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Her & Now: 24 hrs at the Westfall Address

Chapter Text

The doorbell rang. Franky glanced at her phone on the night table: 9 pm. Kinda late for visitors, she reckoned.

Franky was hazy from the drugs she was on. They were supposed to distract her from pain, but they seemed to distract her in other ways too. She felt the quality of the sheets under and over her. The feel of them was Gidget. Everything in the room was Gidget. She grinned.

She was probably tripping or something, to feel what she did for this room, this house. Her head fell back on the pillow, fingers of her left hand (her ‘good hand’ she was now calling it) scrunching silky but weighty fabric. There was a softness here unlike anything she’d experienced anywhere else in her life. The room radiated dignity and warmth. Maybe she was dreaming, or maybe she was even dead??

Her drugged reverie was interrupted by a distinctive footfall. That would be Bridget going to the door. The image unfolded clearly in Franky’s mind’s eye: Bridget, surprised at the bell, orienting herself to the door with a swing of her hips, her arms in motion, neck extended, eyebrows raised.

She’d looked absolutely ravishing earlier. She had changed into the ivory silk negligee that Franky loved. (She loved all of Bridget’s clothes, and all of Bridget without clothes even more). Her Gidge had tucked her in with a pill and a peck and a promise to join her in a jiff. A silly thought flitted through her head: sure hoped she’d covered up for whoever was at the door. (Jealous much?) And, she hoped that whoever was at the door would be the briefest of the brief, not just for her own sake, but because she knew Bridget was exhausted.

It would be awesome to fall asleep with Gidge beside her right now. She had nearly given up on this. It seemed impossible. She recalled Bridget’s hands on her face, looking into her eyes with love and loss: You’re dreaming.

She still couldn’t believe she was free. What were the odds that she'd made it back, to the outside, to this place?

Except she wondered, now, if she could never feel at home again? She had confirmation that her initial fears were true: it could be ripped away anytime. She felt vulnerable, even here. Maybe always would.

Her future, she figured, her day after today, would be riding on a frank and full discussion with Bridget about everything that had happened. And that meant everything, including the moment when Franky was at her very worse. Her other moments weren’t stellar either, but THIS one haunted Franky. The image was close every time she closed her eyes. How could Bridget forgive THAT?

***

Franky came back to the present at Bridget's voice. Franky wasn’t surprised at Bridget’s pleasant tone when she answered the door; this, despite the hour, and her own pain and exhaustion. Franky, still raw from life and death, would have probably a-said “What the fuck do you want?” not “Vera?! Oh, hi, come in!”

Vera Bennett, Governor of Wentworth Prison, at the Westfall address on a Saturday evening, two days after Franky’s charges were dropped and she was released from hospital? This couldn’t be good. If she were here to take something away - from this bed, this place, from Bridget - she would kill her. Or she’d kill herself. Like she told Gidge - and she meant it- she’d rather die than go back inside. Her heart pounded.

Or, Franky thought alternatively: Vera’s here for one of her free counselling sessions. Like that’s what Bridget needs right now. Either way – how the fuck did she think this was okay??

Whatever. Her thoughts were becoming more and more indistinguishable, except for the one which played an eternal loop in her chest, in rhythm with her heartbeat: It’s over, baby. It’s over.

Gidge… Darkness.

***

Bridget was aware of the latest of the hour. (Her mother considered it impolite to ring anyone or call on anyone - as she termed visiting someone’s house - at the end of the day. People deserved privacy and it was discourteous to disrespect that. Bridget’s impeccable manners were thus drilled into her by her upper-class British mother, and despite ‘walking to the sound of her own drum’ - as her relatives begrudgingly put it - some of these little tics remained, like this one, where good manners made good sense.)

Bridget stilled a flicker of annoyance. (She was so exhausted.) She welcomed Vera in, offered her a beverage: tea, coffee, juice, hot chocolate, water, cookies and milk? She was rambling, nervous. What the hell could this be about?

Besides being half-dressed – she found her robe and tightened it around her, but she still felt exposed - Bridget was extremely conscious of the fact that the last time she had seen Vera, she had been an absolute mess. She acted on pure impulse to save Franky, and in doing so, put her friendship with Vera on the line. Walked right over it, some might say.

She hadn’t been at her best: play-acting at social tea, stealing Vera’s access card, pilfering from the evidence room. Well, the time before that, she wasn’t at her best either (showing up at Vera’s house blotted) and the time before that (nipped a few at lunch), and probably the time before that, all the way back to Kim Chang’s accusation at the chain link fence and the set of clickety heels that pursued ‘Ms. Westfall’.

Their history was the equivalent of break ups and make ups: Vera facilitating her resignation. Vera seeking an ally. Vera promising the next bottle of wine. Vera hissing DO NOT TELL ME WHAT I FEEL. Vera seeking assurance that she was not like Ferguson. Vera, the Governor, directing her to stay away from re-incarcerated Franky. Far-fetched, impossible facts coming from Vera’s lips: ‘fingerprints’,‘DNA’. Vera taking up for her with the Ombudsman. Vera, pregnant to Jake. Vera… here, in the Westfall house, tonight.

Bridget’s telltale wave of the hand in the air demonstrated it was time to sideline her own busy thoughts. She opened her eyes wide, the visual exercise resetting of her mind. She asked Vera again if she could offer her a drink. (Had she already asked her? She had, hadn’t she?) Vera tightly declined a beverage (the second time?)

They seated themselves across from each other, equally aware of the strain between them. Bridget wanted this, whatever ‘this’ was, to be over. She took a quick assessment of Vera’s mood: chest heaving, face flushed, posture rigid. And, she had a very, very stern ‘governor’ look on her face.

“Vera, what’s wrong? What is it?” Bridget asked kindly.

***

Vera tried to keep her shit together, she honestly had, but she was just so pissed off. More than pissed off. She was wildly, fuckingly, shittingly angry, angrier than she’d even been at anyone (except Ferguson, her rational mind countered; and her mother; and the snake Jake; and Doyle.) When had she turned into such an angry person?
It had been building for days now. Today, without the duties of the workplace to distract her, she found herself rehashing the scene in the evidence room. Essentially, she was trying to wrap her head around the concept (the reality, she clarified to herself), that Bridget used her to save Doyle. Each ruminative cycle wound her further. Potential implications knocked around her head, making her nauseous. She drummed her fingers at the kitchen table for hours until that turned into an impulsive knock on Bridget’s door. She had to speak her truth. By the luck of the stars, or whatever, it all turned out okay this time, but next time?! (And by golly, with Doyle she could GUARANTEE there would be a next time.)

Doyle had already turned her friend and colleague into someone unrecognizable. Images fuelled her resolve: Bridget - lost - without dignity or decorum. Drunk. Weeping. Dazed. Frantic. Bridget telling Vera that she didn’t care that she was crossing the line, that she had already crossed it…. That she could never turn her back on Franky, no matter what the cost.

Vera shuddered again at the memory of how close Bridget Westfall, eminent forensic psychologist, was to throwing EVERYTHING away for an inmate.

And worse yet (this prompted Vera to action) – she didn’t seem to care who she took down with her. That was not the cool, calm, collected, ever-professional Bridget she knew. She needed that Bridget back and hopefully, some day soon, back to the women of Wentworth.

This, right here, right now, was Bridget’s chance to make a clean break. Vera’s mission was to elicit a promise, that Bridget would let Doyle go somewhere else when she was released from hospital on Monday. She could go to her father’s, to a halfway house: it didn’t really matter where. The important thing was that Bridget see the light now, or the day would come when she would find herself completely destroyed and beyond hope. Bridget NEEDED to listen to reason: she had to step away from Doyle and back into her sensible, mature, upstanding life where she was someone who could be counted on. Vera was here to assert herself in order to save Bridget.

***

It was only two hours after Franky fell asleep, but she needed the loo. She eased herself out of bed, grimacing at both the burning pain in her shoulder and the fact that Bridget was still not in bed.

***

Vera heard the toilet flush. Her face went white. She asked with sudden realization: “She’s here, isn’t she?”

“Vera, I love her,” Bridget said gently. “Where else would she be?”

Vera was visibly flustered. She had obviously been misinformed: she was told Doyle would be released on Monday! There were administrative matters still to go over. She wasn’t supposed to be here tonight!

Oh goodness, what kind of gaff had she just pulled? She had to get out, get some air. She jumped to her feet, but too quickly. Bridget’s arm shot out to steady her. Light-headedness overtook her and she crumpled back to the couch.

Chapter Text

Franky awoke to a pleasant surprise: it appeared that muscle memory had committed her to the familiar crook in Bridget’s neck. She rolled to her back, threw her left hand over her head. She needed to stretch, but it was hard to do one-armed. She felt like she had been shot (getting old, that one, she thought). She flexed and extended her long limbs as much as she could without disturbing the gorgeous body beside her, and as much as her bruised body would allow. Fuck, she was sore everywhere.

This getting shot and surgery business was not at all pleasant, but she’d take it any day over sitting in that shithole cell, accused of murder no less, the lazy detectives sitting on their smug asses instead of out looking for the real killer. She tried to tone down her anger by funnelling her attention to the here and now, something solid and grounding, like Bridget had taught her. Lucky for her: what better to ground her but Bridget's body? She drank it in: rare beauty (even in tousled sleep), grace and elegance. This woman was literally in-credible, and more so, it was scarcely comprehensible that she was right here, right now. Reachable. Real.

A wave of sadness (glad-sad, they’d called it ‘before’) passed through her when she remembered what reachable and real meant and what it might mean for tomorrow.

They had been tentative with each other. Cautious. Nothing sexual had passed between them yet, overtly, though strong undercurrents of desire were heard in the hitches of their breath. Franky spent a lot of time in the hospital reflecting. She kept thinking about the intimacies of the boxcar. There, their exchanges had been other-worldly: there was no one but them, no time, no certainty except that they loved each other.

It was all so clear then, when it wasn't clear if there would be tomorrow. Now, that there was one?

Part of her - the part that would have been stroking Bridget’s body right now, feeling the curve of her ass - that part was holding its breath, not daring to stir. She had no right. She could not assume. Not after THAT. THAT shut down the privilege of sexual touch.

Franky was worried by other observations too: there was the time after THAT that Franky needed Gidget. She was lost, undone. I just wanna hold ya. Bridget made no move toward her. It felt like a crucial moment: her Gidget left her hanging.

And walking out the door, saying ‘I fuckin’ love you too. Goodbye Franky.’ Where did that stand, other than at the opposite extremity of ‘I’ll wait forever’?

Anxiety stirred her stomach. Realistically, despite the promise she called across the street - that she'd be back - wouldn’t 'being back' amount to waiting for the other shoe to drop?

Bridget didn’t deserve that. She owed Bridget her life - everything. And everything was perhaps best summed up in an empty space. Wouldn't the best repayment be a clean slate, like she wanted? The opportunity to have a normal future with someone less fucked up? Bridget deserved happiness and that meant consistency, having a partner she could rely on. Franky Doyle couldn't promise that she could provide that. What she provided instead was stress and tears and... well... hell. She wasn't partnership material. Bridget didn't need her fuck-ups. She deserved so much more.

With heavy thoughts, Franky kissed Bridget’s forehead ever-so lightly. She wanted to linger. Wanted to kiss her and hold her and never leave. But she needed to think, needed to know for sure: how could she love her best? By staying? By leaving?

Franky trailed her fingers down Bridget’s arm. It would be Bridget's choice. That meant that this touch could be her last with any semblance of a lover’s permission.

Franky whispered into the blond hair: I’m sorry. I love you.

Then: I’m not sorry I love you.

I’m sorry you love me.

I’m not sorry you love me.

***

Bridget woke to the pleasant smell of coffee. It’s been a while, she thought. She relaxed into this simple joy.

She was, but wasn’t, surprised to find that Franky was up. She should be resting just post-surgery, but she knew Franky’s habits. She was flooded with happiness that her thoughts of Franky were not hypothetical today, as they had been for months. Franky was unreachable, inaccessible. Now, unbelievably, Franky was really here. Bridget could talk to her and touch her and love her - nothing to force them apart. She was aware of the familiar thrum of desire.

Bridget squinted at the clock. 9:30 am. She groaned. The other side of the story still lay ahead. There was work to do.

***

Bridget expected to find Franky in the kitchen. Or the living room. Or the bathroom. She scanned the edges and angles of the backyard. Turning her back on the windows (but not without appreciating the particular blue of the sky this wonderful day - when was the sky ever so blue?), she remembered, somewhat dazed, that Vera Bennet was in the guest room.

Bridget partially scoffed at herself. This was exactly what Vera accused her of: Franky had taken all her attention, as always.

She approached the guest bedroom door and knocked gently. No response. When she opened the door, she found, as she expected, that Vera had already left.

***

Chapter Text

Vera sat at her kitchen table, another non-workday to fill. She felt a tumble of mixed emotions, all somersaulting within her. She liked to imagine her baby doing that, not her heart.

She reflected on the morning (and, implicitly, the night before.) She had awoken early to a softly-filtered light, a gentle breeze slipping now and then through the slightly open window. Bird song. It was beautiful.

She smelled fresh coffee. Doyle, she remembered thinking.

Last night had been a total disaster. Or had it? She fulfilled her objective. (She’d have to ask Bridget how she did. With her assertiveness, she meant.) Learning that Doyle was already in the house caused her exquisite embarrassment. She just wanted out and… somehow she ended up in one of Bridget's beds instead. That part was hazy, but her memory of saying her piece was solid. She said what needed to be said, did what needed to be done.

No one could deny that there was something between Bridget and Doyle. You could feel it in the air, see it in every gesture. God! How did Doyle get so lucky? What would it be like to have Bridget Westfall’s complete attention? To hold her interest? To be safe in her unconditional love?

She was filled with... something. She wasn't great at identifying her emotions. Did she recall correctly, or was this just an over-active imagination? Bridget leading her to the guest room, turning down the covers, turning off the light, whispering, Goodnight Vera. A kiss on the cheek??

She abruptly leapt from the table. Better get herself something to eat. She had her baby to think of.

***

Franky was startled when the patio door opened. She had to get this thing under control: she jumped at everything. She had been deep in her thoughts, trying to get some air, mindlessly playing with the earth: left hand sweeps, gathers loose gravel; pats it into a small mound; crushes it flat. Sweep. Build. Reinforce. Smash. Sweep. Bridget noticed the activity as she approached, but left it at a quizzical look. Franky answered the silent question: Earth, sky, space.

Bridget knelt beside her and kissed her cheek. “Brunch?” She performed her subconsciously-habitual scan: still white as a sheet still, ghosted watery eyes, cheekbones hollowed out. Too thin. Fragile. Still scared.

***

The simple brunch was followed by Bridget drawing Franky a fragrant, hot bath. She had already showered. She knew she looked tired and worn, but she felt good, renewed. Franky in the flesh. Franky free. Franky here. Full circle. Franky had even told her she was beautiful already this morning. It was over brunch, just a low murmur when Bridget had her back turned. It wasn't delivered with the usual Franky bluster, and Bridget was touched by the transparent uncertainty. Bridget thought back to the boxcar, Franky's bravado: I just wanted to get in your pants. Well,she got in more than Bridget's pants. She got everywhere, into every last atom, somehow became her everything. She leaned back and gazed at Franky: “I can hardly believe you’re here, baby.”

The words 'here' and 'now' had been code for them. They had often Marco Polo'd the words: if one said 'here' the other usually said 'now.' It was the antidote to longing, an assurance. Franky didn't respond, didn't look at her.

Bridget felt like crying, but she focused on washing Franky’s hair, intent on keeping her bandage dry. It was looking good, she thought. The nurse would be around shortly to pack and dress it. Bridget broke the quiet by asking if it hurt. Franky nodded, affirmative. Bridget felt the small thrill of this: Franky admitting pain. She'd never volunteer that information and, if asked, would more often than not deflect with a flippant remark.

Bridget turned to somewhat safer ground. She broached the events of last evening: “Darling, Vera was here last night.”

“Yeah, I know, I heard her.”

“Did you hear what she said?” Her words came out fast, worry pinching them.

“Nah, I just knew that Vinegar Tits was in your house at some ungodly hour. What did she want? I’m still here, so I guess she didn’t have a gubernatorial mandate to haul my ass back to prison.”

“You and your nerdy words,” Bridget teased with a slight splash.

“Hey!” Franky played back: “Look who’s talking, Ms. PhD candidate! And anyway, since when do nerds get shot?!” Franky looked pleased with herself, with her retort.

Bridget flashed her eyes, a closed grin. (Franky thought of the first Gidget rescue, from Vera, in the library. The same grin, the same flash of eyes. It felt so long ago... it was as if they were young then, and now they were old.) Franky wasn't disappointed with Bridget's straight-faced comeback: “Nerds with tattoos sometimes get shot."

Franky beamed.

She waited a beat.

“So Vera. Some contrived crisis she needed your ear for?”

“Frankyyyy…” Franky ignored the scolding but took the twinkle.

Bridget turned coy: “Au contraire, darling.” Her was voice sultry and she drew her upper body close to Franky in the tub. Franky loved when their banter turned physical. She came eye to eye with Franky, empty space between them closed: “She very much wanted ME to hear HER.”

Franky played surprised with an intake of breath (oouuhhh) and raised her eyebrows high: “And what would that be about?”

“Well,” Bridget drawled. “It’s a bit of a long story, but it kind of does involve you, so… I guess I have to waive living-room client confidentiality and tell you.” Her eyes twinkled, sexy as hell.

“You’d better, after that lead up,” Franky answered.

***

Franky struggled to dress in a clean outfit. Bridget helped her. Franky was slightly embarrassed, but she liked it too: Bridget fussing over her. Being be close enough to touch. Being allowed to touch.

Bridget told Franky about Vera’s pregnancy. (She was beginning to show.) She shared the fact that Vera was concerned (Bridget made air quotes) over her continued relationship (more air quotes) with Franky. She surmised, talking more to herself than to Franky, that Vera’s impulse to come to the house (where Franky was, it turns out) had probably turned into self-rebuke by now. She hoped that wasn’t the case. She hoped she conveyed respect and dignity to Vera last evening because she knew Vera had a valid reason to feel the way she did. Bridget continued talking, more to herself now than to Franky: “Pregnancy makes some people worry a lot… hormones… stress… that god-awful prison.”

Franky couldn’t resist injecting: “Hormones? Like that robot has hormones?”

“Frankyyyyy…”

Franky wondered if Bridget remembered their term for that look, the one Bridget was giving her now. They’d labelled it ‘teacher’s pet’. She wanted to remind Bridget, but despite the lightness recently interjected, she couldn’t go there. It won’t be easy, getting back, she thought.

Franky rallied: “And I don’t even wanna think about her getting knocked up.”

“Whellll,” Bridget drew out her words. She ran her pointer finger along Franky’s front, from the v in her neck to her belly button and then back up: “It’s good then that you don’t have to think about getting her knocked up. ‘Cause you’re with me now.”

Franky laughed. This woman! She felt better than she had all morning, freer, almost… good. Simultaneously, though, she felt a wave of exhaustion.

“Gidge,” she said, “Wanna have a little nap?”

“Frankyyy….”

“No, I don’t mean that! I’m just… We’re both exhausted. We should just rest and then we can talk, okay?” Franky’s expression was extremely serious. Did Bridget detect the slightest quivery of lips? Worry? Pain? Distress? Recrimination?

“Okey,” Bridget humoured her. Tender affection spoke through her eyes: Franky asking for what she needs. Franky asking for help.

“Come, baby. We can always use a little lie down.”

Chapter Text

Franky was annoyed that she felt so spent. What, was she 90?

But once they lay down and her brain registered that Gidget was oh so close, she didn’t fall asleep right away. In a way, it was daunting: two parallel bodies, both of them conscious of each other and conscious of each other’s knowledge of this and conscious of what that meant. Franky was tied up in knots.

Despite trying her best not to let herself go THERE, Bridget’s close presence amped up the image she really wished she could forget. No, not forget: she wanted it to have never happened, so much so that most of her time in prison (save planning an escape!) was spent chewing on the why’s and wherefore’s of that singular event.

Breathe, she told herself. She visualized the steps, the way Gidget had taught her: one, two, three, four. At four, she was asleep.

***

Bridget didn’t sleep. (Grant it, she could have; maybe should have). The activities of the past days were beyond tiring. The previous months of inactivity too, when there was nothing she COULD do. Her leg throbbed. There were so many gaps to fill in and things to sort out. Repairs to be made.

‘Repairing a relationship in the aftermath’ – that could be a book title. It was kind of book worthy – this whole saga. Franky’s life, actually. In prison and out.

She had never met anyone more resilient. Franky Doyle – how did she always spring back? What force in her nourished the kind of hope that could move mountains? The enormity of what Franky had just been through, what she did about the situation, and how it turned out took Bridget’s breath away.

Vera’s earnest look, and her message, flashed through her mind: let Franky go. Was she right? Would she be better, or worse off? And for Franky? What was best?

Bridget reached out and stroked Franky’s arm as she slept. Then she held her hand until Franky awoke with a sweet, soft "Hi-ya."

***

The support nurse came by to change Franky’s dressing, and Alan dropped off the lot of Franky’s stuff. (A meager box, but Bridget knew enough about police work and the justice system to get Franky’s scattered belongings out of her house.) Alan brought them gourmet sandwiches from a deli downtown and a get-well card from Tess. Franky was touched by both gestures. Alan said it was a card for Franky but when she opened it, it clearly incorporated Bridget.

Oh Tess, Franky thought. Innocence. To imagine a world filled with people who love you and who love one another.

The four-year old had drawn Franky in bed, dark hair being the most distinguishing feature, with a thermometer in her mouth. A blond woman (the triangle of skirt said ‘lady’) stood by the bed, with a (very large) hand on the dark girl’s head.

That little soothsayer! Franky was touched. She passed the card, wordlessly, to Bridget. Bridget read its meaning and returned it to Franky with a huge smile.

***

It was such a lovely afternoon and they were about to unpack some potentially ugly truths. They decided to eat, and then talk, in the garden.

Though neglected of late, the garden still expressed a beauty fitting to the Westfall name. Franky found herself memorizing the positions of rock, plants, flowers, hedges. Committing the scene to memory.

“It will get better,” Bridget said, reading the subliminal intention.

I adore her, Bridget thought. She is stronger than anyone I have ever known. We'll get through this. She was awed at Franky's ability to face another day, to bear the weight of crisis, to strategize and overcome. She'd rise again. Whatever came her way, she'd rise again. Bridget corrected herself: whatever came THEIR way, they'd rise again.

They ended up on the double chair swing. Bridget turned, and put her leg up on Franky, which made Franky laugh. Her laugh was genuine and filled her up inside. Time can heal… she hoped.

Bridget verbalized what she was thinking: “Time does heal, honey.” She knew what they had to talk about today. It was one of the things that time would heal.

She knew that Franky was thinking of the same thing.

“It’s painful, baby, but if we talk about it, it will help. And maybe... You know... time... and all that. Maybe we can make the healing part of time speed up?”

“Aren’t we the two philosophers, probing into the nature and intricacies of time and its many measurements,” Frank said wryly.

“Philosophers don't get shot, but they do get thrown in the slots,” Bridget quipped.

Franky gave Bridget the most tender smile. It said, I love that you have the last word. That’s something I give to only you. I submit to you.

***

Franky cleared her throat. She needed to know where Bridget stood. That would determine where she stood.

She opened the conversation: “I know you tried to talk to me in there, but…. I mean, I wish.” Franky gulped, then the words tumbled out, like pressure released: “I wish that I had followed you to your office that day. It would have made all the difference.…”

Franky stopped, troubled.

“It’s okay, darling. Say it.”

Franky withdrew. Bridget wasn’t surprised. It was rough terrain. She could see Franky’s mind working, weighing her options.

When she spoke, Franky’s strategy was immediately transparent to Bridget. “Ya know what, Gidge? How about you tell me? Tell me what you know and I’ll fill stuff in, okay? That way we won’t be here a whole week. speed up time and all that metaphysical stuff?” She grinned, but it didn’t reach her eyes.

Bridget considered her options. They both needed to hear each other's stories, so it didn't really which of them led.

Franky doubled-down: “What do ya know and what do ya need me to know? Paint me a picture, Gidge.”

Strategic move, Ms. Lawyer, Bridget didn’t voice. She nodded. She could live with this. Franky had given a lot already.

***

So Bridget told Franky about her own separate hell, where she, too, fell into ruin.

Bridget told Franky what it was like to be her: her profound confusion. How unfathomable it was to see Franky in the Intake Room hours after kissing her goodbye at their front door. How disappointed she was that Franky withheld things from her, how it hurt her, made her angry. How the words ‘gun’, ‘fingerprints’ and ‘DNA’ shattered her into millions of pieces. How angry she was at Franky’s recklessness; how she worried it would make things worse. How she would come home, and walk and walk and walk their frequented trails, looking for answers but never finding any. How she was heart-broken, day and night; consumed, wondering how she’d lost love, IF she’d lost love – either way, what to do with the void. How on sleepless nights her hand caressed Franky’s empty space. How many of those nights were spent warding off the possible ways a psychopath could destroy either of them, or both.

Bridget read pain all over Franky’s face. Physical or emotional, Bridget didn’t know, though she surmised it was both. "This is good,” she said. “We're doing good, baby, but I think we should take a break.”

They headed indoors for reinforcements: pain pills for Franky. She felt 90 again.

Chapter Text

They settled for round two in the living room, Bridget with a glass of white wine and Franky with some cider. They talked more. Shared experiences and viewpoints. They were both open and respectful, but emotions were raw and the tension still palpable.

Franky intercepted when Bridget’s impressions conflicted with Franky’s point of view and when there were obvious (and/or not so obvious) gaps.

For instance, Bridget didn’t know that Shane had pointed a gun at Franky and that, in her words, ‘her fuckin useless life flashed before her eyes.’ Franky hadn’t told her the abject terror she felt when the monster, Pennisi, literally tried to burn her face off with a fuckin’ chef’s torch in the front seat of her car. Or that Pennisi’s promise that he would ruin ‘her pretty psychologist girlfriend and their happy little lives’ was all she could think of, night and day.

That’s where she was in the evenings, she told Bridget, not off with the fairies over Bea. Back into a world full of rocks and hard places.

Like the gun: what should she have done? Telling Bridget would only make her worry. Go to the law? Tell them she was on parole and that she took a gun off a youth offender? And when Pennisi started stalking her…. She felt Bridget’s displeasure that they’d met for coffee. She couldn’t roll out the rest: harassing phone calls, physical altercations, blackmail photos.

Franky assured Bridget that she had searched for an answer, she truly had: was trying to ask for help, in fact, the very moment she was arrested.

***

Franky tried to describe the moment she lost her freedom: “When I was arrested, it was like something from a fuckin’ horror show, utterly unrealistic, every part of it. Like it wasn’t me they were cuffing: I was just watchin’ it. Couldn’t make sense of it until I remembered that I’m a fuckin’ felon. And then all I felt was nothing. Nothing and shit.”

She gulped air. “Then, when you’re in there, when you first get in, and they strip you and make you less than human, an animal up for inspection? - You give them everything. You have to. No choice. You don’t belong to yourself anymore. There’s this gigantic foot on your neck and you can’t move, you can’t breathe.”

Not finished yet. Bridget waited.

“Gidge, I tried hard to stay positive in there, I really did. But when I’d think about us... our year together. How we were so happy. It would hit me over and over and over that it was gone. And I couldn't grasp it, ya know? How was this possible? It was like this curtain of darkness just wrapped itself around me and took me down deeper and deeper. It drove me crazy: it was a fuckin' mistake. Why didn't anyone see I didn't do it? I never knew despair like that." "And I’d feel sick. I'd feel sick all the time, thinking about you – always wondering what you were thinking.” Her voice broke, “If you were okay.”

She swigged her mouth sideways. Swiped at her chin with her sleeve. Bridget knew the signs. This was intense. Bridget looked at her compassionately and encouraged: “You’re doing good, baby.”

Bridget could see resolve cross Franky’s face. Her energy turned slightly frenetic, suddenly amped. Bridget held her breath. This, their next words, this is where the rubber hit the road. A potential turning point. The place where time would still before it determined the direction of their lives.

Franky followed her courage by leaping off the couch and kneeling before Bridget. The sudden movement threatened to topple Bridget’s wine, but she was quick to recover it.

“Gidget,” Franky whispered. Never had Bridget seen her look so earnest, so grave. “When I put you up against that wall… it was the most awful thing I ever did in my life, and…. Well, that’s sayin’ a lot, stuff ya don’t even know. And that was the problem, see…?”

“What was the problem, baby? Tell me.”

Franky seemed to back down. Shrugged. Sniffed. Ran her sleeve across her face.

She picked up her courage again. “Fate,” she pronounced. She moved away from Bridget’s knees, looked away, and then up at Bridget with certainty with a shrug: “A matter of time.”

The look took Bridget back to the yellow chairs where Franky concluded there was no hope. Of Bridget telling her, No, you’re wrong.

“Tell me what you mean: a matter of time.” Bridget’s drew Franky’s head closer, wanting to support her. Franky rested her head on Bridget’s knees momentarily. She seemed about to speak, but instead, began heaving with sobs. Bridget let her cry, and of course, her own face was wet. Not like Franky's racking sobs - had she cried herself out? Was there a limit to tears? Franky pulled herself back, her eyes anxious, but honest, probed Bridget’s.

Franky spread the fingers of her right hand wide in her sling. It covered just above her left breast, as if taking an oath. Bridget wanted to touch there too, to feel the thud of the heartbeat she could see and hear. She wanted to heal Franky's broken heart with with assurances. But it wasn’t time yet. There was more.

“Franky, please.” Her voice was soothing, non-judgmental: “This needs to happen. It’ll help us heal.”

Franky finally looked up at Bridget. Looked to the ceiling. She waved her hand in the air as if resigning to what she had to do. Determination helped her maintain unwavering eye contact but her voice faltered. The wall had been fortified these past months. It was hard to crack it and open her soul again, but she had to. “I had these constant battles with myself, trying to believe stuff ya said, what ya told me and how ya made me feel. I… But I couldn’t argue with reality, could I? With fate? There I was – behind bars. Locked up. A fuckin' prison animal.”

She sat back. Snuffed. Hardness covered her eyes: “It had to be for something, right?”

Bridget got on the floor with her. She wanted to let Franky know, You’re so wrong.

Franky plowed on: “When I was back in there… our life… the one we had… it felt like I was just an imposter, and that I’d been found out - for who I really was.” Her green eyes were wet. Pleading: “I felt mocked. Foolish that I fell for it.” Her voice took on a bitter tone: “The ‘miracle’ I thought we made? it was a fuckin’ mirage." She concluded again, voice uplifted with the certainty of full resignation: "There really was no hope - all along, there was no hope."

Bridget didn’t stir. She kept her eyes on Franky, the blue of her irises cool and calm.

“And then you kept running after me and I… I needed you to go, yeah? It wasn't safe, first of all - for either of us. But, for me, if it was a mirage, then why the hell were you still there? I got so fuckin’ goddamn angry that you kept popping up when I told you to stay away. I was angry that I believed you, or you tricked me, and I…”

Franky paused. More controlled now, she measured her tact: “We’re different, Gidge. We come from different worlds, and I… I was struggling with all that, see. Like what the fuck were you doing with me? It was like, I’m a crim, and everyone knows it but you. Or you knew all along and… like I said… some fucked up fantasy world. I…. I needed you gone. I’m not…”

Bridget stood and brought Franky to her feet with her. Her hands grasped Franky’s elbows, one pointy in a sling.
She didn’t say anything for a few minutes. It was important that they both feel it: hope would follow this despair. She just knew it.

She tossed her head back, and slung her arms around Franky’s neck. Their bodies remembered from multiple times before.

Bridget drew back so that they could talk eye to eye: “We do have different backgrounds, and yes, I’ll never truly understand your conditioning and you’ll never really understand mine. Those experiences shaped us, yeah? But now we’re adults. We have agency. We have choice.”

She leaned forward and kissed Franky’s lips ever-so lightly. “And Franky, I choose you. I choose you over and over again. You’re real to me and I love you. I love who you are. You’re not a bad girl and you don’t deserve any of the shit you had to deal with - none of it, your whole life. And you especially didn’t deserve to sit in prison accused of murder. It was a tragedy, and I mean that in the real sense of the word. It was a god-honest tragedy.”

Then blue to green, Bridget almost growled, her voice was so low: “And you know, and don’t you dare tell me differently, that I love you.”

Franky made to break them apart, but Bridget wouldn't allow it.

“No, let me finish,” she contested. “You want to know what I think, Franky? At the bottom of this? I’ve thought about it a lot, and I think your rage came from thinking that I didn’t believe you.”

Bridget looked stern. “I know you wouldn't have done it... I wouldn't have been up against a wall if you felt my support. You thought I didn’t believe you and you couldn’t bear it.” She let that sink in.

“But I did believe you. I didn’t show you though, and that’s totally my fault.” Bridget thumped her chest. “I fucked up. That’s on me.”

Franky scoffed, looked away. Hesitant. Then said it: “Ya believed me, did ya? Well, thanks for making that clear now.”

Bridget lifted her chin high, her gesture indicating acceptance of a challenge. Tossed her head. Evaluated: this was good. Just like Vera last evening: let the steam out. Make room to breathe and to heal.

Chapter Text

Franky paced about, working on what Bridget had said about believing her but not showing it. Yeah, ya think that woulda made a difference? Fuckin' hell. Like maybe only the whole world, she thought.

She needed to distract herself. She went to the kitchen and began to look around. Bridget advised she wouldn’t find much: she hadn’t time for a full grocery run. Hadn’t expected (or allowed herself to think it possible) that Franky would return to her house in the blink of an eye.

Bridget refilled her wine. Made Franky drink more water. They didn’t talk for a bit, each in their own world.

Time wasn't measured in any normal way... it hardly existed. There was only the two of them and this thing between them. Bridget leaned with both hands on the kitchen island. She had been thinking of another way to try to explain herself, her confusion and distress. She decided to throw it out there: “It’s kind of like this, baby. When you first got out, I knew you. But I didn’t know a lot about you, your habits, yeah? All the little things. But it didn’t matter that I didn't know these things. The point is, I knew you - the essence of you."

Franky squirmed, even though she was standing. She was watchful.

Bridget continued: “When I heard ‘gun’ and ‘fingerprints’ and ‘DNA’, I was blindsided. I couldn’t think clearly. I knew you hadn’t - I knew you couldn’t...." "I’m a scientist, Franky. I… I couldn’t reconcile the objective evidence. It was like someone telling me something outlandish, but at the same time, showing me proof. So...” Her hands flailed about. “I was in limbo. Baffled. It got to the point where I just had to get out altogether. I didn’t know what to do, honey. But I see how I let you down when you needed me the most and how it impacted everything that followed, including that day.”

She went to the couch. Patted the cushion for Franky to sit.

Franky sat but she wasn't responsive to what floated in the air between them: Bridget trying to share blame. Bridget tried to temper her statement: “You know that I grabbed on to the first thing I could, the first thread, about Farah. Baby, as soon as you called, I came running. I grabbed that possibility and hung on. I knew I had to help you get outta there. I had no choice. I love you.”

Bridget saw another possible way forward: “Do you know why Vera was here, Franky? Vera was here because I got shitfaced drunk – at work, and I went to her house….”

Franky finally reacted - with a jaw drop.

“And do you want to know what else? When I went to Wentworth… to find the LUG key, I used Vera in the most callous way, one that Vera is very, very, very pissed about. So last night, she confronted me, and she was right. I didn’t think about her, or her baby. I failed her too. What I'm saying is that I'm flawed too: it’s no secret. We do shitty stuff, all of us!”

The bridge she was offering was made up of her own mistakes. She had HER thing that she regretted. She said softly: "I let you down in more ways than one. I told you I would wait forever, and then I told you good-bye.”

She let that sink in.

“I’m flawed, my darling, and you know it. But it doesn’t stop you from loving me, does it?”

Franky acknowledged this with a slight movement of her head. An intake that said 'I guess so.'

Franky seemed to have something else on her chest. Bridget's empathy was making inroads, chipping at her wall. “Gidge,” she began, “About all that other shit… what Ferguson told ya? About Allie and me? It was shit, okay. But Gidge? When you left me… when you walked out that door and didn’t look back, I went to Allie.” She exhaled: “Like you said - you were trying to blot it all out. I thought I'd just blot it all out, like I used to. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I only wanted you.”

Bridget was glad this last admission came out, but she told Franky, “I know. I figured it out. After you escaped, one day it came to me, out of the blue, what you had been doing in the laundry room…. And... thank you for telling me. I understand, Franky, I really do. Who knows what I'd do in that situation. Franky, the extent of it - it was incomprehensible. Most people would be crushed under all that."

Frank was warmed by Bridget's trust in her, even after all that, and her unconditional love. “You are cunning, to have figured out the laundry,” she said suggestively.

“Whellll, like you said, it was complicated, but like I said, it was simple,” was Bridget's quick comeback.

***
It was as if Bridget had reached a conclusion, Franky thought, and was waiting for her to come to her own.

Bridget got up. She put her hand out, which Franky took with great hesitation. When she had pulled Franky to her feet, she wrapped her arms around her neck. She wanted Franky to acknowledge her empathy, her understanding, her relinquishment of judgement. She put her fingers under Franky's chin. attempting to lift green eyes from the floor. The pressure was forceful enough to get Franky's full attention. “You know what? You took a bet. You took a huge risk, and you won. We won!"

"This is the fucking lottery, baby. Think about it. The odds... We just have to decide what to do with our winnings!"

There she is, Franky thought. The air in the room seemed lighter. Bridget definitely seemed lighter. Was it that easy? Feel it, accept it, forgive it, move on? Franky had been going around and around her own shit all her life.

Bridget seemed ready to do just that. In a low, gravely voice she proposed: “Can we say case closed? Does the defendant just finally fuckin’ rest?”

Franky laughed. Her heart actually felt buoyant.

“Yes, your honour,” she played along. Bridget was past explanations and didn't want to linger on remorse. “Where do you want to take me to celebrate then, now that the case is closed?” Franky asked? Her eyes and body spoke of tentative relief.

“Whelll,” Bridget was full on, sexy voice, sexy body, sexy eyes - sexy everything, Franky thought. Her heart pounded, not with fear right now, but a strange mixture of gratitude and lust. “There’s our bedroom, and the other bedroom, and the bathroom, and the kitchen, and the yard, and the garden and the garage and the basement…" She spread her arms: "It’s all yours, Franky. I’m yours. I want to be yours for always. Welcome home.”

They looked at each other with supreme tenderness, followed with the collision of lips that went from frantic to lingering, long, slow, passionate. They tried to express everything they were feeling, both groaning into the kisses, both clutching each other, trying to seal what was between them with mutual understanding.

Franky finally disengaged them in order to step back and look at her steadfast lover. Bridget glowed with happiness and radiated, through that, all her sensuality. Franky was as humbled and awed: “Gidget, you are truly the most beautiful person in the world - inside and out."

Bridget cupped Franky's face, making sure she had her complete attention: “You are too, my love, and don’t you ever, ever forget it.” Everything about her announced that she was ready to move on. She whispered: “Are we really going to fucking waste time arguing over whether we should love each other or not? Why not just do it?!" "No objections," Franky delivered. Bridget was overjoyed to see green eyes finally sparkle at her.

Chapter Text

Bridget took Franky's hand, tugging her to follow. She was still hobbling, probably in pain. Franky's shoulder was definitely throbbing. This was an intense day, but a good one, Franky thought. In fact, maybe the best. How could the worst turn into the best? She couldn't think that one through right now.

“I think first…,” Bridget drew out her next sentence: “We have to decide what to do with this..." She led Franky into her bedroom and handed her a small box, about the size of a watch. It was gift-wrapped in a platinum-coloured wrap with a bow atop. Franky tried to show an interest in the gift, but, truthfully, all she could see was her Gidget right now. Like a fuckin’ goddess, Franky thought. If there ever was a miracle, it would come from this woman. She was goodness and truth and compassion and love. It was all she would ever want, today and tomorrow. It was hers for the taking.

Bridget re-captured Franky's attention by bringing the box to her chest, then extended it to Franky.

Franky laughed: “What is this, a watch, in lieu of prison alarms?”

“Open it and see!” Bridget said gleefully. She wore her silly look of triumph.

Franky took the gift, but she was flustered too. “Gidge, when are you going to stop giving me gifts? I never have anything for you. I didn’t expect…”

“Just open it, darling,” Bridget urged. She kissed her. “You have no idea of how much of a gift you are to me, how I value you." "And don’t worry, I'll capitalize on your worth. Priceless will get me a long way...”

Franky still had other things on her mind, but she obliged herself to bow and wrapping. That off, she exposed a beautiful jewellery box. She held it to the light (as if that would help her guess the contents, but she didn’t quite know what to do….). When she opened the box she gasped.

On a black velvet inlay was the bullet that had been lodged into her shoulder days ago.

“This brought us back,” Bridget was saying hesitantly, apologetically. “I thought... maybe we could take it to a silversmith and make a piece of jewellery from it. Two pieces… Split it in half…. Each of us….” She was floundering, unsure now. “I know it’s kind of cheesy but… it’s kind of like the kite, Franky, for us, okay?”

Franky couldn't help but wonder how she'd acquired it. Something to do with her charming graces, Franky knew. This woman was so bad-ass. But who would want to save a bullet? Did she want this bullet??

Bridget’s impatience spilled over into worry. Would Franky want a reminder of the whole business? What was she thinking?! It symbolized being falsely accused, imprisoned, on the run, shot...

She panicked. “Darling, it’s okay if you don’t want it. I... It was just a silly thought. I… I didn’t mean to be insensitive. I should have thought it through better….”

Franky’s eyes spilled tears. Yes, it was symbolic of all those things, but look what it did, where it brought her, who it gave back to her. “It’s perfect, Gidge,” she managed.

Bridget breathed a huge sigh relief. Her enthusiasm revved again: “We just have to decide what to do with it.” She cupped Franky’s face. “Like we just decided what to do with us.”

Franky laughed. That sound, Bridget thought – I want to hear it forever.

“And what did we decide to do with us, Gidge?” Franky asked straight-faced.

Bridget gave her the Frrankyyy look.

Franky couldn’t hold out any more: her eyes flashed, eyebrows rose, tongue shot between the teeth. Her expression was open, desire writ large. Bridget knew the cue and was more than ready.

***
AT 9 PM the doorbell rang.

“Baby, can you get the door?” Bridget called from the bedroom. “That would be your favourite take out.”

***

They decided it was fitting to eat on the couch. They loved that couch: it held their caresses and their love-making, their arguments and parts of each others’ souls. And now this, redemption. A second chance.

“Fuckin’ fabulous,” Franky responded to the first bites. “With the exception of a bullet in your house, this is beginning to feel like home again.” It's the only home I know, she thought, and the only home I want.

Franky looked at Bridget, who was slurping noodles. She thought: I want to always be with her. I want it to always be now. She met Bridget's eyes and felt her heart melt, again, into her forever-kind of love.