For the next couple of weeks it was smooth sailing.
Every morning around the same time, the crew would come knocking at my window and I’d sneak out with them. They’d always be real careful to keep the noise down, just in case my aunt and uncle were still home.
We would clear our and do whatever we wanted, but first we would always check on Sugar. He was fine, for the most part. A twisted ankle, wrist that we found out about later, some bruises. That was enough for his mom to be reluctant to let him out with us, though. I also doubt she thought very highly of the group of troublemakers that got his son hurt and now felt guilty about it so came to check on him all the time.
One thing was pretty clear, though. Sugar wasn’t used to being on his own. He was using his mom’s insistence on staying home as an excuse to work on his music, which was what he should be doing considering everything, but he was also becoming more paranoid with each day that passed. He was starting to sound like Jackson.
Kept saying he felt like he was being watched, but he said it in a way that he could brush it off as a joke so none of us took it too seriously. We figured it was a mixture of the reefer Benny would bring him and the painkillers his mom gave him.
I guess I should have spoken up then, might have saved us a lot of heartache, but I was too scared of coming off like the crazy skitzo.
Funny how things work out isn’t it?
You’re allowed to say something, you know? I’m feeling like I’m talking to myself. Interviews are not foreign to me, they’re supposed to be two way conversations of sorts. Makes the interviewee more comfortable and less like you’re just here to judge.
-I’m here to listen Mr. White, not judge. People are curious about you. They want to know more about you, your past. Learn about the moments that led you here. No one wants to hear my story, they want to hear yours.
-Judgement is the last thing you should be worried about with me. Please, continue.
Well, Sugar started getting worried that East Millz was dodging him. He had sent him a few texts and heard nothing back for a couple of days so he got paranoid that he wouldn’t get signed. He also got paranoid that his voice was going weak, that his scars were going to leave him looking hurt, that Juice had gone off the deep end and would come kill him for refusing to sling butter for him.
He was a fucking mess.
So the first chance we got to get him out, we took, but not before I got to know the neighborhood. I finally got to explore areas outside of the park and school. The first place we hit up was a phone store. Random, I know, but it always stuck with me. Drip and Drop had just gotten some new phones and wanted to get some extra memory for them. It was so fucking weird to me, the idea that they wanted to waste money just to buy a tiny chip that would store more useless shit on their phones, but it was also one of the first times that I remember feeling envious. They all looked around the store at things they could get. I wandered around staring at shit I felt I could never afford.
After that, we hit up random places just for the fuck of it. Grocery stores just to cause a mess, public pool so we could look at some cheeks, youth centers to play free pool, empty parking lots to smoke some reefer, but most of all, we would just kick it at AP’s place and just shoot the shit while we played video games.
See, AP’s situation was different, and I didn’t come to learn of it ‘till we crashed his place for the first time. Benny may have had his parents’ toxic relationship to deal with, Jackson his mom’s crazy yet nurturing way of being, and the twin’s excess of children who did not receive enough attention, which seemed pretty ok compared to everyone else, but AP might as well have had no parents at all.
AP’s family wasn’t poor or ghetto. Far from it. They lived in the nicest home out of all of us. They lived in a nice area, had nice things, no reason for AP to be left wanting. Except, of course, his parents.
They’d be gone for weeks at a time on business. Not sure why I never asked what kind of business but they’d just leave him home to fend for himself. During the school year it wasn’t so bad since he had something to fill up his schedule. Most kids might have ditched school but AP wasn’t dumb. He knew that would just make his situation even worse, so he accepted the social life of school and made sure to not flunk his classes. He kept himself occupied, but it’s still not easy to go to bed at night knowing that you’re all alone.
We spent a few days at his place. One of the boys invited the twin’s sister’s friends and I got to see Jackson’s conquest. We had started calling her Wanda the Walrus. She was the opposite of what we used to call a Butterface. I personally couldn’t believe how openly he embraced her, but I guess one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
The girls didn’t really pay me much attention and I wasn’t surprised. They might have been curious at first about the new white boy that had joined the crew, even going as far as one of them running a nail over my jaw and saying, “he’s cute,” as if I wasn’t a real person right in front of her. That had been my one chance, but after that, they ignored me the rest of the time.
Knowing what I know now, I can say it was completely my fault. See, unless you’re some godlike man, like Sugar, girls expect you to put in some work. If you don’t make it known that you want something, they’re never going to give it to you. So I spent the rest of that day quietly watching them at a distance, like usual.
Near the end of the two weeks, the twins and their family had gone out of town so it was the rest of us minus Sugar at AP’s place. Benny and Jackson had both needed to leave early and I was left alone with AP. That’s when I learned more about him than I ever thought I would.
We talked for a long time. Not the empty, bullshit conversations that people normally have, the type Benny would try to turn them into, but a real one. The type where you feel sincerity smoke out with every word in the air, where you feel understood and it doesn’t matter whether they agree with anything you’re saying or have done because they care enough to accept you.
It all made sense then, why AP would always push for all of us to do things together. Why he refused to let go of Sugar despite the clear barriers that had built up over time. He was lonely, and in my eyes, that made him more of a badass than he had been before.
He had seemed untouchable at first, like a celebrity you admire and read about but never expect to ever meet.
That’s not funny.
-Sorry, I just mean, there’s plenty of people that read about you and admire you. Your courage. Sorry, continue.
AP was human now. He was someone I could understand now. Not only was he cool from afar, he was just as cool up close too. He was like me.
“Is it true?” he asked me.
“About what?” I played dumb, but I knew exactly what he was asking. I was more surprised at the fact that none of them had asked me earlier, but I was also thankful they hadn’t. Explaining that shit in front of an audience ain’t easy, but after having a heart to heart with someone, it ain’t that hard either.
“Your parents,” he said.
I stared at the ground, debating on if I should lie or omit some parts, but something told me this would be the only person who would ever hear the truth and truly believe me.
“Did you-?” he started.
“Yeah,” I said, cutting him off before he could say it. I had expected a look of shock, horror as he realized he had allowed a monster into his flock, but instead AP looked sad.
“Your moms too?”
“Might as well,” I said. There was a long silence. I doubt either of us knew how to fill it so I just kept going. “I didn’t do nothing while he kicked the shit outta her, so it might as well have been me.”
I told him everything. Everything. It was the first time I had to anyone. I don’t even know if he had wanted that much info but once I started, it just all dumped out on him. Not just the facts like I had the cops, or the fluff like I had the shrinks either. No, he got the feelings that bled through too.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t cry or nothing, not that I couldn’t’ have because I knew he would have understood, but it may have made a rift between us. I can’t be sure, but I can usually gauge situations pretty well. Back then, we would have called it gay. Now…
When I finished, he just stared at me. His eyes were full of sorrow, as if he had realized for the first time that his life was a bliss in comparison to the shit that other people have to go through.
Only a single word came out of his mouth, “Fuck.”
“Yeah,” I said.
It was a lot for both of us to process so it took a while for both of us to speak again.
“It wasn’t your fault dude,” said AP. “You didn’t kill anyone. Why didn’t you just go to the cops?”
I laughed. “Fourteen year old kid whose parents were junkies and who constantly got into fights at school. Who’s gonna believe anything I have to say? I was fuckin’ terrified.”
“But you hadn’t done anything wrong.”
“It ain’t as easy as Torrance having my back. I had a prior for possession too. Nobody would give a fuck if I’d said I’d been holding it for my old man after the fact. In their eyes, I was a violent junkie.”
“It was self defense,” continued AP as if by him telling me it could somehow change how I had been painted. “Your dad was the fucked up one here.”
“And that’s the only reason why I’m not still in jail. I was clean and they couldn’t prove it wasn’t self defense, no matter how hard they tried. In the eyes of the media and everyone else, though, I was the junkie kid who had mutilated his parents during a frenzy and left them rotting as I ran off to a well known crack park for his next high before being caught a week later.” I clenched my jaw tight as I started at the ground. “Even if I convinced myself that it wasn’t my fault, the world had already decided it was.”
-Guilty before proven innocent, and even after you were it still carried the stench behind you.
You don’t ever come back from that kind of thing. When the media has a good story, they abuse it worse than a street walker. People are quick to discard the bad apple after, and rightfully so. Can’t afford to let it ruin the rest, just in case.
It was getting close to the time I needed to be home so we headed out early and decided to check in on Sugar. His mom was home but he was nowhere to be seen. She had seemed worried but was trying to hide it.
I still feel terrible for her.
AP told her e would go look for him and she smiled an empty smile before giving him a hug and shooing us out.
“I don’t care who thinks you did it,” said AP as we reached my place. “I believe you. I can see the type of person you are, and that’s not you. We know you good.”
It was his way of letting me know that they all knew about it and had talked before. I nodded and clasped hands with him.
“We’ll always have your back,” he continued.
“Wish I could go with you,” I said.
“No worries, I’ll find him.”
I hopped back in through my window right as a knock rapped against the door. I shut the window as quietly as I could.
“Come and eat with us Eric. You’ve spent enough time in there alone,” came my aunt’s shrill voice. I grabbed a book on my desk and sat on my bed, making it seem as if I had been laying down for some time now. She shoved the door open and looked around as if trying to find me guilty of something, anything. “Come on then.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said.
AP never did find Sugar. I did.