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Jennifer sat down at one of the Visitors' tables and her new friend, Debbie, sat down at the one next to it.
"I'm so nervous!" said Jennifer.
"Don't be, honey," Debbie replied. "Just think about seeing your kid."
And then the far door opened and the men began filing into the room. Jennifer saw Justin immediately. His golden hair flashed in the weak February sunlight coming in from the high windows of the Visitors' Gallery. He was walking -- and laughing -- with a tall, chestnut-haired man who had one hand on her son's shoulder. A stocky, black-haired man walked beside them.
"There's my Mikey!" cried Debbie. She stood up and waved. The black-haired inmate smiled and came over to the table.
"Ma!" said Michael, giving Debbie a hug.
"Jennifer, this is my son, Michael!" Debbie said.
But Jennifer only had eyes for Justin. Her son made his way over to the table. It wasn't so much that a month in prison had really changed him, thought Jennifer, it couldn't have changed my Justin. But he looked different somehow. Older. More like a man. Then he smiled at her. And she grabbed him across the table, hugging him tightly.
"Please don't smother me, Mom."
"Sorry, sweetheart." They both sat down and Jennifer tried not to cry. "You wrote that you were in the Hospital. Are you all right? How are you feeling now?"
Justin's eyes were evasive. "I'm fine, Mom. It was just a little... upset. Until I got used to the way things work around here."
Jennifer frowned. "What do you mean, the way things work?"
Justin's face became bland. "I mean the food. It didn't agree with me."
Jennifer knew that wasn't true, but she didn't want to push it right now. "I brought some of the things you asked for. Not everything, but some of the items. The underwear and socks." Jennifer pushed the package across the table.
Justin's face lit up. "Thanks, Mom! You don't know I appreciate this!" He signaled to a guard, who came over and tagged the package and carried it out of the room. "They have to check it for contraband," Justin explained.
"Oh, I see."
"Is there a sweater in there? A really warm one?" asked Justin.
"Yes, honey. A wool cardigan. I bought it at Horne's."
"That's perfect!" Justin beamed at her.
Well, thought Jennifer, no one is forcing him to do this. Justin could never fake that grin. "Are these things for your... friend?"
Justin glanced down the row and smiled. Jennifer followed his eyes to where the tall inmate was sitting with the older man in the expensive suit. That must be the one. Justin's cellmate. "Yes. I didn't tell him that I was getting the stuff for him. It's a surprise. Brian's sweater got ruined and he didn't have another one. And he really needed some new underwear and things."
"Oh," said Jennifer. "I see. I brought a few of the books, too."
Jennifer kept glancing over to where the tall man was sitting. He and the older man were having an intense conversation, their heads close together. Then she remembered what Debbie had told her. That the ex-lawyer, Mr. Rosenblum, came every month to visit his lover. This same tall inmate who was now Justin's cellmate. Jennifer's head was reeling. It was all too much to take in.
"Mom? I asked how Molly is? And... and Dad, too?"
"Oh, they're both fine, honey. Daddy is so busy with work or else he'd be here," Jennifer lied.
But Justin could see the truth on his mother's face. His father was disappointed in him. He didn't want to visit his son in prison. Craig Taylor couldn't face that. Justin realized for the first time in his life that his father was a coward. And that his mother, the fragile Jennifer, was the brave one in the Taylor family.
"I was talking to that new lady," said Debbie to her son, Michael. "Jennifer Taylor. Her son is the blond kid. I saw you walk in with him and Brian."
Michael made a face. "He's Brian's new cellie. He's a real little drama princess. Thinks he's God's gift to the East Wing."
Debbie shook her head. "He seems like a sweet kid. And his mom is really worried about him. But if Brian's looking out for him, I'm sure he'll be just fine."
"Oh, yeah, he's fine all right." Michael crossed his arms in front of his chest. He had his long hair pushed back behind his ears and he was wearing his plain chambray prison shirt, without any kind of embellishment. It wouldn't do to have his mother see him in drag. It was one thing to be a fag, but quite another to let your ma know that inside the joint you were a full-fledged drag queen. "He's got Brian wrapped around his little finger!"
"So," said Debbie. "The kid and Brian are hooked up? I thought so!"
Michael pushed out his lower lip. "What do you know about it, Ma?"
"The boy's mother, Jennifer, brought a package of clothes and stuff -- all for Brian. Her son asked her to get it. Sounds like a punk taking good care of his daddy!" Debbie laughed.
"Why don't you just let it rest, huh, Ma?" said Michael.
Debbie leaned close to her son. "I know you have a huge crush on Brian, sweetie, but he's obviously not interested in you. Brian likes you as a friend. Besides, you're hooked up with Dave!"
Michael pouted. "Dave's probably getting out soon. And then I won't have anybody! It isn't fair!"
"Honey," Debbie said. "Snap out of it! The kid is really cute. He's perfect for Brian! In another year you'll be up for parole yourself, Mikey, so it's just as well that you don't get your heart stomped on by Bri Baby. Because you know he's a heartbreaker."
"I don't care," Michael replied. "It still stinks!"
"I brought these for you, kid," said Ron, shoving a brown paper bag across the table at Brian.
Brian tilted his head. "What's this?" He opened the bag and pulled out a round tin.
"Cookies," said Ron. "Jane made them. Chocolate chip and peanut butter."
Brian was puzzled. "Ron, why are you bringing me cookies? You've never brought me anything before. I mean... like food or anything." Actually, thought Brian, he's never brought me anything at all, except more paperwork.
"I don't know," mumbled Ron. "I thought you might like them."
"Sure. Thanks," Brian replied. Justin will eat these up in about two minutes, he thought. "Sorry about last month. I forwarded all of the forms I'd been working on to Jerry at the PLD office so that things wouldn't get held up. I put notes on them in case they had any questions."
"Yes, Jerry got them. That was good, Bri," said Ron.
Brian ran his fingers over the cookie tin. "You know, Ron, I understand that it's a pain for you to trek all the way out here every month, especially since this winter has been so rotten. You don't need to pick up all of the paperwork in person. It worked fine for me to send the stuff directly. Really, I don't want you to feel obligated, you know, just because...." Brian stopped, ill at ease.
"I'm not doing it because I feel obligated," said Ron, defensively. "That's not why I come here."
Brian's stomach clenched. "Then why do you come here, Ron? All you ever talk about is legal work. And... and it isn't really essential that we do this in person. You don't have to come and make believe that you're 'working' when it's obvious that you're only doing it because you feel guilty. Because I don't need your pity, Ron. I... I'm doing fine."
Ron suddenly felt an odd sense of panic. "I don't pity you, Bri. I've never pitied you! If that's what you think, it's bullshit! Last month, when they wouldn't let us inside, one of C.O.'s told me that you were in the Hospital. Do you know how that made me feel? Not knowing what the hell was going on in there? Not knowing if you were really hurt?"
Brian sighed. "I'm sorry, Ron. I called as soon as we came out of lockdown to let you know I was okay. I'm sorry if you thought it was me who was injured."
"I know. It was some kid," Ron returned. "But I didn't know that! For days I couldn't get any fucking information!"
"Jesus," Brian breathed. "What's the difference? It's not like you're still in here, Ron. It's not like we're hooked up anymore. You don't have to get all macho and shit. You don't have to pretend that you care anymore. It isn't necessary."
"Brian," said Ron, reaching across the table and trying to take his hand. "Baby."
"Cut it out, Ron," said Brian, pulling his hand back.
Ron's face was strained. "What the fuck is the matter with you? What's going on? Tell me!"
Brian bit at the inside of his lip. He hadn't thought much about how Ron would feel about what was going on between Brian and Justin. About how Brian had taken the kid under his wing. But also about how it was slowly but surely becoming more than that. Much more.
Brian took a deep breath. "That new kid. The one who was in the Hospital. His name is Justin."
"Yeah, what about him?" said Ron, tensing.
"He's celling with me," said Brian.
"That kid? Celling with you? What the fuck happened to Andy?" said Ron, his voice rising.
Brian looked directly at his former lover. "I told Andy to take a hike. He moved in with Beemer. And Justin's in with me. We... we're hooked up. I didn't know how to tell you. Not that is matters to you, Ron. You're out, you're home, you have your wife and kids. What do you care about what I do in here?"
"Of course I care, Brian! What do you think?" Ron felt like he'd been punched.
"It has nothing to do with you, Ron. Nothing at all. This is about me and Justin," said Brian. He felt strange. Ron was taking this development a lot more personally than Brian had imagined and that made Brian feel like the guilty one. "Besides, you don't need a 'prison wife' anymore, Ron. You have your real one at home."
Ron glared at Brian across the table. "Prison wife? Fuck you if that's what you think you were, Brian!" Ron stood up and grabbed his briefcase. One of the C.O.'s started walking over, but Ron waved him away. "Enjoy your little fuckboy, Baby. Enjoy pretending to be a man! But if that's all that 8 goddamn years meant to you, then fuck YOU! I mean it! FUCK YOU!"
And Brian -- and the whole gallery of inmates and visitors -- watched as Ron stormed out into the snow, which had begun to fall again all over Stanton Correctional.
Justin looked up when he heard the man yelling. He turned and saw the guy that Brian had been visiting with, his old cellmate, Ron, stomping out of the Visitors' Gallery.
Debbie, at the next table with her son, Michael, rolled her eyes. "Someone is in a bad mood!"
"Bri probably told Ron that he was celling with the kid. Looks like Ron isn't too happy about that," said Michael, his eyes glued to Brian.
"I don't think Mr. Rosenblum has much to say about the situation, Mikey," Debbie replied. "Because he's out here and Bri Baby is in THERE -- with the kid!"
"Brilliant observation, Ma!" Michael moaned.
Then Brian stood up and walked slowly out of the Visitors' Gallery. He took the tin of cookies with him.
Justin watched Brian leave -- and got up to follow him.
"Justin!" cried Jennifer. "Where are you going?"
Justin stood there, confused, for almost a full minute. Then he sat back down in the chair across from his mother.
"Justin, what's the matter? Please tell me!" Jennifer begged.
"Brian... my cellie... he just left," Justin said. "I think he's upset."
Jennifer felt that she was going to start crying again. "Honey, I haven't seen you since... since you came to this place -- and now you want to rush off because your... your roommate is upset? What's going on here, Justin?"
Justin swallowed. "Nothing is going on, Mom! I'm just concerned about Brian." Justin kept looking in the direction of the door. "That guy, Ron, works with him in Legal Aid and I think he must have said something to Brian that really bothered him. I just want to know why he's upset, that's all. I want to see if I can do anything!"
Jennifer closed her eyes to steady herself. "You seem awfully concerned about this man, Justin. First you want me to bring these clothes and books for him, and now you want to leave me sitting here to run after him! I'm sure whatever happened between him and this other man is none of your business, Justin."
"He's my friend, Mom," Justin answered, his face set. "And I live with him, so that makes it my business." Justin's eyes glanced over at the door again, as if he thought Brian might return.
"Justin, listen to me," Jennifer said sharply. "Mrs. Novotny, the lady I was speaking with while we were waiting, says that man, Mr. Rosenblum, is your cellmate's boyfriend. So I don't think that you should interfere in their... their relationship. I'm sure that you think you're being a good friend, honey, but... that's not anything you should be involved in! With those... those men."
Justin blinked. "'Those' men, Mom? You mean fags? Queers? Is that what you mean?"
Jennifer shuddered. "Yes, that's what I mean."
Justin slumped in his chair. "Ron is NOT Brian's boyfriend. He was his cellie for a lot of years, but he's not his cellie now -- I am! And maybe Ron was Brian's boyfriend for a lot of years, too, but he's not anymore." Justin ran his hand through his thick blond hair. "Because I am! That's probably what Brian was telling Ron. And probably why Ron got all upset and ran off. And that's why I have to go and find Brian! I need to talk to him NOW, Mom!"
Jennifer felt as if all the air was being let out of her body and she was deflating like a beautifully dressed balloon. "Justin, you don't mean what you're saying! This man has... has seduced you in some way, honey! But he can be stopped! I'll speak to your lawyer. Maybe you can be transferred somewhere else?"
"No!" Justin shouted, bolting to his feet. "Don't even THINK of that! I won't go! Don't try to fuck things up between me and Brian! I mean it!"
One of the C.O.'s came over to the table. "Keep your voice down or else this visit is over, okay, kid?"
"I'm sorry, officer," Jennifer apologized. "I'm so sorry."
"All right, ma'am." And the guard walked away.
"Deal with it, Mom," Justin said under his breath. "Brian is MY boyfriend and not anyone else's! We're hooked up because we want to be. He wants to and I want to -- equally. He didn't seduce me or con me or threaten me or anything like that. Brian takes care of me and I take care of him." Justin sniffed. It must be those allergies kicking in again, he thought.
"Justin, your father and I care about you so much! We don't want to see you caught up in some... some way of life that... that is so wrong!" Jennifer pulled out another kleenex.
Justin gazed at his mother steadily. "Then I'm 'wrong,' Mom -- and I always have been. I've been gay ever since I can remember. You've known it for a long time, so don't pretend you haven't! But if Dad can't accept with me as a criminal, then I'm positive that he won't be able to accept me as a faggot. So tell him not to bother visiting me here at Stanton. Don't think I'm not aware that you're constantly making excuses for him, Mom. About why he didn't come today, or why he never came to see me in the county lock-up. Well, I want to see HIM about as much as HE wants to see me, so we're even. Tell him that his queer son sends him that message from prison!"
Jennifer began crying loudly. Debbie Novotny got up from her chair and put her arm around the distressed woman. "Don't get your poor mother all in a tizzy, Princess!" she warned Justin. "Be a good boy! Isn't this hard enough for her as it is?"
Justin stood up. "I think YOU should mind your own fucking business, Mrs. Novotny." He glanced at Michael, who was gawking at the melodrama. "And tell your drag queen son, Michelle, to butt out, too! She's the prissiest queen in the whole Quad and she better quit giving MY man the goo-goo eye -- or I'll kick her nelly ass!" And Justin turned and ran down the line of tables and out the door of the Visitors' Gallery.
"Rude little shit," Debbie commented. "Isn't he?"
But that only made Jennifer Taylor cry all the harder.
Justin was halfway back to his tier before he realized that he never should have left the Administration Building, let alone walked through the connecting passageways, by himself. Brian would be furious at him for taking that chance. Well, it was too late to turn back now.
But when Justin got to their cell, it was empty.
A round tin was sitting on the lower bunk. Justin pried it open and saw that it was filled with homemade cookies. He tried one -- chocolate chip -- and then shoved a few more into his pocket for later.
Justin sat down on the bunk and waited, but Brian didn't return.
Justin knew that he shouldn't go searching for Brian. That was Brian's strictest rule -- don't wander around the fucking Quad! But most of the other inmates were at work this time of the day. And the low-riders were all in the Industry Building, mainly working in the machine shop.
So Justin locked the cell door behind him and headed down to the Library. He hurried, as he always did, when he passed the small meeting room. Then he pulled open the heavy Library door.
But Brian wasn't there, either. Murray was shelving books and a couple of inmates were studying at the tables. That's what Justin would have been doing if it wasn't Visiting Day. He and Brian usually came down to the Library after breakfast and Justin did his assignments while Brian worked in the Law Library. And on days when the instructor came to the prison, Brian escorted him to and from class in the Administration Building so that he didn't have to walk alone.
Justin sat down at one of the tables and tried to think of where else Brian might be. The Chow Hall was closed between meals. The Chapel was not likely. Brian might be in the Gym, lifting weights at the iron pile, but that was one place where Justin really didn't want to venture by himself.
The last time Brian had seemed this upset was when they had only been living together for about a week. Brian had gone up to the iron pile with Al and a couple of the jockers to work out, so he left Justin with Michelle and Barbie. And the two queens had decided that Justin could do with a make-over.
"A jocker likes everybody to know that he's a REAL man, which means that his punk should be as much like a real woman as possible," Michelle insisted. "You're too... punky. You'd look really cute with much longer hair."
"Yeah!" exclaimed Barbie, getting into the spirit. "We have some pastel tops that would be perfect with your blond hair." She pulled out one of Emmy's pink tee shirts and a sheer peach blouse.
"I don't know about this," Justin had hesitated. "Brian thinks I'm fine the way I am."
"Men don't know what they like until they see it," said Michelle, getting out her make-up kit. "You know that Brian and Emmy used to get it on regularly. And no one in this Quad is a bigger queen than Emmy! That should give you a clue to what Bri Baby likes."
"That's true," Barbie agreed. "I thought that Em and Brian might even hook up after Ron left, but it didn't happen. Lucky for YOU, babydoll!"
Justin still wasn't sure. But the queens knew Brian a lot better than Justin did. They knew what he liked -- so they said. So Justin had let Michelle and Barbie powder him and make up his eyes and lips. Then they decked him out in Emmy's pink tee shirt and a dark crimson sweater over that.
Michelle even fluffed up Justin's hair and curled it a little at the ends. "Perfect!" Michelle had pronounced.
About that time Emmy returned from the Hospital Wing. She took one look at Justin and grimaced. "I don't think this is a good idea, ladies."
"Why not?" said Barbie. "She looks adorable!"
Actually, Justin thought he looked ridiculous, but if this was what Brian liked, he was willing to give it a try.
"Honey, you don't have to wear those things if you don't want to," Emmy told Justin seriously. "Because you know that Brian already thinks you're perfect the way you are."
"Perfectly boring, you mean," Michelle sniffed. "Now the only thing missing is a name."
"Justine?" Barbie suggested.
"That's a terrible drag name," said Emmy. "If you're going to do this right, then you have to have a name that fits your personality, Sunshine."
"Then what about 'Sunny'? That's cute and it fits her to a tee!" said Barbie.
"I agree! Sunny is IT!" chimed in Michelle. "It's too bad that we don't have any shoes to fit her. Those sneakers are terrible. My mother can order some for you, Sunny. She gets us stuff all the time!"
It had been almost time for 4:00 head count when Barbie looked out on the tier and saw Brian hanging with some of the jockers in front of the Rec Room. Michelle decided that would be the best place for Sunny's debut.
Except that the second Justin saw Brian's face, he knew he'd made a huge mistake. Brian stared at Justin's made-up eyes and pink tee shirt and he fingered the boy's fluffy golden hair. The jockers who Brian had been working out with glanced at each other. A couple of them thought that the kid looked really good. He made a sweet little queen.
"Whose fucking idea was THIS?" Brian asked. His voice was very low and very dark.
"Mine," said Michelle, stepping up defiantly.
Brian slowly slipped the crimson sweater off Justin's shoulders and threw it back at Michelle. "The next time you 'ladies' decide to play Beauty School, find another fucking model!" he had yelled.
Michelle and Barbie shrank back and Emmy tried to apologize, but Brian wasn't listening. He gripped Justin's arm firmly and marched him back to their cell, where he practically rubbed the boy's face raw washing off the make-up Michelle and Barbie had so carefully applied.
"I'm s-sorry, B-Brian!" Justin stammered. "They said you'd like it! Michelle said that you'd feel m-more like a man if I looked m-more like a... a girl."
"Fuck what Michelle and Barbie say! They don't know SHIT about what I feel and what I like and don't like!" Brian shouted at the boy.
Justin dried his face and took off the pink tee shirt. He dropped it on the floor and put on one of his own plain white ones. "But they told me that you and Emmy were almost hooked up. That you... you would like me if I was more like them."
"Was Emmett really in on this, too?" Brian's voice softened.
Justin shook his head. "No. Emmy was working. When she came back she said it might not be such a good idea."
"Emmy was correct. It was a lousy idea! And Michelle and Barbie are fucking idiots -- and so are you if you ever listen to them again!" Then Brian turned his back on Justin and wouldn't say anything else.
Justin had laid down on the lower bunk and rubbed his eyes. He'd really fucked up. He had been sleeping next to Brian in his bunk every night, but that was about all. Emmy and all the others assumed that the two were hooked up for real, but the truth was something quite different. Brian put his arms around him after lights out and then every morning when Justin woke up he could feel Brian's extremely prominent hard-on poking at him. But Brian hadn't tried to do anything more. So when Michelle had suggested a slight image change, Justin had been willing to try it. And it had backfired big time.
That evening Brian went out 'for a smoke' and ordered Justin not to leave the cell. And for the next few days things were strained between them. Brian wouldn't discuss what had happened. That iron wall came down over Brian's emotions and there was no getting past it.
Out for a smoke. Yes! That's what Brian did when he needed to think. Justin stood up and left the Library. He headed for the East Wing exit and looked through the big double doors into the Yard.
The snow was swirling around the desolate and empty Yard. And huddled against the pillar, just outside the East Wing doors, was Brian. He had pulled Justin's St. James Academy sweatshirt over his worn workshirt, but he was still shivering violently as he puffed on a cigarette.
"Brian, it's too cold to stand out there. Come in now!" Justin ordered.
Brian looked up and shook his head. He dropped the cigarette butt into the slush at his feet and came inside. "What the fuck are you doing here? Why aren't you still over in the Visitors' Gallery?"
"I walked out after I saw you leave," said Justin. "We need to talk."
"Have you been wandering around, looking for me?" Brian huffed. "Where's your goddamn head, Justin?"
But Justin refused to back down. "I'm not an infant! I knew where I was going and I was careful. If I'm going to live in the Quad and survive in this prison, I can't be afraid every minute of the day. You taught me that, Brian. I can't be a victim. Besides, everyone is at work and no one is around."
Brian closed his eyes. "That's the point! No one is around! Anyone could grab you and pull you into a corner and no one would hear you call for help! You fucking little twat!"
"You would hear me, Brian," Justin said. "Wherever you are, you'll always hear me." And he put his arms around Brian and pressed his face against the sweatshirt, which was damp with melting snow. "My old sweatshirt isn't thick enough to go outside, Brian."
"I know. I think my balls have frozen solid."
"Then I'll have to warm them up," Justin answered. "Come on." He took Brian's hand and pulled him back into the East Wing and up to their cell in the third tier.
Posted November 24, 2004.