Paulina links her arm in mine as we walk down to the cafeteria for dinner. I realize that we've never really had a proper"conversation". Usually, one of us talks and the other listens.
"So...how long have you been here?"
"Nine months. Shortest amount of time you can be here is six."
"I'm stuck here for six months?" I whine.
"Probably more. Every six months you get evaluated by the doctors. If they deem that your sexual deviancy has been hammered out of you, you can go home."
"Well...what are you in for? You already know of my deadly bout of SSA." My voice is dripping with sarcasm.
She smiles at me. "Promiscuity."
"They lock you in here for that?"
"Yeah, and the thing is...I'm really not that promiscuous, at least by today's standards. I've slept with a total of three guys, and at the times that I did, I was dating them. No exaggeration, there are girls here who have slept with hundreds. They get messed up in gangs and stuff, and the male members pimp them out.:
We enter the cafeteria, and Paulina points out a a curvy girl with dreadlocks and a tired face. "That's Silvia Orsino. She's nineteen, and she's been a victim since thirteen. She's been here two years."
She has me sit at a table by myself. "I'll grab our food. You do not want to be in the lunch line your first day, especially if you're SSA. Trust me, you're much safer here."
Good God, this place really is prison.
I begin to think that my new friend Paulina lied to me, as two boys approach me with fire in their eyes.
"I'm a lesbian, gentlemen; I'm not interested."
The taller of the two, slender with a manic gleam in his eyes, throws a chair to the side of the table with a loud clang!
"I don't give a fuck about that. What I do give a fuck about is why you're sitting at my fucking table."
"I don't see your name anywhere." I mutter, resorting to third grade logic. I don't dare meet his eyes.
He slams his hands on the table. A few residents observe, sipping from their milk cartons while watching intently. Great. A n hour after I make my first friend, I make my first enemies. I silently try to summon Paulina to help me.
The shorter of the two boys asks, "Hello? Anyone at home, dyke?" He has a Hispanic lilt in his voice and a hint of a tattoo peeking out of his collar. But I don't care about the lilt or the tattoo. Him using that word was the last straw.
"The fuck you just call me, punk?"
"You heard me!"
I snarl. "Let's go right now, cabron. You, me, and your friend. I'll snap your necks!" My hands are balled into fists.
The taller of the two glances at his friend. "Well, I'll be damned. She picked a good one this time." He claps me on the back. "Nice to meet you, Rosalind Thatcher."
I am taken aback. The shorter one laughs. "Paulina told us to do that. We weren't convinced, but she definitely found herself a fighter. You're a tough cookie, ain'tcha?"
"So, you don't want to fight?" I ask.
"No, tigre. Chill out, have a seat." He and his tall friend sit down. The friend puts his feet up on the table like he owns the place.
Paulina has finally arrived, and hands me my tray: boiled chicken, green beans, and green Jell-O. I despise Jell-O.
"Hope you didn't rough her up too bad, boys." She laughs and rubs my shoulder. "If you talk while you eat, it doesn't taste as bad."
"You gone eat your Jell-O, tigre?" The short one asks. I seem to have developed a nickname.
"Nah, go for it."
He grins wickedly and tips the little bowl into his mouth, downing it all in one gulp.
"Rosalind, meet Orlando and Curtis. My buds, and hopefully yours, now."
"Wait, so your mom just watched as they took you away? No expression whatsoever?"
I look at Orlando, fellow SSA afflicted. "Yep. Begged her to help me, but she didn't."
He whistles. "Carajo, tigre. That's cold. But then again my parents didn't have the decency to walk me to the door. They came in the night and legit pulled me from my bed. I almost pissed myself."
"I don't know which one is worse." Curtis the cross dresser says.
"How long have you all been here?" I ask. This seems to be my ice breaker of choice.
"Fifteen months." Orlando mutters. "And I'm gone be here the rest of my life."
"Well, first off, you can't take away someone's gay. Because it's as much a part of them as their eyes and toes. And second, I can't tell them that my gay is gone, because I'm a shit liar."
"I don't want to hear it." Curtis drones. "I've been here longer than any of you. Twenty. Five. Months. And I still love putting on dresses."
"See?" Paulina nibbles thoughtfully on her flavorless chicken. "Don't judge. We've all been here way too long. Even you, Rosalind."
"First day is always the hardest." Curtis muses. "Today don't count for you, though. It's like a 'coming soon to theaters everywhere' announcement."
I hate to think what the feature presentation is.