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Read Between The Lines

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Poussey guided Taystee through the dimly lit chapel.

"Uh-uh P, it's creepy as hell in here." Taystee hesitated in the aisle. "I don't know how Catholics do it. I come up in here and all I see is Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist, and what's the name of that badass little devil kid?"

"Damien?"

"Yeah, him!"

"Don't worry. This ain't The Omen and I'm not gonna let anything happen," Poussey offered a hand to help Taystee climb up onto the pulpit.

"Just hurry up and show me whatever this is so we can get the fuck out of here."

Poussey was practiced in the art of not scaring Taystee off. She knew that if she pitched the idea of a romantic tryst in the chapel ahead of time, it would fail. So she did what any levelheaded inmate would do to get what she needed. She lied. Said she figured out a hustle that had something to do with the chapel. So here they were with Taystee fully expecting to find a crate of contraband stuffed somewhere in a corner.

All told, Poussey had gone to great lengths to make this happen. At the moment, Watson and Black Cindy were covering their shifts in the library and it had taken a ton of convincing to get them to do it.

"What makes you think the guards ain't gon notice the difference between us and y'all?" Black Cindy folded her arms over her puffed up chest.

"Am I supposed to be you or Taystee? Because either way, I don't think I measure up," Watson joked, looking down at Poussey to remind everybody how short she was. "Why do you guys need to get out of work so bad anyways?"

"You don't wanna know the answer to that," Black Cindy warned as she raised a knowing eyebrow.

"You two better not be doing business and not cutting us in. That would be too messed up."

"It's nothing like that." Poussey pleaded, "All you gotta do is hang out in the library during our shift. They won't even miss y'all in the warehouse, and you know we all look alike to the guards. Hell, if you take too big a shit around here they'll call it by your name. This is like the only time we get to use that to our advantage."

"You mean your advantage. We not the ones stealing away to get some of that freaky-sneaky afternoon delight, are we?" Black Cindy eyeballed Poussey, prompting her to let out a nervous laugh.

"What y'all do in each other's company is none of my business."

Black Cindy guffawed. "Bitch, you know I'm not tryna get with nobody up in here whose name don't rhyme with Quenzel Smoshington. And stop tryna deflect. The black ass bottom line is, what you do in the dark is every bit of my business if I'm the one risking a shot."

"What are we talking about here?" Watson was still clueless.

Poussey slammed her fist into her palm, the international signal for Come on y'all, cut me a break already.

"Alright, then don't do it for me. Do it for a bottle of hooch."

"Yo, a whole bottle? I can get with that," Watson perked up.

"Each. A bottle each. I already told you I'm not into swapping spit with Watson."

Black Cindy drove a hard bargain, but nothing in prison was free.

"Bet." Poussey gave them both a fist pound to seal the deal.

Soon enough, Poussey owed favors to a string of inmates – to Watson and Black Cindy for covering the shift, to Big Boo for keeping watch outside the chapel, to Gloria for smuggling supplies from the kitchen, to Nicky for information, to Chang for lubrication, and to Sophia for freshening up her fade. At this rate, she'd be paying them all in free hooch for the rest of her sentence. She hated to make such an offer. It took forever and a day to get hold of all the proper ingredients for bootleg alcohol, and even then, there was no guarantee that the batch would come out right.

But as Poussey gazed up at the sliver of stained glass in the chapel with white Jesus and his disciples' faces seeming to glow like candlelight, she was glad she'd gone to the trouble to create such an atmosphere. She'd even snuck in early to plant a special bottle of hooch behind the pulpit and to make sure she knew exactly how to dim the lights.

It was perfect and Poussey knew exactly what she would say. She planned to borrow from the pages of the all greats, who said it much better than she could.

You gather me. The pieces that I am, you gather them and give them back to me in all the right order…

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to be without you…

I've never had a moment's doubt. I believe in you completely…

I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it…

I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees…

At least, that was what she meant to say.

She'd gone over the words in her head a thousand times, but in the heat of the moment, with Taystee staring at her with that critical look that only Taystee could give, the words refused to flow. Poussey pieced them together as best she could, but every sentence only drug her deeper into an argument she didn't want to have.

"Nothing is ever enough for you. Why can't you just let some shit be?"

"I'm not in the habit of denying myself the pleasure of saying true things."

"Enough of this Cat in the Hat mess. I'm gone."

"Taystee—"

The word stuck in Poussey's throat. She'd put herself all the way out there and only had one card left to play, the one word she'd left out of all her romantic ramblings. Taystee stared at her, willing her not to say it. Then she headed for the door.

It was like slipping into quicksand. Poussey couldn't fix it and her panic was so real that she didn't even notice the lights flickering overhead. And when they went out, bathing them both in pitch-blackness, she didn't realize that it was a power outage.

Poussey was frozen still.