16

He rubbed his wrists, the weight of the chains gone, he hoped, forever. Passing the cage-like cells of his neighbors for the last five years, Jefferson raised his fist high and gave a salute along with a smile that showed he was convinced he would be free.

Aided by a walker, Jefferson was taken to a room where he met his attorney, Stacy Greer. Stacy had been with Jefferson during his trial and conviction five years before. She believed that it would be an injustice for Jefferson to remain in jail for twenty years, especially since he had tried relentlessly to get out of Operation Stingray and distance himself from the organization. But he had to pay for what he had done-stealing money from his clients. His wife Margo had to pay twice, once with Jefferson’s absence and the other with their savings, which was nearly all that they had.

In the front of the eggshell-colored room was a ten-foot-long table. At the table sat three people with microphones in front of them, the parole board that consisted of an all-white, two women-and-one man panel. A shorter table sat across from the long table, and this was where Jefferson and Stacy sat.

At exactly two-thirty, one of the women on the panel brought the meeting to order and announced that the proceedings were for the parole hearing of Jefferson Myles versus the State. The woman stated the particulars of the case, evidence that might render an unfavorable parole judgment, reasons for immediate release, and Jefferson’s history while incarcerated. Jefferson and Stacy sat and listened as the information was shared, argued, and sifted through. After thirty minutes, Jefferson and Stacy were asked to step outside, but inside of five minutes, they were asked to return.

“Jefferson Myles,” the man spoke this time, “please stand.” Stacy stood with Jefferson. “We have reviewed the evidence in your case, the nature of your request for parole, and have rendered a verdict.”

Jefferson stiffened at the latter part of the man’s statement. He swallowed hard and focused his eyes on the bearer of his fate.

“Mr. Myles, a unanimous decision has been made in your case.” Jefferson thought the guy was never going to let the verdict roll from his tongue. “You are free. Welcome back to society.”

“Oh my God, oh my God. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Jefferson said, and then turned to hug Stacy, whose tears were already running down her face.

The panel nodded as if it weren’t a big deal and Jefferson ought to be glad that it was his lucky day.

Jefferson didn’t care what they thought now. He was free…a free man who could go home to his wife and his family and try to start afresh. Jefferson raised his hand high. “Thank you, God. You do answer prayers.”

“Let’s go and call Margo,” Stacy insisted. “She will definitely want to hear this piece of news.”

“I’m ready,” Jefferson cried. “I’m ready.”

Margo paced back and forth in the house she once shared with Jefferson. Winter had come down from Raleigh to be with her to offer support if the news was negative, and to be whatever Margo needed if the news was positive. There was no quieting the rumbles in Margo’s stomach. She prayed for good news.

Winter brought her mother a cup of tea to help calm her nerves. She rubbed Margo’s back and sat down next to her mother, her own nerves stretched to the limit already. The day was far spent, and no telephone call had come. Margo wasn’t able to depend on the television news because they had said very little about Jefferson or the possibility of his parole.

The clock chimed three times and the two women looked at it, their hopes all but dashed. At three-twenty, the phone rang, but neither of the women had enough courage to pick up the receiver and hear the news. After the fifth ring, Winter answered the phone.

“Winter?” she heard Jefferson say after she said hello.

“Dad?”

“Yes, it’s me,” Jefferson said, his voice light. “Where is your mother?”

“She’s right here.” Winter winked and handed Margo the phone.

“Jefferson?” Margo whispered, trying to hold back her excitement.

“Margo, baby, I’m free!” Jefferson wailed. “Five minutes ago, they made the announcement.”

“Oh my God. Oh my God!” Margo kept repeating. She jumped to her feet and grabbed Winter and hugged her until Winter pushed her away. “That’s wonderful, Jefferson. I’ve prayed for this day. God does listen. How soon before you come home?”

“It will be several hours. I’ll have to out-process, but Stacy will bring me home.”

“I wish I was there with you,” Margo said.

“I don’t want you to have to see this prison again,” Jefferson said. “We will celebrate when I get home. I want to hold you and never let go.”

Margo was choked up. The words wouldn’t come out for the sobs. Finally, Margo caught her breath. “Hurry, baby. Hurry home.”

“I will,” Jefferson said. And the line went dead.

“Let’s hurry and get you processed out,” Stacy said. “This was a great victory.” She hugged Jefferson.

“Thanks, Stacy. This day would not have happened without you. I owe it all to you.”

Stacy smiled, grabbed Jefferson’s arm and slowly paraded him out of the room, moving as fast as the walker would allow.

Margo flopped down on the couch, overcome with emotion. Winter scooted down next to Margo and rubbed her mother’s back to offer comfort. Winter closed her wet eyes and then looked toward the ceiling and said a thank you, Lord.

Several minutes passed. Margo wiped the tears from her face and reached over and squeezed Winter.

“Okay, enough of this,” Margo said. “We’ve got to have a celebration. Winter, call your sister and brothers, I’ll call Pastor, and…”

“What about Malik?” Winter smirked, trying to hide a smile. “You know how upset he was because you didn’t tell him that Dad might be released.”

“Let me worry about Malik, Madam All-up-in-my-business.”

“Mother, I’m only saying you have to consider telling Malik. You might want to invite him to the celebration, too.” Winter got up and turned away so her mother would not hear her giggle.

An embarrassed looked crossed Margo’s face, followed by a scowl. “I’m telling you, for the last time, that Malik is your father’s friend as well as a friend to the family. I appreciate him checking on me while Jefferson was away. That’s all there was to it.”

“Okay, Mother. Don’t get upset. I’m not mad at you if you had a teeny-weenie little crush on Malik. It was probably good for your ego. I love my dad, but remember, he wasn’t perfect.”

“And two wrongs don’t a right make. Remember that, young lady. It’ll take you far in life. Now, get up and go do what I told you to do. I’ll handle the party arrangements.”

“At your pleasure, Mother dear.”

Margo continued to sit on the couch and watched Winter leave the room. Now left to her own thoughts, Margo realized this was the day she had waited for, prayed for…for five long years. God had honored her prayers. Thoughts of Malik swirled in her head while mixed emotions settled in her stomach. Whatever it was that tried to cloud this moment, she had to suppress it. This was not the time to start having feelings for another man or even think about another man. Her attention needed to be fully focused on Jefferson’s release and his return to her and the children.

“Got you to thinking, huh?”

Margo looked up at Winter. “Don’t be smug, little girl. I can still spank that behind of yours.”

“All right, Mother. I’ve called everybody to let them know about Dad. Wasn’t sure when you were planning to have this party.”

“Today. I want banners to welcome Jefferson home. Gosh, I’ve got to get up from here. I’ve got to order a cake and get some refreshments.”

“Mom, are you serious? Only Winston and I will be here.”

“No, I’ve got to call the Pastor, church members and Malik. Hand me the phone, Winter. I can’t waste any more time. I’ve got so much to do in so little time. We’re going to have a celebration!”

Winter watched her mother. She was like her mother in so many ways, although she was her father’s child.

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