Vera awoke with a scream, thrashing, trying to free herself from whatever was binding her. This was it. She hadn’t saved Joan. She hadn’t saved herself.
They were going to die.
But… it was quiet. As her panic subsided, as the adrenaline pounding through her body finally receded enough to allow her to hear, to see, Vera realized that she wasn’t being held by the prisoners—she was being held by Joan.
Joan was rocking her, her strong arms securely embracing Vera. She was alternately whispering “shh, shh” and singing softly.
She had never heard Joan sing.
It was beautiful.
She let her head drop back against Joan’s shoulder. Safely held in Joan’s arms, she allowed the first tears to fall.
Joan fell silent. Laying her own cheek against Vera’s forehead, she slowly moved one hand to wipe away Vera’s tears.
“Please don’t stop,” Vera whispered.
For a moment, Joan was quiet. Than, holding her even tighter, Joan took a breath. Her song was soft but clear. “When I am laid, am laid in earth…”
Vera’s tears spilled faster.
Joan continued to stroke her cheek. “May my wrongs create no trouble, no trouble in thy breast…”
Vera felt her body start to shake. It was wrong—all of this was so very, very wrong.
“Remember me, remember me…”
They had found love. They had created love. Shouldn’t that matter, somehow?
Shouldn’t it protect them?
“But ah! forget my fate…”
They didn’t deserve to die. Joan had done… terrible things… but she didn’t deserve to die. Nor did Vera! They should be able to live—even if it was right here in this cell, a life sentence in Wentworth, they should be allowed to live!
“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.”
She sobbed, feeling her heart break for the future they would never have, and the past that they had squandered.
When Vera could cry no more, when her sobs receded and her body stopped shaking, Joan turned Vera’s face to her own. “That’s the last time you’ll cry about this,” she informed her sternly.
“What?” Vera asked, confused, trying to wipe away the remnants of her tears.
“That was the last time you’ll cry,” Joan repeated. “No matter what happens—whether we both live or die, whether you survive and I don’t—those were the last tears you will shed for us.”
Vera stared into the face of the woman who was both her monster and her lover. “I’m not strong enough for this,” she whispered.
“You’re strong enough for everything,” Joan replied.
Their lovemaking was not gentle. It was fast—desperate—as they frantically tried to feel every part of the other, to imprint the other’s body forever in their minds.
To make the other feel their love.
When Vera climaxed first, urgently chanting “I love you, I love you” over and over as she came, she thought she couldn’t bear to open her eyes again, to face the future and a possible world without Joan.
But Joan kissed her eyelids, and Vera forced herself to see.
And when Vera slid down Joan’s body, kissing the soft thighs before placing her mouth on Joan’s core, she was glad that her eyes were open. She could not have lived without the sight of Joan’s flushed face glowing in ecstasy.
Joan orgasmed silently, her entire body shaking.
Vera made no comment about it, but simply crawled back up Joan’s body.
They clung to each other as Joan’s breathing returned to normal.
“I didn’t send the letter,” Joan stated abruptly.
Vera frowned, turning over to wrap her arm across Joan’s belly. “What letter?”
Joan gently caressed the arm. “The letter that implicated you in the embezzlement. The letter that would have destroyed your career.”
“And my freedom,” Vera added.
Joan said nothing.
“Why?” Vera asked. “Was it because of us?” she gestured back and forth between the two of them.
“Not consciously, at first…” Joan paused, thinking, “but maybe. I had had it ready for a while, but I never sent it. I think I couldn’t do it.”
Vera shifted to look into Joan’s face. “Couldn’t?”
Joan stared back. “Wouldn’t,” she whispered. “I wouldn’t. Yours was the first vow I took that I broke. I had vowed to annihilate you, but… I chose not to.” She looked away, toward the window. “I tore up the letter this morning. No one will ever know.”
“They’ll find the money,” Vera replied sadly. “They’ll see that it was all deposited in my name.”
“Will they?” Joan asked, turning back. “Even if the account is registered in a different name?”
Vera frowned. “But you said—”
“I lied,” Joan retorted simply.
“But then how were you going to pin it on me?” Vera sat back on her knees, looking down at Joan lying before her.
“The letter instructed my… helper… at the bank to change the name on the account, but to erase any evidence that he had done so. It was to appear as if your name had always been the primary account holder.”
“And this person would just do that? Could just do that?”
“He has special skills, as well as a certain—shall we say ‘incentive’—to do what I instructed him to do. He knows his job.”
Vera sighed, snuggling back into Joan’s side. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Joan—are you expecting me to thank you for not ‘annihilating’ me?”
Joan kissed Vera’s forehead. “I wanted you to know,” she said slowly. “I didn’t want you to think… I wanted you to believe that I chose not to hurt you. I… understand more now, about you, and about myself. And if I should—”
Vera quickly placed her finger on Joan’s lips. “We will not speak of that,” she stated firmly. “If I’m not allowed to cry, then you’re not allowed to refer to your… your…”
“My death,” Joan stated into Vera’s finger, wrapping her own fingers around Vera’s hand and gently bringing Vera’s palm to her mouth. She kissed it slowly, breathing against the warm skin.
“That,” Vera whispered, blinking her eyes against the pain of unshed tears.
They gazed into each other’s face.
“I love you,” Joan stated clearly.
“I know,” Vera replied, reaching to bring Joan’s face to her own, finally celebrating Joan’s long-awaited declaration with a deep, desperate kiss.
They lay wound up in each other, watching the gray that signaled the pre-dawn light. Vera buried her face below Joan’s shoulder, breathing in the scent of Joan’s skin.
“It’s time,” Joan stated expressionlessly.
Vera nodded. She gave one last frantic squeeze of Joan’s body before she rose, standing barefoot on the cold concrete floor of Joan’s cell. She looked around at the clothing scattered on the floor. She looked at her lover, now rising from bed. “I can’t do this,” she whispered, her voice high in panic.
“You must,” Joan replied, handing Vera her underwear.
Vera slipped the tiny garment over her legs, willing herself to hold down the vomit that continually threatened to rise from her gut. Joan was right. She must. She could spend her final moments throwing up, panicking, or she could force herself to be calm. She could force herself to concentrate on the short but infinitely precious time she still had with Joan.
They dressed in silence, occasionally helping each another to pull on a shirt, fasten a zipper. Joan brushed her thick hair, pulling it into its now-accustomed ponytail. She handed her brush to Vera, who made no comment when she saw it tremble. She pulled her own hair into its tight twist.
Dressed, they stood together: the Governor in black; the prisoner in teal.
In the unit’s common area, hands clutched tightly, they watched the sun rise over the outer wall of Wentworth.
“Remember me,” Joan quoted suddenly in a whisper, staring at the morning light, “but forget my fate.”
Vera craned her head to look up at her. Her mind was swiftly flooded with memories of Joan—of the first time she saw her, her uniform spotless, her hair arranged in her perfect bun; of listening to Joan’s first speech to the guards, and then creeping away to the toilet to silently repeat phrases of it to herself, marveling at the forcefulness of this new governor; of having drinks in Joan’s office, and gladly spilling all of her secrets, because even then she would happily have given anything—everything—to Joan. She remembered the delirious ecstasy of Joan’s offer to mentor her; of the moment in which she suggested that Vera use her first name; of Joan arriving at her house bearing food and simply, in her utterly confident, competent way, taking over Vera’s kitchen.
But this was Joan—complex, complicated Joan—so she remembered the bad things, too. She felt again her shame in failing Joan, in being Vinegar Tits; her dark despair when she revealed her hepatitis status, only to have Joan pull her hand away; her mortification when Joan demoted her from deputy governor, publically humiliating her.
Her delirious happiness when Joan held her after making love to her.
Her misery and desolation when Joan revealed their lovemaking to be part of her ‘annihilation.’
Vera gazed at the familiar face. This was Joan: arch, sarcastic, hurt, bewildered, controlling, scheming, charming, manipulating, loving Joan.
With a cry, Vera pushed herself against Joan, pulling her tight, kissing her with a fierceness that tried to convey everything she had ever felt about the other woman.
Outside, from the hallway, they heard sounds coming toward them.
Joan kissed her fiercely back.
Finally breaking their kiss, they stared at each other, each understanding the other’s love.
Together, they turned to face their fate.