for Everything is Everything Book 1
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
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
Andrea’s Book Blog
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.”
-Miss D, HEROES
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
true, and no holds on the reality, I surprising could not put this
-Heather of A Little
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,
the provisions of sections 106
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.
© 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 Pepper Pace. First
Edition of Everything is Everything book appeared in Scandalous
Heroes book set.
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:
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
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.
“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
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
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
“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
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
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
“He saw us!” Jalissa
“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
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
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
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
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
“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…
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
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
“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
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
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.
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
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
“Hi baby,” Leelah White
greeted her daughter with a big smile as Vanessa climbed into the
“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?”
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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?”
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
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.
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
“Stop,” he muttered
Alphonso rubbed his eyes
and looked up at his brother with a sleepy scowl. “You ain’t in
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.
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
“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
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
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.
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
“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
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
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
“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
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
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
He glanced at her and then
took a double take. The smile fell from his face. “Did you get a
“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?
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.