He was a tall kid that never talked to anybody, and in turn, nobody talked to. Tall, really tall, all prim and proper with his sandwich on the staircase beside the library.
I headed over to the staircase, my lunch tray in my hand. I hummed a tune underneath my breath, doing a little dance and jig while popping fries into my mouth. The fries were soggy, go figure.
Alex sat there like always, curled up and leaned over like a roly-poly with two big eyes and glasses complete with a napkin on his lap. His fingers curled tightly around the pencil as he scribbled down the last of his biology homework, bits of peanut butter dotting the page. The sun drifted in, good old orange California sun making the hallways just a little bit warmer. I sat down on the sun patch, placing my tray on the step before me.
“Today’s a good day, my friend.”
Alex nodded. I smiled and ran my hand through my hair, letting it fall back in a swoosh.
“Ya’ know, I think I’ve just about finally got a chance to turn some things around for ma’ brothers, you know? Man, tryin’ to get everyone to go and set themselves straight was harder than I was thinking.”
He scribbled an answer down and bobbed his head from side to side.
“Well, what can ya’ say. Not everyone can be like ya’, Fernando.”
“I know, but Alex, the straight life’s the way to go. Making your own decisions, nobody to follow orders for. It’s the life, Alex. I just can’t see it sometimes why people aren’t just jumping off the boat already.”
Alex shifted his gaze away from Fernando, and his left hand went to his pants to fiddle with the creases.
“Like I said, not everyone can be like you, Fernando.”
I stared at him, wondering where he was coming from, when he jumped up and started fidgeting and stumbling like he was normally.
“Well, I mean, with the whole gang thing, nothin’ like that was ever easy..”
I reached up to stroke my chin, nodding along with his words.
“True, but if we all did it at once or got a lot of people to leave, my brotha’s got to acknowledge that, ya’ know? I left, so it’s one of those big sym-bah-lic things that Mr. King’s always talkin’ ‘bout.”
Alex shrug and shoved the homework back into his bag. When he was done, he reached inside his lunch box and grabbed some grapes.
“It’s a good thing you’re doing Fernando.”
I turned my head and smiled at him. Then, I reached down to grab my soggy burger and ketchup.
“It sure is.”
A hand kept my face smooching a crude drawing of a penis as another hand pounded in hits on my back. Blood leaked out from my nose onto the desk, drooping all over the sides as it fused in with the orange sunset.
This guy behind me, though, decides to swoop up from behind my back and nail hits when I ain’t as big. What a crook. I ain’t as tall or big as some other people ‘round here, but I sure can nail a punch. I struggled against the grip, but the guy had to be an entire foot taller than me. I hooked my leg around the desk, and then, I pushed forward, pulling my leg back at the same time, and we both fell forward. The guy was caught off guard, and I slammed my hand against his face, grinning when I heard the sound of skin to skin. Something warm dripped down my hand.
With his head down, I grabbed it with both of my arms and slammed it down against my knee. He jumped back, cursing against the pain, but before he could do anything, I dashed forward and punched his face.
The guy fell forward on his knees, falling down in a slump, and I wiped the blood of my face with one wipe. He was out cold, but not for long. I held my fist against my chest, counting to calm the rapid beat in my chest, soothe the roaring, and press on the brake. I try to live my life fair, but when a punch comes, I come fighting like a wolf.
I heard a rustle next to me, and I looked up, pulling back my fist.
Alex shook the paper towel next to me, looking away and reaching down to scratch his pant leg. What a weird habit he had.
“Here. Take it.”
I grabbed it out of his hand and tried to clean up what blood there was still on me. A man like me has to look presentable at all times.
“I didn’t even hear you coming in. How’d ya’ do it?”
“Now don’t be getting c***y with me if you can’t even be handling a lil’ blood.”
He bit his lip, and the scratching at his pants became picking.
“It’s a lot.”
“It’s my life.”
“What was it about?”
I leaned forward and let the remaining blood drop down from my nose onto the paper towel. Then, I headed out towards the door with Alex following me.
“My brother, my actual one. He heard ‘bout what I was doin’ and sent a guy after me. He’s already mad at me because I chose to leave right when all the fights between us and Gang 439 we’re heating up.”
“Is it really worth it, then? Getting all hurt and stuff.”
I really punched him in the shoulder this time. Alex staggered back a bit. For a tall guy, he didn’t have nearly as big as a build I would have if I was his height. We headed outside, and I walked off the path behind the bushes.
“Of course it is. I got this one guy, Jonathan. I’m sure I can get him to straighten up his life for a bit, quit the gang all this stupid stuff.”
“Yep, Jonathan Pellozo. I’ll introduce you guys. If I can get him to leave, then I can get all the rest of my brothers out of that gang business.”
Alex followed me as we headed to Jonathan’s house. A few people stared at us as we walked past, but I started to hum again, kicking my feet in a dance as we neared Jonathan’s house.
It was a one floor piece of s*** as Jonathan called it. Peeling paint and a pink flamingo out in front, all fake and plasticy. Alex stopped a couple of steps behind me.
“Go on, you go see him, and then you can bring me in.”
I gave him a thumbs up and ran up to the front door to ring the doorbell. The bell chimed for a bit, and then the door opened up with Jonathan chewing on a piece of meat. He burst into a smile and grabbed my by the arm to pull me in a hug.
“You! What are you doing here?”
“Aww, makes it seem like ya’ don’t want me here. Is that it?”
He shook his head, smiling all the while.
“Nah, bro. You’ll always be welcome here.”
We shook hands, slapping them and moving them up and down as our handshake and held out my arm to Alex.
“This is my friend, Alex. Alex, this is Jonathan, one of the first to follow me in our new revival.”
Alex smiled, but it was still a straight line. Jonathan straightened up and stopped smiling. Instead, he shifted his leg and looked down a bit more.
Jonathan nodded his head curtly.
There’s silence as the two stared each other down. Some guys just don’t get along, so I grab Alex’s arm.
“Well, nice seeing ya’ Jonathan. I’ll be seeing ya’ at 6. Cafe Rosa?”
Jonathan nodded, and I saw him scratch the skin underneath his shirt sleeve at the shoulder as he looked at Alex.
I’m going to kill the guy. The guitar drifts in from the speakers, and I see the waitress glance at me one more time. Irritated, I jog my foot and check my phone again. 7:28. That bastard Jonathan’s a whole hour and a half late! When I see the waitress glane at me again, I give up and nearly kick over the chair as I leave the restaurant. I check my phone to see if Jonathan has called me back, but all I see are the 12 calls I sent to him.
I run to his house, ready to bust down the door and raise all hell, but then his aunt, Vanessa, opens the door with her eyes red and frowning. I stand there in shock, but get my head together in time to ask her where Jonathan is. She looks around and then leans forward.
“Jonathan is in the hospital. He got jumped. I’m just here getting his stuff.”
I climb a step to look at Aunt Vanessa in the eyes.
“I’m coming with you.”
“You bastard! Tell me who did this to you, now!”
Jonathan moves his head away from mine and closes his eyes. We’re in the hospital room now, and all the white and chlorine is getting to me.
“Who is it? Tony? James? Is it Carles?”
“No! It’s not Carles.”
“Then, who is it? You said it was someone I knew. I wanna’ to know.”
Ever since Jonathan let it slip that I knew the guy, I had been yelling like this at him for the past 30 minutes.
“Look, it’s just the drugs, my friend. You know how drugs work, they mess up your mind and get you high and stuff.”
“But if ya’ know who it is.”
He bit his lip and looked away from me. I grabbed one of the waiting room chairs from the wall and pulled it up next to his bed.
“Ya’ better start talking or else I’m leaving ya’ in this bed for another week.”
“Aren’t ya’ supposed to b worried ‘bout me or somethin’?”
“Ain’t nothin’ to worry about if you were dead! Now tell me who it is, and I’ll beat the living crap out of the f***er who did this to you.”
He looks away for a bit, and I think he’s going to be stubborn again, but then he turns his head around.
“Look, I’m just saying this ‘cas it’s something that you should know, a’right? You’re a good kid, and I appreciate it. But this one,” he shook his head, “Nope. This kid has got problems.”
“Then, who is it?”
“Alex. Alex Manuel.”
I burst out laughing.
“Alex? Scared, puny white boy Alex? He was shaking seeing me with a nose bleed!”
“No! He wasn’t the one who stabbed me, but I know that he was the one who told those guys to.”
“How’d you know that?”
Jonathan bites his lip again and looks around.
“Look, you can’t be mouthing this off to anyone al’ight? You a good kid.”
He then reaches his left arm up to his right sleeve where he pulls it up to his shoulder. There, in black ink were the letters 439.
“I got ours on my other shoulder.”
I leaned forward on Jonathan’s hospital bed, quietly letting out a stream of curses.
“You’re a two-timer.”
“But what’s Alex got to do with it.”
“Alex is Leroy’s little brother.”
“Leroy? The leader of 439?”
He nodded again. I pointed to his bandages.
“Alex did this?”
“Alex does everything and anything for his brother, always has.”
I jogged my foot again, waiting. I walked up and down the stairs, fidgeting with my phone inside my pocket. I had texted Alex to meet me here, in the staircase beside the library. There was a window in one of the classes that was always open, and we snuck in through there several times. I counted down to ten, trying to keep myself calm when I heard Alex walking up the stairs.
I open my eyes, and Alex’s at the top of the staircase, the flat level where I’m at, and I can’t calm myself anymore. I grab his shirt and and ram him up against the wall.
“Why in the hell didn’t you tell me you were in Gang 439?”
He shook but didn’t say anything.
“What you be doin’ when you release the mob on Jonathan? Were you gonna’ tell me ‘bout Leroy? Gang 439? Never? Our gangs are rivals, stupid. I ain’t in there anymore, but I sure got ties there, and I sure liked to know if my friend was in it.”
Alex stopped shaking, and I glanced down to see him scratch his pants. I slammed him up the wall again to make him stop.
“Why aren’t you looking at me?”
Alex seemed to have finally snapped as he pushed me back with a force I didn’t think he had the guts to have.
“You know why? You want to know? Well I’ll tell you big brave Fernando who left the gang. Cas’ I ain’t like you, and you ain’t like me. We different people and we got different lives.”
“What’s that got to do with anythin’?”
Alex grabbed my shirt and twisted it, but I grabbed his and pulled him down, fighting for control.
“You know, I’m pretty damn sick and tired of you and you’re whole ‘leave the gang’ motto. Just not everyone’s big brother is the leader, ya’ know, and even then, it ain’t all roses and candy canes.”
“What, yo’ big brother be putting you up to this?”
“You bet, Fernando. I’m sure you’ve never had a day in your life when your big bro decided to not let you off easy. I gotta’ be doin’ the s*** nobody else be wantin’ to do!”
“You think mine is easy?”
“Sho easier than mine. You think I wanna’ be doing this? Runnin’ around bein’ some sort of a dog? I’ve got a life I want too, but guess what, not everyone’s big brother’s just like yours.”
“ Ain’t no life easy, Alex.”
“Get the hell out of here, Fernando. I don’t need to be seeing you ever again’.”
I climbed down the stairs, just like he told me to, but when I glanced back, I saw him crumple back down into the kid I knew. The sun set in through the window, and my face felt warm from the rays. I started to hum a tune and do a little dance with my feet, my steps heavier than normal.