Authors: Hope Conrad
“You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know.” I’m tired and don’t wish to discuss this any longer, especially with Dee. I just want to sleep and forget for a while. “Besides, you don’t have to worry about Street. He got what he wanted, and he’ll move on from it.” I look at her with a forced smile, hoping it’s enough to convince both of us. “And so will I.”
I’ve turned into a fifties housewife as I vacuum the floor, but instead of silence or a soap opera on the television blaring in the background, an urban radio station blares modern rap. Before I went to prison, I wasn’t much into rap music. After prison is an entirely different story.
It clears my head, and somehow soothes me. And since I’m the absolute worst person in the world when it comes to tidying a home, I need the distraction. I push the vacuum back and forth, and with every stroke of my wrist, I try to ensure the lines left behind on the dingy carpet align with each other. I’m nowhere close to OCD when it comes to cleaning house, but there’s something about uneven vacuum lines that drives me up a wall.
There’s a loud knocking on the door and I jump in place, switch off the vacuum and turn the volume knob on the radio down before approaching the door. I level my eye with the peephole to see who’s knocking, and it’s the person I was expecting.
My parole officer.
I look around the room once more, trying to gauge if there’s anything I need to hide or clean up, but I don’t spot anything, so I push the deadbolt out of the way and swing open the door.
“Hey,” I say, shoving one hand into my jeans and holding the door open with the other. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” he says deadpan and shifts past me onto my freshly cleaned carpet.
I swing the door shut behind me.
“Nice place,” he says, and I immediately think he’s being a jackass. Nobody would think this place is nice. It’s not the worst, but it’s in simple terms a dump.
“How have you been, Thomas?” he questions as he turns to face me. He’s an older dude, fifty something and with a full head of hair. Slim and non-threatening, but anybody who isn’t behind prison bars doesn’t appear as much of a threat to me. Not anymore.
His name is Edgar Rose, which is a ridiculous name and I refuse to refer to him as Mr. Rose, or even Edgar, which he’d invited me to call him when we’d first met. To me, he’s simply Bastard, which I know is unfair. He’s only doing his job. He does what he has to do to feed his family, and that means he has to watch after menaces to society such as myself. Still, to me, he’s simply Bastard.
A bastard I wish I didn’t have to clean for. I mean, I don’t
to clean when he comes around, but I figure there’s an unconscious judging of sorts. The cleaner my place is, the more likely he is to believe I’m a clean man, living my life on the straight and narrow.
I’m sure trying.
And for the most part, aside from this sexual game of deviancy I’ve found myself engulfed in when it comes to Katie, I’m succeeding. What we did together in her car wasn’t illegal. What I want from her every second of the day—her body, her time, inside her head—isn’t either. What it is is an obsession. An obsession that sometimes seems as if it’s on the verge of spinning out of control, but it’s also an obsession that keeps me grounded if for no other reason than I’d never see her again if I manage to get my ass thrown back in prison.
“Mind showing me around?” Bastard asks, and I immediately oblige. After all, I’ve got nothing to hide.
I nod my head, directing him to follow me. I’m not certain why he needs to be shown around my place as if he’s interested in subleasing my humble abode, but maybe he’s just being polite.
I lead him past a bar with overhead cabinets that separates the kitchen from the living room. I hate closed off spaces, and would much prefer an open kitchen, but when you’re spending less than five hundred a month, you can’t be too picky.
Bastard comes to a stop in front of the unsightly sink and parks himself against it, nodding his head in approval.
“You know,” he says with a shake of his finger. “You keep a clean house.”
“And?” I question nervously, thinking he’s got me figured out to a goddamn T.
“Nothing.” He chuckles and checks his watch. “It’s just a little surprising, that’s all.”
I force a smile and shrug. “I’m a changed man.”
“Uh-huh.” He straightens himself out and points to my bedroom, adjacent to the living room. “If you can just show me the bedroom, I think we’ll be good to go.”
“Sure thing.” I turn and make my way to the door of my bedroom, push it open for him and flick on the light switch. It’s mid-morning, but I keep a thick, black blanket nailed around the windows. I absolutely cannot sleep unless I’m in pitch black darkness. Without sleep, Street is grouchy and a grouchy Street is a bad attitude away from going back to the slammer.
“I have the same problem,” Bastard says, as if he can hear my inner thoughts. “The smallest bit of light, and I can’t sleep.”
“It’s a worldwide epidemic,” I joke and cross my arms as I rest against the doorframe of my bedroom.
Bastard’s eyes do a quick scan of the room, and my own eyes begin to wander. He steps to my dresser and begins pulling each drawer out, searching quickly through each of them.
And this is why he’s a bastard. Again, I understand he has to do what he has to do, and I was used to sacrificing privacy given I’d spent the last three years in prison. Even so, I have the illusion of freedom now that I’m on the outside, and no matter what, I don’t like random men poking around my underwear drawer.
I shift my attention away from him and my stomach sinks. Laying right under the shadow of my bed is a marijuana bowl. It’s not mine, but if he spots it, he’ll never believe me. I shift my eyes back to him and think about my next move.
I should kick it under the bed when he’s not looking.
I should do nothing and hope he doesn’t see it.
He’s going to fucking see it.
I’ll never see Katie again.
Quick, Street. Think of something.
“What are you looking at, Street?” Bastard questions me with a crooked look across his face, breaking me out of the daze I’ve found myself in.
“Noth—Nothing,” I stutter.
I’m a deer stuck in the headlights, and for whatever fucking reason, I can’t take my eyes off the bowl. It was like staring directly into an eclipse; you did it even though you knew it could make you blind. In my case, it’s the smallest thing in the world with the biggest of consequences. It’ll send me back to prison.
Bastard’s eyes follow my line of sight, and soon he’s crouching on his knees to peek under the bed. My mind races, trying to figure out a way out of this mess—Trevor’s mess. I’m going to fucking kill him. Trevor, not Bastard, although it’s become increasingly clear that Bastard is a label I should start attributing to Trevor.
Bastard swipes the bowl off the floor. It’s game over. There’s no way I can convince him it’s not mine. Trevor has ruined my life twice now, three times if you count that time he conned me into dating his gross girlfriend’s gross cousin for an entire summer back in our teen years.
Bastard rises to his feet with an expected look of judgment. His eyes lock with mine once more, and it’s not romantic, as locked eyes normally are. “Care to explain?”
“I… Uh. That’s not mine.”
“It never is.” He shakes his head in disappointment and reaches for a pair of handcuffs on his hips.
I’m torn between fighting and running. I need to see Katie just once more. I need to feel her flesh with my hands one last time, but running will only make it worse. It’ll only make me appear guiltier than I really am, which is not guilty at all, but it’s hard for people to see the best in you when you’ve given them every reason not to.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
. When you’ve given nobody in the world a reason to believe in you, it’s an impossible task to make them think any differently.
Bastard bows his head and begins to approach me. “I’m sorry that I have to do this.”
Just then, there’s a knock on the door.
“Who’s at the door, Street?”
I shrug, but pray under my breath that it’s Trevor and we can wrap this up really quick. Of course, that would require that Trevor tell the damn truth and own his shit, so I’m not holding my fucking breath. Plus, I’d still be fucked because this is the reason I’m not supposed to hang out with other ex-cons in the first place—so they won’t be a goddamn bad influence on me.
Bastard passes me as he heads into the living room and I take particular notice of the frown etched across his face. There’s a clear shift in his demeanor from a minute ago to now, and he’s finished pretending to be my friend instead of who he really is—the man holding my tight leash, and with every millisecond that passes, the collar around my throat tightens.
Bastard peeks through the front door peep hole and when he pulls back there’s an odd look of relief on his face. I’m still not sure who’s at the door, but I’m even more curious than usual given the sudden change in his facial expression.
He lowers his hand to the doorknob, and I take a split-second to contemplate breaking past him and running. Hell, I might be able to make it through the window over the kitchen sink. It’s small, but I could fit through it with enough wiggling.
But knowing my luck, I’d probably get dragged into the kitchen by my feet and thrown on the damn laminate floor with no dignity left to my name.
The door opens, revealing my visitor.
Oh shit. My situation has grown from terrible to worse.
I wanted to see her one last time before I was hauled back to prison, but I don’t want to see her under these conditions. I can’t bear to see her face in the background as I’m dragged away from freedom.
“Hello,” Katie says to Bastard with a warm smile. “Is Street home?”
“Yeah.” He looks back at me. “But I’m not sure for how much longer.”
“Hey Katie,” I say and approach the two of them, hoping I can ease the tension in the room. “This is—”
“I’m Edgar Rose,” Bastard says and extends his hand to shake Katie’s. “I’m Thomas’s parole officer.”
“Oh.” Her eyes widen. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Bastard’s mouth quirks, as if he’s not used to being greeted with such politeness. “Likewise. And you are?”
“Katie,” she says simply. “I work at the bookstore with Street.” She pauses and purses her lips. “Is everything all right?”
“I haven’t decided, to be honest.”
“Oh…” She stammers. “Well, I was just stopping by to see if Street could cover my shift at work. He’s really a great asset to have around. He’s so willing to help with anything and everything, and he’s a fast learner.”
Okay, she’s full of shit, but she’s covering for me, so I can’t be mad. However, she’s overselling this way too much, and it’d be a miracle if Bastard buys her cheerleader act.
But I notice something peculiar. He pushes the small bowl he’s holding deep into the pocket of his black blazer and nods to me. “Street, can I see you outside?”
“Yeah.” I pass Katie with my face bowed down and shut the door behind me once both Bastard and I stand in the carpeted hallway of the apartment complex.
“My mind is telling me that you haven’t changed,” he says with conviction in his voice while his fingers dance along the cold steel of the handcuffs.
“I swear that bowl isn’t mine. It’s my friend’s—”
He cuts me off with a raised hand. “Let me finish. My mind is telling me one thing, but there’s another part of me, no matter how small, that’s telling me to give you another chance.”
He’s not going to take me in, I realize. Whether it’s because of his instincts or because Katie showed up, I don’t care. Maybe he’s not such a bastard, after all. “Thank you, Edgar.”
He squints, silently acknowledging I’d actually said his name for the first time ever. “Don’t thank me.” He reaches out and lays his palm on my shoulder. I flinch backward at the touch. “I’m giving you another chance, so don’t blow it. If you claim the bowl’s not yours, and I want to believe it’s not yours, then get whoever it belongs to out of your life. They’ll only drag you down.”
“Okay.” He nods and starts walking away, but he looks back over his shoulder one last time. “That girl believes in you. Don’t let her down.”
I just nod my head in agreement, but wait for him to descend the stairs at the end of the hallway before heading into my apartment. I step through the door and shut it behind me. Katie’s leaning her back against the wall with her arms crossed over each other.
I purse my lips and force a smile, although I have a weird feeling things are about to go south by the look plastered across her face. “Thank you.”
“Now that that’s out of the way…”
Oh shit, here we go.
“You made me feel like crap last night,” she continues. “You got a piece, and then you took off running for the safety of your apartment.”
I swallow hard as I try to think of an appropriate response, but I come up empty.