She’d never been so glad to get out of that cell! Cassie filled Matt in on her cover story as he escorted her to the private visiting room usually reserved for meetings with lawyers. A special exception had been made in this instance; Cassie was sure that Eric had donated something to the prison for the rules to be bent in this way. Her heart was in her mouth as Matt guided her through the door and she saw them sat there as if nothing had changed; the only difference Cassie could see was Eric’s slightly greyer hair.
Sitting down on the hard plastic chair, she was suddenly tongue tied. She felt embarrassed; Eric had had to bring his daughter to this horrible place.
‘Cassie, my dear, how are you coping?’
Eric’s face was full of concern for his young employee, whereas Maria was sat there nonchalantly sipping a carton of juice as if she were at the park on a day out. Cassie marvelled at the little girl’s coping powers; she knew that when she was Maria’s age she would’ve been scared stiff in a place like this!
‘I’m alright, Mr. Stanislav. Granted, it’s not the best, but… Well, you know.’
‘Well, that’s good to know. I was having nightmares of you being in some torture chamber! I feel so guilty, Cassie. If I hadn’t asked you to deliver those files for me, none of this would have happened.’
‘It’s not your fault! You didn’t know what he was arranging. I guess I was just unlucky. Did you never deliver anything he’d put his own stuff inside?’
Eric shook his head. ‘It’s not that. The reason I’m not sat in your place is simply because the other people Nick Alto named did not dare to try and use me to get off their own charges. My legal representation is too powerful. If only I’d known what was happening, Cassie, I’d have provided you with the best lawyers! It all happened so quickly…’
‘Mr. Stanislav, please! It’s not your fault!’
‘But you’d never have met that awful man if it weren’t for me! I can’t believe how he used you, so! James knew full well that you were delivering those papers for him. I do suppose you’re right, however…’ He nodded slowly. ‘My head knows that, my dear. My heart still feels guilt. Still, I’m going to help you get out of here. I’m emailing my lawyers as soon as we get home; I’d have done it sooner but I wanted to ensure you were alright first. It took longer than I had anticipated to set up this visit.’
Cassie could hardly believe the generosity of her boss. She’d always thought she was just one of the staff, a valued member, but beneath him nonetheless. And here he was, treating her as an equal.
‘Mr. Stanislav… Have you heard anything about James? I just don’t understand why he didn’t say that I didn’t know anything…’ This had been playing on Cassie’s mind for a while, though she had tried to ignore it. There had been no testimony from James Brennan during her trials.
Eric looked shocked. ‘My dear, haven’t you heard?’
‘James was attacked while he was on remand in custody. He’d only had one day in court when he and Mr. Alto were targeted by group of the gang they were arranging the assault on who were in the same prison; a stupid oversight by the powers that be. He’s been in a coma ever since. He’s not had his own trial, let alone given evidence on anyone else.’
Cassie was stunned. James, in a coma? Why hadn’t she been told this?
‘To be honest, everyone was shocked when you were sentenced,’ Eric continued despite Cassie’s clear struggle to take this information in. ‘Two key witnesses in your case were incapable of giving evidence for you, and they went ahead anyway. It was speculated that the judge wanted to make an example. Anyway, that’ll work in your favour when you get your appeal sorted.’ His confident smile reassured Cassie. Perhaps she wouldn’t be stuck in here for four years after all!
‘So, anyway… How are you coping with Maria? Are you managing without me?’ Cassie joked, trying to lift the mood.
‘We’re struggling on, aren’t we Ria?’ Eric ruffled his daughter’s hair affectionately as she finished off her juice.
‘Just about. It’s nowhere near as good as it was when you were my nanny, Cass!’ Maria grinned cheekily. Oh, how Cassie had missed that expression!
‘So, Maria, what have you been up to, hey? How did your ballet performance go?’
‘I was amazing, Cassie! I can’t believe you missed it. Couldn’t you have held off getting arrested until the morning after? The applause when I finished was deafening! Oh, and I got an A on my maths assignment, and a gold star on my poem!’
Cassie and Eric laughed at Maria’s proud, boasting outburst. Only she could be that upbeat in this setting!
‘So yeah, Cassie, everything’s fine. But come home. Please. I miss you.’ The little girl’s face suddenly fell, and she reached over the table to take Cassie’s hand. ‘Please. Dad’ll get you out.’
‘It might not be as simple as that, my dear.’ Eric’s words were quiet. Cassie knew that, while he would do all he could, legal proceedings were a long and tedious process.
‘You said, Dad! You said you’d get her out!’
‘Yes but I didn’t mean instantly, Maria. A lot of this is out of my hands.’
Matthew, who’d been supervising the visit, cleared his throat. ‘I’m sorry, but time’s up.’
Cassie was glad; Maria’s bottom lip was starting to tremble and she knew that if she started to cry, she wouldn’t be able to hold back her own tears.
As the three stood up, Maria ran around the table and flung herself at Cassie, enveloping her in a tight bear hug and burying her face in her shoulder. ‘I miss you, Cassie. Come home!’
‘I will do, my love. But I can’t yet. Be a brave girl, hey?’
Sniffling, Maria nodded as she reluctantly let Cassie go.
‘I will do my best, Cassie,’ Mr. Stanislav said assuredly. ‘I’ve already composed an email to send to my team. You’ll hear something within a few weeks; things do take an annoying amount of time to process I’m afraid. But you have my word.’
Cassie nodded, touched. ‘Thank you, Mr. Stanislav.’
‘Anyway, we’d better be going. Don’t want to get into trouble for overstaying our welcome.’ He shot an unpleasant look at Matthew; Cassie knew that he was just cross at being turfed out, not at the officer himself. ‘Goodbye, Cassie.’
‘Bye, Cass! Love you!’
‘Love you too, Maria! Bye, Mr. Stanislav!’
As they walked through the door, Matthew let out a soft whistle. ‘Wow, he doesn’t like being told what to do, does he!’
‘The only person who gets away with it is Maria!’ Cassie laughed, Matt joining her. She was suddenly aware that they were alone in the room. Matthew seemed to realise at the same moment she did. Tentatively, she put her hands in his.
‘I, er, I didn’t get a chance to tell you the other day,’ Matt stammered, suddenly feeling shy, ‘but I… I missed you too, Cass. So much.’
‘I can’t believe I did that to you, Matt. I should have told you to your face…’
‘It would have been nice! I’m not going to lie, it was tough to take.’ The pained look on his face stabbed Cassie in the heart. ‘But I do understand why you did it. I guess I was smothering you a bit, too protective.’
‘No, Matt, that doesn’t matter. You only wanted to help me, I should have told you that it was a bit too much.’
Matthew smiled wryly. ‘I guess we both could have handled things better, hey? Come on,’ he squeezed her hand lovingly, ‘I need to take you back to your cell.
The pair walked back in silence, lost in their own thoughts. Outside the door, Cassie turned suddenly to face him.
‘Matt, whatever you say, I am sorry. I walked out on you when you’d been so lovely, such a good boyfriend, without any word and only a measly letter that didn’t explain anything. I don’t regret leaving Riverview, but… I do regret leaving you.’
Tentatively, she leaned forward and placed a tender kiss on his lips. As he took her in his arms and kissed her back, Cassie and Matthew were unaware that they had an audience…
* * *
‘Oh, come on Alicia! That was a crap shot!’
It was a few months later, and selected prisoners were out on exercise being closely watched by Ms. Sheeran as they played Gnubb. The pieces could easily be used as weapons, so they were always under observation when they were out! Alicia had just thrown the baton practically over the fence rather than at the skittle she’d been aiming for.
‘Yeah, well! It’s not my fault, is it? I was up half the night!’
‘Yeah right! Excuses, Ali!’ Lexi smirked, knowing Alicia’s excuses down pat by now.
‘No, I’m serious! Cass was puking her guts up! She had been for weeks now, haven’t you Cass?’
‘Seriously?’ Lexi looked at Cassie worriedly, who had nodded. She was feeling a little queasy right now. ‘Did you get some dodgy gear or something? ‘Cos I told you, if you need anything come to me…’
Cassie rolled her eyes; Lexi had been trying to push drugs on her for a while now, but she wasn’t going to get into all that! ‘No Lexi, it’s not dodgy gear.’
‘Oh, right.’ Lexi threw her baton moodily. ‘Well, go to the M.O. then.’
‘I did, he said it was stress.’
‘Stress?’ Lexi perked up. ‘Did he give you any valium?’
‘Jeez Lexi!’ Cassie was exasperated; Lexi could be a nice girl, but her fixation on drugs was worrying. ‘Do you ever think about anything other than drugs?!’
Lexi shrugged. ‘What else is there to think about in here?’
‘As if he’d give her anything anyway!’ Alicia called from across the game. ‘He probably never even checked her out properly! It’s always stress in here. Stress or drugs. Or stress from not being able to get any drugs! He can’t be arsed to diagnose anything else.’
Across the yard, Ms. Sheeran’s radio crackled into life.
Listening to the message, an ugly smirk etched itself onto her face. ‘You need to put this equipment away now, girls. I need to take Rivers to the gov.’
‘The governor?’ Cassie was confused. ‘What for? Is it something to do with my appeal?’
‘You’ll have to wait and see, won’t you.’ Ms. Sheeran wasn’t going to give anything away.
* * *
Cassie hadn’t been in the governor’s office since her arrival at the prison, a distant memory now. It hadn’t changed much; the gov was set in ways and didn’t particularly like change. As Ms. Sheeran escorted her inside, she looked at Cassie from her desk with a disappointed look.
‘Thank you, Erin. Would you wait outside, please?’
Ms. Sheeran looked disappointed, which filled Cassie with fear. Was she going to be reprimanded for something? They couldn’t know… Surely not…
‘Now then, Cassie. I want you to be honest with me.’ The governor stood up from behind her desk and walked round to come face to face with her. ‘Are you, or are you not, having relations with Mr. Forest?’
Cassie tried to reply but failed, her words stuck in her throat. The governor nodded.
‘We were told originally a few months ago, however the source, who shall remain anonymous, wasn’t exactly reliable. Still, these things have to be taken seriously, so an eye was kept on it, and now I am satisfied that we have sufficient evidence that you have entered into a relationship with this officer. This is correct, is it not?’
Cassie felt her cheeks burning. What was the use in denying it? She nodded numbly. They had been so careful…
The governor nodded. ‘Thank you for being honest with me. Mr. Forest was also when questioned; this will go on both your records positively. Having said that, Mr. Forest has been transferred out of this prison to another in a different part of the country. For legal reasons I cannot tell you which. As for yourself, I’m stripping you of your earnings for the next month. I’m being lenient here, Cassie; aside from this huge lack of judgement you have been a model prisoner thus far during your stay here, and have even been a good influence over your cell mate.’
Through her shock, Cassie was barely able to take in the governor’s words, although she wanted to laugh at that last remark. She wasn’t influencing Alicia, she’d just decided to be good lately. One of her phases.
‘Now then, Cassie, I do have one more thing to ask you…’
‘…And you must, must be honest with me. Is there any chance, any at all, that you may be pregnant?’
Cassie looked down at the floor. ‘Yes,’ she whispered.