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prison & princeton

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The air is sweet. The grass is green. Lily thinks she can even hear birds. Her lips form the words she’s rehearsed one hundred eighty-six times: “I just want to know why you did it.”

Amanda thinks for three and a half seconds before she responds. “It’s like you said,” she says expressionlessly. “Only one of us was ever going to suffer for it. I don’t feel guilt.” She pushes a clump of curls behind her ear, looks briefly upward. “You know, for a while I thought did it because I loved you.”

Lily blinks. “What?”

“But then I thought, how would I know? I would’ve had sex with you, easily, if that’s what it meant. But I don’t think that’s it.”

“Amanda, don’t…”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t talk about it.”

“What else, then? I’m sure you don’t have very long.”

“I don’t.”

“You’re just here for that one answer.” She looks to Lily for affirmation; Lily nods. “I can’t give it do you. I know almost everything about how I work. But I don’t know why I did it.”

“Usually, when people don’t know why they do things, they do it because of a feeling. Some… emotional urge.”

“I don’t have emotional urges.”

“Maybe you do. Maybe they’re,” Lily gestures, stops, drops her hands to her sides. “Delayed reaction, or something.”

“I don’t feel any guilt.”

“Of course you don’t,” Lily snaps, “Because you didn’t do it!”

Amanda watches Lily wait for her to flinch. Then she reaches forward and taps Lily’s chest, lightly, just over her heart. “It’s cutting you up inside,” she guesses, lifeless. “You feel terribly about it every night. You get dreams, too. Maybe not my kind, but some kind. Something bad’s living in your head, and the only way to get it out was to talk to the person who caused it. I think you blame me.”

Lily stiffens. “It wasn’t your idea.”

“Yes,” Amanda replies evenly, “It was.”

“Not the knife. Not the--”

“What difference does it make? I don’t think either of us got anything we weren’t on track for anyway. I got prison, you got Princeton.”

Lily is silent. Then, “Brown.”

“What?”

“I got Brown.”

“Is that where you wanted?”

“I wanted Yale.”

“Surprised you didn’t get it.”

“I don’t even care.”

“That’s good, then.”

“You must feel like this all the time.”

“Feel?”

“Feel empty.”

Amanda shrugs. “I don’t know what ‘full’ would be like.”

“Like crying. For real.”

“Then yeah, I guess I am empty.”

“And it doesn’t hurt you? Being here doesn’t hurt you?”

“How could it?” She looks around. “They let me in the garden now, allow one visit a month without in-earshot surveillance. You know, you did me a favor. Now I don’t have to take the SAT. Guess all the tutoring you gave me was for nothing.”

Lily almost smiles. “Sorry.”

“You killed a man, and you’re sorry about the tutoring going to waste?”

Amanda watches Lily’s face close off, slamming shut like a door. “I said not to talk about it.”

“Sorry. Double dad death can’t be easy.”

“He was never my dad.”

“It’s the little things in life.”
“I should go,” Lily says, not moving.

“Probably,” Amanda agrees. “It’s still hard to believe you actually did it.”

“I said not to talk about it.”

“Except you came here to talk about it.”

“I only came here to ask you why.”

“And I gave you that answer as best I could, and yet,” Amanda spreads her hands, “You’re still standing right in front of me looking like a puppy that’s just watched its mother get run over by a lamborghini.”

“Maybe I just like the scenery.”

“Everyone who visits says they expected more bars.”

“I did. I didn’t know they let the patients outside alone.”

Amanda counts on her fingers. “One, we’re not ‘alone.’ We’re still supervised. Two, it’s a reward for months of good behaviour. And three, you can say ‘inmates.’”

“I don’t want to think of you like that.”

“Why not?”

“Emotions, I guess.”

Amanda forces the tips of her lips upward. “Inconvenient.”

“I guess.” Lily looks at the ground, then back up, but doesn’t quite meet Amanda’s gaze. “I read your letter.”

“Good, that’s why I wrote it.”

“I would have visited regardless.”

“I guess it would have been a dick move to never see me again after testifying against me.”

Lily bites the tip of her tongue and ignores the comment. “I don’t think I’m going to visit again.”

“Then don’t.”

“I might, though,” she adds quickly.

“Then do. You know I can’t care either way.”

“Well,” Lily says lightly, “Because I care about you, I’m happy I came.”

Amanda regards her. “What’s it like to care about another person?”

“It’s like drinking a screwdriver spiked with Rohypnol because you know that other person will be happier for it.”

Amanda inhales carefully as she selects her next words. “That wasn’t ‘caring.’ That was making a logical choice.”

“If you say so.” Lily purses her lips. “I’m gonna go now.”

“Okay.”

“You can keep writing me.”

“Okay.”

“I won’t write back. But I’ll read them, I promise.”

“Okay.”

Lily almost turns to go. “One more thing.”

“What?”

“I used it.”

“Used what?”

“The technique. I used it at his funeral.”

Amanda nods slowly. “I’m glad.”

“Glad,” Lily echoes.

“Yeah,” Amanda confirms. “Glad.”