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Second Chances

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Franky was thinking about Erica. She was in her local cafe waiting for her coffee order.  She hadn't seen much of her since their visit to Wentworth.

Erica had called a strategy meeting after they had talked to Ruby in prison. She and Nick had met with Stephanie and Franky to discuss next steps.  The plan was to get Ruby moved to a psychiatric institution and adopt a defence of diminished responsibility.  Franky had wanted to pursue the green man angle.  Her view was there was still a possibility Ruby was an innocent bystander to what played out that day and it wouldn't be fair to Ruby if they didn't pursue all avenues.  Nick and Erica had argued against it.  It would prove to be a fruitless exercise they claimed and Franky's time would be better spent researching cases where Dissociative Identity Disorder had been argued successfully as a defence.   Franky had lost the argument when Stephanie had sided with Erica.

As Stephanie was with her she didn't get the chance to speak to Erica privately after the meeting.

She wanted to ask Erica what was going on in her head. The whole Bea thing had been an eye opener.   Franky had felt a little bud of hope bloom and wanted to nurture it. 

There had been no opportunity though. First it had been work swamping Erica then she'd sent a text saying she had to go away for a few days.

"Look mum, it's the pink lady," a young voice interrupted Franky's reverie.

She glanced across at the nearby table and saw a young girl of about four looking out into the street. Franky followed the look and saw a Wendy's ice cream girl in her pink uniform on the pavement outside. 

The pink lady. The green man.  The similarity between the two phrases struck Franky suddenly.  What if Henry's green man referred to what he was wearing like some kind of uniform?  

Her coffee arrived. She rang Erica on the way back to the office.  Her secretary answered.  "She's not in the office today.  I can take a message," she offered.

Franky sighed and didn't leave a message. At her desk she googled green uniforms but couldn't find anything which seemed even a remote possibility.  She went to her whiteboard and wrote uniform with a question mark under a note saying the green man.  She stared at it sipping her coffee thinking.  She didn't notice Stephanie appear in her doorway.

"Any news on Boomer's trial?"

Franky looked around. "The DPP dropped it," she said, "I was notified this morning.  The bastards waited until the last possible moment."

"Still, good news for Boomer," Stephanie pointed out. "Her mother must have decided not to testify and without her as a witness and Ron dead, they wouldn't have much."  Stephanie watched Franky thoughtfully.  "And the murder investigation?"

Franky shrugged. "No news."

"How's your head?"

"Fine." Franky was dismissive.

"Are you sleeping okay? It must be difficult with the wound being where it is," Stephanie asked.

"It's okay, I try and sleep on my side," she explained.

"How about you come out to lunch this Sunday?" the older woman said suddenly. "James would like to see you and we haven't had a catch-up in a while.  If you're free," she added as an afterthought.

"Sure," Franky agreed absently. "Can I borrow your car this afternoon?"

Stephanie didn't answer immediately. She glanced past Franky to her whiteboard.  It was covered in scribbles about Ruby's timeline on the day of the murder and questions.  "How's the research coming into DID cases?" She asked instead.

"Not good, most using it as a defence lost their case," Franky informed her. "So the car?" She prompted. 

Stephanie held out the keys. "Keep looking into those cases," was all she said.

Late in the afternoon Franky drove out to the day-care centre where Henry had been enrolled and Ruby had worked part-time. She knew Stephanie's comment had been an indirect way of telling her to keep her focus on the strategy that had been agreed.  And she would but it didn't mean she wouldn't pursue what her gut told her was important.  She didn't know why it was important but something had changed for Franky the day she witnessed Ruby's transition to Ella.  Beforehand she had found Ruby frustrating and her sympathy levels for the girl had been low.  Since she met Ella though she realised many of Ruby's problems stemmed from her childhood and, Franky suspected, her father.  This was something Franky could relate to.  She also realised the loyalty driving Ruby was not some self-sacrificing, misplaced loyalty to another person, it was protecting Ella and therefore herself.  This was also something Franky could understand and respect. 

Nick had suggested Ruby was faking it and it was nothing more than a cleverly executed distraction from the truth.

Franky had shaken her head emphatically. “No, you didn't see her, it was real."  No one had challenged her but in the silence which followed her statement Franky heard the unspoken question from the others.  Was this just a ploy by a desperate girl?

Suddenly Franky had felt she was the only one still in Ruby's corner and the others were more concerned with finding a defence strategy which would minimise the damage. Even Stephanie, who Franky had seen argue cases from impossible positions and win, was erring on the side of caution.  It surprised her.  Not Nick, who Franky suspected had always thought Ruby was guilty, and not even Erica.  She sensed Erica was focused on managing the relationship between her firm and Stuart Roxton.  She didn’t blame Erica for her position, she understood it to a point but it also made her more determined to continue with her own investigations until all the avenues were exhausted.

She met with the manager of the centre. Georgia Freeman was a woman in her late thirties with the look of someone who worked long hours.  Their conversation was interspersed with Georgia picking up kids who had fallen over, resolving disputes over toys and cleaning up messes.  It gave Franky an insight into parenting.  She had read Georgia’s statement to the police and knew the manager had been surprised when Ruby was arrested.  Her experience was of a girl who enjoyed looking after the children and was able to build a good rapport with many of them, including Henry.  She was responsible and carried out her duties with care and diligence. 

“Have there ever been any incidents involving Ruby where she has acted out of character?” Franky asked. Georgia shook her head as she rescued a crayon from the mouth of a toddler.  “If Henry mentioned a green man, do you know who he might be referring to?”

“Oh sure,” Georgia said immediately. She went over to the toy box and picked through it until she pulled out an incredible hulk toy.  Franky looked at it.  Well it was certainly green, she agreed silently. 

“Okay,” she acknowledged, “but I was kind of thinking of an actual person.”

Georgia frowned. “No one comes to mind,” she said apologetically. 

Franky gave her one of her business cards. “Can you call me if you think of someone?” she asked.

“Sure,” she agreed distractedly as a parent arrived to pick up their child.

Franky’s mobile rang as she walked back to the car. It was Amy. 

“Hiya Tatts,” she said when Franky answered. “You’re hard to get hold of these days.”

Franky remembered the text message from Amy and Boomer’s reluctant message that Amy had dropped by. Then she’d had a missed call almost a week ago.  “Sorry, been busy, what’s up?”

“Meet me for a drink tonight and I’ll tell you,” she offered.

Franky deliberated. She could do with a drink.  Amy was fun.  Erica was MIA.  Boomer had packed her bags and headed back to her mum’s place optimistic as only Boomer could be that it would all work out okay. 

“All right,” Franky agreed, “when and where?”

They settled on a bar and a time. Franky went by the law courts to pick up Boomer’s bail money.  She wasn’t looking forward to meeting Vince Diamond, not after the beating he had ordered for her.  She arrived back at the office and handed over the keys to Stephanie.  She waited for the interrogation but her boss just took the keys absently and Franky escaped thankfully.  

The flat seemed empty without Boomer. Franky changed into gym gear and headed out for a run.  It had started to rain.  She did her usual route up to the Botanical Gardens through them then back home.  The rain made the footpaths free from pedestrians and the gardens empty.  As Franky ran she wondered where Erica had gone so suddenly and without explanation.  A girl could get paranoid, she thought, if she dwelt on it.  She turned up the volume on her music to drown out the doubts. 

“Drink, dance, talk,” Franky instructed later when she had found Amy amongst the Friday night crowd. She had dressed in a short black sleeveless dress that hugged her toned tanned tattooed body.  Her eye make-up was heavy drawing attention to those entrancing eyes.

Amy whistled. “You look stunning,” she said, “sexiest girl here.”

“Ahuh?” Franky replied casually, “Don’t get any ideas.”

“Too-oo late,” Amy said with a grin. “Wanna hear them?”

“I want a drink or three followed by a dance, you up for that?”

Amy was easy going by nature. She gave way with good grace.  They drank vodka, enough to take the edge off their respective days then joined a throbbing throng of bodies on the dance floor.  The music was loud and had a bass beat which Franky could feel vibrating up from the floor and through her body.  She lost herself in the beat.  Her brain stopped processing.  She felt herself relax.

When dehydration drove them off the dance floor and towards the bar where they drank schooners of water, Franky’s hair was wet and perspiration made her skin gleam.

“They arrested someone for Ron Maxwell’s murder,” Amy said when she’d put down her glass.

Franky looked surprised. “Who?”

“Just a random, guy called Pete Lukovic, it was a dispute over a drug deal, just like you thought,” Amy acknowledged. “The idiot stole Ron’s stash and was caught dealing.  He also took his credit card and it was found on his person when he was searched at the station.  When they searched his place they discovered he still had the clothes he’d been wearing when he killed him… still with the blood on them.” 

Franky shook her head at the stupidity of people. “Fuck,” she muttered, looking over Amy’s shoulder.

“What is it?” Amy asked.

“Just an arsehole I’d rather not run into,” Franky said as she drained her glass. It was too late. 

Nick Hammond approached her as Amy turned her head to check out who Franky might be talking about. “Francesca Doyle,” he said with a slight slur in his voice.  “You see I’ve been doing my research.”

Great, thought Franky, a pissed arsehole. “Nick,” she said briefly. 

Nick was looking at Amy. “Hello,” he said.  “Go on break my heart, tell me you’re gay too,” he said leaning in.

Amy put a hand on his chest restricting his forward momentum. “Just for you, buddy,” she said.

“And Francesca huh?” Nick said with a knowing look.  “So do you know who you’re going to bed with?”  Amy just gave him a look of contempt.  “Oh come on,” Nick said with a laugh.  “Maybe it turns you on, knowing she–” Franky knew what was coming next.

“Let’s go,” she said to Amy. She walked off.  Outside the club the temperature was cooler and the air fresh after the rain.  Franky took a deep breath. 

“Friend of yours?” Amy asked. She lit a cigarette and offered Franky one.  “Or just someone that you used to know?”

“Just someone I work with,” Franky replied, declining the cigarette. “Forget about him.” 

“I can do that,” Amy said as she smoked. “So, do you want my other news?”

Franky looked at her. “Yeah,” she said after a moment.

Amy exhaled making Franky wait. “Your girlfriend came to see me,” she said at last.

“Erica?” Franky questioned in disbelief.  Her mind was processing at lightning speed but without finding any answers.  “What did she want?”

“She wanted me to track down your father,” Amy said, watching Franky’s reaction. She could tell by the stunned expression on her face Franky had no clue about it.

For a moment Franky didn’t say anything, she just stared at Amy. A thousand questions raced through her mind.  “Why?” she asked at last.

Amy shrugged. “I thought you could tell me,” she said.  Franky just shook her head.  She stared ahead of her for a while, trying to understand the implications of what Amy had said.

“Have you?” she asked at last in a quiet voice.

“Have I what?"

“Tracked him down,” Franky felt like everything had slowed down as she waited for Amy’s response.

“Do you want me to?”

Franky didn’t know how to answer Amy. Part of her was desperate to find her father but another part of her feared the worst.  What if she hadn’t been able to find him when she had first been released because he was dead or didn’t want to be found?  She was going okay on her own, wasn’t she?  What if finding her father made things worse not better?

“I don’t know,” she said at last. “Can you track him down?” she asked, “if I wanted that?”

Amy frowned. “Maybe, depends, I could try but no guarantees,” she cautioned.  “It could just end up being a big disappointment.”   She tossed her cigarette down and put a sassily heeled foot over it to stub it out.  She grinned at Franky.  “So don’t say I didn’t warn you, Tatts.”

When Franky got home she tried to call Erica but it went straight through to voicemail. She sent a text instead just saying, “Call me”.  She felt sober and wired.  She stripped and showered and lay on her bed waiting for Erica to call her back.  What the fuck was Erica doing?  She hadn’t the first clue.  She put her arms across her chest.  She had felt shocked when Amy first told her and then furious at Erica for interfering in something that had nothing to do with her.  Then she felt scared all over again that her father would disappoint her one more time.  She fell asleep eventually.

She woke to the sound of someone banging on her door. She looked at her phone.  It was eight am and there were no messages or missed calls.  She considered just staying where she was until they went away but the knocking didn’t seem to be stopping.

With a groan she rolled out of bed. She answered the door in a sleeveless top and pair of boxer briefs.  Erica had been about to say something but instead she took in the skimpy attire. 

“Finally,” Franky said rubbing sleep out of her eyes and turning away from the door and heading towards the kitchen to get a glass of water. Erica was still distracted by those tanned legs and firm butt.  She knew Franky had said something but she couldn’t quite remember what it was.  “Want one?” Franky offered as she filled a glass.  Erica shook her head.  “So,” she eyed Erica over the rim of her glass, “you want to tell me where you’ve been?” 

“I –” Erica began, “do you always answer the door dressed like that?” she asked distractedly.

“Don’t stall,” was all Franky said. She raised her eyebrows.

Erica sighed. “I had to go to Sydney.  Mark’s brother was in a car accident.  He was in a critical condition and they put him in an induced coma.  Mark was a mess.  I had to be there for him,” she finished with.  She sounded unapologetic, as though she knew Franky wouldn’t like what she was saying, but she’d made the only choice she could have made.  “I only got back late last night.”

“How’s his brother?” Franky asked after a moment. She hugged the glass to her chest.

Erica seemed to relax slightly. “Out of danger,” she sounded relieved.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Franky asked.  She was conscious of the bench between them, and the emotional distance.  She held the glass tighter.

Erica rubbed her brow. “I needed some space, Franky, I needed to think, and,” she looked at Franky with a worried frown, “I can’t think straight around you,” she confessed quickly.

Franky smiled. She suddenly felt a little happier.  “Well, I just meant a text message actually.”

Erica smiled back. “Oh,” she said.

Franky put down her water and walked out from the kitchen. “I get that you wanted to be there for him without distractions,” she pulled Erica into an embrace.  “I get that,” she murmured into Erica’s hair.  It felt good to hold her.  She’d missed Erica, she realised, in just a few days she’d learnt to miss her.  “Are you okay?”

“I’m exhausted,” Erica admitted, “it has been emotionally draining to watch Mark and his family swing from hope to despair depending on what the specialists were saying, and trying to be the one who holds it together.”

She felt Franky pull her closer and run her hands down her back in soothing rhythmic strokes. She felt tears threatening to spill.  She had held in her emotions so tightly when she’d been with Mark, being stoic and strong for him, now Franky’s small gesture was enough to undo her.

“It’s okay,” Franky said softly, “it’s okay, I’m here.” Then she did cry and Franky held her.

“I thought about you a lot,” Erica said after a while, “in the down time, when we were waiting for a change in his condition.” Franky didn’t say anything.  “I didn’t like it when you kissed Bea,” she admitted at last.  “And I needed to work out what that meant.”

Franky smiled into Erica’s hair. “Isn’t it obvious?” she asked.

“I don’t get jealous,” Erica said emphatically, “ever.”

“Well maybe that’s because you’ve never cared enough before,” Franky pointed out. She pulled back and looked into Erica’s eyes.  “It’s okay to be jealous.  I’d be jealous, if I saw you kissing someone else,” she said slowly.  

She watched Erica process this. “Why did you ask Amy to find my father?” she asked suddenly.

Erica looked guilty. Her eyes shifted from Franky to the kitchen bench then the floor.  She stepped back.  Franky let her go.  “How did you find out?”

“Amy told me,” Franky told her, “did you think she wouldn’t?”

“I – yes, I thought she could keep her mouth shut,” Erica said with frustration.

Franky shook her head. “Well, I’m glad she couldn’t,” she retorted.  “For fuck’s sake Erica, it’s none of your concern, what made you think I even want to find him?”

"Because you've already tried for starters," she said immediately.  Then Erica looked at her. Her eyes held, not pity but compassion.  “Franky,” she said with concern.  “You need to see him and try and get some resolution to all the issues you are carrying because he abandoned you.  I didn’t tell you, and maybe I should have –”

“You reckon?” Franky interrupted with.

“Maybe it was high-handed of me,” she acknowledged, “but I didn’t want to get your hopes up and then have them dashed if Amy couldn’t find him. I wanted to protect you from that.”

Franky ignored that. “How the fuck did you even find Amy?” 

Erica sighed. “I saw her when she came round to see you the afternoon you came out of hospital.  I realised she was a police officer because she was in uniform.  When I had the idea I rang Boomer and asked her which station Amy was based at and I went and saw her.”  Franky stared at her.  It was as though there was a conspiracy going on behind her back. 

“You’re unbelievable!” she said putting up her hands in astonishment. She rubbed her eyes.

“Franky,” Erica said urgently, “Franky, listen to me,” she took hold of Franky’s upper arms to stop her from walking away. “I did it because I care, don’t you get that?”  Franky’s green eyes lifted and held Erica’s with a questioning look.  “I interfered because I care about you,” she said wearily.

She saw Franky relax. “You care about me,” she repeated.

Erica relaxed. “I do,” she said.

Franky frowned. “Don’t think that’s going to get you off the hook,” her tone was serious but Erica could tell Franky was pleased. 

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Erica said seriously.  “I’m willing to take my punishment with good grace.”

“Are you?” Franky said and her eyes lit up impishly. “I look forward to that.”  She grinned, completely distracted by the thought.  She was still annoyed with Erica, definitely, absolutely, but maybe it could wait for a little bit.