They were sitting on the couch, close but not touching.
"You can't do that," Franky said, looking at Erica to gauge her reaction. "You can't just act on an impulse which directly affects me without talking to me." She was trying to be as clear as possible. "I spent years in prison where I had no control over anything. Whether I look for my father or not, it has to be my decision. I need you to get that," she paused, "and respect it."
Erica felt as though nothing in her life was going well. She was already on the edge of her reserves both physically and emotionally. The Roxton account was finely balanced. She had briefed Stuart Roxton after the Wentworth visit and explained the proposed strategy for Ruby's defence. It had been a difficult conversation. Stuart had refused to believe Ruby might suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder. He questioned Erica's ability to defend Ruby successfully. He then questioned whether Ludlow and Brookes was the right firm for his business interests into the future. She had talked him down but she knew he could walk in a heartbeat.
Mark's brother while out of danger could still suffer complications as a result of the trauma to his brain. His wife had been killed in the accident. Mark was close to his brother despite the physical distance between them. He was going to be Mark's best man. Now no one was sure if he would be able to fulfil the role. His parents suggested delaying the wedding. Erica had felt immense relief at the possibility but guilt had followed hot on the heels of that initial reaction; guilt that she was putting her own desires ahead of Mark and his family.
Now Franky was annoyed with her for trying to help. What was worse was Franky's perspective, when she explained it, was completely understandable. It was something Erica felt she should have known intuitively. She looked at her actions through Franky's eyes and saw she was trying to manage her as though she knew what was best for Franky based on what exactly? She didn't know. Her intentions had been worthy but her actions had shown a lack of respect for Franky. Even though she thought she was protecting her, even though she cared enough to bother, she'd done wrong. Now Franky was telling her to shape up or ship out.
She closed her eyes so she didn't have to see the disappointment in those green eyes that were watching her so intently. She rubbed her brow. She hoped Franky was willing to forgive her if she admitted her mistake. She gave a small shake of her head then opened her eyes and looked at Franky. "I'm sorry," she said with a sigh, "I thought -" she stopped, "I'm sorry," she repeated and left it at that.
"No," Franky said immediately, "you're not doing that."
Erica frowned in confusion. "Doing what?"
"Clamming up, not explaining yourself, making me work it out on my own," she said firmly. "If you really do care about me, Erica, tell me what is going on in your head." Or I'm done. She didn't say it aloud because she wasn't sure she could walk away and what was the point of an empty threat.
She suspected she had let Erica get away with saying little about how she was feeling and if she let it continue then Erica would just keep doing it. She waited.
Erica took a breath and launched into the water she feared, plunging her head under because total immersion would be the only thing which would satisfy Franky she was genuine.
"I didn't think it through," she admitted. "I saw a potential way of finding your father and just set the wheels in motion. I wanted to give you the chance to resolve things with your dad. I wanted to help you because I worry you will never be free of him and what he did to you until you get the opportunity for reconciliation or closure. But, I should have talked to you about it. You have every right to be angry with me. When I say I'm sorry I mean it," she hesitated. "As to what's going on in my head," she shifted her gaze away from Franky. "Confusion mostly," she said with a small laugh at herself. "Am I straight and curious, am I gay, am I bi? Am I Mark's fiancé or your girlfriend?"
"All those words are just labels, Erica," Franky said slowly.
“Those labels are what define us,” Erica replied.
"Who you are,” she said, “is in here," Franky put her hand on her heart. "You need to work out who that person is and then the labels won’t matter."
Franky studied her. Her anger had gone. She did believe Erica had her best interests at heart. Franky's emotional intelligence had come a long way. She had reached rock bottom and the climb back had taught her a lot about herself. She suspected Erica had been in denial for much of her life. What was worse a part of her worried that Erica was caught in the headlights unable to commit to Mark but equally unable to walk away. And now she suspected Erica would have even more difficulty extracting herself from her relationship if she felt Mark was vulnerable. She sighed.
"I missed you," Erica offered suddenly and then all Franky's doubts seemed foolish. Erica leant across and kissed Franky softly on her lips. She ran her fingers up the back of her neck and into her hair lightly massaging her scalp careful to avoid the injured area. It made Franky's skin tingle. "I don't want to fight with you," she murmured.
Franky didn't want to fight either. Unless it was physical in the lead up to sex that would be okay she added as a postscript. She knew she was stronger than Erica and the idea of wrestling her and winning had its appeal. Erica's hands had slipped down to her shoulders where the thin straps of her top lay. She slipped her fingers under them gently massaging and along the top of Franky's shoulder blades then back over the shoulders letting her thumbs run across her collarbone. Her eyes caught Franky's as her hands slid back to her shoulders and down each arm squeezing gently. Her thumbs grazed the sides of Franky's breasts almost by accident. She felt her nipples respond instantly. She saw Erica's eyes drop momentarily and she knew the thin layer of material would not disguise anything.
She slid her hands up again and down Franky's chest resting them there just above her nipple line. Franky could feel her heart beating against Erica's palm. “Who are you in here?” She asked softly. Their eyes were locked as Erica moved her hands so her thumbs brushed over Franky's nipples. It sent a shot of excitement direct to Franky's loins. Her hands cupped her breasts massaging them through the material. Franky gasped and Erica caught her bottom lip with her teeth. Her hands slid the thin straps off Franky's shoulders and she pushed Franky back onto the sofa. She peeled the top off to expose her breasts. When Erica's mouth found one of those tight buds she heard Franky growl softly. That small sound sent shivers of excitement through her. Her hand found the other nipple and began to stimulate it. Franky's breasts were fuller than Erica's and her nipples darker. Touching them and tasting them excited Erica beyond anything she thought possible.
Her mouth continued down Franky's firm torso. She spent some of those long hours in the hospital getting herself hot and bothered by thinking about what she wanted to do with Franky. She'd felt guilty about it but that only made her think about it more. Guilty pleasure, she had understood what that phrase meant.
She pulled those boxer briefs off and Franky lifted her hips to assist. Erica's mouth explored Franky slowly thoroughly enjoying the responses she triggered. Her hands slid around Franky's arse caressing it as her tongue danced to its own erotic rhythm. Franky's breathing was ragged and her hands went into Erica's hair encouraging her. The combination of Erica's hands everywhere on her butt and the sight of her blonde head between her legs and the sensations she was creating was too much for Franky. She came hard and vocally, the aftershocks leaving her incapable of movement or thought.
"See what happens when you answer the door dressed like that," Erica murmured after a while.
Franky laughed quietly. “Mm, good to know.” She pulled Erica to her. “I missed you too,” she whispered in her ear, hugging her close and kissing her neck. They lay there like that for a while with Erica half on Franky and half squashed against the back of the couch until Franky’s arm started to complain.
“I’ve gotta get up,” she said easing Erica off her.
She went to the bathroom and Erica watched her admiring her nakedness. She had almost called Franky a dozen times over the past few days just to hear the sound of her voice. Just to hear the cheeky smile in her tone. When her plane had landed the previous evening she had fought the temptation to call Franky there and then. She had resisted but as soon as she woke she decided to drive over to Richmond. There was a brief moment when she had thought of Mark, still in Sydney and worried about his brother, and wondered whether she should cool things with Franky until the situation was resolved. She had thought it and then realised she couldn’t keep away. It wasn’t just the sex either, which she had to admit was better than anything she’d experienced previously, it was Franky.
Franky didn’t let Erica get away with anything. It was challenging and frustrating but Erica had to admit the way Franky could make her feel was intoxicating. Franky had captured her attention at Wentworth easily. She had been so brazen with such raw potential and challenging but Erica had been in control there.
“Are you hungry?” Franky asked, interrupting her thoughts. “I can cook something for breakfast.” She’d put on jeans and a top.
“Let’s go out,” Erica suggested.
“What and miss out on my competition winning breakfast?” Franky asked with mock surprise.
“Well,” she began, she didn’t want to hurt Franky’s feelings, “it’s just, I really need a proper coffee,” she said apologetically.
Franky laughed and grabbed her phone. “Okay, I get it,” she said. She didn’t really care as long as she was with Erica.
They walked to a café in Richmond which Franky knew did good coffee. Franky asked if Mark had come back with her but didn’t comment further when Erica said he was still in Sydney. Erica asked if Boomer was still under suspicion for murdering Ron Maxwell. Franky shook her head. She remembered she had to see Vince Diamond, or at least one of his boys, that night.
“She said you were helping her find work,” Franky said with a slight question in her voice.
“I asked one of my old contacts to see what she could do but I haven’t heard anything back from her. Has Boomer?”
“She went and saw someone. I don’t know if anything came of it. I’ve been busy,” Franky finished with.
Erica thought it sounded suspiciously vague then wondered if she was reading too much into an innocent statement. “What have you been up to?” she asked trying to make it sound like just an interested enquiry.
“Just work,” Franky said dismissively.
“The Roxton case?” she asked.
“Yeah and a couple of others, Steph has been tied up in court most days so I’ve been handling anything else that comes up.” She didn’t add that she’d have more time if she wasn’t fixated on finding the green man and working out where Ella might have gone in the period between leaving the day-care centre and Ruby finding herself driving along the freeway.
The café was full of people enjoying the spring sunshine and all the outdoor tables were occupied. “There’s a courtyard out the back,” Franky suggested and led Erica through the café and into a sunlit courtyard. There was a table in part shade still free. It was quieter without the street noise.
They ordered coffees and food. Erica looked around curiously. The crowd was an eclectic mix. She liked the ambience of the place. It was quirky without being pretentious. The courtyard felt intimate removed as it was from the hustle and bustle of the café. There were only four other tables all of which were occupied by couples talking quietly absorbed in their own conversations.
Her attention returned to Franky who was watching her with a small smile. “Like it?” she asked as though she could read Erica’s mind.
“I like the look of it but I reserve judgement until I’ve tasted the coffee,” Erica said.
Franky laughed. “Fair enough,” her eyes held an impish look. “It’s a lesbian café,” she said.
Erica glanced quickly at the couples sitting near them. Each table had a man and a woman at it. She looked back to Franky with her confused frown which Franky found so adorable.
Franky was grinning broadly. “It’s owned and run by a lesbian couple,” she clarified.
“Oh,” Erica’s brow cleared. “Do you know them?”
“Only to say hello to,” Franky answered. “I bet they’re checking you out though.”
“Why?” Erica asked naïvely.
“It’s a small community,” was all Franky said.
“But I could be just someone you’re having breakfast with,” Erica said.
Franky shook her head with a smile. “Mm, I doubt they’re thinking that though.” Erica blushed unexpectedly and Franky thought it was gorgeous. “Although the ring might be confusing them,” she admitted.
“I could be engaged to you,” Erica suggested, settling into the game.
“Except same sex couples can’t get married in this country,” Franky pointed out.
“Maybe we are going to get married in New Zealand,” Erica offered as their coffees arrived. She stirred her cappuccino then glanced up at Franky.
“Maybe,” Franky agreed and she looked so serious Erica wondered what she was thinking.
“Did you hear from Nick?” Erica asked changing the subject.
“What?” Franky seemed confused.
“I asked him to call you and offer to help research the DID cases. It’s a shitty job I know, and I didn’t want you to have to do it on your own.”
“Oh,” Franky replied, sipping her coffee, “I don’t mind doing it.” What she thought though was that she hadn’t heard a peep from the prick Nick until his appearance at the bar last night. “I think Nick knows I’ve been to prison,” she told Erica.
Of course she wasn’t telling Erica anything she didn’t already know. “He won’t do anything with it,” she reassured Franky. Not once Erica had told him to get back in his box. “Don’t worry about him.”
Their food arrived. Erica had ordered poached eggs on toast. Franky had chosen a smoked salmon version of eggs benedict. Erica watched again as Franky carefully removed all but the barest hint of the hollandaise sauce from her dish.
“Why do you do that?” she asked curiously.
Franky looked up then back at her plate. “I don’t really like sauces,” she said. “They used to drown everything in sauce in prison.”
“Why don’t you just order it without the sauce?”
Franky thought about that. “I could I guess,” she admitted, “but sometimes I like a hint of sauce.” She grinned. “What can I say, I’m complicated.”
“Not that complicated,” Erica murmured as she took a mouthful of food.
“Well, not as complicated as some for sure,” agreed Franky with a pointed look.
They stayed in the little courtyard talking for a while. The sun slipped round until their table was in full sunshine. They ordered more coffee. It was relaxing and for the first time Franky felt like Erica wasn’t about to dash off somewhere. She let her imagination run wild until this was their Saturday routine and she woke up every morning with Erica’s warm sexy body beside her.
“What’s your favourite book?” Franky asked out of the blue.
“I don’t know, there are too many good ones,” Erica replied.
“There’s an answer from someone who can’t commit,” Franky said with raised eyebrows.
Erica dodged. “Well, tell me yours then?”
“Easy, Far From the Madding Crowd,” Franky said immediately. “Do you know it?”
Erica nodded. She was surprised Franky had picked it as her favourite. “Why that one?”
“It’s a feminist novel written by a man, that’s appealing in itself,” Franky said. “Hardy was ahead of his time.”
“I don’t know how much it did for feminism, the heroine was an idiot,” Erica said bluntly.
“She made some poor choices,” Franky corrected her. “We’ve all done that, it doesn’t make us idiots. Besides those choices led her to find true love and I’m all in favour of that,” Franky finished with a grin.
“Eventually,” Erica agreed grudgingly but she was intrigued by Franky’s answer which revealed her romantic tendencies.
“Well some people take a while to see what’s obvious,” Franky replied with a look which made Erica wonder if the conversation had broadened beyond that of the book.
She could see better why the novel might appeal to Franky. They talked books more generally; Franky had clearly read more than just law books during her time in prison. When at last the lunch crowd started to arrive they went up to the counter to pay.
“Everything okay today?” The woman on the cash register asked as Franky handed over her card. She looked at Erica then Franky. Erica studied the woman who would have been in her late thirties or early forties with short spiky hair and deep laughter lines around her eyes. Erica wondered if she was one of the owners.
As they walked back to the flat Erica asked Franky if she was still playing basketball.
“Nah, it was only ever something I did to pass the time in prison. I’d rather run or go to the gym.”
“I thought Amy was getting you to play,” Erica fished. It was something Amy had mentioned in their conversation at the police station.
Franky knew she was fishing. “Mm, she’s mentioned it. There’s a police comp. she wants me to play in.” Ever since Franky had told Amy she had dislocated her finger playing basketball she’d been on at her to come and play a game with her team. “I can’t see it happening myself,” Franky assured her. Erica smiled. “So don’t be jealous,” she added with an impish grin. Her phone rang before Erica could reply. She glanced at the screen and didn’t recognise the number. She answered it anyway. She’d given out her number to so many people lately she never knew if the call would be important.
“Franky, you don’t think you could have told me your client is a psycho!” Erica could hear the tone if not the words from where she was standing. She watched as Franky grimaced and held the phone slightly away from her ear.
“She’s not a psycho, Red,” she replied calmly. She raised her eyebrows at Erica and pursed her lips.
“You don’t think? Well how about violent and unstable then?” She could tell Bea was furious.
“What happened?” She asked quickly.
“I stuck my neck out for you and your bloody client and almost had it cut!” Franky could hear the familiar rasp in Bea’s voice when she got emotional over something. This time it was anger. Shit!
“You saw Ella?” Franky asked unable to keep from sounding a little excited about it. “What did she say?”
“This isn’t a bloody science experiment, Franky, she almost killed me.”
“Yeah, well you’re not dead, are you?” Franky pointed out brusquely. “So suck it up. She has a split personality. Ella comes out when Ruby feels threatened so what were you doing, Red, that made her feel threatened?”
“It wasn’t me. I was trying to help her, not that it seemed to make a difference.” Franky was grinning. Go Ruby, she thought, or Ella. It made her think of something.
“Is she in the slot?” Franky asked curiously.
“I didn’t dob, if that’s what you’re asking,” was Bea’s response. She sounded annoyed.
“So she’s not?” confirmed Franky.
She heard Bea sigh. “You can forget about the protection, Franky,” was all the prisoner said. “She can look after herself.” Then Franky was listening to dial tone.
She looked at Erica. “We have to go back and see Ruby,” she said immediately.
Erica frowned. “Why?”
“She’s vulnerable in there, which means Ella is more likely to appear. The only way we are going to find out what happened that day is by talking to Ella.” Franky was speaking quickly, clearly excited. “Then we’ll know who the green man really is and can start to investigate him.”
Erica shook her head. “Forget it Franky,” she said. “It’s not part of the strategy. We are going to use the diminished responsibility defence,” Erica reminded her.
“That defence is never going to work,” Franky said with frustration. “No one has won their case using a DID defence. We need to find a plausible alternative story to what happened that day to sell to the jury!”
“You’re letting Ruby get under your skin,” Erica pointed out calmly.
Franky looked at her. “Like I got under your skin, you mean?” she asked slowly. “Should I just walk away like you did, Erica?” There was so much accusation in that question.
In the silence that followed, Franky realised all her fear stemmed from her belief that Erica would do it to her again. Franky hadn’t even known it was there until that moment when she spoke the words.
Erica felt as though she’d been hit by a Mack truck. Was it only five minutes ago she’d been thinking she felt closer to Franky than ever before? She took a breath. “You need some professional distance, Franky,” she said slowly. “We’re on the same side here.”
Franky shook her head. “No we’re not, because I think you are more interested in playing partner politics than protecting Ruby.” She wasn’t holding back at all.
“That’s ridiculous,” Erica said immediately.
Franky tilted her head drew in her lips and gave the smallest shake of her head. It was a gesture which said she knew Erica would say that and she didn’t believe a word of it. She turned around and walked off.
“Franky!” She called with exasperation. Franky was gone though.
Erica reached her car without seeing her. She felt she didn’t have the emotional reserves to deal with whatever was going on in Franky’s head. She hesitated. Would she stay or would she go? In the end she compromised and called Franky’s mobile. It rang out. She sighed and unlocked her car. It was clear Franky did not want to speak to her.