Authors: Calvin Slater
“Not you too,” Xavier said.
“What you mean by that?”
“I mean, I know what you're gonna get at me about. Between you and my mother, I can't win.”
“I'm still not following you, guy.”
“Much like you, my mother is tryna put her pimp hand down on me at the crib to force me into slingin' prescription pills.”
“Damn, I got the wrong mama.” Romello laughed. “Here I am having to hide my hustle from my peeps and you are getting a free pass to make money. Does she need another kid?”
“So you can't be serious for a minute, man. I'm not trying to get caught up in the quick money. I want an educationâsomething that's going to last me until retirement. Sure, it's not gonna bring me the Rolex, expensive ride, or the fat crib instantly, but in the long run I'll get all those things, without getting my ass locked up like my father.
“Besides, if I'm locked up, who's going to look out for my little brother?”
“It ain't what you think. We ain't getting paper by hustling pills. Zulu is into boosting cars. I know a guy named Slick Eddie at the scrap yard who gives us four to five thousand a pop.”
“Man, I'm not a car thiefâdon't know anything about stealing cars.”
Romello thought about it for a few ticks. “We are not car thieves, homeboy.”
“What you call it then?”
“I prefer to look at it as young men who use different tactics to earn a living while trying to work through growing pains to become successful pillars in our community.”
Xavier couldn't keep from laughing. “You're full of it.”
Romello was a hot mess.
“All I'm asking you to do, X, is to think about it.” Romello looked out at Samantha on the dance floor. “I know you don't have a driver's license, do you?”
“But you can drive, right?”
“This would be a chance for you to make some bread, man. Don't mess up the opportunity. You can be our driver.”
Samantha was out on the floor and getting her groove on. She was dancing with Harvey Wellington, the golden boy of Coleman High. He was the light-skinned, snotty nose quarterback of the Coleman Wolverines, who had all the college recruiters after him. With his constant smoking and drinking, the boy stayed high on the high school campus.
“How are you going to be able to compete with that?” Romello asked Xavier. “That kid has a full ride to the University of Michigan on an athletic scholarship. And look at how he dresses. You know his folks are forking over big bucks on his clothing. Samantha's parents like that white bread, successful fairy-tale stuff for their daughter.” He took another look at Xavier's wardrobe. “You . . . you would be just a ghetto toy.”
“Romello, you're my dog, and sometimes you make sense, but for now, you sound dumb. It ain't all about the clothes, son, but the swagger behind the man. Just sit back, drink your drink, and watch how Daddy handles his business on the dance floor.” Xavier started out to the dance floor.
“She's dancing with the golden boy!” Romello screamed out to Xavier, almost on the ground from laughing.
Romello called for his troops to reassemble at the table to watch Xavier fall flat on his face trying to holler at Samantha.
“I got twenty dollars that he gets into a pushing match with the golden boy,” Romello said, starting a bidding pool.
“I'll take your twenty and add another ten,” Tyson wagered.
“Y'all fools are cheap. I'm going all the way with forty,” Alex said.
After Go Go and Arson threw in their bets, Romello and his crew watched as Xavier finally worked his way through the crowd in to the couple. The music was pumping so loud that Romello couldn't hear the exchange. But what he could see was that Xavier wasted no time in trying to cut in on the golden boy. Harvey rejected Xavier's proposalâjust before giving Xavier a few choice words, no doubt probably putting him in his place. It was funny to Romello and the rest of Zulu when Xavier stuck his finger in Harvey's face and pushed his head back like the boy was the biggest chump on the planet.
Samantha and her friends cleared out to allow the subsequent tussling match, as the crowd formed a circle and watched the two boys throw each other this way and that way. Some guys from the football team came to the aid of their captain. Romello was cool with many of the athletes and he knew they wouldn't jump in.
Romello's fellas looked like they were about to run on the dance floor and flex muscle, but he waved them down with his hand. He knew security had things under control. The bouncers were quick at getting through the crowd and breaking up the ruckus. The head bouncerâwho was Alex's uncleâlooked at Romello for direction. He pointed a finger at Xavier. A slight shake of Romello's head was enough for one of the bouncers to escort Xavier back to his table. Alex's uncle then pointed at Harvey. A nonchalant head gesture from Romello was enough to get Harvey tossed out of the club on his derriere.
“See, Xavier,” Romello scolded. “You need money if you're trying to impress that chick. We're living in the real world, homeboy. No money, brah, and you might as well stick with the gutter rats.”
“Whatever,” Xavier dismissively said.
Samantha was now looking at Xavier from the crowd of confused folks that had been left out on the dance floor. She smiled and shook her head at Xavier. Had he embarrassed her? If he did, he was sure that she wouldn't give him the time of day. But no matter what, he was determined not to get mixed up in anything illegal to get fresh and impress a girl.
Xavier had to admit that things probably would've been a lot worse if he had taken that drink Romello offered. Liquor made people do strange things. He vowed never to take part. Plus, he had to be a role model for his little brother. Alfonso looked up to him. And he wasn't about to let the little dude down by setting a bad example.
Romello also caught Samantha's look. “See, X, don't let that smile throw you. If you ain't got the cash, you're not in her league. I don't give a damn how intelligent you areâno cash, no ass.” The entire crew laughed. “You should really think about my proposal, boss.”
t had taken Xavier only thirty minutes to finish the exam on the first and second acts of Shakespeare's play
on Monday morning. While the rest of the students struggled, Xavier took the rest of the time to plead his case with Samantha.
“Samantha,” he whispered, as Ms. Gorman sat at her desk with her head down, grading papers.
“I told you, Xavier!” Samantha whispered. “I don't date bad boys.”
Xavier glanced toward the teacher's desk to make sure she wasn't looking, then back at Samantha. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean for any of that to jump off. I just wanted to dance with you. I didn't know Wellington would start acting like thatâlike he owned you.”
“That's all water under the bridge, Xavier. Now, please turn around and let me finish my exam.”
“Please give me a chance to explain, yo. I've been thinking about you since you got here.”
“Please turn around and finish your test, Xavier.”
“Finished it ten minutes ago.”
“Well, I suggest you check your answers then, because they might all be wrong.”
“Don't need to. I know this stuff like I know you.”
“Is that right? Well, if you really knew me, you would know that I don't do badâ”
“Yeah, I know. âYou don't do bad boys,'” Xavier repeated, whispering. “I can't do that, though. I know you feel some way about meâyou feel me?”
“Yes,” Ms. Gorman said, “we all can feel you.”
The jig was up. Ms. Gorman had quietly crept up on both of them like she had ninja running through her veins.
“No, Xavier, not this time,” Ms. Gorman said. “I let you kids get away with a lot during our discussions, but you know that I have a strict rule about talking during an examination.” She walked up between Xavier and Samantha and collected their tests. “I want you two to go and explain to Principal Skinner and let him know why you both couldn't wait until after the test to have your discussion.” She wrote up two hall passes. “Both of you go to his office right away.” She scribbled another note and gave it to Xavier. “Take this to him.”
“But it wasn't Samantha's fault,” Xavier protested. “I started talking to her first.”
“Well, Samantha had the choice not to answer you. Instead, she did. So both of you go right now.”
The sinister look that Samantha gave Xavier was enough to let him know that if beheading was legal, and she had access to a guillotine, his head would be rolling around on the floor at her feet by now. She snatched up her things and walked out the door with anger punctuating every step. Xavier grabbed his book bag and slung it over his shoulder. He couldn't win. His every approach had blown up in his face. She would never talk to him now.
Not after this.
He couldn't understand why she wasn't feeling his game.
All the way to the office Xavier tried to plead his case, but Samantha wouldn't budge. She kept her arms folded and eyes straight ahead.
Once they got to the principal's office, Xavier tried everything to convince her of how sorry he was, short of throwing his big body in front of her and begging her forgiveness.
The girl was as cold as ice.
Principal Skinner met with them one at a time. And always the gentleman, Xavier let Samantha go in first. Sista-girl was only in Skinner's office for ten short minutes, but when she exited, Xavier was baffled by her demeanor. Samantha was laughing it up with the principal.
Principal Skinner followed Samantha out his door, laughing and waving at her like she was departing for a long holiday. The principal was a thin black man, wearing a thrift-shop-looking suit, rundown loafers, brown-framed bifocals, and a dome with a hairline that had receded back to the meaty folds of his head.
“Boy, get in here!” was all he said to Xavier. The jolly look on his face was now gone. The school year had just begun, but this was the third time that Xavier had sat in front of this man for doing something stupid. Skinner was more than aware of Xavier's potential, which explained why Xavier was cut so much slack.
“Son, I'm aware that you have been burdened with enormous academic talents. And I know that this power that the Almighty has given you is a challenge, right now, to deal withâbeing that your maturity level has yet to catch up.” Skinner removed his glasses and wiped at the lenses with a microfiber cleaning cloth. He put them back on, peered intently at him as if to hand out a clear verdict of justice. “Samantha told me everything. Leave the young lady alone. And God help you if you appear in front of me again. Do you understand me, Mr. Hunter?”
“Mr. Skinner, all I was trying to doâ”
“Mr. Hunter, do you understand me?”
Xavier sucked in his breath and looked around the giant office. He sorrowfully shook his head. “Yes, sir. I understand. Thank you.”
“Don't thank me. The next time you come in here for anything silly, I will bounce your butt out of here so hard that you will think
was written on your ass. Now get out of my office.”
Romello's words echoed in Xavier's head on his way upstairs. Maybe Samantha really was out of his league. Now that he thought about it, there was nothing wrong with his game. Up until now, he had only used it on hood chicksânever on girls as sophisticated as Samantha. Maybe his clothes
causing her to diss him. But the means to buy high-priced gear by selling prescriptions drugs would come with a painstaking risk.
He toyed around with the idea until he was in front of the door to Ms. Gorman's class. One peek in revealed that Samantha wasn't at her desk or anywhere in the classroom. The time that he'd spent in the principal's office had been more than enough for her to have gotten to class. She should've been there by now. Red flags went off inside his mind when he thought about the auditorium ; students had been known to use the place as an alternate route to classes.
When it wasn't in use, Coleman High's auditorium was a local version of Africa's Serengeti for big game predators. Students had been robbed, girls had been raped, teachers assaulted. Parents had pushed for tougher laws, tighter security, but it wasn't in the school's budget. The administration had tried to do everything within their power to make sure that students were safe by policing that area of the school, but had miserably failed.
He burned down the hallway and almost knocked over a barrel-shaped female teacherâin her arms, several reams of paper.
“Hey, young man, slow down,” she yelled at his fleeting back.
Adrenaline was pumping through his veins, building up for an encounter. He knew a few of the thugs who operated in the auditorium, but others were strangers. Skinner had warned him about causing havoc, but for some unknown reason, he would go through fire for this girl, risking it all if she was in trouble.
He entered the auditorium, immediately looking around. The place was old, ancient, like Methuselahâthe oldest man in the Bibleâhad walked with sandaled feet over the worn burgundy carpets that held a once-colorful tapestry. The six hundred rickety old chairs made of pine wood were adorned with juvenile carvings of dirty words and wads of hard bubblegum stuck underneath the seats. Daylight streamed in through enormous windows with long dusty curtains.
“Take what you want and please let me go!” a voice pleaded from somewhere up in the balcony. It sounded like Samantha's. Xavier wasted no time running in the direction of the stairs, taking them three at a time until he was standing at the top. It was just like he thought. The girl was in trouble. Two mean, rough-looking cats had her cornered on the far side of the balcony. They looked to be outsiders. Xavier had never seen them around campus before. One of them had Samantha by the right wrist and looked like he was trying to get her to go through one of the two exit doors.
“Naw, baby,” said the one that had her by the wrist. “Me and my partner just want to have a little fun with you.”
“Please, take my money and let me go!” screamed Samantha, as she struggled, trying to maintain her balance and not be pulled toward the door.
“I'm gonna need y'all to cut her loose,” Xavier ordered, his voice echoing throughout the auditorium.
The two attackers stopped grabbing Samantha and turned to face Xavier.
“Tukee,” said the one with a long facial scar traveling across his forehead. He was wearing a blue sweatshirt that looked two sizes too small and nylon sweatpants. “Did you hear him? Captain America over there wants us to cut her loose. Ain't that some funny stuff?”
“I heard him, Ricky D,” Tukee said to his partner, sinisterly smirking. “A real hero. It's going to take more than him to make us let her go.” Tukee was a big boy with a bushy beard and wearing a Detroit Tigers baseball cap.
“Come and get some, hero,” Ricky D challenged Xavier.
Xavier quickly sized up the situation. Ricky D was a lot shorter and lighter. The goon would have the most to prove. He would also be the weak link. Xavier would have to knock him out quickly to have any chance against Tukee. This brother was a monster and looked like he was built for smashing fools.
There was nothing but rows of chairs between them. Xavier started slowly walking in their direction. Samantha looked terrified and was crying. Her blouse was ripped and she was badly trembling.
“Don't worry, Samantha,” Xavier said, “I'm not going to let anything happen to you.”
With his left Tukee cracked the knuckles on his right hand. He said to Xavier, “You better be worried about yourself, fam.”
Ricky D was the first to start walking toward Xavier. “We were about to throw a little party for her until you showed up, cuz. Gonna have to show you how we do party crashers, nephew.”
Ricky D walked up on Xavier still running off at the lipâbad mistake! Xavier let loose with a wicked right cross and knocked spit out a Ricky D's mouth. It was nighty night for him. The boy hit the floor with a thud and didn't move.
Xavier yelled at Samantha, “Go get security, now!”
Tukee was smiling, as he watched Samantha snap out of it and disappear through the exit door.
He said, “By the time security gets up here, fool, you gonna be a done deal.”
Xavier kept his focus. He wasn't going to get baited into a trash-talking match with Tukee. One mistake, one slip up, and Xavier could easily wind up on the floor, out cold and next to Ricky D.
Tukee looked like he had learned from his boy not to walk up on Xavier. He hung back with his fist up, ready for combat. Xavier was aggressive this time. Tukee was thick and muscular, but homeboy had weak legs, like he was walking on toothpicks. When Xavier was close enough, Tukee swung on him. Xavier swiftly ducked and stood to the side. He watched as the momentum from Tukee's swing carried him around and left the boy wide open for Xavier's first shot. Xavier went for the outside of Tukee's right knee. He kicked the joint with so much forceâ
âsounded something in Tukee's knee. The boy screamed like he'd lost his mind and fell to the floor, holding his leg in severe pain.
These bums had almost hurt Samantha and for that Xavier wanted to inflict maximum pain on them. As Tukee lay writhing in misery Xavier was lining up his right foot to kick homeboy in the ribs, but good sense prevailed. Tukee had had enough. The boy was wounded and rolling around on the dirty carpets screaming his head off. There was no need to punish him further. It just wasn't in Xavier's spirit to be malicious.
“They're up in the balcony!”
Xavier heard somebody yell from below. The voice was followed by what sounded like millions of feet running up the balcony stairs.
Doug was first to arrive on the scene. He looked at both of the clowns lying on the floor and shook his head. “Xavier, I hope you left enough for us to throw in jail! There's no telling what would've happened to Samantha if you hadn't shown up.”
Xavier asked Doug, “Is she all right?”
He smiled at Xavier. “She's a little shaken but she'll pull through.”
They both watched as a tall and slender security guard brought Ricky D back to consciousness by lightly smacking his face, while two other guards helped Tukee to his feet. Both boys were handcuffed and taken to the security office.