The place where dreams fade and hope dies.
That’s what it’s meant for the five years that Garrett has been behind bars. But now hope is on the horizon and he’s daring to dream again: small dreams, small hopes.
Getting his GED would be a start. If only his prison-appointed teacher Miss Ella Newsome wasn’t so damn sexy.
As Garrett and Ella start to play a dangerous game, the price could be higher than either of them have guessed.
“Hey, Garrett. Check out the new teacher, man.”
Hudson’s voice was quiet, so as to not attract attention.
I’d been in this shitty classroom for thirty seconds and I was already itching to leave. It brought back too many bad memories. But getting educated was a condition of trying to get my parole. I could put up with any amount of crap to say goodbye to this hellhole.
I glanced up, sighing inwardly when I saw that Officer Reynolds was with the teacher. Some of the guards were fair, treating us okay, but some, like the asshole in front of me, got off on making us remember which side of the bars we were on. But I figured I’d been inside for five years—Reynolds was in for life, even if he did get to leave every night. Once I was out of this sewer, that was it, done. I was never coming back. Not again.
My gaze drifted to the woman standing next to the Warden’s poster boy for prison brutality. She looked nervous, but was trying to hide it by standing straight, keeping her chin up, meeting a man’s eyes without prejudice or promise.
I turned away. Sure, it was nice to have a female to look at, but anything longer than a quick glance would have Reynolds burning my ass.
Besides, she wasn’t my type. I liked my women to look like women: tall, with tits and ass, big hair, lush lips, and a ballsy attitude.
The new teacher was kind of small, although she had a nice rack. Her hair was a pretty auburn color, but it was short, not even chin length. Nothing for a man to grab onto. And not a scrap of makeup. A man dreamed about scarlet lips in a place like this.
I could see her hands shaking as she stood behind the desk, holding onto her schoolbag like it would save her from drowning.
Not in this classroom, sweetheart.
She wouldn’t last. She looked as if a stiff breeze would blow her over.
Reynolds rapped his baton on the desk to get our attention, but the only person who jumped was the new teacher. I was amused to see a warm flush rise up her cheeks. I could tell by the irritated glance she threw Reynolds’ way that she was annoyed with him as well as herself.
Reynolds looked as though he was about to start one of his lectures, telling us how we was shit and not worth the money spent on keeping our asses in prison, but the woman stepped from behind the desk and started talking.
“Hello, class,” she said, walking to the front as her blush faded. “My name is Miss Newsome…”
My mouth dropped open, and every swivel-eyed pervert in the room was transfixed by our new teacher. She had the smallest waist hovering over the biggest ass I’d ever seen. Hourglasses didn’t have anything on her. I scrubbed my hands over my face. One hour of sheer hell coming up.
“I wish I did knew some her ass,” mumbled Cooper from the back of the room, echoing the thoughts of every man here.
“Who said that?” roared Reynolds, stalking down the gap between the desks that were bolted to the floor. “Cooper, you show some goddamn respect or you’ll be spending the next six weeks in solitary!”
Reynolds’ face had turned a reddish-purple, and I wondered if we’d be lucky enough to watch him stroke out. Movie night had been cancelled for the last month, so the boredom level was at an all-time high.
But then the teacher cleared her throat, her voice stronger although still high pitched with tension.
“As I was saying, my name is Miss Newsome, and I’ll be your teacher for the rest of the semester…”
“We ain’t got no semesters here,” muttered Chiverson. “Just one-to-three for felony assault.”
Reynolds growled out another threat.
Miss Newsome ignored him, approaching the front row, giving those lucky bastards a ring-side view of a knee-length charcoal gray skirt stretched tight over those wide hips, and a plain white shirt that did nothing to hide her fuck-me curves.
She was obviously trying to go for spinster, but she’d lucked out on sexy librarian instead.
I was doomed. I’d never pass my GED with her as my teacher. I raised my eyes to the ceiling, praying to some higher power that I definitely didn’t believe in.
It was only when the room went silent, no man even breathing, that I realized she’d stopped by my seat.
“Am I boring you already, Mr. … Garrett?”
I saw her eyes dip to the number printed across my prison scrubs before checking her clipboard for my name.
I didn’t know which surprised me more—hearing her say my name, calling me ‘mister’, or the sass in her voice as she did it. Girl was tougher than she looked.
Yep, screwed. Royally fucking screwed.
I realized that she was still waiting for an answer.
“No,” I said, dropping my eyes to her hips, before squeezing my eyelids shut. “I mean, no, ma’am.”
“Good!” she said brightly. “I look forward to your full participation in this class.”
“Party— what?” asked Jakowski, sitting at the desk next to me, his voice hopeful.
Her eyes softened a fraction as she turned in his direction, and I couldn’t help noticing that they were large and brown, like a puppy or Bambi’s mom before she got shot.
“Participation,” she said calmly. “It means that I want everyone to join in during my classes, not sit there thinking about what you’re having for dinner.”
A soft rumble of amusement rippled through the room. Reynolds looked furious. But then again, that was pretty much his resting bitch-face.
“I’ll do my best to keep the lessons interesting,” she went on. “But we have a lot of work to get through. I know you’re all up to the challenge because you’ve been specially selected—you guys are my top class.”
I looked up at that. I’d never been top of anything, unless it was a hot woman. I saw a lot of the other guys eyeing her with disbelief and mistrust, too.
“I mean it,” she said softly, as we all hung on her every word. “Mr. Michaels, the Warden, is very keen that everyone in this class gets their GED. It’s my job to make sure that you do. But I’ll need your cooperation to achieve that. I promise that I’ll make every effort to help you, but you all need to promise me that you’ll try, as well. So, I don’t want anyone in this classroom sitting silently because they don’t understand. If you have a question, you raise your hand. Please remember that you learn by asking questions. Don’t be macho about it—ignorance isn’t bliss.”
I felt her gaze on me again, but I kept my head down.
“Isn’t that right, Mr. Garrett?”
I didn’t like her picking on me, and I frowned at my rough hands clasped together on the empty desk.
“Answer her, boy!” snarled Reynolds, rapping his baton next to my fingers, making me snatch them away fast.
“Yes, ma’am,” I muttered, keeping my eyes fixed on the buttons of Reynolds’ uniform to keep from punching the bastard.
Yep, those eighteen months of mandatory anger management classes had gotten through to me: think first, punch later when you won’t get caught.
Miss Newsome cleared her throat, bringing attention back to her.
I drew in a breath, and as she drifted past me, the faint scent of summer flowers hung in the air. I didn’t think she was wearing perfume, so it must have been her shampoo or soap, but whatever it was, the smell was all woman.
I breathed deeply again, feeling a mixture of anger and dizziness at having something so enticing, near but out of reach.
“Those of you who graduate my class will have the opportunity to move on to college-level courses.”
At that point, most of us lost interest. We hadn’t succeeded in school and we hadn’t succeeded in life. What made this college-educated bitch think she could give us anything we needed?
Sensing she was losing us, she went on brightly, her voice a little more shrill than it had been a minute before.
“And I’ll be looking out for a teacher’s aide as we go on—so maybe you can impress the heck out of me.”
Looking around at the bored, disconnected expressions of the other prisoners, it seemed unlikely.
“Okay, so I thought I’d start off with a poem by Oscar Wilde, ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’.”
Her voice gained strength as she read, but fuck me, what a depressing fucking poem. I listened to the rise and fall of her voice, but I tuned out most of the words.
“I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky.”
That penetrated—so many times I’d looked up at the patch of sky above the exercise yard and tried to remember what it felt like to be free. Free to stare up at the sky and not have to watch my back at the same time.
From the corner of my eye, I saw a black guy I didn’t know raise his hand, making the teacher stutter and pause.
“Yes, Mr. … Haslett?”
“Ma’am, we already know all about prison. Rather we’d study somethin’ else.”
Her mouth popped open and her eyes screwed up. Ah hell! Surely she wasn’t going to cry? If she did, she’d never put a foot in this classroom again.
“Oh,” she huffed, sounding flustered. “Yes, I see.”
I was fascinated by a bead of sweat that escaped her hairline, running down her cheek and disappearing into her prim collar.
I expected her to wipe it away with those long, slim fingers. But she acted like she hadn’t noticed, even though the classroom was rank with humidity, sweat and failure.
“I just thought…” she waffled on. “I thought … no, you’re right. Well, we could study a poem about love—about love and hate? Would that be better?”
The black guy twitched a shoulder.
“You’re the teacher.”
Miss Newsome laughed. It was such a bright sound, easy, such a contrast to the tense, angry or bored voices I heard around me the rest of the day.
Something tightened in my chest.
Six months. Six more months, then maybe I can find myself a woman who laughs so free and easy.
I enjoyed the view of Miss Newsome’s ass as she walked back to her desk, the rhythmical sway of those full hips, the way her skirt swung around her knees. Pretty fucking mesmerizing.
She started rummaging through her enormous pile of books. Her lips were moving, and I guessed that she was talking to herself.
Her pile was huge, and she was in danger of tipping over. But the thought of her ending ass up across her desk made my prison uniform uncomfortably tight. And if the expressions of the guys around me were anything to go by, she was having the same effect on them.
Miss Newsome had better watch her cute ass and not get caught in an empty classroom with any of these goons. There’s only so much restraint a man has. I frowned at the thought of someone violating teacher-lady. No, that pissed me off.
Goddammit! Now I’d feel obliged to keep an eye on her.
I slumped in my seat, sighing heavily, only noticing the stink-eye she gave me when Hudson elbowed me in the ribs again, grinning broadly.
She snapped open the book she was holding like she was about to shank me with it, and with a final glare, began to read.
“Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.”
She lowered the book, her face flushed, and when she glared in my direction again, I guessed she must still be mad at me. Great.
“The poet, Robert Frost, was inspired by the fourteenth-century Italian poet Dante and his description of Hell. The worst offenders—traitors—are in a fiery hell while bound in ice. And isn’t that contradiction an apt description of love?”
There was a moment of silence before anyone spoke.
“That poem is the shit, ma’am!” said a guy to my right. “Like how a woman gets you all hot and angry, then freezes your ass off ‘cause you didn’t get her the right kind of candy. And how it gets you fired up that she can be so cold, and all you can think of is warming her up till she burning like a Fourth of July firework.”
“Yeah, and then you blow your fucking load and it’s a loud bang and all over,” laughed another guy.
“Watch your damn mouth, Fisher!” Reynolds yelled. “You will respect your teacher and keep your language clean.”
“It’s fine, really,” Miss Newsome said weakly.
Reynolds turned to her slowly.
“With all due respect, ma’am, these animals will take advantage any chance they get. You’ve got to let ‘em know who’s boss.”
She flushed with anger and embarrassment, but for the rest of the lesson, she could hardly get a word out of anyone; no one wanted to be on the wrong side of Reynolds. No one wanted to end up in solitary on his watch.
It was the quietest poetry discussion that I’d ever seen. And I couldn’t even spell party— partycipation…
As the bell rang for chow time, the little teacher looked almost desperate.
“Thank you all for today,” she said, smiling like she’d just chewed on a juicy lemon. “I’m afraid there’s homework—but nothing too much for the first time. I’d like you all to write a page on the subject of ‘the best day of my life’.”
Benson raised his hand.
“Was it when you graduated college, Miss?”
“What? Oh no! I mean what was the best day of your life?”
Benson stared at her gravely.
“Well, let me see now; I been incarcerated for nineteen years, and might get paroled next winter. I’ll have been in stir more than half my life. Ain’t been a whole lot of best days.”
She blinked rapidly, then gave him a soft smile.
“Maybe you’d like to imagine what your best day would be like?”
He stared back at her, then nodded solemnly.
“I reckon I’d like that just fine.”
She smiled with relief.
“Good, good. And the same goes for the rest of you. If you want to imagine your best day instead, that’s okay by me.”
As we filed out of the room, Reynolds watching our backs like the answer to the Universe was written on them, the teacher gave us each a lined sheet of paper and a blunt pencil.
“Write small,” she teased.
When she handed me my paper, her smile slipped.
And I can’t tell you how bad it hurt that she’d smile for every motherfucker in here, but not for me.