Tyrell is a young African-American teen who can't get a break. He's living (for now) with his spaced-out mother and little brother in a homeless shelter. His father's in jail. His girlfriend supports him, but he doesn't feel good enough for her -- and seems to be always on the verge of doing the wrong thing around her. There's another girl at the homeless shelter who is also after him, although the desires there are complicated. Tyrell feels he needs to score some money to make things better. Will he end up following in his father's footsteps? 

Chapter One

When I pick Novisha up from school, she actin’ all weird and shit. I mean, she the one that called my cell this morning and told me she needed to talk. Then all the way to her place it’s like she wanna say something but don’t know how to tell me. So we just walk without saying a whole lot, which is alright ’cause I got a lot on my mind anyway.

Novisha live in the Bronxwood Houses. I don’t mind walking her all this way ’cause this place is still like my home even though we moved from here a couple years ago. Back in the day, these eight buildings was my whole world. I used to do some stupid shit ’round here with my boys. But I don’t hardly get to hang with them dudes no more. Not like I used to.

Matter of fact, I don’t even get to see Novisha everyday no more. Our buildings used to be right ’cross the parking lot from each other. Now I gotta take two trains just to see her.

When we get to her building, I don’t really wanna go upstairs ’cause I know her moms don’t work on Fridays, and she gonna be there making sure me and Novisha don’t do nothing. I mean, her moms is cool and everything. She always cooking stuff for me and sending me home with all kinds of food for my family, but I know she only doing it ’cause she feel sorry for us.

When we get upstairs, not only is her moms there, but her pops is there too. He sitting at the kitchen table eating pork chops and rice like he live there. Like he ain’t walk out on them a couple years ago. Novisha moms is cleaning up the kitchen and watching some shopping show on TV. “Hi, Tyrell,” she say. “How’s everything? Your family hanging in there?”

“Yeah, Ms. Jenkins,” I say. “We doing okay. Hi, Mr. Jenkins.”
He kinda wave at me, a mouth full of food. Asshole. A couple weeks ago I walked Novisha home and we heard him and her moms going at it in the bedroom all loud and shit. Then, when he was done, he just up and left like that was all he wanted. That and some good food.

“You hungry?” Ms. Jenkins ask me. But before I can even answer, she putting a ton of rice on a plate for me.

“Eat,” Novisha tell me. “I wanna change my clothes.” She go to this Catholic school and gotta wear this blue uniform with this short plaid skirt. It’s so goddamn sexy, but she hate it and can never wait to change outta it.

I’m so hungry I just sit there and eat the pork chop in like two bites, then wolf the rice down like I ain’t never ate nothing before. Meanwhile, Ms. Jenkins is just talking on and on ’bout how me and my family need to stay close and keep our faith in God strong while we going through hard times. I nod every couple minutes so she think I’m really listening, but to be honest, I’m really tired of everyone saying that. Like they know what we going through.

Novisha come outta her bedroom in sweatpants and a T-shirt. No matter what she wear, she still look cute as hell. She got a real pretty face, and even though she only five foot, she got a bangin’ little body. And she only fourteen years old.

Novisha tell her moms ’bout some weekend trip she wanna take with her school in March to go look at some Black colleges down south. “Slow down, girl,” Ms. Jenkins tell her, pouring the pork chop oil from the frying pan into a old Maxwell House can. “You only a freshman. You don’t have to think about college for a couple of years.”

Novisha roll her eyes.

Mr. Jenkins sit back in his chair like he all full and satisfied. “Bonelle,” he say to Ms. Jenkins, looking at his watch, “you still want me to fix that VCR in your bedroom? I got a little time before my shift starts.”

Me and Novisha look at each other like this guy think he slick.
Ms. Jenkins tell him okay, then they go into the bedroom and close the door.

“Your pops is a real playa,” I tell Novisha.

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” she say. “It’s disgusting.” We go in her room and lock the door. Another thing I like ’bout Novisha is that she still like a little girl. Her room is all decorated with posters of them little pretty-boy singers, and she still got stuffed animals and shit. Two seconds later she pulling her T-shirt over her head and I’m kissing her and feeling her up. Then she go over to this little tiny statue of St. Mary she got on the shelf over her bed and turn it ’round so it face the wall. She do this every time she ’bout to do some nasty shit, so St. Mary can’t see her. I can’t help but smile ’cause I never expect nothing on a Friday, so it’s a good thing her pops is there to keep her moms busy.

Novisha is still a virgin and she ain’t giving it up ’til she married. She don’t even let me put my hand in her panties or nothing. But she do like blowing me. I’m the only guy she ever did it to, but she real good at it. She know how to take care of me.

When we done we go back out to the living room so her moms don’t know what we just did. They still in the bedroom, but we can’t hear nothing this time. So we just chillin’, sitting on the couch watching TV, leaning against each other. She got her hands in my hair, rubbing my head. “Your hair’s long enough for me to braid now,” she say.


“C’mon, let me do it now.”

“I ain’t got time today. Next time, okay?”

“Alright.” She go back to rubbing my head which feel real good.

It’s nice just being like this, here in this room. I been coming to the apartment forever, and this living room ain’t never changed. That’s what I like ’bout it. Ms. Jenkins still got that same big ol’ console TV that ain’t never worked and the little 19 inch TV on top of it. She got the same couch and chair with the same plastic slipcovers on it, and them same Jesus and Mary paintings still covering the water stains on the wall. And everything is real clean like it always is. That’s another thing I like ’bout Ms. Jenkins apartment. When I’m here, I could forget I’m in the projects.

Even though me and Novisha is relaxing together, I could tell she still got something on her mind. “What’s up with you?” I ask her. “You acting all quiet today. What you wanna talk to me ’bout?”

She shake her head. “Nothing. I just, you know, wanted to see you. And be with you.” We kiss. Novisha the first girl I really like kissing. She wear this cherry lip gloss, and her lips always taste all sweet and juicy.

But even while we kissing, I feel like she ain’t really into it, so I stop and just look at her. She look away.

“C’mon, Novisha,” I say. “You the one that always, like, we need to talk and all that. You keeping secrets? ’Cause I got too much on my mind these days and I don’t need my girl keeping things from me.”

“I’m not keeping anything from you.” She take a deep breath. “It’s just, well, there’s this new guy at school and he’s—.” She shake her head again. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but this guy is always bothering me.”

Now I’m mad. “Bothering you how? I don’t wanna hafta kick some nigga ass today, but I will.”

She sigh. “That’s why I didn’t wanna tell you. I don’t want you acting like some thug who’s gonna —.”

“What he doing to you?”

“Nothing.” She look at me, and she know I don’t believe a word she saying. “Okay. He asked me out a few times. But I told him I have a man.”

I like when she call me her man. That kinda calm me down for a second.

“Then last week, I was standing at the candy machine and he comes up and puts his arm around my waist and tells me he’s gonna buy me anything I want.”

I can feel my blood pumping through my body fast again.

“I told him to get his nasty hands off me, and he did. Then after that I keep finding these notes in my locker, saying he wants to, you know, get with me and stuff. I know it’s him. Then yesterday, I’m walking down the hall and I feel someone grab my butt. I turn around and see him just smiling at me like a dog.”

I can see that she getting tears in her eyes, and I don’t like to see that. I’ma hafta do something to this guy. I can’t have some dude thinking he can touch my girl whenever he want.

“You got them letters?” I ask her.

She get up and go to her room, then come back with two letters all folded up. She give them to me. One of them say, “I fantasize about you every night.” The other one say, “When are you going to get with me? Let a brother know.” My blood feel like it’s on fire now.

“There were more, but I threw them away.”

“You know where he live at?” She shake her head, but I can tell she lying. “What, you trying to protect this guy?”

“No. I’m trying to protect you.” She grab my hand. “I don’t want you to end up like —” She stop talking and look away. Then she whisper, “I’m sorry, Ty.”

I push her away from me and stand up. “I gotta go.” I’m outta there before she can say anything else to piss me off. I fly down the hallway and keep punching the down button for the elevator ’til it come. In the elevator, I punch the lobby button over and over ’til my hand hurt.

When I get outside I walk ’round the projects trying to cool myself down. Even though it’s real cold, it’s still a nice sunny day for the end of January. But the weather ain’t helping me none. I wish I knew who this guy is and where he live at. I swear.

I walk ’round some more, buy a loose cigarette from the bodega on the corner, smoke it and feel myself calming down a little. Novisha right. I know she just looking out for me. She don’t want me ending up like my pops. In jail. Again.

©2006 by Coe Booth