A few months ago, Katie would have never believed she’d be having a conversation with a convicted felon. Of course, she hadn’t actually spoken to him, but his letter had arrived at her PO Box just a day ago. Since then, she’d read it at least four times. Simple and straight to the point, Scott had explained why he was in prison and a bit about his life before the eight years he’d been serving. It was more than she’d told him about herself, but he didn’t seem to mind. Actually, he’d asked her to tell him about herself, but didn’t ask any of the questions Teal had warned her about. He didn’t ask her to come and meet him, or what she liked to do when she was alone, and for that she was thankful.
Soothing jazz flowed from the iPod dock station while Katie sat at her desk in her study carefully plotting out her next letter. Pulling out her favorite bright yellow stationary, she picked up a pen and considered on what to tell Scott about herself. How personal did she want this to get? He’d been honest with her—as far as she could tell—and mentioned only wanting her time. Katie had a lot of that, and at twenty-five, she was looked at as an odd ball for being such a loner. She wouldn’t dare tell Scott that, though. He thought her name was Kristen, but it was actually Kathryn, or Katie for short. This had been Teal’s idea.
“Girl, you don’t want those men to know your real name so they can come hunt you down for some lovin’ when they get out of jail,” Teal had warned. The problem was, Katie still worried about the Inmate Pen Pal Program. It had been her idea, and with her dad as the warden at Capshaw prison, it only took a few suggestions before Teal and a few other people were responsible for setting up the program. Of course, her dad told her that she wasn’t eligible to join, but Teal, who’d worked an administration job at the prison, had gotten her in the program under the name Kristen. Teal raised a brow at what she called a “white sounding name”, but Katie thought it normal. Yes, she was a black woman, and yes, people were surprised to see such a dark girl respond to the name Kathryn Rose Andreassen, but she never thought names had anything to do with a person’s ethnicity. Her mother’s skin shone black as night, as well as her biological father’s, but he’d passed and her mother had remarried a European man. Katie refused to be defined by her name, but the world hadn’t made it easy for her.
Name aside, Katie had also worried about her address making it on file with the prison, so she’d rented a PO Box. Teal had told her that she hadn’t needed to; the letters coming to the prison were taken out of the original envelope and placed in a prison issued one, and then handed out at mail call. Katie, however, wasn’t convinced, so she’d gone to the MailWerks across the street from her old job and rented a PO Box for thirty-five dollars a year.
The shrill tone of her cell’s ringer pulled Katie from her desk, and into the living room. “Hello,” she answered.
“Girl, I swear these people in here get on my last damned nerves!” Teal shrieked. Katie glanced at the clock, confirming that it was noon—Teal’s break time.
Katie chuckled at her friends over exaggeration of her co-workers. “You always say that.” She stood and headed to the kitchen to pull out the salad she’d prepared for lunch. “But anytime you need help with paperwork, or want to switch a shift, all of them are suddenly your best friends.” She pulled the grilled chicken out of the fridge.
Teal sucked her teeth. “Whatever, but I’m telling you this . . . next time Stacie leaves her shit on my desk, I’m gonna cuss her out.”
Katie could hear the radio blasting in the background. “Are you on your way over, or what?” she asked, ignoring Teal’s whining. It was always one complaint after another and very few were founded.
“Yeah, and I don’t want a damned salad, make me a cheeseburger or something.” Teal let loose a loud moan. “I’m okay with being fat. Hell, haven’t you heard? Big is beautiful!” Teal huffed.
Katie placed the chicken in the microwave and pressed the quick heat button. “Big may very well be beautiful, but high blood pressure isn’t. Plus, you aren’t fat.” Teal was far from skinny, but Katie would never call her fat. She was one hundred and forty-five pounds, but she just barely made it to Katie’s chin, who was five feet seven. “Plus, your doctor told you to watch your blood pressure, so you won’t be eating any cheeseburgers over here.” And Katie meant it. Her mother had had issues with her blood pressure, and it had gotten so bad that she had a stroke.
Suddenly, Katie heard Teal’s Monte Carlo as she pulled into her driveway. The prison was only ten minutes away from Katie’s house, which was one of the reasons she could afford the home on her own before she’d gotten an agent and then a book deal. Nobody wanted to live a few miles away from a maximum-security prison, so it had made her three bedroom home super affordable.
“I’m hanging up now. Come in through the back.” Placing the phone on the counter, she headed to the sliding glass door and flipped the lock before running back to the microwave to pull out the chicken.
Teal walked into the kitchen, and was followed by a cold breeze. “Girl, why are you still in your damn pajamas?”
Katie looked down at what she was wearing; short sleeping shorts and a ratty T-shirt. She’d been up since six a.m. working on her novel, but she’d forgotten to change. When she glanced over at Teal—who was so damn well dressed and put together all the time—she cringed. She was taller and slimmer than Teal, but she never thought she looked as good in her outfits as Teal did. She’d tried, but there was just no contending with the fashion college dropout.
“You look a hot mess,” she added with a raised brow.
Katie placed her hands on her hips as she watched Teal pull off her tweed pea coat. Underneath was a vibrant jade green silk blouse that hugged her chest, making her thick figure seem thinner. Her black pencil skirt elongated her short legs, and the pointy-toed, six inch black high heels scared the life out of Katie. She was strictly a kitten heel kind of girl, and didn’t care what fashion guru Lauren Conrad said about them. She wasn’t interested in breaking an ankle or her neck.
Katie sighed and turned her attention back to preparing the food. “I’ve been working all morning.” It was an excuse she used often whether it was true or not. As an author, she made her own hours. However, that didn’t mean she wouldn’t put at least six to eight hours of time in . . . some days she even worked for twelve hours. The job was hard and sometimes very demanding, but often times people who didn’t know she was a New York Times bestselling author often thought of her writing as a hobby.
Teal bumped her aside. “Go shower at least. Shit, you’ve been touching my food and you haven’t even washed yet.” Teal was grinning as she spoke, which was the only indication that she was joking.
Katie knew her friend. They’d grown up together, so she could tell when her friend was “kindly” insulting her. She held up her hands in mock surrender. “Okay, I’ll be right back.” She headed down the hall toward her bathroom. “And keep your mouth off that cheesecake in the fridge. I made it for my dad.” She could hear Teal cussing from the kitchen, but ignored it and enjoyed a quick hot shower.
Lunch was over faster than Katie had expected . . . mainly because of Teal’s chatter about work and her love life or lack thereof. She’d all but forgotten the letter from Scott until Teal brought it up just as she was about to leave.
Teal shrugged on her pea coat and pulled her car keys from her pocket. “You haven’t said anything about your pen pal.” Teal frowned. “He didn’t ask you some slimy shit, did he?”
Katie shook her head.
“Are you sure? What’s his name? No wait, don’t tell me. You’re all quiet, but I know you didn’t get a murderer or rapist or any shit like that.” Teal patted down her sleek bob, as if what she said was common knowledge to Katie, but it wasn’t.
Katie raised a brow. “I thought the Pen Pal Program was anonymous and random?” She shifted her weight and leaned on the table. “How do you know I didn’t get someone in prison for murder?” She was confused. The way the program was supposed to be set up, was that forty inmates were preselected based on good behavior to be in the program.
To her knowledge, their crimes weren’t a deciding factor in whether or not they could join the program. That was the point when Katie pitched the idea to her dad. She believed that some of them would benefit from a little compassion, and maybe even some written company.
Teal huffed. “Didn’t your dad tell you?” She headed to the door. “Only twenty-five men were chosen based off of a few things: the crime they committed, the time they have left, good behavior, and some other shit your dad decided to throw in.”
Katie took in a calming breath so she wouldn’t curse, and bit her lip before she spoke. She could tell that Teal really thought she’d known. “That was not the point of this,” she grumbled. “It was supposed to be for those who had no one, those who were stuck in that place for life. I think they . . . no, I know they need human interaction in some way. You keep them caged up in there like animals, and then society is surprised when they get out and act just like that—animals!” Katie was heated, but her tantrum didn’t faze her friend.
Teal’s eyes grew large. “Have you lost your fuckin’ mind?” She threw her hands above her head and Katie watched as she visibly calmed. “Kay,” it was Teal’s nickname for Katie, “I know what you are going through . . .”
Here it was again. It always came to this, and although Katie was positive that Teal was about to drop some true knowledge on her, she didn’t want to hear it.
“You’re lonely and need someone to talk to, so you reached out and ended up not only getting played, but also hurt. Like always, you find some animal, or in this case twenty-five animals, to reach out to and help.”
Katie looked away from her friend. She was tired of crying about the past, tired of explaining to people that all she ever wanted to do was be needed and useful. Teal placed a gentle hand on her cheek, and Katie couldn’t help but gaze into her friend’s concerned, soulful eyes.
“Let me just tell you this,” Teal continued. “Those men are animals. You don’t know the half of it, babe, and you never want to. Your father was right not to let certain people on that list. They are criminals, predators, and liars. That shit can get into a lonely woman’s head and make her do things she’d normally never do.”
Katie knew she was right. She’d let her own loneliness blind her to the facts. Sniffing, she wiped a tear from her eye as it tried to escape. “I know, I know. Now, get out of here before you’re late to work.”
Teal glanced at her phone and cringed at the time. “Yeah, I’ll see you at Shea’s Valentine’s Day party, right?” Teal was heading out the door as she said this, and Katie followed behind. “I’m giving you a big ass heads up. You have weeks to get ready for this party, Katie. When I call, you better pick up the phone and tell me that you are ready to head out the door.”
Katie hated parties and groups, but Teal was sick of her hermit behavior. “Okay.” Katie didn’t want to go, but she couldn’t say no to another outing or Teal would come over and drag her ass out of the house.
Her friend pursed her lips and arched her brow. “You better be.” She threw the comment over her shoulder, but stopped at the gate. She glanced pensively at Katie then asked, “You want to tell me the name of the inmate you got?”
Even though Katie knew it was against the rules, she was tempted to say the name. Teal could tell her everything Crashaw Penitentiary knew about Scott Logan. As soon as the word ‘yes’ formed on her tongue, it faded away. It didn’t matter. She didn’t need to know anything about him, just what he’d told her. They were pen pals and nothing more.
Katie shook her head, and Teal hesitantly nodded. “Okay.” She still had a concerned look in her eyes, but Katie ignored it and went inside.
She was lonely, and nothing Teal said about Scott would stop her from picking up her pen and sending in a letter . . . nothing. Loneliness was a crazy thing; it cut so deep, Katie thought her wounds would never heal.