Somebody Else's Sky:Something in the Way, 2By: Jessica Hawkins
Something in the Way, 2
Lake, 1995 - Present Day
Gripping a bouquet of peach and cream garden roses, I peeked around the hotel’s archway. Friends and family quietly filtered onto a perfectly manicured lawn, murmuring as they took their seats for the ceremony.
The sun began to set over the Pacific Ocean, fiery orange dipping into cool blue. This morning’s cloud cover had given way to an unblemished sky. With everything happening around us, it should’ve been easy to avoid looking at Manning, but that always had been, and always would be, impossible for me. My gaze lifted above the crowd and down the petal-scattered aisle. Manning stood under the sheer curtains of a gazebo on the edge of a cliff, his back to me as he spoke to the best man. The first time I saw Manning on that construction site, he’d been larger than life. Today, he was so much more. He commanded attention without trying. His shoulders stretched a bespoke suit, and his hands sat loosely in his pockets as if it were any other day.
He turned his head, giving me the pleasure of his profile. Strong jaw, full mouth, thick, black, recently trimmed hair. Even with the scar on his lip and the new, slight curve of his nose, he looked refined, the sum of all my dreams come to life.
Henry spoke to Manning with the air of a father figure, his hand on Manning’s shoulder. Manning just listened and rubbed his sinfully smooth jaw as he stared at the ground. Henry paused, as if waiting for an answer or acknowledgement, and his smile faded. He looked to the back of the decorated lawn, through the arches hiding the bridal party. He looked at me. Maybe Manning wasn’t as calm as I thought. Maybe he was having second thoughts.
I, on the other hand, had only one thought.
Fourteen months earlier
With my back against a concrete wall, I stared out at the jail yard and flicked ash from my cigarette. If I could look at anything other than electric fencing, concrete, sand, and sweaty men, I would. In ten months, I’d memorized this view. California desert stretched far enough to make the mountains seem an unobtainable freedom, June heat turning the horizon into a watery mirage.
It was still better than staring at the underbelly of a top bunk. I’d be doing that later, but not for much longer. I’d gotten some good news the week before.
“You wouldn’t believe this bitch,” Wills said, clutching a handwritten letter as he paced a strip of dead grass, the bottoms of his orange pants dragging. “She’s threatening not to bring Kaya for the rest of my sentence.”
“So?” I asked through my next drag.
“Cecelia’s going to keep my baby girl from me? Fuck that.”
“She said the same thing last month. And the month before.”
“This time it’s for real. I can just tell.” He ran his hands back and forth over his buzzed scalp, crinkling the paper. “She does this just to fuck with me.”
We’d had this same conversation at least twice a month since I’d arrived. The first time my cellmate had gotten a letter and gone off the handle, I’d told him not to call his girl a bitch. That’d gotten me a riot of laughs from the guys in cells around us. The time after that, I’d asked why, if he’d cared so much about his ‘baby girl,’ he’d held up a gas station at gunpoint, knowing where it could land him?
That time, the laughter never came. “Providing for my family,” he’d said, getting in my face, his chest inflated. “Think you’re better than me, pretty boy?”
Wills was small but built. I had almost half a foot on him and most of the other guys, too. Only a few matched me in height. When I’d arrived, I’d been skinny compared to them but after ten months of lifting and a prison job in construction, I’d bulked up.
Wills’d shoved his hands into my chest, but I hadn’t budged except to raise my eyebrows. He’d backed off, schooling me loudly enough for everyone to hear. “Don’t tell me how to take care of my daughter. Respect.”
Respect. Number one rule in the yard. People my size got more passes than most, but that alone didn’t earn me respect. I had to command it. I couldn’t take any shit.