…She’s sweet, but she’s fucked up…
Rumors had been swirling around the prison for days about Miss Rosa, about Vee, about Fig’s suspicious ‘resignation,’ about nuns and hunger strikes and everything in between. The more intrepid conspiracy theorists in Litchfield had found ways to tie all of these seemingly random incidents together in increasingly elaborate webs of corruption, mafia connections, and secret lesbian alliances. And just when things were starting to settle down, someone’s visiting mother-in-law slipped the news that Vee had been found dead on the side of the road not two miles south of the prison, and the gossip got worse than ever.
Girls in the cafeteria line traded their fantastic versions of the truth like they used to trade makeup tips:
“Yo, this shit is straight outta Shawshank Redemption – escapin’ prisoners, murder, the big boss getting taken down. I bet Miss Rosa is halfway to that little town in Mexico by now.”
“You watch, they’ll be making a movie about us any day now. I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Caputo!”
“All I’m saying is that those nuns look pretty suspicious. Providing a distraction, that’s what they were doing. Hunger strike, my ass.”
Morello, one of the few witnesses to Miss Rosa’s escape, found herself ambushed by more and more curious inmates wanting the story. “Her doctor told her she only had a few weeks left with the cancer. I think she, uh, just kinda snapped…”
“Yeah, I always kind of thought she had some crazy going on in her eyes,” Flaca said, nodding intently. “Did she, like, pull out a shiv and force you outta the van?”
“No, no, there was no shiv. Keys were in the engine, so she probably climbed over the seat and floored it while I was talking to the guard.”
“Oh.” Flaca left disappointed, but she was replaced by two more girls already burning with questions.
“…and then we found out everything was already on lockdown. Two prisoners escaping in one day. Crazy, huh!” Morello’s voice kept getting squeakier, her discomfort obvious from the way she was pushing food around on her tray.
“All right, all right, nothing to see here,” Nicky intervened. “Move along, Eyebrows. You too – yeah, you, with the lips. She glared at them until they moved to the other side of the cafeteria and made a warning sign at the next gaggle of conspiracy freaks approaching the table. Turning back to Morello, she asked, “Ready to get out of here, kid?”
Morello nodded. “You want my waffle?”
Nicky shrugged and grabbed it – it was cold at this point and starting to get spongy. But food was food… She didn’t think she’d ever seen Lorna not finish a meal before, much less refuse to touch it. That girl usually inhaled things like they were going out of style, or like rabid dogs were going to fight her for it if she hesitated.
“Honestly, these people, acting like a cancer-ridden felon on her death bed stealing a prison van is something newsworthy. Geez.”
“It was pretty exciting – ”
“I know, Morello. It was a joke.” She chuckled, shaking her head at how ridiculous people were being. “Miss Rosa, prison folk hero! Pretty soon they’re gonna be canonizing her in the chapel, hanging up her mug shot like Doggett with her crucifix.”
They ended up back in Nicky’s bunk, Morello taking the end of the bed and Nicky slouching back against the pillow. Nicky pulled out a recent – by Litchfield standards – issue of People. The way people dressed on the outside these days, it was kind of like looking at a girly magazine if you squinted the right way. Morello idly paged through the word-of-the-day book Red had been using to improve her vocabulary. The way the pages scraped together told Nicky that the girl was thinking of something other than how to incorporate ‘malfeasance’ into her daily vocabulary, but she was a little too busy with Rihanna to pay much mind.
“That Miss Rosa was a real nice lady.” Morello dropped her book on the bed between them and raised her eyes to the ceiling, clearly entering ‘pensive discussion’ mode. Nicky hoped for a monologue. She wasn’t nearly done with her magazine yet.
“Yeah? I didn’t know you two were close.” Whoever had cropped that picture of Anna Kendrick deserved to be shot.
“Not…close. But driving her to her appointments, we got to talking sometimes, and she was nice to me.”
“I’ll take your word for it, kid.” Nicky remembered Rosa as gruff and disinterested – and the lady had cancer, for Christ’s sake, so Nicky didn’t blame her – but she wouldn’t go around calling Rosa nice.
“I wonder what she’s doing out there. Do you think she’s, like…traveling the world or sneaking around to say goodbye to her family or whatever?
Nicky snorted. “I think it might be hard to do that bucket list shit when your face is plastered all over ‘Wanted’ posters in the tri-state area.” Morello made a non-committal noise that suggested Nicky’s answer hadn’t satisfied her. Nicky sighed, wondering how she always got dragged into helping Morello maintain her fantasies. “Whatever she’s doing, I’m sure it’s better than being stuck in here with a death sentence hanging over her.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I think so too.”
Something in her tone made Nicky finally look up from her magazine. Morello was absently twisting the fabric of her shirt into a knot, her face filled with something like relief, or worry, or…guilt. In that moment, a few things clicked in Nicky’s head and People was unceremoniously thrown onto the floor.
“You helped Miss Rosa escape, didn’t you?”
“What? No.” Morello squirmed slightly under the accusation in Nicky’s eyes and voice and managed to look shocked that Nicky would think that of her. “No. Like I said, she musta stolen the keys when I wasn’t looking. I didn’t know.”
“No, don’t feed me that bullshit.” Nicky got up, hands pulling through her hair distractedly, and started pacing. Her body was suddenly restless and crawling with the urge to do something exhaustive like run or scream or hurt things.
“Jesus, how did I not see this before? You and that fucking van – are you ever not planning a grand escape with it? I’m surprised you didn’t run off with her, all ‘fuck the man’ like some sad knockoff Thelma and Louise. Been feeling like you wanna drive off a cliff lately?” She spat the last part viciously. Part of her regretted saying it immediately, and the other part didn’t care because this was so messed up, and if Lorna couldn’t see that…
Morello had made herself smaller on the bed. God, she looked so young, sometimes.
Nicky sat down on the other bed, talking herself down from blowing up again. Red always told her to count to ten – which was hilarious coming from Red – but it wasn’t a bad idea. Let your brain catch up with your mouth, little girl.
She took a deep breath. “I didn’t mean that. It’s just, are you trying to get charged with a felony in here?”
Morello’s attention remained firmly on her lap. “I didn’t plan anything. It was just…her face, Nicky, after they told her she only had a few weeks. I couldn’t bring her back in here after that, I just couldn’t. I thought of it as, I don’t know, releasing her into the wild. It’s not natural, dyin’ in here.” She sounded on the verge of tears.
This kid. Her heart was in the right place, Nicky thought, but it kept leading her dangerous places.
“She’s not a bird, Lorna. She’s a tired, old woman with cancer. This isn’t a movie where everyone gets to drive off into the sunset for their happy ending.”
“Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do, but it felt right. She deserved something more than this.” Morello’s chin came up slightly, stubbornly, challenging Nicky to tell her otherwise.
“I’m not disagreeing with you, but they aren’t paying you to decide who gets compassionate release.”
“You think she’s happy?”
She sounded so forlorn that Nicky wanted to go over and comfort her, but she didn’t. Distance was better right now. Maybe distance would kick some sense into Morello. Her tendency to romanticize things instead of dealing with reality was starting to seem less like a coping mechanism and more like a sign of something deeper and maybe insidious. Nicky didn’t know much about psychology, but some of the things Morello told her, the secrets she slowly revealed, were frankly scary.
But that didn’t stop her from responding, “Yeah, I think she’s happy.” Way to go, Nichols. Always falling for the crazy ones.
Nicky ran her hands through her hair again, smoothing it in a way that really only riled it up more. “Did you hear about Vee? Ruiz said they found her on the side of the highway, blood coming out of her eyes, and the best part is that no one can explain how she got there. Now that is some straight-up Sopranos mindfuckery, if you ask me.”
She was doing the nervous rambling thing she always did when she felt uncomfortable. Morello tried to smile, but it was a weak attempt. Nicky continued. “You know, the conspiracy nuts have this theory about – ”
Neither of them had heard the group of officers – O’Neill, Bennett, and some suit, looking official – approach until Bennett said, “Morello” as sharply as he could, “you’re going to SHU.”
“For what?” Nicky practically launched herself off the bed. Morello had never gotten so much as a shot before.
“Negligence. She should have stayed in the vehicle with Cisneros until the guard cleared her to leave. If she had, Cisneros would still be here, and we’d all be in a lot less trouble.” He motioned to Morello. “Let’s go, inmate.”
“Oh, and I suppose the guard who was supposed to close the gate behind them and, you know, actually watch the prisoners is facing some serious disciplinary action too, right?” Nicky couldn’t help herself.
“Who are you, her lawyer?” The suit stepped a little closer to her, hands on his hips. “You looking to go downhill too, inmate?”
Nicky matched his body language and was about to close the distance between them, smart comment pursed on her lips, but O’Neill and Bennett were already wrangling a stricken Morello out of the cube. It was pointless.
Morello, flanked by officers, managed to throw one last panicked glance back at Nicky. She opened her mouth to call out something reassuring, but for once in her life Nicky Nichols found that she had nothing to say.