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Camille Leone

Volume One

Copyright 2012 Camille Leone This story is a work of fiction. 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.

All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author.

I must thank a number of people for lighting the fire in me to attempt this. First and foremost, I must thank God, for everything flows through him. My family, and the ladies and lurkers on, Mary G, Sarah, Alina, Sherri, Kwanda, Christina, Julia, Leonore, Mariah, Bmack, L. Moffat, (if Ive left anyone out, I will edit this!)

Theyre young, theyre hip, theyre now. And oh God, I just love Eli. Hes so beautiful. And Simone, I cant even put (inaudible) into words. Shes not even colored to me. Shes just Simone. -Unidentified female fan, 1967


Simone, 1958 Mama had the kind of voice that could stop a train in its tracks. Powerful as thunder, I bet if
I were trapped in a windstorm theres no doubt Id hear her calling me to safety. This aint no brag, but fact. With a gravy boat in one hand and the big spoon I usually saw hanging up on the kitchen wall in the other, she looked mad enough to send me to my room. Deidra Simone, what part of youll have to wait until everybody gets here dont you understand? I looked at her looking at my fingers reaching for a butter roll. In my eight year old mind it was just a piece of bread. But to Mama, if I took that roll a stroke would be missing from her painting, since everything had its rightful place on her dining room table. And you dont mess with perfection. I could a lied. I should have said Doobie, my cousin who was visiting put me up to it. But Id used Doobie as an excuse once already. Speak of the devil. Doobie was standing behind Mama, pointing at me and laughing. But Mama never missed a thing. She just sighed and looked up at the new ceiling, the one Daddy lowered. Since he cut the panels crooked there were little spaces where she could still see the old ceiling between the freckle faced boards. And that made her twice as mad, especially since company was coming.

Doobie, youve got three seconds before I bean you in the head with this ladle. One, Two- I like to watch cartoons. And right then Doobie made like the Road Runner, with the table cloth fluttering to announce hed left. Mama turned her attention back to me. Now Simone, if you were hungry why didnt you just come into the kitchen to get some water? But I want something to eat, I dont want nothin to drink. Plus that dang roll was still calling my name. That earned me another lecture on why this day was so important. My daddy had just been elected to the city council and he was only the second colored man to hold the job. A white man named Mr. Burr had invited himself over to talk, so Mama put out so much food I thought we were having a family reunion. Mama even brought out the good china and the lace doilies. Were eating turkey and its not even Thanksgiving, I said. And sweet peas, and cornbread and ham . . . Cousin Doobie said. Doobie was so thin his legs and knees were just strings with knots tied in em. I hope she opens up a can of cranberry sauce, my big brother Cordero said. The only thing I knew to add was, Mamas been up since early this morning cooking. Oh, it wasnt any trouble. Mama looked embarrassed and proud at the same time. White folks need to come round here more often so we can eat like this every day. Doobie walked around the dining room table, calling dibs on the chair closest to the honey ham. I talked to my dad today, and he said he bet that Mr. Burr and his wife wont even show up. He said yall wastin all this food for nothing. Daddy had the morning paper rolled up, threatening to bop him in the back of the head cause Doobie was always talking smart. But it wasnt his fault. According to Mama, his dad was the real problem. Bout a half hour later it looked like Doobie was telling the truth. With each tick of the clock my daddys face got madder and his cheeks puffed out fatter. The food was getting cold, but Mama kept bringing out hot coffee to refill Daddys cup. He was sitting in his recliner, sipping coffee and trying to act like he wasnt wishing theyd hurry up and get over here. When we started complaining about being hungry, Daddy gave us a chore. He said we needed to find some music Mr. Burr and his wife would like, but no fast music and no gospel. I held up Dinah

Washingtons album because I liked how she was pretty and dark like Mama. But he said no, cause he didnt want me trying to scat with the record. I started pouting and he just laughed. So I pouted some more and crossed my arms. Mama says its not bragging if you can do it. Simone, where youre concerned your Mama cant see straight. Take this cup on in the kitchen for me. When I got back Cordero and Doobie were running around like chickens with no heads, trying to find an album by some guy named Perry Como. Mama came out of the kitchen demanding to know why we were making a mess in her living room, knocking her Louie the Fourteenth phone off the hook and covering her furniture with a bunch of albums. I need my Perry Como record, Daddy said. Mama sounded surprised. Teddy, when did you start liking Perry Como? Oh, I thought I bought one of his old albums when we were at the five and dime a while ago. Both me and Mama looked at him like he was crazy, so he put on a Nat King Cole record, which was the same dang singer Mama had suggested in the first place. Soon as we started neatly stacking up all the albums, Mama decided the reading material on her cocktail table was all wrong. So she had my cousin pick up the Ebony and TV Guide magazines and put out Look and Life instead.

At three thirty Daddy positioned all us kids on the couch, so I thought we were gonna pose
for a picture. We were pressed close together, with me in the middle and the boys on either side. My legs got sweaty, making the plastic couch cover stick every time I tried to lift them. Between trying to scratch under that itchy crinoline slip and stupid hoop dress Mama made me wear, I was miserable and hungry. By quarter past four Daddy let us sit at the table but we still couldnt eat. My stomach was growling so loud Mama made me drink some water. Corderos head was resting on his arms and Doobie had snuck a roll, breaking off little pieces and popping them into his mouth whenever Daddy got up to check the window for a strange car. Five oclock came and went, with Mama dragging Daddy into the kitchen. Teddy, at least let the kids eat a little something.

I could tell by the way his cheeks were set that he wasnt having it. But then just like a rainbow comes out after a downpour, the doorbell rang. Daddy looked at Mama, hitched up his pants with a grunt of I told you theyd come and we all went running behind him. Wasnt no lady and man at the door. Just a man who looked like he wanted to turn and run back to his car. Daddy opened the screen door wide, just like his smile. He was telling Mr. Burr to come on in but Mr. Burr acted like our floor was ice and hed never been on skates. They shook hands and Daddy pulled him into the house anyway. Daddy, since the mans here can we eat now? I said. Mr. Burr peeked over my fathers shoulder, took one look at all that food in the dining room and how fancy the table was set, and his face got red. His voice sounded squeaky too, but it got deeper as he kept talking. I thought I made it clear this wasnt going to be a social call Ted. I just wanted to talk- Daddy interrupted him by laughing. Oh, thats nothing. We eat like this all the time. Since when? Id worked my way from under Daddys arm to stare up and down at Mr. Burr. Daddy called for Mama to come get me, and she came stomping out the kitchen so hard she made that Nat King Cole record skip. So I ran out the front door. When it was safe I made my way to the porch, crouching low and peeking between the wooden railings. The screen door opened and I could only make out Daddys black and white Florsheims stepping out. Ooh he sounded mad. I won that council seat fair and square. I could tell he was trying not to holler. Only the look on his face was the one he always had when Uncle Earl would clown around and say I must a took back because I sure didnt come out looking like their side of the family. Then hed tell the milk man joke and Daddy would have that same funny smile on his face, like he wanted to tell Uncle Earl to stick his jokes where the sun dont shine. Uncle Earl had lots of things to say that made Daddy start breathing fast. If he drank too much Uncle Earl talked about Mamas legs, or hed start complaining about Doobie and how he couldnt stand his own son. Daddy would listen for a while, being real patient. But his chest always swelled up like a storm building in the sky. This Mr. Burr had my daddys chest growing big, especially when he listened while Mr. Burr spoke.

We just have a different method of doing things around here. Mr. Burr had his hat in his hands, only he was crushing it. He saw me watching him, and he kind a smiled. The way to get things done is to go a little slower than what you have in mind. So Ive come to tell you, I just want to let you know I want to work with you, I want to be fair but its going to take time to convince the others. I had one braid in the front and two in the back. Doobies always pulling on the front braid and he got me again, sneaking up from behind. Ding dong, somebodys at the door, Doobie said, laughing and running off. He zigzagged across the next door neighbors yard, daring me to chase him. I got all the way to the corner before I just gave up, because Doobie was faster than me. And he was faster than Cordero, especially since he didnt want to get hit with that water balloon my brother was threatening him with. I couldnt breathe so I had to hold my stomach and bend down. Thats when I noticed two heads in Mr. Burrs car. Two boys were pushing and punching on each other in the back seat. It was easy to sneak up to the car window since they were busy fighting. The one closest to the door just about jumped into the bigger boys lap when he saw me, and he got knocked hard on the arm by the other one. He was rubbing where it was sore. Because most boys act like Doobie, I thought he was gonna tell me to get lost. They were wearing matching plaid shirts, and something told me they each had a coonskin cap at home too, just like Davy Crockett. Both of them had the same haircut, cept one had a piece of hair sticking up in the back. They had to be brothers, maybe even twins. Are yall twins? Both their lips twisted down like theyd just swallowed some castor oil. Im Simone. I lost my two front teeth. See? I yanked my top lip up to prove it. The one closest to the window looked at his brother and then back to me. Guess what? I said. His mouth opened and I could tell he was asking What? Chicken butt. He grinned, and I could see he was missing a front tooth.

I couldnt figure out why they were locked in a hot car when they could be outside playing with us. But the door handle wouldnt budge even when I used both my hands to open it. I asked about it, but that only started them to arguing again. I couldnt hear good, because not only were the windows up but they had the radio on. I did a windmill with my arm, hoping they could see I was telling them to roll the window down. Why cant you open the windows? It must be burning up inside there, I shouted. The one closest to me acted like he needed to explain. He leaned over to pop the lock but his brother stopped him. I could only make out No and Father said. At that the friendly one threw himself against the back seat, his bottom lip poking out. It was bright pink like when I blow up my bubble gum. The meaner and bigger ones mouth was moving fast this time. He looked back my way shaking his head. I couldnt hear everything, but in-between their fathers discussion with my Daddy and some man on the radio saying the weather would remain sunny I could tell they were saying stuff about me. She just wants to talk. Were not supposed to talk to them. Whos them? I asked, and they seemed surprised Id heard. Hey yall, I said whos them? Them is you and me dummy. Us colored folk. Doobie had snuck up on again me. Next thing I knew my face was mashed against the car window. I must a looked real funny because the bigger boy with the porcupine hair laughed so hard he started hiccupping. But the other one was staring back at Doobie, his eyes getting smaller and smaller until I couldnt make out the color anymore. Doobie pushed me out the way and cupped his hands on the window so he could see better into the car. His shirt was wet, so Cordero must a got him good with the water balloon. What you two looking at? If you wanna do something about it then step on out the car. My brother joined in, puffing his arm into a muscle that looked more like a pea getting flattened in a straw. Look at em. They aint about to do nothing except cry for their Daddy to come save em.

Before I could yell Im telling! Doobie slapped his hand across my mouth. I bent two of his fingers back and hollered for Daddy. Daddy was busy walking down the steps while Mr. Burr was trying to go backwards and talk at the same time. Daddy never took his eyes off him, but he did warn everybody to get away from the car. We all knew there wouldnt be a second warning by the way he said it. Mr. Burr kept fumbling with his keys, trying to hurry up to get in his car. He invited both Daddy and Mama to his church. Can I come too? I hollered. The smile left his face just as quick as it returned. Why sure you can honey. You and your he nodded Doobie and Corderos way brothers. His voice sounded funny. Same as my Grandmas that time she said she didnt mind me playing the piano while she was listening to her pastor on the radio. Then she turned right around and whined to Mama about missing his entire sermon. Told me she had to practice her scales when she wasnt doing nothing but banging on those keys. Grandma stared at me like she wanted to take a switch to my legs. Mama had me apologize, and she said I didnt have to practice the whole rest of the week Grandma was visiting us. Thank you for the offer, but we do fine at our own church, Daddy said. Which one do you attend? The bottom half of Mr. Burr was already in the car and the top half was trying to get in. All I could see was his hat moving as he talked. Garland. Reverend John Coltranes our pastor, Daddy answered. Mr. Burr slammed the door shut and rolled his window down so fast I thought he was winding up for a fastball. Coltranes a good man. Very moderate in temperament. I think Ill set up a meeting between the three of us so we can talk about the best way for you to govern your district. I had a good relationship with your predecessor, and I hope to have the same with you. Daddy spoke too low for Mr. Burr to hear. "Thats mighty white of you." He put his arm around me, warning that I was too close to the curb. I tried asking him who Pastor Coltrane was since we hardly ever went to church. He was always too busy, and Mama didnt want to be bothered with me and Cordero acting up. Wow Uncle Ted, you sure told him off, Doobie said. How long do you think itll take him to find out theres no such preacher named John Coltrane?

Daddy said Doobie better stay out of grown folks business. If he doesnt know who John Coltrane is, then he better ask somebody. When I laughed Doobie tugged one of my braids and I took off after him, but I fell and skinned my knee just as Mr. Burrs car picked up speed. One of his boys was staring out the back window, and I watched him watching me cry.

Chapter One

Graham Burr hunched over his steering wheel, the brim of his hat kissing the front
windshield as he tried to find a familiar street sign. Squinting his eyes at the sun and playing bumper car with the automobile in front, when that vehicle stopped he stopped, when it moved he inched forward. Ive never seen so many people driving screwy, Graham said. I remember when this area had nothing but white families living here. Now look at it. See that there? He pointed to an angel statue without wings. Used to be a fountain. The spitting replica of the one over in Italy, where you can throw pennies in and make a wish. Now its just sitting here with no water in it and the marbles cracked. Ill bet a dime to a dollar theres grass growing up through the cement. All he could do was shake his head, and his boys imitated him. Father? If he wasnt looking directly at his sons Graham could never figure out which one was talking. So Eli spoke up a little louder. Father . . . whats wrong with talking to a colored girl? Hed never seen his dads face get so red. It put him in mind of how that lobster looked after Mom took it out of the pot to see if it was cooked enough, then decided to drop it back in boiling water. He could have sworn hed heard that lobster screaming for mercy. There was a car honking behind them. Johnny, the younger of the two boys peered through the back window. A colored mans hands were flying up in exasperation when he wasnt pressing down on the horn. Graham mumbled something neither boy could make out. Keep your shirt on Uncle, Im moving. Their car turned at the next light, and Graham parked under a tree so large that its roots were bursting from the sidewalk. They were still in the colored section of town, but there were nothing but elderly individuals rocking in chairs on their porches, fanning themselves as they stared. They didnt look mean. They just looked surprised to see white people on their street. I never said anything was wrong with it, Graham said, I just bet if youd told that little girl that you wanted to talk with her, why shed laugh right in your face like its the funniest thing shed ever heard.

That didnt sound right to Eli. Why? Why what? A lady with snow white hair waved at Graham, asking if their car had broken down. He leaned out the window. No, were not having car trouble. Everythings fine. One finger slid between his neck and the clerics collar chaffing him. She smiled when he added, Have a blessed day. Why would she laugh at me? Eli asked again. Now Johnny wondered about it too. Maybe its because youre so roly-poly. Eli snorted. Youre the one who got scared when those bigger boys came over. Did not- Did too butthead. Boys, if I have to come back there to break you two up, this time Ill get a switch, so knock it off. He started it, Eli whined, and Johnny gave him a swat on his head. Then he caught Elis elbow just as his older brother tried to jab him in the stomach. Theyd both seen wrestlers perform that move on TV. Damn it, I said knock it off! Pray for forgiveness right now! Both boys immediately bowed their heads. Grahams window was down, making him wonder if someone had overhead him. But all that moved was an empty rocking chair where that lady had been. A patch eyed dog limped off the nearest porch and started sniffing their car tires. Get outta here you screwy old mutt, Johnny said. The dog bared its fangs and Johnny snarled right back at him. Dont use that word. Thats a bad word. Whered you hear the word screwy? Graham asked. Johnny didnt answer him back. Telling his father he got the word from him didnt seem like a smart thing to do. Graham started muttering to himself, wondering why Ted Westwood had to be so stubborn. The colored residents would get their way soon enough, if they were patient. This just wasnt the kind of city that did things without deliberation. And if Westwood couldnt tell a friend from a foe, then he wouldnt do his community any favors. This was supposed to be just a friendly visit where hed drop by and tell him how things were done. But while he was a man of God, he wasnt a statesman and he certainly couldnt work miracles, especially if Westwood wanted a confrontation. Boycotts and sit-ins werent the way of it. They

didnt need that kind of taint on their town. Still talking to himself, Graham lit up a cigarette and took a few puffs before he started in on his sons again. When you get home I dont want you bothering your mother with any of this nonsense, especially with her condition. You boys got that? Yes sir, Eli said. John, I didnt hear you answer me son. Graham was staring at him in the rear view mirror so Johnny couldnt make a face. Yes. Yes what? Yes . . . sir His youngest was trying his patience. And he had no doubt that God was thinking the very same thing.

Chapter Two

There were two of them on stage, furiously strumming acoustic guitars and hopping around
a single microphone like pogo sticks. Elis pompadour was so stiff the only thing that moved was the thick strand of hair hed purposely left out, just so it could fall into his eyes. The Burr Brothers were a duo but most of the girls were screaming for Eli. Not that Johnny Burr wasnt as fine as his older brother. Its just that he was a mean cuss. You think that- Yvonne pointed to the boy sporting big hair, twitching his upper lip in a sneer and planting his legs wide enough to mount a horse. Is sexy? Simone nodded, just itching to check the box next to the brothers name. Hes moving like hes got some rhythm but I dont know, Yvonne said, clearly not all that impressed. Id need to see what hes working with under those clothes. Just then Eli swung his guitar from the front to his backside and those shiny, too tight pants strained against his hips. Hallelujah and thank you Jesus. Both girls turned in unison, giggling at each other over what theyd just witnessed. Yvonne spoke first, sounding like she was panting for air. Promise you wont tell anyone that I voted for them. Swear it. Simone gave her a sly grin and Yvonne nudged her hard in the side. Letting out a yelp followed by an embarrassed Im sorry when a row full of blonde and brown pony tails whipped around to shush her, Simone lowered her voice. I promise. But only if you promise not to tell on me. Thats a bet. Yvonne leaned in closer. I voted for him cause ooh he is fine. While Yvonne fanned herself and pretended to faint, Simone drew a heart around the Burr Brothers slot on her ballot. A handful of colored kids who used to attend George Washington Carver High were also watching the talent show. Most of the others left once they found out The Derrells werent competing.

The Derrells were a Doo-wop group named after their lead singer. They should have been performing next, but most of the quintet were stuck in detention after theyd slammed a junior with a big mouth and an even bigger chip against Negroes into a locker. There were always kids fighting ever since the city councils redistricting plan turned the formerly all-white John F. Kennedy High into an experiment on integration. And the man behind it all was Simones dad, Ted Westwood. Bye bye love, bye bye happiness, hello loneliness . . . I like that country song. Never heard it before, but its catchy. Simone sang the chorus along with the brothers, putting her voice atop theirs to give the tune three part harmony, not caring when the row in front tried to get her to quiet down. I didnt know you could sing. How come you didnt sign up for this show? Yvonne asked. Now Simone acted like she was the one about to faint. Im glad I didnt. You heard how quiet it got when Ethels group sang Baby Love. Yeah, Im hip to that. The Burr Brothers got a standing ovation as usual. Unless there was an earthquake they were about to win another talent show. But a part of Simone did want to be on stage, especially after all the time shed put in practicing at home. The bathroom was the best place to play makebelieve in her house. It had a full length mirror on the door with four of the best walls to echo her voice, making it sound like she was in a recording studio. Shed take a hairbrush, count off an imaginary beat and raise the bristles to her mouth, pretending it was a microphone. A bucktoothed girl with a gap big enough to drive a truck through collected their ballots. She was the same one whod practically thrown the half sheets of paper in their faces, but handed them directly to her friends. This time though, instead of snatching their votes she waited until they marked their choice. Earlier Principal Randall made a point to stop the talent show and scream into the microphone about being a good citizen. Which meant no horseplay. And especially no rude behavior towards the new students like Simone and Yvonne. When the Burr Brothers got the ballot count and raised the trophy over their heads, there were a couple of boos drowned out by loud cheering and clapping. JFKs own Doo-wop answer to the Temptations waited near the exit. Derrell Downings originally put his namesake The Derrells together. They practiced three times a week over his house and would have been a worthy opponent to the Burr Brothers, but after missing last years

city wide talent show and now this one, their fans didnt know when The Derrells would get the chance to prove it. Next time baby, next time you better believe my groups gonna kill the Burr brothers on stage, Derrell promised. The reign of the Bore Brothers is over. Its time for some soul music up in here, not that country and western mess. With Simone at his left side and Yvonne on his right, Derrell put a possessive arm around each as Eli and Johnny made their way up the aisle. Hey Simone, Eli said. Thanks for voting for us. When I saw the neat artwork I knew it was your ballot. He held up the damning proof as the girls trailing him giggled. Sure enough all those hearts, flowers and squiggles gave her away. They only had one class together, an art class that let her gaze upon Eli at her leisure. But in the three months theyd been classmates this was the first time hed spoken more than a few words to her. Derrell switched from glaring at Eli to her, and then back to Eli. Yvonne turned her head. Simone just wanted to disappear, lowering her eyes. Since Eli was a senior and she was only a sophomore, his singling her out was even more unexpected. But the worst was yet to come. A pair of worn alligator boots and a guitar landed in her line of sight. That dag gone Johnny Burr stopped in front of them, and he had the nerve to ask Derrell a question. Guess what? Johnny said, with eyes that practically glittered because he was clearly up to something. Derrells stare was direct and his tone was cocky. What? Chicken Butt. Derrells friends had to hold him back. He called Johnny a lame chump and Johnny just laughed, hooking a finger under his top lip and pulling it back far enough to show his gums. No one understood what that was supposed to mean. Simone kept her eyes downcast and her mouth shut, but she couldnt keep the smile off her face. Those Burr Brothers truly thought they were Gods gift to women, both colored and white. With their father now the head of the largest church in the city they could afford to walk around town like they owned the place. But as much as Graham Burr talked about making peace with the Negroes in the community, his congregation was still lily white. He even had a radio show on Sunday mornings where his whole family sang devotional songs to the lord. His wife Suzette played bass, Johnny and Eli were on guitar and Graham showed off his skill on the piano. This was their sixth year on the air and their popularity was only increasing.

But it wasnt just because of their Sunday program. When Graham did the convocation at a number of political events, the boys were on hand to perform. Over time his sermons and counseling of couples took priority, so Eli and Johnny just booked themselves throughout the area and split the money. For both boys the high school dances were the most fun. The political fund raisers were the worst. Eli could never keep track of Johnny, and there were allegations of things going missing whenever they performed for private parties. Johnny had a whole lot of larceny in his heart, in addition to a growing stash of items from the homes theyd performed in. Some of the things hed swipe were expensive, like solid gold cuff links and watches. And there was the time hed found a miniature train set chugging along in a cardboard city that looked exactly like theirs, after hed picked the lock on a hosts back room. Other things he collected revealed more about that persons peculiarities, like the Motor Vehicle supervisor who liked to collect dentures. Then there was that time Johnny took something that had an elder statesmen of their Citizens Council in a rage. The man wanted whatever Johnny had stolen back so bad that he issued a public plea for its return. I will not ask any questions of the thief. I simply want the item that was taken to be returned to me because of its sentimental value. Eli wasnt sure how Johnny finagled a check that was enough to pay for a vintage 1957 Stratocaster guitar, just like the ones the Everly Brothers used and a second hand truck, but he did.

Standard was a sleepy little town that was neither here nor there, just a place people drove
through to get to their ultimate destination. It was a stopover to fill up a car with gas, or to say howdy neighbor to the locals and to buy homemade ice cream and discuss politics, both local and national. The power outage up in New York, Maine and New England were all the talk in public, while huddled whispers concerned the Watts Race Riots over in California, especially from those uneasy with the influx of blacks, or as the newspaper called them Our Negro Neighbors. All roads led to and from Standard. Situated smack in the middle of the United States, folks liked to say they were the only true residents of Middle America, neither east nor west, with no real allegiance to the north or the south. Once they started getting in outsiders after the steel plant

became operational during the Second World War, the make-up of the community changed. But that didnt mean attitudes of longtime residents had to. At school both Eli and Johnny were in the chorus. Just like most things in town, there was a black choir and a white chorale group. Only Eli didnt seem to care which one he sang in, while Johnny liked to refer to singing in the white chorale group as sticking with his own kind. Johnny always had a cigarette behind one ear, which usually made the hall monitor stop him and demand he hand it over. He never tucked his shirt in, even though he knew hed get reprimanded for it. If he ever took off his jeans theyd stand straight up, thats how often he wore them. Johnny Burr wasnt known for his sparkling personality. If he wasnt performing his time was split working on his motorcycle or being absent from school whenever he felt the need to skip. There was a surly look to his face that made him appear older than his seventeen years. His eyes were brown, or maybe green, no one could really tell because he squinted so much. Most times he kept his head down when he made his way from class to class, and unlike his more sociable brother he liked to hang out with a group that could best be described as the Future Rednecks of America. There was Ollie, the butchers son who hung out with Frankie, a kid with a bad complexion and big ears, Johnny, who both scared and attracted all the females and Chuck Bacon, a big Ox of a guy who liked to make other males scream in girlish terror. Theyd join up to go out and vandalize property, considering it a good night when their cars would rumble into the colored section of town to bust up Christmas decorations, especially nativity scenes with the little baby Jesus painted brown. Johnnys older brother Eli was the complete opposite in temperament and dress. Some of the older folks warned that Eli thought he was the second coming of Elvis Presley. His hair was a shade of black that looked navy under the right lights, just like the comic book Superman. And his eyes were blue as a morning sky. The only time the Burr boys looked similar was on stage. Johnny would throw a studded lapel jacket over those God awful jeans, while Eli wore a similar coat, except his had way more studs, or what he called his bells and whistles. They both considered country singers Webb Pierce, Waylon Jennings and Buck Owens their honky tonk heroes.

Suzette Burr met Graham at the door with her arms folded and her face a mask of worry.
The tight pin curls she wore sprouted like Slinkys when they should have been flat as pancakes all over her head. You better get up there. They sound like theyre killing each other, she said, taking Grahams suit jacket as his hat sailed onto the arm chair in the adjoining living room. After years of practice Grahams throw hit the mark every time. No longer able to leap the stairs in threes, he hoped the anger in his voice would strike enough fear into Eli and Johnny so that theyd knock it off before he got to their room. As he made his way up, the nicks in the woodwork and walls from the boys playing and previous fights had him mad enough to pull off the belt holding his trousers. But he knew it wouldnt do any good. Rounding the corner and entering the bedroom they shared, the boys were in a full blown fight. Eli had Johnny in a head lock. Graham arrived in time to stop Johnny from hoisting his older brother airborne in order to slam him to the ground. There were more than enough planks of flooring loosened from his signature wrestling move. Grabbing Johnny by the waist, Graham slung the boy into the far wall. A poster of Bridget Bardot ripped under his weight, but like a dog in the thick of battle Johnny shook off the pain, charging back toward Eli. The only thing that stopped him was Eli holding Johnnys much beloved 57 Stratocaster over his head, promising to bash him with it. Heaving and kicking even though his father bulldozed him against the wall, Johnny still lashed out. You take back what you said or I swear, when youre asleep Ill shave off those sideburns and that ducktail so youll look just like Gomer Pyle. I told you Id think about doing a Wayne Cochran song, but not this shit. Since Johnny wasnt making any sense Graham appealed to Eli to tell him what started the fight. He broke my record. I just bought this and he broke it for no good reason, just cause I wanted to include it in our set, Eli said. Sure enough little triangles of black acetate crunched under Grahams feet. The only thing still intact was the name of the artist on the label and the song title. James Browns I Got You (And I feel good).

Eli, Graham began, stalling for time until he found the right words. He wasnt questioning his first born sons taste in music, but this wasnt the town to do that kind of song in. Graham turned his attention back to Johnny. You both know how all this can be settled. If his father had thrown cold water on him Johnny couldnt have cooled off any faster. I cant sing lead. I-I tried. Did you really try? What about doing like the doctor said? Did you think good thoughts when the bad ones tried taking over? I did try. Tell him Eli, I was gonna do lead today at the talent show only- He froze, Eli said. He just stood there playing the opening a few times so I had to take over. Hes still not ready Pop. If hed added he may never sing lead again it couldnt have hurt Graham any worse. Squeezing Johnnys shoulder blades he told him it would be all right, that he just needed a little more time. I know you can do it son. I know you can get it back. Youve got a gift from God. I know itll come back. Youve just got to trust in the Lord to know the hour and day. Johnnys body was quaking, and Graham just wanted to hug him tight. Dont cry son. Youre getting too big to cry. But Johnny wasnt crying. There was laughter coming from him as his dad tried to comprehend what he was hearing. It was a tragedy played out for more years than he wanted to think about. Releasing his son, Graham surveyed the destruction in their bedroom. Johnnys twin bed was still against the opposite corner but the window curtains had been ripped down. Elis bed was closest to the door, a few feet from the dresser drawer and writing desk that lay toppled over. Save for Johnnys electric guitar still in Elis hands, their acoustic guitars were untouched on stands near the closet. You boys clean yourselves up. And get this room straightened out. I dont want your mother bringing the broom and dustpan up here to fix a mess you two made. Eli was the only one who answered. Yes sir. Johnny pushed past his father, doing a belly flop onto his bed. As an afterthought he began hitting the wall with a closed fist until the sound reverberated upwards. Gesturing for Eli to join him in the hallway Graham rolled up his sleeves, making both boys think Eli was about to get a really long lecture on worldly influences. Instead his father surprised

them by changing the subject. I heard from Wiley, Jenny Martins dad. She told him you dumped her after only one date. Eli followed his father out, but not before he gave Johnny a sly wink at the mention of Jennys name. What happened between you two? Graham said, blocking the door in case Johnny decided to continue the fight. Shes got heavy legs and droopy eye lids. Plus those roving hands of hers were a pain. He said it hoping his father would be shocked and maybe indignant enough to call the whole thing off. Im not asking you to marry her. Just be nice to her. There was a weariness in Grahams voice that stopped short of making it an order. Just think good thoughts, Johnny added. When Eli told him he knew exactly where he could stick his good thoughts they started arguing again. Graham demanded Johnny get off the bed and control the commotion in the attic. And Eli, I want you to call Jenny for a second date. I cant see a problem with having a girl so tongue tied that she worships the ground you walk on, especially since I need her fathers signature to get a new roof on the church. Then Johnnys the one who should be buttering her up. Eli turned back to his brother, throwing out another dig. Hes all she talks about anyway. She says she can see how tortured a soul he is and other stuff, like hes Troy Donohue or something. All I know is you better hurry up and get with somebody. Because people are starting to talk. Grahams brows knitted together. What are they saying? Now that Eli had his fathers undivided attention which wasnt often he milked it for all it was worth. Oh you know, the regular stuff kids say. How come he acts so weird? When he was born did your mom drop him on his head? He must eat too many beans cause he sure farts a lot. You better shut up - Johnny warned, and Graham gave Eli a look seconding that suggestion. Instead his firstborn changed his voice and his posture, as he began bobbing and weaving like boxer Cassius Clay. Johnny Im so pretty, and Im so fast, I can have all the girls, Im just that bad. Im a badddd man.

Graham chuckled and even Johnny laughed. Whatever Eli had, Graham sure wished he could bottle it for Johnny. And even for himself. It could prove handy when he needed to cool things down between Ted Westwood and the rest of the city council. Their complaints were piling up, enough so that there was a real concern for Ted Westwoods growing influence. The mildest course of action was to re-map Teds district so that he lost his council seat. The most radical was to run him out of town. Graham advised all those who came to his church with tales of woe to let common sense rule. When Westwood and his followers pushed, there was no need to push back. Not with the eyes of the Federal government watching every municipality, and itching to send in the national guard at the first sign of trouble. Pandering to both groups had turned into a headache for Graham and his family. Speaking of family, he wondered how Westwoods little girl was getting along at JFK. Eli, are you keeping an eye on Ted Westwoods daughter like I asked you to? Eli stopped air punching in Johnnys direction. Yeah, of course. Westwoods a fool to put his own child in harms way, Graham muttered, his mind picturing the child hed met years ago. Shes just a girl, just a little girl for Petes sake. Uh, shes a girl, but shes sure not little anymore. Eli pretended to have an imaginary female in his arms, passionately kissing and holding her tight. Johnny threw a pillow his way and called him a pervert. Graham ordered both of them to cut out the horseplay. Ive got one hour before I have to head back to church. Im expecting both of you to step up and act accordingly with this integration thing. Elis doing his part. But Johnny, I dont want to hear a peep, not even a whisper about you and the hooligans you like to call your buddies causing trouble. Because if I do Im washing my hands of it. Im not coming to your aid if you screw up again, you got that? Instead of a respectful Yes sir, Johnny snorted. So what else is new? Eli had to step between his father and his brother as they glared at each other over his shoulders. He swiveled his waist and warned Johnny to get back on the bed before defending him to their father. Pop, thats kinda harsh. Sometimes its not Johnnys fault. Theres always a guy gunning for a reputation by picking a fight with him. And whose fault is that? If Johnny didnt enjoy bullying and fighting so much he could use his other skills, like youve chosen to do.

Now it was a free-for-all as Johnny sprang from the bed, yelling at Eli to butt out because he could stick up for himself while Graham made a show of pulling off his belt. The banging overhead shook the walls. Youre not too big for me to use this on you, Graham hollered, the leather just missing Elis nose as it swooshed by. Dont test me boy. God knows I try but youre about this close- Johnny flung himself away, dropping his jeans and daring Graham to go right ahead. Eli groaned at the sight. Johnnys legs were full of old welts and bruises, some caused by his father and others by his own recklessness. I dont have time for this, Graham finally said, giving up and giving in, aging before both boys eyes. His suit pants seemed baggier, the comb over that didnt fool anyone was even sadder looking, and the grimace posing as a smile, as if his shoes were too tight sucked the aggression right out of Johnny. It made Eli back down, inwardly cursing that he hadnt chosen to be the better man. Youre the eldest. You should know better. Hadnt his father drummed those words into his head enough? Left alone with his thoughts, Eli offered to go see what was going on in the attic if Johnny did him a favor. Could you pull up your pants? he said, covering a hand over his eyes. See, your legs arent pretty like mine. Theyre ugg-lee. You wish, Johnny quipped, but the joke made him smile. Still, he had to know. Are my legs that bad? I mean, do you think a girl, would s-she laugh at me? It depends. Different chicks like different things. Some girls like blue eyes he pointed to his own So youre shit out of luck there. Other girls like big, uh . . . feet. Only its not the wood that makes it good, its the motion of the ocean. Johnny just stared at him, sour faced and confused. Eli grinned. Cheer up, Im your brother remember? If you ever get lucky shell just pretend its me and not you, and all will be right with the world.

Chapter Three

With her eyes lined in black and partially hidden by thick bangs, Simone Westwood stepped
off the yellow bus to another day of hell at John F. Kennedy High. It was a forty-five minute ride to get to her new school, which was a big difference from the little over ten minute walk it used to take to get to George Washington Carver High. JFK was newly integrated while GWC was still predominately colored. Since her father mobilized the community into action, integration wouldnt be slowly ushered in like the white residents wanted. It would go off like a grenade. Cordero had already graduated, so hed escaped. He even got to be senior class vice president at Washington-Carver and a basketball star, but at JFK they were just those colored kids. Every day her feet were accidently stepped on and people bumped her from behind. Nobody said the words Im sorry although one time a couple of white girls helped pick up her books when they were knocked out of her arms, and they actually apologized about the other kids acting so dumb. Shed go home and complain but her Dad used the same line for comfort. One day youll look back on all this with pride. Youll be one of the first Negroes to graduate from JFK. I dont want to be the first Negro to do anything. The white kids hate us and we cant stand them. I hate that school, she said. Ted held up the evening paper, snapping the wrinkles out and blocking her scowling face. Youll survive. That was easy to say when he wasnt the one who had to walk the halls and hear the whispers. He didnt have to experience the harsh stares or the unexpected shove into a locker. When shed turn around to see whod done it everybodys face looked the same, like they all wanted to be the one shed go after. Ted didnt want to hear any whining about getting it worse than the other kids because of who her father was. Thats the one, theyd whisper. Her dad made us integrate. The night Ted and Carla decided Simone would transfer to JFK, shed eavesdropped on her parents by standing at the head of the stairs, careful not to step too far down so that they couldnt

see her. Their voices would fade in and out as they walked from the kitchen to the living room arguing. Teddy, she doesnt want to go there. Just let her stay at Washington-Carver, Carla pleaded. But Ted played stubborn. I cant ask other people to send their kids and not do the same with my own. Shes only got a couple more years. There was no compromising on this, her father ranted. It was symbolic of bigger things to come for Negroes. Becoming a councilmember had been Theodore Roosevelt Westwoods first step. He was intent on making the city de-segregated, and not just in the schools. As the only Negro on the six man city council, hed quickly realized his vote didnt count when all the others combined to form a voting bloc. If he wanted changes in his community and for his people, hed have to make concessions. And he needed allies. One Negro on the city council isnt enough, he told his wife. We need more elected in order to get a controlling vote. And how do you propose we do that? Carla said. Theyre already trying to get some Uncle Tom to run against you in the next election. It took four tries before you got that council seat. Itll only take one time for them to get you out. Carla was blunt, but she spoke the truth. While the rest of the country slowly hired and promoted Negroes for jobs that were usually held by whites, he noticed there still werent any Negro bus drivers, secretaries, clothing store clerks, waitresses, or five and dime workers in Standard. In fact, for jobs in the public sector there werent any colored faces at all. Though steady streams of his people were migrating from the south, the only work they could land were for maintenance or domestic, unless a business flourished that had been started by one of their own. So far theyd opened a record store, a small grocery and a funeral parlor. A sole grammar school and high school that were still mainly colored employed a few Negroes as cooks. The biggest employer was the steel plant where he worked. And though Carla had been to college, all shed been offered when she went looking for part-time work was as a maid. Ted was convinced that all had to change. So the first thing he did after taking office was to buy a bullhorn and go to the park or whenever church let out to talk to the members of his

community. He spoke about the power they had when they were united and that the city had neglected their needs for far too long. Employment should be equal opportunity. We have to fight so that our children have a better future. We have to mobilize, and march, and let our voices be heard. It didnt endear him to the white citizens, but he sure made a name for himself with his own community. And for that Teddy Westwood was branded a trouble maker.

The girls lavatory on the first floor was routinely guarded by Chuck, a muscular kid who
thought it was funny to block anyone colored from going in until just before the late bell rang, so Simone ran up to the second floor only to see Johnny Burr manning watch. Anger at holding in a full bladder took over. She marched up to him and shoved her books into his stomach. Hey, what the hell? His customary slouch immediately became straight as an arrow, looming over her at close to six feet in height. You deserve it for that Chicken butt joke. Ill be out in a minute and Ill tell whoever youre waiting on to hurry up. Before he could threaten to throw those damn books into the nearest trash can she was already gone. Soon as she walked in most of the conversation stopped. Shiny heads bobbed up at her presence and then down, resuming their discussions on the latest gossip. Of course Johnny Burrs name punctuated every sentence. It would have been nice to have backup, like Yvonne or one of the other girls from Washington-Carver standing guard over her stall. A look out helped stop balls of wet paper towels from being tossed over the door, but there wasnt much she could do about it right then, especially with her panties around her knees. Shed just have to expect a missile and try to duck. Relieved when she was able to get in and out of the stall without being hit with a mystery toss, Simone loudly proclaimed she was coming through to wash her hands. Keeping her eyes on the redhead staring back at her in the mirror and the chattering girls surrounding them both, she loaded up on soap. It might come in handy if she had to fling it in a few faces. An insistent tap on her shoulder had her cringing. Howd you do it? the redhead asked. Do what?

I saw you give Johnny Burr your books to hold. Howd you manage that? A hush fell over the room. Eyes popped in surprise along with bubble gum. Necks craned, with girls leaning in to hear her answer. Oh, hes waiting to walk back to class with somebody in here. He offered to watch my books if I told her to hurry up, she finally said. Fighting chickens made less noise than those girls after they heard that. A few demanded to know the name of the lucky girl but she lied again, saying she couldnt recall it with them talking at her all at once. I only know shes got dark hair. Thats what I thought about when he said her name. No sooner had she said it than their egos took over. More lipstick was applied and breasts were lifted. Even the blondes swore he was waiting on them, claiming their hair was actually dark yellow. Johnny was gonna get mobbed. Squirming through a rainbow of cashmere sweaters, Simone practically fell out of the bathroom door and snatched her books away from Johnny, giving him a hasty Thanks a bunch. But she couldnt leave him standing there so grouchy and unsuspecting, even though he was muttering something under his breath. She was pretty sure it had to do with her. Youre about to get the royal treatment by your fans. Ciao. Nothing shed just said made any sense. Johnny stepped forward as if he were about to walk with her. Ciao is goodbye in Italian, she said. So goodbye. Oh. That was the last word he got out before the lavatory door exploded open and he was swallowed up by a crowd of man-hungry, giggling females.

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