Ms. Sheeran led her out of the servery, leaving a protesting Alicia to clear away Cassie’s breakfast things, down the corridor to a row of hard, white seats where she sat down and indicated that Cassie should follow suit.
‘Now then, Rivers.’
‘Yes Miss?’ Cassie felt like she were back at school. Miss? This woman was barely two years older than she was!
‘You’re sharing a room with Alicia Boyden. I must warn you, be careful.’
‘…Careful? What do you mean?’
‘She’s… manipulative.’ Ms. Sheeran cautiously eyed the approaching Alicia, who was walking up the corridor towards them. ‘You should know that her friend has been in solitary for the past two weeks.’
‘So, she’s desperate for company. She’ll attach herself onto any -‘
‘ALICIA! I’m back!’
Everyone in the corridor jumped and turned as an excitable yell bounced off the walls. A girl coated in tattoos had just bounded through the doors, squealing her entrance to the rest of the wing. Alicia, who’d just reached where Cassie and Ms. Sheeran were sat, whooped and grabbed Cassie’s hand, pulling her after her. ‘Cass! You have to meet Lexi!’ Cassie flashed a cheeky grin at Ms. Sheeran, who looked as if she were about to explode, before Alicia managed to wrench her from her chair. Clearly she did not like being proved wrong!
Alicia, dragging Cassie behind her, and Lexi who had sprinted up the corridor, met outside Alicia and Cassie’s cell door. The two girls flung their arms around one another, chattering away hyperactively.
It was Alicia who broke away first, pushing open the cell door. ‘Well? Come on, you two!’
Lexi, noticing Cassie for the first time, frowned. ‘Who’s she then?’
Alicia rolled her eyes. ‘If you both come in then I can tell you, can’t I? You divy!’
Watching Cassie with an air of mistrust, Lexi stalked into the cell after Alicia.
‘Now then! Lexi, this is Cassie. She’s the one who’s sharing my cell! Four years, murder attempt.’
‘Attempted murder? Respect!’
Cassie was a little taken aback as Lexi’s face lit up, but decided not to correct her. She’d clocked just how toned Lexi was, and figured that it would be best to stay on her good side. Besides, she wanted to make friends.
‘What are you in for, Lexi?’
‘GBH. Glassed some girl in a club.’
‘Seriously? How come?’
Lexi shrugged, and Cassie went cold. ‘So how do you like sharing with a lifer like Alicia here?’
Lifer? ‘You got life for tax evasion?!’
Cassie felt her cheeks burn as Alicia and Lexi cracked up giggling.
‘You said you were in for tax evasion? Oh, Alicia!’
‘Well, I didn’t want to scare the poor girl off, did I!’
Wiping tears of laughter from her eyes, Lexi turned back to Cassie. ‘She ain’t in for tax evasion, you muppet! She stabbed her boyfriend!’
‘Yeah! You attempted murder, I actually done it!’
Cassie froze from cold to icy. She was sharing a cell with a murderer?
Seeing the expression on her face, Alicia stopped laughing. ‘Oh come on Cass! I didn’t lie properly anyway. He was a tax collector…’
Before Cassie could wonder what someone like Alicia had been doing with a tax collector, Lexi became suddenly serious. ‘Hey, did Katie ever pay you back for that parcel you got in for her?’
Alicia’s expression grew stony. ‘No. Think she’s been avoiding me, little skank. Still, we outnumber her now, don’t we? Wait here, Cass.’ Flashing Cassie a smile, Alicia and Lexi strolled out of the cell as if they were going down to the shops. Cassie stood there, barely able to process the conversation she’d just been part of.
She was sharing a cell with a murderer. Alicia had stabbed her boyfriend. Alicia’s best friend was Lexi. Lexi glassed a girl for seemingly no reason.
She shouldn’t be in this place.
‘Hey… Cassie, is it?’
Coming to from her reverie, Cassie turned to see a slightly older woman stood in the doorway to her cell. ‘Hey. Just thought I’d introduce myself. The name’s Kym. How’re you settling in?’
Cassie wanted to laugh. The notion that she could settle into this place seemed ridiculous.
Kym smiled sympathetically, reading her expression. ‘Don’t worry, it does get better. I’ve been here five years now. You do get used to it!’
Cassie found her voice. ‘Get used to it? Why the hell would I want to get used to it? I’m bloody innocent, yet I’m locked up in this cell with a murderer and some psycho who thinks that even attempting that is cool and god knows what else! I shouldn’t be here!’
‘You know, you might want to not shout about Alicia’s reason for being here in such a negative manner. She won’t take too kindly to it.’
‘Why? Will she kill me too?’ Cassie spat out her words sarcastically, the rage that had been building over her wrongful imprisonment threatening to spill over.
‘…What?’ It was as if the wind had been knocked out of Cassie’s lungs.
Kym raised an eyebrow in an almost tired manner. ‘You heard. Look, I just came in here to warn you. I’ve known her longer than you have. You have to share a cell with her, so don’t give her any ammo. No-one listens once lights are out. Just keep her onside. But don’t trust her. In fact, don’t trust anyone in here, not until you’ve been here a while.’
‘Don’t trust anyone? What, even you?’
A tiny smile played about Kym’s mouth. ‘Just make your own mind up about people in here. Don’t let anyone dictate you. But listen to advice!’
Cassie smiled sheepishly. ‘So, um… What are you in for?’
Kim’s face grew serious again. ‘Murder. I killed the man who tried to rape my girlfriend. He was a policeman, so naturally the powers that be didn’t accept my plea of manslaughter.’
Cassie wasn’t sure what it was about her, but she trusted Kym. Still, I shouldn’t be judging anyone in here on first impressions she reasoned to herself.
‘So, yeah. Take care, Cassie. If you need anyone to chat to, I’m down the corridor!’
With that, the two jumped as a high pitched scream reverberated through the wing. Seconds later Alicia ran through the door.
‘Oi, what are you doing in here? Get out,’ she said breathlessly to Kym, who looked her up and down distastefully and walked out. Alicia sneered as she passed her.
‘Stupid cow. What did she want? Oh, never mind! Hold these!’
Pulling Cassie’s hands out in front of her, Alicia started pulling phone cards out of the waistband of her skirt. ‘Where did you get these?’
‘Just collecting payment for a favour I done. It’s what I deserve!’
* * *
Later that evening, Cassie was filling in the forms to collect her things from the reception. She had to go through an itemised list to confirm that everything was there and that everything was hers, and to sign about a million pages for the prison to keep anything that wasn’t allowed on the wing in the lockers. Alicia was stretched out on her bed casually doctoring a book so that it could store the twenty five phone cards she’d ‘received’ from Katie.
‘Haven’t you finished yet?’
‘No! There’s a lot to go through!’
‘Got a lot of stuff, have you?’
‘Not really. Just, a lot of it was new, or at least newish. I got a new job, so I changed my wardrobe a bit,’ Cassie improvised quickly. She didn’t want to go through her arrival in Sunset Valley with Alicia.
Before Alicia could question her further, the door unlocked and a prison officer walked in past Cassie, who was sat at the desk right by the door.
‘Ooo, hello sir! You’re a new one, ain’tcha?’
‘Yes, I am… Alicia, am I right?’
‘Heard of me already, sir?’ Alicia giggled flirtatiously; Cassie could picture her sitting up on her bed and fluttering her eyelashes at the new eye candy on the wing. ‘Famous, am I?’
‘Infamous, more like! Get out of here, I need to speak to…’
The officer trailed off, and Cassie felt his eyes burning into her. She closed her eyes, praying that she was wrong. She had thought she recognised his voice.
Slowly, she put down her pencil and looked up. Her heart fell.
She had hoped that she would see him again, one day.
But not like this. Not like this.
‘Cassie… What the hell are you doing in here?!’ Matthew asked incredulously.