Taking Connor

By: B.N. Toler

I’ve never met Connor Stevens—at least not in person—yet here I am, picking him up from prison.

As I wait outside the high chain linked fence rolled with barbed wire, I curse Blake’s name. I admonish myself, then raise my face to the sky and say, “Not really, babe. I love you.” You see, it was a dying man’s wish that I be here today to greet Connor. That dying man just happened to be my husband and Connor Stevens’ younger brother by five years. Well, not his brother, they were cousins both raised by their grandmother, but they’ve always considered themselves brothers. My late husband held his cousin in the highest regard, despite Connor’s circumstances and location. Connor has been a resident at Tent City Prison—a prison that houses its inmates in tents and forces them to wear pink jumpsuits—for the last eight years doing a stint for manslaughter.

Checking the time on my cell phone, I realize Connor should be walking through those gates in the next two minutes. Climbing out of my car, I run my fingers through my tangled hair. Of course, the air conditioning in my beater of a car crapped out on me halfway here. I had to do the last four hours of the trip sweating my ass off through Arizona and getting wind whipped by my own hair with the windows down.

Blake was very specific in his instructions. I was to wait outside the gate for Connor and take him home to our small town in Colorado where we live. Connor will be on probation for the next three years, which his attorney had transferred to Colorado. Blake made sure it would be handled in the likely event of his passing. When Blake died, I know he worried about Connor and his release only second to what would happen to me. Blake was counting down the days until Connor’s release and had mapped out Connor’s homecoming to a T. I was hesitant about it all, of course. I mean, the man was in prison for manslaughter and my husband wanted to have him living in the garage apartment behind our house? It was a given I was apprehensive about it.

“Trust me, Demi,” Blake begged. “I would never put you in harm’s way.”

Maybe it was foolish to hope; the idea my husband would be one of the lucky transplant recipients to get a heart, and he’d be alive when Connor returned. Despite my apprehensions about Connor Stevens and his return, I never thought I’d be dealing with him solo. I believed in my heart Blake would be here; he’d be the one waiting outside this prison in this unforgivable heat to greet Connor. Not me. My mother used to tell me I should expect the worst and hope for the best, that way when the worst came to be, it wouldn’t sting as much. But when it’s your husband’s life that weighs in the balance, there’s nothing you can do, feel, or think—but hope. My mother was right—though I’d never admit it to her—having all that hope, not allowing the worst of thoughts to creep in, made it sting that much worse when the end came. My husband knew he was going to die. And so, once he’d made sure everything was taken care of, or rather, I’d be taken care of, the only thing left was making sure his cousin would be okay. Blake assured me that Connor was the best man he knows.

“Promise me you’ll be there for him, Demi. Please. He needs someone dependable, who won’t make him feel like he’s shit.”

“I promise.” I nodded as I squeezed his cool hand.

I would’ve promised him anything at that point. He was so ill and tired, and the last thing he needed to worry about was his convict cousin getting a ride to our home. But after Blake left us, his heart having failed before a donor was found, I committed to keeping that promise. Taking Connor home will be my thank you to Blake for loving me and fighting so hard to stay here with me. A lesser man would’ve left this world long before he did, but I asked him to fight, and he did. It was circumstances that weren’t in our favor.

And so, I’ve swallowed my fears, doubts, and any apprehension—or at least I’m trying to. I trust Blake; I have to. I have no idea what to expect when I see Connor. Blake had very few photos of him, and the ones he had were from when they were younger. They didn’t favor each other much. Blake was a thin man, lean and tall, but his pale coloring cued the world he wasn’t well. Connor appeared just as tall, but broader and while Blake had a softness about him, Connor’s photos portrayed a young man with a face and body language that displayed a no bullshit type of attitude.

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