee, Bea,” she said with a laugh, peering down at her own chest. “Corny, I know, but when I remembered I had it I couldn’t resist wearing it today.” She paused expectantly. Bea was smiling to herself at the thought of Allie putting an outfit together for her benefit, but decided to play it cool, straightening her face and flattening her tone.

“That’s … bee-rilliant Allie,” she intoned sarcastically, catching her eye, pleased to see an answering glimmer. Allie gave her arm a playful shove.

“Hey!” she protested. “At least I made an effort!” She gestured at Bea’s prison issue t-shirt and hoodie. Bea kept her face straight until Allie began to panic. “I’m sorry, that was insensitive ... “ she began, looking stricken. Bea smiled to let her know that she was only teasing. Allie gave an explosive gasp of relieved laughter. 

"Anyway," Bea went on, feeling unusually confident. "I don't know what you mean. Teal features strongly in the Wentworth collection this year …" Allie laughed some more and Bea smiled along, enjoying the effect she was having. She wasn't usually like this with people, except maybe Debbie. With her colleagues at the salon, and even with the women on her unit, she was usually more serious, more reserved, but something about Allie brought out a lighter side. 

On first spotting Bea across the visitor's room, Allie was momentarily frozen. She must have forgotten. How could she have forgotten? She had been thinking about Bea all week and yet somehow she had forgotten how impossibly beautiful she was. Or maybe she hadn't noticed properly last week. Maybe it was only now that she was feeling the full effect: the glorious hair; the incredible bone structure; the adorable trace of worry on her face; and more than anything, the compact frame, something about which made her arms ache. Gripping her own elbows she felt a blush spread up from her chest to her cheeks, her stomach flipped and her heart pounded. Taking a deep breath she concentrated on walking as normally as possible considering her weakened knees and made her way over to Bea.

Standing in front of her, Allie had to stop herself from hugging her and, although last week she would have said that Bea definitely wouldn't welcome such an intimacy, this week she wasn't so sure. Her eyes were on Allie's, her shoulders were back, chin up, and she seemed subtly more confident than at their last meeting. But whilst she processed these impressions time skipped along and the moment was lost.

Sitting down, facing Bea, soaking up the satisfaction of being in her presence, Allie's heart expanded in her chest like a suddenly submerged sponge. Such relief, that swelling, that softening of a calloused part of her. She had not even been aware of its withered state until that moment, but now she was teeming with happiness, with love. Maybe Kaz was right: she had been neglecting a necessary part of herself.

She could feel that she was smiling hugely, inappropriately so, but Bea was smiling back so, not only did she not care, but she smiled even more broadly at the thought that Bea was actually pleased to see her. And when Bea looked shyly at the table, still smiling, Allie's heart beat so hard she felt a little dizzy. 

Lightheaded, she drew attention to her t-shirt, not even with-it enough to care if Bea thought it was stupid. " Bee-rilliant", Bea teased. Allie laughed. She couldn't have been more proud or pleased if Bea had split the atom or … taken her hand … or something equally momentous. A thrill ran through her. Half of her brain was occupied with Bea and her banter, whilst the other half was imagining how it would feel to have Bea take her hand across the table. Her touch would be gentle, maybe even cautious; her hand would feel cool in Allie's warmer one; and if her brown eyes found the courage to raise themselves to Allie's, they would be full of doubt, questioning, asking permission …

Allie abruptly became aware that Bea was staring at her hand where it lay on the table. Did she somehow know what she had been thinking about? Shocked by the thought, Allie quickly drew her hand back into her lap. Glancing at Bea's now serious face, she watched as Bea's lips parted with the clear intention of speaking. Illogically terrified that Bea was about to call her out on her improper thoughts, she interrupted her by launching into the first topic that came to mind.

"So, Bea, I could really do with your advice about Debbie’s trumpet valves …" she blurted. Bea's left eyebrow quirked. 

Bea swallowed back her thanks for the second time, confused by Allie’s sudden change of conversational direction.

“Um … okay. What about them?”

“So, we take them out to clean them, but then when we put them back in, the trumpet won’t play right and we have to spend ages taking them out and putting them back in until eventually it plays … but we’re never sure what we did right … or wrong … in the first place.” Allie delivered this whole sentence, if it could be called a sentence, in one breathless rush whilst apparently staring at a spot on the wall a few centimetres above Bea’s right ear. When she stopped speaking her eyes flicked to Bea’s for a moment before whisking away again. Bea didn’t know whether to be amused or concerned by her sudden change in demeanour. Eventually she settled for replying very slowly and calmly as though she was speaking to Kaiya when she got upset.

“When the valves start sticking, only take one out at a time so you don't get them muddled up. Clean that valve using just a tiny bit of the valve oil and the cloth from the pocket of Debbie’s trumpet case. When it’s clean, slide it back in, and this is important …” she paused a moment and was rewarded by Allie’s flighty gaze resting on hers again. “You’ll see a faint number etched near the top of the valve - one, two or three, depending on its position - make sure that number is facing directly at the mouthpiece. Then, when you screw it back in, the valve will be lined up properly and you shouldn’t have any trouble with it.” Bea noticed that Allie had begun to return her gaze again whilst she spelled out the steps for trumpet maintenance and that, by the time she had finished speaking, her composure was back in place.

"Thanks. I'll try that next time," Allie replied, smiling and leaning forward again. 

"How's the practice going?" Bea asked, remembering Allie's rendition of Debbie's tune from last week. Allie grinned in such a way that Bea wondered if she was thinking of the same thing.

"Definitely improving," she replied emphatically with a nod. "Nova doesn't agree though. Every time Debbie starts warming up, her little ears go back and she slinks out of the room." Allie smiled right into her eyes. Feeling slightly dazzled, Bea could only nod in return. "But generally those two are inseparable. If I ever wonder where Nova is, she's always to be found in Debbie's room." Bea cleared her throat. 

"Debbie always loved animals," she said quietly, looking at the table. Her heart started pounding, knowing what she was planning to reveal, wondering if it was a good idea, but unable to stop herself. "There was a cat visiting our garden last year. A young black cat with white paws. Debbie christened him Tip-Toes. Every time she saw him through the window, she would run out to him and stroke him." Bea looked up to find Allie watching her carefully. Somehow she had intuited that this was no light-hearted anecdote. Her face reflected that she was listening attentively, that she wanted to understand. A bubble of gratitude welled up in Bea that there was another human who wanted to know and understand Debbie as well as she did. 

"Harry hated that cat. He would never say anything to Debbie, but to me he would complain that it would mess in the garden and kill the birds." Bea scoffed. "Not that he cared about those things. He just hated how much Debbie adored that cat. Wanted her attention for himself." Bea stopped. Her mouth was dry and she was suddenly unsure that she could go through with it and tell the whole story. "He told me to find out who it belonged to. I didn't want to do that. I knew he would go round there and make a scene … get into a fight even. Besides, Debbie would be upset if the cat stopped coming … so I didn't do anything."

Shame heated her cheeks and brought tears to her eyes. Don't cry, don't cry , she begged herself, staring at the table. If she opened her mouth to speak now, she knew that it wouldn't be words that came out, it would be years and years’ worth of tears. She had stored up her shame and disappointment for so long that if she let it out now, how would she ever stop?

“It’s okay Bea. You don’t have to tell me if it’s too hard.” Allie’s voice was so tender that it only made Bea want to cry more. Unable to look up at Allie’s face, she looked at Allie’s hands instead. Just like earlier, she noticed the shiny red mark at the base of her thumb, just where it joined her wrist. Bea had burned herself on the oven in exactly that way so many times that it was easy to recognise it as the injury that Debbie had mentioned at her last visit. Now it was all she could do to resist the temptation to reach out and sooth the mark with her thumb. A sudden sympathetic pain ran through her, such as she hadn’t felt since Debbie was small and had fallen and scraped her knee or some such childish injury. She felt a sudden rush of anger that this woman should bring out this softness in her. It didn’t help her; it couldn’t help her, not in here.

Allie almost recoiled at the sudden tension that bristled through Bea’s body. Whatever she had been about to tell her about Debbie and the cat was clearly very upsetting, but now she seemed filled with a quite unexpected rage. What had she done to precipitate it? What could she now do to calm her down? Bea was staring at her hand again so, almost without thinking, as if in a trance, she pushed her hand across the table a little and turned it over so that her palm was uppermost in what she hoped was a clear invitation. Heart pounding at her boldness, she flexed her fingers a little in a suggestive beckoning motion. Hearing Bea make an almost inaudible huff of laughter she began to smile to herself, though still not daring to raise her eyes to Bea’s.

“I was looking at this, actually,” Bea said in a low voice, reaching out and tracing the burn on her wrist with the tip of her index finger. Her touch was cool and soothing against the hot skin of Allie's wrist, but the rest of her body lit up as if a million tiny droplets of rain had swept across her flesh in a split second. A shiver ran through her and Bea abruptly withdrew her hand so that Allie's was left lying there on the table between them like a starfish stranded on the sand. Allie blinked dumbly at it for a moment before curling her fingers over her palm and drawing it back into her body protectively.

"I burned myself …" Allie replied, her voice little more than a breath.

" … on the oven," Bea finished for her. Allie's eyes flew up to Bea's in surprise. "Debbie told me," Bea explained with a twisted smile. Allie noticed that the sudden rage had fled her body, though her eyes still held on to it, iron-cold fragments lodged in the spokes of her warm brown irises. "She told me all about you singing and dancing in the kitchen," Bea added with a touch of mischievousness. Allie's face flooded with heat to imagine Bea and Debbie talking about her when she wasn't there. But of course they must, Allie realised. Bea was forever checking that Debbie was alright and that necessitated making sure that Allie was treating her well. 

"I was pretty awesome," Allie mock bragged to cover her embarrassment. Bea nodded solemnly. 

"Uh huh," she replied sarcastically. "I heard how you tripped over your shoelaces." Allie couldn't help blushing again, but she no longer cared. Bea's eyes had warmed through and she seemed to have returned to her former good humour. "What was it?" Bea was asking when Allie became aware she was speaking again. 

"What was what?" she asked, wondering if she had missed something when she was thinking about Bea's eyes.

"The best song ever." Allie's mind was blank and it must have shown. Bea looked faintly disappointed. "It's what you said to Debbie about the music you were dancing to." Allie scoured her memory. What had it been? Bea's face was dropping. Shit. C'mon, think! And then it was there in her mind. For a second she almost just blurted it out, but at the last moment it occurred to her that she could have some fun with Bea and so she began humming the melody and performing a slight groove in her seat. Predictably, Bea began to squirm and look around to see if people had noticed. Allie began to sing quietly along with her weird seated dance. 

" When you cut the lights out think of me ," she sang, giving Bea an exaggeration of a suggestive look until she smiled and shook her head. 

" When you cut the lights out, think of all the things you can't see," she sang a little louder, holding the tune pretty well she thought.

"But are they re-a-l?" People were definitely looking now. Bea had covered her eyes with her hand and was sliding her body under the table as much as possible whilst remaining seated.

"That face will be rev-e-e-aled … rev-e-e-aled … rev-e-e-aled," Allie sang, doing her best to impersonate Jake Shears, increasing the volume and stretching out the final word until she could detect Bea's shoulders shaking with laughter. Someone somewhere in the room gave her an ironic clap or two. When she noticed that one of the prison guards was giving her a wary look she smiled at him and mimed zipping her lips closed. 

When Bea was upright again, Allie was delighted to see how her face had opened up and her eyes danced with amusement. Her heart swelled to be the cause of her pleasure. 

"Scissor Sisters, right?" Bea asked. Allie pointed at her in confirmation; thumb up like she was firing a gun.

"Right. You're on the team," Allie told her. Bea looked puzzled. "When you get out of here. You, me, Debbie … maybe one of my brothers? There's a quiz night at this pub near me …" Allie trailed off. She could have bitten her tongue. How stupid was she to a). mention Bea getting out when none of them knew how far off that might be and b). to bring up Debbie and Joe in the same sentence when Bea hadn’t so much as alluded to what she thought about Allie’s suggestion that Debbie be introduced to her family. But when Allie checked Bea’s eyes they were still smiling although her face was sombre.

“It’s okay,” she said in a confidential tone, as though she knew exactly what Allie had been thinking. “But I might be a while. You should form that team and I’ll join up later, if that’s okay …” More than okay , Allie thought, feeling teary at Bea’s perceptive response. “And … well, I’ve been trying to say thank you for everything ever since you arrived …” Bea continued until she was interrupted by an announcement.

“Visiting time is now over. Could visitors please make their way …” Allie could see Bea’s jaw clench in frustration.

Damn it!

Bea felt like punching the table. The only thing she had on her mind when she came into this visit was thanking Allie and it was the one thing that she hadn’t managed to do.

“There’s no need,” Allie said sweetly.

“I disagree,” Bea growled. All around them people were standing and saying a last goodbye. Bea remained rooted to her chair, unwilling to admit that time, which usually passed so slowly in here, had escaped her.

“Write to me,” Allie said, standing up.

“What?”

“Write to me. You can thank me in your letter … and tell me what you think about my idea of Debbie meeting my family …”

“I think it’s a great idea,” Bea said quickly, not at all sold on the idea of writing a letter.

“Smith. Time to go,” Miss Bennett called in a strict voice, having noticed that she was the only one still seated. Bea got to her feet reluctantly.

“Good,” Allie said with a smile. “But still … write to me?” It was pretty much a plea this time and Bea found that she couldn’t refuse. Looking at her feet, she nodded, wondering what she could possibly have to put in a letter. And then, she didn’t know how it happened, Allie was embracing her. It should have felt strange: Allie’s arms were snug around her shoulders and Bea found her own arms coming to a natural rest around Allie’s waist, whilst her face was suddenly inside the fragrant curtain of her hair. It wasn’t the kind of hug she had experienced with other friends, where only the very top of their bodies would meet. It was a full body hug. Allie was pressed against her from shoulders to knees; their feet having somehow found a natural alternating pattern to allow this. She had the strongest impulse to just sag against her, to allow Allie to support her, but her mind fought it, as though to succumb would be to dissolve. She felt herself begin to tremble with the twin strains of yearning and resisting, and quickly stepped back before Allie could notice.

“So, yeah,” she husked awkwardly. “Next week?”

“Next week,” Allie said with a look, the significance of which Bea couldn’t interpret “Bye, Bea.”

“Bye,” she replied, the melancholy cadence of that word matching the sinking of her heart.

Chapter Text

Allie pulled Bea's letter out of her bag. She still had a few minutes before it was time to go in and she wanted to reread it. She had read it so many times in the last few days that she almost had it by heart, but after this morning's realisation … well, it might seem different. 

Dear Allie, 

You wanted me to write and so I will do my best to write something that you will enjoy reading, although being locked up in here, there is not much to tell. Sorry about the notepaper. I don't have any so I borrowed some from Boomer. I'm not sure why she has this Eiffel Tower stuff; I'm sure she's never left the country. 

Starting from the beginning, I want to say thank you. It's what I wanted to say when I saw you, but we seemed to talk about everything and nothing and then the time was all gone. It's a shame that the time doesn't pass so quickly when I'm working in the laundry or when Franky is telling us about how irresistible women find her. 

Thank you for Josephine Pym. She has agreed to take my case on for no fee as long as I meet a couple of conditions. She seems so much more capable than the other guy was and wants me to get a short sentence, although she won't say how short.

Thank you for the photos of Debbie. Such lovely pictures of her. I look at them every morning when I wake up and at night before I go to sleep. Your home looks beautiful and so, thank you again for opening it up to Debbie. 

Thank you for your letter. It was so unexpected. Some of the other women get letters. Franky gets loads from her so-called fans. I call them a bunch of creeps. I never expected to get any letters. It was a surprise and I enjoyed listening to everything you had to tell me about Debbie. But you can write about other things if you like. If you write back, I mean. Even ordinary things seem pretty exotic from in here. 

It looked like Bea had taken a break at this point, because the writing looked slightly different in the rest of the letter. 

I’ve just had the first of my sessions with the clinical psychologist. I don’t think I told you that seeing a shrink was one of the things that Ms Pym said was necessary for my defence. I’m supposed to tell her what it was like living with Harry and at the end of it I guess she is supposed to be able to give a psychological reason for why I killed him. Something more technical than “he was a bastard and I couldn’t take it anymore”. I was nervous before I went in but she has quite a calming manner, so it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I’m not sure I said anything helpful but she said not to worry and that it would take quite a few sessions to get through it all. She asked me some questions that made me think, but I reckon she went easy on me today, didn’t want to scare me off.

I wanted to say that I think it’s a good idea if Debbie meets your family, if you still want her to. She has never known what it’s like to have grandparents, siblings, cousins, any of that. It was always just the three of us. Maybe she’s too old to really benefit from it now, I don’t know, but I would like it if she took to them and got to see how a family could really be if it wasn't all screwed up. So I hope you have already set something up. If not, get a move on ...

“Deb, are you busy on Sunday?” Allie asked, having tracked her down to the hammock in the backyard.

“I don’t think so. Why?” she asked, not even looking up from her phone.

“Well … I would like it if you would meet my family, so … if you're free, I'll invite them." Debbie's head came up quickly, like she'd been stung.

"Whaddya mean meet your family?" she asked, sounding a bit garbled, her eyes large in her little face. 

"Only if you want to," Allie reassured her. "They're nice. I mean, they're okay, you know, for family. They can be a bit annoying, to be honest. But you know … they're my family, so I have to … " She stopped talking, realising that she was only doing it to fill Debbie's silence. Instead she watched as her face changed with the pattern of her thoughts, like clouds fleeing across the sky.

"Who would it be?"

"So I guess it would be Robbie and his wife Claire, Freddo and Joe. My dad. Maybe Kaz if she can get away from work." She paused to allow that to be absorbed. "Or if that's a bit much, I could just invite a couple of them, or we could just meet my dad for a coffee."

"No it's okay. They should come here," Debbie said thoughtfully. "You've not seen them since I've been living here, have you?" Allie was concerned that she might feel bad about it, but looking at her expression, she just looked curious. 

"I've been texting them and talking to them on the phone, but no, I've not seen them. I wanted to check with your mum first, see if she thought it was a good idea," Allie explained. 

"What did she say?" Debbie asked, rolling out of the hammock and coming to her feet. 

"She was all for it," Allie replied, smiling at the memory of Bea blurting out her approval right at the end of the visit. 

"Do you usually introduce your foster kids to your family?" Debbie asked, giving her that shy look that she shared with her mother. 

"No," Allie admitted. "This will be the first time. Does that make you feel weird? Being a special case?" Debbie laughed and shook her head. 

"No! Because I'm the one you kept," she replied cheekily. Her happy confidence in Allie's wish to keep her around caused joy to flash hotly through Allie's mind.

"Damn right," Allie replied as Debbie stepped into her arms, giving her a quick squeeze. She heard Debbie's phone vibrate. The girl pulled away and looked at the screen, frowning. "Everything alright?" Allie asked. Debbie nodded absently as she wandered back inside. 

"Hi bubba. To what do I owe the pleasure?" Kaz asked, getting out from behind her desk to give Allie a hug.

"Morning Kaz. I just dropped in to see if you're free Sunday. I thought I'd invite the Novaks over and fire up the grill."

"I'm honoured to be included! What's the occasion?"

"Well … I thought it was time you all met Debbie …"

"So she's here to stay then?" Kaz asked, looking serious. Allie nodded. 

"I hope you're not going to try and change my mind," Allie began. Kaz shook her head. 

"Sit down a minute," Kaz told her. Allie did as she was told with a feeling of mild trepidation. "I've been catching up on the news stories surrounding your girl and her mum." She shook her head. "Terrible story. All they've been through. What Bea Smith was driven to do, and what happens? Instead of help and understanding, she gets thrown in prison. Her daughter separated from her mother just when she needs her most." Allie couldn't disagree with Kaz's analysis and was unsurprised to see the hot rage in Kaz's eyes, magnified by the tears standing out on her lower lids. "The injustice of it makes my blood boil," she growled. Reaching across the desk, she grabbed Allie's hand and squeezed it. "I'm so proud of you Allie. You've really stepped up and helped them. But there must be more that we can do … to help other women." Allie was confused. 

"But that's what you do already. Every day." Kaz made a dismissive gesture. 

"All I'm doing is picking up the pieces after the worst has already happened. And the men who do these things for the most part get away with it. But Bea Smith's husband didn't get away with it. She made sure of that."

"So what are you saying?"

"I'm saying that the system's broken. We can't rely on the criminal justice system." She fixed Allie with a piercing look. "I'm saying we need to take justice into our own hands. Like Bea Smith did."

"Now hold on a minute. You're not seriously suggesting violence …"

"That's exactly what I'm suggesting. Because you know what, Allie? The peaceful approach isn't getting us anywhere,” she said, as if speaking to a simpleton. “Week in week out I have women coming through these doors, and their stories are always much the same. And they're just the ones who got away! We're not changing anything! And if we're not part of the solution, we're part of the problem." Kaz took a breath. 

"But responding violently will only get you hurt, or in prison like Bea," Allie objected.

"Not if I'm smart …"

"Even if you're smart. Bea didn't mean to get caught. And you know what? She wouldn't want people to be inspired to become vigilantes based on her actions. What she did was a fatal last resort to a nearly fatal problem." Allie stopped talking abruptly, aware that she was speaking loudly and urgently. Kaz was gaping at her. Her eyes gleamed with a sudden light of understanding. "What?" Allie asked, her stomach lurching. Kaz had dropped her gaze and was slow to reply. 

"You've been to visit her, haven't you?" she asked at last, raising her eyes to Allie's. 

"Yes, Debbie asked me to …" Allie replied, a little flustered. 

"How many times?"

"Twice," she admitted reluctantly, feeling as though Kas was about to make something of it.

"Going again?" Kaz asked quietly. Allie nodded, unable to meet her eyes. "Oh, bubba," Kaz breathed.

"What?" Allie asked, annoyed by her superior attitude. 

"Just … be careful. We've been here before, remember? A powerful but unavailable older woman … is this ringing any bells, Allie?" Allie scoffed. 

"She's Debbie's mum, that's all ," she countered, distantly aware that this was far from the truth. Kaz nodded in a way that let Allie know that she disbelieved her. 

"And make sure that your commitment to Debbie is an honest one. That it's not based on a connection you want …"

"That's not fair!" Allie exclaimed. "How dare you! I made my commitment to Debbie before I even met Bea …" Kaz held up her hands in a calming gesture. 

"Okay …" she said. But Allie felt as though she was just trying to pacify her, that she didn't believe that her love for Debbie was pure.

"Debbie's a great kid. I want to help and protect her. You know why! " she added incredulously. "Better than anyone. Just a minute ago you were saying how proud you are of me, and now suddenly my motives are suspect!"

"Yeah, okay. I'm sorry. I believe you," Kaz said. "About Debbie," she added. Allie groaned aloud. 

"But not about Bea, I assume?" Allie said, her annoyance fading a little. 

"Hmm, well … I've seen that look in your eye before. That glow to your cheek. Ingrid did a number on you. I don't want to see that happen again."

"It won't!" Allie protested. 

"Just remember. She's in prison. Maybe she'll get out sometime soon, maybe she won't. But don't you dare give her your heart when she could be stuck in there for twenty more years ," Kaz said firmly. Allie looked away to hide the sense of panic that surged through her at that thought. 

"Need some help Allie?" Debbie asked her as she stared into the fridge blankly. 

"Did Claire ask for a beer?" Allie asked, hopelessly muddled. 

"No, that was your dad. Claire's driving and asked for a coke. Look, I'll sort the drinks. You start the food."

"Thanks Deb." She headed back out to the grill and the gaggle of noisy family sitting around in folding chairs. Allie's head was all over the place. Everyone was here. Everyone who mattered to her, except Bea. Talk about the ghost at the feast. What Kaz had said was still playing in her mind. Josephine Pym would do her best to get Bea a short sentence, but what if there was nothing to be done? It would be a pleasure to have Deb live here; she would make sure she went to university; help her get a job, a home, when the time came. But could she visit Bea in prison every week if she got a life sentence? It felt like, in her heart, she had already signed up for that. Not that Bea seemed to expect it, but Allie couldn't imagine stopping now. 

Her dad was hovering around the grill.

"Shall I get this going Al?" he asked. 

"Sure. Just try not to take your eyebrows off this time …"

"Huh. That old grill was clearly faulty …" he said defensively.

"Whatever you say Dad." This was an old pattern of call and response, essentially empty of content, but comforting in its familiarity. 

"Here's your beer Mr Novak," Debbie put in, holding out a bottle. 

"Call me Seb, for Christ's sake," he replied, taking a long pull of beer. "Thank goodness for you, Debbie Dearest. A person could die of thirst around here." He winked at her. Debbie smiled up at him before turning in time to catch Allie's eye roll.

The afternoon went smoothly, Kaz managed not to pick a fight with anyone for a change, a fact that Allie put down to her being on her best behaviour for Debbie's sake. Other than that everyone stuck to their strengths: Robbie hustled about with bowls and serving plates; Joe nattered on to Debbie about his uni course; Seb interrogated Claire about the goings on at the city council; and Freddo simply reclined in the hammock with Nova in his lap and a beer in his hand.

"Budge up bro," Allie told him, climbing in next to him and making the whole thing swing perilously. Nova looked alarmed, clearly thinking about jumping down until Allie soothed her with a hand.

"Careful Al. You'll tip us both out!"

"Do your lazy arse good!"

"Hey! The boat tours have been really busy …"

"Yeah, right. Sitting on your arse all day, cruising around in the sun. Sounds horrible!" Freddo scoffed at her disparaging comments, his eyes catching on Debbie's slight form as she went inside with an empty serving bowl.

"How's she doing?" he asked quietly, gesturing at Debbie's retreating back with his bottle. Allie shrugged.

“I thought she was doing okay, but she’s been a bit quiet the last couple of days,” she replied, turning it over in her mind, the bottom dropping out of her stomach for a moment with sudden  fear.

“It’s a lot,” he commented. Allie wasn’t sure if he meant it was a lot to take on or if what Debbie had been through and continued to go through was a lot. Either way he was right. She nodded. “But I like her,” he continued. “You picked a good one. And you’re doing a good job.” Allie reached over and ruffled his already chaotic hair.

“Thanks Frogface,” she told him.

“I hope that was okay for you Deb. They can be a bit much, all together like that.” Debbie shook her head and smiled. 

“No, it was fine.” She carried on arranging the plates in the dishwasher. After a moment she added, “I like your dad.” Allie nodded, unsurprised. Sebastian Novak was tall, white-haired and twinkle-eyed: he looked like a cookie-cutter grandfather. Allie, however, had more reason than anyone to know that he hadn't always been that way. But he would fit the father-shaped hole Debbie had in her life right now, and Allie believed that he would do okay at it. He had learned a lot of lessons in the last decade or so: this was his second chance and he knew better than to blow it. "And Joe was really friendly. Gave me loads of tips for what to look for when I choose my uni course."

"And is everything okay? You've seemed a little preoccupied lately.” Allie watched Debbie’s back stiffen.

“No. I’m good.”

“Hm,” Allie replied in a tone that she hoped would convey her disbelief. “Whatever it is, don’t leave it too long before you tell someone. If you don’t want to talk to me, tell your mum, or your therapist.” Debbie didn’t reply. “I mean it Debbie. Don’t let it fester. It won’t do you any good, believe me. When you feel ready to tell me, I’m here.” Debbie maintained her mulish silence. Allie sighed. She wasn’t ready to talk, and that was fair enough, but Allie would be ill at ease until Debbie told her what was going on.

After dropping Debbie off at school this morning Allie had driven home in a welter of excitement about her upcoming visit with Bea. Stopping at a red light she wiped her damp hands on her thighs and changed stations on the radio, looking for some music. Pausing on some acoustic guitar track she quickly pulled away as the light changed to green. It was a melancholy tune: just the sad sounding guitar and a man’s voice: something about missing someone. And then a few lines ambushed her, leaping out from the rest of the song, the meaning chiming with her on an almost cellular level:

My mind’s distracted and diffused,

My thoughts are many miles away,

They lie with you when you’re asleep,

And kiss you when you start your day.

 

And that’s when she knew. It was as though a curtain had parted and she could suddenly see her own feelings for what they were. Her heart pounded both in fear and excitement. She recalled how, every night these past couple of weeks, she had switched off her light and found herself staring at the illuminated digits on her bedside clock. Somehow it often seemed to be 22:22, and this had unconsciously become “Bea time ”: a time when she allowed herself to go over her mental images of Bea; to recall what she had said and how she had looked; to remember how it had felt to hold her, briefly, in her arms, to feel her tremble and to know the answering tremble of her own self. And in the morning Bea was still there, her first thought when she awoke, as though they had been together through all the intervening hours. It was terrible and wonderful, she thought to herself: wonderful because she had fallen in love, terrible because it was a love that seemed to have no future.

… And now it’s time for lights out … Allie read. I had better finish here so that this can get in the post to you tomorrow. Please give my love to Debbie. I look forward to seeing you both at your next visits.

Best wishes, Bea

Allie sighed and folded the letter away. It was time.

Chapter Text

"Smith! Get a mop and clean that up." Bea's head came up. Shit. Why me ? She hesitated for a moment. 

"I've got a visit in a minute, Mr Jackson," she said, trying to keep the desperation out of her voice. The thought that Allie might be kept waiting, might think she didn’t want to see her made her feel a little queasy.

"It'll only take a minute ," he replied, immovable. Well, he was in a pissy mood today. Resigned, she sped off to find a cleaning cart. The sooner she could get this over with the sooner she could get to the visitor's room. "Holt, give her a hand," she heard him add as she rounded the corner.

What the hell ? He had a heart, Mr Jackson. He was kinder than they had any right to expect, given what had happened to his wife. But now he had a real thing against Jacs. The police couldn't prove who had killed Mrs Jackson, but Mr Jackson had his own theory and now he rode Jacs Holt whenever he got the chance. Now he had dropped Bea in it with Jacs. If she thought it was her fault that she had been assigned this crap duty, she could take it out on Bea. Jacs acted like a queenly matriarch, operating the steam press with calm assurance despite having lost much of her power: mopping up vomit spewed by a newbie was not her style. Besides, the balance of power between Jacs and Franky was delicate. If Jacs tried something Bea was in a no-win position. If she stood up to her again Franky would be forced to back her up and violence could easily erupt. If she let Holt walk all over her, Franky's crew looked weak, which could prompt an attempt to grab power back. If it came to blows - well, Bea couldn't afford any black marks against her name, Ms Pym had made that clear. It was like walking a tightrope with a crocodile pit on one side and a chasm of fire on the other. All she could do was keep her balance. It was a pressure that she had tried to explain to the forensic psychologist at their first session.

"It's important that I can give the court an account of your mental state both before and during the … event that led you here," Dr Westfall said. "But I would be negligent in my duty if I didn't also try to help you process what happened to you and what actions you took. And … how you're handling being in prison and being separated from your daughter." The psychologist looked at her, perhaps waiting for a response. Bea just nodded hastily, knowing that her participation was required but unable to find her voice. "Are you satisfied that all of those areas will be up for discussion during our sessions?" Dr Westfall looked at her expectantly. Her gaze was very direct, but also full of kindness. Bea nodded again. "I can't help but notice that you haven't spoken yet. Do you have trouble expressing yourself, Bea?" she asked. Bea's heart pounded. It was a blunt question, asked sympathetically, but it troubled some element of her character that Bea felt lay in such an undisturbed corner of her psyche that it would require breaking a taboo to answer it.

"Who doesn't have trouble expressing themselves?" she replied gruffly. 

"That's a deflection," the psychologist replied baldly. "I'm asking about you." Bea's hands writhed in her lap.

"I guess," she conceded.

"Who could you talk to, if you felt like you needed to express yourself?" Bea stifled a shrug and forced herself to really think about it. Not Debbie, she had enough to cope with. Maybe Allie, in time.

"Liz, I suppose. She's the peer worker," Bea finally said. Only, it wasn't because she was the peer worker but because Liz wouldn't judge, whatever you told her. Dr Westfall nodded. 

"That's good. Having someone to talk to is important. What about other forms of expression? Do you get angry? Can you cry?" Bea thought about the last time she had cried, and blushed hard. It was a couple of weeks ago. She'd had a deeply uncomfortable conversation with Liz, during which Liz had told her that there would be nothing wrong with making herself feel good. Later that night, alone in her room, she had touched herself and the physical release had unblocked something inside her that allowed her to weep for the first time in an age. She looked up to find Dr Westfall looking at her with curiosity. 

"I get angry all the time," Bea replied, avoiding the subject of crying. "This place is impossible. There are some women in here who seem to go out of their way to push other people's buttons. Maybe they can't help it. Some are desperate, some are bored, but it can be life and death in here. You could accidentally piss someone off in the breakfast queue only for them to try and shiv you in the showers the next day." Dr Westfall nodded and made some notes. 

"You describe this situation as provoking anger. Is there any other emotion that might be felt by someone in the situation you describe? Take your time and think about it." Bea thought, but it was hard to concentrate when the doctor was looking at her like that. Frustration ? Despair ? Injustice ?

"I don't know. Maybe you would feel it was unfair that you had been put in that position?" Dr Westfall nodded again. 

"Do you feel that? Like you're here unfairly?"

"I know what I did. I killed Harry and that's against the law. But it's unfair that prison isn't just about doing your time. That there's all this other crap, sorry, stuff to deal with." Dr Westfall smiled. 

"It's okay. You can say crap. So, anger and injustice. Anything else? Think back to when you first arrived here." Bea thought. Disgust. Sadness. Regret. The fear of Debbie being alone in the world. The fear of being hurt, being forgotten. 

"Fear," she said, wondering how she had hidden the knowledge of that fear from herself. 

"Fear," the psychologist confirmed. "And how do you think those two emotions, anger and fear, might have interrelated in your life?" Bea pondered this for a while. 

"I don't know," she finally admitted in frustration. Dr Westfall gave her a sympathetic look. 

"That's okay. It's early days. You've done good work. We'll leave that for today. Perhaps by our next session the answer will have come to you. For the rest of our time I would like to move on to your relationship with your husband." Bea’s stomach sloshed anxiously.

It was anger that was dominant right now. 

"Got a visitor coming in, Bea?" Jacs asked in that fakely sweet way she had. "Is it your daughter? The lovely Debbie?"

How did Jacs even know Debbie's name? Bea would give anything for Debbie to remain safely anonymous from this poisonous bitch. She opted not to put her straight, furiously swabbing the floor instead. 

"You should speak when you're spoken to, Bea. It's only polite," Jacs continued. The exaggeratedly civilized tone was intended to make her quail, Bea knew, but there was no way she would give her the satisfaction. Jacs continued to speak as though they were having a pleasant conversation. "I have a visitor of my own coming tomorrow. Call by my unit later. You can do my hair. Got to look my best for Vinnie."

Was this woman for real? Did she really expect Bea to just walk into the enemy camp? Perhaps she needed reminding where her allegiances lay.

"Sorry Jacs, I'm trimming Franky's hair later. And then Boomer asked me to see what I could do with hers, so I don't think I can fit you in today. Vinnie will just have to take you as he finds you," she smirked. 

"Trimming Francesca's hair won't improve the way that dirty little clitty-licker looks," Jacs hissed viciously. "We mothers should stick together, Bea," she added with breathtaking insincerity. Bea silently scoffed at the thought that she and Jacs had anything in common.

"Some other time," Bea said, matching her tone. Jacs mean little eyes grew hard.

"You want to think carefully about the friends you choose, Bea. It's easy to get it wrong in here. You can think you're coping, even comfortable. Riding high. And then suddenly, you're at rock bottom. It doesn't take much." Bea stared at her. That sounded like a threat. Did Jacs still have the power to make good on it? Before Bea could reply, Mr Jackson reappeared. 

"Smith, leave that. Your visitor's here. Holt will finish up, won't you Holt?"

"Of course, Mr Jackson," Jacs replied in her most reasonable tone. "Say hello to Debbie from me," she added, making Bea's knuckles clench reflexively as a cold wash of fear swept down her back. Debbie. Had she been quite herself at her last visit?

"Hi Mum," Debbie said, walking into her arms. She looked pale.

"Hi baby," Bea murmured into her cloud of curls. “I missed you.” She tightened her arms around her ribs. Too skinny. She squeezed a little, rocked her from side to side, but whether for her own comfort or Debbie's she wasn't sure. 

"Mum! I can't breathe," she gasped in protest. Bea loosened her grip a little but couldn't let go just yet.

"Allie's not feeding you properly," she grumbled into Debbie's ear. A burst of laughter. 

"Of course she is," Debbie declared, holding her mother at arm's length. "You should have seen my breakfast. Fruit and yoghurt. Cereal. Pancakes. I practically waddled to the bus."

"Hm," Bea replied, unconvinced. They sat down. "Tell me stuff," she commanded. "What's been going on?"

“You first.” So Bea told her about the latest from her lawyer and sketched out an easy-to-swallow version of her session with Dr Westfall.

“And to what would you ascribe your low self-confidence?” Bea tried to think. The pounding of her heart and the twisting of her guts were distracting. If she puked on the carpet would this nightmare be over?

“I … uh, I guess that Harry made me feel like I wasn’t good enough.”

“How would he do that?”

“The way he would look at me. The things he would call me.”

“Can you tell me some of the things he would call you?” Bea’s freezing hands started to sweat. “I know this is difficult. Take your time. Close your eyes, if that helps.” Bea closed her eyes and leant back. She started to list them off, doing her best to pretend that they were just words. Sticks and stones, right?

“Useless, ugly, worthless … um, bitch, repulsive, bad mother.” She took a breath, opened her eyes and looked at the doctor directly. “Slut, whore, dyke, cunt, cock tease, revolting, stupid, frigid, prudish … lazy … pointless …” Bea dried up, couldn’t think of any others and actually, it all sounded ridiculous when listed like that. She started to laugh. Who could possibly believe all that?

“Why are you laughing?” Dr Westfall asked calmly, still writing.

“Because I can’t believe I fell for it! Now that I've listed them I can hear how ridiculous it all is. All of those things are meant to be me. Some of them don’t make any sense, some contradict themselves …”

“I’m glad you can see the funny side. But the fact remains that those words affected you, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t continue to affect you in the future. Can you estimate the amount of your marriage in which your husband called you names like these?”

“Well, there was a brief period before Debbie was born. And he was weirdly nice to me for a while after he cut me with a bottle. About ninety percent,” she concluded. She sobered. Ninety percent of seventeen years. She couldn’t work out an exact figure for that but it was a long time. A waste of time. All of her youth, essentially. “God, I’m such an idiot!”

“Why do you say that?”

“For staying. I should have left the first time he hit me.” The psychologist was quiet for a moment.

“Do you know that on average a woman in an abusive relationship suffers fifty incidents of abuse before getting help?” Bea’s eyebrows shot up. Christ . “Does it help you to know that?”

“I suppose.”

“Why?”

“I thought I was unusual for putting up with it for so long. Unusually weak …”

“Some women never get help. Some women die.” Dr Westfall gave her a moment to let that sink in. “How do you feel about that?”

“I thought I was going to die a few times. If it hadn’t been for Debbie I wouldn’t have minded. Slipping away. It would have been easy.”

“And now?”

“I’m glad to be still alive, now that I know Debbie’s okay and we’ll never have to put up with Harry again. Now that there’s a sliver of hope, however slim, that I won’t spend my whole life in here.”

“I guess they’ll want to speak with me at some point,” Debbie said, her eyes darting around Bea’s face. Bea took her hand.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to.” Debbie looked furious.

“Of course I want to! You're not going to try and stop me are you?"

"No, I won't stop you. But don't do it if it's more than you can manage. It won't be easy, baby," Bea told her carefully. 

"Easier than you staying in here when I could have helped get you out."

"What does Allie have to say about it?"

"Not much. She said I should think about it. And that, if I need to, I should talk to my therapist, or her, about how it might affect me."

"Sounds sensible." They were quiet for a moment.

"I met Allie's family," Debbie blurted out, looking more animated than she had all visit. 

"Oh yeah?" Bea asked, curious. "What are they like?"

"Really nice. We had a cook out in the backyard. Allie’s dad did the grilling. Her brothers were there; her sister-in-law Claire, plus Kas who, I’m not sure, must be a family friend or distant cousin or something. Freddo and Joe look so like Allie it’s ridiculous but Robbie, he’s the oldest of the brothers, he’s dark haired and a different build.” Bea tried to imagine these young men who looked like Allie.

“Allie said she thought you would get along with … Joe, I think it was. The youngest one?” Debbie nodded happily.

“Yeah. Or Towser as Allie calls him. He’s studying pharmacy at Monash and he was telling me all about it.”

“Pharmacy, wow. He must be smart.” Debbie nodded vigorously.

“Definitely. But he said it’s more about putting the hours in than anything.” Bea smiled to see the light of ambition in her daughter’s eyes. If rubbing shoulders with Allie’s family inspired Debbie to aim high then she was all for it. “I’m meeting him next week so that he can show me the campus.” And just like that Bea felt a knot inside herself loosen. All these extra people looking out for Debbie, guiding her, there for her to call on if needed. She still wanted to get out of here as badly as ever but, in the meantime, Debbie had her safety net.

Dear Bea,

All those thank yous you sent were unnecessary. It’s me who should be thanking you. Thank you so much for writing to me - I wasn’t sure if you would.  Thank you for allowing me to look after Debbie. I feel like you have given me your blessing - that sounds stupid, but I hope you will know what I mean. Thank you for encouraging me to introduce Debbie to the Novak clan - they’re a motley bunch and I hope you don’t live to regret it!

On a serious note I must disillusion you about my family. We are most definitely “screwed up” as you put it, or have been in the past. Maybe we are mostly unscrewed now (or should that be unhinged!) but we are not the perfect family you might like to imagine. After our mum died my dad was pretty useless. He didn’t cope well with his grief and four children to raise; children who were also grieving, I might add. Everything went wildly awry for a few years but I think all of us came out of it better and stronger, if bearing a few scars and wounds that are slow to heal. I’ll tell you the whole story sometime but, for now, I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea. Debbie is safe with us but we are far from perfect.

You say that your session with the psychologist made you think. I imagine that some of those thoughts are painful and unwelcome. And I know she is mostly there to gather evidence for your trial, but do you think that talking to her might actually help you? I don’t want to suggest that you are in dire need of psychological counselling, but you have been through a lot, the half of which I have no idea about, I know, though perhaps you will trust me with some of those experiences in time. I hope it doesn't sound overly familiar to say that I have seen and recognised your incredible strength. But please don’t be offended if I say that there are also other things that I have seen: disappointment, anger, doubt and maybe even shame. And I want so much for you to understand that you shouldn't be ashamed. I will say what I believe wholeheartedly: Bea, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Perhaps, through talking with this psychologist you can come to believe it for yourself. 

Love, Allie 

Bea followed along behind Mr Jackson, allowing the message of hope that Allie had gifted her to begin to smooth out the anxiety that Jacs's comments had created. Taking her place in the visitor's room she began scanning the queue of visitors as they entered, on the lookout for a blonde head and smiling eyes. 

 

Chapter Text

Bea craned her neck. A dozen people had filed in, but none of them was Allie. Finally, there she was at the end of the queue looking a little flushed and wild-eyed. Bea stood up and waved one hand to catch her attention. When Allie’s gaze snagged on Bea’s, her mouth curled into a smile and, unless Bea was imagining it, a spark lit her eyes. Unable to look away, Bea watched her weave her way across the room. When Allie stopped in front of her Bea allowed herself to give in to a sudden impulse. Circling Allie around the waist with one arm she drew her into a hug, briefly resting the side of her face against Allie’s. Clearly she had taken Allie by surprise because, just as Bea was drawing back, Allie was raising her arms to reciprocate. Feeling awkward and stupid she sat down abruptly to avoid any further misunderstandings.

When Bea managed to collect herself, she looked back at Allie’s face to see her giving her a knowing smile. It was a smile that, on anyone else, might look superior, but on Allie, Bea could see that it was laced with both understanding and kindness. Bea smiled ruefully in return believing that Allie would catch her feeling.

“That was nice,” Allie murmured, still beaming. Bea didn’t know what to say and could feel her face heating up as her embarrassment at her social failure continued to trouble her. "I was thinking it would be another couple of visits before you instigated a hug," Allie said. "I'll be ready next time," she added with a suggestive twinkle in her eye. Bea scoffed at her self-possession.

"What makes you think that there'll be a next time?" she said, hoping to take her down a peg. Allie appeared unrepentant. 

"Because I get it, Bea. You like me," she replied. She was smiling, shooting the breeze, having some fun, so Bea played along.

"Well, I can hardly seem to get rid of you. Here I am in one of the most inaccessible places in Melbourne but you still keep showing up, writing me letters … it's like having my own stalker." As soon as she'd said it she regretted it. Allie's face went very white, then very red. Her eyes skittered off around the room whilst her lips opened as though to respond but no sound came out. Feeling as though she was watching a kitten drowning in a pond, Bea cast around for a branch to offer. "A very nice stalker, obv … obviously," she stammered. "One I wouldn't want to stay away …" Allie chuckled and waved her hand dismissively. 

“It’s okay. I shouldn’t deal it out if I can’t take it.” She swallowed and met Bea’s gaze squarely. “I forgot that you can be like that.” Bea pretended to be affronted.

“Can't think what you mean,” she said. She aimed for an arch tone but inside her stomach was shrinking with dread at what the reply might be.

“The forecast is for … mostly shy, with occasional bursts of cheekiness,” Allie said, gesturing at an invisible weather map. “Fortunately, there’s no cold front in sight, and the sun is due to come out at any minute …” Allie looked at her expectantly, eyebrows raised. Bea pursed her lips, doing her best to rein in the smile that Allie’s performance had ignited in her belly and that was now beginning to spread through her whole body. “And … there it is!” Allie said triumphantly as Bea finally gave in and smiled.

Just at the moment that Allie was due to enter the visitor’s room, she'd had a sudden attack of doubt. Slipping out of the line of visitors, she headed back the way she had come. It felt different visiting Bea, now that she had an understanding that what she was feeling wasn’t just a crush. How could she face her with this new realisation? The knowledge was still raw. It felt so close to her surface that she felt sure that Bea would sense it immediately. And if she did, what would she think? Would she be repelled? Disappointed, maybe, that Allie had ruined things, complicated things. And if she didn’t notice straight away how, in good conscience, could Allie pretend that nothing was different? It was wrong, surely, to sit there thirsting for her, drinking in the pleasure of being with her when, if she knew, she would most likely recoil from her. 

“Miss? Miss?” It was one of the guards. “Do you want me to find someone to escort you back to reception?” Allie looked at him for a moment in confusion, before realising that she had been pacing up and down the waiting room whilst the other visitors had nearly all disappeared into the visitor’s room. Despite her misgivings Allie knew herself well enough to know that she was not prepared to give up on the pleasure of a visit with Bea.

“No, no. I’m good,” she muttered, rejoining the queue behind the last visitor.

Entering the room she looked around, unable to find Bea for a moment. But once she did her heart leapt up at the sight. Seeing her satisfied a craving that had been running along in the background of her consciousness since last week. Her doubts vanished. She couldn’t give this up for anything, no matter what happened. Nobody minded being loved, after all. She would just work very hard to be appropriate.

But that resolution was almost immediately countermanded by her treacherous body. Her heart thumped and her skin tingled as Bea did the unthinkable and gave her a hug. True, it was, in typical Bea style, blink-or-you’ll-miss-it brief; awkwardly one-armed and badly timed. But it happened. And Bea instigated it. Allie sat down, almost missing the chair. The skin on her cheek was distractingly more alive than any other part of her. When Bea’s soft cheek had momentarily lain against her own it had felt as if every molecule had jumped up, eager to meet Bea’s skin, and that even now they were excitedly moving around, elated at that brief contact. 

Bea was clearly mortified by what she took to be a faux pas. Allie felt for her. To always be so ready to find fault with yourself must be exhausting. She smiled at her to let her know that she didn't find her in the least bit ridiculous, talked to her and joked about to put her at ease until suddenly she heard the word stalker and the bottom dropped out of her stomach. Was that how Bea saw her? As someone who had muscled in on her and Debbie’s lives? Perhaps that was what she was: pathetically obsessed with someone who had no interest in her. But as Bea frantically backpedalled, presumably having noticed Allie’s reaction, sense returned. It was a throwaway comment not intended to wound, and her heart rate began to return to normal. A few more jokey comments and she was back on solid ground again.

Allie cleared her throat. “Did Debbie mention about meeting the family on Sunday?” she asked, her expression a little less confident than usual. Bea nodded.

“She told me all about it,” Bea replied. She wondered if Allie was worried that Debbie hadn’t liked them, or if she was more concerned that Bea was secretly unhappy that her affections might be usurped. She would bet on the latter and so she said, “She liked them, I could tell, but beyond that it’s reassuring for me to know that she has not one but …” she did a quick calculation, “six Novaks looking out for her.”

“Seven, if you count the cat …”

“Ah yes, Nova Novak. Only you could name your cat after yourself,” Bea teased. Allie’s eyebrows shot up.

“Is that what you thought? Well, I suppose it would seem that way,” she said thoughtfully. “But Nova is named after Nova Pilbeam … who you’ve probably never heard of …” Bea couldn’t deny it.

“Who’s Nova Pilbeam?”

“An English actress from the thirties and forties. I really liked her … There was a black and white film I caught her in on TV late one night when I was a teenager and, well, ever since then it’s been one of my favourites. Anyway, when I first got Nova, her little pointed kitten face reminded me of Nova Pilbeam and the rest is, as they say, history.”

“So you’re not a total egomaniac after all …”

“I didn’t say that,” Allie protested with a smile. “It was good to get the family all together,” she added in a more serious tone. “We all have stuff going on, work commitments, Debbie …”

“I always mean to ask you,” Bea interrupted. “What you do for work. Besides looking after my daughter, I mean.” Allie groaned.

“I’m one of those annoying people,” she said. Bea scoffed.

“What do you mean? Born with a silver spoon? Don’t need to work?” Allie laughed.

“If only. No. One of those annoying people who works from home.” She made air quotes with her fingers as she said this.

“Why would that be annoying?”

“I just think it must be annoying to hear that if you have to go to a factory or office every day. Or a hair salon.” Bea nodded, though she didn't feel in the least annoyed.

“So what is it you do from home?”

“I’m a freelance copy editor and indexer. I used to work at a publisher’s but I left about two years ago. It works better this way, with the fostering …”

“I’ve no idea what copy editing and indexing involves …” Bea admitted. Was there no end to her ignorance? But Allie just smiled.

“No reason why you would. The copy editing is basically reading and tidying up the proof, checking with the author about inconsistencies and stuff. The indexing I’m kind of new to, but I really like it. It makes me think more … rigorously . I find the attention to detail kind of soothing. And then, at the end of it, there’s a book and I’ve played a small part in making it a better book - more readable, more useful.” Allie had become quite animated whilst describing her professional life. Bea was surprised. She had assumed that all of her passion was ploughed into her fostering.

“What kinds of books do you work on?”

“Textbooks, history books, biographies mostly. They’re the specialities of the publishers I work with. Interesting stuff. You learn all kinds of things … ”

“I bet …” Bea felt like sinking into the ground. Her own meagre accomplishments as a hair stylist seemed more modest than ever.

“Good for that pub quiz but not much else,” Allie continued, bursting her own bubble. Bea’s eyes flashed up to Allie’s face to find her regarding her thoughtfully. Once again, it seemed, she had divined Bea’s insecurities and done what she could to mitigate them. Bea blushed to be so transparent. She glared at the table top. To the left of her field of vision was Allie’s long jean-clad thigh. The denim had worn through at the knee leaving a strip of horizontal threads through which Bea could glimpse her lightly tanned skin. They must be a favourite pair, Bea reflected, to be worn so thin and soft. She had had favourite jeans like that herself, and knew exactly how that denim would feel under her palm: so soft, almost like peach-fuzz … or skin. She blushed.

Allie was charmed afresh. Could Bea get any more adorable? First she tried to save her from the stalker comment and then she reassured her about Debbie meeting the family. Even her insecurities, which should have been a total turn off, were attractive. And now she was blushing like a teenager on a first date. What was that about? Allie hardly cared because the way it made her feel … It was like being high multiplied by some enormous number that she couldn't even think of.

Ducking her head Allie looked at Bea's burning cheeks and tried to meet her furtive gaze. Her eyes were dark and liquid like a timid arboreal creature looking out from the canopy. Allie could wish for nothing more than to gain her trust but Bea's eyes would settle nowhere for more than a moment.

Allie dropped her eyes to give her some respite but this time her attention was arrested by the motion of Bea's leg as it jigged up and down with a kind of frantic anxiety. Allie admired the crest of muscle she could see running along the top of her thigh beneath her uniform, before, without much consideration, dropping her hand to rest lightly upon it. The shuttling motion died instantly as though a string had been cut. The negative tension in Bea's whole body was palpable. Shit. She hastily lifted her hand. 

"Sorry …"

"Sorry …" Allie grimaced at their awkward duet. "You just seemed a bit jumpy," Allie tried to explain. "I didn't mean to …"

"It's fine," Bea was brushing it off as nothing, so that Allie had no choice but to retreat. "So, uh, Debbie seemed good?" Bea ventured, in a way that closed down any exploration of what had provoked her anxiety. Allie nodded.

"Studying hard. Mastering the swing quaver. Eating. Texting. The usual."

She would not say anything about her concerns for Debbie, not yet. She didn't have enough information. It might be nothing and worry her unnecessarily. She prayed that Bea wouldn't notice that she was employing some sleight of hand with her brevity and a sudden change of conversational direction.

"What's new in here Bea?" she asked, leaning forward confidentially. "Who's been confined to solitary? Which guard is on the take?" It was an attempt at levity but Bea huffed derisively and shook her head. 

"Do you mean who's in the slot? Which screws are bent?" Allie wasn't expecting her salvo to be returned so roughly, and her head buzzed with surprise. It was as if, by pointing out her ignorance of prison slang, Bea had put her firmly in her place: outsider ; innocent. This, she thought, is where our two worlds mismatch most noticeably. Allie was desperate to understand what it was like in here for Bea, but at the same time wondered if she could accept the bitter truth. Would Bea actually tell her what it was really like or, if she did, could words even adequately describe it?

"Sorry …" Allie said, abashed. "I shouldn't make light of it. I'm sure it's terrible." Bea sighed and wiped her hand over her face, drawing back her anger. 

"No, it's okay. It's not all like that. Most of it's just mundane … eat, sleep, work … you know. But then something kicks off … and your adrenaline goes sky high. Or someone says something and you wonder if they've got it in for you." Allie nodded her understanding. She had noticed that Bea was speaking in the second person now. Was this how she distanced herself from her fear? "Just before this visit, in fact," Bea continued in a low tone, "Jacs Holt was being weird. Asking about Debbie. Wanted me to do her hair." She shook her head, mystified. 

"Who is she, this Holt woman?" Allie asked, the hairs on the back of her neck bristling when Debbie's name was mentioned. 

"The top dog. Kinda. But not really, since the riot. Franky has more influence now. Just needs to make the final move," Bea explained. 

"So you're enemies?" Allie asked. Bea laughed.

"I'd be perfectly happy to have nothing to do with her, but she seems to have a problem with me. Plus I'm in Franky's crew … so, yeah, enemies, I suppose."

"Can't you stay out of her way?" Allie asked, panicked, hardly bothering to mask her fear. Bea's eyes became gentle.

"I can try." And she smiled reassuringly. Allie's heart drummed hard. Fuck. That smile, those eyes … she was going down, drowning, overwhelmed with love and fear.

Bea was kicking herself. She should never have said anything about Jacs: not only was it none of Allie's concern but now it looked like Allie would worry about it. More than Bea herself. And it wasn't like Allie could do anything about it. It was an inside matter, and Allie was on the outside. 

"Allie," she said, gathering up her scattered attention. When Allie looked at her, Bea was surprised to see tears in her eyes. The thread of thought she had been following was suddenly gone. She stared at her empty hands in surprise. "Don't say anything to Debbie." Her voice came out more harshly than she had intended.

"Of course not," Allie replied unhesitatingly. 

"And don't worry about it. I can handle it," she added more gently. Allie nodded. 

"I know." It was a vote of confidence and it made Bea feel stronger, taller, better for a moment. But then the feeling was gone. Allie didn't know. She had never seen her beaten down and cowering, covered with bruises and blood. Weak, so weak came the familiar refrain. The shame rushed in. Allie's warm fingers slipped into her hand and pressed her palm. "Don't," she said quietly. "The past is a foreign country. You can leave it behind. Here and now things are different." Allie's thumb circled over the backs of her fingers, over her knuckles, so tenderly, making Bea's eyes prick. "You're smart. You have the best motivation there is to survive this and get out of here. Debbie is counting on you." Bea remembered what Allie had written in her letter about how Dr Westfall could help her. She nodded. She had more support now than she'd ever had before. Allie wanted her to leave her shame behind; Dr Westfall wanted her to understand something about the relationship between fear and anger. "You're strong," Allie was saying. "But I know you must be afraid even if you'd rather not show it." Bea felt her lids flutter closed. The sound of Allie's voice and the movement of Allie's hand on hers were hypnotic. "You're going to be smart about this, I know. There are other ways out than anger." Bea's eyes flashed open. Of course.

Bea opened her eyes and looked directly into Allie's. Her pupils were wide and Allie had the peculiar sensation of being able to see right inside another's being. Something was happening to Bea; cogs had turned and meshed, a solution, to something , had been found. But better than anything, Bea's face was open in a way Allie had never seen before. And when she smiled Allie felt something turn in her chest, like the click of a mechanism. It was done; there was no turning back. The spell was complete.

Chapter Text

Keep it in your pants this time Novak. How hard can it be? Allie groaned quietly. Very hard. Not to mention very wet. She was sitting in her car outside the prison giving herself a pep talk before her visit with Bea. She knew she had been too tactile with her last week and made a new resolution to keep her hands to herself. She was still annoyed with herself for touching Bea’s leg. Her impulse to comfort had bypassed her brain on that occasion. She would do better.

It had been a tough week. Had there been a single moment since she had hugged Bea goodbye last week when she hadn't been wanting her? Maybe one or two, because her sudden horniness was not the only problem to rear its head in the last few days, so to speak. But still … two years of zero action and zero interest and then suddenly this.

The problem was that, now she knew what it felt like to have Bea step into her arms, her mind wanted that feeling all the time. Almost every night this week she had gone to bed early, eager to be alone with her thoughts. Restless and impatient, she would glare at her clock, willing the digits to change. 22:22. She would close her eyes in relief and anticipation and send her mind out into the darkness, winging across the space between them. Once over the prison her consciousness plunged, peregrine like, penetrating brick and stone as easily as air until it alighted in Bea’s room. She had no knowledge of what Bea's room, or cell, at Wentworth looked like, except for the photos of Debbie she had sent herself. So, she started there; picturing them pinned to a blank wall. Then she let her imagination loose. Bars or curtains at the window? Curtains. A rug on the floor? Probably not. Narrow bunk? Check. In the dim light, Allie’s shadowy self stooped and spread a soft blanket over the sleeping form she found there; admired the hair splayed across the pillow. 

Nestling deeper into her own pillow, Allie wrapped her arms around herself. Behind her lids she was now in the bunk with Bea. She burrowed her face into that extravagant mane of curls until she found the down at the nape of her neck, breathing in her scent. Curled against Bea’s back, they fitted together as neatly as two feathers in a bird’s wing. With this perfect contact Allie felt that she knew the true meaning of peace for the first time in her life. She held her close, knowing that she was the one who could keep Bea’s loneliness and fear at bay. She squeezed her gently, not enough to wake her, and even though she knew she was sleeping, whispered, "I love you." And just like that she fell asleep. 

It was always a shock to awake in her own bed the next morning with a sweet ache in the pit of her stomach. She was sure that she had spent the whole night holding Bea while she slept but something about awakening catapulted her back through the ether into her own home, and her heavy lids would leak out a few disappointed tears. But on Saturday she had fallen back to sleep and dreamt that she had woken in Bea's bunk in the pale light of early morning and kissed her sleeping cheek. That was the best morning.

Dear Allie, 

Sorry if I seemed a bit out of it when you left yesterday. I'm going to explain and I have to do it now before I change my mind. Something you said helped me make a connection, so I was a bit distracted and you deserve to know why. It was something that Dr Westfall asked me to think about. The connection between fear and anger. When you said that I should be smart not angry I realised that, although I have thought that I am angry for a long time, what I have actually been is scared. But because I couldn't accept being afraid I masked it with anger. 

I have seen Dr Westfall this morning. She was pleased that I had worked it out. It's pretty common, apparently, for fear to be expressed as anger. Obviously I was afraid of Harry for a long time. Now he's the one thing I don't need to be afraid of anymore. But I'm still angry so I suppose I must still be afraid. Working all this out might take a while longer. Knowing what is behind my anger might be a start though. 

I bet you didn't expect a therapy session when you opened the envelope! Thanks for the notepaper Allie. It's much nicer than that other stuff. The pages are so much larger though. I may struggle to find enough to fill them with …

To Allie, Bea hadn't seemed so much distracted, as present and open to an unusual degree. When time had been called at the end of the visit they had both stood up and Allie had been prepared for an awkward dance as Bea tried to work out what to do. But instead Bea had stepped up to her, Allie had held her arms out and Bea had come to her as naturally as if they had been doing this all their lives. Allie had shivered deliciously to feel Bea's body press against hers in a replay of the previous week's embrace. Again their cheeks had rested together and Allie's body had reacted hectically, all pounding blood and heat, breath hard to come by. But Bea had been calm, had held her gently, if too briefly, and, when Allie looked into her face a moment later, she wore a serene smile.

Something Allie had said had seemingly prompted Bea’s breakthrough about fear and anger. She didn’t deserve any credit, that much she knew, but working through her emotions was obviously helping. The way she had been in those last few minutes was drastically different to the guarded, mostly silent and occasionally belligerent Bea that she had seen before. Not that she didn’t love moody Bea; she most definitely did - that was the Bea she had first fallen for; but the idea that there was a happier, calmer Bea emerging was exciting too. That there was a version of Bea that could open herself up to her like that - and look happy about it - gave Allie a scintilla of hope for the future. Maybe her love was not doomed after all.

Despite her desperate desire to see Bea this morning, she most definitely wasn’t looking forward to the conversation they were going to have to have. Allie sighed. All the good work that Bea was doing with Dr Westfall, all the progress she had so recently made could easily come undone. Allie knew that it would likely hit Bea hard. She would be worried, that was to be expected, but other emotions would also be in play: fear and its resultant anger, guilt, blame … Some of that blame was due to come Allie’s way. She knew to expect it, couldn’t deny that she deserved it, but dreaded it nonetheless. Debbie was young and naïve; Allie had no such excuse.

Allie chose her moment carefully. Debbie was lounging in the hammock with Nova in her lap, bare legs propped up, enjoying a bit of late afternoon sun. Allie poured her a glass of ginger ale, making sure to fill it right up, and took it out to her, putting it into her hand.

“Thanks,” Debbie said, looking a bit puzzled by the waitress service. Allie dragged a chair over and positioned it so that she was sitting beside her. Once Debbie had taken a sip of her drink, Allie began.

“I’ve been waiting for you to tell me what’s going on,” Allie gestured to Debbie’s phone which was lying in the hammock with her. Debbie got that uncomfortable look on her face; identical to the one Bea wore when Allie did something to attract attention. She hitched herself up as best she could in the hammock without spilling her drink, earning herself a warning look from Nova.

“What d’ya mean?” Debbie prevaricated, avoiding Allie’s eyes.

“Something on that phone has been bothering you. I wish you’d tell me what it was. Maybe I can help …” Debbie had tensed, was trying to get up, glass in one hand, phone in the other, cat swaying on her lap. Nova looked at her with disgust and extended her claws through the thin fabric of Debbie’s t-shirt. Allie knew this feline tactic well: the tips of her claws would scrape the tender skin of your belly just enough to ask the question, “Do you really want to disturb me?” Debbie subsided with a defeated sigh.

“It’s nothing, really …” she mumbled, still looking away.

“Hm. Tell me … and then I can judge if it’s nothing.” There was a long period of silence during which Debbie apparently gathered together the courage to explain what had been making her frown and sigh and purse her lips. Allie’s sense of dread increased with every second. If it was taking her this long to spit it out, it must be something serious.

“There’s this boy …” Debbie began. Allie exhaled with relief. Boy trouble. If that was all she was going to have to deal with … “ … well, he’s actually a bit older than a boy …” Allie sat up straighter.

“How much older?” she asked cautiously.

“He’s nineteen,” Debbie replied, glancing over at her. Allie kept her face as neutral as she could, though her heart was pounding in fear. This was evidently not someone from school and she'd had no idea that such a person even existed. Anything could have been going on. She was a terrible foster mother … She took a deep breath. She had to calm down and listen to what Debbie had to say.

“And you like him? This boy?” Allie asked.

“I did at first. I thought we had a lot in common. He was really kind and helpful at first, but then it got a bit weird.”

“Weird how?” Allie asked gruffly.

“He wanted me to smoke weed and I didn’t want to. At first he was cool with that but then he started saying I was no fun, so I stopped answering his messages,” Debbie explained. Allie nodded.

“That sounds like a sensible decision,” Allie said.

“But then he apologised and we started messaging again and it was all going really well. And then last week he offered to drive me to the prison to visit mum … and I said yes.” Allie closed her eyes for a moment. She imagined Debbie alone in a car with a strange young man. Shit, shit, shit. When she opened her eyes again Debbie was looking at her apologetically. “I know I said I was getting the bus,” she began fearfully. Allie held up her hand.

“We’ll come to that. For now, carry on with what you were saying.”

“After the visit he drove me home. Except he said he had to stop off at work first to pick something up. So he drove to the garage where he works and we went up to the office. But once we were up there he started lounging around on the couch, chatting. He obviously wanted me to stay but something about the whole thing was making me nervous so I told him I just wanted to go home. Then he started in on me being boring so I sat down with him on the couch for a bit …” Debbie trailed off. Allie thought she had a fair idea of what they had been doing on the couch, and it wasn’t chatting.

“What happened next?”

“He was being really sweet. He made us a cup of tea … but then he got this stuff out of a drawer. I didn’t even know what it was at first,” Debbie admitted, looking embarrassed. “It was this tubing … and then I saw the needle … and no way did I want to do that. And I told him that. And he said it was cool. But then he went on and on about how amazing it was; how I hadn’t really lived until I’d felt that high. And I could feel myself starting to think about it, to wonder if he was right. To wonder what it would be like to just agree … but then I caught this look on his face. A kind of sneer. It was just how my dad used to look at my mum sometimes. And I realised … my God! If I do this, history is going to repeat itself. I’ll be in a dependent relationship with someone who despises me and controls me! Never mind the drugs …” Debbie’s face had begun to crumple as she described the scene in the office, but by this point she was all out sobbing. Allie took the glass of ginger ale off her, scooped her accomplice out of Debbie’s lap onto the ground and tipped the weeping girl out of the hammock into her arms.

“It’s okay Debbie. You did well, really well. I’m going to take care of this …”

“Please … don’t tell my mum …”

… Do you remember what I was telling you about the cat that used to come into our garden? I never got to the end of that story and I want to tell you now Allie. Harry told me to find out who the owners of the cat were so that he could make them stop it from coming onto our property. But it wasn’t about that. It was about keeping the cat away from Debbie. It was about controlling her, controlling her affections. Anyway, I didn’t bother to find out who owned it. I hoped Harry would forget about it, or that maybe the cat would stay away. And then one day I came home from doing the grocery shopping - Harry was at work, Debbie was at school - and something out in the garden caught my eye. And there he was. That friendly little cat, hanging by his neck from a tree, a piece of filthy wire tight around his throat. Harry had cut him too. His fur was all matted with blood. It made me sick, and not just because it was gruesome and cruel, but because I knew it was a message from Harry to me. “Obey me, or else.”

I cut the poor creature down and buried him in the corner of the yard as quickly as I could, desperate to get it done before Debbie could get home and see him. And when she got home, I pretended that everything was fine. And when Harry got home, I saw him look in the garden. He could see that the cat was gone. He knew that I had got his message. The look on his face was indescribable.

Please don’t tell Debbie ...

“Let me see your phone.” Debbie had confessed that the boy had continued to harass her with messages even after she had run away from him at the garage and found her own way home. Debbie unlocked it without hesitation, a fact that calmed Allie's heart. Now that she had revealed the worst, it seemed that she was content to relinquish her privacy and Allie was reassured that she had been honest with her. Debbie thumbed to the right place and handed the phone over. Allie scrolled through their conversations, her anger growing as she recognised the boy's, Brayden's, alternating attempts to flatter and manipulate Debbie.

"What's all this about him missing his mum? Did she die?" Allie asked, wondering if that might partly explain his behaviour. 

"No. His mum's in Wentworth too. That's how we met," Debbie replied, as though that should have been obvious. Allie's blood surged with panic. Feeling lightheaded, she sat down abruptly. 

"What's his name?" Allie asked, masking her fear as best she could. "What's Brayden's last name?"

"Holt. Brayden Holt." Debbie looked mystified by Allie's behaviour. "Why? What's wrong?" Allie's brain was busy putting it all together. Jacs Holt, Brayden Holt, Bea, Debbie ...

"Nothing," Allie replied, shaking her head. Remembering her promise to Bea not to worry Debbie with her situation inside, she only said, "I'm going to have to mention this to your mum tomorrow Deb. Sorry, but if she knows Brayden's mum she needs to know you've been seeing him. I daresay it's nothing …" Debbie looked miserable but nodded slowly.

"I suppose I'll be due a punishment?" 

"I suppose you will. For deceiving me. You'll go to school, but no track, no band and no seeing your friends until I'm satisfied that you understand what a dangerous position you put yourself into. No pizza either. I'll drive you to and from school. Other than that, you're home with me." Tears stood out on Debbie's lids but she didn't object. "Now, you need to block Brayden's number and delete him from your contacts. I'll be asking to check your phone every now and again …" The tears spilled over but Allie couldn't be sorry that she was upset. Perhaps it would help the lesson to stick. "I need to ask if he hurt you …" Debbie was shaking her head. "Did the two of you have sex?" More head shaking, more tears. “Do you love him?” Allie asked more gently.

“I thought I did,” Debbie sobbed. “But when I saw that look on his face I knew I was kidding myself …”

It was time to drop the tough guy impression. Allie drew her into her arms and let her cry, kissing her curly head. "It's okay. You're safe. Sometimes people do crazy things when they're young. I know I did."

While Debbie took a shower Allie did some searching online. It was even worse than she'd feared. After thinking for a while she picked up her phone and made a call.

"Al? What's up?"

"Hey, Dad. I need a favour. From you and the boys."

After that they had grabbed some snacks and she and Debbie had watched a mindless movie together, sprawled on the couch. Debbie went to bed early, worn out with all the emotion. A few minutes later, Joe had arrived. Allie had rarely been more pleased to see him. Once he had been safely installed on the couch, Allie went to bed too. She watched 22:22 come and go but there were no gentle dreams for her that night. Her mind was a tempest of thoughts. It couldn't be a coincidence that Brayden was all over Debbie at the same time that his mother was paying Bea this unwelcome attention. Was this all about Jacs and Franky? Were Debbie and Bea just pawns in an endgame that they didn't even realise they were playing? And what would Bea say when Allie told her how she had completely missed the danger?

… I think that's all for now. I managed to fill the paper pretty well after all. Thank you again for taking such good care of Debbie. See you soon,

Bea.

Chapter Text

Bea folded another towel and tried not to look at the clock again. Liz had already caught her checking the time twice and had started to get that look on her face which meant she thought she knew something. Bea couldn't see what the big deal was. Everyone clock-watched when they were at work, but ever since Franky's comments last week she was feeling sensitive about assumptions that people might make. Bloody Franky ...

"Hey, Red. Looking good," Franky had commented as soon as she had walked back onto the unit after her visit with Allie. The others sat up and took notice, ready to be entertained. Franky made some kissy noises and flashed that smile at her. Bea ignored her, which in hindsight might not have been the best tactic. "Blondie has game, I'll give her that," she continued, determined to get a rise out of her. Bea frowned. 

"What are you on about Franky?" she shot back grumpily.

"She really puts a smile on your face and a spring in your step," she replied, getting right up in Bea's face. Bea stood her ground and merely scoffed.

"Not to mention colour in your pretty little cheeks," Franky continued, grabbing and squeezing Bea's cheek between her finger and thumb like she was an annoying older sister teasing her about her love life. Bea slapped her hand away in annoyance. 

"Get lost Franky!"

"Ooh! Sensitive!" she exclaimed. Boomer laughed. Bea glared at her and strode over to the sink for a cup of water, aware that all eyes were on her. She drank down her water, steeled herself, and turned back around. Doreen was flicking through a magazine, pretending not to be interested; Kim and Franky had their arms around each other and were now distracted; Liz was sitting on the couch with a cuppa. Only Boomer was still looking at Bea eagerly, waiting for more. Bea ignored her and sat down next to Liz, thankful that Franky’s mind was elsewhere.

“Alright love?” Liz asked, glancing at her. Bea gave her a brief smile.

“Yeah, thanks Liz,” Bea replied quietly.

“Don’t mind Franky. You know what she’s like.” Bea gave a rueful smile. “Good visit?” Bea nodded. “How’s young Allie?”

“She’s fine,” Bea replied shortly. Liz regarded her with shining eyes.

“She’s a good friend to you,” Liz stated matter-of-factly. “Visiting and writing every week.” Bea had to agree.

“Yeah.” There was a long pause. Liz sipped her tea. “I can talk to her,” Bea added eventually, driven to give words to her thoughts by an impulse she couldn’t fathom. “She’s a good listener and I feel like she understands what I’m trying to say.” Even when I don’t say anything. “And she seems to know the right things to say to me.” Liz nodded. “And she makes me laugh,” Bea added, unable to contain a smile. Liz’s eyebrows arched expressively. She smiled in return and patted Bea’s leg. There was no electric current to singe her nerves, not like when Allie had done the same thing only half an hour ago.

“She makes you laugh,” she said, half to herself. “That’s good, love. You should cherish that. It doesn’t come along every day.” Cherish. What a strange word for her to have used.

"I think I know what you were driving at last week … about fear and anger," Bea told Dr Westfall. The psychologist nodded. 

"Go on …" she prompted.

"When I'm angry … maybe I'm only angry because I'm afraid. Maybe rage is more acceptable to my idea of myself than fear." Dr Westfall was looking at her acutely. 

"What led you to this thought, Bea?" she asked, looking a little gratified by Bea’s answer. Bea shrugged.

"Just something someone said," she replied, looking at the carpet, downplaying the moment of epiphany she had experienced.

"Do you think it'll help you? Knowing this?"

"I hope it will." Bea thought for a minute. "Anger … it makes thinking straight difficult. But … knowledge … I don't know. Knowledge is power, they say. It's about time I had a little self-knowledge. Maybe it’ll give me power over my impulses. To be able to think rather than just act.” Bea stumbled along, verbalising her thoughts as best she could, all the while picking at a loose thread on her hoodie to avoid having to look at Dr Westfall’s face. Therapy was not for the faint hearted, she decided.

"If you had come to this conclusion earlier is there anything that you might have done differently?" Dr Westfall asked gently. Bea closed her eyes on the pain. The what-ifs. Nothing was more uncomfortable to consider than what might have been.

"Maybe. Maybe if I had known I would have left Harry years ago. I never wanted to think about how afraid I was. It was easier to think I was angry with Harry for how he treated us. I think I thought I was strong for dealing with it on my own. That it would have been weak to ask for help." She dared a quick look at the psychologist and then averted her eyes to her lap. “Maybe part of me still thinks that.” In her peripheral vision she could see Dr Westfall making a note. "But maybe this whole mess could have been avoided if I’d got help. And I wouldn't be here now. I'd be on the outside somewhere. Debbie would be with me … where she belongs." But what about Allie? The thought had come from nowhere and bounced around inside her skull like a small child looking for attention. Bea sent it to its room.

Dear Bea,

Thanks for your letter! It came so soon after I saw you that, I confess, it took me by surprise. But it always gives me a happy feeling to recognise your handwriting on the envelope. The notepaper and envelopes were something of a selfish gift, as I'm sure you must have realised. A bigger sheet equals more letter, so happy me!

It's very kind of you to suggest that I was partly responsible for the breakthrough you have made. But I don't think that I had anything to do with it: you were just ready to know yourself better, now that you are in a position to have the luxury to do so. Dr Westfall will be able to help you make the most of it, I'm sure. 

Thank you for telling me the rest of that terrible episode of Harry and the cat. I don't think that anything could have brought home to me the reality of what you and Debbie have been through better than that. I can imagine the fear you must have felt in the moment you realised what he had done; the threat that his actions contained towards you and Debbie is so clear. I hope you won't think that I'm interfering when I tell you that I think you ought to tell the whole thing to either Dr Westfall or Josephine Pym. If it could be brought out at your trial somehow I'm sure that the jury would recognise your actions as being in self defence

It is painful to me to know that you must have many more such stories to tell. They are inside you and inside Debbie and I don't like to think about what harm they have done and continue to do. Please don't leave them in your heart. Get them out. I know that is easier said than done, but I hope that Debbie will confide more in me as time passes. And she has her therapist. You have Dr Westfall now. Please make use of her. But I want you to know that you can tell me. Or write them down in these letters if that's easier ...

"So, what's she like?" Franky asked later. They were sitting on the couch in their unit. Franky was in a different mood by now, the day after she had teased Bea about Allie. The mocking tone and killer smile were gone. Bea felt herself reddening. What could she say about Allie without Franky making a big song and dance about it

"She's easy to talk to," she began. "Sympathetic …"

"Goes with the job I suppose …" Franky said agreeably. "What do you talk about with her?" Bea must have looked indignant or something, because Franky added, "I know, I know. It's private. Just … give me an idea." Bea wondered why she was so interested. 

"Um … Debbie, mostly. Harry a bit, this place, a bit … " Franky was nodding. 

"And it's helping, yeah? You feel better afterwards?" Bea considered. Always. Always lighter, easier, further away from the dark days. Externally, she limited herself to a nod. “And does she write it down, what you say?” Bea recoiled.

“No, of course not! Why would she?” she asked in horror.

“I just thought that’s what happened. That it all went in some kind of file …” Bea’s head suddenly caught up with Franky’s. She covered her eyes with her hand and gave a strangled laugh.

“You’re talking about Dr Westfall, aren’t you?” she said, peeking out from behind her hand.

“Of course! Who did you think …? Oh … you thought I meant blondie!” Franky started laughing raucously.

“Shh!” Bea tried to cover her mouth with her hand, whilst Franky fended her off. The others were all in their rooms already, but too much noise would bring them out looking to satisfy their curiosity. Franky slapped her on the thigh.

“You’ve got it bad, Red. Can’t get her out of your head, eh? Well, I know how that feels. I’ve only seen Dr Westfall twice in passing in the corridor, not said more than two words to her, and I’m already considering throwing myself on her mercy.” Bea eyed her in fascination.

“You’ve got a thing for her?” she asked in a low tone, feeling shy to even brush upon this topic.

Oh, yeah,” Franky replied with deep emphasis. “I’m thinking of going to Erica and suggesting that she employs the good doctor full time. See if I can’t get me on her couch …” Bea scoffed.

“There’s no couch, only a chair.”

“Couch, chair, up against the wall … makes no odds to me!” Franky replied with relish. Bea rolled her eyes but couldn’t help chuckling.

“It’s not a bad idea, though,” Bea continued more seriously. “She’s a good psych, I think. There are plenty of women in here who would benefit.” Franky nodded, self-satisfied.

“I know. It’s a win-win situation!” she crowed, lifting her hands excitedly in the air. “The women get their help and me … I get to know the doc more intimately ...”

“You wish!” Bea responded with an elbow to her ribs. “Not everyone is falling over themselves to get with Franky Doyle you know.”

“Clearly not you.” Bea gave her a complacent look. “But that’s okay Red. I can see your affections are elsewhere.” Bea just scoffed, not knowing what to say to Franky’s constant insinuations.

“What about Kim?” Bea asked.

“Kim’s fun, but she’s getting out soon. And Erica … well. We’ll see,” Franky replied with a narrowing of the eyes. Bea knew it wasn’t her place to question the putative top dog but swallowed hard and said her piece.

“Kim may be a bit of fun to you, but I’ve seen the way she looks at you. You’re gunna break her heart.” Franky looked at Bea in surprise and turned to face her.

“Are you giving me advice on my love life? What makes you an expert on romance all of a sudden?” Bea knew she was about as far from an expert as it was possible to be, and she was just about to say as much when Franky continued. “Oh, I see …” Franky left that thought hanging, laughed mischievously and got to her feet. “I’m going to bed. See you in the morning. Sweet dreams Red.” 

“Night.” Bea watched her go. Franky teased everyone on the unit. Bea almost felt as though being teased was some kind of stamp of approval, a “You’re okay with me” from the boss. She smiled ruefully to think that it had taken being sent to prison for her to make some proper friends. On the outside she had always been too busy hiding what was going on with Harry to make any true friends. But in here, inevitably, everyone knew what Harry had done, and what she had done to Harry. Some women might judge her a hard case because of it, and that was all to the good, but all of the women had personal situations that had led them here and so judgement on that score was surprisingly absent. So, she decided to accept Franky’s teasing in the spirit in which it was intended; as a hand of friendship. The content of the remarks she pushed to the corner of her mind.

Sweet dreams. She had slept surprisingly well all week. Maybe she was finally getting used to all the night-time noises that this place generated. Perhaps she had finally become used to the thin mattress on her bed. Whatever the reason, she was waking in the mornings with an inexplicable feeling of contentment. Half of her wanted to embrace it; the other half of her knew to beware it. She glanced over at the woman operating the steam press. Jacs had warned her about becoming too comfortable, finding life inside too easy. Whether that was just sound advice from an old lag or whether it was a warning, Bea knew she would do well to heed it.

She looked at the clock. Damn. Liz was staring at her again. There was nothing wrong with anticipating a visit from a friend, was there? Everyone liked getting a visit. Not that Liz ever had a visitor. Bea had heard the story of how Liz had ended up in here. It was sad, though hardly surprising, that Oliver had divorced her and that her kids wanted nothing to do with her. But such a shame that the booze had ruined her life. Liz loved her kids and missed them fiercely. Now all her maternal instincts were directed at the women, which is what made her such a brilliant peer worker. Liz had every right to be envious of Bea's visits but, to her credit, Bea had never detected anything like that from her.

The bell sounded to indicate that the work period was at an end. Not long now . Bea finished up what she was doing while Doreen and Boomer headed out the door already, joshing and nudging each other.

“Bea …” She turned. It was Jacs who had paused her, Simmo by her side for emphasis. Bea could see Franky and Liz. They were already in the corridor but Franky was looking back through the glass pane in the door. Bea’s heart started thumping, wondering if something was about to happen.

“What?” Bea asked hoarsely, determined not to be cowed. Jacs gave her a sly look.

“I’m still waiting for that hair-do. I don’t like to be kept waiting. How about now?” Bea glanced at the clock again before she could catch herself. Damn it. The stab of regret was acute. To give anything away in front of Jacs was a mistake.

“I don’t …” she began. Jacs eyes were watchful.

“Oh, that’s right. You have a visit in a few minutes. Debbie’s foster mum, isn’t it?” she said with that artificially pleasant smile. Bea didn’t answer and wouldn’t look at her. Anger was swelling in her chest but she couldn’t afford for Holt to see it. “Well … maybe this evening then?”

“I don’t …” she began again, this time directing her eyes to the door, relieved to see that Franky was still loitering in the corridor. “I don’t think Franky would approve,” she grated out. She watched Jacs' eyes follow hers and her face drop a miniscule amount as she realised Franky was watching.

“Francesca needs to learn her place,” she replied gamely, though her face revealed that she was rattled. “And so do you. Come on Simmo,” she added pleasantly. “Time for a cuppa.” Bea watched them pass Franky. All of their eyes were sharp with threat. Franky treated Jacs to one of her biggest smiles.

“Everything alright Nana? Arthritis playing up?” she asked as they passed. Jacs didn’t deign to reply. Bea joined Franky and they walked together along the corridor, bumping shoulders. “What was that about?” Franky asked, checking no one was within earshot.

“Jacs has been asking me to do her hair,” Bea said in a near whisper. “Keeps mentioning Deb, and now Allie. I don’t like it. I don’t like the way she’s insinuating that she knows them.” Franky was looking thoughtful. “I can’t work out if she wants to put me out of the picture or recruit me,” Bea added in frustration.

“I heard an interesting rumour,” Franky said, looking around before pulling Bea into an empty stairwell. “I heard that Vinnie has found himself a younger model and is looking to divorce Jacs. If that’s true, she could be looking to add you to her crew. If Jacs is divorced out of the Holt clan then, poof, there goes a lot of her power. She’s not getting any younger … and she still has years left on her sentence. She’s going to need some ballsy types around her to survive … maybe that’s where you come in.” Bea took this in and swallowed dryly.

“You know I’m not interested in being Jacs’ bodyguard …” Bea protested.

“I know, don’t worry. Just be prepared for her to try and force the issue.” Bea nodded. “Stay out of her way and watch your back,” Franky added.

“Smith!”

“That’s Mr Jackson. Must be time for your visit,” Franky said with a glint in her eye. “Here, let me fix your hair …” she reached out a hand and ruffled Bea’s hair energetically.

“Franky ..!” Bea tutted and attempted to smooth her hair back into place.

“Blondie’ll find you irresistible,” Franky declared with a grin. Bea scoffed and turned to go. Franky grabbed her arm. “Jacs tries anything else, you come to me straight away.” Bea nodded. “We’ll show her not to mess with us.”

… and then to complete the disaster, the cat jumped up and knocked the open bottle of wine off the counter! It had to be red of course. And Debbie was no help - she was too busy laughing her socks off. I don’t suppose that stain will ever come all the way out, but every time I look at it I smile, so it’s worth a ruined rug.

I suppose I’d better stop there and do some actual work. I have a deadline looming. I’ll see you soon. Until then stay safe and keep out of trouble.

Love, Allie.

Chapter Text

Allie's worries faded into the background as soon as Bea was in sight. It was just like those times when she had been listening to the neighbour's dog barking incessantly all afternoon only for her attention to be captured by the flitting of the thornbills in her backyard, making the sound just slide away. Everything else receded into the distance whilst Bea's presence rushed upon her and occupied the foreground. She stood square on to Allie, springing a little on her toes, looking expectant. Her eyes were fixed on Allie's, lips pursed but curling a little at the corners, arms relaxed by her sides. Her arms. This week Bea was wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, or maybe it was one of her usual ones with the sleeves ripped off. Whatever. Allie was treated to an uninterrupted view from smooth shoulder, past toned upper arm, to her lower arm, as strong and slender as a vine, and finally to her fine boned, almost delicate wrist and hand.

Allie walked up to her feeling an irresistible grin tugging at her mouth, pulse accelerating every moment. Bea’s smile blossomed and Allie’s heart flipped and her lungs emptied.

“Hi,” she said breathily. She hoped Bea wouldn't notice how love-struck she sounded.

“Hi.” Allie’s whole body vibrated within the pleasurable frequency of Bea’s voice. The moment stretched out.

“So do I get a hug, or what?” Allie asked. She tried to keep her tone light and teasing; she tried to excise any neediness that might creep in. She’d had some rules for herself, before she came in here, but somehow their importance seemed to have faded away into the background too. Bea made a dismissive sound but her smile still lit her face and eyes as she held her arms out. Allie stepped into the circle they created; she closed her eyes and allowed herself the momentary comfort of resting her head in the crook of Bea’s neck. It felt so good that tears needled her eyes. Placing her hands against Bea’s back she took in a gasping breath through her mouth; the oxygen of this moment would need to sustain her for the whole week ahead. And then it was over. Bea had drawn back and was looking at her with a faint concern.

“You okay, Allie?” She nodded dumbly and sat down quickly, hoping to distract her from reading her face too closely.

“Yeah. Looking good Bea,” she side-tracked, allowing her eyes to roam, apparently mockingly, over Bea’s face and body, particularly her bare arms. Predictably, Bea was flustered by this attention, looking away and smoothing down her hair. “Been hitting the gym?” Allie gripped her hands together to make sure she didn’t reach out and touch. Bea covered as much of her upper arms as she could by folding her arms and resting her hands over her biceps.

“Not much else to do,” she growled. “Plus … it’s a good way to empty my mind.” Allie nodded and stowed that idea away for later. Bea might need such a technique when she told her what had been going on with Debbie. She wondered if she should tell her now and get it over with. Her stomach plummeted and her hands trembled at the thought. Or should she wait until near the end of the visit? Delay the evil moment? Either way, the thought of the burden it would add to Bea’s load made it hard to breathe. She looked up straight into Bea’s concerned gaze.

Bea’s gaze scoured the room impatiently until Allie stepped into the glare of her relentless search-beam. She exhaled in relief, a smile monopolising her face. Why had she thought that she might not come today? Her worries were spilling over. But Allie was good; she didn’t need to worry about Allie. Allie was the fixed point around which everything else went to hell. Although she did look a little tired and worried today, didn’t she? Beautiful though. Bea’s face turned towards hers as she made her way across the room, like the head of a sunflower tracking the sun across the sky. Feeling herself lift up onto her toes as though she was straining to cross the distance between them without moving her feet, Bea remembered something that Franky had said.

"She really puts a smile on your face and a spring in your step."

That was true, apparently. But Allie would have that effect on anyone. It was probably what made her such a good foster mother. She was one of those rare people who were as beautiful on the inside as on the outside. And Franky’s insinuations were just that; ideas without basis, designed to slink their way into Bea’s mind and unsettle her. So when Allie challenged her to a hug, she could hardly back down. Because a hug between friends was nothing to fear. But Allie felt different in her arms today. Smaller, shrinking into her as though for protection. Bea gave her what she could and wished it could be more.

“Looking good, Bea.” Suddenly self-conscious, Bea reached up and attempted to tidy her hair where Franky had mussed it so comprehensively a few minutes ago. She noticed Allie eyeing her arms appreciatively and knew she was blushing.

"Not to mention colour in your pretty little cheeks."  That was Franky again. It seemed that she had planted quite a few of these insidious little thoughts in Bea’s head. She tried not to listen. 

When she managed to get her skin colour under control she returned her eyes to Allie who seemed so deep in thought she was almost absent. Her eyes, which had been their typical tropical blue a minute ago, were now hyacinth. Bea watched as they darkened to indigo. Allie’s gaze was turned so far inward that Bea hesitated to disturb her. Perhaps she was fed up with having to come here every week. Perhaps this was her way of letting Bea know she was bored.

“Nothing to tell me this week?” Bea asked, trying to keep any trace of the bitterness which was filling her mouth out of her voice. Allie’s eyes slowly came back into focus and pinned Bea to her seat. Her eyes were full of something unspoken. Bea heard her swallow drily.

“The opposite,” she replied hoarsely. “Too much …” She looked so worried, scared even, that Bea’s heart bounded sympathetically. She reached out her hand. Allie’s was trembling slightly as she brushed against the spot on her wrist where the burn, now healed, had been. She slipped her fingers into Allie’s curled palm. Her hands were always so warm and dry. Bea found reassurance in that constancy and hoped Allie could find something comforting in her touch. Her own hands were usually chilly and sometimes damp with anxiety, and she hoped Allie didn't mind that. The way she was squeezing her fingers suggested not. They exchanged a small smile.

“You’d better tell me,” Bea said.

A trapped butterfly fluttered desperately in her chest. There were more in her stomach. A cloud; enough to cause a tornado of nausea. Allie swallowed her irritation at herself as best she could. It was one thing to be scared on Debbie’s behalf, although she was confident that she was as safe as she could make her, and it was only to be expected that she would be worried about how this might affect Bea’s mental state. But the disabling amount of fear that she felt at the blame that Bea would direct towards her was unacceptable. She loved being in love with Bea. It was the highest high she had ever felt. But right now it was bloody inconvenient.

“I have to tell you something that you’re going to find upsetting. Frightening, even. So please, Bea, please remember what you told me about fear and anger and don’t … do anything reckless …” Bea was frowning at her.

“God’s sake. Just tell me,” she growled, clamping down on Allie’s hand. “Is it Debbie? Is she okay?” Allie didn’t like the hectic gleam in her eyes.

“I want you to know that I would never let Debbie come to any harm …” she began, disgusted at her own pleading tone.

“I know. I’ve already entrusted her to you.” Bea spoke so definitively that Allie finally found her courage and spoke up.

“I noticed that Debbie has been a bit worried about messages she’s been getting on her phone this last couple of weeks. I finally got her to tell me what was going on yesterday.” Bea was looking at her steadily. “She’s been seeing a boy. He’d been pressuring her to try drugs but, well, she’s no push over and she resisted.” Bea nodded but didn’t speak, clearly waiting for the axe to fall. “And this is the part where I don’t want you to freak out … it turns out that the boy is Brayden Holt …” Bea didn’t react for a moment, but when Allie saw the knowledge reach her eyes Bea went very pale, her face stricken. She let go of Allie’s hand and gripped the edges of the table instead. Tightly. For a moment Allie thought she would turn over the table but instead she abruptly pushed herself to her feet overturning her chair with a clatter. She looked around the room wildly as if seeking an escape and Allie had no doubt that if there had been a way out she would have gone to Debbie on that instant. Allie had also come to her feet, without realising it, and now saw one of the officers take a step in their direction.

“Smith?” she said questioningly. “Sit down Smith.” Bea didn’t appear to hear her. The guard came closer. “Sit down Smith, or I’ll have to remove you,” she said more firmly. Allie edged around the table.

“It’s okay officer … Officer Bennett,” she said, having glanced at the woman’s name tag. She was surprised at how calm she sounded. “We’re okay,” she told her with a placating smile. She reached out to Bea and held her by her unfeeling wrist. “Right, Bea?” Bea’s eyes were elsewhere. Allie smoothed her thumb over the tender inner of her wrist. Over and over. She stepped closer so that their faces were only a few centimetres apart. She could hear Bea sucking air in noisily through her nose as her lungs attempted to keep pace with the oxygen demands of her rushing blood and ready muscles. Fight or flight. “Bea.” She breathed her name softly, willing her to return. She placed her other hand on Bea’s hip and spoke to her quietly so that the guard wouldn’t hear. “Debbie’s safe. I know this situation sounds bad but I’ve made sure she’ll be safe. Now we just have to make sure you’ll be safe. I need you to help me with that Bea. Between us we can do this, but I can’t do it on my own … Bea …” 

There was a strange rushing in her ears and suddenly sound came back. 

"Bea …" Bea’s eyes came into focus. Allie. Her blue eyes were steady, her face calm, her mouth relaxed. Bea felt her panic drop a notch. “There you are …” Allie whispered to her with a hint of a smile curving her lips. Such a sweet shade of pink. “We have to show the officer that you’re okay … or she’ll take you back to your cell.” Bea blinked at Allie. Officer?  “Bea …” Allie’s breath tickled her face. She became aware of Allie’s thumb against her wrist, her hand on her hip. Her heels lifted involuntarily, shifting her centre of gravity, leaning her into those touches. Allie smiled again, broader this time, a hint of rose in her cheeks. Bea watched as she attempted to straighten her face, bowing her head before looking up at her through her lashes. “Whaddya say you let Officer Bennett know you’re alright?” 

“Hmm?” Bea queried. Allie inclined her head to the side and Bea’s eyes followed her prompt. Miss Bennett was glaring at her, arms crossed against her chest.

“Oh, yeah,” she croaked. “All good here Miss Bennett.”

“Sit down Smith,” she said impatiently. Bea nodded. Allie released her and stepped behind her to pick up her chair which was lying on its back on the floor.

“Thanks,” she said, sitting down gingerly. Allie’s hand rested momentarily on her back before she returned to her own seat. Miss Bennett nodded, apparently satisfied, and stepped back a few paces. Allie was silent and watchful whilst Bea took a minute to get her breathing under control. 

“Where’s Debbie now?” she asked as her body was engulfed in another wave of panic. “The Holts are connected. They could get to her …”

“She’s at school. I thought about keeping her at home but I don’t want to frighten her too much …”

“Do you even know who the Holts are Allie?” she asked, struggling to keep the anger out of her voice. Allie’s calmness seemed to desert her then: her lips trembled, her eyes pooled; her whole face sagged and changed shape.

“I’m sorry,” she replied, tears in her voice. “I know I should have caught this sooner …” Bea couldn’t hold back the impatient sound her throat made.

“Forget that for now. Tell me you know she’s safe.” Her voice sounded harsh. She didn’t mean it to but she couldn’t call it back. Allie gathered herself. She cleared her throat.

“She's safe. I did some research on the Holts, so I know they’re bad people. A crime family. I called my dad. He’s set up a protective cordon around Debbie using some of his old ex-army mates and my brothers. I went to the school first thing and explained as much as I felt I could … I … I didn’t tell them all the details. I didn’t want them to call the police. I thought that might make things worse … Anyway, the school was really helpful. They’ve put safeguarding procedures in place to make sure no one unauthorised can get near her. My dad has two people watching the school all the time she’s there. I’ll be driving her. There’ll be someone outside the house at all times and the boys are taking it in turns to sleep on my couch …” Something was worming its way through Bea’s fear: gratitude. Allie had gone to great lengths to keep Debbie safe, and it struck her then that Allie loved Debbie too and that she was scared for her safety and would do whatever it took to protect her. A hot flash of wonderment darted through her. She was not on her own in this. For the first time in her adult life she wasn’t a solo parent, Harry’s efforts having counted for nothing. She tried to catch Allie’s eye but she was looking off into a corner of the room, barely keeping it together, as she carried on listing what had been done. “Um, I’m monitoring Debbie’s phone in case he tries to get in touch with her. She’s grounded, obviously …” She made a helpless gesture, her eyes brimming again. “I should never have let her come here on her own. That’s how she met him, you see. He was visiting his mum, she was visiting you … He played on that. That they had that in common.” She let out an exhausted gasp and roughly pushed the tears out of her eyes with the heels of her hands. It pained Bea to see her so upset. She grabbed Allie’s hot wet hands in both of hers and squeezed them hard.

“You did good Allie,” she told her earnestly. “This is no more your fault than mine. If I hadn’t got myself put away none of this would be happening.” Allie finally looked at her. Bea could see in her eyes that she was glad that Bea had said that, but she was still a long way from believing her. She shook her head.

“You entrusted her to me. Your most precious …” her voice broke on that word. She swallowed. “I wish I could go back in time and change things …”

“Don’t Allie. Take it from me. Nothing good comes from that.” She squeezed her hands again. “No more tears. Tell me everything from the start.”

Allie took a ragged breath and told her everything she knew or suspected. It helped to put it together as a logical narrative. If she concentrated on making the story as cogent as possible she could almost forget the danger for a while. It was something like editing a proof: this detail is irrelevant - cut it; this action caused this event - make sure that’s clear. By the time she reached the end of her explanation she felt better. Bea had been following her words closely and, so far, had not let go of her hands. Maybe she truly didn’t blame her as much as she had feared. On the other hand, it wouldn’t do for Bea to blame herself. The blame lay with the Holts, but what was the point of blame anyway? They had to work out what to do. She had to work out what could be done without Bea putting herself in danger. The fear was under control for now, but soon Allie would have to leave her and it was likely that the fear and anger would be back. If she could get Bea to commit to a particular course of action before the end of this visit, perhaps that would keep her from imploding.

“Do you have any idea why Jacs is doing this?” she asked. Bea looked at their joined hands before replying in an undertone.

“I think she wants leverage to get me to switch sides from Franky’s crew to hers. I heard a rumour, and it’s only a rumour, that Vinnie wants to divorce Jacs. If that’s true she’ll want to strengthen her position before it becomes common knowledge. Either that or she wants me to be so terrified of what Brayden might do to Debbie that I act up and get put in the slot. That way I’m out of the way for when she makes a move on Franky. Or maybe it’s just revenge because I stood up to her once too often. She wants me to know she can get to Debbie whenever she likes, so I’d better toe the line. She clearly has Brayden passing on to her whatever Debbie has told him. She knew you were coming here today.” Allie’s eyebrows shot up in surprise at the fact that this woman, this crime matriarch, was invested enough in intimidating Bea to have her in her sights. Dread seized her belly abruptly, bringing the queasiness back. Bea gripped her hands tighter and scooted closer so that their foreheads were nearly touching. “Don’t worry. You’ll be safe.”

“I’m not worried for me. I’m just surprised at the lengths she’s going to to get to you. How are you going to manage? I don’t want to just walk away and leave you here to face it on your own …” Tears threatened again at the thought and Allie wished that they weren’t audible in her voice. If her fear spilled over it would only make Bea’s fear worse. But Bea just smiled gently.

“It’s okay,” she said with such kind concern that it made Allie want to weep all the more. “You just keep both eyes on Debbie. Anyway, I’m not alone, remember. Just like you have your Novak clan, I have my crew.”

“But what’ll you do?” Allie asked plaintively.

“I’ll talk to Franky. She’ll know what to do.” Allie didn't know Franky and certainly didn't trust her, but Bea seemed to have faith in her. But, even if this woman couldn't be trusted to look out for Bea, maybe she could be trusted to look out for her own interests. And perhaps her interests and Bea's interests intersected for the time being. 

It was funny, Bea reflected, how this visit had turned out. When Allie first told her about the threat to Debbie she had been - surprise, surprise - angry and afraid. But when Allie started to lose her cool Bea had felt able to step up and help her. The strong impulse she felt to soothe and reassure her had taken her by surprise. For so many years her only concern had been for Debbie. What did it mean to feel such concern for someone else? ”Can’t get her out of your head, eh?”  Fucking Franky.

But when it was time to go Allie looked so reluctant to leave it made her own heart ache in response.

"Call me. Let me know what's happening," Allie pleaded, getting to her feet.

"Of course. Write to me? Let me know Debbie's okay? Don't let her visit, whatever you do. And if she's in danger and you have to call the police, don't hesitate." Allie's instinct to leave the police out of it was the right one as long as there was no immediate danger, because as far as Jacs was concerned, involving the police would amount to lagging and Bea would reap a harsh punishment for that. But if it came to that, so be it. Allie nodded, and Bea could tell from her expression that she knew what it would mean for Bea.

"If I have to," she said, meeting Bea’s eyes. And Bea knew she could do it. She would hate to do it, but if she had to she would put Debbie first just as Bea herself would. Bea nodded in satisfaction. Allie glanced around at all the other visitors filing out. With a look of desperation on her face she pulled Bea to her and wrapped her in a fierce embrace. Bea could feel Allie’s chest heaving against hers with the emotion of the moment.

“Hey. It’s going to be okay …” she murmured into her hair, rocking her slightly.

“Be careful,” Allie whispered back urgently. “Be smart. If you feel like you're gunna lose it, visit the gym, take your mind off it. I want you out of here as soon as possible, so don’t muck up your good record.”

“I won’t,” Bea promised. Feeling Allie trembling and hearing the tears in her voice she couldn’t help but worry about her. ”Will you be okay?” 

“I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me. I’m tougher than you know.” Listening to her vehement tone, Bea could only smile.

“That’s my girl,” she said.

She watched a smile transform Allie's face as she reluctantly backed towards the door and wondered where those words had come from.

“You’ve got it bad, Red.”

Chapter Text

They wouldn’t tell her anything on the phone, so Allie was at the prison, pacing up and down in front of reception a full half an hour before there was any hope of being let inside. There had been no phone call from Bea. She had said she would call and let her know what was going on and yet she hadn't. There had been no letter either and Allie felt her tension escalating every day that the post contained only official correspondence and junk mail. What could possibly be keeping her from calling or writing? She could think of only two possibilities: that she was in the slot or that she was in the hospital. The third possibility could not be sanely entertained for more than a split second, so Allie had decided that if something more catastrophic had happened, Debbie, as next of kin, would have been informed, so it was not worth worrying about. But worry she had. 

"Kaz. What are you doing here?" Seemingly, Robbie had let her in on his way out. 

"I've been drafted," she said, plonking a bottle of wine down on the kitchen table and shrugging off her jacket. "Apparently you should have had the pleasure of Freddo's company tonight, but he has a date, so you've got me instead." She sat herself down. Allie just looked at her. "Your dad called, explained the situation, and put me on the rota." Allie groaned. 

"I wish he had called first …"

"Why?" Kaz sounded affronted. "I'm just as good a guard dog as Freddo. And better than Robbie …"

"Because I would have told him that you won't want to spend the night on my couch …"

"That doesn't bother me," Kaz said pointedly. Allie eyed her.

"I'm sensing that there's something that does bother you …" she said in resignation, knowing that Kaz wasn't one to keep her irritations to herself. 

"Why didn't you tell me what's going on? Don't you know that I always wanna help you?" Allie did know that. She wished that she could tell Kaz that it had just slipped her mind, or that she'd been too busy, but that wouldn't be the truth. The truth was that she had caught a whiff of disapproval in Kaz's attitude to both Debbie and Bea and didn't want to have to face her antagonism. Allie sighed. 

"I think you already know why I didn't mention it." Allie said. Kaz smiled. 

"Because you knew that I'd point out that this whole thing that you've got going with the Smiths is getting ridiculously intense. That because you've got the hots for the mum you're sticking your neck out for the daughter …"

"That's not what's going on at all …" Allie cut in hotly.

"Your dad told me you refused to call the police, but from what he said these people are dangerous!"

"Shh!" Allie hissed, closing the door to the hall. "Debbie's just upstairs. I don't want her to be any more worried than she already is." She attempted to gather herself into a calm frame of mind, something that was essential when having a conversation with Kaz. Allie loved her, respected her, and owed her her life, but her brutal honesty could make discussions contentious. "I know I did the right thing in not calling the police. It gives Bea the chance to sort things out at the prison. But we're both very clear that if there's any escalation of risk to Debbie, then I'll call the police … regardless of the danger to Bea."

"What's this Holt woman got against her, anyway?" Kaz asked. Allie shook her head. 

"She's not sure. It's probably just prison politics. Bea's got to find a way to get her to back off without ruining her good record, because she'll need a clean sheet when it comes to trial." Kaz scoffed. 

"From what I hear about Wentworth that's not the way things are done there. It wasn't long ago that their governor was murdered. Did you hear about that?"

"Of course. That's why we've got to get her sentence reduced as much as possible. She'll never be safe in there." Kaz's eyes lit up and she nodded her head knowingly. 

"I knew it. You think you can save her, that's what this is all about …" Allie gave a despairing groan. It was always the same with Kaz.

"You make it sound like some kind of complex! But you don't believe she deserves to be in there any more than I do …"

"All right, settle down," Kaz interrupted. "So sensitive! You're as thin-skinned as an overripe banana." Allie slumped into a chair, knowing she had become a bit shrill for a minute. "And speaking of injustice in women's sentencing, I put out some feelers in this chat room I'm in and got a couple of replies."

"Replies? To what?"

"To my question asking if there were any other women who wanted to get involved in some direct action. I got replies from a woman called Mel and another called Carly …

"Whoa, whoa … you're not still thinking about that are you? I already told you that was a bad idea."

"How can you say that? All those kids - like Debbie … much younger than her too, separated from their mothers for months on end! Most of those women could serve their sentences in the community without risk to the public and they could be caring for their children at the same time. Meanwhile the men who pimped them or got them hooked on drugs are still out there …"

"Seriously Kaz? I'm not arguing about the injustice of it, but your direct action would put you on the wrong side of the law. Plus any feminist vigilante group would be sure to make the press and that will only hurt Bea's chances at trial. So, for me, please Kaz, drop it." Kaz crossed her arms over her chest. Her expression said that she'd never give an inch but Allie knew her well. "I'm begging you Kaz. For me. I can't be visiting you in prison too." A long silence descended. Eventually Kaz sighed. 

"Alright bubba, I'll shelve it for now. I had a really great name for the group all picked out too …" she added regretfully. 

"Spare me the details," Allie replied. Kaz smiled, unoffended.

"So, are you gunna get us some glasses?" she asked, gesturing to the wine. Allie got two wine glasses out of the cabinet. 

"I'll just have half a glass," she said as Kaz started to pour. "Got to keep my wits about me."

"Why'd you say that?"

"In case Brayden turns up again," Allie replied flatly. Kaz stopped pouring and stared at her.

"You've gotta be joking. He had the nerve to show his face ..?" Allie nodded. 

"Although, as it turned out, I'd seen it before."

It had been three o'clock in the afternoon when Allie had glanced away from her laptop screen and out of the window. A figure in a grey hoodie was loping along the street and, when he reached a spot opposite Allie's house, he paused and looked up at the facade. When he drew the hood off his head and started across the road purposefully, Allie had started to her feet with a sense of alarm. She had seen that face and that dirty blond hair before. She ran down the stairs and yanked the front door open with enough energy to propel her unthinkingly onto the front path in just her socks.

"You!" she said accusatively, jabbing her finger at him. He looked seriously taken-aback and Allie could only assume that she must come across as some kind of maniac. Good . "You're Brayden Holt." He nodded affably. He was good looking, she supposed, in a potato-faced, narrow-eyed kind of way and, if Allie had not already been aware of his character, she might have been taken in by his smile and friendliness.

"You must be Allie," he said, and grinned, holding out his hand for a polite handshake. But Allie remembered his smirking face from the very first time she had visited Bea at Wentworth. On that occasion he had declined to be searched by the sniffer dog. Smug. Entitled. Complacent. That’s how he had looked. She shook her head at him disbelievingly.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me …” She took another step forward and was gratified to see him edge away a little, his smile beginning to wilt. “You stay away from Debbie,” she said firmly, the fury she could hear in her voice giving her confidence. “She’s told me what’s been going on. If I catch you around here again …” Allie stopped talking to allow his imagination to fill in the blank, whilst giving him what must surely have been an irate look followed by a hefty shove to the chest. He backed hastily towards the street, almost colliding with Joe who was wheeling his bike onto Allie’s path. Joe gave him a smile filled with polite menace and Brayden flinched. “Get off my property!” Allie concluded at volume. He stepped into the street. Joe continued to look at him in a way that couldn’t be misconstrued as anything other than threatening.

“I think it’s up to Debbie,” Brayden called out from a safe distance, focusing on Allie again. “If she wants to see me. Not you.” Allie charged. By the time she had taken half a dozen paces Brayden had turned away, flicked his hood back up and was striding off down the street at a quick pace. Joe caught hold of Allie’s arm to halt her pursuit.

“Alright sis. I think he got the message,” Joe said with a troubled smile.

“What are you doing here so early?” she asked him, unable to quench her ire quickly enough to prevent it from scorching him. Luckily, Joe was the last person in the world to take offence.

“My lecture was cancelled,” he said, wheeling his bike in and leaning it against the front of the house. “So I thought if I came over now you might feed me.” He grinned again and looked so much like his little boy self that Allie felt her anger dissipate at once. She reached up and kissed his flushed cheek by way of apology.

“Ugh! You’re all sweaty.” She drew him into the house through the open doorway. “Why don’t you have a shower while I go and collect Debbie from school. Then I’ll see what I can do about dinner …”

“Okay, but we need to talk about lover boy there,” he began, gesturing in the direction of Brayden’s retreat.

“It’ll have to wait. I have to go and get Debbie. I don’t want her waiting around outside school in the current climate,” she replied, heeling into her runners.

“Alright Al, but you should seriously think twice about throwing your weight around with a guy like that. Who knows what kind of backup he might have had.” The little crease had appeared between his brows.

“Good job you came along when you did then …” Allie teased. Joe laughed, and struck a pose with his fists in the air like a boxer.

“As we both know, I’m a lover not a fighter,” he protested. “If you want any punches throwing you’ll have to call Freddo … but it seems like you managed fine on your own. This time.”

“Don’t worry so much Towser,” she said, grabbing her car keys and ruffling his hair. “See you in a bit.”

So, Kaz was worried; Joe was worried; hell, Allie was worried, despite trying to convince everyone otherwise. The only one who seemed to be taking the situation in his stride was her dad. Naturally phlegmatic, he had spent twenty years in the army before leaving and marrying Allie’s mum, and his idea of a perilous situation was naturally not the same as that of a civilian. Seb ran them all as though they were members of his battalion; arranging them on his mental campaign map to best effect, seemingly unfazed by any little problems that occurred.

“Hello, Debbie dearest,” he announced on one of his daily visits. “How was school today?”

“Fine thanks,” Debbie replied, standing on tip-toes to kiss his cheek.

“Hi Dad,” Allie added, brushing past him in the hall. “Just got to finish this and then I’ll be with you …”

“No worries love, I’m not staying. I just wanted to check that everything had run smoothly today.”

“Yep. All good, although … What was that last night? Sending Kaz over?” Allie complained.

“Oh well, I didn’t have much choice. Freddo let me down at the last minute.” He had the grace to look a little contrite. “I would have come myself, but I’m too tall and too old to be sleeping on that couch. Give you a hard time did she?”

“Something like that.”

“Well, I don’t think you should complain. In protection terms, Kaz is twice as fierce as any of your brothers,” he smiled.

“True,” Allie replied wryly.

Debbie had been following the conversation and now chipped in with a question.

“How do you all know Kaz, anyway? Is she family?” She looked brightly from face to face. Allie’s dad looked uncomfortable.

“I think that’s my cue,” he rumbled. “See you tomorrow girls.”

“Bye Dad.”

“What did I say?” Debbie asked Allie after the front door clicked shut. Allie sighed and pushed down the feeling of dread that was rising in her belly. She should have told Debbie her life story before, but it was always easier to avoid what was never going to be a pleasant conversation. Allie decided that now was the time to get it done as they probably had a while before Robbie turned up.

“Come and sit down and I’ll tell you the story.” They settled themselves on the couch. “I know you like my dad and this story doesn’t exactly show him in the best light. That’s why he left. But I hope you’ll give him a chance, even after what I tell you.”

“Okay …” Debbie said slowly.

“As you know my mum died when I was only twelve. Until she got sick, life had been pretty idyllic. Mum and Dad loved each other in a crazy romantic way that thirteen years and four kids had done nothing to dampen. When she got the cancer diagnosis she sat us all down and did her best to prepare us for what was to come, but really, how can you prepare anyone for something like that? Plus the boys were all so young.” Allie took a shaky breath. Her eyes were watering already. No matter how many times she told people about her mum, she always got teary. Debbie squeezed her hand.

“You don’t have to tell me Allie …”

“It’s okay. I want to. When she died my dad got very depressed. The boys were badly affected too, of course, but being children they bounced back pretty quickly. But Dad … well, he was there physically, but emotionally ... he retreated into himself. For the next few years I pretty much raised those kids by myself. When Robbie got a bit older he figured out that I needed some help. He was a total sweetheart and almost saved the day. Freddo was not much help: always slacking off, having fun, causing trouble. Joe was just a little boy. I did everything I could to take the place of Mum for him, but I just couldn’t …”

“Joe turned out great,” Debbie interjected. “They all did. You did an amazing job.”

“Thanks,” Allie said with a sad smile. “But there came a time ... when I was seventeen ...  that I wanted something for myself. I had met a girl … and I really liked her. I mean really …” Allie glanced at Debbie to see if she had picked up her emphasis. Debbie just nodded. Allie had suspected that she would be chill about it. “But the problem was that I was so busy with the boys and the house and schoolwork that something had to give if I was to have any time to spend with Tamara. So I went to Dad and asked him if he could take over some of the things that I had been doing so that I could see her. Well, he gave me the third degree, and it didn’t take him long to figure out that Tamara and I were in a romantic relationship. Dad had pretty old fashioned ideas back then. He was much older than Mum; older than anyone else’s dad at school and I suppose he had values from an earlier time.”

“He doesn’t still think like that though, does he?” Debbie asked with a frown.

“No. He’s been thoroughly schooled,” Allie told her with a laugh. “Anyway, to cut it short he sent me to the country to stay with a woman he had once served with in the army. He thought he could break my connection with Tamara and that ‘Aunty Joan’ would straighten me out. She had allegedly found God and was running her own little private boot camp for gay teenagers. Shit. What a messed up situation. We were out at this old farm in the middle of nowhere, just me and two others, stuck with that sadistic bitch and no contact with family and friends. I was so miserable I thought I was gunna die. But, after a few months I started looking around me, planning how I could get away. I tried to persuade the others to come as well, but they were too afraid.”

“So how’d you do it? How’d you escape?” Debbie asked.

“I found an old map of the area in Aunty Joan’s study. I snatched it and worked out how far it was to the nearest main road. It was far, but I knew that if I planned it properly I could walk there and try and pick up a ride. It took me a while to get together the supplies. It was summer, so water was the biggest problem, as there was a limit to how much I could carry. When I was as ready as I could be, I just took off. Well … it turned out to be not such a good idea. I got lost in the high country, ran out of water and would have died, I reckon, if I hadn’t accidentally stumbled upon a country road and a farmer with a truck heading for the city. He dropped me in Melbourne and I headed to Tamara’s place only to find that the family had moved away. I thought about going home then but I knew, or thought I knew, that Dad would just send me back to Aunty Joan. I didn’t find out until later that Dad had been going spare ever since he learned that I’d run away.”

“What did you do?” Debbie asked. Allie shrugged. She had to tell the next bit. It would undoubtedly shock Debbie, but she had no intention of either avoiding it or going into too much detail.

“I lived on the streets. By the time Kaz found me I had built a kind of life: working as a prostitute to eat; swallowing, snorting or shooting up whatever I could buy to forget it all.” She risked a look at Debbie’s face. She had gone very pale. “Sorry Deb. I should have told you all this ages ago. You must be disappointed that I’m not who …” She was prevented from finishing that thought by Debbie throwing her arms around her enthusiastically.

“Are you crazy? I can’t believe how together you are after everything you’ve been through. I’m even more impressed than before … and all the help you give other people. How could I be disappointed with you?” Allie laughed shakily.

“Thanks Deb. Kaz saved my life by lifting me from the streets and taking me to the refuge, so the least I can do is try to help other kids who’re in a tricky situation. And it took years of therapy and NA to get to the point I’m at now.”

“And your Dad?” Debbie asked quietly.

“After a while Kaz persuaded me to contact him. He was made up; they all were. They had assumed the worst when I hadn’t come home. I stayed on with Kaz for a long time, getting my head straight …” she laughed. “My head was straight, but not the rest of me. But it turned out that it didn’t matter anymore. Robbie and Freddo had been on at Dad about it not being a big deal that I’m a lesbian and it finally sunk in. I eventually moved back home and Dad helped put me through uni; paid for my therapy. I think he’s been trying to make it up to me every day since he found out I was still alive.”

“I should think so,” Debbie retorted.

“You must be shocked. Are you okay?” Allie asked.

“Sure. It is pretty shocking. It’ll take a while to sink in …”

“I, er, I haven’t told your mum any of this yet. How do you think she’ll take it?” Allie asked nervously. Debbie looked thoughtful.

“I think she’ll be okay with it. She knows you now. The now you, if you see what I mean. She won’t judge you for what you did all those years ago, so long as you don’t judge her for her past …”

“You know I don’t,” Allie put in hastily. “And she knows it too. I hope.”

“Then you’ll be fine.”

“Can you leave it to me to tell her?” Allie asked. “When I think the time’s right.”

“Sure. But don’t leave it too long. I might let something slip.”

“Okay,” Allie agreed, already wondering how she would ever get up the nerve to tell her. Debbie stood up and headed towards the kitchen.

“What is there to eat? I’m starving.” Allie smiled to herself. “Oh, and one last question …” Debbie turned to face her. Allie braced herself.

“Go on …”

“Why don’t you have a girlfriend?”

That, Allie thought, was a whole other story.

She angled her phone away from the sun, trying to read the time. Finally. She walked up to reception and swung open the door. She had no idea what might have happened with Bea during the past week and that terrified her. It was time to find out the score.

Chapter Text

Every part of her ached, but she was upright and walking. That she was familiar with this stage of recovery ought to make it easier to bear. She scoffed quietly; the pain was familiar but the reasons for it couldn’t be more different. She was probably the best qualified person in the whole prison to take a beating in her stride, but, looking in the mirror, all she could think about was Allie and how she would feel when she saw her face, cut, swollen and livid with bruises. In a few minutes Allie would walk into the visitor’s room and see the damage that had been done; the obvious things like the bruised cheek and the gashed forehead; and the less obvious, like the hitch in her gait when she walked and the tenderness in her belly when she sat down. It would hurt her, Bea knew. But it would hurt Bea too, because Allie would see her in that light for the first time. She had looked pretty much like this a few days after every beating Harry had ever given her. Sometimes worse. But Allie had never seen her like this before. It would be sure to make her think of Bea in a different way. As a victim, maybe. But this time it couldn’t be further from the truth

“Hey, Franky, Bea …” Doreen beckoned them over to her room, away from the curiosity of the others. Not that they weren’t trusted. It was just that the fewer people who knew, the better.

“Is it happening?” Franky asked quietly. Doreen nodded nervously.

“As soon as possible. I have to let them know when she’s alone.” She glanced at Bea. Bea felt her heart pound at the thought of what was to come.

“They trust you?” Franky asked.

“Seem to. I gave them a whole thing about Toni and Kaiya. Blamed it on you, Franky. I think they swallowed it.”

“Okay, good.” Franky looked at Bea. “Whaddya think Red? Still up for Step B?”

“Too late to change my mind now I reckon,” she replied hoarsely.

“True enough. Today then?” They both nodded. “I’ll clear everyone out straight after lunch and give you the nod Dor. But if anything seems suss, let me know and I’ll call it off.”

“Righto.”

Today. It didn't give Bea much time to prepare herself and no time at all to let Allie know what was going to happen. She took a deep breath and tried not to think about how bad this was going to feel … or how wrong this could all still go.

"Sup, Red? Blondie get your knickers in a twist again?" Franky asked with a leer.

"I gotta talk to you," Bea muttered, unamused. "It's urgent."

"Step this way." Franky gestured Bea into her cell and pushed the door closed behind them. 

"I need your help …"

"Well, I am an expert on matters of the heart …"

"Brayden Holt has been sniffing around Debbie," she ploughed on, ignoring Franky's comments, pacing the little available space anxiously. "Jacs has gone too far this time. Whatever she's after … I don't care what she's after, but my daughter is off limits." Franky folded her arms across her chest and looked thoughtful. 

"I think you'd better tell me everything."

So Bea did. Unable to keep still, she burned a path up and down Franky's cell, telling her everything that Allie had told her. 

"Fuck. She's up to something. This is her first move in some plan she's got," Franky fretted when Bea had finished. 

"But what plan?" Bea asked in frustration. Franky shook her head and tugged at her hair.

"I dunno, but, you know what? It doesn't matter. We just have to fuck it up."

"How?"

"With a plan of our own. Leave it with me, Red. I'll think of something. And don't worry. It sounds like Deb's in safe hands."

This was it. Step A. Bea walked onto Jacs' unit with a strong sense of the wrongness of placing herself in this position. No one was around, but Doreen had told her that Jacs was in her room. Every one of her senses heightened by the blood rushing around her body, she forced herself over to Jacs' wide open door and rapped on the frame as confidently as she could. Jacs was lying on her bed reading a magazine.

“Can I talk to you for a minute?” Bea asked. Jacs eyed her silently but didn’t refuse, so Bea edged into the cell a little. Noticing Jacs massaging her hand, Bea tried a little icebreaker. “I used to get RSI when I worked in the salon. Especially in the winter, it hurt like hell. I found a heat pack helps.” Jacs remained silent. “Is that arthritis?” Bea asked, nodding at Jacs' hand. Jacs didn’t reply but her eyes took on a new wariness. She didn’t like that, Bea thought. She didn't like to be reminded of her weaknesses. Or maybe she was troubled to know that other people noticed them.

“May I?” Bea asked, gesturing at a free chair. Jacs gave a tiny nod of queenly assent. Bea lifted it over and sat down, unable to do more than perch on the edge. Getting too comfortable seemed like a bad idea, just in case Jacs decided to break her own rule and get her own hands dirty for once.

“I want to talk to you about Debbie.” If Jacs was surprised by this turn of the conversation, she didn’t show it. “She’s just a kid; younger than Brayden. It’s not fair for her life to be messed up any more than it already is. I want her left out of this. So I’m begging you Jacs, please don’t do this. You know it’s not right.” During this Jacs’ eyes remained cold, her face a featureless mask save for a slight motion of her lips.

“You got guts,” she finally admitted. “Coming in here, airing your opinions. No one else has been brave enough to do that.” A smile strayed over her lips and, although her words expressed admiration, her eyes told a different story: outrage, hostility, murder . It took Bea all her courage to deliver the next blow.

“Well, you’ll get to go home one day, leave here. Go home to your family,” she said with a wry smile and a tilt of the head. “What sort of woman will you be?” Jacs didn’t reply, but her face set. She glared at Bea, her eyes the colour of cold tea. Bea could see that Jacs’ breath had accelerated dangerously and knew she had got to her. Bea left a meaningful beat before she stood up and walked out of the cell. Just before she left she glanced back and saw the doubt in Jacs’ eyes and the self-disgust in the set of her mouth.

Message received.

Time for Step B. Bea poured herself a cup of water and tried not to notice the way her hand was trembling. She had thought that she had left this feeling behind when Harry had been pronounced dead. And yet here she was again, taking a beating to protect Debbie, steeling herself for a fist in the kidney or a hand around her throat. She had her back to the empty unit and every instinct she had was screaming at her to turn around; to not leave her back exposed. She fought it. It was all part of the plan that she should appear to be taken by surprise.

She heard the soft rush of feet behind her. Here we go. She tightened her jaw and resisted the temptation to turn and meet the attack. Suddenly a hand gripped the back of her head and her forehead bounced agonisingly off the edge of the sink. Blackness seeped in at the edges and she fell to the floor, gasping. Her heart had accelerated so hard that she thought it might rupture. Her body yearned to scoot away into a corner and protect itself as best it could, or else fight back. But she turned her mind away from that thought. That wasn’t the plan. Be smart. Reaching her hand up to her forehead, she brought it away bloody. Struggling to focus, she made out the faces of three women leaning over her: Jacs, Simmo and another of Jacs’ crew whose name escaped her.

“Oh please. Please don’t do this,” Bea begged them. This part was easy. She had said exactly the same thing, fruitlessly, to Harry, dozens of times.

“Get on with it,” Jacs told Simmo, her voice devoid of emotion. Bea watched Simmo smirk and so was unprepared when the other prisoner kicked her in the guts. They alternated for a while; Simmo kicked her in the back, the other woman kicked her in the stomach. They got quite a rhythm going and Bea was able to reach that state where she could anticipate each blow. She had noticed this before when Harry had been bashing her. If she knew where and when the next blow would fall it somehow made it easier to bear. Maybe because she could prepare herself, maybe because it gave her the illusion of control.

After a few more blows, Jacs sat down and made herself comfortable. In those brief moments when she could focus her eyes, Bea saw her smiling at her.

“Now one to the face,” she said placidly. Bea caught a foot under the chin and then a hand fisted into her cheekbone. Bloody hell, that smarted. She groaned and rolled away only for Simmo to grab her by her hoodie and hold her up, pointing her towards Jacs. “You know, Bea,” Jacs began conversationally. “I saw something in you. I was prepared to give you a chance.” The blows had stopped for the moment. Bea took the time to make an inventory of her injuries and hoped that none of them would be fatal. Her head felt weirdly light and there was a breathless pain low down in her side. Would that be a kidney? The ceasing of the violence only gave her a minor relief, but Bea took the time to catch her breath. It was a shame that she had to listen to Jacs’ nonsense, but at least she could gather herself a little. “You have balls, like Francesca, but unlike her you’re a family woman. Like me, I thought. You’re a mother. Francesca … well, we all know Francesca is an unrepentant lezzo. But you … I thought if Brayden and little Debbie hit it off we’d be like family. That you could be my right hand; that you could carry on my legacy after I’m released. Because, let’s face it Bea, you’re going to be in here for a long time.” Bea regarded her fuzzily and decided not to reply. “But you had to stuff it up didn’t you. Spirit is one thing, but you … You Bea, you don’t know when to keep your mouth shut.” She stood up and nodded to her girls. “I hope you and Francesca will be very happy together,” she smiled before walking away. Simmo released her and she slumped back to the floor. There was just time to register a close up of Simmo’s foot speeding towards her face … and then she was gone.

“Bea?”

“Bea? Can you hear me?”

“Bea? Do you know where you are?”

Darkness.

“Loss of consciousness, severe concussion, laceration to the head, bruising, no obvious sign of internal bleeding, but we’ve got a nurse coming now to clean her up,” a man’s voice intoned.

Bea felt as though the floor was swaying. She tried to open her eyes but something sticky held them closed.

“Was it Jacs Holt?” she heard Miss Bennett ask.

“Oh, no, apparently she was on the other side of the compound at the time,” replied a cultivated voice that Bea couldn’t, for the moment, place.

“Well, of course, she was,” Miss Bennett replied sardonically. “Savage what that woman’s capable of.”

“You know, Will was in the area but he didn’t see anything, so they must have been in and out pretty quick.” It was the governor, Miss Davidson, Bea realised. She tried to open her eyes again. “Looks like she’s awake. Bea. Bea, you’re in medical …” She prised one eye open, the other appeared to be swollen closed. Everything blurred and swam in a sickening way. She tried to raise her head, to wipe her eyes. A gentle hand took hers and lifted it away from her damaged face. Allie? But no. Her heart sank. If only it could be Allie. Allie would do that thing she always did; a touch, a smile, a teasing word or two, and Bea would be restored. The kind of medicine she would get here in the infirmary would be of a more practical kind. “You’re going to be alright …” the voice continued. It didn’t feel that way just now. “Can you remember anything Bea? I need you to give me a name.”

A name. They always asked the same question, even though they must know by now that no woman in her right mind would lag on a fellow prisoner. Bea lay back on the bed and allowed the darkness to reclaim her.

Bea ran her finger over the butterfly stitches that held together the edges of the wound on her forehead. It looked a little better already: less angry, less puffy. It would heal. So this was Step D: heal up, get on with the rest of her life. Life, hah. That was likely what she would be sentenced to when her trial came up. But she couldn’t think like that. She had to stay positive. It was the whole reason that they had cooked up this plan - to allow Jacs to be neutralized while keeping Bea’s record clean. To allow Bea to get out of here and back to Debbie as soon as possible. To get back to her life and whatever it might hold.

Barred from visiting, Debbie had written her a letter. It was full of apologies for getting involved with Brayden, for lying to Allie and for unknowingly putting Bea at risk. It was full of information about how Allie’s dad was looking after her; about Robbie, Freddo and Joe; about the burly ex-army types who were parked up outside the house. Then there was the truly alarming, but impressive, passage in which Debbie related what Joe had told her about Allie seeing off Brayden. Bea struggled to imagine it. Gentle Allie on the warpath, practically shooting laser beams from her eyes if Joe was to be believed. She shook her head. If it was true, Allie needed to be more careful.

Dear Bea,

I haven’t heard from you yet, neither a phone call nor a letter. Please, if you get this, please get in touch. I’m praying that you’re safe. And take it from me, I don’t pray …

… You mustn’t worry about Debbie. She’s fine and she is never alone for a moment. I am doing my best to conceal how worried I am and I think it’s working. She hasn’t mentioned you not phoning, not since Monday, anyway. If she thinks of Brayden she doesn’t speak of him. But she doesn’t seem heartbroken, so I guess it was just a crush or infatuation. She is blaming herself, I’m sure, for this whole situation. I’m trying to walk the line between making sure she knows that what she did was foolish and helping her to see that she was manipulated by some canny operators who could easily have tricked someone older and more experienced than she. In any case, her appetite remains healthy - so I think you can rest assured that she’ll be fine ...

… You’re being smart like we talked about, aren’t you? I can’t help but imagine all sorts of terrible scenarios, but I am still hoping to get a call or a letter before I see you next. Until then,

All my love, Allie.

Bea felt terrible that Allie had been so worried and she had been unable to reassure her, but she had only got her post this morning. A letter from Allie and another from Debbie were lying on her bunk when she was released from the infirmary. Just seeing Allie’s loopy hand on the envelope made Bea’s heart turn in her chest. Liz watched her face change and immediately apologised.

“Sorry love. I wanted to bring them with me but Smiles wouldn’t let me.” Liz, as peer worker, had been the only visitor she was allowed whilst she was recovering. Still, she had managed to relay messages between herself and Franky, and it was in this way that Bea had learned of the success of their scheme. It had worked just as Franky had predicted. Step A had been for Bea to piss Jacs off enough for her to attack her. Step B was for Jacs to nearly, but not quite, do Bea some permanent damage. And Step C had been for Franky to take revenge for Bea’s attack by inflicting some serious damage on Jacs. To which end, Franky had lured Jacs into the gym and repeatedly crushed her hand in one of the weight machines. After that, she had been sure to let all the women know that the mangled hand was a punishment for attacking Bea who had only been defending her daughter. Such an argument was a powerful one in an institution filled with women who were kept apart from their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

So now Jacs was in disgrace, whilst Franky and Bea were the heroes of the moment. It might not last, but for the moment Franky was operating the steam press and all the women considered her to be Top Dog. Simmo and the others were lurking around the edges of things, looking daggers at them, but making no move to regain control for Jacs in time for her release from the hospital.

But Franky ... well, Franky was overjoyed with her new position. Her usual cockiness was elevated to a new high. She was all smiles, bestowing favours on some, keeping others in check, and more affectionate than ever with her friends and Kim. As the obvious candidate for having inflicted the damage on Jacs she had been summoned to see Miss Davidson but she had returned to the unit wreathed in smiles, apparently not only having got away with it, but having been given the blessing of the governor to keep the peace from now on.

“I even got her to agree to look at the budget to see if she could invite the spunky Dr Westfall to work with us poor women a bit more. I’m at the top of the patient list, obviously,” Franky had crowed on her return, causing Kim to pout with jealousy. But when Franky turned the full glare of her charisma back on her, Kim was only too willing to be distracted as Franky took her hand and led her into her cell.

Bea rubbed her aching shoulder and made a few tentative stretches, hoping to loosen her bruised muscles a little. If she could move a bit more freely maybe Allie wouldn’t be too mad at her. Who was she kidding? Allie was going to be furious.

Chapter Text

A sight for sore eyes. That’s what Bea thought as she met Allie’s lucent gaze across the visitor’s room, giving her a momentary sense of respite. And her eyes were sore. As was her knee, shoulder, belly and almost every part of her. She looked like hell. A sore sight, that’s what she was. Even if she hadn’t been aware of all her bruises with every tiny movement, even if she hadn’t looked at her own face in the mirror just a few minutes ago, she would know exactly how terrible she looked just by looking at Allie as Allie looked at her. Her heart contracted wretchedly as Allie turned her eyes away, apparently unable to look at her. She couldn’t blame her, she wasn’t a pretty sight. But the next moment Allie refocussed on her and the pain had been replaced by relief and compassion. Bea hung her head.

The next moment Allie was there in front of her. Bea could see her turquoise runners, their colour a little dimmed with wear, but she couldn’t quite manage to look her in the face. Allie’s arms came up and she clumsily initiated a hesitant embrace, clearly fearful of causing her any further pain.

“It’s okay,” Bea mumbled. “You won’t hurt me.” That wasn’t true but it was the best kind of white lie; the kind that might allow Allie to believe she was less damaged than she was. So Allie drew her in, heedless of her injuries, and Bea pressed her lips together so that she wouldn’t make a sound and held herself stiffly to protect her tender abdomen. Once again she felt that desire to sag against Allie and allow her to support her. But where would such a surrender lead? An internal tug of war ensued and Allie could obviously sense her conflict.

“For God’s sake,” she muttered in irritation. “Let me …” She trailed off. Bea wondered what she had been going to say. Let me hold you. Let me help you. Let me comfort you. Any of those would be enough to make her come unravelled right here in public. “Bea, you’re shaking. Let me take your weight,” Allie finally demanded. It was only then that Bea realised that her good leg, her relatively good leg, was trembling as it struggled to support her body. It had been only a few hours since she had left the infirmary and today had been by far her most active day since it, the beating, had happened, and her muscles were already worn out. Bea blinked her sore eyes. She couldn’t afford to fall apart in front of all these people. There was too much interest in her already, ever since … it had happened.

“I can’t,” Bea whispered tearfully into Allie’s ear. Allie just tightened her grip and Bea found herself supported in her arms, like it or not. And for a moment Bea gave in to it. And although it was wrong, wrong time, wrong place, Bea found that she did like it. It was an immense solace, a balm, to be held and supported like this; it was hard to remember a time when she had felt so safe. She caught the relieved sob in her throat before it could reach her lips and squeezed her eyes shut on the tears. “Don’t …” Bea began. But she didn’t want Allie to misunderstand. “I can’t be seen to be weak,” she croaked into her ear. “You’re gunna make me cry …” She felt Allie nod against her, but still she held on for a long, precious moment more before drawing back. 

Allie looked at Bea and her stomach curled into a tight ball. A physical pang ran through her body so that she had to look away before she could make a fool of herself by crying out or folding over as though she had been punched in the stomach. Bloody hell. She took a breath and returned her eyes to Bea. Tears started up onto her lids and she blinked them away, impatiently: how dare she be upset when it was Bea who was hurt? Bea's face was a mess of bruises, her forehead gashed and held together with tape, one eye swollen and marbled with blood. But she was standing and, presumably, walking, and to Allie that made her more magnificent than ever. Ignoring the knocking of her heart against her ribs she hurried across the room to meet her. All she wanted was to take her in her arms and make her better. But how to tackle that without making her injuries worse?

"It's okay. You won't hurt me," Bea mumbled. 

But Allie had noticed the way she was holding herself and realised that the visible injuries were not the whole story; they were maybe only the preface to a lengthy tale. But she knew that it would help Bea more than hurt her, to be held and shown love after suffering such a beating. So she gripped her as fiercely as she would have if Bea had only cut her finger or stubbed her toe. She gripped her as tightly as she dared because how else could she let her know how bad she felt that she was hurt? Bea was stiff and unyielding in her arms, despite her words.

"For God's sake, let me …" Allie began. Why did she have to be so stubborn? Now was not the time to hold back. She had been going to say, "Let me make it better," but caught herself at the last moment, fearing Bea's scorn. She settled for something more acceptably prosaic. "Bea, you’re shaking. Let me take your weight."

"I can't." But Allie could hear it in her voice, that she very much wanted to allow someone to take her weight, the weight, the burden: the pain, the worry, the fear. Was it Allie that she wanted, or would anyone do? Regardless, Allie tightened her arms, pressing Bea to her as though she could make the top layer of their skins disappear and affect a kind of mingling so that their bloodstreams could eddy and merge. She imagined her plasma and platelets rushing in and doing their work, knitting up Bea’s wounds; her white blood cells leaching away the waste blood in Bea’s bruises, calming them from purple to green to yellow.

“Don’t … I can’t be seen to be weak.” And Allie remembered where they were. “You’re gunna make me cry,” Bea pleaded. Allie nodded but held her for just a beat longer before she let her go and watched her seat herself with a kind of pained dignity that squeezed at her heart. While Bea was undeniably wounded, what had been done to her appeared not to have reduced her in any way. In fact, Allie thought she’d never found her more impressive than right now.

“What the hell happened?” Allie whispered urgently. “Did Jacs do this?” Bea gave a lopsided shrug, favouring her left shoulder.

“She didn’t touch me herself. She watched while two of her crew worked me over. But she gave the orders … and a bit of a commentary on my shortcomings.” Allie blanched. How could she be so flippant about it?

“You’ve seen a doctor though? What did they say?”

“Yeah. I only got out of medical this morning. Just a concussion, bruises … this cut,” she gestured to her forehead. “No internal bleeding. So I’ll be right.”

“Concussion can be serious,” Allie protested.

“That’s why they kept me in for a few days," Bea replied defensively. "To keep an eye on me.”

“How did it come to this? I thought you and Franky were going to deal with it.” Bea gave a rueful smile and looked at her hands.

“This is it. This is how we dealt with it,” she gave a gesture that took in her battered face and body. “All part of the plan.” She met Allie’s eyes then, and Allie could see the worry there. Part of the plan? That made no sense.

“You'd better explain how you getting the ‘Fight Club’ look could have been part of any plan.”

Bea took a breath and began, relating the whole thing in a whisper. She knew Allie was going to hate what she heard and be angry with her but she wouldn’t even try to hide what she had done. At their last visit it had come to her forcefully that Allie and herself were a team. They protected Debbie together and this beating was part of the cocoon the two of them were weaving between them.

“We knew Jacs had some kind of plan for me, but we didn’t know what it was. And Franky said we just had to mess it up and make sure that she wasn’t in any position to retaliate. So, the first thing was to get a spy in her camp: that was Doreen, who was pretending to be pissed off at Franky because of Kayia being sent to live with her grandma. Then I had to do or say something that would get Jacs so riled up that she would attack me. So, I went to her cell to tell her to back off from Debbie. So far, fair enough, right? Well, she didn’t think so. And to top it off I also kinda suggested that she was a terrible mother; that even when she was released her family would be a mess because of all the bad things she’s done. I figured that would be the worst thing anyone could say because … well, you know.” Allie nodded, but Bea could see the stitch of concern between her brows.

“Then we knew she would come for me,” Bea continued. “It was just a matter of when and where, and that’s where Doreen came in …”

“Hold on, hold on,” Allie interrupted. “So, you’re saying you agreed to this?” she asked, her frown deepening. “Caused it to happen, even?” Bea nodded, knowing she must look a little sheepish. “You agreed that the best thing would be if Jacs beat you to a bloody pulp …” Allie’s voice had gone up an octave in her incredulity. Bea made a shushing gesture but that only generated an even more ferocious glower from Allie.

“I know it sounds …” Bea began.

“Insane?” Allie asked. “Suicidal?” Bea sighed and examined her fingernails briefly.

“Look. It worked. I’m going to be fine and Jacs is powerless now …” she explained.

“You could have been killed,” Allie hissed, her eyes illuminated with a cold flame that almost made Bea recoil. Bea knew she was right. She had taken a calculated risk. Jacs could easily have brought a shiv or a screwdriver and the whole thing would have ended very differently. “Did you even think about Debbie?” Allie asked plaintively.

“Debbie is all I was thinking about. I took this beating to protect her!” Allie gaped for a moment and then pressed her lips together tightly. Her eyes were quenched now by a sheen of tears. “Listen … just let me finish, and you’ll see …” Allie nodded and allowed her head to fall forwards resignedly. Bea sighed and began again. “Jacs asked Doreen to keep an eye on me and report back when I was on my own. Because we could control what Dor told her we knew exactly when it was going to happen. I could prepare myself and we arranged for the girls to come in and find me in good time.” Allie nodded, apparently pleased that some small safety measure had been put in place. “So once I’m in medical, Franky lets it be known that I was bashed by Jacs and that the only thing I did to deserve it was to try to protect my daughter. Now that’s some bad PR in a women’s prison, where lots of the women are worried about their kids day and night. Franky is called upon to right the wrong. And she does. Jacs is out of action, she’s lost the women, Franky is everyone’s hero for avenging my beating and she becomes the new Top Dog.”

“And this helps Debbie?” Allie asked with a hopeful glance.

“Maybe not immediately. Jacs is in the hospital for now, but once she’s back she’ll have to contact Brayden and tell him to back off. The whole point of the Debbie and Brayden thing was to get me to join her crew, apparently. Now that there’s no chance of that she’ll recall him as soon as she can. She knows what Franky is capable of if she doesn’t play nice.”

“What did Franky do to her?” Allie asked.

“Better you don’t know the details,” Bea told her. It was bad enough that Bea had to imagine those bones crunching and splintering. Allie didn’t need that ugliness in her head; she didn’t want Allie to think of that violence and pain as the price for Debbie’s freedom and safety.

“And how do we know she won’t come back at you when she’s healed?” Allie asked with a note of fear in her voice. And as much as Bea didn't want to worry her she felt as though she owed her the truth. 

“I guess we don’t. But she’s on the back foot for now, and if it turns out that Vinnie divorces her, she’s done. Her Holt name won’t mean anything and I imagine that Vinnie will have plans of his own for Brayden.”

“Well, I want it on record that I think it was a stupid plan …” Allie said, looking at the table top, Bea’s hands, everything but Bea’s face. But it was there in her voice: a note of forgiveness, or at least acceptance.

“Noted,” Bea said with a tentative smile. And her heart filled gladly as Allie raised her eyes to look at her and she saw that the last of the anger had fled and the tropical gleam had returned.

“Stupid and risky,” Allie continued mildly.

“But I did what you said,” Bea insisted, swallowing dryly. “I was so afraid … when I heard them coming for me ...”

“Because it reminded you of Harry coming for you,” Allie supplied. Bea nodded, her pulse accelerating because Allie understood; didn't need the reason for her dread spelling out.

“And I wanted to either hide or fight them. But I kept my nerve and allowed it to play out as we’d planned. I kept my head.” She held Allie’s gaze as best she could because she wanted her to know that she really did listen to her advice and appreciated her injections of common sense.

“This really wasn’t what I had in mind when I said that,” Allie protested with a thin smile.

“I know. And when I asked you to keep a close watch on Debbie I wasn’t expecting you to get into a face off with Brayden.” Allie's eyes flew up to Bea's in surprise. 

"You heard about that, then?"

"Yes, I heard," Bea said with a kind of emphasis that made Allie want to squirm. She held herself still.

"He just showed up at the house," Allie said with a nonchalance she didn't feel. "What was I supposed to do?"

"I don't know. Probably not take him on single handed. You could have ended up with a face like mine." Allie tried to decide if Bea was really mad at her or not. After regarding her expression for a moment she decided not. Proud maybe. Impressed even. She shrugged and took a chance.

"A face like yours? Well, even with the bruises and the blood and everything, you're still looking pretty hot Bea… " Allie made sure to give her a very direct look and keep her face straight. Sure, she was teasing, but she was certainly not joking, and she wanted Bea to know that. Now it was Bea's turn to squirm. And blush. And look away. “Maybe I should get some bruises…” Allie added.

“These are going to turn all kinds of pretty colours soon,” Bea countered, after a moment of deliberation, pointing to her face. “They’ll liven up this dull old mug. But your charming face can get along without any improvements.” Allie blinked in surprise and then felt a grin commandeer her lips. Brava. Allie had to give her credit for overcoming her usual reticence. And Bea was smiling shyly, embarrassed to be flirting back, but pleased with herself too. Allie felt like drumming her feet against the floor in happiness, or getting up and dancing. She wished she could get Bea up and dancing: she would be her crutch and it wouldn’t matter how clumsy they were because they would be dancing with undiluted delight. Allie would hold her tight around the waist and Bea would laugh with embarrassment and allow her hair to curtain her face to hide her blushes. And Allie would swing her around with abandon because they were both still here; they were together, for this moment, and that shy smile made Allie feel like anything was possible.

“Allie, you’re staring,” Bea said dryly, interrupting whatever daydream she had disappeared into. Allie blinked and then smiled, apparently unembarrassed. “Where’d you go?” she asked, not even trying to hide her amusement. 

“That would be telling,” Allie replied, teasingly, looking her up and down. “But somewhere nice…” Bea felt herself heating up at the implication. She shook her head mock ruefully.

“You’re like the Duracell bunny,” Bea commented. Allie raised her brows questioningly. “You never stop.” Allie made a hum of agreement.

“I do have incredible stamina,” she said seriously, her tongue momentarily appearing at the corner of her mouth. Bea chuckled and ducked her head. Was this just a bit of fun? she wondered. Her skin felt hot and her belly felt weirdly liquid. Was she feeling the after effects of the beating? It could be a fever and incipient nausea. What if Allie was flirting in earnest? Was she getting in too deep? She sighed in frustration. Why did she have to be such a dag? If only she could read Allie as well as Allie read her. And then Allie’s hand was on her wrist.

“Bea.” She looked up and lost her breath. Allie was looking at her with such compassion that she felt her stomach settle and her shoulders drop. She didn’t know how or why, but this was the medicine she needed. If she could she would prescribe it for herself: a daily dose of Allie. Allie was the salve she needed to form new healthy skin over her old wounds, the ones that Harry had inflicted on her and the ones she had inflicted on herself; and only Allie could administer the inoculation that would allow her to survive this place and come out the other side with a chance of recovery. She smiled at Allie and for once allowed herself to do so with nothing held back. She took Allie’s hand and held it.

“I’m okay,” she told her. “I’m going to be okay.”

Chapter Text

Allie sighed as she checked her reflection in the rear-view mirror. She looked pale. Her period had started this morning and she felt heavy, her limbs dragging, everything requiring extra effort. As ever, she prayed that it would not be a bad one this time - the same prayer she had said every month since she was a teenager and, even though she had not had a truly bad period for a few years now, the fear and expectation were always there. She thought about Bea and their last meeting and smiled. Such memories never failed to redirect her thoughts into a happier channel. She remembered how Bea had held her hand and smiled at her; how she had responded to her flirtatious comments; how she had allowed her to hold her, to really hold her, without restraint. It had all seemed different to their other meetings. Bea had needed her, maybe she always had, but her low ebb had allowed Allie to see it clearly for the first time. And Bea’s letter! She had admitted to looking forward to hearing from Allie and had said plainly that her visit had made her feel better. And those comments about her hair were … what? Complimentary? Flirtatious? Was it possible that Bea’s thoughts were now meandering in the same direction as Allie’s? That idea made her heart rate pick up a little as she collected her bag from the passenger seat and headed towards the prison reception. She had had a turbulent week and she was counting on Bea’s having been smoother.

Allie had known that it was only a nightmare even when she was in the thick of the most horrifying part of it. But it didn't help that she knew. Her feet were still stuck as though they had sunk into a silty riverbed, her eyes were still wide with fear, her blood was still rushing hectically through her veins. And she watched. She couldn't move, not even to look away. She couldn't stop what was happening, not even when Bea pleaded with her. She watched. Two faceless, teal uniformed women kicked Bea over and over. Bea writhed on the floor and Allie watched, not unmoved but unmoving. A third woman also watched, wearing a cruelly amused face that morphed queasily from that of an old primary school teacher, through an approximation of Aunty Joan and finally settled as something like Glenn Close made-up as Cruella de Vil. Bones cracked, skin split, muscle tore, and Allie could only watch.

The next night had been even worse. This time she was one of the attackers. Bea just took her beating, her eyes locked on Allie the whole time, her expression one of pained disbelief as Allie held her down and allowed Cruella to punch her in the guts, slap her across the cheek and spit in her face. Why was she helping them? She knew she didn't want to but some twisted dream logic had placed her in this role and she had to act it out. After a particularly harsh blow, Allie awoke, panting, in her darkened bedroom, heart pounding, mouth dry. Swinging her legs out of bed she dropped her face into her hands and wept, trying to remind herself that Bea was okay. Allie hadn’t been there when she was beaten and she hadn’t taken any part in it. These nightmares were just her unconscious mind trying to make sense of what had happened. How she yearned for those earlier nights with their straightforward dreams of longing, of holding Bea the whole night long; how she wished that she could return to those times.

On the third night she was the one being bashed and Bea was the one watching from behind a locked gate. The scene was completely silent as though a cosmic mute button had been pressed, but Allie could read lips well enough to see that Bea was shouting her name, shaking the bars in her desperation to get to her. But Allie was okay, she really was. She wanted to let her know that it was fine but she didn’t have a speaking role, so she smiled at Bea. She didn’t mind. It hurt, but she was taking it so that Bea wouldn’t have to. Her lip split, her nose crunched but still she smiled and let it go on until her head bounced against the floor and the scene faded to black. When she awoke in the morning Allie decided that, of the three, this one had been the least awful.

As soon as Allie had got Debbie into the house in the afternoon of the day of her visit with Bea, she sat her down to try and tell her what had happened to her mum. This was complicated by Bea’s stipulation that, although she would have to be told about the beating, she should try to conceal that the situation with Brayden was the reason for it, and that Bea had offered herself up as part of a plan to put the Holts in their place. Allie believed in being honest with her young charges but felt as though she had to take Bea's wishes seriously. In this case, she reasoned, one hundred percent honesty might give Debbie more of a problem than a glossing over of certain details. But did she really believe that? Or was she telling herself that to make it easier?

"I saw your mum today Deb."

"Oh yeah? How is she? Will I be allowed to visit next week?"

“I don’t know. Your mum said she’d let me know. It depends on one or two things.” Allie steeled herself. "Deb … Your mum is fine … but I have to tell you about something that happened last week. She got bashed by a couple of the other prisoners…"

"What happened?" Debbie asked, looking startled. “How bad is it?”

"Cuts and bruises. She spent a few days in the prison’s medical wing. She’s going to be okay. As to what happened … Well, she got caught up in something. Prison is … it's like that sometimes. Things flare up. She was put in a difficult position. But the most important thing is that she's not so badly hurt…" Allie trailed off, realising that, in her bid to preserve Bea’s secret, she was explaining nothing. She hated not being able to tell Debbie the truth but she understood why Bea didn't want her to know. She didn't want her to blame herself. Bea had taken this beating willingly, just like she had sometimes done in the past, to protect her daughter. Allie supposed that Debbie didn't need to know this right now. It’s true that it would only make things harder for her, but Allie wished she could tell her the truth. Welcome to co-parenting, she thought wryly.

"This is because of me and Brayden, isn't it?" Debbie demanded with narrowed eyes. Allie sighed inwardly. She might have known that Debbie would be able to work it out on her own. 

"Indirectly, maybe …" Allie hedged. 

"You don't have to shelter me from this Allie," Debbie replied hotly. "If this is the result of some stupid decisions I made then … then, well … I guess I'm gunna have to live with that."

"Me and your mum, we just don't want you to blame yourself. You might have made some … dubious decisions but so have your mum and me. I should never have let you go to the prison on your own. I don't know what I was thinking …"

"I wanted to. And you were letting me be independent …" Debbie interrupted. 

"Yeah, well … you weren't to know who Brayden was or what he was like. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, or so they say. We all need to look at the bigger picture. Your mum's okay and she seems confident that the danger is passing." Allie was silent for a moment, watching Debbie wrestle with her thoughts. 

"Why couldn't the guards protect her?" Debbie asked, balling her hands in frustration. "Surely that's what they're there for?" Allie nodded sadly.

"Yeah, but they can't be everywhere at once. But the doctor and nurse took good care of her. She's fine, really, well on the road to recovery…" Allie looked away and hoped that at least was the truth.

Dear Allie,

Thanks for your letter. I don’t think you can possibly understand how much I look forward to your updates about Debbie and what you both have been up to. Your little stories cheer me up a lot and make me laugh. Especially this week. Because, although I am out of medical, I am not back at work so I have a lot of time on my hands. Mr Jackson let me go to the education centre and pick up some books and Franky has lent me one of hers. Reading is pretty much all I can do. Watching TV makes my head hurt and my eyes water at the moment. I think my brain is still settling down after that knock it got!

So you don’t need to worry about me not taking it easy. Please don’t follow up on your threat to write to Franky. She gets so much “fan mail” already a letter from you would make her truly unbearable.

The someone we spoke of when I last saw you is back now. We have had a word and her boy will be otherwise occupied from now on. So he will not have time to visit either a certain girl or his mum. On the subject of visits, could you please ask Debbie if she would like to make a visitation request for next week? I miss her and would like to see her and there will be no problems now. Did you manage to explain to her that I will look a little dinged up? I hope so because I would not like to shock her with my now green and yellow face!

I hope you will be able to visit as usual this week. I’m a bit useless at remembering to thank you when you're here, but I really look forward to seeing a friendly face. I was in a bad way when I last saw you but you made me feel better, which you always do, but for that hour it was like I was hardly injured at all. I don’t know how you find the time, what with Debbie and work, to come and see me. You must tell me if it’s too much. I don’t want to be a drain on you ...

Allie waved Bea’s letter at Debbie.

“Deb. If you want to go and visit your mum this week, she says it’s okay,” Allie said with a grin.

“Really?” Debbie gave an excited bounce before sobering with a frown. “It's not still too dangerous?”

“Things seem to have been resolved for now. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful. Don’t you want to go and see her?” Allie asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Of course!” Debbie replied with a relieved huff.

“Then I’ll drive you there and wait for you. Brayden won’t be around, so you don’t need to worry that you might see him.” Allie wasn’t even sure if this possibility had occurred to Debbie but felt that she needed to spell it out just in case.

“How can you be so sure?” Debbie asked faintly.

“Things have been sorted out between your mum and Brayden’s. He’s going to leave you alone now. What he tried to do, it wasn’t really anything to do with you. His mum had asked him to try to get close to you because she wanted to get some influence over your mum. So you mustn't think that there was something in you that made him try to manipulate you and control you. He was just doing what he was told.” That was as near to the whole truth as Allie dared to come. She hoped that Bea would not be annoyed at her for saying even this much.

“So … he never even liked me?” Debbie asked in a small voice.

“I don’t know sweetheart,” Allie said quietly and put her arm around the girl’s shoulders. “Maybe he did, but that didn’t stop him from writing those horrible messages. And it didn’t stop him from trying to persuade you to get involved in drugs. But you were too strong for him. You saw through him and walked away. That takes courage. Something that you and your mum have in common.” Debbie smiled weakly. "I know you’re worried about her, but Franky, one of the women your mum is friends with, is in charge of the prisoners now. She'll be keeping your mum safe. You don't need to worry." Allie sold this small comfort as best she could, though she wasn't convinced herself that Franky would be able to keep Bea safe. If only she could meet her, get a measure of her, maybe her mind would be eased.

"So …" Debbie began. "Can we lose the bodyguards now? Can I get back to normal?"

"Soon. We'll keep things in place for now. I want to check with your mum before we stand everyone down.” Debbie looked pleased that she might soon be able to resume her usual activities, and Bea appeared to be satisfied that Debbie was safe, but Allie was in no position to take any chances and wouldn’t rush into anything.

Then, after those disconcerting nightmares, came the most wonderful and ridiculous dream. Allie found herself in a dimly lit and deserted hospital ward, walking past bed after empty bed. In the distance she could see that one bed was occupied and she hurried towards it, knowing it contained Bea. But when she got there and drew back the sheet, it was empty. Then there was an abrupt scene change and she found herself in a small medical consultation room. It was dark, only a light by the head of the bed allowed her to see her surroundings. At first the room appeared to be empty, but when she looked again Bea was lying in the bed. Her face was bruised and cut exactly as Allie had seen it only a few days before. She was lying on her side and appeared to be sleeping. The next thing Allie knew she was lying curled up to her back. Being very gentle, she carefully draped her arm around Bea’s waist and settled herself to sleep feeling relieved to have found her and content to be close to her.

Time appeared to jump forward, or maybe back. Now Bea was sitting up in bed and Allie was standing next to her. Bea’s injuries were new and fresh, blood oozing from the gash on her forehead. Allie took a metal dish off the table beside her and swabbed at the cut. Bea winced and Allie noticed that the cotton wool came away pink with blood.

“Sorry,” said dream Allie.

“It’s okay nurse,” Bea replied. Allie looked down at herself and noticed she was dressed in light blue scrubs. Looking back up she discovered that Bea’s forehead was now dressed and that her bruises were already fading. Bea was looking at her. “Don’t you think you’d better check my heart?” she asked with a hesitant look and a shy smile. Allie took an enormous gulp of air, excited by Bea’s invitation and shocked at the liquid sensation that it elicited in her belly. Within the convenience of the dream, she found a stethoscope around her neck and inserted the earpieces in her ears. She reached out and drew Bea’s hospital gown down a little at the neck. She placed the end against her skin, but her own heartbeat was the only thing she could hear. “A little further down I think,” Bea husked, placing her hand over Allie’s and dragging the stethoscope lower. Allie swallowed dryly as more of Bea’s chest came into view.

The scene changed again. The stethoscope was gone and they were standing face to face in the darkened room. Allie meditated on Bea’s sombre eyes. They glistened darkly in the limited light and Allie found that she was drawn in by the barely understood intention she saw there.

“Are you sure?” Bea asked her in a whisper. Dream Allie nodded, seeming to know what the question had been, and Bea reached out her hands and held her face between them. “You’re shaking,” she commented.

“It’s cold,” Allie replied, though she knew that was not the reason why she trembled under Bea’s hands.

“It’s not cold,” Bea told her, a little scornfully, and drew Allie’s face down until their lips met.

And, although it was only a dream, Allie felt herself melt under Bea’s mouth. Her lips were soft, as Allie had known they would be, but also demanding, which she had not suspected. And although Allie was in reality that little bit taller than Bea, now, in the dream, she was just enough shorter than Bea so that Bea’s head was bent over hers, dominating the kiss, holding her up with one steadying arm looped around her waist, the other hand gliding up her rib cage towards her breast. Allie gave herself up to the embrace, parting her lips for Bea’s questing tongue, allowing her head to fall back under her increasing ardour…

And then she awoke. Allie had never hated her alarm clock more than in that moment. After slamming down the snooze button she lay there for a minute, allowing her heart rate to return to normal, cataloguing the fizzing in her nerve endings, the sensitivity of her skin and the ache that emanated from between her legs. Rolling over she groaned into her pillow. Bea . She'd never felt more frustrated, and yet so delighted at the same time. Because for those few minutes they had been together in the way that Allie had always wanted. And it had felt so real.

 … I had another session with Dr Westfall. She was worried about my injuries, wanted to know if I needed isolating for my own safety. I told her it would be fine from now on. I may not be the most sociable person but I don’t think I could stand being on my own until my trial. The rest of H1 - Franky, Kim, Booms, Liz and Dor - I really need them to keep me sane.

I saw Josephine Pym as well. Still no trial date but she has got down a lot of my testimony now and is starting to get the witnesses lined up. I know she wants to interview Debbie but I dread the thought of it. She might try to set something up soon, so look out for an email. It would really set my mind at rest if you would be with her when she talks to her. I’m sure I suppose she’ll be considerate of Debbie’s age, but you know lawyers.

I’m going to stop now because the girls will be back from work unit in a minute. It’s become a habit for me to get them all a cuppa ready and open up some biccies. Then we’ll have a bit of a yarn, and Franky will wind Boomer up and Liz will try to keep the peace.

See you soon, Bea.

P.S. Sorry I missed out on your dancing. I can see you in one of those flapper dresses. Maybe I could shingle your hair one day? Or finger waves would be very flattering on you ...

Allie had no sooner signed in and deposited her bag in a locker before she heard her name being called.

“Ms Novak?” 

Allie looked up. It was the guard called Mr Jackson. Bea always said he was one of the nicest of the screws but right now the expression on his face suggested otherwise.

“Is there a problem?” Allie asked him.

“You’re here to visit Bea Smith, correct?” he asked brusquely. Allie could only nod mutely, panic already setting in. “Would you come with me please?” He started towards the door and Allie trailed in his wake.

“What’s this about?” she asked, trying to keep the frantic note out of her voice. Another officer was coming towards them along the corridor. Mr Jackson slowed a little to reply.

“If you still want to visit the inmate you’ll need to consent to a random search.” Allie must have looked worried. “It’s just a formality,” he explained, standing back to allow the other guard to pass them. “If you’ll come into Search Room 1 ... I’ll get a female officer to come and administer the search.”

Allie could think of nothing she wanted less than to allow some stranger to pat her down. Then she had a sudden thought. Would this be a strip search? Jesus. Today of all days.

Mr Jackson had watched the other officer disappear down the corridor. He held open the door to a nearby room.

“Miss Novak?”

After a slight pause Allie stepped inside.

Chapter Text

Bea wanted to pace. Every impulse begged her to get up and move. She took a deep breath and resisted. A hair's breadth from jumping to her feet, she gripped the edge of the examination table instead and made a paddling motion with her ankles to relieve the feeling.

She knew she had come a long way recently. Weirdly, she felt that she had the beating to thank for that. And maybe Franky’s book. And Allie’s letters. And Dr Westfall, of course. She groaned internally from the humiliation of needing so much intervention. When had she become this patchwork doll sewn together by a band of seamstresses? She sighed and deliberately let it go. She also had the beating to thank, or blame, for her current crisis. She was no Victorian lady prone to fits of swooning, but somehow the anticipation of Allie’s impending visit had combined with the after effects of her concussion to make her head swim so that she hit the floor in a spectacular fashion. If she was now prevented from seeing Allie she didn’t know what she would do. She tightened her jaw and tried not to even consider it as a possibility.

She felt fine. No dizziness, nothing. The forgetfulness from a few days ago seemed to have disappeared. But here she was, back in medical, waiting for the doctor to give his verdict on her fitness or otherwise to attend the visitor’s centre today. What would she do? she asked herself in desperation, if he told her no? What wouldn’t she do, she thought, determination on the rise.

Franky gave her a perplexed look and rapped her on the head with her knuckles.

“Hello... Earth to Bea … Next month. I just said …” Bea intercepted the warning look that Liz was sending Franky’s way, along with an almost imperceptible shake of the head. It was sweet that Liz was trying to save her feelings, but she knew that this was not the first time this week that her memory had let her down. This forgetfulness was a delayed response to the blow on her head, as were the spinning and tilting sensations she sometimes felt and the slight clumsiness she had noticed. And maybe her eyes were a bit more sensitive to bright light than usual. She just had to accept that, whilst the rest of her was healing quickly, her brain was going to take a bit longer. Bea noticed that Franky was watching her intently and when their eyes met, Franky threw an arm around her shoulders impulsively and gave her a squeeze. “Early onset dementia is nothing to be ashamed of Red,” she joked. Bea made a disparaging sound and gave her a shove.

“Rack off Franky. Even with dementia I’m sharper than you!”

“Hah!” Franky responded with a quick grin. “But seriously,” she added, leading Bea away from the others. “Maybe you should have the doc check you over again. In case he missed something …” Bea pulled a face.

“Nah, I’ll be right. Hey, I’ve got a session with Dr Westfall tomorrow,” Bea replied, knowing that this was a certain way of distracting her friend. Predictably, Franky’s green eyes hazed over.

“Got my first session the day after,” Franky said dreamily. After a moment an enormous grin split her face causing her dimples to appear. Bea looked at the excited gleam in her eyes and huffed out a laugh.

“Well, you’d better bloody behave yourself,” she retorted. “Dr Westfall’s helping with my case. The last thing I need is her getting fired for being caught in a compromising position with one of the inmates.” Franky held her hands up palms outwards, a wolfish grin on her face.

“Total gentleman, me,” she said looking heavenwards. “I won’t lay a hand on her … unless she asks me to, of course.”

“She’s a professional through and through, from what I’ve seen,” Bea told her soberly. “Don’t get your hopes up for anything more.”

“No, well. We’ll see … women generally find me irresistible after all. And if it comes to nothing … well, an hour in the company of a beautiful woman is a pleasure in itself.”

“What are you implying about the present company?” Bea asked, nudging Franky and nodding towards Boomer who was using her index finger to extract something from one of her back teeth. “You’re surrounded by beauties twenty-four seven.” Franky guffawed causing Boomer to look up at them blankly.

“Oh, hey. I’ve got something for you …” Franky grabbed her by the upper arm and led her over to her cell.

“What?” Bea asked suspiciously, dragging her feet, hoping Franky wasn’t going to pull one of her humiliating stunts.

“Relax Red!” Franky said, brandishing a paperback. “You said you needed something to read. So I’ve selected this from my own private collection,” she said, cocking one eyebrow. “Just for you.” Bea took the book from her hand and examined the cover dubiously.

Love Between the Stacks, ” she read. The cover illustration featured a bespectacled woman sitting at a desk piled high with books. Another woman leaned against a bookcase in the background.

“It’s entry level,” Franky continued. “Just right for your uptight self Red. You need to read it carefully … make notes if necessary. Allie can thank me later,” she added with a leer. Bea finally caught up with what kind of book it was and felt herself flush a deep red.

“F’ fuck’s sake, Franky,” she muttered, trying to thrust the book back into Franky’s hand. “I’m not gay.”

“Uh huh,” Franky responded, clearly not convinced. “Doesn’t matter. Read it anyway. I’ve been subjected to plenty of straight fiction and some of it was pretty good.” Bea allowed the book to be pressed back into her hand. Well, she was short of things to read.

Dear Bea,

I've been thinking about you and wondering how you are. How are you healing up? I hope the prison is looking after you properly and that you are being sensible and resting when you can. I know how stubborn you can be! Sit down, get plenty of sleep, and don't force me to write to Franky or Liz and make them put you on bed rest. You know I will!

Don’t worry, I know what you want to know. Debbie is fine and being surprisingly patient with her house arrest. The swing band at school is going to be putting on a mini concert in a few weeks. She has the music and, because it's pretty advanced stuff, she's been practicing like crazy. So it's been wall to wall "Ain't Misbehavin'", "Let's Face the Music and Dance" and "The Charleston". All great tunes … until you're listening to them for the fiftieth time! I've been making the best of it and singing along and dancing as much as possible. I wish you could have seen me doing the Charleston while I was waiting for the spaghetti to cook. I totally aced it! But that dance is quite a workout. Phew ...

"I heard that you've been in medical for a few days Bea. What happened?" Dr Westfall asked as soon as they were seated. Bea was surprised by the doctor's tone. She seemed concerned beyond what she would expect from their professional relationship, and Bea was moved that she cared. Her eyes stung briefly.

“You know I can’t tell you,” she replied sullenly, to disguise how touched she was.

“If you want to tell me ... I’ll keep it confidential, of course …” Dr Westfall probed. Bea shrugged.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s all sorted now.” The psychologist observed her for a long moment.

“It was a severe attack, Bea. It’s okay to feel vulnerable after something like that. Perhaps you could tell me how it made you feel at least?” Bea sighed. Vulnerable was about right. Without her usual anger she had felt like she had peeled back her own skin and exposed all her nerve endings to the cold air; or like she had decided to climb a tall ship’s mast without a harness and, only once the wind had got up, had realised how hazardous her situation was.

“I knew it was going to happen so ... I was prepared. Only, I felt exactly the same fear I always felt when I knew Harry was going to go to town on me. But I didn’t get angry. You taught me that,” she said with a glance and a smile. “And Allie always reminds me that I have to be smart and not get a record in here, to give me the best chance at my trial …” At the thought of Allie, Bea’s lips had done that thing that they always did and curved into a slight smile. Dr Westfall looked at her and then down at her notebook.

“Er … Allie. That’s your daughter’s foster carer?” Bea nodded, her heart driving hard. “Is she visiting you?”

“Yeah,” Bea croaked. She cleared her throat. “When I was first in here, I wanted to meet the person who was looking after my daughter. To be sure that Debbie was gunna be okay. I guess we … hit it off because she’s visited me every week since.” Dr Westfall nodded.

“She must be a very special person … to do so much for you and Debbie …” she suggested with a smile. Bea nodded.

“Yeah. Debbie really lucked out …” The psychologist just nodded thoughtfully and made a note.

“And your injuries? No permanent damage I hope?”

“The doctor says not …”

“You should consider allowing your lawyer to take some photographs of those bruises,” she said. “Sometimes harsh prison conditions can have a favourable influence on a jury.”

“Good idea,” Bea said with a nod.

“And you’re certain that this won’t happen again?” the doctor asked. “Because I can have a word with Miss Davidson and get you moved into protective custody …” Bea shook her head.

“Not necessary, really … 

… I will film it for you for when you get out. I know it’s not the same and I wish you could come and watch her. You’d be so proud. Hell, I’m proud! My dad wants me to get him a ticket when they’re available. Would you be okay with that? They get along so well. He takes an interest in everything she excels at. If I wasn’t such a grownup I might feel a little jealous as I don’t remember him taking much of an interest in me when I was that age …

Lying on her bunk, Bea looked up from the letter and pondered that. Allie seemed to have such a good relationship with her dad now but from a few things she’d said she gathered that that hadn’t always been the case. Her eye caught on the photos of Debbie that she had pinned to her wall. Debbie had had a terrible experience of having a father and for the rest of her life she would have no experience of it at all. Bea had taken away any opportunity for a healed relationship such as Allie and her dad now had. And she’d taken away a grandfather from any children that Debbie might have in the future. In the midst of her abuse she’d been sure that Harry would never improve, would always be a bastard and, in fact, might never stop until either she or Debbie were dead. But now … if she’d left him, if he’d got help for his violence and his drinking … could he ever have become a positive force in Debbie’s life? She doubted it, but she’d never know. And that was the very good reason why she was in prison now. Why she deserved to be here.

She turned onto her side and faced the wall. Why? Why did it have to be this way? Aged just twenty her own parents had died and had left her alone with Harry and a toddler. And she’d had such a good, positive relationship with her parents. When she had fallen pregnant with Debbie they had supported her decision to marry Harry although she could tell that neither of them rated him as good son-in-law material. If they hadn’t died that day she knew that they would have seen what was going on and would probably have convinced Bea to leave Harry years ago. She imagined what that would be like: for her parents to be alive, for Bea and Debbie to be living free of Harry for many years, independent, well adjusted … free. The four of them would go out on the boat and her mum would teach Debbie how to manage the sails; her dad would be the one proudly squeezing Debbie’s shoulder, not Allie’s dad, a man Bea had never even met. Sorrow struck sharply at her heart for all the things that they had both missed out on. And then the tears came. Loud sobs that she muffled as best she could with her pillow.

When the worst of her grief had passed she was left feeling empty and obscurely ashamed. She roughly wiped her face dry of tears. She had cried and she supposed that was something. Dr Westfall had told her that it was unhealthy not to cry. But she couldn’t feel proud of herself. These tears had leaked through somehow, maybe from some gland or duct that had been loosened by that blow to the head … loosened by something, at any rate. Maybe by her fledgling understanding of herself and her impulses or by the sympathetic help she was getting from her friends. But they were born of her own self-pity at what she had been denied. They didn’t help. They couldn’t solve anything. Debbie was as fatherless as ever, and so was she.

Maybe that cry had done her some good after all. Bea had been reading through Allie’s old letters that she kept safely in a pocket she had made at the back of her sketch pad. Allie’s words about her dad still saddened her, but the sadness had faded now so that it produced only a melancholy smile rather than a storm of grief. She released her breath in a shuddering sigh. Now that she was thinking more clearly, she realised that Harry could never have amounted to anything. He was nothing like Allie’s dad and was incapable of change. Debbie was no more fatherless now, now that Bea had put an end to him, than she had been at any other point in her life. He had never done any of the things that dads usually did with their kids. She could not even be sure that he had ever loved her, or even if he had been capable of love.

She put the letters away carefully inside their pocket, inside the sketch pad, between two of the taller books on her shelf. Her eye snagged on the colourful spine of the romance novel that Franky had lent her: “Love Between the Stacks.” She pulled it out and lay down on her bed to read.

There you are, love. We wondered where you’d got to …” Liz said with a smile as Bea came out of her room into the common area. Bea blinked blearily. “Did you drop off?” Liz asked, putting her knitting to one side. Bea shook her head, dizzily adjusting to being back in the real world after a good two hours in the fictional world of Franky’s book. Although drop felt like an apt word. She felt as though she had been falling for a long time and had only now hit the ground and was struggling to find her feet.

“Dor reckoned you were meditating or summat …” Boomer began.

“No I didn’t!” Doreen protested.

“ … but I just reckoned you needed some alone time ,” the big woman continued relentlessly, making a crude gesture. Bea blushed hotly and looked away.

“Boomer!” Liz interjected.

“I was just reading,” Bea retorted, feeling somewhat compromised by Boomer’s insinuation and still vaguely off-balance from this rude return to the real world. And then Franky swivelled in her chair and made it worse.

“It must be a good book to keep you occupied for so long Red,” she said with a knowing grin. “What is it? Political memoir? Celebrity exposé? Or good old fashioned bonk-buster ?” Kim laughed. Bea blushed hotter still. Franky knew exactly what that book contained. In fact, Bea had been unsurprised to find that it fell open at certain pages. But did she have to show her up in front of everyone?

Struth,” she muttered under her breath. She cleared her throat and headed over to the sink.

“Anyone want a cuppa?” she asked with her back to the group.

“Yeah, I’ll have one. Cheers, Bea,” Boomer replied, apparently unaware of Franky’s jibes. Thank God for Boomer.

Bea read on into the night, unable to stop until she had reached the final page and the happy resolution of the story. She lay the book down and tried to compose herself for sleep. But her mind replayed the interactions between the central characters and the author’s description of their feelings and responses. She would like to deny that she had placed Allie into one of the roles and herself into the other, but here alone in the dark, the only person she could even try to fool was herself. That plummeting feeling she got when Allie took her hand or held her … the writer clearly knew that feeling and ascribed it to love, to falling in love. All those descriptions of looks and touches, of covert glances … shit. Bea had been living through a boilerplate romance and had never even noticed. Had Allie noticed? If she was half as savvy as Bea knew her to be, then she must have. Were her teasing words and looks in earnest? Or did she just enjoy getting Bea in a spin? Was she laughing at Bea’s cluelessness? Bea groaned at the thought.

When Franky had given her the book, Bea had told her that she wasn’t gay. And as far as she was aware, that was the truth. But her response to the sexual scenes in the book was undeniable. Her pulse had sped up as she read those passages. She had become hot and the liquid feeling that she had felt during her visit with Allie had returned. According to the book, that was arousal. Could she have been gay all along? Was that the reason her marriage had been such a disaster? Or had prison somehow ‘turned’ her gay? She snorted at the idea. Could Allie have turned her gay? She didn’t think it worked that way. She needed some advice. Not Franky! her unconscious thundered at her. No, not Franky.

“Can I ask you something?” Bea asked. Her heart was racing but now that she had finally got up the courage to ask she wasn’t about to back down.

“Of course. This is a safe space and you can ask anything,” Dr Westfall replied smoothly.

“It may seem like a stupid question …”

“There’s no such thing as a stupid question, Bea,” she replied with a reassuring smile. Bea took a deep breath and contemplated her shoes.

“How does a person know if they’re ... gay?” The psychologist took a deep breath.

“We’ve not discussed your perspectives on love and relationships … “ she began. Love. A relationship. These were words from a long forgotten language and Bea’s brain struggled to make sense of how they might apply to her. Did she dare to imagine someone to smile at over the breakfast table? Someone to hold and be held by during difficult moments? Someone with whom to share a life? Could she cast Allie in that role? “Bea …” Her scattered thoughts returned and she focussed back on Dr Westfall. “Where’d you go?” Bea gave a tiny shake of her head. This was ridiculous. Even if Allie was, by some miracle, interested in her, it wouldn’t be fair on her. Bea had nothing to offer. She could be in here for years. Allie was young and beautiful and deserved a life that matched. That thought descended upon her heavily and her mood instantly blackened.

“I’m done here,” Bea told Dr Westfall gruffly and began to get to her feet. But Dr Westfall wasn’t finished with her yet.

“You know, I’ve known a lot of women who identified as straight and who fell in love with a woman and panicked. And to those women, I always said, ‘Forget the terminology. Just be in the moment and see how you feel.’ Because if you’ve fallen for someone, then … fuck the labels.” Bea watched the psychologist’s face become deadly serious as she said those three little words: fuck the labels. Perhaps it was because Dr Westfall seemed the unlikeliest of people to use such language that it chimed so strongly with Bea’s sense of what was right. She’d never asked Franky what label she applied to herself, she’d just accepted her as she was. Why couldn’t she be that generous with herself? Bea smiled and nodded to herself. What did it matter if she said she was gay? Or if she said she was straight, or that she didn’t know? What she did know was that she felt connected to Allie in a way she had never felt connected to anyone. Had she fallen for her, as Dr Westfall seemed to suggest? She didn’t know, but perhaps she owed it to herself to see where her feelings took her.

“Thanks Doc,” Bea said earnestly. Dr Westfall was beaming at her like she was a baby who had just taken her first steps.

“You’re welcome.”

Sitting on the edge of that examination table, swinging her feet and waiting for Mr Jackson to return, she laughed at herself. God, she was such a cliché. A plain, middle-aged woman like herself falling for a blonde bombshell like Allie. It was too obvious! A shapely, young, blue-eyed blonde … she should get some kind of award for ‘Most Out of Her League Crush'. Still, when she had walked out of Dr Westfall’s office she had promised herself that she would follow her advice, not panic, and see how she felt. That was why it was imperative that she saw Allie today. Other than the fact that Allie would worry if she was turned away at the door, Bea knew that if the visit was put off until next week there was a high probability she would lose her nerve and be less open with Allie than she wanted to be right now. Heart rate climbing, she swung her legs some more, adjusted her ridiculous hospital gown around her bare thighs and listened out for the rattle of keys.

Chapter Text

Bea could hear someone coming. Her nerves twitched, encouraging her to slip off the table and run to the glass panel in the door to see if it was Mr Jackson. But the nurse had told her she was to remain seated, or even better, lying down, so she contented herself with leaning forwards and peering intently, her neck straining. Even though she knew to expect him, she still jumped in surprise when Mr Jackson’s face momentarily appeared framed in the window. He disappeared and there Allie was, behind where he had been standing, looking pale and worried. Bea’s heart expanded. That expression, “my heart went out to her”, that was exactly how it felt, Bea thought; as though her heart would have crossed the distance between them if only it could. The key rattled in the lock and the door swung open.

“Here she is,” Bea heard Mr Jackson tell Allie with a furtive look down the corridor. He held the door open so she could pass him and enter the room. “Remember,” he said, looking from one to the other of them, “I can only give you ten minutes. The nurse is on a break. I’ll make sure she doesn't come this way.” They both nodded. “Sorry,” he addressed Allie apologetically. “But I have to lock the door.” Allie smiled at him.

“Not a problem. And … thank you.” Mr Jackson nodded in response, his dark eyes gleaming, and swung the door closed behind her. They both listened to the door being locked and the sound of his footsteps retreating along the corridor. Bea turned her eyes to Allie and swallowed dryly, hoping all signs of her earlier meltdown had now faded from her face. 

“I hope you didn't mind the cloak and dagger stuff," she said hoarsely. "But I had to … I didn’t want you to be turned away at reception and worry about what might have happened …” Allie smiled, so beautifully, that Bea's heart bobbed up, suddenly weightless, like a buoy escaping its tether.

“Why would I mind?” Allie asked archly. “The chance for a private audience, in a locked room … I didn’t see that coming …” she said, drawing a little closer. Bea found herself blushing and smiling helplessly, hard enough to make her face ache. It seemed that, on top of everything else, she had now relinquished control of her facial muscles to Allie. She looked at her feet, contemplating how her responses fitted in with everything she'd been thinking about recently. “But Mr Jackson said you fainted …” Allie continued, concerned. She came closer still and waited until Bea lifted her chin so that she could examine her face. “How do you feel now?” she asked, all trace of playfulness gone. 

"I feel fine. It was just a momentary thing." She hesitated. "I'm very glad to see you," she admitted shyly, trying to be true to the promise she had made to herself. Allie's eyes widened and she smiled. Some of her pallor was driven away by a pleased blush that formed high up on her cheeks. "How are you?" Bea asked, and looked her up and down. She was wearing jeans and a simple black V-necked t-shirt that clung very nicely to her curves, something that Bea could not remember noticing before but now her eyes drank in thirstily. Her face was as perfect as it was possible for a face to be, just as Bea remembered it. High, full cheeks, curving pink lips, beauty spot, all in place, though Bea thought she could detect a tension at the corners of her eyes that wasn't usually there and faint shadows of fatigue beneath. She was tired, Bea realised, wondering what she had been worrying about.

"I'm fine now," Allie replied. Bea waited, feeling there was more. "Mr Jackson told me I was being brought in to be searched, so that was freaking me out a bit ‘cause I didn’t fancy stripping today." Bea’s pulse throbbed in her throat as she fleetingly considered the fact that there were days when Allie did feel like stripping. "And then he told me you were in medical and I thought it had happened again … that Jacs … "

"No, no, no." Bea reassured her. "Jacs has been as meek as a lamb since she got back from the hospital. And I'm sorry about the search thing. Mr Jackson needed some way to separate you from the other visitors and bring you back here."

Mr Jackson had closed the door to Search Room 1 behind them and Allie had eyed him dubiously. What was he up to? Was he one of those men? Was she going to have to kick him in the balls? 

"It's okay. Bea sent me," he said with a nervous smile. Allie looked at him blankly, trying to catch up with this strange change of direction. "She's in medical …" Allie's heart clutched as though it might actually have stopped for a beat or two. Jacs.

"Is she badly hurt?" she asked with rising panic. 

"It's nothing like that. She just had a funny turn this morning …"

"Define funny turn," Allie replied in a frayed tone, not feeling in the mood for such a light-hearted description. 

"She fainted at morning count. The doctor’s told her she's confined to medical for the rest of the day … She didn’t like that, I can tell you … " he trailed off with an expressive widening of his eyes.

"So I can't see her?" And even though she was sure that the reason that this private chat had been arranged was to impart this unwelcome news, she couldn't prevent the way her voice climbed with hope. 

"I'm going to take you to her.” Allie’s heart pulsed wildly at this news. “Just for a few minutes. Here, wear this." He gave her a visitor's pass to clip to her shirt and her hands trembled excitedly as she attempted to fix it in place. "This is not exactly allowed, so if we see any members of staff just … try to look like you're on official business." Allie looked down at her casual outfit and knew that, if they were spotted, she'd never pass as some kind of Department of Corrections bureaucrat. Internally she adopted the persona of an evangelical Christian visitor, come to reveal the gospels to the poor souls whose sinful actions had resulted in their incarceration. She schooled her face into the pious expression she remembered well from her days on the streets and followed Mr Jackson out of the door. 

Fortunately it wasn't much of a walk to medical and they saw no one, though Allie couldn't help but glance uneasily at the security cameras and wonder if anyone was watching. Mr Jackson led her through two gates, each of which had to be unlocked and then locked behind them. The clang of the metal gates and the rattle of the keys made her skin tighten into goosebumps. It was like this for Bea every day, she thought, with a sense of dismay. How did she endure it? She must phone Ms Pym again and urge her to get a trial date set. Bea shouldn't be in this place for a moment longer than she had to be. 

And then there she was. Mr Jackson opened the door and there was Bea, seated on the edge of an examination table, wearing only one of those humiliating medical garments that left even the most confident of people clutching at the inadequate fabric in desperation. To her credit, Bea didn't seem concerned by it, her eyes fixed on Allie's face. It wasn't that Allie hadn't noticed the expanse of bare legs. She had noticed, but she resolutely looked at Bea's face instead, not wanting to make her uncomfortable with her blatant staring. 

Bea looked good. Better than she had any right to after having had her face pulverised so recently. The bruises had changed colour, sculpting her face in interesting new ways; the gash on her forehead was puckering along the edges, denoting healing; and the bloodshot eye was almost as clear now as its partner. Allie eyed the unmistakable tear tracks left on her face. She had been crying, and Allie's heart was assailed by a fresh wave of empathy. What could have happened to make the usually stoic Bea submit to tears?

So Allie did what she did best. She made a vaguely flirtatious comment and watched Bea smile and blush and avert her eyes, her sadness and worry banished, at least for a moment.

"But Mr Jackson said you fainted. How do you feel now?" she asked. She didn't bother to conceal her concern. Something had changed between them, either so gradually over the weeks that Allie hadn't noticed it, or since Bea had taken that beating. Caution be damned. If it made Bea feel better to know that she cared about her then … she would open up her heart as if it were a model for a drawing in a medical textbook. Bea made some reassuring comment that Allie couldn’t fully believe, but it was her next words, spoken with emphasis, that drove everything else out of her mind.

“I’m very glad to see you.”

This was more than Bea usually admitted. In person, at least; in her letters she could sometimes surprise Allie with her openness. But those few words were spoken with a sincerity that pierced her heart. And the effort it took Bea to overcome her shyness and say the words was apparent, which only made their value greater and magnified their effect on Allie, her heart speeding up and her joints loosening dangerously. She needed something to prop herself up against. She fought the desire to just step in closer to where Bea's compact frame was poised on the brink of the table, her feet paddling the air. She could see herself laying her hands on Bea’s thighs, nudging her body between her knees to rest against the table edge, their faces brought close together. To compound Allie’s problem, Bea’s eyes, for a second, were all over her. She was pretty much checking her out, Allie thought, watching her eyes roam over her chest and down to her hips before returning to scrutinise her face.

“How are you?” Bea asked quietly, her softening eyes revealing the tender feeling behind the question. Allie’s heart thrashed away behind her rib cage.

“I’m fine now,” she replied. For a moment she was tempted to leave it at that but at the last moment she decided that Bea’s openness required the same in return, so she explained about her worry that she would be searched and her fear that Jacs had somehow got to Bea again.

“I hope Mr Jackson won’t get into trouble for arranging this …” Allie commented, thinking that a reprimand would be a poor reward for his generosity.

“Don’t worry about him. I think the nurse has the hots for him … and that he secretly quite likes the attention, so chatting to her for a few minutes won’t be a hardship.” Bea’s eyes gleamed briefly. “Besides, I didn’t exactly give him much choice.”

“What do you mean?”

“Stupidly, I got upset when the doctor confined me to medical for the day. He thought I was getting too worked up and wanted to give me a sedative. I basically pleaded with Mr J. not to let him do it … Mr Jackson was the officer on duty the day I was admitted … I had to be sedated then and I think he remembered how horribly I reacted …" She reached up and passed a hand over her eyes as though to wipe away an unpleasant memory. "Anyway, Mr J. sent the doctor away for a bit and I calmed down enough to explain that I really wanted to see you …” Bea’s eyes met hers at this moment and the naked fear Allie saw there made her reach out and touch Bea’s face before she even knew what she was doing. Her hesitant fingers traced the gash on her forehead and ghosted over her greening bruises, finally settling under her jaw. Her thumbs brushed over the last traces of her tears and Bea let her head drop slightly so that Allie took some of the weight of it in her hands. It was a gesture of need and trust and it gave Allie the confidence to say what was on her mind.

“I thought you’d been crying,” she said quietly, inching closer until her thighs were brushing against Bea’s knees. She smoothed her thumbs over her cheeks rhythmically, erasing the tear tracks and soothing the ghost of a tremble that ran through Bea’s body. “Why?” she asked in a near whisper. “Why were you so upset?” But Bea didn’t reply except with a dry swallow and she wouldn’t look at Allie. So Allie carried on speaking. “Y’know, this is a bit like a dream I had …” She felt Bea twitch slightly under her hands. “In fact it was almost exactly like this. You were hurt and I was seeing to your injuries, standing almost exactly like this, cleaning your cut …” She brushed her fingers over Bea’s forehead again. Bea leaned in closer, strands of her hair tickling against Allie’s cheek. “I was your nurse …” Bea made a sound of amusement. “ It’s true. I had the outfit and everything …” Bea looked up at her then, one brow arched. “Nothing like you’re imagining,” Allie admonished playfully. “Just plain scrubs … but still …” Bea looked down again, but couldn’t hide the smile tugging at her lips.

“But still, what ?” she asked in a faint, hopeful voice. Allie’s heart thundered. Could it be true, what she heard in Bea’s voice? What she was seeing in her body language? She waded in.

“But still … it was hot.” She didn’t bother to put her usual teasing tone into the words this time. She let them stand. There was a long silence during which Bea allowed her head to remain within Allie’s hands and Allie continued to stroke her face with her thumbs. Just as Allie was beginning to fear that she had said too much, she felt Bea’s arms against her waist. They pulled her in and Allie released Bea’s face, dropping her arms either side of Bea’s neck and down her back. Bea parted her legs so that, as she was tugged closer, Allie’s thighs rested against the table’s edge. Finally, Bea placed her face against Allie’s collarbone, squeezing their bodies close together and releasing a breath against her skin, a breath that sounded as though it had been pending for years. Allie gathered her to her in turn, resting her face on the top of Bea’s head and stroking her hands down her back. Her breath felt tremulous in her throat and she knew that her heart must be raucous against Bea’s ear. For once she didn’t know what to say. Thank you, or I love you or Are you okay? None of it seemed right, being expressive of either too much or too little. 

“This is nice,” she said inanely. Way to go Allie.

Bea nodded against the warm triangle of skin that lay against her cheek. It was nice. It was beyond nice; so far beyond nice that she wasn’t sure there was a superlative that would reach it. Good, better, best … What was beyond that? Nothing, as far as she knew. Best was the best it could get. There should be something more, she thought hazily.

“You comfortable there?” Allie asked a moment later.

“Uh huh.” You have no idea. Bea snuggled in, felt her eyelashes brush against Allie’s skin, sensed her shiver slightly. She smiled, knowing Allie would feel it. Allie chuckled and brought one hand up to cup the back of Bea’s head, her fingers burrowing into her hair. A sound escaped from Bea’s throat, half sigh, half … what would you call that? It was not a sound that Bea had ever made before and she blushed to hear the want it expressed. She felt Allie’s chest heave under her face.

“What’s brought this on?” Allie asked a little breathlessly. “Not that I’m complaining …” Bea thought for a moment.

“I read a book,” she said flatly. Allie chuckled again.

“Must’ve been a good one …”

“And Dr Westfall gave me some good advice. And your letter … made me cry.” She sensed Allie recoil slightly, so she tightened her hold and lifted her head to look into her face. “In a good way. About Deb and my mum and dad … It kind of loosened something in me. Or, something had already loosened and your letter allowed me to feel it.” Allie’s eyes were searching her face tenderly.

“You’ve had quite a week,” she said in a soft voice. Bea nodded.

“It’s why I had to see you today …” But now that Bea had her here she felt strangely hesitant to speak. She was on the beach but was no longer sure she was brave enough to take the plunge and swim. She couldn't bear to cry any more today. She’d much rather just lay her head on Allie’s chest and not say anything, not make any mistakes. So she did. She tucked her head back under Allie’s chin and breathed her in. She felt Allie relax against her and her hands smooth their way over her back and shoulders, up and down her arms.

Allie’s whole body felt unexpectedly full. Full of heat and liquid that she was somehow pulling in from her contact with Bea, as though she were a baobab sucking in rain through its bark. She could feel herself swelling with it, storing it against drought. Her pulse jounced almost painfully throughout her distended skin in a way she couldn’t remember ever feeling before, even during the best of the days she had shared with Ingrid, few though they had been and short lived. She deliberately turned her thoughts away from that spectacularly doomed love affair. Bea. She was here with Bea and she had to make the most of every second they were alone because who knew how long it would be until they had another moment like this.

She tightened her arms around her shoulders at the thought. Bea sighed against her chest where she had laid her head and Allie could feel the heat and dampness of her breath against her bare skin. She managed to suppress the groan that was building in her chest but her hands were sliding away of their own accord, down Beas’ back, around her waist and onto her hips. Bea raised her head at this and looked at Allie blearily as though she had just woken from sleep. Allie leaned her upper body away a little so as to see her better and rested her palms on Bea’s thighs, laying them lightly on the last centimetres of fabric before the bare skin of her legs began. Look at that restraint, she silently congratulated herself.

It seemed like Bea had talked herself out today. She was all silence and meaningful looks now, so it was up to Allie to interpret as best she could and move things along.

“So … returning to my hot dream …” Allie paused to see if this was making Bea uncomfortable. Bea blinked slowly but didn’t look away, so Allie continued. “You’ll never guess what happened next …” Allie saw Bea’s lips purse and relax minutely, part slightly as though to respond and then subside again. Allie watched as a blush spread up her chest and neck and into her face. But still she didn’t turn away. All the things that Bea had had going on in her head this week had clearly had an effect on her willingness to engage more intimately. Allie reached out and cupped Bea’s burning face, encouraged by the way she pressed her cheek into her palm. “You kissed me,” Allie said in a whisper. Bea lowered her eyes at that, but didn’t move away. Allie felt her swallow.

“And how was it?” Bea asked, her voice all peaks and troughs. Then she lifted her eyes and they were full of light and hope.

“Um …” Allie scrunched up her face. “It was pretty good. For a dream kiss,” she replied in an offhand way that she mitigated with a smile. Bea huffed out a tiny laugh. “But I know it’d be better in real life …” She left the challenge hanging there between them. And Bea’s eyes were all over her face, wondering, seeking permission, looking between her eyes, where Allie hoped she’d find only kindness and love, and her mouth, which Allie thought was probably hanging half open in anticipation.

Allie noticed the moment that Bea made her decision. A focus came into her eyes and her back straightened as she sat up alertly. Her right hand came up to rest against Allie’s cheek with only the briefest vacillation along the way. When she leaned in, Allie stopped breathing, her lids dropped down and she waited. Such a light, soft touch of lips, but still Allie’s body shuddered with the impact. And again, a little more this time, so that Allie had the opportunity to respond, to taste the faint salinity of Bea's earlier tears. A runnel of desire ran through her so that she couldn’t help but grasp Bea a little firmer. Bea drew back at that, with a gasp on her lips and a frisk of the head that reminded Allie of a shying horse.

“Sorry …” Allie began, only to have Bea lean forward impatiently and lay her mouth heavily over Allie’s, her arms around her back, pulling their upper bodies flush together. Breath, lips, tongue … Allie was lost, ocean deep, tossed in a dark wave of arousal, so that when Bea separated from her she felt beached, abandoned. She breathed heavily into Bea’s disbelieving face for a few moments. “That was …” she began.

“ … beyond ...” Bea finished shakily, already leaning in again, her eyes falling closed, lips parting, promising more.

When Mr Jackson returned, Allie was demonstrating her Charleston, rotating on the spot, hands and feet flying out to the sides with a kind of crazy panache. Bea was near hysterical with hilarity and, despite her promise to herself that there would be no more crying today, tears of laughter had started down her face.

"Sorry to break up the party ladies," Mr Jackson said with an amused look. "Time to go." Bea sobered up and wiped her face with the heels of her hands. She sighed and cast her gaze despairingly into her lap. Allie was leaving and this brief interlude was coming to an end. With the electricity of their kisses still fizzing through her blood it seemed too hateful that they should be parted. 

"Hey," Allie said softly. She had come over to Bea and laid her hands back on her thighs. Bea knew she was waiting for her to look up and, childishly, she wanted to refuse to raise her head. Maybe then she would stay. After a short struggle with her inner child she raised her eyes to Allie's. "I'm gunna write you a letter as soon as I get home," Allie told her gravely. "I've got so much I need to say to you." She looked into her eyes. "Get the prison doctor to refer you to a specialist," she insisted. Bea just nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Right now all she wanted was to taste the unbelievable sweetness of Allie’s lips on hers again, to carry that electric feeling forward as far as she could, but, glancing over at Mr Jackson, she knew she couldn't. She looked up into Allie's eyes, sparkling with amusement, clearly reading her thoughts. 

"Smith," Mr Jackson growled impatiently, making her flinch. But then Allie pressed her lips against Bea's so that she forgot he was even there. It wasn't a pash but it was far from chaste and Bea's blood bounded enthusiastically in her ears. Allie's fingers danced lightly over the skin of her thighs as she broke the kiss and Bea couldn't help but laugh. Then Allie was backing reluctantly towards the door.

"Quit worrying and get some sleep," Bea called after her.

Allie smiled wryly, inclined her head in acquiescence, disappeared into the corridor and was gone. Bea sat and listened to her blood surging around her body, with her smile fading on her lips.

Chapter Text

Monday 10th March 2014

Dear Bea,

This isn't going to be like the other letters I've written to you. It isn't going to be about Debbie, or school, or lawyers, or prison. This is going to be a love letter. Which is the only kind of letter I have wanted to write to you since I first put pen to paper and began with "Dear Bea …"

So brace yourself …

Dear Bea, 

You've ruined me.

Love, Allie. 

No, no, no. Sorry. I think I need to explain that. 

Dear Bea,

Now that I have felt your fierce, salty kisses how can I carry on without them? You've ruined me. Ruined me for life without them. Not ruined me, obviously, because you have made everything in my life a million times brighter and better. But now I am going to be yearning for you every moment of every day until you are released from that horrible place. 

This is going to sound hideously presumptuous, but I'm living for the day when you walk out of Wentworth with your head held high. In my imagination you'll slo-mo straight into my arms, then I'll put you in my car and bring you home, never to be parted from you. But I have no idea if that's what you want. Am I coming on too strong? I am aren't I. Shit. I'll try again. 

Dear Bea,

You kissed me. I kissed you. No biggie …

Actually, that reminds me. When I said that your dream kiss (I suppose I should say my dream kiss because I dreamed it, but then again, in the dream you kissed me … Hmm … Let's call it our dream kiss.) When I said that our dream kiss was only pretty good I was lying. Our dream kiss was excellent, surpassed only by the thrill of the real thing. But I downplayed it so that you wouldn't feel too much performance anxiety. It must have worked because I've never been kissed like that before. 

I think you have no idea what you do to me. Your voice has some particular frequency that must be keyed specifically to my cells. I know this because I’ve felt them tremble when you speak. Scientists are still trying to work out how pheromones might be operating in human sexual attraction - maybe instead they should be studying the timbre of people’s voices. They ought to start with you and work out if the sounds produced by your vocal chords could be harvested and used as an aphrodisiac. And I only have to look at the bone structure of your face to be lost for words (stop laughing, I am sometimes lost for words). Cheekbones and a jawline like yours, so sharp they could cut, should come with a health warning. And then there’s the way nature sculpted your lips; so sexy they’re almost forbidding, and then you smile and that’s sexier still because it’s rare and shy … Too strong again? Damn

Dear Bea,

I want to be with you all the time.

Love Allie.

Dear Bea,

This separation is killing me and it’s only been a few hours. I think you will get this letter on Wednesday. I’ll be dreaming about you Wednesday night (and every night). Is it a date? See you there.

All my love, Allie.

Weds 12/03/14

Dear Allie,

I’ve never had a love letter before, never mind six all rolled into one. It (or they) did all kinds of things to me that I’m not sure I should mention in case you get big-headed. I don’t want you ending up like Franky! Anyway, I smiled a lot and teared up a bit and all day people have been giving me weird looks, so I think I must still be grinning. I won't go into how deluded you must be to write the things that you did, or how crazy you must be to even think about getting involved with someone like me. For now I'll just say thank you. 

Not only have I never received a love letter, I’ve never written one either. And this is not a love letter because I wouldn’t know where to start in trying to describe my feelings. I suppose you’ve already worked out that that’s not my strong point. But last week I think I finally accepted that I have feelings.

Have feelings for you, that is. Of course I have feelings. Franky leant me a book: “Love Between the Stacks”. Have you read it? I don’t suppose you have. I know you’re very well read but even you can't have read everything. Anyway, the main character is called Patrice and she works in a library in a medium-sized town but is very lonely. And then she meets a young woman who has just moved to the town and comes into the library to borrow some books, obviously, and, well, did I mention it’s a romance? It’s a romance. And they have all this eye contact and chat. It was beginning to look a little bit familiar and then the penny dropped. I know you’re laughing! It’s because I’m so stupid and slow. Sorry Allie, you must have wondered if I’d ever twig.

So then I asked Dr Westfall how someone would know they were gay. Stupid question. But I have never been attracted to a woman before I met you. I did mention that I'm attracted to you, didn’t I? It’s kind of obvious after what happened on Monday. And it’s also obvious how attractive you are. That’s just a fact. You should tell me the story of how it’s possible that you’re single sometime. But you’ll never guess what Dr Westfall said. “Fuck the labels.” I know, I was shocked too because she seems so classy and professional. But that made sense to me. It doesn’t matter what I call myself, or what you call yourself. We’re just two people.

But then comes the really tricky part because I’m in prison for murdering my husband. (Like either of us could forget that!) No one knows how long I’m going to be here. I don’t want you to wait for me Allie. So this is your “get out of jail free card” if you like. If you have realised that you want out, you’re out and I won’t blame you. If you’re sticking around, for now, you have to know that if the worst happens and I get a long sentence then I’ll be expecting you to get out there and find someone else. You’re young and beautiful; you’re kind and full of love; you deserve to be happy. I have strong feelings for you Allie, I can admit that now, but I doubt I’ll ever be any good for you. I know, and maybe you will realise, that you'd be better off with someone with a less difficult past.

And the other tricky thing I have to say, if you are sticking around, is that you can't tell anyone. Debbie can’t know - she wants me to be happy so badly - and if she knows about this and I get a long sentence and have to let you go she’ll be doubly devastated. And you can’t let on in the visitor’s centre like you did in front of Mr Jackson. You know better than anyone how someone's family can be used against them in here. It’s grim but true - attachment becomes weakness. 

I know I said that this wasn’t going to be a love letter but what I have actually ended up writing is something horrible, an anti-love letter. I’m sorry and I wish I didn’t have to say all this. I wish I could just tell you that no one ever made me feel like you do and no one ever will. When we kissed I thought my heart might just quit right there. It was how I imagine it must feel when they use those electric paddle things on people in hospitals. A shock to the heart.

I’ve written such a muddle of things. I hope you can work out what I mean. I hope this letter doesn’t hurt you because that’s the last thing I want. I hope you will still come and visit me next week, whatever you think about what I’ve written.

Love Bea.

Wednesday 12th March 2014

Dear Bea,

I don’t know if you’ve even received my first letter yet, but I had to write to you again before I see you because there’s some stuff I have to explain. I could have added this on to the letter I wrote on Monday but I wanted that to be a pure thing, unmuddied by what I have to tell you here. I’m scared. I have to write this down because I can’t imagine having the courage to tell it to you face-to-face next week. I should have told you the first time I ever met you, or the second, but I was a coward and kept my mouth shut. I was, and am, afraid that when you read all this you won’t want me to have anything to do with you or Debbie. Please Bea. Please know that this all happened when I was not much older than Deb. I was young and desperate. I have already told Debbie everything that I am about to tell you here.

As you know, my mum died when I was a kid, just twelve years old. Cancer. Life got really bad after that because dad wasn’t coping and as the oldest I had to step up and parent the boys. That was hard enough, but when I was seventeen I fell in love with a girl. When dad realised what was going on he sent me away to a kind of informal gay conversion camp. I suppose at the time he thought he was doing what was best for me. Anyway, to cut it short I ran away and, with nowhere to go, ended up trying to survive here in Melbourne, living on the streets, begging, shoplifting food, whatever.

I suppose it was inevitable that I got drawn into the kind of lifestyle that is common for kids with no other options. I started turning tricks to buy food. After a while I was using my earnings to buy drugs to blot out the self-loathing I felt about how I was living my life. And then one day a woman showed up, different to the Christian do-gooders who sometimes tried to press leaflets into our hands. She explained that she had a free bed at the women’s shelter she ran, and that if I took it she would help me get back on my feet and off the drugs. Well, I was too far gone to even be cautious of her. I just followed her home!

Luckily for me Kaz was exactly what she said she was. She took me in and cared for me; got me off the gear; got me into NA and got me checked out health wise. I was so lucky. I owe her my life. And my happiness, because I’m only here to meet you and be there for Deb because Kaz was there to help me that day. So, although she can be an awkward bugger, she’s my awkward bugger and part of the family. I hope you’ll be able to meet her someday. She has a tendency to rub people up the wrong way but her heart’s in the right place. As for my dad, I don’t think he’ll ever stop feeling guilty about the whole thing. And he should. He did a shitty thing when he sent me away. And he did a shitty job of raising us for quite a few years after mum died. Far from the perfect dad you might have imagined. But he’s busy making reparations and I think he’s good for Debbie.

Now when I come and visit you on Monday - if you’ll even see me - you’ll know all about the stupid, dangerous, self-destructive things I did back then. I was a runaway, a thief, a prostitute and a drug addict. Quite a list for someone not yet thirty! But I hope you’ve also taken note of everything I’ve done since to clean myself up and create a worthwhile life. You can tell me when you see me what you make of it all. Please don’t turn me away. If you have replied to my previous letter this one will probably cross it in the post but we can sort it all out when we meet.

All my love, Allie. 

Fri 14/03/14

Dear Allie,

Just got to scribble this and hope it gets to you quickly. I wish you’d told me before but I don’t care. Like me, you did what you had to do to survive. Everything you have done with your life and for me and Debbie proves you are not that person anymore.

See you Monday,

Bea x

Tuesday 18th March 2014

Dear Bea,

Your note was waiting for me when I got home from our visit. If only it had come a few hours earlier it would have saved me a lot of worry! But I don’t care because you were so lovely about it when I saw you yesterday. Now I wish I had told you a whole lot sooner. I should have known you would understand.

I don’t know which was uppermost when I saw you: the agony or the ecstasy. To have you there in front of me and not be able to kiss and touch you like I wanted to - it was hard. But still, you’re so beautiful and just talking to you and seeing you, a touch of your hand, an innocent embrace, will be enough until we can be together properly. All that stuff in your letter about you letting me go, about me not waiting for you, I’m afraid I can’t take it seriously. It’s as if you’re saying, “Well, Allie. If I get a long sentence you’re going to have to give up breathing. But that’s okay by you isn’t it, babe?” So let’s not hear any more about that. You say I should be with someone with a less difficult past - well, now you know that I could say the same to you. We make quite a pair! 

I'm intrigued about the book you read. I wonder how it made you feel, if it gave you that lovely fluttery feeling I always get in my tummy before I see you. If you imagined yourself into the story. If you imagined me.

And the good doctor! She has a wise head on her shoulders. I'm so glad that she was there to tell you something that helped you. "Fuck the labels." That's awesome. 

I know you're seeing your lawyer tomorrow. Let me know how it goes …

… the blue or the brown, whichever you decide. I can pick it up, no problem, I just need a couple of days to make sure I can get it in time for her birthday. Sorry, I’d better stop now. I have a deadline that’s starting to loom. See you soon my love,

Allie.

Thu 20/03/14

Dear Allie,

I agree with everything you said about the torture of seeing each other but being in public. Should I fake a faint next week? See if I can persuade our friendly neighbourhood cupid to bring you to me again? That might be pushing my luck. And in what world have you got me calling you “babe”? How is it that you think you get to decide what endearments I might use in the future? “Babe” is not even in my top three.

I saw Josephine. She said she had arranged an interview at home with Debbie. That’s good. I think that will be less difficult (less difficult! if only) for her. Please look after my baby. Dredging it all up is going to hit her hard. Josephine has been working with a witness - one of our old neighbours - who apparently heard some of what went on and wrote it down in her diary. Why would anyone do that? Listen to a woman having the shit kicked out of her, write it down, but not call the police? According to her it was none of her business. That plus my medical records and Debbie’s statement will make up the core of my defence together with Dr Westfall’s assessment.

But Josephine now wants to bring in some stuff about the times Harry tried to choke me. Apparently it’s a thing, “non-fatal strangulation” and is very common in domestic abuse. Perpetrators use it as a means of control. It’s a way of saying to the victim, “Look how easily I could kill you!” Experts are starting to recognise it as a precursor to an escalation of violence and even homicide. Josephine wants it to be named as a specific offence separate to assault or GBH. So my case, if successful, could make for a change in the law and help other women like me. And it would help my case too because Harry would try that with me. Josephine will argue that I lived in fear for my life and that I was convinced that no one would believe me if I tried to get help. All true, sadly.

You’ll be happy to hear that Wentworth shipped me off to the hospital yesterday arvo to have my wobbly brain examined. The specialist has said that I have “post-concussion syndrome” which apparently affects women worse than men. I can expect to be forgetful and dizzy a while longer but there’s not much they can do except monitor it. I feel okay, to be fair. I think the worst of it is behind me already.

As for Debbie’s birthday I think she would prefer the brown marl one, based on how you described it to me. I can't believe I'm going to miss her seventeenth birthday - I always used to try to sneak her out to Jock’s on her birthday for one of their ice cream sandwiches. Do you know Jock's? It’s in Albert Park. Great place - I couldn't always manage it, because sometimes Harry would insist that I bake some elaborate cake that he'd picked out. If it was anything less than perfect he would criticise it and use that as a pretext to start something.

Thanks for sorting out her present. Take some photos would you? I know that you'll make sure she has a great day because you've always made things right for her ever since that first week she came to you. I wonder why you got into fostering, Allie, now I've heard more about your childhood. Looking after your brothers was so much responsibility at such a young age. I would have thought you'd have steered clear of kids after that. 

It’s getting late, so I’d better get some sleep and see if I can find you in my dreams. Give Debbie a kiss from me, and take one for yourself. I leave it up to you to decide how steamy,

Love Bea.

Sunday 23rd March 2014

Dear Bea,

You won't be surprised to hear that I found you waiting for me in my dreams when I fell asleep last night. And the steamy kisses? Wow. I woke up practically in a puddle. (Are you blushing yet?) It's amazing what the brain can do to the body. 

I will see you before you get to read this but I think it will be easier for both of us if I write down how it went on Friday. Josephine didn't do the interview with Debbie. Instead she sent a paralegal. I was a bit put out at first, but then I realised that she'd sent a younger woman to put Debbie at ease and because it would seem less formal. It seemed to work. Debbie and Yindi really hit it off, chatting about all sorts of things before they got stuck into the serious stuff.

Debbie was very brave. She really struggled at times but got it all out like the trouper she is and only broke down after Yindi had left. I think the one thing that will stay with me more than any of the others is when she described coming into the kitchen that night after Harry had hit you across the head with the bottle. She was only little then and she said she's not spoken about it with you since. Perhaps you even thought she hadn’t remembered it. But as it will almost certainly be one of the instances of violence that she is asked to testify about at the trial I have to make sure that you're prepared to hear what she will say. 

She said that she was scared because she couldn't recognise you as her mum. She said the blood was sheeting down from your head covering your face like a mask through which she could see only your eyes. That it was like a bad dream. She wanted to run away from you but she was rooted to the spot until you said her name. Even then she was afraid to go to you; there was so much blood. Eventually you wiped your face with a towel and she ran into your arms. She doesn’t remember what happened next, if Harry was there or even if you went to the hospital; it’s just a series of snapshots that have lodged in her brain.

I’m sorry babe. I know this is hard to read (and frankly it was hard to listen to) and you will be upset by it. I wish I was there to hold you and let you cry. To comfort you if I could. But I figure you'd prefer to do your crying in private rather than in a courtroom or the visitor's room. I’m so sorry Bea, for all the horrible things he put you and Debbie through. I wish I could wipe it all away. I would say that I wish you had never met him but then there would be no Debbie, which is unthinkable. Your beautiful, brave girl! She has so much intelligence, so many talents, and such a passion for life. I know she has an incredible life ahead of her. You worry about her and about how memories like these might have affected her, but you raised her wonderfully. She is wonderful and she’s going to be fine.

On a lighter note, I’m intrigued to find out what your top three endearments might be. Can I have three guesses? I’m going to start with “Sweetheart”. Let me know if I’m warm.

It’s very exciting to know that your case might be a test for a new law. “Non-fatal strangulation”. I have to admit I’ve never heard of it, but I mentioned it to Kaz when I spoke to her yesterday, and she seemed to know all about it. She was thrilled. I think you might be her new hero. I’m so proud to know you. So proud of the difference you will make to other victims. You’re my hero too.

I wish I had known you were going to the hospital. I would have staked it out just for a glimpse of you! At least at Wentworth they are taking your health seriously. I Googled “post-concussion syndrome”. Apparently it can be worse if you received the blow to your head during the second half of your cycle because you lose the protective effect of progesterone. Can you remember if that’s when it was? The advice on the Internet is to stay off screens as much as you can to minimise your symptoms - I don’t suppose that’ll be too difficult.

I’m really looking forward to Debbie’s birthday. Of course I’ll take lots of photos. I thought she would want to go out and celebrate but she’s asked if she can have some friends round. I’m really touched that she wants to bring them home. Don’t worry, I won’t let it get out of hand. You said in your letter that you wonder why I got into fostering after spending so much time looking after my brothers. I must be a glutton for punishment! Some of those kids gave me a hard time but it was always rewarding to see even the smallest glimpses of connection. Besides, Kaz taught me the value of a helping hand at the right moment. And Debbie has been the icing on the cake. Speaking of cake, do you think Deb would want a chocolate cake? Or I have a great recipe, vanilla with a passionfruit topping …

Can’t wait to see you,

Love Allie x

Wed 26/03/14

Dear Allie,

Shit. I have a court date. 28th July ...

Chapter Text

Maybe I should have had some breakfast, Allie reflected. At the time there had been no question of eating anything. Her stomach had rebelled at the very idea. Debbie hadn’t looked much better; pale and almost silent as she choked down some toast. Nova had been skittishly dancing around them whilst they got ready, apparently picking up on their tension. Day one was bound to be the most nerve wracking, wasn’t it? After they had got used to the look and feel of the courtroom, the routine of where to go and when; once they had got an idea of whether the trial was going their way or not; once they had laid eyes on Bea … then they would feel calmer. But right now, waiting in this carpeted hallway, Allie just hoped she wouldn’t have to make a dash for the toilet. She glanced at Debbie who was seated next to her. She was staring blankly ahead whilst her fingers picked nervously at her nails. Allie reached out and took her hand, squeezing it in what she hoped was a comforting way. Debbie’s eyes flicked to hers and she gave a small, grateful smile. Allie might not have succeeded in reassuring her, but hopefully she understood that she was not alone in this.

Suddenly there was bustle all around them, the doors to the courtroom opened and everyone began to file in. Allie and Debbie followed along. Josephine was inside, imposingly robed in black, and had obviously been looking out for them. She gestured to two seats not far behind her which had been labelled as reserved. Allie took Debbie’s hand again and led her to their places. As the courtroom filled up she looked around at the simple wooden furnishings and the muted carpet, all the while aware of the tense thrumming of her nerves.

“Okay Deb?” she asked. Debbie just nodded, although her eyes were wide and her cheeks and lips pale. Allie examined her tense little face, so like Bea’s and yet entirely her own. Was she feeling sick? Faint, maybe? She had some mints in her bag. Perhaps one of those would help. She began rummaging only for Deb to instigate a tight grip on her forearm.

“Here she comes,” she whispered excitedly. 

Allie’s hands trembled with anticipation as she tried to get the key into the lock. She finally gave up the attempt with a frustrated huff.

“Here. You do it Deb.” She proffered the key to Debbie at arm’s length as though it was toxic. Debbie took it from her and within a moment had the door open and was searching for the light switch. It flickered on with a hum, illuminating the metal shelves of the storage container. Here it all was; the physical remnants of Bea and Debbie’s former life. Allie looked around in a daze. She had known that this would be difficult for Deb but had been unprepared for the effect on her own emotions … because this room was an Aladdin's cave of Bea-ness. Everywhere Allie looked she could see her clothes, her books, her cookware … everything, packed into this small space. Allie was dizzied by the idea that she could look at everything and it would tell her so much about Bea. She dearly wanted to, and the temptation was almost overwhelming. But she wouldn’t. It would be like cheating; taking a short cut. She yearned to know Bea inside out, of course she did, but she wanted Bea herself to be the one to guide her. It would be so much better to get the slow reveal, the likes and dislikes, her taste, her history, as those things came up naturally in the many years Allie had convinced herself they would share together. So they would get what they came for and get out of here.

“Mum’s clothes will be over here I should think,” Debbie said, whisking off a dust-sheet and beginning to rattle through some clothes on a hanging rail. When Allie remained stationary by the door she glanced over curiously. “Aren’t you gunna help me look?” Allie shook her head.

“I’ll just wait here. Don’t forget she’ll need the shoes to go with it.” Debbie nodded.

“Okay.” She rummaged some more until she found a hanger covered with a plastic garment bag. Peeking inside, she declared it to be the suit they had been looking for. She passed it to Allie whilst she continued looking along the rail. “And this is the blouse she used to wear with it most of the time.” Debbie passed it to Allie. “I’ll just find the shoes …” But Allie was barely listening, hypnotised by the sensation of the blouse against her hand. This piece of fabric belonged to what was just an ordinary blouse, but the knowledge that it was Bea’s made it extraordinary. It was a subtly sheened garment with a tiny, subtle leopard print in navy over a rust coloured background which was almost the colour of Bea’s hair. Allie loved it, loved the feel of it, could imagine Bea wearing it, despite the fact that she had never seen Bea in anything other than the teal and white of the prison uniform. In a trance she lifted it to her face hoping to breathe in any lingering traces of Bea’s scent. “Probably could do with a wash, eh?” Debbie asked from her position, crouching over some boxes.

“Yeah,” Allie croaked, clearing her throat to mask her embarrassment at being caught out.

“These are the ones,” Debbie announced triumphantly, holding up a pair of smart shoes. She stood. “Right. Let’s get out of here,” she said, looking around with an air of detachment.

“Isn’t there anything you want to grab for yourself whilst we’re here?” Allie asked. “Clothes, books …”

“Can’t really think of anything, and …” Her eyes strayed to the opposite corner of the locker. “All that stuff was dad’s. I don’t wanna even look at it.” Allie ushered her out as quickly as she could. Once in the corridor she juggled the suit and blouse whilst locking the door behind her. Leaning back against the locked door she exhaled with relief. This place had had a pull and a push effect on both of them, for different reasons, and she was relieved to be out of there. Looking over she saw that Debbie’s brows were arcing in a way that she knew well.

“Come here,” she said, pulling Debbie to her. At that the girl gave up her battle to stop her tears and sobbed against Allie like she had not done in weeks. Allie squeezed her and rocked her. Nothing she said could change the facts of Debbie’s past. All she could hope was that moments like this would become rarer as Debbie went through her life and that she would be on hand to comfort her when it became too much.

“You know what I could do with right now?” Allie asked, once Debbie’s tears had abated. The curly head shook from side to side against her shoulder. “A couple of slices of pizza and maybe something chocolatey to finish up.” Debbie stepped back, wiping her face.

“Sounds good. Papa Gino’s?” she asked with a hopeful gleam in her eyes.

“Ah, alright …” Allie replied, faking some reluctance. “I reckon we deserve a treat. You’ll be having the Aussie no doubt?”

“Absolutely. Followed by a chocolate crepe.” She glared at Allie. “And don’t you order that Tropical thing … That’s a travesty of a pizza.” Allie laughed.

“I’ll order what I please, Miss. But I’m feeling the Napoletana today. And then afterwards we can drop this off at the dry cleaners.”

Wed 26/03/14

Dear Allie,

Shit. I have a court date. 28th July. That’s four months away. It sounds ridiculously distant and terrifyingly soon at the same time. Will we be ready? Josephine says we will be. I trust her judgement but so much hangs on it - the difference between a life and no life at all. I have to admit that I'm panicking slightly and I wish you were here. You would know exactly the right thing to say to puncture this bubble of fear. You would make me laugh, touch my hand and then say something to make me blush. I miss you sweetheart. (Yes, “sweetheart”. One down, two to go.)

I suppose what I'm afraid of, apart from getting a heavy sentence, is how I will cope when I'm on the stand. And how I will cope when I have to listen to what everyone else has to say about me. I don't want to fall apart in front of an audience. And I can't afford to get angry. But I suppose I still have some time to work on myself. Josephine is going to drill me on how to respond to the prosecutor and I will ask Dr Westfall if she can help me control my emotions in court. I feel more confident already, Allie. Talking to you always helps. 

Speaking of Dr Westfall … You should see Franky glowing when she comes back from one of their sessions. The first week she looked shocked, like she'd been slammed in the face with a plank of wood. When I asked her how it had gone she just said, "She didn't go easy on me Red," shook her head, disappeared into her room and closed the door. But now … I can only assume they're making progress because she seems easier in herself and more infatuated with Bridget (it didn't take Franky long to find out her name!) than ever. It's just as well that Kim gets out in a few days because Franky is not making much of an attempt to disguise this new attachment. 

So we are planning a farewell party for Kim. She seems terrified to be leaving Wentworth and Franky. She'd truly rather stay here. But Franky has told her that it's over between them as soon as she's released and that she'll break her arms if she sees her in here again. I can see that Kim believes her and she's heartbroken. I think Franky's outgrown her but still, she wants her to get out and make a life for herself. I was wondering if it would be okay for me to pass her Kaz's number. Just as a safety net. She has no one on the outside and could really use some help.

Thank you for being with Deb when she spoke to the paralegal. And thank you for telling me what Debbie said so that the first time I hear it isn't in court. I guess I knew she hadn't forgotten about that night but it was easier to pretend she had. (You are really getting to see all the best aspects of my character!) The ironic thing is that, although there was a lot of blood, that wasn't one of the most serious wounds I got from Harry. Scalp wounds just bleed like crazy. Still, I went and got stitched up at the hospital so I suppose there are medical records that can be produced in court. I wish Deb had brought those bad memories to me but it's not always easy to raise these things with the other person who lived through them. I'm so glad she has you to talk to.

Now I have a bone to pick with you. Debbie tells me that, not only did you get her a new laptop for her birthday but also a bike. That's too extravagant Allie! And I know you can't have been devoting as much time to your work as you usually do. Please don't let everything that we've got going on cause you financial problems. Are you even listening? You give her everything she needs already without buying her stuff.

But thank you for taking her to Jock's. I can't believe you did that - carrying on our little ice cream ritual - that was so precious. Thank you. Deb was quite choked up when she told me about it so I know she appreciated it too. I hardly need to say that I wish I could have been there. Don't forget to send me some photos when you get the chance. I'll expect one of you too, sweetheart, but fully clothed if you don't mind. This place is full of the sexually deprived …

… Love Bea.

Allie trailed her fingers mindlessly along the rack, her head full of red curls and a navy suit. This was the open state of mind that she tried to enter when shopping for clothes, having found that it reduced frustration and led to some wonderfully unexpected finds. Today she wanted to buy another couple of tops for Bea to wear for her trial because it would almost certainly last for more than one day. Also, she would also need some sheer tights for her sexy legs. Sheer but respectable would probably be a better look for court than sheer and sexy, she mused, although the legs remained sexy whatever you put them in. And if she happened to spot something cute for herself or Deb, so be it. Out of the edge of her eye, she could see that a shop assistant had locked onto her and was approaching rapidly. She gave an inward sigh.

"Can I help you find something?" the young woman asked brightly. Before Allie could reply she had already moved onto her next question. "Are you looking for yourself? Something for work?" Allie shook her head to dismiss her as quickly as possible, but at the last moment a mischievous impulse changed her mind.

"Actually, maybe you can help me." The woman smiled at her attentively. "I'm looking for some blouses for my girlfriend. She's in prison but her trial is coming up soon and she'll need to look smart in court. Any suggestions?" The assistant's smile faltered and she actually opened and closed her mouth twice whilst she searched for a reply. But she recovered quickly and with a surprisingly sympathetic look steered Allie over to another rack.

"These are from our workwear range and are sure to impress. Some are even on sale just now. Do you have her size?" Allie was taken aback slightly by how unfazed she was, but told her the size of the blouse she had collected from the storage unit, detailed Bea's colouring and gave her a description of the navy suit that she would be wearing. Twenty minutes later they had, between them, chosen one aqua blue Oxford shirt and one cream blouse. The aqua one was crisp and business-like and the cream one had a satiny drape that Allie loved. Both were smart and should impress the jury but it was a private viewing of each that Allie was fantasising about: Bea in the aqua one with an extra button undone and not a single other stitch on; the cream one clinging to the curves of her bust as Allie skimmed her hands down the sides of her breasts. She blinked rapidly to clear these images and followed the shop assistant over to the desk.

"Thank you so much for your help," Allie told the assistant as she rang up the items on the register. She felt bad; she had only said what she had to make her back off and leave her alone but this young woman had been totally non-judgemental and professional. And Allie was annoyed with herself for referring to Bea as her girlfriend. It felt all wrong when she and Bea had not even discussed what they might call each other. 

"You're welcome," she replied, handing her the bag. "My aunt was inside for a while," she said in a low, confidential tone, and with a hard swallow. "It nearly killed my mum, so I know how hard it is for the family." Allie just nodded. Her eyes stung. The kindness of strangers, she reflected, is the most affecting kind. "Good luck for the trial," she added.

"Thanks."

Fri 11/07/14

Dear Allie,

I think I’m going to have to put you out of your misery. You got lucky with “sweetheart” but you’ve been striking out ever since. I’m not giving you “sweet lips” despite it being an accurate description. (Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten, and could never forget, how your lips taste even though it has been quite a few months since what you like to call “our little hook up” in Medical.) Your guesses have ranged from the inappropriate (“Honeypot”) to the absurd (“Snookum”) and included some vomit inducing ones (“Cuddle Bunny” remember that one?) and you are no nearer to getting positions one and three. (Yes “Sweetheart” is in position two but I doubt that will help you.) So let me know in your next letter if you want me to reveal all. (Behave.)

So, with the trial looming I’m starting to feel the nerves kick in. If you could persuade Debbie not to sit through it I would be grateful, but when I spoke to her last she was determined that she would be there. I suppose she wants to be supportive and I understand that but I don’t want her to have to listen to anything she won’t be able to cope with. And I don’t want her to hear her mother reduced to a psychological diagnosis. On a rational level she will know that I’m more than just whatever they label me, but I can’t help but worry that she will forever think of me in those terms.

And Allie, you don’t have to sit through it either. What kind of relationship begins this way - with us kept apart so much and you being subjected to all of my most shameful actions (and inactions) and my worst weaknesses? I wish for nothing more than that we had met under normal circumstances and we could have had a normal “courtship” or whatever this is called. For that to have happened I would need to travel back in time and not kill Harry. But if I hadn’t killed Harry, you wouldn’t have needed to look after Debbie and we would never have met. It’s a paradox that my mind can’t resolve. But you should know that, come sentencing, you are free to walk away and never see me again. I wouldn’t hold it against you. In fact I would applaud you for your courage and for your ability to prioritise your own wellbeing. Though I hope you won’t walk away from Deb.

Speaking of the trial, Miss Bennett reminded me that I will need something to wear. So I have one last request. Would either you or Debbie mind dropping round to the storage unit and collecting my navy suit? It’s the only thing I can think that I own that would be suitable for court. I’ll need a top and some shoes too. Sorry to give you something else to do. I know you’re busy. Either of you can just leave it at reception next time you visit.

Do you remember me saying that we were getting a new person to fill Kim’s old cell? Well she’s arrived. Her name is Maxine. As soon as Franky saw how tall and strong she is she was trying to recruit her as muscle since Boomer’s back is still bad. Maxine is not at all interested. She seems like a gentle person - so quietly spoken - but she stood up to Franky alright. I like her already. I have to say that Franky surprised me by not pushing too hard. I think Dr Westfall (or more specifically, Franky’s wish to stay on her good side) is having a positive effect on her. She has even persuaded Franky to receive a visit from her dad, which Franky swore (and I mean swore!) would never happen. Doreen has joined the prison gardening project, which seems to agree with her, and Liz is keeping away from the grog. So as soon as Boomer’s back is better H2 will be at full strength and fighting fit. But all is unusually peaceful at the moment, and this place is more like how I would imagine an all-girls school than a prison … if the girls were tattooed, shiv wielding maniacs that is. Just kidding, sweetheart. I’m perfectly safe … 

Love Bea x

“Here she comes,” Debbie whispered excitedly. The teen’s hand gripped tightly on her arm. Allie’s excavation of her bag had failed to turn up the expected mints. She knew they were in there somewhere, probably right at the bottom, but this was hardly the time or place to dump everything out on the floor, even though she badly wanted an excuse not to look up and see Bea and so start this whole process in motion. It was illogical, she knew, but suddenly she needed a little more time to adjust to the idea that Bea’s trial was finally starting. The next few days would determine the course of the rest of their lives, but it was childish to think that she could slow time by refusing to look up. Allie took a deep breath and raised her eyes.

 

Chapter Text

The trip in the brawler was punishing. She rocked from side to side on the hard bench with only a bad tempered Miss Miles for company, and she wasn’t talking, so Bea was left to fret in silence, almost incredulous that this moment had actually arrived. In a few minutes she would be at the courthouse and her trial would begin. She had hardly slept the last two nights and now her head was overflowing with half remembered advice from Josephine. Show sadness but not anger; speak slowly and clearly; make eye contact with the jury members when you speak; be honest about your fear. There was no way she was going to remember all of that when the questions began. But it was unlikely that her turn to speak would come today. First would come jury empanelment, charges, opening statements and so on. The prosecution had witnesses to call before anyone got around to her. She clung to that idea. All she would need to do today would be to stay calm. She remembered what Allie had said about imagining their hands joined together and took a shaky breath. Closing her eyes she mentally placed the two of them in the visitor’s room, their hands touching across the table, Allie’s bright eyes riveted on her face.

Saturday 29th March 2014

Dear Bea,

Okay. So, imagine I'm holding your hand. Imagine my thumb in your palm and then on your wrist, circling gently. Can you feel it? Imagine my eyes on yours. Now, listen up. 

Babe, four months is plenty. You are going to be so ready. You have everything waiting for you on the outside, everything to fight for. You're right to point out that there's a lot at stake: there is. But that's exactly when you're at your strongest. Look at what happened when Debbie was in danger from Jacs. You knew what to do and you did it even though it scared you. You used your head, made a plan, and stuck to it. And that's what you're going to do now. You have a great team around you. Let them help you. 

Ah, so I was right with “sweetheart”. Gotcha! Okay, so I'm thinking that you're a traditionalist when it comes to pet names so I'm going to go with “darling” for my next guess. Or darlin'. That's jaunty. "Allie, darlin', pass the salt." Or, "Take me to bed, darlin'" Um, I like the sound of that one. 

How's your fear now? Bubble punctured? I hope you're blushing or laughing or both. I hate it that I can't be with you when you need me. But we have our visits, the occasional phone call (when you are mostly sexily monosyllabic, but that’s okay, I enjoy hearing you breathe) and these letters. I hope you know how much I look forward to them, treasure them and reread them. Our postie looks very startled when I practically ambush him by the door and snatch the post out of his hand.

It sounds like your mate Franky has got it bad for Dr Westfall. Do you get the feeling it's mutual? Or is she fooling herself? Do you reckon they're getting it on in the doc's office? If so, I don't blame them. I wish I could get another ten minutes alone with you in medical. I would hold your face in my hands and kiss you senseless. And this time my fingers might stray under the hem of that very alluring hospital gown. Would you like that? I can imagine your skin under my hands very clearly and … I just felt a band of electricity streak up my leg at the thought. Perhaps I should take a break here to cool off …

Enclosed are some photos: two of Debbie playing at the concert, two of her with her mates scoffing pizza in the kitchen on her birthday (as you can see she is wearing the jumper you got her), one of Deb at Jock’s looking about eight years old with an ice cream sandwich jammed in her mouth, and one of yours truly, as requested. I hope these brighten up your room and you take great pleasure in looking at them. Especially the one of me, obviously, but keep it away from the sexually deprived, not to mention the sexually depraved.

The concert went off pretty smoothly (Debbie was, of course, the star) with only a few bum notes. I must admit that when we first went into the auditorium I felt like such a fraud, knowing it ought to be you there enjoying her success and not me. But Deb’s teacher came and introduced himself and I immediately felt easier. Dad loved it, humming the tunes the whole way home in the car. Deb was concentrating hard throughout but giddy with triumph at the end. I’m not sure she’s come down from her high yet. I have filmed the whole thing on my phone for posterity and I dare to hope it won’t be too long before you can watch it.

Debbie really has a nice bunch of friends. You probably know some or all of them already. As you can see from the photos they all had a great time on her birthday and a couple of them even helped clear up the mess afterwards. You should have seen the number of pizzas and the amount of cake (chocolate of course, as predicted) they got through. As far as Debbie’s presents are concerned I’m afraid she has made them sound more generous than they are. The laptop she needs for school as her old one moves more slowly than an arthritic possum. And the bike was second hand. Plus it was as much a present for me as for her because it means we can try out some of the local cycle routes together. Nothing too strenuous, believe me, because I’m not in any kind of shape for that, but just some good clean fun …

… All my love, Allie.

She fanned the photographs out on her bed to look at them again more closely. The ones of Debbie she would put up on her wall so that, not only could she see them every day but her friends could look at them too. Franky and the others always took an interest in what Debbie was up to and admired the photos whenever they came into her cell. For Liz it was difficult, Bea knew. Her own kids would have nothing to do with her after she had accidentally killed their grandmother whilst drunk. But Liz never let her own misfortune get in the way of her showing her joy at Bea’s happier circumstance. She inspected the one of Debbie in her birthday jumper. Allie was generous to say that it was from Bea because Allie had chosen it, collected it, paid for it and wrapped it. All Bea had done was choose blindly between blue and brown. But she had to admit that it looked good on her.

The one of Debbie at Jock's made Bea smile helplessly every time her eyes landed on it. But it was bittersweet to look at: she hated that she had missed out on that outing but loved that Allie had stood in for her. In the picture Debbie was wearing her green and white gingham school uniform, so Allie must have taken her there on the way home from school. Her curly haired girl did indeed look much younger than her seventeen years with her mouth bulging, eyes crossing and a slick of chocolate ice cream on her chin. It was a funny picture and Bea wondered what Debbie would say if she knew that Allie had sent it to her. 

The ones from the concert couldn't have been more of a contrast. In these Deb looked preternaturally grown up. She was smartly dressed all in black with her hair tied back neatly and a look of furious concentration on her face as she glared at the sheet music on her stand. Bea peered closer. That make-up job was so subtly done that it must be Allie’s handiwork. Tears rose up behind her lids as she imagined Allie helping Debbie get ready, soothing her nerves, carrying her equipment to the car. Where she might naturally have felt envy she felt only gratitude and joy, that the two most important people in her life had formed this closeness and compatibility. If Bea was given a lengthy sentence would Allie stay the course and stand in for her at all the other important moments in her life?

She pulled the final picture towards her - the one of Allie. This was surely snapped by Debbie at a moment when Allie was completely unaware that she was being photographed, such was the artlessness of her pose. It depicted her reclining in the backyard hammock with Nova in her lap and an open paperback face down on her chest. One hand was employed in scratching the cat under her chin whilst the other was thrown carelessly over her head. But it was the expression on her face that Bea’s gaze kept returning to. Her eyes were closed, her face turned up in enjoyment of the sun’s rays, her lips curling in such a pleased smile that Bea’s mouth unconsciously mirrored it. It was the face of a woman who, in that moment, believed that she had everything she could possibly want and knew it. The face of someone who lived in the moment and knew how to take pleasure in the everyday things that others might allow to pass by without appreciation. It was a gift that Allie had, but one that Bea felt she had still to master.

"What have we got here, then?" Franky's brash tone cut into her reverie. Bea had been so lost in her thoughts that she clearly hadn't noticed the others coming back onto the unit. Franky had no doubt stuck her head round Bea's door without knocking, as she generally did. But before Bea could respond Franky had plucked the print out of her hand, Boomer and the others crowding in behind her. 

"Hey …"

"Blondie's sent you a pin-up for your wall, I see," she said with an impish grin. "Not bad," she said in an admiring tone. "Did she send one for me?"

"No," Bea replied pointedly, looking for an opportunity to grab the photo back. "In fact she specifically instructed me to keep it away from the sexually depraved."

"My reputation precedes me I see," Franky commented with a blinding smile, passing the picture to Boomer. 

"Give that back …" Bea snapped in frustration, reaching out for it just as Boomer passed it back to Doreen, her hand closing on fresh air. "C'mon guys, quit fooling … don't crease it ..." Shit. She sounded like a child. The picture had made it to Liz by this time. The blonde woman looked at the photo and smiled.

"Ah, that's lovely, love." Bea rolled her eyes. Was there no privacy in this place? Liz looked at the print for a long moment during which the others appeared to lose interest and drifted back into the communal area. After a minute Liz looked up at Bea. Something about the knowingness of that look made Bea flush up hotly. "Ignore Franky's teasing," she said, offering the photo back to her. "She's just pleased for you and doesn't know how else to show it." Bea wouldn't look at her, embarrassed that Franky and Liz had divined her supposed secret with so little effort and determined not to confirm their suspicions by any gleam or expression in her eyes. Bea took the picture out of Liz's hand and turned away. 

"Thanks," she muttered, stepping back into her room and closing the door behind her.

Sunday 20th July 2014

Dear Bea, 

I’m so sorry not to have managed a letter to you earlier in the week, but I was really busy with work and then I wanted to wait until I could let you know that Debbie and I have successfully collected your suit. It looks good but I took it to the dry cleaner’s yesterday anyway, just to make sure that you make the very best impression. We picked up some shoes and a blouse at the same time, but then it occurred to me that you will almost certainly need a change of top, so, if you don’t mind, I will go shopping and choose you something and then drop the whole package off later in the week. Do you trust me to select something you’ll like? I hope so because I really like the idea of shopping for you. It’s a very sexy idea. If only you could come with me and we could be wildly inappropriate in the changing room …

I’m gutted that you think I’m never going to guess the other two pet names you're planning to call me. You must have chosen something obscure, but I don’t think I’m ready to give up this game just yet. In fact I think I would rather be patient and hear one of those endearments fall naturally from your lips in a moment of tenderness or passion. Because we will have some of those and, with your trial now so close, I can feel my heart speed up at the thought that it might not be too long before we are together.

I have taken note of what you wrote in your last letter about feeling as though we are missing out on having a normal courtship. You’re right of course and we deserve to have that - you especially, since I don’t suppose you ever experienced anything along those lines with Harry - and I swear to you that I will do my best to give you that when you get out. Never will a woman have been romanced like you will be Bea Smith. You’ll be wined and dined until your head spins. You’ve been so very forgiving of my past and I mean to convince you that I’m worthy of your time and affection by swathing you in love and attention. Romantic dinners out, cosy dinners in; picnics in the park, breakfast in bed. It’s all yours for the taking.

I’m glad to hear that the new girl, Maxine, is fitting in well and that things remain calm inside. This is just what you need to allow yourself to concentrate on your trial. I know you are bound to be getting more and more nervous as the days go by, but, when you feel like it’s getting too much, just imagine that my hand is in yours. In my heart it is always there …

… All my love Allie, x

"It looks like someone has kindly provided you with a selection," Miss Bennett remarked as she placed a pile of clothing on Bea's bunk. Her large eyes were luminous with kind amusement and the sympathy for which she was well known. Bea swallowed. Although Allie had prepared her for this, she was still vastly touched by the effort she had gone to to make sure that she had everything she needed for this most important day. "I've been through everything, so I'll leave you to get ready and an officer will come and collect you in about half an hour."

"Thanks Miss Bennett," Bea murmured, her gaze glued to the pile of clothes as though it might disappear if she took her eyes off it for a moment. She picked up and shook out her suit jacket and skirt, half noticing that her shoes were at the bottom of the stack. She ran her fingertips over the smooth cotton of a brand new pale turquoise shirt and smiled. Such a cheerful shade; it reminded her of the runners that Allie sometimes wore. Holding it out in front of her she could see that it had been laundered so that it had lost its shop stiffness. It felt soft but looked crisp and it smelled faintly of Allie, or rather, of the laundry detergent that she used.

She smiled and laid it to one side. Picking up the next item she felt a prickle of goosebumps raise the hairs on her arms. This cream coloured confection of satiny fabric was so "Allie" that she almost expected her to appear from behind it. In fact, hadn't Allie been wearing something similar the very first time she saw her? After just one look at it Bea knew without doubt that it was Allie's favourite and that she would wear this one today. For luck.

Beneath the cream blouse lay her old favourite blouse, a few pairs of tights and her shoes. Bea picked up her old blouse and immediately discarded it. She could hardly bear to look at it. It was like a fossil or a dinosaur bone; something faintly repellent from an earlier age. She couldn't wear it. Out with the old, in with the new. She smiled to herself: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. Where was that from? Her thoughts were dissipated by a gentle tapping on her door.

"Come in."

"Hi."

"Hi Maxi."

"How's it going?" Maxine asked with a sympathetic grimace. 

"Good." Bea blinked rapidly as her brain reminded her of what was coming. One hand came up to nervously adjust her hair. "Just gotta get changed." Maxine held up a small zippered case.

"How about I do your make-up? Can't have wobbly lipstick on a day like today." Maxine's thoughtfulness stilled her for a moment. Then she nodded. 

"Thanks."

Twenty minutes later she was made-up and dressed. While Bea was nervously rearranging her hair Maxine was ferreting through her makeup bag.

“Here,” she finally blurted, triumphantly holding up a slender gold chain. “I managed to sneak this in with me. How about you wear it …?”

“I couldn’t Maxi …” Bea began.

“Not for keeps. Just borrow it. It’ll bring you good luck.”

“I guess I could use some of that,” Bea admitted, allowing Maxine to fasten it around her neck.

“There. You look stunning.” Bea smiled at herself in her cloudy mirror. She had to admit that the necklace was a nice touch. Something borrowed.

"Smith! Let's go," Smiles hollered as Bea dawdled, saying goodbye to her friends. There was a final round of hand slaps and fist bumps and then a chorus of farewells and good luck wishes followed her out of the unit, overlapping and fading as she took that lonely walk along the corridor.

"Good luck love!"

"You look like a million dollars Bea."

"Knock 'em dead Red!"

"Don't worry. You'll be right."

"Eh, Bea … tits and teeth!"

"What ?" Bea heard Liz ask.

"It’s somefin I read in a magazine ..."

“I don’t think that’s appropriate for court, Boomer …”

Bea smiled to herself. With friends like these, how could she fail?

The brawler came to a halt and there was a painful pause while Bea waited for the officer to walk around and unlock the doors. Her heart started up its anxious tattoo once more so that she could feel the sickeningly rapid tidal rise and fall of blood in her throat. Gasping for breath, she fought against the uprush of panic. It’s just anxiety, she told herself, resisting the blackness that was edging into her field of vision. Then a hand touched down lightly on her arm.

“Alright Smith. Take a breath.” She did. And then another. As her vision cleared she was able to focus on the sardonic countenance of Officer Miles, surprised to see a glimmer of sympathy in her usually disinterested gaze. “Don’t pass out on me. I can do without the extra paperwork,” she said flatly. Bea nodded and gave a small smile, recognising this brusque exchange as a tiny offer of support. “Ready?”

Stepping out onto the damp Tarmac, Bea looked around. So this was the Supreme Court of Victoria. It didn’t look like this on the telly, but then they only ever showed the grand frontage, not this unprepossessing back entrance. She looked up at the sky. It was still overcast with white cloud but the earlier rain had stopped and the chill of the fresh air was like a kick in the head, waking her up. The air never tasted this good at Wentworth. Maybe soon she would be breathing the air of freedom all the time. She discarded that thought hastily, superstitious that it might jinx the outcome.

Smiles led her inside through a scuffed door. They made their way through one utilitarian corridor, then another, then up a flight of stairs into some kind of antechamber. Here they waited for several minutes, Bea struggling to remain calm. Eventually a court official stuck his head around a second door. 

“They’re ready for you,” he told Smiles, barely sparing a glance for Bea. Bea took a step forward, suddenly impatient for the waiting to be over, but Smiles held her back with one hand, brandishing a key in her eyeline.

“Let’s take the cuffs off first, shall we?” Bea paused while Officer Miles unlocked them. Once the handcuffs were removed Bea hastily adjusted the cuffs of her blouse so that they would show from beneath her jacket. Now Smiles was the one waiting impatiently, so she just rolled her shoulders inside her jacket to relieve some tension, and, taking Allie’s metaphorical hand, stepped through the door.