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Caught Up

By JaeAntoinette All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Drama

Jemuel

Rollin’ down the street / smokin’ indo, sippin’ on gin and juice. Laaaidback / with my mind on my money and my money on my mind ...” the music blares from the stereo’s speakers as my boys and I sing along with the classic, old-school song. Tonight is about relaxing and getting high enough to soar beyond our natural limitations—and that’s exactly what we’re doing, with the necessary help of weed and liquor.

“Snoop is the truth, man. He knows how it is, for real,” my homie Danger declares, higher than an airborne kite. He takes another puff from the blunt and puts it back in rotation. I swallow a quick gulp of my forty-ounce and set it down, retrieving the blunt from Danger. Easing it between my lips, I take a deep pull and hold it in. When I blow the influential substance out, I watch as the wisps of smoke swirl around the room, creating a light fog.

I live for times like this when I’m completely placid and the struggle that has become a constant part of my every day no longer exists. A lot of people wouldn’t understand why we’d choose drugs and alcohol as our outlet, but maybe it’s not for them to understand. It’s our choice, and anything that can pull us away from our realities and bring peace or enjoyment to our lives, for even a second, seems logical coming from where we’re from. It’s already hard enough to deal on a day-to-day basis not being able to make ends meet and having to hustle in an attempt to force them, so we meet up every Thursday night—no matter what—to smoke and drink our current problems away. But, of course, we hide it under the classic façade of just chilling and having fun.

I gaze around the room, looking at my three closest friends: Tre, Mack, and Danger. We all met when we were teenagers and have been real tight ever since. Tre and I are the youngest of the bunch at twenty-five years old, Mack is a year older than the two of us, and Danger is a year older than Mack, making it easy for us to relate to one another from the start. I was introduced to Tre—whose real name is Trever Henderson—first in middle school. He was the only Caucasian and Jewish kid you could always find rolling dice behind the school, and he could never be found without a hat on his head. For the longest time, even the colour of his hair was a mystery to me, until one day I noticed wild straw-coloured ends sticking out from beneath his red cap.

“Dude, you’re blond?” I almost shrieked, my voice cracking from puberty.

“Yeah,” he said, grinning at me. “Like a real white boy.” He pulled his hat off, exposing his need for a haircut, and I laughed because sometimes I really did forget what colour he was; as if it mattered.

The day we met, Tre was shooting craps with a few guys behind the school and, of course, wearing a fitted hat. I watched him win everyone’s money, but the guys ended up not wanting to pay, and because Tre was such a skinny kid—his height making him seem skinnier—they threatened him to “do something” and walked away with his money in their pockets. I had gym class later that day and was usually one of the last to leave the locker room. I was alone and tying up my sneakers when Tre walked in, cool as ever, and nonchalantly started going through each of those same guys’ pants pockets and emptying their wallets without so much as a peek in my direction. I stood there amazed because not only was this kid taking his time, he was doing it right in front of me!

“You ain’t a snitch, are you?” he asked me, noticing my slack-jawed gaze.

I regained my composure and shook my head fiercely. “Hell naw! Them dudes had it coming anyway.”

Tre nodded his approval, and when he was finished taking his money—and no more than what he’d won from them—we slapped hands, unintentionally creating the handshake we still do to this day. Suffice it to say, I skipped my next class to chill with Tre that day, decided to nickname him, and we’ve been really close ever since.

Now Mack—or Joshua Mackenzie—was a different story. Tre and I did meet him in high school, but we knew about him before he knew us. Mack had an undisputable reputation with the ladies and was definitely living up to his nickname—whereas Tre and I had absolutely no game at all. Seeing that Mack was getting all the girls, we put two and two together in what a friendship with him could offer us.

Now, whether Mack was getting girls because of his exceptionally light skin, his noticeably gray eyes, or the fact that he had a way with words, we never knew; but either way, Mack always had girls around him, and whoever he wanted, he got. Tre and I longed to learn some techniques, so we went up to Mack one day, told him we admired his macking skills, and, in not so many words, asked him to teach us. Fortunately, he did, and we started getting girls. But no one gets ’em like Mack does … not even to this day.

Then there’s Percy Browning—a.k.a. Danger. We met him a couple of hours after school one evening. Even then, Danger had a muscular build and was bigger than a lot of guys in our school. No one really messed with him, but one day these two knuckleheads decided that neither Danger’s size nor reputation meant anything to them. It wasn’t unusual for guys to pick random fights with any and everyone to gain credibility, so we weren’t too surprised by what they were doing, but more by whom they were doing it to.

Danger was resting against the school’s brick wall when the two guys told him to move. He ignored them, and they got brave, moving up in Danger’s face, telling him he was on their wall. We saw Danger shove one of them, and both guys jumped him, simultaneously throwing punches. Mack, Tre, and I ran over to Danger to give him the assistance we thought he would need, but when we reached him, Danger had both guys on the ground groaning. He had thrown punches and given kicks faster than anything we’d seen before, so giving him props for taking those two guys down without our help was something we had to do. Danger—before spitting on one of the guys and kicking the other—thanked us for coming to his aid. He became a naturally melded part of our crew that day, and we realized exactly why his nickname was Danger; it was a warning of what everyone should expect if they ever crossed him.

When I think about it, none of my boys have really changed since then. Tre is still sneaky, Mack is still a player, and Danger is still dangerous. He even got a new tattoo on his neck that says so in Arabic. And as for me, I’d consider myself to be the most levelheaded out of the group. I’m six foot two, dark brown with a low haircut, and the only one out of the four of us with a kid. Maybe my son has added to my sense of maturity, but I’ve always felt like a mediator and partial mentor to my boys. They’ve come to rely on my calm and reason, and it’s because of this I think we’ve remained so loyal to one another after all this time.

“Ayyo, Jem. Snap out of it and pass that shit to me, man.”

I come out of thought, away from the story of our past, and step back into the present at the sound of Mack’s voice. I steal a quick pull, pass the blunt to him, and look over at Tre, who’s leaning in his chair, hat backward and eyes closed. His head’s nodding to the music, and I know he’s probably thinking up new ways to get money. He’s always been good at that, and I’m grateful for it. That mind has helped us out at times when we needed it the most.

“Dude is always off in his own world,” Danger says as if Tre isn’t here.

Mack nods in agreement. “He’s probably in the same world Jem was just in.”

The two start to laugh but laugh even harder when Danger adds, “The world of thought … Wonder what that’s like.”

“Hardy har har har,” I cut in. “We are in the room, so you can stop your giggling now.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Mack taps Tre’s arms and passes him the blunt, which is now drastically decreasing in size. “We need to get some girls up in here, man. I’m feeling gooood right now.”

“Here we go again.” Tre and I automatically shake our heads and chuckle.

“Fuck that shit,” Danger scolds. “You get pussy almost every day of the week; this is strictly men’s night. We ain’t bringin’ no females up in here.”

Tre and I have to laugh because it is a known fact that Thursday nights are really important to Danger. It’s been a ritual for us since we started hanging around him, but we’re also the closest to real siblings Danger has ever had. The only person he had growing up was his grandma, and then he met us, so we’ve become his family.

“A’ight, Danger, chill. You know how Mack is,” I say to him, and Tre gives the last bit of the weed to him as a peace offering. Danger takes it without hesitation, glances at Mack, and smiles. Mack grins back, and just like that, the four of us go back to making jokes and rapping along with the songs.

I pick up my half-empty forty-ounce bottle of malt liquor and gulp it down until only one-third of the liquid remains. I inhale deeply, burp, and close my eyes, trying my best to stay in the moment and not think about the empty routine I have to wake up to and deal with until the next Thursday night.

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