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.
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.