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December 2009

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There were a lot of things I wanted to tell Jake Ford on that freezing, butt-biting Monday morning. In my head, I made a list of things I would rather say than what I had to say.

Like how the bus doesn't come anywhere near the Sallow Penitentiary, so I had to walk a mile to the prison gates. In flip-flops, no less.

Like how my boyfriend, Seb, didn't understand why I had to come out here in person. "Why can't you send a letter?" he'd said. "Why can't you just call?"

Like how Jake's orange jumpsuit had some kind of red stain on the front that may or may not have been blood. I didn't think they gave inmates ketchup. I watched Prison Break sometimes and I couldn't imagine Michael ever asking T-Bag to pass him the ketchup. So...the stain on Jake's jumpsuit was definitely not a condiment.

"Hey, Jacob," I began, a little too loudly. The prison guard looked at me, raising a bushy eyebrow.

Jake nodded at me in wordless greeting. His hands were on his lap, and I knew that, just like his ankles, they were handcuffed. A stainless steel table was between us, keeping us apart.

"To what do I owe this immense pleasure, Maya?" His voice was gravelly, like he didn't use it much, which was probably true. I didn't imagine that he spent his days talking to his fellow inmates about the concrete walls and barbed wire that kept them inside.

I cleared my throat, swallowing hard. God, this was so difficult. I should have been used to this kind of thing, but I really wasn't. I'd only finished my practical work that year and had been working at the nursing home for a few months.

"You look well," I offered lamely, and he quirked a brow at me, as if to call bullshit.

But really, he did. Look well, I mean. I hadn't seen him since his arrest, back when everyone was swearing up and down that he was as innocent as a newborn. The Phantoms, the motorcycle club he'd belonged to once upon a time, still stood by him to this day, despite Jake serving his five-year sentence for aggravated assault and battery. The two guys he'd sent to hospital had needed blood transfusions, but that was just the word on the street.

In any case, for someone who probably had to deal with trying to stay alive on a daily basis, he looked good.

He had the kind of rugged good looks that belonged to outdoorsy men, like woodcutters. Ninety-five-percent of his olive-skinned body was probably muscle. He made an orange jumpsuit look like it had been tailor-made for him. His blonde hair was overdue for a haircut, though, and it looked like it hadn't been washed since Thriller had come out. I wondered if conditioner was allowed in prison. Didn't seem likely.

"I, um, brought you some soap," I told him. "The guards have it."

He eyed me carefully. "Soap?"

"Yeah. Fifty bars. So that, you know, if you...drop one, you don't need to pick it up. Because you have forty-nine other bars." And it wasn't the cheap stuff, either. Not that I'd ever say that aloud.

Jake stared at me intently for what felt like a decade before saying, "You're actually being serious."

Everyone at the supermarket had looked at me the way Jake was looking at me now. As if it was so hard to believe that someone could go out and buy fifty bars of Dove soap bars at once. The woman at the till had advised me that cleansing the body from the inside, rather than scrubbing too hard with soap, was a great way to combat body odour. I'd told her that it was for a friend in prison. She hadn't replied, choosing to bag my stuff in silence.

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