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All names, characters, places and incidents are invented by the author or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.
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Lonzo Aviles had a cell phone up to one ear, rocking a fitted hat and a neon orange colored aide vest on the outside of his matching zip up hoodie. He stepped off the school bus first, then the youngest kids hopped down the stairs in their spastic way, arms and legs animated, happy to be released from the confines of a mobile yellow bread box. “Bye bye Mr. Lonzo,” they chimed in unison, and it was sweet, like little birds chirping for attention. Lonzo pointed at the younger kids, commanding that they go straight home. For the older girls he gave a wink and licked his lips, which only made them laugh harder. The girls giggled and narrowed their eyes at him, loudly promising to hunt him down if he wasn’t working on their bus tomorrow. From the warmth of his idling car Derek Keane watched his best friend’s smile fade, as he took in the scene of a young boy getting pulled off his feet and then dropped back to the ground, only to have his head pushed forward. Accompanied with sharp words from the boy’s caretaker, Derek’s hands curled into fists just as Lonzo calmly put his phone away. “My man, let me holla at you for a minute,” Lonzo said, strolling over as if he didn’t have a care in the world. “This your girl’s kid? I mean, I see you trying to do right by her, ‘cause I see you always standing here, waiting on the bus, and you walk him home.” “Yeah, that’s cos she’s at work,” the guy snapped, snatching the macaroni and Crepe paper artwork from the little boy, remarking how fucked up it looked. Lonzo smiled down at the youngster who was a regular on his bus, patting the kid on the head. He got a smile back that was mostly gums, because the boy was losing his baby teeth. Lonzo motioned for the older kid to walk with him so that the little boy couldn’t hear what they were saying. As soon as they were far enough away, Lonzo pounced like a tiger who’d been waiting all afternoon to attack his prey. “See, here’s the thing-” Lonzo’s voice was nothing but a deep growl. “The next time you feel like grabbing him in the collar I’m gonna put my foot up your ass.” The guy’s eyes widened before turning into angry slits. “Oh it’s like that?”
“It’s like that.” Lonzo hunched his shoulders, getting so close to the other guy that they could’ve kissed. “You can get your ass kicked now for the shit you’re doing, or he’ll come looking for you when he grows up. ‘Cause we never forget. You feel me?” Unnerved, the kid dropped his eyes. Lonzo strong armed the young man around his neck, and since he was a good fifty pounds heavier, the kid had no choice but to follow. “You ain’t no fighter man. And you ain’t his daddy, or his step-father. So you need to keep your hands to yourself.” Giving him a nasty squeeze to show he meant business, Lonzo followed up with, “Doesn’t feel so good, does it? Whatever you been doing to him better cease right this minute. ‘Cause if I find one more bruise on that kid, I’m coming looking for you. And you know I’ll find you.” When they parted, an onlooker might think they were the best of friends. Lonzo ordered the guy to smile, and that he’d speak with him again. Seems his pep talk had some sort of effect because the guy reached down and gently took the little boy’s hand as they walked home. Smiling, Lonzo pulled his phone out again. The slam of a car door and a raspy, familiar voice calling his name had him whirling around. He kept laughing at the deeply tanned, blonde haired male headed his way. Derek bear hugged Lonzo in a futile attempt to raise him off the ground. Once they separated USMC Lt Corporal Derek Keane pretended like he’d hurt his back. “Lonzo! Man, you got big! You lookin’ like one of those Buddha statues, son. You even got man titties! Whooo! You get any bigger and you’ll have to get a mammogram.” “Tell me something I don’t know,” Lonzo joked while patting his belly. “It’s all Mama Torelli’s cooking.” “Oh, so she’s lettin’ you call her Mama Torelli now?” Derek’s blue eyes sparkled in the sunlight, competing with Lonzo’s perfectly round, bald head. “Yeah, I go visit her once a week, you know, just to check on her since Mr. Torelli’s been in the hospice.” Hearing how badly Mr. Torelli’s health had deteriorated wiped away Derek’s smile. Lonzo slapped him in the chest, jerking him back into the present. “So when did you get back?” “We landed a few hours ago.” “You shoulda said something. I could a met you at the airport.” He looked towards Derek’s late model car. “This you, man?”
“Naw, it’s a rental. I took most of my money and bought something for Nicole.” Derek produced a small black box, prying open the lid. Nestled inside was a diamond ring. Lonzo’s voice grew serious. “Oh, so you’re finally gonna ask her? How come she’s not with you?” He looked around, half expecting Nicole to pop out of thin air. Derek slid the box into the pocket of his beige and brown camouflage pants. “I didn’t tell her I was coming home today. I wanna surprise her.” They clasp hands and bumped shoulders, with Lonzo walking Derek back to his car. The bus driver was giving off some serious attitude, even when Derek waved up at her. “What’s your co-worker’s problem?” Lonzo just dropped his head and shrugged. “Aw, that’s my mother-in-law. My wife works in dispatch, and her sister’s the office manager.” “Your wife?!” Holy . . . “I got married.” With a sheepish grin, Lonzo added, “We’re expecting our first child in the spring.” “Ay, man,” Derek offered his hand to shake. “Congrats. You’re gonna be a father, and I’ll be an uncle.” “When I told Mama Torelli we were expecting she said our baby would come out funny looking because my wife is funny looking and I’m too fat.” Derek shook his head, laughing as he got back into his car. Nicole’s grandmother was something else. Jamesetta Torelli had gone from hating him on sight to being a strong supporter. Her care packages had lifted his spirits and those of the guys in his squad more times than he could count. Everyone thought she was a sweet little Italian woman, so it was a kick to see their faces when he showed them a picture of short black woman standing next to him. The doors of the school bus opened for Lonzo to board it again. Derek blew his horn, chuckling at the how the hell did I get myself into this? expression on his good friend’s face.
Where are you? Nicole’s thumbs were itching to fire off a reply that wouldn’t make her mother happy, especially since the words WTF Mom? would be included. Instead she took a deep breath,
texting out an answer befitting a young woman who was working on her Master’s degree in social work. I’m in the cafe, getting a late lunch B4 I head home. Her mother’s response made Nicole frown in confusion. You’re by that cactus looking plant, right? And you’re wearing the red sweater I ordered from Macy’s? “Uh, yes I am,” Nicole said out loud, wondering how her mother knew what she was wearing and where she was sitting. Looking up, she cringed because it seemed all eyes in the cafeteria were on her. When she sensed someone was standing behind her chair, she twisted around. “How you doin’ Ma?” Derek said with a big grin, repeating the line he’d used on her when they’d first met. Nicole’s cry was a mixture of surprise and joy. The cafeteria erupted in laughter and applause as she threw herself into his arms. It was hard for her to breathe, and hard to see, because she couldn’t stop tearing up. When everything came into focus she realized a camera crew from one of the local news stations was filming the whole thing. Derek kissed the top of her head, murmuring that everything was going to be all right. There was a brief struggle as he tried to push her forward so he could get a good look at her reddish gold, wavy hairdo. “At first I wasn’t sure it was you, ‘cause your hair color’s so different.” She touched her head, suddenly remembering her epic mistake of trying to dye her own hair. “It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this . . . on the box it looked more brown-” In stunned silence she watched Derek drop to one knee, and then . . . and then he held up a tiny velvet box. The back of her hand quickly came up to wipe at her face. Somehow the cafeteria had gone silent enough to hear a pin drop. “Nicole Jamesetta Torrelli, will you marry me?” he asked, looking up at her with an expression that clearly said I can’t and I won’t live without you, so I hope you feel the same. She wanted to punch him. Was he serious? Jamesetta? That was soooo not her middle name. Instead she burst out laughing, almost backing into her parents, the traitors who’d been in on the ruse the whole time. Derek’s sandy brows dipped, almost blocking out his eyes. “Is that a yes or a no?” “YES!” With trembling hands he slid the ring onto her finger. When it refused to go past her knuckle, he joked that it was a sign he should take it back.
“The hell you will.” Nicole snatched her wrist away, working the ring in a circle until it went over the joint on her finger. They hugged and kissed. Her parents, Tony and Adina Torelli stood off to the side, giving each other knowing smiles. It was bittersweet, but after all they’d been through, seeing their little girl this happy helped lessen the pain. If only Gabriel had been there to witness his big sister getting engaged.
He could almost make out the hum of the TV from his sleeping quarters in the basement. Over the years the dampness and the frigid cold didn’t bother him as much. It was the complete darkness that frightened him, even now. Straining to hear, Gabe swore the news reporter had mentioned the homecoming of a Marine named Derek Keane. Thinking it was just another hallucination, Gabriel tried to fit himself comfortably into the small space he was confined in. The heavy chain around his waist dug into his ribs, making it impossible to ignore the metal’s smooth coldness, and the ragged, rusty pieces that pierced his flesh. He knew it was only a matter of time before his growing size caused a problem. Since he was a lot taller than the others, that meant he could be a threat, just like the boy who couldn’t speak. Gabe willed his breathing to slow down so he could conserve energy. Each day he worked on not losing hope, and never giving up. But after hearing the news report, he had the sinking feeling that his family had moved on and he was forgotten, just like his captor had always said.
With the side of his face mashed into a pillow, Derek cracked open one eye, his mind trapped somewhere between sleep and trying to command his brain to wake up. He thought he’d heard the back door open, but the whole apartment was quiet. In the two months since he’d been back, he’d found a small two bedroom apartment off base. Nicole had recently moved in, and they were planning their wedding. Just thinking of her naked and straddling atop him made Derek grow hard. With those beautiful, full lips of her slightly open and her eyes dazed by passion, he hoped they could get in a quickie before she had to leave for class. Since he wasn’t hearing Lonzo snoring, he was also pretty sure the back door opening meant his friend was headed home, feeling contrite enough to face a wife who was now ready to take her man back. “Nicole.” When he got no response, Derek opened both eyes, realizing that she wasn’t beside him. Damn. He wasn’t in the mood for a cold shower. Though the rumbling in his stomach meant he could use some breakfast. His brain was still fuzzy, but somewhere outside he could swear he’d just heard a man’s angry, raised voice, a woman’s scream and the crash of garbage cans. Derek shot up, fear seizing his chest when he realized that scream was Nicole’s. Picking up his service issued weapon and quickly pulling on a pair of camos, he sped in the direction of all the commotion, bumping thigh first into the couch that no longer held his best friend. Flying out the already open back door, his heart stopped. Nicole was sprawled the ground, wearing one of his oversized tees that was hiked almost to her hips. She pointed in the direction of Lonzo chasing after someone. Derek helped her up, telling her to get inside and to lock the door. He took off in a sprint that an Olympic medalist would’ve been proud of in order to catch up with Lonzo. Legs pumping as hard as the blood in his veins, Derek imagined his Drill Instructor pursuing him, screaming that he better get his white ass in gear. He ran so fast that he flew by Lonzo and had to double back. Lonzo was holding his stomach and puking near a street light by the strip mall.
Derek slapped his friend’s back. “You alright?” “Shit,” Lonzo huffed, his puffy, handsome face twisted in pain. “That . . . kid’s . . . fast.” “Which way?” “Just up ahead. He-” Lonzo paused, battling to inhale more air. “He’s wearing dreads, dirty grey and red hoodie. Muh fucka smells like piss and old baby diapers, you can’t miss him.” Derek took off again, looking from left to right, finally spotting Nicole’s attacker. He saw a tall skinny kid dragging one leg, with both arms hanging limp at his sides. Calling on the adrenalin of anger to fuel another burst of speed, Derek tackled the boy from behind. They tumbled to the ground, the kid’s legs and arms flailing wildly, while Derek held on, ignoring the burn of concrete scraping against his bare skin. Cars pulling into the mall stopped as people gaped out their windows at the sight of two young men wrestling. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” Derek hollered, trying to pin the kid down. He raised a fist, ready to punch the boy into submission when he stopped, recoiling at what he saw and smelled. The hoodie the kid wore wasn’t grey and red. It was grey from dirt, with big splotches of blood. The end of a broken chain hung around the boy’s scrawny neck, a neck that had been rubbed so raw it was without any skin. This boy had recently been around death, because the stench of it was all over him. The smell reminded Derek of the bodies he’d witnessed after a suicide bomber struck in Bahrain. Lowering his fist, he let the kid squirm, realizing what the boy needed was medical attention. Spit was forming in the corners of the kid’s mouth, and he wasn’t making sounds that were words. Peeling lips that were cracked not just from dryness, but from blood caked in the lines had Derek wondering who would treat another human like that. Lint covered every inch of his matted hair. He just kept clutching at Derek’s arms, his mouth closing and opening like a guppy flopping on the ground instead of in water. Now that the teen figured he wasn’t gonna get beat down, he’d lain back on the concrete, making little mewing sounds. With the many cell phones that were aimed their way, Derek shouted for someone to call the cops, trying to shield the boy’s face with his body. A lady hollered back that she already had. “You’re safe now,” Derek said, not sure if the kid was able to understand his words. “What the fuck is taking the police so long?” Figuring the boy had flinched because of the rage in his voice, Derek got up, his own stare following where the boy’s eyes wandered, then frantically sought Derek’s eyes, as if he were trying to tell him something.
Derek looked up in time to see a car stopping long enough to let a boy hop in the front passenger seat. Since everyone else made a point to get a closer look, it was odd that the driver just wanted to get the hell out of there. Once in the car, the kid glanced back at Derek. The cold dread of recognition passed over the boy’s face, just as it hit Derek hard in the gut. He made a split second decision, stepping away from the boy on the ground in order to barrel towards the car. The driver lurched into oncoming traffic, but Derek managed to scream out Gabriel’s name, aiming his service revolver as he prayed to God for a clean shot. Then he pulled the trigger.
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Wikkid.Sexy.Cool. Where multicultural romance rules!
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