REDEMPTION

Part 18

Written by: Sword’n’Quill (Susanne Beck)
SwordnQuil@aol.com

Disclaimers: The characters in this novel are of my own creation. That’s 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, there’s gonna be violence and naughty words.

Subtext Disclaimer: Yup, there’s 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 anyone’s sensibilities. Let me know if I’ve 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 wasn’t finished. I detest serialization, normally. But . . .this novel, which is one week from being finished, is becoming very long and I’ve had readers write to me stating that they won’t read novels because they just don’t 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, I’d 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. I’d 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, I’d like to thank the readers for reading my stuff and giving me such great feedback. It’s 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 at SwordnQuil@aol.com .

 

REDEMPTION

Well, Donita kept her word. Here I am, in a tiny, cramped cell in the county jail, scribbling on a bright yellow legal pad that she was nice enough to give me. The court was recessed today after opening arguments, as she said it would be.

I wasn’t surprised by the prosecution’s angle, having heard it, almost verbatim, five years ago. In the DA’s eyes, I’m still a jealous, possessive harpy who couldn’t stand the fact that my husband wanted a little time with the boys after work.

Donita was simply brilliant. Her opening arguments were clear, concise and to the point without a wasted word or over-dramatization. She was the consummate professional and appeared magnificently prepared. The jury, which this time was a nice mix of women and men (my previous jury had only the two women sitting on it), seemed to me to eat up her words, and a few times, I thought I caught them looking at me with compassion in their eyes. At least, I hope that’s what it was.

Nothing to do now but stare at the walls and wait to see if I can sleep tonight.

Fear and time make strange bedfellows.

It’s been five long years since I last graced this place, and the fear is still here. Only it seems to have changed direction. Five years ago, I was afraid that I was going to go to jail. Now I’m afraid I’m not going to get out. And, conversely, I’m also afraid that I am going to get out.

Was it just such a short time ago that I asked Ice why she didn’t just up and move away after she was released from prison the first time? Could I actually have been that na´ve, that condescending? Just the possibility of that happening with me causes my stomach to jump rope inside me.

My family has disowned me. All of my friends are prison inmates. The degrees I’ve earned are about as useless as the paper they’re printed on. I have no home, no job and no money.

And yet . . .and yet, I still have that sometimes damning sense of optimism about everything. The same sense that sat here next to me five long years ago when I was battling for what I thought was my life. The same sense that tells me, despite everything, that Ice is still alive out there.

What I’ve discovered, you see, is that, no matter how much we might not want it to sometimes, life does go on. The world keeps on spinning. And if we’re really lucky, we learn something along the way.

I’ve learned that love, and companionship, and a simple sense of belonging can be found even in the deepest pits of one woman’s hell. I’ve learned that sometimes good things happen when you least expect them. I’ve learned that freedom isn’t something that can be taken away; only given up. And I’ve learned that no matter what happens to me in this life, I have the strength to overcome, adapt, and even to thrive, despite, or perhaps because of, the adversity thrown in my path.

Would I be the same woman I am now, with the same strength of purpose, if those events five years ago had concluded differently? Perhaps. Perhaps, one day, I would have been able to find this strength on my own; the strength to leave a loveless marriage and a husband who saw me more as chattel than partner. Perhaps.

But without the love and guidance of Pony, Montana, Critter, Sonny, Corinne and, most of all, Ice, I might never have truly realized what I was capable of. I love them all, very much, and will always carry them in my heart, no matter what the outcome of this latest trial.

Enough philosophizing for one evening. Time to lay down and see if my insomnia has become a permanent condition.

*******

I had a dream.

It started out like the one just months before, with the huge courtroom and all my accusers (the embodiment of my guilt, I told myself rationally) dressed, literally, to kill.

But this time, when each person stepped forward, preparing to place the yoke of guilt around my neck like some blackened albatross, I found myself responding differently. I accepted responsibility for those things I might have done wrong, but refused the weight of their anger for things that could not be changed.

Perhaps I could have been a better daughter, a better friend, a better wife. Looking back on my life from this new perspective of maturity and experience, perhaps I would have made different choices back then.

But the words I had spoken with such conviction to Ice on those long ago days finally bore fruit in my own mind. The actions I’d taken, the choices I’d made, came from within the soul of a good woman. I accepted responsibility for them. I owned them. And I long past paid my debts for them.

Finally, after a lifetime of living under my own soul’s oppression, I put paid to my guilt and let it go. And when I did that, all of the figures who had come to accuse simply vanished in a clean-scented mist.

It was an incredibly freeing feeling.

The mist coalesced into a shape of shifting colors. The outline became more distinct, finally resolving itself into Ice. Her face and form were covered in a shimmering radiance and her hair was blown back from her brow by a non-existent breeze. She smiled, and it lit up the room.

"Ice!" I screamed in my dream, almost delirious with joy. I ran toward her, only to be stopped by her upraised hands. "What?" I asked. "What is it?"

"I need to ask your forgiveness, Angel," she replied, her voice rivaling the best Beethoven concerto in its utter beauty to me.

"Forgiveness? For what?"

"For leaving you. For not saying goodbye. For not giving an explanation."

I knew that there were a lot of questions I needed answered. But some part of me also knew that this was just a dream and I wasn’t about to ruin it with conversation. "Yes," I said, knowing that even without explanation, without words, I had forgiven her, just as I knew, by the love in her eyes, that, in this dreamspace at least, she had forgiven me.

She opened her radiant arms and I flew into them, feeling all the burdens of my heart tumble out of me as she enclosed me within her warm and loving embrace. It might only have been a dream, but the body in my arms was warm and solid, every curve and line remembered, every scent the same as the last time we’d embraced.

I started crying, begging whomever would listen to just grant that I would never wake up.

A hand clasped onto my shoulder from the back, as if trying to pull me away from Ice. I tried to hold on tighter, but as I did, Ice’s form became insubstantial again. I felt my arms go right through her. "No! Come back! Don’t leave me again!"

"Angel," a voice sounded in my head.

"Please, Ice! Come back!"

"Angel," the voice repeated.

"What!!?" I snarled, turning my head.

Donita, very much in the land of reality, stepped back, her dark eyes blinking in surprise. "Sorry to wake you," she said, softly. "You need to get ready. The jury’s just come back. The verdict is in."

"The ver . . . ." I sat straight up on the meager jailhouse cot, raking a hand through my hair and attempting to blink the sleep out of my eyes. "Already? What time is it?"

My lawyer looked down at her gold wristwatch. "A little after eleven."

"The case just went to the jury at ten. This isn’t good, is it."

Smiling, she gave my shoulder a little squeeze. "Not all quick decisions favor the prosecution, Angel. Let’s just go in there like we own the place." Her smile broadened. "I have a feeling you’re gonna like what you hear."

********

I’m free.

As I sit on a wooden bench outside of the courtroom, waiting for Donita to finish up her discussions with the judge (she is filing a civil suit on my behalf for wrongful imprisonment) I look down at that phrase I’ve just written as if reading it over and over and over again will cause it to sink in.

It’s such a small word, a minor word, and yet what it represents . . . . God, it represents the world!

As I sit here, I’m looking at a young gentleman with what looks to be his girlfriend. They just came out of traffic court, (the nice security guard told me that much—it’s amazing how much differently you’re treated when you’re sitting on this side of the bars. I’d almost forgotten that.) and they’re heading for the door.

And it just hit me. I can do that too. I can just get up off this rickety, scarred bench, walk those few feet down that highly polished floor, open the glass door, and step into the sunshine beyond. I could just pick a direction and start walking and not stop until my legs gave out. No bars or fence to hold me in; to keep me back; to keep me from people and people from me.

I’m free.

I can’t seem to write or think or say it enough. Free to do what I want, where I want, when I want and with whom I want.

What, where, when and with whom I’m going to do these nebulous things is a question I’ve neither asked, nor answered myself yet. It’s back there, simmering, but I’m gonna leave it there for awhile. I don’t want to spend my first few minutes of freedom frozen in terror like a deer in the headlights of an onrushing semi.

Donita, bless her huge heart, has offered to put me up until I can get back on my feet again. I didn’t answer her right away. I couldn’t. I need to exist in the moment right now. The possibility of a future is suddenly too overwhelming for me to consider.

She smiled in understanding and slipped a business card into the breast pocket of my woolen blazer. She knows I’ll call her once I come down off this cloud I find myself on. I know I will too.

After all, where else can I go?

*******

Donita gave me a lift back to the Bog so that I could collect my personal belongings and say goodbye to my friends, who were really my family.

How do you say goodbye to people you’ve shared every waking moment with for the past five years? How do you thank them for giving you their love, their support, their friendship? How to you express your undying gratitude for the many times they’ve saved your life and even your soul? What words can you possibly use to cover the enormity of your feelings for them?

I found myself in the strangest position. It was almost surreal. I was allowed to stay in the visitors’ room while my belongings were gathered from the prison to be brought to me. The door into the prison itself was locked against me and a guard stood at my side, for my protection, no less.

Whereas before I was barred from getting out of the Bog, now I was barred from stepping into it.

The door to the prison side opened and Sandra stepped through, her face wreathed in a smile, and her hands filled with a cloth sack bearing my worldly possessions. Placing the bag on the table, she opened her arms, and I ran into them, hugging her hard and starting to cry.

"Angel," she whispered, her own voice heavy with tears, "I’m so proud of you. I knew you’d beat this. We all did."

"Thank you Sandra," I blubbered, holding her strong body close. "For everything you’ve done for me. You helped make this place livable and I’ll never forget that. You’re a wonderful person."

Squeezing me one last time, she stepped away, drying her tears on the sleeve of her uniform. "You made this place better for everyone just by being here, Angel. Thank you. It won’t be the same without you. I wish you only the best of luck in your life. I know you’ll do yourself proud. With a heart like yours, how could not?"

Clearing her throat, she gave me a watery smile. "We seem to have quite a lot of inmates who’ve requested a visitor’s pass for today. Coincidentally, they’ve all requested to see the same visitor. Mind if I show them in?"

Wiping my own tears away, I managed a smile. "Of course not. I’d like to see them."

"Alright then." Grinning, she opened the door.

The sound of cheering, shouts and clapping filled the central square as women streamed through the doorway and into the visitors’ room. I could hear the sounds of my name being chanted with a tenor and an excitement almost rivaled Ice’s entrance into the prison five years ago.

A giddy smile broke over my face as my friends came inside, hugging and kissing me. There were a lot of tears and a lot of laughter, just how I imagined a real goodbye to family and friends might feel. It warmed me right down to my toes.

Pony, Sonny and Critter gathered around me in a tight circle, our heads bowed inward, tears streaming down our faces. Pony and Critter were both due for parole hearings within the next several months, and I had good feelings about each of them and told them so.

When we finally broke apart, I looked at each one individually.

"Pony, if you hadn’t been there when Mouse was trying to rearrange my face, I don’t know what I would have done. Thanks for being there for me and introducing me to the Amazons. Thanks for teaching me how to fight and how to stand up for myself. I won’t ever forget you." Leaning in, I gave her a light kiss on the lips.

Everyone in the room burst out into laughter as Pony’s face turned a fiery red. "Awww, damn," was all she could say.

I turned slightly. "And Sonny, thanks for everything you’ve done for me. Especially helping me build back my strength after my little flu problems. You’ve been a good friend." Grinning, I hugged and kissed her as well.

Returning my smile, she punched me lightly on the arm. "You’ve taught us a lot too, Angel. Good luck out there, alright?"

Nodding, I turned to Critter, my closest friend among the Amazons. We both started crying again, and embraced one another tightly. "You’re the best, Critter," I whispered in her ear.

"So are you, Angel," she whispered back. "I won’t ever forget you. You made this an okay place to be."

Holding the hug a moment longer, we then pulled away and kissed. Reaching up, I brushed the tears from her eyes. "Knock ‘em dead at your parole hearing."

She laughed through her tears. "If I do that, I’ll never get outta here."

From her place in one corner, Sandra cleared her throat, looking faintly chagrined. "Alright, guys, it’s time to get back out there."

There were a few grumbles of good-natured protesting, but then my friends began to file back into the prison, each one touching me and wishing me goodbye and good luck as they passed.

Soon, the door closed with a muted click, leaving the guard and one other person left behind.

Corinne.

Seeing her standing there, her face a curious tableau of loss and pride, I, for the first time, broke down completely, running into her arms and hugging her soft body tightly to me.

It was only with this woman, who was more of a mother to me than my own would ever be, that I could feel safe enough to let the fears of my future out of their tightly locked closet. Like a small, lost child, I sobbed on her shoulder. Even the sweet fragrance of her sachet, which will forever signal ‘home’ to me, failed to comfort me. "Oh, Corinne," I sobbed, "what am I gonna do? I feel so lost. This is my home. You are my family. I don’t know if I can make it out there."

"Nonsense," she murmured back, sniffing away her own tears. "You’ll thrive out there, Angel. You’re one of the strongest people it’s ever been my privilege to know. You’ll do just fine. All you have to do is believe in yourself."

"But how do I do that? I don’t know if I have the strength . . . ."

Pushing me away, she gripped my shoulders in an almost painful grip. "You listen to me, Angel. You have the strength of twenty people. You brought a hope and a joy to a place which, before you came, had none. We might have taught you how to exist here in the Bog. But you . . .you taught us how to live."

"But . . . ."

"No ‘buts’, Angel. You did what you did to a bunch of hardened criminals with little hope for a future. You taught me how to feel again, something I thought could never happen. For the first time in a long time, I look forward to getting up in the morning. You did that. No one else. You." She touched my chest with her finger. "That heart of yours is as big as the whole world out there. It’s been caged long enough. It’s time to go out there and show everyone else what you’ve shown us. What you’ve shown me."

Taking off her glasses, she wiped at her eyes. "I think I’ll unlearn this crying thing, though, if you don’t mind," she grumbled, polishing her glasses before balancing them on her nose once again.

Reaching down, she picked something hidden on the chair behind her, and held it out to me. It was the tiny bonsai that Ice had made for me for our anniversary. A fresh yellow ribbon adorned its trunk. "Here."

As I took it, fresh sobs starting again, she handed me something else. It was the book I’d given to Ice, also on our anniversary.

"But how?" I managed to choke out, setting the tree down and opening up the cover. Inside was the photograph of Ice and her family. "Oh god," I sobbed. "Oh god. Corinne, I miss her so much. How am I going to do this without her?" I pressed both the book and the photo close to my body, hugging it to me and rocking.

Stepping up to me, she placed gentle hands on my cheeks. "My sweet little Angel, if there’s one thing above all that you’ve taught me, it’s to always have hope. Carry it with you now. It’ll give you the strength you need."

Looking deep into her eyes, I swore I could detect the faintest shimmer of some hidden knowledge deep within her gaze. My heart leapt into my throat, but when I opened my mouth to give voice to my question, she placed a finger over my lips. "Always have hope, Angel," she whispered.

Taking her finger away, she leaned forward and kissed me warmly, lingering a bit. Then she pulled away. "I love you, Angel."

Turing away quickly, she stepped to the door and opened it.

"Corinne! Wait!"

She turned back, tears liberally streaming down her cheeks.

Walking back over to her, I kissed her soundly. "I love you too. Never forget that. Ever."

Smiling, she touched her lips, then cupped my cheek. "I won’t, sweet Angel. Ever."

With a small, sad little wave, she turned once again and stepped through the door and out of my life.

The door closed and I stood there for a long moment, touching the cool metal with my palm as if I could imprint everything that had happened to me somewhere deep inside where I’d never forget it. I leaned my forehead against the door. "Goodbye," I whispered.

Behind me, the guard cleared her throat softly. "Should I call a cab for you?" she asked.

After a moment, I turned to her, a brightly false smile affixed to my face. "Thanks for the offer, but I think I’m gonna walk."

"Alright then. Just be careful, alright? Lotta crazies out there."

That statement broke my somber mood and I brayed out my laughter. Just yesterday, I was one of those crazies. And now, I was being cautioned against them.

As someone I’m sure much wiser than me has been known to say, what a difference a day makes, huh?

Giving the guard a quirky grin, I waved my fingers, grasped the door to the outside, inhaled deeply, and took my first step out of the Bog, a free woman forevermore.

Conclusion...Part 19

 


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