Eli grinned at the announcement. Anthony was graduating high school, and not only that, was wanting to come down and visit him before his big day. Eli hadn’t seen any of his siblings since he got locked up five years ago. He missed them, even if he never been close to either of his older siblings: Bethany and Aaron.
Eli pinned the graduation card up on the ceiling. Eli never graduated high school. At the time he hated school, and didn’t see why he needed it. Maybe he should change that? He wondered if there was a way to get a diploma or a GED? He’d have to talk to the Warden or one of the advisers—something Eli loathed to do.
“Roy,” he called out. His mind still on the future, and the what-ifs.
“Is there a GED program here?”
Eli shrugged, though Roy couldn’t see him. He lowered himself to look down to the bottom bunk where Roy was reading a book. “My brother’s graduating high school.”
“Good for him. That’s Anthony, right?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. It got me thinking, I’m the only Ryder that never finished school.”
Roy flashed him a grin. “And now you want to? Good for you, kid. Whenever this lockdown ends, we could talk to Pops in the library. I’m sure we can get you set up.”
Eli couldn’t smile wider even if he wanted. “Sweet. Thanks Roy.”
Lockdown couldn’t end fast enough. They had been under lockdown for almost a week. No one in or out. The death of an inmate did that, and the riot that followed. Eli was thankful Roy got him out of there before shit hit the fan.
“I know I’ve asked, but how long is this shit going to last? It’s so fucking boring in here, man.”
Roy made a grunt. “Eli, they could keep us in here for months. There should have never been a riot. It ain’t the guards fault Milo was killed. That was on him, and him alone. Crazy fuck.”
“You think Nance is going to be okay?” Nancy had gotten injured during the riot. Kellogg had been in the hole, and even though Roy, Eli, Pops, and few others tried to get to him, he still got hurt. And those bastards were going to be paying for it as soon as Kellogg finished his stint.
Roy stood to take a piss. “I don’t know. They sure did a number on him. At least he’s in medical and not locked up in the cell.” He flushed the toilet. “Only wish he was cooking though.”
“Yeah me too.”
Three days passed, and finally the lockdown ended. Eli and Roy went straight to the yard and took their spot at the table. Pops joined them after a few rounds of poker. “It’s about time I see a friendly face. I was going crazy with Dallas.”
“That bad?” Roy snickered. “I thought you liked all the Born Again Christians?”
Pops flipped Roy off. “I killed the last guy that quoted the Bible to me. Dallas is lucky. Another day, and he would have joined the list of victims.”
Eli shook his head and laugh. “I don’t get you, Pops. Aren’t you a priest?”
“Was a priest. The whole killing thing kind got me shunned from the church. And it’s not that I don’t mind people of faith or finding their faith as the case may be, but for the love of God, why did he have to read and recited it every freaking waking hour? It was non-stop! Even I’m not that devout, and yes, I still believe and still pray, Eli.”
Eli knew that. He decided to placate Pops and change the subject before he witnessed a new wrath from his best friend. “Hey, change of subject, but uh, Pops, you think you could help me get my GED?”
Pops’ entire face brighten. “My boy! Of course I will help you. What on Earth made you decide this? I want to thank the person? Was it Roy?”
Roy chuckled. “I wish.”
Eli shrugged and grinned over at Pops. “My brother’s graduating. I figured I can’t be the only Ryder without a diploma. Well, the only old enough Ryder. My baby sister has quite a ways to get hers.”
“And how is the little one?”
Eli shrugged. In truth, he hadn’t heard from his mother since shortly after Ryha turned one. He’d have to find out from his brother whenever he came to visit. Eli still could not believe his mother got knocked up again. He also could not believe what he said to her, or the fact that the guards still gave him shit for being slapped.
Oh he had made a big mistake in calling her out. “You’re pregnant!” He raved. “Shit, mom, can’t you ever keep your legs closed? Bet you don’t know who the father is, just like all the others.”
That’s when she slapped him, and when the guards came over, and after hearing what happened, Eli was told he deserved far worse than what he got. Officer Turner shook his head as he escorted him back to Gen-Pop. “The hell were you thinking, Ryder, calling your momma a whore like that?”
“I didn’t call her a whore. She is one, though.”
Turner stopped and glared at him. “Respect that woman. She’s been nothing but supportive of you in here. Not many inmates still have their momma visiting monthly. Be grateful she still cares.”
Eli shook his head at the memory. It took a lot of apologizing to her through letters for her to visit again. And now with little Ryha running around, Mom hadn’t visited as often as before. Eli didn’t think he would miss her like he did, but he did miss her.
It was almost a month after Eli got Anthony’s graduation notice that he was called out from the library. “Ryder, you have a visitor.” Eli put his pencil down and closed his used math book up. This school thing was harder than he remembered.
He followed the guard, and grinned at the sight of both his brothers. As soon as he was patted down and let inside the visitor’s center, he headed for them. They weren’t allowed to hug, so he shook both their hands and sat.
“Wow, I didn’t expect to see both of you. What’s up?” Eli couldn’t stop grinning. Wow, Aaron actually visited him.
“Aaron offered the ride,” Anthony said in a way of explanation.
“That’s sweet of you, bro. How have you been? Man, it’s been ages. Look at you, Anthony! You’ve grown at least a foot since last time I saw you. And Mr. Perfect, perfect as ever I presume?”
Aaron’s lips twitched. “I am not perfect, Elijah, but I am glad to see that you still think so. I’m living out in Newcrest now. Only came up to see Anthony graduate.”
“Wow, you got out of the city? That’s great, man.” Eli meant it too. His face lit up at Anthony. “And you are graduating. Man, I can’t believe I am going to miss my little brother graduating high school. And to think, I had to scare you into staying into school.”
“You didn’t scare me,” Anthony said with a roll of his eyes. “But, yeah, your letter did change my path. That’s why I wanted to come here and see you. I wanted to tell you, personally…I got accepted to USM.”
Eli’s mouth could not have dropped low enough. College? Anthony? Aaron hadn’t even gotten into college right out of high school. He had to go to the community college before transferring to a state college. But this, Anthony not only got into college, but a private and expensive one.
“I…I don’t know what to say. I am so fucking proud of you, Tony.”
Anthony’s cheeks redden. “Thanks, bro. I already picked my major.” Eli waited and Anthony lowered his gaze. “I’m going into Criminal Justice.”
And with Eli’s reaction, Anthony popped his head up. “Really, you’re not mad?”
“Nah. Hey, I put myself in here, Tony. Got no one but myself to blame here. You stay on that side of the law, and not on this side, and I’ll be the proudest brother. Right Aaron?”
“Told you,” Aaron nudged Anthony.
Anthony laughed. “Yeah, yeah. I just…I didn’t know how’d you react. You hate cops. Not that I want to be one.”
“No?” Eli tilted his head. “Then what are you going to do?”
Eli barked out a laugh. “Seriously? You want to be one of those guys?” Eli pointed to a guard just off to the side of him.
“Yup. In fact, before we sat, I actually talked to one here.” Anthony beamed at Eli. “By the time you get out of here, bro, I’ll be a corrections officer. Probably not here though. I want to work at the federal level.”
“Oasis Springs?” That was the only Federal Prison Eli knew of. A few inmates he knew had been transported there, and he knew a couple of guys that pulled a nickel and dime sentence there too. Eli couldn’t believe his baby brother. “Well, bro, you keep your head straight and go for it. Do that for me, ai’ght?”
Eli turned to Aaron. “Keep him out of trouble, will ya. We need to see him reach his dreams.”
“How bout you? You doing okay?” Aaron asked. “Mom wanted me to ask, and to tell you she’ll be by soon.”
Eli shrugged. “I’m doing okay. I was actually in education before you two arrived. Getting my GED.”
This time it was Eli who surprised his brothers. He loved the shocked, mouth opened faces on them. “You’re kidding?” Aaron asked.
“Nope. Pops-er, my buddy Slater, he helps guys like me earn their GEDs and degrees. And I’m working in the auto shop now three times a week, repairing the busses and some of the guards’ vehicles. So, yeah, things are good here.”
“Staying safe?” Aaron asked.
“As much as I can. I got a good crew here, and we got each other’s backs.”
Eli’s name was called. Time was up. “Shit,” he said and glanced over to the guard. “Times up. Gotta go.” He shook both his brothers’ hands. “Congrats, Tony.”
“Thanks. You stay safe.”
Eli nodded and started for the door. “You too. See you guys.”
Eli headed back to the Library with a smile on his face. His life may not be perfect, and it might not be what he wanted, but he was happy that his youngest brother and the rest of his family were learning from his mistakes and creating their own amazing futures for themselves. Maybe, one day, Eli would also get the chance. He could dream, right?