Authors: Angie Sandro
New YorkÂ Â Boston
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For Nate, Kierstan, and Maxwell. I love you.
Prison's got to be worse. I don't even want to imagine how much, and since I haven't been hauled before the judge and sentenced yet, I don't have to. So while it's not all sunshine and daisies in my 10 x 5 steel-barred world, I count my blessings and pray for an out that doesn't involve me getting shanked.
I walk in front of the guard, making sure I don't stray too close to the bars of the other cells, and keep my gaze trained on the far door, ignoring the shouts of the prisoners. My shoulder blades twitch. Tingles run up my spine. The crinkling of the orange jumpsuit, the clank of the shackles attached to my wrists and ankles, and the
of my shuffling feet on concrete adds to the humiliation of being accused of attempted murder.
I'm innocent of that allegation, but I kinda think I deserve to fry for all the things I did that led me here.
I feel like the lowest piece of shit.
The temptation to ask the guard who my visitor is builds with each step, but I keep my question behind clenched teeth. I've been locked down in Cellblock A for weeks now, classified as a high-risk violent offender and housed with all of the other rapists and murderers. If I want to survive, I've got to follow the rulesâthe spoken and the unspoken.
Keep your mouth shut.
Watch your back.
Since my case is a high-profile crime, I take it a step further and also watch who's in front, sideâ¦
â¦I need another eye. Although exhausted 'cause I'm so on guard, I can't get a good night's sleep, which doesn't help keep me alert when I need to be. It's a catch-22 situation.
“Who's here for me?” I blurt out.
“No talking, Prisoner 245.” The guard sounds bored. He probably says the same line every time he takes someone out of their cell. Only the prisoner I.D. number changes.
I must look pathetic. I broke Rule One within minutes of hearing about my visitor. It's just driving me crazy not knowing who's here. I'll know soon enough, but the anticipation gnaws at my insides. 'Cause I hope it's her. Pray it's her. That she's finally forgiven me.
Hell, who else could it be? My so-called friends on the
think I'm dirt. Nobody came to the hospital while I recovered from my injury. After I got arrested, not even the nurses spoke to me unless it was about my eye.
Keep the socket clean. Take your antibiotics. Let us know if you're feverish. Are you in pain? Here are some meds. Oh, it's not about your eye. Your chest hurts. Why?
'Cause Mala LaCroix hates me.
How do you know?
'Cause she said so. Rather, screamed it. “I hate you, Landry. It's your fault Mama's dead.” Not a lot of room for doubtâ¦or hope to hold on to when the girl you're in love with accuses you of murdering her mother.
The guard unlocks the door from my cellblock. The shouts of the prisoners fade as the heavy metal door clinks shut. The narrow, gray hallway stretches before me. At the end will be the visiting room.
God, please let it be her.
This is the longest walk of my life.
The chain catches my ankle, and the stumble takes me to a knee. The guard yanks on my arm, and I stand quickly. “Keep moving.”
With a grunt, I shuffle forward.
The spirit of my dead sister, Lainey, possessed Mala and used her body to expose who murdered her. A win for my big sis. Not so much for the girl whose body she inhabited. Mala's pretty nonviolent, but her eyes burned with hatred after she remembered my part in her mom's death. If the doctor hadn't sedated her before she could reach me, she gladly would've plucked out my other eye.
My hand lifts, but the handcuffs are connected to a chain looped around my waist, and they keep me from rubbing the ache in my chest.
The hallway ends at a door. The guard pulls out a key and opens it to reveal a small room divided in half by a glass window. A telephone hangs on the wall. I duck my head and shuffle forward, afraid to meet the eyes of the girl on the other side of the glass.
“Sit down. You have five minutes,” the guard says.
I slide onto the metal stool bolted to the floor. “Thanks,” I say, staring at the roach crawling across the cement. I lift a foot and squish it. The guard grunts and leaves the room, locking the door behind him. A banging on the glass brings my head up.
Dena Acker scowls and waves the phone at me. I read as her lips move. “Pick it up, idiot.”
My mouth twitches.
The phone's dirty, but the short cord won't reach my jumpsuit so I can't wipe it off. I put it to my ear with a grimace. “Hey.”
“Hey? Is that all you've got to say?” Dena scrunches up her nose, reminding me of her cousin, and the pain in my chest flares again. It's amazing how much alike she and Mala are. It's hard to look at her.
“Dude, you're totally blowing the best five minutes of your short life.”
My gaze flicks up to meet hers. Worry flickers in the green. “Are you serious?”
“Have you gotten a better offer lately?” Springy red curls, only a little darker than the color filling her cheeks, fall across Dena's face as she shakes her head. She brushes them back with a huff. “Gosh, that sounded dirty. Didn't mean it to be, you know?”
“I know.” I lean forward. “Thanks for coming.”
“No. I mean it. You're my first visitor.”
“Well, technically, I'm here for someone else so it doesn't really count. Not that I wouldn't visit you on my own, but I'm not.”
“You're not making any sense.”
“I know. Sorry. I'm here because I'm worried about Mala.”
I suck in a breath, gripping the phone. “What do you mean?”
“Did you know she's still stuck in the psych unit?” She leans forward, gripping the phone so hard her knuckles whiten. “I tried to visit, but they said she can't have visitors unless it's immediate family. I guess distant cousin doesn't count. But she's being released in a few days. I thought maybe you'd like for me to give her a message.”
I stare at the fingerprints smearing the glass.
What do I say?
“She thinks I killed her mother. She won't want to hear anything I've got to say, Dee.”
“But you didn'tâ¦”
“Doesn't matter. Let it go.”
“Landry, we both know it's not true.” Her voice chokes. “I was there too. I saw what happened.”
Panic rushes through me. “Shut up!” Sweat runs down to sting my good eye and soaks the patch over my dead one. Dena wraps her arms around herself, shivering. I'm hot; she's cold. We're both terrified because we're so fucked.
All of us. Mala too. Only she doesn't know it yet.
Air fills my lungs. It smellsâa putrid body funk oozing from the walls. I take another deep breath anyway, trying to slow my racing heart. I glance at the sealed door, then the phone. If this conversation's being taped, then Dena just buried herself. “God, are you crazy, Dee? Keep your mouth shut,” I whisper. “It's not safe. You're on the outs. At least with Mala and me locked up, we're safe. Rathbone, my dad, your dad . . . they're still out there.”
Her voice wobbles. “I'm not scared of them.”
“You should be.” We both witnessed what they're capable of.
I scratch around the healing scar partially covered by the eye patch. The stitches itch.
Dena stares at me for a long moment. Her eyes flicker with whatever she's considering, then her jaw firms. “Doesn't matter what they try. I can get you out of here. If I tell the DA what I saw, he'll let you go. This isn't fair. It's not fair for Mala to think you had anything to do with Ms. Jasmine's murder. And it's not fair that I'm doing nothing to help.” Her lips pinch, and her gaze moves over my shoulder. The sound of the opening door makes her sit back. “I can't let it go, Landry. I
The pain in my chest intensifies as my lungs constrict. My breathing grows harsh. I know the signs of a panic attack. I've had a few in the last couple of weeks. It takes a few seconds to slow my racing thoughts.
“Give me a few more weeks, Dee. The DA doesn't have the evidence to take my case to trial. He'll have to drop the charges, and you won't have to get involved. I'm fine. This place sucks, but I get three meals a day. I'm learning to make license platesâ¦”
Dena's harsh laugh at my joke trails off into a sob. “I don't have a few more weeks. Dad disappeared. H-he hasn't even tried to contact us. The money's running out. I can't support the kids on my paycheck from Munchies. I don't know what to do, Landry. I want my best friends back.”
“Mala doesn't know about
, does she?”
“No, I never told her. I promised you I wouldn't, but this secret makes me feel like I'm the worst cousin in the world!” Her wail cuts off with a choked hiccup, and she runs the back of her hand beneath her nose, then looks at her hand in disgust. “Ewwâ¦”
“Yeah, not the brightest move.”
She gives a soggy laugh. “Shut up.”
A shadow falls over the table, and I whip around. The guard walked up on my blind side. I'm still not used to people being able to sneak up on me so easily. It makes me jittery.
The guard takes a quick step back, balanced on the balls of his feet in case I've lost my mind enough to attack him. It must happen more often than I thinkâcrazed prisoners flipping out in the visiting area.
When he sees I'm okay, his raised hands drop. “Two minutes.”
I nod and turn back to Dena.
Her wide eyes flicker. Rather than showing her that I can handle myself in here, she just witnessed how much at a disadvantage I am because of my injury. Not good. Dena's impulsive, and she doesn't have a clear sense of self-preservation when it comes to helping her friends. I'm scared for her.
“I've got to go.” I lay my palm against the sticky glass. “Don't come back hereâ¦and be careful, okay?”
Dena presses her hand adjacent to mine, and for a brief second, I imagine her warmth through the thick glass, then she hangs up the phone. Her shoulders slump as she walks to the locked door and waits to be buzzed out.
*Â Â *Â Â *
I stare up through the wire springs at the saggy, stained mattress above my head. Thank God my cellmate isn't a bed-wetter. A murderer, yes. I think waking up with a mouthful of piss every morning is ten times worse than worrying about whether I'll wake up at all. He tried to assert his dominance over me my first night, but a quick elbow to the face kept him from going hands-on in the shower. If I'd been thirty pounds lighter and three inches shorter, I'd have
tattooed on my ass.
We've kept an uneasy truce for the last five days. I sleep with my only eye open. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. But I'm definitely on edge, all the time. Going out into the rec yard is like rolling the dice. Who's gonna try to increase their rep by stepping up to me today? Will I make it back to my cell? So far, double sevens say it's my lucky day.
A snore comes from above, and I squint, wishing I had X-ray vision to see if Caleb's faking it. The tension between us has been building over the last day. A snitch, wanting to get on my good side, told me someone offered a lot of cashâmore than most convicts see in their lifetimeâto take me out. Money like that is hard to say no to. It's maybe even worth the risk of frying in the electric chair if it lets you take care of your family.
Caleb's looking at twenty years, less if he gets parole. Only an idiot would try to take me out while we're stuck sharing a cell with no one else around to shift the blame onto. Paranoia has me searching for threats where there may be none. It's more likely I'll get hit by another prisoner when the guards aren't around. I make sure to stay in groups when out of my cell. I need to find a protector, but so far I haven't been willing to do what it takes to earn a spot. I'm screwed. I'm just not desperate enough to
God, I've got to get out of here.
Dena said that Mala's being released. What's gonna happen to her? Where is she gonna go? What if I'm not the only one with a death threat on me? I can't protect her from in here.
Hell. I couldn't protect her before.
My brain itchesâa tickling at the base of my brain. A rush of anticipation floods through my body. I squeeze my eye shut as warmth spreads from my toes upward until I'm blanketed in it. The scent of orchids overpowers the stench of Caleb, and I draw in a deep breath. My muscles relax, and the ache behind my eye drains like water trickling down a drain.
A whisper of a caress traces across my cheek. I want to press my face against the hand, but I don't move. Too afraid I'll scare her away. Her emotions ripple across my bare skinâ¦that's the only way I can think to describe the sensation. Only I can't tell what she's feeling: anger, fear, disgustâ¦hate? No. That's what I'd feel toward me in her situation. A tiny piece of me hopes the reason Mala comes to me every night isn't to plot her revenge but 'cause she still cares.