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around my way


June 3 2006

It had almost a week since Joey told me what happened. As angry as I was at the mess that he was creating, that was outweighed by my fear. I knew fucking around in that gang was going to get him into some shit that he couldn’t get out of and I was right. God! I was right! We had talked on the phone every night that week, but I hadn‘t seen him since that night. His father was pissed about the suspension, so he had to work at the bodega during the hours he should have been at school until and then he had to stay until closing time. His father gave him the day off and today would be the first time since he told me about his predicament that we would be able to talk face to face.

Aunt Mickey and Roger were home, but as angry as she was about my suspension she eased up on my punishment since my birth mother died. Just like I thought, she had died alone and had been cremated. She had a few friends at the prison who prayed and held a small service for her, but I couldn’t go because it was inside the prison and to be honest, I don‘t think I could have handled going. Aunt Mickey suggested that we keep her urn in the living room as a tribute and every time I looked at it, I wanted to cry. Amanda’s words hit me hard, but I still couldn’t get over the fact that I blamed my mother for all the shit that happened to me. As much as I tried not to, I still felt guilty about not being there for her when I should have been. When we were sent her ashes there was letter from her addressed to me. I couldn’t find the courage to read it because I knew it was just her telling me how bad of a son she thought I was. It was hard to balance my anger and sadness and I started to take it out on myself to find balance. I didn’t eat because I didn’t think I deserved it and I barley slept. The stress that my birth mother’s death put on me was topped by Joey’s situation. He had gotten himself in a whole lot of trouble and honestly I didn’t know how he would get out of it. If I could’ve helped him then I would have, but when I offered to, he firmly told me no. I protested and he started to yell and when his non-existent Spanish accent came out, I knew I’d better stop trying to change his mind. I knew that it was because he loved me and didn’t want me to be in any danger, but at the same time I loved him and would have done anything if it meant keeping him safe. The shit that he was in could very well kill him and I would die before I let anything like that happen to him.

I was up in my room looking at the un-opened letter from my birth mother, when I heard the bell ring. A few seconds later I heard the heavy thud of Joey’s Timberland boots thumping up the stairs. He knocked lightly on my door and I told him to come in as I stuffed the letter in my pocket. He wore my favorite gray sweat pants that hung loosely off of his hips and a baggy red hooded sweatshirt underneath his red North Face bubble coat. He locked the door behind him and I didn’t fight the urge to hug and kiss him. He smiled down at me and kissed the tip of my nose before we sat on my bed and tried to think of ways to get him out of trouble.

“You know I won’t let you sell for me right?” He stated with his eyebrows arched upwards. He knew what I was about to say before I even said it. I rolled my eyes in annoyance.

“Yeah, I know. But, I wish you would let me help. You say you just have to pay back four grand now right?”

“No, it’s five…. interest and shit….fuck!” He looked down at his feet unable to meet my gaze. I turned his face back towards mine. His eyes were filled with regret and fear. I tried to kiss the pain away, but I knew I only gave him a few moments of solace. I couldn’t blame him for worrying. He had gotten himself in some deep shit and the fault was no one’s, but his own.

It was a month ago when it happened. The Eastie’s were throwing a party as Boss Benny’s house to initiate three new members. Me and Joey were suppose to go out that night, but I got sick and had to cancel. He didn’t want to be there, but Loco made him go. He spent the whole night getting drunk and wishing he was somewhere else. He hated being in the gang just as much as I hated him being in it, but he had to stay. He knew it would be too risky for him and the people that he cared about, for him to leave. As much love and brother-hood that gangs have, when you decide that you want to leave that brother-hood behind, its like your turning your back on them. That’s the ultimate disrespect and no matter how much love that they may have felt for you, when you try to leave, they turn on you just as they feel you’re turning on them. You can either get jumped out, which is the worst way to leave because they beat you brutally. When your getting jumped in they take it easy on you because they know that you want to be a part of the family, so they try not to hurt you too bad. But, when you are getting jumped out it’s because you want to leave that family. Since your no longer kin to them, they have no reason to hold back on you. The only other way out of the gang is death and I would rather have Joey stay in the gang for life than have that happen.

Beer after beer he consumed until it was safe to say that he was shit faced drunk. Boss Benny lived in a large house located on the far east side of town. I had never been there, but Joey told me from the outside it looked like a large, raggedy old house. Once you were inside of it though, it was whole different story. Boss Benny had expensive tastes and it showed in the elegant furniture and décor of the house.

In his drunken stupor, Joey stumbled into one room where four guys whom he didn’t recognize were in a heated argument. There were three black guys all wearing something with red in it and one white guy wearing a red baseball cap. They saw Joey and just as he was turning to leave the white guy in the red hat called him over. Not wanting to disrespect them in case they were higher up in rank than he was, he complied and walked towards them. As he moved to sit at the table they were at, he saw stacks of hundreds of hundreds of dollar bills on the table and large black plastic bag lay rumbled beside the money.

“Whaaaattt tiissss diiisssss?” Joey asked one of the guys in his alcoholic euphoric state. He made a move to touch some of the money when one of they guy’s smacked his hand away. Too drunk to realize that the guy had just punked him, he laughed it off.

“Nigga, what da fuck do it look like? Its da doe so don’t touch it! Dat ain’t what I called you in for.” The white guy with the red cap said as he took a sip from his bottle of malt liquor.

“Wellll whaaatttt da fuckkk yhou wannt wit me dens?” Joey slurred as he sat down.

“We need to know if you dink dis some good shit?” The white boy in the red baseball cap asked. Joey pointed to the money and they all started to laugh at him.

“Naw Nigga. Da coke!” One of the black guys interjected in between the hardy rumbles of laughter that permeated the room.

“Cokkee? I aiinntt derrsty!” Joey replied and the guys laughed harder. Joey was thoroughly confused and attempted to get up, but fell right back down in his seat. The guys were all laughing harder now and the white guy cleared his throat and looked his green eyes directly into Joey‘s.

“Nigga you is fucked up!! Not da soda…dis!” He said and pulled the black plastic bag off and revealing a pile of pure cut Chyna White Cocaine on the table. Joey smoked weed and sometimes he did it more than I liked, but he never touched anything else.

“Yooo Whhaatt daa fucckk! Doo Beennny knooww ya’ll niggaaz got dis shit in his houssee?” He asked. When Joey first joined the gang it was all about unity. He knew that all the Eastie’s were tough guys, but that was just the nature of a male growing up in the hood. It was inclined in their nature to be tough. Living in tough surroundings produced hardened young men. He thought that hanging around them would toughen him up and make him into a real man and that would stop his thoughts of other boys. He thought that it was just a bunch of guys coming together and forming a bond to protect their streets from the violence of the Westie’s. Because he didn’t involve himself too much with the in’s and out’s of the gang, Joey never saw the drug aspect of it. He knew that the money had to be coming in from somewhere since Boss Benny always seemed to have an amble supply of cash, but he didn’t think that it was any of his business to find out from where. Joey’s role was almost non-existent. He wasn’t high up in ranks because he never tried to get up. He did what ever was told to him, which was usually copping drugs or liquor and when it was necessary paying back somebody who had stepped out of place to someone in East Side by jumping them. With the exception of scoring drugs and the occasional fights, he didn’t do anything, but that all changed that night.

“Of course dat Nigga know. Who da fuck do you dink made us come up here to cut dis shit. Look at dis, how much you dink dis worth. I say eight G’s easily. Dem three Niggaz say five. What you think?” The white guy asked him. Joey didn’t know how to price it, I don’t think I would have either.

“I doonn’tttt knooww. Yaa’ll is tripping. I’mm bouncing!” He stated and got up to leave just to end up crashing back down and into the table and sending the powdered drug flying all over the carpeted floor in little sprinkles of cocaine snowflakes. If that wasn’t bad enough, as he reached on the table to pull himself up he knocked over three forty ounce bottles of malt liquor, sending the alcohol coating the cocaine forming a sticky paste. The four guys looked at Joey in shock as he continued to pull himself up, semi-oblivious to what he had just done.

“LOOK WHAT DA FUCK YOU JUST DID!! YOU PAYING FOR DIS SHIT!” The white guy screamed. The other three guys grabbed the cash and left out the room. Joey slowly came to realize what happened and knew he was in trouble. He ran to the door and when he opened it he was greeted with the cold dark brown eyes of Boss Benny.

“SIT!” He demanded and Joey was smart enough to know he should listen. Boss Benny was a man who knew how to keep his composure, but you didn’t want to make him mad. At 30 he was building an empire and he wouldn’t have anyone fuck that up for him. He glared at Joey, appraising him before speaking to him in a calm yet threatening voice. “ What’s your name?” he asked.

“Joey.” Joey whispered, instantly sobering up with the seriousness of the situation. Boss Benny sat down next to him and smiled.

“Joey, nice to meet you. How long have you been in East Side?”

“Four years.”

“And what set do you represent?” Boss Benny was a Puerto Rican immigrant who came to this country a poor young man at sixteen speaking little English. Times were hard for him in the beginning. He knew no one and was not used to the fast way of living in the ghetto’s. He was taken in by Javier who at one time had been just as lost as young Benito, but being ten years older he knew things that only someone with his years of experience could and wanted to help a young chico come up. At the time Benito was dating a cousin of his and they met at a family barbeque. They got to talking and Javier saw something in Benny that made him want to help him out; teach him the ways of the streets. Not having any other alternatives, Benny soon starting doing drug runs for him and two years later was one of the biggest dealers in Newark. He had made enough money to bring up his mother and little sister up from Puerto Rico, something he would later come to regret.
The word on the street was a new gang was forming in the east side of town to contest with a gang that was coming up on the west side. Javier thought it would be good to go and check out what this new gang was about. If things were up to key, then maybe they could do business with them. In the beginning before East Side became what it is today, it was basically twenty or so guys who had no clue what they were doing. Things were unorganized and there was no plan as to what they were going to do with themselves. Javier saw an opportunity. An opportunity to create something that would shake up the streets which they lived on. With his guidance he knew he could mold East Side into something great. All it took were a few promises of drugs and riches for Javier to weasel his way into East Side. There was no claimed leader so Javier became their unofficial leader. Within three years the organization had grew to over two hundred members in three different counties. Javier was coming up big time and Benito, his right hand man, was right there next to him as second man in command. What was suppose to be a small group of people trying to keep West Side from overtaking their streets turned into an large organization with a hardcore reputation that preceded itself. Javier made sure that when someone heard the name East Side, fear would run through them. He wasn’t a gentle man when it came to business matters. He used the connections that he made as running East Side to further his drug dealings. He put some of the members of the gang to work for him and it wasn’t uncommon for him to make anywhere from twenty to thirty thousand dollars in a slow week. But, he wasn’t smart with how he managed his money and Benito tried to warn him that his gambling habits were going to get them in trouble one day, but Javier would never listen.

For six years Javier and Benito ran East Side with iron fists. They were nice enough until you crossed them. They selected certain people to do certain things for them that ranged from selling drugs, robbery, stealing cars, pimping or whatever else needed to be done to make money. They called this paying dues. But, not every member had to pay dues. If they were too young, Javier and Benito would let them come into the gang, but only as little brothers which just meant they could use the name as being an Eastie, but they weren’t entitled to some of the pleasures that the ranking members of the gang were allowed. That usually meant money, clothes, jewelry and women., things that they had a lot of. The empire was being built and there was no stopping it.

By the late nineties things were going better than they ever thought. Membership had grew to over a thousand
spread all across the state and money….they made a lot of it. Things were going good for them, but just like Benito predicted Javier’s habits caught up with them. Apparently he made one too many bad deals and reneged on his word too many times to the wrong people. Circumstance’s were unknown, but one morning Javier’s cold lifeless body was found parked in a car overlooking the Hudson River in Jersey City with a double barrel shotgun bullet blasted right through his heart. Benito had been crushed. His best friend, his mentor, his brother, the one person who looked out for him was now gone and he was left to pick up the pieces. What bothered him the most was he knew it would be nearly impossible to know who killed him. Vengeance could not be dealt. Benito already knew how to be ruthless, but now he was cold hearted. He now had to be the boss of things. Javier had died and Boss Benny was born.

“I’m from Fuller Street set.” Joey replied not looking into Boss Benny’s face. Benito was a short man, but his cold eyes intimidated even the toughest of men. One thing that Boss Benny hated was to be disrespected and not looked in the eye when he spoke to you. This young punk Nigga who had just fucked up his merchandise had the audacity not to look him in the eyes when he spoke to him. He reached out one hand and slapped Joey across the face sending him flying to the floor. Joey fought the urge to hit him back even though he wanted to.

“When I speak to you, look me in my eyes. Do you understand chico?” Boss Benny asked in a calm and relaxed voice. An unusual contrast to the violence that he had just demonstrated. Joey massaged his sore jaw as he pulled himself off of the floor and looked him squarely in the eyes. The four guys began to laugh at Joey, but with one vicious look from Boss Benny, they left the room in silence leaving just the two of them in the middle of a darkened room surrounded by cheap liquor covered cocaine sprinkled on the carpet. The alcohol and cocaine combination was forming a sticky paste that gave off a bland smell that filled the air.

“Yes.” He replied just to get knocked forcefully to the floor again. Staring up at Boss Benny’s short frame, Joey knew that if things were being played out on a equal field, he could have easily beaten him, but things weren’t even. Boss Benny was Boss and Joey was just Joey.

“YES WHAT!” Boss Benny yelled down at him as he grabbed him by his hair and spit in his face. Humiliation ran through Joey’s body at the degrading way he was being treated. But, it was his fear that got to him the most.

“Yyess…Sir?” Joey stuttered and was slapped across the face again.

“BOSS BENNY, YES BOSS BENNY!” He yelled and the tight grip on his hair was loosened and he sat back down in the seat next to Boss Benny.

“Very good! Do you know how much money all of this was worth?” He asked him as he watched a nervous Joey fidget in his seat.

“I don’t know? Five thousand?” Joey asked. He knew by the large amount it was probably worth a lot more, but he prayed that he was wrong. >From the condescending look of Benny’s face he knew that he was wrong.

“No, go a little higher.”

“Seven thousand?” He asked and Benny laughed in his face. He got up and began to pace around the room. Joey felt like he was in an interrogation. The air in the room was stale and for the first time he noticed there was no windows in there. It was rather large room, about thirty-five by twenty-five feet. Expensive white shag carpet lined the floor. The room was barren of furniture with the exception of a very expensive looking stereo system, a black leather couch tucked away in the corner and the glass round table with six chairs. It was obvious that the room was not used for entertaining. Benny walked around the glass table with Joey watching him cautiously. He stopped and examined the pile of ruined cocaine that was pasted to the fibers of the carpet. He ran his short, thin fingers through it and scooped up a handful. He shoved it into Joey’s face. Joey got up and coughed out the little that went inside of his mouth and Benny’s evil laughter echoed inside the room. ‘He’s crazy!’ Joey thought to himself. Benny fell to the floor and rolled onto his back as he continued to laugh. After a few minutes of the madness, he got up and patted a fearful Joey on the shoulder as if they were old friends.

“Why don’t you use what you bought?” He asked and Joey looked at him confused.

“Huh?” Benny patted Joey’s back harder and continued to laugh.

“If I were you, I wouldn’t waste ten thousand dollars worth of cocaine.” The realization of Boss Benny’s words hit Joey like a ton of bricks.

“Ummm….I don’t have ten thousand dollars.” He croaked and Benny continued to laugh.

“I didn’t think that you did. Do you know I have killed many men for owing me much less than what you do?” Sweat was pouring from Joey’s face as he knew just what was about to happen. He told me that the whole time he was thinking that he was going to die and would never to get to see me again and he panicked. He began to beg Boss Benny to let him go.

“I’m so sorry Boss Benny, I’ll do anything, but please don’t kill me!” Benny looked at him and his face darkened with seriousness.

“How old are you?”



“I’m turning seventeen in a few weeks. Please don’t kill me!” He patted Joey on the back again and nudged him to sit back down.

“Seventeen Aye? Okay, we can work something out-”

“Yes, I’ll do anything you ask.” Joey stated in one breath, cutting Benny off.

“If you interrupt me again, I’ll kill you!” He yelled and Joey fell silent.

“I’m sorry.”

“Now, you owe me a lot of money. How do you think you can pay me back?” Joey racked his mind, but still no legitimate ideas came to surface.

“I don’t know?”

“I know, I want you to sell for me. That shall be your penance.” Boss Benny stated calmly and Joey immediately stood back up in protest.

“I ain’t selling no drugs. My mother would kill me!” He was silenced with yet another slap to the face. Joey’s pride was hurting even more than his face was and it took all of his will power to keep him from knocking him out. He knew that if they were shooting the fair one, he would have beaten him.

“Its simple. Either you sell for me or figure out another way to get me my money back. If you choose not to do either, I’ll kill you. Your choice.” The nonchalant way that Benny said he would kill Joey chilled him to his bones.

“What do I have to do…..”

And just like that, my boyfriend became a drug dealer.

Joey and I were so caught up in our kissing that we didn’t notice the turning of the door handle. It was locked so we heard it rattle then Aunt Mickey’s voice asking why it was locked. We flew apart and Joey sat on the bed trying to look as innocent as possible. I opened the door for her and she looked at me and then at Joey and then back at me. Her inquisitive gaze was making me nervous, but thankfully she remembered why she had came to my room in the first place.

“Roger and I are going to get something to it, can I bring you boys something?” She asked.

“Where are you going?” I asked her.

“We’re getting soul food at Ms.Leonda’s. We’re going to eat there. If you boys want to come you can or if you want to be alone we can bring you something back.” Joey looked at her with bugged out eyes and I looked at him curiously.

“Why don’t you bring us two number three specials.” I told her and she kissed my cheek as she and Roger left out. Once I heard the closing of the front door and the roar of Roger’s Cadillac driving away I immediately tackled Joey into the bed and began to slowly place angel kisses on his face. To my surprise he pushed me away.

“What?” I asked.

“I think Mickey knows about us.” He stated panicky and unnerved. I laughed at his discomfort.

“I told you, I think Roger knows, but he wouldn’t tell her.”

“Didn’t you just hear what she said?”

“No, what did she say?”

“She said that if the two of us wanted to be alone, then she would bring us something back. Why else would she think that we would want to be alone unless she knew about us?” I thought about it for a moment and couldn’t come up with any ideas. Then it hit me.

“She probably thought that I would want to talk to you about my birth mother.” I told him and began I started to feel sad again. I walked over to the dresser and took out her unopened letter from my pocket.

“Did you write me another love letter?” Joey teased. He was the one who wrote me the love letters. I had wrote him some letters too, but he was too afraid of someone finding them to leave them in his house, so we kept them at mine.

“No, this is the letter from my mother I was telling you about.”

“Oh, are you going to open it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why not?”

“I’m scared of what it might say.”

“What do you think its going to say?” He asked as he stood up and embraced me.

“What if she blames me, like I blame her..….”

“What are you talking about?”

“What if she thinks that its my fault that she got locked up?” I mumbled as I buried my face in his strong chest. He rubbed his hands up and down my T-shirt clad back.

“Why would she do that?”

“If she didn’t have to raise me, then she would have never had to turn to prostitution and she wouldn’t have been sent to jail.” Joey pushed me away and grabbed the letter from my hand. He placed the letter inside one of my
drawers and walked me over to the bed where we both sat down and he looked at me sternly.

“Listen to me baby, whatever has happened to you or her was just bad circumstances. You can’t blame yourself for anything. It wasn’t your fault that your moms got sent to jail. It wasn’t your fault that punk ass nigga molested you and I know you’re blaming yourself for my situation, but that ain’t your fault neither!” He yelled and I looked at him in surprise. I did blame myself for the trouble that he was in. If we had been on the date like we were suppose to be then he would have never been at that party and all of the shit that he was going through now, wouldn’t be happening. But, he was right. I had to stop putting so much on my shoulders. It was just hard for me to do that.

“I know baby. I would feel better if you let me sell with you. If we were both selling then you could pay Boss Benny back quicker.”

“No! I don’t want you involved in that shit!” He yelled and broke our embrace and began to pace around my bedroom. I got up and hugged him again after a few seconds of hesitation he returned it. He kissed the top of my head.

“Chris, I love you so much. I don’t know what I would do without you.” He whispered.

“I love you too. I just want to help. I would do anything for you. Please, let me help you out baby.” I begged and he embraced me tighter.

“I can’t let you do that.” He whispered as our bodies pressed together closer. I could feel the fullness in his sweat pants challenging my own hardness, but neither of us were in the mood to do anything about them. I had to come up with a way to help him get the money that he needed. I would do anything for the him. I loved him with more heart and more soul then I would have thought was humanly possible. I would give anything to keep him safe. Whatever it took I would find a way to make things better for him. I would do anything for him. I loved him, I would die for him….I would ……. TO BE CONTINUED

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