"You are so fuckin' dumb. You know that?"
I'm at the table with my aunts. They are gathered around. Prince and Tone are in the living room watching the football game. They have the volume turned all the way up. I know why. I knew they would be like this. Aunt Tonetta is lighting her blunt on the stove. Aunt Priscilla is drinking a glass of wine. It's Aunt Claudia though that is looking at me right now grilling me from across the table.
"How was I supposed to know what he would do?" I ask.
Goddam tears are starting.
"Stop crying like a little bitch before I get Tone come in here and beat the fuck out of you," Aunt Tonetta states, "Won't be no nephew of mine tearing up like that. This world may break you but you won't shed a fucking tear because of it."
Claudia just shakes her head, "You so fuckin dumb, Desta. On my life---I'm surrounded by dummies."
"You gonna stop calling him dumb bitch," Aunt Tonetta states.
I guess it was only ok when she did it.
"I'm calling all you dumb. Why am I the only one in this family not fucking affected by Tray?" Aunt Claudia states, "You going to let this man drive all of you to the grave like he did Bonnie."
I'm shocked Aunt Claudia gets away with it. I'm shocked my Aunt Tonetta doesn't grab her up and beat the dog shit out of her. That was the kind of bitch Aunt Tonetta was. You talked shit and most likely you ended up with a black eye or some shit. Right now Aunt Tonetta just looks away. She goes weak. I look over at her, but I've already figured Aunt Tonetta out. She puts up this facade like she's so tough but how tough was she when her gang was running a train on her. How tough was she then? I knew Aunt Tonetta. She was tough except when it came to her gang. She was tough except when it came to my father.
"You guys are overexaggerating," Priscilla states.
I look over at Priscilla. She is the prettiest harsh girl by far. Prissy doesn't even like to bring Priscilla to school because the boys at school go nuts. But inside that head of hers was nothing but air.
Claudia gives her a look, "Point proven."
"I don't think Trayvon did what you guys are saying he did," she states, "Matter of fact, I know."
Aunt Tonetta doesn't skip a beat, "He took the money. As soon as Desta signed those papers he claimed the money and disappeared. How long has it been since we seen him?"
"A week," Claudia states.
"Prissy said she seen him looking online before he left," Priscilla states, "Looking for houses. He probably just out looking for houses for you guys."
"Is the dick that good you dumb bitch?" Claudia asks her sister.
Priscilla looks like she's about to get up and slap the shit out of Claudia but Tonetta stops both of them. She stands over the table and hands me a blunt.
"You need this more than me," Tonetta states giving me the blunt, "Your daddy stole that money. By now most of it's gone. We ain't gonna see that nigga around here again until that money is spent. And you know what he's going to spend it on. Money and bitches."
"Don't trash my man," Priscilla states.
Priscilla. Priscilla. Priscilla. She wasn't making this any better. I had spent forever looking up at her and she could feel nothing for me. All she was thinking about right now was "her man". She had dropped the act by now that nothing was going on between her and my father. I just sigh a little bit. I ain't mad at her. Not completely. I want to be. I want to hate Aunt Priscilla but I just feel disappointed really. It's like rolling an orange up a hill hoping it'd make it only to realize that it's always going to roll back down. That was my Aunt Priscilla. No matter how high she wanted to put herself...she always came rolling back down. Always. It never failed.
And it wasn't just Priscilla. My father was the streets. My father WAS the Bottom and we couldn't get away from him. We always came back. A family stuck.
"Like I said---money and BITCHES," Tonetta states, "But this is a learning lesson Desta. Grow the fuck up and don't ever give your shit away. Any of your shit. I ain't talking about just money either. You hear me? Don't give a way your sex. Don't give away your heart. Don't give away your time. Don't give away shit. Not to any of these motherfuckers. Not like your stupid ass Aunt."
We all know what she was talking about. All of us thought Priscilla's looks would have gotten her out of the hood. Not a lot of girls looked like that. Here she is right now looking like a thick Rihanna with the style of Jackie O, but all that was wasted on my father.
The Bottom was where beauty went to die and looking at my Aunt right now I feel so sorry for her. Something about how Tonetta says it goes past the line. She crosses her arms. She looks at the blunt I'm smoking watching the O's trying to come up with something to say.
"He loves me," she stated, "He woudn't leave me."
"He did," Tonetta assures her.
"Just because your fuckin retarded son says he did doesn't mean it's true."
The line. I watch her gather her hands to catch the words before they come out but it's too late. Tonetta slaps her hard across her face but that wasn't the worst part of it. The worst part of it was the fact that Tone was standing in the doorway. He heard what his Aunts said about him. The word retarded had never been used in our house. We all knew something was off with Tone. We all accepted it but we never said it. Saying it out loud was foul even for my foul ass Aunts.
Tone's face drops. He's a pitbull, even now but even pitbulls have moments where you can see the hurt outlined on their faces. I can literally see the pain etched in him.
He turns and walks away...with devastation in his eyes.
I go to school the next day. I keep thinking about Tone. Tomorrow was our big performance but I couldn't even concentrate. I couldn't even focus. I wish I had chased after Tone and told him it would be OK. I'd let Tonetta do it. Having Tonetta comfort someone was like saying an injured man should rest in a bed of thorns. I keep seeing his face when he ran out. There was a darkness in him and it keeps getting bigger and bigger. There's no way to stop it.
This is how it was...
"You want to talk about it?" a voice states.
We are at practice. Right now Rosa is practicing her solo with Ana giving her tips on things she can change. The others are gathered around the stage. Everyone except Prince. Prince is too cool to show up. He's too cool to be here. I am sitting back in the bleachers and sure enough my Uncle is sitting there.
Cornelius nods, "Yeah, I know."
I shake my head wondering which one of my Aunts hit him up. Priscilla would be too worried about my father and Tonetta wasn't the type to vent to anyone. It sounds like something Claudia would do but I can't be sure. I don't ask.
"Yeah this is how shit works around here," I state, reminding him with a lifted eyebrow, "Welcome back to the Bottom."
"Its just money."
I look at him and I swear on my life I want to spaz out on him. Feeling sorry for myself and the betrayal with my dad was weighing on me already and this motherfucker was talking about how it was "Just" money.
"Yo---shut the fuck up, you fucking cripple," I state, "Just money? Just fuckin money? You know how broke my mother is? You have no fucking idea, do you? You know how long it would have had to take her to save that kind of money. You understand the sacrifice!"
I'm in his face. I'm pointing my finger right at his fucking forehead. The others run over immediately trying to break us up. I watch Ana being all protective of him. It's Santana who is holding me back, grabbing me by my waist and keeping me apart from him.
"Get him out of here," Ana states, "He's a savage."
Savage. She called me Savage. I noticed a lot about Ana. She was one of those girls who you knew lived in the hood maybe once upon a time but she outgrew the hood and being back here disgusted her. I can see it written all over her face. If it was up to Ana we would be doing all ballet dances and no hip hop. When she calls me a savage she might as well be calling me a ghetto, black nigga. That's how I hear it.
"Ana stop---" Cornelius tells her.
But it's too late. She's already said what she felt of me and in that moment, I understand what it feels like to be Tone. Even just for a minute. I just fucking snap. I fucking lose it.
"That bitch...whoever she is to you," I state pointing to Ana and Cornelius, "Is not your family? You abandoned your fucking family. You don't get to ask me questions about what's going on in my life. You should have fuckin' been there."
I would be even more aggressive but Santana literally grabs me and throws me over his shoulder. I'm shocked when he does it. I'm not Tip Toe. I'm grown. Yet Santana is so strong that he's able to do it without any sort of problems.
Santana takes me into the back area off stage. He puts me down but before I can get away he pins me to the wall. His hands secures my face in the same spot.
"Stop struggling," he urges.
"You're on HIS fucking side?" I ask him.
"No. I'm on your side," he assures me, "That's why the fuck I'm here. We said we would be friends right? Right?"
"I asked you a question Desta."
"Yeah. We said we would be friends."
"I meant that shit. And when we said that I started caring about you. And I'm going to look out for you."
"Nah. Prince is my friend. You ain't my friend. My friends ride on my enemies with me."
"That man back there is your Uncle," Santana states, "He's not your enemy. And maybe it takes a real friend to tell you that!'
I'm surprised how passionate Santana is in this conversation. His deep voice is booming over me. His breath hits my face. He's only inches away from my lips. His body is pressed up against mine as he tries to calm me down. It works. Maybe it's because I'm noticing how strangely intimate him holding me back is.
I'm looking at him in his eyes and looking at his lips. When my eyes set on these soft pillows with the sexiest wrinkles I ever seen I swear I am struggling not to get hard. He's pressed up so tight against me that he can feel it. I struggle to adjust and I think he either realizes how weird our positioning is or my body shows him that this is a little too close because he loosens up and takes a step back away from me.
He's still close even after taking a step back. Still so close.
"You think he's so great?"
"I know he is," Santana tells me.
"He left me, here. Now he's back and he thinks teaching us how to dance makes up for that shit?" I ask.
I don't know why I feel all this anger towards Cornelius as though he alone could have fixed all the problems from my childhood. Maybe it's because I know how involved my Aunts were. They were full of shit and they were a bunch of dysfunctional bitches but at least they were there. At least they were fucking present.
Cornelius was never there.
"Your father wouldn't have allowed that shit. I know it and I barely even know your father," Santana states, "But I see how uncomfortable you are around him. You want to hide the biggest part of your life from him. If Cornelius could have been in your life more I think he would, but your father never gave him the chance. Maybe things change. Maybe this is a blessing."
"A blessing? How could this be a fucking blessing?"
"I said...he's fucking gone," Santana states.
Santana and I look at one another. I don't think it hits me up. In this entire time I don't think it hits me. He's fucking gone. My father may have taken the money. He may stolen it right underneath my fucking nose, but he was GONE!
And here I am all of a sudden laughing like a mad man. I'm laughing so fucking hard and then Santana starts laughing with me. We laugh way too long. We laugh so hard that tears are streaming down our faces. I'm not crying because of pain though. There is this joy that I hadn't realized I would have. My father was gone. He was out of my life. Finally.
I was free now. Free from a cage that I always knew was there.
And somehow our heads are pressed up against one another. His head pressed up against mine. Mine against his. And we're laughing. It's such a frantic laugh that small particles of spit come out of my mouth and fall onto his lips. We're laughing so hard that my tears stain his face. But he doesn't move. I don't move. My hands press up against his face. He does the same following me. And I feel this high until we stop laughing.
And we're just standing there. And that's when it happens again. I'm the one who initiates it again. I can't fucking help myself.
I'm kissing him.
My tongue goes into his mouth. It goes straight for the back of his throat. He doesn't seem shocked when it happens. He is slow to respond. Reluctant. He isn't kissing me back but he isn't stopping me from kissing him either.
That's when we hear something.
Someone sees us.
"Sorry," Uncle Cornelius states rolling in with his chair and stopping to turn around, "Just uh...just wanted to make sure Desta was OK."
We stop kissing. I watch as Santana turns and jets away from both of us. He walks fast. I can tell that he's embarrassed about being caught, but as I watch him walk away I realize that he hadn't pushed me away. He was letting me explore his mouth with my tongue. He was LETTING me. This was definitely progress in some weird ass way, I think.
And all that depression just starts fading away. I look over at my Uncle.
"I'm OK," I tell Uncle Cornelius, "Better than ever."
"Desta," I repeat.
I am standing up against the locker and I hit my head hard against the locker. I'd been avoiding him since yesterday. Since the kiss. This couldn't keep happening. I knew it couldn't keep happening but for some reason it did. These awkward moments always seem to lead to some sort of intimacy with us. I look down at my phone and notice Rosa is texting me. I've been avoiding her too. I wasn't a fucking cheater. I knew I wasn't. I didn't do shit like that. Sure I didn't have a problem with a guy sucking me off when I was single every once in a while but now Rosa was in my life and even if she wasn't there was no way I was going to feel anything for another guy ever again.
It's like I can't get away from the name. It's not me whose saying it. This time when I turn I see Prince standing there. Prince has on his hood and some jeans below his waist. He looks real hood today which I thought was a stretch because the guy was the definition of a pretty boy.
"What about him?" I ask.
I didn't expect this to be a friendly conversation with Prince. It never was. The fact that he sought me out in school meant a lot.
"You need to tell him not to show up for the fucking performance tonight," Prince explains to me.
"Why the fuck would I say that?"
"The gangs are using the performance to meet up. There's going to be some problems," Prince explains.
"You need to talk to Desta."
"I did...this morning," Prince explains to me, "He's not listening to me."
"How is this my problem?"
"He may listen to you," Prince responds, "God knows for some reason he doesn't listen to me when I tell him to stay away from your ass."
I laugh at the thought, "You telling him that?"
"Don't act surprised. I don't fuck with you. You don't fuck with me. We don't like each other and the shit is personal. But he tells me you guys are real cool now. You guys are homies."
I think about it. Desta wasn't hiding his relationship with me to his family. I smile at the thought. I think the best thing that could have happened for him was his father leaving with the money. He seems so open. I remember how he seemed so happy when he realized his father was gone. I almost saw the weight being taken off his shoulders. I want to smile so bad when I hear that from Prince but I don't want to seem soft. I keep up my emotionless face and nod.
"That's my mans," I tell him.
He nods, "We got something in common then. We both want to keep him safe. Tell him to stay away from the performance."
"I'm not telling him that."
"Did you not hear---"
"I heard you, loud and clear. But dance is his dream. That's what he wants to do. And looking at how good you are with the Hip Hop, it seems like it's something you need to be doing too," I state, "You should be dancing with Tip Toe. The kid looks up to you. He's always asking where you are during practice. You were teaching him a lot."
Prince looks away, "I don't give a fuck about Tip Toe."
"I don't believe that," I state, "I believe you care. You care about Tip Toe. You care about the dance. You want to do it. Instead of trying to convince Desta not to come, you should be convincing yourself to come."
"Yo---you don't fuckin get it. Some shit is about to go down and I don't want Desta anywhere near that shit. If something happened to Desta..."
"You love him?" I ask.
There is a pause. Prince looks up at me, "Nigga what?"
"You love him?"
"We grew up together. His aunt adopted me. I look at him like a little bro and---"
"Nah," I interrupt, "That's not what I mean. I mean you're in love with Desta. This time I'm not asking either. I see that. That's fucking crazy. I was noticing how you watched him dance and how you touched him sometimes-----"
I can't believe it happens until it does. This motherfucker hits me! He punches me dead in my eye. It takes me off guard. He tries to come again but I tackle him. Before I know it we're fighting. Hard. This isn't just a tussle. He's choking me and shit . This motherfucker was damn near trying to kill me. It doesn't take long before a bunch of faculty and security break us up.
It's Rosa who manages to get to me as well trying to calm me down, "What's goin' on?"
I can't even answer her...I can't answer because I'm pretty sure at this point I was having some weird gay beef with Prince over Desta. A beef that I hadn't even known I was involved in until now.
"You can't dance," Ana states.
We are backstage. I have a black eye from the fight. I'm standing here in shorts that were tighter than I wanted them to be and damn near revealing my entire dickprint. It wasn't my idea to wear those. Cornelius let us wear anything we want but Desta tells me he can only dance in tights. He convinces me to get matching tights.
The things I do for him.
"Listen," I tell Ana, "My balls are in tights right now. Tights. I'm ready to go in front of the entire school, in front of gangsters and do a synchronized dance with another guy. I'm willing to do this and I just came to terms with it. And now you're telling me I can't."
The beef with Ana was real. She irritated my soul.
"You got suspended for fighting."
"Can't we make an exception?" Rosa asks.
"We practiced so hard," Desta adds in.
Seeing Rosa come to my defense was one thing but when I look back and see Desta riding just as hard for me I'm a little surprised. I look at the two of them. My eyes bouncing from Rosa to Desta. From Desta to Rosa. They were tag-teaming my defense. I feel like shit wondering what Rosa would think if she knew that this was the guy I had kissed.
"This is coming from the Principal," she states, "You're suspended for a week. No school activities including dancing."
"We'll make an exception," Cornelius states.
We turn and see him roll in. He's late but he's here.
Ana looks at him, "Nelly----you can't go against the principal."
"That auditorium is crowded. Sure a lot of the people who came are only here because it was required but it doesn't matter. People are here. I'm not going to have two of my best dancers not perform."
I look over at Desta. Desta has a smile on his face. I want to say "I told you so" especially in regards to Cornelius. The guy was cool as fuck and I just wish Desta would let his guard down. Looking at Cornelius I can tell he cared. He was on our side. Not only that but he understood.
Ana on the other hand was a different story all together.
"We need to teach these kids discipline. They are wild and unruly," Ana states.
"Good. Let them put that in their dance."
"He's not the best dancer," Ana states.
She looks at me and turns away. She liked to act like she was so much more older than me and knew so much more about dance then me. She was just a few years older and truthfully it irritated me that I made her react like that.
"He's definitely not," someone states.
I watch Desta leave my side and run over to Prince. It irritates my soul when it happens. I watch and see a bunch of the others gathering around Prince. Why the fuck was he back stage with the rest of us? I notice how Desta's eyes just light up when he sees Prince. I notice how he swings his arms around him. I notice how Prince hugs him from the smalls of his back, pulling in Desta. They hold for way too long. Why the fuck didn't anyone else notice how fucking gay this was? They might as well be fucking kiss. That was the only thing that was missing from this weird embrace?
Why the hell did I care?
"You came?" Tip Toe asks.
Prince looks over at me. This motherfucker got us both suspended for fighting and he had the nerve to show up at our performance.
"I thought, fuck it," Prince states, "That stage out there belongs to me. There are a lot of things that belong to me that I'm realizing I'm not going to let anyone around...ever..."
He puts his arm over Desta. I stare. He looks back at me. Desta may not have known. The others who were gathering around the "Great" Prince acting like he was the 2nd coming of Jesus if Jesus could break dance may not have noticed it either. I knew though.
He came here for one thing and one thing only.
"You going to watch me kill it?" he asks Desta.
"Aight good. After this, we gonna go celebrate," Prince states, "Just you and me."
He grabs Desta by the top of his head, pulls him close. That's when I notice it. No one else is paying attention and it happens so fast but I notice it. He swipes a kiss from Desta. His lips quickly press up against Desta. Desta seems surprised when it happens but he doesn't react in anyway. He just lets it happen.
It drives me up a fucking wall.
Why the fuck did I care?
I stand there watching as Prince and Tip Toe take the stage first. I'm watching Desta watching him. I look over at Desta. I want to say something. Anything, but I don't know what to say. I just watch how intrigued Desta is by everything.
When it's done Prince gets off stage.
"Ya'll did good," Desta states.
"They didn't cheer."
"There was cheering," Desta tries to comfort him.
"Not like they should have," he states.
"This is new to people," Cornelius overhears us and joins in the conversation, "I think people are taking it all in. They didn't boo either. This is all...new. Give people time."
"Time might not be on our side, M83 just walked in," Katrina states.
"I gotta go," Prince states.
"Prince wait----" Desta tries to stop him.
"Stay off the stage until we deal with this shit," Prince tells Desta...
A bunch of people are running out front. I can tell something is about to go down. Something big is about to go down. My heart is racing. I'm looking over at Desta. Desta looks over at me.
I pull back the curtain.
Sure enough it looks like a stand off is going on out there. The rival gangs are causing a scene in the back of the auditorium and security seems too fucking terrified to break it up. They are blocking the doors and it's clear that people want to leave but they can't. I notice Prince running over to Desta's cousin Tone joining the ranks.
All of a sudden I see Matais on the other side.
That's when I turn and feel a hand. Desta's hand.
"Where?" I ask.
"I want to do our dance," he states.
"Desta...are you crazy?" I state, "They probably gonna start shooting out there."
I look over at Matais. I'm more scared of him then I am of fucking bullets. I hated the fact that he was back here. I hated running into him. I feel like in this moment he paralyzes me.
"I don't care," Desta states, "I just want us to do our dance. Together. Please. Please come dance with me."
"You're crazy...you know that?"
"So you'll come? You with me."
I look at Desta. I look back out at Mataias. I see Chico lifting up the back of his shirt while words are being exchanged between the two rival gangs. I knew what that meant. They were about to start fighting soon.
And I feel weak in that moment.
My heels give out...but that isn't weakness.
The weakness that I have is the look in this boy's eyes. Desta looking at me with such a hopeful look. That was my weakness. That was my Achille's heel. That was the thing that was breaking me right now.
I grab his hand.
"I'll always be with you."
To read the next chapter in advance go to www.crushedcrown.com