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Avenues: Ch. 2

by Sharlene Alba 2 years ago in literature
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Urban Fiction

I was twenty-three when I received the keys to my first studio apartment at Three-Forty-Seven Manhattan Avenue. No kid my age could afford such a thing. Especially with a record under my belt. But with Willie’s help at the time, he managed to get my record expunged and forced me to use the certification I gained during my two year stay in jail to get the kind of job that could help me pay the bills. Who knew learning about how to fix computers and shit would come in handy. Of course just fixing broken screens and replacing dead batteries weren’t enough to sustain the rent alone. Willie helped me get into a city program that paid for at least half and the rest I had to cover. Hence where RideShare came in. I’d heard about it one day while grabbing a quick bite to eat downstairs at the corner store and managed to get the details from the store owner who frequently used the ride service. Not too long after that, I was part of the RideShare explosion and picked up passengers from the airport almost every weekend when I wasn’t working at my other job.

I’d taken this week off due to Willie’s passing. But I was second guessing that now. I didn’t want to be left alone too long with all these thoughts I had about him, the night he died, and what I might’ve done that could’ve resulted in him ending up there. Not to mention how Susie could have the cops barging in here at any moment to question me if she really believed I had anything to do with her brother’s murder.

How could she possibly think I had any involvement? Did she think that low of me?

I’d asked her to come over to my place so we could talk some more the day of the funeral. I offered her my number in case she was more comfortable just talking over the phone. It’s been two days and still no word from her.

And still no phone call from Diana.

I’d gone up to see her early this morning, and the guards had told me she’d been transferred to some other facility down in Mississippi due to overcrowding. I should’ve been notified. I was her emergency contact after all. But no. Nothing. Not a goddamn call or email or letter in the mail. I hated the system. Assholes didn’t care about anything but the title they carried home.

I stopped by her mother’s new place in Brooklyn to see if she’d heard from her shortly after that. Liza Rivera had also been a teen mother, but all the smoking she did after Diana was born had caused her to age faster and she looked a lot older than she was. She seemed grateful for my presence. Even more so when I dropped bags full of groceries for her on her kitchen table. She was a single mother as well, with five screaming kids running around the place when they weren’t in school. It was the least I could do considering it was my fault Diana wasn’t here to help her out financially.

The second I brought up Diana after the small talk simmered down, she had stiffened as she stirred the spoon inside her morning coffee. Diana was her second oldest kid. Liza had also lost a son to the streets below us due to gun violence. Diana had been fifteen when it happened. Around the same time I’d lost my own mother. Both of us had been kids who’d lost the people closest to us to the streets we called home and yet we still went back to them, and took every hit like the masochists we were conditioned to be. What else could we do? The streets had a seductive way of making you feel like it was the only route to take, as if were the only escape you had in order to get away from the fact that you felt alone.

Diana’s mother had placed all her hopes on her. Which created friction between them often and caused Diana to seek freedom outside of the confinement of her mother’s expectations. I was completely to blame for my own girlfriend’s predicament, and I loathed myself for it. Even if Liza and claimed they Diana didn’t. They’d fought constantly when we were in highschool, and even more so when we got sent up to county. As soon as I got out of that place, I made it my mission to make amends with Liza Rivera, not only because I owed her for dragging Diana down with me, but because she was still alive and breathing, and Diana needed her. My mother was gone. Nothing in the world could change that, but I could honor her memory now. I could be the kind of man she had wished my father would have been for us.

I’d learned Liza hadn’t heard from her daughter either not long after that and our conversation had been cut short when she received a phone call that one of her kids had gotten into a fight at school and she was forced to come in. We said our goodbyes and exchanged hugs before we went our separate ways. I made sure to slip a fifty dollar bill into her mailbox before I left her building, just in case she needed it.

I returned home about a thirty minute drive later, a half eaten jelly donut bought from the bakery across the street clenched in between my teeth as I reached for my keys and looked up to find Susanna at my door. She seemed amused at the sight and raised an eyebrow, daring me to protest as she reached for the donut and shoved the rest of it in her mouth, chewing until it was all gone, then swallowing, licking her lips until all the sugar disappeared from her plump lips. I smirked, surprised she enjoyed it. Susie seemed like a cronut type of girl. I was wrong. I was always wrong when it came to her. And I was also wrong to think about what her lips would taste like if the sugar dust had stayed right on them...waiting for me to lean in and lick it off….

It’d been too long since the last time I’d had sex, clearly. Being faithful was something I prided myself in. And I planned on staying on the straight and narrow despite how incredibly exhausting and painful Susie was making it right about now.

Besides, the woman thought I was a murderer. There was no better turn off than that.

“Can I come in?” she asked, breaking through my thoughts and I nodded as I shoved the key in and turned the knob, knowing it was best to appease her rather than to be hostile. Once I ushered her inside and took her coat, I left mine on top of hers and locked the door behind me.

“I’m surprised the cops aren’t trailing behind you ready to arrest me,” I teased as I grabbed a couple of water bottles from the refrigerator, while she observed everything in the space around her. The place was a mess, but only because I’d been home all week. I shoved a few pieces of dirty laundry aside and pushed in the pull out couch, dusted off for any dirt and offered her a seat. When she sat down, I sat across from her, legs spread, back pressed against the sofa cushion, eyes on her as I waited for her to speak her mind.

“You are different,” she concluded, her sparkling brown eyes skimming over my face, my body, spreading heat throughout places I wished I could hide right now. She’d been looking for something. Something that would absolve me of the crime she thought I was guilty of. Whatever it was she found, it was enough for the tension in her shoulders to ease and for her to look at me with apologetic eyes.

“You came all the way over here to make sure?”

“I came here to...I don’t know. I wanted to see what everyone else seems to be raving about.” Her remark left me curious. I wondered who she had gone to for information about me. Who might’ve convinced her that I was indeed a changed man.

“Everyone else? I didn’t know you were into gossip.” She wasn’t. I was provoking her. Susie hated it when people assumed things about her. Didn’t matter how big or small the assumption was. I was pressing her buttons because I knew she was hiding something. And we just didn’t have the kind of friendship were we told the truth. We hid behind daydreams and smoke screens, jumping from stolen moment to stolen moment until another tragedy brought us together.

“I wouldn’t call it gossip. I merely asked around to see if you were still a fucking lunatic,” Susie responded sharply, her lips pouting right after she realized she’d cursed out loud. I couldn’t help but laugh. This was New York City. Everyone cursed here. The fact that she tried so hard not to was amusing.

“I’m sorry, go on,” I cleared my throat and tried to contain my laughter as she began to get up. She sighed in defeat and sat back down.

“Why did you ask my brother to meet you at your old building that night?” she added, her tone growing serious as she pulled out a phone from her pocket and handed it over to me. It belonged to Willie. I recognized it because the man was a huge Mets fan and the phone case had the Mets logo stamped on the back. I read the text message from the unknown number claiming it was me and that I had lost my phone and gotten a new number and that I needed help, urging Willie to come find me before they did.

What kind of sick shit is this? And why the hell would Willie fall for it? He was smarter than that.

“Susie, whoever did this set your brother up,” I informed her. And I was going to find the piece of shit who did it too. I had a few favors that needed to be repaid from some of my old street associates. It was time to collect. Although I had no reason to believe they’d even follow through, I had to try. I had to do it for Willie.

“Why would they do that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he made the wrong enemy out of someone,” I explained and bit my lower lip. Maybe I could track where the unknown number came from by tracking the signal tower. I wasn’t the holy God of tech nerds but I knew someone who was. My cousin, Marissa Perez. She graduated highschool at fifteen and would’ve gone to MIT had she been able to afford it. The woman was a genius and she was scary good with computers and all things tech. I always called her up if I needed some tips for any weird gadgets that popped up at work sometimes and she always knew how to fix them or hack into them.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have thought you had anything to do with this. I know how much you cared about my brother,” she resumed and she stopped the moment I placed my hand over hers on the couch. Her breath hitched and her cheeks burned red as she licked her lips again and stared down at mine. I had to ignore how rapid my heart began to beat and how the blood began to pool at my groin. It was obvious I found Susie attractive. Not just physically. But on another level. An indescribable situation that plagued my thoughts from time to time whenever we bumped into each other in these New York City streets.

I was in trouble here. I knew that. My brain was screaming it, shouting words of warning in hopes of me taking the lessons I had learned from my past and implementing them now in order to save myself from ruining my relationship with Diana. My body on the other hand wanted to stay put and stay in Susanna’s orbit just a bit longer. We’ve always had this kind of connection. The push and pull of gravity between two beings that didn’t belong together but somehow ended up being propelled into situations where they had no choice but to be in each other’s space, to absorb each other’s time and energy, fueling the sexual tension that already had me on edge since I haven't gotten any in a while.

“I owe him my life. We’ll find out who did this, okay?” I promised and she nodded in agreement as I began to pull away. It was funny how Willie always made sure he made his feelings known about his sister and I not being friends or anything beyond that and look at us now, sitting on my couch, trying to navigate through years of pent up angst and tension while trying to solve his murder. He was a good man. A good brother. But I could tell throughout the years that alienating people, especially guys, from his sister's life just to keep her safe from the cruel world we live in didn't make their relationship any stronger.

“Yeah...hey, I can do this on my own. I don’t think Diana would be comfortable with us working together,” Susie suggested and I shook my head at the thought. I couldn’t let Susie do this on her own. I’d explain everything to Diana whenever she decided to call. In the meantime, I was going to find out who killed Willie with Susie’s help and make sure this person was dealt with properly.

“Not much she can do to stop us now can she?” I joked, knowing she knew about Diana and our situation. Everyone on our old block had seen us get raided on the news that night. Susie never came to visit me those years I served in jail. And I suspected that was Willie’s doing. I left her name on my visitor’s list just in case. I didn’t know what I’d been hoping to gain from a visit from Susanna Lopez in jail. But I don't think I wouldn’t have ended up there to begin with if we were the kind of friends who could manage to ignore the people whispering in our ears, telling us not being in each other’s lives was in our best interests.

“I’ll see you around, Julian.” Her tone went dark and cold again as she got up and walked towards the coat rack. She was distancing herself from me, driving another wedge between us when there didn’t need to be one. Maybe she felt she was invading Diana’s space or something? I don’t know. Diana wasn’t here. She wouldn’t be here for a long time. My fault of course, but still. Susie had nothing to worry about. Or maybe she felt like the elephant in the room was indeed too big ignore, even now after all these years and it was only a matter of time before the truth about what happened five years ago came to light.

“Hey, I’ll call you with an update okay?” I offered and she barely nodded at me before she placed her coat on, turned the doorknob and walked out of my apartment.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Never thought I’d see the day where Julian Perez cheated on his barber.” Marissa, the eldest of my cousins, jested the moment I opened the door to my apartment. She was shorter than my five foot twelve inch frame by several inches but it didn’t stop her attitude from telling you otherwise. I was surprised to see that she'd dyed her back to it’s normal dark brown color. She usually wore different bright colors like neon pink or green. Maybe she was due for a change. Owning a barber shop all by yourself couldn’t be easy.

I greeted her with a smile and a big hug before I ushered her inside and hung her coat up on the coat rack. I watched her swing the bag full of supplies over to my kitchen table and then she began to unload while I humbly placed myself in my seat and waited until she was done.

“I couldn’t make it to the barber this morning before work. Luey’s waiting on me,” I lied, not wanting to explain to her I’d been tracking down everyone who’d been on my old block that night Willie died all morning and she responded with the roll of her eye. Marissa and Luey dated a while back. To say the breakup ended badly was an understatement. Luey had found Marissa fucking around with someone else behind his back according to him. Marissa has yet to clarify the situation. I still don’t know the whole story. But I did my best to stay out of it. I’d already warned them both messing around wasn’t a good idea. Neither of them had a clue how to be faithful. Not that I had a right to judge. I’d learned my lesson the hard way and made sure to pass the message along whenever I saw a poor soul in need of a major kick in the loyalty department.

“You sure going to this party is a good idea?” she inquired, concern in her tone as she continued to give my hairline some much needed love. Like most people who knew about my past, they often worried I’d go back to it and continue where I left off. I’d lost enough in my life not to go back and continue to lose more.

“It’s Luey’s birthday. I have to at least show up. You can come with me and keep me out of trouble if you want,” I offered and she seemed to like the idea and nodded as she handed me the mirror so I could see the finished product. Not bad. No offence to my cousin but I still had to go see my barber soon. There was just a mutual understanding between a man and his barber that nobody really understood and it needed to remain that way.

“Now what’s the tech emergency you needed help with? It’ll cost you dinner at the Cheesecake Factory,” Marissa insisted with a grin and I smirked at her suggestion. I had no problem following up on it. She deserved a break from her life at the barber shop. Being on your feet all day and being hit on by creeps couldn’t be fun.

I began to tell her about Willie’s phone and the unknown text message when she simply took the phone right out of my hand like a kid in a trance and began to pull out her laptop from her duffel bag so she could plug it in. I smirked and gave her some space while I hurried to answer my own phone. I held it up to my ear as I entered my bedroom, closed the door behind me and sighed in relief when I heard Diana’s voice on the other end.

“You have some explaining to do,” I began and when she chuckled at my stern but teasing tone, my lips curved into a smile. Fuck, I missed that girl. I missed her weird laugh, the late night talks on the roof of her building while we drank beers and discussed how we were going to make it out of this city one day, her long dark hair, how it fell all the way down to her ass and how beautiful and firm her breasts....

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t get on the phone until now. I heard about Willie. Shit’s crazy,” Diana distracted me long enough to pull me away from the kind of thoughts that would lead me to take a cold shower before going to Luey’s party. I haven’t been with any girls since Diana and I got hauled off to county jail. I wasn’t proud of the guy I was before that. Was it my fault girls seemed to be attracted to the brooding street thug type like me? No. Did I have control over who I fucked and who I didn’t? Absolutely. I managed to do enough damage to make them want to come back and have no problem doing it in front of Diana. It was the last fight we had before they hauled us off to jail for possession with intent to distribute and we haven’t had one of that magnitude since.

She claims she’s forgiven me. Seeing as though I’ve cleaned my life up a bit. But it somehow made it worse. I didn’t deserve her forgiveness or her loyalty for that matter. I shouldn’t have asked for her to be my look out that night. I shouldn’t have asked her to be part of that life at all even when she begged me to be honest with her about it. But Diana and I were kindred spirits, floating through time, swimming in the same kind of hurt that kept us together all these years. We were two sides of the same coin, born and raised out of broken homes, with fucked up views about life. And it didn’t take fifty psychologists to figure out why we've made it this long.

“Yeah, we think he was set up."

“We?” And this is where I fucked up. I shouldn’t be bringing up Susanna. I didn’t want to give Diana any indication that there was anything going on with her. And there wasn’t. We were just trying to find justice for Willie.

“Susie and I. We think someone sent him there on my behalf and we plan on finding them together. We owe him justice Diana and you know the cops don't give a shit,” I continued, hoping just being honest was enough to diffuse the situation. Diana can be a hothead when provoked. Other than that, she was a pretty understanding person. Which was why the silence on the other end of the phone was making me nervous.

“Hey, you good?” I asked and when she cleared her throat and laughed lightly, I knew she was far from being okay. Fuck. Here we go….

“I’m fine, Julian. Listen, I’m going to be stuck here for a while. And I think we should just--”

“This shit again, Diana?” I interrupted her, knowing exactly where she was going and I refused to let her. She tried time and time again to break things off between us during her time in there, as have I in the past, and we always seemed to end up with the same conclusion, there was no reason to break things off when we knew there was nothing better than us out there. We had each other’s backs. We were solid. I trusted her. She trusted me. We respected each other and that was hard to come by these days in the modern dating world.

“I’m...just not feeling this anymore. And I know this is bad timing but I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get another phone call. And I just--” she paused, her voice cracking from the overwhelming emotion, while the anger began to boil in my veins. There was something else she wasn’t saying. I knew her like I knew the back of my hand. And the phone was already beeping, letting her know it was time to hang up. I didn’t know what else she said after that. The anger sort of blacked out the rest. I just hung up the phone and scrolled up for Susie’s number instead. I tapped to compose a simple text and asked for her to be my date to Luey’s party tonight and hoped she was smart enough to turn me down. I wasn’t in my right mind as of right now, the old me trying to crawl his way back up as a coping mechanism. But I needed something, anything to help me forget what a shitty two weeks it has been.

Even if she just wanted to talk. I hoped it was enough. I hoped once I stepped foot into Luey’s party tonight I was strong enough to resist the alcohol I knew my rage would be tempted to abuse just to make me forget about losing yet another person who meant something to me.

I was surprised to receive a reply so quickly and even more surprised to read she was already at the party, which had already started according to the time widget on my phone. She included a picture too. I tapped on it and the rage that had been bubbling up inside of me the past few weeks had turned into dread.

The picture featured Richie with Susie in the background, who appeared to be heavily intoxicated while her head was slumped over the toilet seat.

“Marissa! It’s time to go!”

literature

About the author

Sharlene Alba

Full of raw and unfiltered fluid poems, short stories and prompts on love, sex, relationships and life. I also review haircare, skincare and other beauty products. Instagram: grungefirepoetry MissBeautyBargain Facebook: grungefirepoetry

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