"Brian," said Ron, sitting up straighter in the hard
wooden chair. "You came." Ron broke into a broad smile.
But Brian wasn't smiling. He slipped into his seat,
across the table from Ron. "Yes, I came."
Brian was nervous. He put his hands on the table, trying
to keep them still, but it was impossible. Brian desperately
wished that he had a cigarette, but it wasn't allowed in the
"You look good, Brian," said Ron. Now he was nervous,
too. He'd never felt ill-at-ease with Brian before. "But
you always look good. Your hair looks longer."
"Maybe a little. I haven't had time to get it cut." Brian
kept glancing around, trying to look anywhere but at Ron.
He touched his hair, unconsciously, pushing it back from
"It looks fine. Just fine." Ron fumbled with the paper bag
on his lap. "I brought more cookies. I know you like them.
Cookies, I mean." Ron took the tin out of the bag and pushed
the it across the table.
Brian frowned. What was it with Ron and the cookies? Oh,
well. Justin and the other kids would eat them. "Thanks."
Brian gestured to one of the C.O.'s to check the tin. Anything
the visitors brought had to be checked for drugs or other
"So, how does it feel to be 30, Bri?" Ron noticed that Brian
was wearing the red pullover. And the Chuck Taylors. Ron
was hoping that Brian would mention them. Would thank
Ron. That would be almost as good as an apology.
"Same as it felt to be 29. And 28." Brian shrugged. "I don't
get the whole fuss about birthdays. It's just a day." Brian
paused and saw Ron's expectant face. That made him feel a
tinge of guilt. After all, Ron had sent that birthday card.
He'd never given him a card before. But Ron had never
been outside on Brian's birthday before, either. "Thanks
by the way. For the card."
Ron smiled again. "I knew you would like it. I picked it out
Brian tapped his fingers against the table. Ron seemed so
focused on this birthday stuff and the stupid card. Brian
couldn't even really remember the card. Some cartoon
animal and a silly saying. Justin had all the cards pasted
up on the wall and he looked at them, cared about them,
much more than Brian did. "Yeah, thanks."
"And?" said Ron. Damn it! Getting Brian to say anything
these days was like pulling teeth. "The sweater? It looks
great, by the way."
"Yes, it does look good, doesn't it?" said Brian. He touched
the soft fabric. "Justin always knows what I like."
"Justin?" said Ron. A chill went through him.
"He got me this sweater and these shoes, too." Brian lifted
his foot to show the Converse sneakers. "For basketball.
I'm playing on the third tier team, now."
"What else did JUSTIN get for you, Brian?" Ron was trying
to keep his voice even. That fucking kid had stolen his
package! Of course he did! He must have picked it up
with the other mail and taken it for himself. The little
Brian looked at Ron strangely. "Why are you so interested
in Justin all of a sudden?"
"Just making conversation," Ron replied tightly.
"He gave me some books. A radio. Some other clothes. Things
that I needed," Brian answered candidly. "Things I've needed
for a while."
Ron gritted his teeth. "I could have gotten those things for
you, Bri. You know that! All you had to do was ask!"
Brian gazed back at Ron. His eyes were so green and the
gold flecks were like points of fire. "But with Justin I
didn't have to ask. He KNEW. He looked and he saw what I
needed. Just like you would have known exactly what I
needed -- what might have made my fucking life in here
a tiny bit easier -- if you'd only taken two minutes to
think about it, Ron. That's all it would have taken. Two
minutes. But you never bothered. You had better things
to do. More important things to do."
"That's such a fucking lie!" Ron retorted. "Everything
you had was something I gave you!"
"Yeah, something you didn't want or didn't need anymore,"
Brian answered. "Better to give it to me than throw it out.
Thanks, Ron. I appreciate it."
"Don't twist things, Brian! You love twisting things!" Ron
felt himself getting hot. The Visitors' Gallery was stuffy.
"You love making me squirm, don't you Brian? Why are
you acting like this? Why?"
"I don't know, Ron. Maybe I can see things more clearly
now, without you in my face all day and all night."
Brian's hands were twitching now.
"And that kid helps you see things clearly, is that it?"
Ron was angry now. Angry with Brian. With Justin. And
with himself. If he hadn't made so many stupid moves,
all of this wouldn't be happening! If he had only paid
Brian a little more attention. Brian was in there by
himself. He was lonely. No wonder he'd latched onto
"It has nothing to do with Justin, Ron. It has to do with
you. And me." Brian touched his prison tattoo lightly.
'Resist.' "And that letter you sent me. Was THAT
supposed to make things all dandy again? Wasting
your time trying to wrangle a stupid Conjugal Visit?
I never read such a load of horse shit in my life!"
"I... I wrote that letter when I was upset, Brian!"
said Ron. "When you wouldn't see me!"
"And I'm beginning to think I was right last month,"
Brian said sadly. "That I shouldn't have come here
today, Ron. Because you are starting it all up again.
What IS your damage? You don't need me, Ron! So
why do you keep coming here?"
Ron wanted to jump up and shout. "I come here to
see YOU! Why else?"
Brian sighed. "Go home to your wife, Ron. And all
those women you told me you were looking forward
to fucking when you got out. Did you manage to nail
good old Julie?"
Ron nodded weakly. Brian knew him too well. "Yes. I
nailed Julie. We... we've been having sort of an affair
since I started back to work."
"I figured that. She's always had a thing for you."
Brian rubbed his eyes. "And you probably have plenty
of other women, too. I can't imagine that you wouldn't.
Well, I say enjoy yourself. Why the hell not?"
"But they aren't YOU, Brian!"
"I'm NOT one of your females, Ron!" Brian was tired of
this discussion. "And you aren't a fag, Ron! So get over it.
It was prison shit. Prison sex. And now it's OVER!"
Ron leaned across the table, his voice low. "I know you
aren't just some female, Bri. But it's different with us!
It ISN'T about sex! It's about... about...."
"Don't say 'love,' Ron, because that's fucked up!"
"Why not about love?" Ron breathed heavily. "Why not?"
Brian looked at Ron's face carefully. "How many guys
have you fucked since you've been out?"
"What?" Ron drew back.
"You heard me," said Brian. "Tell me the truth. How many
times have you gone down to that place in Pittsburgh?
What's it called? Liberty Avenue? Gone to a bar there
and picked up a guy? How many times?"
Brian would know if he lied. "I... a couple of times. A... a
few times. It was nothing, Bri! Nothing!"
"I knew it. Maybe you're a fag after all, Ron. Congratulations."
Brian stretched his long fingers and then balled them up
into fists. "You act like you hardly give a damn about me.
You're out there doing whatever and whoever you feel like
doing. You don't care. Until you find out that I'm hooked up
with someone else. Trying to reclaim your personal
property, Ron? Is that all it is?"
"You aren't anyone's property, Brian!" Ron asserted. He
didn't want Brian to get angry. When Brian got angry he
got stubborn. And then he wouldn't listen to anyone. "You
hit me with that stuff about the kid from out of left field!
All you talk about now is that kid! You want me to be
jealous? You want me to feel hurt? Okay, I'm jealous!
I'm hurt! Are you happy now?"
Brian swallowed. "No, I'm not happy, Ron. I don't want
you to be hurt. But I don't see why you should feel hurt.
You're OUTSIDE, Ron, in case you hadn't noticed. That's
what you had been planning for and dreaming about for
the last four years of your sentence. Getting out. Getting
back to your real life. Your wife. Your kids. Working
with the PLD. That's what you wanted."
"Isn't that what every guy wants, Bri? To get out?" Ron
couldn't understand what Brian was getting at.
Brian blinked. This was harder than he'd thought it would
be. Much harder. "Yes, that's what every guy thinks about.
And I don't blame you for it, Ron. But how did you think that
I would feel when you left? How I felt, watching you get ready
to go, knowing that... that I'll be here until my fucking hair
turns gray? That I'll be here so long I won't even remember
what it's like to be on the outside. Because I'll never have a
'life' to return to, Ron. I'll never have a family, or anyone
else, waiting for me to get out. That's MY reality."
Ron felt like someone had sucker punched him. "Brian...."
Brian looked down at his hands. "So if I'm trying to grab
whatever little piece of life I can, while I can, why is that
a threat to you, Ron? I know you're working to get the kid
a new trial and I thank you for that. Julie's been keeping
me posted on your progress. I know you're doing what you
can -- and I don't give a damn what your motives are! I only
want Justin out of here as soon as possible. So on that we're
all on the same page." Brian paused. "But when he's gone...
that will be it. And I hope that Justin does what I... I wish
you would do, Ron. Go -- and never look back! Forget you
ever knew me. And I mean that."
Brian stood up. He looked over to where Justin was visiting
with his mother. But Mrs. Taylor was sitting alone, crying.
Justin was gone. Brian had never even seen him leave. Brian
felt wave of fear pulse through him.
"I have to go."
"Brian! Wait!" called Ron after him. "Baby! Come back!
Come back!" Ron was shouting, but he didn't care. "Baby!"
But Brian didn't turn around. He left and he never looked