“Tell me again what happened...”

It's hours of questions. I look to my right to see Rami is getting questioned too. This is a nightmare. Ashley is dead and no one knows what happened.

Detective Logan is the one questioning me. The scene is full of detectives. It's really chaos. People are crying and carrying on. Truth is I'm still confused on what happened.

“I told you all I know,” I tell the Detective, “I was out front and I came back and she was dead.”

Detective Logan looks over at me, “Is there any reason that you think someone would want to hurt Ashley?”

My mouth drops.

“You think this was a murder?”

“It's possible she may have fallen and hit her head...but it is also possible someone could have pushed her into the empty pool...”

Jesus Christ.

I sit there and think for a minute. Rami knew she was pregnant and he went back there first. Could he know more than he was telling the police? He had a reason to want Ashley gone but hell...so did I for that matter. I think about telling the Detective about the whole pregnancy scare thing but right now at this moment I don't want to put any suspicion on me.

So I shake my head at that moment.

“I don't think anyone would want to hurt her, but again...I don't know her that well.”

It's the only thing I can say. I'm not telling the whole truth but I'm not really lying to the detective. I didn't do it. That's all I knew. Did Rami have a motive to want to hurt Ashley...yes...he probably did. Did he actually do it though? That was hard to believe.

“Is there an issue here sir?”

I turn to see my father walking up to the house. I called him hours ago before the coroner showed up at the house party. I told him what happened. He said he was on his way and he's just now arriving. Sydney is close to him and they look over at us as they approach.

“I'm just questioning your son on the death of his classmate,” the Detective says.

“From what I discussed with everyone it seems like it was an accident. Or is there something additional we don't know?” Darryl asks the Detective.

Detective Logan sits there for a while and thinks. He seems really suspicious about something but I don't know what it is. Hell...I figured it must have just been an accident until I'm seeing the Detective's face. He just looks really suspicious.

Could this really have been a murder?

The Detective shakes his head, “No additional information now. As soon as we see what the coroner rules it, I'll let your family know...”

The detective looks over at me one last time before turning and walking away. I'm so confused on what he could know. I'm so confused on what could have happened with Ashley.

The days go past and for some reason the accident seems to bring the Payne's together a little bit more. It's strange having someone slip and fall in the back of your house. It's a little scary knowing your sleeping right where someone died a few days ago. I notice Darryl spending more time with us. He doesn't say it but I think he's worried about how we are coping with Ashley's death. Truth is I don't know where to begin coping with it. I didn't know her...

“Your first ball game is coming up,” Yuri says.

He walks into the living room. We haven't talked about the night he came at me and tried to kiss me. Truth is I don't know if he remembers completely. If he does remember he is sweeping it under the rug and pretending like nothing happened.

“I've been practicing,” I tell him.

“With that kid Zion huh?”

“Naw. I haven't talked to him since the party.”

Yuri shakes his head and sits down next to me. We are on the front porch of the house. It's a Wednesday. The weather has been a little shitty raining or what not. After Ashley died we all took a two or three days off of school. Tomorrow would be our first day back in school and Friday would be our first basketball game.

“About the party...” Yuri starts.

I think he is going to start talking about the kiss.

“Yeah I've been meaning to talk to you about that.”

Yuri nods, “Right. Do you think Rami could have did it...”

I stop at that moment and look at him. I am not expecting this. I mean I'm expecting him to talk about the fact that he hit on me but him wondering whether Rami killed Ashley seems to be more interesting to him. I turn to Yuri and I just am really confused about it.

“Wait. Weren't you with Rami? Did you and him go talk to Ashley together?”

“We got separated. I went to the bathroom to throw up...” Yuri explains, “When I came out of the bathroom Rami was gone...”

I am confused at that moment. I look over at Yuri and I don't know how to take this. So Rami was the only one who went after Ashley at the party. I cross my hands. The rain outside is beating harder and harder.

“I mean Rami is a dickhead sometimes but...a murderer?” I ask.

It's hard to put my head around it. I just look over at Yuri. The idea that Rami could kill someone really blows my fucking mind.

“Who knows? You and Rami were close before your accident. Before the accident you were cheating with Ashley. What if Rami knew about you and Ashley?” Yuri asks me.

“You think Rami could have tried to kill me in that accident?”

Yuri sits there and lets it marinate for a minute.

I can tell he must have really had this on his mind for a while. The suspicion must have really picked up. I mean we knew Rami had a motive. The cops didn't but we did. Ashley wasn't going to get that abortion and Rami wanted to get rid of the baby. I sit there and think about it. Could Rami have been mad enough about me sleeping with Ashley that he would try to kill me if he found out?

“You know how his anger is,” Yuri states, “I'm just saying. You never know what Rami is---”

“Someone mention my name?”

Just at that moment Rami walks outside. He has a smile on his face. Since Ashley died he's been in a good mood. It's kind of immature. You would think he would show some sort of compassion being that his ex-girlfriend died a few days ago.

Yuri and I shut up. Rami's happiness that Ashley isn't around is clear. He is smiling from to ear to ear. He is looking like everything is great.

“Just talking about what position you were going to play now that Zion is on the team,” Yuri lies.

I look away. I can't get it off my mind now though. What if he a killer? What if Rami is the one who tried to kill me and ended up killing Ashley? I look over at his face. He doesn't have a killer face. He doesn't look crazy. He just looks like a horny teenager who makes horrible choices and is a little selfish. It's normal behavior for a teen. But I wonder if anything lies beneath.

Rami crosses his arms, “Fuck Zion. I'm not worried about him. I'm sure Dad will have him play the bench this upcoming game anyway.”

Yuri nods, “Yeah. Well...guess we'll see...

Yuri gets up and walks back in the house at that moment. I take a look back at him. Rami just squints when he walks back into the house.

“What the hell is up with him?” Rami asks me.

I shrug, “Just probably shook up about the whole Ashley thing...”

At that moment Rami does something weird. He laughs. He's laughing like the whole Ashley thing is one big joke.

“Funny how the world works things out right?” Rami says, “Man. I'm not going to front. That Ashley thing scared the fuck out of me. But at least now you know there is a GOD.”

“How the fuck can you say that?” I ask.

I get up at that moment. Rami is heartless. He is sitting there like nothing even matters. He's sitting there basically saying that God killed Ashley for him.

“Listen. I'm just saying. Of course I'm sad she died...or whatever,” Rami explains further, “But hell. I wasn't ready to be no Dad. Were you?”

“That's not the point. Someone's dead Rami. All you care about is you.”

“No. That's not true.”

“Bullshit boy. Who else do you care about but yourself?”

I push past Rami at that moment and go in the house. I'm disgusted by him and his fucked up ass attitude. I can't even be around him at that moment.

It's at that point Rami grabs me and pulls me into him.

He kisses me.

“Does that prove something?” he asks.

“No...it doesn't...”


It's Friday night and the game is about to start. I'm in the locker room and realize that I've haven't been talking to Rami at all. When I get into the locker room I realize everything is awkward. Houston and I still aren't really talking. Zion smiles at me but it's awkward as hell when he sees that I'm walking in the locker room with Yuri. Rami just stares at me from across the locker room expecting me to speak. I don't know if I can or not.

I open my locker at that moment and I see the strangest thing. Some sneakers. They are Jordans. Who the fuck knows my locker combination and who the hell is leaving me gifts? I'm a little confused by it but definitely not upset.

A card is attached.

It reads, “From your admirer.”

I'm confused on what this card means.

“Nice kicks...” a voice says.

I look over my shoulder to see that Zion is standing over me. He's already in the Wagner Falcons uniform. He looks down at me and I'm assuming he saw the note too.

“Probably from my ex girlfriend...” I reply realizing that he's read the note.

“Doubt it. Those are dope. Either a girl who has a sneaker obsesession or a boy got them for you,” Zion states at that moment, “I know your ex. She has never worn a pair of sneakers in her life.”

He says it kind of loud. Luckily the locker room is loud and busy and no is really paying attention to what is going on.

“Listen, about what happened at the party...”


“Not Ashley. I mean that...” I lean over to Zion a little bit making sure that we are whispering in the loud locker room and no one hears us, “Kiss with Yuri.”

Zion looks over at me and shakes his head at that moment, “Like I said...tragedy. I find the boy that I've had a crush on for years is...down. And then I see him kissing someone else. It's a fucking tragedy...”

I raise an eyebrow.

“Wait. You had a crush on me?”

Zion looks over at the card, “Well according to this card I'm not the only one. Huh?”

Zion walks away at that moment.

Fuck. I have no choice. I hurry to put on my shoes and follow him to the front of the locker room. Luckily it's a lot less people in the front of the locker room. I watch as Zion is doing stretches in the locker room, preparing himself. I have to admit that he looks sexy as fuck in his jersey. His muscles and tattoos just make him even sexier.

“You can't just say something like that and walk away,” I say at that moment.

My heart is beating fast.

“Oh come on. Let's be real. You had to know I was attracted to you,” Zion replies raising an eybrow.

I look around.

“Who says I don't feel the same way?”

Zion shrugs, “If you felt the same way why'd you kiss Yuri?”

He's being serious. I don't know how to answer his question. The kiss with Yuri just happened. It wasn't planned.

“You can't blame me for something that I did without knowing that you were interested.”

“Now you know...” Zion said, “I had a crush on you for a long time. I still do. And honestly as attracted as I am with you, I don't compete. It's clear that you have a lot of admirers. Female and male I see.”

“I can't help that.”

“Whether you remember it or not. You have a reputation James...” Zion says.

“What reputation?”

“You know and I know. You get around,” Zion explains, “I'm attracted to you. But I don't know if I can deal with that. Just being honest. Look. Clearly another admirer...”

I turn at that moment. I notice who Zion is talking about. He's talking about Rami. Rami has been standing across the locker room watching us for the past couple of minutes. Shit. Rami isn't even hiding the fact that he's bothered I'm talking to Zion. He's basically mean-mugging us. Zion clearly is annoyed by it. I watch him turn away from me and continue to stretch on his own.

I can't help but walk over to where Rami is standing at this point.

“Can you stare any harder?” I ask him.

“Why the fuck are you talking to him?” Rami asks me.

Rami's face gets red all of a sudden. I'm confused by it. I've seen him around Ashley a few times and he seems to not give a damn what the hell she was doing. Now all of a sudden he was upset that I was just having a conversation with Zion.

I raise an eyebrow, “Rami...are you jealous?”

“Yo---stop being stupid. That boy is out. I don't want you to start getting a reputation. I'm just looking out for you,” Rami explains.

“Thanks for looking out but I'll talk to who I want to talk to,” I reply.

“He likes you. Doesn't he.”

“It's none of your business Rami.”

Rami rolls his eyes. He looks really annoyed.

“I want it to be my business.”

I am confused by it.

“What?” I ask.

Rami crosses his arms, “Did you get the sneakers I left for you?”

He smiles. It's almost like he's trying to make up for our mini-argument the day before. I wonder if he thinks him buying me sneakers is going to make up for the fact that he's been a dickhead. He is smiling as though he expects me to jump up and down. I don't. My face remains the same. In fact I end up standing back and mean-mugging him a little bit more.

“What's up with the gifts?”

Rami shrugs, “I want us to try this out. I want us to make this work...”

“What do you mean make this work?”

I'm playing dumb even though I kind of feel like I suspect where he's going with this.

“Like...a relationship...”

I'm shocked by it. I wasn't expecting it. I mean Rami is my adopted brother. Even if I did want to have a gay relationship that was a little too close for comfort. Luckily I don't have to reply because a whistle blows. My father and the assistant coach walk into the locker room to talk about the game plan for tonight.

The guys are crowded around. I can feel Rami coming up behind me. He's doing it on purpose. He proceeds to get hard behind me. He's being slick and thinking that no one is seeing since we are all packed together.

Someone notices though.


Zion is looking dead at us. And he clearly doesn't like it. I mean Rami is sexy but he's just ignorant. Sex with him is amazing but that is where I want to leave it with Rami. I want to leave it at sex. Zion is different.

With Zion I see potential for something bigger...

The ball game starts. I think I'm doing good. I hope so at least. I'm holding my own on the court. I even score a couple shots. I'm clearly getting better and the only person that I owe it to is Zion. He's the only one who actually took the time to help me. I am playing point guard and Zion is on the court with me the entire time. The two of us are playing throughout the game passing the ball back and forth between one another.

Most of the time I'm assisting Zion...passing the ball to him so that he can take a few shots. And Zion is SHINING on the court. He's killing it.

We win.

The opposing team doesn't stand a chance and by the end of the game everyone is realizing that Zion fucking killed it.

By the time we go back in the locker rooms I'm expecting people to dump water on his head or something. Zion basically carried us throughout the game. None of that happens though. Instead I watch as one by one my teammates walk past Zion.

“Good game,” one of my teammates says to me.

The guy walks right past Zion. Zion scored 30 points this game. 30 fucking points and no one is even acknowledging that he got us the win. They walk past him.

“Good game man,” Rami tells me.

He slaps me on the ass. Zion catches it. He looks down though and continues to do what he's doing. No one has even spoken to him in the locker rooms except for the coaches! Rami is smiling. He smirks a little bit. I can tell he's doing it on purpose. I can even tell he's doing it in front of Zion on purpose. It's clear Rami is doing this because Zion can't. If Zion was to slap me on the ass in front of people it would definitely be seen as gay. They are avoiding Zion in the locker room like he has Ebola or something just because he's gay.

I don't know what gets into me. I just find myself standing up on the benches in the locker room. I take my shirt off and wave it around my head.

“HEY EVERYONE!” I'm announcing at the top of my lungs, “Let's give it up for Zion! 30 motherfucking points! That's what I'm talking about!”

I'm clapping before anyone else does. Zion looks back at me. It's clear he's a little embarrassed but I don't care. I'm the only one clapping for a second then slowly someone else joins in. And after that another person and another person.

Soon people are banging on the lockers for Zion.

They go over to him. They play with his hair. They have conversation with him. After a few minutes of breaking the ice I don't need it anymore. I fade to the background ok with the fact that Zion is getting his fair dues in this. I'm completely fine with that.

We get dressed and I'm standing with Yuri. We're waiting for Houston and Rami outside of the locker room at that moment. It's cold out and the brisk air hits my hair because I recently washed it. I shiver a little bit.

“So how about that Detective called me again this morning,” Yuri says.

“Detective Logan.”

Yuri nods, “That's the one. Asking questions...”

I sigh. Jesus Christ. Detective Logan was definitely someone who didn't know how to let shit go.

“What does he want?”

“He suspects Ashley's death was foul play,” Yuri explains, “I told you man. What if Rami did something...what if he did something crazy?”

I think about it. Yuri has really gone off the wall with this.

“Yuri is there something that sparked this?”

“The check that Rami was going to offer Ashley...have you seen it?” Yuri asks me all of a sudden, “You do realize that April wrote a blank check. She didn't know Ashley's name. Rami is the last person to see it. Why hasn't he given it back?”

“So you think he cashed it?”

“I know he did. The other day I go in his room and see all this new shit. Man. Rami cashed that check. Have you not notice him making crazy purchases lately?”

I sit there for a minute. The Jordans. Those are brand new. They had to cost Rami a couple hundred dollars.

“Did you tell the police anything?” I ask.

“Of course not. He's fam. But...man...I feel like the shit is about to hit the fan. If Rami did do something to Ashley...it's going to come out. Detective Logan isn't an idiot,” Yuri explains, “And I think we should do something before we go down with him...”

This time I can't help but to listen to Yuri. I'm listening really well. It's then when Rami and Houston start heading out. Yuri gives me a look. Maybe it's time to give Detective Logan a call. Maybe it's time to let him know Rami might have done something. Yuri is right. If it looks like we are covering for Rami we could all go down with him.

Rami approaches. He's smiling again. I'm connecting the dots. He's been so happy since Ashley died. I look at his watch all of a sudden.

“Nice watch...”

“This old thing,” he laughs, “Come on. I'll let you borrow it.”

I look at Rami. I'm suspicious. I can't help it. I can't even try to fake it. It's probably better not to be around him right now. Luckily as I look over I see Zion walking over to his car.

“Actually I'm going to get a ride with Zion.”

“Since when are you two friends?” Houston asks me.

I roll my eyes, “That's my business...”

The three of them are looking at me like I'm making some sort of mistake or something. I ignore them and walk away. I have to get away from the Paynes and their drama at least for now. I have to get away from Rami.

I find myself walking up to Zion.



Zion has on some sweats. They are baggy fitting him perfectly with a white tank he has on. He looks at me. He smiles and plays with his brown hair a little bit. I can't help but to be immediately attracted to him.

“Can I...come with you?” I ask.

“Where do you want to go?”


Zion stares at me for a minute. For that minute I think he's going to say no. I think he's going to feel like I mess around with too many people or something. But he doesn't. Zion opens the car door for me and smiles.

We end up at the top of a hill. We've been talking for hours about nothing. Zion is extremely quiet in school and at basketball practice, but now he's very talkative. It's almost like he was just waiting for someone who he felt comfortable with to talk to. I feel comfortable too. I find myself leaning over and just staring at his lips as he talks.

“I used to come up here all the time as a kid,” Zion explains to me, “My dad would take me up here. He'd show me the city from the hill. And he'd tell me that there are no limits. Anything I want I can have. I guess that's why I'm so open you know. I just am so comfortable in my own skin even though a lot of other people aren't comfortable with who I am.”

Such beautiful skin to be comfortable in...

I smile, “I'm jealous. I wish I could be like you. I wish I knew exactly who I was. I don't. I have no idea who I am. No real idea who my family is. Everything just faded away. I'm a stranger in my own life. I don't know who to trust...”

Zion shakes his head, “Trust me. I didn't know you before your accident. I don't have any history with you. No motives. Everything is a new memory with us.”

He smiles.

He doesn't know how much that means to me when he says the words. He's completely right though. I don't know who I've betrayed in the past. I don't know who I hurt. I don't know who I fucked in the past. I clearly fucked up so bad somehow that someone wanted to kill me.

The only truly new person in my life is Zion.

I don't remember falling asleep but I remember waking up. I wake up next to Zion. We fell asleep on the hill. We had been talking for hours and somehow just fell asleep. The Saturday morning sun reflects on his face. He's beautiful. He's handsome. He has left hand in his pocket and his right arm is over me. Somehow throughout the night I managed to be falling asleep on his chest.

We didn't do anything. We didn't fuck. We didn't have sex. Hell...we didn't even kiss. We just slept with each other and for some reason that it feels so intimate to me.

Even though I am looking at Zion and he's a stranger...I feel like I've known him my whole life.

My phone rings.

I ignore it the first time but then it rings again.

And again. I realize that I've been getting missed calls all morning when I look down at my phone. I must have really been comfortable not to notice.

It's disturbing Zion and he hustles up, “You ok?”

I look down at my phone and realize who it is.

I pick up the phone, “Houston?”

“Yo---you need to get home now.”


“The Autopsy came back for Ashley. She was pushed. They know she's pregnant.”

My mouth get's dry, “Jesus. Ok. We need to meet. We need to come up with a story.”

Houston sighs, “It's too late. Yuri. He FUCKING snitched. He fucking ran to the cops and told them about our plan to pay off Ashley. The detective is here. They have a warrant to test you and Rami to find out who the father was...”

To read the next chapter go to www.crushedcrown.com