Big Lies in a Small Town - Diane Chamberlain Page 0,1

this is Andrea Fuller. She’s an attorney.”

Andrea Fuller nodded at me. She was older than I’d thought. Fifty-something. Maybe even sixty. She wore her hair in a short, no-nonsense Afro sprinkled with gray. Her lipstick was a deep red.

I shook my head. “I don’t understand,” I said, looking from one woman to the other. “Why did you want to see me?”

“Andrea and I are here to offer you a way out of this place,” the woman named Lisa said. Her gaze darted to my lacy tattoo where it peeked out from beneath the short sleeve of my pale blue prison shirt. I’d designed the intricate tattoo myself—black lace crisscrossed with strings of tiny pearls and chandelier jewelry. Lisa lifted her gaze to mine again. “As of next week, you’ve served your minimum sentence. One year, right?” she asked.

I half nodded, waiting. Yes, I’d served my one-year minimum, but the maximum was three years, and from everything I’d been told, I wasn’t going anywhere for a long time.

“We … Andrea and I … have been working on getting you released,” Lisa said.

I stared at her blankly. “Why?” I asked. “You don’t even know me.” I knew there was some sort of program where law students tried to free prisoners who had been wrongly imprisoned, but I was the only person who seemed to think my imprisonment had been a mistake.

Andrea Fuller cleared her throat and spoke for the first time. “We’ve made the case that you’re uniquely qualified for some work Lisa would like you to do. Your release depends on your willingness to do that work and—”

“In a timely fashion,” Lisa interrupted.

“Yes, there’s a deadline for the completion of the work,” Andrea said. “And of course you’ll be under the supervision of a parole officer during that time, and you’ll also be paying restitution to the family of the girl you injured—the Maxwell family, and—”

“Wait.” I held up my hand. I was surprised to see that my fingers trembled and I dropped my hand to my lap. “Please slow down,” I said. “I’m not following you at all.” I was overwhelmed by the way the two women hopped around in their conversation. What work was I uniquely qualified to do? I’d worked in the laundry here at the prison, learning to fold sheets into perfect squares, and I’d washed dishes in hot chlorine-scented water until my eyes stung. They were the only unique qualifications I could think of.

Lisa lifted her own hands, palms forward, to stop the conversation. “It’s like this,” she said, her gaze steady on me. “Do you know who Jesse Jameson Williams was?”

Everyone knew who Jesse Jameson Williams was. The name instantly transported me to one of the rooms in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. Four years ago now. No, five. I’d been seventeen on a high school trip. My classmates had been ready to leave the museum, but I’d wanted to stay, smitten by the contemporary art, so I hid in the restroom while my class headed out of the building. I didn’t know or care where they were going. I knew I’d get in trouble, but I would deal with that later. So I was alone when I saw my first Jesse Jameson Williams. The painting quite literally stole my breath, and I lowered myself to the sole bench in the gallery to study it. The Look, it was called. It was a tall painting, six feet at least, and quite narrow. A man and woman dressed in black evening clothes stood back-to-back against a glittery silver background, their bodies so close it was impossible to separate his black jacket from her black dress. They were both brown skinned, though the woman was several shades darker than the man. His eyes were downcast, as if the man were trying to look behind himself at the woman, but her eyes were wide open, looking out at the viewer—at me—as though she wasn’t quite sure she wanted to be in the painting at all. As though she might be saying, Help me. When I could breathe again, I searched the walls for more of Jesse Jameson Williams’s work and found several pieces. Then, in the museum shop, I paged through a coffee table book of his paintings, wishing I could afford its seventy-five-dollar price tag.

“He’s one of my favorite artists,” I answered Lisa.

“Ah.” For the first time, Lisa smiled, or nearly so, anyway. “That’s very good to hear, because he has a lot to do with