'Visitor Jones,' the guard barked as he approached the door.
Veronica put on her red tabard and stood by her bed ready to be escorted down to the visitors’ room.
As she followed the guard down the corridors, passed other cells, waiting as he unlocked and then relocked gates; her thoughts went back to the day that had changed her life. All she could remember was seeing him lying there on the floor. The bread knife that had been a wedding present sticking out of his back. Blood foaming around his mouth as his lungs filled with blood, taking over from the space where air should be. It seemed to take him an age to die but the coroner had said it was less than two minutes. How could that be? She had just stood there and watched him die, in slow motion.
She had reached the visitors room and stood by the final door with the ten other women who had been lucky enough to get visits today. They were reminded of the rules; no touching, no standing, no shouting, and definitely no passing of objects of any kind. Their identity bracelets were scanned and they were allowed into the room to take their places on the north side of the tables. Not long now and Veronica would get to see her and explain everything. Once all the prisoners were settled the door on the south side opened and in came the visitors.
First was Mrs Miles' husband, he never missed a visit, which was very noble as she was in here for killing his mother. Next came the new girls visitor, she'd only been here a few weeks and he looked like a pimp. It was rumoured to be a drug offence but she hadn't spoken to any of the regulars yet. Then next two were a couple of men in pinstriped suits, obviously lawyers, once must be for Jenny, she was on remand for a drunk driving offence where a young girl had been killed. The other one seemed to be heading towards Veronica.
'Hang on. What's going on?' thought Veronica, 'I don't need a lawyer. Once my case comes up I'm pleading guilty.'
'Good Morning,' the suit greeted her. He was about 25 years old and had a look of optimism that only the young and naive can ever have. 'It is Veronica isn't it?'
'Yes but who are you? I'm supposed to be getting a visit from Penny.'
'Unfortunately Penny has decided not to come. She wants you to reconsider your plea.'
'How can I? It was all my fault. I deserve to be here.'
'She just told me to tell you that she couldn't come here. You need to reconsider. Self defence is still an option.'
'No.' shouted Veronica.
The guards turned and stared at her. Lowering her voice she looked this young lawyer in the face and said, 'The only justice is for me to be in here and Penny knows that. Tell her I love her and I'm sorry but she needs to live her life the best she can. She's better off without me there to ruin it for her.'
Later lying on her bunk as the lights went out Veronica looked back over all the events that had lead to this terrible situation.
The holiday had been to try and cheer up Penny after a very tough few months. Penny's dad had turned up one day after work and kindly informed Veronica that he was moving in with his secretary.
Stephen Moffat had been one of the children's entertainers at the holiday camp and always seemed to have time for Veronica and Penny. Veronica had been convinced that he was just doing his job until the last day of the holiday.
'Fancy going out for a drink tonight?' Stephen had asked as Veronica collected Penny from the afternoon club.
'I'd love too but what about Penny?'
'Come on she's 11 now isn't she? I'm sure she'll be fine.'
Stephen had flashed that winning smile and Veronica had melted.
That evening he had told her all about his dreams of becoming a TV presenter and how much he loved working with children. Veronica had lapped it all up. There she was 10 years his senior and she was behaving like a teenager, hanging off his every word, agreeing with his every comment. At the end of the evening only her guilt from having left Penny alone for so long made her turn down the offer of a night cap and the promise of more.
The next day as they boarded the bus home Stephen came running over and handed her his telephone number and asked her to call to let him know they had got home safe.
Veronica called and that was the start of six months of long distance. Stephen got a job on a cruise liner and they emailed or skyped every day. On the last day of the cruise he mentioned the fact that he would have to move back in with his mum until he found somewhere of his own. Veronica had offered him her spare room and the die had been cast.
Stephen slept in the spare room for over a year and was always the perfect gentleman. He struggled to find work so would take Penny to school and collect her every day. Then one day as Veronica got home from work she heard the popping of a champagne cork and Stephen greeted her with the news that he had got a job at the local primary school as a teaching assistant and that he would finally be able to contribute. That evening with the excitement of the news and the flow of the champagne Stephen spent the night with Veronica, and the next day moved his things into the master bedroom.
Everything was perfect. Penny had always been a happy but quiet child but not long after Stephen moved into the master bedroom she seemed to start to shrink into her shell. Veronica thought this was teenage angst and jealousy and ignored it.
Three years after they met and at a small house party for friends and family Stephen got down on one knee and proposed. Veronica could not have been happier until she looked up at her daughter’s face and saw the tears flowing. As Penny saw her mother looking at her she turned and fled, locking herself into her room.
'Open this door,' Veronica shouted as she banged on Penny's door.
'I can't,' sobbed Penny,' you'll be cross and it will all be my fault.'
'Don't be silly. It's just I don't understand why you are so sad. Let me in so we can talk about it.'
Penny opened the door and dissolved into her mother’s arms.
'What’s this all about?'
It then all came out how Stephen had been abusing Penny for the last year. He had told her that her dad had left because she hadn't treated him right. She had to be nice to Stephen so that he would stay. He had said if she told anyone he would say she was a liar and she would be put into care. The abuse had started gradually with him getting her to touch him and then Stephen had started touching her and finally last week he had raped her whilst Veronica had been at an overnight conference.
Veronica couldn't believe what she was hearing but she knew her daughter would never lie about something like this.
'Promise me you are telling the truth and I will go and make him leave right now.' Veronica had told her daughter.
That was all Veronica needed to hear.
As Veronica made her way back down stairs the house was quiet.
'I told everyone to leave as I thought you would be a while placating your little princess.' Stephen slurred. He had had far too much to drink and there was real malice in his voice.
'She's told me everything and I think you should leave.' Veronica looked him in the eye hoping she sounded calmer than she felt.
'What do you mean told you everything?'
'The abuse Stephen. How could you?'
'I wasn't my fault.' He blurted out, starting to cry. 'She teases me walking round in those little skirts looking at me with those big eyes. She wanted me to do it.'
'Don't be so ridiculous. She's 14 and your 24.'
'So here you go defending your little princess.' He suddenly turned angry as Penny walked into the room. 'You little tart.' He screamed pointing at Penny.
Stephen staggered across the room and grabbed Penny around the throat.
"I'll show you whose boss.' He grabbed her breast and started to try to lift her skirt.
'Get off her you bastard.' screamed Veronica as she lunged for him.
Stephen lashed out and sent Veronica flying across the room banging her head on the coffee table. She must have been knocked out because as she came too she saw Stephen on top of Penny drunkenly trying to get his trousers undone as he held her down. Veronica flew at him once more and his attention was moved from Penny as he started to hit Veronica. She was almost unconscious as she suddenly felt the weight of the blows subside. She pushed him off and saw Penny standing there with a look of horror on her face. Only then did Veronica notice the knife sticking out of Stephen's back.
Veronica had dialled 999 and confessed to her crime. The police only questioned Penny for a short time; they had believed Veronica’s confession.
As Veronica lay awake on her prison bunk she knew she could never forgive herself for not protecting her daughter from that monster and realised she couldn't expect Penny to forgive her either.