Actions

Work Header

Flights of Fancy

Chapter Text

Of all the places I ever expected to end up, prison was not one of them. I had never in all of the years of my life raised a hand against another, never stolen anything, seldom even spoken a harsh word. Truth be told, I didn’t even commit the crime to which I confessed. I had to though. My sister had never been strong and I was.  

Even in her one moment of sudden desperate courage she acted too late. She stabbed her abusive husband in the back the first time he raised a hand to their daughter. If only she’d acted sooner, stabbed him in the chest at least, she might have gotten off with self defense. 

Instead, she didn’t break until her child was in danger. She called me first, she was the older of the two of us but she’d always leaned on me. I considered the body on the floor and the bloodstained knife. Then I very calmly wiped the weapon with a towel and put my own prints on the handle. 

The district attorney was glad to give me a plea deal on the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. Honestly, I think he might have even realized that my confession was false. I don’t know if all the bruises on my sister and the recorded history of domestic violence made him more sympathetic or if he just wanted to close the case. 

My resolve carried me until I stepped within the walls of St. Cloud prison and then the years of my sentence seemed to stretch out before me endlessly. Only the thought of my niece, safe and whole and still with her mother was enough to carry me forward. My sister next baby was due in only a month, if nothing else the thought of her delivery in such a place carried my resolve. 

In some ways, my fears were far greater than the reality which I faced. I was strip searched by the guards but never touched improperly before being quickly shown to my cell. 

My first cell mate was even sympathetic to my cause. As she put it. “Honey, you're here for knifing the bastard who hurt your pregnant sister, we all saw the case on TV. No one here will judge you.” She was far kinder to me than I might have hoped. 

She was younger than me, although the world had worn its lines into her skinny face. She was doing five years for drug and prostitution charges. In the time I knew her she was clean and one of the more optimistic women in the prison. 

I passed my first few days in a haze of adjustment. No one had ever told me before when I could eat, or go to the bathroom, or sleep. I’d never lived in an institution before much less one made up of dull dirty rooms, tasteless food, and lukewarm showers. I adjusted as well as I could. In those first few days no one threatened me, stole my food, or shoved me against a bathroom wall or any other women’s prison cliche. Amy ’s presence at my side probably helped. She was well liked and no one had a quarrel with her.

She was also, as it turned out, a bit of a snoop. I came back from the shower, towel wrapped and flip flops squishing, to find Amy nearly bouncing with exuberance. Her sudden hug was rather disconcerting. I’d never been the hugging sort, much less when I was half dressed.

“You’re her!” she crowed.

“I’m who?”

“Isabella Inkheart! OMG I’ve read so many of your books.”

I blushed. “How on earth did you realize that?” While it had never exactly been a big secret, I doubted that most of my readers would know my face. I used a pen name (my real name was Emma Brown) and there was no picture of me in any of my books. I’d never really been a popular enough writer to have a book tour or anything like that either. I think there may have been photos of me in a few online magazines from when I’d given interviews but that was it.

She grinned at me like a fool. “Your notebook has the start of the next book in your space pirate saga.” 

“You read my notebook?”

She shrugged. “You left it out.”

She had a point there, although I was still annoyed. “You still invaded my privacy.”

“Yea, we both know no one has any of that in here.” She paused. “Will you forgive me so I can read the next chapter? It was just getting good.”

“It’s a rough draft.”

She’d already sat down an reopened the notebook, “don’t care, the sex scenes are still hot.”

I found myself blushing as I set about getting dressed. I might have made most of my living, well the part I didn’t make as a librarian, from writing glorified sex adventure novels, but it could still be an awkward thing to own up to. It was distinctly awkward to be in the same room as a woman, at least a woman who wasn’t a lover, who was reading something naughty I had written. 

 I shrugged it off and hoped that it wasn’t going to be an issue. 

 

Of course, it was. Amy was not the kind of woman to keep her mouth shut about anything. I still didn’t expect her new revelation to surprise anyone or get more than a laugh out of the other women on our block. I doubted most of my fellow inmates had ever even heard of my books, lesbian romance is a pretty small genre and my sci-fi and fantasy corner of it was even smaller. 

I realized the fallacy of this assumption the first time I visited the prison library and found a solid shelf of my books. They weren’t alone at least, the rest of that bookshelf was taken up by a large selection of my publisher’s other glossy romance titles of all sorts. There wasn’t much else in the library worth any note beyond a whole neglected shelf of legal books and another of classics as well as some text books. I would learn later that my publisher often donated excess copies from less successful print runs to a prison library program. 

My books had a rather well thumbed looked to them, as if they had seldom actually rested on the shelves very long. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. Either incarcerated women were more into space opera than the media had ever led me to believe or the wildly kinky and adventurouse sex scenes that sold most of my books were the real draw.

When I got back to my cell, I found Amy’s friend Gina sitting on my bed, reading my notebook. As far as I knew, the lean young woman was in for gang related activity of some sort. She was nice enough though. 

 Amy was lounging on her own bed with a different book. I cleared my throat as I leaned against the bars. 

My cellmate had the good grace to at least look a little abashed. “She wouldn’t believe me when I said you were Isabella Inkheart, so I had to show her the notebook.”

“It’s really good. I love the threesome scene with the two rival pirate captains and the naval officer.” Gina said happily.

I felt my face heat. “Um, thanks.”

“Can I go show my girlfriend?”

“It’s the only copy of the draft and I’m still working on it. I’d rather it not lend it to anyone.”

Gina’s face fell in disappointment and then she snapped her fingers. “Could I bring her here to read it then? I really want to show her that second love scene.”

“The one with the space marines?”

She nodded eagerly. “Seriously. I think if she reads it she might be willing to try some new things. I’ll give you half a candy bar.”

Well, let it never be said I turned down chocolate or got in the way of a woman getting laid.

“Alright but the notebook stays in the cell.”

 

As soon as Gina had darted off Amy got a slightly maniacal grin. “I’ve just had the most brilliant idea.” 

And that was how Heart of Gold Three: Rise of the Cyber Pirate Queen ended up being first released in a serialized chapter format, hand copied on cheap notebook paper. The copies cost three cigarettes or half a pack of starbursts to rent for a day or a chocolate bar for three days.  Amy did the copying in exchange for half the loot. When she first proposed the idea I did not believe it would work but we were soon modestly awash in sweets and other simple prison goods. 

It wasn’t even that the prisoners were that hard up for entertainment. The last two installments of that series were just sitting on the library shelves half the time but I think the novelty or chapter by chapter installments proved interesting enough to catch on.

The guards quickly noticed something was up and then promptly all laughed their asses off when one of them got their hands on the third chapter, which was the one that occured in zero gravity. They started calling me Space Girl after that and I tried to be good natured about it.

One of the nicer guards, Officer Bradshaw, even offered to run me off a few copies of each chapter on the office photocopier. Apparently she was a fan and wanted early access to the chapters. I’m fairly certain she bent several prison rules by doing that but there were a lot of shadier things going on in that place than the unauthorized use of office equipment.

I was just settling into my new life when things began to get a bit weird. Very quickly I realized that every woman who’d paid a cigarette or two to read a chapter had an opinion on what she’d read and felt cigarette entitled to share it. 

I was sitting at a picnic table with Amy out in the prison yard enjoying the late afternoon sun when probably the toughest looking woman in the place approached us. Rumor had it that Nelly had been a mob enforcer who’d gone down to cover for someone else higher up in her organization. 

She was tall to begin with and spent nearly every moment she had in the prison yard lifting weights. She had a reputation for being fast to anger and had nearly killed another woman in a prison yard brawl the year before.

So when Nelly thumped down on the bench across from me and said with all seriousness, “Emma, I want to talk to you,” I was more than a bit terrified. 

“Okay,” said in a very small voice. 

To Amy’s credit she stayed by my side, although the way she grabbed my arm suggested that her plan, if things went bad, was for us both to run.

Nelly looked at me with a deathly serious expression, “I don’t like how you ended chapter five. The Dread Captain Scarlet and Admiral Lovelace are meant for each other. Admiral Lovelace would never turn Captain Scarlet over to the empress’s like she did.”

I nodded, uncertain what else to do.

She got impassion and thumped the table. “I mean, I get that Admiral Lovelace is all about duty and honor and stuff but I still can’t believe she’d betray a woman she loved.”

When I flinched, a look of guilt flickered across her face and she carefully unclenched her hand and set her open palm on the table, looking down at it. “I really love your writing, don’t get me wrong. I just wanted to let you know I don’t think you’re going the right direction with this book, not if your breaking up Scarlet and Lovelace.”

I summoned up all my courage and leaned forward, resting my arms on the rough sun warmed wood of the table. “Wanna hear a secret?”

She looked up in confusion. “Sure.”

“Lovelace didn’t betray Scarlet. It’s all part of their plan to bring down the empress.”

Her eyes went wide, “Lovelace is betraying the empress?” 

I felt more proud to have been able to have that effect on her than I ever had for most accomplishments in my adult life. I lowered my voice a little bit more. “Lovelace has no choice but to rebel now that she knows what the empress’s forces did to that colony.”

“Oh.”

I held a finger to my lips. “Don’t tell anyone else though, some people don’t spoilers.”

“Right, thank you for telling me that. I feel a lot better.”

The moment she was gone, Amy nearly died laughing. “Oh Emma, she looked like she wanted ot either propose to you or fuck you on the table right there and then.”

I flicked a starbusts wrapper at her. “She did not.” 

“She totally did.”

“She’s into my characters not me.”

She rolled her eyes. “I think she likes both. You’re not hard on the eyes you know.”

“The standard for that is pretty low in this place.” Even in the best light I was just barely on the pretty side of ordinary looking. I’d never had a lot in the height or curves department. At thirty one, I was still more likely to be described as cute than beautiful, and my freckles really didn’t help with that. The orange uniforms they gave us weren’t doing a lot for my already pale complexion either. If Nelly had a thing for petite brunette with messy ponytails, then perhaps I was what she was looking for. 

“Even in prison, women have standards,” said Amy with a grin. “Don’t write yourself off.”

 

Over the next few weeks it seemed like nearly every woman in the prison felt the need to tell me what I was or wasn’t doing right with my writing. The head of one of the prisons gangs, Camilla Bianchi called me over to her table in the dining hall one night as I was walking past with my tray.

From what I heard, she came from an old Italian crime family and was only doing time because a subordinate in her own organization had turned state’s evidence. She was doing close to twenty years for ordering several murders. On the inside she ran the largest gang in St. Cloud prison and had complete control of all the hard drugs that came into the prison. While many of the gangs and groups in the prison divided along racial lines, Camilla’s did not. Her gang was very much equal opportunity, the only requirement for membership  was to be intimidating. Even the guards didn’t mess with her. 

She was the tall broad shouldered sort and about my own age with rather appealing dark hair and eyes. Had Amy not warned me how dangerous she was, I might well have been interested in her.

She was unnervingly polite as she motioned to a seat across from her. “Emma, won’t you join me for a minute?”

I sat with my heart in my throat, setting my tray in front of me on the table because I had no idea what else to do with it. I could think of no reason she’d have taken issue with me. I had zero involvement with the prison drug trade or anything esle.

She nudged a paperback towards me. It was one of mine, my first attempt to set a story in a sword and sorcery setting. “I think this is by far your best work.”

“Um, thank you.”

She flipped the book open to the list of my publications. “So why doesn’t it have a sequel?”

“It never sold very well so my publisher told me to do something else next instead.”

She closed the book, frowning seriously. “Your publisher is an idiot.”

I shrugged, “I didn’t agree with the decision but I still had to make a living.”

She frowned. “You’ve got nothing but time now, you should write the sequel.”

I had the distinctive feeling that I was being dictated to. I did not think it would go over well if I insisted that I already had several deadlines on other works that I was well behind on and that I was lucky my publisher was even willing to still taking my stuff considering where I was. Instead I smiled and said. “I’ll get right on that.”

She caught my wrist as I tried to stand. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

“Um.” My whole face felt flushed. I really didn’t need more candy, I was giving away half the snacks I got for my writing now just so I wouldn't put on weight. 

Very quickly she said. “I know you don’t use anything I bring in but I do have other influences, is there something else that might make you happy?”

A moment of boldness seized me, “Can you get more books for the prison library, they don’t have any Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters.”

I swear I saw desire in her eyes in that moment, which wasn’t what I normally inspired in a woman when I said that sort of thing. She grinned “Oh sweet girl, I can absolutely get that for you. Do you want some Keats’ poetry and the works of Lord Byron while you're at it?”

“Yes.” I knew she was teasing me and was ashamed how quickly I said it, I just so desperately needed something familiar. 

Her handsome face softened. “Start a sequel of your charming romance for me and I’ll get you any classic your heart desires.”

Truth be told it wasn't that wild an offer. The prison took most books that were donated, although Camilla did have the ability to make sure those donations weren’t held up. I had the collected works of a lot of my favorite novelists and playwrights in my hand within a few days. Bribing me with Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights cost Camilla far less than getting in a single hit of pot but had me fully in her palm in an instant.

I didn’t even know for sure she could get me the books that night though. When I went to the main common room that evening I found Amy, Gina, and Gina’s girlfriend Mia, lounging on the hard plastic chairs around one of the card tables all in the midst of a serious debate. 

“You’ve still not convinced me that it’s even doable for most women,” said the petite latina girl eyeing her girlfriend dubiously. 

“It’s got to be. I’ve totally seen it in porn.”

“Babe, porn is not real life,” insisted Mia.  

“She does have a point there,” said Amy who was clearly far too amused by her friends' conversation. She spotted me and called out far to loudly in the small common room. “Hey Emma, come settle this debate. How difficult is fisting?”  

I blushed to my roots but knew that if I walked she’d tease me so I went and took a chair. “Why are you asking me? Do I look like a sex educator?”

“You write a lot of sex,” insisted Gina. “So you must know what’s possible and not.”

“I can assure none of the scenes in zero gravity are possible on earth.”

Amy nudged me. “Yea, but the other stuff, like do you research your scenes or just make shit up?” 

“I can safely say I have never had an orgy with a bunch of space marines or fucked a succubus.” I’d also never written anything I had never never done, at least as far as acts written. I had however never bedded as many partners in one go as my characters.

Mia crossed her arms and looked at Gina. “See baby, it’s mostly made up. Fisting is just a thing in porn and erotica.”

“But I swear we were so close the other night. I got four fingers into you.” 

I covered my face. I liked the two young women but Gina at least had no filter whatsoever. I still also felt concerned that she might be using my books as reference material. The pair of them were young enough, barely nineteen and twenty, that they weren’t likely to know any better. 

“Gina, please tell me your not using one of my books as a sex guide. It really is just erotica.”
“You’re really detailed.”    

“Yes, I suppose…” I took it as a point of pride that questionable gravity aside, anything I wrote had to be at least be physically possible.

Mia’s eyes got wide. “So, wait. Have you actually done all of the things in your books?”

I blushed crimson. “I’m hardly a wilting violet, let’s leave it at that.”

“Hah, you have totally been fisted, haven’t you,” laughed Amy. 

I shot her a less than kind look. “I’m guessing you haven’t or you’d be offering advice to our friends here.”

She seem troubled. “I’ve seen porn, never tried it though. I don’t exactly have a history of very trustworthy sexual partners.”

Gina was staring at me. “So how does it work?”

I was tempted to tell her to shove off but I had a bad feeling she and Mia might then end up trying something that harmed one of them. 

“Do you really want to know?” 

She nodded eagerly while Mia made a face. 

I sighed. “For starters, fisting is probably a terrible idea to even attempt it in a place like this. You need time and privacy and actual proper lube.”

Gina’s face sank. “So not like hand lotion or something.” 

“Never ever put lotion in a vagina, that can give you all kinds of infections.” 

The conversation pretty much continued in that vein. When we got back to our cell Amy collapsed onto her bunk laughing. “Oh their faces. I think you would do one hell of a public service if you taught a lesbian sex ed class.”

“I’m pretty sure bisexual and straight women also need to know what’s not safe to put in which parts of their bodies,” I said as I sat down on my own bunk. “And I did actually teach a workshop at a local woman owned sex toy shop for a little while after college. I also taught a somewhat more age appropriate class at the local LGBTQ youth outreach center.”

“You’re just too damn wholesome sometimes, honey.”

“I am anything but that. I mean, you’ve read the smut I write. 

 “Yea, but it is smut with feelings and sometimes a gal needs that.”

 

Considering how things later turned out, I’m actually a bit surprised how long it took anyone to make a serious pass at me. It all started with a series of mysterious small gifts I started to find, always a red construction paper rose with my name written on it, usually with a bag of skittles or something similar taped to it. There was never even a note. 

The first time I found one it was on my bed, another appeared in my toiletry kit while I was showering, a third popped up in the little desk I sat in while working in the prison library. 

While prison had no privacy, no one seemed to have spotted who was leaving the roses or at least they weren’t admitting they had. Officer Bradshaw laughed when she found a bag of M&M’s along with a paper rose on top of my clothes when opened my locker during a routine cell search. 

I’d initially been mildly confused why Amy’s and my cell was always the one that ended up being gone over so thoroughly every single search. The guards never found anything other that more commissary items than we were supposed to have and they never wrote us up for that. Amy had explained to me that our stuff got riffled through specifically because the guards knew we didn't have contrabadant. They could still write down they did a search without doing the paperwork of actually finding anything or risking running afoul of a gang. Saint Cloud Prison was not a particularly well run place.

Officer Bradshaw found it all the more amusing when she held up the paper rose and my face betrayed I’d clearly had no idea it was there.

“Got a secret admirer, do you Space Girl?”

“Apparently.” 

After she was gone, Amy examined both objects. “That’s so sweet, a paper rose and everything.”

“I guess, it is a little much, especially since whoever is doing this is acting out something from one of my books.”

“Which one?” asked Amy. “I don’t remember any paper roses.”

“It’s in one of the YA ones, different publisher. I had a whole series of supernatural lesbian teen novels for a bit. A witch girl had to save her city from an evil cabal or warlocks while also trying to choose between a werewolf, a vampire and another witch as love interests. It was cute but it never really caught on.”

“I never bother with those sorts of books, no sex.”  

“Well apparently someone does,” I said taking back the construction paper rose and adding it to my collection. “And she must have either read them before they ended up in prison or have a collection in her cell. There are none in the prison library.” 

Amy looked excited. “Then if we find someone with one of your YA novels we’ll know who your secret admirer is.”

“Or you know, see someone making paper roses.”

“You don’t sound very excited.

I gave a noncommittal huff. “I’ve barely found my feet here and there is a thin line between an admirer and a stalker.”

Amy’s eyes narrowed slightly with concern. “Have you been stalked by a fan before?”

“No, but an ex-girlfriend did for a while. It was creepy and I’d rather not do that again.

That particular little mystery didn’t resolve then. 

 

The first woman to openly show any interest was actually one of my students in the GED class I taught a couple days a week when I wasn’t working in the prison library. The women in the class were an odd mix of those who genuinely wanted to get their diploma and move on with their lives and those who were just doing it to up their chance of parole. I endeared myself to the second group on the first day when I told the class that anyone who didn’t actually want to pay attention was free to play cards in the corner. 

Very quickly one of my students developed a crush on me. Her name was Alex and she was behind bars for armed robbery. She had a reputation for getting into fights but she was always very polite to me in my class. 

I had asked the class to call me Emma, instead of Ms. Brown since it seemed silly to stand on any kind of ceremony when I was their fellow inmate the rest of the time. Alex though, she just kept calling me Ms. Emma, no matter how much I told her she didn’t have ot.

She really wanted to get her GED but had a very hard time reading. I realized quickly that she  was actually dyslexic. I tested her, as best I could with a multi choice exam I got out of the back of a book in the library and then used the suggestions in the book on how to help her learn to read a bit better. I started tutoring her in the library for an hour after class once each week. 

I’d noticed she was casting me interested glances but I was still startled me when she kissed me over an outdated textbook at a table in the prison library. 

When I drew back, she did as well, looking at me with such vulnerable blue eyes. It was strange to see the tough blond so nervous.

“Alex,” I began. 

Her attractive face fell. “Was it a bad kiss?”

“No, it’s just…”

She hunched her shoulders, looking somehow small in spite of spending every afternoon in the yard lifting weights. “Do you not want me.”

My mistake then was to answer honest. “No, of course I want you.” 

She leaned closer. Goddess I wanted to let her pull me into her strong arms. I hadn’t been touched, not beyond Amy’s overly enthusiastic hugs, since I’d come to the prison. Still, she was my student, even if it was a prison GED class and I had no actual power to grade or pass her, the students took a scantron test at the end of the class and a  guard mailed those, it wasn’t exactly proper. 

“I’m your teacher.”

She cast me a sly look, as if finding her courage. “Yea, but you’re the one who keeps saying that your still just a fellow inmate and to call you Emma.”

I still felt oddly insecure. “Why do you even want me. I’ve got to be at least a decade older than you.”

She saw her opening and scotted her folding chair closer, “I’ve got no problem with that. Your pretty damn cute you know. You’ve got the whole sexy librarian thing going.”

I found myself blushing. She caught me in another kiss and I was lost. She pulled me closer and I deepend the kiss as she began to run her hands over my body. 

The sound of footsteps and then soft giggles snapped me to attention. Mia held up her hands in apology. “Don’t mind me,” before beating a quick retreat. 

I began to rethink the wisdom of making out in the library, even in a darker corner in the late afternoon. Then Alex tangled her hands in my hair drawing my mouth back to hers and I rather stopped worrying, especially when she got the other hand under my shirt. 

I was not so distracted that I didn’t hear the next set of footfalls. When the steps didn’t retreat I looked worriedly over my shoulder. Officer  Bradshaw was leaning against one of the shelves smirking. “Not wasting any time are you Space Girl?”

I flushed. 

“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna give you any strikes for PDA but I can’t promise the next guard that comes along won’t. You might want to find somewhere more private.” Then she wandered off. 

Alex nuzzled my neck. “Go to the showers and take the stall on the far right. I’ll follow in a minute. We’re an hour from lights out, the room will be almost empty.”

“Okay.”

 

A few minutes later found me finishing up washing my hair and wondering if she was coming. I got my answer when the curtain briefly swished back and a towel clad Alex slipped in. When she hung up the towel I found myself staring. She definitely did a lot of crunches as well as weight lifting. 

She was apparently not as confident in her appearance as I was appreciative because she looked away and covered her small breasts with one hand.

“Come here lovely,” I told her reaching out a hand as I stepped out of the water’s spray. She took the hand and I pressed my wet body against hers. “So have you been the one leaving me all those paper roses?”

She blinked. “No. Who’s giving you roses?”

“Never mind then,” I covered her mouth with my own, eagerly reaching out to caress a breast, catching a nipple between my fingers.

She made a low sound of appreciation and then grabbing my shoulders pushed me against the wall. Apparently her shyness eased a bit once things got started. She kissed me hungrily, groping a breast without much finesse and nudged my legs open with a knee. She brought a hand to my center, rubbing my clit roughly.

Had I not been so turned on and wet I might have protested the haste in which she pressed two fingers into me. She fucked me quick and hard, adding a third finger. 

When she made no move to pay any attention to my clit, I slipped a hand between us as rubbed it myself. 

She kissed my neck and then knipped light. I moaned. Then she started to actually bite. 

“Don’t mark me,” I gasped. 

She obeyed, kissing instead. I had to cover my mouth with my other hand to keep down my sounds. It had been so long since I’d been touched, even by my own hand, that my orgasm crashed over me surprisingly quickly. I clenched around her fingers and pressed my own clit until my shudders ceased.

I slumped slightly against the wall, catching my breath. “Tell me what you want.”

She was suddenly shy again, looking down at her feet. “Could you ummm.” She couldn’t seem to find words. While she was surely not a virgin she did not seem to know how to express her own desires very well yet. I had been the same when I was that young, barely old enough to drink. Time had taught me that the only way to get what I wanted was to say it. 

I offered her my best sex dazed smile. “Fingers or mouth lovely?”

She blushed nearly crimson, her pale skin deeply flushed from far more than just the heat of the steam.

I offered her my best grin and then sank down to my knees. I’d never fucked in a prison bathroom before but I’d certainly done so in a shower stall before. As a young woman, I had interrailed around Europe with a girlfriend. We hadn’t had much money so we had ended up staying in youth hostel dorms a lot of the time. We had gotten very good at fucking quickly and quietly in the showers. 

Alex’s eyes got wide, like I’d done something a lot dirtier than just kneel. She leaned against the shower wall as I used my fingers to part her outer labia and bring my tongue to her clit. The shudder of pleasure her body gave were delicious.  

I began lightly, mostly circling her clit with my tongue and then pressing more directly. She moaned rather loudly. I hoped we were not annoying anyone else who was trying to shower but I couldn’t really bring myself to care too much. The showers were the go to place for liaisons and I’d certainly heard other women going at it before when I was just trying to wash my hair.  

When Alex began to get progressively louder and I felt the muscles of her leg begin to tremble I moved to fully suck on her clit as hard as I could. She got a hand in my hair and pulled my hair a bit harder than I might have liked, although I decided to take it as a compliment. 

Her entire body tensed as she came. “Yes, Yes, Adimanthia Starchild, Yes!”

I froze the instant I realized she’d just called me the name of one of my characters. 

“Fuck, that was good, fuck,” she gasped as she struggled to catch her breath. 

I stood up stiffly, feeling very, very awkward. 

“Did you just…” I wasn’t sure how to say what I meant. 

She covered her mouth, her whole face bruning. 

My own uncertainty was forgotten in the face of her embarrassment. “It’s okay,” I said softly, kissing her on the cheek, before stepping back beneath the spray of the water to wash off the faint sheen of sweat that the sex had left.

She thumped her head against the wall once. “It’s just. You know you look like her right?”

I stepped out of the spray. “What?”

“Like Adimanthia Starchild.”

“Do I really?” I was almost flattered, although still very weirded out.

She nodded before stepping into the water and starting to scrub herself quickly with the soap from the wall dispenser. “Yea, she’s petite and brunet and freckled.”

She had me there. I still felt suddenly, deeply, vulnerable. “So did you want me or a fictional character?”

Before she could answer the voice of a guard boomed through the room. “Finish the fuck up ladies, whatever the hell your doing. Lights out in five.”

Alex stepped from the water and turned it off. “I’ve fucked this up, haven’t I.”

“No, of course not” I said, although that wasn’t really the truth. I still managed a weak smile as we stepped out to the area with benches to dress. 

Her eyes said she didn’t believe me but she still kissed me one more time before we had to part at the door to head to our separate cells. 

When  I got back to my own I found Amy reading someone else's romance novel for once. She took one look at me and then got a very mischievous look on her face.

“You know you’ve got a hickey right?”

My hand flew to my neck as I blushed for what must have been the tenth time that day. “Do I?”

“Well go on, tell me all about it,” she said eagerly thumping down on my bunk next to me. 

“I for one, do not kiss and tell.”

She gave me a pouty look. “You’re no fun.”

“And maybe you need to go get your own pretty self laid instead of putting your nose in my business,” I grumbled.

“You think I’m pretty?” She tilted her head slightly. 

For about half a nervous moment I wondered if she was hitting on me too. When I looked into her eyes I saw only uncertainty, not desire. I felt like a bad friend.

“Yes, Amy, you are pretty.” 

Her face softened. “You really think so?”

“Yes.” It was odd in a way, proving the same sort of reassurance to someone in prison that I had so often outside in the world when I was a free woman. 

In a better world, we might have really talked honestly and openly in that moment but that was when the cell door thunked closed and lights flickered out. 

Even in the dim light, I saw her shoulders lump. “It’s not that easy.”

“What do you mean?”

She let out a weary breath. “I mean, when I read your books, it all sounds easy but in real life it’s not. In your stories everyone is free and even in the worst circumstances they never fuck unless they want to. No one in your imagined worlds has sex for money or drugs or protection or because they are scared they’ll be hurt if they don’t.”

I put an arm around her shoulders and drew her close. I was not by nature a hugger but I wasn’t without heartless either. “I write fantasy stories Amy. In the pages of a notebook heroines win for the sake of their courage and villains fall for their wickedness and the world they move in is far kinder than the one we live in.” 

I had in truth written some considerably more questionable dark erotic where consent was not treated as well as it was in my more main stream works, a bit more along the lines of Anne Rice’s ‘The Sleeping Beauty Quartet’ but I wasn’t going to bring that up then. 

Amy started to cry, clinging to me as if I were the last solid thing in the world.  “But it’s all so pretty and good. Reading makes me feel safe.”

I felt out of my league, as I often did in life. I had failed as sister for years and I was so afraid I would fail as a friend then. “It’s the same for me, why do you think I became a writer?”

She buried her face in my shoulder and damped my prison issue shirt with her tears, “Is it all just lies then?”

“It’s not lies, it’s just stories and hope all tangled with desire. Some parts are true and some parts dreams and it’s all mixed together.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

I sighed. “Nowhere in my stories do any of my protagonists have a father who ran off when she was six years old and never came back. I’ve never written a character who was stalked by an ex girlfriend until she had to get a restraining order. Goddess help me but nowhere in my books does any woman have a heroine whose sister has an abusive husband. I’m not a biographer or a novelist and I have no idea how to write about any of the things that truly hurt in life.” 

She leaned against me, her tears spent. “I guess you’ll never write a story that takes in prison then.”

“I never thought to before but maybe I should.”

Chapter Text

When the first author’s proof of Heart of Gold Three: Rise of the Cyber Pirate Queen arrived, everyone reacted as if It were a new baby, gathering around cooing when I made the mistake of showing it to Amy in the common room that night. I hope that people don’t snatch newborns from each other the way the other women got grabby fighting over a turn to look at the cheaply bound proof. 

“Where’s the cover?” asked Gina.

“Second page.”

Gina flipped the book and Amy, Mia, and just about everyone else in the common room leaned in to look. On the page a couple embraced dramatically against a starry background. 

Gina frowned. “Why aren’t Captain Scarlet or Admiral Lovelace on the cover?”

“I think they are,” said Amy. “Look one woman has on Scarlet’s red coat and the other’s got a uniform and an eyepatch, she must be Lovelace.

“Scarlet would not wear a bodice that revealing or pants that tight and impractical,” grumbled Nelly, who had wandered over very quietly. “She couldn’t do all her fancy sword fighting with her boobs falling out like that.”

Mia was even more upset. “Why is she a pale redhead on the cover? You describe her as hispanic in the book.”

“Yea, and Lovelace is supposed to be black. She’s like the only character I’ve found that looks like me in a sci-fi book. Why is she replaced by some blond chick on this cover. Tell your editor she has to fix it” Gina sounded genuinely hurt. 

I took back the proof and frowned at the cover.  “I’ll try but I don’t have any creative control over the covers. The last time I complained they just ignored me.”

“What, so you just let them whitewash your covers?” Mia had recently taken an interest in some intersectional women’s studies textbooks that had been donated by a local college.

I felt suddenly old, even though I was far too young for that. “It’s this or not be published at all.”

“Can’t you throw down and threaten to go to another publisher?” asked Mia.

“To who? There are some other queer presses but Rainbow Ink is the biggest in the industry and the only one that publishes paper copies of sci fi and fantasy lesbian romances in any large volume.”

 Mia hunched her shoulders as she turned a folding chair as she sat down in it backwards. “If they are a queer publisher then they should be more representative of all of their readers. 

“They should, listen I’ll at least try and bring this up when I call my publisher back. You lot are hardly the first reader to complain to me about the covers.”

That mostly seemed to satisfy everyone and then the debate turned to why chapter five had been deleted. My attempt to explain page limits simply sparked a debate about why other things hadn’t been cut instead. 

 

A few days later, I was sitting on my bunk editing the proof when Mia came over very shyly. “Hey Emma.”

  “Yea?” It was odd seeing Mia act shyly. She had grown up in the Bronx and tended to move through life with all the brash courage her accent indicated. 

She held out an open notebook, her eyes downcast. “Um, I thought that maybe you could show your publisher this, to you know give them an idea how a better cover might look. 

I took the notebook and actually blinked. “Mia, I had no idea you could draw. This is beautiful” She had captured Scarlet and Lovelace very closely to how I had usually imagined them in my head. She even included all of Scarlets scars in the right places. Instead of embracing, the couple fought back to back, Scarlet with her electric saber in hand and Lovelace with her blaster. The ink lines were strong even if the coloring showed just how cheap the colored pencils had been. 

“Will you give it to your publisher?” 

“I think it might work best to send it to my editor’s assistant. She can make sure my editor sees it at least. She also runs my website and can make sure it gets posted there on my fan page.”

Mia’s eyes widened. “Wait, will people see it there?”

“Yea, isn’t that what you want?”

She scuffed her prison issue sneaker. “I guess, I mean is it good enough?”

Considering the usual quality of fan art I received, it was worlds better. “Absolutely.”

“If you really think so.” 

“Sign your work, tear out the page and I’ll include it in my next letter.”

“Okay.”

 

Shortly after she left, just as I was settling back in to get some work done, someone stepped into the doorway of my cell but didn’t enter. I looked up and was surprised to see Camilla. As always, she had two burley lackeys at her back. 

Although she had never threatened me, I still felt suddenly vulnerable when I realized that I was alone and essentially trapped in the small cell. 

She must have seen my anxiety because she shot her two “body guards” each as sharp look and they stepped away a few paces down the hall. She knocked on the bars. 

“I’ve brought back the first chapter. Can I come in?”

I was rather amazed that she’d asked permission. Pretty much everyone else I knew ran in and out of my cell with about as much concern as college students for a friend’s dorm room. Then again no one who normally came into my cell was head of the prisons largest gang. She was probably used to people being afraid of her and understood the need to tone down the intimidation factor sometimes. 

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve actually got the next chapter for you.” 

I set down the proof and went to my locker to fetch the pages. I turned back and she held out the first set of pages along with a copy of Murder on the Orient Express.

She mistook my surprise for disappointment. “Do you not like Agatha Christie? I can get you something else.”

“No, I love her.” I took the pages and book and she accepted the second chapter. 

“I really like the first chapter. I think you made the right choice starting the next book five years later, it was interesting to see how Lady Aurelia and Sir Lionel’s relationship grew over time.”

“Thank you,” We were both standing, rather awkwardly. I thought about asking her to sit on one of the bunks but that seemed like assuming she had any intention of staying more than a moment. 

She glanced at the new handwritten chapter, “Are you not going to share the chapters with the rest of the prison like you did the last book?”

“I am  but I thought I would let you have it first. It usually takes the guard that makes the photo copies a day or two and I didn’t want to make you wait.” At least Amy wasn’t having to copy by hand anymore. 

She smiled softly. “You didn’t have to do that.” 

“If your going to bring me an entire book for each chapter, I think you’re more than paying for early access.” 

Her smile broadened and I was struck by how attractive her face was when she wasn’t scowling or frowning like she did most of the time. “Thank you, I appreciate it.” Then a thought seemed to strike her and her usual austere expression returned, “Listen, I know it’s not my business but has Alex been bothering you?” 

“Certainly not bothering .” Apparently my recent shower liaison had not gone unnoticed or un-gossiped upon 

She tilted her head slightly. 

I was very tempted to tell her it really wasn’t her business but I knew how much power she had though and I wasn’t going to risk her misinterpreting me.

“Alex is a perfectly respectful woman and what involvement I’ve had with her has been entirely of my own choosing.” It was a clumsy sentence but it still sounded better than saying that Alex had certainly not forced or coerced me, I’d fucked her in the shower because I was horney and lonely.

Camilla nodded. “I see. I wish you both well then.”

“It’s not...well I’m not dating Alex,” I said in one breath. 

Her dark eyebrows rose slightly and what she might have said next was lost when a startled squeak alerted us that Amy had just come back to the cell and caught sight of my unexpected visitor. 

“I was just giving Camilla the next chapter of the new story,” I said quickly to reassure my cellmate.

“Right, I’m off. Thank you for the chapter Emma. She offered me a brief nod and then exited the cell, her two lackeys falling into step with her as she walked down the hall. 

 

There is only so much time a woman can spend in a small cell and that evening I took my notebook to the common room, hoping to still get some writing done in spite of the noise. Thanks to Camilla, polite as she might be, I was now working on two books. The second installment of Space Marines Honor: Out of the Ashes of Tyco was due in a few months and I didn’t have anything more than an outline. 

Unfortunately, I walked right into the middle of a domestic tiff that had somehow drawn in half the common room. Mia was glaring daggers at her girlfriend Gina, while another couple, Cali and Stella tried to talk her down. 

Cali was probably one of the toughest looking women I had ever met and the gentlest natured. She was tall and scared with dark hair that was already showing grey although she was probably only a half decade older than me. When she was on the outside, she had worked for the crime family Camilla belong to.

Cali never talked about what had gotten her locked up but she had a very sort sentence considering she was doing time for murder. The rumor, which I had no idea of the truth of or not, was that she’d been a bodyguard for one of the crime family’s compounds rather than an enforcer. A rival criminal group had snatched the young daughter of one of one of the highest ranking members of Camilla’s crime family. 

Cali had been part of the group  that finally managed to rescue the girl. The kid had been alive but not in a good state. Cali had made sure that those who had caused the harm didn’t live to regret it. Unfortunately, someone had tipped off the police, so when they showed up, Cali had been covered in a bit too much blood to make a plausible self defense plea.

Whatever had happened though, Cali had apparently decided she was done with the crime families for good. She had no involvement with any of the gangs within the prison and if asked always said she just wanted to do her time and move on with her life. 

She wasn’t always the brightest soul but her girlfriend was cunning enough for the both of them. Stella was a skinny dark haired woman. She was doing five years for computer hacking. If asked about the matter she always summarized her crimes as, “I swiped people’s money online and then didn’t cover my tracks well enough.” She and Cali were pretty much inseparable and had plans to get hitched once they got out. 

As I drew closer I saw that Stella was saying something Mia clearly didn’t want to hear. The third installment in one of my series The Starchaser Saga was sitting in the middle of the table. It followed the adventures of the crew of a smuggler ship in the same universe as a lot of my other works. When I was writing it I used to joke that it was basically lesbian Firefly but without the whole being cancled in the first season thing.

Mia made a face at Stella. “Well I think that if the first mate Astra and that mercenary Neura were really in love they wouldn’t keep inviting other women into their bed.” 

Stella rolled her dark eyes. “Thatt just shows how much they trust each other.”

“If they were really in love neither of them would want anyone else.” Although she was ostensibly talking to Stella, the look Mia shot at Gina made matters pretty clear. 

“Honey, you’re young but even you have to know that love doesn’t make you stop wanting other people.” Stella called everyone honey but she had enough of a southern accent to pull it off. 

Amy, who had been watching the entire exchange like it was the nightly telenovela motioned me over to the rec-room table. “Hey Emma, come give a ruling.”

So much for getting some writing done. I went over and took a seat. As if apologizing for me getting dragged into the matter, Cali passed an open bag of chips. 

I took a few. “Rule on what?”

“Whether a couple is really in love or not if one of them wants to fuck other women,” snapped Mia, now openly glaring at a nervous looking Gina. 

I took more chips, “Why do you want my opinion on the matter?”

“Because your book started this whole thing,” growled Mia, still looking at Gina. 

The short haired young woman sighed and threw up her hands. “I may have suggested to Mia, that maybe we should think about having a thressome, the way Astra and Neura always are.”

“You didn’t just suggest. You said we should invite Anna!”

“You like Anna, you’re always saying how cute she is.” 

“That doesn’t mean I want to share you with her!” 

“It was only an idea. Don’t bite my head off.” Gina sounded rather defensive.

“Then don’t make suggestions that upset me!” Mia was clearly on the point of tears but her anger was holding them back. 

Watching the young couple fight felt a bit like being back in a college dorm. It was an excellent reminder to me of why I was glad not to be that age anymore.

“Easy,” said Cali, speaking up for the first time that evening. “You two are just yelling now.” 

The two shut up. 

Stella glanced at me. “Anyway, I’ve been trying to talk Mia here down from murdering or breaking up with Gina for suggesting they fuck Anna.” 

Anna for her part was hopefully unaware of the controversy she had sparked, or had caught wind of the fight going on in the common room and fled. Stella nudged an open bag of skittles towards me as if offering a further bribe. “I keep telling her that total sexual monogamy is overrated but she won’t listen to me. She loves your books, so maybe she’ll listen to you. I mean, the couples in your stories fuck other women all the time.”

I wasn’t entirely sure what Stella’s horse in this race was. She and Cali were friends with Gina and Mia, and as an older couple often offered them advice. I suspected that Stella might also be feeling a bit criticized for her own approach to relationships by what Mia was saying. Stella and Cali were well known for inviting other women into their bed, or showerm or maintenance closet. 

I thought my words over carefully before I spoke. “I write monogamous couples too. Everyone is different and every couple even more so. Two people in a relationship have to learn to communicate and make rules they can both agree on.” I also had an ongoing series where the characters were in a threesome and plenty of secondary characters who were openly polyamorous but this didn’t seem the right moment to bring that up. 

“That’s a vague answer,” grumbled Mia. 

“Yea, care to sum up your wisdom a bit there yoda?” said Amy.

“Did you just call me yoda?”

She stuck her tongue out at me. 

I managed to have the dignity not to return the gesture. “What I mean is that different stuff works for different couples. Some couples can have threesomes or even an open relationship and it works for them, there are others that it doesn’t wouldn’t work for at all.”

Mia and Gina just stared at me. 

I rubbed at my temple feeling a headache brewing. “Mia, Gina wanting to fuck another woman with you doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you. She’s apparently just shit at bringing stuff up with anything approaching tact. Gina, Mia is clearly not comfortable with the idea of a threesome, back of on it.” I clapped my hands once. “And that is my great and insightful ruling as a romance writer. Now unless you want my opinion on how to seduce space pirates or how theoretical hyperdrives work I have nothing else to say.

Oddly enough everyone seemed to relax. Amy started talking about how cute a woman in a new telenovela she liked was and the conversation moved on. 

A few minutes before lights out, when I had just stood to go back to my cell, Stella’s hand brushed my arm. Far to softly for any of the others, who were already walking away to hear she whispered in my ear. “So how about it then?”

I felt a shiver of desire run through me but I didn’t dare presume. “How about what?”

“Do you have any interest in playing Alexia, to Cali’s and my Astra and Neura?”

My pulse quickened. To hell with caution. If she could so boldly offer then I could accept just the same. “I do actually.”

“Meet us in the garden shed at 4pm tomorrow during rec time.”

“I’ll be there.” 

 

 Technically, while prisoners were allowed in the prison garden during recreation hours the garden shed was off limits unless you had business there. I was not in the garden club, so I could get in trouble if I was caught there, although the guards seldom enforced that kind of thing. 

I still tried to act as naturally as I could when I quietly walked through the garden and ducked into the shed. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim light but I didn’t turn on the overhead lamp. 

“See I told you she’d come,” said Stella happily. I could just make out her and Cali sitting on a blanket they had laid down over some sacks in a corner behind the extra pots and tools. Somewhat bizarrely, the blanket made it look like they were at a picnic. 

I suddenly felt very awkward acting in the light of day on what had been a sudden impulsive decision the night before. Shyly I approached, stepping over a rake and sat down with them. 

“Do you want some rot gut?” Stella offered me a plastic water bottle with something dark in it. 

I eyed it dubiously. 

“It’s actually not that bad, Marget makes it with the strawberries she grows that aren’t good enough to eat and lets it ferment in covered buckets in the shed. Even when the guards search the place they don’t realize what it is or don’t care. This is from her last batch, she sold it to me this morning.

Marget was a lifer in her mid sixties who was famous among the inmates for being the most respectable source of rotgut. She charged more than anyone else for her prison hooch but she had never accidently poisoned anyone or caused blindness. Anything you got from her was guaranteed to just be fermented fruit. 

Camilla’s gang, as a rule, did not interfere with any in-prison booze fermentation. It was nowhere near as profitable as hard drugs and thus not worth their time. Camilla was also smart enough to not want to make an enemy of most of the older lifers, who while not a gang did all look to Marget.  

I took the water bottle and sipped. It tasted like strawberry wine, if strawberry wine tasted like everclear and turpentine with a faint hint of sweetness but at least it was still alcoholic. 

“Thank you.” 

It’s funny, no matter how awkward the situation, some social rules prevail, such as offering a guest a drink or a snack. I was very much aware that I was a guest in a sense. Not knowing what else to do, I approached a prison threesome the same as I would have one when I was free. Talking things through might not always be the sexiest thing but it is the simplest way to make sure your on the same page. I took a more substantial swig.

“So how would you two like this to go?” 

Stella grinned. My eyes were adjusting to the dim light and I could see her better. “Well, I’d love to start with me kissing and touching you and Cali watching.”

I nodded, blushing although I didn’t think she could tell. 

“And then I’d like her to fuck you with her fingers, while you go down on me. Does that sound good.” 

Goddess I loved a woman who could be clear about things. “Yea, any boundaries I need to know about?”

“Don’t mark Stella,” said Cali. “And only she touches me.”

“Gotcha.” 

Stella sat up enough to draw me to her, kissing me light at first and then with more enthusiasm. She tugged at my clothes with deft fingers and soon had my top and bra off. I did the same before. Shedding pants and underwear proved a lot less elegant but we managed. 

Naked, Stella was a very pleasing sight to behold. Her breasts were fuller than I would have expected of such an otherwise very skinny woman. Her softly stomach had what looked like a c-section scar, although she had never mentioned a child. She did not give me time to contemplate.

She gently guided me back onto the soft pile of our clothes and kissed down to a breast, briefly sucking on a nipple before making her way lower. She nudged my legs open and very quickly proved that she was impressively talented with her mouth. 

I ached to pull her hair but I knew better. There are women out there who like that sort of thing, myself included when it isn’t done to roughly, but usually they will let you know if it’s something they want. 

Stella very quickly had me gasping and moaning and covering my own mouth so as not to get too loud. She set about getting me off without any real preamble, pressing hard with her tongue and sucking. I let myself sink into the pleasure and came to a quick orgasm with a soft gasp.

I was still catching my breath when I felt someone touch the side of my face and looked up to see Cali. She smiled and then kissed me. She was more patient than her lover, taking her time.

Stella sat up and nudged her. “Don’t distract her love, I still want her mouth for myself.”

Chuckling Cali moved out of the way and I reached for Stella. We kissed again and then she laid back and I moved to do for her what she had just done for me. As I set about finding a rhythm with my tongue, I felt hands that had to be Cali’s run down my back and even reach under me to cup my breasts.

I was bit disconcerted when she got a bit lower and tried to reposition me. 

“Emma, honey,” managed Stella between moans. “get your knees under you so she can get at you.” 

We all had to pause briefly so that I could get into a half kneeling position and Stella could get more discarded clothes under her. I felt like I had ended up in the least dignified position of all, hips in the air and all that, but I was too turned on to care. 

The moment I leaned back down to bring my mouth to Stella’s clit again, I felt Cali push two fingers into my cunt from behind. I gasped and had to focus on my task. That got even harder when she began to fuck me properly.

I doubt I paid Stella as talented attention as she had paid me earlier, distracted as I was. She still made plenty of sounds of appreciation. Cali had me trembling, her fingers strong and sure inside of me. She added a third and sped up a bit and that was just what I wanted. 

I decided to try and get Stella off before I did, in case I completely lost the ability to do anything. I sucked harder on her clit in a way that either got most women off or made them groan to be gentler. Stella cried out.

Behind me, I heard Cali say, “Keep going. She can come again.” 

She curled her hand a bit, pressing just right against my front walls. I was so damn close. Difficult as the balance was, I got a hand under myself to rub my clit and that did it. I came, my body clenching. I did forget Stella for a moment then, as I turned my head to catch my breath. 

I was just about to return to my task when the door banged open and the light flipped on. 

“Holy fuck!” 

I did not recognize the voice. 

The door slammed shut and then I heard muffled yelling on the other side. We all scrambled apart just as the door banged open again. Cali, the only one of us still dressed moved to put herself between the door and Stella and me. Her hands were clenched but they relaxed when she saw who it was.

Officer Bradshaw took in the sight of us and burst out laughing. To someone over her shoulder she said. “Laura, it’s just Cali and Stella fucking the new girl. Honestly, with the way you reacted, I thought you found a body in here or something.”

“Well technically there are three bodies in there. They are just alive,” came the reply. I glimpsed the source of the voice, a young blond guard hanging a few steps back. 

Bradshaw shook her head. “Inmates get dressed. We’ve got orders to search the shed.”

As Stella and I scrambled to disentangle our wrinkled clothes, another guard, an older darker haired woman pushed past Office Bradshaw. I recognized her as the assistant warden, Ms. Sharp. She was new and had come in from another prison with the absolute determination to try to fix St. Cloud’s drug problem. There were a lot of running bets about how long it would take for her to crack and give up. 

“Don’t give them a chance to hide anything,” snapped Ms. Sharp.

“Like what, tits?” Officer Bradshaw was the only one who found the whole thing funny. I thought I was going to die of embarrassment. 

“You could at least pretend to be professional,” growled the assistant warden. “Search them, maybe one of them was trading sex for drugs.”

“Not Stella and Cali. They just trade sex for sex. This isn’t the first time I’ve caught them in a ménage à trois.”

Stella shot the prison guard an offended look as she tugged down her shirt. 

Bradshaw offered an apologetic shrug before saying “Come on, out you go. Apparently I need to pat you down for drugs, although considering that I just saw two of you naked it does seem rather redundant.”

The assistant warden glared at her back. While it probably wasn’t wise for Bradshaw to piss of a superior, the prison was short staffed enough she knew there was no chance she’d get fired just for sarcasm. 

“You lot know the drill. Lean against the wall and we’ll get this done.”

Cali didn’t seem troubled when Bradshaw frisked her but she watched the guard like a hawk when she searched Stella. To her credit, Bradshaw’s hands didn’t do anything they weren’t supposed to, which was more than could be said of a few other prison guards. Her search of me was as respectful as her search of the others. Although she did take the opportunity to whisper in my ear. “Making the rounds are you Space Girl?”

I did not dignify that with a reply. 

The younger guard came out of the garden shed and fished out her notebook, looking at her feet so that she wouldn’t have to look at anyone else. “So...how um how exactly do we write up a conduct violation with three people, is it the same code as if we caught two?”

“It’s too much paperwork either way. Let’s just give them all a shot for being out of bounds and be done with it.”

“But…” 

“Listen, kid,” said Bradshaw. “Some stuff’s worth it and some isn’t. It’s no skin off our noses if the prisioners fuck in their free time and I don’t see any need to take away their priviledges for it.” 

The officer nodded and didn’t say anything else. 

“As for you three, get to the mess hall unless you want to miss dinner,” Bradshaw told us and we took off. 

Once were out of sight Stella kissed me on the cheek. “Sorry we got interrupted honey. There was so much more I wanted to do to you.”

“It’s okay,” I mumbled.

“Oh you look so embarrassed. You’ll get used to the no privacy thing eventually, you really do.” 

I wasn’t sure I ever would. I hadn’t gotten yelled at for getting caught in In flagrante delicto since a teacher found me in another girls bed in the boarding school my parents sent me to as a teenager. Slowly day by day the restrictions of the life I now found myself were sinking in.

I walked to the mess hall with Stella and Cali. I sincerely hoped that this time I didn’t have a hickey to tip anyone off to what we've been up to. Once we got our food and joined the others, I couldn’t help but notice how close Stella and Cali sat, how every so often one or both of them would reach out to touch the other’s shoulder and arm.

 I had hoped to ease my loneliness and yet somehow even after I’d just had sex with the couple, seeing them so close, made me feel like the little match girl in that terribly dark Hans Christian Andersen story.

Amy’s side hug startled me. “Hey you doing okay.”

“Yea, I’m good.” 

“Well then come one. We’re all going to play monopoly in the common room.”

“Monopoly?” 

“Yea, but it is fun, trust me. We changed the rules so grand larceny is allowed. 

“I’m in.” 

Chapter Text

When I stepped into the visiting room and saw my sister sitting there with my little niece beside her and my nephew in her arms, my heart knotted in my chest. I had told her not to bring them, I didn’t want my niece to ever see such a bleak place, much less think of me in it. The child ran to me and flung her small arms around me. 

I ached to scoop her up but I knew that letting her hug me for more than just a moment would result in a reprimand from the guards. I led her back to her mother, who stood and hugged me. My nephew was still so new to the world his little face was pink and wrinkled. I have sold my very soul to hold him. I kissed her bald head and he wriggled slightly in the sling my sister had him in. 

We sat, me across the table from them like I was supposed to. There was so much I wanted to say to Lucy and yet none of the words would come. She looked better than I had seen her in a long time, there wasn’t a mark on her. 

For once she spoke first. “Emma, are you doing alright, you look so thin.”

I forced a smile. “I’m doing fine, the food is just not very good.”

Worry filled her dark brown eyes, the same shade as my own. I wanted to take her hand but it wasn’t allowed. 

“Really, Lucy, I’m ok. Life here is dull and restrictive and regimented but I’ve made friends and I’ll get through it. The women here even like my books.”

My niece, Izzy perked up at that. “They like to read about Princess Isabella?” While she knew I was a writer, the work of mine she was familiar with was a series of children’s books I had based off stories I used make up with Isabella to help her fall asleep, when things got so bad at home that she had to come stay with me for a while. They mostly centered around a small warrior princess who rode dragons and rescued forest animals and other children from goblins and bandits. A very talented artist friend of mine had done the illustrations. That series as the only published work I had ever put my real name to.

The books had not proven particularly profitable but what little money I had gotten in royalties I had used to start a college fund for Izzy. I had never told my sister about the fund because I was afraid she’d tell her husband and he’d find a way to take it from his daughter. I supposed now I could tell Lucy.

“Something like that,” I told Izzy. “You know, it’s been almost a year since the last book. We should start on a new one.” I had no idea what else to say but I knew that this was something my niece loved.

Her small face fell. “But you’re not there to tuck me in, how can we make up a story?”

“Well, I can get letters and I do get a few phone calls. How about you have your mom help your write your ideas and then when I get the chance to call you we can talk about them.”

“Yea,” and just like that her face lit up. 

As the visiting hour began to draw to a close I noticed that Lucy seemed to be fidgeting, the way she always did when something had gone wrong. 

“What’s happened?” 

“Creditors took the house.” The house she’d had with her husband hadn’t been worth much but it had at least been a place to stay.

“What?”

She shook her head wearily. “After...well after everything.” She apparently wasn’t going to talk about her husband’s death in front of Izzy. “I finally got control of all the accounts and things were worse than Bob ever let on. The amount of debt…” 

Worry tightened my throat. “Where are you living?”

“I found a tiny apartment.”

“Can you afford it?”

She looked down at her hands. “Bob didn’t have a lot of insurance but there’s enough. I think we’ll be alright until I can work again.”

“You’re sure? It’s not much but I can get my publisher to send my checks to you.”

She shook her head. “No, you’ll need that money when you get out. Really, we’re getting by.”

I had no choice to believe her. Ironically, me taking the rap for her husband’s death instead of her, meant that she could still be the recipient of his life insurance policy. Small mercies I suppose. 

 

I thought I was handling things. I though I was okay. I made it all the way back to my cell, even managed to lay down on my bunk before the uncontrollable sobs took me. 

Amy scrambled up from her own bunk where she was reading and came to my side. 

“Emma?”

I tried to speak but I couldn’t, my throat felt swollen shut, capable of nothing but almost animalistic sounds of hurt. 

“Is this because you saw your sister and niece?”

I nodded through my tears, covering my face.

“It’s okay, you can cry. I’ve got you.” She hugged me as best she could, kneeling beside the bunk. 

I buried my face in her shoulder and didn’t try to fight any more. The cloth of her shirt became we beneath my face. I was in too much pain to care. She rubbed my back in slow circles. 

 

I heard a heavy thud, like a dropped book come from the entrance of the cell. 

“What’s happened? Is she hurt?” Camillla hurried into the cell without invitation, a book and a set of pages forgotten on the floor. 

“She’s fine,” snapped Amy.

Camilla was less than convinced. “Then why is she crying?” 

Amy looked up fiercely, and something in her face caused the gang leader to pause in her step. “It’s visitor day, this was the first time she had visitor privileges. Why the fuck do you think she’s crying?”

Camilla actually looked a bit abashed. “Right, I’m sorry for the intrusion. I only came to bring back the chapter.” She turned to go and then paused, looking back. “Emma, if there is anything I can do to help, please let me know.”

I wanted to say that it was okay but I couldn’t seem to manage words. I didn’t want to sob any more in front of her so I just covered my mouth and hid my face against Amy, hating the world and hating myself. 

As soon as she was gone, I lost it again, sobbing and sobbing until I had no tears left. Amy spoke to me softly. “Sh, sh, you’re safe, it’s okay, just cry.”

At last I leaned against her utterly exhausted. My nose was so clogged I felt like I couldn’t breath. I never had been a pretty cryer. Amy stood and went to get me a roll of toilet paper to blow my nose. The entire process of dealing with the grief caused congestion was less than dignified. 

Shame crept in just as I began to gain control of myself again. “I’m sorry, I don’t… I didn’t.” I wasn’t even sure what I meant to say. 

She sat down on the bunk next to me and as if it were the most natural thing in the world and tugged out my hair tie so she could brush my tangled hair and braid it. “Sooner or later this place gets to everyone.” 

“I didn’t mean to get your shirt all snotty.”

“It’s okay. That’s what friends do for each other. Stella and Cali sat with me the first time I broke down, some kindnesses you just pay forward.”

In spite of everything I felt a ghost of a smile come to my lips. “You’re very poetic.” 

“You’re the writer”

“I still might steal your line for one of my stories.”

“I’d be honored.”

 

I moved through the next few days like a woman in a dream. It felt a bit like the day after a migraine when your whole head feels as if it is made of eggshells, except with emotions. I don’t know what Amy said, but everyone left me to myself. For once no one asked me about my books or complained about plotlines they didn’t like. 

I didn’t try to write, or really do much at all. I spent my time curled up on my bunk or in my chair in the library, losing myself in some familiar books. I watched Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy fall in love for the hundredth times and then I read as Sherlock Holmes and Watson solved the mystery of a certain hound. 

Ever since I was a kid, curling up with a book and a flashlight beneath the covers, I had loved returning to story that I knew would end well. There was a deep and calming feeling that came from knowing from the first page that everything was going to be okay. I’d never found that anywhere else in my life. 

It was probably one reason why I grew up to be a romance writer. You were basically always expected to deliver a happy ending. I used to joke sometimes that my dragons and hyperdrives were more realistic than some of the relationships I wrote. 

Women fell in love at first sight, and somehow navigated all obstacles and distances between them to end up in each other’s arms. All misunderstandings were solved, all mistakes forgiven, all differences resolved within the span of about two hundred pages. None of my characters ever failed to ask someone out for coffee, relationships never just fizzled out, love didn’t die, and heartbreak was always dramatic and meaningful. 

My plots always scraped the very edge of being believable, magic and space travel aside .My heroines always persevered through their trials. Their ships stayed in the sky and last minute rescues were never too late. When they fell down, they got back up. In a good book, courage is all it takes for a heroine to prevail. If only life were really like that. 

It was sitting at the far edge of the prison yard, my nose buried in a book when the fight started. I’d been so lost to the story I was reading I hadn’t been paying attention to any of the signs of danger. If I had been with Amy, or really any of my friends who’d been in the prison longer, they’d have surely seen trouble brewing and gotten us out of there. 

As it was I didn't realize anything was wrong until I heard yelling and looked up. A group of about five of Camilla’s gang were squaring off with the members of another group, often referred to as the East Winger’s. While Camilla controlled most of the drugs coming into the prison she didn’t control all channels and her actual influence was much stronger in the West Wing of the prison where she actually lived. 

The east wing of the prison was still mostly under the control of a woman named Hanna who had once ran a lot more of the prison before Camilla came along. Both wings of the prison shared the same exercise yard and that was where trouble always started. 

What started with shoving quickly began to devolve into thrown punches on the blacktop. The guards watching the yard surely saw but none made a move to stop anything, they usually let fights wind down before they did anything. 

As the fight worsened most of the women in the yard either got the hell out of the way or came to watch.I was in a very bad position, essentially half boxed in, as I was sitting close to the intersection of the building wall and the fence. I would have to cross the blacktop to get to the rest of the yard or back into the building and that didn’t seem like a good idea. 

If I stayed where I was though, I was close enough to the fight that the guards might think I was involved and punish me. If I just stayed close to the wall and edges, I could duck back into the hallway that would take me to the dorms. 

Book held in my arms if it would make me look less threatening I began to edge towards the door. I almost made it. I’m still not entirely sure what happened but I think one of Camilla’s people, stumbled after being punched and fell back a few steps. 

Suddenly someone heavy slammed into me. I went down banging my head on the wall on the way and then scarped my arm bloody along the rough asphalt ground when I hit. The woman who had knocked me down rolled, first raised.

The sight of my frightened face stopped her. “Shit sorry Emma,” She scrambled to her feet and ran back  to the fight. I recognized her as Brie, a woman who actually attended my GED class.

I lay for a moment stunned and then tried to stand. That didn’t go very well. My arm felt wet and when I looked down I saw how badly I had scraped my right arm on the brick wall and concrete ground. 

“Emma!” 

Strong arms grabbed me and hauled me up, quickly dragging me away from the fight. Whoever had me, paused long enough at the edge of the blacktop to shift my weight. “Put your arms around my neck.”

 I looked up into Nelly’s worried face but didn’t argue. She lifted me up with an easy strength and carried me to the far side of the yard. Amy, Stella and Cali, who had all retreated to the far side of the weights.

“Shit, why is she bleeding?” Amy began to panic immediately. 

Stella stayed much calmer. “Set her down, let me get a look. Did you see what happened?” She took off her own coat and balled it up to put under my head. I was still feeling very dazed. 

That was when one of the guards finally blew her whistle and someone yelled for all the inmates to get on the ground. At least I was already there, I suppose. 

It took the guards a while to haul off everyone who had been part of the brawl. I was expecting them to 

I thought they were about to tell the rest of us we could finally go when the gravel crunched under a boot close to me. “These two have blood on them, they must have been in the fight.”

I looked up and found the assistant warden frowning down at me. 

Before I could open my mouth Officer Bradshaw came over. “Nelly O’Connor in  a fight, I’d believe but not Emma Brown.” She knelt down beside me. “Sit up and tell me what happened.”

I still felt a bit dazed and sick. “I tried to get away from the fight but someone bumped into me and I fell. I  hit my head and scraped my arm. Nelly helped me.”

“Best get you to the infirmary and have you looked at. Can you stand?” She was already reaching for my injured arm to help me up when the assistant warden coughed pointedly. 

“You don’t actually believe her do you?” 

Officer Bradshaw shot the woman an annoyed look. “Yes. Brown has never been in a fight before and she’s not associated with either gang that was involved. O’Connor gets into fights but always for her own reasons, she’s not gang associated. I’d believe she got blood on her shirt helping Brown.”

“You certainly know the inmates well,” there was a lot of implication in the assistant wardens voice. 

“I’m a prison guard, that’s part of my job,” said Bradshaw. 

Ms. Sharp looked less than impressed. “Well just because you seem to think well of this inmate doesn’t mean she’s innocent. She got close enough to the fight to get hurt so she must have been up to something. I want her and the other woman put into solitary like the rest of them.”

Bradshaw scowled but didn’t refuse a direct order. “Alright, come on both of you.”

Nelly helped me to my feet and as I was still feeling a bit stunned and wobbly, I was grateful. She had been in the prison long enough to know better than to ever talk back to the guards. I felt terrible that she’d gotten in trouble just from helping me. 

 

Soon enough, I found myself in a windowless room with nothing in it save a hard shelf with thin pallet,  a sink and a toilet. I washed my arm in the sink, and although it had bled impressively, the scrape really wasn’t that bad. My headache but I wasn’t showing any signs of concussion. 

I had just lain down to sleep when the door clanked open and Officer Bradshaw came in. Startled I sat up. 

“It’s okay. You don’t need to stand. I want to take a look at your arm.” 

With an almost alarming degree of familiarity, she sat down on the pallet beside me and examined my scrapes before applying several large bandaids. She shone a small pocket light into both my eyes and seemed satisfied that my pupils were doing what they were supposed to.

I wasn’t sure why she was helping me, especially as it would likely piss off her boss. I saw genuine concern in her dark green eyes and something else I was less certain of. 

“I’m sorry the assistant warden put you here but I brought you a notebook and a pen so you’ll have something to do.” 

I accepted both items with equal feelings unease and gratitude. On one hand, I knew it was very dangerous to ever accept something from a guard, especially if they might expect something in return. On the other, I might very well lose my mind if I had to spend several days locked up with absolutely nothing to do. 

“Thank you.” 

She nodded. For a moment it looked like she wanted to say something else but then she shook her head and stood. 

“Hang in there Emma, you’ll be out of here in a day or so.” It wasn’t until the door closed behind her that I realized she’d called me by my first name. There was no mistaking that her level of concern clearly went well beyond professional. I needed to tread carefully. While the red head was very attractive, and was the sort of woman I might have actively pursued when I was free, the inherent power imbalance of the situation was troubling. She could make my life a lot worse if she wanted.

 

The next few days all blurred into one. I ate when food appeared and spent the rest of the time sleeping and writing. I got a lot of writing done at least. I might actually make the deadline for the draft I owed my publisher. 

Bradshaw came back the next day. This time she brought me an apple and a candy bar. I felt even more awkward taking those from her but it would have been rude to refuse them. She sat beside me on the bed again.

“Is your head feeling any better?”

“It still kind of hurts and there’s a bump but I think I’m okay.”

She watched me carefully “Was it really an accident when you were trying to get away from the fight or did someone attack you?” 

“The woman who knocked me down actually apologized before she ran back to the fight.” 

She reached out, laying a hand gently on my shoulder, “You know you can tell me if anyone ever threatens or hurts you.” 

And just like that, without even touching me, she quietly crossed a line. 

“I can take care of myself,” I said softly. 

She raised an eyebrow. 

“I have so far.” 

“You’ve been very wise in your choice of friends.”

“I’ve got to have something going for me at least.”

“You’ve got a lot more than that going for you Emma.”

“Really?” 

“Oh yes,” she cupped my face and kissed me.

I was so stunned I just blinked at her.

She kissed me again. “You are too good for this shitty place.”

I got a hand between us, pressing lightly on her breast bone “We shouldn’t. What if we’re caught?”

She laughed softly. “I know both of the guards on duty, they sure as hell won’t breathe a word, they are the ones that let me into your cell.”

My blood chilled. In spite of my own rising desire, I was more than a little creeped out by the way she’d just phrased things. I was suddenly intensely aware of how little power I had in the situation. Could I even refuse her? “No one to hear me scream then.”

Her face fell, her dark green eyes filled with hurt. “Emma,” she drew back. “Forgive me, I never meant…”

“What did you mean then?” I knew I was treading on dangerous ground but I couldn’t stop myself.

She covered her face with a hand. “I thought...well I thought you were interested. You always smile so brightly when I give you the copied chapters and you blush when I say they’re good.” 

I felt my face flush. “I never said I wasn’t interested.”

“I didn’t mean to be so forward, at least not so soon, except I saw you with Alex and then Cali and Stella, so you know…”

I pulled away from her. “No, I don’t know.” 

She couldn’t hold my gaze. “I, uh, well um, I just.”

My eyes narrowed. 

She scrambled for words, “when I first met you just seemed so sweet and shy, I never thought you would..., then I saw you on your hands and knees with Stella and Cali, just like one of your characters.”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “Is that all you think of me then?”

“No, of course not.” Her whole face flushed. “I’m sorry I’m just shit at words. I’ve fucked everything up, haven’t I? 

“Not everything, just this conversation.” 

Her face softened. “Shit, Emma. What I meant to say all along was that I think you cute and sweet and I like you.”

The ghost of a smile came to my lips. “I like you too, even if I don’t know your first name.”

She flushed even more. “It’s Riley.” 

I leaned over and very softly kissed her on the cheek, “Then Riley, what do you say we try this again sometime when we’re both calmer, and I’m not locked in a little room with an aching head.”

She smiled. “Yea, I’d like that.”

 

The light of the prison halls was almost blinding when I was let out the next afternoon. Amy hurried to me the moment I stepped back into our block. As she hugged me I found myself swarmed by several other friends and also acquaintances who had nothing better to do with my time. 

Stella managed to chase everyone off with her pissed off southern snarl. She, Cali and Amy took me out to the yard because as Stella put it. “Nothing cures the post solitary blues better than a bit of sun.” 

I took an involuntary step back when we came to the doorway of the prison yard, it just seemed so big and open. Stella took my hand and tugged me along to the grassy bit on the far side of the yard. 

“Sit, try and get used to the sky again,” she said kindly and we all settled down on the grass. Stella tugged a pack of cigarettes out of her pocket and set to industriously smoking. I had once disliked the smell of cigarette smoke but I didn’t seem to care anymore. 

“You want one?” she asked when she noticed me watching.

I shook my head. “Never actually smoked.”

“I’ll take one,” said Amy. 

Stella gave her a long look. “You said you were trying to quit.”

“Yea but…”

“Nope, I’m not enabling you, if for no other reason than I am sick of how much you complain about wanting a cigarette each time you start to try and quit and then recriminate yourself when you fail.”

Amy stuck her tongue at her, which was often how she expressed herself.  “You’re smoking.”

“Yea but at least I own up to my vices, even if they mean I’ll probably die young.”

“I don’t want you to die young,” said Cali pulling her into her arms. 

Stella settled against her affectionately. “You like my company do you?” 

Cali kiss her behind the ear. “I love you.” 

“Yea, yea, I love you too you big softy.” 

I felt that odd lonely feeling tightening in my chest again but I kept any sign of it from my face. Instead I looked up at the clear blue sky above. Damn I really had missed it. 

In spite of what the Firefly intro song said, apparently the sky could be taken from me, at least temporarily. I couldn’t even complain, I’d chosen this path, chosen for the sake of those I loved, but I still made a choice the moment I put my own prints on the blade. I had no true concept in that moment what price I would pay but I still didn’t regret, not after seeing my sister closer to whole than I had in years and my niece and newborn nephew well. 

Amy nudged me. “Trouble’s coming.”

I looked up to see Camilla crossing the yard, two henchwomen in tow. I recognized one as Brie, the woman who had accidentally slammed me against the wall.

When I moved to stand, Stella put a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t, she’s approaching us, not the other way around. She might run half this prison but she’s not a fucking queen.” I hadn’t realized that Stella took such issue with Camilla before.

The woman in question reached us and offered a polite nod. “Cali, Stella, Amy, do you mind if I have a word with Emma?”

“Sure, feel free to sit if you want,” said Stella, her hand on my arm was a clear signal to me to stay where I was. Her smile would have perfectly suited a debutant it was so artfully worn. 

Camilla slightly raised an eyebrow but made no other indication of annoyance at Stella’s subtle show of power at not letting her speak with me alone. She returned Stella’s smile with one just as carefully crafty and then to everyone’s surprise sat down on the grass. She was apparently just as well versed in games of manners. Her guards remained standing.

Her face softened when she turned to me. “Emma, how are you doing? I heard that you were hurt during the fight of the yard.”

Truth be told I still had a bump on my head but at least my arm had scabbed over nicely. “I’m fine, really.”  

Her lips thinned as she looked me over carefully, eyes pausing on the ugly scab on my arm. “I heard that someone hit you.”

“No, I just got bumped into and tripped.”

“Who bumped into you?” 

Just behind Camilla, I could see the carefully contained terror on Brie’s face. I had the distinct feeling that she had not owned up to her boss. 

“I didn’t see.” 

Camilla’s eyes narrowed. “Are you sure?”

A deep sense of unease settled over me. “I’m sure.”

“Emma, this is something I really need to know. If it was one of Hanna’s people, I can’t let this go, especially if they’re targeting you.”

I thought before I spoke. “Camilla, I am pretty damn sure that what happened wasn’t intentional. I really didn’t see who fell into me but she apologized as she was scrambling away.”

Camilla very clearly did not believe me about not knowing who’d run into me but seemed to have gotten the answer she needed.

“Alright, listen, if anything else happens or anyone threatens or tries to hurt you. I want you to come tell me” 

Stella spoke before I could. “Why would you be the person she goes to for help instead of her friends?”

Camilla actually looked slightly taken aback for a moment and then she rose to the challenge. “Because I’m a lot scarier than a skinny computer hacker, a former bodyguard who’s practically taken a vow of non violence, or a sweet girl afraid of her own shadow.” It was an oddly accurate description of my the friends I was sitting with. 

“She doesn’t have any enemies, although you seem rather sure she should be worried about yours,” replied Stella sharply. 

Rather than actually answering the accusation Camilla said. “You never have liked me, have you, Stella Rodriguez?”

Beside Stella, Cali tensed, ready to protect her lover if it came to it. Stella didn’t seem to sense the danger she was courting. Her lips thinned, “No, but I don’t see why it matters. We move in different circles.”

“Which does make me wonder what the hell I ever did to piss you off.” 

“I don’t want to quarrel with you, you’ve got too much power in this place.” Stella held her gaze as she spoke.  

“I won’t take offense at whatever you say, I’m just curious.” Her tone was the opposite.

Stella sighed and then sat up a bit straighter. “You caused the death of two of my friends. Julie Ward and Lilian Parker.”

Camilla blinked. “I never laid a hand on either of them. Julie was one of my enforcers and I never said so much as said a single word to Lilian.”

Stella’s dark eyes were fierce, “Yes and Julie got shanked by one of your enemies and bled out in the shower because of the stupid turf war you have with Hanna. Lilian overdosed on drugs your people brought in.”

An odd mix of guilt and then defensiveness crossed Camilla’s face. “Julie knew the risks when she started working for me and I sure as hell didn’t shove a needle in your other friends arms.”

“You may as well have!” snarled Stella. “She was clean for half a year until your people started smuggling in heroin again.” 

Cali touched her arm and whispered, “Easy love.” Then she looked to Camilla. “Listen, Ms. Bianchi, back to why you came over in the first place. I know your worried about Emma’s safety but you have my word I’ll look out for her.

And just like that, she defused the situation. 

Camilla’s offered her a curt nod and stood. “Alright. That is acceptable.” 

She glanced back to me briefly before she walked away. “Take care Emma, let me know when you’ve written the next chapter.”

The moment Camilla was gone, Stella turned to frown at Cali. “You needn’t be so respectful to her, you don’t work for her anymore and you never have within these walls.”

“Technically I worked for one of her cousins. I only knew her in passing but she was always polite to me,” said Cali. “And now hopefully she’ll leave us and our friend be and that will be the end of it.” 

I still wasn’t sure how I felt about how both Stella and Cali had essentially spoken for me. “What the hell just happened anyway?” I asked. 

Amy never could resist a chance to put in her two cents. “Camilla was worried that you were targeted during the fight because she’s shown an interest in you. Stella basically told her to fuck off and that she’s only likely to bring you trouble.” 

I leaned back on my unscraped arm and looked at Amy, “Wait, since when is Camilla interested in me?”

“Seriously?” asked Amy. “You’re a romance writer and you don’t think a woman bring you books is a sign of interest?” She did have a point.

“You’re better off staying away from her,” huffed Stella. 

“I’ve never heard of her mistreating a lover,” said Cali.

“No, but she’s got too many enemies in this place. Her last girlfriend, Nancy, nearly had a nervous breakdown poor thing, when Hanna and her gang started to target her. She couldn’t go anywhere in the prison without at least two of Camilla’s goons guarding her. After one failed shanking attempt against her the guards even stuck her in solitary for her own protection for a while until both gangs calmed down. From what I heard, Camilla ended up pulling a shitload of strings and paid a lot of bribes to get her released early.”

That was all a lot to take in.

“She hasn’t had a steady girlfriend since,” explained Amy. “She’s been pretty carefull not to fuck the same woman more than a time or two for fear of giving Hanna  a new target.”

Stella patted my arm. “Don’t look so worried. As far as I know, she does take no for an answer. Just try and avoid contact with her when you can and be as formal as possible the rest of the time. She’ll get the hint.”

I was tempted to tell Stella that even if I had slept with her and she was my friend, she didn’t get to tell me what to do. Her lean face was so intensely serious, I decided not to take offense. “Alright.” 

Amy poked me in the ribes. “Don’t look so dour, it’s a big prison, you can go find someone else if you want a girlfriend or even if you’re just looking to fuck.”

 

The next day I gathered up a newly run off scan of a chapter and a bag of skittles  and went looking for Nelly. I had been raised with proper manners, at least my grandmother had tried to teach me some before she died. Nelly had helped me and then gotten chucked into solitary for her efforts and it only seemed proper to say thank her. 

I found her out in the corner of the yard lifting weights with several other women. It was a form of exercise I had never particularly warmed up to. As a free woman I’d been a runner and taken Tai Chi and Pilates classes but none of that was an option in the prison. I did like to run around the track whenever the guards opened up that part of the prison yard. Stella mainly viewed any form of cardio as an unnecessary and painful pursuit but I’d been able to convince Amy and Mia to do it with me some days. 

“Hi,” I called out. 

When Nelly saw me, her face lit up and she set down the hand weight she was holding. “Hey Emma.” 

The other women in the area did a very bad job of pretending not to listen.

Suddenly I felt shy. I held out the pages and brightly colored candy as if they were flowers. “I wanted to thank you for helping me the other day.”

“It was nothing,” she looked down at her hands, seemingly embarrassed. 

“No really, you got me to safety when I was hurt and then you got into trouble for it. The least I can do is give you a chapter and some candy.”

“You could kiss her,” called out a blond woman about my age. 

Nelly whirled around, “Fuck off Tonia! Can’t you see I’m talking to the lady.”

Tonia smirked and returned her attention to returning weights to their stand.

“Sorry,” managed Nelly as she finally took the pages and skittles. “You don’t have to give me the skittles, I know they are your favorite.”

I was briefly confused how she knew that.

Her hands tightened on the page, crinkling it in her hands. “I...um...I know that because last time you traded a chapter to me you said you liked them better than M&M’s.”

I still felt awkward, and so tried to cover that feeling by speaking quickly. “They are. I’ve just got way more sweets than I know what to do with now, so it’s really a small gift.” I had long since started saving up most of my writing profits to trade for other commissary luxuries like an electric tea kettle and a proper hair brush with bristles and not just a cheap plastic comb. 

“Oh, thank you,” said Nelly.

“Seriously, Nelly stop acting like a highschool and kiss the damn girl,” laughed Tonia. Two other women, both brunettes in their early twenties, who I think were twins or at least sisters very close in age, decided that this was a good moment to begin singing a very off key chorus to a certain Disney song traditionally sung by a crab.

Nelly whirled on all of them “Seriously, you fuckers, Don’t think I won’t kick all of your asses.” That only earned her laughter.  

 Mercifully that was when the bell finally rang to mark the end of rec period. 

“Enjoy the chapter,” I blurted and then bolted. 

Chapter Text

Alex had become somewhat shy of me after calling me by my character’s name during sex. I think she was waiting for me to make the next move and when I didn’t, she gave me space. 

I didn’t mind at first until I noticed she stopped raising her hand in classes. She also stopped showing up for her tutoring sessions and that worried me.

The first class I taught after I got after solitary I asked her to stay after class. Awkwardly she did, notebook held to her chest and eyes looking at everything except me. For once we actually found ourselves alone. The guard assigned to watch my classes had a tendency to wander off. 

Not wanting her to stand while I sat, I stood up and leaned against my desk. “I think you should start coming to your tutoring sessions again. You were making such progress.”

She raised her eyes hesitantly to mine. “You mean you’re not mad at me anymore?”

“Alex, I was never mad at you.”

“But you seemed so hurt after I....and then you kind of avoided me outside of class and didn’t really look at me even when I was in class.”

Now I felt like an absolute jerk. “I’m sorry, I don’t handle awkwardness very well.”

“So I did upset you then?” her tone was more vulnerable than accusatory. 

Apparently the only way to deal with this was head on. “I suppose I was. I wanted you to see and want me, even if it was just sex. Then you called me Adimanthia Starchild and it was sort of a shock, that’s all.”

“I really didn’t mean to. It just slipped out.” She scuffed her foot on the concrete floor.

“I know and it’s okay, it really is. Listen, all of this aside I don’t want you to give up on the class or tutoring because of this. You’ve worked so hard and you deserve to get your GED.”

She looked up from the floor. “You really still want to keep tutoring me?”

“Yes.”

“Even after…”

I held her gaze. “Yes, Alex. I wasn’t tutoring you just because I wanted to have sex with you. I genuinely like you and think you have promise.”

“You really mean that?” Something in her voice made me wonder if she’d ever been told anything like that before.

“Yes, I do.” 

That was also the week I managed to piss off about half the prison. Had I actually murdered a fellow prisoner in cold blood, I doubt I would have received anywhere near as much censure from my fellow inmates and several guards as I did when I killed off Sergeant Cooper in the eighth chapter of Space Marines Honor: Out of the Ashes of Tyco. 

It wasn’t even like I chucked the poor woman off a waterfall to get rid of her or anything. It was a pretty traditional traitor redemption by heroic sacrifice story arc. I’d meant Sergeant Cooper to die fighting to save her unit since I first created her. What I hadn’t bargained on was what a popular character she turned out to be. Apparently people love a good reformed villain. 

Amy did try to warn me, I suppose I just didn’t listen. It took about a day after I released the chapter for the blowback to begin. 

Mia was the first to storm into my cell. Her girlfriend, Gina, following on her heels, trying unsuccessfully to calm her down. 

The small woman flung the photo copied pages on my bunk where I was reading. “How could you! How could you!”

Behind her Gina mouthed “sorry.”

“How could I what?”

“Kill her!” 

I didn’t think I’d seen such emotion since I made the mistake of asking a friend in highschool how she felt about the death of Sirius Black. 

“Mia-” I tried.

She cut me off. “I adored Sergeant Cooper and you killed her. You’re just going to have to re-write the chapter.”

I was less than impressed. “Mia, I get that you are upset but it is just a story.” 

“Well it’s a story I care about!” she snapped and stomped out. 

When I went into the cafeteria that night, everyone was staring at me. When Amy and I sat down with Stella and Cali, Stella wasted no time in letting me know how she felt. 

“I didn’t like the last chapter. Why did you have to go kill someone as cool as Sergeant Cooper? If you had to kill someone, it should have been Private Hatchet, she’s a bitch. Cooper was my favorite character in the whole damn series.”

I did not appreciate such hostility at the dinner table. “Could we at least hold off on the literary criticism while I’m trying to eat?”

The look Stella gave me made it clear that she wasn’t going to refrain from speaking her mind that night any more than she usually did. 

I poked at my meatloaf. “If I explain why I wrote the death will you stop glaring at me?”

Stella huffed, “Fine.”

I tried to explain the nature of a redemption arc. “You see, you like her so much because she died sacrificing herself for others after fucking up royally. She wouldn’t be anywhere near as cool if she just reformed without paying a price.”

Stella made a face that was kind of adorable. “Okay, yea I’ll admit her death was epic and I cried but now she’d dead and I can’t read about her anymore. I want her back.”

I used my fork to steal some of the forgotten canned peaches from her tray. “You can’t have both.”

“Why not? You’re the writer, you can do anything you want.”

“I can but that doesn’t mean everything I do will work. If a character makes a heroic sacrifice and then I invalidate that, all meaning is lost.”

“That makes sense,” said Cali diplomatically. “It was a really cool scene.”

I smiled, “Thank you.”

My good mood didn’t last when the next three women who returned their copy of the chapter all called me a murderer and in one memorable case a heartless meanie. I was a little surprised when one of Camilla’s gang, a tall african american woman named Lina, paused after handing back her own pages. I did not know her particularly well, although she always came by for each new chapter. She was good at fixing things and when my watch stopped working she put a new battery in it in exchange for the rest of the chapters of the book.

“Hey Emma, the boss said to tell you she thought the last chapter was really sad.”

I was a bit taken aback. I hadn’t realized that Camilla was reading the space marines story. If I had, I’d have probably started sending her early chapters just like I did for the sword and sorcery one. 

“Is she mad?” I had been taking things in stride so far but Camilla wasn’t someone I wanted to piss off. 

“What, no.” Lina shook her head and then lowered her voice. “She wants to know who else you’re going to kill off.”

I blinked. “Like for the rest of the book or the rest of the series?” As far as the series went, I had no idea. It all depended on how many books my publisher asked for.

“Just the book. She mostly just wants to know if you’re going to kill of Private Elena. She really likes that character.” She seemed almost embarrassed. “She promised not to spoil it for anyone else and sent me with a box tea.” 

She held out a cardboard box of Assam black tea. I knew contraband when I saw it, the commissary had nothing but Lipton. I had heard that Camilla had a very small side line where she smuggled in food items not available through commissary, via the regular food shipments that came in through the kitchen. While guards would have had a hard time ignoring drugs coming in that way, they had few damns to give about gummy bears and legal food items.  

I took the tea, feeling a bit ridiculous. I was literally being bribed with smuggled tea to give away spoilers. Life was weird sometimes. As for how Camilla knew to send me the tea, instead of cigarette or another form of generic prison currency, was less clear. I supposed she could have heard that I had just traded a bunch of chocolate bars to another woman for an electric kettle, although if prison had become boring enough for people to gossip about me buying a kettle it was no wonder that my books were so popular.

I leaned forward from where I had been sitting on my bunk. “You can let her know that the next book will actually focus on Private Elena, so I’m certainly not killing her off. I lowered my voice a bit more for dramatic effect. “Jenny and Tilly do die in the last chapter of this book though.” 

Her eyes widened as if she’d been told a huge secret. “Elena gets her own book?”

“Yea,” 

“Good, I really like her.”

 

The next afternoon found me  busy shelving some new book donations in the prison library. They were mostly actually from my publisher and appear to mostly be gay male erotica.They were apparently nearly as popular as the straight romances on the shelves, so I guess they had an audience in the prison.

I’d been trying to get a better selection of just ordinary fiction or classics but that had been an ongoing struggle. I wasn’t permitted to use the internet and that presented a serious difficulty to me finding, much less writing to, other donation programs to request books. A librarian friend of mine I had written to had done some research for me and finally sent me a list I intended to start contacting. 

“Hey Emma.” 

Nelly startled me bad enough that I dropped a book on my foot which resulted in some swearing and hopping.

 I regained my composure after a moment and then my stomach fell as I saw a pile of pages in her hand. 

“Listen, Nelly, it’s been a long couple of days. I’m sorry if you hated the last chapter as much as everyone else but I just don’t have the energy to justify the death of a fictional character right now.”

“I actually meant to tell you that I thought it was a really good chapter. It was sad but that’s not always a bad thing.”
“Truly?” 

“Yea.”

“Oh, I could kiss you. I’m so sick of everyone being mad at me.”

“I’m certainly wouldn’t object,” her hazel eyes shone with something between hope and shyness.

I was reaching to pull her head down to my height and do exactly what I’d said when all the alarms went off. We jerked apart and then ducked down to the floor and put our hands over our heads when the barked command came over the loudspeaker. So much for having a moment.

We weren’t there very long before Officer Bradshaw came into the library. “Brown, you in here,” she called. 

“Here,” I called.

The red haired woman’s face fell the moment she saw that I wasn’t alone. 

“What’s happened?” I asked. 

“Just another fight in the yard. A bunch of the women involved bolted when the alarm went off and we’re sweeping for anyone who looks like they were a part of it.”

“I’ve been here since the start of my library hours. I logged the start of my shift in the ledger on the desk.” 

“I’m sure you were. Alright, both of you get up so I can lock the room. I’ll take you back to your cells.”

Nelly’s cell was actually very close to the library and we dropped her off first.. Mine was considerably farther away and on a different cell block. We had to pass through several security doors and a few hallways to get there. 

As we walked, she asked me. “So I heard you’ve been getting some flack for your last chapter.”

“Yep. Honestly, you’d have thought I killed Harry Potter or something.”

“There’s not a lot of entertainment around here. People get attached.”

“Don’t tell me you’re mad at me too?”

She ran a hand through her short wavy hair. “Nah. I’ll admit I was kind of upset when you axed Sergeant Cooper but you’re the author so I figure you know what your doing.” 

“Glad to know someone thinks I do.” 

She paused to unlock a door, “That said, even if you were right as a writer, it doesn’t seem to have done much for your popularity here.”

“This isn’t highschool.” 

“All the same, maybe you should think about pulling a Reichenbach Falls.”

“Seriously?”

“Yea, don’t mess up your book or anything but throw the women in this place a bone. Write a little epilogue or short story you don’t publish and hand it around.”

“I’ll think about it.”

She paused suddenly, glancing up and down the hallway. There was no one in sight. Her hand on my arm was almost tentative. When I didn’t pull away, she drew me into a kiss, light at first and then deep and hungry. She rested one hand on the back of my head and the other on the small of my back, drawing me as close as she could. I leaned into her, pressing my body against hers. I knew how much we were both risking and yet I couldn’t seem to bring myself to care. 

The heavy clank of a door somewhere close by caused her to reluctantly pull away. There was so much heat in her dark green eyes. Had she suggested we find a conveniently empty storage closet, I would have agreed there and then. Instead she squeezed my hand once and then opened the next door.     

 

I ended up spending the rest of the day locked in my cell with Amy. The fight had unfortunately caused our entire wing to go into lockdown. I think the warden mostly ordered it just to punish all of us instead of any actual security need.

Amy was acting kind of squirrely the way she usually got when she was thinking about something. She tried to read but wasn’t having much luck with it. At last she lay her book down on her chest.

“What do you think of Anna?”

“She’s nice enough.” Anna was a curly headed brunette who was doing time for cooking meth in a shed somewhere in the backwoods. “Although, I’ll admit her accent is so thick I can’t always understand her.”    

“I think she’s cute.”

She was missing a few too many teeth for my taste but who was I to judge? “You fancy her then?” 

“A bit yea.”

Under normal circumstances I would have told her to ask her out for a drink but that wasn’t really an option in prison. “You should go talk to her then.” 

“What like just talk? That’s terrifying.”

“That’s how people show interest, or so I’m told.” 

“Could you tell her I’m interested in her?” 

“Amy, this isn’t middle school,” even if it sometimes kind of felt like it.

“It’s just too hard” She threw up her arms. She may have been a prostitute but from what I could gather she’d never really had a chance to date or have relationships that she actually wanted. 

A sudden inspiration struck me. “Ask her over for a cup of tea.”

“What?”

“We’ve got the kettle and Camilla gave me that black tea. We’ve even got sugar and powdered milk now.”

“What if she thinks I’m being too forward?”

I shrugged.

“Or pretentious, who the hell asks someone over for a cup of tea?” 

 “I mean, you could ask her over for a cup of Kool Aid, if you’d prefer. We’ve got a whole tub of the powdered stuff.

That was pretty much it for beverages. I’d have liked to also keep some of Marget’s strawberry hooch around but our cell kept being searched too often to risk it. The small water bottle’s worth of the moonshine she gave me per book was currently hidden with the rest of her supply in the garden shed. It was pretty strong stuff so I figured I’d ask all my friends to share it with me some afternoon. 

Amy chewed on her lip, “But what if I ask her and she says no?”

“Then you’ll feel a bit embarrassed and move on with your life.”

“What if she thinks I’m stupid for asking?”

“If she felt that way, she would be the stupid one.”

“Maybe this is a bad idea.”

I let out a tired breath. “Amy, you know how you get a cup of tea with an attractive woman.”

She looked at me sideways. “How?”

“You keep asking attractive women to have a cup of tea with you until one says yes. Then you go drink a cup of tea.” 

She threw her pillow at me and got me pretty solidly in the face. I was laughing too hard to care.  

“You’re no help,” she huffed.

I threw the pillow back at her, “What did you expect? You asked a romance writer for dating advice. You’re lucky I didn’t advise you to save her from space pirates or go on a wild adventure with her through quantum realms.”

She ducked the pillow and put it back under head head before thumping down onto her back. “Fine, I’ll ask her. If it doesn’t work I’m blaming you though.”

 

I ended up taking Officer Bradshaw’s advice. There are times to stick to your guns and there are times to bend to the situation. With as delicate as the prison ecosystem was, I didn’t want everyone to still be mad at me. Hell if Arthur Conan Doyle caved, I could too. 

I wrote a short story where it was revealed that while Sergeant Cooper had indeed been shot and badly injured, she was not dead. She woke up as a prisoner of war and soon enough found herself in a less than hospitable prison camp. I ended the story with her beginning to work with the other prisoners to plan an escape. It was pretty much a rip off of The Great Escape, minus the motorcycle chase scene. 

I handed out the pages for free and they were very well received. Most of the pages came back with some candy or cigarettes in thanks.  At lunch that day, Mia hugged me and Stella kissed me on the cheek. Apparently my public adored me again. 

After the mean I was about to head into the prison yard with Amy when Officer Bradshaw called me over. 

“Brown, you’ve got a phone call.” 

I was slightly confused as it was fairly rare for an inmate to get a call, we usually had to call out.

I followed her out of the cafeteria. “Did my lawyer call?” 

“Something like that.”  We walked down a few hallways and then she unlocked a storage room. She offered me a sly glance and I got a pretty good idea what she was up to.

She mistook my surprise for hesitation and her suaveness went out the window as concern seeped into her attractive face. Softly she said, “Emma, if you want me to take you back to the cells, I will.”

I should have said I did. Getting involved with a guard was hardly a good idea, especially with how much power she had over my life. All the same, I wanted her. I had always lacked the wisdom of even my most foolhardy characters when it came to my own desires. 

She was an attractive woman, tall and red haired with a scattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks that made her look younger than she was. She had the sort of calm butch energy that I always adored in a woman. I just wanted to lose myself in her strong arms for a time and forget everything from the ugliness of the grey walls to the nagging loneliness in my own heart.

I stepped into the room, trailing a hand along her arm as I went and casting a warm look over my shoulder. I was no great seductress but I had always been confident when it came to sex. In some ways it was easier than so much else in life. The language of the body is much simpler than that of the voice.

She followed me, locking the door behind us. Briefly I questioned myself again when I heard the key in the lock but I pushed down that feeling. She drew me to her and I leaned up to kiss her. Her lips were as talented as before. 

She pressed me against the wall and we kissed at first slowly and then more frantically. Now that she had me in her arms she couldn’t hide her eagerness. She scrambled at my clothes, catching the bottom of my shirt and tugging it up. I was hesitant to let it go over my head. 

“Maybe I should keep my clothes on? It will be less obvious if we’re caught.” 

“I’ve got officer Jones keeping lookout, no one is going to find us.”

I surrendered the shirt and before I could make any inroads on her button down she was already trying to free me of my sports bra. I let it go, although I felt rather exposed, standing there topless.

The sound of appreciation she made when she took in my well formed, if rather modest, breasts, more than made up for things. She cupped one, brushing her thumb against my nipple and making me gasp at the sensation. She repeated the motioned, this time catching the nipple between her thumb and callused forefinger. I found myself oddly wondering if she played guitar. 

She began tugging my pants down with her free hand. Things were moving very quickly. I tried again to unbutton her shirt and she caught my hand, kissing my palm. 

“Let me undress you,” she murmured.  

I kicked off my prison issue tennis shoes so that she could get my pants and underwear down. I felt suddenly and intensely vulnerable and had to fight down the urge to cover myself. 

“You’re so beautiful,” she was looking at me with such raw desire in her eyes that I shivered form something that was very much not cold. All of my hesitancy melted away. 

 She pressed me against the wall again, kissing any further thoughts from me, as she ran her hands over my body. She nudged my legs open and her fingers deftly found my clit. 

A few light circles and she had me gasping. I was more than ready when she slipped her fingers lower and found me dripping wet. She pressed two fingers into me and began to fuck me slowly and steadily, her thumb against my clit every few motions. 

When she worked a third finger into me, it was all I could do to cling to her shoulders gasping as she fucked me. I was lost as my orgasm crashed over me. I had to fight down the need to cry out as she quickly worked me to a second release. She eased me down from that and then drew her fingers from me. 

I slumped against the wall, “Give me a second to catch my breath and I’ll take care of you,” I managed to gasp out. 

She kissed my cheek, “Actually, there’s something else I want.”

“What?”

“You’ve had a strap-on used on you before right?”

“There isn’t much I write about I haven’t done.” Then I thought about what she’d just said. “Wait, you didn’t seriously bring one into the prison did you?”

She grinned “they don’t search guards when we come to work. So you interested?”

“Oh fuck yes.”

She stepped away from me to retrieve a bag hidden behind some boxes. I glanced around the small room, considering my options. My legs felt shaky and I didn’t particularly want to continue our activities while still standing. 

“There’s a moving blanket on the shelf to your right,” she called over her shoulder. 

I found that and lay it down on the small bit of floor. When I turned back, she’d shed her pants and was tightening the side clasp of a leather harness with a simple black dildo. She’d finally shed her shirt but kept her bra. 

I felt oddly shy, in spite of everything we had already done. I offered her my best smile as I sat down on the blanket with as much grace as I could manage. “So how do you want me?”

“On your back,” 

That was actually my least favorite position for that kind of toy but I was game. I laid back on the blanket, slipping a folded moving blanket under my lower back, so that the angle would be better. I found myself wistfully thinking of the wedge shaped sex pillow I had had in my apartment back home. It was probably with the rest of my stuff in storage. 

Riley leaned over me, taking her time to kiss a trail down my neck and briefly draw a nipple into her mouth. She pressed to fingers into me to make sure I was ready and then guided the dildo into me. 

I’d certainly taken much bigger ones but it had been a while. I moaned at the wonderful feeling of fullness as the toy slipped into me. 

She moved slowly, watching my face carefully, pausing to let me adjust when it was fully sheathed. 

I gave myself a moment to get used to the feeling and then leaned up to whisper in her ear, “Go on, fuck me.” 

She did, gently at first and then deeper and harder as my moans drew her on. 

I clutched at her shoulders. The urge to drag my nails down the strong muscles of her back was almost irresistible. As a younger woman I might have acted without asking but I’d pissed off enough lovers over the years to know better.

I ran the smooth pads of my fingers across her skin. “Can I scratch you?”    

“Yes.” 

I lightly drew my nails down her back and she made no protest, so I dug my nails in harder and she moaned in obvious appreciation. She sped up her movements and I clawed at her back as hard as I wanted. 

I arched my hips, tensing with orgasm and then sunk back onto the floor.

She stroked the side of my face, looking at me with eyes that still held such hunger. I knew she hadn’t gotten off yet and was about to offer to go down on her once she got the toy off but she spoke first. 

“Are you exhausted beautiful, or are you good for one more round?” 

I was rather impressed. “Sure?”

She drew back, easing the toy from me, “okay get up on your hands and knees.” 

I rolled and did just that. She pressed the toy back into my slick cunt from behind and resumed fucking me. I went from my hands to my elbows pretty damn quickly. The new angle let her fuck me more deeply than the last position, it also meant that each stroke was pressing against the front walls of my cunt. While doggy style was not the most dignified of sexual positions, I had always found it to be the one that worked best for me where strap-on’s were concerned. I was pretty sure that every sound I made then wasn’t very articulate.

I was just on the edge of yet another orgasm, when she suddenly slammed the toy into me and made a sharp sound as her body trembled. I guessed that the base of the toy had to be pressing against her clit and had finally gotten her off. To her credit, she didn’t collapse on me. 

I was so damn close myself, I decided not to wait until she was able to move again. I reached beneath myself and roughly pressed my clit to spark my own release. That cost me my ability to stay up on my elbows and I went down fully onto my stomach. 

She eased the toy from my and stretched out beside me, pulling me into her arms as she lazily stroked my side. “Damn.” 

“Yea,” I agreed. 

We lay for another moment and then someone banged on the door. “Riley finish the fuck up, we’re suppose to be over in East Wing in five minutes.” 

“Sorry,” Riley whispered before she kissed the back of my neck and pulled away. The loss of her warmth reminded me just how chilly the air in the small room was. I stretched and set about quickly gathering my things. 

She passed me some tissues and I cleaned myself as best I could, although the scent of sex and arrousal surely clung to me. I would need to shower as soon as I could. My hair had come loose from its ponytail and it took me a moment to find my lost hair tie on the concrete floor. I tried to finger comb my hair before I tugged it back into the elastic hair tie but it probably still looked like a rats nest. 

When we were both dressed, she kissed me one last time and then unlocked the door. Officer Jones looked far too amused at the sight of us. 

“Have fun?” she asked her friend. “Think I should try her some time?” She at least sounded like she was joking. 

Riley gave her a long look and laid a proprietary hand on my shoulder. 

She just shrugged. “Whatever, I’m heading to East Wing. I’ll cover for you as long as I can. Get the inmate back to her own block in West Wing and then hurry over.”

She unlocked the hallway door and beckoned us to depart. 

Officer Bradshaw’s hand fell from my shoulder as we walked through the doorway and she moved a full arms length away from me as we walked down the hall. Just like that we were a correctional officer and an inmate again. If not for the way she sometimes glanced at me, nothing in her behavior would have shown that anything had happened. 

She left me at the gate of my block, unlocking the heavy metal door and pushing it open. I ached to say something but I couldn’t think of anything so I stepped through. The door clanged behind me. I turned back, as much a fool as a certain lyre playing singer. For an instant, Officer Bradshaw stood there, longing still burning in her eyes, then she turned and walked away.

 

Chapter Text

That week a first edition of the fourth book in the Princess Isabella series arrived in the mail from my friend Jane who did the illustrations. Izzy and I had finished the actual text of the book nearly a year ago. Children’s book publishing isn’t exactly a speedy business and the final editing and art had taken a while. After that Poor Jane had to see the book through the final phases of publication on her own as I’d been no help during the months leading up to my trial and during it. I’d never even gotten the final proof so the published copy was the first time I’d seen the words and art all in their final format. 

As always, Jane’s art blew me away. It was intensely detailed and fantastical and I was amazed she was still willing to take time away from more profitable projects and commissions for a children’s book series. We were old friends and sometimes lovers but she always said he did the illustrations simply because she loved any excuse to draw children riding dragons and fighting monsters.

She had no nieces or nephews of her own and had always adored Izzy. She’d promised to take over my auntly duties while I was locked up. With a new baby, my sister didn’t really have time to take Izzy to the park on weekends, or see movies, or feed her too much ice cream.

I was flipping through the book in the common room when Marget, the grey haired older woman who both ran the garden club and made the best rotgut in the prison, froze in her tracks as she wandered past my table. 

“Is that the new Princess Isabella book?” 

“Yes.”

“Can I see it? My granddaughter loves those books”

“Sure.”

She sat down and eagerly reached for the book. Suddenly an odd expression crossed her face and she thumped her forehead with the palm of her own hand. “Well fuck me, you’re that Emma Brown aren’t you.” 

“I am,” I admitted and turned to the fly leaf to show her my picture there. There was a picture of Isabella there too, listed as my co-author. I’d taken her to a photographer friend to get a proper portrait done but in the end she’d insisted on still using the one photo where she was sticking out her tongue and had her eyes crossed.

“Damn, I thought you just wrote porn.” 

I shrugged. “I write a lot of things. This is the only thing I put my real name and face to.” 

“You’ve one hell of an imagination hun.” 

“I supposed I’ve got to have something.” 

We sat for a bit more as she read through the book. When she considered the brightly colored cover. “I can’t pay you in anything but booze but is there any chance you could do a commission.”

“A commission?”

“You write these for your niece right? Could you write one for my granddaughter?”

I frowned down at the book. “I know it looks like a short picture book but crafting the language takes a long time. I don’t actually do the art either.”

She shook her head. “I don’t mean a whole book or anything, just like a little short story I could read to my granddaughter over the phone.”

“I think that might work. Tell me about your granddaughter.”

“Well she’s seven and her name is Lily. She’d got huge brown eyes and really curly black hair. Oh and she loves snakes.”

And that was how Princess Lily came to be. It didn’t end up taking me that long to write the short story. I pretty much just re-used a lot of stock phrases, settings, and characters from the Princess Isabella books. 

It was apparently a big hit with Margret’s granddaughter. What child wouldn’t want a story about a princess based on her in her favorite fictional world. I was a little surprised when one of Margret’s friends, Glenda, a woman well into her sixties who ran the kitchen, asked me if I could write a story for her own granddaughters. Word got around pretty fast and I had a new sideline. Amy and I was basically just copied out the same story again and again but with child specific details adjusted for each one. I created a winged green serpent for Marget’s granddaughter to ride, two matching pink dragons with purple butterfly wings for Glenda’s twin granddaughters, and a giant flying rabbit with wings for Lina’s son. Margret’s granddaughter defeated a giant badger, Margeret’s twins fought a sea monster, and Lina’s son defeated an evil vacuum cleaner (apparently he was very afraid of those for some reason).

What I never expected was for Camilla to ask for a commission as well.

I was in the common room playing cards with Amy, Stella, and Cali when one of Camilla’s enforcers, Brie came over. 

“Hey Emma, the boss wants to know if you have a minute.” She tilted her head towards Camilla who was sitting at a table on the far side of the room, talking to two lackies. 

Camilla, to her credit, had not actually approached me at all since Stella had warned her off. I missed hearing what she thought of my chapters and getting books from her directly but Stella had made me wary of her. 

“Sure,” I said as I set down my cards. 

Stella’s lips thinned but she didn’t say anything. 

I crossed the common room and Brie motioned me into the seat across from Camilla. It all felt rather formal. The two lackies that Camilla had just been talking to promptly wandering off, although they stayed close in case of danger. 

Seeing my uncertainty, she offered me a reassuring smile. “Lina showed me the story you wrote for her son. I was hoping you could do one for me too.”

“You have kids?” I had genuinely not expected that. 

“A son and daughter, six and four.”

I took out my notebook. “Tell me about them and I can have the story ready in a few days. What are their names, favorite colors, that sort of thing.”

“I’ve got a photo,” she drew one out of the pocket of her shirt and handed it to me. A beautiful blond woman with wavy blond hair stood with a dark haired little girl balanced on one hip, as she held the hand of a little boy with the same hair as his sister. Considering that the kids looked so much like Camilla, I guessed the couple must have used a relative of Camilla’s as a sperm donor or something similar. It was not something I could ask. 

“Toby loves dinosaurs and the color red. Zoe likes cats and her favorite color is…” Her shoulders slumped. “Shit, I don’t know what her favorite color is, I’ll have to call my wife.” 

I guessed that must have been the blond woman in the photo. I hadn’t realized she was married, of course, that sort of thing didn’t necessarily get in the way of affairs or relationships on the inside. I wondered if her wife had known about her last prison girlfriend. 

Camilla was still looked down at the picture. “She’s such a quiet child, she never really says anything when her mom brings her here on visiting days. I think this place frightens her.” 

I had no idea what to say, so I said nothing.

There was genuine pain in Camilla’s eyes, the faint crows feet at the edges of them drawn tight. “I’d tell Elane to stop bringing her, except then my daughter wouldn’t know me. Elane was pregnant when I got locked up in this place, my daughter has never seen me anywhere but here. My father was on the inside until I was nearly twelve. I hated going to the prison on weekends but if my mother hadn’t brought me he’d have been a stranger to me until he got out. She looked up from the photo, her mask already falling back into place. “I’m sorry, I’m rambling.” 

“It’s alright.”

“You don’t have kids do you?” It was a fair question, most women my age in the prison were as likely to as not.

I shook my head. “No, just the niece I write the picture books with and an infant nephew.” 

Camilla nodded and suddenly I desperately wanted to return the raw and unexpected honesty and vulnerability she had shown me. 

“I never even used to like kids. Then my sister handed me Izzy for the first time when she was tiny and so new to the world she hadn’t even been washed yet. I knew I’d tear apart the world for her.” No one ever warns you how absolutely overwhelming unconditional love can be. I’d given up my freedom for her not to lose her mother and for her brother not to be born within the walls of a prison. Given the choice I would do it a thousand times again. 

“She’s the little girl in your children’s books?”

“Yes, princess Isabella.”

“She’s such a brave child in the stories.” Her expression had grown wistful again. “When my son was just an infant, I used to read him those books to him. He was such a grabby baby, kept reaching for the pages and tore all them. I doubt he remembers me reading to him. My wife says he still likes the books though, especially Isabella’s red dragon.”

“I can give him a red dragon.” I’d never been able to protect Izzy, not as much as I should have, but I’d sure as hell been able to give her dragons. 

“He might actually want a red pterodactyl. I don’t know. I need to call Elane,” she was sinking into herself again, as lost as any woman away for her family could be. 

I tried to ease the situation. “How about I write you a list of questions and when you have the answers you can give it to me and I’ll write the story.” 

“That sounds good.” 

I quickly wrote up the list and tore it out of the notebook to hand to her. “I can design a dragon for each kid or any kind of flying or winged creature. Maybe your daughter would like a giant winged cat for her character’s mount.”

A faint smile came back to her lips. “She’d probably love that. When she visits, she’s always clutching a stuffed rainbow colored cat.” 

When I got back to my friends Stella of course asked what Camilla had wanted. 

I told her, “a story for her kids, same as half the women in this prison apparently. I had no idea my children’s books would be so lucrative in this place.”

“Probably not a lot of children’s authors get locked up,” said Amy. 

I looked down at the table. “Yes, honestly I’m a bit amazed the last Princess Isabella   book ever made it to the printers, what with the trial and everything. I’m afraid to pitch another one. I mean the whole ‘aunt writes dragon stories with niece’ thing is a lot less cute when you chuck in that the aunt was convicted of murdered the niece’s father.

Stella tilted her head slightly. “Honey,” she said softly. “I saw the news story. You were protecting your niece and pregnant sister.” She paused and covered my hand with her own. “You are as gentle natured as any woman I have know, so if you were driven to violence, it had to be pretty damn necessary.” 

I didn’t want to lie to her but I knew how easily words could escape people. It didn’t matter how much I trusted her or anyone else in the prison. As long as my sister could face trial, I could never admit she’d stabbed her husband and not me. 

“It was.”

Cali’s hand was warm on my shoulder. “Some things are. You should regret nothing but not getting a better lawyer.”

“I had a decent one,” I said.

“Cali, you actually had a pretty good lawyer yourself, didn’t you?” Stella asked her.

“And a sympathetic judge,” admitted Cali. “I mean I did shoot four men in cold blood. The judge couldn’t admit it was justified but she gave me the lightest sentence she could.”

“Whereas I had a shitty lawyer and a pissed off judge,” said Stella. “I never killed anyone and I’m doing the same amount of time as Cali.”

“I mean, you did steal a shitload of money digitally,” said Amy. “And it’s not like you had some noble reason.”

Stella made a face at her. “Well we can’t all be noble, can we? I needed the money and I took it. I’m not ashamed of being a thief and I won’t apologize.”

Amy just laughed softly. “Hey, I’m the last woman on earth to judge you. Just make sure to come up with something better to tell the parole board.”

Stella smiled and put her hands together in a mockery of prayer. “Oh, I’m absolutely reformed, I deeply regret stealing all those honest people’s credit card numbers. I swear I’ll never do it again, never. Once I’m out of here I’ll be a model citizen and... I don’t know design anti-hacking software or something.”

“Have you actually considered that?” I asked.

“Considered what?”

“Designing cyber security and stuff. I mean if you knew how to hack, could you do the opposite?”

Stella stared at me. “I suppose. Who would hire me though?”

“A lot of companies possibly.” 

She frowned but clearly looked like she was thinking about it. “You really think I could actually make an honest living on the outside?” 

I shrugged. “Stranger things have happened.”

Alex started showing up for her tutoring sessions again. She was making a lot of progress. I’d been trying to get her a book or two in a special font that was supposed to be easier for someone with dyslexia to read but I had not had much luck. A librarian friend of mine bought and sent the books but they never made it to me. I kind of wondered if the rather malevolent assistant warden had anything to do with that. 

I could have asked Officer Bradshaw but I hesitated. It mattered to me deeply that she knew I’d slept with her because I wanted to, not because I wanted something from her. To ask something of her so soon after might have seemed like it. I suppose I did rely on her to xerox pages for me but she’d been doing that before.

 I had decided to ask Camilla if any of her contacts could figure out what happened to my package of books and if she could  get them released to me. I figured it would be a fair exchange for the story I had written for her kids. She’d sent me the answer to the question the day before and I’d just finished the story. I planned on handing it off to her later that day.

For the moment though, Alex and I were basically working through children’s chapter books for practice. Mostly I was just trying to teach her to slow down and not get frustrated with the letters. Unfortunately, while she seemed to enjoy my company, she clearly found it a bit demeaning to read Winnie-the-Pooh and Amelia Bedelia .

She lost patience with the Hundred Acre wood one afternoon in the library, “Can’t we read a grown up book?”

“Those will be harder and have smaller font.”

“I know but…” she motioned at the book. “Reading about Pooh and Piglet ain’t exactly doing much for my pride.”

“What do you want to read then?”

“How about one of your books?”

While I did use a lot of big words, as far as I could tell my stuff was relatively approachable, especially since it was so popular in prison. A sudden thought struck me. I leaned on my elbow and looked at Alex.

“Have you been reading them on your own? I mean you seem to know the characters.” 

She looked down at the colorful book in front of her, her ears heating. “I tried before your lessons but they were too hard. My cellmate, Anna reads the chapters out loud for me.”

That explained a lot. I touched her shoulder. “Alex, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being read to.” 

“I should be able to do it myself.” There was a lot of shame in her voice and it tugged at my heart.”

“You can read Alex. You just have a harder time with it because your brain flips letters around so you have to work harder to understand.”

“I know,” she didn’t sound convinced. “So can we read one of your books?”

“Sure.”

She went and retrieved one of my books from the shelf and we settled back in. Things went great until I realized she’d picked a book that had a sex scene about two paragraphs in. I felt my own face heat as she stumbled through the world clitorus.

We had just reached the climax of the scene when she turned and cast me an unmistakable look of want. Seeing the need in her sparked it in me. If there is one thing that will always get me into a woman’s bed, it is the sight of raw desire for me in her eyes.

Her lips were tentative at first, as shy as a school girl stealing a first kiss from a best friend over homework. Things didn’t stay that innocent for very long. I stopped her hand when she started trying to get under my shirt. 

“This is a bad idea.”

“Why?”

“If things are awkward again I don’t want you to stop coming to tutoring.” 

“I swear I will. I mean, you’ll still teach me  no matter what right?”

“Of course,” 

Her hands started to wander again. 

My resolve began to crumble as soon as I felt the warmth of her palms against my stomach beneath my shirt. I still covered her hand and held her gaze. 

“I want you to promise me one thing first.”

She nodded eagerily.

“I need you to see me, Emma Brown, not some made up character.”

She offered a smirk, “Jealous?”

“I have my pride, same as any woman.”

The smirk evaporated. “I see you Emma.”

I kissed her with all the need I felt. 

 

We were less subtle about heading to the shower this time. It was late afternoon and the room was empty and unguarded. We headed straight for one of the stalls, still fully clothed. She was pretty damn eager to get my clothes off and I the same. 

Soon enough she had me naked against the wall, three fingers inside my cunt and her thumb against my clit in just the right way. I was gasping out my orgasm, too lost to care about being silent in an empty room, when the door to shower block banged open and I heard a lot of footsteps. 

The sound of a woman sobbing and whimpering made it pretty clear that the group hadn’t come for a shower. Alex’s eyes went wide with fear and she tried to cover my mouth to silence me but it was too late, we’d been heard when the door opened. 

I heard a voice bark. “Oye, lovebirds in the stall, clear the fuck out.”

Alex shoved me behind herself as the curtain was yanked back. 

Brie seemed genuinely surprised to see us. 

Alex tensed, hands clenched, ready to fight. 

The gang enforcer held up her hands, palms first. “Easy, I’m not looking for a fight. The boss just needs the room.”

I grabbed Alex’s arm. “Let’s go.”

Alex was still glaring at Brie like she’d have still been happy to throw a punch but she didn’t protest.I didn’t take the time to dress but snatched our clothes off the shower hook as I tugged Alex from the stall. 

“Sorry Emma,” Brie whispered as we edged past.

The sight that met me outside of the stall was one I could have lived a thousand years without seeing. Camilla and five of her minions were standing, surrounding a frightened and bleeding woman on the floor. I recognized as, Josie, one of Hanna’s gang. Normally the tall Russian women made an imposing figure but no one can look that tough when outnumbered and clutching at a broken nose.

As I watched, Camilla kicked the downed woman hard in the ribs. “I won’t fucking ask again. Where the hell is it?”

I made a sound of fear and covered my mouth. Camilla whirled and I saw that her hands were bloody. There was something horrible and empty in her eyes. The moment she saw me, that look was replaced by surprise and then shame. 

“Emma?”

 Without a thought for my own nudity I grabbed Alex’s arm harder and bolted for the door. I kept us moving until we were nearly two halls away before stopping to scramble to get my clothes on again. I accidently put on Alex’s shirt first, which was too big for me and had to tug it off and accept my own in exchange. I was trembling so badly, she had to help me. 

Once we were dressed,  It was her turn to take my hand. She led me back to my cell, where Amy was sitting on her bed reading over my new chapter with Stella leaning over her shoulder. 

The moment we came in, Stella was on her feet. “What’s happened?”

“We got chased out of the shower block because Camilla and her goons wanted to beat the shit out of one of Hanna’s goons,” explained Alex. 

Stella took in the sight of Alex’s backward shirt and both our dry hair and easily guessed the rest. She stood and took my arm to guide me to my bunk. “Oh honey, seeing that kind of thing for the first time is always a shock.”

She hugged me, and in the safety of her arms everything suddenly became too much. I burst into tears. I had never been a hysterical cryer before but I’d also never seen a woman being beaten on a bathroom floor. For all I knew, Camilla and her gang were going to murder Josie. The raw violence of what I’d seen, what was my life now, was almost too much and it call crashed over me in a wave. Somehow I’d managed to dig my own hands in my dead brother in laws blood and not even flinch, but this got to me. 

I tried to stop crying, and I couldn’t. When I looked up, I saw Alex still standing in the doorway, caught between the desire to offer comfort and uncertainty if that was her role. When Amy came to my other side before Alex could move she took a half step back, clearly feeling out of place. 

“Did Camilla threaten either of you,” asked Stella, all business even as she rubbed slow circles on my back.

“No, nothing like that. Brie just told us to get the fuck out.”

“Alright, you’ve been here long enough to know not to tell anyone else what you saw right?” Somehow, inevitably, Stella had a way of taking control of most situations and conversations.

“Yes, I’m not dumb,” she said a bit defensively. She hovered by the door for a moment, still clearly debating what to do.

“We’ll take care of her, best get back to your cell. If the guards find out what’s happened this whole place may be about to go into lockdown.” 

Alex didn’t look like she wanted to be dismissed but she also wasn’t going to try to get onto the crowded bed. I was still too upset to do much more than cry into my hands. Truth be told, I didn’t really want Alex to see me so vulnerable. I never liked lovers to see me cry. I supposed I had fucked Stella once, but she was enough of a friend I didn’t mind. 

With a backwards glance, she left. I gave up on trying to stop crying. Neither Stella or Amy said anything, just sat on either side of me and held me. 

I was just getting myself under control when two guards, Officer Jones and the young blond one who’d once caught me in the garden shed walked down the line of cells glancing into each one. Although I’d stopped crying, my face was still a mess.

“What’s wrong with her?” asked the younger blond corrections officer, who’s last name I had learned was Baker.

“Her niece’s sick,” lied Stella. 

Officer Jones looked less than convinced, “Where have you three been for the past hour?” 

“Here,” said Stella. “Emma came back from her library shift upset and we comforted her.”

Jones frowned at me. “You see anything unusual walking back from the library?”

I shook my head. 

“You been anywhere near the shower block?”

I shook my head.

Her eyes narrowed but she clearly saw no point in pressing me and left. 

By dinner time everyone in the prison knew that Josie was in the infirmary with a broken nose and a couple broken ribs.

Chapter Text

The next day, when I opened my notebook, I realized that I still had the story for Camilla’s children. I’d meant to hand it to her directly in the cafeteria but the last thing I wanted was to come face to face with her again. Instead, when Lina came into the library that morning, I gave the pages to her. She hadn’t been with her employer in the bathroom the day before, although I was sure she knew everything that had happened. 

“Can you take these pages to Camilla, I promised her this story last week.”

Lina accepted the pages, “Sure thing Emma. What should I tell her she owes you?”

“No charge,” 

Lana’s eyebrows drew together in worry. Very quietly she said. “Listen, I heard what happened. I know you are spooked, but you don’t have to be afraid of her. She ain’t no danger to you sweetheart.”

I nodded, not feeling as certain. 

“She won’t want to take the story for free.”

“Then tell her it costs a candy bar, the same as I charged you for the one I wrote for your son.”

“Okay.”

 

I came back to my cell to find it being searched for what had to be the thousandth time. Officer Bradshaw was going through my locker, while Officer Jones tufted the cell across the way. Although Josie hadn’t been shanked, pretty much any act of violence dramatic enough to get someone sent to the infirmary tended to lead to a general search of the cell block the incident happened on.

Bradshaw held up a little bag of hair ties with a red cardboard rose taped to it. “You’ve apparently still got a secret admirer, this was on your bed.”

What with everything else going on, I still hadn’t figured out the mystery of who kept leaving the paper roses, although they’d never stopped appearing. Interestingly, whoever it was seemed to have realized that I didn’t need more food and started giving me small stuff like pencils and hair clips.

Bradshaw watched my face carefully as she said, “Unless, it’s a not such a secret admirer. Are the roses a gift from Alex?”

I sat down on the edge of my bed. “I don’t think so.”

Her eyes narrowed. 

“Is this going to be an issue?” I asked very softly. If she was the jealous sort, that could be a problem, especially since she was still a guard.   

She set down the cardboard rose, not looking at me. “No.” Very softly she said. “I have no right to make a claim on you.”

I didn’t know what to say. I suppose in a way she did and in a way she didn’t. We had had sex but we couldn’t even openly be lovers. We’d spoken no words of what we might be to each other. 

Just as quietly and still without looking at me she added. “Listen, I don’t know if I’ll be the next guard to search your cell. There’s about to be a big crack down on even small contraband. You’ve got some fancy tea I know they don’t sell in the commissary here and way more candy and cigarettes then you’re supposed to. Eat or trade it all before next week’s inspection.”

“Thank you,” 

“Of course,” her hand briefly brushed against my arm as she left the cell. 

  

Disguising the contraband tea was as easy as throwing out the box and tugging the labels off the end of the strings. I put the bags into an empty lipton box. The candy and cigarettes proved a bit more complicated. Amy was rather disappointed when I shot down her suggestion we just eat all the candy ourselves. I was pretty sure we’d have both died of a sugar coma or at least ended up as ill as two kids the day after halloween. 

We spent a good part of the afternoon trading away chocolate bars and cigarettes for as many of each kind of basic prison goods that we were allowed to have. By the end of the day we were rich in tampons, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, ramen, phone cards, and stamps. It was a shame to trade the cigarettes, which really were a universal currency, for items that would be easier to use than trade again but we didn’t have much choice. I suppose I could have hidden the cigarettes somewhere but I didn’t want to risk the stash being found and stolen. 

I was at least able to stockpile a bunch of new notebooks and pencils. Mia’s last cellmate had been a very consummate journaler and left a bunch of blank copy books when she got out. Mia was more than happy to trade them for my entire M&M’s stash. Stella traded me a hand mirror and some nice scrunchies in exchange for as many cigarettes as she could have in her cell without the guards writing her up for it.

If the guards decided to tear Amy’s and my cell apart again the next week they would find it suspiciously well stocked but all within the prescribed limits of what we could have. If writing continued to prove so lucrative I was going to need to find another way to store my accrue wealth, especially as some of the bigger things I wanted, like a better blanket or radio, would cost a lot of cigarettes to trade for. I suppose I could start trading for less concrete goods. 

Control of the TV room remote was a highly contested matter. Almost by tradition, as much as anything else, different groups controlled the TV room at different times. Glenda and the other hispanic women over a certain age had an undisputed claim during soap opera hours, a mixed group about the same age fiercely defended a couple hours of Judge Judy most days, andno one questioned Camilla’s insistence that the TV got tuned to the news at 6pm each night. After that, it was kind of a terrifyingly carefully negotiated balance. I knew that PBS was supposed to air a couple Jane Austen movies in a couple weeks and wondered if I could give away enough candy to get control of the TV for a few hours. 

 

I was in the library, during my shift, eating some skittles I hadn’t been able to trade and writing when I heard a knock on the shelf next to me. 

I looked up. 

“Hey,” said Camilla. 

I could see two of her guards pretending to browse the library shelves a few paces away. 

“Can I sit?” she motioned at the second chair beside my desk. 

“Sure,” I said nervously. 

She sat down and laid a candy bar and a small pile of books in a torn brown paper shipping envelope onto the desk. I moved the candy bar to look at the top book and gasped. “How did you get these?”

“I heard that you kept asking at mail call for a package that never came. I had someone in the mailroom look into it. Apparently it just fell behind something and no one could be arsed to look.”

I was hesitant to take the books from her but they would really help Alex. I was still a little creeped out she’d known about the lost package when I had never told her about it. She had also managed to get my package simply given to her. Was she deliberately showing off her power and influence or was it accidental?

“You heard I kept asking about a package?”

Camilla offered a slight smile. “Okay, well Brie over head you when she was behind you in line.” 

It was hard to reconcile that easy grin with the blank eyed woman I’d seen with blood on her hands. I shivered and looked down. “Thanks for getting this for me.” 

“Emma,” she said very softly.

I knew I should look at her but I couldn’t seem to bring myself to. I just kept thinking of how Josie had looked curled up on herself and in pain on the floor, her blood dripping onto the hard white tiles.

“Emma, are you afraid of me?” Her hand was very gentle when she touched the side of my arm.

I flinched from her touch. “No...yes.” I’d always been a shit liar.  

“I never meant for you to see what you did the other day.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” I said very softly.

Wearily she covered half her face with a hand as she rubbed at her forehead. “That’s not why I came to talk to you.”

I watched her warily. 

She let her hand drop. “I’m sorry, I’m messing this up. All I wanted to do was thank you for the story, not frighten you.” 

“It was just the same one I gave Lina but with some details changed.” 

“You sell yourself short,” the half smile was back. “I don’t think I could have come up with a vampire toaster as a villain even on one of my best days.”

In spite of everything, it was so hard not to like that smile. It reached her dark eyes and lit them up. 

“I wasn’t sure what else to write, you’ve got one kid afraid of toasters and the other afraid of vampires. I’m not sure a vampire who fed on toast would have been sufficiently scary.”

“Fair enough.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, why is your daughter afraid of toasters?” Vacuum cleaners I could kind of understood, toasters, not so much.

“Apparently one morning she and my son woke up before the rest of the household. Toby tried to make them breakfast but didn't understand it was a bad idea to put the toaster to the highest setting. By the time my wife got there the whole kitchen was full of burnt toast smoke and the smoke detector was going off. She unplugged the damn thing before it caught fire but Zoe still had nightmares about it for over a week.”

“And vampires?”

“Elane says one of the body guards let Toby watch Blade with him when he snuck downstairs late one night. Now the kid wants to grow up to be a vampire hunter, so maybe it is more a hero worship thing.” 

I had just gotten way more insight into the domestic life of a mob boss than I had ever expected to have. “Did your kids like the story?”

“Zoe giggled when I read it to her over the phone. I think it may be the first time I ever heard her giggle.” Her voice broke on the second sentence and she turned her face away as if whatever it now held was far too personal. 

Even with the image of what I had seen a few days before still burned into my mind, I couldn’t be scared of her any more in that moment. Without really thinking about it, I said. “If you want, I can write you another story.” 

“Zoe and Tobais would love that.” Her expression was so earnest as she looked at me, she almost made my heart ache. 

“I’ll get started.”

“Thank you.”

She reached to touch my arm again, thought better of it, and departed with a nod. I wondered if I had made a mistake. I should have been distancing myself from Camilla, not offering to write her kids another story. I promised myself I would send it via Lina when it was done. 

 

When I got back to my cell I found Amy and Anna very awkwardly drinking tea. I’d have left them to it, except Amy made eye contact and gave me a truly desperate look. Apparently either the date was going badly or she’d just run out of things to talk about. 

“Do you want tea, the water’s still hot,” she said in an almost frantic tone.

“Sure,” I took out a disguised bag of Assam tea from the lipton box and plonked it into a heavy plastic mug and added hot water from the electric kettle.

Anna was sitting on my bed and Amy was sitting on her own. I wasn’t entirely sure where to sit, so I sat next to Amy. 

As I sipped at my tea, I realized why Amy may have wanted a rescue. Anna was telling her in great detail, down to appropriate beaker type, about how to make meth.  She was talking so fast I couldn’t be sure if poor Anna had panicked and just started talking about the first thing that came into her head or if she was oblivious enough to think that Amy wanted to listen to her go on for half an hour about how to properly ventilate a meth shack. I hadn’t heard this level of fanatical obsession since a friend of mine got into home brewing once. 

You wouldn’t think that explaining the making of illicit drugs could be so boring, but Anna managed it. Amy kept elbowing me, I couldn’t figure out if she wanted me to somehow chuck Anna out of the cell or just turn the conversation. 

I tried my best. “So, Anna, you grew up in the Blueridge Mountains right?” 

“Yea, beautiful place, great moonshine too.” She then launched into a lecture about how to make the best moonshine. By some mercy, the dinner bell rang as soon as she started talking about the proper weight of copper line for a still. 

As soon as Anna was gone, I tumped back onto Amy’s bed. “Does she normally do that?”

Amy lay down beside me. “I don’t think so. I don’t know. Alex and her other friends usually throw stuff at her whenever she starts talking about meth and moonshine.”

“Throw stuff?”

“Like napkins at dinner and cards during rec hours.

“Maybe she was just nervous and doesn’t have a very good filter,” I said charitably. 

“Maybe,” said Amy. She sounded less sure.

I elbowed her. “You know, you can still drink tea with her again, even if your not sure if she can manage a conversation.”

“But what if she thinks I’m leading her on?”

“Hell what if you think she’s a blabbermouth, life if too short for this shit.”

“Should I ask her for tea again?” She sounded so terribly scared and unsure.

‘Do you want to?”

“I don’t know. I just want to see what she talks about when she calms down. Also maybe she’ll shut up if I kiss her.”  

“Then invite her again. We’ve got some tea left and we can get the cheap lipton shit if it comes to it. Worst case scenario, she talks your ear off about copper piping.”

Amy dissolved into nearly hysterical laughing. “Emma, I think your the best friend I’ve ever had.”

“Because I let you have some tea bags I got from the prison drug dealer and then listened to a pretty redneck girl you fancy talk about the only thing she knows.”

Amy jabbed my ribs with her rather sharp elbow. “You know what I mean.”

“I try. Amy, you’ve been kind to me since I ended up here.”

“You’re easy to be kind to. You don’t betray or backstab me or anything.”

“So are you.”

We both sort of ran out of words then. I hated the world that had treated her so badly that she though any friend might turn on her. 

Fortunately my stomach chose that moment to grumble. “Come one, dinner,” said.

 

Over the  next few days I noticed that something was up with Mia and Gina. They both just kept looking at me nervously. The moment I would look back at either they would always look away quickly. I wasn’t sure what was going on. Had one of them finally read one of my scenes that shocked them? Nothing I was currently writing was all that wild but the prison had nearly all my main works and I’d seen a few copies of my rougher erotica changing hands. 

I was reading on a couch in the common room a few evenings later when Mia and Gina thumped down on either side of me.

Not particularly originally, Mia asked. “What are you reading?” 

The Importance of Being Earnest. ” 

“The what?”

“It’s a play.”

She scrunched her charming little nose. “You can read those?”

“You my dear were egregiously failed by our nation's education system.” Were I not likely to be laughed at for even suggesting it, I would have considered offering a basic english lit class in the prison. 

“What’s ‘egregious’ mean?”

“Something being done really badly.” 

“Ah,” she chewed on her lip and looked embarrassed.

I gently nudged her with my shoulder. “It’s okay to not know words you’ve never heard before, that’s how you learn. English is a pretty damn big language.”

That seemed to help a bit. She grinned and nudged me back. “I learned a lot of new words from your books like, areola, and labia minora and majora.” 

“I’m still kind of unclear on those second two,” said Gina.

I had to fight down the urge to laugh. “It’s latin. Labia means lips, majora means greater and minora means smaller.”

Gina chewed on her lip the way she did when she felt uncertain. 

I sighed. “Outer cunt lips and inner cunt lips.”

“Why don’t people just call them that then?” asked Mia.

“Hell if I know. I just know its fucking hard to try to write about sex when the only actual words for a woman’s bodies are either incredibly clinical or simultaniously vulgar and vague.”

“You’re really good at it though,” said Gina. “The writing I mean.” 

“So I’ve been told.” I was getting rather tired of being told such. Ironically, even though I’d spent most adult life wishing for greater recognition for my writing and now that I had it in the intense fishbowl of a prison, I was finding it a bit overwhelming. 

Mia shifted her weight to keep her arm and hip against my own. “I bet you are good at sex too.”

I managed to keep my face deadpan. “I’ve been told so.”

Mia and Gina traded a look with far less subtle than they thought it was. Gina said.  “We, were um thinking, that maybe you could, uh, show us some things.”

I knew what she meant but played dumb.

“Show you what?”

“Sexy things,” Mia was practically in my lap. If she wasn’t so cute I’d have been annoyed. She had clearly gotten all her ideas of seduction from bad movies.

“I’m pretty sure you two have figured out how to do that, unless you’ve only been blowing chaste kisses at each other all this time.” 

Gina leaned just as close. “Yea, but we want you to show us how to do a threesome.”

I considered them both. With most other women I’ve have growled at them for getting into my personal space without my agreement, but I was more than a little bit flattered and amused. They were both also very attractive. “I believe I have already given you all the advice I have to offer on the matter. Also weren’t you two very loudly arguing about whether or not to invite Anna just a week or so ago.”

“I said we could have a threesome, just not with her,” said Mia. 

I removed her arm from where she was trying to lay it on my shoulder. “So why me?”

“You safe,” said Gina.

I narrowed my eyes slightly and looked at her. “And why is that?”

The young woman had the good grace to look a bit embarrassed. “Because...I don’t know, you’re like classy and not crazy or anything. I know you don’t want to steal Mia from me and Mia knows you won’t steal me from her.”

“And you slept with Stella and Cali and you’re still friends with them both,” said Mia. “They only have threesomes with women they trust.”

She did have a point. I still wasn’t going to give it to her. “You mean, you think I’ll fuck you both and not make a big deal about it afterwards.”

“Yea,” said Gina eagerly. “So are you interested?”

I had to fight to roll my eyes. “While you are both very good looking, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Why not?” Mia attempted to pout and ended up making a silly face. It was very hard not to laugh. 

“You are both over a decade younger than me.”

“You slept with Alex,” said Gina. “And she’s like not that much older than us.” Clearly it was impossible to sleep with any woman in that prison without every single other one knowing about it. 

“And doesn’t age mean experience?” Mia managed a very charming grin, although the eyelash batting was a bit much.

“Yes, experience to know a potential pain in the ass when I see one. You two are very sweet but you also regularly loudly voice all your domestic disputes in the common room. I don’t want to end up in the middle of one of those.”

“We promise that won’t happen,” said Gina. 

“Yeah,”  agreed Mia.

“I’ve got my doubts.”

“Don’t you think I’m pretty?” Mia attempted to bat her eyelashes again. I was really tempted to tell her that while it was a common gesture in books, in real life it tended to just look like a lot of rapid blinking. 

In spite of myself I smile. “Very pretty.”

“And me?” asked Gina a bit less confidently than Mia.

“You’re pretty damn cute too.”

Mia leaned closer to whisper in my ear, at least I think she meant to whisper but she ended up being so loud it was more of a stage whisper. “Please say yes. I mean how often do you get invited to a threesome?”

“Every two weeks in this place apparently.” 

Mia frowned in confusion at my response. 

I decided to drop the sarcasm. “You two are really serious about this?”

They both nodded. 

“And do I have both of your words that you will not put me in the middle of your next fight.”

Again they nodded. 

I wasn’t doing much with my evening and they were both very cute, Gina is a sort of lightly muscled and lanky way Mia in a pleasingly voluptuous way . “So did you two have a brilliant plan of where to do this?” I had no intention of fucking in the shower again any time soon. 

“Kitchen pantry, that’s where Gina and I normally have sex.” Considering that Mia and Gina both worked in the kitchen this did not come as a surprise. I absently wondered if their amorous pursuits when they should have been preparing food was the reason behind so much of the food turning out burnt.

I glanced at the clock. We had about two hours before lights out. While I wasn’t technically allowed in the kitchen, since I didn’t work there, it wouldn’t be hard to slip in. 

“Alright, I’m in.”

 

A few minutes later found us in the aforementioned pantry. I can’t say I was terribly impressed by the collapsed cardboard boxes that Gina gallantly set down on the concrete floor. I’d been kind of hoping they had a  blanket stashed in there somewhere. 

I sat down on the cardboard and so did they. Then they both stared at me, neither making a move. Apparently Mia’s earlier courage had deserted her. 

I sighed. “So how exactly were you two hoping this would go?”

They traded a looked. Gina said. “We both want to have sex with you.”

“I mean, I kind of gathered that. More specifically though, was there a particular way you wanted to have sex with me? Are there any ground rules I should be aware of?”

Again they looked at each other, almost like two kids who hadn’t done their homework. “We’re supposed to have rules?” Gina whispered to Mia, who shrugged.

I decided to go by process of elimination. “Is there anything you absolutely don’t want me to do, like leave a hickey?”

“Hickeys are okay,” said Mia. It occured to me that they both weren’t necessarily sexually experience enough to likely have much of a sense yet about what she liked or definitely didn’t like yet.

“Alright, then don’t be afraid to tell me if I do anything you don’t want me to or if there is anything you want me to do that I’m not going.”

That earned me two synchronized nods. 

When they both continued to just sit there, I leaned forward and kissed Mia. In spite of everything, she still managed to seem surprised. She started to kiss me back soon enough though. 

She leaned into my touch when I began to run a hand down her body. For such a small woman she really did have wonderfully full breasts. I cupped one through her shirt and began to kiss at her neck and shoulder. She made a low sound of appreciation. 

When I glanced over my shoulder I found Gina watching us with a mix of awe and desire, her mouth slightly open.

“Help me undress her,” I said and she crawled over. 

Mia’s shirt was easy to get off, although her sports bra proved a bit more challenging. While the idea of being undressed by someone else is very sexy, the reality can be a bit awkward, especially where elastic is concerned.

Once we had freed Mia of her bra, I kissed a line down from her collar bone to pay more attention to her breasts. She had such charming dark nipples and either the chill of the air or her arousal had caused them to pebble. 

“You are very pretty,” I murmured.

 She gasped the moment I flicked my tongue over a nipple and then moaned when I sucked on it. I brought my hand to her other breast, to catch her nipple lightly between two fingers and brush my thumb over the most sensitive part. 

For some reason, Gina decided that this was the best moment to try and tug up my shirt. I had to abandon my task and raise my arms to help her get it off without me being tangled in it. I tugged off my own bra to save time. 

“I like your boobs,” said Mia with her usual level of eloquence. 

“Do you now?”

She nodded and reached for one, cupping the swell of the breast and then pinching the nipple, causing my breath to go ragged. 

“Your nipples are all pink and cute, like bubble gum,” said Mia. No one had ever compared my nipples to chewing gum before but I took the spirit of the compliment. 

Gina reached around me and grabbed my other boob a bit harder than I might have liked. I was about a day or so away from my period and they were more than a bit tender.

“Gentler.” I said.

“Sorry,” her hand instantly fell from me. 

I caught it and put it back. “I said gentler , not stop.”

She took the cue and began to explore. When she kissed the back of my neck and sucked on it I felt my whole body shiver with anticipation. 

I leaned forward to capture Mia’s lips in a kiss again. “Do you want my fingers or my lips or both?”

“Can you go down on me and then finger me?”

“Of course.”

She lifted up her hips and I got her pants off. 

Eager as I was I took the chance to take in the sight of her and it was a breathtaking one. Her hips had a pleasing fullness to them and her stomach rounded ever so slightly, like a bathing beauty in a Titian painting. 

The intensity of my gaze seemed to embarrass her. 

“You are very lovely,” I told her, running a hand down her body and then up her leg. 

She giggled. “No one’s ever called me lovely before. Mostly Gina just says I’m hot.” 

Gina leaned over to stroke her cheek. “You are, like super hot.”

“Thanks babe,” she laughed. 

I nudged her legs open and ducked down. She made a very startled sound when I lightly nipped her inner thigh. That was quickly followed by a series of moans as I brought my tongue to her clit. I was just settling into what I was going when, Gina began to tug at my pants. 

I lost my rhythm and shifted my weight to help her. I thought she’d touch me then, but Mia called for her then. 

Gina scrambled over to her girlfriend and began to kiss her as I continued to pleasure her. When I began to press harder with my tongue and suck at her clit, she nearly screamed, although the sound was muffled by Gina’s mouth. She managed to get a pretty good grip on my hair and tug very painfully as she came. 

When her legs stopped shaking I raised my head. “Fingers?”

She nodded somewhat dazedly.

She was slick and ready when I eased one and then two fingers into her. It was a bit challenging but I managed to keep working her clit with my mouth as I began to fuck her with my fingers. 

“Fuck, yes, Fuck!” She’d apparently given up on kissing in favor of being able to breath. Unfortunately, she also decided to pull my hair again.  

I pulled back long enough to say, “No more hair pulling.”

She stopped instantly. “Oh, sorry. Fuck, yes, fuck.” The sounds she made grew increasingly less articulate as I worked her to her second orgasm. Her hands clawed at the cardboard beneath her as she came. I slowed the movements of my hand and eased her down from her climax gently before slipping my fingers from her. 

“Fuck you’re good at that.”

“Lots of practice.” 

We all took a moment to catch our breath. I moved back up to Mia’s side and she snuggled against me, clearly very content to be between two women. Gina leaned over her to kiss me, her girlfriend’s essence still on my lips. 

Mia rallied surprisingly quickly and rolled, so that we were facing each other. When she pressed her hand between my legs, she found me very wet. I gasped and leaned into the touch. 

She rubbed at my clit roughly. 

“Softer,” I said.

She slowed her motions a bit and had me moaning very quickly. After barely a minute of that I was on the edge but not quite there. 

“Fuck me, I want you fingers,” I gasped.

Mia slipped two fingers into me and I moaned my enjoyment.

“Wait, I wanted to do that,” protested Gina.

To my great frustration, Mia stopped what she was doing. “You can fuck her next.”

“I don’t care who fucks me but stop arguing and do it.”

Gina apparently was still not interested in waiting. “What if you rub her clit and I fuck her.”

“Okay,” said Mia. 

I was forced to wait even longer as Gina scrambled to my other side. My annoyance was quickly alleviated when she pressed two and then three fingers into me. She did have wonderfully long fingers. 

Mia went back to what she’d been doing to my clit, mercifully a bit softer this time. I felt as if my entire body was on fire, caught between the sensation of both their touch. I writhed beneath both of them as my orgasm coiled inside of me. 

I clenched hard on Gina’s fingers as I came with a cry that hopefully didn’t echo too loudly out in the dark kitchen. 

“Don’t stop, I can come again.” 

They did exactly as I asked and I’m pretty sure that if anyone had been even in the cafeteria they might have heard me. 

I slumped back onto the cardboard boxes, feeling utterly spent. Gina kissed Mia over me. 

“Oh, you look so desperately,” laughed Mia. She climbed over me to get to Gina, pushing her onto her back, tugged off her pants and getting a hand between her legs. Gina didn’t last very long before she cried out, diggin her nails into the cardboard as hard as Mia had earlier. 

We all lay in a sated heap for a few minutes. I was just rallying enough to see if Gina might be game for another orgasm since I hadn’t really gotten much of a chance to touch her, when the five minutes before lights out bell sounded. 

“Shit,” said Mia.

“Ugh,” agreed Gina. 

Somehow, we all managed to still tug our clothes back on and get moving. None of us were willing to risk missing evening count. It could cost you all your privileges for a week and a repeat offense could land you in solitary.

I got back to my cell just as Officers Jones and Baker started walking down the line to do the count. Jones didn’t bother to hide her smirk when she saw me. 

“Interesting evening?”

I tried to keep my face blank. “Why do you say that?”

“You’re shirt is on backwards and you’ve got a hickey.”

I blushed and she just smirked and kept going. 

Amy gave me a very curious look as I set about brushing my hair before bed. 

“I was just reading with Stella and Cali in the common room. Alex was there playing cards with Anna.”

I began to braid my hair.

“And I saw Officer Bradshaw pass by several times on patrol.”

“ Uh, huh.”

She looked at me expectantly. I simply finished my braid. 

After a moment she threw her hands up in the air. “So who was it then?”

“I don’t kiss and tell.”

“Come on, I’m your friend. Tell me.”

“You’re nosey.”

“You’re a meanie.”

“Guilty as charged.”

“You know I’ll find out who it was as soon as I hear the breakfast gossip tomorrow.”

I was pretty sure that Mia and Gina would likely tell her over breakfast. I had no illusions of those two being discreet. I didn’t actually care but it was fun to tease Amy.

“You’ll just have to live in suspense until then.”

She pouted and sat down on her bed. “It was Nelly, wasn’t it?”

“Not saying.”

A worried look came to her face. “Wait, it wasn’t Camilla was it? I know she’s super hot but Stella was right when she said she was dangerous.”

“Not her,” I admitted.

“So if it wasn’t Camilla and it wasn’t Nelly, then who did you sleep with?”

I lay down on my own bunk as the lights flickered off. “You may never know.”

Chapter Text

My period came in the night, leaving me short tempered and aching. I was forced to spend part of the morning scrubbing out my underwear in the sink. I’d already been through one two periods in the prison but dealing with yet another was less than thrilling.

I did have sufficient supplies at least. While my prison “job” as a librarian paid less than a dollar a day and I didn’t have much money at commissary, my writing did keep me flush in goods 

Even when I was free, my periods had usually reduced me to an achy, nauseous and sometimes dizzy mess and that was with regular doses of ibuprofen, an electric hot pad, raspberry leaf tea, and as much chocolate as I wanted. I’d actually tried taking hormonal birth control to regulate it, which was rather ironic considering my sexual preferences, but those had caused me so many mood issues I’d just given up and did my best to tough things out.

I sat down late to breakfast beside Amy, feeling wretched. She’d been happily chatting with Cali and Stella looked 

“You okay honey?” asked Stella.

“Everything hurts and I’m dying.”

“Ah, got your period,” said Amy. “I think we’re synching, mines due like tomorrow, not that it ever shows up when it is supposed to.

“I need a hot pad or a hot water bottle.”

“They sell those electric hot pads at commissary but they are like fifty bucks.” The degree of mark up at the commissary was nearly as criminal as the inmates themselves. 

Fifty bucks was a lot of money by prison standards. Also anyone who bought one of those things wasn’t likely to just trade it away. 

I thought for a moment and then an idea came to me. “Is there anyone we know who’s likely to have that kind of commissary money but also smoke more than the amount of cigarettes she’s allowed to buy?”

“Glenda smokes like a chimney,” said Stella. “And her family puts money in commissary for her. She’s got a kettle and a hot pot and pretty much everything else.” 

I stood up. “Then I’m going to go make a deal with the head cook.”

The old abuela was surprisingly good at bargaining as it turned out. We did eventually work out an agreement where I’d bring her a certain number of cigarettes each week. When I’d paid her half the value of the hot pad, she’d buy it from me from the commissary and then I’d keep bringing her cigarettes until it was paid off. If that all worked out, we might enter into negotiations to get me a radio next.

While shrewd, she wasn’t unsympathetic to my current plight and her granddaughters had loved the dragon story I wrote for them. She agreed to lend me a hot water bottle until I paid off half the electric hotpad.

As she poured hot water left over from breakfast into the soft plastic she told me. “You look terribly pale dear. I remember how much my monthlies used to suck, I can’t say I miss them.”

 By late morning I was sitting at my desk in the library with a hot water bottle clutched to myself, feeling a bit better about life. 

When Officer Bradshaw wandered by on patrol, she looked a bit concerned. 

“You doing okay there?”

“Period.”

“Ah, want some Aleve?”

I glanced around before answering, “yes.” 

I knew that guards were absolutely not supposed to give medicine to an inmate, even if it were over the counter painkillers. Then again she wasn’t supposed to fuck me either and she’d done that, so I didn’t think she was that worried about getting in trouble. 

She fished a small bottle out of her pocket and shook out a pill. I accepted it and dry swallowed.

I was just about to thank her, when she caught my face and kissed me right there in the empty library. “You have no idea how much I want you,” she whispered before she pulled away. 

I opted for sarcasm over a more meaningful answer. “Not really the best time for that sort of thing.” 

While I had had sex during my period before it had always been with a considerably more established partner than Bradshaw and usually in the shower or on a lot of dark towels. It wasn’t something I was willing to do in some random storage room in prison, much less when I was on the first and most wretched day of the whole business. 

She stroked the side of my face. “I didn’t mean right this minute, I’ve got gate duty in a quarter minutes. If you want, I can set things up to take you to the infirmary next week, there’s a back room there.”

“We may already be pushing our luck.” 

“I’m friends with the nurse. She’ll make sure we’re not caught.”

I almost said no, then she kissed me again and I was reminded just how good the last time we had had sex had been.

“Alright, just be careful. I don’t want you losing your job because of me.” 

“You’re worth the risk.” 

The degree of that risk became immediately evident when the sound of someone banging open the library door, caused her to pull away from me lightening quick. 

It turned out to just be Margret coming in to return a book. The way she glanced at Bradshaw and me told me that even if she hadn’t seen anything, she’d certainly guessed.

 

The next afternoon I was on the phone with my niece, receiver held up with one elbow as I jotted down notes, when someone shoved me hard. 

“My turn, move bitch.”

I stumbled but managed to catch myself, even as I dropped my notebook and pen. 

“Hey,” I snapped as I turned. While it was an understood courtesy to keep calls under thirty minutes if anyone was waiting, no one had been waiting until the stranger appeared.

I found myself looking at a woman who was about twice my weight and most of it was muscles and meanness. I didn’t recognize her, which meant she was either new or from another part of the west wing of the prison, as each wing had its own phone wall.  

“I said move bitch!” growled the woman. She stomped her food down on my dropped notebook. 

I took a quick step back. Although there were about five other women at the line of phones, I didn’t know any of them particularly well and they had all gone silent, carefully looking at anything but the confrontation in front of them. If I were to guess, the angry woman had shoved me because I was the smallest.

I held up my hands. “You want the phone, it’s yours, just let me grab my notebook.” It was  new and didn’t have anything but the notes I’d just taken while talking with Izzy. I still hated to lose it, it had cost two bags of M&M’s.

“You talked to long. The notebook’s mine now for the inconvenience.”

She did not look to be the journaling sort. I was ridiculously reminded of a certain Aesop fable involving a dog in a manger of hay and some hungry cows. She didn’t want the notebook, she just wanted to take it from me.

“Listen, I’m sorry if I somehow pissed you off but I really have no quarrel with you. All I want is my book.”

“You looking for a fight?” 

She clearly was. Why she was picking one with me, I had no idea, beyond that she knew she would win.

“No.” I turned and walked away. I didn’t need the notebook that badly.

“Hey bitch!” She yelled at my back. 

I didn’t turn and didn’t slow. My instinct was to run but if there was one thing I knew from nature documentaries, you were never supposed to run. 

She followed me into the hallway. “Hey you little bitch, look at me when I’m talking to you!”  

And right at that moment, Officer Bradshaw and Officer Baker rounded the corner.

When she saw an approaching guard, the stranger ended her pursuit and ducked back into the phone area. Apparently her anger problems weren’t so bad that she was going to risk attacking another inmate in front of a guard. 

Officer Bradshaw hurried over to me, showing far too much concern for a guard speaking to an inmate, especially when another guard was with her. 

“Brown, was Daniels threatening you?” 

If there was one thing I had learned very quickly, it was that there was an unspoken prison code to  never tell a guard anything that could get another inmate in trouble, even if they were your moral enemy. I certainly wasn’t going to say anything in front of Officer Baker, even if I had just lost my notebook. 

“No.”

“She was yelling at you,” said Baker, her young face concerned. She had a reputation as one of the nicer, if more naive corrections officers. 

“If she was, I have no idea why.” 

Neither guard looked happy but they didn’t press me on the matter further. When I got to the common room, I found Mia attempting to braid Amy’s hair into some sort of complex shepherdess crown. Stella was ostensibly supervised. They had an open book with a picture of what the braid was supposed to look like, although at the moment Amy’s hair just looked like a blond tangle.

After I told them what had just happened, Stella swore under her breath. Shit is that bitch really back? Kaylee Daniels has the worst anger issue of any woman I’ve ever met. She always goes around picking fights to try and prove something each time she gets chucked back in here.I don’t even know why she does it. She’s mean enough looking no one would mess with her if she just left well enough alone. Instead she keeps making trouble until someone bigger and meaner puts her in her place, then she usually knocks it off for a bit.”

“Should I be worried?” 

Stella shrugged. “Probably not, she’s just mean in general. She doesn’t usually zero in on anyone. All the same, maybe keep close to Cali and me for the next day or so. She won’t mess with Cali. 

 

Unfortunately, Stella turned out to be wrong in her assessment. I was at dinner, sitting next to Cali and Stella and across from Amy, when suddenly Amy’s eyes got wide. 

I turned in time to find myself facing Kaylee. I was afraid she was going to hit me but instead she simply snatched the apple off my tray. I was more than ready to let the fruit go. Cali wasn’t. 

She caught the other woman’s wrist, twisting just hard enough that pain flickered across the other woman’s face. 

“That’s not yours,” she said evenly.

Kaylee looked almost uncertain for a second. She knew she was more than evenly matched. 

“Give the lady back her apple and we’ll call this a misunderstanding,” Cali’s tone was firm but not necessarily aggressive.

Something ugly came over the other woman’s face. “Make me.”

Cali twisted her wrist, hard, “I’d really rather not get us both chucked into solitary for fighting.”

Kaylee yelped in pain and the apple thumped onto the table. 

“Now, if I let go will you go about your business or do I need to break something?” 

One of the guards finally noticed something was going on. “Hey you two, no physical contact in the cafeteria,” called out Officer Bradshaw.

Cali let go of Kaylee’s wrist with a forward shove, sent her stumbling back a step. Kaylee caught herself and lurched forward looked ready to kill.

“Hey inmate, yeah you Daniels, Move along!” barked Bradshaw as she approached with Jones.

Kaylee slunk off. 

We all watched her go. “Best stay very close actually,” said Stella. 

 

I didn’t want to forgo my evening shower so Amy and I went to the shower room with Stella and Cali. I very much did not want to risk the bathroom alone while Kaylee was still angry or walk back with just Amy either. 

When there was no sign of any threat in the bathroom, Stella and Cali proceeded to take their time. Stella was apparently very hot and bothered from seeing Cali’s heroic defense of me. She was loud enough that pretty much everyone avoided any shower stall on their side of the bathroom. They had invited me to join them and on a better day I would have been happy to, sadly I was still on my period and feeling crummy so I declined.

Stella and Cali eventually emerged, both looking very flushed and pleased with themselves. They escorted Amy and me back to our cell. It was close enough to lights out we weren’t worried that Kaylee might try to corner me there. 

When I stepped into my cell, I found my notebook sitting on the middle of my bed with a construction paper rose on top. I picked it up. 

“Is that the one Kaylee took?” asked Stella.

I flipped it open. I could see my notes from earlier that day, the start of the new Princess Isabella story I was working on with Izzy. Then I noticed a dark brown stain on the edge of the book. I knew bloodstains when I saw them. 

I dropped the book. “Oh goddess, I think Camilla might had Kaylee shanked.”

That was when the five minute bell rang and there was no more time to talk. Stella and Cali had to head back to their own cell. I felt sick to my stomach and couldn’t bring myself to even move the notebook from my bed, Amy had to take it or I would have never lain down. 

 

I barely slept that night, drifting off only a short time before the morning bell rang. I expected the prison to be in lockdown that morning but it wasn’t. There was no sign of Kaylee at breakfast. Amy went off to collect gossip and came back with some news.

“Kaylee’s in the infirmary with a concussion, black eye, split lip, and a broken nose.”

It was a rather long list or injuries but at least she wasn’t dead. As afraid of Kelly as I had been, I still felt deeply troubled. I felt like I had to say something to Camilla. 

I had one of the last chapters of the sword and sorcery story she liked ready so I took it to her directly. I found her out in the prison yard holding court. She sat on a picnic table, her lackeys ringed around her as several women waited to talk to her. 

From the way one of the women’s hands were shaking, I suspected she was one of Camilla’s clients and probably currently lacking the funds for a new hit. She seemed to be rather plaintively pleading for something. Camilla’s face was utterly blank.

I had turned on my heels to come back another time, when Camilla saw me and the papers in my hand. 

“Emma wait,” she called. She had only to wave her hand for everyone around her to fall away.

It would have been rude to walk away after that, so I went over. “If this is a bad time, I can come back.”

She motioned me to sit next to her on the table. “I always have time for you. Is that the new chapter? I’ve been waiting to find out what happens next. You chucked Lady Aurelia off a cliff in the last installment but I’m assuming she’s fine.”

It was damn hard not to like her when she grinned at me like that. Yet, I couldn’t forget how different her entire demeanor had been a moment before. 

“It is,” I said. “Don’t worry she grabs a tree branch on the way down.”

She accepted the pages. “Did you want a book or more tea for this one?”

A difficult question indeed. “Tea, if it’s not any trouble but I’d love something of Byron’s for the next chapter, if you can get it.”

She tilted her head. “I never took you for a fan of his.”

“I’m allowed to like the poetry and books of overly pretentious dramatic assholes if I want. I borrow from him shamelessly often enough for my more dramatic heroines, especially the pirates. I ripped of his description of the pirate Conrad from The Corsair for my Captain Scarlet.”

“Anyone ever tell you that you’re talents are wasted on romances?”

“It’s the only one where I can get away with blatantly Byronic heroes and yet still not get called pretentious. Plus I can’t seem to write anything for adults without a sex scene every couple chapters and that’s frowned on in most mainstream novels.”

“I can’t say I mind,” There was no hiding the interest in her dark eyes. For all the times we had talked, it was actually the first truly heated look she had given me. I felt my own pulse speed up. 

I did not think my next line through very carefully. “You and about half this prison.”

The edges of her eyes crinkles with amusement. “So I’ve noticed. You’re doing about as well for yourself as Byron ever did.” 

I think it might have been the politest way a woman had ever called me promiscuous.

I answered with as much whit as I could manage. “I’ve got to get the inspiration for my stories somewhere.” 

She leaned towards me ever so slightly. “If you ever need ideas…”

I was so damn tempted, still caution held me back. “I heard what happened to your last lover.”

She drew back as if I’d thrown cold water on her. “I kept Nancy safe.”

“From what I heard, it was under heavy guard and in fear for her life from your enemies. Charming as you are. I can’t live like that.”

She hunched her shoulders. “You’ll certainly never be called a fool.”

Whatever sort of moment we’d been having was irreparably shattered. If only I had just kept my mouth shut. I figured if everything was out in the open, I might as well get to the reason I’d come to speak with her. 

“Listen, I know you meant to help me by getting back my notebook from Kaylee but...”

She held up a hand to cut me off, “That wasn’t actually me.”

I looked at her incredulously. “Really?”

“No. I was going to to personally have some words with her today but she was already in the infirmary this morning.”

I didn’t think she was lying. 

She misinterpreted my look.

“I still can if you want.”

I shook my head quickly. “No, I don’t think she’ll bother me again.”

“If anyone ever threatens you, you can come to me. I’ll deal with it, no strings attached.”

I could have said a lot of things in response. I knew after the day before that there might well be times in the remaining years of my sentence that I would need protection. I also knew that as long as I had friends like Cali, I already had protection and with a lot fewer complications that if it came from someone like Camilla. 

I didn’t want to say any of that, so instead I said, “I know.” 

We sat for an awkward moment and then I stood and stretching. “I’m sure you’ve got things to get back to. Let me know how you like the chapter.”

“I will.”

 

I spent the rest of the morning during my shift in the library contemplating the matter. So Camilla and her crew hadn’t been the ones to beat up Kaylee. I suppose I should have realized that when the notebook appeared with a paper rose. If I thought about it logically, whoever was giving me the roses could never have been Cassandra. 

The roses had always appeared with simple gifts that could easily be gotten at the commissary, like candy or hair ties or pencils. Cassandra had always paid me for my stories with things only she could get, like books that normally took a while to have shipping into the prison and legal but contraband items, like the good black tea.

My next thought was that may Officer Bradshaw had beaten up Kaylee. As a guard, she could have easily gotten an inmate alone and done what she wanted, likely with the help of other guards. She’d seen Kaylee threaten me outside the phone room and clearly been very upset about it.

Then again, she’d always seemed surprised to find the paper roses in my cell. As soon as I thought that I remembered that she’d also been the first person to find at least two of them. Maybe she was just a good actress?

 She was a guard though, she could bring in anything, why would she gift me things from the commissary. Maybe she hadn’t wanted to risk me getting caught with a contraband item? She and I had already had sex and had another rendevoue planned, surely if she’d been giving me paper roses she’d have owned up to it. 

The more I turned matters over in my head, as I shelved books that afternoon, the more I was certain that my mysterious defender and rose giver had to be someone else. Had it been Alex? She worked about but I wasn’t sure that even she could have held her own in a fight with Kaylee, not without at least getting hurt herself. I’d seen her that morning and there hadn’t been a mark on her. 

Alex also couldn’t read very well and she’d told me herself she was only familiar with the books of mine that Anna had read to her in the prison. I was fairly sure the paper roses were a reference to one of my YA books and I’d never seen any of them in the prison. 

That didn’t leave that many other possibilities. Cali had defended me in the cafeteria but she’d been loudly cavorting with Stella in the shower whenever Kaylee was attacked. 

I supposed I had slept with Gina and Mia. The thought of Mia in a fight was somewhat comical. Gina had some slight muscles to her but she was not a violent person. They were also very much in love/lust with each other and not likely to have been leaving me mystery roses. 

I had to conclude that my secret admirer was a woman I hadn’t slept with. That pretty much left me with all of C Block. I felt farther from an answer than when I had begun. 

Hopefully Amy or one of the others had had some luck collecting gossip and figuring out if someone in the prison had seen what happened. If I couldn’t fuck a woman without the entirety of the west wing of the prison knowing, surely a violent attack couldn’t have gone unnoticed. 

When I returned to my cell before dinner, I found Amy distracted by a different matter. She was sitting, staring at her mug of tea the way some women might have contemplated a glass of whiskey. 

“Hey,” I said and she glanced up. 

When she didn’t say anything I asked. “Everything okay.”

“I had tea with Anna again.”

I poured some of the hot water into a mug and dunked in the last of the good teabags. “How did it go?”

“She just kept talking.”

“Ah.”

“I kissed her and kissed me back but then we sort of stared at each other for a bit. Then she kept talking about how to refine meth as if nothing had happened.”

“I see,” I was tempted to laugh but I knew that would be unkind. 

Amy turned her cold mug of tea in her hands. “I mean she’s cute and nice enough but…”

“But?”

“I think she kind of gets on my nerves.”

“Then perhaps you’re not suited to each other. I mean, that’s the whole reason people usually start with coffee dates. They are a good way to figure out if you can even have a conversation with someone or if you annoy each other.”

“How do I tell her I’m not interested because she talks about boring things though!”

I sipped my tea. “You don’t tell her she talks too much. That would be rude. I mean, you never really want to tell a woman why your not interested unless she asks you point blank. Just don’t ask her for tea again. You only had two dates.”

“But what if she asks me to hang out?”

“Then you thank her for the offer but decline.”

She narrowed her eyes. “How do I do that.”

“You literally say. “Thank you for inviting me but I’m afraid I’m not interested.”

“Just like that?”

“Yea, just like that.”

She nodded and finally drained her cup. “Alright.”

“How the hell are you so good at this whole dating thing?”

I considered my own cup. “I’m not particularly good at dating, just at giving advice. It’s much easier to say than do.”

“Everyone says you’re really good at sex though.”

“Being good at one thing doesn’t necessarily mean you're good at another. I’ve always had an easier time with sex and friendship than relationships.” It was probably one of the most honest things I’d ever admitted to Amy.  

She looked at me with her blue grey eyes, already a bit too world worn for her young face. “Have you ever been in love?” 

“Yes, I was even engaged once.”

“What happened?”

“She decided she loved someone else more.” 

“I’m sorry, that sucks.”

“It did. I moved on eventually.” 

The dinner bell rang and we headed to the cafeteria. 

 

That night, just after the lights had gone out after we’d lain down in her bunks she said. 

“Are you an Alex like still a thing?”

“A thing?”

“Like are you still interested in her?”

I had to think about that for a minute. “I’ll probably sleep with her again, if I get the chance but its not serious.”

“Ah.” 

She didn’t say anything more for a minute. 

It occured to me what she might be asking. “Are you interested in her?” 

“Maybe, she’s cute and she doesn’t talk unless she’s got something to say. I don’t want to get in your way though.”

“I’ve no true claim to her or her to me. Ask her for tea if you want.” 

I had no idea if Alex would return Amy’s interest. She might though. Whatever else, although Alex and I had had sex twice, we’d never spoken words of anything more. I didn’t think there were any true expectations between us. 

“You really won’t mind?” asked Amy.

“I’m hardly jealous over women I’ve slept with.”

“And it won’t be awkward, if things work out with her I mean, not that I even know if she wants to drink tea with me much less anything else?”

“In my experience, life in general is awkward. Awkwardness is no reason not to do something.” 

“You’re right,” she sounded very determined. 

I was just starting to drift off to sleep when she asked. “So is she any good at it?”

“It?” I asked drowsily. 

“You know…”

“Yes, definitely.” 

“Ah, good then.”

 

I was in the middle of teaching my GED class the next day when two of the guards, Officer Jones and Officer Baker came to get me. I was less than thrilled when they interrupted me mid lesson but I couldn’t exactly refuse to go with a guard. I told the class to use the time to study and followed them out. I was sure my class was just going to play poker but I had to at least act like a teacher.

“Has something happened?

“The assistant warden wants to see you.” 

“Did she finally read my proposal for a literacy class?” 

Jones shook her head. “Definitely not that. She had us toss your cell again and wasn’t pleased when we didn’t find anything.” 

“Seriously, what’s she got against me?”

“She thinks your Camilla’s new moll.”

“Been watching Boardwalk Empire have you?”

Officer Jones made a dismissive sound. “Would you rather I said prison bitch?”

“I’m certainly none of those things to Camilla.”

“See if you can convince her of that and maybe he’ll let you be. 

The guards showed me into a small office with a window that overlooked the prison yard and then went to wait in the hall. The assistant warden was sitting behind a heavy wooden desk. The sturdy old piece of furniture seemed out of place in the ugly utilitarian room with its green walls and metal door.

The lean faced woman behind the desk had on a pair of reading glasses and was frowning at a file in front of her. 

“Sit.” she told me without looking up.  

She kept reading for nearly a minute. I knew a power move when I saw one and did not appreciate it. I knew I was an inmate but that was no reason to be rude or ignore me. I’d survived nearly seven years in an all girls boarding school. I knew how these kinds of authority games worked. I sat patiently, keeping any sign of annoyance from my face.

At least, her eyes still on the page she said, “you’ve got exactly the permitted amount of nearly every basic commissary good in your cell.”

“I do try to follow the rules.”

“There is no record of you buying most of those things at the commissary.”

I said nothing. 

“That means either another inmate is giving you those things or you are trading something for them.”

Trading was technically prohibited so I continued to keep my mouth shut.

“The guards tell me you’re selling porn.” She took a photo copy of one of my chapters from the folder and set it on the table. “Is this your work?” 

“It doesn’t have my name on it.” 

She half raised an eyebrow. Her resemblance to my former boarding school’s headmistress was terrifying. 

I sighed. “It is my pen name.” 

“So it is your writing.”

No point denying it. “Yes.”

“And you’ve been selling your smut for commissary goods?” 

“I share my writing with anyone who asks. Why would anyone here pay me for it? There’s a whole shelf of my books in the prison library, free for the taking.” It was a lie wrapped in a truth, the hardest sort to untangle.  

Her lips thinned dangerously. “The contents of the prison library are rather questionable.”

I let the insult slide off my back. “I have been trying to improve the selection at least. I wrote the warden a letter proposing several prison book donation programs that St. Cloud Prison could apply to.”

She looked at me over her glasses. “You really do play the sweet little librarian act to the hilt, don’t you?”

“I do actually have a degree in library science.” 

“Don’t think I’m fooled.” She pushed her glasses back up her nose as she looked at me down it. “I know exactly what you are.”

“A convicted felon doing time for aggravated manslaughter?” I’d been told more than once that my sarcasm would someday be the death of me but sometimes I just couldn’t stop myself. 

“A cunning little slut who’s trying to gain influence in this place.” Her voice was no louder than a whisper. “I know you’ve fucked about half your cellblock and have your sights on Camilla Bianchi.”

I kept my face blank. “Half the cellblock is a bit of an exaggeration.”

Her expression grew darker, “Don’t try to deny your involved with Bianchi. When  Kaylee Daniel’s threatened you publicly she found herself in the infirmary within the same day. If you’re not already Bianchi’s bitch, I have no doubt you will be soon. You’re clearly under her protection.”

“You’re making a lot of assumptions.”

“Don’t bother telling me I’m wrong.” She leaned back in her chair, a rather condescending and smug expression on her face. She seemed to feel she’d just won something. What that was, I wasn’t entirely sure. 

“You seem to  think me a rather opportunistic woman.” 

“That is exactly what I think. How would you like to get out of here early?” 

“Every woman in here wants to get out early,” I said carefully. 

“I’ve been trying for half a year to get something on Camilla Bianchi and not a single damn woman around her has caved. I think you might finally be able to provide me an in.”

“I hate to break this to you but even if I wanted to flip on her I have nothing on her. I’ve never even interacted with her beyond giving her some chapters from my next book.” 

“Do you really expect me to believe that your not fucking her? Your hardly a saint. I caught you on your hands and knees between two other inmates.”

“Yes, two inmates who had absolutely nothing to do with Bianchi or her group.” My face burned but I wasn't going to let her shame me. “Why would I get involved with someone as dangerous as Camilla when I’ve already got friends to watch my back?”

She didn’t have an answer for that. Instead she said. “So you agree she’s dangerous then. You must see that her and others like her being able to operate with impunity is why this place is like it is.” There was something fervent in her eyes. “You don’t take drugs as far as I can tell and you’re no violent. Can you imagine how much safer this prison would be for everyone if the drugs and associated violence were gone?”

She wasn’t wrong, not exactly. I still had no intention of endangering myself or betraying Camilla. She might think that bringing down Camilla would solve everything, I was pretty sures someone else would step up very quickly to fill the power vacuum. 

“I’m sorry but I can’t be of any help to you.” 

“You don’t want me as an enemy.”

“No I don’t, but as I said, I really can’t help you.”

“If you change your mind, ask a guard to bring you to me, say you want to talk to me about the book donation program.”

 

My class was long over by the time I was taken back to C block. I decided to head out to the yard for the hour left before dinner. As I stepped out into the yard, I passed a picnic table where I noticed Nelly lying back on the bench of the table, a very tattered paperback held up to block the setting sun from her face as she read. 

There was no mistaking the picture of a red paper rose sitting on top of a pile of books within a high school locker on the cover. I also recognized the title in its beautiful, slightly exaggerated gold script. Young Witch Rising: The Romance of the Rose.

I froze in my step, which was a mistake, because Nelly turned her head. She smiled when she saw me and then she seemed to remember what she was holding. 

For an instant our eyes met and an understanding passed through us. Then I forced myself into motion and kept walking. Well, that was one mystery solved the. 

Chapter Text

When Lucy didn’t come to the next visitor day I was left in an agony of worry. She’d come before, why hadn’t she again? Was one of her children sick. I was left waiting in the area outside the visitor room, my heart in my throat.  I had to wait nearly a half hour that evening to get to one of the phones. 

Lucy picked up on the first ring. 

“Lucy, is everything okay?” I spoke in one breath.

“It’s fine.” 

I waited for her to explain and after taking a breath she did. 

“I’m so sorry Emma, I couldn’t get to the prison. The creditors took the car.”

“What?”

“What about the money from the insurance?”

She burst into tears over the phone. “I...I didn’t realize how much was owed on the car and I needed to pay rent. It would have taken so much of the insurance money to make good on the car and I don’t know when I’ll be working again. The baby’s been so colicky, none of us are sleeping and I can barely get out of the house much less think of finding a job.” She also hadn’t worked outside the house since Izzy was born, her husband hadn’t let her.

She sounded so scared and overwhelmed. 

“It’s okay Lucy, it’s okay. You applied for welfare benefits like I showed you right?” 

“Yes, they said it is going to be months and I might still get rejected. The food stamps came through at least.”

I took a slow breath. “I’m going to call my publisher, I’ll make sure the next check comes to you.”

“I can’t take your money Emma. You’ll need that when you get out.”

I felt tears stinging my eyes. “Damn it Lucy. I need you and your kids taken care of more than anything else. Just take the damn money. It isn’t much.”

“I…”

“Take it for Isabella and Adam, please.”

“Okay.” 

After that she put Izzy on for a bit and that just about broke my heart. Izzy had no idea why our conversation had been cut off a few days before. I lied and said the prison phone lines weren’t very reliable. 

I called my publisher and left a message. My cell was empty when I got back. I laid down on my bed and couldn’t seem to find the strength to get up again. The dinner bell rang and I still couldn’t move. I could feel the familiar ache in my chest that usually meant the start of a depressive slump. 

I’d been dealing with depression since I was an adolescent. Over the years I’d been on and off a long list of antidepressants and spent a fair amount of time in therapy. It had never totally gone away but I’d learned to manage it. I could recognize when it was getting bad and usually knew what I needed to do. 

I’d actually been doing very well up until my sister stabbed her husband to death. I had kept it together through the trial, through my first months in the prison. Now though, when things were finally settling, I could feel all my carefully built internal walls crumbling. 

I knew what I would have done if I was free. Often, if I realized I was slipping, I could take steps, try to exercise, try to eat and sleep properly, find a therapist if I didn’t have one, try to figure out if I needed to go back on meds. In prison I couldn’t do most of those things beyond maybe try to get the doctor in the infirmary to prescribe something.

By some small mercy, it was Officer Bradshaw who found me still curled up on my bed as she was sweeping the block. She paused in the door.

“Emma, you okay?”

I tried to find words, “I’m just not hungry.”

“You know you’ve got to go to the cafeteria anyway.”

I tried to sit up, I really did. It felt as if some monster were tearing at my insides. I hated myself so much when the tears came, for showing so much weakness, for not being in control of myself. I’d never been the sort of person to cry in front of others before, then again I had nowhere to cry alone in prison. 

“Emma, sweetheart, Emma.” She was by my side in an instant, leaning over the cell to hug me. “What happened. Did someone hurt you?” 

I covered my face so that I wouldn’t get tears or snot on her shirt, “Nothing happened. I’m just worried about my sister. She didn’t come to visitor day because her car was repossessed.” 

She rubbed at my back. “Sh, sh, I’ve got you.”

I heard the sound of another guards heavy boots and then officer Jones’s voice cut through my haze. 

“Riley, what the hell are you doing? What if someone sees you touching her?”

“She’s upset.”

“It’s not our job to comfort them.”

“For fuck’s sake.” Bradshaw pulled away from me reluctantly. “Who the hell is around to see anyway?”

Jones sighed and leaned against the bars. “Any guard who wanders past. Riley, you’ve got to be more careful. Fucking her in a closet is one thing but this will get you in trouble. Maybe you could have pulled this off before but not with the new assistant warden sniffing around.”

Bradshaw straightened up, glaring at her.

Jones looked back at her unimpressed. “Damn, you’ve really got it bad don’t you?” 

Bradshaw glared harder. 

I finally found the will to stand, wiping my face with the back of my hand. I noticed a box of commissary tissues I’d traded for sitting beside the bed and used those to clear my nose. I probably sounded a lot like a distressed goose. 

“I’m okay really. I’ll get to the cafeteria.”

Bradshaw looked like she wanted to say more but instead she just watched me go. 

 

I spotted Kaylee in the cafeteria as I was on my way to sit with my friends. She looked pretty badly battered and still had her nose bandaged. She pointedly avoided looking at me and I did the same.

When I settled into a seat beside Stella, she nudged me. “Hey is everything okay?”

I didn’t really feel like talking about my sister. “I fell asleep in my cell.”

She could see how puffy my face was and gave my arm a squeeze. “If you ever want to talk about anything, I’ve got a good ear.”

“She actually keeps secrets too,” added Amy. “Unlike someone else I could name.” She pointed at Mia, who in an impressive show of maturity, stuck her tongue out. 

“If you didn’t want me to tell Alex you thought she was cute, why’d you tell me in the first place?”

“I don’t know, maybe because not everyone is an absolute blabbermouth like you! Why’d you have to meddle anyway, now I’m too embarrassed to talk to her.”

“You shouldn’t be,” said Mia. “She said she thought you were cute too.”

“Easier said than done,” grumbled Amy. “Maybe if I just wait, she’ll come talk to me.”

Stella had watched the whole interchange with some amusement. “Trust me honey, life is far too short to sit around waiting to get asked out. Fortune favors the bold.”

Cali, sitting to Stella’s right, chuckled at that. “That does describe you pretty well baby. I believe the first thing you said to me when you walked up to me in the prison yard was. ‘You’re hot, want to make out later?’”

Stella grinned back, “well, I tried making eyes at you and that didn’t work.”

“You did?”

“Yes, I think I even winked once. You’re just impressively oblivious.”

“What does making eyes at someone even look like?” I asked. 

“You know, looking really directly at a woman, maybe sort of looking up through your lashes and batting them.” Stella demonstrated, angling her gaze down and then slowly raising her eyes, making very direct eye contact. I felt a pleasant thrill go through me. I began to wonder when I might find a chance to tumble with her and Cali again. 

I glanced over to Cali. “She looked at you like that and you didn’t notice?”

Cali blushed, her sun worn skin darkening. “It’s not as effective all the way across the cafeteria or prison yard. I thought she might have been mad at me or had some kind of grudge.”

 “Why would I have been mad at you?”

“I don’t know niywhen I first got here I found I already had some enemies from women who’d worked for rival crime families on the outside. It wasn’t until I made it very clear that I wasn’t working for the Bianchi family anymore that people started leaving me well enough alone.”  

“If it’s not too personal a question, why did you decide to distance yourself from all of that?” I asked. “As far as I can tell, this prison is about the last place most people decide to reform.”

 She thought for a moment before replying. “After I ended up here, I finally had some time to think. I’m glad I was able to save that little girl and I don’t regret what I did to the men who hurt her.” She looked down at her mostly empty food tray. “The thing is though, I just kept thinking about why the kid was ever a kidnapping target in the first place. I don’t want to be part of a world where that kind of thing is normal, not anymore.”

Stella hugged her. “And you’re not.” 

It was always struck me as interesting how adamantly Stella hated all prison gangs or anything that had to do with criminal groups outside of the prison, even though she’d been a hacker herself. From what I could gather, while she found nothing particularly morally wrong about theft, she despised violence, intimidation and everything associated. 

Cali kissed her cheek and then kept talking, “I spent most of my life thinking that there wasn’t really another way. My dad worked for the Bianchi family and they always did right by us. When we got old enough, my brothers and I started working for them too. It was just what was done. Sometimes though, I think if I’d been a bit braver, I could have gone a different way with my life.

“I used to box, might have even had a shot at going professional. When I got out of highschool I wanted to at least give it a shot. My dad had a heart attack though and my family needed money while he was recovering. Camilla’s cousin offered me a job as a bodyguard for his family, so I took it. Then when I was working, there was just never the time to train and I ended up giving up on it, at least beyond just doing it for fun.” She shook her head as if chasing away memories. 

“Have you thought about taking it up again now?” I asked. 

She shrugged. “I’m a bit long in the tooth. I’m at the age most boxers would retire. I wouldn’t mind getting back into it or even learning to coach. As far as ever earning a living goes, my best best it probably to become a bodyguard again, if I can find anyone who will hire an ex-con.”

“We’ll find a way,” Stella promised her. 

 

After a bit of contemplation, I decided the best way to reply to Nelly’s roses would be with some of my own. I was promptly met with several difficulties. The first was that, while I was a talented writer, I wasn’t very skilled with a pencil or set of safety scissors. 

I let Amy in on the secret of the paper roses but she didn’t prove to be much better at actually making paper roses then I was. Half an afternoon spent with an origami book yielded only vaguely acceptable results. 

When we had it good enough, I took some of the photo copied pages of one of my old chapters and folded the pages folded them into a half dozen lopsided paper roses. It was probably the best use I could have put the pages, no one had much interest in renting old chapters. I’d taken most of the ones from the first book I wrote in prison and clipped them together into four complete copies and added them to my shelf in the library along with my other books.

I taped the paper roses to some plastic pixie sticks and added a couple sticks of foil wrapped gum on for leaves. I tied the entire bouquet together with a bit of string and it was done.  It looked alarming like the sort of project a grade schooler might make in art class but I figured it would do. 

Now I just had to get the bouquet to Nelly. I could have just handed it to her in the prison yard but if she hadn’t been bold enough to deliver her roses directly to me, I wasn’t going to do it for her either. The problem was that we lived in different cell blocks and prisoners weren’t allowed to enter blocks they didn’t live on. It wasn’t a particularly carefully enforced rule but considering the trouble I’d been having with the assistant warden, I didn’t want to risk anything. 

This meant I needed an intermediary, someone who could go to B block and put the roses on Nelly’s bed. I wasn’t entirely sure how she’d gotten her roses to my cell, since I’d never seen her sneaking into C block. She’d likely asked a woman from my block to do it. I did the same. 

Brie lived on B block and read all of my chapters. The next time I handed off a chapter to her in the yard, I asked her if she could sneakily deliver the roses to Nelly in exchange for the next several chapters for free. 

She accepted the odd looking bouquet with a bemused smile. 

“You just won me a half a pack of cigarettes. I was so sure Nelly was the one giving you the construction paper roses, Lina thought it was Alex though.”

“Wait, this was something people were betting on?”

“Yea, Lina saw Anna leaving the roses but we were pretty sure she was doing it for someone else. Anna ain’t exactly a romantic gestures sort of gal.” That solved the mystery of how the roses got there.

“I was kind of hoping you could be discreet about this.” 

She gave me a dubious look. “Secrets don’t last very long in this place but I can put off collecting those cigarettes from Lina for a bit.”

“Thank you.” 

She nodded, loseley folding the pages of the chapter I’d just handed her over the bouquet to hide it better. “So are you totally sure that Nelly is the one you want to be sending these too?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. It just kind of seems like my boss and you could have a good thing going if you wanted.”

“I’m not sure that would be a good idea, all things considered.”

She glanced around and after seeing no one near the picnic table we were sitting at she whispered. “Listen, I know it ain’t my place to say this but I kind of feel like I owe you, especially since you never told the boss I was the woman who fell into you during the fight. If you want to get with Camilla, you might actually be able to without becoming a target for Hanna’s gang.” 

“What do you mean?”

“Rumor has it that Hanna might have found herself a girlfriend. She’s been seen spending a lot of time with some cute accountant chick who’s in here for financial fraud. Maybe if both Camilla and Hanna have someone to protect, they might be able to reach some sort of agreement that lovers are off limits.”

“For serious?”

“In spite of as much bad blood is between them, they have made agreements before. There’s a reason the infirmary, the library, the phone room, and the garden are off limits for violence.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

 

I was just leaving the cafeteria after dinner when Officer Bradshaw called me over. 

“Brown, if you still want to go by the infirmary to talk to the nurse about your headaches, I can take you now.”

Amidst everything else that had been going on, I’d almost forgotten about our planned rendezvous. I did not in truth particularly feel like having sex at that exact moment. I also knew how much effort it had likely taken Riley to set things up for us to be alone. I didn’t want to waste that. If I knew myself, all it would take was for her to touch me and my desire would kindle.

“Yes,” I said.

She led me from the cafeteria and through a series of doors, her eyes on anything but me. It was as if she feared that if she let her gaze fall to me, if she looked back, I would be pulled from her arms as surely as Euridice was from Orphius. 

The nurse barely looked up when we came into the infirmary. She was a steel haired older sort who looked like she’d seen it all before and wasn’t impressed. I wondered what Bradshaw had offered her in exchange for her help and silence, likely no more than a promise of a favor. 

The storage room we stepped into was smaller than the last one and I saw no sign of any moving blankets or even crushed boxes to lay on the floor. It was all just shelves and a counter, with barely enough room on the floor to even lay down. I felt a deep hesitancy and shyness come over me as I stepped into the room. 

Before I could give it too much though, Bradshaw was pushing me against the door. Her body was lean and hard against my own, lips warm, and hands demanding. She was as good a kisser as she had been before and I felt myself melt into her. 

She started tugging at my clothes almost immediately. 

“Impatient, aren’t you?” I teased.

“I want to see you.” 

I doubted that the harsh fluorescent lights of the room would do me any favors but lust has a way of airbrushing us all. I helped her tug my shirt over my head and then shed my bra to avoid getting tangled up in the damn thing. 

She was already grabbing at one of my breasts when I ducked down. 

“Emma?” she asked in confusion.

“I’m getting you off this time. Lean against the cabinet or lie down.”

She opted for the cabinet. I scrambled at her pants and tugged them down. It’s not the easiest thing to go down on a woman while she’s still on her feet but it was a skill I’d had a lot of changes to refine.

When I pressed my tongue against her clit she made a wonderful sound and tried to tangle her hands in my carefully braided hair. She thought better of pulling my hair and moved her hands to grab at my shoulders. Smart woman. While I liked a bit of hair pulling under the right circumstances, I wasn’t a fan of the death grip some women tended to do right before orgasm. 

I began to work her clit alternating between licking at her clit and sucking harder and harder. She must have been on edge because she tensed and I heard the sound of her orgasm muffled by her hand. I would have thought she’d have needed a moment to catch her breath, but instead she was pulling me back up almost instantly. 

She caught me by surprise when she lifted me up and I found myself sitting on the counter. She crushed her lips against mine, pulling at my pants. I lifted my hips to help her. 

She wasted no time, pressing her hand against my center. She found me slick and brushed my clit before easing two fingers into me. 

I gasped and wrapped my legs around her waist, leaning back against the cabinet that was behind the counter. She fucked me quick and hard, reducing me to barely articulate moans. She had me on the edge so quickly and then pushed me over when she pressed her thumb against my clit in a firm hard circling motion, again and again.

She pulled away far to soon. I sat up on the shelf and watched with heavily lidded eyes as she finally chucked off her shirt and bra. She definitely found time to work out. I’d had a sense that she was strong, from her arms alone but her shoulders had a pleasing definition to them and her stomach was flat. Her freckles ran all the way down her neck and chest to dust her pale breasts.

She fetched a bag from one of the cabinets. It was all I could do not to burst into laughter. “Seriously, you smuggled in a strap-on again?” 

She grinned devilishly, “You seemed to really like it last time and I would hate to disappoint you.”

“Heaven forbid.”

I was impressed with how quickly she managed to get the harness on, she’d clearly had plenty of practice.

She kissed me again and I wrapped my legs back around her waist. I was more than ready when she pressed the dildo into me. I pushed back against her and in an instant we were moving. 

Fuck it felt good. The counter was just low enough to have us at a perfect level and if I leaned back against my arms I had the ideal leverage. We moved together, at first discordantly and then almost in sync. She had one hand on my hip and the other on the counter for balance.  

I was so damn close but not quite there. I got a hand between us to touch my clit and pushed myself the rest of the way. It took everything I had not to cry out my release in that tiny little room. 

I could have come again but she maddeningly drew the toy out of me. She traced her fingers over my slick cunt and then lower. “Ever been fucked in the ass?” she whispered in my ear.

I ran my nails down her back. “What do you think?”

That got a chuck. “God, you’re the perfect mix of saint and sinner.” She began to trace a single finger around the entrance to the part of me in question. 

“You have lube?” I asked.

“Of course.” She fetched a small bottle from the same bag she’d had the strap-on in and slicked her fingers. 

I moaned as she slowly began to press one into my ass. The feeling was intense and I had to focus on relaxing my body and accepting the penetration. I had some doubts about the size of the strap-on and whether I was in the mood to have anything that big in my ass but I’d see how things went. 

My breath grew ragged as she eased back that single finger and then pressed it into me again.

She kissed my cheek. “You doing okay beautiful?”

“Yes, keep going.”

I brought my hand back to my clit. I was so turned on even my own touch felt electric. 

She began to work a second finger into me. 

“Saint and sinner huh?” I asked.

She had the audacity to pinch my nipple. “Exactly. You’re all prim and proper and librarianish until I get you like this and then well…” She emphasized her point by beginning to slowly thrust those two fingers. 

The feeling was more than intense. I clutched at the counter, throwing back my head. “Librarians are sexy.”

She kept fucking me like that, nice and slow. “You certainly are, beautiful and sinful and perfect.”

“I don’t believe in sin, much less think sex is sinfull.”

“I don’t either.”

“Then use better words.”

She began to work in a third finger, nearly all articulate thoughts fled me. I’m pretty sure I actually managed to scratch the counter with my short nails.

She on the other hand, seemed to finally find her eloquent side. “I love how you lean into your desire, without fear or hesitation, as if it’s as natural to you as breathing.” 

I couldn’t seem to find the words to reply, hopefully my moans were sufficient. 

She touched the side of my face with the hand she wasn’t fucking me with, “Are you ready for this toy inside of you.”

“Fuck yes, not on the counter though.” I didn’t feel like I had enough control of my movements on my back on the counter like I was. 

“Hands and knees on the floor then?” She sounded like she’d been hoping that all along. 

In spite of everything I know I flushed even redder. “Yeah.”

She eased her fingers from me and I hopped down from the counter. The floor was cool beneath my feet. I folded my discarded shirt and shoved it under my knees.

She  kissed the back of my neck before she knelt behind me, slicked the dilo with more lube and then lined it up with my ass.

I felt a vague sense of apprehension as I remembered how substantial that toy actually was.

She stroked my side. “I’ll go slow. Tell me if you need me to stop. 

“Okay.”

True to her word she began to very slowly push the dildo into me. I had to focus very hard on breathing and relaxing my body. No matter how many times I’d done this particular act, the first part was always a bit intense. She’d perfectly prepared me though and I was open and ready. 

I was still breathless by the time she fully sheathed the toy inside of me. She waited, rubbing at my back.

“How are you feeling beautiful.” 

“Good, you can move.”

She drew the toy back out of me with as much care as she’d pressed it into me. By the time she began to properly fuck me, I was pressing back into her. We moved together, as desperate and wanton as two people could be.

She reached under me to catch a nipple and I couldn’t do much more than moan. She pinched and I gasped. The angle was too odd to keep leaning that far forward for long. Instead she got that hand between my legs and found my clit, rubbing in quick solid motions as she fucked me. My entire body tensed and shook when I came. She slowed her motions and waited as fell apart beneath her. 

“Again?” she asked.

“I’m spent.” The dildo was already feeling uncomfortable in me now that my ardor was cooling. 

She carefully eased it from me.

I slumped down onto the linoleum floor. It was cold and hard beneath me but I couldn’t seem to care. 

She slipped her arms around me, drawing me into the circle of her arms. That felt really good. I curled against her, resting my head on her shoulder. She drew me close. For at least a moment everything felt right with the world. 

It didn’t last. Soon enough she shifted and I think looked at her watch. “Shit, I need to get you back before count.

“Okay,” I still felt a bit too dazed to attempt moving. 

After she moved away I forced myself to move, to try and gather my clothes. She passed me a couples tissues and I cleaned myself up as best I could before I pulled my wrinkled clothes back on.

There was no time for anything more than a quick kiss before we headed back through the halls, forcing ourselves to walk so that nothing would look amiss. We separated at the gate to C block. 

Count had already started by the time I reached my cell. Officer Jones frowned at me.

“Don’t be late again or I really will have to write you up.”

“Sorry.”

She shook her head and headed to the next cell. 

Amy cast me a thoughtful look. “Bradshaw again?” 

I didn’t bother denying. It. Rumor moved at the speed of lightning and my leaving with a guard for two hours could surely not have been missed.

 I lay down on my hard bunk. My skin still smelled like Riley. I’d have given anything for her to have held me as I drifted off to sleep.

 

 

I was in the library, getting some writing done during my shift. Brie had wandered in and was browsing the shelves. She’d been branching out a bit in her reading lately. I’d lent her the copy of Murder on the Orient Express I had originally gotten from Camilla. Brie had really liked it. I had been gradually adding all of the books I’d gotten from Camilla to the library shelves. I could only read one book at once and others might like them. While most of the women wouldn’t pick up a classic on their own, if I explained how much violence, sex, or crime was in some they’d give them a go.

I heard someone else come in and didn’t give it much thought. At least I didn’t until I heard hushed voices and a book fall to the floor.

There was no mistaking when Brie said. “No!”

I looked up to see one of Hanna’s enforcers standing very close to Brie, a hand on her arm. Her name was Ali, if I remembered correctly. She tall and solidly built and would have been an attractive woman if there hadn’t been something so unsettling about her eyes. She had unremarkable brown hair she kept fairly short and surprisingly tan skin for someone who spent most of her time in a cell.

Brie should have easily been her equal in a fight and yet she drew back from her. It was strange to see such a normally confident woman look scared like that.

Rather than offering a threat, Ali seemed to almost be trying to cajole her. “Come on baby.”

Brie shook her head sharply, hissing. “No, you know you’re supposed to stay away from me.”

“Brie.” 

“Damn it! You know what Camilla will do. 

“I’m not afraid of her.” 

“You should be.” 

“Fuck her for meddling, you’re my girlfriend. Camilla’s got no say in it.” Ali caught her arm again.

From the expression on  Brie’s face, it looked like she’d grabbed hard enough to hurt. She didn’t resist, just hunched her shoulders as if trying to make herself small. I’d seen that behavior before, I’d seen my sister do it so many times.

I stood up sharply. “Let her be. The library is neutral ground. I won’t have fighting here.”

Ali turned and looked at me as if I were a kitten that had dared to meow. She promptly brought her attention back to Brie, her tone seductive. “Brie, baby, I told you I was sorry. You’ve got to stop ignoring me. I can’t stand it.” 

Brie tried to retreat again, bumping into the shelf behind her. “No, Ali please just leave me alone. I’m not your girlfriend anymore.” I’d heard my sister sound just like that too.

Ali’s body language shifted instant. She raised the hand she hadn’t grabbed Brie with. I knew she was going to hit her.

“Let her go!” I meant to scream but my voice sounded non louder than a mouse's squeak to me.

Ali paused, looking at me again. “This does not concern you.”

“Yes it does. This is my library. I won’t see anyone hurt here.” I stood my ground. I’d done the same with my brother in law enough times. He’d never dared hit me. He’d known I would have pressed charges even if my sister never would. 

Apparently Ali had no such concern. She let go of Brie and stepped towards me. “The hell are you going to do? I could seriously knock you flat with one hand.” 

She probably could. Fear tore at me and I struggled to fight it down. I couldn’t abandon Brie, not when I’d seen such familiar fear in her eyes. I had only words, so I used those.  “You can easily but if you do you’ll piss off a lot of women.” If nothing else she’d make an enemy of my friends and earn the displeasure of my readers. 

She tilted her head slightly to the side. “You Camilla’s new little pet then?”

I said nothing. Behind her Brie had been slowly edging away from her. Her face, normally so calm and easy was a mix of tangled emotions, none of them happy. If she’d been farther from Ali, if we’d been closer to the door, I’ve have grabbed her hand and run. As it was Ali was still between the door and us.

I kept my face blank. “Hurt me on mutual ground and neither your boss nor Brie’s will be happy.”

Ali took another step towards me. “I don’t know, I’m pretty sure mine’s just been waiting for a chance to stir things up.”

She moved forward and I stepped back. Shit she really was going to beat the crap out of me. 

“Please, Ali,” begged Brie.

‘Please what?” snapped Ali.

“Don’t hit her, she’s Camilla’s new woman. Camilla wanted to break your face in when you hurt me and I’m just her enforcer. What will she do for a woman she actually cares about?”

Ali turned on her heal. “I told you to tell her it was all just a misunderstanding.”

“You broke two ribs and my wrist,” she spoke very softly.

“It was an accident. You upset me,” she sounded like she actually believed herself. 

“No it wasn’t. You know it wasn’t.” Brie was on the verge of tears. 

Ali lowered her arms, her posturing easing into an almost welcoming stance. Her hazel eyes were more serpent like than any actual snake’s I had ever seen. “Baby, you know I never meant to hurt you.”

Brie edged towards me. I had no idea if she meant to protect me from Ali or thought I could actually protect her. “Yes you did. You did it again and again.”

“If you don’t come with me and get away from that medling little librarian right this instant, I will remind you of what I can do.”

And that was the moment that Officer Bradshaw and Officer Baker wandered past the closed library door. I saw them through the small pain of glass on the wooden door.

Let it never be said I was above calling for help. I certainly did in that moment. 

“Officer Bradshaw,” I pretty much screamed.

She slammed the library door open so hard it bounced off the wall. “Emma!”

I occured to me at that moment that things could easily go bad in a different direction. I absolutely could not risk setting the guards on Ali. No matter what another prisoner did, you weren’t supposed to get them in trouble with the guards. 

So I did something absolutely ridiculous. I shrieked and jumped up on my desk. “There’s a rat!”

“A rat?” Officer Baker was naive enough to believe me and began to look around. How that woman had survived as long as she had as a prison guard in St. Cloud prison was anyone’s guess. I suppose she was simply sweet enough that no one really took issue with her.

“Yes, it ran behind the bookshelf,” I lied

Bradshaw was not fooled. She offered me a hand down, “Brown, you screamed because of a rat?”

“It was a big one.”

“That must have been terrifying,” Bradshaw glared at Ali as she spoke. “Why don’t we escort all of you back to the prison yard, best not to stay in a room with a rat.”

From Bradshaw’s tone, Baker finally caught on that something was up, although she didn’t seem to have realized what. She trusted Bradshaw enough to not question her. They walked all of us back to the yard. 

Once we were through the gate, Ali gave Brie a meaningful look and then walked off. Bradshaw lingered long enough to be sure that Ali had left us in peace and then had to return to her duties. 

Brie leaned against the wall, trying to light a cigarette with shaking hands. After about three attempts, I held the lighter for her. 

“I’m sorry you had to see that.” 

“It’s okay.”

“Ali, doesn’t mean it, really she doesn’t. She just has a temper and…” She shook her head. 

“My sister used to say that. She said it every time her husband put her in the hospital.”

She hunched her shoulders. “I’m not stupid, I know she’s abusive. That’s why I’m not with her anymore.”

“She doesn’t seem to be taking your rejection very seriously.” 

“I know, I’ll figure something out. Listen, please don’t tell Camilla about this okay?” 

“I won’t if you don’t want me to.”

She let out a breath. “Good. Camilla said she’d beat Ali within an inch of her life if she ever came near me again. I can’t let that happen.”

I frowned. “You’re still protecting her.”

She finished her cigarette and let it fall to the ground before grinding it under her heel.  “Don’t judge me.” 

“Never. Just know you’re not alone.”

She looked at me for a long time. I know I wasn’t a terribly impressive sight. All the same, she gave me a nod of respect, “I’ll keep that in mind. If you see her coming after me again, please don’t try to get between us again. Camilla really will have her shanked if she hits you.”

Then she pushed off from the wall and cross the yard.

 

I found Stella and Cali hanging out on one of the picnic tables. Cali was sitting with her back to the table part and Stella had her legs sprawled in her lap, a cigarette in one hand and a book in the other. 

I joined them and asked what they knew about Brie and Ali. Stella knew the history of pretty much everyone one in the prison but unlike Amy and Mia, actually kept things to herself if you asked her too. Cali was a woman of few words at the best of times and certainly no gossip.

After I told her what had happened in the library Stella swore. “Shit, that’s not good.” 

“You know the history?”

She nodded. “Yes and it’s not good. Ali’s bad news, like actual bad news. Women like Camilla are dangerous because of their line of work, women like Kaylee are a problem because they let their fear and anger get the best of them. Women like Ali though, something’s genuinely fucked up with her. She’s the sort who will always hurt those she loves.”

I knew exactly what she meant.

Stella finished her cigarette and lit another. “I heard some of this through rumors and saw the rest from the sidelines. When Ali first got here about a year ago, she seemed nice enough. She said she’d gotten sent up for armed robbery and there was no reason to disbelieve her. She kept out of the gangs at first but she took up with Brie. They seemed happy enough for a bit. 

“Pretty soon though Brie started getting bruises. It took awhile for anyone to take any note of it. Brie’s one of Camilla’s enforcers. At first everyone figured that she was just getting hurt doing that. She was always bruised though, even when there hadn’t been any fights and there was no mistaking how spooked she acted around her girlfriend either. 

“It was around that same time that some rumors started circulating that Ali wasn’t in for a robbery at all but for nearly beating her last girlfriend to death. Camilla decided to step in. Maybe she gave a fuck about one of her crew or maybe she just realized it looked bad for one of her enforcers to perpetually have a black eye. 

“She told Brie to break it off with Ali but at that point Brie was too scared to. Ali had put one hell of a mental whammy on her. Camilla sent word to Ali to stay the fuck away from Brie and tried to leave it at that. It didn’t end there though. Ali caught Brie alone in her cell and hurt her badly enough to send her to the infirmary for over a week. 

“Camilla was ready to have Ali shanked at that point but Brie begged for her lover’s life. She must have been fairly convincing because instead of having Ali killed or beaten up, Camilla quietly used her influence to get Ali moved to the east wing of the prison. Rumor was that she had word passed to Ali that she was letting her live under the condition that she never spoke to Brie again. Ali signed on with Hanna’s crew almost immediately but she stayed away from Brie, at least she did until today.”

“Clearly she’s after her again.” I crossed my arms. I was more upset than I cared to admit. 

“Emma,” said Stella. “You need to keep out of this.”

Something inside of me knotted. “I won’t sit back and watch. I won’t, not again, not after my sister.”

“Brie’s not your sister, honey,” said Stella.

“And she’s got other’s to look out for her,” said Cali. “She’s part of Camilla’s gang, she’s not alone unless she wants to be.”

I still wasn’t happy. 

Stella saw that in my face. “Honey, don’t put yourself between those two. It won’t end well. If you see Ali going after Brie again, run to Camilla or any of her group. That’s the best you can do.”

Chapter Text

 

Thanksgiving pretty much snuck up on me. It was easy to completely lose track of the days in the prison, where nearly every day was nearly indistinguishable from the last. Thanksgiving had never been a holiday I’d much liked. As a child it meant I had to go home from boarding school for about a week and that had no meant returning to a happy household. 

It was a popular holiday in the prison. The food was a bit better, by mutual agreement, none of the gangs fought on that day, and everyone but those who worked in the kitchen got the day off from their prison job. 

When Stella told me that the whole day was basically free time, I got a bright idea. I had more than a few bottles of booze stashed in the garden shed from Margret paying me for chapters with it. While the hooch might keep forever, there was no guarantee that the guards wouldn’t eventually find it. 

I invited Amy, Stella, Cali, Gina, Mia and Alex to help me drink up the stash. They were all very happy to accept my offer. I hadn’t initially intended to invite Alex because I was worried it might be awkward. Amy had asked me to though and I said I would. 

I made it clear to Alex that the invitation came from Amy when I invited her over a textbook in the library. 

She got a nervous look on her face, “you’re really ok with me getting involved with your cellmate?” 

I felt a slight sense of unease that sometimes came over when I was missing something. “Yes.”

She looked at me with those clear blue eyes of hers and I knew she was seeking something more. “So we have…”

I felt guilt chew at my gut. “Friendship and desire, nothing more.”

I was a writer and yet I couldn’t think of how to explain to her that my own heart was a tangled mess. She might have wanted more from me, perhaps even deserved it, but I did not have it to give. I couldn’t help but feel that perhaps I had led her on, even if she’d come on to me first. 

“I understand.” She still sounded a bit hurt. 

“Listen, if it’s too awkward, you don’t have to come. Hell, if your not really interested in Amy…”

She shook her head. “No, I really like her. I have for a while, she just never talked to me so I always figured she wasn’t interested. Mia said she is though.”
I felt the  impulses to be both protective of Amy and somehow of Alex at the same time. They were both good hearted but so vulnerable and awkward in their own way. I didn’t want either to hurt the others feelings in her clumsiness, then again that was just the cost of romance wasn’t?

 

After a lunch of impressively dry turkey, my friends and I slipped off to the shed. Amy and I brought a decent chunk of our sweets and chips stash along. It felt a little bit like college, sitting on a blanket on the floor and passing around snacks and sweet strong booze. The air outside had a fall chill to it but the shed was arm enough with all of us in the small space.

Alex seemed a bit overwhelmed to be a guest among so many people she didn’t know well but she handled it well. If anything, she mostly just seemed overwhelmed to be sitting next to Amy, who kept shyly smiling at her. 

As Margaret's fine home brew began to take effect, the conversation drifted to the topic of first love and sex. I felt a pleasant sense warmth and inhibition seep through me as I got drunker. I ended up telling my story first. 

“Her name was Melanie Malone and she was my highschool roommate at the girl’s boarding school I went to. She had the softest black curls and a smile that could light up the world. We fell and we fell hard junior year. She was my first kiss and my first...well a lot of firsts. I was young and foolish enough to think I’d spend the rest of my life with her.”

“Awe, that’s so sweet,” said Mia.

“It was, while it lasted. Then I caught her kissing Maggie Smith behind the tennis courts.”  

“Oh no,” said Stella, unable to hide her amused smile.

“Instead of confronting her, I went and kissed Taylor, the captain of the field hockey team. It turned out she was good at a lot more things than just kissing and showed me in one of the shower stalls of the locker room. Melanie found out about that somehow and we had a huge drag out screaming fight. After that we spent the rest of the semester glaring at each other and running around with any girl but each other.”

“So much for young love,” said Amy.

I shrugged. “Eh, it wasn’t that bad. We got back together the second half senior year and had a good thing going for a bit. It all fell apart when we tried to do the whole long distance thing from different colleges. We’re still friends and keep in touch.”

Stella elbowed Cali. “What about you? I don’t think you’ve ever told me who your first lover was.”

Cali leaned back on her arms. “That would be Betty Sue Smith from three doors down in the apartment building I grew up in. She had hair the color of copper and the cutest freckles you ever saw. I used to bring her flowers I stole from the flowerbed in the park.”

Mia laid a hand over her heart, “that’s like a romance novel.”

“It was until her mom came home early and caught us in a very compromising position. Poor Betty Sue got shipped off to a cathlic boarding school. My parents handled it a little better. I think my dad had always figured I was gay but he never brought it up. He never really talked about much of anything anyway. For a couple weeks, my mom kept bursting into tears about not getting any grandkids from me. She eventually got over it when one of her more liberal friends from her church explained to her that lesbians can still have kids.”

“Poor Betty Sue,” said Amy.

“We were still able to write to each other. She did okay for herself, I mean she was a lesbian at an all girls’ school. It may have actually done her some good to get away from her really controlling family. One of nuns really encouraged her to go to college. She won a scholarship and got a business degree. Last I heard she runs a queer friendly sex toy shop in upper manhatan.”
That got a giggle out of both Amy and Mia. Amy leaned across the blanket to nudge Mia. “What about you?”

Mia, who was fairly tipsy by that point leaned over and hugged Gina who was on her other side. 

“She was.”

“Same,” admitted Gina, pulling her girlfriend closer.

Stella, who while not drunk was definitely very relaxed, laughed. “You two are seriously too cute for words.”

“We’re not cute,” protested Mia.

“I don’t know about me, but you certainly are,” Gina told her before kissing her. 

“Definitely cute, agreed Stella. 

Mia broke off the kiss and looked at Stella speculatively. “Wait, you think I’m cute?”

Stella took another sip from her water bottle of booze. “Yes, I’d have to be blind not to.”

“Wait, then why have you never hit on me?”

“I don’t hit on every woman I think is cute honey, there aren’t enough hours in the day.”

As this exchange was going on, Amy nudged me and whispered. “Alex and I are going for a walk. Can we take one of the bottles?”

I searched her face to make sure everything was okay. She was blushing so I figured that she knew what she was up to. I kissed her cheek. “Of course, go have fun.”

Alex and Amy slipped from the shed, now holding hands. Good for them. 

By the time I turned my attention back to the others, Stella and Mia’s conversation had taken an interesting turn. 

“I think you’re hot and I want you,” declared Mia. Let it never be said she minced words. “Can I...um kiss you.”

Stella glanced to Cali, who offered her an almost imperceptible nod and then she turned back to Mia. 

“Come here then honey.” Mia scrambled to Stella who pulled her into her arms for a very thorough kiss. 

I and everyone else in the shed watched in rapt fascination. I wasn’t sure if I should slip away or join then.

Stella caught Mia’s hands when they started to wander and forced the younger woman to look at her. “Okay honey, before we go any further, I just have to make sure you’re not too drunk and know what your doing.”

Mia giggled again. “I know what I want.”

Stella cupped her face. “Put it into words and you can have it.”

“I want to fuck you and I want Gina to watch.”

“We can certainly do that,” Stella pulled her into a kiss. 

As fascinated as I was by the sight of the two of them, I wasn’t sure if I had any place in what was about to happen. 

Then I felt Cali’s hand on my arm. All she had to do was smile and slightly arched a dark eyebrow. 

I kissed her passionately. Before I knew it, she’d rolled me beneath her. Getting my clothes off like that was a bit challenging but we managed. She was certainly a woman who knew exactly what to do with her hands. She caressed a breast as she worked her other hand between my legs. She started to circle my clit and I gasped and clutched at her shoulder. She lightly sucked at my neck and then kissed down to the same breast she was cupping. 

She drew my nipple into her mouth, making me shiver. She sucked lightly and then nipped. I claws at the blanket beneath me and moaned.

I saw over her shoulder that Mia was now busy going down on Stella. 

Then Cali pressed her fingers into me and I was lost. She began to fuck me, curling her fingers forward at just the right angle to make me moan. When I started to get loud she brought her mouth to mine and stifled the sound. I came when she brushed her thumb against my clit in a series of solid motions. Stella must have as well because I heard her cry out. 

I was easing down from my orgasm when I noticed Gina still sitting alone on the blanket, looking rather desperate. She seemed torn between watching Stella and Mia or Cali and me. In a somewhat impressive show of resilience, Stella was already sitting up, drawing Mia into another kiss, pushing the young woman onto her back. 

Cali kissed my cheek and then pulled away to Stella, caressing her back, nudging a hand between her lovers legs even as Stella kissed her way down Mia’s body. 

Inspiration came to me. I crawled over to Gina and nudged her. “So are you playing some devilish game with Mia where you have to just watch this whole thing or are you allowed to have fun too. 

She grabbed at me very clumsily and we kissed as I devested her of her clothes. I nipped her ear. “How do you want me to get you off?”  

“Fingers,” she gasped. 

She leaned back on her arms and I straddled her leg. When I slipped my fingers between her labia. She was so very wet and desperate. She made a low, needy moan when I pressed my fingers against her clit.

“Yes, yes.”

She would clearly be a very easy woman to get to beg but I wasn’t going to be that cruel, not when she was so desperate. 

I pressed two fingers into her eager warmth and she clenched on them. I didn’t waste any time, fucking her deeply and firmly as I brought the fingers of my other hand to rub her clit at the same time. She moaned and her leg trembled so badly she nearly threw me off my perch as the shudders of orgasm took her. 

“Yes! Yes! Yes!”

I slowed my fingers and kissed her again as soon as her cries eased. I was contemplating my next move when I felt a hand turn my face. I found myself looking at Mia. She grinned at me and said. “Keep fucking her.”  then she leaned down to kiss Gina long and deep. 

I did exactly as I had been told. Gina’s second orgasm didn’t take much longer than her first, caught between her girlfriend and me as she was. After she clenched on my fingers for a second time she slumped back onto the ground nearly bonelessly. 

Mia lay down beside her and I looked around to see if anyone had any energy left. Fucking Gina had wound me up again. Stella had already curled up in Cali’s arms, but she smiled at me and motioned me the very short distance over to her. 

“Lie down facing me honey, I’ll get you off one last time.”

I did and we kissed lazily as she reached down to find my clit. She took her time, building up my orgasm slowly. By the time she finally pressed her talented fingers into me I was so very ready. She worked me to my orgam until it washed over me like a wave at low tide. 

I truly was exhausted then but I wasn’t sure if I was welcome to stay where I was. She kissed my cheek, “scoot closer so I can hold you.” She snuggled happily between Cali and me. 

I felt as calm and content as I had in a long time. It was so wonderful not to have to rush from a lover’s arms. I must have drifted off because I woke to Stella gently nudging me. “Come on honey, we’ve all got to get back to the cells before count.”

Groggily I sorted my clothes from everyone elses and tugged them back on. We made our sleepy way back to the cellblock. I kissed Cali and Stella goodbye in the hall and headed back to my own cell.  

 I found Amy very drunk and happily singing to herself as she lay on her bunk. 

She blinked when she saw me and then laughed. “Your hair looks like a frazzled cat. What did I miss?”

“Orgy,” I answered honestly as I sat down on my own bunk and began to try to detangle my hair. “How was the rest of your afternoon by the way.” 

“Good, really good,” she announced as she gesticulated her arms wildly. “We made out for hours and it was really fun.” She hiccuped and laughed again. “I’ve never done that before.”

“Made out?”

“At least without having to fuck too.” She grew suddenly serious. “When Alex got kind of handsey, I told her I didn’t want to fuck yet. She actually stopped and didn’t get upset or anything. Then she asked if I wanted to just keep making out and I said yes, so we did.”

My respect for Alex increased. “Good.”

Amy drew her arms around herself. “No one’s ever stopped when I asked, that was really nice of Alex.”

I felt my heart knot. I wanted to tear apart everyone who had ever hurt her. From what I could gather, it was a fairly long list.  “Amy, someone respecting your consent doesn’t count as being nice, that’s just the bare minimum you should expect of a lover.”

She drew up her legs to hug them. “That’s no how it’s ever worked before.”

“You’ve known a lot of shitty abusive human beings.”

“I think I’m starting to see that,” her voice broke and she started to cry. 

I mentally cursed myself. I hadn’t meant to make her feel bad, especially when she’d been so happy a moment before. I went to her bunk and put my arms around her. She leaned against me.

“Hey, hey it’s going to be okay.” I’d never really known what to say to comfort a crying friend. Hugging her seemed to help though. Her tears were easing by the time the guards, Bradshaw and Baker came by for the count.

“Is she okay?” Baker sounded genuinely worried. 

“Yes, we were talking and a bad memory came up, that’s all.”

“Okay,” she replied. While Amy and I were supposed to stand up and come to the front of the cell for count they didn’t ask us too, just continued on their way.

Amy finally calmed, “why are you always so nice to me?”

“Because I need your help to run my literary smut empire in this prison.” 

That got the ghost of a laugh from her. 

“And because you were nice to me when I first got here and was scared and alone.”

“You didn’t seem scared.You were just all serious and quiet.”

“I hide things well.”

“You should teach me how to do that.”

“I’m not sure it is a very good way to go through life.”

We stayed as we were for a little longer until we both began to drift off and I slipped back to my own bunk. 

  

The next day I woke up with a truly impressive hangover. Life slumped back into the regular routine of waking painfully early, eating tasteless food, spending time in the library and teaching, running around the track in the yard and just trying to pass time in general. As always, I was writing constantly. 

Things had reached a point where between finishing up two novels, the next round of children’s stories, and the sheer amount of letters I was writing each day to try and get the damn prison library more books, I was getting some serious hand cramps. 

I’d never had particularly good handwriting and I’d been relying on Amy to make a good copy of each of my chapters before I had Bradshaw photocopy them. I tried to bribe her with more candy and cigarettes to make fair copies of my letters but she drew the line there, stating that while she loved my stories, she wasn’t my secretary. I was forced to actually try to make my letters legible. 

When I stepped into the prison library to find a clear plastic typewriter sitting on my desk, my heart nearly stopped. There was no indication of where it had come from but it wasn’t hard to guess. The damn things were supposed to cost over $225 at commissary but there hadn’t even been any to buy. There was a pack of ribbons and a stack of paper. When I looked closer I saw that someone had scrawled Library on the machine in black marker. 

I guess it was supposed to stay in the library. Sneaky, Camilla surely knew I might balk at accepting such a valuable gift for myself but if it was for the library how could I refuse? It would also raise fewer questions to have it in the library than if something so valuable suddenly appeared in my cell. 

It didn’t take me very long to figure out the new device. It was very simply built. It didn’t look very sturdy but it worked. I spent most of the morning typing up my next round of letters. I knew that my efforts were not likely to end up with a huge shipment of books in crates like that scene in Shawshank Redemption but damn if I wasn’t going to try. A woman’s got to have goals.

I was so absorbed with the nearly flight like feeling of my hands dancing across the keys that I didn’t hear Camilla come into the library.

She leaned on the desk grinning “Do you like it?” 

I started and nearly fell out of my chair. I looked up at her feeling deeply embarrassed. “I’m guessing you might have had something to do with this unexpected addition to the library.”

She pretended surprise. “What, me? Donate something to a library. I’m far to disreputable for that sort of thing.”

I couldn’t help but grin back. “I’m very grateful to whoever it was then.” 

Then I did something very foolish. I stood up and kissed her across the desk.

She froze for half an instant in surprise and then kissed me back. She tried to pull me closer, although that was a bit challenging with the desk between us. She proved to be a very good kisser. 

Had it been one of my novels, we’d have probably gotten up to all sorts of things on that less than load bearing surface. As it was, the two o’clock bible study chose that moment to tramp into the library. It was mostly a group made up of older women and a few younger ones who’d apparently found religion on the inside. Camilla’s guards might have been nearby but as a general rule they never got in the way of anyone who wasn’t an actual threat to Camilla. 

I tried to draw back from Camilla but she didn’t want to let me go, trailing a hand down my arm and looking at me with eyes burning with need. I might have decided to hell with it and kissed her again but there was a loud coughing sound. 

Betsy, a big haired preachers wife who was in for embezzling church funds, was giving me a very judgemental look. She’d actually been fairly nice to me when I’d first ended up in prison, at least until it had become public knowledge what I did for a living. She’d turned rather cold to me after that and even called me a lesbian smut peddling jezebel to my face. Apparently she’d also referred to me as the librarian whore of Babylon to my back. I mostly took offense that she hadn’t felt the need to share such a creative insult with me directly. 

I met her gaze levely. “Don’t worry, we’ll keep it down.” 

 She huffed . “Honesty, I would think you would at least behave with some decorum during your library hours. I’d like to have at least one bible study without being reminded of the degenerate debauchery of this place.” To her credit she did have a pretty decent vocabulary. 

“You have your philosophy and I have mine. You say debauchery, I say Carpe Diem.”

“Heathen,” she grumbled but said nothing more as she headed for the table in the back of the library that the bible study used.

Glenda, who was also part of the bible study, although no friend of Betsy’s, told me, “pay her no mind dear, she’s just a cranky soul.”

One of the younger women also offered me a dramatic eye roll and made a face at Betsy’s back. Clearly there was dissension in the ranks. 

I turned my attention back to Camilla. The moment between us had passed and I could feel my own hesitation and awkwardness creeping back in. I sunk back into my chair. What the hell had I been thinking?

She saw the look on my face and didn’t push. “I read the last chapter of Lady’s Honor: The Spring Court last night. I loved how you ended it with Lady Aurelia escaping from that tower on her own to rescue Sir Lionel from that dungeon.”

“Thank you.” While the constant backseat writing that other prisoners kept trying to offer me got tiring, praise never did. 

“Do you know when it will come out? I’d like to order a copy when it does”

I felt my mood dip. “I’m afraid the only paper copies there will ever be are the ones in the prison.”

Her face fell, “did your publisher reject it?”

“I sent my editor the first chapters and she said she personally liked them. The problem is that the first in the series never sold very well and paper is expensive. She agreed to get the publisher to put it out as an ebook. I had to forgo getting an advance in exchange for a higher percent of the royalties though.” 

“That’s a raw deal. Maybe you should go to a new publisher.”

I leaned back in my chair so I could fight down the urge to lean towards her again. “It’s not really, Rainbow Ink is a business, I’m lucky they are even willing to pay the cost associated with copy editing and marketing an ebook for an unpopular series.”

“But it’s so good. What if you self publish?” She seemed to genuinely care. 

I shook my head. “That’s never a good idea for a second work in a series. Rainbow Ink still has the rights to the first book and even though its out of print in paper they do still sell some digital copies. Anyone who wants the next book will want to buy from them, not go mucking around on the internet looking for it.”

She looked rather disheartened. 

“Hey, it’s really not that bad. I actually sell as many e-books as paper ones these days. Anyone who’s waiting for this sequel will still get to read it, just on a kindle or something similar.”

“I never could warm up to those things.”

“Traditionalist are you?”

“In some ways, certainly not others.” I suppose that had to be true. She was a married woman and yet was was pursuing me. I assumed she had an open marriage but I didn’t actually know that for certain. What I knew in that moment was there was no mistaking the heat in her look. I was rather tempted to kiss her again just to fuck with the bible study. 

The library door banged open again, this time Lina hurried in. Without pausing she rushed to Camilla’s side and whispered something in her ear. I caught nothing but the name Brie. Camilla swore a very creative blue streak and then pushed away from the table. 

“I’m sorry Emma. I’ve got to go.”

Without any further explanation she rushed out. 

 

By dinnertime everyone knew that Brie was in the infirmary. She hadn’t said a word about who had put her there but everyone knew. The tension in the cafeteria could have been been cut with a knife. 

That night I was standing under the warm spray of water in the shower when I heard the curtain swish back. My eyes snapped open. I might have fucked in the shower before but I hadn’t invited anyone that night. 

I found myself facing Hanna O’Sullivan. She was fully dressed and had her arms crossed. She was not actually that physically intimidating on her own. She was of average height and perhaps a decade and a half older than myself with a world worn face. She didn’t necessarily work out but she wasn’t scrawny either. She wore her curly brown hair in a neat french braid. The way she stood though, there was no mistaking that she was accustomed to giving orders.  

I let out a gasp of surprise and pressed my back against the wall, too surprised to even cover myself. I clenched my hands into fists instead. I barely knew how to throw a punch but I didn’t need to win a fight, just get past her.

“Don’t fight and don’t scream. I’m not here to hurt you. I want you to pass on a message to Ms. Bianchi for me.” There was no mistaking her heavy Boston accent. 

“I don’t work for her.”

She tilted her head slightly. “I didn’t think you did. Rumor is though that Camilla is more than sweet on you, even if you’re still apparently fucking half your cell block as well.” She took her time looking me up and down. I saw only calculation rather than lust. “You seem like kind of a skinny little thing to me but I suppose there is no accounting for taste.”

“What do you want?”

“Tell Camilla that if she wants your pretty face to stay unbroken she will promise me the same protection for Paige. I know things are about to get ugly again and I want her word that she’ll leave my girlfriend out of it.”

My stomach knotted. “I’ll tell her.”

“Good,”

She turned and was gone as quickly as she had appeared.The moment she was gone I slumped against the wall, my heart a frantic bird inside my chest. I turned off the water, toweled off as quickly as I could, dressed and then headed straight to Camilla’s cell. 

Chapter Text

There was no mistaking that I’d clearly walked into some kind of war council the moment I got close to Camilla’s cell at the end of the hall. All of the more important women associated with her gang had gathered. My determination faltered and I turned to go when I was halfway down the hallway.

Lina, who was at the edge of the group, saw me.

My face and wet hair must have tipped her off that something had happened. She stepped away from the others to talk to me “Emma?” 

 “Hanna just threatened me in the shower, I need to talk to Camilla.”

“Shit, hang on a moment.” She went to talk to Camilla and a moment later all the other women stepped away. Lina ushered me into Camilla’s cell. The gang leader was already on her feet. 

“What happened? Did she hurt you?” She caught my arm, worriedly looking me up and down.

“No, she just surprised me. She said she wanted you to give her your word that you wouldn’t hurt her girlfriend or she’d hurt me.”

Her face went from worried to furiose in an instant, “That fucking hypocritical bitch.” She let go of my arm and turned away. “She tormented Nancy with her constant threats, made her live every day in fear for half a year until I could get her out of this fucking place. I fucked offered to even let her have dominion over her cell block if she’d lay off and she wouldn’t. How dare, how dare that bitch think she can just ask me to leave her lover alone now. How dare she.”

Her entire body was a map of tension and her hands were balled up like she wanted to hit the wall. 

I knew I should keep my mouth shut but I couldn’t. “You’re not going to hurt Paige are you?” I didn’t know the woman very well but she often came to the library for mystery novels and seemed nice enough. She had nothing to do with the drug trade in the prison and I’d not have even known she was involved with Hanna if I hadn’t been told.

Her shoulders slumped. “No. Hanna might think that anyone is fair game but I won’t stoop to her level. If nothing else, I was raised better than that, even in gang wars there have to be non combatants.” She rubbed at her face. “At least that’s how it always used to work between the old crime families, not that Hanna would respect that. She was no one before she ended up in this place. She’s just a common murder who managed to build a prison empire by being meaner than anyone else in here. She hasn’t got a professional bone in her body.”

Professional seemed a very odd word to apply to the matter but it did explain a lot of how Camilla saw things. 

She sighed. “You don’t need to be scared. I’ll give Hanna my word and you’ll be safe.”

I didn’t realize that I had been holding my breath until then. Camilla’s reassurance snapped a thread of tension within me. I was no coward but Hanna had terrified me. She’d looked at me like she would have been as happily slit my throat if she thought she could benefit by doing it.

Camilla moved to me, taking my hands so that I raised my eyes to hers. “Shit, Emma. I’m sorry you got caught up in all this. I never meant for you to”

I almost said it was okay, except it wasn’t really. I started shaking.

“Emma, hey, Emma.” She drew me to sit down on the edge of her bunk.

I couldn’t seem to stop trembling. I was coming down hard from my earlier adrenaline surge.

She drew me into her arms. “Hey, hey, it’s okay. You’re safe now. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

I wanted to say that I was fine, that until I’d met her I didn't need anyone to protect me. The words didn’t come. Instead, I hid my face against the rough fabric of her shirt. She smelled really good, like vanilla. 

I found myself, somewhat bizarrely wondering if she’d had better soap smuggled in or if she had gotten some vanilla extract from the kitchen and put it behind her ears. Mia had done that for a bit until the head cook, Glenda, had caught her and told her to stop wasting good baking supplies.  

Mia had tried to explain that it was to make her seem more mysterious and sexy to Gina. The old cook had laughed her ass off and told her that clearly she had no trouble attracting her lover since, not with how often she’d caught the two young women in the back pantry.

The feel of Camilla’s hand against my back brought me back from my thoughts. She rubbed slow circles and I felt myself begin to calm. I knew I should pull away. The last thing I needed was to get any closer to her now. I’d never been much good at doing the smart thing, not for myself at least. I wanted nothing more than to stay where I was curled against her. 

The five minute warning before lights out bell sounded. I still didn’t want to move. 

“Emma?” the sound of Bradshaw’s voice from the door of the cell nearly startled me out of my skin. I jerked up right but didn’t pull away from Camilla. 

Bradshaw’s eyebrows were drawn together with worry and confusion. I felt almost guilty. 

“I should get back to my cell before lights out,” I said to no one in particular and stood. 

Camilla watched me go with sad dark eyes. 

Bradshaw fell into step beside me. “Everything okay?” she asked quietly. 

I knew better than to tell her that Hanna had threatened me. We may had slept together twice but she was still a guard. Anything she might do would likely make my situation more precarious and she was not the sort of woman who could sit by and do nothing.

“Everything’s fine,” I lied. 

She cast a glance at me, lips thing with concern. “You’ve been here long enough to know how dangerous Camilla is.” 

I kept my eyes straight ahead. “I know.”

“Then…”

I wanted to tell her everything but I just kept my lips pressed together. I wished so desperately that she wasn’t a guard. I ached to fall into her arms like I just had Camilla’s but I couldn’t.

She caught my arm a few steps from my cell. She shouldn’t have done that, not in the hall where other inmates or even a passing guard might see. “Is she threatening or forcing you?” She whispered

“No.” I shook my head.

The question remained in her face. 

“I know what I’m doing,” I said and stepped into my cell. 

She had no choice but to walk away. She looked back over her shoulder once and the look in her eyes made my heart ache to its core.  

 

Everyone in the prison was on edge the next day. After I told Stella what had happened she insisted that no one in our friend group go anywhere alone if they could help it. 

“How bad can it be?” asked Mia as we all leaned against the wall in the prison yard. She had just tried unsuccessfully to bum a cigarette of Stella. As compulsive a smoker as Stella was, she was also fairly adamant about trying to keep her younger friends from picking up the habit. I’d given Mia some gum and she was chewing it loudly.  

“You weren’t here last year. It was fucking bad. Three women died, my friend Julie included  and one woman ended up paralized from getting shanked in the back. There was a minor riot at the height of things, mostly because I think everyone was just so goddamn nervous and wound up.” 

“Shit,” said Gina. 

“Basically. Last time it didn’t stay completely contained to women in the two gangs either. Too many women in both groups have lovers or friends outside of the groups and a lot of violence and revenge spilled over. The worse happened when some of Hanna’s crew went after Anna. Back then Anna was dating Lina.”

“Wait, those two really?” 

Stella shrugged, “It didn’t last. Anyway, a couple of Hanna’s crew knew that Anna was seeing someone Lina, who’s in Camilla’s gang and cornered her in the showers. That front tooth she’s missing isn’t actually from her years as a meth addict, it’s from the beating those bitches gave her. Lina found out and went after the first of Anna’s attackers she could find, Niki. She shanked the woman, bad enough to send her to the hospital. 

“Niki had a girlfriend, Lainey, outside of Hanna’s gang. After Niki was hurt, Lainey set out to get revenge for her. She caught Lina by surprise in a hallway and broke a couple bones. A couple of Camilla’s crew went after her the next day in the laundry, without getting Camilla’s permission. 

“It turns out that Lainey was a good friend of Nellys, so when Nelly saw three women trying to beat the shit out of her friend, she ran to her defence. No one won that fight before the guards stopped it but everyone was bloodied. 

“When Camilla heard, she wasn’t happy that women in her crew had acted without her permission, much less that another non gang affiliated person had ended up in the fight. She actually went to both Lainey and Nelly and made peace before that particular line of violence could snowball any further.”

“Made peace?” 

“She offered her word that her crew would never attack either of them again if they left her people alone. She also bought them both off with a shit ton of cigarettes. Lainey wasn’t thrilled but she was smart enough to realize she didn’t have Hanna’s protection and her girlfriend, Niki was still in the hospital so she couldn’t watch her back. She took the cigarettes. Nelly had never had a quarrel with Camilla’s gang beyond protecting Lainey, and as quarelsom as she can be, she sure as hell didn’t want to get caught up in a gang war.”

“After that Camilla made it very clear to her people that anyone outside the gangs was off limits to her crew. It wasn’t a bad idea, she didn’t need any more enemies than she already had. It also meant that the general population felt a lot more kindly towards her than Hanna. 

That was a lot of history. “I don’t think I’ve ever met Lainey or Niki.”

“Lainey got parole a couple months ago and Niki got transferred to another prison.” Stella finished her cigarette. “Standing here it seems impossible but sometimes people do get out of this place.”

Cali leaned over and kissed her cheek, “We’ll both be out of here someday too.”

She lit another cigarette, “If we don’t just end up right back in.”

Cali put an arm around her waist. “We won’t baby. I will find legit work even if have to work in a warehouse or something else instead of working as a bodyguard.”

She leaned against her lover. “You going to support me then?”

“I can’t say you ever struck me as the housewife sort,” Cali chuckled. 

“Yeah, and I doubt we’ll be able to afford much more than some tiny apartment. It’s nice to dream that I’ll find a digital security job but I’m pretty sure I’ll just end up working in some bar shitty enough not to care that I’ve got a record.”

“We’ll be together,” said Cali warmly. “That’s what matters.”

Stella’s expression softened. “Yes, with doors we can open and close whenever we want and a kitchen we can make food in when we’re hungry and a bathroom that we don’t share with half a prison.”

“That sounds pretty good to me.”

“Imagine, someday we may even miss fucking in the prison shower.”

Amy smirked and shook her head, “I can’t promise you that all of C block, will not, however, miss hearing you two caterwalling in the showers.”

Stella huffed. “We’re not that loud.”

“I’m surprised you’re not an opera singer with the high notes you hit.” said Amy goodnaturedly. 

I was reasonably sure that Amy had never seen an opera. She was, however, a major fan of Looney Tunes. She as glued to the prison TV any time someone put them on and she had likely seen the episode where Bugs Bunny runs around in a cone bra and a horned helmet singing. 

Stella offered her a smile. “I’ll take that as a compliment honey.” 

 

That afternoon, I was in the library typing up another plea for more books, when the prisons book club called me over to the table they were having their meeting at. The book club consisted entirely of women of a certain age who liked the sort of books that good natured talk show hosts often touts. The one great achievement of the last prison librarian was to get the prison signed up for bi monthly donations of excess books from a certain celebrity endorsed book club. This was the reason we had ten copies of The Notebook. 

The book club books had actually continued to arrive well after the last librarian got parole and several women still read them and met once a month to discuss them. When not brewing the prison’s finest hooch, Margret headed the club. The other members included Glenda as well as a Titiana, a middle ages black woman who ran the laundry, Lin, a tiny elderly chinese woman who headed the grounds crew, and Joan, a grey haired hippy who rumor had it had once successfully managed to grow pot among the weeds on the outer fence. 

I was a little worried that they wanted me to join their club. As the prison librarian, I would be obligated to if they asked but I just didn’t have much of a taste for the more sentimental sort of books that showed up once a month for them. 

Margret nudged a packet of cookies towards me, “Emma, we’ve been wanting to ask you something.”

I felt odd, especially with how they were all staring at me. “Sure,” I said.”

“You know I like your writing,” she began. “And I’m bisexual so I do love your sex scenes.”

“We all like your stories,” said Titiana, I’ve got no particular interest in women but I appreciate good smut when I read it and you do a hell of a lot better job describing pleasure and orgasms than anyone else I’ve read.”

That got a general set of nods. 

I let out a sigh. “Please tell me this isn’t about how I had Sergeant Jeffries sleep with Lieutenant Smith instead of Private Black. I’ve been hearing about it for a week since I put out the chapter. Honestly, if people would just hold their damn horses, they’d find out in the next chapter that she ends up with both of them.”

“Oh,” said Margert. “I did wonder, but no dear, that’s not what we want to ask. Have you ever considered writing anything other than lesbian erotica?”

I blinked. “I mean, I write kids books and I had a not particularly successful YA series for a while. I’ve tried writing no genre novels before but I’ve just never really been able to get into it, if that’s what you’re asking.” My attempts at writing anything more literary had proven surprisingly dull. I just couldn’t get myself interested in a story that didn’t have some fantastical elements.

The way they looked at me suggested that I hadn’t told them what they had hoped to hear.

“I’ve done some ghost writing as well.” I’d mostly done it when I needed money before any of my romances took off. Being a librarian wasn’t the most lucrative of careers on its own.

They all leaned forward. 

“Technically books 42-45 of the Mighty Magic Girls series are mine, so are books 33 and 37 of The Middle School Detective Club . I had to follow carefully laid out outline for all of them though and use the pre existing characterization, it really was basically paint by numbers but with words. I wrote the novelization of the Star Girl movie but I didn’t even get to come up with the dialog. I also wrote a Doctor Detective novels to go with the twelfth season. I had a little more freedom with that, they let me add a space pirate and a mechanical alligator.”

I knew disappointment when I saw it. Joan finally spoke for all of them. “Nothing with cocks then dear?” Let it never be said that he didn’t say what she meant.

I winced. I was very tempted to lie but I didn’t. “I ghost wrote the third book Dancing in the Embers in Josephina Angelheart’s series Fiery Flames of Passion .” I’d been really desperate for money when finishing my library science degree and my agent had talked me into it.

Margret’s eyes got huge. “Oh my god, I loved that one. A friend gave it to me to read and I almost didn’t since I never liked Josephina Angelheart. I read it anyway though and that book rocked my world. The man actually talked about his feelings and treated the heroine as his equal.”

“I’m glad someone like it. That poor book went through so many edits. I had to have a straight friend go through and correct things. Apparently I don’t understand penises very well.”

That got a laugh out of Glenda. “They are not that complicated nor are the men attached to them.” 

From what I had heard, she was still very in love with her husband but had never quite forgiven him for not burying the body of the man they murdered more deeply. They wrote long romantic letters to each other from their respective prisons.

“Well when your used to writing scenes with strap-ons it can be a bit challenging account for a character that goes soft after coming and having a refractory period.”

 All of the women at the table nearly collapsed with laughter. 

“Bless you dear,” managed Margret. “You’re very gay arn’t you.” 

“Pretty much. Listen, I hate to disappoint you but I’ll be the first to admit I’m a much better writer when I stick to what I know.”

Titiana sighed and shook her head. “I don’t think we’re going to talk her into writing a series for us.” 

“It was worth a try,” said Margret with a shrug. 

“Sorry.” I said. “At least, I’m still the prison librarian, if you want me to get you more straight romances, I’ll do my best.”

“I want more Diana Gabaldon,” said Lin. “I love anything in the scottish highlands much elss with scotsmen, especially red haired ones.”

“And Nora Roberts,” added Joan.

“Screw that I want Laurell K. Hamilton” said Glenda. I would not have thought her to be a fan of polyamorous vampire hunters but everyone has a right to their own complex erotic fantasies.

“Hell, if we’re being honest then I want  the entire The Sleeping Beauty Quartet that Anne Rice wrote under the pseudonym of A. N. Roquelaure.” said Margret. My respect for her grew, if for no reason than that she could publicly admit to what she liked to read. 

“No promises but I will do everything I can to get you those books.”  Let it never be said that being the prison librarian was an easy gig. I needed to write more letters. 

 

My hands were stiff from typing by the time my library shift ended and I could head out to the yard. I was planning to lay down in the grass to soak up the dying heat of the day. I had just stretched out when Mia laid down beside me. It was unused to seeing her on her own but I noticed the Gina was across the yard playing basketball. 

“Hey lovely,” I said.

She stretched out beside me and rolled over to kiss me. I kissed her back. If American Gods had taught me anything it was that if faced with strawberries you eat them. 

I stroked the side of her face.“You being sweet for the hell of it or is something up?”

She flushed. “I want to encroach on your racket.”

My laughter got the better of me, “you mean ridiculous lesbian space erotica?”

She nodded determinedly.

I draped an arm around her shoulders and kissed her slender neck “The world always needs more of that genre. Welcome.”

She half covered her face in embarrassment. “The thing is, I don’t know if my stories are any good, much less if anyone will pay for them.”

“I’ll have to actually see your stories to pass any sort of judgement.”

She flushed. “You want to read my stories?”

“If you want to share them.”

She looked down at her hands. “I’ve been writing for a while but I  never dared share anything before. Then you just started selling chapters.” She took a breath. “You were never ashamed to admit they were yours. It was one thing when they were books on a shelf and another when I had your face to put to them.

“My face? I’m surprised I didn’t disappoint.”

She tilted her head back to look at me. “You’re pretty.” And then she kept talking. “Like in a safe girl next door sort of way.”

“Am I?”

She scrambled for words “I mean you feel real and not intimidating. You don’t look like some model or anything, you’re a real person.”

“I would hope so, I’m certainly not an illusion. 

 “And you’re all sweet and nice but in a sexy confident way. Shit I’m bad at saying this kind of thing. All I wanted to say is knowing that you write gave me the courage to try.”

I gave her shoulder a squeeze. “You really are a sweetheart Mia. Bring me your story and I’ll read it and give you feedback.”

 

She handed me a series of pages the next morning at breakfast but I didn’t get a chance to get to them until after lunch. I had to spend a surprising amount of time re-shelving books. My chapters had caused a recent renewed interest in reading other books and more than a few prisoners had started regularly checking things out. 

Women had also begun to ask me what they should read next. I now kept a table of recommended books, each one accompanied by a notecard of why I liked it. Those went pretty fast and I’d had to add more. 

I had just settled in to read Mia’s story when the library door banged open. Abby, one of Hanna’s gang, darted in. She was a scrawny young woman with lanky blond hair and a sallow complexion. I didn’t know her well but from what I had heard she wasn’t so much an enforcer as more of a messenger and lookout for the gang. 

Her muddy brown eyes were wide with fear. “Please, they’ll kill me. Don’t let them find me.”

I stood up worriedly, “who?”

She shook her head and ducked behind the shelves. An instant later the door to the library crashed open again and three women came in.

 The only woman I knew well was Lina but I recognized the two others with her as Megan and Dana, both Camilla’s enforcers. 

“Where did that weasel go?” snarled Megan. While not particularly tall or muscled she was known to be very dangerous in a fight, especially because she had a tendency to bite.

I crossed my arms. “The hell was that. If the book club or the bible study were here you’d have scared the shit out of them bursting in like that.” 

Megan ignored me, scanning the room and speaking to the others. “Spread out, we’ll find her.” She headed for the bookshelf that the terrified Abby had gone behind. I stepped in her way. 

“No. I won’t have this in my library ”

She frowned at me. “Won’t have what?”

“Violence. You know the library is off limits.”

“Fine, we won’t beat her here. We’ll drag her off. Now get out of my way. We know that little bitch helped Ali get Brie alone.”

I held my ground. Whatever Abby might have done I couldn’t just stand by as a woman was attacked. “No. The library is neutral ground.” 

 Megan’s lips curled back in a snarl and I’m pretty sure she would have hit me if Lina hadn’t barked at her. “Megan!”

She turned to glare at her. “We’re not seriously going to let a librarian tell us what to do?”

“Are you dumb enough to threaten the woman the boss is sweet on?”

Megan’s scowled but stepped back. “Fine,” she spat. “I guess the libary is a fucking church then. Hey Abby, I know your back there you little weasel. You’ve got sanctuary as long as you’re in here but the moment you step out of this room your fucking dead, you hear that?” 

Of course Abby didn’t answer. Lina laid a hand on Megan’s shoulder. “Come on, no point yelling. We’ll get her later.”

They all withdrew, Lina pausing to cast me an almost unreadable look as she went. 

As soon as the door closed, I stepped around the shelf. Abby had her back against the wall and her entire body was shaking. 

“Are they gone?”

I nodded. 

She covered her face. “Oh god, they really are going to kill me.”

There wasn’t much to stay to that. “Did you help Ali hurt Brie?”

She shook  her head. “I only carried a message. I don’t even know what it said.”

She had to have known that taking the message wasn’t a good idea, not with Brie and Ali’s history. She looked scared enough I wasn’t going to yell at her though. 

She slumped down into a sitting position, her back against the bookshelf. “What the hell am I going to do? I can’t stay here forever?”

“I’ll tell the guards your sick and need to go to the infirmary. We’ll act like your showing signs of a heart attack”

I went back into the main room and watched the hall through the small window in the door. I hoped Bradshaw would come by but instead I saw Officer Baker and Officer Jones. I poked my head out. “Hey,” I called. “Abby’s feeling really sick. She needs to go to the infirmary.” 

Jones looked annoyed but Baker’s heart shaped face filled with concern. 

“What’s wrong with her?” asked the petite blond guard.

“She’s breathing funny and she says her chest hurts.”

“Shit, let me see her,” said Baker, hurrying in to the library. 

Jones looked at me over her glasses as she stepped through the door. “Brown, what’s actually going on.”

“I told you, Abby is feeling bad.”

She lowered her voice. “Don’t fuck with me inmate.”

Very quietly I said. “She came in scared, someone’s after her.”
“Why should I care?”

“It’s less paperwork to take her to the infirmary now than after she’s hurt or dead,” I suggested.

That earned me a nod. 

Officer Baker emerged from behind the bookshelf leading Abby. “I think she just had a panic attack or something. We should still take her to the nurse to be sure.”

“Alright, lets go,” said Officer Jones. 

I didn’t relax until they were gone. 

 

I wasn’t surprised when Lina came to find me as I was leaving the cafeteria with my friends that night. I knew there would be blowback. 

She fell in step beside me. “Hey Emma, Camilla wants to see you.”

Stella looked like she was going to object but I shook my head and she said nothing. 

I followed Lina down the hall. “She mad?” 

She glanced at me. “Not exactly but you still shouldn’t have interfered today.”

I frowned but didn’ reply. 

Camilla was in her cell, talking to several women. When she saw me, she waved everyone else away and motioned for me to sit. 

I did, although on the bunk across from hers, not beside her. 

Lina was right, she wasn’t angry but she wasn’t happy either. “Lina told me what happened today,” she said. 

I nodded. 

“Emma, I get why you did what you did but you can’t interfere like that again.”

I sat as straight as I could, my hands in my lap. “Aren’t you the one who made the library neutral ground? Your people see to have forgotten that.”

“Yes and you have my word I will remind them all of that. You still should have kept out of the way. You could have been hurt.”

“So I should have just watched a woman be beaten in front of me? She begged me to hide her Camilla, I’m not made of stone.”

“Damn it Emma, do you have any idea how bad you made me look by protecting a member of Hanna’s gang?” 

“Why, because everyone thinks I’m yours?”

“Yes.”

Anger sparked inside of me. “So you want me to play the obedient little prison bitch then? Is that the cost of your protection? Should I start hanging on your arm and fawning?” 

Her eyes widened slightly with hurt and then she shook her head sharply in frustration. “You know that’s not what I want Emma.”

“Then what the hell do you want?”

“You goddamn it, I want you Emma.”

I know my own eyes widened. 

She kept talking as if once she had begun she couldn’t stop herself. “I’m trying so fucking hard to be noble. I am doing everything I can to keep you safe without making you feel trapped or obligated. I know that you wouldn’t even need protection if it were not for me, I should have stayed away from you and I didn’t and I’m so fucking sorry.” She held my gaze with those beautiful dark brown eyes of hers. “You asked me what I want though. I have no right to ask anything of you but I want you so much my bones ache.”

I couldn’t have felt more overwhelmed if a wave had knocked me over, so I did what I often did when I couldn’t find words. I leaned over and kissed her. 

When she reached for me, I briefly pulled back. “I’m not yours, I’m not anyone’s but I want you too.”

“I understand.”

She drew me closer, kissing with impressive restraint. I lacked such reserve and deepened the kiss. 

She slipped a hand beneath my shirt, tracing her hand across the warm skin of my back.

“I need you,” she whispered in my ear before lightly nipping my earlobe. 

I felt as if I would die if she didn’t start touching me in a more intimate way.

“Where can we go?” I didn’t fancy the guards catching us or other inmates accidently seeing us, even if her cell was at the end of the hall.

“No one will bother us.”

“But…”

“It’s safer here and Lina will make sure no one wanders past.” then she started to kiss at my neck and I couldn’t think of much else. 

“Take me.” 

She did exactly as I asked, tugging my shirt  and bra over my head and letting me do the same to her. I was captivated by the beauty of her strong shoulders and pleasingly rounded breasts breasts. I couldn’t help but notice the jagged scar that cut from beneath her right breast and across her ribs. It didn’t look to be a very old wound. 

She saw where my eyes had gone, “a reminder of why I don’t go anywhere alone in this prison anymore,” she said simply. 

I very lightly ran my hands over the marks and felt her shiver. When I brought my fingers up to cup a breast, she gently nudged me down onto the bunk. 

“I’ve waited so long to touch you little storyteller.” For all her need, her hands were still almost reverent, exploring the swell of my breasts, the hard arch of my ribs beneath my skin, the curve of my hip, the soft vulnerability of my stomach. I helped her get my pants and underwear off and she took it as an excuse to touch my legs, feeling the smooth skin beneath her fingertips. 

When she reached the apex of my legs, I was so desperate that I was nearly nearly keening. She pressed her fingers between my labia, dipping them low enough to feel just how wet I was, then she drew them up to my clit and pressed with just the right amount of pressure.

I gasped and clutched at the thin thin sheets beneath me. I was so turned on I doubted it would have taken very long for me to come like that but I wanted more.

“I need you fingers inside of me, please.”

She kissed me again and pressed two and then three fingers into my cunt. It felt so incredibly good. 

“Fuck me,” It came out as more of a plea than a direction. 

“As you wish.”

I was too overwhelmed by pleasure to give much thought to whether the reference was deliberate and what she might have meant by it if it was. 

She fucked me slow and deep, her strong fingers moving inside of me. I ached to dig my nails into her strong shoulders but the moment seemed too intense to ask, so instead I just clutched at her. 

She shifted her hand so that her thumb brushed my clit every couple thrusts. I felt my orgasm build. When she caught my face with her other hand and tilted my gaze to hers, the intensity was too much. I closed my eyes and let my orgasm reduce my world to pleasure and sensation. 

I was just coming down from my orgasm when Camilla kissed me just beneath my ear. “Have you ever been fisted before?”

Laughter bubbled up to my lips. “Do you think I could write such detailed scenes on the subject without some personal experience?”

“I did wonder.” She began to move her fingers inside of me, starting to work me up again. 

I lay a hand on her arm. “Camilla. I know I’m really wet but fisting really isn’t something I can do without lube.” 

She smirked. “You really don’t think I have that?” Considering everything else she got smuggled into the prison, that really shouldn’t have been a surprise. She retrieved a single use packet from beneath her bunk and tore it open, slicking her right hand. 

I got a thin prison issue pillow under my hip and lay back. She kissed me once again and then returned to fucking me. She went quickly from two, to three, to four fingers inside of me. It felt so unbelievably good. 

She paused long enough to turn her thumb into her palm and then she pressed into me again. I gasped at the feeling of fullness and threw my head back. At first it seemed almost impossible, the broadest part of her hand was simply too much, no matter how slowly she pressed.

I was just about to reach between us to correct the angle, which she did it herself, I guess she really did know what she was doing. With a flash of sensation so overwhelming it bordered on painful her had slipped the rest of the way into me up to her wrist. 

I lay panting for breath, the first tremors of my next orgasm already tentatively fluttering through my body. 

She cupped my face with her free hand, capturing my eyes with her own dark ones. “You okay?” 

“Yes, I forgot how intense this can be.”

“Take your time beautiful.”

I nodded. I tensed my internal muscles against her hand and let out a soft breath at the sensation. Then I I gave my hips an experimental roll. It felt so good I did it again. My lust flared up as hot as flames from stirred coals.

“Fuck me.”

“Bossy.” Her tone was teasing and her smile gentle. She began to very slowly rock her hand within me, not moving much, just shifting where she was. 

“Fuck, yes, fuck.” I wasn’t being particularly articulate. 

She took the hint and began to fuck me more forcefully,  albeit still slowly and carefully. She definitely knew what she was doing. 

“Yes, fuck me harder, yes.” I might have been good at writing sex scenes but no particually creative or original lines ever came to me when I was actually having sex.

She did as I asked, gradually fucking me harder and faster as I writhed and cried out beneath her. She watched me face a mix of desire and something deeper as she brought me to a scream worthy orgasm. I covered my mouth and bit into my palm to stifle the sounds I was desperate to make as I clenched on her hand. 

She went still until my muscles relaxed and then resumed what she’d been doing. I was still sensitive from my last orgasm. It felt so wonderful and she was hitting exactly the right place at the front of my cunt. I arched and came again. 

As I slumped back onto the narrow bunk I murmured. “Enough.” 

She eased her hand from me and then pulled me into her arms, somehow impressively managing not get more lube on us both. 

“Wow,” I murmured, settling against her, resting my head on her shoulder. My entire body languid and content.

“Good?” She began to lazily run her hands through my hair. At some point my damn hair tie had gotten tugged out and half my hair was loose.”

“Oh yes.” I murmured. “Very much so.” I knew she hadn’t gotten off yet but I had every intention of catching my breath first. I snugged more comfortably against her. No matter how long I lived or how many times I had sex, I still loved the deep sense of calm and connection that followed really good sex. For just an instant everything felt at peace with the world.

“Boss,” Lina called from down the hall. 

Camilla sat up, drawing a blanket over us both. “Lina, I swear to god, if you are bothering me for anything less than a death right now…”

Lina hesitantly poked her head around the wall. “Megan was just found shanked in the side in the shower. She was alive when they rushed her to medical but there was blood everywhere.” 

Chapter Text

I was called into the assistant warden’s office first thing the next day. It became very clear she thought I knew something about Niki’s shanking and wanted me to flip. I wasn’t sure who she thought had done the stabbing exactly, beyond being sure that it had been Hanna’s people. She was clearly trying to establish that Megan had threatened Abby earlier in the day.

“Officer Jones specifically said you told her that Abby was scared and that someone was after her. She said you told her Abby needed to get out of gen pop.”

That was the last time I was ever telling a guard anything. I didn’t reply. 

“Did you say that?”

“It’s a reasonable paraphrase.” 

“Do you know who was after Abby?”

I shook my head.

“Then how did you know she was in danger?”

I choose my words carefully. I couldn’t finger anyone but it also wouldn’t look good if I told one story and someone else told another. “She looked scared when she came into the library.”

Ms. Sharp flipped through some papers. “And did anyone follow her into the library?” 

“Other people did come into the library during the rest of my shift.”

“They came into the library,” I said.

“Were they the ones Abby was afraid of?”

“She never said.” 

She lowered her glasses enough to look at me over them. “You know, one reason the guards can’t seem to do a damn thing about the violence in this place is because people like you won’t talk.”

I said nothing. 

“Regardless of what you may think Ms. Brown, I am not the enemy. Megan Pierce was stabbed last night and I’m trying to find out who did it before the violence worsens.” She leaned forward. “I know you are new to the prison but believe me I think this could be the start of another gang war. I want to stop it.”

I didn’t like her goals weren’t necessarily ignoble. I might have even respected her if she wasn’t always such a bitch to me.

Her sources of information were not very good. She didn’t seem to have realized that things had already started when Ali attacked Brie. Then again, Ali, had never been charged with attacking Brie either time and Brie had never named her. If any of the guards had picked up on the gossip of what was going on, they hadn’t passed it on to the assistant warden. If Bradshaw was any indication, none of them liked her.

I leaned forward. “You really want to stop the violence?” 

She leaned forward eagerly, “yes.”

“Then hire more guards and increase the patrols so that there aren’t so many parts of the prison that are out of line of sight for so long. You have to have realized that half the attacks in this place happen in the bathroom and that’s the least patrolled.” I didn’t want more guards staring at me but I also didn’t like how dangerous the bathroom was.

She shook her head. “There isn’t money for that.” 

I leaned back in my chair, “then I don’t think anything you do is going to help.” 

Her eyes narrowed. She hadn’t liked what I’d just said. “Tell me, Ms. Brown, where were you when Megan was stabbed last night?”

“When exactly was she stabbed?” I asked. 

“Where were you between dinner and lights out?”

“In another inmates cell.”

“Who’s?”

“Camilla Bianchi,” there was no point in lying. 

“Funny, last time we spoke you said you weren’t involved with her.”

I shrugged. 

“So you lied last time?”
“Things change.”

“Then let me change my earlier offer. Get me enough significant information on her and I may be able to get your entire sentence commuted.”

I looked back at her blankly. Everything else aside, did she really think I’d ever flip on a woman with that much power on the outside? 

I wasn’t afraid of Camilla anymore, not like I was when I first arrived in the prison but sleeping with a woman once didn’t mean I truly knew her. I had no idea what she might be capable of doing to someone who betrayed her. 

“I have nothing on her.” 

She looked at me for a long moment and then an idea seemed to come to her. “What about Hanna O’Sullivan.”

“You can’t seriously think I’m sleeping with her.”

“No but you are close to Camilla, and I’m pretty damn sure she knows every way her enemy has wrong her and her people. Pass on enough information to me and you can hurt your lover’s enemy and lessen your own sentence.” 

“I have nothing on her either.” I sure as hell wasn’t kicking that hornets nest. 

She closed her notebook. “You’re a hypocrite. You act like you want to make this place better with your campaign for more books and your GED class but you’re no better than anyone else here. You may not be in one of the gangs but you’re still happy to fuck the leader of one of them and accept whatever privaledges come with that.”

I tried not to let her words hurt. “I don’t pretend to be better than anyone else.”

“You are certainly as useless. Go think things over. You know what to do if you change your mind.

 

Everyone in the entire prison was waiting for the hammer to fall. I kept close to my friends the rest of that day. I ate lunch with Stella, Cali, Gina, Mia, Amy, and Alex who has started hanging around more. 

I was fairly sure all of them knew I’d slept with Camilla the day before, gossip did travel at the speed of light, but they had the good graces not to bring it up. I had actually told Amy the night before and she’d been suitably impressed and begged for details I wouldn’t give her. From the concerned glances Stella kept giving me, I got the feeling she thought it had been a terrible idea. 

 They told me that poor Abby had managed to get herself moved into solitary from the infirmary. Ali was still out in the prison population but I never saw her alone. She was never more than a half step from Hanna in the cafeteria or yard. Surely she must have realized that her number was as good as up but she showed  no fear. Instead she glared out at the word, eyes angry and defiant, as if she’d done nothing wrong. 

I was actually a bit surprised that Hanna was still sheltering her. Ali might have been part of her gang but what she’d done to Brie clearly hadn’t been under her orders. When I asked Stella over lunch she had a guess. 

“If you ask me, Hanna knows exactly what she’s doing, she wouldn’t have originally let Ali into her gang if she didn’t. Ali isn’t exactly popular. Plenty of women in this prison were beaten on often enough when they were on the outside that they sure as hell aren’t happy to see it happening to another woman in here too. I doubt Hanna even has much liking for Ali. Hanna first ended up here for shooting an abusive husband. If she’d have just had the good sense not to tell a friend she was going to do it she’d have never had such a long sentence.”

“Why on earth is she protecting Ali then?” I asked. 

“To fuck with Camilla. From what I hear, Hanna’s been wanting to retake control of the prison for a long time. She lost ground the last time things turned ugly, but now she is ready to try again. Ali provides the spark without Hanna having to even light a match.” 

“That’s fucked up,” said Mia. 

“Welcome to St. Cloud prison, honey,” said Stella. 

 

After lunch I had some time to finally read Mia’s story during my library shift. I desperately needed something to take my mind off things. I still had no idea what the evening before with Camilla had meant or how I felt about it. Reading was much easier.

I quickly found myself laughing softly to myself. It wasn’t that Mia was a bad writer, if anything she seemed to have a natural talent, it was just that she’d clearly never done it much before. Reading her words was as endearing as watching a newborn colt learn to run. She had learned all the romance cliches and leaned on them hard. Her love of reading had left her with a fairly decent vocabulary but like most young writers but she hadn’t learned to show any restraint in its use yet.

 

Sam was tall and very butch. Her curly ebony hair was cut rakishly short and she had emerald green eyes that twinkled when she smiled. She wore a black leather motorcycle jacket and jeans that hugged her lean hips like a second skin. Luciel was short and lusciously curvy. Her brunette curls cascaded about her shoulders and flowed with every step. She had perfectly bow shaped crimson lips and eyes the color of sapphires.The moment that Sam and Luciel locked eyes in the smoky beer jointed they knew they were destined to be together forever. 

 

I was just about to find out if this fated romanced was going to be consummated in the beer joint bathroom or somewhere more dignified when the library door opened. As most of the prison had work detail at that time, I hadn’t really been expecting anyone to come for a book. 

I looked up and found officer Bradshaw standing almost hesitantly in the doorway. 

“Hey,” I said, setting down the papers.

“Hey,” she replied. Truly the two of us were great conversationalists. There was no mistaking the look on her face. She knew exactly what I’d done with Camilla the day before, well maybe not exactly but she seemed to have a general idea.

She set several papers down on my desk. “I got you some requisition forms. If you fill them out you can get more notebooks and pens for your GED class and more paper and ink for the library typewriter.”

I had vaguely known this was possible but when I’d tried asking Office Jones for the forms, when I first arrived at the prison and wanted some supplies for my GED class, she’d looked at me like I was crazy.

Officer Bradshaw noticed my expression. “You should probably give them back to me when you’re done or they might not get filed.”

“Thank you.”

Then we stared at each other awkwardly for what felt like an eternity. At last, she seemed to find her courage. 

“Did you go to her bed because you needed protection?”

“No.”

Her face told me she didn’t believe me. “You are under her protection though.”  

I looked down at the scared desktop. “She asked nothing in return for that.”

“Was it the typewriter then? If you’d told me you needed one, I could have gotten one for you.” 

“No,” I shook my head again. 

“Then why?” there was so much hurt in her voice.

“Because in the moment I wanted her.” I felt as if I were twisting a knife in her chest but I didn’t know what else to say.

She looked away, “And your hers now, right?”

I looked up. “I am no one’s.”

She looked back, “you really think the leader of a prison gang is just going to let her girlfriend fuck around?  

“I’m not her girlfriend.”

“She’s made it pretty damn clear she wants you to be though, hasn’t she?”

“Jealousy doesn’t suit you.”

“I didn’t mean it like that. I just...I just need to know if I’m making a fool of myself.”

“I’ve never taken you for a fool,” I said softly. 

“What do you take me for then?”

“A good woman who’s risking way too much getting involved with a prisoner.”

She leaned on the desk to reach for me, one hand covering mine and the other caressing the side of my face. “Tell me you don’t want me and I’ll never trouble you again.”

For her sake I almost told her too, I knew the thin line we were walking. I had never been strong in the face of desire. I turned my lips to kiss her palm and she shuddered with need. She had just brought her lips to mine when the library door opened. 

Bradshaw jerked away from me as if she’d been stung. 

Margret barely spared us a glance as she headed for the shelf. “Don’t mind me. The only sort of gossip I spread is the celebrity sort.”

Bradshaw shook her head once as if trying to sort her thoughts. “Bring me those papers when you’ve filled them out,” and then she fled. 

Margret found what she was looking for, a seventies romance paperback so old both the heroine’s bodice and the cover were ripped. “You want some advice from an old biddie?”

“You’re not that old.”

She pulled out the second chair beside my desk, “menopause is in the rearview mirror, so I’ve ever right to claim to be a wise old crone.”

“Let me guess, you’re going to tell me that getting involved with a guard is going to end badly.”

“A bit more discretion isn’t a bad idea but I was actually going to let you know that you can jimmy the lock to the unused second library storage closet if you poke at it long enough with a paperclip. It’s a good place to fuck. I’m the last person to judge you, I had a thing with a guard for a while a decade ago.”

“Wait seriously?” 

“For a prison, this place has shit locks.”

“No, I mean, how did the affair end?”

She brushed a strand of greying back hair from her face. “With a whimper rather than a bang. He got an offer to be assitant warden at another prison in a different state and he’d have been stupid not to take it. He said he wouldn’t take the job for my sake, so I dumped him for his sake. I don’t regret it, we had no future. I’ve got a life sentence, I’ll die within these walls, if they don’t let me out to die somewhere else when the time comes.”

Some things there are no words for.

The turned the book in her hands. “The affair gave me hope for a little while, looking back, sometimes I think that made things harder. “How long do you have anyway?”

“Five years.”

“Then hope will do you more good than harm. Keep your nose clean and you’ll be out earlier.”

“So I’ve been told.”

She considered me. “You’ve got a lot going for you but you still got sad eyes kid.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. Sometimes all you want in life is to be seen but when someone does, when they see the vulnerable parts of you, that’s terrifying. 

“I’m doing okay.”

She gave me a long look. 

I wasn’t sure why I said what I did next. I didn’t even know her that well. She’d just told me about a lost love and I felt like I should give her something honest in return. “I’m sick with worry for my sister on the outside. For all the friends I have here, this place is still getting me down. I know my depression is coming back and I’m trying to fight it, it’s just hard.”

I saw concern in the way the spiderweb of lines around her eyes deepened.

I kept talking. “The depression it’s nothing new. I’ll find my footing and deal with it, I always have.”

“You ever want to talk about anything, I’ve been told I’m a decent listener. They’ve had me on pills for that kind of thing for a decade”

“You’re being really kind.”

“We live in an ugly cage, the only beauty or kindness we’ll ever find in this place has to come from each other.” She stood and pressed my shoulder as she did. “Also I like you and am very optimistic you are going to get me those bad Anne Rice eighties erotic novels I asked for. 

After she left I wrote a letter to a librarian friend with a list of books. I had called in a lot of favors but we’d gone to grad school together and had always been close. She helped run a major annual used book sale that helped fund the libraries in her area. She’d already promised to send me some of surplus books after that years sale, maybe she could keep out an eye for some specific books and send them early. 

 

 

I had hoped to talk to Camilla during the free period before the evening meal but I saw no sign of her in the common room or yard. I suspected that if she was in her cell, she was still probably planning with her people and had no intention to interrupt that. 

Instead I found Mia in the yard. She was sitting at one of the picnic tables, writing. Gina was playing basketball with Cali and a few other women. Neither Gina nor Cali were actually any good at the sport. Gina had an impressive lack of hand eye coordination and Cali did not appear to have ever mastered dribbling. No one else they were playing with had much talent either and it sounded like they were having fun.

Stella was busy stoically smoking against one of the walls. I noticed Amy and Alex talking quietly as they sat on another picnic table. Amy was smiling and something Alex said actually made her laugh. That made my heart glad. 

I saw down with Mia and returned her pages. “I added some notes and corrections.”

She took the pages and I saw her face fall when she saw all the red ink. 

“Hey,” I said gently. “You should see what most of my first drafts look like, grammar errors as far as the eyes can see. There are a few sections I want to give you some ideas on re-writing or improving but overall I thought it was really good.”

“You really think so?” She had a very lovely smile. 

“Yeah, it was hot and your characters had a lot of heart. I thought Sam and Luciel were very charming.”

“Do you think I could even sell chapters like you do?” 

I hesitated. She had promise but she had a lot of growing left to do as a writer. Then again, it wasn’t like our fellow inmates were expecting Shakespeare. There was an innocent sort of raw passion to Mai’s writing that was very appealing.  “You’re really serious about that?”

She nodded. 

“I don’t know what the prison market for short stories is. I haven’t actually tried to sell any. I bet there is one though.”

She nodded. 

“Now, I don’t want you to get your hopes up too much. You won’t be starting with the kind of name recognition like I did when I began selling chapters.”

Her smile dimmed like the warmth of the sun when a cloud drifts in front of it.

I laid a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, sweetheart. All I mean is that you are a new writer so we’re going to have to figure out how to get people interested in your stuff, at least if selling stories in prison is what you want to focus on right now.”

“What else would I do?”

“You could always just write for fun and share your stories for free or you could try to finish a whole romance novel and not worry about what to do with it until it was done.”

She bit at her lower lip. “It would really be nice to get some candy and stuff though since I have so little commissary money. Also I really don’t want to wait until something is done to share stuff, I think I’m ready.”

“f you're serious, I think we can actually work out a deal.” 

“Okay.”

“I think the first step is getting you readers. Would you be willing to start out giving your stories away in order to get an audience.”

“I guess.” She looked a little overwhelmed. 

I explained. “I think what we should do is give this story away with my next chapter. If it’s free people will take it and probably read it. Then the next story you write we release at the same time as one of my chapters and we sell it for a very small amount, like one starburst. After that you just keep releasing each story or chapter the same day I do and gradually increasing the price if you get a decent enough amount of readership. If you get a following of your own eventually you can create your own release schedule.

“I can edit your stories and get copies made. Amy will handle the distribution and sales. I think the fairest option would be for you to pay me and Amy with a percentage of your sales. Does fifty percent sound fair to start with? We can renegotiate after ten stories.”

“Okay,” she sounded like she’d have agreed to anything. I decided to test that.

“One other thing, at least while your releasing your writing with mine and I’m editing you, I get final say on any editorial decision.”

That rattled her out of her daze. “What if we really disagree on something?”

“Then you’ll still have the right to withdraw a story and release it on your own. It’s pretty much the same in the publishing world.”

A grin slowly spread over her face. “This makes you my editor and publisher doesn’t it?”

A felt a smile spreading across my own face. “Yes, it does.” 

I had always wanted to start my own publishing company. I never thought I’d do it in prison but life could be unpredictable. During the next month I would pay a woman who worked in the prison woodshop nearly two packs of cigarettes to make me a stamp of a bird singing within a cage over the letters letters CBP. After that, I stamped any pages I sold with the logo for  Caged Bird Publishing. 

 

I was talking Mia through the edits her story needed when Gina and Cali wandered over to our table. Seeing that Cali was done playing basketball, Stella put out her cigarette and came over as well.

Gina was rubbing at a skinned elbow. “I still say must have pushed me.”

“You ran into me and fell on your bony ass, kid,” said Cali goodnaturedly. 

“You’re a damn brick wall.” 

“I don’t spend so much time lifting weights for nothing.”

Gina made an annoyed huffing sound and then sat down beside Mia at the table, kissing her on the cheek. 

Eagerly Mia showed her the now well marked up pages. “Emma says she’ll publish me.”

“Publish?” 

“Yes, she’ll help edit my stories and eventually sell them with hers.”

“Did your story need editing? I thought it was really good as it was,” said Gina. 

“All writing needs editing.” I said.

“What needed changing?” asked Gina. “I thought I caught most of the misspellings.” she began to flip through the pages.

“She said I should either cut or re-write the fisting scene. I got some stuff wrong, apparently you can’t actually open a hand inside of someone.”

Stella and Cali slid into the seats on the other side of the picnic table both very curious about what we were all talking about. 

Mia eagerly explained our new story distribution deal. I really, really hoped the other prisoners ended up actually liking her writing, otherwise I’d just set her up for disappointment. She had as much right to take risks as anyone else and I’d do her no favors by sheltering her.

When Mia was done talking, Stella got a mischievous look, “It seems you are clearly an expert on the topic, so tell me. What makes a good sex scene?”

“Honestly it varies a lot. There is no right or wrong way to write a sex scene.”

“But there are totally bad sex scenes,” said Cali. “I’ve read plenty.” 

“Yes, there is even a Bad Sex in Fiction Award. There’s bad art too but that doesn’t mean anyone gets to make hard rules on what an artist can do. You can do anything so long as you can actually pull it off,” I said

“Yeah, yeah but you’ve got to at least have some guidelines for writing good sex,” said Mia. “Your stuff is consistently hot.”

“I may have a few,” I admitted shly. 

“Don’t leave us in suspense,” said Stella. 

“Alright, if you lot really want to hear. My first hard and fast rule is to never show a character doing anything that is blatantly dangerous or harmful for fear that some dumb ass who doesn’t know any better will try it.”

Gina had to fight down a laugh. “You write some pretty intense stuff, especially when you write BDSM.”

“I do but only acts that are safe if performed properly. What I don’t write is anyone attempting anal sex without lube or risking infection by going from the ass to the vagina. I never had a character put anything unsafe in their body, no one ever uses anything for lube that can cause a yeast infection or inserts anything in their ass that could get stuck. When I do write BDSM scenes, I show thing done properly, no one ever cuts off a lover’s airway or leaves a woman alone when she’s bound.”

“That seems sensible,” said Cali.

“What about writing impossible things?” asked Mia. “You’ve got scenes in zero gravity. In one of your stories you’ve even got psychic lesbians that can knock each other up.”

“Yes but all of that works within the world of the story. If I ever break a basic rule of reality I have to make sure I do it deliberately and account for it.”

I was more than ready to keep holding forth on the topic but I noticed Lina hanging back a few steps. 

“Lina?”

“Hey Emma, the boss wanted me to bring you this and a message.” She held out a box of tea and a book.

I almost hesitated to take them. I’d never actually flat out accepted a gift from Camilla, not when I wasn’t owed for a chapter. Technically I hadn’t accepted the typewriter, it had just appeared.

It would have been rude to refuse so I took the complete collection of Lord Byron’s work and the Assam tea. “What did she say?”

Lina glanced at the women around me.

I sighed. “They’re my friends. I’m just going to tell them as soon as you leave, so you may as well just say it.”

“She wanted me to tell you that she’s really sorry but she’s got to deal with some stuff today.”

“That’s fine.” I didn't know exactly what I had expected. I shouldn’t have been surprised though. One of her gang having been shanked surely meant she was very busy plotting things I very much did not want to know about.

“She wants you to come by her cell tomorrow after dinner.”

Stella spoke before I could. “She can’t just send for her.”

Lina raised an eyebrow, or to be more accurate raised one and a half. Raising a single eyebrow wasn’t one of her talents but she tried. 

Stella crossed her arms. “You can tell your boss she needs to improve her manners if she wants to date my friend. She can invite Emma to her cell but she doesn’t have the right to tell her to. Emma isn’t one of her lackeys.

Lina looked rather ruffled. Perhaps she didn’t like being called a lackey. “She wasn’t ordering her.”

“How did she phrase it then?” 

Lina couldn’t hold her gaze. It was odd, Lina could have easily taken Stella in a fight and yet she was clearly intimidated by the skinny hacker. It may have been because Stella had hauled out her disapproving southern mother voice. Stella had enough years on Lina to pull it off.

 “She may have said something along the lines of “tell her to come by my cell,” she mumbled. I’m sure she meant it very politely. Seriously though, Stella, you don’t actually want me to tell the boss what you said, do you?”

“Of course I do. I’m not afraid of her and she better know I look after my friends.”

Lina tilted her head slightly to the side. “You do realize she runs the largest gang in the prison.”

“Yes but she won’t mess with me. She would look like a brute if she did and that wouldn’t work with her public image. She’s supposed to be the reasonable drug dealer who doesn’t involve those outside of the gangs.”

“Fair enough,”  Lina sounded amused. “Out of curiosity. What would you actually do if she did piss you off?” Now

“Speak ill of her.”

Lina seemed confused. 

Stella leaned forward, “Gossip is the primary form of entertainment in this place. Words have power here and I know how to use them.”

“Remind me not to get on your bad side,” said Lina. Then she turned back to me. “So, what should I tell the boss?” 

“I’ll come by her cell after dinner tomorrow. I want to see her.”

“Will do,” Lina gave me a nod of her head and walked off. 

I held up a hand when Stella opened her mouth. 

“I don’t want to hear it,” I said.

Her lips thinned, “I’ve already said my piece anyway. You’re a grown woman. You’re going to do what your going to do.”

“Then why do you keep speaking for me?”

“Because I’m a nosy bitch who does speak up for her friends. If you don’t like it, you can talk over me.”

“That is either the sweetest or most bone headed thing a friend has ever said to me.”

She patted my hand. “I do what I can.” 

 

Chapter Text

 

Mia didn’t seem to be feeling very well at breakfast the next day. She only poked at her food and seemed kind of groggy. Stella noticed, as a general rule Stella always noticed that kind of thing. 

“You doing okay honey?” 

Mia shrugged. “My stomach doesn’t feel so great.”

Stella frowned and leaned over to feel Mia’s forehead with the back of her hand. “You feel a little hot, maybe you should go to medical.”

“It’s probably just the stomach bug that’s been going around,” said Mia. 

“You should still go, maybe they can give you something for the fever.”

By lunch she was looking worse, she just laid her head on her hands on the table. She had a hand on her abdomen like it ached. Gina hovered at her side worriedly. 

“What did they say at medical?” asked Stella.

“I don’t know, I didn’t get a chance to go. The prison doctor didn’t come in today and only the nurse is in the infirmary, so the guards won’t take anyone unless its an emergency, at least that’s what Officer Jones said.”

Stella felt her forehead again. “Honey, you feel hotter.”

“If it’s that bad maybe I can talk Officer Bradshaw into taking you,” I hated to ask favors of Riley, not when things were so complicated, but Mia wasn’t looking very good.

“It’s fine,” said Mia. “It’s gotta just be a bug. Don’t waste what goodwill you have with her just to get me to a nurse who will tell me to drink fluids.

“You sure?”

She nodded.

I was concerned but it was visiting day and I didn’t want to miss that if I didn’t have to. After lunch, I left Mia in Stella’s capable hands. While my sister didn’t have a car and still couldn’t get to the prison, my editor was actually coming up to see me

When I stepped into the visitor room, I saw Camilla sitting at a table with the beautiful blond woman and two small children from the photo she had once shown me. The little girl was clutching a stuffed rainbow cat and clinging to the hand of her birth mother. The little boy seemed more outgoing. He was leaning on the table, eagerly telling Camilla something. He had a stuffed red dragon. 

Camilla was smiling. I had  never seen such a genuinely happy and uncomplicated smile on her face before.

She looked up and for half an instant, Camilla’s and my gaze met. Her eyes widened slightly and I saw a flicker of uncertainty in them.

I heard my agent called my name and I hurried over to her table. Heather stood up and hugged me. I hugged her back. She smelled of lavender perfume and strong coffee. The familiarity of her made my heart ache. I had known her since I was a young writer just starting out and it meant the world to me that she had never dropped me as a client or a friend even when I was convicted of murder.

“It’s good to see you,” I said and meant it. 

She looked at me intently through her thick cateye glasses. “Emma, my dear, you look so thin. Are they feeding you?”

They were feeding me. I just wasn’t eating most of it. The kitchen did what they could but they weren’t working with much to start with. I’d never thought of myself as a particularly picky eater until I got to prison and found it hard to eat enough to even stave off hunger. I’d fallen into the practice of handing off most of my extra food to Cali, who usually hungry or was at least less picky.

“I’m fine,” I lied. 

She did not believe me. 

“As fine as someone can be in prison. Really, I’ve made friends and like I said on the phone, my books are apparently very popular here.” 

“It still cracks me up that you’re selling chapters for cigarettes and candy.”

“You’re not going to insist on your right to first publication clause now are you?” I teased.

“Nah.” 

We settled in to talk for a little bit. Heart of Gold Three: Rise of the Cyber Pirate Queen had come back from the printers and had enough pre-orders to already be selling well. Lady’s Honor: The Spring Court was going through a final phase of copy editing before it was released digitally in about a month. I was still finishing the last chapters of Space Marines Honor: Out of the Ashes of Tyco. 

When the topic turned to what I should work on next I asked. “What series do you think will actually sell best?”

She gave me an odd look. “Since when do you care about what sells? Normally I’m the one nagging you about writing me something marketable.”

“Since I need money and my writing is the only way I can make it in prison.”

“Does your sister really need your royalty checks that badly.”

“At least until she starts getting welfare checks. She’s got a newborn and very little work history, it’s going to be a while before she’s on her feet and I want to help her as much as I can.”

Her lips turned down. “She’s free, you’re locked up but your still trying to look after her.” Who’s looking after you?”

“Myself.”

Her expression didn’t change. 

I sought for words. “I know she’s a grown woman, she’s...well she’s just never been strong. Her husband saw her vulnerabilities and used them to make her frightened and dependent on him. That kind of hurt and conditioning doesn’t heal overnight. Locked up in here I can’t do much for her and my niece and nephew but I can do this. Helping her gives me a purpose and right now I need something to fight for or I won’t get out of bed.”

She reached for my hand and then remembered that it wasn’t allowed. “I understand,” she said. 

“If I write books faster can you sell them?”

“I don’t think we should change the release schedule for any of your series though, people could burn out on them.”

“What if I started a new series?” 

“I’ll be honest with you dear, I don’t think Rainbow Ink is going to be interested in starting a new series with you until you finish one of the ongoing ones.You’re one of their more prolific authors. You’re producing about as many Isabella Inkheart novels as the market will bear.”

My heart dropped. 

“There is something else though, it’s actually why I came to see you today. I know you said that you didn’t want to do any more ghost writing but Queer Quills has approached me with an offer I think you should consider. I can even get you a significant advance if you can make the deadlines.”

I leaned forward. “What is it?” 

She tugged at strand of greying brown hair that had worked itself free of her bun. “This is a bit grim but have you heard yet that Lucretia Lawson died?”

“Wait, when?” I hadn’t known her personally beyond once seeing her speak at a book festival but I’d come of age reading her books. She was the undisputed genre setter for writing lesbian space marine epics. 

“About a month ago, it was a stroke, very sudden.”

“I always loved her Star Chaser Series.” Those words barely expressed how much her writing meant to me. 

“She died with her second to last book half finished and left only an outline for the final one. Her wife agreed to let publisher, Queer Quills, find another writer to finish the series.”

I just stared at her. “And they want me to do it?”

“They do.”

“But...I can’t. I’m not her.”

“No, but you write the same genre and you’ve said yourself that she's a huge inspiration of yours. Also you’ve got a proven track record of being a solid ghostwriter and meeting your deadlines and that’s why Queer Quills wants to hire you.”

“I can’t fill Lucretia Lawson’s shoes. Readers will realize the writing isn’t hers.”

“Which is why you’ll be listed as a co-author. Her readers know she’s dead, they just want to know how the story ends after ten books.

“What if I’m not good enough?”  

She smiled, “Trust me, my dear, you really are. Don’t let self doubt get in the way of a great opportunity. 

“Alright, I’ll do it.”

“Great. I’ve got the contract and you can sign it now. I’ll mail you a copy of the partial manuscript and notes.”

A thought struck me. “Do the people at Queer Quills know I’m a convicted murdered and behind bars?”

“I didn’t see any reason to tell them.”

“Heather!”

“They are based out of San Francisco, it’s not like they were expecting to meet you in person anyway. I’ll handle everything.”

 

I went looking for my friends in a daze. I was so excited to tell them. I didn’t see them in the common room so I went out to the yard. I had just spotted Amy at the far side of the yard, reading a book to Alex, when I heard Camilla call my name. 

She was at a picnic table surrounded by her lackeys. One wave of her hand and they all seemed to bleed away. I sat down next to her. There was a long beat of silence. 

“I’m sorry I made an invitation sound like a command. It seems I spend so much of my life giving orders I forget how to speak when I’m not.”

I shrugged. “It was actually Stella who mostly took offense on my behalf.”

“She’s a busybody.”

“And a good friend,” I said firmly. 

“Point taken.”  

It was cold out in the yard, although there was no snow on the ground yet. We were well into December. A cold gust of wind made me shiver in spite of my thin prison jacket. 

Camilla laid an arm around my shoulders as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “Will you still come by my cell later?”

I wanted nothing more than to lean against her but I fought that urge. “I think we should probably talk about a few things first.”

“That is the most terrifying sentence in the english language,” she tried for a nervous smile and didn’t manage to quite pull it off. 

“I saw your wife in the visiting room.”

“I showed you a picture of her before.”

I turned so that I was fully facing her. “I know.”

She saw the question in my expression. “She doesn’t know about you specifically but we have an understanding. I’m five years into a fifteen year sentence. We both have needs. She has a discreet thing going with one of her bodyguards and I’m free to pursue my own desires while I’m locked behind these walls.” 

She had answered well but I still had to push. “And is that all we’re doing ‘pursuing desires?’”

“You’ve never struck me as the sort of woman to shy from her desires.”

I couldn’t decide if I should take offense. 

A playful grin turned her lips and she leaned closer, speaking softly. “I don’t pretend to be any different.”

Goddess I wanted her. It took everything I had not to kiss her. “I won’t be your prison mistress.”

“I wasn’t asking you to take a title.” She was so close our noses were practically touching. Her hand felt so good against my back. 

“What are you asking me then?”

“To be with me in the moment. No rule and no expectations.”

“You’re shameless,” I murmured.

“I try,” she went in for a kiss and I blocked her with a finger against her lips. 

“Regardless of what is between us, I don’t want anything to do with your business.”

She caught my hand, turning it to kiss my palm. “I would never ask that of you.”

“I’m still going to sleep with other women. If that’s not alright with you or you think it will hurt your reputation in this place, we’d best stop now.”

She pressed her palm against my own and in a way that touch felt more intimate than her lips. “I don’t want to own you Emma and I sure as hell won’t be the one to clip your wings.”

My resolve broke and I kissed her, deep and hungry. She drew me closer, practically pulling me into her lap. I had no objections. 

I was about to break the kiss and suggest that we go to her cell when I felt her suddenly tense. In one fluid motion she surged to her feet, turning us and shoving me roughly away from herself. “Run!”

She didn’t turn back in time to stop the woman with the shiv. She made a terrible sound as the sharpened toothbrush was stabbed into her back. She didn’t let the pain stop her. She turned sharply, grabbing the arm of her attacker and twisting the shiv from her grip before she could strike again. She kept turning the other woman’s wrist, bringing her to the ground.

Only when the woman was down, did I recognize her as Lacey, an unaffiliated junkie. I had no idea how she’d managed to get so close, even if she wasn’t in Hanna’s gang, until the sounds of yelling began to filtered into my panicked brain. The yard was devolving into violence and chaos all around us. Everyone was either rushing into the fight or bolting away. 

Camilla kicked the downed woman in the face and then grabbed my arm. Looking around frantically. She saw Lina and shoved me at her. “Get her out of here!”

Before I even fully realized what was happening, Lina had my hand and was dragging me from the yard. We had reached the door before I realized something.

“Wait, Amy’s still out there! We have to go get her.”

Lina kept tugging me along. She had a solid grip on my hand and she was very strong. “The girl is smart. She’ll get to safety on her own.”

We passed several guards going the opposite direction. They took no note of us. We headed straight for the cell block. As we were passing Mia’s cell, I heard Stella call out. 

“Emma!”

Lina ground to a stop and looked into the cell. It contained Mia lying on her bunk, a very worried Gina who was holding her hand, an equally concerned Stella, and Cali who was leaning against the wall and keeping out of the way.

Lina unceremoniously shoved me into the cell. “Cali. Protect her and the boss will owe you. Hanna’s just made a move in the yard.” Just as quickly she took off. 

I was shaking so badly that I would have probably fallen down if Cali hadn’t moved to catch me and helped ease me down onto the bunk opposite Mia.

“What happened?” she asked.

“I just saw Camilla stabbed.”

“Shit. Is she dead?” asked Cali.

“I don’t think so. She was still on her feet when she shoved me at Lina. Everyone in the yard was fighting. Amy and Alex are still out there.”

“They’ll take care of each other. We had best stay here,” said Stella. 

I finally noticed how bad Mia looked. She was flushed and her eyes were closed tightly as if fighting down pain. 

“What’s going on with Mia?”

Stella sat down on the bunk beside me. “I don’t know but she says she’s got a sharp pain in her stomach. I think she is running a high fever. I was about to find you to see if you really could get Officer Bradshaw to take her to medical when this all happened.”

I just started to stand up to do just that when Cali caught my arm.  “Stay, it’s not safe.”

Over the next few minutes we watched inmates stream back into C block. Soon enough they were followed by a few guards who began to lock the prisoners back into their cells. Officer Jones paused when she glanced into our cell. “You don’t all belong in this one.” Then she shrugged. “Screw it. I don’t have time to move you all where you’re supposed to go, just sit tight.”

Stella jumped up, “Officer Jones, something is really wrong with Mia. You’ve got to take her to the medical wing right now.”

“For fuck sake, the kids got the flu, stop being a mother hen. I sure as hell can’t take her to medical during a riot.” Jones turned the key in the lock and the door slid closed. 

She turned and walked away even as Stella yelled after her. “No, she’s really sick, please!”

Things got quiet for a while after that. Mia seemed to get worse and started to make soft sounds of pain. Gina fell into an utter panic but there wasn’t anything she could do. It was perhaps an hour after the start of the lock down when everything finally clicked in my head. 

“Mia, does your stomach hurt or is it the lower right side of your abdomen?”

She didn’t even try to answer. Stella spoke for her. “She said it hurt on the right and that’s where she’s been clutching. What does that mean?”

“Fuck,” I cursed under my breath and then fought for calm. I crossed to kneel next to Mia’s bed. “Mia, I need you to focus for a minute sweetheart.” 

She looked at me with pain dazed eyes. 

“Do you still have your appendix?” 

“What?” She mumbled.

“Did a doctor ever take your appendix out?”

“No?” she shook her head weakly. 

“Shit, shit, shit.”

Stella laid a hand on my shoulder. “You think she has appendicitis?”

“She’s got the same symptoms I had when I did. I got it my freshman year of college during winter break when nearly everyone was gone. I was stubborn and ignored the signs. My roommate got back early and realized something was wrong. If not for her, I wouldn’t have gotten to the hospital before it burst.”

Gina chose that moment to grab my other arm. “What do we do?”

“Get a guard. We can’t help her. She needs a hospital.”

We waited and no one came by the cell. Mia kept getting worse. We started trying to raise a ruckus. The other prisoners on our hall helped when we told them what was happening. At last two guards came. 

I can’t describe how relieved I was when I saw that Officer Bradshaw was one of them, even if she was with Officer Jones. 

Stella ran to the bars. “Please Mia’s getting worse, we think it’s her appendix. You have to get her help.”

Gina tried to go to the bars as well but Cali caught her and whispered something in her ear. She went back to Mia’s bedside. 

Officer Jones crossed her arms. “Stella stop making a fuss or I will write you up. The girl is fine.”

I went to the bars and stood beside Stella. “She’s not fine. She’s got appendicitis. I’ve had it before, I know the symptoms.”

Bradshaw was already moving to unlock the cell when Jones got in her way. “Riley, I don’t know what they are up to but they are clearly messing with us.”

Officer Bradshaw frowned at her. “Mia doesn’t look good. We should get her to medical.”

“Bitch is acting. Prisoners always try shit during lock downs.”

“We can just take her to medical. What is the harm in that?”

“Regulations say we are not supposed to let any of them out of their cell during lock down unless it’s an emergency.”

Riley hesitated. 

Jones said, “The path to the infirmary isn’t even secured, we could easily get jumped or caught up in a fight. Let’s wait until the other guards say it is safe. Then if you’re so damn worried about the girl, we’ll take her then.”

Officer Bradshaw turned away from the cell. “You lot hang on, we’ll take Mia to the infirmary soon.”

I clutched at the bars. “Officer Bradshaw please. We are not lying. Mia needs help”

“We will be back soon. I promise.”

“Please, it could be too late by then. If her appendix bursts while she’s locked in here, she’ll die.” I begged. 

She didn’t turn, just began to head down the hall.

Something fierce and almost primal rose up in me. “Riley, for fuck sake’s Riley. Don’t walk away.” 

She froze in her step. We both knew perfectly well that a prisoner couldn’t talk to a guard like that, not in front of other prisoners, not on a crowded cell block hall. 

She finally did turn to look at me, her green eyes panicked and vulnerable. 

“Please, Riley help her!”

For a second I thought she would unlock the door and then Jones snapped at her. “Come on.”

She turned away again. 

In that instant something inside of me broke. I cared about Officer Bradshaw so damn much, more than I could probably ever admit to myself. What we had was as real a breath and fragile as the first thin layer of ice on a frozen lake. I knew what I did next could shattered it but I had no choice. 

There was a twenty year old lying on a bunk a foot from me, a young woman who loved stories and wanted to be a writer, a woman who was sometimes shy and sometimes brave, a woman who above all did not deserve to die from a busted appendix is a cold grey cell. 

“Riley if you ever gave half a damn about me, if I am anything to you at all, please help my friend.” I clutched at the bars so hard my fingers went white from lack of blood.

She turned back then, her face tortured. 

I felt a sob clawing at my throat. “Please I will give you anything. Please Riley, please.”

She pushed past Officer Jones to finally come and unlock the cell. It clanked back loudly and Stella and I had to jump back in time to not get our fingers caught. 

She stepped into the cell and went to Mia’s bunk. “Mia get up, I’ll take you.”

Mia did try to stand. She gave a sharp cry of pain and slumped back onto the bunk whispering. 

Gina brushed sweat soaked hair from her girlfriend’s face and looked up at Officer Bradshaw. Her deep brown eyes were so scared.. “She can’t stand.” 

Officer Bradshaw’s forehead creased with worry. The weight of the situation had finally settled over her and with it the shame that she had been about to walk away. “I don’t think there is time to get a stretched. I’m going to carry her.”

She knelt by the bunk and slipped an arm under Mia. “Put your arms around my neck.” Mia managed to do that although she still whimpered in pain as Bradshaw lifted her up. Mia looked very small in her arms.

For all her earlier objections, Jones seemed to have finally realized that Mia was genuinely very ill. She got out of the way until Bradshaw was out of the cell and then she locked it behind her. 

Gina clutched at the bars as desperately as I had. “Take care of her, please, take care of her.” She grew more panicked as she watched Bradshaw carry Mia away. 

“I love you, Mia I love you, you have to get better, you have to come back. Mia, I love you, Mia.”

She dissolved into sobs and sunk to the cell floor covering her face. Stella knelt next to her, pulling her into a hug. My own knees felt week so I sat down beside them and hugged Gina from the other side. Everything had been too much for her and she cried herself out, her skinny frame shaking with with more emotion and fear then she knew how to handle. 

Eventually we got her to lay down on the bunk. Stella spoke to her softly and ran her hands through her short, dense curls until she truly calmed and her breath grew even with sleep. 

As soon as Gina was seen to, I felt my own calm shatter. I didn’t cry or do anything dramatic but I must have seemed overwhelmed because Stella and Cali urged me to lie down on the other bank. Stella gently un-braided my hair and ran her things through it until my eyes drifted shut.

Chapter Text

I woke to the sound of the door clunking open and the harsh fluorescence of the prison’s day lighting. 

Officer Baker frowned at us in confusion and looking up from a clipboard. “Three of you aren’t supposed to be in this cell.”

Gina jerked awake. “Mia. Is Mia alright?”

“Was she the prisoner the ambulance was called for last night? Some poor girl managed to get appendicitis during the riot. I heard that officer Bradshaw had to beg both the assistant warden and the warden to let the prisoner be transported off grounds during a lockdown.”

For once I was very glad for Officer Baker’s inability to keep her mouth shut. 

Stella scrambled to her feet from where she’d been curled up with Cali on the floor. “Is Mia alright? Did she get to the hospital in time?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything. No one even told me that prisoners were in the wrong cells. I was just sent to check the head count.” She looked very nervous. “I’m going to need to take you all back to your proper cells.”

“Do you have to honey,” said Stella. “Gina’s really upset about Mia. She should have someone with her.” Stella had a way of using that particular endearment to wrap people around her fingers. Her voice was the perfect combination of gentleness and concern and yet somehow it put her in a position of power.  

“I’ve really got to take you,” said Baker. 

Stella nodded. “Alright, honey, we understand. You’ll try to figure out how Mia is doing won’t you? We’ll all feel so much better once we know.”

“I’ll try,” said Baker and she meant it. She really was far too sweet a soul to be working in a prison. 

She ushered Stella, Cali and me out of the cell. Stella paused to hug Gina and whisper to her before she left. Gina watched us go with sad, scared eyes. She had already slumped back onto her bunk before we were even down the hall. 

We passed Stella and Cali’s cell first and then headed to mine. I was deeply relieved to see Amy safe and whole in our cell. She and Alex were curled up together on her bunk, still asleep. 

“It’s like bloody musical cells,” grumbled Baker as she unlocked the door. “Alex Walker, I know this isn’t your cell.”

Alex blinked her eyes open sleepily as Amy snuggled against her. “The guard who locked us in didn’t care.”

“I’m trying to do a count,” said Baker “Come on love bird. I’ve got to take you to your own cell.”

Alex took her time kissing Amy but she did get up. Her short blond hair was impressively ruffled from sleep. I was reminded of how a startled golden retriever might look. 

 Officer Baker locked the cell and Mia sat up to blow Alex a kiss as she departed.

I sunk onto my bunk wearily. “Did you get out of the prison yard safely after the riot started?”

She nodded. “Yes. I saw Camilla attacked when you were with her. I’d have run to you but Alex stopped me. I saw Lina get you out of the yard. Alex and I couldn't get back across the yard to the dorms, not when the fight got bad. 

We retreated to the fence and sheltered behind one of the tables with Glenda and some of the older women from the kitchen. No one messed with us. We stayed there until the guards had taken away everyone who’d fought and told the rest of us to go back to our cells. Alex came with me and Officer Jones locked her in with me. I don’t think she cared as long as she could close the cell door.

“How bad was the fight?”

“I’m not sure. I saw a lot of women go down but I don’t know if anyone died.”

“And Camilla?” My heart was in my throat.

“I saw the guards take her off with the rest of her people. Her shirt was soaked with blood but she was still on her feet.”

I felt one of the many knots of worry inside of me ease. 

Amy and I were locked in all that day. Late in the morning, Officer Baker and Officer Parker, a young male guard I didn’t know well, came by with a food cart. Baker handed us the food trays through the slot in the cell door. 

As I took the trays I asked. “Have you heard anything about Mia?”

“I know she’s still at the hospital because the assistant warden had to send two a new officers to guard her when the ones that took her went off shift.”

“Can you find out more?”

“There is such a thing as patient confidentiality,” said Officer Parker. 

“You’re not a doctor and all I want to know is if my friend is okay.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” promised Baker and they left.

Amy at least was very excited about the food. “Yay, knock off uncrustables. I love these things.”

“I guess they weren’t able to open the kitchen,” I said as I considered my own tray. There was also a pudding cup, a sealed bag of baby carrots and an apple. It was more raw fruit and vegetables than I was accustomed to getting. 

Lunch proved to be the same as did dinner, by that point even Amy’s enthusiasm for the poor imitation of a PB&J had wavered. Two guards I didn’t know very well brought lunch, so I didn’t try to ask them about Mia. When Officer Baker brought dinner she told us. “Mia’s doing fine. They got her to the hospital before her appendix burst, so the doctors were able to do that microscopic thing with tubes where they don’t have to cut the person open very much.”

“You mean laparoscopic surgery?”

“That’s the word. They released her from the hospital and she’s in the infirmary.” 

The ache that hadn’t left my stomach since the day before finally eased. 

 

They kept us in our cells for two more days and by the end of it, Amy and I were both stir crazy and in need of a shower. The cafeteria was far less crowded than usual. There was no sign of Camilla, Hanna, or most members of their gangs, as they were all in either the SHU or the infirmary. Only a few members of either gang, who hadn’t been in the yard for one reason or other remained and they kept well away from each other. Surprisingly, I noticed that Lina had somehow managed to avoid getting dragged to solitary, maybe she hadn’t made it back to the prison yard before the guards stopped the fight. 

It was wonderful to actually eat hot food and even drink coffee. Bad coffee is still better than no coffee. Gina looked calmer that she had been on that terrible night but she still had circles dark as bruises under her eyes and no interest in food. When Cali started eyeing the young woman’s food, Stella gave her lover a slight shake of her head. 

She poked Gina, “Eat.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Eat anyway.”

Gina scowled but still ate a bite of oatmeal.

Stella nodded approving. “Chin up, you can’t let Mia see you this worried when she gets back from medical.”

“I know, I just...I almost lost her,” she looked on the verge of tears. 

Stella reached across the table to take her hand. “You didn’t though. She’s alive and healing and coming back to you.”

That seemed to calm Gina. She took a deep breath. “I’m going to ask her to marry me when she gets back.”

Stella’s lip twitched. “Honey, trust me, you don’t want to do that.”

“But I love her and want to spend the rest of my life with her.”

“I’m sure you do but immediately after traumatic events is not a good time to make major life decisions.”

“You two are engaged,” she pointed out. 

“We’re old enough to know what we’re about,” said Cali, “and I didn’t ask Stella on the spur of the moment. I thought it through.”

“That’s not very romantic,” said Gina.

“Impulsively making promises before you know you can keep them isn't romantic either,” said Stella. 

Gina looked less than convinced, Stella sighed. “You know that whole ‘love is patient, love is kind’ line from Corinthians?”

“Corithiwhat?”

“It’s a section in the bible. I was raised in a very religious household,” explained Stella. “The whole ‘thou shalt not steal’ thing never stuck but I always did love the poetry of certain bible passage. Anyway, that is beside the point, what I mean is, if you love Mia, be patient. Give yourselves time to let your love grow without rushing.”  

“How did you get all wise and stuff?” asked Gina.

“By going a lot of dumb as shit when I was younger. Try not to do the same.”

 

My shift in the library began very quietly. I shelved what needed to be shelved and then settled down to start typing up a clean copy of the last chapters of Space Marines Honor: Out of the Ashes of Tyco. I’d gotten a lot done during the days of lockdown. I would have liked to start re-reading one of the few Lucretia Lawson books in the library to gear up for my ghost writing gig but it made more sense to make as much use of the typewriter as I could while I was in the library. I could read in my cell. 

The door opened and I instantly tensed. It wasn’t a free period and only prisoners without jobs were likely to be roaming around. When I saw one of Hanna’s older lackies, a greying haired and cold eyed woman named Steph. She seldom actually participated in any violence herself but was as close to a second in command as Hanna had. 

I stood, ready to fight or run. If she wanted to grab me she’d have to come around my desk and I could bolt the other way and go for the door. 

“Easy,” she said. “I’ve never hit a librarian and I don’t intend to start now.”

“What do you want?”

“To bring a peace offering.” She held up four unopened packs of cigarettes.

I remained standing. “I don’t understand.”

She crossed to the desk and set down the packs. “Think of it as my boss paying a fine for violating a clause of a contract.” 

Hanna was in solitary but she must have sent orders.

When I didn’t touch the cigarettes, Steph sat down on the edge of my desk. “You do realize how close you came to being stabbed right?”

I nodded and tried not to shiver. 

“That was a mistake, you and the boss’s woman are both supposed to be off limits. Hanna’s willing to admit she was wrong in hiring someone as unreliable as Lacey to shiv Camilla in the yard. Even that damn junkie should have known better than to go after Camilla when you were in her lap.”

“Hanna is afraid Camilla will retaliate against her girlfriend Paige?”

“She wants to make sure that it doesn't become a possibility.”

I could respect that. “Am I supposed to bring these to Camilla?”

“You can do what you want as long as you tell her they were given to you and why. I’d advise telling one of her people who’s still in gen pop so that word can reach her in the SHU.”

“Why not just give these directly to one of her people?”

“They might refuse them out of spite, you won’t.” She leaned a bit closer. “Word is that you don’t like violence. You protected Abby from your lover’s people. Think of this as an easy way to keep both you and Paige safe. Also because if she becomes fair game, so do you.” That last sentence would have sounded like a threat, if there had been any emotion in it. 

“I understand.”

 

That afternoon I tried to give the cigarettes to Lina. She promised she’d send word to Camilla but told me to keep the packs. “The boss will want you to have them.”

It was two packs two many to keep in my cell and I still wasn’t very confident about using anywhere in the library as a hiding spot. I took the two surplus packs to Glenda as early payments for the heating pad. She promised to buy it for me the next time she went to commissary. 

I was just about to head out to lunch when I heard my name called and turned and saw Bradshaw in the hallway. We both stood where we were, as if a great crevasse separated us instead of a few feet in a hallway.

“Emma, do you have a moment.”

It was the most bizzare thing she could have said, as if I might have somewhere important that I needed to be. Not know what else to say, I said. “I do.” 

She unlocked a closet and held the door open. I stepped inside and she closed the door behind us. It was a small room full of electrical panels and cables.

Silence hung heavy in the air, we were so close but we didn’t touch. She leaned against one of the few sections of wall that wasn’t covered in panels. 

“You’ve heard that Mia’s back from the hospital and in the infirmary, right?” she said at last.

“Yes.”

After a pause she said. “You shouldn’t have called me by my first name in front of another guard and inmates.”

“You’d have let Mia die if I hadn’t.”

Shame burned her face. I had spoken the truth. She crossed her arms as if she wanted to make herself small. She didn’t look at me when she said. “You must think I’m a monster.”

“A monster would have walked away, you didn’t.”

She took a slow steadying breath. “This isn’t who I used to be, when I first started here I would have at least checked on her. I don't know when I just stopped caring. This place, it just slowly strips away the best parts of you.”

“Why are you here?”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a big world out there and you’re free to go where you want, why choose to work within these cold grey wall?”

“It paid better than being a security guard when I got out of the military and it’s not like I’ve got more than a high school diploma.”  

“There’s always the G.I. Bill.”

She smiled weakly. “I’m a bit long in the tooth for that.”

“You’re talking to someone who’s helping women older than either of us get their GEDs.”

Her smile warmed. “You’re such an optimist.”

“I have to be or this place will drag me down.”

She uncrossed her arms. “I wish I had met you years ago.”

“No, you don’t, years ago I was an engaged woman and faithful to my fiance.”

“You, really? I would have never thought you to be the monogamist sort.” 

“We all do crazy things in our youth.”

She reached for me and I went into her arms in that tiny space. She pulled me close, leaning in and breathing  in the scent of my hair. It had to smell like cheap shampoo but she didn't seem to mind.

 “So what happened?” she asked.

“It turns out she was both shit at the whole monogamy thing and lied about it, a lot.” Enough years had passed that talking about it didn’t hurt very much anymore “What about you? You haven’t got some girlfriend you go home to at night, do you?” 

“She left with the cats six month ago.”

“That’s rough.”

“Especially since they were originally my cats.” There was a soft edge of humor to her voice. 

I know I shouldn’t have laughed but I did a little. It felt so good to lean against her “Okay, now that’s just mean.”

“I think they liked her better anyway. She always played with them more than I did. At least there is less cat hair in the apartment now”

“Small mercies.” When I tilted my head to look up at her, I saw a gentleness in her eyes. I knew that look, I knew what it meant, but I wasn’t ready to put words to any of it yet. I did what I usually did when words failed me and kissed her. 

She kissed me back and before I realized what was happening, she had reversed our positions, pressing me against the wall. She kissed her way down my neck and slipping a hand beneath my shirt. 

I pressed against her as she found a nipple and caressed it. I wanted so desperately to lose myself to pleasure, to forget all the fear and worry of the last few days. I clutched at her shoulders as she worked a hand under the elastic of my pants and into my underwear.

She found my clit and pressed, causing me to moan softly. I covered my mouth, I had to be quiet, no one was guarding the door and we could easily be discovered. I again remembered how much worse the consequences would be for her if we were caught.

“Maybe we should…”

She began to circle her fingers and I had to cover my mouth again. My legs might have given out if she wasn’t partially holding me up. 

She dipped her fingers lower, finding me slick and pressed into me. I closed my eyes and let the pleasure block out everything else. She was so good with her fingers, curling them inside of me, adding a third, pressing her thumb against my clit. My hips moved of their own volition. 

“Harder,” I begged and she more than obliged. I dug my nails into the cotton of her uniform shirt as my orgasm built. I had to bite my palm or I’d have been heard all the way down the hall. She kept working me even as I clenched on her fingers and a second orgasm followed the first, leaving me almost boneless. I really would have fallen down then if she hadn’t had her other hand under my arm.

The sound of voices in the hallway jerked us both back to reality. “Shit, lunch must have started,” she mumbled. 

She kissed me again, deeply on the lips and then lightly on the forehead as she eased her fingers from me. “I’ll go out, check the coast and then knock if it is safe.”

I watched her go with lust dazed eyes as she slipped out of the electronics closet door. A moment later there was a knock on the door and I darted out. She locked it behind me and then gave me a soft nudge to the small of my back. 

“Go that way, I’ll go the other.” 

I began to walk. I was halfway down the hall before I let myself turn and look back, she had already turned the corner. I wrapped my arms around myself as I walked. I felt lonelier than I had before she touched me. What I would have given to just be held a moment longer. 

 

I saw Mia when I stepped into the cafeteria and all other thoughts were forgotten. She was already surrounded by our other friends. She looked tired and pale but otherwise well. Stella aggressively barked everyone back and ushered her to a set. Gina followed her like she thought she would disappear if she let go of her hand for even an instant. 

After a flurry of greetings and careful hugs we all settled down to lunch. Mia still looked pale and any slight movement made her wince. “You wouldn’t believe how crowded the infirmary is,” she said. “The prison doctor said that normally she’d have kept me a couple days more to give me a chance to rest but she thought I might actually sleep better back in my cell. I was on a pallet on the floor in the infirmary since all the beds were taken. They released Brie back into gen pop at the same time they did me.”

I glanced around and saw that Brie was sitting with Lina. She looked like hell. The eye that wasn’t bandaged was black and her arm was in a sling. She wasn’t eating, just sitting there staring into space blankly, in spite of Lina’s attempts to talk to her. At least Ali was still locked up in the SHU. 

 

Mia spent the next couple days resting as much as she could. While she was off her feet she made the edits to her story and I typed up a clean copy. Bradshaw raised an eyebrow when I handed it to her along with my own chapter in the library when she came to bring me ink. 

“Starting a publishing company are you?”

“Something like that. Will you make copies of Mia’s story too?”

“Hell why not. Maybe I should start asking for a cut,” she joked. 

“I can pay you in skittles, cigarettes or chocolate, your choice.”

“How about kisses?” 

I tensed but tried to hide my own sudden wariness with a forced smile. I knew she had just been flirting but I felt unsettled. “Those are something I only give freely.”

My smile must not have been very convincing. Her face fell. “I didn't...I’m sorry I didn’t mean it like that. You know you don’t need to give me anything for a few photocopied pages.”

“I know,” I said.

Mia’s short story went over well and a lot of readers said they liked it. Like most new writers though, Mia agonized over any negative feedback. 

As we were shivering in the yard our thing prison jackets as we walked around the track she told me, “Anna said she thought it was boring because it happened in the real world not a fantasy one, Lina said there should have been a strap on, and Joan said I was too florid, whatever that means.”

“There is no accounting for taste,” I told her. 

“Should I set my next story in a fantasy world though?”

“Is that what you want to write?”

“No.”

“Then write what you want. You’ll find your audience. You know Glenda said she really liked reading a story set in New York, and Margret was happy to read something without space marines or knights.”

“So I should write for them then?”

“Listen, you can’t please everyone so its usually best to just please yourself.” 

“Okay,” she didn’t sound very certain. 

“I’ll expect your next story by the start of next week.”

“But you don’t release your next chapter until a week after that.”

“I’ll need time to edit your work and you’ll need time to revise it.”

“Do I really have to have such an early deadline?”

“Welcome to publishing sweetheart.”

 

That same week, right after Mia’s story came out. Lina came looking for me in the common room one evening and sat down with me on the couch where I was attempting to read. 

“I heard that you were looking to expand your racket.”

“My what?”

“The selling sexy stories thing.” 

“I mean, at this point mostly I’m just editing Mia’s work and distributing it with mine.”

“Would you maybe interested in more stories?” She said quickly.

“Oh?” I tried not to smile too broadly. “Are you secretly a writer then?”

She hunched her shoulders and looked very embarrassed. It was a strange look for such a tall woman. “I decided to give it a try after you started selling your chapters.”

“If you’ve got anything you want to share, I’d love to read it. No promise about distribution until I’ve seen your work though.”

She brightened up, “You really mean it?”

“Yes, of course. 

“Okay,” shyly she pushed a notebook into my hands.

 I soon learned that she had a wonderful erotic imagination and a rather lacking ability where spelling and the proper use of your and you’re were concerned. Her handwriting at least was more legible than mine tended to be. 

The next time I saw her I gave her the same speech I had given Mia. I agreed to edit her story and hand it for free with the next chapter of my own work and Mia’s next short story. 

Word got around after that and I found myself mildly inundated with erotica of varying quality and every variety. Glenda, the head of the kitchen, and had an entire very lurid several hundred page romance she claimed was the story of how she met her husband. I had my doubts that her life had really involved so many bank heists, car chases, and daring rescues but I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt for the charming quality of her prose. 

I had also not realized just how into BDSM Titiana, the woman in charge of the laundry was. It was a shame her sentence structure was so terrible. I was mildly surprised that Anna liked writing very lurid gay male erotica but amused she set it all in a universe of secret agents and international jewel thieves.

Pretty quickly I had the release schedule for the next couple months pretty well booked. I wasn’t sure which writers the other prisoners would actually like or buy but I agreed to edit and distribute anyone who had promise. 

This eventually led to me both creating a written set of guidelines for submissions as well a roughly ten page document of advice on how to write romance and erotica, about half of which was basic anatomy. Some of the highlights included, “you cannot penetrate a cervix during sex,” “anal sex without lube is a very bad idea and can cause tearing and all kinds of bad things,” and “in erotica and real life, never, ever, put a popsicle inside a vagina.”

This document in turn caused multiple women to come to me with questions. I was more than troubled to find how poor many women’s understanding of their own anatomy was. What little sex ed they had received had failed them. After being asked for the third time what a cervix was, I arranged to give my first lecture, ie me talking to a group of prospective authors in the common room after dinner. This would eventually grow to be a weekly thing and often have a pretty good turn out. 

I covered everything from basic health and anatomy, to grammar, to plot and story structure. I half considered trying to get the prison to let me teach a creative writing class but with how much the assistant warden disliked me I didn’t think that was going to happen. 

 

In spite of everything that I was doing to keep busy, the world still seemed to be weighing upon me. I could feel a familiar tired ache in my chest. Every morning it was a fight to get out of bed, to keep moving, to not sink down into the weariness in my soul. In some ways the calm that followed the riot was the worst possible thing for me. I’d always been good in a crisis, it was when I had no one to take care of but myself that I most often began to falter. 

Stella noticed that I was eating less. When I pushed a less than half eaten tray to Cali at lunch, Stella  pushed it back at me. 

“Eat more.”

“The food is not worth eating.” I realized how petulant the words sounded as soon as they left my mouth.

“We’re in flu season, if you lose too much weight you’ll get sick more easily.”

“I don’t care.”

“I’m your friend. I care.” Damn if those blue eyes of hers weren’t piercing. 

We glared at each other for a moment and then I looked away first. It’s really hard to argue with someone using the friend argument, especially when they want you to do something for your own good. 

I ate a few more bites of the less than impressive mashed potatoes to satisfy her concern and then again pushed the tray away. 

Cali glanced at the tray and then at her girlfriend as if requesting permission. Stella rolled her eyes but told her “Fine.”

Sometimes I did wonder if Cali wouldn’t starve or at least have to give up her weight lifting regime if she couldn’t mooch excess food off her friends. I’d seen her get into a glaring contest with Gina a time or two over my tray.

Lanky and tall as Gina was, she was either not actually done growing yet or simply needed more food than the average prison meal. No one contested her right to anything Mia didn’t eat but Cali called first dibs on anything Stella, Amy, or I didn’t finish. 

While Cali had been happy to teach Gina how to lift weights she showed no inclination towards yielding food to her protege. To be fair, Gina did work in the kitchen and could often beg or simply ask for extra food there. To be honest, I was just amazed that anyone as skinny as her could always seem to eat so much. 

 

Amy noticed that I was sleeping more. One afternoon I had just lain down on my bunk during free period. She nudged me gently. “Hey Emma, do you want to go running. The guards have opened up the track. 

I blinked at her groggily and settled more firmly into my bunk. “You go. I’m good.”

She poked me. “But you always like running.”

“I’m tired Amy, really just go.” 

“Are you feeling sick?” she sounded confused.

“I’m fine.”

She sat down on the edge of my bed. “You’re the one who always says we need cardio to stay healthy.”

“I know, I just don’t feel like it today.”

“If your not going running, I won’t either.” It was emotional blackmail.

I sat up wearily. “You’re really not going to go without me are you?”

“Nope.”

I got up and began to search under my bunk for my sweatpants. “When did you get so manipulative?”

“You’ll come run?” 

“Yea, I’ll come.”

It did help, at least a little bit. If nothing else the air outside was fresher than the musty cell. Even if my heart was tired my body still remembered how to move and we jogged around the track until it was time for dinner. 

 

I really, really tried to keep my shit together and then I got a panicked call from my sister. The baby had gotten a cold, which somehow turned into a fever, and ended up with pneumonia. She didn’t call me until she reached her breaking point after three days of the baby being in the hospital. 

It took me nearly an hour on the prison phone to calm her down. On the upside, if you mouth, “sick baby,” at other inmates the let you talk as long as you want. Eventually I was able to determine that the doctors had put the baby on antibiotics and he was getting better. She felt like she’d failed as a mother, even though she’d done everything she could. She’d taken the baby to the doctor when he got the cold and to the emergency room when the fever started. 

As soon as I calmed her down about that she started to panic about the medical bills. I spent another hour on the phone with her walking her through the medicaid paperwork she need to fill out. 

I was beyond exhausted by the time I made it to my library shift late. The library as empty, so I went and sat behind some shelves and finally had an exhausted, frantic cry. When I heard the door open, I covered my mouth and tried to be quiet. 

It was a relief when I heard Margret call my name.

“I’m here,” I said. 

She found me sitting behind the shelves surrounded by tissues. Considering how expensive those things were at commissary, it was a small ruined fortune. She sat down next to me, using the shelf to ease down as her right knee wasn’t very reliable. 

“You want me to just sit next to you or hug you?”

“A hug is okay,” I managed. My nose was so stuffy I could barely breathe.

She settled in beside me and put an arm around me. In an odd way I was reminded of how my grandmother’s hugs had felt.  

“Is this “a something bad happened” cry or a “the walls are closing in” cry?” 

“Can it be both?”

“Of course. There are no rules about crying.”

“Do you want to talk or do you need to just sit.”

“Talking is okay.”

“Alright, let’s start with the bad thing that happened then?”

“My nephew has pneumonia and he’s going to be okay but my sister is shit at handling paperwork or pretty much anything and I’m in here and the only way I can help her is on the phone.”

“That sucks.”

“Yeah, it really does.”

“Were you able to help her, on the phone, I mean.”

“I think so.”

“Then you did all you could.” We sat for a minute and then she said. “So beyond that, these walls are getting to you?”

“I don’t know. I’m not even sure it is this place. I just feel so sad and I really shouldn’t. I’ve got friends, and this library, and my GED class, and my writing and that should make everything better shouldn’t it?”

“In my experience, the fucked up thing about depression is that it makes it harder to feel the things that might actually help you feel better.”

I closed my eyes. “I’ve been trying so hard for so long and I don’t even know when I missed a step but I did and now I just feel like I’m drowning.”

“You’re not drowning, you’re overwhelmed and sad and that’s okay.”

I started to cry again. I had always hated crying in front of other people. It felt like a terrible betrayal of both my body and my mind whenever my internal pain tore me apart so badly I couldn’t hide it from other people. Strangely though, in prison of all places, I was starting to get used to it. 

Margret rubbed slow circles on my back and I felt myself begin to calm. 

“You need a plan of how to deal with this, having a plan always helped me,” she said. 

“Stella keeps telling me I should eat, Amy keeps making me run with her around the track.”

“That’s good. You’ve got solid friends. What else?”

“What else can I do? It’s not like the prison has a counselor or a support group.”

“Have you taken meds before?”

“Yeah.”

“Did they help?”

“Some did.”

“The prison doctor is an old drunk but if there is something that worked before just go to him and ask for it. Anything that isn’t an opioid or an amphetamine, he’ll give you if you know the generic name and dosage. 

A bitter laugh tore at my throat. “Should I go with the one that made me gain weight, the one that killed my sex drive, the one that made me feel numb, the one that made me unable to write, the one that made me shake like a junkie for no apparent reason, or the one that took a month to kick in and not want to eat during that time, worked well while I was on it and then gave me epic withdraw symptoms when I went off it.”

To her credit she gave that a moment's thought. “You seem to be using your sex drive, so maybe keep that. Did the one that took a while to kick in and sucked to go off worked well?”

“Better than the others.”

“I’d say play the long game. Do what will keep you healthiest while you’re here and you can deal with going off the med when you can get a real therapist again on the outside.”

“The hell did you get so good at giving this kind of advice?”

“I was a social worker a lifetime ago. I’ve even got a degree in it.

Laughter bubbled up in my throat. “What, like I’ve got one in library science?”

“Pretty much.”

“Are our degrees even worth something in here?”

“If we make them worth something they are.” She leaned back against the wall. “Honestly, most days I just make hooch that won’t make anyone sick or blind. On better day I’m a decent friend. On really fucking good days, I provide good advice and other wise crone shit.”

Something inside of me began to ache. “I’ll never be a librarian again when I leave here. Libraries don’t hire felons and certainly not convinted of murder.” I hadn’t even been ready to admit to myself but I felt it all at once.

“The fucked up thing is that you didn’t even do it,” she said.

My blood froze in my veins and I pulled away from her.

She saw the wild fear in my ears. “It’s alright dear, I’ll never breathe a word. I just know an innocent woman when I see one. Most innocent women who get convicted rage against the system but keep their heads up high, you accept it like a donkey does a beating and yet cling to your dignity. You’re not just innocent, you’re protecting someone. I’ve seen it before.” 

I couldn’t stop shaking. “I killed my brother in law. I stabbed him. I did it and I confessed.” No matter how much I needed what she was offering, to be seen and understood, I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t risk my sister much less the wellbeing of her children. She could still be tried and then everything would be for naught. 

Her face softened. “Forgive me. You’ve no reason to trust me. I’ll never bring it up again.”

I nodded numbly.

“For what it is worth, I don’t think I could ever have the kind of courage you do. I’m guilty of what I was convicted of, hell I’m guilty of so much more.”

I chose my words as carefully as I could. “I did what I had to to protect my sister and her children and I have no regrets.”

“I’m sure you did dear.  Let me help you get through this place and back to them.”

“Why do you care so much.”

“Because when I first got here, others cared for me.” There was no mistaking the honestly in her voice. 

“You really think I should go talk to the damn prison doctor?”

“This is no place to fall apart. Do what it takes to keep body and soul together and ask for help when you can’t.”

“I’ll try.” I leaned against her. The feeling of human touch helped more than I cared to admire. 

I couldn’t seem to find what to say so I said. “A friend of mine is sending those books you wanted by the way.”

“You didn’t have to.”

“I’m glad to. By they way it turns out it’s not a trilogy but a quartet. Anne Rice wrote a fourth one so it’s a Sleeping Beauty quartet now, not a trilogy.”

 “Your shitting me.”

“I’m not and all four books are in the mail.”

“You’re a sweetheart you know that?”

“I’m a librarian. I may never work in a public library system again but no one can ever take what I am from me.”

Illegitimi non carborundum.”

“Margaret Atwood fan are you?”

“Can you get me her books?”

“Hell yeah.”

Chapter Text

The first of the romance books I’d asked my librarian friend for began to pour in the next week. She’d figured out how to send them directly to the library, instead of me, which was good because as a prisoner, I actually had a limit on the number and size of packages that I could receive each month.

 I’d never seen the prison’s book club look so happy. Margret quietly carried off her erotic fairy tale retellings with merely a word of thanks and a promise to bring them back for others to read when she was done. 

Lin actually smiled, which was a rare thing for her, when I handed her the entire Outlander series. She carried off all ten Diana Gabaldon books at once insisting she’d be quick, I had my doubts, but I wasn’t going to argue with a woman that looked that happy. 

Joan had not been utterly devoid of Nora Roberts books as there actually were several in the library, but she was still very grateful. 

Glenda was as gleefully as I’d ever seen a woman when she got her hands on nearly twenty Laurell K. Hamilton books. It was mostly from the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, although there were a few of the Merry Gentry series as well. 

I was deeply amused to learn that she started to read the Anita Blake books aloud to the kitchen staff. She’d caught Mia reading one of the Twilight Series and felt she needed to show the younger generation what a proper human, vampire, and werewolf love triangle looked like. I was rather curious to know if she intended to read the sex scenes out loud when she got to them but if I remembered correctly there wouldn’t even be any for a couple books in. 

Pretty soon I had a lot of prisoners asking me for their favorite books. I started a list. It wasn’t all romances either. My fellow prisoners wanted everything from Harry Potter, to the Gossip Girl series, to all published books of A Song of Ice and Fire.

I made no promises but I said I would do what I could. As far as I was concerned, no woman should ever be without a book she wants. I upped my letter writing campaign. 

 

Life had just started to settle back into a routine when Camilla got out of solitary confinement about three weeks after the fight. I was out in the yard working through some edits with Mia at one of the picnic tables when I saw her enter the yard, flanked by all of her gang who weren’t still in solitary or medical. 

I jumped to my feet and ran to her. She was pale in spite of the normally darker complexion her Itialian heritage gave her and there were circles under her eyes. The moment she saw me her face lit up 

When she swept me into her arms, she made a sound of pain, as if instantly regretting the movement. I froze, afraid of hurting her.

“It’s okay,” she said. “My back is just a little stiff.”

I looked up into her face worriedly “How badly were you hurt?

“Not badly. The shank didn’t get anything important.” She carefully drew me closer. “Don’t look so worried beautiful. I am all the better for the chance to see your lovely face.”

“Flaterer,” I said warmly.   

“Well, you’re certainly a nicer sight than the wall I’ve been staring at for three weeks.”

“I would hope so.”

She tilted her head down and kissed me in the middle of the exercise yard. She began tenderly, as if reminding herself what the brush of lips felt like after so many days without even casual human contact.

Very quickly she brought a hand to the back of my head and deepened the kiss. I wanted to melt against her.

“Will you come to my room,” she whispered. 

“Yes.”

 

We slipped from the yard and several of her lackeys, Lina included, followed like shadows. When we reached her hallaway they all fell back, just out of sight at the turn of the hall. 

While I had long ago become accustomed to the prison guards, Camilla’s own protectors were going to take some time to get used to. 

We settled down onto Camilla’s bunk. “I’m a little bit amazed you still want anything to do with me after what happened in the yard,” she admitted.

“You protected me.” 

“You should have never been in danger in the first place. I’ve communicated with Hanna, it won’t happen again.”

“So it’s okay for you and Hanna to try and murder each other, just not hurt Paige or me.”

“Pretty much.”

“Such civil rules of engagement.”

“As only a prison gang turf war can be,” she hadn’t lost her humor at least. 

I caressed the side of her face. “I was so worried about you. You were covered in blood when Lina pulled me away.”

“It was nothing.”

“Let me see.” 

She leaned forward and kissed me again. “Will that put your mind at ease.”

‘It will help.”

She shook her head in amusement and then reached for the hem of her shirt. She struggled a bit when she got it halfway over her head so I helped her. She lowered her arm and turned so I could see her back. 

The bandage wasn’t as big as I had feared. It was higher than I had realized and actually more on to her right shoulder than her back, which explained the pain in her arm. 

“One hell of a sexy battle scar, right?” she joked.

“Nothing sexier than gauze and medical tape.” I said.  

“The stitches are even cooler looking.”

“You needed stitches?”

“Not very many,” she tugged at my shirt. “How about we focus on funner things.”

I helped her get my shirt over my head and then my bra. She started nudging me backwards and kissing at my neck.

I laughed softly and reached between us to grab at her bra. She had to break off the kiss so I could get it over her head. She had wonderful breasts.

“Let me get you off first, I didn’t get to at all last time.”

“As you wish.” Again there was that movie reference. I still wasn’t sure if she meant something by it or was just being playful. I helped her ease back on the bunk and kissed my way down her wonderfully flat stomach. It seemed she did a lot of crunches.

 One nice thing about the drawstring prison pants was that they were easy to tug off. She had an old fashioned heart tattooed on her hip and I almost teased her about it until I noticed it had her wife’s name, Elaine written on it. That was not something I wanted to bring up in our current position. 

Instead, I turned my attention to her inner thigh. I took my time, slowly kissing up from her knee. It may have been a bit cruel to tease her when she’d been without any kind of touch for three weeks, especially as our last encounter had been so cruelly cut short.

She made a very interesting sound when I finally parted her labia with my fingers and brought my tongue to her clit. 

To her credit, she grabbed at the sheets instead of my hair as I worked her clit with my tongue and sometimes lips. She proved to be very sensitive and appreciative. Although she didn't get anywhere near as loud as I tended to, her breath quickened like she was fighting down moans.

Even when she arched her back in orgasm, she whispered rather than screamed my name. I wondered if she could come again and had just set about finding out when I heard Lina’s voice in a panicked whisper near the door of the cell. 

“Boss, I’m so sorry boss.”

Camilla swore creatively and sat up. “You know what, I take back my previous statements. Next time don’t interrupt me at all, even if someone is dead.”

“The assistant warden is coming,” said Lina. 

“What?” 

The assistant warden came into view, two guards, Officer Jones and Officer Bradshaw in tow. I scrambled up from the rather obvious position I was in, looking around wildly for my shirt.  

Camilla, on the other hand, remained impressively calm. She crossed her arms but made no move to cover herself. 

“Ms. Sharp, I can’t say I was expecting a visit.”

“If you were expecting a surprise cell inspection that would rather ruin the point, now wouldn’t it? Now would you care to explain why you are apparently naked with another inmate. You know intimate contact is forbidden.”

“She was helping me bandage my shoulder.”

“Topless?”

“Yes.” She kept her expression completely neutral.

As they were talking. I had managed to put my bra and shirt back on. The whole time I could feel Officer Bradshaw’s eyes on me. When I raised my gaze to hers, her face was completely unreadable. 

“Step out out of the cell inmate,” said the assistant warden.

Camilla rose gracefully. “Do you want me to do that naked, so you can get a better look, or can I put my clothes on first?” Somehow she managed to throw down a challenge without ever changing her tone. 

Ms. Sharp looked away in disdain. “Cover yourself.”

I handed Camilla her clothes and she pulled them on as calmly as she might have dressed in the morning. 

When she was dressed she strode from the cell and I followed. 

“Officer Bradshaw search them, Officer Jones assist me in searching the cell.”

Officer Bradshaw made no protest this time about the obvious pointlessness of searching a woman who had just been naked. She was very professional and quick as she patted Camilla down and then the same with me. The situation was deeply, deeply awkward, at least for me. Camilla and Bradshaw were both doing a very good job of not showing any emotion at all. 

“Wait here until we’re done with the cell,” Office Bradshaw told us both. 

Ms. Sharp basically had the guards tear the place apart. Camilla had been in her profession long enough I had to hope she wasn’t keeping any kind of contraband in her cell. The damn assistant warden was even petulant enough to shake out a couple of Camilla’s books. She had a lot in her cell. It occured to me that the first classics she’d give me had probably just been from her collection, not even brought in special. 

I knew the assistant warden had crossed a line when she opened one notebook and shook hard. Several polaroid pictures tumbled out. She picked them up and flipped through several pictures and paused at one of a blond in a bikini. 

“Who’s the bombshell?”

Camilla ground her teeth, her calm fading instantly. “My wife.”

Ms. Sharp contemplated the picture. “She know you’re running around with some skinny whore in here?”

“I have no secrets from her,” she said. “And this may be a prison and you may be an assistant warden but I will thank you to have more basic decency than to call a fellow woman a whore.”

The assistant warden let the photo fall from her fingers to the floor. At least she stepped over it, instead of on it, as she crossed to the bars, wisely keeping them between herself and Camilla. 

“I’ll never understand you Ms. Bianchi. You sell the things that are slowly killing a third of the women in this place, you make the space within these walls a violent hell fighting to keep your fucked up little drug empire, and yet you act like I’m the monster for speaking ill of the little side piece you are committing adultery with.”

Camilla had no ready answer for that. 

Ms. Sharp would have won that exchange if she’d walked away. She wasn’t the sort of woman to even let something go though. “Sooner or later, I will get enough evidence on you to finally see you sentenced for life somewhere far worse than here.”

“You can do as you wish Ms. Sharp.”

The assistant Warden’s lip turned and something cruel entered her eyes. “Tell me Ms. Bianchi, how long will that beautiful woman in the photo really wait for you? The five years you’ve already served, the ten years you have left, or has she already moved on?” 

The few shreds of vague respect I had for her because of her attempts to clean up the prison vanished.  

Something in Camilla’s stance shifted. She went from calming standing to leaning against the bars, as if the assistant warden were the one trapped inside and she was contemplating her like a cat might a pigeon in a cage. 

“My wife and I swore until death does us part, come what may, she’ll be at the gate when I get out of here. Tell me though, Ms. Assistant Warden, does your fiance know how hungry your eyes are when you stare at a woman like me?” She lowered her voice more. “Does she know you’re fucking one of the guards?” She glanced towards Officer Jones.

The way Ms. Sharp paled told the truth of Camilla’s words. “Are you threatening me inmate?”

Camilla pushed back from the bars. “Only making an observation.”

It was a very good thing that the bars lay between them because otherwise I think Ms. Sharp might have struck her. She looked around the cell in a rage. “You taped pictures on the wall, that’s not permitted, that’s a strike.” Her eyes cast over the contents of the locker, now scattered over the bed and floor. “And I don’t recognize that brand of tea, you can’t have gotten it at commissary, that make it contraband and another strike,” she kept looking and couldn’t find anything else. “This cell is a mess, that’s a third strike. Two more and your back in the SHU.”

Camilla kept her face blank, not rising to the bait. 

Ms. Smiths’ eyes narrowed. She stormed from the cell, her low heels clicking on the concrete floor.  Silently both guards followed, Bradshaw looking guilty and Jones nervous.

The moment they were gone I slumped against the bars. “How do you know that much about her?”

“Knowledge is power and something I collect, it’s pretty damn easy in this place. She never talks about her personal life here but I had someone on the outside google her and they found the engagement announcement. I wasn’t actually sure she was sleeping with Jones but the rumor is their eyes linger on each other.”

“Pissing her off wasn’t a good idea.”

“She already hates me.”

“You just made it personal.”

“She did first.”

“Yeah but a woman like that doesn’t care about what’s fair. 

The dinner bell rang and cut our conversation short. 

 

The next day Bradshaw came to the library to bring me ink and paper for the typewriter. After she handed them to me, she hung about quietly until at last Glenda finished browsing and left the library. 

“Say it,” I snapped when she didn’t.

“I’ve nothing to say.”

“Your face speaks for you,” I said. 

She sighed. “You need to be careful Emma, the assistant warden has it in for Camilla and now she’s got it in for you.”

“I think she’s had it in for me for a while. And I am careful. You’ve searched my cell enough times to know I don’t even keep contraband, much less anything illegal.”

She nodded. “Okay.” 

I could tell she wanted to say something about Camilla again but she didn’t. 

She stood awkwardly for a moment, shifting her weight from one foot to another. I noticed she still had some papers in her hand. 

“Are those also for that for the library?”

She looked embarrassed. “No, I was actually kind of hoping you might be able to help me look over some papers I printed off from the VA website.”

“I’m not sure how much I can be with health benefits.”

She looked down. “It’s actually stuff about the G.I. Bill, I’m trying to figure out what I qualify for and what forms I need to fill out if I want to go back to school.

I straightened up. “Wait, you really took me seriously?” 

“I don’t know maybe. What you said about it being a big world got me thinking. Every day these walls seem smaller. I’ve committed no crime, I’m serving no sentence, and yet I don’t see a way out of this place, at least now with how things are now, not with only a high school education, not unless I want to work at a damn gas station or something. 

“There is always a way out,” I said softly.

She nodded. “And I’m starting to think that getting a degree might be that way. I did a lot of research. I got overwhelmed when I started trying to understand what education benefits I’m entitled to or not.”

“Sit down, I’m not an expert in this but I’ve been through college and grad school and I at least know how those work.”

“You don’t have to.”

“But I want to.”

She sat down and we spent a good hour pouring over papers. When other prisoners wandered into the library to get books I made sure to say something very loud about library paperwork. 

 

That night I was in the common room attempting to read when Stella slid onto the couch beside me and gave me a nudge. “Hey cutie.”

“Hey yourself,” 

She snuggled against me. 

I kissed her cheek and went back to my book. “If you’re after cigarettes, I’m fresh out. I just gave my last two packs to Glenda as a final payment on the hot pad she got me.” I would be channeling most of my future cigarettes towards a radio and maybe a hotpot after that. 

“For once, that is not actually what I’m after. Cali and I were wondering if your dance card was full or if you might be up for some shower caterwauling.”

Cali chose that moment to lean over the couch arm, hugging Stella from behind and kissing the back of her neck. “What did she say?”

“I’m still trying to ask her, at least I was until you interrupted my seduction.”

“Oh no, that is a shame. Your so adorable when you’re trying to seduce a woman who already clearly wants to have sex with you” She nuzzled Stella’s ear and then looked up at me with inviting eyes. “Want to have a threesome with us tonight? Margret’s brewing in the shed, so we can’t go there, but the bathroom is never that crowded this time of night.” 

I did always love her bluntness. I had to fight not to laugh. “Only if Stella calls it something other than caterwauling.

I was certainly more than willing. My recent encounter with Camilla had been cruelly cut short. Spending half the afternoon sitting close to Bradshaw to help her with her paperwork had left me full or longing. To my secret frustration, she’d actually remained fairly focused on the topic at hand. By the time I’d talked her through the details of the G.I Bill, it was dinner time. 

If Cali and Stella wanted to invite me into their bed, well shower, I was more than interested in a few uncomplicated orgasms, especially from two women as talented at sex as they were. 

 

We arrived at the bathroom to find it empty and set about undressing before we stepped into a shower stall. It was a wise plan, as it meant we wouldn’t end up with clothes that smelled like sex and could even shower when we were done. 

I had just started to pull off my shirt when I heard a strange sound in one of the seemingly empty bathroom stalls.

“Hello?

There was no answer. 

Cali tensed and moved to put herself between Stella and me and the stall. “Seriously, who’s in here? The whole silent thing is creepy.”

The sound continued liked someone was beating their hands and feet against the floor. 

“Shit, I think someone’s having a seizure or a stroke.” I knew that Glenda had epilepsy. The prison had changed her meds recently and it wasn’t going very well. Mia and Gina had told me they had seen her have a seizure just the day before in the kitchen. If Gina hadn’t caught her when she started to fall, she could have broken her head open on the kitchen floor. She shouldn't have gone to shower on her own but she was a stubborn old soul. 

I pushed past Cali before she could stop me and pulled back the curtain. Instead of an eldery hispanic cook I sofund, Anna sprawled out on the shower floor, still fully dressed, her entire body convulsing.

Stella caught my arm. “Careful, I think she’s overdosing. There might be a needle.”

I scanned the floor and saw what appeared to be a hollowed out lightbulb with burn marks on it and a lighter. 

Anna stopped convulsing. I knelt beside her and watched to see if her chest was rising or falling. It wasn’t. When I felt her wrist there was no pulse. 

“Stella, go get a guard. Tell them it’s a cardiac emergency and they need to call 911 and bring an AED immediately. Cali, do you know CPR?” If she had been a bodyguard surely she did. 

She nodded.

“Start compressions, I’ll do the breaths.”

Stella ran off and Cali and I began CPR.

Cali knew what she was doing, counting out loud as she completed thirty chest compressions. I had taken the class more times than I could count but I’d never actually seen anyone do CPR in real life before. It looked a lot more like violence than trying to save someone’s life. The force it takes to compress a chest is enough to break a rib.

At thirty compressions, I closed Anna’s nose, tilted her head back and breathed into her mouth twice. Her chest rose as the air filled her lungs but afterwards there was no change, no response. 

After five cycles, Cali and I traded off. I folded one hand over the other and began the compressions. At first I didn’t do hard enough and her chest didn’t compress much at all. I pressed harder. 

We were about to trade off again when Officer’s Bradshaw, Jones, and Baker hurried in.

“She’s unresponsive and not breathing,” I said. “Get the AED ready.”

Everything was running together in my head but the one thing I remembered was that the last time I took a CRP class they said to always use an AED if you had one. I’d been sure the prison had to have several, all public buildings were supposed to.

Baker scrambled to get everything out from the little bag and then told me to get out of the way. She tore open Anna’s shirt and applied the pads. She plugged the cords in, hit a button and the little device said it was “Calculating” and then “No Shock Advised.”  

Mercefully that was when the EMT’s finally got there. Cali and I got out of the way and found Stella by the wall. Bradshaw talked to us while Jones dealt with them. 

“What happened?”

“We found her like this,” said Cali. 

“It looked like she was convulsing and then she went still and she wasn’t breathing,” I added. 

“Do you know what she took?”

Cali shook her head. “No.”

“It’s Anna, it had to be meth,” said Stella.

Bradshaw nodded and went to tell the EMT’s, who were hurrying Anna onto a stretcher. Just as quickly, they all rushed out and we were alone in the bathroom again, save for a dazed Baker who was slowly gathering up the AED device. 

Her blond braid was coming loose and she looked like she wanted to cry. 

“You okay honey?” asked Stella. 

Baker nodded. “I’ve...I’ve never done that before.” She probably shouldn’t have said that to three inmates but she seemed to be in shock. 

“Me either,” I said. 

Baker blinked at me. “But you knew what to do.”

“I’m a librarian. I was required to renew my CPR certification every year. I’m also trained in how to administer naloxone for opioid overdoses.”

“Since when do librarians learn that?”

“Since opioid epidemic got bad.” I’d been lucky at least and never actually needed the training. I had worked at a smaller branch library, not the big downtown one where addicts often slept the day away. 

“Damn,” she said as she stood.

“You’ll tell us if you find out anything about Anna, won’t you?” said Stella. 

“Sure,” said Baker and headed off, likely fill out a mountain of paperwork. 

 

By dinner word reached us that Anna had been declared DOA at the hospital. There were a lot of things I could have done after the meal. For once though I found the company of my friends stifling. The noise and life of the common room was more than I could bear. 

I slipped away and through a side door into the garden. The December air was far too cold to stand about in, especially without a jacket, so I ducked into the shed. I took a water bottle of my newly accruing stash of Margret’s finest and settled onto a blanket in the corner. The booze at least gave me the illusion of warmth. 

I had been there about ten minutes when I heard the door of the shed open. What I did not expect to hear was Camilla’s voice. 

“Emma? Are you in here?” 

Of course, if she’d come into a dark shed, she damn well knew I was there. 

“I’m over here.”

I watched her outline make its way over in the dim light. “You can tell me to go away if you don’t want to talk to me right now.” 

“You can stay.” I offered her the plastic water bottle of hooch and motioned to the blanket. She sat and took a drink.

“You’ve never struck me as the drinking alone sort.”

“Most days I’m not but most days I don’t watch a woman die.” I shivered and it wasn’t just from the chill of the room. 

“I heard about Anna,” she said softly. 

I closed my eyes. “I think...I think she might have been dead before Cali and I started CRP or died while we were doing it. When Officer Baker tried to use the AED it said ‘No Shock Advised.” Either her heart rhythm was the wrong kind for it to help or she didn’t have one.”

“You did everything you could,” she said gently.

“She still died.” I took the bottle back and took a deep drink. 

She reached to pull me into her arms and I shook my head sharply in the dim light. “She bought whatever killed her from your people.”

“Yes,” her voice sounded empty. 

I drew my arms around my knees. “Was it a bad batch or something?”

“No, my suppliers are careful about quality control. She must have overdosed.” 

“You still sold her the thing that killed her. She’s not the first person who’s overdosed from your drugs in the prison. Doesn’t that bother you?” 

“Of course it bothers me.”

“Then why the hell do you still do it? Are you so greedy that you have to prey on depressed and vulnerable women?” As soon as the words were out of my mouth I realized how harsh they had been 

I couldn’t see her face very well in the dark but her entire body went tense and she straightened her back. “Because if I don’t someone else worse will. Addicts will buy from whoever is selling. Do you want Hanna running this prison?” 

“If that’s what you have to tell yourself.” I felt helpless and angry. 

She reached for the bottle and took a long drink before handing it back. “Emma, I don’t pretend that what I do is right or that I have anything but selfish reasons. I would have never survived in here if I hadn’t formed a gang within my first weeks.”

“I’ve seen you in a fight, you seem pretty capable of taking care of yourself.” 

“I can’t watch my own back all the time and there are a lot of women here who work for rival crime families. If one shanked me in the shower her bosses would set her up for life. If I don’t have power here and women around me I won’t live long enough to get back to my family.” She sounded so tired.

My anger cooled. “I believe you.” 

She reached for the bottle again. “I don’t mean to sound like I’m a victim of fate here. My own choices in life brought me to this place. Some of them I regret, some I don’t.”

“Same,” I said softly. 

She leaned against the wall of the shed. “I was never even supposed to take over the family business. My father wanted my older brother to do that. He wanted me to go get a law degree and handle the legal side of things. Then my brothers were killed and my father got sick and if I hadn’t stepped in my uncle would have and he was not a good man.”

She paused, taking a slow steadying breath. “I still could have walked away.. When my father was dying, he told me to go. He said I should take Elaine and Toby and get as far as we could. His own father had told him the same thing he was telling me at the end of his life. My father said if she’d taken my mom and brothers and me away, then my brothers would have never died.”

She wrapped her arms around her legs in a mirror of how I was sitting. It was a very un Camilla like position. “I should have listened. I should have taken my family and left the day he died. I stayed to arrange the funeral. Then my uncle made a power play and… best I not talk about that. I told myself I would stay just long enough to stabilize things and then I was arrested less than three months after my father’s death.” 

I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing.

She said “If I had just listened to my father, if I’d just left, I could be free and with my family somewhere, well at least some country that has no extradition treaty with the US. Instead, both my kids will be in highschool by the time I get out of here. Someday they will be old enough to understand.  Who knows if they will ever forgive me for it when they are.”

She tilted her head back against the wall. “God only knows why Elaine has forgiven me, much less still loves me. She never wanted any part of the business and now I’ve left her all alone and in charge of everything.”

“She did marry you.”

“Not by choice, not exactly.”

“What?” 

“It was basically an arranged marriage to bring an end to a feud between our families.”

“Wait, since when do mob families use lesbian weddings to make peace?”

“They can be surprisingly modern sometimes,” she said. “At least when they are not murdering each other. Both families had a gay daughter, all attempts to keep a peace agreement had failed. Elaine and I didn’t really even know each other but we agreed because we didn’t want the violence to continue or lose any more family than we both already had. 

“I think it was harder for her. I had already ended up involved in my family’s business at that point but she had no part in hers. She had a PHD in anthropology. All she ever wanted to be was a professor. She was still teaching until I ended up in here and she didn’t have the time anymore.”

“I always thought you loved her, the way you talk about your family.”

It was dim but I could tell she’d closed her eyes. I ached to comfort her but I wasn’t sure if she wanted to be touched. “I do, more than life itself. The marriage was just a matter of duty but we fell in love somewhere in the first year. I never expected it, much less hoped for it, but we did. We were so happy during those few years we had together.”

I drew up my knees and hugged them. “I’ll never have your heart will I?”

She opened her eyes and they seemed to reflect the dim glow of the yard lights that filtered in through the cracks in the walls of the shed. “Not the deepest part of it, that is and will always be hers. Everything short of that is yours, if you will take it..”

“Let no one ever say you’re not honest.” I reached for her hand and she let me take it. I scooted closer and leaned against her, resting my hand on her shoulder.

“I spend so much of my life lying and hiding things, I swore to myself a long time ago that I would never lie about the things that mattered.”

“What am I to you?”

She touched the side of my face with her hand and I leaned against it. 

“You are someone I care about deeply, someone I desire, someone I want to protect. You give me hope in this dark place, remind me of who I should be instead of who I am.”

“You have a way with words.”

“I try.”

She drew me into a kiss and it was a sweet and meaningful as any I had known. 

Things might have gone further but distantly we heard the warning bell for lights out and had to head in. 


 

Chapter Text

It had grown very cold at night in the cells. The old building’s heating wasn’t particularly good. I traded Joan the promise of a steady chocolate supply and my next book for free in exchange for a large crochet blanket I’d noticed her working on. The prison actually did have a knitting and crochet group I’d meant to join, I’d just been too busy. Any moment I had alone, I needed to write or edit. It was the only way I could ensure my prison supply of tradable sweets and my real world supply of money for my sister.

I didn’t plan on selling the ghost written book I was working on the other prisoners, so I had also started another one in my series, The Adventures of Electra Starchild: Book Four The Medusa Cascade.

It was another science fiction one that I sometimes refered to as lesbian Barbarella. It was one of the lighter funner things I wrote. It covered the adventures of a woman born on a backwater space colony who went out to explore the universe. 

She was a fun character to write and I used her to tie most of my main series into the same universe. Electra had a small ship that allowed her to travel all other and I regularly had her run into and have sex with characters from my other series’s. She tumbled space marines, and merchants and empresses all in her quest to find the one space pirate who held her heart but she could never seem to catch up with. 

In light of everything else going on, Christmas nearly caught me by surprise. It was only a week before when Stella mentioned it was coming up. As a gift to everyone in the prison I released a free, albeit quickly written, holiday themed short story with my space marine characters. That earned me a lot of goodwill. 

I also quickly jotted out a very short children’s story for everyone whose kids or grandkids I’d been writing Princess Isabella stories for. I wrapped those in ribbon and gave them out. It seemed a very small gift to give to people like Margret who had been so kind to me. 

 

I made some rapid trades to get a present for everyone. I held off on wrapping everything in construction paper until the last minute. Ever since the assistant warden had caught me In flagrante delicto with Camilla, the guards had been tossing Amy’s and my cell nearly every day. Bradshaw was always respectful, surprisingly so was Baker. The little blond guard had seemed to see me in a different light ever since she’d seen me and Cali try and save Anna. 

 

It snowed on Christmas eve, late in the afternoon just before dinner. It fell lightly at first. The younger inmates were the most excited. Mia ran around with her tongue stuck out trying to catch a snowflake. Stella rolled her eyes but still laughed. The snow turned the dull concrete of most of the exercise yard into a world of glittering world of white. It was coming down hard and fast by the time we came back inside. 

The food was a bit better than usual. As soon as the meal was over, Stella herded all of us towards the prison chapel, which was not normally a place any of us had much interest in. 

“I thought you were an unrepentant atheist like me,” I told her. 

“I am but I like christmas carols. Also there’s usually juice and cookies afterwards and someone always spikes the punch.”

There was a brief non denominational service lead by the prison chaplain. The chapel had been decorated with christmas lights and some paper garlands and tinsel and it did look pretty. 

For an instant, the memory of countless early morning chapel services washed over me, nostalgic and sweet as apple wine. I’d been raised Presbeterian and educated by Episcopalians but religion had never really stuck. After a girlhood spent in mandatory morning chapel services at boarding school I had learned to find a sort of comfort in the ritual of religion. There was something calming in being in a room where you knew everything that was going to happen and what was expected of you, when to stand, what to say, what to sing, when to sit. 

At my boarding school, the final holiday service before everyone went home for the holidays the next day had always been bittersweet for me. It was a chance to see my friends when they were all giddy and happy about heading home, even when that was the last thing on earth I wanted. 

Going home had always meant returning to a house of unpredictable anger and silence. My father never raised a hand to my mother, nor her to him, but they raised their voices constantly. I think in a way, sending us both away for school was the kindest thing they could have done for both of us. 

I was so lost in thought, I didn't hear a thing the chaplain said until until the christmas carols started. I noticed that Alex struggling to read the hymnal and looking rather nervous. 

When the service ended Mia teased her. “I know you’re dyslexic but do you really not know the words to silent night?” 

“I’m Jewish. I just came along to hang out with Amy.” She had never actually mentioned this before.

“I’ve totally seen you eat pork,” said Gina. 

“I never said I was particularly observant. I don’t keep kosher.”   

We wandered over to the juice and cookie line at the back of the small chapel. I nearly died coughing when I took a sip of my juice. Whatever the punch had been spiked with was a lot stronger than what Margret brewed and that was saying something. I hoped I wouldn’t go blind. 

“So who actually spikes the punch,” I whispered to Stella.

“I think it’s the chaplain, christian charity and all that.” She took a sip from her cup and made an interesting face. “Someone definitely double spiked it this year though.”

The guards, who were probably hoping to get home soon were not subtle about urging everyone to get back to their cells before lights out. I fell asleep that night pleasantly buzzed and listening to Amy’s soft snores.

 

After breakfast the next morning my friends and I all gathered in the common room to trade presents. The floor around us was soon covered in shredded paper wrapping. 

I mostly just gave everyone some of my candy stash along with a few others things. I gave Stella an entire pack of cigarettes, Alex a special book in a kind of font that was supposed to be easier to read if you had dyslexia, Amy a pink knit hat with cat ears that I’d traded a woman in the knitting group for, Cali a ton of chocolate, Mia some notebooks, pens and a dictionary, and Gina a copy of Our Bodies Ourselves , because she really needed it. At this point I think my librarian friend was just deeply amused to see what I’d ask her to send me next. 

I was gifted a lot of blank notebooks and pens. My friends knew me well. Mia couldn’t crochet to save her life, but she’d traded with Glenda who did, and gotten me some beautifully crocheted lace scrunchies. I suspected I’d look a bit like an eleven year old or a grandmother if I put them in my hair but they were gifts so I was certainly going to wear them. Of all things, Amy gave me and the others friendship bracelets. I’d actually helped her find the book in the library that showed her how to make them. 

Amy was delighted and knotted it on her wrist. “No one ever gave me one of these, I always wanted one though. You’re so sweet Amy.”

Gina had nodded and let Mia speak for her. 

Stella smiled as she  indulgently tied on her bracelet. “It’s lovely Mia.”

I held up the intricate braided bit of string to the light. It was a beautiful rainbow pattern. “This is beautiful, you have a talent Mia.” No one had given me one since I was a girl. I’d forgotten how much such a thing could mean.

She blushed and smiled when I held out my wrist for her to tie the bracelet on for me. I’d never seen her look so happy. Of all places, she seemed to be finding her stride within the walls of St. Cloud. It was not a kind place for everyone but for Amy it was somewhere she’d found friends who liked her for who she was.

 

After the presents we went out to the yard. The snow had fallen thick and heavy in the night. Mia decided she was going to build a snowman and was very determinedly trying to roll the base when Gina chucked a snowball at her. Things went in a very predictable direction from there.  

Amy was very determinedly trying to pour snow down my shirt as I did the same to her when I heard my name called. I saw Camilla waving. 

She was promptly smacked in the face by a snowball. Mia, who had been aiming at Stella, who was slightly behind Camilla, pailed with the realization of what she had done. 

Without missing a beat, Camilla knelt, rolled a snowball and nailed Mia with it. Mia wisely did not retaliate. 

Camilla came to offer me a hand up, her left hand I noticed. Her right had to still be hurting her. 

“Fancy a winter stroll?”

“Of course.”

I took her hand and let her tug me to my feet. I brushed the snow from her dark hair before linking an arm with hers. She grinned at me and I felt something inside of me melt. I’d thought things would be awkward between us, after our conversation in the shed. Instead, I felt calmer, we both knew what we were we stood.

“For the record, I was totally winning that snow wrestling match with Amy.”

“Sure you were.” Damn if her smile was irresistible. It was still a closed smile, not like the one I’d seen when she was talking to her kids in the visiting room. It was a good smile though in a quiet, almost secretive way. “I got you a gift.”

She pressed something into my hand and I found myself holding a paperback copy of A Christmas Carol.

“I’ve always found most of Dickens to be too sentimental, but this book I love. To be honest, the The Muppet Christmas Carol may have influenced me a bit.”

“Truly the height of cinematic achievement.” 

I leaned against her as we slowly circled the yard. “Did you like the Christmas stories I sent you?” 

She smiled, and for a second it was her real smile. “Yes, my kids loved the dragon story you sent. I read it to them over the phone last night. It’s the first time I’ve been able to give either of them a real holiday gift since I was thrown in here. Having my wife write my name on the tags of presents she got them isn’t the same thing.” 

Just as quickly as it appeared, her smile had faded. It couldn’t be easy being away from her kids on Christmas. I changed the subject before things could weight on her. “So how did you like the other story, the erotic one I handed out to everyone?”

Her lip twitched in amusement. “I’ll give you this Emma Brown, you’ve got one hell of a lot of range as a writer.

“I try.”

“It was surprisingly sweet for a story that mostly revolves around a bunch of space marines having an orgy for the winter solstice. I don’t know how you do that, writing things that are all heat and feels at the same time.”

“Lots of practice.” 

“Need anymore?”

“Always.” 

 

We missed lunch, distracted a we were in the garden shed. Fortunately the guards got pretty lax about making everyone go to meals during the holidays. It had been the first time we ever lay together without being interrupted even if it had gotten cold enough that we’d had to manage with most of our clothes still on.

I parted with her once we were back into the building, so that I could go call my sister and Izzy before it got too late. They were all doing better. The baby was out of the hospital and home. Izzy chatted happily about a doll and some plastic ponies she’d gotten for Christmas. Apparently the toys for tots program I’d convinced my sister to sign up for had paid off. Someday when I was free and had money again I would have to donate to that program. 

Listening to Izzy sound so happy calmed me more than anything else on earth could have. I could hear the baby crying in the background but eventually he calmed and I think I even heard a gurgle, that or he’d spit up. I wasn’t exactly an expert on baby sounds. I talked to my sister a bit and then I wished them all a merry Christmas. 

I took a detour by the library. I’d just remembered that there was a copy of Now We Are Six there and I thought that Amy might find the poem “King John Was Not a Good Man” to be funny. It was the day for it. 

I had just turned on the light and turned towards the shelf when the door opened. “Emma, you in here?”

I almost laughed. “Yeah, who else would be tuttering about a library on Christmas.”

Riley crossed the short distance towards me. “I wanted to see you today of all days, even if only for a moment.”

“Did you now?” I set down the book in my hand and grinned at her. She closed the distance between us, pushing me back against the bookshelf. “I can give you a lot more than a moment.”

In spite of how sated my earlier activities had left me or possibly because of them, I felt my interest kindle. I tangled my hands in her hair when she kissed me. I ached to draw her close, take her there and then. I knew that even if it was a holiday, we needed to stop being so careless. We’d already been seen in the library once before.

I pulled back. “Come on, there’s a storage closet.” We stumbled into it, her tugging at my clothes. I caught the cord of the light and pulled it so that we couldn’t stumble over any old office furniture in the dark. 

It was warmer than the shed at least, even if the heat of the library radiator barely reached to the small dusty room. 

She paused when she got my shirt off and saw something. I glanced down and saw that Camilla, intentionally or not had left a hickey on my right shoulder. 

Riley traced her fingers uncertainty over the mark. 

I caught her chin and forced her eyes to mine. 

There were so many things we might have both said but in that moment we didn’t need to. 

She kissed me as gently as she ever had before making her way down my neck. When she came to the mark, she kissed it once light, without leaving one of her own, and brought her attention to a breast.

When we were done we lay on her coat on the hard dusty floor for as long as we dared. She ran her hands through my hair that had come loose from its braid. “Sometimes I wish I had met you when you were free. I could be so much more to you, not have to constantly hide and pretend that I don't...” she ran out of words or perhaps feared to speak what would have come next.

“I won’t be in here forever.”

She drew me closer. “Would you even want me if you had all the women of the world to choose from.”

I laughed softly, “I’m pretty sure I’ve never had all the women of the world to choose from.”

“Still, it’s not like I’d have much to offer you, if you were a free woman.” 

“Except yourself, that’s generally considered the important thing.” And with it a good heart and kind eyes, two things I was an utter sucker for. 

She kissed my naked shoulder. “Will you really still want to see me when you get out of here.”

“Yes, if you’ll still want to see me.”

That was as much as we dared say, as many plans we could let ourselves risk making curled together in that tiny windowless space. Eventually my stomach growled in protest and I realized I was at risk of missing dinner. We parted outside the cafeteria and I went to join my friends. 

 

The snow fell harder those next few days between Christmas and the new year. The library’s radiator barely managed to keep the room much above freezing but I wasn't going to miss my library hours. Also the typewriter was in there and I had some serious writing to do even if I had to do much of it shivering and with fingerless gloves.

I was well into one of my ghost written chapters of Lucretia Lawson’s novel when Brie came into the library. 

She was looking a bit better. She still had her arm in a sling but the bruises were fading around her eyes. 

“Hey,” I said. 

She gave me a nod and wandered over to one of the shelves. “Do you have anything else by that Neil Gaiman? I really liked Coraline .”

I stood up, “I’m afraid not until Glenda finishes with Stardust . If you like Neil Gaiman, you might like Terry Pratchett, they have somewhat similar senses of humor.” 

I showed her a couple very battered Discworld novels and she settled on one. 

She turned the book over in her hand. “Would it be okay if I read in here?”

I motioned her towards the chair by my desk. “It is a library, you are always welcome. If you want some skittles, I’ve got a bunch stashed in my desk.” 

She slid into the chair and accepted the bag of candy. “Thanks. I just, I need a few minutes where no one looks at me with pity or worry in their eyes.” Her voice trembled at bit at the last bit.

I set my hands on the desk instead of returning to typing. “Brie?”

Tears started to form at the edges of her eyes and she shook her head sharply. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“Nothing is wrong with you Brie,” I said gently. “And it’s okay to cry. I do it often enough.” I fished some tissues out of my desk and passed them to her. It occured to me that being prison librarian oddly made me the equivalent of prison bartender. 

My kindness was apparently the last straw and Brie burst fully into tears. “I just...I just can’t take it anymore. I used to have a reputation in this place and now everyone just thinks I’m weak. I know Camilla would throw me out of her gang for all the trouble I’ve caused her if doing it while I’m still hurt wouldn’t make her look bad.”

While I knew Camilla could be ruthless, as I’d witnessed when I saw her beat up one of Hanna’s people in the shower, I didn’t think she would thoughtlessly cast aside one of her own. 

Brie covered her face. “Something has to be wrong with me, hasn’t it? Why else would I have let Ali hurt me again. When she cornered me in my cell, I didn’t even try to fight back. I just...” Whatever she would have said was lost to a sob. 

I stood up and went to her. “Sh, sh, it’s okay Brie, it’s okay.”

She just drew in on herself more. 

“Can I hug you?” I’d never really been a hugger before but the last few months had taught me that it was something that could really help. 

She nodded and I pulled my chair over so I could wrap an arm around her. I felt some of the tension in her body ease. 

Gently I said, “Ali is an abuser, she manipulated you and used your emotions against you. That’s what abusers do.”

Brie hunched up further. “What does that make me then, a victim?”

“Yes, and that’s not your fault.”

She closed her eyes. “I still feel like I should be stronger. Hell, you’re tiny and you still stabbed to death the man that abused your sister.”

I carefully avoided confirming or denying the truth of that. “You’re stronger than you think you are Brie. You’ve left Ali and that is the hardest part. She’s in solitary and can’t hurt you.  When she gets out, Camilla’s people will keep her away from you. Right now you need to focus on healing and moving on.” A thought struck me. “Listen, Margret used to be a social worker, do you want me to ask her if she can talk to you?” 

I wasn’t really sure how qualified I was to help Brie. I’d tried to help my sister for years, begged her to leave her husband and I’d never gotten through to her, not really. She’d tried a few times, even come to my apartment with Izzy. The first time she went back on her own after a few days. The second time her husband came and knocked on my door.

I had stood in the way, refused to let him in, said I’d call the police. He’d just smirked at me and called for Lucy. I’d never come closer to killing that man than I did in that moment, although how I’d have done that unarmed and in a nightgown I don’t know. Wordlessly, Lucy had gathered up her daughter and pushed past me out the door. 

The look of utter exhaustion I saw in Brie’s eyes reminded me so much of my sister’s. There was a flicker of hope there too though. “Do you think that might help?”

“I don’t know, she’s talked me through some depression related stuff and that helped.” I wasn’t sure if I should be volunteering Margaret but I was fairly certain that if I asked her, she’d agree. 

“Okay,” said Brie, wiping at her face and then very loudly blowing her nose with a tissue I gave her. “No wonder the boss likes you so much, you’re really nice, you know that.”

“I try. Others in this place have been kind to me, so I try to pass it on.” 

It would have been a perfect moment then, the late afternoon light filtering in through the window and the peaceful quiet of the library. Brie leaned against me as if all the fear and tension inside of her had finally begun to ease. She was kind of heavy but I didn’t complain. If the best I had to offer her was an actual shoulder to lean on, I would provide it.

Then the library door banged open. It was a moment fitting of a bad novel. Ali stood there, scowling. Apparently she wasn’t in solitary anymore.

“There you are!” Her face darkened further when she saw how close Brie and I were. She strode across the room towards us. “For fuck’s sake. I wasn’t in the SHU for more than two weeks and you’re already taking up with some little bitch.”

I stood and put myself between her and Brie. “You are not welcome here.”

She stopped in front of me glaring. “Get out of my way.” 

“Get out of my library.”

I saw her draw her arm back. Brie scrambled to her feet. “Ali, no, please no. If you hurt her Camilla will kill you!”

Ali didn’t even look at her but she lowered her fist and glared at me. “I’m fucking sick of everyone treating you like you’re untouchable you stupid little goody two shoes. Move or I will move you!”

I held my ground. “No.” 

I knew that even she wouldn’t be stupid enough to hit me. To her credit, she didn’t hit me but she shoved me hard. I went backwards and my head connected with something hard. It had to have been the edge of the desk. My entire world swam as I hit the ground. 

I heard Brie begging and something that felt like a foot connected with my side.

Then the door to the library open again and I heard Nelly snarl. “Get away from her!” There was more crashing and yelling.

When I tried to move I felt sick to my stomach. I reached to touch the back of my head and felt something wet. Brie was beside me begging me to open my eyes. I tried but it made me feel worse.

The door crashed open again and there were more voices. Someone else knelt beside me. I realized that Bradshaw was talking to me. 

“Emma, are you okay? Emma?”

I had the sensation of being lifted up and then nothing. 

Chapter Text

I woke in one of the smaller side rooms of the infirmary. The nurse shone a light in my eyes and asked if my head hurt. I confirmed that it did, a lot. 

When I raised a hand to the back of my head I found a very painful lump.

The nurse asked me a lot of questions. When she was done she said. 

“You have a concussion. The good news is that I don’t think you’ve got a subdural hematoma.”

“A what?”

“Brain bleed. I can’t know for sure unless I send you for scans but your not showing any of the signs so I’m just going to keep you for observation for a day or so. Just try not to move very much or think too hard for at least a week.”

“Can I still write?”

She gave me a long look. “Do you need to think to do that?”

“Pretty much.”

“Then no.” 

Nurse Miller was not a woman known for her bedside manner. She gave me some acetaminophen for my head and dimmed the lights for me at least. Not having much else to do, I slept.

A little bit later, Officer Bradshaw came in and sat beside my bed. When she was sure that we were alone, she took my hand. 

“How are you doing?” 

“Not bleeding from my brain at least.”

The look of mild horror on her face was almost comical. I took pity.

“It’s just a concussion, I’ll be fine.”

“What happened?” she asked. “When I came in, Nelly was trying to strangle Ali and you were already on the floor. Brie was trying to wake you up.”

“What do you think happened?” As much as I cared about Bradshaw, I wasn’t sure if she was acting in her capacity as a guard or not in that moment.

“I’m guessing Ali went after Brie and you got in the way. I’m not sure why that would cause Nelly to try to kill Ali, does she like you or something?”

I shrugged. 

That was all the answer she needed. “You’ve got a lot of protectors,” she said at last. 

“So it seems.” I sat up very carefully, wincing at the effort. 

She noticed. “Did it ever occur to you to run for help rather than put yourself in danger?”

“By the time I found someone, Ali would have hurt Brie.”

The eyebrows drew together. “So you stayed and got hurt instead? That doesn’t seem any better to me.” 

“If I’d run, I’m not sure I could have looked at myself in the mirror.” 

Her face softened. She reached for my hand and the warmth of her palm against my own was calming. “Anyone ever tell you that you hold yourself to an unfair standard?”

“Several rather costly therapists.”

She shook her head, “you’re too good for this place.”

“So are you.” 

“If I stop being a guard at St. Cloud Prison, who’s going to copy your stories?” There was something deeply sad in those beautiful green eyes of hers. 

“I’ll find a way.” 

“If I go, I wouldn’t be able to see you every day.”

“No, but you won’t be inside these cold walls every day either.”

She squeezed my hand. “You make even this place beautiful to me.” 

“Flatterer.”

We heard footsteps and she quickly slipped her hand back from me.

The nurse came in and handed me a couple pills in a paper cup before checking my eyes again. The bright light of the flashlight made my head throb. 

I was more than ready to go back to sleep by the time the nurse left again but I had one last question for Bradshaw. “What happened to everyone who was in the room with me?”

“Brie’s still in gen pop, Ali’s in another room in medical, and Nelly in the SHU for attacking another inmate.”

“Would it get Nelly out any sooner if I told the truth?”

“Coming from you, it might make things worse. The assistant warden isn’t exactly your biggest fan.” 

“Nelly really was protecting me.” 

“The assistant warden wanted to blame Nelly for your injuries as well as Ali’s. Brie said that Ali hurt you and that Nelly was only protecting you from Ali though.” Bradshaw lowered her voice. “To tell you the truth, the other guards and I are sympathetic with Nelly. We all knew that Ali’s the one who sent Brie to the infirmary both times but we couldn’t do anything when she wouldn’t talk. We’re all amazed she did this time.”

Usually the unspoken rule in the prison was to never tell the guards anything, especially when it implicated another inmate. I doubted anyone was going to hold it against Brie in this instance. Bradshaw couldn’t stay any longer and I was left to rest.

 

I was allowed to go back to my cell after two days. My head still hurt and I didn’t feel up to doing much more than sleeping but at least I was out of the windowless infirmary room. Stella helped Amy chase our other friends out of my cell and assisted me in easing me down onto my bunk.

I’d barely closed my eyes when I heard a confrontation at the cell door. 

“How is she doing,” said Camilla’s voice. “

“Well enough but she needs to rest,” Stella was using her full on southern drawl. “You can come back later.”

“I won’t wake her, just let me see her.”

Stella must not have gotten out of the way because Camilla spoke again. “Damn it Stella. I know you don’t like me but you have to believe I care about her.”

I opened my eyes. “It’s okay Stella. I want to see her.”

Stella sighed but let Camilla into the cell. 

Camilla hurried to the side of my bunk, kneeling there. “Hey, how are you doing?”

“My head hurts but I’ll live. The shitty bit is I’m not supposed to think or write for a bit.”

She took my hand “That’s terrible.” 

“It’s okay, no one will want for something to read. I’m not the only smut writer in the prison and Amy is in charge of editing and putting out all the other writers stories and chapters until I get better.”

Camilla grinned in spite of everything. “I guess baby birds have to fly sometime.”

“I heard that,” said Amy. She’d finally been around Camilla enough that she wasn’t so afraid of her anymore. 

“You’ll be a great baby editor dear,” I told her. “I have every confidence in you.” That was about the extent of my whit for the moment because my head started to hurt more and keeping my eyes open became harder. The pain began to make me nauseous. 

“Can I lie down next to you and hold you?” asked Camilla. 

Let it never be said I refused comfort or cuddles. “Yes, I think that would help.”

She carefully settled onto the bunk behind me, pulling me into her arms. I closed my eyes and as the nausea eased, I fell asleep.

 

Getting a headache every time I did anything vaguely mentally challenging proved utterly debilitation and boring as hell. Out of kindness, Glenda went ahead and bought me the new commissary radio I’d just started paying her cigarettes for. 

I could listen to music at least. I tried reading but it took too much focus and caused me pain. Pop and country western music was about the extent of my bruised brain could handle. I slept a lot. After a few days I started going back to my library shifts even if I just put my head on my desk. Most of the women knew how to check out books on their own anyway.

I was a bit surprised when Cali came in during what should have been her shift with the grounds crew. She was well liked among the women there since she never complained about lifting or moving heavy things. 

“You suddenly find yourself in desperate need of another Raymond Chandler novel or is something up,” I asked. 

“Ali’s just been let out of medical back into gen pop. Camilla asked me to keep an eye on you as a favor.”

“I’m surprised she didn’t just send a henchwoman.” 

“I think she figured she’d ruffle fewer feathers this way,” admitted Camilla, taking the chair by my desk. “If Stella askes though, this was my idea.”

“She still worried that Camilla’s going to start ordering you around?”

Cali shrugged. “She’s a territorial woman, at least when it comes to some things.”

That was true enough, Stella was fiercely protective of her friends and lovers and didn’t like anyone she considered dangerous having influence over them. She loved Cali but was clearly troubled by the idea of her ever renewing her mob ties in any way.

From what I could tell, she was also, in her own way, sexually possessive of Cali as well. I had been part of a few threesomes and a fivesome with the couple but I’d never seen either act on their own. Cali’s eyes followed me often enough but she’d never initiated without getting the go ahead from Stella first.

“You my new bodyguard then?” I asked good humoredly.

“Yup. I’ll even shower with yo, if you want.” 

That was a rather tempting invitation, at least it would have been if I was feeling better. I did still have a concern.

“Is anyone watching out for Brie?”

“Last I checked, she was sticking to Lina like glue. I think she’s safe.”

I knew that wouldn’t be the end of things, it couldn’t be. I was inclined to think that even Ali wouldn’t be insane enough to come after Brie or me again but she hadn’t exactly shown herself to have any control of her anger before. 

If she had any sense she’d have to begged to be put into solitary confinement or transferred. Maybe she had and had been denied. She had to have known she was a dead woman walking the moment she re-entered gen pop. 

Camilla had taken no action against Lacey after the stabbing incident, but she hadn’t actually touched me and Hanna had paid retribution. I’d also heard that Hanna had quietly beaten the shit out of her later. Ali though, she’d twice hurt one of Camilla’s people and now she’d hurt me. There was no way that could be forgiven. The only question was how much worse things were about to get between the gangs. Even if Hanna sheltered her again it had to be only a matter of time. 

About a half hour before lights out there was a huge commotion and the prison went into lockdown. There was a lot of yelling and after a while I saw some EMS rush past. Eventually they came back a lot more slowly with a covered rolling stretcher. 

Rumors flew up and down the hallway but no one knew anything. Whatever had happened had occured in the bathroom when no one was there. No one knew for sure who’d been on the stretcher but everyone had a guess. 

Dawn found the prison still in lockdown. Two of the guards came to take me to the assistant warden. 

For once her hair was in a messy ponytail, instead of a neat bun and the shirt beneath her blazer was wrinkled. When she looked up as I was shown in, her glasses slipped partly down her nose and she paused to push them back up, the lenses caught the gleam of the overhead light. She took a steadying breath and then said. 

“Tell me Ms. Brown, has a lover ever killed for you before?”

I sat down, trying not to show how shaken I felt. “What do you mean?”

“Allyson Ashbrook was found dead in the bathroom from an apparent overdose last night.” She really emphasized the world apparent

“You know I have nothing to do with the drug trade in this prison.” 

“No but your lover does. Camilla Banchard has both the means and the motive to have a fatal dose of something shoved down a woman’s throat. ” She leaned forward. “Come to think of it, this isn’t even the first overdose you’ve been associated with. I didn’t originally think Anna William’s death was anything but what it appeared to be but now I’m starting to wonder.”

I stared at her. 

She kept talking. “You can’t deny that Ali shoved you in the library and caused you a head injury. Brie gave a statement to this effect immediately after the incident. Nelly Barker was also recorded, amongst a great deal of other obscenities, saying that she attacked Ali because “that fucking bitch hurt the librarian.” An ugly grin turned the edge of Ms. Sharp’s lip. “I have seen with my own eyes that you are fucking Ms. Blanchard, avenging a harm to your person is a very plausible motive for her to have had a woman killed.”

I said nothing, I did not want to betray in any way that I was fairly certain that this was exactly the case.

She misread the fear on my face. “Your scared aren’t you? In over your head, aren’t you, little librarian. Do you really want to go back to the bed of a cold blooded murderer? She’s already got a wife, you can’t be much more than a whore to her, someone expendable. What do you think will happen if you ever displease a woman like that?”

If she was trying to get me to talk, she was going about it the wrong way. 

“I’ve realized my mistake. Offering you early release wasn’t enough. You were afraid of what would happen when you got out and wisely so. I can get you witness protection, for you and your sister and her kids. I don’t need much from you, just a few words, and I can give you and your family a brand new start.”

I closed my eyes, fear tore at my throat. I would be lying if I didn’t feel tempted but I still had to live with myself.

“I have nothing to say.”

Her lips thinned. “I’ll take you down with her if I have to.”

“That would hardly be justice, now would it? You know I didn’t kill anyone.”

“Get out of my office.”

 

I was taken back to my cell and waited out the day in Amy, my worry only deepening as the day wore on. I couldn’t turn on Camilla, I wouldn’t. The thought of what ending up connected with a murder would mean was utterly horrifying though. 

The lockdown had ended the next day and I went looking for Camilla after breakfast. I found her in her cell. She saw that I was upset and waved away her lackeys. I started to tremble as soon as I sat down on the edge of the cell. Camilla pulled me into a hug. 

I fought down the urge to hide my face in her shoulder and spoke instead. “The assistant warden knows.”

Camilla tilted her head slightly. “Knows?”

“About Ali’s death.”

“Emma,” said Camilla soft. “I know you’ve had a concussion but think about what your saying.”

“I don’t understand.”

Even more quietly, barely above a whisper in my ear, she said. “Do you remember what I did about Lacey?”

I blinked. “You didn’t do anything about Lacey, Hanna paid some cigarettes and that was the end of it.”

“Exactly. It was one of Hanna’s people who acted without her permission, so why would I act when she could take care of it? She still needs our mutual protection agreement to keep her girlfriend safe.”

A wave of realization washed over me. 

“Oh.”

“Yes.”

Hanna had had Ali killed. I could breathe again. It wasn’t that I didn’t fully believe Camilla capable of murder, or that she may have even committed it in the past but it was still good to know she hadn’t ordered it for my sake. 

My relief didn’t last long. “The assistant warden still thinks you did it and she’s threatening to go after me too if I don’t flip on you.”

“She would, the ferret faced bitch,” growled Camilla. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen. I need to have a brief word with Hanna.”

“You’re not going to threaten Ms. Sharp or her fiance are you?”

“I would never stoop to anything that crude, much less threaten some uninvolved woman, even one with poor enough taste to be engaged to Ms. Sharp.”

 

By mid afternoon word was spreading around the prison that Lacey had been caught with drugs in her cell that matched Ali’s post mortem toxicology report. Of course, no one said “toxicology” report but “the shit that killed that abusive bitch” got the point across pretty well. 

When pressed by the guards, Lacey claimed, tearfully, that she’d given Ali the drugs from her stash because the other woman threatened her. She’d had no idea Ali intended to overdose, maybe it had been accidental?

I would have never thought Lacey to be a very good actress but apparently she put on a nearly Oscar worthy performance for the sake of getting back in Hanna’s good graces. Considering that he was a junkie and had been cut off by Hanna since the prison yard stabbing incident, she’s probably have said anything she was told to.

This went somewhat contradictory to the newly circulating rumor that several of Hanna’s people had actually been seen fleeing the bathroom shortly before the incident. That rumor died very quickly.  

Within a few days, word spread that the warden was closing the case in spite of the assistant warden’s recommendations to keep investigating. Two accidental overdoses in a month didn’t look good but it was better than a murder. 

 

 

The moment I heard that Nelly had gotten out of the SHU I took nearly my entire chocolate stash and went looking for her. 

I found her sitting alone at one of the picnic tables in the yard and soaking up sunlight in spite of the snow and chill. 

The moment she saw me, she leapt to her feet. “Emma.” She worriedly urged me to sit. “Should you even be on your feet? I heard…”

“It was only a concussion, I’m doing much better.” The bump on my head had nearly gone away. My head still hurt if I thought too hard and I was forgetting things but the doctor said that would pass. 

I held the chocolate bars out to her. “I wanted to thank you for what you did for Brie and me. I’m sorry you got thrown in the SHU for it.”

She grinned broadly. “Hell, I’ve been chucked in there for far less noble reasons than protecting a beautiful woman. I’ve got no complaints.”

I leaned towards her a bit. “You think I’m beautiful?”

She blushed. “Yes.”

“Is that why you sent me all those paper roses?” 

“Yeah.”

Hesitantly I asked. “Why did you never answer when I sent you that bouquet? Was it just too terribly made?” 

She looked down at her hands. “I meant to but I waited to long and then you were Camilla’s woman and it wouldn’t have been proper.”

I drew back. “I am no one's woman.” 

Her eyes went wide when she saw she’d caused offense. “I didn’t mean it like that Emma. I just meant that you’re with her now, aren’t you?” 

“Yes,” I admitted. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t still be with other women as well.” 

She frowned, as if confused. “She lets you?”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t let anyone tell me what to do.”

“Guess the rumors are true then,” she spoke with more amusement than malice.

“Rumors?” I asked carefully. 

She looked nervous again. “That you’ve slept with most of your friends.” 

“There is truth in that.”

“I wasn’t judging,” she said with a shrug. There was still longing in the way she looked at me. I was struck by just what an attractive woman she was, in an able to easily carry me to bed sort of way.

I leaned closer. “So you still interested in trading paper flowers and maybe something more?”

She reached out to draw me closer and I tilted my head into the kiss that followed. It was a good kiss but she never deepened it and she was the first to pull away. 

“I’d give just about anything to have a woman like you Emma but I don’t think this is a good idea. I know myself and I’m a jealous bastard.”

“You’re sure?”

She nodded sadly. “Yes, I tried to whole open relationship thing with an ex. She loved it and I was miserable. Things ended with a lot of yelling and me storming out. I’m not proud of that.” 

I was honestly amazed by how much introspection Nelly was showing. Then again for all her tough looks she was still the kind of woman who send paper flowers and loved YA novels, so she clearly had hidden depths.  

It occurred to me that she had been playing a different game then I had, She wanted something far deeper than I was offering her. When you want a woman’s heart, her body and a piece of her distracted affection is a cold comfort. A woman doesn’t secrety send paper roses for months when all she wants is to fuck. 

“I’m sorry.” I didn’t know what else to say.

She shook her head. “You’ve nothing to be sorry for Emma. You are yourself and I’m me and that is the way things are.” She’d still crossed her arms, like her heart was aching inside her chest.

We sat for a moment awkwardly. I said. “I am truly grateful for the times you’ve helped me. I don’t know what would have happened to Brie and me if you hadn’t come.” I actually did. I’d have probably lain on the floor dazed and useless as Ali hurt Brie. It wasn’t a pleasant thought.

“I will always protect you if you need it,” she said. For an instant in the late afternoon light she looked to me like any knight out of a fairytale, strong jaw and all. If I’d met her when I was a younger woman, I’d have fallen blindly into her arms, clung to that quiet strength. 

I knew myself better though. Part of me would always want some heroic white knight to sweep me off my feet. I’d never be the sort of woman who was content to be carried any farther than a bedroom though. There was as much restlessness in me as there was a need to possess and protect in Nelly.

She mistook my silence for something else. “I mean it, I really do. Even if I’d thought I’d never had a chance with you, I’d have still carried you away from the fight in the yard, scared Kaylee into leaving you the hell alone, and stopped Ali from hurting you more when she went after Brie. I like you Emma, your books mean a lot to me. I’ve been reading that YA series with the little witch since I was a kid in high school myself. Your heroine, she was so brave and fearless and not just with fighting warlocks and stuff. She was openly gay, even when it was hard and scary and meant other kids in the school were mean to her. She never had to pretend she was anything she wasn’t.”

 I don’t think I’d ever thought of Nelly reading those books when she was a teenager. Then again, she was somewhere in her mid twenties and I’d written that series when I wasn’t much older than the characters themselves.

“They really meant that much to you?”

She nodded. 

“Do you only have the book I saw you with? There were five more in the series.”

“I’ve read them before but this was the only one in the prison library. I know I should give it back, but I just can’t bring myself to.”

“I can get you the rest.”

“Really?”

“I am a librarian.” If nothing else, I would always be that. 

 

When the assistant warden called me to her office again she had the look of a defeated woman. She sat for a long time just looking at me. At last she said. “I’m sure you’ll hear about it soon enough but it seems that I will be leaving this place at the end of the week.”

“Oh?” Why was she telling me? 

She narrowed her eyes. “For Minnesota.”

She seemed to think I had some idea what she was talking about, I did not.

She elaborated. “My fiance got a job at a university there.”

“Er, congratulations?”

“A job teaching in a very tiny very specific department focused on medieval french cloister architecture. There are only about two programs in the US that even study that and there are fewer actual full time professorships than I can count on one hand.” 

Her eyes narrowed further. “They basically never hire new people but suddenly one of the professors in the program in Minnesota got a large anonymous grant to fund a massive archeological project in France. The professor took a multi year sabbatical to go dig up an old nunnery and the university needs someone new before the spring semester starts. Of all the academics in this field, the university called my fiance up and offered her the job, completely without the usual hiring process.” She folded her arms. “Tell me, does any of that sound suspiciously to you?”

“I don’t really know anything about french cloisters,” I admitted.

“Let me put it this way, the chances of my fiance ever getting a job in her field, much less suddenly and without even trying are so low as to be astronomical. I knew Bianchi had influence but this…” She threw up her hands. 

I blinked. “Wait, you can’t seriously think that Camilla funded a French excavation and influenced a university in Minnesota just to get rid of you.”

She ground her teeth. “What I know is that I now have to either ask the woman I love to give up her life’s dream, loose her, or fucking follow her to Minnesota.

“I’ve heard it is a nice state.” I ventured. “Lots of sled dogs.”

There was murder in her eyes. “I think we both know this isn’t actually about Minnesota!” She lowered her voice. “Do you think I don’t recognize an implicit threat when I see one. I’m honestly surprised I didn’t return home to a horse head in my bed.”

“Wasn’t that a scene in a movie?”

She rubbed at her temple. “You can tell your lover she’s won. I’m going. I hope you like how shitty this place is because it is never going to change, at least not from my efforts. Enjoy your next five years of finding bodies in the shower.”

A bit of guilt did creep into me. She’s tried to practically blackmail me into turning on Camilla though and I had no intention of forgiving that. Let her go to the land of ice and snow.

She shook her head in aggravation. “Now get out of my office. It’s still mine, even if not for much longer.”

I found Camilla out in the yard, leaning against a wall in spite of the snow. I leaned against it next to her. 

“I thought you said you wouldn’t threaten that woman’s fiance.”

“I didn’t. I just had my wife anonymously funded an archeological expedition and promise to endow a professorship. Trust me, threatening would have been a lot cheaper than fulfilling one woman’s dream to study cloister arches.”

A rather incongruous giggle. “I still can’t believe you managed to get Ms. Sharp sent to Minnesota.”

“She’s going to love it. I hear the winter are nearly twice as long as they are here.”

I gave into laughter. “You’re utterly heartless.”

She pulled me into a hug. “Oh, I’m not that bad surely.” 

“I think you’re wonderful.”

“You really think so?” 

I kissed her in answer. 

 

That week Bradshaw brought me her application to a local public university. I was finally feeling well enough that I could help her look it over and suggest some edits in the library.

“You really think I’ll get in?” she asked. 

“Your grades were good in high school, you were honorably discharged from the military, you essay is fairly compelling. The school you're applying to doesn’t require the SAT. I think you have a good shot.”

“I’m still scared. What if I get in but I’m bad at it? What if I’m giving up a good job just to drop out of school.” She chewed on her lip as she frowned at the pages.

“Then you’ll give it a shot and move on. It’s okay to fail.” 

She smiled gently. “Like you ever have?”

“I’ve had a lot of books flop and stories I could never seem to sell. Hell even my career as a librarian never went where I wanted it to. I used to dream of working in the Library of Congress or Harvard or something. I ended up in a little neighborhood library. Sometimes dreams die and sometimes you find new one’s mean more than you ever thought possible.”

She tilted her head slightly. 

“I never found the time to be a serious writer until I was working in that little library. It wasn’t very auspicious but I also got to run a children's reading group and a lot of other things that really meant a lot to me.” 

I felt my heart tighten in my chest. I would never be going back to that little library. I’d find new dreams to chase but my old world was lost to me. 

The winter wore on until it began to give way to spring. Mia started a book that got traction. I made headway in my ghostwriting. Amy and Alex reached that almost unbearably cute / smug point most couples get to when their just far enough into a relationship to have started fucking but haven’t started to annoy each other yet. 

I was faced with the awkward reality of being friends mostly with couples. Any time I had with Bradshaw had to be stolen. Camilla and I didn’t have to hide but she was also very careful about keeping me safely away from anything involved in her little prison criminal empire. That meant that moments we had together were not as often as either of us would have liked, although always wonderful. 

When I felt the ghost of loneliness beginning to stir I branched out, even as I made sure to maintain the friendships I already had. Busy as I was I also finally joined the knitting/crochet group. I found that doing something other than typing and writing with my hands helped a lot with the cramp I’d been getting. I started spending more time with Margaret and realized I really did have a good friend in her. 

I took the anti depressants I got the old drunk doctor to prescribe for me. They made killed my appetite and made my head feel fuzzy for a few weeks and then I started to work. I began to settle into my new life and feel almost content for the first time in longer than I could remember. 

Bradshaw got her acceptance letter in mid April. I tugged her into the library closest to celebrate. When we were done we lay curled up together on a crocheted blanket. I hadn’t made it, I wasn’t that good with a crochet hook yet but I had traded for it with Lin. I’d given her a six month subscription to anything Cage Bird Publishing put out and the promise of regular candy installments for just as long. 

I’d introduced the idea of a subscription service recently and it was going pretty well. Women could still buy individual stories or chapters if they wanted but plenty were willing to pay a flat monthly free to get everything. I was spending more time editing other people’s work than I ever had before but I was awash in cigarettes and candy. It was also very rewarding to see other writers blossoming.

It was mostly still erotica but one woman in B block had started a mystery novel that had been well received. Joan had finally talked me into adding some of her poetry, responses to that had varied a bit more.

As if reading my thoughts, as she ran her hands through my hair, Riley said “If I stop being a guard at St. Cloud Prison, who’s going to photocopy your lit magazine?” There was something deeply sad in those beautiful green eyes of hers. 

“I’ll find a way.” 

“If I go, I wouldn’t be able to see you every day.”

“No, but you won’t be inside these cold walls every day either.”

She kissed my forehead “You make even this place beautiful to me.” 

“Flatterer.”

“You do, I think I had stopped caring about much of anything until I met you. You made me feel things again.” 

I caught her hand and brought it to my lips to kiss it. “I’m going to miss you so damn much.” 

“Me too.”

 

The day Riley left her job at St. Cloud prison to start school that fall was one of the hardest days of my life. Although we had slipped away to say our goodbyes properly that afternoon, it still broke my heart when I watched her walk back out of the gate of C Block. There were certain words we probably should have said but we never had, as if we feared that giving them voice would jinx us.

I had meant to go to the garden shed to cry alone but Camilla came looking for me. She paused in the doorway. “I’ll go away if you want me to or go find one of your friends, but I’d really like to hold you.” 

I sat up from where I’d been curled up with my back to the wall and knees drawn up to my wet face. “You can’t possibly want to watch me cry over another woman.”

She came and sat beside me, drawing me into her arms. “If nothing else, I can offer you empathy. I know what it’s like to have my heart in the hands of a woman outside these walls.” She hadn’t really talked about missing her wife since the night of Anna’s death. For all the times I had cried in her arms, she never had in mine. I suspected it would always be that way between us and I had accepted it.

I rested my head on her shoulder.  “Does it ever get easier?”

“Mostly you get used to it, beyond that you live in hope.” 

“How do you do that, day in and day out?”

“Every day I tell myself that my family are safe and I will be with them again. I do everything I can to keep myself whole and well until that day.” She paused, “I think the biggest part of that is letting myself live and even be happy when I’m not with them. I went cold for a long time when I first got here and it nearly killed me. It wasn’t until I met Nancy that I realized how numb I’d become, that I needed to feel something if was going to still be anything close to human when I finally walked out of here.

“Nancy was in so much danger from Hanna I had to use every influence I had to get her out of here as quickly as I could. Even when she was gone though, I didn’t let myself shut down again. I’m glad I didn’t because it wasn’t that long until I met you.” 

She pulled me closer. “You give me joy in this dark place and for that I am deeply grateful.”

“Joy?” That seemed such a big thing. 

“Also stories, laughter, and orgasms.”

“And here I thought you might only be interested in me for the orgasms.”

“You are good at those.” 

I kissed her cheek and pulled away to retrieve two bottles of Margret’s hooch from my stash. I handed one to her. 

“I think that’s worth toasting.”

“Orgasms?” she said warmly.

I rolled my eyes, although I doubted she could see in the dimness. “Hope and joy.”

She accepted a bottle and opened it. We tapped the two plastic bottles of moonshine together and she said. “To hope and joy, within these walls and beyond.” 





Chapter Text

Epilogue 

 

I woke to the sound of a car alarm at some ungodly hour of the morning. I groaned and tried to roll over. That was a mistake. I tumbled off the couch onto the floor with a loud thump and a yelp. I heard a loud beep as the coffee machine kicked on in the tiny “kitchen” that was really just part of the living room separated from the rest of the apartment by a half wall. 

I had just begun to pick myself up off the floor when Stella wandered out of the bedroom in a silk robe, yawning. Although sleep could make her long dark hair rather resemble Medusa’s locks, she was still a very beautiful woman. She hadn’t bothered to close her robe and wore nothing under it, making her all the more alluring. 

“You okay honey?” she asked worriedly as she crossed the few steps it took to bring her to the kitchen and the brewing coffee. 

“Yeah, I only hurt my pride this time.” I set about folding up my blankets and stacking them, so that the couch would be usable during the day. Then I went to the tiny table that was barely a stone’s throw from the couch.  

“You know you’re welcome to sleep in the bed,” She brought me a cup of coffee along with her own, cream already added. 

“I don’t want to impose.”

She gave me a sly look over her coffee cup. “You’re in that bed often enough.” 

I blushed slightly. “And I have a great time with you and Cali when I do but it’s still a bit small for three people on a regular basis. Also you kick in your sleep and Cali snores.” 

The apartment was so small, that even if Stella and Cali were my sometimes lovers, we were still all tripping over each other all the time and I knew the couple needed some space that was just theirs. They were already being so generous letting me stay with them

“I don’t snore,” protested Cali as she emerged from the bedroom in sleeping shorts and a tank top, her hair doing its best startled hedgehog impression. 

“You do honey, worse than a freight train. You’re lucky I love you so much or I would have smothered you with a pillow ages ago,” said Stella with a winning smile.

“You knew what you were getting into when you married me,” said Cali with a wink as she went to get her own coffee. There was the sound of her rummaging through the cabinets. “Where did the good cereal go?”

“The multi grain squares?” said Stella innocently. 

Cali leaned on the divider between the kitchen and the rest of the apartment and made a face at her wife. “You know what I mean, the one with all the sugar and little marshmallows.”

Stella sipped her coffee. “I didn’t buy more. You know I’m trying to watch my weight.” 

“I’m not.”

“Yes but if I bought it then I’d eat it.”

“You don’t need to lose weight, you’re perfect as you are.” Cali begrudgingly brought the less than appealing box of cereal to the table and went back for bowls, milk, and spoons.

Stella kissed her on the cheek as she received her bowl. “Yes, but the whole staying skinny thing is a lot harder since I quit smoking.” 

I hadn’t been there to see what Stella had been like when she went cold turkey but by all accounts it had been pretty epic. She’d finally caved to Cali’s pleas for her to quit a few months after she got out of prison. She hadn’t had a cigarette in nearly six months and she was still far more short tempered than she had ever been in prison. 

Cali took her hand. “I’m sorry love, I won’t gripe about the cereal.”

“Thank you.”

I wasn’t a big fan of the bland cereal but I ate it anyway. It was food and a step up from what I’d eaten for nearly four years in prison. 

Stella was first out the door. She had found some work with a cyber security company but she was still just a contractor and only worked for them part time. She still had to waitress a few days a week at a nearby diner to bring in enough money. Her southern accent, tendency to call people “honey,” and ability to fake a convincing smile had proven lucrative enough in the coffee and egg slinging business. Saturday was one of her busiest days and she really didn’t have a weekend. 

Cali was next to go. She wanted to find work as personal bodyguard again but her criminal record complicated that. She split her time between working as a bouncer at a local club and hauling boxes at the docks. The bar hours were hard on her and the dock work physically exhausting but she was holding it together. She’d gotten out of prison first and had an apartment ready for Stella when she got out. They’d gotten married at the courthouse on Stella’s first day out and they were making an honest go of things. 

Their apartment was in a bad part of town and much bigger than a matchbox but it was clean and felt as much like a home as anywhere I had ever known. The walls were already covered in photos in cheap frames and there were little herb plants in the windows. 

I sat alone at the scarred wooden table Cali had found at some flea market and drank a second cup of coffee. Outside the city was waking up as the sun rose, growing even louder. It was a rare peaceful moment. In prison I’d have given anything for such a moment. 

After four years spent constantly caught up in the crush of voices and bodies it felt strange to ever be alone and unseen. Sometimes I still couldn’t believe that I’d been let out early on parole. I felt a slow melancholy begin to seep into my chest. Instead of pushing it down, I acknowledge it and tried to sort through my thoughts. 

I hated to admit it but I still missed Camilla terribly. She’d asked me not to visit her so that it would be easier for us both to move one. I’d always known that what we had could not continue on the outside. She loved her wife and would go back to her when she got out in five years. 

Even in prison, I’d known this, guarded my heart against. Still, there had been times when she looked at me with those beautiful dark eyes of hers, that I had wanted more. I had desperately wished we had met years before, when all the obligations of our lives didn’t lie between us, when we might have had something deeper than just comfort and desire. Sometimes she’d looked back at me the same way. It had never been something we spoke of. 

She had that look in her eyes when she’d kissed me before I walked through the gates of our cell block for the final time. 

“Get out of here and don’t come back little bird. The whole damn world is waiting for you.”

When I was planning what to do when I got out, I’d been very tempted to take up Riley’s invitation to move in with her. She’d never stopped calling me, never stopped visiting me, not even when she was exhausted from taking classes and working part time as a security guard. 

I’d tried to get her to date other women, fearing that I was holding back her chance of happiness. She had and yet she’d never gotten serious with anyone. Once every month or so she was still there waiting for me in the visiting room.

When I got out, I had wanted nothing more than to fall into her arms and let her take care of me, which was precisely why I hadn’t let myself do that. Wanting something and that thing being what you actually need aren't the same thing. I had often leapt before I looked when it came to sex but I knew better than to do that with a relationship. 

We’d had a brief and torid prison affair and then years of brief visits and calls. If we were ever going to have a real chance, we had to begin again properly, as the equals we had not been in the prison. If I had moved in with Riley right away, I would have ended up dependent on her for housing and possibly financially as well, if it took me a while to find a job. I didn’t want to start again with that power imbalance. 

She’d been hurt that I didn’t want to live with her right away but she had understood. We were dating and that was going really well. In some ways I felt like I was meeting a  new person, not a stranger exactly but someone better. Before she had been a strange mix of kindness and bitter sharpness. That had fallen away. Four years away from the prison had made her a happier and kinder person. She actually laughed and smiled easily. 

She’d completed an undergraduate degree in criminal justice and had just started working as a crime scene tech. She’d always been good at science, just never had a chance to do much with it. As a felon on parole, it felt a little weird to be seeing someone in law enforcement but I was glad she was happy. 

Dealing with the aftermath of violent crimes didn’t seem to bother her. It had been the day in day out drudgery of locking women up for those crimes that had been what wore on her soul.

I had thought about staying with my sister and her kids when I got out. Something in me hesitated. Over the last several years, she’d become increasingly independent out of sheer necessity. She’d found a job, gotten a car and learned to handle most things. She hadn’t needed the checks from my publisher after the first two years.

A few things she had said leading up to me getting out had worried me though. When she was talking about how difficult my niece’s teacher was and how much she hated to go to parent teacher conferences with the woman. Then she had suddenly perked up. 

“You’re getting out soon. You can start going with me and then it won’t be so hard. I bet you know how to handle someone like Ms. Maddox.”

I’d know then that I couldn’t move in with my sister. She’d start leaning on me again and possibly lose all her progress and newfound independence. Sometimes I still wondered if, in some way, I’d enabled her learned helplessness over the years. Our whole lives she’d always run to me when she was scared or overwhelmed, clung to me when she was in a panic. I’d usually tried to give her advice but when she begged I’d always ended up helping more than I should, doing things for her that she could have done for herself. For both our sake, I couldn’t let us fall back into that pattern. 

I’d been looking into finding a place in a halfway house when Stella offered her and Cali’s place. She didn’t have the time or energy to visit the prison but she and I still talked on the phone. For the sake of her sanity, she’d needed someone other than Cali to talk with about how hard it was to readjust to life on the outside. 

It’d refused the offer at first, afraid I’d put too much pressure on the struggling couple. She’d insisted and I eventually agreed. I had some money saved and could help a bit with rent while I was with them. 

After three months with Cali and Stella, I knew I was going to miss them terribly when I finally moved into my own tiny place the next week. I was pretty sure that most of my stuff from storage wasn’t going to fit. At least I wouldn’t be alone very long. Amy was getting out the next month and we were going to be roommates.

I was doing alright financially between my royalty checks and a job at a small used book shop. The owner was an old ex-con himself and slowly dying of cirrhosis of the liver but he was nice enough. I think he was mostly just happy to have been able to hire another ex-con who would actually show up for her shifts and could be trusted around the cash register. I was hoping to convince him to hire Amy as well.

I finished my coffee and went to get dressed. A few minutes later I was out the door and on my way to a local coffee shop, laptop bag over my shoulder. I could always get writing done in the apartment but there was no internet there. Part of Stella’s parole forbid her from accessing the internet unless it was work related. 

It was a beautiful fall day and I reveled in the crisp air as I walked down the street. So far, Caged Bird Publishing wasn’t much more than a legal entity, a website, and a couple of e-books but I had ambitions. 

I’d edited and distributed a lot of writing over four years in prison. A lot of it honestly wasn’t that good, a few works were though. I’d gotten several women to agree to let me try and market their writing on the outside. 

After Riley left the prison to start school, Officer Baker has surprised me by offering to keep making the photo copies. Apparently she’d been a fan the whole time. I hadn’t known what to make of it when she quietly asked me to include a short story of her own but I’d obliged her. She’s run off copies for me during the rest of my sentence.

Mia had gotten out long before I did but I’d been able to get her in touch with my agent. She’d published three books in a romance series. Recently she’d come to me with an urban fantasy novel, Rainbow Ink wouldn’t buy it and she wanted me to publish it for her. I was going to try. Unfortunately, I’d also been realizing that it takes a lot more than one woman, a very old laptop, and determination, to create a viable publishing company. I had just settled into a table at the coffee shop with my laptop open when I heard footsteps pause beside my table. 

“Ms. Brown?”

I raised my head and found myself looking up at Camilla’s wife. She was as refined as ever, her golden hair artfully twisted back and her high cheekbones carefully made up. She wore a beautiful blue silk wrap dress that was likely from some extremely expensive designer. 

She offered me her hand. “My name is Elaine Bianchi. We have never spoken but I believe you may have seen me before in the visiting room.”

I took her hand, still reeling from shock. Behind her I noticed two women in suits sitting at a table. They were ostensibly drinking coffee but every so often one would discretely glance in our direction. They had to be her bodyguards. 

Not knowing what else to say, I invited her to sit. I really hoped she wasn’t there to kill or threaten me. 

With a nod she sat. “Forgive me for intruding on your day.” she said. “It has come to my attention that you are starting a publishing company and I would like to offer my assistance.”

She played the perfect northern aristocrat as well as Stella played a southern waitress.

I just stared at her for a moment. When I realized what I was doing, I shook my head to force myself to focus. “You want to help me?”

“Yes.”

“Did Camilla ask you to?” 

She nodded. “Yes. She said that with your background you might have difficulties securing a loan to launch your company.”

I smiled weakly. “It seems that banks don’t like giving money to convicted felons.”

She opened a small briefcase and withdrew a small stack of papers in a folder  and a single check. “This should be sufficient to get you started. The contract covers the terms of repayment. The interest rate is fair and I won’t expect you to begin to pay back the loan until you have turned a profit for at least two quarters.”

I raised a hand to reach for the papers and the check, for an instant I saw all my troubles in the rearview mirror and then reality descended upon me. I let my hand fall to the table. 

“I’m sorry. You were very kind to offer but I can’t accept this.” In prison I had not been too proud to accept gifts from Camilla, even knowing how she had gotten them, but on the outside I had more choices. I would begin Caged Bird Publishing honestly or not at all.

She tilted her elegant neck slightly. “It’s not drug money, if that’s what your thinking.”

I slightly raised an eyebrow.

“Truly it is not. I have a modest inheritance from my mother, she came from an old blue blood family. I have always kept that money separate from my other businesses interests. I invest it in business ventures that I find compelling. I’ve also lent money to a small independent theater, a children’s dance academy, an art gallery, and an artisanal cupcake shop.”

“Cupcakes?”

“I like them.”

“This is a genuine offer?” I finally drew the check and the papers over. The check was not insubstantial. It was more than enough to rent a small office, pay legal fees, hire more editors than just myself, and pay for marketing. I could take Caged Bird Publishing from a dream to a reality. I thought it would be years before I could ever consider moving from digital to physical publishing, there was enough money there to afford a first print run of several books and even pay my writers an advance for their work.

She nodded. “Yes.” 

“I’ll be honest with you Ms. Bianchi, I feel like I should tell you that this is a risky investment. I’ve been in this industry for years, I know it backwards and forwards but I still can’t guarantee that the books I publish will sell or turn a profit.”

“That is a risk I am willing to assume.” She reached out and laid a carefully manicured hand over my own. “Take the opportunity and be happy.” 

I wasn’t sure what I had expected. It hadn’t been this dignified kindness. To my deep shame, I felt tears at the edges of my eyes and fought them down. 

“Thank you,” was all I could manage.

“Read over the contract, sign it, and put it in the mail when you’re ready. I look forward to doing business with you Ms. Brown.”

She offered me her hand and I took it. We shook once and then she was gone as quickly as she had appeared. 

I sat for a long time in stunned silence. When at last I reached for my coffee to take a sip, I found it cold. With shaking hands, I read through the contract and found it to be as she had described. I signed and put the papers into the return envelope.

Like a woman in a dream, I went by the post office and then the bank. It seemed so strange that one little piece of paper could hold so many of my hopes and dreams. My hands started to shake as I handed over the check and deposited it in the Caged Bird Publishing account. Everything, everything was about to change.

I needed to find office space, hire a copy editor, find a printer. I began to feel so overwhelmed I had to sit down for a moment and catch my breath. Only then did it occur to me that a door had just closed on a chapter in my life. If Camilla’s wife was willing to go into business with me, then surely it meant that Camilla and I were truly over even if I had known that from the moment I stepped back through the gates of St. Cloud prison. 

She’d never been mine, not truly, not deeply, but she’d been someone to me and I to her. Endings are painful, even when they come with new beginnings. 

My phone beeped and a notification popped up. I’d forgotten I was meeting Riley across town at a cafe by the harbor for lunch in a half hour. 

I would not have normally paid the expense of hailing a ride but it seemed my fortunes had turned. I arrived at the cafe a few minutes early and got a good table on the patio looking out at the water. The air was crisp but not too cold to sit outside. It was a simple place and a little too close to the docks to be trendy but they had good seafood and were relatively affordable. 

I saw Riley step from the restaurant out onto the patio. She was wearing a battered old leather jacket she’d once told me she inherited from her mother. She’d let her hair grow out just enough to curl after she’d left the prison and the look suited her. 

Four years away from St. Cloud had changed how she carried herself. Always in the prison, she’d stood with her back straight, shoulders tensed as if fearing trouble. Now she looked as if she had all the time in the world, shoulders relaxed and hands in her pockets. The cry of a gull caused her to turn her gaze briefly to the sky. 

The sight of her made my heart do a lot of things. It did even more when she scanned the patio and saw me, I would never get tired of the way a smile lit up her whole face. 

I stood to greet her and she pulled me into a brief hug and fleeting kiss. 

“Hi beautiful,” she said warmly. 

“Hi yourself.”

We sat and once the waitress brought our drinks settled into enjoy the lovely fall afternoon. 

“So how’s the storytelling business going?” she asked playfully.

I reached for her hand, feeling as if for once everything was going to work out. “Let me tell you all about it.”

 

~End~