Angela stepped into her office and prepared for her first client. She placed a chair either side of the low coffee table. She opened a fresh box of tissues and placed it on the table. After checking the time, she skimmed through her first client's notes. At 9:00am on the dot, she opened the door to the waiting room and smiled.
"Good morning, Maria. Please come in."
Maria walked confidently across the waiting room and took Angela's outstretched hand. Angela smiled as she remembered the day she first met Maria, a quivering wreck of a woman, unable to speak more than a couple of sentences without bursting into tears. A far cry from the confident business woman she now saw before her.
Maria smiled as she looked down at the tissues, at least she wouldn't need them today. She sat down and waited for Angela to sit opposite
"So how are you, Maria?"
"Good! Very good, the best I've been for years."
"Are you still managing without the anti-depressants?"
"Yes, it's six months now."
"How are you managing at work?"
"Fine, I've even been promoted. Probably because I've taken more interest in my career."
"Are you still having the dreams?"
"Well yes, but they've changed. You remember, I told you I wake up next to a man knowing we've had a night of unbridled passion. Before in my dream I'd always been horrified and become hysterical because it was not my husband."
"So how has the dream changed?"
"The first part of the dream is still the same. The difference is that instead being horrified now I'm happy. I wake up hugging my pillow."
"Is it still the same man?"
"Oh yes, it's the same man."
"The man who killed your husband?"
"Yes, but it was an accident. He didn't mean to kill him."
"The same man you slept with before the trial."
"Well yes, but I didn't know who he was when we went to bed. Do you think it means something?"
"I'm a counsellor, not an interpreter of dreams. The only thing I can suggest is that perhaps you've forgiven yourself for that little mistake."
"Hmm, maybe you're right; I think I've forgiven him. When I was at the trial I hated him. Not just for what he did to Will, but also for taking advantage of my situation the night before. Later I hated him for making me realise what a bastard my husband was. I blamed him for something that wasn't his fault. He didn't take advantage of me if anything it was the other way round. Granted he could have told me who he was, but I all but dragged him into my room."
"It sounds like you have forgiven him. That's good."
The two women talked on for the rest of the hour. As Maria's time came to an end, she got up to leave.
"I don't know about you Angela but I'm not sure I need more counselling. I'm on top of things again now."
"If that's how you feel, you are probably right. Take my card. If you need to talk again, just give me a call."
"Take the next left," said the sat-nav.
"Where?" Maria said to herself as she continued down the narrow lane. A tall hedge lined the road to her left. She noticed a small break in the hedge and as she got closer. It was a narrow road. As she turned into the road the view changed to open parkland. A large board displayed the name H.M.P. Combevale.
"You have reached your destination," the sat-nav told her.
Ahead of her was a large country house with a spur road to her right leading to a building site. She drove on and followed the signs to the car park. She was sure this couldn't be the right place. Families were walking on the grass. One group sat under a tree and got out a picnic. It looked like no prison she'd ever heard of. She parked the car, intending to enquire at the house.
Maria tried to look plain, but without success. Knowing she was going to a prison, she'd opted for jeans and tee shirt. However, all her jeans were tight enough to show off her shapely legs and tight bum. Likewise, the loose fitting tee shirt didn't hide her proud breasts pushing forward, holding the shirt away from her stomach. She'd pulled her long dark hair back into a ponytail.
As she left and locked the car, a voice came from behind her.
"Now then bonny lass, what can we do for you?"
A giant of a man strode across the car park toward her. He stood at least six foot six tall with broad shoulders and a chest that was stretching his tee shirt. His arms were thicker than her legs, with tattoos on his forearms. He would have been an intimidating sight if it weren't for the beaming smile he wore on his face.
"I'm looking for Combevale House prison." She told him.
"You've foond it then pet. Welcome to Combevale. I'm Geordie." He extended a huge hand for her to shake.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Geordie. I take it you work here."
"Aye, in a manner of speakin'. I work for her majesty like."
"Do you mean to say you're a prisoner? But you are walking around free."
"Why aye bonnie lass; we all do here. It's what you call an open prison. Now, I know you're not here to see me, more's the pity. Who are you looking for?"
"I'm looking for a man called Paul Robertson; he is a prisoner here."
"Paul Robertson? That's not a name I recognise like, but I can ask for you. Why don't you come into the day room? We can have a cup of coffee and I'll try to find your man."
Maria smiled as he walked ahead of her. How could this giant of a man be so gentle and helpful? She wondered what he'd done, to end up in prison. He led her into a large room with sofas, tables, and chairs.
"Take a seat, pet, and I'll get you a coffee and try to find yer man Paul."
He went off to the tea bar and ordered their drinks. Maria watched him walk across the room to talk to a man on the other side of the room. He walked back to the bar, picked up a tray and brought it back to Maria.
"There we are, pet. I love visitin', me. It's the only time we get decent coffee. Sorry, I canna find yer man yet. I'll ask Mr Mackay when he gets in he knows everyone."
"Tell me Geordie, how long have you been in prison?"
"Me? Well, I spent three years in Durham, two years in Parkhurst. After that, I had a short spell in Belmarsh and then Maidstone aboot two years ago. I spent six months there when they moved me and The Prof to Gartree. We were there for aboot a year when they decided it was safer to send us here. That means I've spent aboot ten years inside now."
"Ten years, what did you do?"
"Murder pet, I killed a man. I got twenty years, but I've been a good boy like, so I should get out soon. That's why I'm here, preparing me for release."
"You? You murdered someone? I can't believe that you don't seem the sort."
"So what is the sort then pet? Anyone can be the sort. All it takes is the right situation and provocation. For me it was finding another man in my bed, with my wife. I grabbed him and threw him oot the French windows."
"You surely don't kill a man by throwing him out of the French windows."
"You do if you're eight floors up, pet."
"It sounds like you got rough justice. I'd have thought it should have been manslaughter at the most."
"Aye well, maybe you're right pet, but I was just a doorman, you know a bouncer at a club like. I had nae money for fancy lawyers"
Maria reached out for his huge rough hand and squeezed it. "Oh Geordie, that's so sad. I hope things get better for you once you get out."
"I'm sure they will pet. Things changed for me aboot two years back when The Prof got put in ma cell. I could barely read and write like, but that man helped me. He foond oot I was dyslexic and got me bits and pieces that helped me read. I foond oot I wasnae thick after all."
"He sounds like a good man."
"The Prof? He's the best. He shouldnae be in here, but I'm glad he is like. –Excuse me pet, that's Mr Mackay. I'll go and ask him aboot your man."
Geordie got up and crossed the room to a smartly dressed man in his fifties who was standing by the door. No sooner had he left Maria than another man came over to her. He was about five foot eight, slim, with curly black hair and a ready smile. Maria thought he was in his late twenties.
"Allo luv. You Geordie's girl are you?"
"No, I'm here to see Paul Robertson. Do you know him?"
"Nah can't say as I do. Are you sure you want to wait for him? Good looking girl like you shouldn't be left waiting around here. My name's Steve and I'm available I'd be glad to give you the grand tour."
A voice boomed out across the room.
"Ho way, Cockney man. She's here for The Prof so leave her alone."
Steve's face took on a worried expression. "I'm sorry miss I didn't mean anything. You won't tell him I tried to get off with you, will you?"
"Is that what you were trying to do?" Maria laughed. "Don't worry Steve, I won't tell him."
Geordie looked embarrassed when he came back and sat down opposite Maria.
"I'm sorry pet, I did nae connect. No one's called him Paul in two years. Even the screws call him Prof. He's not here now, he went in to work this morning. He should be back soon like."
"That's all right, thank you for keeping me entertained. Would you like to tell me more about him? Why did young Steve seem afraid of him?"
"Afraid of the Prof? Nae body's afraid of The Prof. We just respect him. You can have respect without fear, he taught me that."
"So what does he do to make you respect him?"
.... There is more of this story ...