To Love Thy Brother by Jasper Jones

Hawk squeezes the trigger. Bang! Flame bursts from the tip of the .38 special. A bullet pierces Quincy’s skull, scattering his thoughts on the kitchen wall. He crumbles to the floor. For everyone in the apartment time departs, like the air was sucked from the room.

Promise bolts to Quincy. Makeup smeared, nose dripping, she folds to her knees. “Brother.”

Secret grabs Promise by the arm. “We have to go!”

Slack-jawed, Hawk disappears into the living room and snatches his hat and jacket from the coffee table. Four seconds later he’s in the kitchen beside Secret. He punches his fists through his jacket sleeves, digs in the pockets for keys, and freezes. “Fuck!” His shoulders sag as he pulls out a wad of cash.

Secret tightens her grip on Promise. “You had it the whole time!”

That’s me lying dead on the kitchen floor, leaking from a hole in my head.

An hour ago we were hustling crack out the trap house. A one bedroom, kitchen, and two baths on 19th Avenue and Van Buren. Hawk and me had this chick Armeita put the lease in her name, and we sometimes give her dope for the favor. It was a cool lil’ spot to post up and get money, play Xbox, and take random chicks to get our freak on.

We had this place pimped out like the hood version of Martha Stewart. Black and blue color scheme, Rachel Ray kitchenware. I picked out the big screens and Promise brought the expensive-ass tank stocked with exotic fish. Plush.

Three years my junior, Promise is what we call grimy, or skanless. Forever looking for the next come up, because in her world every hustler is a potential trick. She dresses fly, drinks Seagram’s gin, and smokes the best weed. No job, Promise uses her looks to get what she wants. When that doesn’t work, she lies, cheats, and steals.

Only a few people know why Promise is the way she is. Her mom was my favorite aunt, but she passed away when Promise was six. With no father around, my moms took her in. She started dating this cat Mac Breezy when she was fifteen. Turned out the dude was a gorilla pimp from Oakland. He kidnapped her, took her to Cali, and had her turnin’ tricks. When she made it back she was never the same.

Now whenever you see me, you know Promise ain’t far behind. Some poor old fool was always comin’ around, talkin’ about she robbed him. So, I’d Mayweather his ass with a three-piece knockout. He’d be laid out in the gravel snortin’ rocks. Dummy.

Nobody loved me like Promise.

People say I’m grimy too. I’m the black sheep. I kicked up dust as a kid breaking into neighbor houses and gettin’ hauled in by the stupid cops for stealing at the mall. Until a big homie gave me an ounce of crack and showed me how to get dope money.

I’d always been a pretty boy, but hustling turned me into a player. A neighborhood celebrity who got plenty of groupie love. Clockin’ dollars, that young go-getter. Three years back when I was seventeen, my moms put me out. She found a shoebox full of money and two ounces of crack bagged and ready for sales. Told me she didn’t want to see me end up like my father, who’s serving thirty in the feds for pushing the pack from Phoenix to Atlanta. “You’re gonna stop sellin’ drugs or get the fuck out my house.” I dropped out of high school and never looked back.

A half hour ago me and Hawk and were playing Fight Night. “You can’t fuck wit me, boy.” Hawk is a brotha always rockin’ the latest pair of sneakers and has a different girl for every day of the week. Hot, because he couldn’t ever beat me.

Hawk spat. “Shut up, cuzz. Pass da blunt.”

“What, you think that’s gone get you juiced up?” I exhaled a cloud of smoke and passed the swisher.

“Damn, you wet the tip. What chu’ do, french kiss this mu’fucka wit’ them big ass lips?

“Shut up, boy. Yo momma like these big-ass lips, and while we on the subject…”

“OK, Jamie Foxx.”

Sleepy was on the couch hugging his stomach, dying. He wiped his eyes. “Hawk, can I hit that?”

“Hell naw. You betta spark that bammer you got in yo pocket, chump. Or get cha bread up and buy your own bomb sack.”

“Let the lil’ homie hit dat shit.” I pointed to the game on pause. “Look, “you just mad I’m beatin’ yo ass in this Fight Night, boy.”

Hawk smacked his lips. “Here, Pee Pee.”

Sleepy hated that. “Damn, brody. Why you always on my helmet?” Sleepy hit the blunt. “I get money. Huh, Q?”

Sleepy comes from a hardworking Hispanic family that lives down the street from where I grew up. I knew him since he was pissing in his diaper. Sleepy wasn’t a D-boy, a drug dealer, but we let him come around, play video games, and smoke chronic. He was always sayin’ he wanted to be just like Hawk and me.

I surveyed my surroundings through bloodshot eyes and caught Secret sneaking a peak at me from the kitchen table. A nice lil’ chocolate piece. Five-five, brown eyes, thick thighs and a sweet, innocent demeanor. You know the type. Her and Promise were drinking Bacardi and Sprite, tag-teaming a swisher stuffed full of the finest. Promise was probably spilling the tea about the latest dummy she hit a lick on. Secret did a lot of “Ooo…, uh uhnn…, gurrrl…” Laughing and cackling like my big momma and her friends on the porch playing Spades. She had a crush on me since high school, but I left it alone. I wouldn’t do that to my boy. Secret was Hawk’s main chick.

Promise and I locked eyes. People tripped out when they found out we weren’t twins. Honey-colored complexion, and our eyes changed blue, yellow, and green. She poked her tongue out, I did the same, we both smiled. Then Promise turned back to girl talk with Secret.

I watched Hawk still schooling Sleepy with a little homie lecture, and my thoughts wandered to Lexy, my two-year-old. We were going to Peter Piper on a daddy-daughter date for Valentine’s Day. I’d bought her this cute little pink outfit and black patent-leather shoes, the ones with the buckle. I was planning to take lots of pictures.

A knock at the door shook me from my trance. I made the last sell, so I nodded to Hawk. “Get the door, boy. Next sell, yo money.”

Tossing the game control to Sleepy, Hawk peeled from the couch and swaggered to the door. “Who dat?” He twisted, then jerked the knob, hand tightening on the handle of his pistol. Two smokers pushed in. Promise dubbed them Ebony and Ivory cuz Blue was blacker than Grace Jones and K.C. was his opposite. They bought three dubs and sped off in a blur to smoke their score.

On the way back to the couch, I peeped Hawk frantically searching his front and back pockets. “Aye, cuzz, where the fuck my bread at?”

“Quit playin’, boy.”

“For real, cuzz, I put that shit in my pocket after my last sell.” Hawk mumbled to himself as he paced the living room. He was like an old stick of dynamite: you never knew when he’d blow up. Short and stocky, caramel complexion. He always had something to prove.

I stood from the couch. “You wild’n, boy. Check da sofa. That shit prolly fell out while we was playin’ Xbox.”

Sleepy hopped up, dug in the velvet cushions. “Naw, no money here, brody.”

Hawk stormed to where Sleepy stood and growled, “Pull yo pockets out, cuzz.”

Sleepy looked like he was about to shit on himself. “Huh?”

Fists clenched, Hawk gripped Sleepy by the front of his shirt. “Strip, cuzz.”

I cut in. “Chill, boy. You trippin.’”

Before I could finish, Sleepy moved like Flash Gordon to bury his hands in his jeans, then yanked them out. A juke, a few crumpled bills, and a sack of weed were cradled in his shaking palms.

“That’s all you got?” Hawk sprayed spittle on Sleepy’s sweat-stained shirt.

“Yea, big homie.” Sleepy lifted his palms to the ceiling. Hawk let him go and the color rushed back to Sleepy’s olive skin.

Sleepy sagged to the couch, tears in his green eyes. He threaded his hands, palmed his bald head, and let out a sigh.

Hawk turned his anger toward the kitchen where Promise and Secret sat heavy in conversation. “Bay, you got my money?”
Secret didn’t hear.

Hawk stomped into the kitchen beside the oven to tower over her. “Do. You. Have. My. Money.”

Secret’s neck snapped back. “Hu…? N-no, daddy.”

I ran to the kitchen and slid beside Hawk. His eyes burned into Promise. “You always schemin’ and shit. You got my bread, bitch?”

I squeezed my nails into my palms and saw white knuckles. “Aye. You da homie, but you betta watch ya mouth, boy.” My heart bounced off my ribs like a trampoline.

Hawk reached down to pat her like he was the police.

Promise exploded from her chair. “Boy, don’t put cho’ dirtyass hands on me.”

I yanked Hawk backwards by his shirt. “Watch out, boy!” He twirled around, and we locked like pitbulls.

Promise yelled “Let go of my brother, punk!” as she swung wild and caught Hawk in the back of his head, neck, and shoulders. “Grahhh…”

Sleepy and Secret stepped back, eyes wide.

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