Tex (Hell's Ankhor #5) - Aiden Bates



The gates of San Quentin State Prison rolled closed behind me and locked with a clunk of finality.

Behind them, the world I’d lived in for three years continued on. The gangs, the guards, the deals; my friends, foes, therapists—all still there. All still living in the strange, isolated world of prison.

And with the gates closed behind me, that was it. I was done.

I was a free man.

But same as the world of prison continued without me, the outside world had continued on as well. I’d kept in touch with my brothers in Hell’s Ankhor, but only sporadically, and only through letters. I’d asked them not to visit, and they’d respected that wish. And as much as I’d missed them desperately, I was glad they had. I hadn’t wanted them to see me like that—in the awful orange jumpsuit, often bruised, always tired.

I especially hadn’t wanted Tex to visit. I’d done enough to disappoint him. I didn’t need him to go back to Elkin Lake with the image of me sitting behind the prison’s bulletproof glass in the visitors’ room.

The downside of that, though, was the gnawing anxiety about how they’d receive me now. It’d been so long—would I still be welcome? Would I still fit in? Would they still have a room for me in the clubhouse? Letters couldn’t capture the reality of three years passing, and definitely couldn’t give me a full sense of how the people I’d left behind felt about me.

I leaned against the concrete wall of the prison, next to the gate, and tipped my head back to feel the warm sun on my face. Even the air smelled different outside the gates, carrying the faint scent of grass and pollen and car exhaust instead of just dirt and the stink of men in the prison yard.

When I’d imagined this day, I’d thought I’d be happier. Instead, I felt a little… Unmoored. Prison was a cycle of routines: wake when told, eat when told, work out when told, go to therapy when told, manage the little scuffles and tensions in between. Now I had a vast expanse of life in front of me and no clear idea of what to do with it.

Well, I knew that I wanted to see Tex.

I pinched the bridge of my nose.

As much as I wanted to, the thought of facing him sent a wave of anxious nausea through me. But of course I wanted to see him—he’d been the one constant in my life for as long as I could remember. We’d both landed at a foster home in Texas in our early teens after childhoods of bouncing around different homes. We’d become family, and once the foster system spit us out unceremoniously at eighteen, we’d only had each other to rely on. No matter what I did—no matter how badly I fucked up—he always had my back.

And I’d fucked up a lot.

I was always disappointing him and letting him down in all sorts of new and inventive ways, from drinking too much, to ditching court dates, to being late on rent, to sleeping with sketchy dudes who tried to rob us afterward. No matter how poorly I behaved though, Tex always stuck around.

It had taken three years of court-ordered therapy, but I finally got to the root of why I’d messed up over and over again like that: I’d been trying to drive him away. Subconsciously, I’d thought both of our lives would be easier if I wasn’t around. On some level, I’d thought I wasn’t worthy of him—but I also couldn’t leave.

Because I was stupid in love with him. I’d been in love with him for as long as I’d known him.

And when I was younger, it’d fucking killed me to see him with women. The pain of seeing him kiss women, fuck women, sometimes practically in front of me when all I got was a friendly hug or a clap on the back, drove me to act recklessly to numb the pain.

And how fucking unfair was that to Tex? He’d been nothing but kind and loyal to me his whole life. And I’d resented him for simply being who he was. I couldn’t force him to love me—I was basically his brother. And he was straight. Really, I should be grateful he still wanted to have any sort of relationship with me after all that I’d done.

I sighed heavily and focused again on the warmth of the sun on my skin. Every time I reflected on how I’d