“Don’t mind if I do,” she says brazenly, and dumps the bottle’s entire contents down her throat in one giant swig, then wipes her face. “Think I’m just some kid, don’t you?” she says. “You ever see a kid do that?” Unfortunately, I had. He’d been found dead in an alley the next morning. She casually shoots another ball into a side pocket. “Or that?” she brags. I shake my head and turn away. She’s not your problem, I tell myself. If she’s as stupid as she appears, let her learn the hard way what happens to runaways in Big City. She’ll be cured, once and for all. I shift my attention to Pinky’s banter instead. “’Course I should probably audition for something now and then, huh, Hec, before high school runs out and I’ve never even been on stage?”
I yank out a pen, write furiously on a napkin, and then hand it to her. I’d worked hard to get the scoop. She’d better not waste it this time. She reads the note. Her eyes light up. “Hairspray? You’re kidding. They’re doing Hairspray this spring?” I smile back. It looks like this time my efforts might not be in vain. “I love that show. I, like, really and truly love that show!”
“I think she loves that show,” mimics Idi to Nina. They laugh.
“Be there Tuesday; eighth period,” I say, “and I don’t care how many preps and cheer freaks show up. Get a part, even if it’s just some dancer. Remember, you never get to town if you don’t get on the road.” Pinky’s face lights up like a Christmas star. I decide that the effort has been worth it, even if she fails herself once again and doesn’t show.
And then I catch a glimpse of her again, the child in the pool room. Her companions toy with her like cats with a mouse. She’s full of bravado, but oblivious. It’s hard to watch without feeling sick, so I don’t. I focus on Lester instead.
“They just told me that I’m on track to be an assistant manager as soon as I graduate,” he says with that wide-open grin of his. Idi, Nina, and Pinky applaud. I hold back. The guy should be in art school. He’s brilliant, just refuses to believe it. I check back to the girl in the pool room again. Lester takes note.
“Aw, come on, Hec, be happy for me! Then I can do my drawings in the back room and no one can fire me for it!” I manage a smile and a hand-slap for him.
“Well, I’ve got an announcement,” says Nina. “Idi and I just got letters from the U yesterday, and we both got full scholarships.” Now there’s something worth applauding. Idi’s glowing, white-toothed smile cracks his deep, black face like a sun ray through a storm cloud.
“We go see my family first, so they can meet Nina and we can be married,” he says rather shyly.
My freakish intuition suddenly detects a dark cloud. I look left. It’s one of Big City’s leading street gangsters, Too Bad Joey, and his wannabe posse of clone-like companions. He knows he can’t cause trouble here, but neither can anyone else. It’s a safe, neutral haven, and Too Bad’s feeling his usual brash self. He saunters up to our table and eyes Idi and Nina. “Yo, if it ain’t the black white boy again. Or is it the white black boy, or maybe the chocolate-vanilla checkers boy.” He laughs. His “boyz” dutifully follow suit.
I feel Idi tense like a panther protecting its young.
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Genre – NeoGothic Horror / Thriller
Rating – R for violence & language