Copyright © 2012, 2013 Camille Leone
This story is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and incidents are invented by the author or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental. All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
The dog was ugly. There was no other way to say it. She had big rabbit ears that were larger than her skinny head, with a mu le so thin her eyes protruded in surprise when she wasn!t e"en staring at nothing. She was like one o# those prehistori$ #ossils dug up #rom the ground be#ore they $lean it o## good. %er #ur was mud brown and maybe bla$k, but it was hard to tell when &e"aeh #irst got her be$ause it was so matted. 'nd she had these huge . . . no, they were these giant, massi"e paws that she kept tripping o"er. (ut then something $li$ked. 't about twel"e months o# age the ginormous ears made sense, be$ause she needed them to hear good. %er #orehead e)panded so her eyes didn!t look so popped. *lus those eyes o# hers were good #or seeing into a person!s soul, that!s what one o# the older inmates belie"ed. The spindly legs grew long and gained mus$le to support her body. The $olor o# her #ur wasn!t ugly, it was +ust di##erent. Cause the shades o# brown on a dog were ne"er meant to be the same as someone!s skin. (est o# all she!d shed that hard to brush hair, re"ealing a glossy under$oat that rippled when she ran in the prison yard, +ust like a #illy glinting sunlight on a ra$e tra$k. The only thing that stayed the same was all the bad dreams the dog had. &e"aeh de$ided to her name ,-yst. be$ause e"ery time she tried to wake her it was like she was $oming out o# a #og. 'nd -yst sounded $uter on a #emale than ,/og.. The nightmares worried her though. ,0 think -yst has that thing soldiers get, you know that post traumati$ stress . . . uh disease1. she told her $ellmate. ,Something bad happened to this dog.. &e"aeh had to go to the prison library to read up on PT !. 'nd when the "et $ame to $he$k on the dogs, she pestered her with so many 2uestions the do$tor said she should $onsider be$oming a "eterinarian on$e she #inally got out. (ut that was so many years away &e"aeh didn!t e"en want to think that #ar.
-yst!s amber eyes were e"er wat$h#ul, s$anning the gathering $rowd like she was a boun$er $he$king ea$h person!s 03. Today was her graduation day, but &e"aeh had to tug on the handle rising #rom the "est harness the dog wore 4$ause -yst seemed ready to walk o## on her own. ,5hat, you $an!t wait to get outta here huh16 &e"aeh $ouldn4t help teasing. 65ish 0 was going with you.. She bent down, pretending to ad+ust the harness, #inally relenting and hugging -yst tight. ,7ou know 0 don!t want you to go. 0!ll tell you a se$ret. -aybe nobody will want you, and 0!ll get to ha"e you all to mysel# a little longer.. (urying her #a$e in -yst!s thi$k #ur, $linging to her as i# holding #irm to a li#eline, all the #un they!d had earlier in the day seemed #leeting. The months o# training were now +ust a blur. Their last morning together started with -yst getting a bath and being blow dried by the ladies in the $osmetology program. They e"en trimmed and bu##ed her nails, and sprayed some lila$ toilet water behind her ears. (ut be#ore many o# the 6li#ers6 or women who4d ne"er be released #rom the 8ei$hert95est#ield Corre$tional /a$ility would let -yst lea"e their shop, there were tears and $om#orting embra$es, not only #or the dog but espe$ially #or &e"aeh. "ecause they knew. Somehow they +ust knew this was gonna be hard on her. So she pet -yst absentmindedly, her eyes taking in how ni$e the prison re$ room was de$orated. 0t looked +ust like the gym o# her old middle s$hool, #illed with balloons and posters, and there was a 3: playing musi$. 't her old s$hool there were dan$es with lots o# $haperones in $ase #ighting broke out. 't end o# the night parents usually waited in their $ars to pi$k kids up, and one time a boy she liked held her hand as he waited with her, be$ause her #oster brother -arko ne"er showed up. She $aught a ride home #rom the art tea$her, and it was $ool be$ause she got to sit up #ront in a 3odge 3urango. -yst leaned her head ba$k, impatiently kno$king into &e"aeh!s hip like she knew to snap her out o# the past. (eing in$ar$erated ga"e &e"aeh way too mu$h time to think about what she used to en+oy but ne"er wanted to admit, like those stupid dan$es. She ga"e the dog a s$rat$h under her $hin, and to show that she en+oyed it -yst $losed her eyes and let out a little growl o# $ontentment. 't twenty9si) months old she was no longer the littlest one in their #irst o##i$ial group o# ser"i$e dogs.
She used her knu$kle to gi"e -yst an a##e$tionate rap on the head. The program dire$tor walked by them smiling, then did a double take and pi"oted ba$k their way. ,0 +ust $an!t get o"er the $hange in this dog,. -iss (artella said. ,She +ust looks so di##erent. 0t makes me want to s$ream with +oy be$ause she!s gone through su$h an ama ing trans#ormation.. -ost o# the inmates wished they $ould say the same about -iss (artella. &o one at the $orre$tional #a$ility had e"er seen the sto$ky built woman in a boring dress, and today!s graduation $eremony was no e)$eption. The out#it she wore looked like a man!s suit +a$ket thrown o"er a bun$h o# $ra y $olored s$ar"es. She was still wearing #lats though. &e"aeh didn!t think -iss ( would e"er part with those ballet shoes that $urled up at the toes. %er hair was like she always wore it, a single long braid rea$hing to the ba$k o# her knees, with grey hair spiraling o## her #orehead. &e"aeh #elt like rea$hing out and pushing more o# -iss (artella!s loose hairs ba$k, be$ause somebody as ni$e as -iss ( deser"ed looking a#ter. She wanted to tell -iss (artella that her dress was ni$e, but #irst she had to #ake $ough into her #ist to hide how bad she wanted to laugh. The other dog trainers had their heads down or turned to the side, but their shoulders were shaking as they pretended they were laughing at something else. The #a$t that nobody said anything to -iss (artella was a good sign. (e$ause there ne"er would!"e been a puppy program without her. So in a weird way inmates were showing how mu$h they really liked her. &e"aeh stepped ba$k instead, sin$e that #our #oot long braid o# -iss (!s was whipping around like a lasso. The woman was $lapping and getting e)$ited o"er some inmate artwork. ,Look at all the lo"ely doggie portraits;. she s2uealed. ,<oh, there are some really talented artists here. 3id you do one #or -yst1. 5hen &e"aeh told her ,&o. -iss (artella made a point o# gi"ing her a pouty sad #a$e. (ut hell, the only reason #or all the drawings was =$ause they helped $o"er up the $ra$king plaster and the hole >iara 5iggins made when she bashed a new girl!s head into the wall. She wanted to point that out but -iss (artella was ba$k talking about -yst. 'nother thing about -iss ( was how she always +umped #rom one sub+e$t to another and then ba$k to the same sub+e$t. 0t $ould be $on#using #or people who didn!t know her.
,0t!s not +ust how she!s $hanged physi$ally,. -iss ( told her. ,She!s so $alm and attenti"e. 0 ne"er would ha"e thought . . . what 0 mean is, 0!m really proud o# the +ob you!"e done with her.. 0t #elt strange to get a $ompliment and a serious #a$e #rom her program dire$tor, so &e"aeh +ust stared at the #loor. 5hen a guard $ir$led them, $he$king out -iss (!s out#it and trying to $ra$k a +oke, the girl ga"e a silent warning by narrowing her eyes. ?ye balling was an in#ra$tion that $ould earn her a demerit, but she!d risk it. -iss (artella said she wanted to show -yst o## to the people who donated to the program. She $ommanded -yst to go #orward, adding in a #unny $lu$k with her tongue. ,Come on you beauty you, time to take a photo #or the bro$hure.. -yst got up, wea"ing through the $rowd with her tail slowly #anning in anti$ipation. Three years ago it ne"er would ha"e e"en bothered her that -iss (artella had de$ided to take a dog o"er #or a pi$ture and not in$lude her. So maybe she hadn!t $hanged enough. <r maybe she had. (e#ore when she thought her old #oster mother was making a di##eren$e in her and the other kids she would!"e said something. *robably e"en a$ted up. &ow when she noti$ed things like that it was better +ust to keep 2uiet. 5ithout -yst by her side and all the new people #iling into the room she wasn!t sure what to do. ' Channel Si) &ews reporter was running through her notes so &e"aeh stood o## to the side, wat$hing enough times to memori e the intro and mouth the words right along with her. She looked on in #as$ination as the reporter stumbled o"er one o# her senten$es, then stopped in e)asperation. &e"aeh $ouldn!t help admiring her $lothes and the tiny golden hoops on her ears. The teen was standing so $lose that the $ameraman nodded #or her to mo"e out the way, $ausing the reporter to glan$e o"er her shoulder. The #irst thing that popped out &e"aeh!s mouth in between $hewing on her #ingernails was a shy ,0 like your earrings. They!re pretty.. ,5hy, aren!t you sweet,. the reporter said, the smile on her apple red lips genuinely #ake. ,(ut you!re the pretty one.. Turning ba$k to her $ameraman, the woman!s sugary "oi$e dropped a $ouple o# o$ta"es and be$ame all business. ,Let!s get the County Sheri## and State Senator (uyers on tape, then a #ew o# the dogs and their new owners, oh, and some o# the prisoners9. %er three in$h heels swi"eled, $arrying her away #rom all the other prisoners gaping at her. <kay, so the reporter had blown her o##. (ut &e"aeh $ouldn!t help glowing #rom a se$ond
$ompliment. @rier, a #emale $orre$tional o##i$er she $ouldn!t stand leaned in $lose, imitating her. <nly she sounded nerdy and mo$king. #$ like your earrings.% &e"aeh!s good mood wilted. ' #ew inmates laughed on $ue be$ause no one wanted to be on @rier!s bad side. The $orre$tional o##i$er!s hard stare tra"eled #rom the top o# &e"aeh!s $ornrows to her baggy +umpsuit, then down to her sneakers. ,&h 'iss T( lady, $ sure do like your earrings. 7ou!re piti#ul, you know that1 /ollowing that reporter around +ust like that dog #ollows you. 0!m so glad this!ll be the last day 0!ll ha"e to see the two o# you together. 'nd don!t you roll your eyes at me.. @rier pin$hed her thumb and inde) #inger together to emphasi e her threat. ,7ou!re this $lose to getting more demerits little girl. 0!"e already got you down #or eyeballin! me.. 'nger rose in &e"aeh!s $hest. 0t $rept up her throat and threatened to spill #rom her mouth in $urse words. Someone had a hold o# her arm, stopping her #orward progress. Top hea"y with broad shoulders and kno$k knees, @rier ga"e a look that dared her to try something. ,0!ll be wat$hing you $lose today be$ause 0 know you!ll do something stupid. 7ou and me little girl, we!"e got a date in solitary. 'nd your $ounselor won!t be able to do a damn thing #or you. . 't the mention o# her $ounselor &e"aeh $ould +ust hear -rs. Cosgro"e saying ,5hen you don!t know what to do, don!t do anything.. So the only thing stopping her #rom going a#ter @rier was -rs. Cosgro"e!s ad"i$e. She!d done her best to get out o# doing any real work be#ore the $eremony, so she stomped o"er to a table #ull o# sna$ks and blindly poured some pun$h into a $up. @rier was wat$hing her e"ery mo"e, probably e"en thinking she was headed her way to throw pun$h in her #a$e. <nly &e"aeh ga"e her an e)tra sweet smile and went in the opposite dire$tion, toward a young soldier with a $rooked name tag. She bent down to look at him, her words $oming out #ast and breathy be$ause she was still upset. ,%ey, 0 brought you some9. %er eyes widened at the $omatose stare he ga"e her in return. &o wonder soldier boy was o## by himsel#. %e was high.
Lan$e Corporal :oshua 3u"al #elt like one o# those park monuments, a towering iron #a$ed statue that had "isitors awed enough to read its pla2ue. 3e$ked out in his dress blues, it #elt like the whole $rowd was looking his way. <n the outside e"erything was in pla$e. %is shoes were spit shined, his +a$ket buttons polished, pants sharply $reased and his $ap was on straight. %e didn!t want the attention but the uni#orm basi$ally di$tated he!d get it, only now he wished he!d worn $amos. Anderneath the military attire he was sweating. 0t was an i$y sweat, a $old dread o# being a s$rew up in #ront o# all these people who probably thought he had it together. %e was damp but not soaked, not like he!d been a#ter lugging si)ty pounds o# gear and #ighting in that bla ing, bloody #urna$e $alled '#ghanistan. <ne interrupted tour o# duty $ourtesy o# a road bomb, and instead o# being in the herea#ter he!d been #or$ed to su##er through twel"e surgeries and grueling therapy. &ow he was adding another $rut$h to his wheel$hair, his $arousel o# medi$ations and his do$tors. <nly this one would ha"e #our legs. Light #ingers tapped his shoulder, $he$king to make sure he was okay. %e managed to let out a mu$h too hearty ,7es -a!am,. be#ore someone handed him a plasti$ $up #ull o# pun$h. 8emo"ing his $ap and sipping the drink +ust to be polite, his ga e wandered along the $up!s $olor#ul, leaping pups. ' table$loth had an e"en bigger "ersion o# dogs at play under all the dainty sandwi$hes and sna$ks. (ut the re$eption area where the $eremony was being held was a $ruel +oke. Streamers and $repe paper letters wel$omed guests, while in$h thi$k bars rein#or$ed the windows. Twenty #oot steel #en$es were topped with looping, rip your #lesh to the bone ra or wire. The pla$e reminded him o# a war one instead o# a women!s prison. %e shook hands, woodenly gi"ing his name and nodding whene"er someone spoke to him. %e win$ed at all the noise and inwardly shuddered under the bright lights, #eeling e)posed and "ulnerable, like he was an easy target. Semi9$ons$ious during the spee$hes, e"ery so o#ten a smattering o# applause +erked him to attention. 0t didn!t seem like he was missing anything. Some big shots at the prison were being gi"en an award. Then the program dire$tor began boun$ing on her toes and $lapping, trying to get the $rowd e)$ited as the pro$ession o# $anines began. %is dog was somewhere in this herd o#
mi)ed breeds large and small, but he didn!t know whi$h one. (ored out o# his mind, he blew a so#t whistle, not really e)pe$ting any o# the dogs to hear. ' regal looking @erman Shepherd $o$ked its head his way, making eye $onta$t be#ore a $rush o# bodies blo$ked their sight. :osh didn!t dare hope that dog was his. ' mutt would be okay, espe$ially sin$e he wasn!t planning on keeping it that long. ' nearby $amera #lash made him #lin$h, the e)plosion o# light reminding him o# mu le #ire. 0t $aused him to be e"en more +umpy, the need to go o## somewhere by himsel# rat$heting higher. ,That!s -yst!s new owner, do you see him1. -iss ( steered &e"aeh!s shoulders in the dire$tion o# . . . soldier boy. The smile on the girl!s #a$e #ro e, be$ause she $ouldn!t belie"e what -iss ( +ust said. &e"aeh tried to make her mouth work, but the words wouldn!t $ome out. -iss (artella had an e)pe$tant look on her #a$e, like she already knew what &e"aeh was about to say. ,%e!s the son o# a ma+or donor. 0 know, 0 +ust #ound out mysel#.. %er whole body seemed happy as she did a little +ig. ,0 told you -yst wasn!t the only one who!d $hanged. 0!m so proud o# you; <# all the inmates you!re the only one who reali ed who he was and you made him #eel wel$ome. . &e"aeh had no $hoi$e but to tell her. ,-iss (, he!s high9. Taking the girl!s #a$e in her hands, -iss (artella!s "oi$e dropped almost to a whisper. ,%e!s on medi$ation &e"aeh.. )as there a difference* She wanted to say. (ut she $ouldn!t. %er $heeks were s$run$hed tight between -iss (artella!s palms as the woman!s eyes drilled into hers. 0t was like she was trying to will her to do as she said. ,Today!s your day to really shine. 0 know how hard it is #or you to gi"e -yst up. (ut you!"e trained her well, now let her be the instrument o# assistan$e she was meant to be.. They were almost nose to nose, so $lose that &e"aeh $ould see -iss (!s twin greenish blue irises. Close enough that -iss (!s #ri y little grey hairs were ti$kling her #orehead. ,0t!s not +ust -yst we!"e got to think o#, it!s also the program. %is #amily ga"e a wonder#ul donation,. -iss (artella e)plained. ,:ust think how many more years we $an sa"e dogs and train them. 'nd there!s e"en enough #or the new nursery.. The puppy program. The newborn nursery. This guy was the key to all that* '#ter one last emphati$ stare, -iss ( #inally released her. &e"aeh shook o## her ne$k $ramp and glan$ed around the room at all the happy #a$es. ' $ouple o# prisoners and brand new dog
owners were being $orralled to gi"e inter"iews #or that lady reporter. The 'ttorney @eneral o# the whole state was standing ne)t to the warden. 5hen she spotted C< @rier, they stared ea$h other down. The guard was stu##ing her #a$e, drinking and raising her $up e"en with all the $rumbs lining her mouth and pun$h dripping on her uni#orm $ollar. @rier!s e)pression seemed to say go ahead, $ told you that you+d mess this up. $+ve got money riding on you doing that very thing. ,-yst, lead,. &e"aeh said, her "oi$e $ommanding, her shoulders thrust ba$k like she!d been doing this all her li#e. (ut with ea$h step her heart sank.
There was a girl walking the @erman Shepherd around and through the $rowd. 'nd she was de#initely $oming towards him. The dog!s nails $li$ked loudly, high stepping in eagerness. &r maybe he was ,ust imagining it* ?ither way he $ould swear the Shepherd!s eyes #lared in re$ognition. The trainer must ha"e sensed something was o## be$ause she stopped to gi"e a $orre$ting tug on the harness so the dog!s attention was ba$k on her. The girl looked un$om#ortable, but she still ga"e him a tight smile. %ope#ully he!d done a passable +ob o# returning it. :ust like his legs, his #a$e #elt rubbery. 't least her e)pression didn!t turn to pity when he struggled to get up to greet her, espe$ially sin$e he was doing his best not to whee e in her #a$e. Some awkward moments later he was towering o"er her and the dog, managing to get out his name and a "ery deep ,-a!am. and ,8eal pleased to meet you.. &e"aeh pla$ed a hand atop -yst!s #orehead, gently stroking brown #ur that dissol"ed into a bla$k widow!s peak. ,%ey, 0!m &e"aeh.. She ga"e him another smile, a sad one that lingered as she $he$ked out his military uni#orm and #inally met his eyes. ,'nd this beauty is -yst.. <n $ue the dog stru$k a 5estminster (est in Show pose, so :osh did a 2ui$k inspe$tion. %er nose was $oal bla$k and so was her mu le, with a butter#ly shape o# ginger brown that rose #rom her $hest to her ne$k and her broad +aw line, all the way up to her eyes. -ost o# her long body was bla$k, with a dusting o# beige on her #ront and ba$k legs. :osh let out a throaty laugh as he admired the dog!s lean but striking build. ,-yst!s a #emale right1. he asked. The trainer turned her head #rom him, muttering something. That!s when -yst!s handler got his #ull attention. =&e"aeh! was +ust a kid, baby #at still making her $heeks round and smooth. 'uch too young to be locked up. %e bet she was into $lothes, the latest styles that did more #or her than that orange sherbet +umpsuit. Ap $lose she had upturned eyes that shrewdly looked him o"er, and a #aint mousta$he, making it seem like she wasn!t as #ragile as he!d #irst thought. ,<h man, 0 wanted this one but 0 thought #or sure she was going to someone else.. The e)$itement in his "oi$e didn!t mat$h his eyes as #ar as &e"aeh was $on$erned. (ut at least his eyes looked $learer. They shook hands, then she suggested they get out the middle o#
the all the $ommotion. ,5e don!t ha"e to go #ar. :ust o"er in the $orner so we $an hear ea$h other better.. %e $ould do that. <nly somehow the pla$e had turned into an obsta$le $ourse. Chairs that had been neatly arranged #or the $eremony were now blo$king his way. &e"aeh reali ed her mistake as soon as the words $ame out o# her mouth. /eeling all kinds o# stupid, she tried to $lear a path. ?"erything in her body s$reamed to o##er help, but that look o# =0 got this! on the soldier!s #a$e made her think twi$e. 0mplanting his $ane into the #loor like a ski pole, :osh swung his right leg out wide, taking a +erky step, then repeating the pro$ess with his le#t. huffle, stop, take a deep breath. lide one foot in front of the other. @ritting his teeth against the pain he tried his best to walk straight, o"erhearing someone mention they had a wheel$hair a"ailable, but then someone else 2ui$kly hushed down the suggestion. (y the time they made it to the $orner he was pained and out o# breath. Those #ew #eet were like $limbing up a steep hill $arrying a ba$kpa$k o# ro$ks. ,0!ll get a $hair #or you,. &e"aeh o##ered. 5hen he didn!t protest she turned to lea"e. She ordered the dog to stay, and -yst!s hind 2uarters obediently hit the #loor, her #urry tail sweeping #rom le#t to right like a #eather duster. 0nstead o# pi$king up the $hair &e"aeh pushed9 pulled it o"er, making a game o# it by ooming around him and using sound e##e$ts, as i# she were dri"ing a ra$e $ar that +ust skidded to a stop. :osh nodded in thanks but didn!t sit down, leaning all his weight on his $ane. ,0t!s mu$h better #or me i# 0 stand,. he said, still su$king in air. ,0 sit all day in a wheel$hair most o# the time. 0!ll be walking . . . without a $ane soon. Standing upright two hours a day.. %e ga"e her a pained look, inhaling deeper. ,'t least . . . that!s my goal.. ,7ou look like you!re doing real good with that.. She said it so easy and en$ouraging he $ould see how she!d managed to train the dog. (ra$ing himsel# against the wall with a straight arm, the urge to taste a $igarette between his lips grew o"erwhelming. ,3o you smoke1. he threw out o"er his shoulder as &e"aeh and -yst wat$hed him pull a $igarette pa$k #rom o# his inner +a$ket po$ket. :osh glan$ed her way, and a#ter seeing her disappro"ing glare he #igured he should!"e asked permission #irst. ,0s it okay i# 0 smoke in here1. She shook her head no. ,5e!"e got a pla$e outside though9.
%is hand was shaking as he tried stu##ing the pa$k inside his +a$ket again. %e shook so bad the entire thing dropped to the #loor, spilling $igarettes e"erywhere. &e"aeh ordered -yst to pi$k up the pa$k. ,&o, ST'7,. :osh said, blo$king the dog with the bottom o# his $ane. -yst!s $hest hit the wood and she $almly sat down. (ut &e"aeh!s e)pression told him she thought he was $ra y. ,090 don!t need help, not with this,. he mumbled. /ed up with him trying to use the rubber tip o# the $ane to nudge the pa$k $loser, she had to speak. ,5hy!d you ask #or a dog i# you won!t let her do what she!s trained #or1. ,0 $an do this mysel#. 0t!s the only way 0!ll get9. ,7ou!ll get what1. ,0!ll get ba$k to some kind o# normal li#e.. 5ith $heeks #lushed #rom embarrassment and e)ertion, his "oi$e $ame out sharper than he meant it to. She snorted, $ompletely disregarding what he!d said. 'gain she $ommanded -yst to retrie"e the pa$k e"en as he demanded that the dog stay put. They s$owled at ea$h other until &e"aeh took $harge. ,So go ahead then, pi$k up your mess ya damn sel#.. That made him angry and he tried bending, only his knees wouldn!t $ooperate. <n$e his knees wouldn!t respond he almost #ell against the wall. 0nstead o# grabbing him by the elbow or an arm, both her arms went around his waist, lowering him slowly. ,5hoa, 0!"e got you.. <ne o# her hands bra$ed his ba$k as she helped him into the $hair. ,-y #oster mother was always #alling o"er, $ause she!s old. So 0 got used to helping her up.. &e"aeh kept breathing hard a#ter she got him seated. ,See, this is why 0 2uit smoking. 0t!s bad #or your lungs.. Tension was in his "oi$e along with strain on his #a$e. ,0 said 0 didn!t need any help.. There was silen$e, as i# she $ouldn!t belie"e he wanted to go there. The deepness o# her "oi$e stru$k his ears like thunder. ,Ah, e)$use you soldier boy. Truth is you didn!t want any help.. ,7es -a!am, 0 didn!t want any help,. he snapped. ,'nd 0!m a AS -arine, not a soldier. &r a boy.% She opened her mouth to respond, then $losed it. %er dark eyes glowered in anger but she didn!t say anything ba$k. %e ga"e a low groan o# #rustration a#ter he saw how $rushed his $igarette pa$k was, shooting her an a$$using look.
,Sorry. @uess it happened when 0 was helping you,. she said, but he $ouldn!t miss the satis#a$tion in her tone. ,-a!am, 0 told you 0 need to get ba$k on my #eet. 0 don!t need to be babied.. ,Look, this ain!t about you. 0 don!t want anybody blaming me i# you get hurt.. ,<h.. Still pouting e"en as she knelt to snat$h up broken $igarettes, her words poured out. ,7eah =oh!. 7ou know other people ha"e problems too. 'nd would you please 2uit with all the =ma!am! stu##1 0# you!re pissed then imagine how 0 #eel. ?spe$ially sin$e 0 +ust knew 0 was training -yst #or somebody who really needed her. ' person who really wanted her.. Those on$e #riendly eyes burned him. ,&ot somebody $oming in here all high9. 8ising in anger, &e"aeh blinked a #ew times be$ause she needed to remember where she was and who she was talking to. She $ould tell he!d been hurt in some kind o# e)plosion be$ause the skin on his hands were the $olor o# meat with lines o# #at, really red and broken up with pink. %is hair was $ut $lose to his s$alp, and now that he was seated she $ould see a $res$ent shaped s$ar going #urther ba$k on his head. %e also looked skinnier than he should!"e been #or someone his height. 3ude was really tall. (ut be$ause his knees were mostly bent the wrong way he stooped. %e had deep blue eyes, $lose to the na"y $olor o# his uni#orm. ,0 understand you!re a -arine and all, but 0 don!t think you!ll be a good #it #or her. 7ou probably won!t e"en use -yst, sin$e you a$t like you don!t want any help,. she said. %e 2ui$kly $ut her o##. ,The dog!s part o# my senten$e, okay1 The prose$utor ga"e me a $hoi$e. *robation and a dog, or 0 end up in +ail9. “Oh. My. God.” '#ter a twirl o# e)asperation, she nailed him with an a$$using #inger aimed at his $hest. ,0 wanna know something, do you e"en like dogs1. ,090 like =em all right.. ,(ut would you ha"e e"en thought about getting a dog i# some prose$utor hadn!t o##ered you a deal1. %e hesitated answering. ,&o, probably not.. 0t wasn!t one o# those '%'; @ot $ha moments. (ut it was $lose enough. The look she ga"e him was so withering he #elt like he had been pulled down to the #loor and was looking up at her. <kay, they really had started o## wrong. So he needed to $ontain the damage. ,-a!am B0 mean &e"aeh, $an we do this o"er1.
She ga"e him another simmering glare as she bent to snat$h the last $igarette o## the #loor, straightening out the pa$k and $he$king to see i# any others were broken. -entally she added up how mu$h getting a new pa$k would $ost, espe$ially sin$e she didn!t ha"e any $ommissary money to spare. The $ellophane was $rinkled, but he still had more than hal# le#t, =$ause he wasn!t getting shit #rom her. ,0!m listening,. was her only response. %e started again in earnest. ,-y name!s :oshua 3u"al. -ost people +ust $all me :osh. So, i# you want to9. &othing but stony silen$e. (ut she didn!t +erk the dog away in disgust, so he kept going. ,Something happened to me o"er in '#ghanistan, about a year and a hal# ago. 0!"e got pie$es o# shrapnel still lodged in my brain, and 0!m pretty beat up. (ut 090!m +ust trying to get ba$k on my #eet,. he #lashed a smile, the one that usually had #emales admitting he was kind o# $ute. ,So maybe this great dog that you!"e trained so well, maybe she $an help me get to where 0 want to be.. %e got a smirk #rom her in return #or his spee$h, $ausing him to $hu$kle and drop his head. She was pretty tough to win o"er. ,7eah :osh, 0 $an tell you!re all about getting somewhere #ast. (ut i# you don!t wat$h out you!ll be #lat on your ba$k again and probably tied to a hospital bed.. This time he grudgingly nodded in agreement, be$ause although she was blunt, she was right. ,0# 0 hurt your #eelings, 0!m sorry,. she said, running a hand down -yst!s long snout. ,That!s what 0!m learning about in here, =$ause it!s something 0 ha"e a hard time with. 0!m always telling other people what to do and 0 $an!t e"en do stu## #or mysel#. -y $ounselor says 0!"e got an attitude problem.. ,8eally1. he looked at -yst #or support, a$ting as i# her re"elation sho$ked him. ,%ow $ome 0 didn!t noti$e1. ,<kay soldier bo9. %is $hin +utted out de#ensi"ely as she threw up her hands. ,'lmost, 0 almost said it but 0 $aught mysel#.. They laughed in unison, putting them both more at ease. %e #elt e"en better when she ga"e him a shy smile. ,So $an 0 please tell you about -yst1 *lu9eese1.
%e tried being #unny, gi"ing her a wa"e o# his hand to pro$eed. &e"aeh s$owled at him, but he $ould tell she wanted to laugh. The prepared spee$h she went o"er was #a$tual and spoken sti##ly. She told him what it meant to own a ser"i$e dog. She e)plained how he had the right to take -yst into publi$ pla$es, like restaurants and supermarkets be$ause it was a #ederal law. She said he!d ha"e to get permission to enter someone!s home, sin$e it was $onsidered pri"ate. <ne minute she!d be snippy and almost snarling when he!d $ut in, making her lose her train o# thought. The ne)t she!d demand to know i# he!d be good to the dog. '#ter #inishing she ner"ously $hewed on her #ingernails, wanting to know up#ront how he!d grade her presentation. Those large, almost lunar eyes o# hers took in e"erything, like when a guard got too nosey and she +ust glared at the woman until she #inally le#t. ,That!s my C<,. she told him. 5hen he asked what the letters meant, she e)plained that a C< in prison was a $orre$tional o##i$er. ,0n the -arines a C< is your $ommanding o##i$er,. he said. She +ust nodded, like it was something good to know. 5hen he told her how ni$e he thought her eyes were, instead o# thanking him she mentioned how kids use to tease her, $alling her ?. T. and '"atard. They also rode her about the shadow o"er her top lip. She said they!d $all her Chewba$$a and would $laim she was really a guy. %e was about to tell her they were probably +ust haters when a #oam $o"ered mike passed between their #a$es like an e$lipse, $ourtesy o# some news reporter. 0t was +ust what he needed right about now, an inter"iew to let the whole world know the #irst meeting with his new ser"i$e dog was a bust.
Chapter Fi e
's the news $ameraman re$orded them, &e"aeh had -yst per#orm ,/ridge #et$h. where the dog used her teeth to yank on a dishrag tied around a re#rigerator handle, making the door pop open. <n$e inside -yst se$ured a $an o# soda and pla$ed it in :osh!s lap. 0n $elebration o# a task $ompleted su$$ess#ully they e)$hanged high #i"es, with his palm hitting her airborne paw. &e"aeh had -yst demonstrate how she $ould turn on a light swit$h by bumping it with her nose. /or her ne)t task -yst gently s$rat$hed on a $abinet to spring it open, retrie"ing spe$i#i$ items. She played tug o# war so :osh $ould rise #rom a seated position by holding one end o# a rope while she mightily pulled on the other. &e"aeh had the dog pi$k up keys on the #loor, and showed how the poo$h $ould be a li#e sa"er in $ase o# an emergen$y. -yst had e"en been trained to dig a $ell phone #rom a +a$ket or a trouser po$ket and bring it to her owner. '#ter running the dog through her pa$es, &e"aeh handled the reporter!s 2uestions like she!d been doing it all her li#e. :osh didn!t remember mu$h about what he said, but he ga"e a $ouple o# one syllable answers. Somehow he!d $ome down with a deer in the headlights look while &e"aeh was a natural in #ront o# the $amera. The way the reporter was staring at him, he e)pe$ted her to bark out ,-uit dragging ass !uval.. any moment. -!A was his drill instru$tor!s #a"orite taunt during boot $amp. '#ter the reporter $alled the inter"iew a wrap, :osh $lapped and hooted #or &ea"eh. ,So did 0 do okay1. she asked, hoping his $riti2ue wouldn!t make her $ringe. %e surprised her by sounding impressed. ,7ou were ama ing; Truly awesome. 7ou!"e got some serious skills in #ront o# the $amera.. &e"aeh was e"en more e$stati$ at getting another $ompliment. She ga"e a little giggle be#ore adding, ,@ood thing she didn!t $at$h us arguing. &ow that would a really been bad, espe$ially on tape.. ,'w, we weren!t that bad. 'nd 0 promise 0!m "ery lo"able on$e you get to know me,. he +oked. ,7eah, 0 guess so. 3id you see her bra$elet though1 0t was pretty. 0 liked the way her nails were done too. The $olor was ni$e.. She kept glan$ing in the dire$tion o# the reporter, a bit
en"ious as the woman #lipped her hair and pursed her lips as she $on#erred with the $ameraman on where to go #or their ne)t shot. ,0# only 0!d taken that plea deal . . .. &e"aeh!s "oi$e sounded pain#ully wist#ul, like his o#ten was. ' se$ond or two later, or an in$h or less $ould ha"e meant the di##eren$e between the li#e he had now and the one he!d en"isioned #or himsel#. %e!d no sooner stepped #oot in '#ghanistan when he was almost blown to pie$es, $oming home with +ust about e"ery bone in his body $lamped together. ,0ts hea"en,. he blurted, as i# something #inally $ame to him. ,%uh1. ,7our name. &e"aeh is hea"en spelled ba$kwards.. ure, whatever. Like they both didn!t +ust hear the reporter say that same thing minutes ago. &ow she was $ertain he was high on something, espe$ially with how he was grinning, ob"iously pleased he!d #inally $aught on. ,0 bet you!"e heard that all your li#e,. he said. ,7ep, that and people $alling me &e9 Cee9 ah instead o# &e9 Cay 9eh. 0 guess it!s better than ha"ing them $all me %ea"en. That!s my real name. *retty weird huh1. ,0 $an see how that $ould really damage a person.. %e said it so dryly that she threatened him with a #ist, making him really $ra$k up. They both had another laugh, and #or the #irst time in a long while :osh #elt $om#ortable being around a #emale. ,0 always wanted a dog when 0 was little,. he admitted, snapping his #ingers to get -yst to look his way. ,Couldn!t ha"e one be$ause (eth, 0 mean my mother said she was allergi$ to them, but 0 really wanted a dog +ust like -yst. 0 lo"e this breed.. ,That!s . . . interesting.. Something about the way she hesitated made him think she still wasn!t sure -yst should go with him. (ut her hold on the dog!s harness sla$ked, and -yst made her way o"er to him. 's soon as he s$rat$hed her #ur, he #elt a tingle. ' pat e"ol"ed into one long stroke down the nape o# her ne$k. The dog stood silently at attention, her ears perked into points, her tongue hanging out the side o# her mouth as she ga"e o## a so#t pant. emper fidelis, semper fortis. 'lways #aith#ul. -ost o# the other dogs were running through their training, so po$kets o# applause $ould be heard ea$h time a task was su$$ess#ully per#ormed.
,Ah, are you ready to work with her on your own1. &e"aeh asked, slowly taking o## the dog!s harness, then putting it ba$k on so he $ould learn how to remo"e it himsel#. ,0!ll +ust wat$h, and i# you ha"e any 2uestions 0!ll be $lose by okay1. %e ga"e her a sure, why not shrug. ,0!m all yours..
/e has a really nice smile. That!s all &e"aeh $ould think about as she wat$hed :osh and -yst get to know one another. ' #ew times he!d look #rom -yst to her, not asking #or help, +ust $he$king to see that she was nearby. %e almost $aught her s$rat$hing at her s$alp a $ouple o# times. %er $ellmate had braided her hair too tight, making it #eel as i# "eins were popping along her temples. 0t was like her #orehead was li#ting #urther up ea$h time she smiled ba$k at him. (ut he wasn!t paying her that mu$h attention, +ust talking so#tly to -yst. <n the outside someone like him would!"e passed her on the street without so mu$h as a glan$e. So it was #unny that they had something like $aring about dogs in $ommon. ,This is su$h a beauti#ul dog,. he murmured, $ontinuing to stroke -yst. <# $ourse he needed a dog, +ust #or a little while. %a"ing one would gi"e him something to do. (e$ause dogs still had to be walked, and #ed . . . and petted. The really good part was unlike his "isiting nurse, they didn!t nag. 'nd they didn!t +udge. This one seemed $alm enough. 0t was like she $ould sense whene"er he was ill at ease. She was doing e"erything possible to get him $om#ortable with the situation. She e"en $o$ked her head his way and li$ked his wrist in a sign o# a##e$tion. ,So how $ome you!re in here1. he wondered aloud. &e"aeh!s eyes widened. She hadn!t e)pe$ted him or anyone to want to know about her $rime. ?"en that reporter hadn!t asked. She mumbled an answer. ,0!m in here #or uh9. %e was hoping it wasn!t what she #inally whispered a#ter working her mouth, swallowing hard and #inally $oming out with it. ,/or murder..
:osh wasn!t startled by her admission e"en though his hand paused on -yst!s ne$k. ,0t!s +ust that you seem . . . you look kinda young to be in here, in a women!s prison..
,@ot $harged as an adult,. she said. ,'s an a$$ompli$e. 0!"e been in prison sin$e 0 was thirteen1. %er deep brown eyes sear$hed his, as i# he $ould gi"e her the answer. Then she shook her head like reality had +ust $ome to her. ,5ait, 0!m almost se"enteen, so 0 think 0 had +ust turned #ourteen. They arrested me at thirteen. 0!"e been in +ail sin$e then. 0 got $on"i$ted at #ourteen =$ause 0 $an remember how the prose$utor said 0 wasn!t really a kid. %e said 0 was $old blooded, espe$ially how 0 was a$ting at my trial.. She told her story matter o# #a$t, as i# they were dis$ussing how stale the $hips were. (ut it didn!t make sense to him. &obody gets time +ust #or how they a$t. ,0 don!t understand. %ow were you a$ting1. &e"aeh shrugged. ,0 didn!t seem sad enough.. ,5hat1. ,0 wasn!t sad enough. 0 didn!t $ry. 'nd when you don!t $ry people think you don!t #eel stu##, not like they do.. She didn!t tell him about the news arti$le that got on her about #alling asleep at her own trial, and how she!d been $aught laughing a #ew times. ,They said 0 wasn!t a ni$e person and that the +ury shouldn!t be #ooled by my age =$ause 0 had a bun$h o# priors in :u"ie.. :osh kept his "oi$e low, suspe$ting this wasn!t a $on"ersation they should be ha"ing. (ut that #eeling o# people +udging only by what they see on the outside, he knew all too well. ,%ow mu$h time did they gi"e you1. &e"aeh did a $ouple o# 2ui$k blinks as i# she hadn!t been $ounting the days, weeks, hours or minutes until her release. ,-y 8.?.3. date is 202D.. ,7our what date1. ,8 B ? B 3. 8elease eligibility date. 0t!s #i#teen years #rom now.. 0uck. She didn!t look older than si)teen. (ut he $ould imagine what she!d look like at thirty #i"e, a#ter li"ing o"er hal# her li#e in prison. 'lthough the blonde sneaking up behind her and s2uealing as she threw her arms around &e"aeh!s ne$k didn!t look any worse #rom being in +ail. ,Sorry 0!m late you guys. %ad to go get $he$ked out by the nurse. 5hew, 0 thought 0 was losing the baby but it was +ust a bad $ase o# gas.. The new$omer e)tended a hand sti$ky with $ake to :osh. ,0!m Lauren 'ubrey, but e"erybody in here +ust $alls me L' =$ause 0!m the showgirl.. :osh a$knowledged her with a ,-a!am. and L' nudged &e"aeh in the ribs with her elbow. ,%e!s $ute,. she silently mouthed, gi"ing a wi$ked grin.
&e"aeh had been a resident o# the 8ei$hert95est#ield #or three years when Lauren 'ubrey 'llen Bbetter known as L' #or shortB be$ame her $ellmate. 0# &e"aeh thought she was streetwise, then L' +ust knew she was the Eueen ( o# all things urban. 7et she was a little white girl raised in a rural area o# Conne$ti$ut, sheltered #rom $onta$t with anyone who didn!t look like her. ,@irl, $ountry ain!t got no $olor,. L' liked to +oke. 0!m counnn1tree . . . you hear me1 -y whole #amily was the town. 0 got tired o# looking at all the same damn white people. 0 wanted me some "ariety.. She got that and more. ' runaway at #i#teen, L' was really a newbie on the streets and in +ail, but nobody $ould tell her that. '#ter a number o# arrests, at eighteen she still $ame in a$ting tough, getting into her share o# #ights and almost #orgetting she was $arrying a baby. 0t didn!t take long #or the bump to show sin$e she was so petite. &e"aeh spent most o# her time trying to break up L'!s alter$ations, reminding her to think o# the baby #irst. L' would roll those big blue eyes o# hers and pout, but she!d listen. 'nd it wasn!t surprising that she!d shown up to $laim the honor o# training -yst. 't #irst she was a$ting silly, then with a twirl o# her $rimped hair B #rom twisting pipe $leaners around her strands be#ore going to bed B her e)pression $hanged and she was all business. ,So, you like this dog1. :osh nodded, but be#ore he $ould get another word out L' was o##. ,This ain!t +ust any old dog. 7ou!re getting a pure bred 0 hope you know that. Cause i# you look around you don!t see no other dog up in this +oint that look like our -issy -yst.. :osh agreed with her while &e"aeh $ringed, reali ing where all this was heading. ,5ell then all you need to do is put down a deposit,. L' said. ,5e take $ash, or you $an put money in &e"aeh!s name at the $ommissary9. &e"aeh!s glare should ha"e shut her up. 0nstead L' kept talking and bartering. )ait, was she actually trying to get him to pay her* )hat did she say, deposit commissary money for the dog* ,L' will you shut up;. The upper part o# &e"aeh!s #a$e still appeared pleasant, but that was only to throw o## the guards. Linking a #riendly but #or$e#ul arm through one o# L'!s, she ga"e her $ellie a tug that had them both stumbling away #rom :osh. ,59what1 5hat did 0 do wrong1 0!m +ust trying to hook you up with some $ommissary #unds9. L' a"erted &e"aeh!s simmering stare, noti$ing the reporter #rom Channel Si) &ews.
Then she spotted the $ameraman. ,0 think 0 need to help a #ew o# my other #riends sell . . . 0 mean show their dog #or Channel Si).. ,7eah, you go do that showgirl,. &e"aeh dryly $ra$ked. 5ith L' gone she turned to #a$e :osh. %er #a$e was #lushed, like she trying not to look ashamed. 0t wasn!t a #ight she was winning. ,Sometimes L' likes to +oke about stu## when she shouldn!t, but you don!t ha"e to pay #or this dog. The program is #ree, be$ause you!re . . . be$ause o# what happened to you.. &either o# them said mu$h a#ter that, letting the other $on"ersations #loat o"er, listening to the e)$itement and happiness o# the new dog owners sink in. L' kept #luttering around to di##erent groups like a bee not 2uite sure whi$h #lower to land on, slowly in$hing her way to that reporter. &e"aeh ga"e a long sigh o# #rustration wat$hing her $ellmate beha"e like the program!s hostess. She #igured :osh was being 2uiet be$ause he needed to pro$ess things. (ut he stared at her #or what seemed like an eternity be#ore asking another 2uestion. ,Tell me about your $ommissary. 0s that like a store1 . he said. ,Sort o#. 5e $an get stu## there like you $an at a store, and it!s the only thing we got in here where we $an buy things outside o# what the prison makes us use.. ,So the $ommissary is pretty important huh1. '#ter he asked she tilted her head, and it was as i# he were seeing double be$ause the dog did the same thing. @uess he had their undi"ided attention. ,0 was only asking be$ause, well, in the ser"i$e we ha"e a $ommissary too.. ,<h. So people send you stu## like $igarettes and money1. ,'h, no,. he admitted. ,5e get $are pa$kages, i# that!s what you mean. (ut 0 buy my 9 or 0 used to buy my own items #rom the $anteen most o# the time a#ter 0 got my pay.. ,L'!s got a sugar daddy in the ser"i$e. %e!s not her real boy#riend but guys send her money to use #or the $ommissary.. ,'nd yours don!t1. Now why did he say something like that* &e)t thing he knew he was stuttering, trying to $o"er up his mistake. ,0 #igure you probably had a lot o# boyB 0 mean male #riends be#ore you $ame here.. %er #a$e twisted into a hard mask. ,&obody sends me a damn thing. 0 don!t need nobody in here.. ,0 didn!t mean9. She raised a hand to stop him. ,0t!s not about me. 0!m supposed to be telling you about your dog..
!our do". :ust hearing those words $ome out o# her own mouth made it o##i$ial. She was letting go. 0# she $ould hang on to this anger long enough, she $ould say to hell with the both o# them. (esides, ha"ing a new puppy to train wouldn!t be so bad. &ow that she!d pro"en hersel# and the prison knew she $ould take $are o# a dog, maybe they wouldn!t be wat$hing her so $losely. -aybe she $ould keep the puppy in her bed at night, to $uddle and pet it, and tell it e"erything would be #ine. 'nd she!d tell the new dog about -yst, and how he or she would ha"e some big paws to #ill. ,0 don!t get "isitors,. she muttered. ,<n$e -yst lea"es, until 0 get another puppy to train it!ll be lonely #or a while.. ,(ut you ha"e your #riends, like L'.. ,L'!s +ust an asso$iate. 7ou don!t make #riends in prison, not i# you!re smart.. <ne o# the guards strolled their way and he wat$hed her body language $hange. She sti##ened noti$eably, her eyes darting #rom his and up to the $eiling while the guard spoke. ,?"erything all right here1. the man asked, his "oi$e brisk with authority. -yst!s ne$k hair bristled, her eyes s2uarely on the guard, a male o# about thirty #i"e who was pa$king on weight in the middle. /or whate"er reason the dog was on high alert. :osh kept a hand on -yst!s $ollar and another on her $hest so the guy $ouldn!t see the dog!s rea$tion. Something about the man e"en made him #eel un$om#ortable. 0t was like his presen$e had su$ked all the air out o# the room. :osh was able to $at$h the C< gi"ing a signal to another guard, a burly #emale stationed at a #ar $orner. :osh $leared his throat. ,So &e"aeh, you were telling me about what #oods not to gi"e -yst, like bones and stu## like that1. 't #irst she ga"e him a 2ui i$al look, but she got the hint. ,<h, oh yeah, 0 was saying don!t gi"e her any bones, espe$ially $hi$ken bones, be$ause they $an splinter. 'nd be $are#ul o# grapes. &o grapes be$ause they $ould make her si$k. 'nd with some dogs they $an $ause kidney #ailure.. The C< grunted loudly, as i# to announ$e he!d de$ided to stroll o"er to another pair o# dogs and prisoners. 0t wasn!t his pla$e to ask, but :osh had to know. ,%e!s a hard ass, huh1. She didn!t answer. 5ith the mus$le twit$h in her +aw and the $oldness o# her eyes she didn!t need to.
She was +ust a kid #or Christ!s sake. :ust a #ew years younger than him. %e wanted to tell her to ha"e #aith, to hold on, to not lose hope. (ut he $ouldn!t, be$ause he didn!t belie"e it himsel#. %e was a piss poor moti"ator. 8eali ing what she must ha"e gone through made him want to +ump out o# his $hair and ta$kle the man. %e wanted to slam the guy!s #a$e into the #loor o"er and o"er until the linoleum pooled with his blood. And if he had his service weapon . . . :osh grabbed at his +a$ket, rubbing the pain that suddenly pier$ed his $hest. The soda $an -yst retrie"ed #ell #rom his lap, hitting the #loor with a ping, similar to a sniper!s bullet, then rolled along as i# someone had a tossed grenade. -yst trotted o## to #et$h it. S$enes #lashed in his mind o# his buddies on a dirt road, surrounded by a gro"e o# oli"e trees. There was Stol with his wide legged stan$e in #ront, throwing out an insult to %i$ks, and %i$ks gi"ing one ba$k to him, #or$ing 8amire to $hu$kle. They!d been riding :osh all day, all through their whole time on patrol. 0t was nothing new and it was e)pe$ted sin$e he was the rookie. They were #i"e miles outside o# base. 'lmost home #ree when the unthinkable happened. <## in the distan$e he $ould see a #emale asking something o# him, re$oiling at what she saw, and #inally rushing away #rom him with a $urse. %e $ouldn!t help her. She!d be +ust like the others, lying around him in body parts. Shipped ba$k home not in a $o##in, but a little bo) o# unidenti#ied pie$es. -yst nudged $loser, almost prote$ti"ely +olting him ba$k to the present where &e"aeh #a$ed him, her shaky hand outstret$hed with a $up as pun$h sloshed the edges o# its paper rim. %e ga"e her a grim smile in thanks, swallowing the whole thing in one gulp. ,7ou need any more1 0 $an go get you some more9. %is head bobbled no, but e"en that weakened him. -yst was pressing into his thigh, mu##ling his shi"ers with her body. %e!d had another #lashba$k. <nly this one was a like a pi$ture, +ust a routine patrol memory without all the bloodshed. -yst nudged her way onto his lap, li$king his #a$e, #or$ing him to $alm down and stay in the moment. &e"aeh brought him another $up o# pun$h anyway. 'nd then another, until she was satis#ied he was okay. 5hile she was #ranti$ and all o"er the pla$e, -yst!s training had ki$ked in. The dog had been in $ontrol the whole time, like she was born to do this. 0t killed her to admit it, but -yst was the dog #or him.
,@uess 0 won!t be on TC tonight.. L' was ba$k with them, slapping &e"aeh play#ully on the shoulder. ,That reporter said some bullshit about them already ha"ing enough inter"iews.. ,0!m sorry,. &e"aeh said, truly meaning it. ,That!s okay. 0 told her when my baby!s due and about the nursery wing they!re building here. She said she might $ome ba$k and do a story all about me and my little girl.. :osh ga"e &e"aeh a play#ul wink. ,:oshua is a good name #or a boy.. L'!s e)pression made it $lear how distaste#ul that suggestion was. ,Sorry, this baby is a girl. 0 will only a$$ept a little girl. 0# it!s a boy 0!m telling the do$tor to put it right ba$k. 0!"e already got two sons.. 0t was a good thing his #a$e was still red #rom the #lashba$ks, otherwise L' would!"e $aught how he paled a#ter hearing how many kids she had. %e wanted to ask who was looking a#ter her $hildren while she was in +ail, but he #igured he!d get his head handed to him. &e"aeh wisely $hanged the sub+e$t. .So when you and -yst go playing in the park and ha"ing a good time,. she said, ,would you do me a big #a"or1. ,Sure, +ust name it.. ,@o to 5endy!s or -$3onald!s and order a "anilla milkshake. They put real whipped $ream on =em and a $herry. <h, and do you eat hotdogs1 7ou should get a Te)as hot. @et one #or yoursel# and one #or -yst, only don!t order any sau$e on hers, +ust gi"e her the hot dog,. she e)$laimed, and he $ould see her as a $hild unwrapping presents on Christmas day, gi"ing a giggle, eyes bright and wide in happiness. ,@et her a ball to play with. 8ed!s her #a"orite $olor. -ake sure it!s a medium si ed ball so that she doesn!t a$$identally swallow it, be$ause she likes to $hew the rubber.. ,%old it, let me get all this down. 0!m supposed to buy a hot dog9. ,' Te)as hot.
,' Te)as hot, take -yst to the park, buy her a medium si ed red ball, and go to 5endy!s #or a milkshake,. he said with a grin. ,3id 0 get your order right1. ,2eah. 7eah, that!s what 0!d do. That!s all the stu## 0 wish 0 $ould do i# 0 wasn!t in here.. ,0!ll do e"erything you asked,. he promised, seeing how important it was to her. ,'nd 0!ll $ome ba$k to let you know how it was.. ,&o you won!t. 7ou won!t $ome ba$k here be$ause you don!t ha"e to $ome ba$k.. ,7es 0 will,. he insisted. (ut e"en he had to admit his "oi$e wasn!t $on"in$ing. ,7ou!"e got your dog, so there!s no reason #or you to $ome ba$k.. ,%ey,. he said so#tly. ,%ow $an 0 $on"in$e you that we!ll be #ine1. She glan$ed up then 2ui$kly looked away, #ighting o## tears. %e heard her murmur something that sounded like ,got to let go.. @i"ing -yst one last hug, she got up slowly, but her hand rea$hed down to tra"el along the dog!s "est. ,Thank you #or $hoosing the 8ei$hert95est#ield Corre$tional #a$ility #or your ser"i$e dog needs. 0 hope you!ll tell your #riends about our program.. 5ith that she woodenly ba$ked away, and kept ba$king up. Something about her #orlorn e)pression and those li2uid brown eyes made him almost want to $all the whole thing o##. 0nstead he took the dog!s handle, $ommanding her to help him rise. -yst slowly walked #orward, gi"ing him the means to pull himsel# up. &e)t, she wedged her body against his right leg so he $ould use her to keep his balan$e. 5ith his $ane at his le#t hip and the dog on his right, he didn!t ha"e to swing his legs out so wide. '#ter a #ew steps he got the hang o# it. '#ter a #ew more he was mo"ing #aster lea"ing than when he!d walked in. ,-yst, #orward.. ' #ew onlookers started $lapping, and :osh hal# turned, hoping to gi"e &e"aeh one last goodbye. L' $aught his ga e, pointing in another dire$tion where &e"aeh was being $onsoled by a mu$h shorter older woman in an o"ersi ed suit $oat.
Chapter #e en
0t was happening again. %is brain was awake but his body wouldn!t mo"e. :osh was $ertain his eyes were probably wide open and he was making little gurgling sounds #rom the way -yst kept $o$king her head, #irst le#t and then right. ?"er so slowly the Shepherd in$hed her way to his bed, $rawling on all #ours and gulping like she e)pe$ted him to yell at her to go away. %e would ha"e, only his mouth was lo$ked down. 'nd he had more to worry about besides a dog. There was the tightness in his $hest $onstri$ting his air #low, whi$h meant he was ha"ing an an)iety atta$k on top o# being immobile. %is "ision was be$oming blurry #rom tears o# #rustration and sheer terror. %e $ouldn!t see -yst $learly but he did #eel the dog!s smooth, wet nose pressed against his $heek. She seemed to be nudging his head, trying to shake him into a$ti"ity. (ut whate"er swit$h he usually #lipped to +ump start his body wasn!t working. -aybe death!s #erryman was #inally $oming #or him, and this time he wouldn!t need a $oin to $ross o"er. So he let go, gi"ing himsel# o"er to that possibility a#ter #iguring this +ust might be it. 0nstead he must!"e dri#ted o## to sleep, be$ause the ne)t time he opened his eyes his #ingers mo"ed when he willed them to. -yst was $urled up by his bedside, her spine so tightly $oiled that her snout was at rest on a ba$k thigh. She wasn!t asleep though, +ust studying him with $urious amber eyes. ,-yst, 0 still $an!t get up,. he said, in a gra"el thi$k "oi$e. ,7ou!ll ha"e to help me.. That last part was as distaste#ul as his morning breath. Last night!s drinking binge had been a really bad idea, espe$ially when he spotted his wheel$hair $lear on the other side o# the room. 'nother $asualty o# an e"ening he had no memory o#. -yst!s ears pri$ked #orward at hearing him $all. She trotted o"er to her toy $hest, pi$king out a rope made o# $olor#ul #abri$ and rubber. 5hen she got to his bed she led with her nose to nudge it under his twit$hing #ingers. Then she sat ba$k on her hind legs with an e)pe$tant look on her #a$e. :osh #igured it was a $ruel +oke that she probably thought o# this as a game. %is #ingers $lasp the toy more in #rustration than anything else, and he had a mind to throw it o## the bed. 5ith a
#aint growl -yst began pulling on the other end, like she wanted him to release it. (ut in his stubborn resentment he wouldn!t. The harder she pulled the more resistant he was to letting go, until he #elt himsel# sliding o## the bed head #irst. Somehow be#ore he hit the #loor his legs remembered they were supposed be #irst in line, swinging o## the end o# the mattress until #inally, he was up. 5ell, not e)a$tly standing up, more like #lat on his rear end but at least he wasn!t in bed anymore. %e ga"e a shout o# #rustration, grasping round the bottoms o# his thighs, digging his nails into the mu$h too thin mus$le until he #or$ed his knees to his $hin. The position he!d molded #or himsel# still wouldn!t get his legs working properly, so he +ust ga"e up. Soon as he dropped his arms, his thighs were no longer trapped together so they #lopped in opposite dire$tions. )hich would have been fine if he were into meditation. 't least he $ould tell the #loor was $old. Too $old to $ontinue sitting on. %is s$arred legs read like a train tra$k manned by a $ondu$tor on $ra$k. Cal"es that were on$e ri$hly tanned and on display in the summer were now lined with #ading stit$hes. :osh twisted his head to $he$k on the dog!s whereabouts. Though -yst had won their tug o# war, there was no e)uberant leaping about #or more amusement as most dogs would ha"e done. She sat a sa#e distan$e away, her tail so#tly swishing to either side, waiting #or his ne)t $ommand. ,<kay, you got me out o# bed. &ow how do you plan on getting me to my wheel$hair1. This time the toy was plopped in his hand as she waited #or him to grab it. ,'ll right, 0 get it. @uess 0!"e been too #ull o# mysel# to really pay attention to all the stu## you were trained to do. %elp me up, girl.. 0t took more o# -yst tugging and pra$ti$ally dragging him $lose enough to his wheel$hair be#ore :osh was able to hoist himsel# up using the $hair!s metal arms, and e"en then she was behind him, using her shoulders and head to prop him up as best she $ould. 5hen he was #inally seated, she an)iously waited #or his ne)t task. ,3on!t think +ust be$ause you helped me get into my $hair we!re a team. 0 told you when you got here, this arrangement is only #or a #ew9. A few what* -onths1 7ears1 She!d already been with him three weeks. &ot that he e)pe$ted the dog to answer, but with the way her brows rose as she lowered her #ront hal# to the #loor and ga"e a hea"y sigh, he $ould almost hear her listing all the reasons why she!d be staying.
Chugging along in his wheel$hair to his kit$hen $ounter, he spun the La y Susan that held his medi$ations. The $arousel o# drugs stopped on the ones he was supposed to take in the morning. ' 2ui$k glan$e at the $lo$k re"ealed it was $loser to the a#ternoon. %e muttered a hal# heartened apology to the dog. She was a good girl, holding her bowels e"en though he was at least three hours late taking her out. ,Come =mere,. he said, motioning to her in a $on$iliatory gesture. She slunk o"er to him, her head lowered in apprehension. ,0 owe you one.. %e patted, then #lu##ed the #ur on her $hest. She was too good o# a dog to ha"e to endure his tantrums. *lay#ully butting her #orehead, he promised to take her out +ust as soon as he #ound his sweatpants. Trouble was, a#ter two trips around his studio apartment, e"en he was disgusted at not being able to #ind them. Li2uor bottles were $ompeting #or spa$e with $rushed beer $ans. (alled newspapers and sports books lined the #loor and tables. The air reeked o# musk and rotting #ood. The pla$e was slowly beginning to look like his great9grandmother!s estate. :ust thinking o# how pa$ked with ,mementos. -eemaw!s home was made him shudder. %e still had enough pride not to want the paramedi$s to #ind him unwashed and drugged, li"ing in an apartment that pro"ed how messed up he was. The room got blurry again but this time he let the tears #all. -yst began pawing at him, her #orm +ust a wa"y outline, like he was staring at her #rom underwater. Clamped in her mouth were his sweat pants. The do" wa% an an"el.
&e"aeh!s li"ing 2uarters $onsisted o# a stainless steel toilet and sink $ombo, with a $ouple o# $on$rete slabs that posed #or beds, ea$h #a$ing opposite sides o# the $ell. The beds were embedded into the walls, as hard as the masonry they sprouted #rom. ' pan$ake thin mat pro"ided $ushion. <ne window dotted ea$h prison $ell, resembling a $hunk o# i$e $ut into #our $loudy s2uares. The pla$e was $inder blo$k solid #rom the #loor to the $eiling and painted a hopeless gray, like an o"er$ast sky. L' had a number o# personal tou$hes on her side o# the room, pi$tures o# #amily and #riends, posters o# her #a"orite singers, her boy#riend #lashing gang symbols and pi$tures o# her other $hildren. &e"aeh only had one pi$ture, an early photo o# -yst. She!d been hoping #or some word #rom :osh way be#ore now. (ut days dragged into weeks, and here it was almost a month later and all he!d bothered to send was a post $ard that said, !oing great. Talk to you soon. (oth o# them $ould go straight to hell as #ar as she was $on$erned. -yst $ould kiss her ass right along with soldier boy. :osh had been stupid enough to put his $ell phone number on the $ard, and she!d gotten into a #ight with another inmate who!d tried to take it #rom her, =$ause the woman said she would $all :osh and make him her tri$k. :osh!s phone number was now s$ribbled out B a#ter she!d memori ed itB so at least she didn!t ha"e to worry about de#ending his pri"a$y anymore. %er days were spent reading and #ingering that $ard so many times it was slowly tearing apart. &e"aeh missed that dog something aw#ul. The door to the $rate -yst used to lie in was open, a $hew toy still per$hed on a $ouple o# blankets. %er plasti$ water bowl was still in the $orner, the one she!d gnawed on as a puppy. &e"aeh kept staring at the $rate, as i# the dog would somehow materiali e and walk out, greeting her with a wagging tail like she!d done e"ery morning. 0t was like the prison $ounselor -rs. Cosgro"e always said. low down and maybe you+ll learn something. -yst had learned and now she was out in the world and li"in! her li#e.
5hen the sky was $lear, like in the early morning or +ust be#ore sunset &e"aeh would lay on her bed, hands behind her head and stare up at the window. There was only one s2uare to see through be$ause L' didn!t like the sun dire$tly on her when she woke up. So they!d $ompromised. Toilet tissue $o"ered the other s2uares in an e##ort to limit the light. &e"aeh would peer up at that one s2uare, mar"eling at the $louds, like how #lu##y and pure they looked and how $ool it would be to ha"e a sweater the e)a$t $olor blue o# that sky. 'nd she wondered why she!d ne"er noti$ed things like that be#ore. She!d always been in su$h a hurry #or stu##, like wanting to get out o# s$hool as soon as she walked in, dreaming about a boy!s arms around her and e"erything that went with it all at on$e. 'nd she!d wanted a #amily. &ot one with a #ather and a mother sin$e that was too mu$h to ask, but +ust a mother and another kid, it didn!t matter i# it was a boy or a girl. -yst had been like #amily, espe$ially with all the time she!d spent with her. She!d gotten used to seeing the dog!s sil"ery haloed twit$hing whene"er a moonbeam hit her $rate, bathing it in light and shadow. &e"aeh would s2uint to ad+ust her eyes better, amused to see -yst lying on her ba$k with all #our paws galloping, $hasing something in her dream. 0t was $ool +ust so long as she didn!t let loose with that weird ringing howl she tended to do. 0# the dog was 2uiet, then &e"aeh #igured there was no need to wake her. She was stationed in C (lo$k, an area that housed the inmates who trained dogs #or the ser"i$e dog program, so most o# the other women were used to the di##erent barks, whines and loud #arts $oming #rom the dogs. 'nother good thing about the program was that younger inmates like her and L' were segregated #rom the general population. (ut it was still a prison. 'nd doing time was no +oke.
The light #rom a passing $ar illuminated the steady rise and #all o# L'!s stoma$h. Loudly snoring, most o# L'!s time $onsisted o# staying o## her #eet sin$e the baby was due soon. 5hile it hurt to ha"e -yst go to another, &e"aeh hoped her $ell mate!s baby might #ill some o# the pain. *lus ha"ing a new puppy to train would help. 't night when their $ell was brie#ly lit up by the $ars that would whi down the road, the blue pro+e$tion on the opposite wall where her $ell door was almost made it seem like she was the one doing the mo"ing. She!d snuggle in her $ot, wat$hing that wall and imagining the pla$es those $ars were headed to. They weren!t going
where she used to li"e, that mu$h she was $ertain o#. ?"eryone in her old neighborhood talked about making money, yet they were all broke. 'nd there weren!t a lot o# $hoi$es to shop or eat, +ust a $on"enien$e store that sold outdated #ood, single baby diapers and lotto ti$kets. <h, and a Laundromat and Chinese #ast #ood pla$e, a $losed down 8ent9To9<wn and a drug store that sold postage stamps instead o# pres$riptions. <n her #oster mother -a 3ear!s street a pot hole was turning into a sink hole. 'll it did was gi"e kids more ro$ks to throw. %ouses were sagging so bad she $ould swear they were leaning on one another #or support. -a 3ear!s house was the worst one o# all with its weeping por$h. S2ueals and laughter would #loat down the street, mingled with raised "oi$es, pro#anity and s$reams. This went on 2F hours a day and se"en days a week. There was sign pro$laiming the area a drug #ree one that the drug dealers would stand under. 'nother one said no dumping by penalty o# law, and it seemed to be a #a"orite pla$e #or people to unload garbage, $lothes, and $onstru$tion materials. <ne time she got a spanking #or playing down there and bringing home a ratty looking stu##ed toy. -a 3ear washed her whole body in Cloro). To this day the smell o# blea$h bothered her. &e"aeh hated that street. She hated that house. (ut more than anything she hated being inside that house. /amily $on"ersations were nothing but rapid #ire insults. (rutal put downs. ?"erybody had something to say about anybody. ?"en -a 3ear would get into the a$t. They didn!t need reality TC. %ell, they didn!t e"en need a TC at all be$ause dissing ea$h other was the way they entertained themsel"es. &e"aeh $ould ne"er #ind a moment!s pea$e under that roo# and she $ould ne"er ha"e her #oster mother to hersel#. @oing out to dinner meant -a 3ear would $olle$t all the kids and take them to -$3onalds. %appy -eal toys were $on#is$ated and sa"ed =til 3e$ember, =$ause that!s when -a handed them out as Christmas toys. 0# someone $omplained that they!d wound up with same toy as last year, then they!d +ust had to hope another kid was willing to trade.
She $ouldn!t blame -a 3ear #or not showing up at her senten$ing. %er #oster mother was se"enty years old, or ,se"enty years young. as -a sometimes re#erred to hersel#. <nly it was kinda sad that -a had already lost all her natural born kids.
%er oldest son had been shot dead in a #ast #ood +oint, +ust be$ause he!d bumped into the wrong person. &either man would say they were sorry, instead both o# them drew their guns. So he died where he stood. Then her daughter, the one who was #riends with the woman -a 3ear said was &e"aeh!s real mother had disappointed her. 5hen -a was #i#ty she learned she had $an$er, and a#ter $hemo and a bun$h o# blood trans#usions she!d gone into a $oma. %er daughter had power o# attorney and she +ust about sold e"erything -a had worked hard #or. The house almost got sold, most o# her #urniture got sold, and her bank a$$ount was wiped out. <nly -a 3ear didn!t die. <r maybe she +ust got so mad she re#used to die like that, all broke and shit. %er daughter ended up dying be#ore she did. They said it was #rom a stroke. <r maybe it was be$ause -a 3ear had threatened to put her in +ail i# she didn!t repay what she!d stolen. '#ter her passing, that le#t -a with only one natural born $hild. 'nd like her oldest son, he was murdered too. (ut he deser"ed it. 't least that!s what his killer, her #oster brother -arko said.
,'twood, &e"aeh 'twood, /ey gurllll, you!"e got a "isitor.. The way C< Choi strung out ,girl. made &e"aeh think it was all a +oke. (ut then Choi!s brows went up like &e"aeh needed to hurry up and get o## her bunk. ,3idn!t you hear them $alling you o"er the inter$om1. Choi said. ,@et mo"ing.. ,5ho is it1. &e"aeh asked, but C< Choi had already walked away. &e"aeh took a 2ui$k glan$e in the mirror. L' hadn!t re9braided her hair yet, so a bushy ponytail was all she $ould manage. /u$k it, whoe"er it was would +ust ha"e to see her looking a mess.
GGGGG The "isiting room was empty o# people e)$ept #or a table #illed with kids and a weary #a$ed
woman who :osh guessed was their grandmother. 5hen the kids saw -yst they s2uealed and s$rambled out o# their seats. 'n older boy who looked bored to tears turned his pier$ed to the ma) head their way, gi"ing :osh an admiring look, wondering out loud i# he were $arrying a gun. :osh knew the #eeling. 0t was the thrill o# imaging what it would be like to play soldier. %e $ould!"e been wat$hing a younger "ersion o# himsel#, espe$ially the way the kid snarled at his grandmother, mumbling pro#anity under his breath. She slapped him on the wrist and raised an open palm to gi"e him a $ra$k a$ross the mouth. The boy appeared used to it be$ause he simply laughed. *er#orming a wiggling dan$e to get away #rom her, he du$ked +ust in time to a"oid a blow, so she $lamped down hard on his wrist as he attempted to lea"e the table. The woman did try, but between the kids! $lamoring to get a $loser look at -yst and the older one +erking #ree, all she $ould do was gi"e :osh an apologeti$ look. That whole s$ene was bad enough, but what really stru$k :osh as un#air were all the empty tables. Not one adult male visitor in sight. There was no sign o# a husband, #ather, or older brother. This pla$e was a #ar $ry #rom how male prisons were pa$ked with #emale "isitors. So
what happened when women went to prison1 5hat, did the guys they!d been with be#ore they got senten$ed simply abandon them1 /eeling seriously ashamed that he!d waited so long to "isit, :osh put on a happy #a$e #or the kids now surrounding -yst. %e tried to e)plain that -yst was a ser"i$e dog and not simply a pet, as an)iety oo ed #rom e"ery pore on his body. Soon it would be a roaring #ire. Tiny hands smoothed -yst!s $oat hair and patted the top o# her head, but like a $erami$ bust o# a $anine, the dog stood per#e$tly still, her eyes trained on the door. 8ight about then his prayers were answered. <n$e the kids saw &e"aeh and the no9nonsense glare she ga"e them, they slowly ba$ked away.
5hen &e"aeh got to the "isiting area she had to $rane her ne$k around the guards blo$king
her "ision. Then she heard a bark. 0t was -yst; She was real good on her leash. -yst didn!t start a$ting up until :osh ga"e the "erbal $ommand that she was o##i$ially o## duty. ?"en then she didn!t pull on her restraint. She +ust started whining and bowing up and down like she was doing a doggie "ersion o# the wa"e. &e"aeh was e)$ited too, but somebody had to remain in $ontrol. The lump in her throat seemed to get bigger as she walked towards them. ,5hat9. <h wow. %er "oi$e $ra$ked #rom e)$itement. ,5hat are you two doin! here1. -yst whined and got down on all #ours, then rolled onto her ba$k. 5ith her ears #lapped out and eyes wildly looking up at &e"aeh, she was identi$al to a bat. &e"aeh $ouldn!t help but laugh as she knelt and ga"e the dog a rough tummy massage. ?"ery other tussle and stroke was pun$tuated by ,7ou!re +ust a big old! baby. and ,7eah, 0 missed you too, how!s my girl . . . how!s my big girl1. :osh +ust stood there wat$hing the whole thing, e"en though &e"aeh glan$ed up a #ew times to gi"e him a smile. %e still had dark bruises under his eyes, but they weren!t as prominent as be#ore. 'nd his body had #illed out a bit. %is hair looked blonder or something, like he!d been out in the sun. She didn!t think he was the type to $olor his hair. -yst $ontinued to pant, peering so hard at &e"aeh, it was like she was trying to read her mind as she s$rambled to get up. ,She looks real good. So e"erything!s working out with her1. &e"aeh said it as a 2uestion, laughingly pushing away -yst!s o"erly a##e$tionate tongue kisses.
:osh nodded, shi#ting his weight #rom his le#t leg to his $ane. ,5e B 0 ha"en!t had a $han$e to take her to the p9park,. he stuttered, s$rubbing his head be$ause it was the only thing he $ould think to do as she stared at him, and kept staring as he pulled out a $hair and sat down. ?ither he was getting better or she was seeing things, be$ause he didn!t need mu$h help. %e leaned ba$k in the seat, waiting, ea$h o# his $amou#laged pant legs spread wide. 'll that was said #or a #ew minutes was small talk. &e"aeh looked at him, and he stared ba$k at her. Sin$e he wasn!t really saying mu$h, she didn!t #eel the need to either. So she wat$hed the other tables. The rest o# them were "a$ant e)$ept #or a grandmother and some loud ass kids. 5hen their mother #inally made it to the "isiting area, the woman grabbed an older boy by the ba$k o# his ne$k and whispered a warning in his ear. /or the remainder o# their "isit he +ust hung around the "ending ma$hine, buying high pri$ed $andy and $hips while pretending not to listen as his grandmother $omplained about how bad he was. -yst sank down on the #loor, one paw $rossed o"er the other. 0t always made her look so ladylike that &e"aeh had to snort so that she didn!t giggle. (ut -yst was still all business, ears pri$king whene"er someone got $lose, leaning her body prote$ti"ely against :osh!s knees to make $ertain he didn!t slide #rom his seat. -ore importantly, the dog would stay attenti"e whene"er his $on$entration strayed. :osh told her that whene"er he!d go to the C' hospital to meet with his $ounselor, i# he nodded o## in the waiting area she!d gi"e him a kno$k with her body, +ogging him ba$k to $ons$iousness. 0# he dared lean too #ar to the right, she!d 2uietly stand, blo$king his motion until he was $entered. 0t hadn!t been this awkward talking with &e"aeh the #irst time, so :osh knew something was wrong. Those eyes o# hers would get wide and then narrow as he spoke, and most o# her replies were short, $hoppy senten$es. ,Can 0 ask you something1. he #inally said. ,5hat!s it like in here1. She shrugged, wondering why it took this long #or them to $ome out to see her, but not wanting to mess up their "isit by going o## on him. ,:ust somewhere to be. 0t!s boring mostly.. ,0 thought you!d ha"e a new dog by now.. ,So did 0. -aybe you $an $all the warden and ask her what the hell!s going on.. ,&e"aeh9. ,<ne post$ard. <ne damn post$ard!s all 0 got #rom you.. ,0 know, and 0!m sorry.. ,0 hear stu## but 0 don!t pay attention. 0 know you!re drinking,. she said. ,'nd getting high..
The #urrows that appeared abo"e his brow were deep. ,8eally1 &o shit, you heard that1 =Cos 0 thought you told me you didn!t ha"e #riends in here.. ,That!s what 0 mean. 0 don!t pay attention be$ause 0 know that they!re trying to get to me. (ut when 0 $alled that one time, a#ter 0 didn!t hear nothin! and only got a post$ard #rom you, 0 was worried9. ,0t won!t happen again.. ,0t shouldn!t a happened at all. 0 was going $ra y thinking all kinds o# things had gone wrong. 0 +ust want to be sure that -yst is with somebody who $an take $are o# her. 0s she still ha"ing nightmares1. %e blinked a #ew times instead o# answering. 0t dawned on him that she!d been #o$using her $on$ern on the dog, and not him. ,Ah, sometimes. 0t doesn!t happen e"ery night.. That was the only thing she!d #elt bad about when they!d talked o"er the phone. %e!d been in a pani$, wondering why the dog was $on"ulsing and growling in her sleep. %er reply was $older than he!d e)pe$ted. #/ow the hell should $ know*% ,3id she e"er a$t that way with you1. he wondered. ,&ope. -aybe you should bring her ba$k. -aybe it!s you she!s ha"ing nightmares about.. ,7ou!re kidding.. ,&o, 0!m serious,. she!d told him. %e!d hug up on her, and she regretted not being truth#ul. (ut e"en though she had the $han$e to say something now, she $ouldn!t do it. ,Sin$e you brought it up, you wanna tell me what!s really going on with this dog1. he asked, hoping one o# the guards would $alm that kid down, sin$e the boy was taking his #rustration out on the sna$k ma$hine. ,<kay, listen.. ?"en -yst wanted to hear her e)planation, wat$hing &e"aeh!s mouth so $losely that she seemed to read her lips. ,She!s been like this sin$e 0 got her. 0 #igured maybe she was being used in a dog #ighting ring or something.. ,<r something.. %e repeated. The dog #ighting thing made sense, sin$e it $ould!"e traumati ed -yst at a young age. ,5hen did you get her1. ,0 think they told me she was eight months old. 0t was either se"en or eight, 0!m not e)a$tly sure..
:ust thinking about what -yst $ould ha"e been sub+e$ted to made him rea$h out to hug her $loser. &e"aeh ga"e him a sad smile. ,She!s growing on you, huh1. ,7eah, 0 guess she has. She!s like my right arm, you know1 0 $ouldn!t part with it, and 0 $an!t part with her, no matter how messed up she might be. @uess we!re +ust two o# a kind.. ,Three o# a kind,. &e"aeh $orre$ted him, $alling -yst to $ome to her. 5hen -yst didn!t immediately respond, instead looking up at :osh #or the go ahead signal, &e"aeh $ouldn!t help #eeling hurt. ,5ell, 0 guess you don!t need to $ome ba$k.. #/uh*% ,7ou wanted answers about -yst, and you got =em. So thanks #or $oming by.. %er #a$e s$run$hed, and :osh $ould see both anger and #ear mingled in her e)pression. ,0 don!t need more people laughin! at me be$ause o# you9. ,*eople are laughing at you, be$ause you!"e got a "isitor1. ,&ot +ust =$ause 0!"e got a "isitor. (e$ause it!s you. 7ou know what 0 mean.. ,Ah, no 0 don!t. 5hat!s wrong with me $oming to see you1 5hat!s the problem1. ,C9$ause,. she stuttered, her teeth $hattering. 0nside a "oi$e kept telling her to shut up. 3ust shut up. ,-aybe one day 0!ll be waiting around, looking #or you, only you might not $ome.. -yst swung her head, looking #rom &e"aeh to :osh as i# they were lobbing a tennis ball she $ouldn!t $at$h. &e"aeh kept wiping her palms on her thighs, a ner"ous motion that she wasn!t e"en aware she was doing. Letting out a whine o# sympathy, -yst!s snout blo$ked &e"aeh!s hands #rom going any #urther, burrowing into her po$ket #or the ball &e"aeh always kept with her. The dog was right. &e"aeh still had -yst!s red ball in her $o"erall po$ket, sort o# as a sad keepsake. ,So what are you saying1 're you telling me that you!d miss me1. he teased. 0# she!d had more e)perien$e with boys she $ould!"e said something smart, something that would shut him right up. (ut she didn!t know any better than to +ust honestly state, ,%ell yeah 0!d miss you. 7ou know 0 would.. She slapped her thighs, gi"ing him an e)pe$tant look. ,5ell, 0!m =bout ready to go.. ,Ah, you!re still $utting our "isit short1. ,0 wanna go out to the training yard. 0 $an tell -yst needs some e)er$ise. 0s that okay with you1.
,Sure, that!ll be #ine.. &e"aeh stood up, waiting #or him to rise. 0nstead he pushed the harness handle towards her. ,7ou!re not $oming1. %e shrugged, unsure his legs $ould take a walk that was too #ar. ,0 didn!t know you wanted me to.. ,0t!s up to you. There!s a pla$e to smoke. 0t!s +ust the outside "isiting area. 7ou $an wat$h us #rom behind the #en$e.. ,<kay.. 't least she got to see her assumption had been right. %e wa% mo"ing better. &ot by mu$h, be$ause he still needed his $ane and -yst to lead him, but his knees didn!t seem as bent. 's they made their way to the #en$ed in $ourt yard, he looked around at all the grass, nodding at the guards and staring o## in the distan$e at the women walking in a mu$h larger se$tion, wearing brightly $olored s$rubs and +umpsuits with lettering that said Property of the tate 4orrectional !epartment. %e!d been agile at one time and en+oyed playing tennis, skateboarding, and being a$ti"e in all kinds o# sports. So the outside se$tion #or "isitors with its #lat, well9kept grass reminded him o# a $ourt at 5imbledon. ,This would make a good tennis $ourt. 0 always like wat$hing the 5illiams sisters play. 'nd 8odger /ederer.. %is obser"ation was greeted with a snorting $ough in reply. &e"aeh #igured it was better to sound like a $at $oughing up a hairball than saying something smart ba$k, but there was no way this prison yard looked like a tennis $ourt to her. (ut then, the only $ourts she was #amiliar with were those o# the basketball "ariety, and the one that had senten$ed her to +ail. ,5at$h this, $he$k out how #ast she is at $at$hing,. she grinned, $ranking her arm as -yst 2ui"ered in anti$ipation, then took o## like a missile on$e the bright red ball was released. '#ter retrie"ing the ball -yst trotted ba$k, dropping it into &e"aeh!s hand, an)ious #or another throw. <ne o# her ba$k legs ki$ked out #urther behind the other one, like a sprinter on a starting blo$k. %er tongue lolled on the side o# her mouth as she waited. This was what the dog had been missing. %ere was the boundless +oy o# play and intera$tion -yst needed a#ter being ignored by :osh. 'nd so it went #or the ne)t hal# hour. Throw, retrie"e and release. To :osh, it was like wat$hing his great grandpa whip his #ishing rod around his head. 5hen the line broke the water,
ripples o# shiny wa"es radiated outward until 8i$hard 3u"al was ready to sling his #ishing pole all o"er again. (ehind the #en$e :osh was there in body, but his mind was miles away. That was okay as #ar as &e"aeh was $on$erned. This was her "isit anyway. There was no law that said she and -yst!s new owner had to get along. 'll that mattered was whether he was a good #it #or the dog. 'nd i# anybody pressed her #or the truth, well, she still wasn!t $on"in$ed :oshua 3u"al was worthy o# ha"ing a dog like -yst.
&e"aeh rea$hed #or his plate and :osh $aught her wrist, re#using to let go. 0t startled her so badly that she almost pulled him out o# his $hair. #3osh, what are you doing*% 3amned i# he knew. (ut something was telling him not to let go, and to draw her $loser. ,Lea"e the dishes alone #or on$e, okay1. ,(ut9. ,*lease.. She stood there, gi"ing him a #a$e that $learly spelled out you wanted my attention, now what* So he asked her to sit on his lap. That gained him an e)pression o# disbelie#. ,&e"aeh, +ust sit down. 090 want you to be with me.. %e didn!t ha"e to ask twi$e, be$ause she plopped down so 2ui$kly that e"en -yst $o$ked her head at the sight. To say the whole thing looked and #elt awkward was an understatement. 0t was une)pe$ted, +ust like his re2uest. ,0 $an!t . . . it won!t be the way it should be with us. The medi$ation 0 take, my pills don!t e)a$tly make me horny, you know1. She nodded, kissing the top o# his head, his $heeks, and #inally settling on his mouth.
,(ut 0!"e still got my #ingers. 'nd my mouth,. he o##ered when they pulled apart. ,'nd my tongue.. 0t was a good thing :osh $ouldn!t see her #a$e. (ut her hands stilled, so he knew something was wrong. ,5hat is it1. %e li#ted his head, pushing her ba$k so that he $ould gauge her rea$tion. She wouldn!t meet his eyes, and her "oi$e was so so#t he $ould barely hear it. ,This.. ,7ou don!t like me holding you like this1. ,&o . . . $ do like it when it+s like this. (ut9. She didn!t say anything else #or the #ew se$onds that #elt like minutes. %ours. 3ays. ,3on!t be mad, but uh . . . 0 don!t like that other part.. :osh started to ask what the hell she was talking about. 5hat other part1 There was kissing, $aressing and then . . . <h wow. %ow $ould he ha"e been so stupid1 'nd so blind1 She!d gone to prison at thirteen. Thirteen. 5hi$h probably meant she!d been a "irgin. 'nd e"en i# she wasn!t, lo"e making #or a thirteen year old would be a totally di##erent e)perien$e than #or someone $loser to twenty. ,0!m kinda glad you mentioned that,. :osh admitted. ,See, we $an both take it slow. That way there!s no pressure on either o# us.. ,7ou aren!t mad at me1. ,&o.. 'nd that was the truth. There was no sense getting all worked up, only to ha"e her #ind out he $ouldn!t deli"er the goods yet. ,0 like holding you. 5e should do this more o#ten.. ,'nd maybe we $ould try sleeping in the same bed.. She li$ked her lips, #inding her mouth suddenly dry. ,(ut we don!t ha"e to do anything. 0 +ust wanna know how it #eels to ha"e you beside me.. "ut not inside you, :osh wanted to add. This new de"elopment would $all #or #inesse, so he de$ided to go along. The whole time he assured &e"aeh that they $ould postpone ha"ing se), his stare lingered on her mouth. :ust the thought o# de"oting se"eral hours to #oreplay had him grinning #rom ear to ear. 'nd he wondered when his medi$ations would wear o## on$e he stopped taking them. (e$ause i# she was serious about sharing his bed, there!d be no way they weren!t going to end up doing it.
End of Excerpt
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