“Now still a good time…” I state.
It’s after school. I was supposed to meet him here. He’s standing there dressed in all black sweats and a baseball cap turned backward. Desta smiles when he sees me. It’s as though he’s really happy to see me. I smile back. For some reason, I’m kind of happy to see him too.
“Yeah…” he starts.
Just when he is saying that I hear a car zooming around the corner. It’s playing loud music. I look at Desta at that moment. There is this look of real fear in his eyes. Real fucking fear.
“Fuck…” he states.
“What is it?” I ask then stare at the car approaching, “Who is it?”
“My dad. Act like you don’t know me.”
“He’s a Suwoo OG. Act like you don’t know me,” he tells me again, “Wait. Here take my gym bag. He’d kill me if he saw me dancing.”
There was legit fear in his eyes at that moment. I immediately grab his gym bag and put in some earphones. I turn away from him and start walking even though there is no music playing in the earphones. It look like we are just walking by each other. In the corner of my eyes though I see the car pull up. I see this guy sitting in the passenger seat. There is a smell of weed coming out of the car.
“Where the fuck you been?” Desta’s father says aggressively through the window.
He’s real aggressive. More aggressive than I care for. I turn back and luckily he’s too busy to notice me. A part of me wants to go over there and intervene especially when I see the guy hop out of the car. It’s the look in Desta’s eyes that I’m worried about. There is real fear in those eyes. What the hell was all that about?
“Dad wait…please,” Desta states.
Desta puts his hands up as his dad approaches. I turn back almost immediately. I am ready to do something. I’m not sure what but I’m ready to do something. ANYTHING. I wasn’t going to let this dude just hit on a poor kid who wasn’t ready to defend himself.
But Desta’s father doesn’t hit him. He hugs him.
“I’m so happy I found you.”
I’m just as confused as Desta is when it happens. Desta is just standing there all limp and shit. He’s not sure how to react to the fact that his dad is hugging him.
“What’s going on?”
“We getting a new house.”
“I found a way to get your Aunt Tonetta to give us some money that your mother left us. Legally. Spoke to a lawyer. You just have to sign these papers here and I’ll be able to claim the money for you. Then we can move out Aunt’s house.”
“We are buying a house in the Bottom?”
Desta’s father looks at him, “The Bottom? Fuck the Bottom. We’re moving away.”
It’s awkward on the way to my house to practice for the upcoming event. I’d only heard parts of the conversation between Desta and his father but what I did know was that they were planning on moving away. It wasn’t my business. I shouldn’t feel some type of way but it kind of is that same feeling you get when a good friend tells you that he’s moving away. Of course, that’s the weird thing. Desta and I weren’t good friends. A part of me, some hidden part maybe thought we were going to be friends.
I want to ask Desta about this but…I don’t.
A part of me just can’t.
“Welcome to my humble abode,” I state.
I walk him into my house. I don’t know why I’m nervous. It’s fucking stupid really. I’d invited Rosa to my spot and I’d never gotten nervous. I think maybe it’s because he was in a rival gang. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’d just found out Matais was back in town. I wasn’t sure why Matais was back or what he wanted but I knew that this had just made my life more complicated.
“Smells like Goya seasoning…” he states.
With all the shit that’s going on in my life, I’m shocked that I have the ability to laugh at it. I know he doesn’t mean anything by it. I watch as he walks into the house and I follow close behind him. My eyes are just watching him for some reason. Why am I staring so damn hard?
I shake the thought away and realize my mother is cooking. It must be why he smelled the goya. She comes out of the kitchen.
“This your sister?” Desta asks.
“Ooh…I like him already,” Ma says as she walks in on us and gives us a warm smile, “Whose this.”
“This is my friend Desta. Desta this is my mother,” I state.
Desta smiles at her, “Is that you cooking back there? You never told me your mother is so blessed, Santana.”
He’s slick too slick. I don’t realize I’m doing it before I’m doing it. I’m grabbing Desta close putting him in a chokehold and quickly muttering, “Watch it, Casanova.” I forget that this guy and I aren’t really friends in that moment. I forget we are in rival gangs. As soon as I realize it I push him away and think about putting up my guard to block an attack. Desta must have forgotten that we are enemies too because when he looks up at me he’s actually smiling amused about my playful gesture and not the slightest bit offended. In fact, he is laughing.
I’m so shocked by it that I’m just staring at him.
“You boys want dinner.”
“No dinner ma…we are about to rehearse for a performance,” I let her know, “You want something to drink Desta.”
“Just some water.”
My mom doesn’t skip a beat to follow me into the kitchen. She follows me to the cabinets where I’m getting Desta some water. I watch her watch me. I shrug and kind of roll my eyes to find out what the hell she wants. She just has this wide stupid smile on her face that I don’t even understand at this point.
“Mijo, he’s cute,” she states.
It’s rare that my mother likes any of my friends. The way he says he’s cute though at that moment was weird. It was like she was excited about something. I’m not quite sure what. Clearly, my mother wasn’t some pedophile cougar so she wasn’t interested for herself.
Was she trying to say?
“It is NOT like that,” I immediately state when I realize what she’s trying to imply.
“Why not?” she asks, “He’s handsome. He’s polite. He has a good smile. You know what your Abuela says about smiles. Smiles are the windows to the soul, mijo. He has a good one.”
“Because it’s just not like THAT.”
That’s when she says the weirdest thing.
“Well, it can be.”
I don’t respond to her. I have my water by now and having this kind of conversation with my mother wasn’t something that I really wanted to engage in right now. I just turn and start walking away as quickly as I can trying to avoid my mother.
By the time I get downstairs, I completely forget that the water was for Desta and realize I’m drinking it as hard as I can trying to get the awkward conversation I just had with my mother out of my mouth.
“Damn, rude…” he states.
He’s standing there. He’s already changed into his tights. Fuck. What the fuck was he wearing?
“Yo my fault,” I state turning around, “I should uh…I’ll go get you some more.”
I needed a minute. I needed a breath of fresh air. I needed something. I don’t know what. Why the fuck was I freaking out like this? The basement is empty. My Abuela set it up for me when she knew that I was coming down. She knew I liked to dance. Still, even though it’s empty with Desta down here it just felt a lot smaller.
“I’m good. You changing?” he asks.
“I don’t wear tights man.”
“Too good for tights?”
He does a 360 with a huge smile on his face to show me his tights. Fuck. The things clung to his ass when I see him turn around to the point that they had made a wedge up his ass crack. His shirt covered his front a little bit but there was no way to hide that huge round figure that was trailing behind him. I press up against the door. What the fuck was I thinking? I had to snap out of it. This wasn’t me. Not anymore. Whatever I was feeling with guys had been years ago. It was a phase and I’d learned from Matais never to have a phase like that before.
“Nah I mean they’re cool. Just not my thing. You can wear them though. I mean they look good on your or whatever. Not like that. No homo with that comment. Um…”
I sounded so fucking gay. If it wasn’t worse than I was stumbling around my words I realize that I had been staring. I had been staring SO hard. I turn away. I lean up against the wall. I get real chill. Yeah, this is better Santana. Just be cool and shit. Don’t trip.
“Relax I got the idea from when we were in the alley. Like I said it was a mistake. It won’t happen again. So stop acting weird. You going to keep chillin on the wall or you want to start?”
“Gladly,” I state realizing this would be the best way to get this off of it, “So I am going to choreograph the hip-hop part of the dance and you can do the ballet, whimsical shit?”
“Whimsical?” he laughs, “You got jokes.”
I smile back, “Just teasing you. C`mon lets start. We’ll start with an 8 count.”
“8 counts. Please tell me you know what an 8 count is.”
“I never went to a fancy dance school man.”
“Professional dancers usually count out songs by eight counts to help ensure dancers sync with each other and the choreographed dance syncs with the music. Feel the pulse of the beat naturally and count from one to eight throughout the song, making a notation in the lyrics where the first, middle, and last counts fall. Here. I’ll start the music. Follow my lead.”
I start the song:
Kiki, do you love me? Are you riding?
Say you’ll never ever leave from beside me
‘Cause I want ya, and I need ya
And I’m down for you always
KB, do you love me? Are you riding?
Say you’ll never ever leave from beside me
‘Cause I want ya, and I need ya
And I’m down for you always
We do it over and over. The routine, in general, is hard to categorize, but it consists of a mixture of isolation dance moves, footwork, and musically hitting the beat of the song. I’m shocked at how fast he picks it up. It’s literally he’s able to repeat everything I show him with no problems at all. Before long he’s adding random shit to it.
“What if I hopped over your head here?” he asks.
“Hop over my head. You are having way too much fun with this,” I state.
“Something like that.”
“I’ll think about it. I need a break,” I state, “I thought you wouldn’t be able to keep up with me. You’re really talented man.”
“You are the one that choreographed this,” he tells me, “You’re the talented one.”
“Sure you right, you right,” I state.
“You’re so goddam cocky.”
“I’m just messing with you.”
“Nah,” he states, “I like it. It’s dope. I wish I was that…I don’t know.”
He collapses to the floor taking a breath. By now we are both sweating. The sweat is getting to me so bad that I take off my shirt and throw it across the room. I don’t think he notices but then I turn back over to him and realize that he’s looking at my abs.
He wasn’t checking me out. He couldn’t possibly be. Right?
“Your dad always so aggressive?” I ask.
He shakes his head, “Something like that. He just wants me to be like him I guess. Says I take up after my mother too much.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“My mother wasn’t the strongest individual. She never was. Most of the people on my mom’s side aren’t the strongest individuals. And it’s like we keep repeating it…over and over. Just weak minded people playing at being strong. Seems like my dad could sense that weakness a mile away.”
“Isn’t Coach C on your mom’s side. He’s nowhere near weak.”
“Well explain to me how he lost his ability to walk.”
“Yeah,” he grunts, “That was my dad.”
Fuck. What kind of person did that to someone like Coach C. Coach C wasn’t the type to bother anyone? He was the type to help people. I look over at Desta. I feel sorry for him. Knowing that he grew up with that kind of father was sort of deep.
“Yo—Coach C ain’t weak. I don’t give a fuck about him being a cripple. That don’t make him weak. And neither are you.”
“Then why do I let my dad run over me over and over. Knowing how things will end. Just like my dad. It’s a fuckin curse.”
“You have a good heart. That doesn’t make you weak. That makes you a good person and a good friend.”
There is a pause.
He turns to me, slow.
“Can I ask you something man?”
“We talk a lot.”
“Like a lot more than I even talk to some of my friends. And I need to ask you something.”
Fuck. My stomach is turning a little.
That’s not what I said. Not exactly, but I see the way he looks at me. I look back at him.
“Yeah, guess we are,” I state, “And you know what that means?”
“We got to watch each other’s back. I don’t give a fuck about your family curse. You are dope as fuck. You are strong as fuck to me. You are talented as fuck to me. And leave it up to me and I’ll make sure the whole world knows about it. Yo—homie! Did I say something wrong?”
I notice he has these tears in his eyes. They were real tears. What the fuck?
He was crying.
“No,” he responds, “You didn’t.”
“You hear me yo—” Prince states.
“What?” I said, “I wasn’t listening.”
“I said M83 got a new leader. His name Matais. They want to meet up and do a ceasefire. Make peace and shit,” Prince states.
It’s the school’s basketball game. Barber High was playing some nearby school. I wasn’t looking at the game. I wasn’t paying attention to what Prince and the rest of my gang were talking about either. I was looking over at the other side of the bleachers. There I see Rosa, Anna, Katrina, and Portia. They were on the benches. Of course, Barber had their own cheering squad but no one was really on them. Everyone was looking at Rosa and the girls from my dance team.
They were stepping.
“All we drop is bombs, you can call us Pearl Harbor.
You might need to watch your head, cause we cutting ‘cause we Barber!”
The rhythm shakes up the bleachers but it doesn’t sound quite as loud until I watch surprisingly as Santana and Tip Toe join in the dance. They echo these complex rhythms and sounds as they pound their feet in unison. There was a mixture of footsteps, chanting, and hand claps. It seemed like they were making it up on the go. It was just fly as fuck.
I make eye contact with Santana. He motions for me to come over and join them, but I don’t. Santana was tripping. Half the damn school was in this basketball game and he was here doing a step dance with a bunch of girls on the bleachers like it was nothing. This was someone who everyone assumed was some heavy gangbanger.
He was tripping.
“He doesn’t care about that shit,” my boy Trae says, “He’s over there watching them motherfuckers cheerlead and shit.”
“There are some dudes over there,” Ricky says, “That’s some gay shit.”
I feel a foot kick me slightly. Not enough for anyone else to notice but enough for me to jerk to attention. I notice the person kicking me is none other than Prince. I know why he’s doing it too. He wants me to stop looking over there. I turn away from watching my dance team. Truth is I want to be over there. I want to be dancing with them.
“They think they better than us,” another one of the boys says, “Fucking broke ass Chris Brown, Ciara motherfuckers. If they don’t sit they ass down. Ain’t none of them gonna be shit.”
There is laughter. All in unison. Prince joins them with the laughter. This was the first time the dance team was out in public and it was clear we both assumed the reaction would be negative but not negative. None of these guys were giving the dance team props for killing it. They were laughing at them. They were laughing at the fact that these people were dreamers.
“I know, especially the dudes,” Prince agrees with the boys, “What kind of fag joins a dance team?”
I can’t believe Prince. He doesn’t give two fucks about selling us out like this. He was on that goddam team. It gets awkward which luckily stops by the boys whistling because Prissy and her girls are walking up to us. Prissy could care less about the boys in school. She was one of the prettier girls in school if not the one that most guys basically drooled over. It wasn’t just her looks though. It was her presence. She had a trail of nameless girls following her just wanting to be around her. Prissy had ALWAYS been THAT bitch since 3rd grade and I don’t think anyone was really taking her crown anytime soon.
“Katrina wants you,” Prissy says.
She says it loud enough for everyone to hear. There was no soft talking with Prissy. When she spoke everyone basically had to listen to her. Her ghetto-ness was something that her mother despised about her but that was just Prissy. She was a loud, ghetto girl. It didn’t matter how pretty she was.
“Yeah nigga!” she states, “Katrina! Over there. With the curly hair on the dance team. She wants you to come over there.”
I look over at the dance team. Portia and the others were sure enough on the other side of the bleachers. I was just happy they hadn’t fuckin’ come over here themselves. That wouldn’t be good.
I look over and see that sure enough, Portia was standing there. Right next to Katrina was Rosa and Santana. This wasn’t a coincidence. He probably was trying to get me over there to dance with them through Katrina. I knew why. Katrina was a popular girl in school. She was the only one on the dance team besides me and Prince that people really knew like that. Of course, people wondered about Santana but he was still way too knew. She could afford to be on the dance team though. She was a girl.
“What the fuck do they want?” Trae asks me.
“Man, he doesn’t know those fools,” Prince interrupts almost immediately.
“She seemed like she knew him,” Prissy states, “Maybe she wants him to join the dance team.”
Laughter. They were mocking what Prissy said.
“My nigga ain’t joining the dance team, fuck outta here Prissy,” one of the guys laughs her off.
They don’t even look at me. It’s a joke to them that they don’t take seriously.
“I don’t know what’s so funny,” Prissy rolls her eyes, “At least they trying to get out of here. As soon as I get the opportunity to get out of the Bottom, I’m taking it. Unlike you bum ass niggas.”
“Girl shut the fuck up. You ain’t never goin anywhere,” Prince tells his sister.
“Bet. I got an opportunity coming up right now,” Prissy snaps her neck.
I get up.
“I’m about to just go holla Katrina real quick,” I tell the boys, “Find out what she wants.”
I get up off the bleachers and walk away from them. I can tell Prince doesn’t agree with me but none of the guys seem to find it suspicious. Katrina was a pretty girl. I assumed they thought I was just trying to get with her. Walking towards her though I knew better.
As I approach the group I watch them all looking a little bit anxious as I approach.
“Destiny?” I ask.
“That’s your nickname,” Rosa states with a smile, “Hurricane Katrina, Porsche Portia, Tip Toe, Sandman We made them up on the fly. I’m Roses.”
She says it with this wide smile. They all are smiling. I’m not used to motherfuckers just happy to see me like this. Not really. My homeboys were never really happy to have me around. It’s not like they really gave a fuck about me smoking with them or chilling with them. At least they never really showed it. I turn back towards Prince and the others. I’m not surprised that Prince is watching from a distance.
“A bunch of us are going to show each other the routines we came up with,” Santana states and rests his hand on his head a little bit, “We were hoping…ergh…”
“He wants to know if you wanna come with us,” Katrina interrupts, “I don’t know why guys feel like they are too damn cool to be friends with someone.”
I stop for a minute. I think about it.
“Man—come on!” Tip Toe gets all excited, “It’ll be fun man. We’re a group now. We all got this thing in common and—and—”
Tip Toe is really excited. The smile is spread all across his cheeks. I remember the first time Santana showed me who Alvin Ailey was. It was the same sort of excitement. They all had it. They were all looking at me as though expecting something from me.
“You’re one of the best dancers we got,” Portia adds in.
“You belong with us,” Katrina responds.
Tip Toe is the one whose all in my face. He has the body of a damn 13-year-old but I swear his energy is something that has the ability to spread like wildfire. This was someone who really didn’t have any friends and for the first time, it really seemed like he found a place that he belonged. He found a place he could call home.
But was this place for me.
“I can’t,” I state.
Tip Toe isn’t taking no for an answer, “Come on Destiny.”
“He said he doesn’t want to go,” Santana interrupts Tip Toe cutting him off almost immediately, “Besides he probably has to go chill with Prince and do his you know, thing…”
He thought I was blowing them off to gangbang.
“That’s not it,” I state.
“You don’t got to explain shit to me.”
“Yeah. I do. I want to go. It’s just my father is picking me up. We’re taking a trip to Fort Lauderdale. We’ve been looking at houses. I found a house. We’re going to take a look at it. We might go ahead and make an offer on it if we both like it.”
“Oh shit!” Rosa states, “Congratulations.”
They all congratulate me one at a time. Real happy for me. By now the game is over. People are leaving. I look over at Santana. He gets quiet.
“You good, Santana?” Rosa asks out of nowhere.
It’s almost like she can read him. I can as well. While the others congratulate me he kind of shifts to the background. He gets quiet. It’s hard to read him. He doesn’t say anything.
Santana doesn’t respond to Rosa. He just walks away.
I’m standing outside waiting for my father. I’m thinking about everything. I think about the congrats that I was getting. Tip Toe basically made a comment about me being one of the few people to get out. I knew what he meant by it. He meant I was one of the few people that would make it out of the Bottom. The thought roles through my head wondering how much money my mother saved up to get me out of the hood. I wonder how she got it. How much did she have to sacrifice for it? I sit there waiting for my dad. He’s a little bit late.
“You mind if I wait here with you?” a voice states.
Santana. He has a hoodie on. He’s dressed in all black. I thought he was someone walking up on me or some shit. No one is around now. Everyone is pretty much gone by now. I’m surprised he’s there. Even with a fucking hoodie on he looks so fucking sexy. He stares over at me, gives me a hard squint. The kind of squint that makes me smile a little bit.
“I thought you were dancing.”
“Hard to show the others a partner dance choreography without your partner,” he explains with a slight smile, “Besides we friends right. I ain’t about to let you chill out here alone. I don’t let my homies do that.”
“I ain’t Rosa,” I laugh, “I don’t need your protection. My dad will probably be pullin’ up any minute now.”
“You don’t want to be here when he does.”
“I won’t be,” he responds, “We’ll play it off like we did before. We don’t get to speak. We can stand at a distance. I just want to make sure you’re safe out here while you wait for him. If that’s OK with you?”
I want to ask why. I want to ask why he gives a fuck. I don’t though.
I just shrug.
There is silence. I’m surprised when he waits with me. It’s kind of…I don’t know…nice. It’s lowkey one of the most loyal things someone has ever done with me. Just to wait with me in silence. It’s not like we were having some thought-provoking conversation to make him stay. I wasn’t even entertaining him but that doesn’t stop him from staying there. That doesn’t stop him from just standing there, putting up his hoodie and waiting.
20 minutes pass. 30 minutes. I ring my dad’s phone. He doesn’t pick up.
“You sure he’s going to show up?” he asks.
“You don’t have to wait man.”
“Me waiting isn’t the problem,” he states, “I’m not going to leave you. I already said that. I just want to make sure you’re safe. It’s getting late man. Motherfuckers already setting for you.”
He attempts to come a little closer, maybe strike up a conversation to pass the time. I move away from him. I do it intentionally. My dad was going to show up. I knew it and I didn’t want my dad to see me with Santana. It wasn’t about me. My dad would beat me up. I was used to that. He wouldn’t kill me though. If my dad saw me with Santana he would snap. I knew he would. He didn’t even need to know who he was. He’d just fucking snap. No explanation. Nothing.
An hour pass. An hour 30. I call my father over and over. It keeps ringing. Then it goes to voicemail. It just goes to fucking voicemail. That’s what happens when someone blocks you right? No, he wouldn’t. His phone probably died. 2 hours. 4 hours.
I am texting my Aunts asking where he is and as I’m texting my hands are shaking. It’s shaking so hard that I can barely press send.
“You good?” he asks.
“Yo mind your fuckin business,” I tell Santana.
My hands are shaking. I’m snapping on him. I don’t mean to. I don’t want to. I can’t help it though. I’m embarrassed as fuck and the last thing I want is Santana to be here right now seeing me like this. We were supposed to be in Miami right now. We were supposed to be looking at houses. Father and son. My father had explained this to me.
Yo—some shit was in my eye. It had to be. A lot of shit was in my eyes. I was tearing up. Oh, fuck! I look over and see that Santana is looking at my eyes.
“Come here,” he states.
He doesn’t take that for an answer, “Come the fuck over here before I chase your ass down.”
I don’t move. Something was in my damn eyes. That’s all. I’m sitting here crying like a bitch right now. Tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t help it and for some reason, through all that tough shit I feel him grab me. He pushes my head down into his hoodie so that it can absorb my tears. He wraps his arms around me. He holds me there in the darkness. I don’t know how long I cry there. It seems like forever.
Even when a car is pulling up he doesn’t let me go. I turn my head, but I know it isn’t my father. He wasn’t going to show up. The person sees me standing there with this stranger holding me, almost damn near swaddling me.
It’s my Aunt Claudia.
“Get in the fuckin’ car, stupid.”
She calls me stupid right in front of Santana. Santana isn’t hugging me anymore but he is close. He’s real close. It’s as though he knows I need his support right now.
“I’m not in the fuckin mood Aunty. I didn’t text you to come pick me up. I told you what I’m doing waiting here. I’m waiting for my dad.”
Aunt Claudia shakes her head, “Yo why you so fuckin stupid? You get that shit from your mother—rest in peace. I swear! Stop being dumb. He’s not going to show up.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yeah, I do. I talked to Tone. Your father told Tone he was taking the money and ran off.”