I spin around and see two women rolling on the ground, hair flying. Fights are a pretty rare occurrence, but when they happen it’s nasty. I once read that men fight to injure, but women fight to kill.
The women roll closer to our table, and we all jerk out of the way in case some of the action heads toward us. I can hardly see who it is, but Georgina is quick to say it’s Roxie and Jinx. And they are going at each other: hands whacking, hair pulling, face slapping, and rib kicking. The whole nine. But it doesn’t go on for too long. Two guards descend on them, yanking the women apart. Some damage is already done. Jinx has a bloody nose and a swelling eye, and Roxie’s lip is split open.
“Fuck, man. Did you see that? Roxie almost killed the bitch! Bam!” Margot slams her hand on the table and my head rings. Jodi laughs. Must be nice for her to sit back and chuckle, since she’s never actually fought in here.
“Enough, Margot, or the guards are gonna be over here next.” Steph eyes her and Margot settles down.
The cafeteria is returning to normal so we sit again, and I try to force a spoonful of my cold, lumpy lunch down. It takes all my concentration to swallow the disgusting mouthful. My stomach clenches, so I drop my spoon.
“No offense, princess, but you look like shit,” Georgina says in between shovels. She’s a fat pig. No matter how disgusting the food is in here, don’t take your eyes off your plate or it’ll be in her goddamn mouth before you know what’s happening.
I lock my gaze on her. “Thanks. Just giving you a chance to feel a bit better about your ugly ass.”
She shoots me the finger.
“Seriously, you look pale, like even more than normal,” Stephanie chimes in, sounding far too motherly for my liking.
I smile. “Thanks, ladies. You sure are the fucking cheer committee today.”
“This shrink is really taking the piss outta you, huh? I ain’t never seen you so frazzled before,” Jodi says.
“I’m just tired. Been sleeping like shit, the food is inedible, and yes, talking in circles about your feelings is agony. So I’m taking donations—any booze, pills, or weed is welcome.” Most of what I say is bravado. Keeping up appearances is key to survival in this hellhole. I can’t afford to get caught with any contraband in case a miracle happens and I have a chance of getting out. What a kick in the tit that would be, if I got approved only to have a stupid joint found in my bunk.
“We’re all suffering in here, princess, so buck up.” Georgina braces her gigantic noggin on top of her propped arms.
It takes all my strength to stay calm. Sometimes people in here forget what I’m capable of. Maybe some of them don’t believe in my history and are willing to take a chance by coming at me.
Too bad I’m on my best behavior.
Margot puts a hand in Georgina’s face. “Lay off her, Gina. Ain’t none of us know what being examined under a microscope like that feels like. I know I’d be stressed to fucking shit if my whole future relied on talking to one damn bitch for a couple of weeks.”
“Thanks, Margot, but you don’t have to defend me.”
“Yeah, princess is a big girl. She can take care of herself, or so she wants us to think.”
I glower at her and swallow the scream that threatens to explode out of me. I’m afraid if I release it, I’ll never stop. “You got something to say?” I sit on my hands. Just in case I’m a little too tempted to gouge her eyes out.
Georgina stands up from her spot at the table across from me and walks around to my side. “Actually, yeah. I think you’re a fucking weak-ass bitch who ain’t no one afraid of in here, especially not me. You walk around all high and mighty, thinking you’re better than us, smarter and prettier than us, but guess what—you in here just like the fucking rest of us, and I ain’t scared by your supposed past.” She makes finger quotations an inch from my face.
I stand. We’re eye to eye. I can feel her hot, stinky breath on my face. Her finger jabs me in the chest. My blood fills my ears and I can’t hear much past the intense rushing. I clench my fists at my sides. Ready. I want her to come at me so badly. “Is that so? You gonna do something about it then?” I say, smacking her finger away from me. My eyes narrow on her acne-scarred face.
Before I can register what’s happening, I feel her two bony hands dig into my chest. The air is pushed out and I gasp. My legs tremble. Teeth clench.
It only takes me a second to leap onto her. Her fingers are entwined in my hair and I can feel the pressure as she yanks. I elbow her, and she lets go. The top of my hand swings across her cheek and I hear a loud slapping sound. Her head flies back, her arms wave wildly as she tries to grab a hold of me, but my adrenaline is pumping so hard that I don’t feel anything. My hands find their way to her neck. I squeeze and squeeze. Teeth gritting.
The power of my fingers pressing into the flesh of her neck makes me shiver with excitement. It feels like I can breathe for the first time since that day in the library all those years ago.
I have tunnel vision. I only see her eyes rolling back and her mouth attempting to suck in air. My heartbeat increases in my ears. Thump. Thump. Thump. My hands and wrists must be aching, but I don’t feel them.
Her arms keep flailing. Her fingers attempt to dig at my face. I don’t feel that either, I just keep pressing my hands into her. Squeezing. I wonder how much longer until she dies. I’m tingling all over.
And then I feel hands on me—pulling and yanking me off her. I fight harder, and then so do the hands.
My grasp is broken. I’m being lifted into the air. I’m screaming and swearing. I’m shaking, ferocious with rage. It’s a sensation from a time very long ago, yet it’s so familiar to me.
A man’s gruff voice breaks into my trance. My arms are twisted behind my back where I’m cuffed. Tightly. “That’s enough, Wilkanson! You’re done! You’re done!”
Now that I’m off her, I realize in a sobering moment that he might not be talking about just the fight. A hurtling wave of nausea makes my stomach twist and my mouth water.
I may have just ruined any chance I ever had to get out of here.
I’m whisked away by two guards who throw me into solitary.
They aren’t gentle with me as they literally launch me inside the room. I’ve never been in here before, but I’ve heard enough horror stories to know I never wanted to see it. I land on the ground with a thud. My bones vibrate from the motion. My arms are sore and bruised above my elbows where I was manhandled.
“I got to say, I’m surprised to see you in here, Wilkanson. There goes your perfect record. Was it worth it?” The guard, Han, shakes his head. He looks like a disappointed daddy and not some guy who’s getting underpaid to deal with us lowlifes.
I remain quiet, as is my right. It’s about the only thing I can control in here.
The other guard that has kindly accompanied me to the hole is Rickers. Unlike Han, has a smug smile on his face, like he’s been waiting for this moment with a lousy fifty bucks riding on it.
Han spins me around and unlocks the handcuffs. My wrists are sore from being forced into the cold, hard metal. I rub them, trying to get the circulation back into my hands. My brain finally registers where I am as I look around the closet-sized room. There’s nothing in here but a sweat- stained pad on the floor and a disgusting dirty blanket that I wouldn’t touch for fear of contracting scabies or countless other contagious diseases.
“Someone will be in later to bring you to your hearing. Do you want anyone else there with you?” Rickers asks.
“What do you mean? I don’t understand what’s happening,” I say, and it’s the truth. I’ve never committed an offense before. My anger has dwindled, and I’m left in a state of confusion and shock. My body trembles. I can even feel my ribs shaking. What did I fucking do?
Han stands tall, shoulders squared, with his hand on his baton. He looks like he’s ready to take down a linebacker and not some hundred-and-ten-pound chick. “You’ll be taken in to see an adjudicator. You can bring in witnesses if you think it’ll help your case. You’ll tell them what happened and plead guilty or not guilty of the offense—in this case, assaulting a fellow inmate.”
“But Georgina started it. She hit me first!” Ugh. I hear the pitiful whine in my voice and I wonder how I suddenly became a petulant child. I need to get my shit together before the hearing if I have any hope in hell of being taken seriously. “Can you ask Stephanie Harvey and Jodi Brown to come? They were there.”
“We’ll see what we can do,” Han says.
“So what, I have to stay in here until then? How long does this hearing take to set up?” I ask. My palms are slick, and I wipe them on the thighs of my pants.
“It could be a few hours.”
“Oh, great,” I exhale, relieved.
“Or it could be tomorrow,” Rickers adds.
My eyes and mouth widen. “What? You mean to tell me that I could be stuck in this hell
hole overnight?” My mind reels. My bunk is shitty, but it’s the Westin compared to this hovel. “That’s right.” Rickers smiles. “Shoulda thought about that before you tried to kill someone in here.” He walks out with Han right behind him.
My hand goes up and I wave for them to stop. “No, wait. You can’t leave me.”
Han takes another step away. “I’m afraid we can, and just in case we’re not back today, sleep tight.” The hefty steel door slams shut. The sound reverberates, echoing painfully in my ears. I’m dizzy. The walls look like they’re getting closer. The air is cold and stale. My stomach turns over.
Think, Ryann. Lunch was served at one o’clock. The fight happened just after, which puts it around two. There’s got to be enough time to get a judge or adjudicator to see me. What if the warden won’t let Steph and Jodi out to testify for me?
I need water. My mouth is so dry.
Surely someone will come soon. In twelve years at this prison, I’ve never so much as hid a candy bar I wasn’t supposed to have. I don’t deserve this.
Fighting is a major infraction. Georgina wanted this. This was probably her fucking plan the entire time.
What the fuck did I do?