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"I can't believe that you had to stand in that long in the line just to use the stupid phone," said Justin as he and Brian walked down to the Chow Hall for dinner.
"I wanted to go over some things with Ron about those papers he left with you, so there was no other way except to call him," Brian said.
"We ought to get a petition together about putting more phones in the East Wing. Maybe a bank of phones on every tier?" Justin suggested. "That way the guys wouldn't have to stand there for hours waiting to get a call out."
Brian smiled. "I don't think the availability of phone service to inmates is high on the priority list of the Board of Prisons. Most people on the outside probably don't think we should have access to the phones at all. I remember when they canceled our ability to reverse the charges a few years ago. A couple of guys were using it to pull scams and some others were harassing people who had testified against them, so the Administration decided to make it harder to make a call, not easier."
"That's so unfair, Brian!" Justin stated.
"But it's the reality of the Quad," Brian replied. "There's Juice and Michelle. You want to sit with them?"
Justin shrugged. He liked Ben, but he wasn't crazy about his bitch, Michelle. Justin knew that Michelle had always had a crush on Brian and she still gazed at him like an infatuated schoolgirl even though she was hooked up with one of the most powerful guys in the Quad. And Michelle had also made it obvious that Justin wasn't her favorite person in the East Wing.
"Sure," said Justin as they moved through the food line. It was Friday night, which meant fish. Justin stared at the plate he was handed, trying to figure out what kind of fish it had been before it had been fried to a crisp. Oh, well. It didn't matter if you put enough ketchup on it.
Justin followed Brian over to the table where the Juice Pig was holding court. A couple of his jocker pals and their punks were already seated there, but Ben had left room for Brian and his kid on his left side, while Michelle sat smugly on his right.
Michelle was wearing a new purple blouse that her mother had brought for her the day before during Visiting Day. Mrs. Novotny was always bringing Michelle goods -- food, comic books, clothes, cassettes -- that she could either use herself or trade for other things inside the Quad. Some inmates with no outside connections had to scrounge for the basic necessities of life, but in the East Wing, Michelle was very well-off.
"Ma brought me this shirt just in time for Movie Night tonight," Michelle bragged. "I love the color, don't you?"
Justin actually thought the shirt was garish and the color way too bright, but the queens were always ridiculing his fashion sense, so he simply said, "Yeah, it's nice."
"You should get your mom to bring you something a little more flashy, Sunny," said Michelle, eyeing Justin's plain workshirt. "Your clothes are totally boring."
Justin made a face. He hated it when Michelle or any of the other queens called him 'Sunny.' That was a queen's name and the last thing Justin wanted to be mistaken for was a queen! "Brian doesn't care what I wear, but I doubt he would think much of me in a purple peasant blouse!"
"Little bitch!" Michelle snapped back.
"Ladies! Shut the hell up!" ordered Ben. He was sick of the sniping between Michelle and Justin, especially during dinner. "I'm trying to have a conversation with Brian! So if the two of you don't can it, I'll send you both over to the queens' table!" He gestured a few tables away where Emmy, Barbie, and Lou Lou were giggling with some of the other East Wing ladies.
Justin smirked at Michelle and moved closer to Brian, possessively. This was Ben's table and he had put his woman in her place. It served her right!
But Brian leaned over to Justin. "Don't flaunt it in front of Michelle, Sunshine. She's in a bad enough mood as it is." Everyone in the East Wing knew that Michelle had been turned down for parole and that she wouldn't get another chance until next spring. "So be good -- or I'll tie your balls in a knot, okay?"
"Okay," Justin murmured. "Sorry, Brian."
"Why don't you get me another cup of coffee?" Brian said, patting Justin's shoulder. "With plenty of sugar."
"Sure!" said Justin, jumping up from the table. That was a punk's job -- getting stuff for his jock. He picked up Brian's empty cup and hustled over to the line for the coffee.
Justin stood quietly in line, holding Brian's cup and wondering what movie they would see tonight. It was always a surprise, but usually they alternated a comedy with a drama or an action flick. The week before they had shown an old war picture, so Justin was hoping for something funny or romantic this week.
Justin noticed that the guy in front of him in the coffee line was twitching and glancing around. That put Justin on alert. The man was a South Winger, an Hispanic inmate, maybe one of the Mexican gangbangers. But something wasn't right about him. Justin could sense it.
Justin was about to step away from the twitcher when another Hispanic inmate moved past Justin and whipped out his arm. Justin saw the sharpened pencil in the second ganger's hand and then he saw it go deep into the first inmate's neck only inches from Justin's face.
Justin dove for the floor and rolled in the opposite direction, but he felt a spray of blood descend on him. He heard the screams of the first inmate as he went down. Then the chaos of noise and confusion as the men scattered and the C.O.'s converged on the Chow Hall, their batons and guns drawn.
Ben turned just as the gangbanger attacked the inmate in line. He yelled out for Brian, who was on his feet in a second. Brian flew across the room, searching for Justin in tumult.
Brian saw Justin lying on the floor, peppered with blood. He threw himself on top of the boy. All around them the C.O.'s were struggling to subdue two factions of the South Wing Mexican gang that had chosen the Chow Hall to fight out their turf battle.
"I'm all right!" Justin cried as Brian wrapped himself around his kid's body and inched him away from the skirmish. "I'm not hurt!"
Brian dragged Justin under the nearest table and shielded their refuge with an overturned chair. "Don't say anything!" Brian whispered urgently. "Keep your head against me!"
They huddled under the table as the C.O.'s rounded up inmates, shooting pepper spray at anyone who moved. Finally, the guards had cleared the gang members and they called for the rest of the inmates, most of whom were face-down on the floor, to stand up, one by one, and be searched.
Brian held Justin down and waited until most of the other men had been moved out of the Chow Hall. Then he pulled Justin out from under the table and they both stood slowly, their hands in the air.
"Is the kid injured?" asked one of the C.O.'s. He recognized Brian and Justin as a jocker and his punk from the third tier of the East Wing and therefore unlikely to have been involved in the altercation between the Mexicans. But the punk had blood all over him. He was a witness to what had gone down in the hall and they would need to take his statement.
"No, sir," said Justin, shakily. "I was only standing there! I was getting a cup of coffee!"
"Did you see what happened?" the C.O. demanded.
Justin gulped. "It happened so fast. I... I wasn't paying much attention. And then... then...." Justin looked down at the blood on his hands. It was on his face, too. He glanced over at the middle of the Chow Hall. A figure was lying there, covered by a gray sheet, his sneakered feet sticking out at the bottom. "Is he... is he dead? That guy from the line?"
"We'll need to take your statement, kid," said the C.O., sharply. He grabbed Justin by the elbow.
"I'm going with him," Brian asserted firmly. "I'm his cellmate and I'm also the PLD representative. He's not making any statements unless I'm there!"
"Then come along," the C.O. grunted. "You're both witnesses to this thing." The C.O. hurried the pair out of the Chow Hall, but not before Justin turned and watched two of the orderlies from the Hospital load the dead gangbanger onto a stretcher and carry him out.
"I think I'm going to be sick," Justin whispered dizzily. He slumped against Brian, who caught him in his arms.
And that was the last thing Justin remembered.
Officer Tully unlocked the door of Brian and Justin's cell and the two men walked inside.
"The entire Quad is in lockdown until further notice," the C.O. said sternly. "The warden may want to question you both again tomorrow."
"We've told him everything that we know," said Brian, defiantly. "That isn't going to change between now and tomorrow!"
"We'll see about that, Kinney," the C.O. retorted. "It's already after lights out, so get to bed."
Brian saluted the guard sarcastically. "Yes, sir, Officer Tully, sir!"
The C.O. glared at Brian. "Don't push things, Kinney. You want us to send the kid over to the South Wing? Or send you down to the Hole to cool off?"
Brian wanted to tell Tully to go fuck himself, but he didn't. Brian was furious because the guards had dragged both of them away and questioned them as if they had been part of the brawl and not innocent bystanders. But in the eyes of the C.O.'s there was no such thing as an innocent bystander in prison. You were in Stanton because you were guilty -- and that made you guilty of everything.
So instead of speaking his mind, Brian turned away from the cell door. He buried his anger and his resentment. It would do no good to lash out at Tully or any of the other C.O.'s on the third tier. They hadn't been responsible for questioning him and Justin. It was the whole system that was fucked up. The prison system and everything connected with it.
Justin was hunched over at the sink, washing his face. They hadn't even allowed the kid to clean the dead inmate's blood off of himself before Lt. Clayton and his goons started hammering away at him. They had handcuffed both Brian and Justin and worked on each of them, one at a time, trying to get to the bottom of the rumble in the Chow Hall. But mainly they honed in on Justin. He'd had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and they made the boy pay for his bad luck.
Luckily, Justin was simply telling the truth when he told them that he didn't know anything, not even the names of the men involved. The brawlers were all South Wingers and all Mexican gang members. There was no reason that Justin would know them. Brian didn't even know them, except by sight, because they never used PLD services. They had their own network of Spanish-speaking lawyers from their own community. Ron had tried for years to break through to the Hispanic inmates, but he'd never gotten anywhere with them. There was no way that they were going to trust a gringo, not even one who was offering them free legal aid.
Justin's hands were shaking as he scrubbed his face. All he could think of was Brian's blood. On his hands. On his face. On his hair. Drenching his clothes. Soaking down to his very skin. He had thought then that it would never come off. That he would never be clean again. That the blood that saturated him would never go away.
"Let me do that," said Brian softly. He took the rough washcloth from Justin's hand and soaped it up. Then he washed the kid carefully and quietly. And Justin stood there like a stunned child.
"Brian!" he sobbed out, clutching the edge of the sink.
"It's all right," whispered Brian. "I'm right here. We're both okay."
Brian stripped off Justin's soiled clothes and tossed them into a pile in the corner. He'd have them taken away or else get Emmy to wash them. He didn't want Justin to touch the fucking things again until they were clean. He didn't want Justin to be reminded of blood and death and fear. But Brian also knew there was no real way to escape those things in the Quad. Blood and death and fear walked next to you every single day.
Brian washed Justin's body slowly. The cell was dark, but Brian could find the spots of blood by touch and by smell and he rubbed those places until they were clean. Then he washed Justin's hair and untangled it with his old tortoiseshell comb.
"Come on," said Brian, leading him to the bunk. "Get in bed. There won't be any breakfast in the Chow Hall tomorrow. Probably no lunch or dinner, either. A good excuse to do nothing all day, right?"
Justin nodded. "Right." The worn sheets felt cool against his hot skin.
Justin rubbed his wrists where they had handcuffed him. He hated being handcuffed or shackled. That was when he most felt like a criminal. And when he was being questioned like a criminal for something he didn't do.
"They kept asking me and asking me, Brian," Justin murmured. "But I couldn't tell them anything!"
"You don't know anything and you didn't see anything, Justin," said Brian, grimly. "Deaf, dumb, and blind makes the perfect inmate. That's what Ron always used to say and it's still true."
Brian stripped off his own clothes and climbed into the bunk next to Justin. The boy was trembling violently as Brian put his arms around him.
"It wasn't me who was offed," Brian reassured him. "And it wasn't you, either. That's all that matters in this joint, kid. That WE survived. Some other poor bastard didn't. That's his problem. Staying alive is our problem. But we're going to do it. Do you believe me, Justin?"
"Yes," said Justin is a helpless voice. "But the man was standing there. Just standing there! And then...." Justin squeezed his eyes shut.
"And then he was dead," said Brian, bluntly. "It happens. But we're here. This is now. If you're afraid, then hold on to me. Hang on as tightly as you can. That's all we can do."
Brian pushed the boy back onto the bunk and moved on top of him. This was no time to be tender and delicate. This was about life and death. About how life had won -- at least for them.
Brian ravaged Justin's lips with his tongue and his teeth, catching each ragged breath with his own mouth until Justin began kissing back just as urgently. Justin pressed up against Brian's shoulder, sucking at his salty skin, biting at his neck, tugging at his hair.
Brian shoved a couple of lotion-covered fingers into Justin's ass. He wanted to be rough. He wanted both of them to feel the violence that was part of their life and also their love. He spread his punk's legs obscenely, positioning himself.
Justin's legs splayed across the narrow bunk and he arched his hips upward. "Fuck me good!" the kid demanded. "Fuck my ass into the mattress! I need you to!"
"I'm going to fuck you into next week," Brian breathed.
"Please!" Justin gasped as Brian drove his long cock deep inside of him. His tight hole clenched around it. Justin pushed against the intrusion and also welcomed it. Then he relaxed slowly and felt Brian's cock slide deeper and deeper into him. Filling him. Possessing him.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Brian chanted as he rattled the bunk with his thrusts.
"Make me forget," Justin whispered. "Make me forget everything except your dick and my ass. Nothing else matters! Make me believe it! Please, Brian! Please!"
And there wasn't anything else the two of them could believe in that darkness. There, nothing else was real. Just bodies. Just movements. Just love, against all odds.
The minute they came out of lockdown Brian noticed the change in Justin.
All weekend the men had remained in their cells while Warden Horvath and the C.O.'s investigated the incident in the Chow Hall. Justin and Brian had been brought to the warden's office where they had been questioned again, this time by Horvath himself. But it was evident that Horvath didn't believe either man was privy to anything more than having been in the Chow Hall when the shit came down on the Mexican gangbanger, so he sent them back to their cell.
The pair spent the rest of the weekend in bed, reading, eating box meals that the C.O.'s distributed to the cells, listening to the Oldies Station on the radio, and making love.
But Justin kept waking up in the middle of the night, once again plagued by the nightmares that had haunted him after he'd been raped by the low-riders. That was Brian's first clue that something was seriously wrong with his young lover.
"I'm not going to class," Justin declared on Monday morning. He had already refused to go down to breakfast at the Chow Hall, but Brian didn't blame him for that. Even Brian wasn't anxious to enter the place where they had watched a man killed so violently and pointlessly only days before.
"What do you mean?" Brian asked. "Is there something the matter with your class?"
"No," said Justin as he buttoned up his blue workshirt. "I'm just not going." Justin swallowed. His mouth was dry. "I'm going to the Law Library with you. Is that okay?"
Brian hesitated. Justin was classified as a student so he was supposed to be attending classes. But he could read his school books and study in the Law Library. After what the kid had been through Brian didn't think that anyone would press Justin too hard to go to class.
As they walked over to the Law Library in the North Wing, Brian was glad that Justin was with him. He put his arm around the boy and was surprised to feel that he was trembling slightly. Brian knew that it would take Justin a little time to get over the shock of the Chow Hall, but he had bounced back so forcefully from being raped and then from Brian's brush with death. Justin was resilient. Justin was cocky. Justin was dauntless. Brian squeezed Justin's shoulder encouragingly.
"I love you, Brian," the boy whispered. And then tears started to spill down his smooth cheeks.
Brian was stunned. He hurried his kid into the Law Library and shut the door. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped away Justin's tears.
It wasn't like Justin to start crying out of the blue, especially outside of the safety of their cell. After all, the first rule that Brian had drilled into him was never to let anyone see you cry. Never reveal your weakness. Keep control of yourself at all times.
But here was Justin weeping. Weeping for no reason that Brian could understand.
He sat the boy down in Brian's old chair at the little table in the corner of the office and gave him a pile of mail to open. Justin sat quietly and opened it, sniffling softly. After he finished with the mail, Brian put Justin to work sorting out forms and then pulling inmate files. That took up most of the morning.
"Hi, ho!" said Emmy, tapping on the door of the Law Library. "I stopped by to see if you handsome gentlemen wanted to get a bite of luncheon with me? I know a fabulous new place where they have a divine creamed chipped beef on toast with soggy green beans on the side! So how about it, hot stuff?" Em gave Justin a little nudge.
But Justin wasn't smiling. "I'm not hungry, Em," he mumbled. Then he stood up and when back into the row of filing cabinets, hiding his tears.
Brian motioned Emmett out of the office. "Justin is still freaked out by what happened last week, Em," Brian explained. "He seemed better over the weekend, but this morning he got all shaky again. He wouldn't go to breakfast and he refused to go to his Civics class. I don't think he can handle lunch right now."
"Well, Bri Baby, he's going to have to eat! And that means the boy is going to need to go to the Chow Hall eventually. They don't have take-out service up to the tiers in Stanton Correctional, honey!"
"I know," said Brian. "I think he just needs a little time." Brian gave Em his most persuasive smile. "Maybe you could bring him a tray with a little bit of lunch on it? You have connections with the guys in the kitchen, Em, and they all love Justin over there. They'll do it. What do you say?"
Em flashed his gap-toothed grin. "When you put it that way, how could I say 'no,' Bri?"
Brian leaned over and gave Em a quick kiss. "Thanks, Emmett. You're an upfront guy."
Emmy sniffed. "I'd rather be a gracious Southern lady, Bri Baby, but I'll take what I can get!"
For the next few days Justin stuck to Brian like a shadow, following him to the Law Library, to the Yard, and to the Gym. The only place he still balked at going into, even with his jocker, was the Chow Hall. So Emmy, Lou Lou, Jackie, and the other queens took turns bringing food up from the kitchen to the cell or to the Law Library for both Justin and Brian, since Brian couldn't leave the kid alone without him going completely to pieces.
"I'm really worried about Justin," Em confided in Dr. Caputo one evening when they were both on the late shift at the Hospital. "It's like a delayed reaction from everything that's happened to him since he came into the Quad. He wasn't this bad after the low-riders, Doc. Why now? He wasn't hurt in the Chow Hall, and Brian wasn't hurt, either. So why would he suddenly turn into a scared little rabbit? That's not the Justin we all know and love."
Dr. Caputo sat back in his chair. Actually, he had seen it before. He'd been a military doctor before he had come to Stanton and he'd seen similar cases in V.A. hospitals where he'd served. Some of the men were casualties of Vietnam, but others were still suffering from traumas endured in Korea or even World War II.
"That's exactly what it is, Emmett," said the doctor. "A delayed reaction. Justin buried what happened to him with the bikers because he needed to survive and putting that horror behind him was the only way. And he also had Brian, who had survived something similar, to help him get through it all. Then when Brian was injured the kid totally shut down. You remember how he was like a sleepwalker? Hearing his cellmate's voice in his head and thinking they were communicating?"
"I thought the poor boy had lost his mind, Doc!" Em admitted.
"He had, in a way," Dr. Caputo replied. "It was his way of coping. Another way of surviving something he couldn't deal with any other way. Then Brian was brought back here to Stanton. Justin focused all of his energy on getting Brian well. He buried his own fears so that he could show a brave face to his lover."
"Then why would he freak out now, Doc?" asked Em. "Brian is doing great and other than that little incident with the tattoo, Justin is sailing right along, doing pretty easy time! He didn't even know the guy that got killed. None of us did. So why should he take the guy's death so hard?"
Dr. Caputo shook his head knowingly. "It has nothing to do with the gang member who was killed. Something has snapped inside that boy. Now that he's relatively safe and he's hooked up with a strong man who takes good care of him, he can allow himself to feel all of the horror he's been suppressing. Is he having nightmares?"
Em nodded. "Brian says he has them every night. And he jumps at every loud noise. He won't even leave his cell to walk down to the Rec Room unless his man is holding his hand, Doc! That's not normal."
"I know it isn't, Em," the doctor conceded. "I wish we had a psychologist here who knew a little bit about Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, but unfortunately we don't."
"Post WHAT?" said Emmy.
"Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. That's what the V.A. doctors call it," said Dr. Caputo. "But it applies to anyone who has lived through something dreadful that they've suppressed -- until they can't keep it inside any longer. Like soldiers. Accident victims. Women -- or men -- who've been raped. People who've witnessed something horrific, like a murder. That's Justin."
"Sounds like a lot of people in here, Doc," Em commented.
"Yes, that's true," the doctor replied. "But many of the men here are hardened to such sights. Their emotions are numbed. Others are sociopaths who literally don't feel or react to such events. But Justin is young and he's lived a sheltered, privileged life. Nothing in his experience could have prepared him for what he's endured here."
Emmett frowned. "That sounds like Brian, too. He's survived a lot worse than Justin and for a lot longer, but you don't see him going all to pieces like my Great-Aunt Lula on a hot day!"
"We don't see it, Em," said Dr. Caputo. "But that doesn't mean it hasn't happened."
The doctor thought about Brian's thick medical file. He had read through it extensively while Brian had been his patient after his transfer from County General Hospital. His file detailed a number of incidents that might have been triggered by a delayed reaction to what he'd suffered in prison, including more than one suicide attempt, the most recent only a few years before.
"Both Brian and Justin are like accidents waiting to happen, Emmett," Dr. Caputo stated. He stood up and stretched. It was time to make the night rounds of the wards.
"That sounds so... so ominous!" Emmy said, shivering.
"It is," answered the doctor, sadly. "It is. Let's just hope that accident doesn't happen on our watch."
And then Emmy felt more than concerned for Brian and Justin -- she felt afraid for them.
Posted June 22, 2005.