I remember the first time I watched AP play ball. It was like watching a hummingbird gracefully absorb all the nutrients a flower has to offer. For a split second, you feel as if you can finally see all its beauty and, in the blink of an eye, it’s gone.
His legs moved so fast you could only catch a glimpse of where they were. When you could finally focus on them enough it was already too late. He would be on to the next and you’d be on your ass.
I never would have thought the both of us would have ended up in the big leagues.
-Why do you say that?
I…I guess I just expected our lives to head in different directions is all.
-Hmm. Can we go back to the beginning of it all?
I’m sure you read my background enough. Not like it’s a secret.
-A background doesn’t tell me your side of things.
Sure…I moved to Juniper City to live with my aunt and uncle when I was 16. It was near the end of the school year, only about a month or so left. Juniper was nice, I guess. Tons better than the shithole I’d just left. Every city has its rough areas, but Juniper’s was more like a pyramid where the bottom was more well off than the top of other places. Don’t get me wrong, it still had its crime zones, gangs, homeless, drugs, but it was more peachie than rotten.
-That’s not how it’s described here.
Then maybe it goes to show you how shitty an area I’d just come from. Or maybe I’m just a positive guy.
-*chuckle* Right. Go on.
I guess I mean, the cops were quick to quiet things down. The surrounding cities may not have had the same luxuries, but Juniper seemed well cared for.
When I got to the school I didn’t know anyone. Had no friends and to make things worse, I was shy. Everyone had formed their own click and most wanted nothing to do with the new kid from the slums of Mattern. All I had was my old man, following me around, reminding me of how they all saw me. They all expected me to be this ghetto kid with bad habits, ready to fuck anyone up at the sign of any disrespect. I was just a timid kid who didn’t want anymore trouble. I just wanted to keep my head down and soak in my misery, but I guess that wasn’t life’s plan.
This kid named Benny approached me one day.
Yeah, Benny. He was one of the troublemakers. Always had something funny to say in class. It wasn’t always funny, but he said it anyway. Loud, a real wiseass, but I could tell he was a good kid. Thought he had to act tough to earn respect but at the heart, he just wanted everyone to love him instead of judge him.
Isn’t that what we all want?
“You off someone and your parents force you to skip so you ain’t get locked up for it?” said Benny. He didn’t realize he had touched a sore subject at the time. I didn’t know if whether I should act offended and tell him off or act friendly and ignore it all together. Class hadn’t started and the teacher wasn’t there yet so all the kids’ eyes were on me.
“I’m just fuckin’ with you!” laughed Benny as he tapped my arm. I forced myself to smile, eager to seem friendly. I’m still not sure if it was for them or myself more. “It’s Eric, right?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Dope,” he said as he nodded his head with a cocky grin. “I’ma call you E. You cool, right?”
Like if Eric was such a long name that you needed to shorten it.
“Sure, I guess.” I said. I must have thought it could never have stuck.
“Right on. So what’s your story E?”
“I don’t really have one.” I lied.
I wasn’t ready to talk about it. Not to him, not to anyone. My aunt and uncle had tried to force it all out of me but I hadn’t said a word. I’ve always wondered if I had talked to them about it when I had first moved in with them, if we would have had a closer relationship together. If I would have better memories of them now.
Shit, I’m sorry. I’m rambling. I’ll get more-
-No, no. This is perfect Eric. The more you can tell me, the better.
-Right, E. I’m surprised you remember all this so well.
You don’t forget the most defining moments of your life.
Anyway, so Benny kept questioning me like a grand inquisitor in front of all the prying eyes. I don’t think I’d ever felt so judged in my life. RIght before the teacher walked in, he invited me to kick it with his crew at lunch. I didn’t have time to answer before class started and the teacher strolled in. I don’t know what would have been worse, telling him yes before so all the kids would have silently continued to judge me during class or what I did do, turn the decision over in my head the entire period only to be forced into a yes regardless of which I had chosen.
I hadn’t wanted to be a hoodlum in the eyes of everyone at school, but I hadn’t had the balls to tell Benny no either and so off to the crew of troublemakers I went.
As soon as class ended, I followed Benny out to the rec yard. There were four of them sitting together over this picnic table. I’d seen them there before. They weren’t the friendliest looking bunch. Quite the opposite actually. They looked like the group of kids you did not want to fuck with, and they were all pretty cocky about it too.
“Sup, motha’ fuckas!” said Benny in his weasel tone as we approached them.
They were seated in a sort of hierarchy. I remember because I’d seen them like this every time I had passed by them before. The tallest kid on the table. On his right, a kid who’s glasses did nothing to soften him. On the bench, a pair of identical twins, stocky couple of fuckers. Truth be told, I’d seen them more than a few times outside of school too, on my way home. I’d walk by this park where they were always at, playing ball nearly every day. I was envious of how tight knit their group was. I yearned for a distraction, I yearned to belong.
“Sup Benny,” said one of the twins. He went by Drop, and his brother by Drip.
“What’s with the new kid?” said Jackson, the one with the glasses.
Benny grabbed my shoulder and pulled me in tight as if he were trying to add intrigue to some good he was selling. “This is E, he’s killed a bitch before.”
I felt my face flush and stammered, “I don’t think I said that.”
They all laughed except for the tallest kid, AP. He just watched me closely as if carefully scoping out his prey. I felt my face burn bright and felt the urge to just walk away. I didn’t, though, and instead found myself grinning alongside them.
“He’s just fuckin’ with you,” said Drip, sounding, well, identical to his brother. I don’t think they ever told me their real names at the time.
-Darian and Dimitri Stevens.
*Nod* “That’s just Benny for ya’.” said Jackson. “Never knows when to stop jokin’.”
“Only time and place for me to stop jokin’ is when your mom’s mou-”
“Shut the fuck up!” said Jackson, pointing his finger at Benny.
“Don’t be so sensitive, man,” said Benny.
“See what I mean?” said Jackson, turning his attention back to me. He rolled his finger into a fist and held it out to me. “Wassup E, I’m Jackson.”
I let go of my backpack strap and bumped fists with him. Drip was closest so he put out his fist. “Drip,” he said and nodded toward his brother, “and that’s my brother Drop in case you couldn’t tell.”
“That’s AP,” said Benny as he patted me on the back and extended his arm toward AP.
There was something about AP that made me look up to him from the moment I first saw the crew. He didn’t need to tell you he was in charge, you just knew. I couldn’t figure out what it was, but I admired how confident he was. How sure he was in his silence and lack of words. He always looked, unstoppable.
He made no sign of getting up or talking, he simply nodded up and continued to watch me. It made me a bit nervous, as if any moment he would decide I did not belong there and no one would question it. He could tell them to beat the shit out of me and all of them would have done it without hesitation.
-Judging by how fondly you speak of him, it’s safe to assume he never did?
*laughter* No, AP was good to me, the whole crew was. We clicked pretty instantly, spent the rest of the lunch shouting shit and getting to know each other. I stayed mostly quiet, listening to them interact and learning what their norm was. It’s where I caught on to Jackson’s first conspiracy in front of me.
“Y’all niggas hear about Juice slingin’ Butter?” said Jackson.
“That shit ain’t real dude,” said Drop.
“Oh, it’s real. Illuminati using it to keep us washed out. Keep us at the bottom as slaves to the system.”
“It’s just a drug, dude.” said Benny, “Next you’re gonna say that that’s how they made the ghosts in the house. That they ain’t actually ghosts and instead have been trickling Butter into our system through the tap water and that’s how everyone be hearing that shit.”
“That wouldn’t be too far out.”
I didn’t know what they were talking about at the time, so I didn’t contribute. I wasn’t the only one, AP never talked during that whole lunch, he just listened, especially when they asked me things. It wasn’t until we were all splitting up to head to our next class that he called out to me.
“Hey E!” he said as I was walking off. I turned quickly and saw they were all standing together. “Why don’t you come play ball with us today after school?”
That’s when I knew I was part of the crew, whether I liked it or not.