beast part 3 an erotic fairy tale

 

 

 

BEAST
3.

An Erotic Fairy Tale

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELLA JAMES

CHAPTER 1

Annabelle

 

Every time my lungs expand to draw in air, it feels like too much movement. Too much noise.

L
ogically, I know I can’t keep hiding indefinitely. If I stay here, someone will find me. But I’m not ruled by logic. I’m compelled by fear. So I crouch down on Beast’s bathroom floor until my knee caps ache and my back knots, and my fingernails are sore from picking at the grout between the small, gray tiles.

They just…took him.

How could they just take him that way?

Did he really kill that guy? The
Aryan?

Where is he now?

Too many questions banging around my head, so I stand up. Blood rushes into my legs, making them tingle, then ache.

I slide my phone out of my pocket and scroll to Holt’s name. If only I could call him—but I don’t have service in the prison.

Clinton. I turn toward the mirror mounted over the sink and inhale slowly. If I’m going to leave this bathroom, the first person I should look for is Clinton.

I can do that.
Surely I can find Clinton before the men who took Beast find me, too.

But what if I don’t?

I imagine myself in a small, empty room. Water dripping down the walls, leaving slimy mold trails. Rusted bars through which hazy sunlight floats. Nothing in the world but me and the dust particles drifting through the gross, stale air.

They couldn’t do that to me, right? I’m not a prisoner.

Beast is.

Shit, I’ve got to help him. I won’t leave her
e until I find out what the hell is going on.

I blink int
o the mirror one more time, then slide my phone back into my pocket. Step slowly into his room. His room. This is
his room
. That bed there—that rumpled bed, with its soft, black duvet—is where I lay with him and felt the hard warmth of his abs; his scratchy face; the softness of his lips pressed hard against mine. I sucked the head of his cock into my cheeks and tasted the slick saltiness of him. Just a little while ago, his tongue flicked between the swollen lips of my pussy.

He told me he remembered me.

He said he practically stalked me.

It’s
so hard to believe.

It’s like a
dream.

Like a
fairy tale.

A twisted fairy tale, because my prince is stuck in prison and as soon as he told me he remembered me, I lost him.

Tears fill my eyes as I stand there in the bathroom doorway, and in the blur of them, I notice the bookshelf that runs along the wall out in front of me. Somehow—I guess because my eyes went straight to him—I didn’t notice it when Clinton first brought me here.

I
know I need to get the hell out of dodge, but I can’t stop my renegade feet from carrying me over, or my eyes from skimming the spines of the books he chooses to keep here in his room with him.

Beloved
.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
.
A Clockwork Orange
.
Fight Club
.
The Bible
.
The Koran
.
Peace is Every Step. The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank.

I wonder if these books were donated. I pull out
The Diary of A Young Girl: Anne Frank
and skim through the pages. I only have to flip a few before I find highlighted text.


It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

My eyes widen. Okay, well I think that confirms it: These books were definitely donated.

I flip a few more pages and see boxy, all-caps handwriting. ‘THE WEAK DIE OUT BUT THE STRONG SURVIVE.’

Well, hot damn.
That’s
his
writing. I’m almost sure I remember the tabloids reporting that he wrote in all caps. It was one of those mundane articles I remember only because I used to read so many of them in my star-struck, younger years.

I pull out
Peace is Every Step
, because I want to know what a man like Beast thinks is important about peace. After only a few pages, I start finding passages highlighted.


When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence.”


To be loved means to be recognized as existing.” And out beside this, in the margin: MANAGE EXPECTATIONS.

What does that mean?
He feels no one loves him, and therefore no one recognizes he exists? That can’t be true.

I flip through more pages, and find another highlight.

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering.” And beside this: PAN—ATTAX?

I stare down at the handwriting, scrawled into the margin with a thick black pen.

Is that code for panic attacks?

Does Beast have panic attacks? It seems impossible to believe.

I let the breath out I’ve been holding and put the books back. Too many things about this man stir me up. Too much about him haunts me.

I
walk to the door and stand there, with my over-hot cheeks and my racing pulse, and wonder what’s the best way to find Clinton.

First, I need to get as far from Beast’s quarters as possible. When I’m found, as I assume I will be pretty quickly, I’ll tell whoever finds me that I’m here to see Clinton. They’ll probably ask me how I got in, or maybe they won’t. Probably whoever mans the cameras is in Beast’s pocket like everyone else, and they’ll remember letting me in on the sly.

But what if they’re in the pocket of Beast’s enemies now? My body goes a little cold. I don’t know anything about prison. About the politics here. About how to take care of myself here.

Surely the people who work here will help me get to Clinton.

It’s a civilized place. The employees are just regular people. 

If I get caught, I’ll say I’m here to see Clinton, and whoever finds me will take me to him. Right? He’s not a prisoner. He’s a guard. They can have guests; at least I think they can. I’ve always been able to visit Holt when I wanted. Maybe I have special privileges because I’m his daughter?

Regardless. I will find Clinton.

I need to woman up. Shake off my anxiety and get this done.
I push through Beast’s door and spirit myself out into the hall. I’m so anxious, I forget to look around. I just bolt to the right, hoping to get down the short hallway that houses Beast’s quarters before someone sees me. That way they won’t know I was visiting him, and the men who took him won’t feel the need to “take care of it,” or whatever it was they said they’d have to do if I was found.

I’m mid-stride, hurling my body toward the doorway that leads back to the main hall, when strong finger
s close around my upper arm. I gasp and whirl.

For a second before my brain registers the
face, I allow myself to hope it’s him. Instead, when I blink and my mind clears, I find myself nose-to-nose with a hulking, blond guard. He’s got freckles all across his nose and cheeks, and a wicked-looking scar on his forehead. His blue eyes are so cold, I glance up and down his body to confirm he’s wearing a brown guard’s uniform and not a prison jumpsuit.

He’s a guard, but he looks mad enough to kill.
“Let go of me!”

He clenches my arm a little tighter and rolls his gaze down me. His brows draw
tightly together, as if he’s never seen a woman before. In a thick, Southie accent, he says, “Who the fuck are you?”


I’m…Belle. I’m looking for Clinton.”

“In Beast’s room?” He shakes his head vehemently. “You’re looking to get banned from here because you’re a
fucking liar.”

“You’re right. I am.” I open and shut my mouth
convulsively, trying to get my brain to come on board. Honesty. Just be honest, Annabelle. “I was looking for him—for Beast—but he’s not—”

“He’s not there
,” the guard snaps.

I nod.
“Right. But before I go, I really need to talk to—”

“Clinton’s gone
, too.”

“He’s
gone? What do you mean?”

“Went home.”

“His shift ended in the last hour? I thought he just got—”

“Doesn’t matter why,” he interrupts. “Clint’s not here. You
need to go. You don’t belong here.” He drags me down the hall, punches some keys into a keypad to open a thick, steel door, and puts his hands on my shoulders. He points me in a direction I think is the front of the prison. “Guard at the end of this hall’s Germain. Tell him Larry sent you.”

Before I can
fully process what’s going on, he says something into a Bluetooth. I hear mostly just grunts, and then an African-American man appears at the other end of the short hall.

I figure this new guy can’t be as bad as Larry, so I take a
few long, quick strides. Germain grabs my elbow and I fear I’m wrong. He starts to drag me past the rows of steel doors on each side of the hall. I jerk my arm away and dig my heels in.

“Stop it
!” My voice rings through the empty hall, and Germain peers down at me. “I don’t know who you people think I am, but—”

“I know exactly who you are, swee
theart. Come with Daddy. We’ve got some questions for you.”

“Beast?” I say.
Is he taking me to Beast?

“You’re his bitch. That’s why we’re asking you the questions.

I
’m about to tell him I’m also Holt’s daughter when I feel his hand press down on my back, and I’m guided through an open doorway to my right.

And there I find all three of them: the amoral
-looking bastard in the dress suit, and the two men in black jumpsuits and boots.

 

 

 

CHAPTER 2

Annabelle

 

The man in th
e suit is sitting at a faux wood table, in the middle of a boxy room. Under the harsh fluorescent lights, I can see he has salt and pepper hair and thick frown brackets around his mouth. He’s lean but well-worked-out. Maybe sixty? The other two, both closer to my age, sit on his left and right wearing apathetic frowns.

As soon as Suit sees me, his eyes widen. “Miss Mitchell.” He
sounds pleasantly surprised. After just a second, he locks his face down again, the frown lines reminding me a little of a Hollywood movie villain.

I
stand up straighter and try to look tough, despite Germain’s death grip on my forearm.


You can let go of Miss Mitchell,” Suit tells Germain.

He d
oes, and then steps back behind me somewhere. I have to resist the urge to massage my arm.

I try to keep my face as neutral as possible while
Suit stares at me. After a few seconds, my patience and anxiety get the best of me, and I speak first.

“How do you know my name?”

Suit smirks, and it’s a handsome smirk. A smirk that makes him look like the embodiment of ‘The Man.’

“You’re Beast’s new pastime,” he says in his old Marlboro commercial voice.
“Everybody at La Rosa knows he fucks you.”

My eyes bug
out. Did he really just say that to me?

“‘Mine.’
” His lips draw into a smug-looking pucker. “Isn’t that right, Annabelle?”

If his goal is to throw me off, he’s
starting to succeed. I’m confused and self-conscious, wondering if I look just-fucked in my yellow shirt and red jeans. I run my fingers over my curls, and he drags his gaze up and down me, blatantly assessing. I can’t tell what his judgment is. His face remains impassive. He waits another second before speaking, and I can tell this is his M.O. Whoever he is, and whatever he does, intimidation is not something he’s new to.

“Why don’t you sit down, Annabelle?”

I shake my head. “No thank you. I’ve gotta going home. I’ve got family waiting on me.”

H
is eyes flicker past me, to Germain—a silent order. “I don’t think so.”

I fight the cold fear that washes through me.
“I do. Do you know who my—”

“Y
our ex-step-father is?”

My mouth goes dry, my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth as I say, “Yes. That’s right.
Mr. …what’s your name?”

He stands up and
extends his hand across the table. “Robert. Robert Ryan.”

I
lean over and shake it, because I’m moving on auto-pilot and I’m not sure what else to do. Why does that name sound so familiar?

“I’m the
district attorney, Miss Mitchell. I’m here for a specific purpose, and I’m enlisting the help I need, in whatever form it may present itself. Prisoner. Not. It’s all the same to me. Now why don’t you have a seat and tell me what you know about Blaine McGuire.”

I square my shoulders
and do my best to look unflappable. “I don’t know anything about Blaine McGuire. I’ve never even heard of him.”

Something bumps the back of my knees: a chair.
A glance over my shoulder has me looking into Germain’s eyes.

“Sit down, Miss Mitchell,” Robert Ryan says
.

I shake my head. “
I don’t want to talk to you, and you can’t keep me here. I’m not a prisoner. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

He arches a brow. “No?”

He pulls out an iPhone and presses something, then slides the thing across the table. I see a video start to flicker over the screen as he says, “Is this not you, entering through a rear door of the premises, an entrance at a federal prison not intended to receive visitors?”

I
realize the moving figure on the screen is Clinton, showing me to the door of the library. And—shit—that’s me. The footage ends as soon as I step inside, and I realize the camera must have been behind me somewhere. Pinned to a tree or something, I guess. The camera wasn’t inside.

Whew.

Still, the fact that he has any footage of me breaking rules here is probably bad. I blink at the phone and try to decide what I should say about it. Pretty quickly, I decide nothing. What can I say? I’m not willing to throw Clinton or Beast under the bus, so I simply bite my tongue.

The DA’s
face hardens, and he looks at me like I’m a frustrating five year old. “I’m conducting an investigation into this prison, Miss Mitchell. An investigation that’s about to be official. Into your ex-step father’s activities as warden, and into activities endeavored by the man these people know as Beast. Cal Hammond.” His jaw clenches. “That fuck. There’s something here. And it involves bank accounts and politics and bribery and a very large number of misdeeds by your father and I will get to the bottom of it. So tell me, Annabelle. What do you know about the murder of Blaine McGuire? I think you’ll find you like the outcome better if you tell me what he told you about what happened here last night. Your Beast, that is.” His upper lip curls into a sneer.

I step back
, and the chair I bump makes a screeching noise against the cement floor. “I’m not involved in this—at all—and I’m not about to let myself be talked into something I’m not comfortable with. Let me go, or my family will come looking for me.”

He laughs. “
Your dying mother? Or your little sister? What about the babysitter, Holly? She looks tough for such a skinny girl.”

My
heart stops. I swear, for a full second, every cell inside my body freezes. “How do you know that?” It’s a whisper, because I can’t seem to get my vocal cords to work.

“I’ve been investigating your ‘Dad—’”
the DA bends his fingers into air quotes— “for months. Ever since a little bird told me that a worthless, disgusting,
murdering
PRISONER
was calling all the shots here! There’s something illegal going on here, probably a very many somethings, and I intend to see them prosecuted. Before I’m finished, your father will be behind bars. Starting tomorrow, someone else is in charge here. And your Beast? Your murdering…
stud
? He’s never getting out of solitary. Not as long as I’m alive and holding this office.”

He locks his jaw so hard I c
an almost hear his teeth crack and folds his arms over his chest.

I want to yell, to
argue with him, to defend Beast somehow, or intervene on his behalf, but I can’t seem to move my mouth. At least not right away. When I can, the words just tumble out.

“It’s not going to bring her back,”
I whisper.

He leans forward.
“What did you say?”


Uma.” I clasp my hands together and speak softly. “I know that Uma is your granddaughter. I was there that night. I drove up on the wreck. I know how bad it was…and I know how much it hurts to lose someone you love.” I have to stop and swallow, because the time is coming soon for Mom. I know it is. “But you’re not going to get her back. Not by throwing Be— Cal Hammond into solitary. Not by doing anything.”

He throws his head back and starts laughing
. It sounds so much like a cough, I think if I had my eyes closed, I’d never know the difference. I fold my arms across my chest and watch until he shuts his mouth and the sound stops echoing through the little room. He straightens up and meets my eyes again. His are so cold. So filled with hate and bitterness. “You’re not very bright, are you?”

I blink. I’m not going to dignify this asshole with an answer.

“Honey,” he says, “I know I can’t bring the dead back. But I can add to the count. You know what I mean?” His eye quivers. Or maybe that’s him blinking. It looks like a seizure, but I think it’s just pent up fury. After just a second of that horrible, freakish, unhinged look, he stands again and thrusts his hand out. He seals the deal on freakish by giving me a phony grin that looks like it must hurt.

“Good to see you, Miss Mitchell.
Germain will see you out.”

The guard grabs my arms and snatches them behind my back,
and I jerk against him. “No! I want to know what’s going on with Beast!”


Germain,” the DA says. His tone is a warning:
Get her out of here
.

“I’ll tell Holt about this!”
  I cry as I’m dragged out of the room.

“That’s the point,
honey.”

 

*

 

I’m escorted all the way to the security checkpoint by the guard named Germain. When we get there, he asks one of the female checkpoint guards to see me to my car.

By the time
the guard and I are pushing through one of the glass doors that leads to the parking lot, my eyes sting with unshed tears and my chest feels uncomfortably heavy.

I step out of La Rosa, into th
e bright, pale day, and glance around the parking lot, not because I want to leave but because even my eyes aren’t sure what to do next. It’s then I remember: I don’t have a car.

Shit.

From where I’m standing, at the top of the stairs to the main entrance, I can see two guard towers, but no one is nearby except the guard who brought me out.

I
pull my phone out of my pocket and turn around to see if she’ll leave me alone now so I can call a cab or even Holly if I need to.

Instead of leaving, s
he spits some fruit-scented chewing gum into a wrapper and puts a cigarette between her lips. It dangles there as I say, “I can’t leave right away. I don’t have a car here.”

She ignores that and holds out a pack at me. “Want to bum one?”

I shake my head, but I’m surprised she asked. Maybe I’ve finally found La Rosa’s
one friendly employee. Besides Clinton, that is.

“Do you know Clinton?” I ask as she lights up.

Her thin, dark brows draw together. “You do?”

I nod.

Her gray eyes widen. “I remember you now. You’re the riot girl! I recognize you from the cameras.” She laughs. “If Clinton is your ride, you’ll be waiting as long as the lifers. He just got escorted out like you.”

“He
did? Why?” I assume I know why—he’s part of the housecleaning that’s probably going to get rid of all Beast’s posse—but I want to hear what she says.

She tosses her gaze left, then right, like she’s trying to be sure no one is watching
us talk. She steps closer to me as she blows smoke out the side of her mouth, toward the parking lot. “He’s under investigation.”

“Why?” I breathe.
             

“That’s not something I can tell you, doll.”

I bug my eyes out, as if to say what the hell, and she laughs a little. “Mostly ’cause I don’t know.”

“Where is the warden?” I try. “Is he still away?” I know the answer, of course, but I want to see what she says. See if I can figure out more about why the DA thinks he can come in and start messing with the system here.
See if I can tell by her reaction to the question whether she knows I’m the warden’s daughter.

“You mean your dad?”

I nod. Question answered.

“I’m surprised that you don’t know. But yeah.”
She nods. “We’ve got an interim—Jenkins, one of the three wardens under your dad—but Jenkins got suspended, too. We had the DA come out. Fancy suit and all. He’s all good and pissed off. Shaking things up.” She drops her volume a notch. “Some people are saying it started with Cal Hammond. The DA thinks Beast killed his granddaughter.”

“Huh?”
I feign.

She nods solemnly. 

“Do you mean the girl in the wreck that night? Uma Whatever Her Last Name Was?”

Her brows arch up
. “You knew her?”

I shake my head. “I just remember her name.
First name.”

She shrugs, and
takes another drag, then slowly blows it out. “I don’t know much about the wreck, except some people died,” she says, still blowing smoke. “I don’t care, either. That man in there—” she jacks her thumb toward the doors— “is not Cal Hammond. They call him Beast. But then, I guess you know that…riot girl.”

I swallow, trying to loosen my throat. It feels tight. Because my body knows, a second before my brain does, what I’m about to ask her.

“Did he kill that guy tonight? The Aryan?”

“You tell me,” she says.
“You were here for him, weren’t you? Don’t you lie to Maura. I can tell.”

I nod slowly, and she smirks. “Conjugal visits at all hours, that
big fucking cock. I heard his cell is swank as shit, too. How did it go down? When they came for him, you were sucking his dick?”

I bite my lip. I’m not sur
e if I should tell her anything—definitely not whether I was sucking his dick when he got taken—but I figure if I want more information from her, I might need to give a little. “They just came and…took him. Two guys dressed in black, and one in a suit.”

“The DA,” she says, nodding. “
One of the other assistant wardens told me he had it in for Beast.”

I
grit my teeth. It’s wrong. So wrong. I don’t care if Uma was the DA’s granddaughter; he shouldn’t be allowed to pop up and start playing out his own vendetta. Not in a place like this, where Beast doesn’t have any rights. It’s abuse of power in the worst way.

“Don’t look so
upset,” the guard scoffs. “He’s killed a lot of men in here. If you ask me, he gets privileged treatment.” She leans in a little, blowing a curtain of smoke into my face. “I fucked him a few times—privacy of the kitchen—” she smiles— “and he’s got a big, pretty dick, but he’s no warden. He roams the halls with no escort or nothing. Not that I don’t like to see that pretty face, but it’s fucked up, the way things are. Probably because he killed so many people. He’s got respect from all the men. Even the gang leaders treat him like a…I dunno. Some kind of Mafioso. I heard he bribes the ranking guards with money.”

“You’re not a ranking guard?” I ask.

“I’m just a junior. New hire.”

“Did you know the guy who…died?” I brave. “The…Aryan leader, or whoever he was?”

I’m nervous about asking, because she’s white. I’m not sure how the guards and the prisoners get along. Maybe the white guards like the white prisoners, and mentioning the dead Aryan will make her angry.

I’m relieved when she takes another drag of her cigarette and shrugs. “I heard he got offed in a shower stall. Buck
ass naked. Someone squealed to someone saying it was Beast and the media found out like that.” She snaps her fingers to emphasize
fast
. “DA showed up and you know how that went down for Beast. People are saying your daddy’s gonna go when he gets back from his vacay. His head is gonna roll. There’s gonna be some changes around here. Everybody’s just a normal prisoner, and the new person is running things.”

“Who’s the new person?”

She shrugs. “Someone on the DA’s good list. He’s supposed to get here in the morning.” She looks me over and laughs, a little wryly. “Look at fucking me. I’m spilling all my fucking secrets.” She looks around, then frowns as if she’s straining to hear something.

Right about that time,
I hear the rumble of a car’s engine. I peer around her to see a yellow van bouncing down the dirt road. The gate begins to open. I wonder if whoever called the cab would mind if I rode with them.

“That’s you, doll
.”

“It is?”

She nods. “Germain, he called about thirty minutes ago. Said you’d need a ride out. Asking me to get you one.”

“How did he even know that?” I wonder aloud.

She shrugs. “Word here travels like a wildfire sometimes.”


Oh.” It’s hard to get the word out, because my throat feels thick. I can’t believe this happened. I can’t believe I’m leaving, with no idea what’s going on. I start down the stairs, then turn to her and struggle to think of what to say. “Thanks for talking to me.”

She blows more smoke out. “No problem,
hunny.”

I
step down the first stair. Then I turn back toward her. “I’ve got a question.” She arches a brow, and I let my breath out slowly as I try to wrangle up the nerve to ask it. The nerve to hear her answer to it. “Could you do me a favor?”

“What now?” She looks both annoyed and slightly amused.

“Can you let me know if you hear anything? About him—Beast?”

She throws her head back and laughs. “Honey, you’re dreaming. He’s never
gonna keep in touch with you. You’re just a lay. Even in the pit, he’ll find some pussy. That’s the way things are for a rich movie star like him. You won’t ever hear from him again.”

I nod slowly,
discarding what she’s saying and trying to think of how to endear her to me so she’ll give me an update even if she thinks that I don’t need one. “I know I probably won’t hear from him or anything, but I want to know when he gets out of solitary. And how he’s doing and stuff. Maybe it’s dumb, but I don’t care. If I give you my number, could you call? I could pay you or something…”

She
presses her lips together, like she’s considering the idea. “You got plastic?”

I nod.

She snickers a little, and pulls a phone out of her pocket. “You got it bad, girl. Got it bad for Beast.” She slides her fingertip over the screen and flicks her gaze up to mine. “I make bows.” She rubs her hair. “You know, for little girls? Got a shop on Etsy. Give me your number. Two hundred bucks will help me buy more ribbon. I’ll give you a buzz tomorrow.”

I can feel my shoulders loosen as a little of th
e tension leaves my body. “Tomorrow. Okay, that’s perfect.” I hold up my finger to tell the cabbie to hold on a minute and pull my card out of my pocket.

“Ready?” I look up at her.

She nods, and I rattle off my card number. My head throbs as she punches it in.

She turns the phone around to face me, revealing a nifty little screen with a line for my signature. “Use your finger,” she says.

I rub the tip of my pointer finger over her screen, and am relieved when she shows it to me again.

PAYMENT ACCEPTED.

“Thank you. Thank you so much. I really mean it.”

She chuckles
. “Welcome, hun. Now get going.”

I get into the van, clutching my phone like it’s a bar of gold
.

CHAPTER 3

Beast

 

Nightmares are nothing new for me, but this one is fucked up.

I
’m stuck in dreamland, and I keep blinking, because I’m looking at Guy in a body bag and I’d give anything to have my gaze somewhere else. The sides of the rubbery, black bag are zipped around all of him but his face.

And his face…

Unlike other nightmares, blinking doesn’t send me to a different room in the house of horrors. I remain right here in this miserable dimension, where I can’t look away from all the blood caked on him. It’s black, crusted and dried onto his blow-white skin. Except his skin’s not really white; it’s slightly blue. And his lips are black; black like a bruise. His handsome face is sunken in some places and bloated in others, and I’m starting to feel sick as shit.

I don’t want to see this.

I finally get my head to move so I can look the other way, but then there’s Uma. And yeah, I’m in a different place now for fucking sure, because unlike very dead Guy, dead Uma’s only a little dead. She’s still in the road. She’s sprawled out on her side, and her body is… Jesus. It’s fucking twisted—like a pretzel.

I try to look away, but a sick sort of curiosity compels me. It’
s been a while since I had a dream this vivid. Years since I was confronted in the courtroom with the damage I did that night. So I blink and look at Uma’s broken body. At her pretty face, which I can’t see. Her head is blood. Nothing but fucking blood and gore.

I look the other way, and
I wish I could get up and run from this nightmare I’m having, because I’ve got a decent guess what’s next.

“Oh God…”

Royce. I try to open my eyes but it doesn’t go away. I see Royce a hundred times. Like somebody took a bunch of Polaroids of his dead ass and taped them on a big, white wall.

It’s a…fucking…I don’t know. A fucking progression
of death.

Royce is on the road and his skull is cracked open like a…

“Fuck.”

I try to cover my mouth but my ha
nds won’t move. I can feel the vomit moving up my throat. Then I’m turning my head and it’s going everywhere, and someone is laughing.

I should try to see who it is. I should try to
get up. But I’m too fucking tired. I lie there panting, looking out or up or somewhere at Brody. Brody Royce. The inside of his bleeding head is white like bone or brains or both.

I clamp my jaw down, hissing breaths out of my nose, and I remember Brody’s blunt
that night. He wanted to smoke a blunt and I did this to him.

“Jesus,” I gasp.

I don’t want to see this!

I scrub my hands over my face, and I
can feel the wetness on the heels of my palms. And I can feel the sticky cool blood on my face.

I’m dreaming I’m dead, too. That one’s normal enough. Except in this dream, it hurts. My right cheek hurts like a fucking bitch, and
that’s how I realize: I’m awake.

 

*

 

Annabelle

 

In the middle of my sophomore year of college, I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer.
Mis
diagnosed.

Of course, I didn’t know at first.

When the doctor at our campus clinic told me what she thought, I felt like I’d been punched in the face. The few days after that, I held onto my awful secret with both hands and learned what it was like to live in a state of perpetual terror. Inescapable dread.

Wanting to do something. Unable to do anything, because my campus doctor was contacting a specialist in Atlanta—but until that
happened, I was just in limbo.

The few da
ys after I leave La Rosa are just like that.

I want to know what’s
going on with Beast, but there’s no one I can ask. Holt is still away. I’ve called his house and talked to his new wife, Bea, who tells me he is, indeed, in Honduras on a “business” trip.

“He’s visiting a prison there,” she says, almost defensively.

“When will he be back?”

“I’m not for sure. At least another week
.”

“Can you have him call me?”

“I can ask.”

But she doesn’t, or if
she does, he decides he doesn’t want to. Maybe he knows I’m wanting information about Beast. Maybe he knows nothing. That would make sense, if they’re replacing him as warden.

Days roll
by. Stifling days where I fake my smiles for Ad and sit in the bathtub every night until the water turns cold.

Days—and my friend
Maura, the junior guard who stole my money, never calls.

The news
networks report the same story over and over: Cal Hammond killed an Aryan gang leader. It’s the first time he’s been in the news in years, it seems, and “average Americans” are shocked at his violent deed.

“I think he’s just playing a role,” says a w
oman interviewed in New York City on a late night show.

I hear
a National Public Radio analysis of “Cal” and his career as I drive Ad and I home from Wal-Mart the next afternoon. Some stupid expert says the same thing. Just a role.
Right
. Because eight years in prison is nothing but a feigned tough guy mentality. Because he goes home every night to his Hollywood castle and only wears a jumpsuit in the day. Because murdering someone is just part of his effing role.

Why is it so h
ard to accept that sometimes people change? Not for the better. For the worse. That night, my Mom slips into a coma, and I cry into my pillow—because sometimes people change.
Always
, people change. And so much of the time, it’s for the worse.

When I fall into my tear-soaked dreams, I feel
his mouth. His hands. His blood.

Exactly a week after the last time I visited the priso
n, they send a new hospice nurse to the apartment. She tells me, “We don’t think your mother will wake up again.”

I
cry into my hands while Adrian eats a bowl of cereal behind me, peacefully oblivious, at least for now, and after that, we go for long rides in the “country.” There, I roll the passenger’s window down and let her lean out just a little. As her hair flaps around her rosy cheeks, we pass the spot where the wreck happened.

When we get home,
Ad and I draw on the sidewalk outside our apartment door with colored chalk. The next day, when Mom’s blood pressure goes lower than it’s ever gone before, I teach Ad to ride the “Tangled” bike I bought her with Beast’s money.

The
day after that, I break down and call the prison, pretending to be a relative of Clinton’s. I ask the operator for his phone number. The man on the other end of the line tells me he’s gone.

“Gone?”
I say.

“He doesn’t work here
anymore.”

I call
two days later, at a different time of day, hoping for a different staffer on a different shift. I get a female this time, and ask if women can sign a waiting list for conjugal visits with Cal Hammond. She laughs. “Don’t you watch the news, honey? He’s not taking any visitors.”

Ten days drag by
, and still no return call from Holt. Still no update from the guard I paid.

On the
twelfth day, after hours hanging around Mom’s bedside, waiting for it to be time to get Ad and Holly so we can say goodbye, something shifts inside me, and I just can’t do it anymore. We haven’t left the house in days, but I don’t give a shit. I’m not standing here any longer, waiting for my mom to die.

I
load Ad into the car and drive to Dad’s house.

I
’m surprised when, on the third ring of the doorbell, Holt appears, wearing jeans and a “Mrs. Doubtfire” apron and holding tongs.

“Honey,” he says.

“Dad.” I tighten my grip on Adrian’s hand. “Why the heck haven’t you returned my calls?”

“I jus
t got home last night,” he says, wide-eyed and innocent.

He smiles down at Ad.

My heart beats too fast. “Why did you never call me back?” I say. “I want to know what’s going on with Beast.”

“Who’s Beast?” Ad looks up at me.

“I don’t know,” Dad says over her head. “I’m only in charge of managerial oversight now. Prisoner relations is being done by someone put in place by the DA.”


Is that even legal, that he can just come in and clean house this way? Is it the grudge he has over his granddaughter? Is that why he went after you and Beast?”

Dad wav
es us inside without looking me in the eye, then drops down and takes Ad’s chin in his fingers. “How are you, sweetie? You look pretty in your pink shirt.”

“Thank you, Holt.” She beams, and I simmer as we follow Dad
down the hardwood hall, into his large kitchen.

Bea, Holt’s new wife, is t
here—of course. She’s sitting on a bar stool, playing on her iPad. When she sees Adrian and me, her eyes go slightly wide, and her thin lips make a little ‘o’.

I ignore her as I lift Ad up onto another of the stools, and Dad slides an oyster-shell-shaped plate of chips and dip across the granite counter to her.

“Have some, guys.” He looks at Bea. “Bea, why don’t you get Luke downstairs?”

I shake my head. “We won’t be here for long. I just came here to ask about Beast.” I huff and decide, why be fake about it? “I’ve tried to reach you for weeks now, Holt. You never even bothered t
o call me back.” I glare at Bea. “Did she get calls from Honduras? I bet she did.” I glance at Ad and swallow the rest of my anger. “I only want to know what’s going on with Beast, and then I’ll leave you to your life.”

Now it’s Holt’s turn to go all wide-eyed.

“What? It’s not like it’s not true,” I snap. “I’m not a priority for you. Financially, maybe, but that’s all. I’m an obligation.”

Holt
glances at Adrian, as if to be sure my outburst of truth hasn’t harmed her in some way.

“How is your mother?” he asks slowly
. His gaze shifts from Adrian to me.

“That’s not what this is about,” I
say. At the exact same time, Ad wails, “She’s going to be dead
tomorrow
!”

“What?” I whirl around to her.

“Lucy said so. On the phone,” Ad says in a tiny voice. Her eyes fill up with tears, and she bites down on her lip to keep them from falling.

“Oh baby.” I scoop her off the stool and walk into Holt’s den
. I sit her down on his big, suede couch and put my arms around her. A few seconds later, I hear his footsteps and feel him kneel beside me.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he
murmurs.

“I tried,” I say
out of the side of my mouth. Holt needs to leave me alone right now. Give me some space to straighten this out with Adrian. I ignore him and rub Ad’s hair back from her forehead.

“Baby, that’s not true. Lucy was just talking. The truth is, nobody knows when Mama might go to heaven. And if somebody did know,
it would be me and you, not a nurse. Lucy shouldn’t have said that. Even though she is a nurse who takes good care of Mama, I don’t think she’s very smart.”

Adrian clamps her teeth down on her lower lip and nods, then slides her eyes to Holt, who’s
still crouched down in front of the couch beside me.

“Hey, Holt.” She smiles
a little. “Did you know I can spell triskaidekaphobia?”

He
grins back at her. “No way. I’d like to hear that.”

Holt and I spend the next half hour lavishing Adrian with attention. Then we return to the kitchen,
where Bea’s son, Luke, is asking if he can use “the Benz” to take his girlfriend out to get a milkshake.

The Benz.

Dear God.

I make a show of looking at my phone. “We should be going. Things to do at home,” I tell Holt with my eyebr
ows raised. “Can you walk us to the car?”

He nods.

I buckle Ad into her booster seat, shut her door, and stand outside the driver’s side with my hands on my hips.

“I know you’ve been avoiding me
, Holt. So let me tell you this. It’s true what Beast—Ricardo—told you. We did meet one time way back, and while you were gone and I was starting to help with the library? We got to be friends again. I like him, Dad. I want to know what’s going on with him. Did he kill that guy like everyone says he did? Is he still in solitary? Because I was actually there when all this craziness went down, and the DA acted like he really had it in for Beast.”

Holt looks into my eyes and nods. My stomach lurches.

“So he’s still in solitary?”

Holt
shakes his head and looks down at his feet. He shifts his weight a little while I hold my breath. Finally, he looks back up at me. “Honey, I’m sorry but…I lied to you. I wasn’t demoted. I was fired. I don’t know what’s going on at La Rosa. I miss it like hell and it’s killing me to be away. I made that place what it is.”