I walk two steps, place my hands on the bars and stare out at the emptiness….at the gray walls and yellow ceiling…and I wonder, not for the first time, how I had survived over four years in here. I am a chameleon. I adapt, I change, and I blend into my surroundings. I am a survivor. But that was before… I chuckle as I lean my forehead against the bars. That was before Peter. I replay our conversation in my mind, that day when the plane and my world blew up. I turn and take two steps, and I sit on the ratted piece of lumpy material they consider a bed. I wonder if I'll ever tell Peter how much his words meant to me or how I feel when he calls me a friend. People like me, we don't have friends. We have people who use us or need us or occasionally toss out a bone, a kind word or a pat on the shoulder.
I know Peter needs me and he uses me but his words…I know he means it when he says he cares or he wants better for me. I glance at my wrist but it's bare…time stands still here so watches are not allowed. It's been two weeks since I agreed to our old deal, and I know Peter is doing his best, but paperwork and bureaucracy don't go together and with each passing day I lose a little more of myself.
I lean back against the hard, cold wall and pull my legs up, resting my chin on my knees.
"Caffrey, wake up!" I open my eyes and stare up just as a clear white bag is flung at me. I stare at it and then back at the guard, hoping it's what I think it is.
"Get dressed. You're out of here." The guard smiles at me. "Unless you'd rather stay" he spits out, laughing.
I stare at the bag in disbelief. I pull out the clothing, one piece at a time. A pair of black jeans, gray t-shirt, underwear and white tube socks. I quickly change and toss the ugly orange jumpsuit on the floor. Minutes pass, but it seems much longer, before the guard returns and unlocks the cell, leading me away in handcuffs. I hear hisses and catcalls as we walk the long corridor but I keep my head down. We stop and I wait impatiently as the guard unlocks the deadbolt and leads me towards an office.
"Neal." I glance up and smile weakly before lowering my gaze, feet shuffling in place. I feel the handcuffs removed and then Peter is next to me, briefly cupping my shoulder. "Neal, are you ok?" I hear the worry in his voice and I nod.
"Please…let's go" I whisper, embarrassed by how desperate I sound.
"OK" Peter says before bending down and putting the anklet on me. As much as I hate it, it's a welcome symbol of life outside of jail. Peter silently leads me out of the building, never taking his hand off my shoulder. He opens the passenger door and I stumble in, sinking into the seat, a small sigh escaping from my lips.
"Neal?" I hear the question he's not sure how to ask.
"I'm just tired" I say, closing my eyes.
"Hard to sleep in there?" he asks and I chuckle. "Only when you wake up screaming" I admit and he quickly starts up the car. "My cellmates were quite amused" I add, shuddering at the memories. I am grateful that Peter doesn't comment as we drive away from the prison. We drive in silence and I feel myself drifting off to sleep.
"Neal!" I jolt upward and away from the touch. "Take it easy" Peter says soothingly, as he leans over me, unbuckling my seat belt. I take several deep breaths, as I gather in my surroundings. It is dark, much too dark since we left the prison early in the afternoon.
"Where are we?" I ask, trying to focus my eyes, staring out the window.
"At my house" Peter answers. "You fell asleep before telling me where you wanted to go and June is on vacation…" he pauses, shrugging. "El's out of town so I don't mind the company for the night. Let's go before the pizza gets cold."
I sniff the air as my stomach growls with hunger pains. I get out of the car, staggering a bit until I get my legs underneath me. "Why is it so dark?" I ask glancing around.
"We've been driving around for hours" Peter says as he unlocks the door, juggling the pizza and six pack as the dog plows into him.
"Whoa boy" Peter puts the pizza down to give the dog some attention. "Sorry I'm late" I hear him say as he grabs the leash. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Start eating if you want."
"Peter!" I grab his arm. "Why were we driving around?"
He smiles sheepishly. "You were sleeping so peacefully I didn't want to wake you. But…" He points at Satch. "I knew this one wouldn't last much longer. Now go eat" he orders before following the dog out the door. I stand in the doorway, watching him walk down the street. I don't think I've ever had a friend like him growing up. If I had, maybe I would have turned out differently. Sure, Moz is a good friend and has been for years, but there is always an angle with him. With Peter…maybe he is toying with me…but if he is, he's good. A much better con artist than me… my stomach growls and I head towards the kitchen with the pizza, my immediate needs trumping anything else for the moment.
The pizza and beer have long been consumed and we sit side by side on the sofa, the only sound coming from the TV and an occasional moan from Peter as the Red Sox clobber the Yankees.
"Neal, maybe we should call it a night" Peter says as he turns the TV off. I remain quiet, as I have the whole evening. Even with the earlier nap I still feel tired but with sleep come the nightmares and I'm not sure I can handle Peter hearing me. He's watching me…as weird as it sounds I can hear him thinking.
"Neal, it's just me" he says quietly, hoping I understand what he means. I do. He has made it clear that he is my friend and he will be there if I need him, even for something as embarrassing as a nightmare. "This isn't a jail and no one will make fun of you." Peter stands and gestures for me to do the same.
"Will you still respect me in the morning?" I ask, as I follow him up the stairs. He doesn't bother to turn around and we stop at his bedroom. He rifles through the bottom drawer of his dresser until he finds what he's looking for. "They shouldn't be too big" he says as he tosses me an old, tattered pair of sweat pants. I know the way to the guest room and I head that way, hoping it's far enough that distance will muffle any noise I might make.
"Do you want the dog?"
"No" I answer as I enter the small, sparse bedroom. I change and then lie down and I stare at the ceiling wondering if I can stay awake all night. I hear Peter going back downstairs and knowing Peter he's checking the windows and doors to make sure everything is locked. I hear him talking to Satchmo and then he's coming back up and by the extra noise I hear, he's bringing the dog with him. I listen to Peter as he moves around, first in the bathroom and then the bedroom. Finally, his night routine is done and the hallway is dark and the house is quiet. I count to a hundred, desperate to stay awake. But in the end I succumb to the comfort and safety of Peter's house.
I bolt upward, and take deep, steady breaths, trying to calm my rapidly beating heart. I listen for the telltale sign and sure enough, I hear footsteps nearing my room. I know I woke up screaming Kate's name, as I have many nights since the plane blew up.
"Neal." Peter calls my name before the door slowly opens and I do the only thing I can…I turn over and bury myself under the blanket and hide the shame and humiliation I feel.
"Neal." I feel the bed shift as Peter sits down. He doesn't say anything else, just runs his hand up and down my back soothingly, waiting for me to make the next move. Slowly I pull the blanket down, but I keep my head turned, away from Peter. He takes that as a sign that I'm ready to talk.
"Neal, tell me about your nightmare" he says quietly, his hand now cupped around my neck, rubbing gently. I sniffle loudly and wipe at my eyes as if a swipe of my hand could take away the obvious signs that I woke up crying. I take deep breaths and remind myself that I am no longer in jail and that Peter is not one of my fellow inmates, and he takes no pleasure in seeing me suffer.
"I am running towards the plane and waving at Kate…" I stop and I picture her smiling face as she waves back. "The plane blows up but not Kate" I continue. "Peter, she's calling for me to help her but I can't move and I see…I watch the fire consume her and I still hear her…" I bury my face in the pillow as my body once again betrays me.
"It's ok" Peter whispers as he leans over me and wraps an arm around my chest, holding me in an awkward hug.
"It's ok" Peter repeats several times before he lowers me back to the bed. I lay there, spent, as my tears dry up and my breathing returns to normal. I turn my head and glance up. Peter is staring absently out the window, while his hand circles my back in a repetitive motion.
"Peter" I whisper because my throat is dry. He glances downward and I swear his eyes are red and watery.
"Hey. Feeling better?" he asks, his voice wavering.
"Yeah" I answer and it's the truth. He pats my back and let's his hand linger by my cheek before standing up. "Rest a little longer. I need to take the dog out and I'll make breakfast. I think it will do us both good to go into work."
"Wait." I grab his wrist. "Peter, you were facing the plane. Did Kate know what was happening? Did she suffer?" Two questions I have long wanted the answers to but I've been too afraid to ask.
"No." Peter says quickly as he takes my hand off his wrist and squeezes it tightly. "Neal, it happened in an instant. She felt nothing."
"Thank you." I quietly say, relieved and hopeful that Peter is right.
Peter leaves and I momentarily close my eyes.
It is mid morning when we are finally heading to work.
"You're going to like this job" Peter says a little too cheerfully. When I don't take the bait, he continues. "You get to rob a bank".
"I'm intrigued" I say and it's the truth. "Do I get to keep the money?"
"No!" Peter answers harshly and it's an act, and we both know it.
I hesitate before entering the bureau and Peter lightly lays his hand on my shoulder. "One day at a time" he says, gently pushing me through the door. I open my mouth, ready to retort how cliché that sounds, but it's the truth and the reality of my life. I walk in wearing my best smile as other agents come over to greet me.