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around my way


By Maddy A -

February 2005

I woke up Monday morning feeling anything but rested. I had a nightmare the night before. I dreamt that I was back in the shed with Brian and his friends and I was standing by the door with the shovel. Only this time, I didn't get the chance to break the lock. Jake came up behind me and pushed me to the floor. They were taunting me and spitting on me. Brian started to undress me but then the lights came on and I was in the woods with no one around me. My shirt was off and I was running but I didn't know where to. I heard the voice of my parents calling out to me. I tried to run to them, but the direction of their voices kept changing. I heard my mother, Jamie, call out for me. "Honey... Get out of the red, Chris! Stay out of the red!" she kept yelling. I started to cry because I didn't understand what she was saying. What did she mean "Get out of the red, stay out of the red"?

The weather became extremely cold. The pine trees leaned over me, trying to pull me into them. I tried to run but I couldn`t get away fast enough. I was entangled in a pine tree and pulled up high into the darkened sky of night. I felt the pine needles stabbing my skin and I screamed in pain. The tree let go and I started to fall. It was so dark and I couldn't see the ground below but I was preparing myself for the fall. I caught a hold of a tree branch and clung to it, hoping to brake my fall. The branch turned into an arm and I looked up to see the face of Joey. He smiled down at me and pulled me close to him. His white T- shirt smelled like it just had been washed and I buried my head into it. Inhaling the fresh smell of laundry detergent and dryer sheets. I got lost in the brightness of his shirt and soon I was blinded by it. I looked up at him only to see that the sky was now bright. The sun was shinning and I heard the laughter of children. Then I heard the scream of a boy. It was more like a high pitch cry of pain. Like when your little and you hurt yourself, the little cry you give out, calling for your mother to come and make you feel better. I opened my eyes again to find myself tied to a boiler in a dirty and decrepit basement. One side of the basement was completely charred as if it been the victim of a fire that spared the rest of the basement. I could still smell the faint traces of burnt stucco. Rats ran across my bare feet, nipping at my toes and clawing as they went by. I was completely naked with the exception of tattered, stained boxer shorts. My face was bloody and I could taste the dried remnants in my mouth. I heard footsteps coming down the stairs. This extreme fear washed over my body with every closer foot step. I kept my eyes close as the person walked towards me. I heard a laugh and knew without looking that it belong to Nate. I slowly opened my eyes and saw him smiling. The need to vomit was too strong and I submitted. He just laughed at me and said one word..."Welcome."

I woke up feeling sick by that dream. If it wasn't bad enough that I had to deal with Nate around the neighborhood, he had to weasel his way into my dreams. I knew I was going to be in a bad mood for the rest of the day. This was the first official full school week and I knew I couldn't stay home even though I wanted to. I got up, showered and go myself dressed to meet Amanda at the bus stop. After grabbing a quick bite to eat, I headed out. When I got there, Amanda was already there waiting. She took one look at me, and knew that I wasn't all right.

"Chris, what's wrong?" She asked. I detected concern present in her voice and it showed on her face. I wanted to tell her what happened at the camp site but that would involve me coming out. I shrugged my shoulders and remained quiet for the rest of the ride. Another thing that irritated me was the ride itself. I hated the smell of public busses. They smelled like cigarettes and old carpet and I hated how roughly they rode. Haven't they ever heard of shocks? I mean there is no good reason why the rides need to be so bumpy. With all the damn money they charge, you would think that they could afford to fix the busses up so the smells wouldn't be so bad and the rides could be a little smoother.

Amanda would keep glancing at me occasionally as we rode, as if she was waiting for me to tell her what was wrong with me, but kept silent. I remained in that mood all the way to school. In homeroom Loco and Peanut tried to start a conversation with me but I pretty much blew them off. I wasn't rude, I just didn't reciprocate much. I spent the whole morning in a daze. I thought about what almost happened with Brian and his friends and how stupid it was of me to even put myself in that situation. Then I started to think about the times with Hector. He hadn't gotten his hands on me in almost ten years and I hadn't seem his since but it still felt like everything had just happened. The feelings that I had about the whole situation with him, left me feeling raw and vulnerable. This hollow feeling had formed in the pit of my stomach and I didn't understand why. Nothing had happened with Brian so why was I upset? I pushed all the memories of what Hector would make me do, away. My body had long recovered from that but I was beginning to think that my mind hadn't. So I walked around school, lost in my daze.

Art class came and I saw Joey. He nodded a hello with a shy smile and I smiled back. God! His smile was so beautiful. Straight, white teeth shown behind his full dark pink lips. He must not have shaved that morning because little wisps of light brown hair lay above his upper lip. I never had to shave because unfortunately I had not yet been blessed with facial hair. I let my thoughts of how it would probably tickle to kiss him take over and I didn't hair the teachers announcement.

Today, Mr. Balding wanted to seat us in alphabetical order. The tables were set up to seat four people. To my surprise, Joey and I were seated at the same table. His last name is Torrez and mine is Richardson. Today we would be starting on portrait sketches and one person was to be the model while the other sketched. It was obvious that Joey and I would be working together since the people we shared the table with seemed to be dating. She was hugged up on him as he attempted to sketch her. I looked at Joey and moved my seat next to his. He asked if I minded if he sketched and I posed. God! He was t oo perfect! He would stare intently at me as he drew causing butterfly to do that familiar dance in my chest like they always did when he looked at me. I tried to cast my eyes downward to control myself but he kept asking me to look up at him. The way his crystal blue eyes twinkled as he was concentrating caused my body to react. The stirring in my shorts grew rapidly and I had to rest my folded hands in my lap. Occasionally he would lick his lips or bite softly on his bottom lip as he concentrated. I tried to think of something to will myself down, but nothing helped. Then I remembered my dream and it left as quickly as it came. Joey stopped sketching and looked at me with worry in his eyes. He spoke to me with his normal rough voice but there was no mistaking the concern in it and I'm not gonna lie, I melted a little...okay a lot.

"Are you a'ight man?" He asked. I looked at him, unsure of what to answer. Part of me felt this natural instinct to open up to him, but another part told me not to.

"Yeah. I'm fine." I said, trying to keep my voice neutral. He didn't buy it. He playfully slapped his hand back and forth my leg. He leaned in towards me and the tips of our knees touched. I didn't move and neither did he.

"Well, you look like something is wrong. Come on, tell me." He said. I smiled at him and he smiled back. His fingers started to involuntarily play with the extra material on my baggy jeans. He was still smiling and his neck slowly reddened. `Do I make him nervous?', I asked myself. That familiar thrill returned and then the realization that we were in the middle of class hit me full force. I took a quick look around the room and was relived to see that no one in the large class seemed to notice the show we had put on. My eyes met Mr. Balding and he gave me a knowing wink and busied himself with paper work. I looked back at Joey and saw fear on his face. He saw the look Mr. Balding gave me. The remainder of the period we worked in near silence. When we were walking out, Mr. Balding stopped us. He smiled as he talked to Joey.

"Joseph, you have some amazing talent. This sketch of Christopher is amazing. How long have you been drawing." Joey glanced down at his feet and answered shyly.

" I've been drawing for like five years now. It's okay, but it could be better."

"For a sketch that took you only fifteen minutes to produce, it's wonderful. They way you captured Christopher's reflection is remarkable. I can see the sadness in his face, but also I can see the joy. You guys must be really close for you to be able to read his face so intently. How long have you guys been friends?" He asked us. Joey looked at me to answer. I was honest as I spoke to Mr. Balding.

"We haven't known each other that long. We met this summer, but we haven't really hung out too much." I plainly stated. I was nervous and felt like I was in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition. A look of surprise came over his face with my answer.

"Really! You guys seem to have this connection between the two of you . I though you guys at least had to have grown up with each other." Joey's eyes met mine and we both shyly looked away. I became even more nervous, if that was possible and a ball of anxiety formed tightly in my stomach. God, Joey looked so cute as a blush spread over his neck. What I wouldn't give to just touch it again.

"Well, we're cool but we gotta get to fifth period, Mr. Balding, so we'll see you tomorrow." Joey replied. As we tried to walk out Mr. Balding stopped us again.

"Oh, well, the reason I stopped you both is the sketch is good but it could be great. A friend of mine runs an art gallery in Montclair and has a fall spot light on high school artist. With a little work, I'd love to submit this to him. Are you interested?"

"I don't know." Joey replied.

"I think you are very talented and should show your work off. Think of it as an extra credit assignment." Joey shrugged his shoulders as he replied.

"Extra credit? Okay, I'll do it."

"Great, you and Chris work out a time to get together. The submissions aren' t due until the fourth of November, so that give you guys about a month to work on it." Mr. Balding smiled and moved pass us so we could leave. As we were walking to our next classes, Joey looked over at me and spoke.

"So, you wanna work on it... Saturday?" I shot him a sideways glance. " Work on it"? What the hell did he wanna work on? Damn! There goes my over active imagination again. I knew what he was talking about.

"Yeah Saturdays cool. Oh wait, I can't. I have plans. How about Friday?" He thought for a minute before answering.

"I kind of have plans, so how about next week?" Before I could answer, a girl came over and hugged Joey. I was surprised when she kissed him on the mouth. The kiss wasn't passionate, but her lips lingered on his a little longer than I liked. She was a very pretty Black girl. Her body was thin but not skinny and she had hips that rivaled the most curvaceous of singers. Her skin was the color of honey and her medium length brown hair was highlighted with streaks of gold. She had these extremely long artificial finger nails painted a dangerous color of red. With her knock off Louis Vutton hand bag and skin tight Baby Phat jeans, she was gorgeous and she knew it. Joey returned her hug and the ball of anxiety hidden in the depth of my stomach grew larger. She threw her body against his and grinded her hips into his. She was s horter than me and had to stand on the tips of her feet to kiss him. I couldn' t read the look on his face. I just stood there like a fool waiting for him to forget about her and come back to me. But he didn't. He broke away from the little bitch's kiss and addressed her.

"Hey Mercedes. What's up?" Joey said to her. The little sluts name was Mercedes. She reminded me more of a Tempo, cheap and easy to buy. Who the hell name's their kid after a car anyway? I knew instantly that I would not like her. Maybe it was the fake green contacts in her eyes or the very pink colored lip gloss she wore...or the fact that she was hugged up and kissing the guy that I wanted that made me hate her so much. I hated her even more as she spoke to him. Her voice was unnaturally soft. One that evidently took her many years to perfect.

"Hey baby, I missed you. How come you ain't call me last night?" She asked him

"Sorry Mercedes, I had stuff to do." He replied, still ignoring my presence.

"Well, don't forget you promised to take me to Loco's party Friday." Loco was having a party that I wasn't invited to! What kind of bull shit was that? I mean, I just met him but I thought we were cool enough for him to invite me. Then Joey looked at me for the first time since "the bitch" came. His eyes opened wide and he broke away from their hug. "The Bitch", I mean Mercedes, looked over at me and introduced herself with that annoyingly baby soft voice.

"Hi, I'm Joey's girl Mercedes, but you can call me Mercy." With looks like hers she no doubt had many guys at her mercy. I couldn't believe he had a girlfriend. I could hear the sound of my heart breaking. I'm usually not good at hiding my emotions, but I could have won an Oscar with my performance. I smiled and introduced myself.

"Hey Mercedes! I'm Chris" I replied. I'll be damned if I'll call her Mercy. How I refrained from rolling my eyes at her annoying smile, I'll never know. Joey stood there silent. I needed to get away from them. I waved good bye and started to head off to class when Joey stopped me.

"I'll call you later." Joey said. I looked at him with the artificial smile still on my face.

"You don't have my number." I replied, with a hint of contempt in my voice.

"Yeah I do. I'll call you later...okay."

"Sure." I replied as I walked off. I could tell he knew I was upset, but he made no attempt to chase after me again and that just made the pain stronger. I knew he was straight but I guess I still hoped that I was wrong. When I kissed him, he kissed me back. His hands were all over my body. A straight guy would not have done that. Maybe I was just fooling myself, hoping for something to happen that never would.

By lunchtime, I was more than ready to go home. Amanda and Peanut could see something was bothering me, but they didn't press me to talk. Loco came over to our table and invited us to his party. I felt a little better knowing that I wasn't forgotten but I still felt numb inside. On the bus ride home, Amanda offered her ear to listen to my problems. I trusted her but I still didn't know if I should tell her about me, even though I felt like I knew her all my life, in reality, it had only been a few months. Could I REALLY trust her? I didn't know if I could, but this terrible pain inside of me was waiting to burst.

It's painful enough having your heart broken, but it's even worse when you don't have anyone to talk to about it to. My life had been filled with heartache and disappointment so I should have been used to it, but I wasn't. I held so many things inside of me that no one understood. Sometimes I had to sleep with the light on because if it was too dark in the room, I would think about Hector. The memories of what he used to do to me would come back to me. I would relive the pain all over again. I would remember all the smells and tastes. I could remember the confusion that I would feel after each time, knowing that it was wrong but not knowing why. I remembered what use to happen in the youth house. The things that I would bear witness to. Some of the kids there were assholes in the purest forms. It was a blessing that I was never the victim of any of their hands, at least not in the same way of some of the others. I guess God spared me in that aspect. That probably would have sent my six year old mind in overdrive and I don't know what kind of person I would have become if what happened to some of the kids there had happened to me. But why can't I have any peace? Why can't I have a little happiness last instead of fading as quickly as it came? I didn't need peace of mind but just a little peace. Maybe if I talked to Amanda I would feel better. I wasn't ready to tell her everything but I needed to get a little bit off my chest.

We went to her house to talk. Her mother was always working so she and her sister were always alone. We sat in her living room and I thought how I would say it to her.

"Have you ever liked someone and you thought that they liked you too but you were wrong?" I asked her.

"Yeah, is that what's wrong. You like some girl, but she doesn't like you ? " She asked. I danced around her question.

"Yeah, something like that."

"Well, if she doesn't like you the way you like her, there are always other girls to go after." She was trying, but she wasn't helping.

"But what if you were almost sure that they liked you, but didn't wanna admit it."

"Then you have to forget about him. If he doesn't want to tell you he likes you, then you need to find a guy who will." I looked at her with my mouth wide open. I was stunned by what she just said. My first thought was to deny it, but one look at the knowing smile on her face and I broke down. I began to cry. My body was shaking with the force of my sobs. She just held me. I have never been a tough guy, but I felt like such a sissy. After a few minutes, I was able to compose myself.

"How did you know?" I asked her. Her gentle smile softened even more as she replied.

"You don't look or act gay or anything like that, but the more time I'm around you, I don't know, I can just tell. Plus, the fact that you have never made a pass on my sexy ass kinda gave you away." I laughed and hugged her.

"Yeah you do have a sexy ass." I said jokingly. We sat silently in reflection. I hadn't planned on telling her that part about me, but I was glad that she knew. I started to feel a little better but not much.

"Well, you better watch out for Kayla because she has it bad for you." She said.

"Kayla's a sweet girl, but I like a stick shift, not an automatic." I said and we both laughed at my cheesy joke. She said something stupid about now that I was gay, I got funnier. I just hoped she wouldn't want to know who the guy of my dreams was.

"So, who is the guy you like?" She asked.

"I don't want to say who he is right now, but maybe one day I'll tell you." I answered. She dropped the subject and we did our homework. It felt so good letting someone know one of my secrets. I felt like a small weight had been lifted off my chest. Amanda went into the bathroom to take a shower and just as I was getting ready to leave, there was a knock on her door. I opened it and to my dismay, there stood Nate. He looked at me with that ever present sneer. He wore a baggy green throwback jersey and a green Pacers cap turned backwards hung off his head. His voice was rough and harsh as he spoke to me.

"Where's Mandy?" He asked. The fear was taking over me again, like it always did when he was around. I shakily answered him.

"Sh...She's in the bathroom." I replied. He laughed at me and I kept my eyes glued down at his Timberland boots. He pushed pass me to get in the apartment. I moved to leave, but he pulled me back in, leading me to the couch to sit.

"Why you always trying to run from me?" Nate demanded. His arm was hung forcefully around my shoulders pulling me towards his body.

"I'm not always trying to run, but I need to get home. My Aunt's waiting." I answered, my body slightly trembling.

"Naw Nigga, your Aunt's gonna have to wait a little while. You still haven' t been welcomed to the hood properly. A pretty little light skin cat like you need someone to have your back. You gotta watch yourself around here. I wanna have your back." He was trying to get me to trust him. He was acting nice so I would let my guard down. I wasn't buying it, but I didn't let him know.

"Really, that's cool of you. Thanks." I answered, hoping the fear from my voice didn't give my doubts of him away. Before he could reply Amanda came out the bathroom and he turned his attention to her. After a minute I left, trying to shake off the chills he gave me as I walked home.

When I came home, I found Aunt Mickey sitting with an older black man in the living room. He was tall and heavy set but fit. His hair was graying slightly at the edges, but his face still maintained a youthful, friendly appearance. He introduced himself as Roger. He wanted to take me out to dinner so we could get to know each other better. I agreed and looking Aunt Mickey, I knew that she was happy.

At the restaurant Roger told me about the project he and Aunt Mickey had been working on. He seemed to be a real nice guy. You could plainly see that he was a proud black man and judging by the way he carried himself and the way he spoke, he was a perfect match for Mickey. He seemed to be stable and she needed someone in her life to provide stability. I guess I needed that too. We ate at a soul food restaurant where he knew the owners. The food reminded me of times with my birth mother. She made the best southern soul food. Collard greens, baked macaroni and cheese, ox tales and black eyed peas satisfied me. I really liked Roger and I liked how happy he made Aunt Mickey. I was glad that somebody around me had some joy in their life.

After a great dinner and some good conversation, Roger dropped us off at home and Aunt Mickey went up to bed. I decided to stay up for a while. I checked the caller I.D. and saw that Joey called several times before it was eight o 'clock. He left two messages on the answering machine. Against my will, my heart skipped a beat when I heard his voice. "Hey, Chris dude, it's Joey...Call me when you get this." In the next message he sounded like he had been crying. "Hey it's Joey again...I guess your not home...Um...I just wanted to find out when you wanna work together...oh yeah Mercedes is my ex, sorry about her...ahh...yeah so I'll see you tomorrow...okay...bye." I smiled to myself. He sounded so nervous. God, I think I might be falling for him again. Maybe it wasn't over like I thought it was. Maybe it was just beginning....

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