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"We've had an offer on the house," said Craig.
"Oh," said Jennifer. "That's good... I guess."
The pair were sitting on the sofa in Craig's new apartment. Jennifer knew that Craig's new girlfriend was lurking in the bedroom, but she hadn't come out to meet her boyfriend's soon-to-be-ex-wife.
"The people want to take possession as soon as possible, so you'll need to be out of there before the end of the month," said Craig, bluntly.
He's really being an asshole about this, thought Jennifer. We both want this divorce, but he doesn't have to act like it's all my fault.
Jennifer had been feeling guilty about their break-up until Ron showed her reports from his private detective that showed that Craig had been having an affair with his secretary for at least two years. So there had been no reason for Craig to act high-and-mighty when he found out that Jennifer was also having an affair of her own!
And Craig was still being impossible about Justin. His son, who had once been Craig Taylor's pride and joy, was now a subject that was off-limits to discussion. Craig didn't want to hear about the progress of Justin's appeal or about what was happening to Justin in prison. All Craig needed to know was that his son had shamed the Taylors by being convicted of a crime -- and also revealed himself as a homosexual. That was enough to make him completely turn his back on Justin.
"I've found a condo that's not far from Molly's school," said Jennifer. "I'd like to take some of our furniture for the living room and the bedrooms, but I thought we could put the rest into storage and decide how to divide it up later. Is that fine with you, Craig?"
"Sure," he said, shrugging. "I'm not really interested in a bunch of old furniture, Jen. You can do whatever you want with it."
"All right then," she replied, making a note on her pad. Ron had told Jennifer to get any agreements they made in writing in case Craig changed his mind later and made a stink about something. "I don't want to make any assumptions about what to do with... with our things."
"It's only stuff, Jen," said Craig, dismissively. "I bought new furniture when I moved in here."
Jennifer looked around Craig's apartment. The furniture was modern, but it looked cheap and insubstantial. She assumed that the new girlfriend had helped Craig pick it out, probably at Sears or Penney's or someplace like that. Jennifer thought about the antiques and family heirlooms what would now go into storage. She had been so proud of her home -- and this is what it had come to!
"Listen, Craig, there's something else that I want to discuss with you," said Jennifer, hesitantly. "Once everything is finalized I was thinking of moving out of town. Maybe to Chicago. Justin will be eligible for parole in the spring and... and his lawyers at the Prisoners' Legal Defense think that he'll definitely get out then, if not before."
Jennifer waited for Craig's reaction, but there was none. He only stared at her, as if the name 'Justin' meant nothing to him.
"Molly could finish out the school year here," Jennifer continued. "And then we could move to Chicago over the summer and have a chance to settle before the new school year begins."
"Chicago, huh?" Craig's face was dark. "What the hell is in Chicago?"
"I have some family there, Craig," said Jennifer, taking a deep breath. "And it would be a chance for Justin to make a new beginning. Ro... Julie at the Prisoners' Legal Defense thinks the Parole Board will allow it, especially if Justin is able to enroll in college there. And... and I might have a lead on a job, too."
Ron had promised Jennifer that he'd use his extensive connections to get Jennifer a job in Chicago. And then, after his own divorce was final, Ron would move there so that they could be together. That was the plan. Ron had outlined it. Ron had convinced her that it would be the best thing for all of them. It would be a fresh start for Justin, but also for Jennifer and Ron, too. All the bad memories of Pittsburgh and Jennifer's failed marriage and Justin's conviction could be forgotten in a new city. And she could make new friends who weren't constantly judging her on her failures as a wife and a mother.
"You're telling me that you want to move out of town so that Justin can go to college? That's assuming that he even gets out of jail, Jen. Assuming some college will take a convict who is also a homosexual!" Craig snapped.
"That's not fair, Craig!" Jennifer cried. "Justin deserves a chance, the same as any other boy who made a mistake!"
"So you say, Jen," Craig huffed. "But if you and... and YOUR son leave this town and go to Chicago, you aren't taking MY daughter with you! You may have custody of Molly now, but that doesn't mean that you can take her out of state. Forget it! I won't let you drag my daughter hundreds of miles away so that she can live with you and... and your queer son!"
Jennifer felt her face turning red. "Justin is your son, too, Craig. His conviction hasn't changed that fact. And neither has his sexuality! You may turn your back on him, but that doesn't mean I'll do the same! And Molly still loves her brother!"
"That's because she's too young to understand what a pervert is!" Craig spat back. "And I'm going to make certain that she never finds out! If I have to go back to court to get custody of Molly, then I'll do it! I'll prove that you're an unfit mother! It must have been something that YOU did to turn MY son into a faggot! And I don't want the same thing to happen to Molly!"
Craig stood up and waited for Jennifer to stand. Then he marched her to the door. Jennifer saw the door of the bedroom open and Craig's girlfriend peek out of it, watching the show.
"If you want to make this nasty, Craig, then it will be nasty!" said Jennifer. "But don't threaten me! You aren't as pure as the driven snow, Craig Taylor. And don't you dare call me an unfit mother! The way you've rejected your own son is cruel and despicable. Nothing I did made Justin gay! He was born that way, so face facts! I won't give up on him. And I won't allow you to poison Molly against her brother, either. We'll see who is unfit to be a parent!"
Jennifer left the apartment and stumbled to the elevator. She needed to call Ron immediately and tell him what Craig had said. Ron wouldn't let Craig take her daughter away! He would protect her! Ron was the only one who understood.
Jennifer got into her car and tried to collect herself. She had to focus her thoughts. Focus her strength. Justin would be released and they would go to Chicago! And Ron would help her make it happen.
She had to get herself and her children out of Pittsburgh! It was the only way they all could finally and truly be free.
Amy Carver was writing the evening's assignment on the blackboard as the boys filed into her Creative Writing classroom.
Stormy and Zack walked in together. Amy had noticed that the two of them seemed very tight recently. Zack had always idolized Stormy. Stormy was a bigger, stronger punk with a dominant personality, while Zack was a natural follower. Zack wasn't a very good writer -- like a lot of the boys he couldn't spell or punctuate a sentence to save his life -- but Amy had noticed that most of Zack's stories featured as the hero a big, confident boy and his smaller, admiring sidekick.
Stormy stamped his cigarette out on the dirty linoleum floor and sat in his usual desk, with Zack next to him. Then came two newer boys from the South Wing, Mac and Jay. Then an older inmate, Red, and a younger man who was always with him, Benny. Amy wasn't certain if Red and Benny were friends or hooked up. Benny was much older than the usual punk, but one thing Amy Carver had learned while teaching in Stanton was not to make blanket assumptions.
Then there was another new student, Antwan. He was her only black student and from reading his pieces, which weren't stories so much as political statements, Amy knew that Antwan was the protégé of Baraka, the leader of the Bros, the black inmates in the South Wing. Baraka and his men considered themselves not to be inmates at all, but political prisoners. Antwan, as usual, sat by himself near the back of the classroom.
Wesley and Jackie came into the room last. Wesley was working on a long science fiction story that Amy found incomprehensible, but Wesley seemed excited about it and writing it had certainly motivated him to take other classes, mainly in science. That made Amy very pleased. She felt that Wes was one of the few boys she had worked with who might have a chance to break out of the cycle of crime and imprisonment that already seemed the fate of so many of her other students.
Wesley and Jackie sat in the front row. Jackie's hair looked longer than ever and he was wearing bracelets on both wrists. He always flirted with the other boys in the class, but today he was batting his eyes at the two older men, Red and Benny. Amy had heard the boys talking the week before about Jackie's protector, Rick, getting out of prison soon, and it was apparent that Jackie was searching around for a likely replacement.
Amy waited a few more minutes, but there was no sign of Justin.
"Is Justin not feeling well again this week?" Amy asked Wesley. She knew that their cells were close together.
"No, Miss Carver," said Wes. "He's coming. Really. They were walking over right behind us."
"They?" Amy questioned.
"Him and Brian," added Jackie in her breathy voice. "Justin never goes anywhere without Brian. Not since...." Jackie shrugged. "You know... what happened inside."
Amy knew that there had been a stabbing in Stanton, but she didn't know the details. She only knew that Justin had seen the attack and been very upset by it. So upset that he hadn't been attending any of his classes, including her Creative Writing class. That worried Amy. Justin was an excellent student and he'd already been through so much during his months in prison. Amy hated to think that the intelligent and talented Justin was becoming so fearful or depressed that he had given up on his education.
And then there was Brian. Amy found herself excited by the prospect of catching a glimpse of her elusive author. Most of the contact anyone outside Stanton had with him was on paper or through Justin. Her friend, Will Foxe, who taught writing at Carnegie Mellon, was dying to meet him, but so far Brian had refused to come down to the Visitors' Gallery to see anyone except his former cellmate, Ron Rosenblum.
Mr. Rosenblum had been invaluable in getting Brian's manuscript to the point where it was almost ready to be published. He had gotten release forms and proofsheets and other important material to Brian inside the Quad, and then managed to get them out again without the prison authorities finding out.
Amy understood that smuggling out the Kinney manuscript and publishing it without notifying Warden Horvath or the Board of Prisons would probably get her banned from teaching there, but Amy believed it was worth it in the long run, especially if it caused an innocent man to be released.
Ron Rosenblum was also handling all of the negotiations with the editors in New York, and had even obtained a literary agent to approach the bigger publishers about a book deal. Amy was certain that would happen. Brian's memoir was well-written and told a compelling, if horrific story. The people at the publishing houses were only waiting to see the reaction of the public to the excepts that 'The New Yorker' was planning to run around Christmas. That wasn't very far off. Less than two months. Then Amy was sure that things would change radically for the fortunes of Brian Kinney.
She looked up and there was Brian at the door of her classroom. He had his arm around Justin, who looked pale and thinner than the last time she had seen him only a few weeks before. The boy's bright blue eyes darted around the room, as if something threatening lurked there.
"Please take your seat, Justin," Amy instructed. "And we'll begin our class."
"I... I didn't finish my story, Miss Carver," Justin said, his voice barely a whisper.
"That's quite all right," said Amy, soothingly. "Maybe you can read it to us next week."
Amy was speaking to her young student, but she couldn't take her eyes off his tall cellmate. She was picturing Brian dressed in a good suit, his hair styled at a top salon. He would be as handsome as a movie star with some decent clothes and a little care. All of the literary lions in New York would jockey to invite him to their parties, and he'd be in huge demand to read and give seminars on crime and life in prison.
And television! All of the talk shows would want to book him for their shows. If Brian Kinney could talk only half as well as he wrote, then he would be a riveting speaker. And being on TV would sell books. A lot of books! And Amy had discovered him! She could hardly believe it.
Of course, some of the things in his book would be difficult to discuss on the air. Homosexuality and male rape and sexual slavery -- those weren't the usual topics discussed on 'Johnny Carson.' But some of the more serious shows might be brave enough to tackle those subjects. And Brian would find a large audience on college campuses, too. Maybe one day she'd teach a course and use Brian's book as the text. Or he might even teach such a course himself! The possibilities were mind-boggling.
"Brian," whispered Justin, still lingering in the doorway. "Don't leave me alone here!"
"You're not alone, Justin," said Brian, gently. "Your teacher is here. And Wes and Jackie. And the guys are all your pals. Stormy and Zack are your friends. You know Red and Benny from the first tier, right? And you've talked to Antwan before when Baraka came to the Law Library to see me. So there's nothing to be worried about, Justin. Nothing at all."
Justin hesitated. He took a step forward, but then looked like he was going to bolt in the opposite direction.
"Come right in, Justin," Amy said encouragingly. "And we'll begin."
"Stay with me!" Justin begged Brian, clutching at his arm.
"I'll be right outside the door," said Brian. "All you have to do is call me."
"No!" Justin was almost crying.
Now Amy was alarmed. She had never seen Justin act like this before. He was barely holding himself together while the other boys in the class sat passively, watching. However, the other students didn't act like this was strange behavior at all. Since the stabbing incident, Justin had missed a number of classes for vague reasons. Maybe Justin had been like this ever since the stabbing, suffering from some kind of shock or anxiety that made him clingy and very unlike his normal self.
"Brian, why don't you take a seat next to Justin over here?" Amy suggested. She was afraid that she would never get Justin into his seat unless Brian sat beside him.
Brian nodded and led Justin to one of the little desks, settling him into it and then taking the seat next to him. But the older man never let go of the boy's trembling hand.
Amy sighed and began class by asking Jackie to read her assignment aloud. She listened to Jackie's piece, but her eyes were on Justin -- and Brian. On Justin's fearful, haunted face. And Brian's obvious distress and concern for the boy.
She would need to talk to someone about this. But who? The prison authorities must know that something was the matter, but maybe there was nothing they could do for Justin. Maybe this was beyond their resources.
But one person might know. The lawyer. Brian Kinney's ex-cellmate. He had been inside Stanton. He knew the way the system worked and he knew the problems of the inmates. And he would know whether or not anything could be done for Justin Taylor.
Amy Carver resolved that the minute she got home tonight she would call Ron Rosenblum and ask for his help.
Posted June 22, 2005.