Before, After, and Somebody In Between

BOOK: Before, After, and Somebody In Between
9.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Before, After,
in Between

Jeannine Garsee




Title Page





























































For Chuck, Beth, and Nate, with love,
and for Joan Garsee, my second mom


Okay, I’m sitting on the edge of my bed, listening to Beethoven and scribbling in my notebook, when Momma shuffles up behind me and smacks me in the head. Not hard, mind you. Just enough to get my attention. “Ow!”

“Will you get up off your butt and
something already?”

“I am doing something. I’m writing in my journal.”

“Well, I don’t care if you’re rewriting the damn Constitution. We still got boxes to unpack and I ain’t doing it all myself.”

“Hey, I
unpacked,” I remind her, waving my arm around at my puny new room. Ugly brown walls, paint cracks now hidden by all my Elvis posters, a tower of books stacked by the door because Momma won’t blow any money on a bookcase. My old black trunk is shoved in one corner, one key secretly taped to the bottom, the other stashed in a hole in the windowsill.

“Hmph. I see.” Momma clumps over to the window to survey my breathtaking view of the driveway and rusty fire escape. “Dang, how can you think with all that racket?”

At first I think she’s talking about Beethoven. Then it dawns on me she means the Lindseys, the family upstairs. We’ve lived here less
than a week and I haven’t officially met them, but I’ve seen the kids playing outside. Brothers, I guess—a boy about my age with geeky black glasses a lot like mine, plus a shorter, heftier kid, and a curly haired baby. There’s an older, scarier guy, too, maybe sixteen or seventeen, with baggy pants, chains, and a stud through his bottom lip.

The Lindseys are black, by the way. I’m not. In fact, except for Momma and Wayne, I’m probably the only white person on the block. On the next fifty blocks, as a matter of fact. I’m surprised Wayne lives here since he’s such a bigoted redneck, but his grandparents or somebody left him this house, so he rents out the upstairs. Now Momma and I are sharing the downstairs with him.

I’m not thrilled with any of this, but what can I do? Face it, Momma’s crazy. The craziest thing she’d done before this was ditch me last June for two whole days with nothing to eat but a bag of Fritos. When she finally showed up, dead drunk and with two black eyes, she ranted and raved half the night about how all men are scumbags, then barfed in my lap and passed out cold. Well, when she didn’t wake up the next morning, I ended up in a so-called group home for adolescents, surrounded by the biggest weirdos and losers on the face of the planet.

Anyway, Momma was shipped to detox, and from there to rehab, and that’s where she met good old Wayne. According to Momma—
—it was love at first sight. With both of them originally from West Virginia, maybe they bonded over a bowl of pork rinds or something. Now here I am, stuck in the bottom half of a roach-infested dump in one of the worst neighborhoods on the east side of Cleveland. The eleventh place I’ve lived in the past six years, but at least it’s not another trailer park or a room over somebody’s garage.

“Well, it gets on my nerves,” Momma complains, still hung
up on the Lindseys. I think they’re using the ceiling over my head for basketball practice. “I don’t see how Wayne puts up with it. Maybe I oughta head up there myself and tell ‘em to knock it off.”

“Go for it, Momma. Better ask Wayne for one of his guns.”

Momma turns, folds her arms, and sends me one of her looks. “I’m not so sure I like your attitude, missy. Now, you gonna help me finish up with those boxes, or what?”

I sigh and slap my notebook shut. “Yeah, yeah. Be right there.”

The second she’s gone, I spring up, tuck my journal under my arm, slide open the screen, and swing my legs over the windowsill. Hmm, can I do it? Tossing the notebook ahead of me, I manage to scramble onto the last rung of the fire escape, then climb halfway up to where I can sit and write in peace. Ha! She doesn’t like
attitude? Well, I’m not wild about the fact that we’re now playing house with some hulking, tattooed, gun-crazy Neanderthal I never even laid eyes on till last week.

I barely write two words when something small and hard whacks the back of my head. I jerk my face up to see that hefty kid leaning out of a second-floor window.

“Who you spying on, bitch?” he bellows down, tossing another marble.

“I’m not spying on anyone,” I snarl back, rubbing my head. “And don’t call me ‘bitch’!”

The boy starts to mouth off, but he’s elbowed out of the way by the kid with the geeky glasses. “Back off, Mario! Or I’ll tell your old lady you’re throwin’ crap out the window again.”

Mario growls something not very nice and immediately vanishes. The geek leans over the sill with that chubby, springy-haired baby balanced on his hip. “Hey, don’t mind him. He looks big, but he ain’t even twelve yet.”

“I thought you two were brothers.”

“Naw, cousins. His mom’s my aunt Gloria. Anthony’s his brother.”

“That scary-looking dude?”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

“So who’s that?” I ask, pointing to the baby, who grins at me around all the grubby fingers in his mouth.

“My brother De’Andre. We call him Bubby, though. Who’re you?”

“Martha. Who’re you?”

“Jerome. Hey, wait a sec…” The kid disappears to dump the baby somewhere inside, then hops through the window and plops down a few rungs above me. I hear the baby howling in protest, but the boy doesn’t seem concerned. “So, like, are you related to that guy or something?”

Wayne? Puh-lease! “No, he’s just—he’s a friend of my mom. Why?”

“Just wonderin’. I ain’t seen him bring many people around. Girlfriends, maybe.”

“Well, I guess he won’t be bringing them around now. Unless he wants my mom to slit his throat in his sleep.” I giggle, imagining Momma’s reaction.

When Jerome smiles, his gorgeous white teeth make him look a bit less like the world’s biggest nerd. “She sounds a lot like my aunt.”

“Nope, nobody’s as crazy as my mom.”

“That’s what you think.”

“Trust me. She’s crazy.”

“How crazy?”

On one hand, I’d like nothing more than to keep everything a secret. On the other hand, if Momma falls off the wagon anytime
soon, things could get very unpleasant around here. “She drinks, she takes pills. She even OD’d a while back, and she had to go to rehab—that’s where she met Wayne—and now she’s sober, and, like, goes to AA meetings all the time, and—” Okay, time to shut up.

Jerome doesn’t seem the least bit disturbed. “So where’s your dad?” he asks, banging his heels on the metal rung.

“Dead,” I blurt out.

“Dead how?”

“Promise you won’t tell?” He nods rapidly, and I admit, “He got stabbed to death in prison.”

I wait for Jerome to run screaming in the opposite direction, which is what people normally do when they find out about my dad. But all he says is, “For real? For what, drugs?”

“No! He just gambled a lot, and I guess he wrote some bad checks, and then he stole some money, and—”

“You serious?”

“Duh. Why would I make it up?” As he soaks this in, it occurs to me that he hasn’t said a word about himself. “What about
mom and dad?”

“Nothing. They’re just gone.” He nods at my notebook before I can beg for the details. “So what’re you writing?”

“It’s my journal. I write down everything that happens.”

“Wow, that sounds…boring.”

“No, it’s not. I have fifty-two of them so far.” And all of them locked in my black trunk in case Momma decides to poke around. She’d kill me if she ever read some of the stuff I’ve written about her. I don’t do it to be mean. I do it because, well, I’ve always done it. A habit, I guess, like biting my nails.

Jerome eyes my notebook a bit more critically. “So what are you gonna be, a writer or something? A journalist?”

“Um, I think you have to go to, like, college for that?” No point in telling him what Momma thinks about college.

“Well, I’m going to MIT,” Jerome says loftily. “Nuclear physics.”

“What are you, some kind of genius?”

“Got a four-point-oh GPA,” he replies with a smug grin.

I pat my mouth in a fake yawn. “Well, so do I. And I’m a sophomore this year ‘cause I got to skip a grade.”

“Get—out! Me, too.” Jerome scoots down one step closer. “You starting at Jefferson tomorrow?”

“Yes,” I say slowly, and we stare at each other in speechless wonder.

Jerome finally says it. “Wow. This is weird.”

“Totally weird!” I burst out. Jeez, I didn’t realize till this second how freaked out I am about starting a new school. A big city school, too, unlike my
ten, way-out-in-the-boondocks schools. “Hey, I wonder if we’ll have any classes together.”

“C’mon up later,” Jerome offers, “and we can look at our schedules. Maybe—”

“Mar-tha!” Momma’s howl blasts through the window below me.

I almost fall through the railing. “I’m coming! Shit.” Reluctantly, I drag my seminumb butt up from my perch.

“Yup, just like Aunt Gloria.” Jerome shakes his head mournfully.

“Trade you,” I offer, only half-kidding.

Jerome snorts. “Right. That’s what you say


I unpack the rest of the boxes in less than an hour while Momma sprawls on the saggy couch, sipping Pepsi and watching a soap. Fifty or sixty pounds overweight, with megableached hair that crackles like shredded wheat, she looks nothing at all like the mom who walked me to kindergarten, or braided my hair. Sometimes when she smiles, I’ll see a flash of that old Momma, but she doesn’t smile very much, unless she’s smiling at Wayne.

“I’m all done,” I announce. “Now can I be excused?”

“Excused for what?”

“I want to go upstairs and hang out with Jerome.”

Momma squints intently at a Monistat commercial, then swivels her head in slow-motion back to me. “I don’t think Wayne wants you hangin’ around up there.”

“Why not?”

“Wel-l-l, it’s all boys up there, for one thing. I don’t want you getting into no trouble.”

BOOK: Before, After, and Somebody In Between
9.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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