|Acknowledgements:||As Loki Renard pointed out, Callie has been waiting with bleeding knuckles (see Make a Wish) for over a year now. I appreciate her patience, and her participation in the dance this series turned into. 🙂|
|Thanks to Tenth Muse Top, the best beta in the world. (Okay, she’s also one of the best writers and tops in the world, and certainly the best…*cough*…er, nevermind. *g*) Point is, that’s only one of TMT’s titles, but her suggestions made even a tiny story like this much better.|
If Wishes Were Horses, Jailbirds Would Fly
Callie closed her eyes and held her bowed head between two trembling hands. Think. She had to think calmly and clearly. The fish had just dumped a pile of turds in her lap, thinking it was treasure. But okay, what was done, was done. Now she had a choice to make.
She lifted her head and gazed around at the cemetery surrounding her. It was so peaceful here. Birds were chirping, the sun was hot against her skin, puffy white clouds were sailing by in a blue sky as if nothing momentous had just occurred, as if Callie’s world hadn’t just tilted a bit on its axis.
She had finally said her goodbyes to Josie, had finally gained a sense of peace in that deep pocket of her heart where she never thought peace would reign. And now, with one outrageous stunt, Loki had ripped her peace away, before she even had a chance to enjoy it. She glanced over at the fish, who was pretending to read tombstones while she waited for Callie to say something. She was striding around casually in her trench coat and fedora like an extra in a bad film, but the way she was chewing on a fingernail betrayed her inner tension.
Callie leaned back against the tree, letting the feel of rough bark through her thin blouse be a grounding sensation, something real in the midst of this crazy day. She tugged at the grass with her fingertips as she weighed the idea of life as a free woman again. It was almost inconceivable. What she could conceive, was living in constant fear. Always looking over her shoulder, never able to trust anyone or settle down in one place for long. Always waiting for the net to drop down over her head and drag her back to Yountsville Women’s Minimum Security Correctional Facility. Was that the life Josie would’ve wanted for her?
Then there was living the rest of her days in the Bucket. The routine, the constant noise, the lousy food, the petty fights. Everyone around her looked years older than they actually were, and she wasn’t vain enough to think she was any different. She’d spend her days surrounded by criminals and punks – some of whom were the guards themselves – and sad, desperate women. Was that what Josie would’ve wanted for her? Was that what she wanted for herself?
But there were also some nice women, like Velda, her inner voice reminded her. And they had movie nights, they had dances. They were even talking about teaching them some real skills one day, like secretarial work. Which brought up another problem – how in blazes was she going to make a living out in the real world? She hadn’t had to earn a paycheck in years!
Hell, she wasn’t young anymore, like Loki. It was fine for the fish – she had a skill. A skill that was going to end her up back in prison, but that wasn’t any of Callie’s business anymore. She nodded to herself as she made her decision. Loki was a free bird, but Callie was a caged one, and that’s the way it was meant to be.
“I’m going back, fish.”
Loki whirled around, her eyes full of disbelief. “NO! You can’t be serious!”
Callie stood up slowly and dusted herself off. Loki braced herself for the charge that might follow, but Callie was calm. She looked directly into Loki’s eyes and spoke slowly. “I’m perfectly serious, you little idiot. Did you think someone like me can just change her stripes overnight? I’m too old to learn a trade, too rough to fit in with polite society….I’m certainly too slow to compete with youngsters like you out here. The bottom line is…I wouldn’t be happy.”
Loki’s expression grew sullen as she took in Callie’s words. The near-pout on her face reminded Callie of the first time she’d met the youngster, and Callie’s tone gentled.
“I know you were trying to help me…thanks for that, okay? Your head is up your ass, as usual, but your heart was in the right place. I’m just not the Robin Hoodlum you thought I was, and I’m not the type to go sprinting off across the country with you. I’m sorry about that, I really am. But thank you for trying, and….we’re even, okay? Our debts are square, and I wish you the best.”
Callie put out her hand to shake, the knuckles still bleeding slightly. Loki took it slowly, squeezing so hard it made Callie wince.
“Okay,” she said somberly. “If that’s what you want. Let me make a few calls, and someone will come pick you up again. I—” she broke off suddenly and stared. “Hm…that wasn’t supposed to happen.”
Callie looked over to where Loki was gazing, and her blood froze. There, cruising slowly through the cemetery, was a marked police car. The red lights weren’t flashing, but the uniformed officer inside was clearly searching for something as he drove.
“Oh shit.” Callie’s reaction was instinctive. She ducked and ran to hide behind the largest tombstone she could find. She didn’t even drag the fish along…Loki was on her own. As she crouched down against the grass she could feel the blood pounding in her ears. Sweat broke out everywhere, and even under the hot sun the breeze blowing cooled her perspiration into icy patches on her body.
Seconds ticked by, and when she didn’t hear any shout or siren, she lifted her head to look around cautiously. Where the hell was the fish? And then Callie saw her. She was striding down casually toward the parked police car. The saliva dried in Callie’s mouth. What the fuck was that idiot doing?! She was going to get them arrested and dragged back to the Bucket! Even worse, she was going to get them SHOT, because Callie sure as hell wasn’t waiting around to see what would happen when the cop recognized her. She lifted into a crouch, prepared to make a run for it.
Then she noticed Loki pointing as she chatted with the cop. Pointing in the other direction. Was she actually managing to throw him off the scent? She watched with a dizzying sense of relief as Loki laughed and waved, and the cop drove slowly on. She was going to kill the brat…she was absolutely going to kill her.
Loki was heading back in her direction, looking around in puzzlement. When Callie was certain the police car was far enough away, she stood up again.
“Oh, there you are!” Loki flashed a triumphant grin. She was high on the adrenaline coursing through her body after chatting with the cop. A part of Callie wanted to smack the cocky look off her face, but the greater part of her still felt weak-kneed and shaky.
“You threw him off the trail?”
Loki shook her head. “He wasn’t even looking for us! He was looking for his grandmother’s grave, but he was in the wrong section. I told him to try over there.” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “Nice how we taxpayers are funding his visits to granny!” she snorted.
Callie swore softly. She was definitely getting too old for this. Still, the encounter with the cop had shown her something very important. When she had thought she might go back to jail, her first reaction had been utter rejection of the idea. She might be old, and she might be making a big mistake to throw her lot in with a hothead like Loki. But deep down inside, she wanted to be free. She took a deep breath.
Loki stared, unsure if she had heard right. “You serious? You changed your mind?”
“Yeah, damn it. I’ll probably regret this later, but what the hell. Life’s too short.”
The grin on the brat’s face was the biggest Callie had ever seen. “Awesome! I’ll take good care of us, you’ll see.”
“Just one thing, though,” Callie growled warningly.
Callie leaned down and picked up the packet of documents that had fallen on the ground earlier. She smacked it against Loki’s midsection and held out her hand for Loki’s ID instead. “I’M Charlize Brown, and YOU’RE Millicent Lemon, got it?”