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Everything is Everything

Book I

Pepper Pace

Reviews for Everything is Everything Book 1

Pace's creatively unique style had the power to pull me into the lives of these teens. A truly compelling tale with a cliffhanger ending, but the emotional investment is solidly there at the end of the story.

-Michelle Monkou, USA TODAY

This is not a big gangster story at all; it’s a slow romance story that is filled with heartache and sure thrills of swoon moment after swoon moment.”

-It’s Andrea’s Book Blog

Theirs (Vanessa and Scotty) is a young love initially that blossoms to adult love with many outside obstacles that I look forward to reading to see how they conquer them.” 


The adventures they have remind you of being a child, even if you didn't live in the ghetto, but the hard childhood makes the story that much better.”

-Dharp of APB Perspective Reviews

Seriously sad, true, and no holds on the reality, I surprising could not put this book down.”

-Heather of A Little R&R blog

Edited by:

L.S. Lange,

Cover Art:

A.M. Hughes

©Pepper Pace Publications

This novel is a work of fiction. Characters – including their names, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are otherwise used fictitiously. Any similarity from this book to events occurring in real life – including locations, or persons living or dead is wholly coincidental. The use of musical titles and the naming of musical artists, notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.

Copyright © 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 Pepper Pace. First Edition of Everything is Everything book appeared in Scandalous Heroes book set. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever, except for short excerpts appearing in book reviews. For reprint or excerpt permission inquiries, please contact the author by e-mail at:

pepperpace.author@yahoo.com or http://pepperpacefeedback.blogspot.com

Author’s Note

As usual I must give many thanks to the Pepper Pace Team for their tireless assistance. Special thanks go out to my editor L.S. Lange for working under my time constraints, as well as to my beta readers; Leslie, Angel and Evelyn for their invaluable insight and encouragement.

This story of Winton Terrace and Garden Hilltop takes an actual place but depicts a fictional tale. In the 70’s Winton Terrace was a predominately white neighborhood and was far from the ghetto that I describe. In fact, I have very fond memories of my early life in Winton Terrace and my use of this actual place is in no way an attempt to suggest anything less.

This story is dedicated to my mother and father who took my sisters and I out of the projects--and to the mean streets of the Cincinnati suburbs.

Chapter One


“Jalissa! My mama is going to know if you drink that much!” Vanessa reached for the glass of wine held by her cousin but the other girl quickly downed half of it.

“Just put water in the bottle. She won’t know,” Jalissa slurred.

“Don’t drink any more!” Now she regretted ever telling Jalissa that sometimes when her mama was out she took a sip of the wine. Vanessa grabbed the glass from her cousin and then uncapped the bottle and carefully poured the remains back into it.

Vanessa saw that her eleven-year old cousin was pouting. Jalissa sometimes seemed bent on sabotaging things and she wondered if it was because her cousin was mad that she was older. It was only by half a year but Jalissa always brought it up saying things like, ‘You might be older but I’m wiser’. Then her cousin would put her hands on her plump hips and try to look tough.

Well to Vanessa her cousin was tough. Jalissa lived at the bottom of the hill in the projects of Winton Terrace and she always told stories about the dope men that hung out on the corner by the store, or some kid getting snatched and then turning up later only to be taken by 2-4-1 KIDS. If 2-4-1 KIDS took you then you had to live in a foster home—which was the most horrible fate that can befall you. In a foster home you were treated just like some grown ups slave.

Vanessa admired her cousin. She knew everything. So Vanessa forgave her bossiness because they were blood and even if Jalissa sometimes punched her in the arm too hard she didn’t complain. Jalissa was her only friend. And that was no joke. Her mama didn’t allow her to go to the sleepovers at her classmate’s homes and she wasn’t allowed to go to the park or even to someone’s house after school unless it was to Jalissa’s.

But that was not a place that Vanessa ever wanted to go. And since Jalissa loved coming to the top of the hill that is where they mostly hung out.

“Lets listen to Richard Pryor,” Jalissa exclaimed as if she hadn’t just been completely obnoxious. Vanessa ignored her as she concentrated on not spilling a drop of the wine. It would be her getting a whupping and not Jalissa—and her mother would know if it was watered down, she wasn’t dumb.

Jalissa sighed. “Okay I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. Pleeeeeeeease? We can listen to Sparkle and you can be Sparkle this time.” Jalissa had her palms pressed together as if in prayer and Vanessa relented and smiled. She already knew that Jalissa really preferred being Sister from the movie but because Vanessa preferred being Sparkle, Jalissa would always take that role. Once Vanessa had made the mistake of saying that she should be Sparkle because her hair was longer and Jalissa had punched her in the face and called her stuck-up!

Jalissa’s hair was hopeless. She couldn’t even pull it into a ponytail and sometimes she plastered DAX in it just to make ‘baby hair’. Jalissa was short and pudgy but she had dimples that Vanessa secretly wished she had—not knowing that Jalissa secretly wished that she was tall and lanky with long ‘Indian’ hair like Vanessa’s.

The two friends went to the stereo and listened to Richard Pryor for a while before putting on the well-used album from their favorite movie. They had gone to the Regal Theater to watch it no less than five times, sneaking in on two occasions one Saturday when mama was out all day.

The two girls began to shimmy and shake mimicking the dance steps perfectly. Jalissa belted out the lyrics to Giving Him Something He Can Feel but when Look Into Your Heart began to play, Vanessa sang much more quietly but with an intense fervor. Next they played the soundtrack to Lady Sings the Blues and pretended to be Billie Holiday. By that time it was getting dark and time for dinner.

“Is your mama coming home to cook dinner?”

Vanessa shrugged. Her mama said one thing but that didn’t mean she would do it. She would say that she was going to pick her up after school and sometimes Vanessa would wait for half and hour before walking home all the way to the top of the hill—and by that time all of the other kids would have already left and she would have to walk by herself past ‘the building’… and then when she got home she would pray that the key would be under the mat. Most times it was, but when it wasn’t then it got scary.

Her mama had moved them out of the projects of Winton Terrace when she was four years old, but only to the top of the hill in new townhomes called Garden Hilltop. Everyone thought that you had to be rich to live there and Jalissa certainly thought that she was rich. Vanessa had her own bedroom with Princess furniture and dolls and her own record player. She even had an easy bake oven--which was broken, and a tea set that she never played with because there was no one to have tea with.

Vanessa decided that they probably were rich. Her mama had the coolest clothes and drove a Cadillac. When they went places she would put an eight track in the deck and they would start singing; ‘Diamond in the back, sunroof top, digging the scene with a gangsta lean oooh ooh.’

After dinner of pork and beans and wieners the girls retreated to Vanessa’s bedroom. The streetlights had come on and all the kids that played hide and seek and basketball in the large front parking lot had gone home. Vanessa sat in her window seat while Jalissa played with her Barbie dolls. She wasn’t allowed outside when her mama wasn’t home—which was most of the times, so she watched from the window. Sometimes the kids would spot her and beg her to come out with her toys and in embarrassment she would hide behind the curtains and watch them secretly.

Jalissa handed her a Barbie doll and joined her on the window seat. Vanessa accepted the doll but at twelve she had long ago lost interest in playing dolls.

“If you had binoculars I bet we could see straight down the hill and into my house.” Jalissa stated although she didn’t live in a house. She lived in an apartment where it smelled like pee in the hallway.

Vanessa thought that it was strange to look out her bedroom window and be able to see straight down the hill into Winton Terrace. She squinted and saw the distant figure of a boy riding his bike up the hill. He did it most every evening. She knew because she was always in the window watching when he made his circuit up the hill, around their parking lot, up the second hill and then back down to Winton Terrace.

A lot of boys did this but she noticed him specifically because he was white. There were barely any white people in her neighborhood … unless you counted that lady from India but she was blacker than regular black people even if she had white people’s hair.

“Here comes that white boy on his bike,” she said.

Jalissa squinted. And as the figure grew closer and reached the front parking lot Jalissa scowled.

“That’s Scotty. I bet he stole that bike.”

Vanessa looked at her in surprise. “You know him?”

“No!” She hollered in outrage. “He is white trash. They say his mama sales her coochie on Vine Street!” Jalissa hid behind the curtains and yelled out the partially opened window. “White boy! Whatchu doing up here?!”

Vanessa gasped and hid behind the curtains too. She peeked out but the boy didn’t appear to have heard them. Jalissa continued to yell at him calling him whitey, honky, cracker as he continued up the second hill. He wasn’t really a boy in the sense that he was older than them probably already a teenager.

Vanessa’s heart was pounding. She had never called anyone names like that and her face felt hot. She knew it was wrong but it was exciting listening to Jalissa cussing.

Soon Scotty came back down the second hill and Vanessa called out trying to think of something to say. “I see you Scotty but you don’t see me! Haha!”

Jalissa slapped her arm and hard. “Why did you say his name?!” She hissed.

Scotty turned his head in the direction of their parking lot for the first time acknowledging their calls.

He never stopped pedaling but she heard him clear as day, “You better turn out your light. Your mama’s coming,” and then he was on his way back down the hill to Winton Terrace.

Vanessa’s eyes widened when she saw Her mama’s Cadillac heading up the hill.

“Oh my God!” Vanessa scampered away from the window seat and hurried to turn out the light.

“He saw us!” Jalissa squealed.

“No we were behind the curtain-” Vanessa stated.

“But the light was on, so he could probably see us!” The girls quickly scampered into bed. There was school tomorrow and they were supposed to be in bed by nine—regardless of whether or not her mama was home.

“Scotty is going to beat me up … ” Jalissa whined.

Vanessa was scared. That boy knew who her mama was. That meant he also knew who she was.

The next day at school Vanessa stayed on her Ps and Qs. If Scotty was going to beat her up then it would happen at school, which is the only opportunity that she got to spend any real time playing with her peers. Vanessa looked forward to a time when she was old enough to enter the big building for more than just lunch and library. But for today she felt lucky that the older kids had class in the main building while her schooling occurred in one of the many trailers made to accommodate all of the children that crowded the ghetto. Next year she would be in the seventh grade and would finally move into that building which held a type of mystique for her. For now the drafty trailers with a window fan in summer and space a heater in winter was all she knew about school.

Vanessa listened to Mrs. Broachcamp talking about apartheid which she knew was like slave times. She knew about slavery because her and her mama had watched a show called Roots on TV a few months ago. She felt guilty that she had made fun of a person just for being white. People used to make fun of her for having long hair and not looking black enough even though she wasn’t light skinned at all.

Vanessa had a milk chocolate complexion with dark eyes and hair. But she also had a narrow nose and ‘good’ hair.

Your Daddy white?’

No. My Daddy’s black!’

Her mother had told her that her father had Indian in his blood but that he was black and beautiful—only he died when she was still a baby. Black was beautiful. Everybody talked about how proud you should be of being black and how they had come from King’s. But when you didn’t quite fit into that mold you were left feeling not quite as beautiful.

She should never have made fun of that boy because he was different. He probably got it worse than she did. She never liked the way it felt when people pointed out her ‘white people hair’ and her narrow nose. For a while she had stuffed tissues into her nostrils hoping to stretch them but when her nose began to hurt and she sneezed blood she was forced to stop.

At recess Vanessa hurried to the girl’s clubhouse, which was under the stairs of one of the abandoned trailers. It was one of the few times during the day that she got to hang out with Jalissa who had been held back one year so she was in the fifth instead of the sixth grade.

There was a girl’s ‘gang’ and they were eight strong. Girls needed to band together for protection against the boys so all of the girls kept together during recess. Otherwise something bad could happen like what the boys had done to the new girl that had joined her class.

Donald Miller had caught the girl alone behind the trailer and had made her pull her dress up and her panties down and then all of the boys had taken a look at her. Girls didn’t even wear dresses to school just for that reason. Why didn’t the new girl know that even if she did come from a different school?

The girl never returned to school and none of the boys had gotten into trouble over it because no one could say which boys had been involved. For that reason the girls stuck together because now the boys were even bolder. Now the boys wanted to play tag and instead of hitting you they grabbed your booty or pinched your chest.

“Hey cuz,” Jalissa said while popping Fruit Stripe gum. She must have had the entire huge package in her mouth because all you could smell under the trailer was sugary fruit.

Vanessa ducked beneath the trailer and found a place to sit between her cousin and Carmella Green.

“Hey. You seen him?” Jalissa managed through a wad of gum.


“Seen who?” A girl with neatly braided hair asked. Her name was Sally but everyone called her Sal since they had to sing that song in music class that went; I had a mule, her name was Sal; fifteen miles on the Erie Canal…

“Scotty Tremont,” Vanessa replied while trying to avoid the loose dirt by her feet so they wouldn’t get her white sneakers dirty.

Jalissa glared at Sal and rolled her eyes.

“Nobody. Mind your business, Sal.”

Sally gave her cousin a narrowed eyed look. “Who you showing off for, girl?” She then turned her attention back to Vanessa. “Why you looking for Scotty?”

Vanessa looked from Sal to Jalissa who silently threatened to cream her if she talked. Vanessa tried to think of a way to change the subject.

“We ain’t looking for him,” she muttered. “I just want to avoid him.”

“Ha, he steal something from you?”

“Yup!” Another girl hollered. “He stole money out of the teacher’s purse one time and then he got kicked out of school for a week!”

“He’s just trying to be like Tino.” Malinda said while spitting sunflower seed shells onto the ground.

Vanessa scowled in disapproval. “Why do you say that? Just because they’re both white?” She was about to declare that all white people weren’t dope boys and criminals like Tino—because if her suspicions were right Tino was more than just bad news, he was a killer. Malinda continued before she could.

“Nah, girl, because Tino and Scotty are brothers.”

Vanessa sank into misery at that news. Her heart began to thump painfully in her chest. She wanted to cry. Scotty was bad enough but Tino was real bad news. He was sixteen or seventeen and had dropped out of school long ago. All he did was shoot dope, steal and beat people up. He would do just about anything for money. He would snatch a chain off your neck or stick you up for your shoes. He’d been in and out of juvie and they said the next time he got busted he was going to jail.

They had to be wrong about this. The two boys couldn’t be brothers because Tino was a Puerto Rican and Scotty was white. And then Vanessa considered the fact that looks didn’t always mean anything. After all she looked like she was mixed and she wasn’t.

Vanessa thought the most frightening thing about Tino is that he was as gorgeous as he was bad. He looked like Epstein from Welcome Back Kotter. He even sported an Afro and sideburns that looked as good as any of the black guys that he hung with.

This time it was Vanessa’s turn to glare at Jalissa. “Did you know about this?”

Her cousin’s mouth popped open. “Well you should have never said his name, dummy!” Jalissa’s eyes began to fill with tears.

“You two are cousins, don’t fight.” Theresa said. She was twelve like Vanessa but already had breasts the size of a grown lady. This only made her think that she should be the unofficial leader of the gang, which everyone pretty much agreed with. “Nobody’s going to get you while you’re in school. We’re gonna have y’all backs.” Both cousins suddenly looked relieved. “What did you do to him anyways?”

Vanessa continued to glare at her cousin. “Jalissa called him a honky.”

There were several ooohs and aahhs. “Damn J. You got guts,” Theresa cussed in admiration.

Suddenly Jalissa didn’t look like she wanted to cry but puffed out her chest. She resumed popping her gum, “I was like ‘Whatchu doing up here white boy!’”

The girls oohed and aahed again, impressed by the gutsy eleven-year old. From there the conversation moved to how cute Tino was. However Vanessa had seen Tino do two things that would never allow her see him as anything but someone to run from.

The first thing is that she saw him throw a match into someone’s car. He was just casually walking down the street and lighting a cigarette. As he walked he tossed the lit match into the open window of the car … and just kept walking. Later she heard that the car had caught on fire and people said that it could have blown up. What she found most unnerving about it is that Tino hadn’t been with anyone. He’d done something like that and it wasn’t to impress his friends.

The second reason she was terrified of Tino—and by far the worst thing is that she suspected something very bad about him, something that he didn’t know she suspected.

There were many things about the ghetto that scared Vanessa; boys that might catch you and do something bad to you, the dope man … and the vacant building where they had found the dead little girl. And Vanessa suspected Tino was responsible for the little girl’s death.

Chapter Two

Mama was waiting for her when she came out of the trailer after school. A smile crossed Vanessa’s face when she saw the white Cadillac with its red interior. Mama was wearing sunglasses and she looked hip like Pam Greer from the movie Coffy. They had seen it at the drive-in even though it showed women with their shirts off. But she didn’t care about that. They always showed that kind of movie at the drive-in and at the Regal Theater and she’d always watched them despite the R-rating.

People said that her mother was beautiful and Vanessa agreed but was more impressed with just how cool she was. Her mother had to be the best-dressed person at Cincinnati Bell Telephone where she worked in collections. Some nights she also worked at a club where she tended bar whenever they needed the extra help. That meant a lot of times she was gone at night especially on the weekends, which is when Vanessa missed her most.

“Hi baby,” Leelah White greeted her daughter with a big smile as Vanessa climbed into the driver’s seat.

“Hi.” She slammed the door and then threw her jacket into the backseat. Leelah slipped a tape into the deck and Sly and The Family Stone’s If You Want Me To Stay began playing. “You hungry? Let’s go to Tico Taco for dinner. How’s that sound?”

“Yeah!” Vanessa cheered.

As they drove Leelah began to sing and then Vanessa joined her, both mimicking Sly’s screams and shouts and laughing as they did so.

That night while her mother soaked in the bathtub Vanessa watched for the streetlights to go out. Once all of the kids had gone in for the night Vanessa turned off the lamp in her bedroom and stood just behind the curtain. She waited there until she saw the glint of spokes on the hill heading out of the ghetto and toward the hilltop.

Her heart began to hammer in her chest and she stepped back from the curtain. She stood in the shadows but could still see out. A moment later a lone figure could be seen pedaling a bike towards the townhomes of Garden Hilltop.

Scotty Tremont pedaled fast as if the hounds of hell were at his heels. He never stopped to rest but once he got to the parking lot right outside her complex Scotty stood and coasted expertly balancing on the ten-speed. As he ended his circuit, he began pedaling rapidly again, climbing to the second level parking lot where he disappeared from sight long enough to complete the second circuit. She didn’t realize that she was holding her breath until he reappeared and it came out in a gush.

Blonde hair flowed in the air behind him as he pedaled down the steep incline. If she was riding her bike down that hill she would have applied breaks but he didn’t. It seemed as if he wanted to break a speed limit, that maybe he was trying to fly…

Scotty barely felt the chill in the air even though he was just wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. The elements didn’t much bother him after so many years of no heat in winter and no air conditioning in the summer.

By the time he got to the court where he lived Scotty was winded. He had raced a car and nearly won except that the asshole had burned rubber to get past him. The apartment door was unlocked—as always and he wheeled his bike into the living room and propped it up against the wall out of the way so no one would trip over it.

Someone was crying while someone else was having an argument with another someone else. Scotty tuned out the sound of his little brothers and sisters and walked into the dirty kitchen.

The baby was in the high chair eating soupy Ramen noodles, which were congealing on the tray of the high chair. His seven year old sister Ginger was dunking a hotdog bun into her soup and EJ was arguing with his twin sister over something that had happened on T.V. Scotty quickly counted heads and saw that two of his younger siblings were missing.

“Hey!” He shouted over the racket. “Where’s Phonso and Beady?”

“She’s with her Grandma,” Ginger said while twirling noodles with her fork. “And Phonso’s still outside.”

His jaw clenched. “I’m going to kill him,” he muttered as he headed for the door. It opened just as he reached for it and Tino entered.

“Hold up, where you going?”

Scotty tried to slip past his brother. “I’m going to look for Phonso.”

Tino gripped his arm. “Leave him. He’s with Jaydog. He’ll be home when he’s done eating.”

Jaydog was Tino’s buddy and he worked in a greasy spoon where they sold something that passed for soul food. Scotty noted that Tino was holding a bag from the very same restaurant, and it carried the aroma of warm food; food, which included meat. He followed his brother back into the house and into the kitchen where Tino tossed the bag of squashed hamburgers onto the table.

EJ was the first to reach it and he dug his hands into the sack only seconds before Erica snatched it, ripping the paper sack and causing foil wrapped burgers to rain down onto the table.

Scotty retrieved one and watched as Tino tickled the baby’s chin before opening the fridge and searching for a nonexistent beer.

“I don’t know why I bother trying to keep beer in the house.” Tino growled before slamming the door of the refrigerator. “Where is she?” He barked out in annoyance, referring to their mother. Ginger shrugged her shoulders her mouth filled with delicious burger.

“I want to go to Beady’s grandmother’s house,” she stated.

EJ, who was nine and therefore older, scowled. “You can’t because she’s not your grandmother.”

Ginger’s green eyes which held a perpetually confused cast, settled on him. “So. Her grandma is nice and she buys her dolls.”

EJ scoffed. “She don’t want you. You’re white!”

Ginger frowned. “I don’t care-”

“Well she don’t want nothing to do with you so case is closed!”

“Shut up EJ,” Scotty said while taking a second bite of his burger. He was just going in for the next bite when Tino knocked it out of his hand and to the floor.

Scotty gave him an incredulous look. “Why and the hell did you do that-?”

Tino smacked him playfully in the head only it really did hurt. “Let’s go make a beer run.” Tino was bigger than Scotty although both boys were nearly six feet tall. But it seemed that where Tino probably wouldn’t become much taller, Scotty was destined to be the height of a successful basketball player. And where Scotty was wiry with a slight build, Tino was built like a football player.

The differences didn’t stop there. The older boy had a darker complexion matched by dark brown eyes and thick unruly hair, which he wore in an Afro. His Latin good looks had also created a young man who was charismatic and who could talk his way into or out of any and everything that he wanted.

Scotty, on the other hand was fair with grey-blue eyes and blonde hair, and since he stayed outside more than inside his paler skin had a golden cast. Although the two brothers physically had very little in common they still bore an unmistakable resemblance to their mother, which marked them as siblings.

Despite the fact that Scotty had better things to do than to run around with Tino—he was at the end of a book that he wanted to finish tonight, he followed his brother out into the night. The older boy lit a cigarette and passed it to Scotty who accepted it but didn’t return it. They walked toward Winton road even though King’s Run had several Quick Marts, however Tino and Scotty had long ago been banned from entering those stores after being busted shoplifting one time too many.

“I need food,” Scotty muttered, thinking about his burger, which was probably still scattered over the kitchen floor. His stomach grumbled and Tino put his arm around his neck.


Scotty pushed his brother away. He knew that Tino could go from playful to insane in a flash so he knew to keep hold of his annoyance. Tino had beaten him up more times than he could remember—sometimes just for opening the door to the bedroom when his brother wanted privacy.

The bigger boy released him, losing interest in harassing him as he spotted some of his friends. “Come on!” Tino headed for the street where a group of teens were smoking and laughing. Scotty reluctantly followed. He just wanted something to eat and then to chill with his book, but it was going to be another long night. The group of teens and young men slapped hands, greeting each other loudly.

“What we into tonight?” Tino asked.

A tall black man named Antonio slapped Tino’s shoulder. His gold front tooth gleamed in the night. It had a streak of lightening, which Antonio seemed to always smile wide enough so that it couldn’t be missed. “Just looking for a party, my man.”

Tino shrugged. “Lets get some booze and hit the river.” They could make their own party there with the car running, headlights burning and music spilling from the speakers. The sight of the Ohio River hitting the Serpentine Wall and the sound of the cars driving along the overpass created an atmosphere that allowed the young men freedom to be themselves.

They filled two cars and as they drove down Vine Street they passed a group of streetwalkers and Tino rolled down his window and shouted.

“Go home and take care of your fucking kids!”

The guys in the car laughed and the whores screamed back at them and gave the car full of young men rude gestures. Tino wasn’t laughing and neither was Scotty. One of those whores was their mother and if she recognized the voice of her oldest son it didn’t register as she gave them the double bird and screamed curses after them. Scotty sat silently feeling hot and cold, sad and mad, too wise and too old.

They drove across the river to Kentucky and pulled up to a gas station. Three guys exited wearing ski masks; one of them was Tino. When they returned at a run moments later each young man carried a case of beer. The car skid away while Tino laughed. He tossed his brother a pack of chocolate covered donuts.


When Scotty awoke the next day the sun was high. He cursed and sat up where he had been sleeping on the couch. Last night he’d fallen asleep in the car at about 3 am and Tino had dragged him home at the crack of dawn.

Scotty noted that the apartment was quiet, which was nice. Everyone must have been in school. Scotty stood and stretched and then entered the kitchen. Two foil wrapped burgers remained on the table and he picked up one of them and sniffed. A moment later he chomped into it, stepped over the trash on the floor, ignored the dirty dishes covering every surface and headed for the refrigerator. He grinned when he saw an unopened case of beer.

He grabbed a beer and sat at the kitchen table where he enjoyed his breakfast. Afterwards he went upstairs where he peed and then checked for the whereabouts of his mother. She was asleep in her room, his little brother wide-awake and smelling like dirty diaper. He didn’t try to be quiet as he picked up the eight month old. He didn’t have to be. TyTy was loudly engaged in baby talk while sitting on their Mother’s bed drooling and playing with the things he had dragged out of her purse. He gave Scotty a happy squeal when the boy scooped him up.

“You stink.”

He sat the baby on the bathroom counter and ran warm water in the sink. He gave him a quick washing and then slipped a clean disposable diaper on him. He propped the otherwise naked baby on his hip and quietly opened the door to the second of three bedrooms. Phonso was on one of the floor mattresses asleep. He was twelve and despite having a white mother he was dark and looked totally black just as his father apparently was.

Scotty cursed and then nudged him roughly awake with his shoe. “Phonso. You’re skipping too many days of school. Get up!” The younger boy pushed at his brother’s foot.

“Stop,” he muttered sleepily.

“Get up!”

Alphonso rubbed his eyes and looked up at his brother with a sleepy scowl. “You ain’t in school either!”

Scotty rummaged through a basket of clean clothes. There was no use in folding them and putting them away. Once clothes were washed they stayed in the basket until it was empty and time to do more laundry.

“I’ve only skipped three days.” He looked over his shoulder at his brother. “How many days have you missed?”

Alphonso got up muttering curses and staring daggers at his older brother. He knew the rules. If someone called 2-4-1-Kids on them because of truancy then everyone was going into foster care—which wasn’t half as bad as the fact that Scotty and Tino would then beat the living hell out of him. It had happened before.

After peeing Alphonso went downstairs. Scotty thrust the freshly dressed baby into his arms.

“Feed him.”

The younger boy propped the baby up on his hip expertly and looked outraged. “Feed him what?”

“Mix some of that powdered milk in with some cream of wheat. There’s like two boxes of cream of wheat.” Scotty hurried upstairs to shower while his brother whined and cursed.

“You shoulda took your ass to school,” was Scotty’s response.

After his shower Scotty wiped the fog from the mirror and stared blankly at his reflection. He was fourteen and he was tired. He stared into the reflection of his blue-grey eyes, which spiraled infinitely through limitless versions of himself. He smelled beer and onions on his breath so he brushed his teeth and then grabbed the comb from the medicine chest and combed his damp hair back where it would soon dry into longish blond strands that would brush his shoulders. When he cared enough he could then feather it back from his face like Vinny Babarino from Welcome Back Kotter. But most times it just hung in his eyes to be swept behind his ears. He thought he looked okay for a melanin deficient kid living in a mostly black housing project.

He found clean boxers, put on the jeans that he had worn the night before and then pulled on a plain white t-shirt. He listened at Tino’s door and heard his snores. He didn’t bother opening it because he was mean when he was awakened too early. He hurried down the stairs and into the kitchen where Tyrone was in his high chair scooping lukewarm cream of wheat into his mouth with his fingers and Alphonso sat at the table with his breakfast of beer and day old hamburger.

It was the end of the month and the pantry had slim pickings, hence the steady diet of Ramen noodles for the last three days. He let his mother do whatever she wanted with the welfare check but not the food stamps. They needed to eat and as long as Tracy Tremont fed her children they didn’t have many complaints against her.

Scotty stood in the doorway and watched the two youngsters. I’ll see you in school tomorrow.”

Alphonso burped. “You going to hunt me down?”

“No. I’m just going to walk past your classroom, Phonso.” The younger boy smirked. “And if you’re not in there I’m telling Tino.” The smile fell from the younger boy’s lips. Tino had broken his wrist several years ago and every since, Scotty had done everything in his power to keep the older boy from ‘punishing’ him again. Scotty had then been thrust into the role as the non-violent disciplinarian.

Alphonso couldn’t believe that Scotty would ever sic Crazy-man on him. But he studied his brother’s eyes and believed him. Truancy would mean being taken away. Being taken away would mean the end of Tino’s fun. The end of Tino’s fun meant that someone would have to pay.

Alphonso finally rolled his eyes. “I’ll be there.”

Scotty left without his bike, knowing that Alphonso would take it, but he considered it a type of peace offering for reading him the riot act. No … he wouldn’t tell Tino. He’d never do that to any of the kids.

Knowing to avoid truancy officers, Scotty went to G’s house. Garry was sixteen and Scotty’s best friend. He had also dropped out of school last year. G and two other guys were already over there. It was the hangout spot because G’s Mom worked during the day and his brothers and sisters would be at school and couldn’t tell on them for smoking and drinking.

He’d known G all of his life--since before he’d even gone to nursery school. He was just a neighborhood kid but unlike most of the kids he didn’t treat Scotty any different just because of his melanin deficiency.

Blue and Kareem were the other two guys and he liked them okay so decided to cop a squat.

“Yo, Scotty.” The two friends slapped hands. The older boy was sitting on the floor in front of the T.V. where he had hooked up the Atari game system that he’d gotten a few months back. Everybody always fought for a turn to play on it except Scotty who still preferred playing a simple game of pinball. The Atari sounded cool and looked fancy but he still preferred being at the arcade then sitting in someone’s swampy house.

“Yo, G. Wassup man?” Scotty replied while ending the intricate hand-slapping greeting.

“Hey Kareem, give my man a turn!” G nudged the other player.

The young man’s brow shot up. “What? Man, I’m about to cream your ass, now you want to skip?”

Scotty reclined on the couch. “Nah, go ahead. I’ll watch.”

G play boxed Kareem. “You about to cream you nasty mutha fucker?”

“Shut the fuck up and play, yo!”

Blue passed Scotty a joint and he swallowed back his distaste and just passed it on. He and drugs just didn’t mix. He had walked into the bedroom once to see Tino shoving a needle into his arm. He had been so stunned that he had just stood there staring. Of course he knew his brother smoked pot but he couldn’t believe that he would skin pop after watching their mother do it for most of their lives. He remembered wondering why people were so stupid to waste their hard earned money on dope. They risked their livelihood doing something illegal or immoral to make money, only to just shoot it up into their veins. He vowed that it would be different with him. Every bit of cash he made would go to making a better life for himself.

He stared at the game that was playing on the television screen and his eyes became glazed as the sound of his friends droned on around him and another day in the life of Scotty Tremont came and passed.

Chapter Three

Vanessa waited fifteen minutes after her mother left for work just in case she came back. Sometimes she did that, came back because she had forgotten something or other. Once she felt enough time had passed she grabbed some Barbies, a jump rope and then headed outside. Vanessa didn’t do this often. For one thing she was afraid that someone would tell on her, but mostly because her mother’s schedule in the evenings was unpredictable and she might dash home for dinner and then run right back out or she might be extra long at the bar and not return until after 2 a.m.

It didn’t take long for Vanessa’s toys to draw the attention of the neighborhood kids, who played with her because she had the best toys ever. Playing with the toys soon led to games of tag and Mother May I. Vanessa and the other children laughed and ran through the parking lot, but never going further than that because even though Vanessa’s mother wasn’t present, she knew that the parking lot was her safe zone and beyond that bad things could happen.

The streetlights flickered on a short time later and the little girls ran off to their homes yelling goodbye. Vanessa smiled happily and then gathered up her toys and went back into her house. She ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and had a glass of milk for dinner. She turned on the stereo and played the Jackson 5 until she got tired of dancing and singing ABC and I Want You Back and her all time favorite; Ben. She didn’t care if it was a song about a rat. One day she was going to marry a man named Ben and sing that song to him.

She was carrying her Barbies upstairs when she remembered that she hadn’t brought her jump rope into the house.

Vanessa’s eyes widened. If her mama saw the jump rope outside…She dropped the dolls to the floor and dashed down the stairs. She pulled back the drapes and squinted out the window to see if mama’s car was making its way up the hill. Not many cars came up this way; generally just the people that lived up here. There weren’t any stores or schools or anything else but townhomes in Garden Hilltop.

Vanessa took a deep breath and then unlocked the door and dashed out into the night. There were different levels of wrong. Yes it was wrong to go outside during the day when her mother wasn’t home. But it was definitely wrong to go outside at night when there was absolutely no one around to help her if something ‘bad’ happened. Bad was a word that caused her to think of the dead little girl in the building down the hill ...

She quickly scanned the ground outside of her house, already nervous but not just because her mother might find out, but also because it was dark outside. Not seeing the rope on her stoop, she considered that one of those little heffas had stolen it. And then she saw a gleam of color in the grass at the edge of the parking lot. Now she remembered dropping the jump rope, with its yellow plastic handholds, there when they started playing tag. In relief she crossed the parking lot, and sure enough there was her jump rope, partially concealed by the weeds and grass.

But Vanessa didn’t immediately pick it up. Her mouth parted as she took in the sight of the starlit sky above her and the twinkling artificial lights of the homes below her. She forgot to be scared as the beauty of the velvety night began to take the place of her fear. The moon sat like a huge light bulb above everything and the magnitude of her place in the universe struck her. She was just one little girl standing in one parking lot in one city of her country on one world among many planets and stars that made up the Milky Way which was just one galaxy in the entire universe ...

The idea if it was overwhelming. She stared into the sky as she tried to fathom the concept that she was…nothing. Insignificant. A speck.

Movement caught her attention and in alarm she saw the familiar bike rapidly approaching from the winding hill that led from Winton Terrace. She squealed in alarm and darted back across the parking lot and towards the safety of her house. She was half there when she remembered that she didn’t have the jump rope. Vanessa stopped and indecisively did a dance that took her one step back to the rope and then a hop towards the safety of her home before she repeated it.

She had to get the rope! Someone would steal it or mama would see it and that would be it for her. She turned just as Scotty Tremont’s bike entered her parking lot, alarmed at how quickly he had arrived but terrified when she realized that he was heading toward her!

Another squeak of fear escaped her lips as she dashed back to the edge of the lot, running faster than she had ever run before—even faster than she would run past that building. She snatched at the rope at the same time that her body changed position to make the sprint back in the opposite direction. She looked like she had just been passed the baton in an Olympic race. Now she could hear the smooth metallic sound of bike pedals and she risked a glance in that direction.

Scotty Tremont was staring right at her and instead of coasting the circumference of the parking lot like he normally did he was peddling faster, his legs pumping rapidly as he closed the distance between them.

She yelped in terror and then immediately tripped over the looped end of the rope and went skidding across the gravel parking lot. Face down, palms down, knees scraping she felt the sting of her skin being peeled back and a teeth-clattering moment later her mouth slammed to the ground and pain exploded at the exact moment that her two front teeth ran through her bottom lip.

For just one second the world was quiet and still around her. She didn’t even hear the bike and rider approaching her; she didn’t see the stars or the small rocks that were now buried in her palms and knees. She didn’t taste the blood that filled her mouth nor the pain that would soon be nearly unbearable at her chipped and loosened teeth. The world was just an infinite place where nothing meant anything—not even a little girl lying on a parking lot in a city within a country on this world called earth, which was apart of the many other planets that made of the galaxy, which crowded the universe.

But the next second her cries of pain filled the night, the clatter of a bike dropping to the ground and the rapid footfalls of sneakered feet hitting the pavement was Vanessa’s new universe … and of course pain.

A hand reached for her arm and she cringed, only the touch wasn’t rough and it didn’t bring pain. Two hands helped to lift her into a sitting position and she held up her bleeding palms but didn’t otherwise look at them, she just stared fearfully into Scotty Tremont’s blue and grey eyes.

Scotty’s brow gathered as he stared at the gruesome sight of the bloodied girl. She was pretty scraped up but wasn’t crying. She was just staring at him in shock. What in the hell was she doing out in the night wearing just pajamas?

As he took in the sight of her bloody palms his expression calmed. It was pretty bad. Hiding his grimace he took one of her hands and gently removed small rocks that were embedded in the heel of her palm. When he thought he’d found them all he reached for the other hand and did the same.

When he was finished he met her eyes again and the little girl was watching him in surprise. He looked at her knees and masked the look of disgust at the sight of the layers of skin, which had been scraped away to reveal blood-coated flesh. She surprised him when she didn’t make a sound as he picked out the gravel burrowed in her flesh. He scanned her for more injuries and then suddenly frowned.

“You are in so much trouble.” Vanessa tensed and her heart slammed against her narrow ribcage. She shied away from him. “There is no way that you’re going to hide this from your mother,” he continued and Vanessa’s eyes widened as she realized the truth of those words. Those words cut through the fear that she had only a short moment ago felt for him. Yet despite the sudden awareness that she was destined to be in trouble for sure and should be darting back to the house to hide the evidence of her crime—she just had to know.

“How do you know me?”

Scotty stood and headed back to his bike. “Your mother drives a white Cadillac.” He climbed back on his bike and continued his circuit around her parking lot. She sat there and watched him until he headed up the smaller hill to the second parking lot. He turned his head swiftly and looked at her.

“Go in the house Vanessa.” And then he was gone.

Slowly she made it to her feet despite the pain that settled into her scrapes like knife wounds. She wanted to be in the house before he came back down the hill. She wanted to understand why Scotty hadn’t beat her up or run her over, but more importantly she wanted to know why he knew her name just because he knew that her mother drove a white Cadillac.

The next morning Vanessa got up and out of bed before her mother came into wake her up. She ran to the bathroom and looked at her face in the mirror, hoping that she would have healed overnight.

“Oh my God … ” she whimpered. It was worse. Her lips were so swollen that it looked like a baboon’s butt. It was still bloody too. When she opened her mouth her chipped tooth was pretty obvious and there was no way that she could ever conceal that. Now she could clearly see the evidence of other injuries like scratches on her nose and chin. She looked at her hands, which were bruised and purple and then she pulled up the legs of a fresh pair of pajamas that she had put on after she had buried the ripped and bloody pair in the bottom of the garbage.

Blood had seeped from around the bandages on her knees and now they were stuck to her. Tears blurred her eyes but she had no choice but to face her mother and to take her punishment.

Leelah was just swinging her legs out of bed when Vanessa walked slowly into her bedroom.

“You’re up earl-” The words froze on her lips at the sight of her beaten child. “Oh my God, Vanessa, baby girl!” She said while leaping out of bed. “My God, baby, what happened?!” She grabbed her daughter’s arms roughly and searched her swollen face.

Vanessa had thought of all kinds of lies from being jumped to falling down the stairs but each story had holes and she would rather take the punishment and have it over with.

Vanessa met her mother’s worried eyes. “I went…I went outside yesterday.” The color literally drained from her mother’s face. Her lips parted but no words came out. Vanessa continued. “I was playing tag and I fell in the parking lot.”

Vanessa waited but nothing happened. Her mother just stared at her in shock that slowly transformed into something else. The look of worry finally retreated to be replaced with anger—no, not just anger but something much worse than that.

Leelah straightened and placed her hand on her hips, her head cocked in disbelief as she stared down at her child that had broken the supreme rule that existed in their household; Do. Not. Go. Outside.

“You are not telling me that you have been going outside when I’m not home, are you?” Before Vanessa could answer her mother continued. “I know you are not telling me that all of this time I thought your little ass was safe at home you’ve been running around with those little bad-ass kids while I’m working!”

Vanessa shook her head to deny it but her mother pointed to the closet. “Get the belt! And hurry up!” The tears began even before the words were completely out of her mother’s mouth. She got the belt out of her mama’s closet and she snatched it out of her hands and gestured to the bed. “Over the bed! Now!”

Sobbing Vanessa lay across her mother’s unmade bed. She squeezed her eyes closed and waited for the first painful strike of the belt. Waiting for the first hit was the worst and her legs began to shake as she cried. It took her a moment to realize that the belt hadn’t landed. A moment later she dared to look behind her and mama was just rubbing her forehead and it looked like tears were in her eyes.

“Get up Vanessa,” she said quietly. In disbelief Vanessa stood but stayed tensed as if her mother would swing the belt like a whip and strike her across the body.

When her mother didn’t move for a long time, Vanessa whispered. “I’m sorry mama.”

Leelah wouldn’t look at her. “Go get dressed and eat your breakfast.”

Vanessa hurried out of the room with an understanding that she might have gotten out of a whupping but something had changed just now—and it probably wasn’t going to be in her favor.

At school everybody thought she had gotten jumped because she was so messed up. Even when she said she fell and showed them the evidence of gravel in the heel of her palms they still didn’t believe her. And at recess Jalissa took one look at her and began bawling like a baby.

“Scotty got you!” She cried. “When?”

“J, I fell,” Vanessa tried to explain.

But Jalissa’s tears was evidence enough for everyone that, as far as the sixth grade class of Winton Hills School was concerned, Vanessa White had been jumped by Tino’s brother. And because she had survived it she was pretty bad-ass.

At lunch when it was time to go into the main building, Vanessa strained to catch sight of the older boy. She didn’t always see him but today she did. He was walking with a gang of boys and he stood out because he was the only white person in the group. But he looked really cool. He was wearing cut off jeans and hightop Converse. He was also wearing a sleeveless Los Angeles Lakers t-shirt with Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s name across the front.

His blonde hair flowed over his shoulders and his blue eyes twinkled with merriment as he laughed with his boys. Vanessa’s breath caught in her chest at the sight of him. It seemed that the world had slowed. Scotty Tremont. Her eyes stayed glued to him until someone pushed her from behind.


It was Donald and she quickly moved out of his way. Some of the girls crowded around her when they saw Scotty and she appreciated the show of protection but she really wished that they would just believe that he hadn’t jumped her, but she had just tripped and fallen.

Jalissa lowered her eyes and gulped as he passed them.

“Hi Scotty.” Vanessa said quietly.

He glanced at her and then took a double take. The smile fell from his face. “Did you get a whipping?”


“Good deal.” He nodded and continued on with his friends.

The girls looked at her incredulously. “You talked to him!” Rochelle said in awe.

Vanessa grinned and then regretted it when her lip stung. “See! I told you.”

Jalissa looked so relieved that she looped her arm around her cousin’s neck and walked with her to lunch even though she would probably get into trouble for leaving her own classmates.

After school Vanessa paced along the sidewalk but it was evident that she was going to have to walk home. Mama was late again. She looked up the long hill towards Garden Hilltop and sighed and began the long trek alone.

It was October and some people had hung paper jack-o lanterns in their windows. Nobody wasted money on pumpkins—not in the ghetto, not unless you wanted to wake up the next day with it stomped to smithereens and smeared all over your door and window.

As she walked purposely up the hill she saw some of the kids from school already outside playing hopscotch on the sidewalk and stickball in the street. These were not the kids that she wanted to play with. These kids were the ones that would taunt her or pull her hair or truly jump her in earnest. Not because she had hair that ran down her back but because she lived at the top of the hill and thought she was better than they were.

So she averted her eyes and just walked towards home. Soon she left behind the playing children and came upon the ugly complexes that had not yet been torn down. One building in particular was set to be demolished but still it stood with boarded up windows and doors. A few of those boards had been torn down and now lay scattered across the tall grass. People went inside that building; mostly teens. She didn’t know why. Why would someone want to go into a building where a little girl had been found raped and murdered?

Chapter Four

That spring every kid in school had talked about nothing else but eleven-year-old Yolanda Washington. She had gone missing one night, not returning home after the streetlights had come on. Some people said she was fast and ran wild, but even they didn’t think that she would stay away for days. The police had been driving up and down the streets that spring, interviewing people, checking cars and had even taken the little girl’s father to jail but had released him when they found no evidence against him.

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