Written by: SwordnQuill (Susanne Beck)
Disclaimers: The characters in this novel are of my own creation. Thats right, this is an uber story. Some may bear a resemblance to characters we know and love who are owned by PacRen and Universal Studios.
Violence and Naughty Language Disclaimer: Yup, both. And quite a lot of each, to be truthful. This takes place in a prison, and where there are criminals, theres gonna be violence and naughty words.
Subtext Disclaimer: Yup, theres that too. This piece deals, after a fashion, with the love and physical expression of that love, between two adult females. There are some graphic scenes located within this piece, but I have tried to make them as tasteful as possible so as to not avoid anyones sensibilities. Let me know if Ive succeeded.
Serialization Disclaimer: When I first started writing and posting, I made a promise to myself, and to anyone who read me, that I would never post a work that wasnt finished. I detest serialization, normally. But . . .this novel, which is one week from being finished, is becoming very long and Ive had readers write to me stating that they wont read novels because they just dont have time to sit down and read such gargantuan works. So, I compromised. This piece is finished (very nearly) and will go up at regular intervals so that the folks who like to read in small chunks can do that and the ones who like to read the whole thing can do that too.
Dedication: As always, Id like to thank the man who gives up some of his free time every day to read the stuff I send over to him. The best beta-reader on the planet, Mike. Id also like to thank my other betas: Candace (who read the entire novel in IM and showed her support every night), Rachel, and Alex. A special thank-you goes to Sulli, who made a very bad day a wonderful one with her gift of generosity. I would also like to thank Mary D for reading and housing this at her site. But mostly, Id like to thank the readers for reading my stuff and giving me such great feedback. Its what makes sitting in front of this balky computer and tickling the tans so much fun. Feedback, if anyone is so inclined, is always gratefully received and appreciated. I can be reached atSwordnQuil@aol.com .
The last warm day of 1978 dawned sunny and clear as if Mother Nature was snickering behind her hand, giving us a last glimpse of a summer we wouldnt see for another half year or more. Ducking outside at the earliest opportunity, I strode onto the nearly empty field and sat cross-legged in grass which still managed to maintain some measure of its vibrant color despite several hard frosts which had ravaged it.
Closing my eyes and tilting my face toward the sun, I imagined that if I could just listen hard enough, Id be able to smell the fresh cut grass and hear the sounds of summers past; the laughter of children, the splashing of water and the almost monotonous drone of a baseball announcer coming through the tinny speakers of an old transistor radio. The images playing behind my closed eyes warmed me inside and I felt a smile break across my face as I was swept up in my fantasy world. The cold walls of my prison home were far away as I sat there, determined to enjoy this fleeting glimpse of both summer and freedom for as long as I could.
My training had caused me to become more aware of the world around me, even while deep in my musings, and so I almost immediately caught the subtle current of change in the air around me. With a sense of disappointment, I lowered my head and opened my eyes to find Ice lowering herself to sit, also cross-legged, on the ground some feet from me. Her hands snaked across the carpeting of grass, plucking one thin stalk and twirling it between her fingers as she looked around the yard for a bit before turning her head to meet my interested gaze. Her lips curved into a gentle grin that lit up the vibrant pools of her eyes and softened the harsh planes of her face. "Morning, Angel."
The sound of her slightly husky voice warmed me more than the sun and my memories put together and I couldnt help but return her smile. "Morning, Ice."
Nodding her dark head at me, she broke the lock of our gazes, seeming inclined to allow the comfortable silence to stretch out between us as she continued to casually scan the yard.
I, however, wasnt one to pass up even the slimmest chance to get beneath that armored exterior. My mind whirled, tossing out and discarding several opening gambits. Finally, I decided on the old tried and true direct route.
"Can I ask you a question, Ice?" I winced as the words slipped past my lips. They always seemed to be the first ones out when I talked to her and some part of me wondered if shed ever get tired of hearing them so often repeated.
She turned to me slowly, a small smile playing across her lips. "Whats on your mind, Angel?"
"Well, I was wondering about your . . .trees. I dont know if Im breaking some code of conduct, but Ive been thinking about them a lot. Theyre each individuals, but when I look at them as a group, they seem to tell a story. I was wondering if, maybe, you could tell me what that story was."
She looked away again, scanning the fat clouds strolling across the sky for so long that I was sure she wasnt going to answer me. When she turned back, her face was less open, but her eyes werent completely shuttered and that gave me some hope. "I call them the Four Freedoms," she said in a voice soft as the wind rustling through the grass.
"The Four Freedoms?" I asked, careful to keep my tone neutral. There were times, especially ones like this, when Ice reminded me of a skittish colt, all fire and nervous energy. One wrong word and I knew shed bolt. I sensed I was going to get to the bottom of something very important here and so I did my best to keep things as calm and peaceful as I could.
Nodding, she tossed the blade of grass into the wind before picking another and looking down at it. She took a deep breath, as if contemplating whether or not to go further, then tossed the second stalk away and interlaced her fingers. "The one on the very left, the small one thats kinda wild? Thats the Freedom of Innocence. The one next to it, the big one, is the Freedom of Power. The next is the Freedom of Love, and the last is the Freedom of Wisdom."
As I sat there, pondering her words, I tried desperately to think of what to say next. Knowingly or not, she had just given me a huge insight into the workings of her soul and I wanted to dig ever deeper to bring out the person who could see freedom in concepts like innocence and love.
But I also knew that if I gave in to my urgings and pushed too hard into the rich subtext, Id soon find myself alone. Backing off a bit, I decided to attack the general overriding concept rather than look too hard at the specifics.
"Do you think about freedom a lot?" While it sounded like a stupid question, there was a method to my madness.
She shrugged. "Not too much anymore. Id rather not waste my time thinking about things that can never be." There was a deep sadness in her eyes and I sensed, with a sinking heart, that she was talking about far more than simple freedom from this prison we called home.
"Youll get out someday, Ice. Your sentence carries a chance of parole, doesnt it?"
Smiling sadly, she nodded after a moment. "A slim chance, yes. But itll never happen."
"Im a murderer, Angel. Simple as that. I was convicted of killing a government witness." She shrugged again, then shook her head, laughing mirthlessly. "Not something the parole boards like to hear when theyre looking at your release papers."
And with that statement, I realized Id blundered into yet another hidden landmine. In all the time Id known her, Id never asked whether she had indeed committed the crime for which she was convicted. Shed never volunteered the information and as far as I knew, only Ice herself knew where the real truth lie.
I felt, in that moment, how I imagined a novice firewalker must feel. Afraid to go forward and risk getting burned; afraid to step back and risk losing face.
Faced with those choices, I picked the third. To do nothing. Leaning back slightly and letting my arms bear the weight of my upper body, I looked up at the robins egg blue sky as I felt the gradual ebb of edgy tension from the body close to mine. I smiled internally, knowing Id made the right decision. The comfortable silence stretched out between us and, for once, I wasnt inclined to break it.
After several long, peaceful moments, Ice softly cleared her throat. I could feel the heat of her eyes upon me, but I continued to look up at the sky, waiting for her to share whatever was on her mind. "How about you?" she said finally. "Do you think about being free again?"
Smiling, I turned to face her. "Not as much as I used to, but yes, almost every day."
"What do you think about?"
"Mmmmm." My smile widened, unbidden. "A walk in the park at dusk. Eating an ice-cream cone. A nice, long, hot bath." Trite, but true. All of it. Especially the bath part. It had always been one of my favorite things to do, especially on a cold winters evening. "But when I really feel like the walls are closing in on me, I remember this place I used to go to in the summers when I was a young girl."
Ice nodded at me to continue, her eyes bright and interested.
"My father had a friend who owned a cabin on some property in Canada. It was a wonderful place, all glass and wood, with a huge porch that ran along the front, a loft upstairs where most of the bedrooms were, and a fireplace so big my father could fit inside without bending over." Shifting slightly, I stretched my legs out, running them back and forth over the nubbly grass. "It sat in the middle of a huge pine forest, about fifty yards up from a beautiful lake. The path from the house to the water was covered in a carpet of pine needles and if you tried to make the walk with bare feet, youd wind up covered in sap."
I felt a warm tingle begin inside me as the pleasant weight of my memories settled in. "There was a short green dock by the shore where my dads friend kept his speedboat tied. It wasnt a very big one, but it was fun to go out in. I can remember sitting on the dock, feeling the sun on my shoulders as I looked over the lake at the colorful sailboats that raced almost every day. They reminded me of butterflies in a meadow and I remember envying the passengers their freedom. My father had something against girls learning to sail, but he couldnt stop me from watching. They were so beautiful."
I shifted a little, plucking at the grass with my fingers, not really seeing it. "There were a couple of kids my age there and I remember us racing out to another dock which sat out in the middle of the lake. Well, it wasnt really the middle, but it seemed that far when I was young. All I knew was that the water was over my head and that scared me, at first. But once I learned to swim, it was fun to go out there and dive off the dock. My friends used to go underneath, where there was an air pocket." I found myself laughing at the memory. "Not me though. Never was brave enough."
Some more grass came loose under the relentless assault of my fingers. "Wed go up there for a month every summer. We never had a television, but my dad would bring his radio. At night, after dinner, hed build a big fire in the fireplace and sit listening to baseball while my mom did her famous jigsaw puzzles. Id sit there, listening to the crackle of the fire, and read. Then, when it got late, Id go upstairs and fall asleep to the sounds of crickets, bullfrogs and the wind whistling through the pine trees."
I hugged my arms tight around my knees, awash in the memories. "Those were the happiest times of my life." I sighed. "My father bought the cabin and land from his friend when I was thirteen. The cabin burned down the next year. But one day, when I walk out of here, Im gonna go back up there and rebuild that cabin from the ground up with my bare hands and spend the rest of my life there, free and at peace."
When I turned my gaze back to my silent listener, I found her eyes so full of utter longing that it made my heart stop just looking at her expression. I felt my hand go out to her, felt her own capture it and cradle it tenderly as a sad half-smile crooked the corner of her mouth. "It sounds . . .like a good place to dream about."
I smiled. "It is. Its a wonderful place. I can share it with you, if youll let me."
Compressing her lips, she gently let go of my hand, then drew her knees up to her chest, wrapping her long arms around them. "No, thats alright. Its your dream. Something that belongs to you and only you. Something this place and these people cant take away from you. You keep it."
I sidled closer until we were almost touching. "Id like to share it with you, Ice. The only thing better than having it all to myself is being able to share it with someone. With . . .you."
Catching the odd expression on her face, I allowed my grin to broaden. "Cmon, itll be fun! Just close your eyes and imagine youre in the middle of a forest, surrounded by trees. Feel the warm wind brush against your skin. Smell the pine all around you." I took in a deep, bracing breath. "Isnt it wonderful?"
I laughed. "Of course it is! Thats what makes it so much fun! Cmon, Ice, let your hair down a little. Just close your eyes and think about what I told you. Think about the warm sun on your face."
After rolling her eyes at me, she lowered her chin onto her knees and closed her eyes. Taking a chance, I closed the last of the distance between our bodies, then reached up a hand to lay gently against her broad back. The muscles I felt were pronounced and tense and I couldnt resist rubbing them gently in a smooth, circular motion. She began to relax just the slightest bit. "Thats it. Can you hear the birds chirping? The water lapping gently against the wooden dock?"
There were several long moments of silence interrupted only by our breathing. "Well? Can you?"
Faintly amused eyes opened and met mine. "Nope."
This time I rolled my eyes. "Thats just cause youre not trying hard enough. Let me help you." Pursing my lips, I proceeded to deliver my rendition of "water gently lapping against a wooden dock", followed close behind by "chirping birds".
I felt her muscles clench under my hand a split second before a deep, rumbling laugh burst up from her chest. It was one of the most joyous sounds Id ever heard and, within seconds, I was joining her, tears of mirth streaming down my cheeks as I realized just how horrible I must have sounded.
When my laughter finally tapered off, I wiped my arm over my watering eyes, brushing away my tears as I looked into Ices radiant face. "God, youre beautiful." The words came out before I could edit them, but this time, I didnt want to take them back. She was beautiful, and I wanted her to know that.
Both of our expressions turned serious and I felt more than saw her head incline toward mine. I could feel myself moving at the same time, my lips suddenly aching to meet hers.
I could feel her warm breath tickle the fine hairs of my face as the incredible heat of her body radiated against mine. We were a hairsbreadth apart, my eyes already closing in anticipation, when the sound of a softly cleared throat startled me out of my bliss.
Before I could even fully open my eyes, Ices arm shot up, grabbed a handful of jumpsuit and yanked a startled Critters upper body down so that her face was just inches from ours. "The prison better be burning down," she growled, "or youre gonna find out how well you can walk with two broken legs."
"I . . . just thought you needed to know . . .that Psychos loose again," Critter wheezed, her face turning an interesting ashen color.
"Great," Ice muttered, letting go of Critters uniform and jumping to her feet. Reaching down, she grasped my hand and hauled me up as well. "Thanks for the dream, Angel," she said, laying a quick hand against my cheek before turning and running back into the prison.
Turning, I looked over at Critter, who was rubbing her throat and coughing. "Are you ok?"
She cleared her throat again, then nodded. "Yeah, Im alright. I should know better than to interrupt her."
"Whats going on with Psycho this time?"
Critter shrugged as she straightened her uniform. We both broke out into a trot as we headed back into the building. "Shes got another knife to the throat of some newbie."
"Newbie? I didnt think we had anyone come in in the last month."
"Neither did I. I heard she was brought in last night after everyone was asleep. Real hush-hush."
Coming to the top of the stairs, we were confronted with an almost exact duplicate of the scene a month before when Psycho had captured the prison guard. The guards were standing around in a tense knot, their batons out and clutched in tight, knuckle-whitening grips. The prisoners stood behind them, the shorter women up on their toes trying to get a glimpse of the unfolding drama.
As before, Critter led me around to a more open space off to the side where I could look into the circle of tense women. Psycho had what looked to be a butcher knife, though how she managed to get a hold of one of those I have no idea, to the neck of a striking woman. The woman looked to be in her late forties, with long, black hair shot through with strands of the finest silver. Her skin was olive-hued and her eyes dark and shining. She had a regal, old-world elegance that even her current circumstances did nothing to diminish.
At the front of the pack stood Sandra and Ice, who was gesturing wildly with her arms, more demonstrative than Id yet seen her, even when fighting. My ears strained to pick out her low toned words among the excited chatter of the other inmates.
"Alright, Cassandra, youve made your point. Now drop the knife."
"No can do, my dear Ice. This little fishie has to die. Im sorry if that upsets you, my love, but some things just cant be helped."
The womans eyes widened as the sharp edge bit cruelly into her neck. "Morgan, please!"
Cassandra yanked the womans dark hair back, baring her neck even further. "I told you already, you miserable piece of dung, her name is Ice! Use it!"
"Im sorry!" the woman cried out. "Please stop hurting me!"
Cassandra bared her teeth in a malicious grin. "Oh no, my pretty. I havent even begun to hurt you."
"Drop the knife, Cassandra!" Sandra shouted, raising her baton.
Turning toward the head guard, Psychos grin broadened. "Im sorry, Sandra, did you say something? Im afraid I couldnt hear you with this poor dear fishie moaning in my ear. Would you care to repeat yourself?"
"I said drop the knife!"
"Thats what I thought you said." She shrugged. "Sorry." Closing her eyes, she slowly drew the knife across the captive womans throat, drawing a shallow cut from which thin trickles of blood streamed. "Ahhhh, nothing like the smell of fresh, hot blood, is there."
The blonde turned her gaze to Ice, mouing her lips in a coquettish pout. "Oh come now, Ice. You above all others should know just how good it feels to draw your blade against the tender flesh of an innocent victim." She giggled girlishly. "Just the thought of it gives me shivers. How about you?"
"Cassandra, please. Im asking you to drop the knife."
"Oooooo. Begging! I like that in a woman! Try getting on your knees next time though, Ice. It enhances the effect."
From my vantage point, I was able to see Ices expression as her eyes darted intently between Cassandra, her knife, and the terrified woman in Cassandras deadly grasp. It was quite obvious that Ice knew the captive on some level. I turned to Critter, a question in my eyes. She shrugged and shook her head.
As I turned back to the action, Sandra took a small step forward, her empty hands upraised in a gesture of placation. "At least tell us why youre doing this, Cassandra. I want to help you if I can."
"You cant help me, you pitiful excuse for a cop wannabe. Im crazy, remember? Nuts. Crackers. Off the deep end without a net. Im Psycho!"
"Please, Cassandra," the head guard tried again. "Just tell us why."
After a moment, she nodded, relaxing her grip just the slightest bit on her captive. "Alright. Thats a fair question, I suppose. Why dont you tell them . . .what was your name again?"
The woman choked.
"Her name is Josephina," Ice said, her voice firm and deadly serious.
Cassandra smiled brightly. "Thats right, Josephina! How stupid of me to forget such a beautiful name. Josephina, tell our admirers here just why youre in such an uncomfortable position."
"I . . .I dont know!"
"Of course you do, my darling. Speak up loudly so everyone can hear you, dear. Mustnt let the people in the back miss your words of wisdom, you know."
Josephina remained silent and Cassandra shook her like a rag doll, her brows knit low over her eyes in a fierce scowl. "Mustnt keep our public waiting, dear Josephina. Now spill it."
"We . . .we were talking," Josephina gasped out, "this . . .morning. In our cells. And . . .and I mentioned that I was a friend of Ice."
"You liar!" Screaming in rage, Cassandra tightened her grip around the older womans neck, bringing the knife up against her chin once again. "Ice has no friends except me!! Im the one that she loves, do you understand me?!?!? Im the one that she thinks about at night when she runs her hands down that exquisite body of hers! Me! Only me! Do you hear me, you sniveling piece of trash?!? Do you???"
Josephina screamed hoarsely as Sandra and Ice took identical, purposeful steps forward. Cassandras head jerked up and she dragged the terrified woman back a step, waving the knife in front of her. "Back! Get back before I cut her pretty little head off! And you know Ill do it, too."
Both women halted their forward progress, still several feet from Cassandra and her knife. I wondered if Ice would try for a disarming blow, but for some reason, my friend seemed hesitant, as if unsure of herself. It was a strange thing to see and I had to fight down a sudden sense of dark foreboding, watching her.
Cassandras left foot slipped slightly in a spot of wetness on the prison floor. The knife bit deeply into the juncture of Josephinas neck and shoulder, causing the older woman to scream as a gout of blood streamed forth. The blonde chuckled as the blood flowed. "Thats gonna leave a stain," she remarked conversationally, reaching up to run her fingers through the blood, then reaching still higher to wipe her wet fingertips across her captives cheek.
"Morgan, please," Josephina moaned.
The slap of Cassandras palm against Josephinas cheek echoed through the prison like a rifle shot. Spinning the older woman around toward her, Psycho brought her face down so close their lips were almost toughing. Her eyes were wide with rage. "I told you, you bitch! Her name is Ice!"
Raising her free hand, Cassandra backhanded Josephina then raised her knife, its cruel edge glittering in the harsh fluorescents.
Things seemed to flow in slow motion from that point. Again, Ice and Sandra stepped forward simultaneously. With one hand, Ice pushed the guard away, while grabbing at the descending knife with the other. Sandra was thrown back into the crowd of guards while Ice, Cassandra and Josephina became locked in a deadly embrace.
Ice had at least five inches and fifty pounds on her skinny opponent, but Cassandra had the strength of an insane rage backing her up. The battle for control of the knife quickly became a stalemate, with Ices hand locked around Psychos wrist while Cassandra was trying desperately to plunge the knife into any bit of warm flesh she could.
The two women grinned fiercely at one another, obviously getting some sort of perverse enjoyment out of their dance of death. The thought chilled me inside as I attempted to reconcile this Ice with the one Id shared my dreams with just moments ago. It wasnt an easy match, I have to tell you.
I turned once again to Critter, who was watching the scene with fascination. "Why dont they do something?" I asked, gesturing to the guards who were, like my friend, motionless as they watched the battle taking place just scant feet in front of them.
Critter looked down at me and shrugged again. "I dunno. Maybe theyre trying to figure out what to do?"
"This is ridiculous," I commented, turning my attention back to the action. Cassandras arm was shaking visibly with her attempt to plunge the knife downward against the implacable strength of Ices sure grasp. Her eyes fluttered closed for a moment and then a truly evil smile spread over her features. A slight nudge with her free arm was all it took to send Josephina stumbling over into Ice, who reflexively caught the sobbing woman, also with her free arm.
That minute distraction was all Cassandra needed as she twisted her wrist sharply, breaking free of Ices hold. The knife glittered again, then continued its aborted plunge downward. There was a loud scream, and when the weapon again appeared, it was coated with blood.
"NO!" I screamed, beyond sure that Ice had been the recipient of the deadly thrust. I started forward, only to be pulled back by Critters strong hold on me.
Cassandra threw back her head and laughed, a truly terrifying sound. As she stepped away, Josephina slumped into Ices arms, blood pouring from the wound in her chest. The look of shock on Ices face was intense as she looked from Cassandras cackling form down to the bloody woman in her arms. She bore Josephina gently to the ground, a small moan coming from deep in her chest, as the guards chose that moment to attack.
"Oh yes!" Cassandra purred. "I just love pig roasts, dont you? Cmon, piggies. Whos first to die today?" She swung her knife back and forth in viscous sweeps. The guards jumped back, uncertain, and Cassandra laughed again. "Come on, wheres that bravery you pat each other on the back for having, hmmmm? It only hurts a little! Just ask my little friend here!" Her screaming mirth filled the prison.
Another guard ran to assist Ice, who slammed an elbow into her gut, sending her back over to her fellows. With one large hand covering the blood-drenched wound, Ice used the other to tenderly brush back the sweat-soaked hair from Josephinas brow. "Just hang on," she murmured. "Helps on the way. Just hang on."
"Thats right, Josephina," Cassandra yelled, still swinging her knife to keep the guards at bay, "listen to our dear Ice. Hang on, wont you? I wouldnt want you to miss even one second of your glorious death."
I looked on in absolute horror as Ice brought down her other hand to join the first in its futile attempt to staunch the flow of blood draining from Josephinas wound. Blood pumped from between her fingers in a red river, continuing unabated even after my friend had put almost all her strength into the pressure hold.
The wounded woman was still conscious, though barely, her face a doughy white. She and Ice were carrying on a murmured conversation that was too soft for me to hear. My heart clenched at the look of grief on Ices normally stoic features. Who was this woman that she could etch those deep lines across the tableau of my companions beautiful face?
Ices dark head slowly lowered. Her head turned as if to listen to barely whispered words. From where I was standing, I could see Josephinas striking features go slack as her body relaxed beneath Ices large form.
The mournful howl echoed through the cavernous building, seeming to gather strength as it rebounded off cement walls and steel doors, filling the space around us all with a haunting melody of loss.
The wail cut off abruptly as Ice slowly rose, looking down at her blood covered hands as if they belonged to someone else entirely. I caught just the faintest glimpse of her expression as her head raised in the direction of Cassandra and I swear my heart stopped dead in my chest. Shes going to kill her. My God, shes going to murder Psycho with her bare hands!
One step forward and Ice obliterated Cassandras wrist with a kick, sending the butcher knife spinning through the air to land against the far wall with such force that the blade snapped from the hilt with the ease of a twig being broken. Continuing her forward momentum, she reached her bloody hands out and wrapped them around Cassandras neck, bearing the still laughing woman off her feet and pinning her up against the barred door that protected the entrance to the segregation unit.
The back of Cassandras skull hit the metal bars with a resounding clang as her own arms came up, feebly attempting to loosen my friends strangle hold. The grin was still firmly in place on her face, though her skin had begun to turn a ruddy color.
Sandra jumped forward quickly. "No, Ice! Let her go! Let us take care of her!" The last of her plea was lost in a gust of breath as Ices foot connected with her chest, sending her flying back through the air to land against some of her fellow guards who were bowled back like tenpins trying to catch her hurtling body.
"Stay back!" Ice screamed. "Im gonna give this bitch exactly what she deserves!"
"Ice, no!!" Sandra ran forward again, more cautiously this time. "Ice, please. Think about what youre doing. Dont do this. Please!"
"Get back! Dont come any closer, Sandra. I dont wanna hurt you too."
"Dont do this, Ice!"
As I struggled against Critters tight hold, I could see Ices knuckles whiten as she squeezed her hands ever tighter around Cassandras thin neck. Her captives face was slowly turning from ruddy to ashen, her eyes wide and staring. Still she smiled as if death were a friend she was beckoning closer with each heaving try for breath.
A murmur started through the heretofore silent crowd and when I looked around, my eyes set upon the figure of the warden, making his first ever appearance within the prison proper. He wore a black suit over a blindingly white shirt, a large golden cross pinned garishly to his left lapel. Bulling his way to the front of the crowd, he took in the scene, hands on his hips. His face was red as old brick and a temple vein throbbed prominently. "Whats going on here? Guards! Separate those two women now!!"
Sandra turned to look at him, an expression of frustration plainly evident on her face. "Were trying, sir. Its not as easy as it looks."
"It doesnt look like youre trying at all, Ms. Pierce. Now do your job and separate these women or Ill find someone who will!"
The head guard turned back to the scene, twirling her baton. "Please, Ice! I cant give you any more chances here! Think about what youre doing! Please, Im begging you. Let her go! Please!"
"Separate them now, Ms. Pierce!"
"Ice! Let her go! I dont want to hurt you!"
"Now, Ms. Pierce! Do it now!" The warden looked around at the other guards. "All of you! Now!!!"
"Ice! This is it! Last chance! Please!"
When Ice gave no signs of having heard, Sandra let out a huge sigh of defeat, turned slightly to the rest of the guards, and nodded. "Try not to hurt her."
As Sandra stepped forward, prepared to lead the charge, the warden grabbed her by her baton and pulled her up short. "Now see here, Ms. Pierce. I dont care if you have to break every bone in that murderers body. Just do your job, do you hear me?"
When Sandra opened her mouth to begin a counter-argument, I saw my chance and took it. Lifting up my foot, I slammed it down hard on top of Critters instep, and when the pain made her loosen her hold on me, I bolted, using every ounce of defensive training the Amazons had taught me to rush through the restraining crowd and into the center of the action.
The warden and Sandra made a last ditch effort to catch me, but I used a whirling chop-block I had been perfecting and slipped through their defenses like oil through water, inordinately proud of myself. I skidded to a stop just feet from Ice. From this distance, I could easily see that we were just about out of time. Cassandras lips were blue and her eyes were wide and bulging from the pressure on her neck. That damn, smirking smile was still on her face and I wanted, at that moment, to do nothing more than to reach up and slap it off.
"Ice, its Angel," I began, using my voice like a hypnotist would use a pocket-watch, trying to calm the unfettered beast my friend had become. "Dont do this. Please. Killing her wont bring your friend back no matter how much you wish it would. You know that. Please dont make things worse."
"Get out of here Angel." Ices voice was guttural, raw with rage and grief.
"Sorry, Ice, but Im not going anywhere. You dont want to do this. Please, just let her go."
"Oh, youre wrong, Angel. I very much wanna do this." Her muscles tensing, Ice lifted Cassandra higher, slamming her body once again against the steel bars, which rattled, protesting. Her grip loosened for a brief instant, allowing Cassandra to gasp in a breath. The blonde woman tried to say something but it was lost as her air supply was once again choked off. I couldnt believe how shed managed to last this long against Ices rage-fueled strength.
I could hear the guards shifting behind me and knew I didnt have much time. "Ice, remember what we just talked about. About dreams. About how no one can take them away from you. Dont do this, Ice. Dont let her take your dreams away from you."
I kept my voice smooth and steady, my cadence deliberate. I could see my words were having some effect by the minute lessening of tension in her broad shoulders. Taking a huge gamble, I reached up and put my hand on her back, rubbing gently as Id done just a short time earlier in the yard. "Thats it, Ice. Let her go. Its alright. Itll be alright. Just let her go."
The wardens screamed command to attack was drowned out by the huge gasp of breath from Cassandra as Ices hands loosened their deadly grip around her neck.
Hands slashing almost too quickly for the eye to follow, Ice caught Cassandras slumping body and tossed her the length of the corridor, where she landed in a heap against the far wall. Turning quickly, Ice shoved me behind her long frame as the guards began a concerted rush toward us, the warden, baton in hand, in the lead. Reaching out, Ice caught the baton and hauled the warden up to her, their bodies just inches apart.
The other guards came to abrupt halts as they watched the new scene unfold.
"Dont touch me." Ice enunciated her words clearly from between clenched and bared teeth.
The wardens eyes went wide as his face became distinctly pale. Curious, I watched from my safe vantage point behind Ice. "Youre going to the hole for a month for this infraction, Ms. Steele. Release me or Ill make it two."
"Touch me, Warden Morrison, and Ill send you to a hole of your very own. Permanently."
"Are you threatening me, Ms. Steele?"
"No, Warden Morrison. Im just giving you the facts."
Setting himself, Morrison yanked his baton hard, the smirk on his face freezing when the weapon didnt budge in the slightest. Though the situation was immanently explosive, I found myself having to hide my own smirk behind Ices back.
"Call off the dogs, Warden, and Ill turn myself over to Sandra peacefully. Do we have a deal?"
"What makes you think I make deals with murderers, Ms. Steele? Despite what you and others might think, I control the prison here, not you. I could have you beaten senseless in the blink of an eye."
Though I couldnt see it, I just knew that one of Ices elegant brows had just made a dramatic elevation. "Try it." Her voice was a sultry purr and my flesh pricked in unconscious reaction to the seductive tone.
I could literally feel the energy both of them were giving off as their wills battled. Though I knew Ice could easily follow through on her threat without blinking an eye, I could also sense the coiled tension in her body as she fought down her primal instincts to fully disarm the man and be done with it.
After several long, tense moments, I could see the wardens shoulders sag as he took a slight step backwards, conceding the round. "Very well, Ms. Steele. No one will hurt you. But realize this. You have just made yourself one very large enemy. Your time wont go quite so lightly from here on out. And that, my dear, is not a threat. Im just stating a fact."
Ice nodded slowly, then released the baton back to the warden. I could feel her muscles tense as if expecting a blow. I tensed as well, ready to jump in if needed. Not that I ever would be, mind you, but it felt good to know that I had the skills, in any case.
Sandra and another guard rushed forward, each taking one of Ices arms and forestalling any retaliatory action the warden might have been wont to take. Two other guards grabbed Cassandras unconscious body and dragged her down toward the stairs.
"Sixty days in isolation for each of them," Morrison ordered. "And Ms. Pierce, when you return, please come to my office. We need to seriously discuss your lack of . . .preparedness in these situations."
Sandras shoulders slumped. "Yes, sir."
"Oh, and one more thing."
Morrison smirked, flinging a negligent hand toward Josephinas body. "Get someone to take out the trash, will you?"
The crowd dispersed as Ice and Cassandra were led away surrounded by guards. Standing there, I watched Ice, head held high and proud, as if surrounded again by a retinue instead of guards intent on making sure she didnt escape. The idea of two months in utter isolation and total darkness didnt seem to faze her one bit, and I shook my head at the wonder of it all. I also knew that I would miss her, badly.
Our interaction in the yard had given me a very good feeling about the direction our relationship was heading in and I very much wanted to continue down that path with her if only to see where it would eventually lead.
With a dejected sigh, I turned to find myself faced with Josephinas body lying, alone, on the floor, a pool of thickening blood surrounding her tattered jumpsuit. Her eyes were open; glassy and staring forever into eternity. Stepping around the pool of blood, I squatted down and closed her lids, sending out a silent prayer to whatever higher power might be listening.
Pushing her way through the final knot of prisoners, Critter limped her way over to where I knelt, waiting silently off to the side while I finished my prayer. When she sensed I was done, she reached down a hand to help me to my feet. I brushed off the knees of my jumpsuit, then flashed her a rueful smile. "Sorry about your foot."
She returned the grin, winking at me. "Not a problem. Ill have to remember that move."
"You should. Youre the one who taught it to me."
"I was? I must be a better teacher than I thought." My friend looked quite pleased with herself. Then her face turned somber as she looked down at Josephinas body. "What a mess."
I nodded in agreement. "I wonder who she was. Its obvious she and Ice were friends at some point."
"Maybe Corinne would know?"
"Maybe. I just dont think Im ready to face her, or anyone else, right now. I think Im just gonna go back to my cell and think about things."
Critter nodded, clasping my shoulder. "You did good up there, Angel. I dont think anyone else would have been able to talk Ice down in the state she was in. You prevented a bloodbath. Great job."
The compliment should have pleased me, but it didnt. Id seen much too much of the dark side of humanity this day. I needed a long time alone to process things before I could even begin to believe that what Id done had been for the best. Still, I nodded, reaching up to squeeze my friends hand as I did so. "Thanks, Critter."
"See you later, Angel."
I stood there for a long moment, watching Critters golden curls disappear back down the stairs. Taking one last long look at Josephina, I turned and made may back to my cell, just managing to get inside before I broke down.
It was a long time before sleep came to claim me.
My sleep, when it came, was bathed in sweat-soaked dreams of violence and death. They ran pell-mell through my mind, as dreams often will, making little or no sense to the conscious mind, but spelling out easily deciphered messages to the unconscious will. For the first time in months, Peter featured prominently in them, though his killer was as often Ice and/or Cassandra as it was me. I relived his death over and over again, running through tight knots of laughing people, always getting there just a split-second too late and finding him, slumped and bleeding, in my arms. Always that accusing stare haunted me.
The last was by far the worst. It started out peacefully enough. Ice and I were sitting, unclothed, in the middle of the yard. Though I should have been uncomfortable at the exposure, I wasnt, for some reason. I felt completely safe. At peace, even, and I welcomed that feeling after the nightmares previous to it. She was facing away from me and I was stroking the velvet soft skin of her back, marveling at the texture of warm, pliant flesh over hard muscle and bone. The slight breeze brushed the scent of her into my nostrils and I breathed deep of it with a sigh of contentment.
I remember talking, though I dont remember the subject. Something unimportant and nonsensical to be sure, thought it seemed profound at the time. She sat, unmoving, accepting my touches and words, her raven hair falling in soft waves to lay against her full breasts. Shifting slightly, I could see the breeze flutter the dark tendrils, giving me the briefest of glimpses of what I suddenly needed to see more of. Putting my hand on her shoulder, I turned her upper body toward mine, my other hand already moving of its own volition toward her chest to brush the hair away. It stopped, frozen, as I looked into her face to see death staring back at me. Her eyes had become Josephines, then Peters, then Cassandras, before switching back to her own vivid blue. Her stare empty and hollow and dead, but accusing just the same. Blood dripped slowly from the corner of her mouth and when she opened it to speak, her flashing white teeth stained red with blood, I screamed.
I was still screaming when I awoke. The sound rebounded around me as I pushed myself up on my elbows, trying desperately to free myself from the constricting web of my sheets. The walls closed in on me like a living thing and my lungs, already heaving from my nightmare, strained to draw in air. My heart thundered in my throat, making it even more difficult to breathe. My hair stuck to my face and neck in sticky tendrils.
Awareness came upon me with insidious slowness as my breathing gradually started to ease and my heart once again took up its rightful place in my chest. A soft, scuffing sound outside my cell made me turn my head in the direction of the barred door as I pulled the now freed sheet up to my chin.
One of the night-shift guards looked in, her large form backlit by the banks of fluorescent lights as they were turned on row by row overhead. "Are you alright, Angel?" she asked, her voice concerned.
"Yeah. Yeah, Im fine. Just a nightmare." Pushing the sweat-sticky hair from my face, I managed a shaky laugh. "Havent had one of those in awhile. Guess I was due for one, huh?"
The womans expression became sad. "Someone like you shouldnt have nightmares, Angel. You should be out living your life somewhere, doing good for people. You dont belong locked behind bars." Sighing, she shook her head. "This is one of the worst parts of my job; guarding an innocent woman."
"Im not innocent, Peg. I killed my husband."
"You might have killed him, Angel, but you sure as hell didnt murder him. I read the reports. The man was raping you, for Gods sake!"
"Raping me or not, I still killed him. The law demands I pay the penalty for that, and I am. But thank you for your concern. I mean that. It means a lot to me to know that people care."
I could see the faint sign of color on her face as she fiddled with the keys on her belt. "Anyway, you wanna get sprung? Almost time to start a new day."
I felt myself grin, unaccountably glad that the night was finally over. "Sounds wonderful."
A rattling of a key and the turning of a lock and another day began in the Bog.
After forcing down some breakfast, I made my way to the library. Corinne greeted me with a smile and gestured me over to my customary seat, where a pile of newspapers, some yellowed with age, awaited my perusal. At my questioning glance, she came to my table, tea mug in hand, and nodded toward the stack. "Heard about what happened yesterday," she began, setting the fragrant tea down on the table. "I wondered a bit about this Josephina myself since Ice never mentioned her to me. I did a little digging and came up with some interesting items. Have a look."
Sitting down, I sipped my tea, which was a definite step up from the sewer sludge they called coffee in the Bog. As I blinked the steam from my eyes, I picked up the top paper, which, by the date, was only a few days old, and shook it out. Halfway down the front page was a picture of a very familiar woman surrounded by dark clad lawyers and holding her hand up in front of her face to avoid the snapping cameras. The caption read: "Wife of Mafia Don to be Transferred to Rainwater".
Scanning the columns of text, I learned that Josephina was also known as Mrs. Josephina Briacci, the wife of Salvatore Briacci, a noted underworld figure in Pittsburgh. It appeared that Mr. Briacci had gotten himself into a bit of trouble over some extortion, failure to pay back taxes, and conspiracy to commit murder charges and was indicted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Reading further, I discovered that Josephina had refused to testify against her husband. While its illegal to force a wife to testify against her husband, refusing to do so gets the prosecutors upset. The newspaper speculated, in an editorial in the same edition, that Josephinas charges, of accessory to conspiracy after the fact, were the States little payback for her refusal to play ball with them.
Usually people bound over for trial spent their time like I did, in the county jail. That she was sent, under cover of darkness, to the State Prison to await trial was a definite mystery and one which I was determined to solve.
The other papers contained more information on Salvatore Briacci and his crime syndicate, but very little else on his wife. My tea was cold by the time I put down the last paper, now knowing more about the so-called Mafioso than Id ever wanted to learn. Stretching, I looked back over at Corinne, who had gone back to her desk and was leafing through some book or other, her half-glasses settled low on her nose. "Well, that tells me a little, anyway."
Looking up, she smiled at me, eyes warm over the tops of her glasses. "Not nearly enough though."
"Not even close. What is her connection with Ice? You didnt see her out there, Corinne. She was absolutely devastated when Josephina died. It was almost like a member of her family had died or something." I couldnt help shivering as I remembered the mournful howl and Ices murderous attack on Cassandra.
"Well, she certainly never talked to me about her, thats for sure," Corinne replied, sounding just the smallest bit put-out. "I do have some ideas, though. For what theyre worth."
I folded my hands over the stack of papers in front of me. "And they are?"
"Well, one of the things that I do know, as Ive told you before, is that Ice was tied up in Organized Crime when she was released from the Bog last time. Ive never heard her name mentioned in connection with this Salvatore Briacci, but her whole trial was very hush-hush, so we cant rule out that connection. Perhaps thats how they met?"
"Possibly, but you said that the Mafia backed off when she was indicted for murder. It doesnt make sense that they would treat each other so warmly if Ice was betrayed by her husband, does it?"
Corinne lifted her hand in an equivalent of a shrug. "Who knows with Ice? That womans more close-lipped than a virgin wearing a chastity belt."
I choked for the second time on my cold tea. That was one thing about Corinne; the woman had more off-the-wall sayings than anyone I ever knew. You never knew what was going to come out of that prim and proper mouth next. Swallowing back the dregs, I set the mug down on the table and worried the newsprint off the side of my hand with my thumb. "I wonder how shes doing."
"Ice? I imagine just fine. She managed to find herself in a bit of hot water from time to time when starting up the Amazons. The hole is almost like a second home to her." Corinne sat back in her chair, took off her glasses and smiled. "She always did prefer her own company to that of other humans anyway. Dont worry about her, little Angel. Shell do alright."
Nodding, I turned my attention to my hand, managing to pretty much smear newsprint everywhere in the process of trying to wipe it off.
"What about you?" my friend asked.
"What about me?"
"Well, I heard about what happened yesterday, obviously. It must have been difficult for you to witness that."
"Which part?" I snapped. "Where Cassandra murdered Josephina in cold blood or where Ice almost strangled Cassandra to death with her bare hands?"
Obviously startled, Corinne stared at me, open-mouthed and blinking.
I let out a long sigh, dropping my hands back down onto the table from where they had been enunciating my point. "Im sorry, Corinne. You didnt deserve that."
My friend smiled once again. "Thats alright, child. I was just startled because Ive never heard you speak out quite so emphatically before."
"Well, youve never seen me witness a murder and an attempted murder within the space of a half hour before either. It was . . .tough." I rubbed at my forehead, trying to ward off an impending headache. "I didnt sleep well last night and I have a feeling those particular nightmares are gonna stick around for a long time to come."
"I imagine they might," she commiserated. "On a more pleasant subject, how are things going with Ice? Obviously theyre on hold for the moment, but I managed to get a peek at the two of you out in the yard yesterday." Her smile was a sly one as she looked penetratingly at me, obviously in search of an answer. To her credit, she never did ask me about the truth to the rumors of what I termed, in my mind, the Shower Incident. "The two of you looked rather . . .cozy."
Managing to keep the blush from showing on my face, I nodded, continuing to meet her direct gaze. "Theyre going. Shes a tough nut to crack, but crack her I will. One way or another."
Corinne nodded, crossing her arms over her ample bosom. "If anyone on Gods green earth can, my sweet little Angel, youll be the one to do it."
I stared back at her, wishing I could be so confident and praying to that same God, as well as any others who would listen, to be given the chance to find out.
The next two months passed slowly and quickly at the same time. Winter had finally come, sinking its icy talons into us all, raising tempers and lowering spirits. During a time when the outside world was roasting chestnuts over an open fire, trimming trees and making snowmen, the residents of the Bog were trying to keep warm and stay alive. Since Ices detention in isolation, tensions had risen in the prison. Montana had finally been given parole two weeks after the incident, leaving the Amazons effectively leaderless.
Critter was a good administrator, but she didnt have the overbearing sense of machismo that characterized both Montana and Ice. Pony and Sonny didnt want the job, preferring instead to remain in their roles as enforcers and the other Amazons, quite frankly, had neither the tenure nor the drive to lead such a diverse group of women in a common purpose.
Derbys gang, especially, began to test the waters, moving in like a shark among a school of weaker fish. So far my friends had been able to hold their own but it appeared that it would be a race to see if they could hold off Derbys advance long enough for Ice to be released from isolation.
The other gangs, emboldened by Derbys seeming successes, began to make their own voices heard, managing to set off several small riots which the guards and the Amazons were hard-pressed to quell. All in all, it was a difficult time for us all.
For my part, I continued to live my life as best I could, staying, for the most part, in the background of prison life. My side job as purveyor of things great and small picked up some during the holiday season, managing to keep me busy enough that my mind didnt constantly dwell on a certain woman spending two months of her life in darkness and solitude. My only saving grace was Corinnes repeated assurances that Ice felt quite at home in the hole and would be fine.
I, however, was not fine. I found that I missed her terribly. Even on days when we didnt speak, just knowing she was there made me feel safe and content in a way I hadnt at any time before, even when I was free. This seeming connection that we had was something that Id come to rely on as a lifeline and while in a way that feeling of dependence was frightening in the extreme, when thought about in the right way it helped to keep me grounded and centered. It was like waking up to find something you never knew youd lost and so was all the more precious for the having.
To keep myself busy when the days wanted to drag, I made it my duty to keep up Ices cell. Though I wasnt an expert by any means, my reading up on Bonsai gave me the basic skills needed to at least keep the trees alive if nothing else.
The first few times I made the trek to her cell, I was careful to keep my hands and eyes to myself, tending only to the trees and nothing else. I was very loathe to intrude on her personal space, so fiercely protected and cherished by this very private woman.
One of the first things I noticed was that the bonsai rake, its acquisition starting things between the two of us, was looking ragged and worn. I hefted it, surprised at its small weight, rubbing my thumb along the smooth wood handle as I imagined Ice quietly tending her garden. The thought brought a smile to my face and I quietly began to hum as I worked with the trees, trying to keep them as healthy as I could. I promised myself Id replace the worn rake with a new one as soon as I could.
My resolve to let sleeping dogs lie started to waver, however, the more I visited the cell. The temptation to look around was just too great and I found both my mind and eyes wandering as I tended to the Bonsai. My gaze strayed from the trees to the maps, which hadnt changed since Id last visited Ice there, to the neat stack of books by the short bunk. One day, finally giving up all pretense of remaining uninterested, I walked over to the books as if drawn on a lure.
Tilting my head to look at the spines, I saw the complete works of Solzhenitsyn, which didnt surprise me. Beneath that was a book on Ancient Mythology which was laying atop hard cover texts for Chemical Engineering and Aeronautics, respectively. I shook my head in wonderment as my eyes continued to travel down the titles. "Egg-head books," I whispered, disbelieving. "She reads egg-head books."
Unlike the collections of other inmates Id viewed, and knowing the librarys check-out pattern by heart, I was slightly surprised to note that there were no torrid romance novels in the stack. Bodice-rippers, my mother liked to call them, her passion for the genre well known. My father often joked that she alone managed to keep the Harlequin people in business with her avid reading.
The biggest surprise, by far, was a copy of the entire Tao Te Ching, written in its original language. To me it was a masterful feat of intellect that she could even manage to read the thing, let alone understand and ponder it. But by the faint crease in its spine, the Tao appeared to be a book she went to often.
Squatting down carefully so as not to disturb the meticulous stack, I pulled the book from its resting place, glancing at the cryptography on the covers and running my finger over the spine. After a long moment, I opened the book, surprised when a small white square of paper slipped from beneath the cover and fluttered to the floor to land face down. Placing the book on the bed, I reached down and picked the square up, flipping it over but determined not to pry if it appeared to be something important.
My resolve lasted all of about two seconds.
What I had in my hand was a black and white photograph of three people and a dog. The man, tall and well built, was incredibly handsome. His dark hair slicked back, his chiseled face sported a pencil-thin "Clark Gable" type moustache. He wore a conservative dark suit, a bright shirt and narrow tie. Standing next to him, arm clasped under his, was an absolutely gorgeous woman. Tall and exotic, she wore her hair in a "Jackie Kennedy" flip with a small pill-box had set carefully atop it. She wore a light colored skirt-suit, white gloves and a matching purse clutched in one hand. Her free hand rested atop the shoulder of a young girl I recognized instantly as Ice. Dressed in what looked to be a plaid jumper, knee socks and patent leather shoes, her long hair tumbling over her shoulders, I could easily see the first blush of what was to become a great beauty in her fine features.
But what struck me the most, and in fact caused my heart to squeeze up in my chest, was the radiant smile on her face and the look of innocent, trusting happiness in those light-colored eyes. At that moment, I wished for nothing more in the world than for the ability to just step through that photograph, kneel down, and stare into the open and honest face of the young girl Ice had once been.
I didnt realize I was crying until a tear landed on the picture, causing the features of a huge, black shepherd to become magnified under the salty liquid. Ice had the dogs thick ruff caught in a fierce embrace and the camera had frozen the large pink tongue forever just inches from the young girls face.
Sniffing back my tears and carefully wiping the precious photo on the sleeve of my jumpsuit, I stared it once again for a long, intense moment. Reaching out a trembling finger, I gently brushed the frozen bangs on Ices head, smiling a little in reflex at the broad grin directed my way. "This part of you is in there, Ice. Somewhere. And Ill help you find it again. I promise."
That evening, as I lay on my bunk, my mind was continually drawn back to the photograph and the sense of wistful happiness it invoked within me. Not only was the expression on Ices young face something to ponder, so too was the obvious love her family had for her. It got me to thinking about my own family and my place in it.
As I read these latest lines, I realize that I havent told you, the reader, very much about my own family, aside from some random sayings of my mother and the like. I suppose now is as good a time as any to rectify that situation.
I was what is known as a change-of-life baby. My parents were very spiritual and so had been trying very hard to have and raise a large family in keeping with the tenets of their church teachings. Every month they plotted and planned, keeping strictly to the laughable rhythm method, and every month they failed.
When my mothers reproductive system finally decided to start giving up the ghost, what she thought to be menopause turned out, nine months later, to be me.
My father, who had always wanted a boy to carry on both his name and his legacy, was sorely disappointed when a howling daughter was presented to him instead. Ive heard it said that in other families, fathers of this sort just pushed the tiny matter of gender aside and raised their daughter like a son.
Such was not the case with me.
Born to a family replete with old-world traditions, I was raised as primly as a proper girl could be. Frilly dresses cut carefully below the knee so as not to tempt the other toddlers milling about, white hose and patent leather shoes, ribbons and bows in my hair were my daily uniforms. Sewing and cooking and learning to be a proper woman were my lessons; my mother and her cronies, my teachers.
I hated every moment of it.
While the other children of the neighborhood were riding bikes, building tree-forts, having mock wars and playing kick-the-can, I was inside learning the finer points of baking muffins that would turn out airy and light every time. After time. After time.
Books were my only refuge from the world of boredom. I read voraciously, getting swept up in the fantasy worlds of Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins, solving the mysteries of Encyclopedia Brown before he did, the list went on and on. Books were my island; my safe harbor in a world of confusion.
My father and I never bonded. When I wanted love and approval, I received remote coldness. I loved him desperately, and I know he loved me in his own way in return, but we were never close.
I know I broke their hearts when I eloped, and shattered them beyond repair when I took Peters life. Since his death, Ive only seen my parents twice. Once was on the day of my conviction. I remember being shocked speechless over how old theyd gotten in such a short time. Or maybe theyd always been old and I was seeing them for the first time through the eyes of an adult. The last time was two years ago as of this writing, and it was just my mother I saw. She came to tell me that my father had passed away the previous month and that she was moving to Phoenix to live with her younger sister.
Though we met in the visitors room with nothing between us but time and cool reserve, she never once touched me, nor truly looked me in the eye. When I told her I loved her, she didnt respond. I knew then that I was as dead to her as her husband was.
It should have broken my heart, but it didnt. Id finally grown up enough to realize that sometimes the families you made were as important as the families you were born into. And that was enough for me.
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