School is strange. I don't want to be here. Not with Rami in school. Everyone is looking at us. They are all staring. Usually the lunch table that we sit at is swarming with people. That's not the case now. The only people at the lunch table are Yuri, Houston and I.
"Are people staring?" I notice.
It's been happening all day. No one has come up to say anything to us. That's the weird thing though. We are popular. We are the popular basketball players in school that everyone wanted to know and be like. Now we were just getting weird stares. If it wasn't for Yuri and Houston I wouldn't know what to do in this situation.
"They think our brother is a murderer," Yuri explains, "Rami's ruined our lives..."
I expect Houston to be the one blaming Rami. Houston isn't though. Yuri is. It's funny how Yuri is all down for someone when things are great but when things aren't looking so good, he's the first one to throw stones. So I just sit there with them. I can tell Houston isn't in a good mood. Yuri is in a worse mood.
"He didn't do it," I say again.
"Does it matter anymore if he did or not?" Yuri asks, "Everyone thinks he did. He's in jail still. Hell...people probably think we had something to do with it."
Houston crosses his arms, "Let's just stick together. Keep our heads down. Darryl is going to get Rami out of jail and everything will be back to normal."
Just as he says that we see the cheerleaders walk past. The group of them are girls that I've seen around the table. These were girls who had crushes on Houston. These were girls who made their living flirting with Yuri. They stared at me all day. These were more like our fans. But now the look on their eyes said it all. They don't look us dead in our eyes but their talking to one another. Their talking loud enough that we can hear them.
"She was pregnant..." one of the girls say.
I see who she's talking to. My ex girlfriend. Tanya. The bitch who sold Rami out and made up the fact that he saw them fighting to get back to me. There's no way to prove that she's lying. I tried with the lawyer. Tanya is swearing up and down that she saw Rami and Ashley arguing before Ashley died.
There is another table that the cheerleaders are going to. The table is full of players on the football team. If you ask Yuri the football team is our arch-enemies in the school. We watch as the new popular table is being formed right underneath our eyes. Yuri, Houston and I are just sitting here like we have nothing to do.
"What if Rami isn't bailed out. What if he goes to trial?" Yuri asks, "What if he loses..."
"Rami can't handle jail. We all know it," Houston states.
I try to listen to them and hear what they are saying but I'm distracted. I'm distracted by sexy ass Zion entering the room. Zion connects eyes with me. He does his usual odd thing. He sits at a table by himself and starts to eat lunch that he's packed up.
"Hey I'll be back."
"So much for sticking together," Houston states.
I can't stick around these guys anymore. Both Houston and Yuri are both whiners. They both just sit around and complain about the issues they have in their lives. They are so used to getting things there way. Hell, so is Rami for that matter. The fact that shit is falling apart around them means that they want to completely put their lives on hold in order to feel bad for themselves.
I need to get away and the only person that helps take my mind off all those Payne problems is him...
"Can I sit here?" I ask walking up to him.
"Are you sure you want to?" Zion asks, "I mean. You probably have a lot of hoes around here. God knows what they'll think if you're sitting with me."
"You going to give me a hard time?" I ask.
Zion shakes his head, "Just being honest."
I sigh at that moment, "Look. I'm having a really hard time. Rami is in jail. My family is in chaos. It seems like I haven't even got the chances to piece together my memory before I am beginning to lose all the pieces."
Zion looks at me at that moment. I feel pathetic really. I'm sitting here basically begging this boy just to sit with him. He seems hesitant even now. He clearly is trying to stay away from me.
Finally. I sit next to Zion. From the other side of the room I can see Houston and Yuri staring over at where we are sitting. I try not to pay attention though. It's not hard. Zion is staring at me from across the lunch table. He has a tank top on. His tattoos are beautiful. I stare at them and stare at his brown hair as he does the usual thing where he rubs his fingers through it.
"I know you probably don't want to see me. I know you probably think I'm a hoe?"
"So you aren't?"
Zion raises his eyebrows at that moment, "You aren't a hoe?"
"Are you really going to be a dickhead to me? Because if you are I can just leave..."
I am about to get up at that moment but Zion grabs my hand. He clutches it. He pulls me down at that moment and he holds me there.
"Ok. Ok. I'm sorry," Zion explains, "It's just. I've had a crush on your for a while now. And I like you but it seems like your life has just way too much going on. Murder, amnesia, constant sex. You're a walking Lifetime movie. I'm a simple man. Excitement for me is Netflix and snacks..."
"So my life is too complicated basically?" I ask.
Zion shakes his head, "No. It's just. What do you want from me? I see you staring at me as much as I stare at you. I see you going out of your way to sit with me. I see you going out of your way to be around me. What do you want?"
I'm looking at Zion.
"I feel a connection to you."
"You're the only one I remember for some reason from before I lost my memory," I say at that time, "It must mean something right. I just can't figure out what."
Zion shrugs at that moment, "Well maybe one day you'll simplify your life and take some time to figure it out..."
With that he gets up. His stare lingers. Captivating me on purpose. I can't help but to watch him.
"Whose to say I'm not ready to figure it out?" I ask.
Zion looks down at me. He licks his lips. His lips are pink perfect and now shiny with moisture.
It's later that night. I'm tired for basketball practice. Things are weird with the basketball team. Everyone is still treating us funny. Even Zion is treating me different but I suppose maybe it's because he's sick of attempting to get my attention with all the shit going on in my life.
It's almost 6 o' clock before the door opens and we are all are wondering if Darryl was finally able to get Rami out of prison.
Darryl walks in the house. The only person next to him is Sydney.
"Where's Rami?" I ask.
Darryl shakes his head.
I'm confused, "What is that supposed to even mean?"
Darryl shakes his head again, "It means that I need you to focus on school and basketball. You worry about being a kid. I'll focus on Rami's case."
Worry about being a kid? Darryl is serious at that moment. This is really the line he is feeding me. I want to know more. I want to know where he is. I want to know when he's coming back but truth is I can tell Darryl isn't going to tell us anymore than he's telling us right now.
The doorbell rings at that moment.
I am about to go answer it but Darryl immediately cuts me off and says, "I'll get it."
He walks to the front room. I peer from the dining room trying to find out who it was. Darryl opens the door and we are both shocked to see Zion standing there.
"Zion? You have any idea what time it is?"
"Hey coach. Yeah I know it's pretty late. I was wondering if James was around."
"It's pretty late," Darryl states.
I walk up to the door at that moment as soon as I hear that. I rush past Darryl as quickly as I can. I'm not even dressed. I just have on some sweats and a t-shirt but hell it's better than staying in this house.
"Hey I'm dipping out with Zion for a while," I state.
"With everything going on do you really think now is the best time to be heading out?" Darryl is asking me.
"Like you said...worry about being a kid. Right?" I say.
I walk out of the house and I can see Darryl staring holes through me. I can tell he doesn't approve. He's watching from the house as Zion opens his car door for me to get in. As soon as I get in the door door, Zion runs over to the other side and pulls off almost immediately.
I don't know where we are going. I don't even ask him. I just feel...released. I feel like I don't have to deal with the shit that was going on in my past anymore. I wanted to build new memories. I didn't care where they came from but they were fresh. They were new. That's all that mattered.
"You know your pops knows about me right?" Zion is saying, "People in school. They talk. Even around the basketball team. The coach knows that I'm gay. He's probably worried about what we're doing right now..."
We are on the highway. We are speeding 70 miles an hour.
I feel. Free...
I roll down the windows, "I don't care about what we're doing now. I feel free..."
"You're lucky forgetting your memories you know?" Zion explains to me, "Memories. They can be the most painful fucking things in the world. Sometimes I wish I could just forget things. It's almost like you're starting all over."
"I never thought of it like that. I feel confused in my own life."
"How do you know you weren't always confused?"
"What do you mean?"
Zion shrugs, "Maybe insecurities. So far I know you've messed around with multiple people. I always thought when someone is sleeping with a lot of different people they are spending time looking for themselves..."
"You some type of shrink?"
"Nawl," Zion states shaking his head, "Just a realist. You are confused about your past and the confusion is causing you not to give me the time of day."
We keep driving and I realize we are entering a really bad side of town. Drug dealers are on every street corners. Every time Zion stops his car a panhandler walks up to it. The buildings look torn down and abandoned. The streets have massive potholes in them.
All of a sudden I realize that Zion isn't taking me on some sort of joy ride. It's not what I think at least. I begin to feel safer rolling up my windows and looking out at the city.
A huge sign reading "Southside" is lit up.
This isn't the same neighborhood that Darryl has us living in. This neighborhood is rough. As we pull up to a house I can tell Zion brought me here for a reason.
"What is this place?" I ask.
For some reason it looks familiar to me. The street. The smell. Soon I roll down the window. There is a consistent smell of cheap malt liquor coming from a corner store just down the block. Alcoholics are lingering around the store sitting on boxes and drinking 40 Ounce Malt beers. There are hood rats walking up and down the block whistling as they notice Zion. I'm sure that is there way of flirting. Something is so familiar about this street. Something reminds me of this block.
Zion looks over at me, "This is where you grew up. It's where all your brothers grew up. I looked it up. It's a group home..."
For some reason this place looks so familiar to me.
"Is it still open?"
Zion shrugs, "Why don't you knock on the door. Go find out."
The house is an old brown house. It's huge however. As I walk up to the group home I can almost remember things that I thought I had forgotten. Memories are flashing into my mind of walking up these same steps at some point. The feeling of Déjà vu comes over me.
I open the door and a woman answers. An black woman with a lazy eye and silver hair.
"James..." she says recognizing me.
And at that moment a name pops into my mind.
That's the name that is said. I just smile at that moment as she reaches over and grabs me. She hugs me close and it's that same closeness that I felt so many times before.
"You were in your early teens when the Coach came and adopted you," Mrs. Johnson tells us.
"Is the Group home still open?"
"No...no been closed down for about a year now."
Ms. Anderson smiles at me. There is something so familiar about her. Something is so warm about her. She looks over at me and nods.
"You grew up to be so handsome," she says.
"You knew me?"
"Since you were a kid," Ms. Anderson tells me, "Your mother dropped you off here. You were so scared. So afraid. If it wasn't for Rami, I don't think you would have made it in the orphanage."
He was in jail now and there was nothing I could do to help him.
"They must have been close," Zion says.
He has a look of concern in his eyes at that moment.
"The closest," Ms. Anderson smiles, "Come in. I'll tell you all the stories of those two."
We enter the house. It's an old broken down house but it feels so comfortable when we walk in. There is a strong scent of Pinesol that fills the air. For some reason I remember that Ms. Anderson always cleaned. She was constantly cleaning. As I walk into the apartment I feel my memories slowly starting to come back to me at that moment.
Zion walks close behind me. He's talking to Ms. Anderson. She's telling him all these things but I don't need to hear the things she's telling him. I'm entering a space in my mind where memories are flowing back to me. I'm remembering all of these things.
"I fell there...when I was a kid."
I point at a wall at that moment. Zion and Ms. Anderson look over at me.
Ms. Anderson smiles, "Yuri pushed you. You hit the floor hard. Of course Rami came to your defense and the two started fighting. That's how it always was. You and Rami against everyone else."
I laugh at that moment, "He used to tease me when I first came but he warmed up to me."
Zion glares at me, "You remember that?"
"Yeah. Yeah I do," I explain at that moment, "I remember Rami and I used to run away from Houston and Yuri. We would hide out in the closets when no one was looking. And we would..."
I stop talking.
Zion is staring at me hard, "You would what?"
It's clear what I'm trying to say even though I don't want to form the words to say it.
Ms. Anderson laughs at that moment, "Boys will be boys. That's what I always said. I'm surprised the two of you aren't a couple."
She laughs heavily. It's clear she's teasing. It's clear that she doesn't know that I really am gay and that Zion is the boy that is actually here interested in me. I know she doesn't mean it but she's making things even more awkward by saying this.
I see Ms. Anderson lay back in her couch. I sit across from her. Zion is just folding his arms. I wonder if he regrets us coming here. All this talk of Rami is definitely probably not what he wanted to hear in the first place.
"We used to play basketball out there," I say and add, "All of us."
I do that on purpose so Zion doesn't think it was just Rami and I doing everything together as usual. I'm lying though. The majority of the time it was just Rami and I playing basketball.
"That's where she saw you," Ms. Anderson states, "That...woman..."
"April Payne of course," Ms. Anderson says, "She came to the orphanage and she saw you playing basketball. She was willing to take you...and maybe Houston. I told her that was impossible though. I told her Rami and James were inseperable."
I don't remember that. I don't remember the conversation that Ms. Anderson had about my adoption. Maybe I just didn't care. All I remembered was seeing April though back then. She would be standing outside and watching us. All the memories aren't coming back though. It's just patchwork from there. I don't remember anything after that.
"What made her change her mind? What made her adopt all four boys?"
"It was the father. He wanted his own little basketball team. Figured he could train them. April didn't go for it though. That one was a bitch," Ms. Anderson explains.
She's being blunt. I can see the look in her face at that moment. She didn't care for April. She didn't care for April even a little bit.
"Well I guess she changed her mind," I explained.
"How has she been over the years?" Ms. Anderson asks.
She asks it in an unusual way. She's suspicious. It's clear. I don't know why but the way she is squinting is so obvious that even Zion crosses his arms uncomfortably.
"Why do you ask?"
"I didn't trust her. Not with my boys," Ms. Anderson explains.
"So why did you agree to let them adopt?"
"I didn't have a choice. The orphanage was closing. I lost my investors. I didn't have money to keep it going. At first it was supposed to be just short term. A foster situation. It made me sick when I found out the Paynes were adopting you boys. There's something about that woman. Something I can't put my finger on."
She's sitting there. She's thinking. I look at her and it's clear that she might be right. It's clear that there is something off about April.
"Was there anything off about her...anything substantial that made you feel this way?" I ask.
Ms. Anderson nods, "That's the thing. There is no record of April Payne up to a few years ago. I was able to pull a background on the father alright. I was able to do that. But April. That's a mystery. It's almost like she just came out of no where."
Zion and I look at one another. A shiver runs up my spine. What kind of woman didn't have a background?
Sure I couldn't remember my past...but what kind of woman didn't have one?
Zion and I leave the house after spending hours with Ms. Anderson. The memories that she provided me are helpful but there are two things that stick out to me. Rami and April. My relationship with Rami was deeper than I thought. I feel like Zion knows as well. He hasn't spoken about anything since we entered his car. As wer'e driving down the highway he seems like he's deep in thought.
So I bring up something else that's on my mind.
"I don't trust my father's ex wife," I tell Zion, "April has a past."
"Maybe your father knows something about it?" Zion asks.
"I don't think I should go around digging with Darryl. You know?" I say at that moment, "He doesn't know that supposedly me and April were sleeping together."
Zion raises his head, "Jesus..."
I nod, "I know. Slut right."
Zion shakes his head, "I'm not judging you. She's the adult in the situation. She's to blame. Who knows how long she was taking advantage of you. Maybe that's the reason you were so..."
He pauses at that moment.
"Go ahead. Finish."
"You were going to say that April may be the reason I was so slutty," I state, "Weren't you?"
Zion pauses. I can tell that is exactly what he was going to say. It's at that moment though that Zion does a weird thing. He grabs my hand at that moment.
"Listen...what you were and what you did in your past doesn't matter to me," Zion explains, "You don't remember it and I don't care to know it anyway. But that doesn't mean you should hide from the past. Embrace it. Learn from everything you did. Grow from it and become a better person."
I look over at Zion. He's a strange boy. He keeps to himself. He rarely talks. He's shy. He's quiet. But when he does speak it's almost like he illuminates the darkness all around us. All of a sudden things just seem to make sense. All of a sudden I realize that he's right.
Zion drops me off at the house later that night.
"This is me yo..." I tell him.
"Yeah this is you," Zion says.
We both look outside of the window of the car at that moment. A part of me doesn't want to go back in. A part of me wants Zion to take me away so we can sleep in his car again.
"Thank you," I tell Zion.
"For helping me. You don't have to. I wasn't shit to you. You don't owe me anything..."
"I do owe you one thing," he says.
Zion grabs me by my collar. He pulls me close. His lips go on my lips. He kisses me. His lips are so soft. His tongue enters my mouth. I can feel emotion drawn all around us. All of a sudden I just feel like I'm floating on cloud 9. I can't come down. Zion is kissing me and it feels so right. At that moment I forget about trying to remember the past for the first time. At that moment I'm living in the NOW.
And when he stops kissing me my heart is beating faster. My dick is hard. My chest is throbbing. I'm holding onto the back of his neck. We are just staring in each other's eyes. We don't say anything for a moment.
I know what it means to feel fireworks through a kiss now.
"Shit..." he says.
That's all he says. He feels it too.
Just at that moment I feel a knock on the glass. I turn in shock. It's my father. He's standing there. He's looking at us! It's clear he just saw Zion kissing me.
"Coach Payne...I...I uh...." Zion states at that moment.
He's stuttering. He's confused.
"Go home Zion," my father tells him and grabs me out of the car.
My father doesn't give him another look. He's strong. Stern. He's super macho and he just saw me kissing my teammate in the fucking car. My father is looking at me like I have two heads right now. At that moment I wish I did. The awkwardness starts to really settle in at that moment.
"Did you see that?"
My father looks strict. I can't tell how he's going to respond.
"You have something to tell me."
Darryl takes a deep breath at that moment. He's surprised. He's honestly surprised even after he saw me kissing a boy. I can tell by the look in his eyes. I don't blame him. I'm surprised to know how straight I was before the accident.
So here I am just shaking. My nerves are going bad.
"James..." is the only thing that comes out of my father's mouth.
"That's not it," I tell my father.
I have to tell him now. I have to tell him now that I'm more suspicious than ever.
"Before the accident, your wife. Your ex wife April was having an affair," I explain and pause for a moment, "She was sleeping...with me..."
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