Go to all chapters of "Medium Security" and "The Outsiders".
"How's your back feel?"
Justin had not mentioned his sunburn that morning, but Brian noticed that he was moving very slowly, and that when they went to breakfast at the Howard Johnson's, Justin insisted that they sit at the counter and not in one of the booths.
"It's not bad," said Justin, as he stowed his suitcase in the truck of the T-bird.
"It still looks kind of red." Brian put his own suitcase in next to Justin's.
Justin shrugged. "I'm trying not to think about it. I just feel so damn stupid for getting it in the first place."
"It was an accident," said Brian.
Justin opened the door of the car. They were getting another late start. Brian had let Justin sleep in again because he knew that he'd had a restless night.
"Hold on a minute," said Brian. He went back into the motel room and came out with a pillow from the bed. "Here. Put this in the small of your back. It might help."
Justin took the pillow in his hands. "Brian, we can't take this. It belongs to the motel!"
Brian snorted. "Don't worry, kid. I don't think they'll send the Highway Patrol after us for a 2 buck pillow. Now get in and let's move!"
Justin sat in the passenger's seat gingerly, placing the pillow behind him. It was old and shapeless, but it softened the contact between the seat and Justin's sunburn. He waited in the car while Brian went into the office to settle their bill.
"Hey, Justin! You going today?"
Justin looked up to see Mary Jo, the girl from the swimming pool, standing by the T-bird. She was wearing shorts and a pink cotton blouse.
"Yeah, we're heading south today," Justin replied.
"Your face looks awful red," she said. "You get yourself burned up bad?"
Justin nodded. "I forgot my sunscreen. Brian had to go out last night and find some stuff to spray on my back. It still really hurts."
Mary Jo grinned at him. "You watch out, now, if you're going to Florida. The sun's even hotter down there. I spent a couple weeks with my aunt in Apalachicola last winter and I got a burn on the back of my legs! She rubbed vinegar on it, but it stung like crazy!"
Brian came back to the car and saw Justin talking to the girl he'd been swimming with the day before. He'd never really seen Justin with kids his own age, apart from the other punks in the Quad. He often wondered about what Justin was missing out on by spending all of his free time with Brian instead of with his peers. Brian was very conscious of how his own youth had been stolen from him, and he didn't want Justin to feel the same regret he did.
"You ready?" Brian asked, opening the door of the car. He eyed the girl in pink, while she stared back at him with undisguised interest.
"I'm ready, Brian." Justin fastened his seatbelt and grinned at his lover. "Bye, Mary Jo," Justin called as Brian started the car.
"You take care!" She waved as the T-bird pulled out of the motel parking lot and headed for the highway.
"Are you going to send a postcard from Miami to your new girlfriend?" Brian smirked.
"She's not my girlfriend!" Justin blushed. "I don't have girlfriends! I only have you!"
"Yeah," said Brian. "Only me."
Justin turned and looked closely at Brian. "I didn't mean it like that! You're the only one I want, Brian. The only one I'll ever want!"
"Maybe now," Brian answered. "But I see how all those little girls look at you. Maybe... maybe one day you'll want a different kind of life. It's hard to be a queer, Justin. In the Quad it was hard enough, but at least it was accepted. There were no women, so guys tolerated real queers -- as long as they knew their place. But out here...." Brian's voice was somber. "I'm only beginning to understand how hard it is to be a fag in a society that hates you. But I'm learning. Sometimes I wonder if it isn't easier for a guy like Ron. He was straight before prison. Then he took up with me. But that wasn't about love, that was about sex. About convenience. And now...."
"Don't make the mistake of thinking that Ron doesn't still want you, Brian," Justin said. "That he doesn't still love you, even. He may have married my mom, but he still wants you!"
"That's about power, kid," Brian replied. "That's not about love."
"That's what you think." Justin shifted in his seat. The sunburn still ached, but he was dealing with it. After all that Brian had endured in his life, Justin didn't want him to think that his boyfriend couldn't stand a little discomfort.
"Is your back bothering you?"
"A little," Justin admitted. "But what bothers me more is that you might think I'm only hanging out with you while I wait for some girl to come along! What the heck is that all about? That girl at the motel -- she's cute, but I have no interest in her or any other female!"
"Some day you might." Brian kept his eyes on the road. "You might want to get married. Have kids. Not live your life on the margins of society. It's fucking hard to spend your whole life as an outsider. It's too late for me. I'm already set in my ways. But you still have your whole life ahead of you. You can still make other choices."
"Is that why we went on this trip, Brian?" Justin demanded. "So you could dump me somewhere? Or hook me up with some girl in Florida? Get real! I've been a fag ever since I knew what my dick was for! I've only ever been interested in guys. Only fantasized about guys. Only wanted guys. And now I only want YOU! Get that through your thick Irish skull, you big jerk! Jesus! What will it take for you to believe that I already know what I want? It's what I have right now! You!"
Brian smiled. "I love it when you get all indignant. It's hot to see you worked up."
"You're an asshole, Brian!" Justin retorted. He reached into the backseat, feeling around. "Now where's that goddamn map? We'll never find our way to Florida without it!"
"Oh," said Brian. "We'll find our way. Somehow."
Stanton Correctional Facility for Men
"Looky! Looky! Looky!" Emmy called. "Looky what I've got!"
"Will you shut the fuck up? I'm trying to sleep!" Michelle whined from the bottom bunk. It was Saturday morning and she was trying to catch up on her beauty rest.
"Does that mean you don't want your mail?" Em sniped back. "If that's the case, then I'll take it directly back to the mailroom."
Emmy turned and pretended to sashay out of the cell.
"Give me my goddamn mail!" Michelle shrieked. "I'm expecting some new comic books from Ma!"
"They're here," Emmy sniffed, dropping a large manila envelope on the bunk. "I hope you and Superman have a lovely time. But you also got a postcard. And so did I!"
Michelle sat up. "A postcard? Who from?"
"Why don't you read it and see for yourself." Em held out the colorful postcard for Michelle to snatch away. "And I'll read mine, too!"
Michelle examined the card. "I bet you already read both of them on the way over here from the mailroom. I know you did! You're such a nosy bitch, Em!"
"Hey," Em retorted. "If I have to retrieve Her Majesty's mail, then I get to read it! Fair is fair!"
"What's up?" asked Barbie, stopping by to see what all the fuss was about. "Did Michelle borrow your shoes again, Em?"
"I never did!" Michelle blasted. "I was only trying them on!"
"Ladies, please!" said Emmy, calling for quiet. "Michelle and I both got postcards!"
"Oh!" Barbie cried. "Can I read the postcards? Nobody ever sends me any postcards!"
"Will you shut the hell up and let me read MY postcard!" said Michelle. "Cripes! Nobody gets any privacy around here!"
"Why don't you read it out loud so that we all may hear what our little Sunshine has to say?" Em suggested.
"Oh! Is it from Justin?" Barbie said in excitement, reaching for Michelle's postcard. "I want to see it! Please, let me see it!"
"Stop grabbing! I'll read mine if Emmy reads hers out loud, too," Michelle said, grudgingly. She held up the card for Barbie to see. "It's Gettysburg. It says right here: 'Gettysburg National Battlefield.'"
"Why would Justin want to go to a battlefield?" asked Barbie. "That sounds gory!"
Michelle rolled her eyes. "It's like a National Park, pea-brain! Haven't you ever heard of the Battle of Gettysburg? Or the Gettysburg Address? Abraham Lincoln?" But Barbie stared back blankly and shook her head.
"Why don't you simply read the postcard and save the history lesson for later?" said Em.
Michelle sighed melodramatically and began reading:
"Dear M -- Brian & I are on our way to Florida. I'm writing this from Virginia, but first we stopped at Gettysburg. I'm taking tons of pictures! Mom got me an Instamatic camera & it's great! Before we left your mom had a surprise party for us with a big cake & lots of food. I know that she wishes you were there. Maybe this fall you'll finally get your parole. Brian & I are keeping our fingers crossed. Justin."
"That's so sweet!" Barbie gushed. "I wish I could go to Florida!"
"You wish you could go anywhere, honey," said Emmy. "Unfortunately, none of us is going nowhere anytime soon."
"Ma didn't say anything to me about having a big party for Brian and Justin." Michelle gazed sadly at the postcard. Her next parole hearing wasn't until October and all she could do was hope that it went her way.
"When you get out, she'll have an even bigger party for you, sweetie," Em soothed. "I know she will."
"You'll be out before me," Michelle mumbled. "And you have a job as a Medical Technician all lined up that Dr. Caputo got for you! The best I can hope for is working as a dishwasher at the diner!"
"That's better than nothing," Barbie said cheerfully. "Better than going back to turning tricks, like me!"
"Hush, hon," said Emmy. "I'll read you all my postcard now. See? There's a picture of a mountain on it. Isn't that pretty?" Then Em cleared her throat:
"Dear Em -- This is Massanuttan Mt. in the Shenandoah Valley, just like the song. It's the Blue Ridge Mts. -- and they really do look blue! We are driving to Florida & taking our time, enjoying the view. Brian bought a T-bird & it's a great car. Sorry I haven't written as much as I should have, but I've been so busy. I already wrote you about my mom getting married to Ron. Enough said. I'll try to send a postcard whenever I can & to M. too. I know I'll see you all outside v. v. soon! Love, Justin."
Emmy handed Barbie the postcard to look at. "That's so pretty!" she said. "Are you gonna tape it up on the wall?"
"Of course," said Em. "And all the others Justin sends me. I hope when Justin and Brian get to Florida they send me a great big postcard of a pink flamingo! I'd love one of those."
Barbie frowned. "Why would they send you a picture of a plastic bird?"
"Not a lawn ornament, dummy!" Michelle said in exasperation. "A REAL flamingo! Like they have down in Florida!"
Barbie's eyes grew large. "You mean those things are real? Those funny pink birds? I thought they were fake!"
"Jesus!" moaned Michelle. "I have to get the hell out of here! Soon!"
"Well," huffed Barbie. "They don't have any birds that look like that in Scranton! How am I supposed to know they're for real?"
"If you had half a brain, you would!" Michelle settled herself back onto her bunk and turned away from the other two queens. "Now, if you'll excuse me -- I want to finish my nap!"
"Come on, sweetie," said Emmy, taking Barbie by the arm. "Don't mind Michelle. Let's find Jackie and Lou Lou. They'll want to see my postcard and hear what Justin has to say."
"I wish I was outside," said Barbie, as they walked down the tier. "In a T-bird! That's a cool car! I'd drive and drive and drive! If I knew how to drive, that is."
"Don't worry, honey," said Emmy. "You'll find someone to drive you. We both will." Em looked at the picture of the mountain on her postcard. All that space. All that sky. All that freedom. "When we get out."
Posted June 23, 2006.