Disclaimers: My characters. My story. This is a complete work of fiction. It's written purely for enjoyment. It's not real and I don't pretend that any part of it is true. So, please, no emails telling me how I got the bits about life in prison wrong. I'm really not too concerned about that. I AM concerned with the other parts of the story. Like, for example, do you like it? LMK.
Special Dedication to the Duvs, you know who you are.
Sounds like it's raining again... Ashley Cooke cocked her head slightly in an attempt to hear the soft sounds of water splashing down upon the ground beyond the concrete walls of the small cell she was in. Looking up at the tiny barred window near the ceiling, she confirmed what she thought she had heard. Turning her attentions back to the 'care package' that she had just received, she picked up the item she treasured the most. The letter that accompanied every box. She tenderly raised the handwritten letter she had just finished reading towards her lips and kissed it, in absentia of the real thing.
She then reached for her calendar, almost automatically, crossing out yet another box on it. Who knows how many more days to go... she thought ruefully. Or not... sighing deeply, she reached for her writing pad and pen and started writing.
"Hey Miz Big Thang, I missed you this month, but I understand about the touring thing, really I do. So I don't want you feeling guilty or anything silly like that, okay? How was Australia this time of the year... isn't it winter over there right now? Tell me more..."
"Miss Atwood, we're ready for you on stage..." the production manger said to the petite, auburn-haired woman who looked to be reading a letter.
Terry looked up, her normally bright green eyes slightly watery, "I'll be ready in a couple of minutes."
"Sure thing, Miss Atwood, take your time." The production manager backed away as quickly as he could, he was after all speaking to the entertainer of the year for the past two years.
After being certain that she had been left alone for the moment, Terry quickly folded the letter, placing a gentle kiss on it before placing it carefully into her inside jacket pocket. Right next to her heart. Taking a deep breath to steady her emotions, she readied herself for the final rehearsal to yet another one of the endless stream of award ceremonies. And in her head, she was already working on her reply to the letter she had just read.
"I think we have a great chance of appealing this conviction, Ash." Jane Tang informed her raven-haired client seated across from her in an orange-coloured jumpsuit and handcuffs.
Ashley looked at her childhood friend, "You think?"
"I know." Jane was confident, "You should never have been convicted for murder in the first place..."
The broad shoulders across the table from her just shrugged, head bowed.
"I should have been more insistent... and YOU should have let me represent you the first time round." The attorney gently chided her friend. She blamed herself partly for not helping Ashley secure better representations for the latter's trial.
"No, wasn't anyone's fault..." the sapphire eyes looked directly into Jane's dark brown, "I wanted you to concentrate on clearing Terry's name."
"Yeah, but at your expense... was it worth it?"
Ashley nodded her head vigorously, "I would do that all over again, even knowing the outcome. Consequences be damned... Terry's already been through so much..."
Jane sighed, she have had this argument with Ashley many times before, in fact, ever since Ashley was convicted, "How... it must been tough... knowing that you probably put some of the people here behind bars in the first place... how do you cope with that?"
"You just do, Janey... you just do..."
"Terry!" Rob Peacock tried in vain for the third time to draw the attention of his prized client who was staring blankly out of the dark tinted window of the moving limousine.
Terry shook her head slightly to clear it before turning her attentions towards her increasingly demanding manager. She was in no mood to listen to Rob's whining about her steadily declining number of public appearances. She had on her mind far more important things than doing radio shows and talking to the same old journalists who all seem to ask the same old stupid questions.
"Now that I've finally gotten your attention," Rob's sarcastic tone was evident, he hated this time of the month when his client's mind would always be on the letter she would have just received, "Since the European press have been going on about how you've been neglecting your European fans, I've scheduled you for a 10-day promotion tour of the UK, Germany, etc etc, starting from the first of next month..." Rob pretended to flip through his datebook, fully anticipating the upcoming outburst.
"Rob, I've told you before a thousand times, DO NOT book me for any engagements the first weekend of every month... is that so hard to follow?" Terry was fuming now, she had no intentions of missing another monthly visit.
"Terry, now, you know you have to..."
"NO!" she knew she was shouting now, "You listen to me. You may be my manager, but you still work for ME. I pay you. I will not allow myself to be dictated upon by anyone again. Never again. You understand me?"
Rob tried again, in a more condescending tone than ever, which just served to irritate Terry even more than his words, "Listen, Terry, I know..."
"It's obvious you do not know. You don't get it do you? I'm the boss here, not you. Either postpone the tour or you're fired and I'll find someone who would follow my one single demand that I remain here for the first weekend of every month." Terry have had enough of Rob's nonsense, his paranoia that the press would one day trail her when she went into the prison for her monthly visits to see Ashley was getting on her nerves. So what if they found out about Ashley? She believed that she had nothing to hide. Not the fact that her best friend was in prison for killing a man. The man who used to be her manager. Whom she happened to be married to at that time. And the bastard who was abusing her mentally, not just physically, on a daily basis. She owed her life and everything that she now had to her. To her very best friend and her hero. The one whom she realised, almost too late, was her soulmate. The former police lieutenant, Ashley Cooke.
Ashley lay in her tiny bed, legs almost daggling out one end, staring at the ceiling. Her hand clutching a full-coloured newspaper page. A page that one of prison guards had so thoughtfully sneaked in for her. She held the page in front of her again, its headlines screamed, "Three in a row!" Ashley half-grinned at the almost half-page, grainy photograph of Terry holding aloft her third consecutive entertainer of the year award.
Her grin stopped as she wished things were different. She wished that she could have at least watched the newscast that featured bits of Terry's speech but just as the segment came on, she was spotted and the heckles started which resulted in her swift removal from the general prison population again. The prison guards, some of whom she knew personally, were not about to be caught out again. The one time it happened, Ashley found herself with the sharpened end of a toothbrush buried in her stomach. The pitfalls of a close to 10-year, highly decorated, police career.
Actually solitary imprisonment suited her fine. She had always been somewhat a loner. It would have driven her insane if she had a cellmate for more than 20 hours a day. So, all matters considered, it was not too bad.
The better news was the one Jane just gave her. She was going to have a new hearing. Everyone she knew was going to be there to speak on her behalf. Including, Jane had assured A shley, Terry. Ashley did not know which to be more excited about, the hearing or the fact that she might be able to finally touch Terry after so long. Being in a room, separated by a thick pane of bulletproof glass, speaking through a phone, was just not the same.
"When's the hearing, Janey?" Terry had to raise her voice slightly in order to ask the attorney seated across the table from her at a busy restaurant.
"The weekend two weeks from this. Ash's got a great chance, especially now that your late husband's family," Jane rolled her eyes at the last few words before continuing, "has been exposed as being drug dealers who habitually bribed jurors, and that bastard of a judge has been stripped of his position due to corruption charges, the courts are more than ready to listen to our case." The Asian woman smiled brightly at the equally happy Terry until the latter suddenly stopped smiling much to Jane's concern.
"Hey, Ter... you okay?" one of Jane's hands reached out across the table to steady a trembling one, "What's wrong?"
Terry shook her head, sighing deeply, "That's the Paediatric AIDS charity benefit weekend... I... I have to be there, I'm manning one of the central booths." She closed her eyes, her loyalties torn yet again. No, she said to herself sternly, this time Ashley's going to take priority but Ashley's the one who wanted me to be involved in this charity.
"Damn... that's bad timing... but actually you only need to be at the hearing for one morning..."
"Really?" Terry had snapped her head up. Ashley had gotten involved with the Paediatric AIDS foundation when she found a HIV-positive baby who was cruelly abandoned by his parents during one of her patrols.
"Yeah, I can request for you to appear first and then you can go, if you want. That way, you can help Ash and still keep your word to the organisers of the benefit. You know Ash wouldn't want you to break your word, especially for this cause..." Jane trailed off slightly.
A smile as bright as any Jane had ever seen spread across the face across from her, resulting in one of similar size from Jane.
Ashley couldn't sleep. It was the night before the first day of the new hearing that would determine her future. As in, whether or not she had one. Jane had told her that while Terry would not be able to stay for the entire hearing, Terry would be at the front and just behind the defence table in the courtroom. She couldn't wait. Smiling slightly, she closed her eyes and although a non-believer, she prayed.
Terry couldn't sleep. It was the night before the first day of Ashley's new hearing that would determine her future. As in, whether or not she had one. Any future without her soulmate beside her was not a future she wanted to look forward to. Rob's angry fit over her plans for the next day was the last straw for Terry. He was fired. She knew exactly whom she wanted as her new manager. And she couldn't wait to give her a hug the next day, court protocols be damned. Smiling slightly, she closed her eyes and prayed.
"Are you ready, Ash?" Jane asked her friend, who looked as dignified as ever even in her regulation prison jumpsuit and with her hands handcuffed in front of her.
Ashley, who had been staring out the large, barred, window of the holding room, turned her head towards her attorney. Taking a deep breath, "As ready as I'll ever be, Janey."
Jane nodded, "Don't worry, as far as I can tell, the courtroom is filled with all your supporters. And of course, Terry."
"She's really here?" Ashley's normally deep and strong voice, was nothing but a whisper.
"Hey, she promised, didn't she?" Jane stood next to Ashley, placing a comforting hand on the nervous woman's back and rubbing it gently, "C'mon..."
"Stop fidgeting, Ter... you're making me nervous." the woman sitting to the right of Terry told her in a mock-stern voice. Terry, who had been completely engrossed with her fingers for some reason, looked up at an old friend, Sharon who was seated next to her partner Linda.
"Sorry, Sharon... I just..." Terry shrugged her shoulders, "I hate feeling helpless."
"You? Helpless?" Sharon was more than amazed, "Hey, at least you'll get to speak for Ash. Stupid prosecution wouldn't let me. Said what I have to say is 'irrelevant' to this hearing! I'll show them irrelevant..." Sharon's voice got louder as she got more and more worked up, trailing off only when Linda placed a calming hand on her arm.
Terry grinned, "Thanks, Sharon, and Linda for being here..."
"No place else we'll rather be, Terry." Linda said in her quiet but firm voice. Sharon's head bobbed up and down vigorously.
Terry looked to her left and also behind her, "Thanks also to everyone else for being here... Bron, thanks for resisting the call of the mountains this weekend..."
"Hey, there's always next week... maybe then, you and Ash can come along with us." Bron was almost off her seat in anticipation.
"Maybe... I hope..." Terry dared not think about the future beyond the next day, her dark thoughts was broken by a nudge from Sharon making her look up and she saw Ashley being led into the courtroom.
Terry broke into a huge smile at the beautiful sight. She stood up on her trembling legs and approached the divider. Ashley's face had also lit up at the sight of her and her eyes never wavered as she continued her way towards the defence table, right smack in front of where Terry now stood.
Ashley stood as close as she could on her side of the divider, her eyes still only focused on the most important person in her life. "Hi." She whispered, feeling the inadequacies of the word full-force. But Terry didn't mind. Ignoring the handcuffs around the tall woman's hands, she hugged her best friend as tightly as she could, willing herself not to cry. Her chest heaved for long moments as she got her emotions under control. Ashley just laid her cheek onto her love's head, whispering words of no consequence.
"Guys," Jane's voice was regretful, "The judges are coming in, you've got to let go, Ter."
Reluctantly, Terry loosened her hold on Ashley. "I can't..." she whispered.
"Stay long, I know." Ashley interrupted, "I understand. I love you."
"I love you too... I want you to know, if, IF... you don't... I mean... I'll still wait for you..." Terry tiptoed and planted a chaste kiss on the once-tanned cheek, "Always." She swore.
"Tell the others thanks for being here." Ashley reluctantly allowed herself to be moved towards the table and away from the red-haired woman who held her heart.
Terry nodded as the whole courtroom stood to await the entrance of the three judges.
"Terry! Look here!"
Terry automatically turned to where she thought she had heard the voice. She had to blink as several dozen flashes followed her move. Just like they have recorded her every step the day before, since she first stepped into the huge circus tent that hosted the benefit. She felt strangely detached though, going through each step automatically, smiling at the cameras and shaking as many of the hands thrusted at her as she could. Her publicist, knowing her preoccupation, had taken to staying close to Terry and answering any questions that came and fending off the more persistent journalists.
She had spoken to Jane the night before and the attorney had assured her that things were looking okay for Ashley. Her testimony was crucial, as it was at the previous trial, but this time, because she was so thoroughly prepped by the very competent Jane, she did not crack under the prosecution's implied accusations.
"So, you're saying that you just laid there on the floor while your late husband and Ms Cooke were grappling for her gun practically right next to you?" was the prosecuting lawyer's first question after Jane had Terry recount the events of that fateful night.
"You really couldn't do anything?" the questioner sounded dubious and disbelieving.
"No. Jake Torrance was hitting me with his baseball bat when Ashley arrived and I had already suffered a broken left leg, a fractured right arm and several cracked ribs." Terry was ready this time for the bombardment of questions.
"Yes, yes... how fortuitous for you that Lt. Ashley Cooke showed up at just that right time, complete in her full uniform and armed with her service revolver..."
More of those same type of questions were thrown at her, all questioning, no, more like accusing her of conspiring with Ashley to murder her 'poor, cuckolded husband'. The insinuations had completely broken her composure in the first trial, she had not expected questioning along those lines since she was a prosecution witness and as a consequence, it made her seem like an unreliable witness, throwing doubt on the fact that Ashley's gun was fired accidentally while the two of them were rolling on the floor, both trying to get their hands on the weapon. And more importantly, the fact that Ashley would never had drawn her gun in the first place if Torrance (Terry could not bring herself to use the word 'husband') had not threatened to slit Terry's throat with his Swiss Army Knife. This time, however, she was well-prepared. The encouraging and loving smile that Ashley had given her was also a constant source of strength during the entire two-hours that she was on the stand.
She was late for the start of the benefit, of course. But that was easily explained away but her highly-paid publicist. Besides, as there were so many other stars for the paparazzi to focus upon, her lateness was not as obvious. If it were not for the fact that she (and Ashley) firmly believed in the cause and thus had promised to man one of the more central booths, she would have cancelled her appearance altogether. As it were, she wished she had. Her mind constantly drifted, but the slack was graciously picked up by the famous TV star who was manning the booth along with her. Terry was more than a little embarrassed at being caught out so many times, but the actress hadn't minded, blue eyes twinkling, much like Ashley's would.
During their lunch break earlier in the day, she had finally confided in the actress the reason behind her ever-worsening distraction, her past was an open secret with the rest of Terry's peers but because the actress was more based overseas, she had not been aware. After that, the actress became even more helpful in warding off the persistent photographers and helping her keep an eye on her mobile phone. A mobile phone that refused to ring.
"It's already past five, shouldn't it have ended yet?" Terry thought anxiously to herself, staring hard at both her watch and her phone.
"A watched kettle never boils..." the actress reminded her with a smile.
Terry chuckled, "Yeah, I guess you're right." She took a deep breath and decided to throw herself whole-heartedly at last, at the activities surrounding her for the last few hours of the benefit.
As the crowd thinned, she realised the lateness of the hour and to her disappointment, her lack of news of any kind regarding Ashley. She sighed, her iron control almost to a breaking point when her mobile phone started ringing.
"Good luck." The actress whispered in her ear before quickly getting the attention of the few remaining people around their booth in an attempt to afford Terry with a semblance of privacy.
"Hello..." Terry was scared and it showed in her voice.
"Hey..." Jane's voice was muffled and sober.
Terry swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat, "How... how did it go?"
Jane sighed and Terry almost burst into tears. "Why don't you ask her yourself?"
"Hi, Ter..." the deeply familiar voice resounded in her disbelieving ear.
"Yeah, sweetheart... look at your three o'clock."
"Three? I..." Terry's head instinctively turned to the direction and there she was. Making her way through the remaining crowd, heading right for her, was the tall, dark-haired, unmistakable form of Ashley Cooke. Terry's heart skipped a beat even as she moved.
She didn't just move, she ran. Straight towards her soulmate, stopping just short of crashing into Ashley, mindless of everything and everyone else around her.
"You're really here..." Terry's hand reached up to stroke Ashley's almost gaunt cheek gently.
"I am." Ashley placed her arms around Terry's shoulders.
"You're free..." there was a touch of wonder in Terry's voice.
"I am." Ashley confirmed. The final words of the chief judge nothing but a blur to her, "grave mistake... miscarriage of justice... defence of the innocent..." but most importantly, the words that were followed by a huge cheer, "you are free to go." still rang in her mind. "Sharon, Bron and the others are headed for your house for a celebration."
"We do have much to celebrate, don't we?" Terry smiled brightly up at the beloved face, her hands finding their way to clasp round Ashley's waist, "You've lost so much weight..." she noted with no small amount of dismay.
"Well, then, you'll just have to fatten me up..." Ashley joked even as she pulled Terry into a hug, lifting Terry's petite body easily, Ashley spun her round, making Terry laugh joyously for the first time in a very long time.
Jane stood at one side, laughing at her old friends' antics, she became aware of the wide-eyed looks the happily oblivious couple were receiving. Many of whom had probably never heard or seen Terry behave this way before. And as Ashley drew Terry into a kiss, the camera flashes started. Jane was torn between warning her friends or letting it go and helping Terry deal with the inevitable consequences of this action.
Taking one more look at her friends, she knew what they would think.
Consequences be damned.
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