She rolled her eyes. “You know what happens when you put people into boxes?”


“They break out of them, proving you wrong time and time again. I’m more than my exterior.”

I almost told her how I wanted to know about her interior more than anything, but I didn’t want to sound like a complete needy moron.

I grabbed my phone and put on one of Shawn’s albums. Hazel couldn’t hide the smile that fell against her lips as she began mouthing the words to every song that played. Her fingers drummed against her thighs, and her head nodded to the beat. When the song “Perfectly Wrong” played, tears rolled down those cheeks of hers that I’d been thinking about kissing. I wanted to wipe them away. Shit—I wanted to kiss them away, but I knew it wasn’t my place to put my hands against her skin without her permission.

She sniffled a little and wiped them away on her own.

“I like them, too, you know,” she softly said. “Slipknot and the Grateful Dead. I’m a girl with many facets.”

I was learning that second by second. She was a complicated woman, and day by day, I wanted to know all about her complex sides.

When we arrived at the prison, I had to park in a designated area. Hazel was constantly rubbing her hands against her jeans as she took in deep breaths.

“Want me to go in with you?” I asked.

“No. I have to do this alone. I don’t know how long it will take, so if you want to head home, I can try to find another way back.”

I cocked an eyebrow at her, baffled at her words. “I just drove you over three hours to get here. Why the hell would I leave you now?”

She shrugged. “The kind of people I knew would’ve left.”

“I encourage you to meet better people.”

“I think I’m on the right path,” she murmured, almost so quiet that I missed it. Or maybe I made it up completely in my head and just wanted those to be the words that left her lips. Either way, I hoped I was on that path she was speaking of.

“I’m not going anywhere,” I said, giving her my word and a small grin. “I’ll be right here.”

She smiled back and didn’t even try to hide it from me. “Thanks, Ian.”

“Welcome. Good luck in there.”

She nodded once and walked away, with fidgety hands the whole way to the entrance.

As I waited, I played Shawn’s song “Perfectly Wrong” again, letting the lyrics sink into my system. Letting a part of Hazel fall into my soul. You could learn a lot about a person based on the songs that made them cry.

It played on repeat a dozen times, and by the thirteenth play, my chest ached a little too.



Walking into a prison always felt so terrifying to me. They searched the visitors as if we were the prisoners. We went through metal detectors, then were scanned with another device. A thorough pat down followed. The first time I’d experienced that kind of procedure was when I was eleven years old and Mama had taken me to visit Charlie with her. It had scared me pretty badly, and I remembered having heavy nightmares after the process.

When I showed up now, the nerves still rumbled in my stomach the same way they had at age eleven. Only this time, guilt struck me too.

Up next was all of the paperwork I had to fill out in order to see my mother. As I scribbled down my information, I tried my best to not overthink my emotions. I kept trying to convince myself I’d done the right thing too.

I stuck a name tag onto my shirt and headed to the meeting area. I went through a gate and sat down at a table where I’d wait for a security guard to bring my mother out from the back. As I sat there, I drummed my fingers repeatedly against my thighs, taking in sharp inhales. Around me, there were other tables where inmates were conversing with their family members. Some laughed, others cried, and some didn’t exchange words at all. They just sat in silence, staring at one another as if their stares said all the words for them.

When a guard brought Mama out from the back, I got to my feet, still fidgeting with my hands. I couldn’t stop moving my fingers against one another if I wanted to. My nerves were too intense.

Mama’s hands and ankles were shackled, and that broke my heart. She looked skinnier than she had before she’d gone in, which was very concerning, seeing as how Mama was already skinny to begin with. She was skin and bones minus the baby bump. I wondered what they were feeding her. If they were looking after her, seeing as how she was probably going through withdrawal from her drug usage too. She looked bizarre in the face. Dark circles sat under her eyes, and her skin was paler than normal, as if she’d been sick for days. Her hair was wild, tangled and knotted as if she hadn’t cared enough to run her fingers through it, and her lips were chapped and split open.

Did they not have lip balm for the inmates? Not even petroleum jelly or something?

Oh my gosh. What had I done?

I’d thought turning Charlie in was the safest option for her, and after she’d gotten busted, too, I’d tried to convince myself that her being locked up was good for her, because she couldn’t get into any more trouble. I’d thought she’d look a little better than when I’d last saw her, battered and bruised from Charlie’s hand. But truthfully, Mama looked even worse than before. She looked broken in a way I hadn’t known humans could crack. She was shattered to her core.