Page 34 of The Stay

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Guard number two said suddenly, “Why is your T-shirt off?”

Nix took a breath to speak, but Ash jumped in. “Got hot… in the crowd…”

The guard remained tight lipped. “It’s almost like you want us to perform a strip search on you,” he leered.

Nix tutted and rolled his eyes.

Ash groaned. “Come on, there’s no probable cause to warrant-”


Ash took a deep breath, knowing there was no point in arguing. Itching with everything in him to disobey and ignore. It pained him, physically hurt his body to do as he was told like this. But he had no choice. He slowly shrugged out of his jeans. He was suitably flaccid now and was sure Nix was the same. In Ash’s peripheral vision, Nix undressed huffily, like a moody teenager. Ash wanted to enjoy him sulking, wanted to tease him. But he feared trouble was brewing so kept his gaze off Nix.

“Strip search. Off. Get it off,” the other guard chanted.

Ash pursed his lips and kicked his jeans down to his ankles.

“Shoes, socks, briefs.”

“There’s really no need-”

“Someone said they saw you push Ramon.”

“Ramon hadn’t been stabbed when he fell,” Nix cut in.

Ash felt icy horror grip his spine. Nix would land them in trouble, Ash was convinced. But Ash was struggling with this, the sudden invasion of privacy the accusations, the indignity of it…

The guards rounded on Nix. Ash looked, too. Nix was out of his T-shirt, too. Tattoos laced his body, his skin more black than white. Cool and calm and composed. Defiant and beautiful.

“So you pushed him?”

“Couldn't say I saw who pushed him,” Nix hedged ambiguously. “But I did see he was perfectly intact when he fell over that railing.”

Nix kicked his shoes off, the jeans bunched around his ankles. Ash lifted one foot then the other to pull off his own shoes.

“Briefs off. Time for squats, boys.”

Ash frowned. “That’ll be a no.”

The guard got up in his face. “That’s a bit suspicious, then, Ashton Rivers. Isn’t it?”

“I’m just saying, search the cell, search the room, you’ll find two intact toothbrushes and nothing else-”

But the guards had already ripped the mattresses off the beds, yanked the sheets off. One of them went to work clearing the desk, toiletries and sundries clattered to the floor. The sheets were tossed on top.

Ash watched in a pained way as his box of commissary items was upended disrespectfully. They didn’t bother to actually search through, they were doing it for show. A power play.

Nix stayed still and calm beside him. Naked already. Like a statue. Like a god. This was all beneath him and he didn’t care for the trivial plight of men.

Ash was shaking with rage and the indignity of it all. He still had a sock on, but otherwise his clothes were in a pile on the floor, under his broken up cookies now, that he’d purchased with hard earned money from a shit job. Mixed in with their bedsheets, too. Nice.

“Oh, you still too warm, Ash?” the guard mocked as he saw Ash tremble.

The ice crept up his spine, into his head, into his blood and bones. Goosebumps broke out over his flesh. He wanted to remain stoic like Nix, but he couldn’t, he raised his arms and crossed them over his body. The shakes were only partly to do with the cold. They were mainly to do with the guard’s behavior. The temptation to break under the pressure they were applying. The affront on his soul.

Nix stood still in the corner of Ash’s vision, and he took strength from that. If hot-headed Nix could stay calm, Ash could.

“Nothing here,” Nix spoke finally when the guards came up for air and looked around the room for something else to trash. Finding nothing, they stood like neanderthals, jaws squared, panting. It made Nix look positively civilized.