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Read Between The Lines

Chapter Text

There was only the steady tapping of rain on the windows. It was peaceful, like somebody tickling the back of your neck until you sink into a deep, blissful sleep.

For once, Taystee felt safe. She was tempted to take a nap right there but knew that a guard would soon burst in and disrupt the peace. Or a siren would sound. Or the water would rush in and threaten to tear apart this haven of books she had run to so many times.

Poussey quivered with the urge to talk. After having no one to talk to for so long, she now felt ready to explode with every thought and feeling she'd had over the past few weeks. She wanted to trace over every break and fracture in their friendship to make it heal. Mostly, she wanted to hear Taystee say it, to affirm her importance so that she could finally know it was real.

But Poussey had just gotten her friend back and she wasn't about to fuck it up now. So, she popped back to her feet and piled her arms high with books.

"You know a CO's gonna be in here any minute," she broke the silence by reading Taystee's mind. "We should get to it."

Taystee climbed up onto her feet and joined in, grabbing volumes of Milton and Joyce first, since they were the heaviest. I ought to let them sink, she thought as she placed the books up high on a shelf. She keenly remembered wanting to stab herself in the eye with a pencil while boredly trying to slug through Paradise Lost. She just couldn't relate. Taystee needed something with feeling.

"Milton is bullshit," she blurted as her eyes wandered over the stacks. She picked out a paperback with a rainbowy cover and plunked it against Poussey's arm.

"Now this is what I'm talking about," she chimed.

"What you know about Dr. Angelou?"

Taystee cut her eyes at Poussey's skepticism. Poussey watched the trademark dimple form in her cheek, the one that appeared whenever she felt challenged, or determined.

"Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size.

But when I start to tell them, they think I'm telling lies…"

Still gripping the book, Taystee closed in on Poussey and recited the poem from memory.

"It’s the fire in my eyes, and the flash of my teeth,  

The swing in my waist, and the joy in my feet...

It’s in the arch of my back, the sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts—"

"Okay, I get it. You're the poet laureate of the prison."

Poussey shrugged her off with a forced grin. She wasn't ready to feel like this again, not yet.

Taystee was deflated. She wanted to say something more, but all she could manage was, "Don't be fucking with Maya Angelou."

This was new. Poussey was always the one who couldn't keep her mouth shut, bubbling over with feelings ready to spill at the most inconvenient times. But now Taystee was the one who felt wide open.

Being locked out of the crew and alone had given Taystee a chance to think. She knew what she cared about, who she cared about, and it no longer mattered what anybody else had to say.

She struggled for the words to tell all this to Poussey. Poetry wasn't the right way. And Taystee wasn't used to having to be slick with words for anything that wasn't a con.

"Hey... Close your eyes."

"Are you fucking kidding me?"

Poussey cocked her head in disbelief. She remembered that day in the library, how she had silently trusted, parted her lips and hovered on the edge of nothing. Not breathing, heart not beating, mind unable to think. Taystee had said the same thing then. Close your eyes…

Somehow Poussey had managed to open herself just a little, to make room for the tiny possibility of the thing she had pictured in her mind a thousand times. She had allowed herself to hope for love that couldn't be returned. Hoping was a mistake.

"If you pull out another cigarette, I swear on everything we're about to fight," Poussey threatened.

"Just do it. Close your eyes," Taystee insisted.

Poussey searched Taystee's face for some sign of a joke, but there was none.

"Stop fucking with me, Tee."

Poussey hated the sadness in her own voice. She wasn't sad, she was almost angry. Why did Taystee keep doing this to her?

"Stop fucking with me," she said again, stronger this time.

"I'm not."

Then Taystee did something she had never done before. Gently, she took Poussey's hands in hers.

"Close your eyes."

Cautiously, Poussey did as she was told.

"Open your mouth."

Once again, Poussey stopped breathing. Her heart stopped beating and her mind was unable to think. Rain was thundering hard against the windows as she leaned in to once again hover on the edge of nothing and hope that someone would meet her there.

Obediently, expectantly, hopefully, Poussey parted her lips.

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There was a warmth that radiated through Poussey's chest, rushed to her extremities and left her head cloudy. She was afraid to name it. Voicing it might corrode the feeling, and if anything, she wanted to make this feeling stay.

If she could, she would crystallize it and lock it in her chest, every now and then to pull it out and hold a magnifying glass to it like some kind of strange science experiment. It was just as odd and glowing and wonderful as an organ in a jar.

But it was temporary. It lived inside stolen moments in hidden corners of the prison yard, broom closets, empty stairwells and up against library stacks when no one else was around.

She didn't want to name it, but if she had to, she'd call it reciprocity – the moment when she and Taystee locked eyes and shared the exact same thoughts, space, and movement. Give and take. This was no longer one-sided. She was no longer hopelessly chasing after something she couldn't have. They were on the same page.

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Bennett was tense as he paced their corner of the yard, his bum leg feeling illogically heavy. He only had phantom sensations when he was nervous or agitated, which made him sway a little too much, which made people stare, which made him even more nervous.

"You know what he told me? To keep my mouth shut."

Not wanting to stare, Daya instead looked down at her pregnant belly straining against the pull of the elastic, threatening to spill over the top of her pants and drag her to the ground.

Bennett rambled on, "If you think these people care about anything except saving their own asses, you're kidding yourself Daya. It's a miracle they decided not to lock me up. We've got a chance here, and I think we should take it."

"So that's it. You told Caputo everything?"

"You don't believe me?"

"I don't know what to believe, John."

"Honestly Daya, it's like you want me to go to prison."

"I just don't want you to be a fucking coward."

"I'm not a coward!"

His voice was shrill, the kind of unexpected yell that flushes things out from their hiding place. Bennett and Daya turned at the sound of a stirring.

"What are you doing out of bounds, inmates?"

"Just taking a walk," Poussey beamed as she and Taystee appeared from around the corner.

"We took a wrong turn going to church," Taystee joked, poking Poussey in her side.

Bennett wasn't amused.

"Well get back in bounds. Now."

"But it's okay for Diaz to chill over here?" Poussey eyed Bennett defiantly.

"If I have to say it again, someone's getting a shot."

"We're going right now!" Taystee dragged Poussey away before things could get any uglier.

 

As Daya and Bennett broke in the other direction, worry clouded Daya's face.

"You think they know what's going on?"

"No," He stroked her cheek as an instant apology. "We're okay."

 

A few yards away, Taystee looked over her shoulder.

"You think they know what's up?"

"Nah," Poussey gingerly stroked Taystee's cheek. "We're okay."

 


 

Poussey sat alone in her bunk, trying to process it all. This was more than she had ever gotten from Taystee before, more than Taystee was ever willing to give.

Still, it wasn't enough.

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"Why you gotta buck up to the guards?" Taystee demanded as she and Poussey loitered in their old hang spot in the library.

"I'm not. I just think it's fucked up that they always come after us."

"They specialize in 'fucked up.' It's their job. And you and me gotta deal. That's our job."

"We don't have to like it."

"You don't have to show off either. It's not gonna do nothing but land you right in the SHU."

From the corner of her eye, Taystee watched the last inmate exit the library, leaving them alone. Now she could breathe.

Taystee thought she was ready. When she and Poussey had their come-to-Jesus moment in the storm, she'd turned herself loose in a way that was permanent. It was real and there was no turning back.

Still, she was never free from the nagging feeling that everybody knew her business. She didn't expect to get so much attention in a prison full of dyke broads, but instantly she felt eyes on her. The crew didn't look at her the same. Black Cindy didn't want to talk about Denzel the way they used to. And she swore she heard whispering behind her back.

The feeling was so uncomfortable that when she crossed paths with Poussey in the hallway, lingering close enough for their hands to almost touch, Taystee couldn't handle it. She quickly pushed Poussey into an empty stairwell and kissed her hard on the mouth.

"What was that for?" Poussey's confusion was blotted out by a grin she couldn't hide.

Taystee shook her head, pissed at herself.

"Nothing."

This is how all of their kisses would be from now on - stolen.

After that, she and Poussey christened every private corner of the prison with stolen moments. It became like a game trying to find a new spot to sneak away to. Poussey seemed to love leaning in close to whisper some joke or heartfelt revelation behind closed doors. She must have thought they were sharing a special secret. She didn't get that she herself was the secret.

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"Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board," Poussey read aloud. "For some, they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing, until the watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by time. That is the life of men.

"Now women forget all those things they don't want to remember and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.'"

She fell silent, suspended in thought.

"Why'd you stop?" Taystee tossed words over her shoulder as she straightened the stacks.

"Hurston is deep, that's all."

"Well I like this book already. I'm glad to be woman, I'll tell you that." She moved further down the row, swaying like a ship sailing on the horizon.

"Yeah," Poussey lied. "Me too."

 


 

Nicky Nichols was the only one that knew. Poussey figured she must have had some kind of wild sixth sense for pussy, because she knew what was up before Poussey even did. So it didn't seem to matter much if they talked about it now.

Nicky was out by the warehouse, digging a hole with her boot and trying to remember the feeling of spiked heels, when she turned to find Poussey standing there.

"Where do you go, you know, when you wanna…?" she left the question hanging in the air.

"Cross stitch?" Nicky couldn't resist being a smart ass at every occasion.

"I mean, when you're with somebody."

Nicky's eyes flashed with mischief and her lips curled into a smile. "Well look who cracked the straight girl code and turned somebody out. If you're willing to sell your secrets, I think we could make a killing."

Poussey clapped a hand over Nicky's mouth. "Would you keep your voice down?"

"Alright, alright… I don't know why you're asking. I bet you've already seen me a time or two."

"I'm not fucking in the bathroom stall like some kinda animal… No offense."

"Sorry to violate your delicate sensibilities, my fair lady. Guess I'll take my filth elsewhere."

As Nicky started to leave, Poussey dug into her waistband and came up with a cigarette, stopping her dead in her tracks. She didn't even smoke, but held onto a few for situations like this. She handed it over as payment.

"Just tell me. I know you have some place. Where do you go when you want to be alone with somebody?"

Nicky considered the offer for a long moment. Then finally, she took the cigarette. She sat and threw an arm around Poussey, succumbing to this Mr. Rogers teachable moment.

"Fine. I guess every master has to take on a student some time."

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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.

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Big Boo was a shameless flirt with everyone, and danger was no exception. So when Nichols needed a way to transport Vee's entire drug stash from the laundry room, Boo opted to get up close and personal with the load. It took some convincing, of course. Arguing, poking, prodding, mocking and bribery. But eventually each little baggie found its way down Boo's trousers, one by one.

"Relax," Nichols teased as she slipped a baggie into a particularly tight spot. "You try to get into everyone else's pants. See how it feels."

"Feels expensive," Boo barked. She demanded fifty percent of any potential profit, which was the only reason she'd agreed to help.

Truth be told, Nichols was planning to flush every bit of it down the toilet as soon as she got the chance. She could never become a drug dealer – not after Tricia's death, not after her own near-relapse. But she couldn't tell that to Boo.

For now, the priority was to find a safe hiding place, or rather, a bunch of places. The plan was to break up the stash and spread it far and wide since a smaller amount meant a lesser punishment if they ever got caught.

Big Boo was the perfect mule. Besides the fact that she looked and acted like an ass, her shift on the cleaning crew allowed her to roam all over the prison. Under the cover of buffing floors, she discovered the best possible hiding place – electrical outlets. They were small and inconspicuous, and they were everywhere. Boo could easily get in and out with her trusty screwdriver, but no other inmates could. Within a couple of days, the drugs were hidden in plain sight inside the outlets.

Parked outside the chapel with the floor buffer, Big Boo considered her genius and how much she deserved a reward. She had agreed to be a lookout for a couple of inmates in return for a bottle of hooch, which put her in the empty hallway right across from an electrical outlet, with plenty of time to think.

She whipped out her screwdriver, promising herself to only sniff a little. Just enough to make the afternoon go by faster.

Her grin was wide as she loosened the screw and let it fall to the floor. She could feel her pulse quicken as she slipped the screwdriver into the top of the outlet and tried to pry it loose. This was fun, like digging up treasure. But the outlet seemed to stick.

Typically, you would turn the electricity off before jamming a screwdriver into an outlet. But Big Boo didn't have access to the fuse box, and she really wanted those drugs. So, she went for it.

She howled in pain as sparks flew and the lights went out with a flicker.

 


 

It was pitch black inside the chapel. You couldn't see your hand in front of your face. Couldn't see anybody else looking at you, judging. Didn't have to see her eyes wide like saucers staring, willing, and wanting things from you, accusing you of lying on your feelings. Didn't have to watch her bottom lip tremble and vacillate between wanting to kiss and bite or sock her in the mouth. Didn't have to think about how positively small she was, like a child, and how wrong you two must have looked together, how her love was so big it enveloped you and made you crazy because it didn't line up with anything else. Didn't have to feel ashamed of wanting her tiny hands to touch you, to wrap around your great big curves and pull you in. In the darkness, you fit together like puzzle pieces.

In the dimness, the shadows were long and harsh and ugly. It wasn't peaceful like everybody said. It damn sure wasn't romantic. You could see things, but just enough to make you hate what you saw.

But in the darkness, you didn't see anything but what was inside. There were no words to corrupt the space between you, the smell of her body, the rise and fall of her chest and the sound of her heartbeat reminding you that this is real.

The darkness was better. It covered and cradled you. It made you free to be more of yourself.

 


 

It could have been minutes or hours that passed. But however long it took, it was enough.

In the darkness, Poussey felt Taystee's hand. Heard her breath coming out in quick spurts that sounded like fear. Fear of the dark, or of what would happen next, Poussey didn't know. But as they came together, fingers interlocking in the silence, fear subsided and something else took over.

A wave of relief came over Poussey like rushing water. She'd spent every moment leading up to this one choked by her emotions, terrified that she might always live with the restlessness of someone who could not find what she needed. But now suddenly, here it was.

Now they were the spring. They were the cherry trees.