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Somebody Else's Sky (Something in the Way #2)(8)

By:Jessica Hawkins

"Just do. It's biological or something. Like how they just love you without having to be told or taught."

The bunk squeaked as he shifted. "Deep," Wills said. "You know what I heard today? Avocado is a fruit. How fucked up is that?"

"What'd you think it was?"

"I don't know. A vegetable, I guess. I never thought about it."

Avocado sounded like the most luxurious thing in the world right then. On sourdough bread with turkey and ham, sliced cheese and mayo? I'd trade a pack for a bite of the Lake Special. I lay there, imagining Lake layering meat with the precision of a surgeon. Even if the sandwich hadn't been so good, I would've enjoyed it just because of the care she'd put into it. Why? What'd made her want to feed me? What'd given her the courage to come over to the wall that day I'd found her bracelet? 

I forced my eyes open. It was as if finding out Lake's birthday had busted some kind of dam in me. I couldn't keep her off my mind. I picked up the top envelope from the stack, turning it over in front of my face, and ran a fingertip along the corner, over my name in her neat, girlish handwriting. A mix of cursive and print, smooth but broken.

"What're you doing down there?" Wills asked. "Jerking off to your blonde?"

"Fuck you."

"Fine, geez. I did it the other afternoon just knowing she was in the building."

I was thinking about my blonde, and it made my chest burn. I grabbed more letters, sorting through them for the only one I'd actually opened. The first I'd ever gotten and had attempted to read. I unfolded the lined paper that had been ripped out of a spiral-bound notebook and words jumped off the page at me.

So sorry . . . my fault . . . can't live this way, knowing I did this . . .

I gritted my teeth, looking away. I didn't want to read this. Couldn't. I still had two months in here and if I let her in now, it'd make things so much fucking harder. Why did she send them? What good did it do? I turned the page over to the last few lines.

I'll come visit every chance I get. Don't be mad at me. I'll make this up to you.

I almost crumpled the page, my hand shook so bad. There was no mention of anything in the letter other than what she'd done. How sorry she was. All the ways it hurt. That wasn't the life I wanted for her, and she knew it. I could still feel her between my legs on the horse, laughing into the wind, gripping my forearms even though she had to know I'd never let her fall.

Since I'd gotten here, I'd been in two fistfights, had faced down a man with a shiv, and had been verbally abused by CO's. But reading about her guilt over that night was harder than any of that. I found her most recent letter, the one I'd picked up last week, and stuck my finger under the flap, easing it open.

Wills started on some rant about tonight's mystery meat and how he'd probably have diarrhea in the middle of the night. That small motherfucker had a weak constitution. One thing I'd learned in prison was that I could eat anything and still, sometimes, try to bargain for more. I tuned Wills out.

Dear Manning,

I had to make a hard decision this week. I wasn't going to be a camp counselor again. I thought it would be too hard without you, but I think I'm going to do it. I love it up there and I want to see the kids. I hope it doesn't upset you. I'll make it up to you by riding a horse, but since I can't imagine being up there with anyone other than you, I'll do it by myself.

I swallowed and almost stopped reading. Selfishly, it did upset me. I wanted to be back there, in the woods where the air was fresh and cool, with no worries. Just her.

My dad and I had a fight. He wants me to join the track team next year so I can put it on my college apps. I said no. I don't run for him or for USC. I run for myself. Some days it feels like the only thing I can do. By the way, my infection is gone. I hope you weren't worried. I know you worry.

There will be a scar. Val says it's cool, at least.

My gut tightened, my hand instinctively balling up the envelope. What had infected her, scarred her? Who was Val? Was that a man or a woman's name? Fuck.


I skimmed to the end of the letter.

Please write me back. Please add me to your visitor's list. I miss . . . everything.



PS My birthday is in less than two weeks. I'll be seventeen (but you know that).

I dropped my hand, clutching the page. Love, Lake. The words were tiny daggers dipped in sweetness and plunged into my heart. I'd never approve her as a visitor, that was for damn sure. She was a minor and couldn't come alone anyway.

Next to me on the mattress were the answers to my questions, but the first and last letter told me all I needed to know. I wasn't strong enough to handle being in Lake's head. When she hurt, I did more than hurt-I felt like shit. Like a real criminal for letting things get this far. But hearing she was doing better without me around, yeah, that made me feel like shit, too.