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"Baby, I have to go now," said Ron. He leaned over and gave Brian a kiss. It didn't matter because the third person in the room was the black male nurse, the queer one. "I'm meeting with Julie and Ross early tomorrow morning to go over strategy for the kid."
Brian felt a sharp pain in his gut, but not in his wound. It was a lurch in his stomach. What if Justin left Stanton before Brian ever saw him again? He closed his eyes. Maybe that would be for the best. Yes, the sooner the better. That was the only way to ensure that Justin was safe.
"Do you think he'll get a new trial? Or can you get him out immediately? Get the charges dropped altogether?"
Ron sighed. If only it were that easy. "No, Brian. I'm sorry to say that Justin's prosecutor, Jim Stockwell, is still throwing up roadblocks. There's an election in November and talk is that Stockwell is definitely going to make a run for mayor. So the last thing he wants is for one of his 'law and order' cases to be overturned just when he's trying to look like he's tough on criminals."
"But Justin isn't a criminal!" Brian cried, struggling to sit up straighter. Now his wound was aching, too. "When will people realize that?"
"I know. That's the argument Julie is making." Ron licked his lips. He'd assured both Brian and Jennifer that getting the kid out would be his first priority. But it was proving a frustrating endeavor.
Ron looked around. The male nurse had been hanging around Brian's room a lot lately. Ron didn't like that. The guy obviously had his eye on Brian. That was understandable, but Brian was in a vulnerable position. What if this guy forced himself on Brian when he was too weak or drugged up to fight back?
"Why don't you leave that for now?" Ron said to the nurse. "In other words -- get lost."
Brian winced. "Ron, for fucksake!"
"It's okay, sir," said the nurse. "I'll leave now." And he did.
"Why did you do that?" Brian sighed. "Andre is one of the few people in this place who is nice to me."
"I don't like the way he's always hovering around you." Ron grabbed Brian's hand and stroked it. He wanted to stroke something else, but he knew that nurse was lurking just outside the door. The guy had already walked in once when Ron had one hand under Brian's blanket and the other in his own pants. The guy didn't say anything or report them to that bitch of a head nurse, but still....
"Except for Ethel, that older nurse who's here in the mornings, Andre is the only one who does anything for me. The others all act like I'm a fucking leper! So don't scare him away. Please, Ron?"
"I wish I could get you transferred to a different hospital" Ron exclaimed in frustration. "One in Pittsburgh. You'd get better care there than in this lousy place."
"It's a moot point, Ron. There's no way they are going to move me."
Ron sniffed. "I have to get going. I hate that damned drive back to the Pitts."
Ron glanced at his watch. He should have left 15 minutes ago. He'd be late meeting Jennifer at the Liberty Motel. She was supposed to have had an appointment with her new divorce lawyer that afternoon. Bill was a good friend of Ron's and he'd make certain that Jenn got a good settlement from that bastard, Craig. He was trying to make a stink about Jennifer's conduct, but HE had more than a few skeletons in his closet, too, the fucking hypocrite! Right -- ask his secretary about that! Ron would love to see the SOB squirm!
"I'll see you tomorrow, Baby."
"Okay," said Brian, listlessly. "Whatever."
After Ron left, Andre re-entered the room. "Is the coast clear?" he asked.
"Yeah, the coast is clear, man," said Brian. Andre checked the line in Brian's arm. Sometimes it got knocked around when Brian was trying to get himself comfortable. "Andre, how much longer do you think I'll have to stay here?"
The nurse smiled. "Don't you like my hospitality?"
"No, you're great to me... it's just that... I want to go home."
Andre tilted his head. "You think of that prison as your home?"
Brian nodded. "It has been for the past 9 years. I'd never been outside the walls in all that time -- until I was brought here. And now I want to go back. The way people look at me here, what they think about me... it's depressing. At least in the Quad I have friends. I have my job. I feel safe."
"Safe?" Andre exclaimed. "But you were stabbed there, man! Some mother tried to off you! How can you say you feel safe?"
"I know," said Brian. "It sounds crazy. But that guy and his pal are gone. Ron told me that they'd been transferred out. Stanton may be a prison, but it's the only world that I know. I guess I'm too institutionalized to be comfortable outside ever again." Brian winced. He needed his pain pill. "Which is just as well, since I'll probably be in stir for a long time to come."
Andre gazed at this man. He really was beautiful. No wonder that bitchy lawyer called him 'Baby.' If Brian had already been in for 9 years he must truly have been a baby when he hit the Quad. Andre knew a little bit about prisons. He'd escaped that life, but he had a brother and an uncle who'd both done time. Prison was rough on anybody, but on a kid it was hell, especially a pretty white boy!
"What you in for, Brian? You never said."
Brian smiled. "A long list of things."
"The guard outside told all of the staff that you'd done murder."
Brian made a face. "That's one of them. At least, so says the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. But I'm innocent, man! Everybody in prison is innocent!"
Andre laughed. "Yeah, just like outside. Nobody is ever guilty of nothing! But, Brian, when you go back inside -- what about your friend?"
"Ron? Things will go on as they always have. He'll come to see me once a month. I'll get pissed off at him occasionally, but he'll still keeping coming. Ron never gives up anything he thinks is his."
"He really a lawyer?" Andre asked.
"He was, once upon a time," Brian replied. "He was disbarred when he was convicted, but he still works in law. He was my cellmate for 8 years. He got out last year."
"That explains a lot."
"No, it doesn't explain anything, actually. I figured that you were wondering about us."
"Of course I've been wondering!" said Andre. "I'm a curious queen, darling! But 8 years? With THAT man? Damn!" Andre tried to imagine putting up with that guy for so long. Lord, but love was strange!
"Ron is out and should be getting on with his life... but he won't let it go. He's still fucking around here, looking after me -- whether I want him to or not."
"I think you getting hurt must have scared the shit out of him, honey." Andre thought of the man, railing at the staff when Brian was in the IC Unit. He had been angry, but he had also been terrified. "He's just waiting for you to get out."
Brian snorted. "Then he's going to be waiting a long time."
"So, this man has been your lover for 8 years, huh?" said Andre. "Then tell me -- who is Justin?"
Amy Carver was so glad to see her prize student return to class that she walked over and gave him a big hug. No, it wasn't allowed by the prison authorities, but she didn't care! She was so relieved to see Justin back and looking well!
"Hi, Miss Carver," said Justin, blushing. The rest of the boys in the class laughed and made kissing noises.
"All right, gentlemen, please settle down!" said Amy. "Justin, if you will please take your seat? I want to get started right away."
Justin sat down in the front row between Wesley and Jackie and opened his folder. Amy began the class with Stormy reading his latest story while the boys listened and wrote down their comments. While Stormy read, Amy thought about how gutted the class had seemed without Justin. The boys had never really gotten their minds back on their work after the disturbance on the Quad, but now Amy had hopes that things would get back to some semblance of normality.
And the return of Justin might also signal the return of Brian. At first, when Amy questioned her supervisor in the Stanton Correctional Education Program, he refused to give her any information about the 'situation' in the prison.
"All I want to know is whether or not my student is injured! And his cellmate, as well!" Amy demanded. "I want to know if they are alive and all right!"
"It isn't your business, Miss Carver," she was told.
"My students are not coming to my class because of this incident and that makes it my business!"
But the man still would not give her any information. So she wrote to the warden directly.
Three days later Amy received a call from Warden Horvath personally. He apologized for the confusion and also for the boys not appearing in class. Then he explained what had happened. About the stabbing. And also the disturbing information that her student Justin Taylor's cellmate, Brian Kinney, was not expected to live.
Amy Carver had to sit down and catch her breath when Warden Horvath told her that. Her friend, Will Foxe, had been calling her, asking for more pieces of his manuscript. He had spoken with his editor friend, who was extremely excited at the thought of reading a prison memoir written by the infamous campus radical who was serving a sentence for murder. And now he might be dying! Stabbed by a gang member in some prison scuffle! It was too horrible!
And Justin... what would happen to him? What must he be going through? Amy remembered the stricken faces of Jackie and her older friend when they came to her class with Jackie's story. They had been so upset! How much more upset must poor Justin have been?
But then she received another call from Warden Horvath's assistant telling her that her student's cellmate WAS expected to live and that Justin would return to class as soon as possible. Amy had breathed a sigh of relief. But it had also made her even more determined to get hold of Brian Kinney's manuscript and see that it was made public. Perhaps it would allow him to get a new hearing? Or maybe a transfer to a safer prison? Anything was worth a try at this point.
Amy had not thought much about the danger her boys were faced with in their day-to-day existence. Knowledge of the sexual exploitation that Justin had detailed and that she had begun to read about in the early portions of Brian's manuscript had sickened her. But this was about life and death!
Stormy's story was, as usual, about cowboys, but it was very different from his earlier pieces. Those had glorified violence and been full of shoot-outs and gleeful blood-letting. But this story was about the aftermath of a killing that seemed horribly real. It was about how the cowboys dealt with the death of their friend, who had been killed by an outlaw in cold blood. It was about their sorrow and their anger and their desire for revenge. All of the boys listened quietly while Stormy read, but Justin listened with his head resting on his desk. He didn't write any comments. He only listened, his eyes blank.
When class was over, Justin got up and walked out before Amy had a chance to speak to him.
"Wes? Can you bring Justin back here? I'd like to speak with him," said Amy.
"He didn't leave yet, Miss Carver," said Wesley. "He's down the hall... in the bathroom."
"I see." Amy wasn't about to drag the boy out of the men's room. He was probably in there trying to get himself together emotionally before he had to return to his cell.
The rest of the boys left for the Quad, but Amy noticed that Wesley and Jackie were waiting for Justin to emerge from the bathroom. And Amy also saw Jackie's friend, the tall, thin, effeminate man, waiting with them.
"Mister....?" she couldn't recall his name.
"Honeycutt, ma'am. Emmett Honeycutt," he said, coming forward.
"I wonder if I might ask you something?" Amy beckoned him into the classroom and shut the door behind them. "It's about Justin. And also about his cellmate, Brian. And about their future."
Emmett raised his eyebrows at the teacher. "The future of Brian and Justin? In that case, I would LOVE to be at your service, Miss Carver. Tell me every little thing that you have to say."
"Justin?" Brian huffed. "How the hell do you know about Justin?"
"Well," said Andre, putting his hands on his hips. "I've heard you talking about him with your lawyer friend. And...." The nurse paused and wondered how much more he should say. But he was too curious to turn back now. "I heard you calling for him, honey. More than once."
"Me?" said Brian, frowning. "Calling for Justin?" He felt a little shiver on the back of his neck. "When was this, Andre?"
"When you were in the IC Unit. That's not my usual station, but when you live on the night shift like I do, you and the other nurses spell each other sometimes. This is a small hospital and everyone does what they can. Besides, honey, you were so pretty that I liked going in and looking at you."
"Shut up!" Brian laughed. "You're such a fucking queen! You remind me of my friend, Em."
"I'm sure she's not nearly as fabulous as I am!" Andre looked at his watch. He was late making the rounds of the other rooms and his supervisor had warned him about spending too much time 'catering' to the 'dangerous convict.'
"I'll plead the Fifth on that one," Brian sighed. His eyes were sad. "Was I really calling for Justin? When I... I was unconscious?"
"I heard it myself," Andre replied. "At first I couldn't understand what you were saying. I thought you were hurting or that you wanted something. And you DID want something, honey. You wanted that person you were calling out for."
"I can't remember that at all," Brian said.
"Of course not! You were WAY out of it!" Andre patted the man on the arm. "The docs didn't think you was ever coming back. Nobody did. But I kind of thought you might."
"You did? Why did you think I was coming back when the doctors had given up hope, Andre?" asked Brian. "Was it your faith in Jesus?"
Andre sniffed. "Don't you laugh at Jesus, darling. You might need him someday and He doesn't like people laughing at him!"
Brian smiled slightly, but then he closed his eyes. "Then what made you believe in my improbable return, Andre?"
"Something in the way you were talking when you were supposed to be dying," said Andre, seriously. "Sometimes you said that name as clear as a bell. 'Justin.' That's how I realized it was a name. A person. And I knew that you had someone you had to come back FOR. That's how I knew. And I was right."
"You were right, Andre. If I was going to come back, Justin would be the only reason." Brian moved around in the bed, painfully. He wanted to wait until the last minute to take his pill so that it would last all night. "But I'm hoping that he gets out quickly. If they released him tomorrow, even that wouldn't be soon enough. He never should have been arrested, let alone convicted and set to prison."
"What's he in for, honey?"
"Drug charge. Pot. Stuff he bought to take to a high school graduation party." Brian winced. "And the things that have happened to Justin since then -- THAT is what is criminal, Andre! I don't even fucking want to talk about it because it makes me sick to think about."
"How old is he, Brian?"
"He's 19. Blond. Short. That first day he walked in the joint, he was shaking in his shoes. He was as pale and soft as a lamb. And they were on him like wolves the minute they got the chance. He ended up in the prison hospital. When he got out I hooked up with him and he became my cellmate. I wanted to protect him the way I wished that someone had protected me when I needed it, but... they never really gave up on him. It was a gang of bikers. Rotten motherfuckers. They wanted Justin and I didn't want them to have him." Brian shrugged. It hurt to shrug.
"And that's how you got that, isn't it, baby?" Andre gently touched his finger to the dressing over Brian's jagged wound.
"Yes, that's how," said Brian. "And please -- don't call me 'Baby.'"
"I'm sorry, darling," Andre apologized. "I thought that was your nickname. Your lawyer friend always calls you that."
"I know," Brian returned. "But please don't. It's a long story, but I rather you didn't."
Andre couldn't stop himself from smoothing the hair away from Brian's forehead. "I'll try to remember."
"Thanks." Brian settled back against the pillow. "Could I have my pill now? I only want to go to sleep. That way I don't have to think."
Andre took the pill out of the container in the pocket of his uniform and refilled the cup with fresh water. He gave Brian the pill and watched him swallow it down. Then the nurse set the cup on the table where Brian could reach it during the night.
When Andre walked out of the room, Brian was staring up at the ceiling, as if looking for the sky. Looking for the stars. An hour later Andre looked into the room again. He was still staring, his eyes blinking, and his face wet with tears that he could never shed in the light of day.
Posted December 1, 2004.