"And? How is he?"
Mateo glanced aside, his hands leaning on the wooden bench they were sitting on. Emeril wasn't looking at him, his eyes were aimed at the basketball game. Mateo turned his head back to the game as well, searching for Rick. He was probably the worst basketball player he had ever seen. He kept stumbling over his feet, was shoved aside by literally everyone and he hadn't caught a single ball. He was downright clumsy. Very different than the small blonde he'd befriended, who ran across the field like he was the god of wind.
"He talks too much."
Emeril chuckled. "You gotta put somethin' in his mouth then."
Mateo's eyes rested upon the boy, who was leaning on his knees, panting. His dark curls stuck to his face. Twenty two years old, he'd told him. Mateo would have believed him if he had said to be ten years younger.
"You think you're gonna fit in that little ass anyway?"
Mateo snorted. "We'll never know."
Around others he would pretend that Rick was his bitch, but Emeril was one of the few guys he believed he could be honest with. He knew the man was only teasing him because Mateo kept turning him down, not interested in a threesome with him and his little blond devil.
He had never been into guys, although he had to admit he'd never loved a woman either. But he did love their bodies — and damn, how he missed them. However, it never went past physical pleasure.
"I do think he's gay. If you're discrete, letting no one know that you're doing my boy, you can lend him. If he wants to." An addition that was quite superfluous, for he knew his friend — as far as one could have friends in prison — was no rapist. And even Mateo himself had to admit that Emeril and his lover were one of the finest men around. He couldn't imagine Rick wouldn't be interested in any or either of them.
Laughing arose from the group of sportsmen when Rick fell on the ground for the umpteenth time. With a strong arm, Ace pulled him back on his feet. The two boys were laughing as if they were in high school, even though Rick looked pained. He limped to the side and looked around.
Mateo sighed as he followed the boy's gaze. Aaron was sitting on the ground, all alone, his back against a low wall. He had wrapped his arms around his legs and was staring at his knees. Moloch was on the other side of the square, although he knew his eyes wouldn't leave his property. The distance was only meant to torture the boy, to show him nobody cared about him.
Nobody but Rick.
The boy flopped down on the ground next to Aaron. Mateo saw the boy stiffen, he didn't look up.
Rick's lips weren't moving. He was quiet, he just seemed to want to keep the boy company.
Mateo hesitated. Should he call for him? Or would Moloch overlook this because Rick was new? And because he was, well, Rick. Even Mateo noticed he was starting to have a weakness for the boy. Already, after barely a week. He didn't belong here. Mateo had a hard time believing there was a judge stupid enough to decide that Rick was capable of doing whatever crime. He was like a child. Tirelessly friendly. The innocence self.
Mateo didn't want to feel attached to him. Six more months and he could get out, the last thing he wanted was having a weakness. Many around here wished to drink his blood, who would hurt Rick because of him. It was one of the reasons why he had wanted to leave him to his fate — although he had always known he didn't have it in him. He couldn't be a silent spectator when someone was raped. From the beginning, he had known how the boy would end up if he was unprotected.
The silent, withdrawn boy who was sitting next to his cellmate now, was living proof.
He would become a ghost, a symbol of pain.
From very close, Mateo had seen the destruction caused by sexual abuse. Hell — it was even the reason he was here. He couldn't sit there and watch how a defenseless boy like Rick was turned into some asshole's plaything.
With a heavy feeling in his chest he looked at Aaron. Rick wasn't the only one moved by the boy's fate. He had done everything he could — but Moloch possessed more money than him. And there wasn't much one could do to someone who got off on pain, who found pleasure in what others feared.
A few more weeks, and Aaron would be free. He would have to pull through. Nobody, neither Rick nor him, could change anything about that.
. . .
By the end of the afternoon he was called away from the square; it was visitor hour. A rare smile curled up his lips as he entered the room and sat down behind a table. Invariably, his little brother visited him the first Saturday of every month. Sometimes alone, sometimes with his best friend. There were no other people visiting him — there wasn't someone else he wanted to see anyway.
But every time he could speak to Juan again was like a little light in his life. Mateo didn't care about a lot of people, but his brother meant the world to him. Their bond had always been strong; their father left them when they were young and mom blamed them. They never knew the love of a mother. He had been the one putting band-aids on Juan's knees, giving him advice about girls, buying him clothes, wrapping an arm around him when he was doubting himself and holding him during the night when he woke up screaming.
Sure — by now, Juan was an adult. He wasn't that depended on him anymore, he'd learned how to man up. Yet, his childhood traumas had left deep scars. Scars he felt daily. The year before Mateo's conviction had been a rough one, it had almost destroyed his little brother. He knew his imprisonment hadn't done him any good, and that he clung to their sparse meetings like it was his last resort.
With his chin leaning on his fists he stared at the door. Minutes passed by. A bit restlessly he shoved on his chair. It wasn't like Juan to be late. Usually he was way too early, not risking to waste time.
The room was filled with voices, people who hadn't seen each other in ages filling each other in about their lives. Children visiting their parents, parents seeing their kids. Girlfriends who stared lovingly at their lovers, practically eye fucking.
Fifteen minutes passed by. Half an hour.
He felt exposed, sitting at the table all alone. It looked pathetic. Waiting for a loved one who didn't show up. He however didn't consider to leave. Juan could have been stuck in traffic. If they could only talk for a minute so he could convince himself his brother was okay, it would be an immense relief.
A piercing sound announced the end of the visiting hour. Once again his eyes shot to the door, hoping to catch a glimpse of a hurried boy. But there was no one.
"Time's up, Ortiz," a guard said next to him.
Mateo nodded, letting the guard walk him to his cell.
. . .
Rick was sitting behind the tiny writing table. A pile of papers laid on top of it, a few pages had been written upon. It had to be a miserably long letter. To whom was it addressed? His parents? It was unusual that nobody had wanted to visit him today. Especially in the beginning, most inmates received visitors weekly.
For a moment he considered to ask it, then he brushed it off. Why the hell would he care. He had no interest in hearing Rick's life story. The less they knew about each other, the better.
Rick looked over his shoulder when he heard him enter the cell and smiled. "Hi!"
He answered with a grunt. He wasn't in the mood to talk. There was a nagging feeling in his stomach because Juan hadn't showed up. Something like that had never happened before. He always rescheduled when anything came in between. Could he have forgotten about it? He couldn't imagine, not even when his head was a mess. Had he been held up in traffic? Or had things gone wrong again? Should he do something — call someone? With 100 bucks he could easily find a guard allowing him to make a call. But how would Juan respond when everything was all right? It would make him upset. He knew Mateo would only call if he was worried, and Juan would believe that his older brother was convinced that he couldn't do anything on his own. If every thing was fine, that might cause a panic attack.
Mateo swallowed a sigh and sat down on the bed. A dull headache conquered his head. He had to let go of his worries, he didn't want to look vulnerable.
"I'm writing a letter to Aaron."
The words were so unexpected and they were so fucking stupid it took a moment before Mateo understood what he was saying. "You're what?" he snapped.
He cursed in thoughts. Because of that stupid visiting hour his emotions were way too fucking close to the surface.
Rick flinched. "He can't talk to me but I thought... I could write him letter. Just to — just to cheer him up. I made up a story for him. About a knight wanting to save a prince."
Mateo snorted in disbelief. This was too ridiculous for words. That kid would be dead before the month was over if he kept doing stupid things like this. He got up, rushed to the table and snatched away the papers.
The handwriting was neat, like that of a school girl. His eyes glided across the lines. As cliche at it might have sounded; Rick's writing style read smooth and his tone was light, even humorous.
Yet, he piled the papers up and tore them in two, and once again.
Rick jumped up, yanking at his arm. "Stop being so mean!!" he yelled.
Mateo wanted to slap him in the face at the sight of the tears in his eyes. Why the hell was that kid so damn sensitive? He should learn to fucking man up! "This is for your own good," he growled. "Moloch won't permit you to send love letters to his lover."
"Those are not love letters! They're just stories! So he can for one minute think about something else than... what that horrible man is doing to him!" His voice was shaking.
Don't you dare to cry.
"If he wants to read stories he can get a book from the library."
Rick crossed his arms in front of his chest, looking wronged at him. He looked like a teenager not getting his way. "It's not the same! A story that can be read by anyone has a different impact than something that is written specifically for you! It's a gift!"
Mateo sighed. That kid gave him a headache. He should let him dig his own grave, but he couldn't.
"Aaron got a couple more weeks, and then he's freed from that fucker for the rest of his life. There's a good chance you're gonna be the next one he's going to pull on his lap if you attract his attention like this."
Rick looked at him with wide eyes, shocked. "But you — you will protect me, right?"
It hurt his ego to admit it, but he did it nonetheless. For Rick's sake. "I can't protect you from him. Just don't do anything stupid, okay? Don't give him a reason to fuck up your life."
Rick's shoulders slumped down. His glance slid down too, although it settled on the torn letters in his hands. With a quick movement he pulled them out of Mateo's hands and pressed them against his chest.
"A few weeks is terrible when you feel horrible! We just have to make sure Moloch will never find out." Rick took a deep breath, looking desperately at him. "I just want to do something nice for him," he said quietly. "So that he knows he's not alone."
"But he is alone," Mateo answered stubbornly.
"He's not. Nobody is truly alone as long as there's someone thinking about him."
Mateo gave up. "Whatever," he grumbled. "I warned you."
He laid down on his bed and stared at the ceiling. It didn't take long before he heard the pencil scratch the paper again while the boy started to hum.
The sound caused a pit in his stomach.
Rick was like an angel. And if there was one place where angels died, it was here.