Port Gibson, Mississippi (JACKSON WALCOTT)…
“Girl, I still can’t believe that my parents dropped this bomb on me the moment I’m supposed to get ready for finals,” I lamented as I sat down at my desk and began to look over my notes for Chemistry. “I mean, I knew that Dad was going to be laid off at McNeil and McNeal since he wasn’t a true part of their precious ‘family investment firm,’ but for him and Mom to announce that we’re moving to California during summer vacation? Come on! I got big plans for my vacation and I’ll miss out on everything!”
My friend Tanya Ackland just chuckled over the phone. “You know Mr. Baz and his way of breaking the news,” she teased, “but yeah, you and I did have plans to find some new adventures here in Port Gibson and even tour Alcorn State so we can be prepared for senior year. But maybe it’s for the best that you do move out of here.”
I sat up in my chair. “What?” I said, not wanting to believe in what Tanya was saying. “Please tell me that you’re not actually agreeing with my parents.”
“Just hear me out on this,” I heard her reply. “I’m just saying that you’re still living in the Magnolia State that is still facing civil rights unrest, even more so with all of these racial tensions going on today. Remember the Freddie Gray incident over in B-More?”
“Yeah, that really got all of Altimare High buzzing,” I replied, sitting back in my desk chair. “And don’t forget about the other incidents with the police- the woman who died in that prison cell over in Texas after being roughened up by police and thrown in jail. The school newspaper had to pull back the gossip column for a while to talk about the racial inequalities. But what does this has to do with me?”
I heard Tanya sigh. “It means that anyone can get attacked just for being Black,” she replied. “And with you in Port Gibson, there’s no telling if the Ku Klux Klan is starting up again to keep us Blacks in place. Racism is still a hot topic right now, even with the Civil Rights Act still in play. And besides, you might find a bit more stability in California.”
I grunted. “Yeah, but I’m not too keen on being a beach bum over in Crystal Pointe, even if Aunt Bernie and Uncle Charlie want me to-“
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Tanya cut me off. “You’re moving to Crystal Pointe, the beachside town not far from LA? Boy, you hit the jackpot! Crystal Pointe, alongside the neighboring towns of Emerald Valley and Glynne Ridge, are buzzing with celebrities and politicians who are vacationing in the summer and holiday seasons. You never said anything about your cousin living there.”
I harrumphed. “Yeah, my cousin Xavier needed to get out of Fort Worth and move down there,” I replied. “Even more so since he was basically threatened by his old bullies with death if he returned to Tubman Memorial High and he wasn’t a nerd anymore.”
A pause, then, “You did mentioned that your cousin wasn’t liked since he wasn’t a gangbanger or a football-minded brother like his classmates. Anyway, you might be surprised on all the latest stuff that’s bound to go down in Crystal Pointe in Cali. And, didn’t you say that you would do anything to have a summer vacation that would be headlining for your career as a gossip columnist?”
I thought for a moment. “I did,” I replied.
“So, what are you waiting for? I know that I’ll miss you like crazy and I’ll have to find a freshman to train as the next gossip columnist for the school newspaper. But you’re have hit the lotto, Jax. You need to take this time to get ready for your, and I quote you, ‘Fabulous Summer Vacation’ and make sure to have the best memories of your life. You never know if you don’t try. And besides, your cousin Zay may have met a celebrity or two and became fast friends.”
My eyes widened. “I never thought about that,” I said as I stood up out of my chair. “Mom and Dad did say that Zay was the talk of the town at his new school. And with us going to the same school in the fall, I can be the next hot topic. Thanks for talking sense into me, girl. I better go. I have dinner in ten and I’ll tell them about my decision.”
“You do that,” Tanya replied. “We’ll talk later, ’kay?”
“Got it,” I said before disconnecting.
So, my name’s Jackson Ri’chard Walcott, the son of a financial investment consultant (Dad) and a self-employed interior designer (Mom). And as you can tell, my folks decided that it was time for our family to leave Mississippi behind and join our relatives from Texas in California, with Dad being laid off at the family-owned (emphasis on the “family”) investment firm over in Vicksburg while working as a mailroom clerk. And while they already had plans of finding new jobs (Dad was given a new position over at Aunt Bernie’s accounting firm where she works at while Mom was her own boss), I wasn’t too keen on moving to an unfamiliar place where I hardly knew anyone other than my favorite cousin Xavier Reeves. But Tanya was right when it came down to the racial tensions that were still thick in the air. Blacks here were still more than likely to turn up either missing or dead if we weren’t careful. Plus, maybe it was high time to find something new.
“Jackson, dinner’s ready,” I heard the voice of my mom holler from the kitchen.
“coming,” I replied and leaving my studies behind as I joined the table, my statuesque mother setting a plate of baked chicken in front of my beanpole-thin father before handing a similar plate to me. “I talked to Tanya earlier and she agreed with you two saying that the move will be good for me.”
“She always did agree with us,” Dad said firmly. “Got a good head on her shoulders.”
“Did she tell you that you might spend time with your cousin Zay and his friends?” Mom asked as she fixed herself a plate.
I nodded. “She thought that I had hit the jackpot and that I might see a celebrity or two over in Crystal Pointe.”
My parents grinned widely. “Well, if we know Zay then there might be a chance of you rubbing elbows with the high society,” Dad joked before we paused to say grace.
“Well, I do love to find new adventures, just so long as I don’t cause any trouble,” I replied as I dug into some rice. “I’m not reckless like the ‘professional’ gossip bloggers. All I want is to find some sort of adventure that will really set my career as a future writer on fire.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” Mom warned, handing me a glass that was filled with iced tea. “You just focus on graduating from high school, like Xavier is.”
“I am,” I promised her. “And you might want to let Aunt Bernie and Uncle Charlie know that I am coming to stay with them for the summer while you get everything on the move.”
“Are you sure?” Dad asked me. “You’re welcome to stay here in Mississippi and-“
I cut him off with a wave of my hand. “Nah. Besides, I’m sure that Zay would be glad for me to stay with him, given the fact that he’s still healing after Coretta’s death.”
Mom smiled. “The two of you were always close, even after he was beaten up by his sister and his old classmates,” she replied. “Well then, you might want to tell your teachers that you’ll be moving to the Golden State and plan a farewell party by the Altimare Chronicle.”
Dad raised his glass in a toast. “To Crystal Pointe,” he announced. “This is a new day for the Walcott clan. A new era that is promised to be full of surprises and a lot of unexpected journeys.”
“To Crystal Pointe,” Mom and I cheered as we clinked glasses with Dad’s. Maybe Tanya was right. Maybe this move would be the best thing that was going to happen for me.
Sanders Springs, Georgia (Quentin Woodlawn)
My name is Quentin. Quentin Booker Woodlawn.
I’m five foot nine and weigh one hundred seventy-five pounds. I’m sixteen years old with a slender build with a few muscles here and there; dark brown, glimmering eyes; sleek black hair; and the skin the color of a caramel-cream blend.
And right now, I’m ready to end my life, all because I’m being labeled as a freak of nature by the extremist-minded townspeople of Sanders Springs, a small community just fifteen miles from Atlanta and two miles from Athens.
I’m going to be honest with you when I say this: I didn’t have much of a charmed life at all.
Why, you ask?
For starters, I never knew my real birth parents, with the exception that I was born out of a teenage love affair. The family that took me in was one that was Black-American, but left me to my own devices. They never harmed me physically or emotionally. They just didn’t want to bother with me at all. When I asked them why, it was mainly because I was bi-racial. “You’re simply not a real Black-American,” my lumbering foster father said in a gruff tone. “You’re mainly a white man’s critter and you’re not much of good company. My wife and boys all agree with me. Son, you just don’t fit in at all.”
Lovely people they are, am I right?
Well, at least they were good to me, not like the rest of the townspeople (except for my one and only friend RaeAnne Emerson and her mother, who were also seen as threats). They just say me as a threat to their lily-white morals and wanted me to either be placed in jail or killed. And while I wasn’t “Black enough” for my adoptive family, I was seen as “too Black” for the town.
And at school? Other than RaeAnne, the other students treated me like garbage. Two of them in particular were the school’s it couple: Diane Oberlin, the cheerleading police chief’s daughter, and her quarterback boyfriend Clark “Chip” Penske, the city judge’s grandson. And both of them were my main bullies that would have their goons use me for mock-lynchings and target-practice parties after their Friday night under the lights. And they made sure that I had no one other than RaeAnne as a friend since their words as popular kids were law and no one dared to disagree with them, not even the teachers.
Throughout freshman and sophomore year, I learned to make the most of it: bandaged my own wounds given by the football team, endured the harassment calls from the town sheriff; withstood the glares from the teachers who told me to cowboy up and be a man; and just kept my head down. But it seems like doom was always on the horizon for me, even more so when my adoptive family was killed while on the way to a concert in Athens (they left me alone to clean the basement). Three days after the funeral, they just cut me out of their lives and wrote that they have decided to discontinue my education and have me sent to a reformatory school over in Toccoa. And that led to the entire townspeople campaigning to have me killed off. The town sheriff gave me three days to clear out of town or find myself hanging in a noose.
But I wasn’t going to let them have the satisfaction of me being shipped away or killed.
At the moment, I was currently at Westmont Bridge, glancing over the edge to gaze down at the banks of the Westachee River. With me was a bottle of Pepsi and a suicide note. That’s right, folks. I was planning to jump off the bridge and leave the world on my own accord. And I wasn’t crying a single tear. In fact, a wave of calm crashed over me and I was ready to say goodbye without any words. I would miss RaeAnne and her mother, of course. Those two were the only ones who showed me any compassion and offered me a place to stay, even if they were facing threats from the town themselves. I knew that RaeAnne was bound to go places someday wither sass and take-no-prisoners attitude. She could be the next Bill Gates with her talents in STEM and coding. Her mom was a strong woman with a will made of steel since losing her husband to cancer. I knew those two were going to make it big.
Picking up the Pepsi bottle, I looked up at the stormy clouds that were gathering around. “Here’s to you, Sanders Springs,” I said softly, raising the soda high in a mock-toast. “You wanted me gone? You’re going to get your wish.”
“Is that right?” I heard a guy’s voice say from behind me.
I whirled around to see a young man around my age. He was definitely the epitome of the “all-American golden boy,” like Sheriff Oberlin said that I would never be: tall; athletically-endowed; short, wavy brown hair; dazzling green eyes that glimmered faintly in the sun. He was dressed in a deep purple Polo shirt and black jeans with steeled-toed black boots. His eyes lit up as he saw my look off surprise.
“If you’re one of Chip’s new lackeys, tell him that I’m planning to make my exit right now,” I said bitterly.
Mystery guy frowned slightly. “I’m not from that oaf’s circle of friends,” he said. “The name’s Mike Sayers, kid, and I’m here to take you home to California. Our parents are waiting for you.”
I sighed, thinking that this was either a trap to lure me back to town so I could die or that it was his own bad joke. “Well, you’re a bit late for that, seeing that I have my final destination to meet with right about now,” I replied. “And as for our parents- the ones that I never got to know, tell them that I’m sorry, but I can care less. Now if you’ll excuse me-“
“Before you do jump off that bridge, may I have one last word for you?”
I turned to him, rolling my eyes. Might as well, I thought. “Fire away?”
Mike smirked as his eyes glowed purple. “Sleep,” he said, snapping his fingers.
That was the last thing I remembered before I hit the pavement and dove right into Dreamland.
One thing was as clear as daylight. My life was going to change drastically.