I’m not sure if these are tears or rain drops sliding down my face. My chest is rock hard and tight from the swelling of my increased panic and anxiety. My hood flew back miles ago and the rain has destroyed my hair and face. It’s true difficulty running in the rain while thinking you’re hallucinating. I have to keep moving and keep fighting in order to blur my fears and escape my skin.
“Over here man! Wrong way!”
Rain drips down my lashes and slides down my cheeks. Antonio waves me over and I finally stop sprinting like I’m hallucinating. This is all real. I’ve run away with gang members now.
Once I reach Antonio and Barbara, I’m out of breath and trying to relax my lungs. My throat is dry and hot and my heart won’t stop pounding. I hunch over, hands on my knees, and distract myself by watching the rain droplets droop down my bangs and pop against my nose. A strong hand slaps against my back, and I realize it’s Antonio comforting me.
“You seem out of shape,” he chuckles, voice lazy and easy as always.
We’re under a giant oak tree, and this is when I realize we’re on Oak Grounds. It’s a flat park implanted with endless numbers of oak and pine trees, and it’s been claimed as a hangout spot for most teens and young adults to connect with other company or enjoy the natural solitude of the trees. The park is not that far away from our school, but the distance seems spectacular considering the amount of time it took us to run here.
But then again, that could’ve been my enhanced imagination.
“Valerie should be here any second,” Barbara says, shoving her hands in her pockets knuckles deep.
Before I can question who Valerie necessarily is and what we’re doing out here in the rain, Barbara quickly changes her informative tone to a more pissed off one.
“Does Blake not realize he’s making it harder for the rest of us?”
Antonio nods, resting his back against the tree we’re under. The rain has stopped down pouring; it’s just fog and the lightness of sprinkling.
“Yeah amiga, I don’t know what the fuck Blake’s been up to lately. Him doing these side jobs by himself is fucking him over.”
“And us too,” Barbara adds.
There’s a moment of silence. I’m silently strategizing the details that were given to me and seeing if it makes sense.
Blake got into a fight.
He’s been suspended for a whole week, and the school is contemplating expulsion.
Gang members are worried because leader is in trouble.
If leader is in trouble, and won’t be at school to help the “business,” then their “business,” will therefore be in trouble.
So far, this only makes semi-sense to me. If only I knew what side jobs they were talking about.
Barbara is fussing about the rain frizzing up her hair and Antonio only laughs about it.
“You black girls,” he says, lip curled to the side.
Just as Barbara is about to retort with more nonsense about her frizzy hair, I see a figure with long, model legs striding towards us in the drizzle. Amongst the thick fog and the sheet of precipitation, I am assuming that the figure with the determined walk and the model-type legs can be the only person we’ve all been waiting before.
And she scares the shit out of me with her contorted face as she finally approaches us. She is staring at me hard, probably trying to figure out if she’s hallucinating or not. I gulp, still shaky to be here, still picturing a herd of police cars pulling up at any moment to arrest us for skipping school.
This is why no one likes me. I am a mess of a burden on everyone’s shoulders. I’m easy to pick on because I allow the abuse to take place. I try to explain myself to her and I try to prove that Blake didn’t just pick out anyone in the hallway.
He saw potential in me. He saw my scars.
But of course, all I’m capable of doing is being silent and just acting like I’m here as an extra wheel nobody needs.
“Damn Valerie, fix your face,” Antonio speaks up, and she looks to him, then me. Her mouth opens up into a big smile as she uses her black polished finger to point and say, “Is he lost?”
“Well who the fuck is this?”
I’d be lying if I said her voice wasn’t smooth and somewhat velvety. In the face, she is beautiful. I cannot imagine someone of her physique actually doing criminal activity, but then again, I never imagined I’d be signing up for gang membership either.
This is why one part of me believes this isn’t how my life is supposed to play out.
“Ron Mitchell, he goes to our school,” Antonio explains, not bothered by her cold stare. “you know Ron, right?”
Her face now looks disgusted. Of course she knows who I am. I have a reputation for being almost everyone’s bitch at that school.
She sucks in a breath that says she has no words for this. I only lower my head, allowing my vision to scan over the mud and grass blades on my shoes. Valerie then laughs a deep sort of laugh, and says in a serious tone, “Wow. Blake must be really, really desperate.”
“He’s our new recruit and we’re gonna respect him,” Barbara jumps in to my defense, but Valerie quickly backfires.
“You’re telling me Blake recruited a push over with a freaking pussy in between his legs? Is that what he looks for now? Trash?”
I’m trying to cope with the relentless sting just burning in my heart right now. I guess Valerie can sense that my feelings are shot, because she sighs and says, “Whatever, if he’s in he’s in, I don’t have time. Let’s get down to the real stuff.”
They talk about getting a new supply of drugs that’ll make them more money. The only problem is that there’s not enough cash in the inventory to actually get the new drug, so they’re sticking to weed for now, but eventually they’re gonna have to upgrade on that before their consumers get burnt off the same old same old.
I’m actually here and I’m comprehending all of these drug mechanisms and terms but I’m low key wishing I wasn’t. I actually wish that Blake was here. I wish he was so I could look at him and be comfortable because right now, all there is is a glass wall being held between me and them. They don’t understand me. Blake barely understands me, but he’s been closer to the truth than anyone else.
And despite of his random, bipolar behavior at times, I get the feeling that he wants to understand me.
“So from now on, this is the new plan, right?” Antonio tries to clarify, looking dead at Valerie.
I didn’t realize she had lit a cigarette moments back, so it takes me by slight surprise when she tosses a cigarette bud behind her head. The vapor blends in with the fog, and it pools out of her mouth in wave form.
“Yeah, we don’t have a choice,” Valerie says. “until we figure out what Blake is fucking doing with the inventory and how he’s gonna get out of trouble, for now, we need to hustle harder than ever.”
“Ron, you came right on time,” Barbara grins at me.
My heart tenses when suddenly Valerie’s in my face. Her self-determination is haughty and she let’s me know with her eyes that she’s not playing around. I find it appropriate to stand up straighter and look her dead in the eyes. My self-determination can’t falter upon her gaze, because if it does, she’ll take me as a bigger joke than before.
She snickers, then says in a low and rich voice, “If you’re gonna be one of us, you have to prove you’re worthy.”
Before I know it, they’re all circled around me, and it almost feels like I’m in an unrealistic horror film. Reality is setting in. This is not the hallucination I want it to be.
Now’s the time to prove my worth. Even though the pain was supposed to be subsided until later, I guess it only makes sense to get it out of the way now.
“Barbara, hold him.”
Barbara feels bad that this has to happen. Her eyes are sullen and when she goes to my backside to grip me in place, I then see the worry written in Antonio’s eyes. They’re really sensitive for a bunch of so-called gang bangers, and it makes me wonder how they passed their entrance test.
I swallow my pride, look to the sky, and hold in my screams when the first blow lands straight to my stomach.